Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ibarra for the Day


During our Otavalo days, we spared one of them for a road
trip to Ibarra. The distance is a piddling 25 km or 15.5 miles. Still, this seemingly minuscule distance took the bus 35 minutes. This is not due to bad roads, but because it stops just about every 10 feet to pick up or drop off passengers.

Regardless, it was a diversion. We had heard that particular crafts distinguish various towns in this area. San Antonio, located between Otavalo and Ibarra has a reputation for its wood carvers. There is nothing to give Ibarra a sense of esteem other than the colonial buildings, many of which are whitewashed, hence the nickname “White City”.

Ibarra sits at the foot of the Imbabura Volcano, so no eruptions or interruptions today, please. When we arrived at the minuscule bus station, we had no idea where the center of town happened to be. Asking several locals, we found the central park, which of course has a church. What we found striking about the park was the statures on each side that represented morals and values to live by.

We did visit two different churches, one being the cathedral.
There was a sign in the latter stating that they use alternative materials to celebrate Palm Sunday as the use of palms is destroying the environment for birds and other creatures that depend on the palm trees.

Another thing that impressed me was the free Wi-Fi zone in the park.
We have encountered this often in small towns in Ecuador, so it was not surprising. What did cause a double take was the llama penned in on the bus station grounds.

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Otavalo Street Lamps


More than a few years ago, I became intrigued with lampposts. Something made me aware of the artistic value that has to be engaged in order to create these public pieces of art. Yet the artist is an unsung hero when the work excels.

Here in Otavalo, on only a couple of streets, they have really surpassed using lampposts as an art form. I photographed these two years ago and never forgot them. This time, I photographed them again, hopefully 'in a better light'. Only two designs have been added over the last two years; they are the mask and a large red flame with gold cross on top.

Strangely, these two designs are on one street, a different street from the rest. I did not photograph the flame, because I did not appreciate its simplistic design.Regrettably, all of the mask lampposts were in areas obstructed by telephone wires, making it difficult to get a clear shot.

Regardless, the artist(s) should be celebrated if only here.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Oh, Otavalo We Are Happy to Return


It is easy to become slothful in Otavalo. Maybe this is why I wanted to return here. We spent a few days here two years ago. Back then, we went to the condor area, the national park, and all the nature things that are in the surrounding area. I then fell in love with the town; it is too small with only 50,000 people, to be called a city. Being renown all over South America for having the largest craft market, it is especially enviable on Saturdays. Saturday is the superlative day to visit here as the market explodes covering the entire downtown area. It is possible to buy indigenous clothes to souvenirs, to USB sticks and batteries. Your heart’s desires can be quenched easily and usually inexpensively. 

There is only one museum and this is tiny and privately owned. We did not bother, as the looks of it did not entice us to pay $3 each. This city prompts you to take a deep breath and then release all of the tensions from your body. Slow down, you do not need to rush. Take in your surroundings and enjoy. 

Of course, we arrived late on Saturday; the markets were closing for the day. For me, the markets are a major draw, but not for buying things. What appeals to me are the people watching opportunities. Otavalo is famous for its indigenous population; the group is called Otavalos. They have a
distinctive way of dressing that distinguishes them from other indigenous groups one passes on the streets in other towns and cities in Ecuador. 

For men, the traditional dress includes white pants, which always have sharp creases in the legs, looking like they just emerged from a dry
cleaner’s pressing machine. Regardless of the weather, they cover their shirts with a poncho, most are dark in color. Many wear various types of hats, but always with broad brims. 

Women wear dark colored skirts usually black or navy blue with a white blouse covered
with colorful embroidery. For a belt, they have equally colorful embroidered waistbands that wrap around and then tie. Women carry their babies on their back using a large white sheet that resembles an over-sized diaper. The baby is tucked in and the cloth is wrapped around her waist to hold it in place. We have never once seen a baby fall loose.

