Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mak'in Bacon But Not Selling Much


Bacon is a magical word that perks up my ears in a heartbeat. Sure, there are those naysayers who will say bacon will cause irregular heartbeats, but life is short. Reading the Gringo Tree newsletter on Saturday morning, I spotted a post that did get my heart to beat faster. A Bacon Festival! This is like my version of manna from heaven.

Unfortunately, the address was not precise; Avenida de 3 Noviembre is a long street. One would need to be familiar with Galeria Otorongo specifically in order to be able to find it. Thinking we could depend on the tourism office for directions, when we arrived the lights were on but no one was there. Asking dozens of people including military personal we passed on the street and police officers, we were offered multiple incorrect directions. Finally, a young street performer asked if we needed assistance and he directed us correctly; this was his route as well.  

Situated on a lovely expansive square, Galeria Otorongo was apparent as soon as it was in sight. There were dozens of people milling around, some staffing a BBQ, while others were handing out samples, trying to sell their products, and others sampling the goods. As soon as we were closing in, an older woman approached us with sample of their specialty smoked bacon and homemade sausage. To me there is no such thing as bad bacon. Although the bacon was tasty, it was not exceptional, especially for $19 a pound. Spices were the key to the sausage, it was delectable, but this too priced in the double digits per pound was out of the question. 

The bargain of the day and the most popular item was the snack-pak they offered. It consisted of a mini-BLT, a sausage ‘lollipop’, and a piece of chocolate covered bacon for $1.50. Okay, we shelled out the $3 for two thinking we would save it for later in the day. Not to be so, presented to us in a Styrofoam bowl without a cover, it was not portable. Sacrificing, we ate it on the spot, but my bread went into the trash much to the chagrin of all local pigeons. 

Being on the lower side of the river meant a trek of 95 steps. If this does not work off the bacon, I am not sure what will.
Interestingly, here as in the other long climbs along the river, decoration adorns the sidewalls along the way. It allows one to stop, pause to enjoy the artwork, and catch your breath before moving on up. Here, however, there is a difference. Rather than painted art, mosaics cover the walls. When you reach the top, the reward is a painted whale, which is entertaining. Yet, on the other side, is a magnificent Galapagos turtle that is truly extraordinary. 

From here we walked to a couple of museums that are on our list to visit, but found that they close early on Saturdays and are not open at all on Sunday. Pumapungo Arqueological Park was open, but again there was a real chance of rain; it makes it difficult traipsing among the ruins in wet grass, dirt, and slippery hills.

We wandered through the park again where the Museum of
Modern Art is located. There flowering trees in bloom; Ron wanted to take photos. A little old lady appeared from one of the businesses across from the park and started feeding the pigeons. There must have been hundreds of birds arriving from parts unknown to enjoy the food fest she offered. When she was done, they took off en masse. All I could think of was Tippi Hedren and Birds by Alfred Hitchcock

Later, we went to our favorite coffee roaster and café, Nucallacta, for a cup of java.

By the time we walked home again taking our time and looking over some shops, it was already late afternoon. How the day flies by.

I have to show you one of our potatoes. When we were in the
Mercado, we asked if they had sweet potatoes. The vendor showed us these red ones and we bought a few. The inside was a bit surprising. They were delicious, but nothing like yams or sweet potatoes as we know them.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Sit, Beg, Protest, and Then Get High on Art


There are so many sayings that include dogs: going to the dogs, dog day afternoon, my dogs are
killing me, and so on. However, when we went out today, we found that Cuenca was having a people and dog revolt. There was a rather hearty protest in progress when we reached the park. There were about 75 people and dogs in front of the municipal building on one side of the street, effectively blocking the sidewalk for pedestrian access. 
On the other side of the street, the park side, there were another 50 or more people and about two dozen canines holding signs, banner, and chanting. They would all stop to pose for anyone with a camera, hoping someone in the crowd was a journalist. 

The demands include stronger animal rights. There are too many abandoned dogs in the city and surrounding. We have not noticed this problem, but we will take their word for it.
They want cheaper neutering clinics with mandated surgeries. Part of the protesters demanded stronger financial support for the care of homeless dogs until they are adopted.

