Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cap and ReCap


This is a recap of our week, but before I re-cap, I thought I had better give a cap first.

Sunday – Ron went to church again. I swear he is obsessive with this tradition. Again, I sat in the park to read and people watch. When he was done, we decided to check out this mall, we have heard so much about called Mall del Rio. Having a bus card makes it easy to hop on and off buses, but sometimes it take extra skill to discover which bus to hop on in the first place.

Mall del Rio is not as impressive as I had expected from the varied reports. If you like variety, the food court is like a restaurant city unto itself. There must be 30 different eating options. Beyond that, there are few stores selling products or services. Based on the food choices, one would thing a clothing store for over-sized people would flourish.  No such store was obvious.

The highlight for me was the pet store, because of the puppies in the window. This sets off a love-hate relationship. I hate seeing puppies cooped up in small display cases, but I love puppies. This little critter refused to awaken even when the

beagle was biting his ear; this made me wonder about the health of the dogs. The one anchor store of the complex is the Coral Hipermarket (sic). This two story mega-commercial outlet has everything from major appliances to sexy lingerie to a full supermarket.

Since we were already here, the Coral Hipermarket was convenient for getting our grocery shopping out of the way. Remembering the problems at SuperMaxi, we divided our groceries into two orders; each was under $15. Ron’s part came to $10.26. They asked for his passport. I was blown away. I said if you want a passport, you had better put all of this food away, because it is in the locker when we were instructed we could not take our bags into the store. Suddenly, our purchases were approved. What insanity. We were not about to apply for a Coral card knowing we would never return.

Monday – We had plans to have Barbara and Bill Wolfe, our past home exchange partners, plus Howard and Mike over for lunch. Originally, we were going to cook chicken breasts, shred them and have a full salad bar with chicken. However, Ron had the bright idea to return to the area where Museo del Artes de Fuego is located and get empanadas for lunch tomorrow. We called Edgar, the owner of Empanadas de las Herrierias and told him we would be there by 3pm to collect nine chicken and nine beef empanadas. Ron thought ahead to bring a large metal pan to bring them home. We were able to take the bus there, but we had to take a taxi home. After we dropped them off, we headed out again to stock up on beers.

Tuesday – Everyone arrived at noon. We sat around drinking beer while the empanadas were warming per Edgar’s instructions. Lunch turned out to be lovely, sociable and entertaining. Unfortunately, all the guests had later afternoon engagements, so by 2:30pm, we were alone.

Wednesday – Our days in Cuenca are running thin. Ron wanted to return to Casa de Las Posadas to see once again the

exhibit of the flowers. As a compromise to me, we stopped at the Jodoco Belgian Brew microbrewery to sample their February selections. They change each month. Across the park is the Museum of Modern Art.  Ron had wanted to revisit it
and surprisingly they had a new collection. This time, most of the work was ceramic, with offbeat designs, some fantasy, and others an artistic take on reality. Regardless, it was refreshing to get another dose of culture before we left the city.

Thursday – Close to airport is the Homero Ortega Panama Hat Museum. This was supposed to be superior to the one on Calle Larga. Ron thought he knew how to get there, but we took the wrong bus or at least took it too far. We took it to the end, thinking we could walk from there. When the bus driver recognized our confusion, he offered assistance in English. He was so kind telling us to stay on the bus so we would not have to pay again. He instructed us to sit close to him so he could tell us where to get off on the return trip. He instructed we would need to walk five blocks after he left us off or take a different bus.

As we were walking, we stopped for an almuerzo (lunch). In Ecuador, almuerzo signs reflect a full meal that is served from 11am to 3pm. We had a berry flavored drink, a lentil-potato soup, followed by beefsteak with gravy, rice, and French fries for $2.50 each.

