Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Loja Discoveries

Our first full day in Loja started out with disappointment. When in Cuenca, we sat at a table to have breakfast together each morning. We are not able to do that here, unless one of us sits on the bed to eat. Of course, there is no chance of sleeping in with roosters that start crowing at 3am and the workmen who are installing a new non-essential sunroof arrive at 8am.

Not understanding James’s directions for getting the bus, we got lost instead. After walking a half-mile out of our way, we finally broke down and took a taxi. The good thing about Loja is that taxis are cheaper than in Cuenca. Our very long ride from the shuttle to the apartment yesterday only cost us $2.

Of course, we directed the driver to the central square, which is San Sebastian Square, which of course has San Sebastian

Cathedral sitting on it. In the center of the square is a 96-foot high four sided statue depicting the colonization by the Spanish. In 1548, Field Marshal Alonso de Mercadillo created the town of Loja, naming it after his home: Loja, Spain. It is one of the oldest cities Spanish cities in Ecuador. This is only true if one ignores the fact that those who were
conquered and colonized did not have cities of their own.

At the base of the church, there are additional examples of E. Varga’s work. He is the ceramicist whose studio we visited in Cuenca. He is Ecuador’s most famous ceramic artist. The differing plagues offer depictions of musicians, Ecuadorian cowboys, and other types of culture, reinforcing that Loja is the Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador.

We walked high and low looking for a café that offers espresso coffee drinks. It took us a multitude of blocks before we were successful. Told that these types of drinks are not popular in the city surprised us.  This is strange, hearing the Loja regions has numerous coffee plantations. 

Finding a small restaurant offering almuerzos, we stopped in for lunch. What we did not pay attention to was the variety on offer. Later, we discovered there were three choices of entrée. When the waiter came to take our order, he asked what we wanted to order. We replied the almuerzo. Then he rattled on rapidly, but pleasantly. Neither of us could comprehend a thing he said. We asked for a repeat twice, but still it was worthless. His words were like rapid-fire artillery. Frustrated, we settled for soup. When we were leaving, we realized there were two choices of soup as well as the three options for entrées. We did leave him a generous tip for his encouraging smiles and agreeable nature.

When Ron found the tourism office, I wandered around next door. There is some fabulous public art there by E. Varga.
Later I joined Ron, looking at brochures, while he waited his term. Interestingly, there was not one thing in any language other than Spanish. This reminded me of the tourism office in Bari, Italy. Nothing was in anything but Italian and no one working spoke English. As it happens, this was a repeat situation. When Ron was finally able to ask his questions, the tourism worker did not speak English. She turned him over to a colleague who was as fluent in English as we are in Swahili. Finally, a third worker appeared to the over joy of the first two workers. They literally clapped their hands when she walked in. She does speak English, so was able to answer most questions. With maps in hand and information overload, Ron felt like his mission was accomplished until we forget most of what we learned and have to return for a refresher course.

Just by luck, we found ourselves at the Museo de la Cultura Lojana. The guard was rather brusque at first; we had to
show our passports or copies, so he could sign us in. After he was satisfied we were not illegal immigrants, he shows us into the first three rooms where a modern art exhibit is on display. Some of the painting were quite fun with offbeat takes on historical paintings or mythology. 

Beyond these, in the center of the gardens a circular display of 12 pieces of art depicted the signs of the zodiac. At first glance, they looked childlike, but after a faithful examination, I realized they were simplistic, but not at all childish. Each was a clever portrayal of the represented sign, each with a girl as the main character.

Upstairs was a hodge-podge assortment of important Lojaians who have achieved something spectacular within the country or the world. As there was nothing in English, it was a brisk survey. Some other rooms held archeological remnants of jugs, jewelry, and other artifacts found in the area. These were delightful to observe.

Coming upon a large Mercado, we scanned the offering for fruits and vegetables. The upper level was most intriguing. There were numerous shoe stores one after the other. Turn and corner to find cubby hole stores that functioned as beauty parlors, most only large enough for one operator. Continue a little more, there are dozens of independent kitchens with women cooking a variety of offerings for those in need of a meal. Interestingly, the food was cheaper here than in Cuenca. Buying two avocados, two large mangoes, and two tomatoes, cost us $2. We were grateful to find a TIA supermarket downtown; we were able to get the matches for lighting the stove, vinegar, and wine that were not available at the Mercado.

Back at the apartment, the construction is still going on and did not end until 6:30pm. Dogs are still barking, and in another couple of hours, some rooster with sleep disorder will be crowing his lungs out.

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