Severely deprived from dog loving, we were able to get a healthy dose here. Not only were the people holding the leashes friendly, but they welcomed their babies getting loving attention from strangers. We, pardon the expression, lapped up the canine kindness. 

The original goal when leaving the apartment was to go to the CIDAP Museum - Centro Interamericano de Artesanias y Artes Populares, which sits on the riverfront. We had no idea of what we would find here. OH MY STARS, as my paternal grandmother would say. We were in for a surprise.

CIDAP is an organization with a mission to breed knowledge and skills of artists. The organization worldwide offers 50 different courses that have thus far enriched 1,294 artists from 26 American countries. Within Ecuador alone, there have been 193 courses with over 2,500 artist participants. There are 11 craft festivals sponsored making it the largest in the country and very significant within America. Please note the use of “America”. This is used in their official publications, which goes to prove that America is not solely the United States. 
Our jackpot reward was visiting at a time when they were hosting award winners of the UNESCO Recognition of Excellence in Handicrafts awards. The varieties and designs in wood, clay, and textiles were simply magnificent. Other rooms had permanent works on display that were as fantastic as well.  The entry fee for this museum is your signature on the guest list. 

We soaked in the hard work, the talent, the education and the sacrifices that each piece represented. Silently, we cheered for the UNESCO winners and mentally sent well wishes to the others who have displayed. They too are winners. 

Leaving this museum, we were really flying high. It is incredible how great works of art, regardless of the media, can lift your spirits. Now energized, we crossed the river to visit the Museo de la Medicina. Appropriately, it is part of the Hospital of St. Vincent de Paul. Admission here was $1 each. We were the only visitors during our entire time checking out the various rooms. Much larger than I expected, as with several museums here, you enter a courtyard and all of the rooms open to the center garden. 

This was no different. Each room seemed to be dedicated to different specialties. Dentistry was the first room that we entered; there were dozens of different antique dentist chairs and all the equipment of similar ages. Other rooms had displays for gynecology, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, and so forth. Each specialty had pictures of doctors who had made inroads into their specific field. 

Surprisingly, we spent a good hour and a half or more here. When we left the museum, we wandered a bit around the hospital itself. There was a sign on one of the office doors that read Talento Humano, which I interpret as Human Resources. I loved the way they phrased it. 

Next was the hard part. After crossing the river, 97 steps need to be climbed to get to the upper streets to navigate home.
Some smart person created this stairway by breaking it into groups of 12 steps, with the exception of the upper most, which has 13 steps. At each of the 8 groupings, there is a landing to ponder your thoughts, watch your life pass before your eyes, wish for a respirator, or whatever is needed, before progressing to the next landing.

However, some very wise person,
probably someone with asthma, decided to decorate the walls along the way. Not only does this decorate what would otherwise be boring concrete, but it gives those of us in need, the justification to stop occasionally to look over the artwork, when in reality, we are trying to suck in as much air as possible. 

I made the mistake of mentioning to Ron that there was a piano concert in the evening. Of course, he wanted to go. The venue was the former house, now museum of the Ecuadorian writer/politician Remigio Crespo Toral. Though we could not imagine where the concert room was, we did go to investigate it. 

Filling the house with mobs of people, the majority English speaking ex-pats, there were no chairs for the concert. Placed in one room of the museum, a piano appeared for the evening. Our artist du noche was Peter Dudar, who I heard the organizer say he was Italian. However, if he is, he is Italian/American for certain. 

You can see one of his piano tunes here. He played Offenbach, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, the
Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and one of his own songs. With the rooms overflowing with people and not being able to sit down, it was difficult to hear. Numerous little conversations started among others not within hearing range, thus making it more difficult still. We lasted for the first four selections then we scooted out of there. 

One thing that Cuenca has going for it is the vast assortment of cultural events, the majority of which are dominated by the ex-pat community since there is no language barrier. 

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What Does a Saint With Wings, Guayacan Blooms and a Guanábana Have in Common?