Both men and women wear their thick pitch-black hair very long and in a single braid. The majority of both men and women wear simple sandal like shoes. You can see an example in the photo of the two men. These only come in white or black. Some of both sexes wrap their braid in another colorful embroidered strip of material. 

The Otavalos are considered to be the most successful group of indigenous in Ecuador as they sell their craft work worldwide. An equal mix of those who made their riches as those who live in poverty, exist here.

We went to dinner at Buena Vista, a restaurant overlooking the famous Plaza de Ponchos. This is the location of the daily craft market. Our pleasant experiences with the restaurant lingered from our last visit, so we returned. We were not disappointed. After dinner, we walked to the central square. There was musical entertainment, speeches, and dancing. It is gratifying to watch the crowds of locals swell taking in the free entertainment. 

Sunday was Palm Sunday. As it turned out, it was a major cultural event. The palm leaves they used here differ from the palms distributed in the US Catholic churches. Woven palm leaves create vases, which they fill with
other greens. We never did figure out what the greens were. These vases sell for $1 already filled.

The town was buzzing with people carrying their vases. When we went into the church, Ron had missed the mass with no other following it. The entire altar was covered with a huge purple sheet. We had no clue as to what this was about. 

I do not need to shop to love Otavalo. The studio apartment we rented is excellent. There is enough space to feel like multiple rooms, though it is only one. It is quiet and the bed is superior. I love getting into it and hate getting out.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Butterflies Are Free, but for You, $6


Feeling we needed to do something in Mindo, besides enjoy the dancing clouds decorate the mountains, stare at the birds doing their antics on the feeder, or clandestinely feeding homeless dogs, we decided on the butterfly sanctuary. 

There are two of them in Mindo, but only one has an excellent reputation. The other just has a reputation. Of course, the excellent one is over 4 miles out of town, but we are prompted to go early in the morning, as butterflies are more active during the sunny morning, but relax just as we do in the drizzly, cloudy afternoons. We must have been butterflies in previous lives

The taxi stand in Mindo has one taxi. The ride was more horrific than any roller coaster we have been on in the last decade. There were holes in the road that may have been volcano craters. It took us close to 20 minutes to go four miles, but we were delivered to the entrance of the hotel/restaurant/butterfly sanctuary. I often wonder who would stay in a place like this off in nowhere. The section of river across the street has less force than our kitchen sink in the cabin. To have dinner anywhere other than the hotel would require a taxi ride both ways. Thinking of that ride after a full dinner makes me nauseous. 

Admission to the butterflies is $6 per person. Rosie, our
guide, gives us a five-minute orientation on the lifecycle of butterflies. I wanted to tell Rosie, this is not our first rodeo or butterfly sanctuary. We have been to a half dozen in as many countries. Just then, she shows us the cocoon of butterflies that live near water. It looks like a water drop to blend in; no, we have
never seen this before. Others look like a leaf bud. Rosie finishes her mini-speech and we are set free among the butterflies in their natural (man-made) surroundings. Freeing some into the wild helps them maintain their balance, while others are kept to reproduce increasing the numbers. 

Remember the movie Butterflies are Free?

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A Post in Pictures - The Chocolate Tour in Mindo


If one picture is worth a thousand words, then this post will be worth 16,000 plus.
First things first, our breakfast.
Where the chocolate tours take place.
First we sat at a table for a lecture. This is a coca pod.
The pod is cut open to view the white colored seeds.
After the white comes off, this is what is left. The white is used for syrups.
The seeds are crushed into nips.
Now we went outside to see coca trees. See the tiny red thing? 
It turns into this and then yellow like the photos above.
Seeds set out to dry.
I forgot this reason for this machine.
Beans are roasted.
Once they are ground, they are formed into 'cakes'.
Here is a sample of chocolate without anything added. Nasty stuff.
We added sugar and then some chili pepper. It started getting better.
The best was the brownie.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Walking the Mud Trails of Mindo


When you are in the cloud forest, you expect it to rain. This was not a disappointment, as it rained quite a bit, but with the river roaring behind the cabin, it was difficult to distinguish the rain from the river. It was not until we tried navigating the muddy streets that we felt the magnitudinal effects of the weather.