At the museum, a guide is assigned to guests. Maria Elisa was ours. She was charming and very well informed, not only giving the guided spiel, but answering questions as well. This is a real museum and working factory. Woven in the
countryside, the hats are brought to this facility for bleaching, dying, shaping, ironing, and shipping. It was quite a comprehensive tour and well worth the hassle getting here. Homero Ortega, who founded the company, died in 1998. Though he had multiple children who are all involved in the company, his eldest daughter is currently the president.

We were able to walk to another Super Maxi from the museum to get our last stock of groceries in Cuenca. It did take us 2 buses to get back home again.

Friday – We wanted to do the tour bus one more time. We picked up the noon bus at Parque Calderon, but this time when we reached the summit at Mirador de Turi, we checked
out the E. Varga Ceramic Studio. Varga, considered one of the premier ceramists in Ecuador, created the giant ceramic mural at the University of Cuenca. We discovered he has another large mural in Ohio as well as European countries. His work knows few boundaries as he has pieces large and small, simplistic and highly intricate. Walking through the four rooms of his showroom, our mouths were hanging open most of the time.

Deciding to have lunch on the hill while waiting for the bus to return, we discovered that the restaurant with the most glamorous adverting never opened for the day. We climbed the poorly created steps up the hill to the first level only to find a less than thrilling craft store loaded with junky tokens for the unaware tourist. Alongside it was a ‘café’, which only offered drinks.

Climbing up the hill an additional landing, prompted by a restaurant sign, we only found a heritage photograph display of Cuenca past. Discouraged, we walked the perimeter of the church, but the only options were a fast food truck without seating or a small restaurant that only sold salchipapa. For the uninitiated, this is French fries with a hot dog on top. We ate most of the fries and donated the hot dog to the stray dogs of the area.

Saturday – Finally, today we went to buy our tickets for Loja. We leave Cuenca tomorrow on a shuttle at noon. We will arrive in Loja at 3pm. I am having a little bit of separation anxiety about leaving Cuenca, but we know that there are other adventures and beauty ahead of us.

With tickets in hand, when I scanned through my e-mails on our return ‘home’, we now have home exchanges planned for Belfast, North Ireland just prior to our two week exchange in Dublin. We have a request for one week in Marseilles, France in August and a five-day exchange in Oslo for October. 

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Disaster Before Dinner ~ Flood Before Food


An apartment equipped with a washing machine and dryer is usually a blessing. However, the washer/dryer combo here is part Australian and whirling dervish. Once it begins the spin cycle, it loses all sense of being and goes on a walkabout.

Yesterday, we did a load of clothes, but by the time it had completed cycling, it had shuffled all the way

across the kitchen to the dishwasher. Appliances in love, is not certain, but what was certain, the path was blocked. As we had to do in the immediate past, I push the machine back where it should be living, by wiggling it back and forth.

Just as I completed the task, I heard a heavy hissing sound.  Peeking behind the contraption, it did not take long to realize water was spouting out of the faucet where it converged with the tubes to the washer. I tried turning off one faucet and then the other, but to no avail. Screaming for Ron, he came and found by holding the faucet tightly, the water would stop temporarily. Within minutes, the kitchen was flooded.

Grabbing our thick and heavy bath towels, I spread them on
the floor to keep it from continuing into the dining room area. With Ron holding the pipe, I went downstairs to see if the young woman was monitoring the front door. She was not there. Then I remembered we had briefly met an American couple who said they lived on the fourth floor. I went up there knocking on doors. Shane answered his and came down with me. He had no idea how to turn the water off within the apartment for the kitchen, but was able to shut off all of the apartment’s water supply from the basement. That worked.

For two hours, we mopped up water with towels after finding the mop to be less than adequate. Hand wringing those towels, which are heavy when dry, were really challenging when soaked with water. I was so nervous about breaking someone else’s equipment I was shaking. From looking at the faucet, I thought they would certainly have to remove tile to get to it.