Thursday was a strange day. We had little to no ambition to do anything, but felt a need to get out and explore something. Finally, we remembered we wanted to see the art exhibition that opened the same night we went to the concert. It was less than a mile away, making it an easy walk.

Wooden flooring
Of course, we are easily distracted so when we passed by Iglesia de Santo Domingo or St. Dominic’s Church and noticed the doors were open, we had to go in. It is funny, curious, not ha! ha! that the The Catholic Directory only lists two Catholic churches in Cuenca when there are 52. That aside, once more, I was blown away by the hand painted beauty of the inside décor.

Painted and plastered walls and ceiling
Since when do saints get wings?

We did make it to the art gallery, which thankfully was open. When we met the artist the night of the show opening, she had told us this building once housed people and their horses. It was like a bed & breakfast & stable (B&BS). In recent times, the city converted it into a municipal art gallery where temporary exhibitions can be presented to the public. Lesser known artists can get their work noticed. There were about 12 artists participating, but when we showed up, it was the security guard and us.

What was unclear to us was that there was one central theme to the show. Every piece of art represented the flower of the guayacan tree; in Loja, Ecuador, there are 100,000 acres of these trees. They bloom shortly after the first rain of the year, but the blooms disappear days later, not resurfacing for 12 more months.

The Gringo Tree newsletter states, “The flowers can grow to be 4 inches wide, and area favorites of honey bees and hummingbirds. The unique flowers are also quite useful in
treating a number of health problems. Teas made from the petals have been used to treat kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and even tuberculosis in various parts of Latin America.” Whether or not we were surprised at over 60 variations of one type of flower or tree, it was a fun thing to do.

Now, we decided to test the bus system. We knew little about the routes, but we did have an idea the 100 route ran close to our place. First, we took it all the way to the end, where we were asked to depart from the bus. All he did was pull into an alley to turn around and come back on the other side. We hopped on again, spending another 50¢ for the two of us. If Ron were a resident, it would only have been 12¢ for him.  We rode for quite some time, before realizing this bus was not going anywhere we wanted to be. At the next stop we got off, which was fortunate. There happened to be a SuperMaxi grocery store within two blocks.

Short on cash and not wanting to use a generic ATM, we asked at SuperMaxi if they took credit cards. They do, so we were set or so we thought. After milling up and down the aisles, we had enough groceries; we knew it would be a taxi going home. I was going to buy a soursop, what they call guanábana. I am all about trying different fruits and vegetables here, but I am not going to try the national dish: guinea pig.

We get to the register; Ron is obviously holding his Visa card in his hand. The young cashier tells us it is $40.29. Ron hands over the card. She asks Ron for his passport. Everyone, ex-pat and locals alike warn you not to carry your passport with you. Ron gives her his Hungarian ID card. This totally flummoxes her. She has to call for backup. All of a sudden that generic ATM is looking better, but I stubbornly wait it out. Hungarian IDs don’t cut it. Ron offers a colored photocopy of his passport. A chorus of sighs of relief was heard all around. This will work and we are out of there.

Taxis are waiting outside the store like great white sharks near fishing boats. Riding home, I am watching the meter cha-ching, cha-ching. We get to our corner saying this is good enough. The fare was $1.75.

During our tea and dessert time, we cut the guanábana. It has a dual texture. The center most part of the fruit has a similar consistency to a banana, while the fruit closed to the skin is closer to an orange. Flavor-wise it is a mixture of banana,

citrus, and I tasted some peach flavor. Ron didn’t care for it as much, but I thought it was a lovely change.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Did Jesus Have Red Curly Hair?


I was standing outside on our balcony when I noticed this young woman struggling with her backpacks; one huge one was on her back and the other was placed on her chest. Besides these, she had multiple bags that she carried by hand. It cracked me up as many people brag about ‘only having a backpack’ when they travel, yet the backpack is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. She put the bags down, repositioned them multiple times and then finally had it squared away to continue down the street.

When we leave the apartment to the right is a small shop that puts pictures, decals, and other art on shirts. This is the scene on this morning. She is so intent on playing with the computer; you almost want to find out child labor laws here. 