It was difficult to drag us away from the bird feeders. There was one on each deck with the lower deck having a much larger one. They would go through two liters of sugar water two times a day. They could have done with more, but we only refilled it this often. Olaf had to restock our sugar water supply with a six-liter bottle. There is such entertainment going on.

It is difficult to tell from the photos, but the darker hummingbirds, are iridescent green and blue on their chests. The tail feathers are an orangey rust color, but you can only see it when they flutter.  What really cracked me up was when one of him or her would outstretch one
wing to knock another bird off the feeder. There are an estimated 400 varieties of birds in the Mindo area.

There is a tourism office in Mindo, but it does not open until 2pm. Go figure! We trudged around the town for a couple of hours, trying to discover what there was to do that our aging bodies would allow. There is not much, though Ron has fantasies of doing dozens of things until reality kicks in or a muscle protests.

Centered in the city is a small park, it is pleasant, but looks
like the gardeners went on strike a few months earlier. Birds adorn the benches. A statue of what appears to be a gringo backpacker sits on one edge of the park, sans explanation.
We tried doing a little grocery shopping for meals. What is it with butter in this country? Once again, we had a difficult time finding real butter. In Quito, we went to two large supermarkets looking for butter, but only found margarine. When I ask for mantequilla, they bring me to the margarine, which sits on regular shelves, not even in the refrigerator sections.

Here in Mindo, it was the same story, different town. Finally, I said to one shop owner who tried passing off margarine as a substitute “Quiero mantequilla de una vaca. I want butter from a cow.” A look of surprise came over her face, but then she directed me to the one shop that had such a rare commodity.

Well, I did learn something new today. Geese can have blue eyes. Two of these critters were wandering around the muddy street. They tried to attack my shoes, but I held my ground. This
perplexed them; they did not know how to react, but I they did allow a portrait shot.

We stopped at a small restaurant for an almuerzo at the cost of $2.50 each. The young, beautiful waitress never smiled until I gave her a tip. Then her face exploded showing her pearly whites. 

But while we were eating, a beige non-descript hound like dog appeared at the door. He never once set foot inside the restaurant, but stared at us without interruption through the entire meal. He had me, so I saved him a handful of rice and a good chunk of my sliced chicken. The rice I set on the sidewalk away from the entrance. He ate every kernel in spite of not looking underfed. When we left, I broke the chicken into small bites to feed to him as we walked. Even after the food was gone, he followed us for an hour. Every now and then, he would knock into my leg. The first time it happened, it made me think I was being harassed by a person.

Every city in Ecuador where we have been, there are literally thousands of stray dogs. Reason would dictate that eventually, they would form packs that could be dangerous, but this does not seem to happen. They all fend for themselves and even when they travel together, they are more than willing to be offered any type of affection. The majority are so loveable looking, it is heartbreaking to see the life they have to lead.

In Cuenca, the rescues are trying to get laws to change the situation, but even there puppies are for sale in pet shops and even open air markets. They are adorable when they are puppies, but then get abandoned when they are adults. In Quito, we witnessed dozens of people carrying their puppies around with them like babies. In contrast, we did not see many if any people carrying or even walking their dogs in public.

Ron investigated the Yellow House, the legendary place
where you hand over $6 for the luxury of hiking on their property to bird watch. He went off on his own; $12 seemed to get stuck in my craw. The trail leads for four miles. He claims to have quit after one, but still had not seen any birds.

Tomorrow, we will do the chocolate tour to fill an hour. Quite honestly, I do not have to do a thing other than watch the hummingbirds and the yellow-breasted birds feed on the feeder while listening to the river. Perfect relaxation!

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