Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Kingdom for Good Coffee and Other Fun Things

There are things about Ecuador, which are so paradoxical it blows my mind. They are one of the major coffee producers
in the world yet getting a good cup of coffee that is not a push button Nescafé machine is ridiculously difficult. As sweet as our little hotel is, the breakfast is a grilled half bologna sandwich, two slices of white bread, and hot water
i for instant coffee. Help is on the way. First, we went to the tourism office for other reasons, but I did ask about coffee. She directed us across the park to Da Leo’s Café. 

Walking into this café transforms your visual experience to Italy. Plastering every wall and empty surface is something Italian related. A dedicated Italian travel agency could not have done a better job. Most of their offerings are gelato and coffee, with a paltry selection of pastries thrown in for color. Waiting 15 minutes for my cappuccino was nothing since I had been waiting since Guayaquil for a good espresso drink. In Guayaquil, a small chain called Sweet and Coffee has coffee drinks to die for. One day, while sipping one, I wondered how many days I could survive just drinking their cappuccinos. Da Leo’s cappuccino was not nearly as good, but it did suffice for the time being. 

Ron knowing my need for caffeine, found a place on TripAdvisor that received high marks for its coffee drinks.
The owner, who is from Columbia, roasts his own beans. With the delightful colors on the outside, this cafe invites you in. Just past the arch is a wonderful mural of an owl giving the place a sense of calm. Just past this, there are four hammock type chairs you can rest in while enjoying your
order. However, we chose to sit inside. God, how humiliating it would be to have the coffee go flying as the chair started swinging. The other scenario I envision is reaching for the coffee and falling out of the chair, having it swing backward only to clunk me on the head.

Ecuadorian souvenirs of high quality decorate the walls, but are also available for purchase. Everything here is tasteful, serves a purpose, and makes guests feel at home. 
While we waited for our order, we read the extensive information in the back of the menu covering different growing regions for coffee as well as their proprieties. There was a separate section to educate us on tea as well. We were well educated while the menus were open in front of us. No quiz please!

We both ordered the American breakfast. What we received were two eggs omelet style, three slices of multi-grain bread, two slices of cheese, a large glass of juice (I had blackberry and Ron had papaya), butter and homemade jelly. I had to have a latte; Ron chose an Americano.

The entire breakfast from the coffee to the jelly was superb. Questioning the owner, we learned that his wife bakes the bread, makes the jelly from scratch and creates all the juices by order. It seems the only food preparation she does not do is milk the cow and churn the butter. We loved this place. The breakfast total was $8 for both of us. 

Without definite plans for the day, we just explored on our own. There is a Mirador or lookout point that comes with a
number of recommendations. What we did not realize was part of the view included watching people bungee jump. My heart was in my mouth each time someone leaped. I kept remembering the cord snapping on an 
Australian woman last year. The Mirador area has beautiful landscaping with benches to relax. One tree cracked me up. At the top, it divided into three, so I called it the trinity tree.

We walked off the beaten tourist track on our way to the bus station. We needed to get our bus tickets for Quito for the day after tomorrow. As we were walking down this street of businesses, a dog started barking furiously. When I turned,
I could not find him. Then I happened to look up. 

Finding a store that only sold eggs was also unusual, but we are immune now to cultural differences. Eggs are not refrigerated anywhere. 

I love the way they decorated walls. There are seldom bare walls, but this is not due to graffiti, it is because they encourage applying art to the walls. This wall was unique in that they used rocks, which were painted individually as well as paintings around the rocks.  

We went to the bus station, looked over the various bus company options for getting to Quito and then bought our
tickets. For a three and a half hour ride, the tickets were $3.50 each. The bus station is a cultural experience unto itself. Although similar in Panama and other Central American cities, we have never seen anything like it in Europe or the US.

Ron decided he wanted to experience the thermals. For those who do not live in Budapest, this may be a thrill. For me, it was a non-starter. For Ron, it was curiosity. He went to the Aqua Santa (Holy Water) for an hour. Three pools were different temperatures, but one cooled off. Everyone had to wear a bathing cap regardless of gender or hair length. He said the water was murky, not clear due to the mineral content. It was quiet and calm, no loud music, children, or people being obnoxious. 

In the evening, we went to Café Hood for dinner. Talk about relaxing, they have a Buddhist Zen theme, a striking paradox to Mexican menu items. Adding to the mix, our server was a blonde haired middle-aged man from Italy. Great food and ambiance. 

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