We were strolling down Calle Larga; we were near to Todos Santos Church. It has been rather elusive with its opening hours. Having checked here multiple times, we have been disappointed. Finally, we hit the jackpot. When we walked in, there was a tour guide there asking if we would like a tour. There was already one woman waiting who said, “If you don’t join us the tour will be for me alone.” This lady was a Methodist minister from Arizona. Of course, we wanted the tour. It was $2 each for a 40 minute tour. Just as we started, a group of Canadians arrived increasing our group.

What we learned was that this is the site of the oldest church in Cuenca. Spanish settlers built a chapel on this land. Later, a church was built replacing it. Outside, the cage like structure with the picture of the rooster on it (picture in album) is one of the four points of the old city of Cuenca. Today, this church is non-functional. There are no religious ceremonies of any kind held here any longer. Ironically, there is a convent and Catholic school attached. Six Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales live here and teach in the school.

What I found most intriguing about the churches in Cuenca is that most of them are ornately decorated, but without the glitz of gold. All the wall décor is painted and the floors are mostly incredible works of art in wood. This church in particular was fascinating as the interior was once completely white. It was not until they started the restoration that they found the walls were covered with incredible artwork underneath. 

One thing that I found creepy was the statue of Jesus. The hair on his head is real human hair from nuns who go from novice to final vows. During the final vows ceremony, they get their hair cut off. Here is Jesus with red curly hair.

The gardens were included in the tour, with dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables. The sisters have a restaurant and use the food from here for the menus. They still bake bread in huge hard wood burning ovens. We were able to look into the restaurant, but it was not operating at the time.

Our tour guide, Stephania, was a student from the University of Cuenca; she is studying tourism. She was delightful and continued to apologize for her English. Because she was so comprehensive, our tour lasted beyond 40 minutes, but no one cared.

When we left here, we went to Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, The Panama Hat Museum. Two years ago, we visited here and were not impressed. Why did we return? Perhaps in the hopes that something had changed. It hadn't. In fact, there was less there now then two years ago. 

In small rooms, there are tired and lame displays of the history of the Panama hat, which is not from Panama at all. Within the work area, one bored worker was steaming hats in a machine mold. In actuality, this is a sales showroom. There are hundreds of hats on sale in various colors and styles for both men and women. Strangely enough, the warning label inside warns against wearing them in the rain. The most fun we had here was having Ron pose with different hats on. He has that kind of face that looks good with almost any type of hat. 

From here, we went to the mercado that seems to have the freshest meat, but we also bought our first soursop fruit. More on that when we eat it.

On the way home, I just happened to notice an embroidery machine. It cracked me up thinking that this type of machine is doing the work that vendors all over the world are passing off as home sewn. You can see for yourself with my YouTube video here.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Communal Dining


Pumapungo Museo
The owner of the apartment complex where we are living arranged for us to go to lunch at her aunt’s restaurant. All those in the building who were interested were to meet in the lobby at 12:30. The owner, Malena is like a Cub Scout Den Mother. She makes sure all residents, permanent or temporary know each other. I was up on the roof doing laundry the other day when another tenant came up. She said "Are you the one who blogs? I was hysterical when I read the post on trying to change $50." I am thinking "How the he...?"

Earlier, Ron ran across the street to the cambio to break the last of our $50 notes. We then went to the little office directly across from our building where there is a mini-bank center for the sole purpose of paying bills, recharging your phone, or buying/recharging bus cards. Our purpose was buying a bus card and getting credit on it.

There are two types of bus implements to purchase. One looks like a regular credit card, but the others are circular disks with cutesy pictures on them. The first cost $1 and the others are $3. We left with the $1 plain boring card and $3 worth of credit on it. Each bus ride cost 25 ¢, so this amount should last us a good amount of time. We walk most places.

Joining us for lunch, included our new friends Mike and Howard, plus Sara and Tom from down our hall and Jerry from the second floor. Of course, Malena was with us. She opted for us to take taxis, so we needed two. At the restaurant, we sat outside since the weather was cooperating. Most of us had the chicken, but beef was the other option. We started with chicken soup (no feet this time), then we were served chicken in a sauce with rice on the side. The beverage was mango juice. Dessert consisted of grapes in a whipped cream. It was a delightful little lunch for $2.75.