Not knowing what to do, I called Malena, the property owner from our previous exchange. She promised to try to call a plumber for me, but had doubts about a Saturday house call. Promising to attempt it and then call me back, we left it there. I sat on the sofa and shook with anxiety.  After 30 minutes, Ron decided to see if the front desk person was there yet, we did not realize no one is there on weekends.

Failing this, he knocked on the doors of the first floor, where Karen and Will live. They are Canadians who have been here about three years. They are retired teachers who taught in Egypt and Russia, but moved here sight unseen when they quit working. As fortune would have it, Karen just had a plumber leave about 25 minutes before Ron found them home. She immediately called a friend who in turn would call the plumber back. While they were waiting, Ron and Karen were chitchatting. After Ron mentioned that we had a B & B in Budapest, Karen said, “I think I met you two years ago.”

As soon as Ron mentioned this to me, I had instant recall. We were on the corner at Parque Calderon watching a Christmas parade go by. Karen asked if we lived in Cuenca and we said we were just visiting. They mentioned they had retired here and we chatted some more learning they were Canadians. It is such a small world. We caught the plumber who promised to return 30 minutes later.

About 15 minutes went by when the doorbell rang. It was Malena, her boyfriend John, along with Barbara and Bill the couple with whom we did our first Cuenca home exchange. They all came to see if John or Bill could assist in any manner. In the meantime, Karen popped up and the plumber arrived. Thankfully, Malena translated. He had to run to the hardware store to get a part. Minutes later, he returned and with 15 minutes had the entire thing fixed. Cost $20. I was so grateful, relieved, and blown away by the insignificant amount I tipped him. Malena told me I should not have, but I said I was so thrilled it was something minor, I would have kissed him. 

We had arranged with Mike and Howard to go to dinner at Joe’s Secret Garden. We had heard about this fabulous event that only takes place on Saturday evenings. Joe and Joseph
fill the entire downstairs of their home with tables and chairs seating up to 100 guests. They publish the fixed menu on Mondays and then take reservations until they fill capacity. From what we heard, it is easy to be turned away for lack of room. This was going to be an event we would not want to miss. The plan was to meet Howard and Mike at 5:30 for the cocktail hour. Until the miraculous plumber showed up, our being able to attend was 50-50.

Arriving at the house, there are servers waiting at the gate to check guests off the list. They then show guests where the location of their particular table, before showing pointing out the bar and the gardens. All early birds were sipping drinks in the garden. It was here where we found Mike, Howard, Curt, Scott, and Jack.  

When dinner is ready, Joe rings a bell to signal people it is time to take their places at their respective tables. Within minutes, the serving staff has glasses filled with water followed by bowls and bowls of food served family style. 

The chicken fried steak could make a catcher’s mitt pale in comparison in size, but it was moist and tender, not chewy leather. Smothering the steak and the potatoes with the roasted chili gravy was damned on this night. The cornbread arrived as sticks and as wedges. I did not realize that they were both the same, but the sticks were my favorite. Both had pork cracklings in them.heavenly and calories be
Grasshopper Pie
  Those seasoned guests around us made it clear that if we ran out of anything, they would refill the bowls. I only wish I had smuggled in some Tupperware. 

Not my greatest shot, but you get the idea.
Ron and I both had a large beer and then later a large glass of wine. The total bill came to $40 with taxes. Unbelievable!

Only the company made the evening more delightful than the dinner itself.

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Did It, But I Never Want To Do It Again


Wake me when it is over!
After reading TripAdvisor reviews and listening to Mike and Howard give the Amaru Zoologica rave reviews, in spite of the warnings, we wanted to visit. Karenfromchicago who wrote a review on TA was spot on. We heard it was 'challenging', but nothing prepared us for what we encountered. When you have been a smoker for 40+ years and with only 10 years reprieve, this was more like the Mighty Man challenge.

