Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Touring Loja, Ecuador in No Time Flat

Apparently, Loja has not compelled me to sit at the computer, to write about our experiences. Quite honestly, I am slightly underwhelmed, but this could be a déjà vu experience of what happened in Cuenca in 2013. Our choice of accommodations may have left me cold for all other experiences. It was not until 2015 that I really appreciated, in fact, loved Cuenca. No number of years will raise the scale to loving Loja, but it is enjoyable for what it is.

Tuesday, we took the tour bus. At the tourism office, they claimed it would cost $5 per person, the same as in Cuenca. The first departure of the bus is 11am. Ready and eager, we asked the ‘guide’ if we could get off at one spot and catch the

next bus a few hours later. No, sorry! You get on the bus, go the entire route, you get off the bus. End of story. Then it turned out to be $6, not five. How can it be more expensive than Cuenca? Are you kidding me? This is a smaller city. Fine, we paid it.

As it turned out, Ron and I were the only two people on the entire bus. Due to the bus not stopping at other points in the city, there was no chance for anyone to join the tour. The likely reason is that you only get one go around; it is not an all-day ticket. It would be impossible to track people coming and going.

The guide spoke negligible English and stood directly in front of the two of us with a microphone. He could have spoken to us without props, but he must have been following company rules that required the use of the mic. Feeling ridiculous, I occasionally turned to verify no one was secretly occupying other seats. Rather than the microphone aiding in enunciating his speech, it just made it worse. On top on this, he had a habit on recreated verb tenses. Instead of made, he said made-ed and builted. Strangely, he did the same thing with regular and irregular verbs. With each new kink in his speech, it made-ed my mind wander and wonder how he learned English.

After an hour and a half, we were departing ways from our

guide. I with a sense of being distracted more than educated, there was no opportunity to retrace our route with a different guide. That said there were some highlights that were comprehensible. On one corner of the city, they built a castle like structure to pinpoint one of the old cornerstones of a city wall. Across the street is a wonderful mural, but one will observe that none of the people have eyes. As a tribute to his blind father, the artist purposefully composed this art piece this way.

In another area, where the treat was to view one of the best
panoramas of the city, we were also privy to one of the strangest private homes we have seen. It resembles a castle. Thinking it had to be an ex-pat gone wild, like the Dutch couple in Boquete, Panama, I was wrong. This is Ecuadorian built and owned.

Espresso coffee cafés are as rare as hen’s teeth, but from the bus, I spotted what looked like a significant find. We headed
back there once off the bus. It was an excellent find with a proud owner who displays the entire process on one wall. After enjoying an excellent cappuccino, we could continue our exploration.

Discovering the Museo de la Musica, with free admission, why not explore it. Most rooms had multiple photos and displays of various famous Ecuadorian musicians. Quizzically, there were few instruments on display. Not one musician was recognizable by our US education, but there were DVDs available of all of their recordings. Interestingly, there was only one woman in the main display rooms. There was nothing in English.

However, one large room had a wall filled with female musicians of all genres. However, it is telling that this room also happened to be the dining room for the cafeteria. The kitchen adjoins it.

Calle Lourdes is the street famous for stores and doors that are brightly painted. If you have ever seen the Painted Ladies of San Francisco, this is a similar concept.  They are lovely to view from the distance as well as walking down the street. However, the shops themselves have similar trinkets, jewelry, and other money wasting souvenirs that are available just about everywhere else in the city of Loja or anywhere else in Ecuador. As much as I love shopping, by the second store I was bored.

No day in Ecuador would be complete without visiting churches. Of course, this means Catholic churches, but I
honestly do not mind. I find the décor in each highly individualistic and often times creative. There is a repetitive theme here, the Virgin of El Cisne or Virgin of the Swan. This has almost become mythic in proportions.

The town of El Cisne is in the mountains, 70 kilometers from Loja. Apparently, there is a Marian shrine there. Envious of the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the people of El Cisne wanted their own shrine. The locals commissioned sculptor Don Diego de Robles to create the Virgin de El Cisne statue, which he did using a cedar tree. The story goes that once delivered to El Cisne, there was rain, after a long drought. This was considered a miracle.

Droves of people, by the thousands, begin a three-day pilgrimage ever year on August 17th. They start in El Cisne leading a religious procession to Loja. The six-foot tall cedar statue of the virgin is transported to the Loja cathedral. A major festival begins on September 8. The statue lives in the Loja cathedral November 3 when it is returned to El Cisne.

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