Everyone went his or her separate ways after lunch. Ron and I were going to the Pumapungo Museo. We were about four blocks away when it started to rain. Of course neither of us had umbrellas. Reaching the museum while it was only raining lightly, as soon as we walked in the door, the downpour came. Thunder and some of the loudest thunder I have heard accompanied torrential rain. There was no way we were going to be able to explore the Arqueological Park behind the museum. We have been there before, but I wanted to look for llamas. Generally, there are three or more roaming on the hill beyond.

For those visiting the Pumapungo Museo now, they will not know what is missing. After registering, admission is free; we are directed immediately to the right and advised that no photography is allowed. In a series of rooms with low lighting, we revisit the early history of the Ecuadorian tribes, and then continue through the invasion of the Spanish where it ends.

From here, we enter the space now occupied by the paintings of James Pilco, an Ecuadorian artist. He has an incredible range of art. One room consists of paintings of children,
Not my photo
which are adorable and incredible. The next room offers us his interpretation of vegetables and fruits. Finally, a mixture of serious and comical subjects is entirely absorbing and fills a third room. You can see a sample of his work here in a YouTube video. It is in Spanish, but you can watch him paint. We were both fans from viewing the first painting and were really fans by the last painting.

When we were here last time, there was a humungous room filled with artifacts from the various tribes of Ecuador. We spent three hours just exploring these exhibits, but then on another level, there was colonial Spanish religious art that was fascinating as well as horrifying. All of this is now gone.
Not this day.

On the other side of the building, on the second level one can still explore an extensive ethnographic life-size diorama display of various aspects of ancient and modern Ecuador. All the time, we are looking out the window to see the rain pouring down.

We were lucky enough to get a taxi just as the rain eased as if the clouds were taking a deep breath in preparation for spewing more water down to earth. Now taxis have meter by law, which in turn dropped the prices. More people can afford a taxi now, so they are more difficult to get in the rain. After we arrived home, we remembered we had planned on stopping at the market, but the rain drowned out the memory. Later we had to run out again, this time with umbrellas.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wandering the Hood Around Calle Larga


Street entrance walls to hotel
Sometimes a day is so filled; I need to look at my photos to recall all that occurred. It may be a sign of age or a fulfilled life. I am not going to question it. Regardless, yesterday was another great day in the hood.

Yes, it was Monday, but a few museum signs which we have noticed along our walks advertised they were open on Mondays. Our quest is to visit every museum at least once, but also revisit those we had visited in 2012. Cuenca is not over powered with museums, so it shouldn't be too difficult. There are however, 52 Catholic churches. To visit all of them would be a greater challenge that I am not willing to undertake.

Ron wanted a little coin bag so we stopped at what the local Gringos call the “hippie market” at the corner of our street. It does indeed look like full market of the same jewelry and wristbands one would see at all the fairs and concerts worldwide. How they compete is anyone’s best guess. Nothing appealed to him, so we moved on. 

Walking to Calle Larga is lovely as you pass by wonderful architecture, balconies flourishing with blooming plants pouring over the railings, and exquisite tiles framing the cornices of buildings. I love walking past a building to find the hallway doors open and being privy to some beautiful wall art.

Wooden structures of the church
We have been by El Carmen de la Asuncion Church numerous times, but we have yet the opportunity to go inside for any length of time to appreciate it. The interior is unusual due to the amount of wood used for the interior. The ceiling is wood, adorned with painted borders and finials, not gold or plaster. 

Reaching our destination, Calle Large, we stopped at some of the shops along the way. I have decided not to judge these little stores as tourist magnet souvenir pits without a fair appraisal of their goods. One of our first stops was Ceramica Galaxy at Calle Larga 5-42. It only took several minutes, before my mind had several items bubble wrapped and mentally placed in our luggage. We met Ruth Cajamarca, the shop owner who explained in Spanish only that her husband is the artist for everything in the shop. He creates; she sells. There were at least five wall plates I would have snatched up in the time a flick of clay flew from a potter’s wheel.  They have a rooster pitcher we both loved, but it would be less than chick sized by the time we got it to Hungary. We promised to return. Our minds are still processing.

I popped into one shop where the sign outside advertises Gifts from the Earth. Mostly jewelry, each piece encompasses a piece of various semi-precious stones. Quite a variety of designs was on display, but there was something in the store that set me off. I started sneezing and from that point on my nose was running the rest of the day.

We have not been able to time our visit to La Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús el Párroco. Each time we are in the area, it is closed. Instead, we did stop at another shop directly across the street called Tienda de Artesanias. There were a few things that were interesting, but the prices were a turn-off. Muy rico!

From there we ventured to the Ruinas de Todos Santos, which is combined with Museo Manuel Austin Landívar. Admission to both are free, but the woman attendant had to unlock the gate to the ruins for us. Unlike the ruins at Pumapungo, this is a small area with sections marked off showing the pre-historic and then the colonial periods. Though there is not much to see other than rock walls and a small cave like opening, I did get a sense of the history surrounding it.  

There was no commentary in English, but from what we learned, the displays in Museo Manuel Austin Landívar are all from Mexico. It seems from what I could read in Spanish that this was part of the ethnographic collection of the name for which the museum was named. Basically, it is only two rooms, but there were some interesting things.

Attempting to visit Pumapungo Museo, we found that Mondays they are closed. By this time, we were starving. We found out that there was a Govinda’s restaurant here, so decided to try it. 

On our way there, meandering through the neighborhood, we tried to locate the place where we stayed the last time. As we are walking the streets, we hear someone say, “Hello, excuse me!” in heavily non-Spanish accented English. We stop to allow an older couple to ask us if we knew of a pharmacy in the neighborhood. Explaining we are not residents and have not seen one, we inquired what their problem happened to be. They wanted coca tea for the altitude. They had been here three days, but they were still not feeling up to par. We questioned where they were from; surprised to hear they were from Canada, Ron mentioned that their accent did not sound Canadian. It turns out they were originally from Budapest, Hungary and left in ’56.

Vegetarian lunch at Govinda's
We had been to the Govinda’s in Quito on our last trip. It is much different from Govinda’s in Budapest, which gets the prize in my book. However, for $3 a person, you cannot beat it. 

I am getting a little rain logged. It has rained every day, but one since we arrived. Thankfully, today it had the common courtesy to wait until we arrived home again before the skies opened up.

More Cuenca photos are here:

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Ecuador The Cuenca January 2015 Album


I am such a photo hog it is almost shameful. I thought the photos for Cuenca would all be in one album. However, I have taken so many, it was better to break the album into the two months we will be here: January and February. 

It is difficult to imagine that we have been here less than 2 weeks and already there are over 200 photos in this album. January is not over yet. Honestly, I cut quite a few.

To see my photos of Cuenca, click here. Be warned the album is likely to grow significantly before the month ends. Two wonderful museums were closed today.

More of our travels are here.

I hope you enjoy!

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

What is a Collective Noun for Gay Men?


Saturday was a kickback day. I wanted to catch up on some things and we had another social event planned to the evening. After Friday’s marathon walk, we needed to do less for a day. 

One problem we had was the ATM machine in Miami spit out $50 bills, causing us problems getting them broken here. As our neighbor Howard explains, you give them a $10 note for a tab of $5.60 and their face scrunches as they ask “Don’t you have anything smaller?” We were stuck with two $50 bills. Some problem, right? 

Mike suggested we go across the street to a money change place to see if they would change it. Ron went, but they wanted a passport, which he did not have on him. Going up three flights of stairs and coming back down again was not an option on Marathon Friday. Of course, on Saturday, the place is closed. 

Where oh where were we going break this? We needed coffee beans, but knew the coffee roasting guy would not be able to make change. Off we went to the grocery store called TIA. Though it means aunt in Spanish, it really is an acronym for a corporation. We bought just enough to get by: eggs, broccoli,
and butter. When I handed over Ulysses S. Grant, the male cashier’s face turned into some character from the TV show Grimm. He looked at me with disgust and said “No change!” I opened my wallet and said “No mas dinero.” This was like show down at OK Corral. Who was going to fold first? I waited for him to make a decision. Finally, his hunched shoulders slackened and he yelled for someone to rescue him. A young woman arrived, took Grant and held him to the light. She looked at our changeling, while nodding her head. He opened his draw and gave me change from the copious amount of $20s and $10s in his draw.

Carting a few groceries, we continued to our grinder man. Ten feet from this café, it started to sprinkle. This is the place where we were held captive last Saturday. We wondered if this was a déjà vu moment. After a delightful espresso and our bag of beans, we were off. 

Dear and darling, Howard Wood and Mike Frohling were thoughtful enough to include us in their plans for a “Boys Night Out”. A group of their friends and friends of their friends has periodic group events. We understand the last one was a bowling night. Thankfully, we missed that one. I can only handle so much humiliation. Tonight’s event was dinner at Césares Internazionale Restaurant located at Tarqui 9-61 between Bolivar and Gran Colombia. 

We knew there were to be about 22 men all together. This caused me to think what collective noun has been coined for a group of gay men. Hmm… a group of geese is a gaggle, for flamingos it is flamboyance, and for critics it is a shrivel. A group of men is called a band, but that just does not do justice to gay men. Having to look it up, an ensemble is the word for a group of homosexuals. As very dramatic sounding as it is, homosexual is such a clinical term. For gay men, I want to coin the collective noun as exquisite. A group of gay men is exquisite. 

However prior to dinner, their friends George and Chad offered a pre-dinner cocktail hour at their place on Primero de Mayo. We had no idea what was forthcoming. It was a mind-blowing experience on so many levels. 

We had to take a taxi; George and Chad live a walkable distance away, but it was raining again. This lovely modern building had a security guard at the front desk where Howard signed us in.

After taking the elevator to the fifth floor, the top of the building we entered their entry hall where we discovered there were already 12 men chatting and drinking cocktails. Without any of the attitude or game playing so often encountered, each and every one of these men embraced us with introductions. Again, the warm welcoming demeanor took me aback not only how they reacted to Ron and I, but to each other. Not everyone there knew everyone there. Feelings of a platonic love fest were one of the thoughts that ran through my mind. 

Besides having an exquisite apartment with the most spectacular view, two complete walls of the living room are glass. There are no obstructions for the view. What is even
more jaw-dropping is the wraparound balcony that covers 1,200 square feet. Never in my life have I seen a balcony like that connected to someone’s apartment. Chad and George were the perfect hosts who made the best guacamole I have ever tasted.  
Mike Frohling, Howard Wood, Ron and Ryan
George called and ordered a small fleet of taxis to whisk us all away to the restaurant. Groups of men started down in the elevator. When Ron and I squeezed in the elevator had reached its capacity, refusing to move. We waited for the next lift to arrive. When we reached the front door, everyone was gone. They had all taken off in taxis. Two more taxis arrived, but we did not know the address of the restaurant and our driver had no clue based on the name alone. A little quick thinking was in order. Our cocktail hosts were last to leave to lock up. I went up to get them while Ron waited downstairs. We made it to the restaurant.

For as large a group as we were, there was only one server who had to double behind the bar. The meals arrived one at a time, but somehow we all had hot meals. Dinner was superb. I enjoyed the jalapeño chicken while Ron savored the tomato garlic sea bass.

As I was looking around and remembering the pairs of men we met, almost all of them have been together for 10 years or more and most have married their spouse. Another observation was the age range. I do not think anyone was younger than 45 years old and the ages progressed into the 70s.  When you think about it, this makes sense for people expatriating. You need to have made your money first if you are going to move to a new country to retire. That said though, there were a few couples who have created businesses here as well. The fortunate few! 

We finally parted for home around 9:30 pm floating on Cloud 9. This social activity is going to make the rest of our Ecuador travels pale by comparison. 

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