Here is the story. We are living in Gringolandia, which is away from downtown Cuenca. We took a bus to near Museo Todos Santos beyond the downtown area; from there, we walked down the hill crossing the river to hail a taxi. The driver knew exactly where we needed to go. Expecting to pay upwards of $8 for the taxi, it was $2.80. The bus ride was .50 for two of us. So far so good. Pre-warned that some taxis would let you off at the bottom of the hill off the highway, but if it happened, we should insist we be taken to the top. Otherwise, it is a 600-meter climb.

Our driver knew the drill. He took us directly to the parking lot, the closest place to take a car. However, once you reach
the parking lot, you start the ascent to the ticket office. Ascent means a whole lot of stairs and inclines, which have to be navigated before handing over $4 per person for a ticket. With the ticket, you get a map. What we did not find were respirator or pickaxe rentals. They could really clean up if those were available. 

As others have shared, the zoo built on
the side of a mountain needs careful climbing. Before you leave the ticket area, looking at the vista of the city, you realize this is way higher altitude than expected. Cuenca is 2,560 m (8,400 ft) in altitude. There is a significant gain in altitude just at the ticket office. We will reach great heights still as, the fun has yet to begin.

All of the paths to follow are dirt, rock pebble, old trees, or a combination of all of the above. What you will not find is concrete, but only
natural materials in various forms. Do not even dare to come here if it is raining or slightly moist out. Paths are marred by overgrown tree roots and tree stumps, but there are also tree branches that need to be ducked under or pushed back in order to pass. Old tree branches create handrails and though they are as pliable as overcooked spaghetti, they are significantly comforting giving the impression you will not slip and slide breaking an ankle or foot. Speaking of which, if anyone tried this without good sneakers or hiking boots, serious trouble is predictable.

Good excuse to catch my breath.
I lost count of how many times I was bent over gasping for air. At those moments, I would have settled for any air, even pollution would have been welcomed. I think rock climbing would have been less stressful. The exertion gave new meaning to wearing your heart of your sleeve. I seriously think my heart moved out of position from the efforts involved.

You walk, walk, walk and then climb, climb, climb. Just when you think you are about to touch the clouds, that false
The end is out of reach.
security hits you that still is still another climb around the corner. Thinking we have already climbed over all of the halved tree trunks, some rotting and others missing their mission by covering the path altogether, there we were still more to conquer. Descents downward are illusions of false hope. Each time, I thought, "Great, we are finally descending" around the corner was another staircase to heaven that needed mastering. I swear we passed some saints on the way.

Bless me Mother Nature, I have sinned by smoking, but I quit yet you are still punishing me. Some restful spots are provided here and there, but certainly not enough for older folks who are not in shape. Thankfully, the trails are not inundated with people, so we could stand still, heaving and gasping before moving on again.

We never did see the local bears, alpacas or a number of
other animals that the signs led us to believe they would be. No one home at the forest. What we did find fascinating was the monkey area. There are wire circular cages for monkeys to run rampant around an area in safety. There is an underground tunnel for them to run over to monkey island.
You're kidding me~
In one area, a tiny monkey was running free and was within arm’s length, totally oblivious to our existence or aware, but not giving a rip.

The ticket seller mentioned that it would take us about two and one-half hours to get through the zoo. Taking into consideration false stops to regard the vista when we were really sucking in oxygen or trying to keep our hearts from exploding, or sitting in places where there were real benches, it took us more like 3 3/4
We were watching to see if you would make it.
hours. We did take full advantage of large rocks for resting.

At the end, the ticket office was very pleasant about calling for a taxi and he arrived within 12 minutes. Going back, the traffic was extremely heavy so the fare was $8 with a tip. To be fair, we had him drop us off closer the city center so this added to it. I was so grateful to be sitting in one place. I would have paid
We are now proud members of the 2 1/2 mile high club.
him more.

It was a great experience now that it is over. Been there, done that and now it is wiped clean from my bucket list. My back and muscles will keep the memories going for quite some time hereafter.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sleeping on the Job


I have been sleeping on the job; I have to get back on track.

Having Howard and Mike over for dinner felt as comfortable as entertaining at home, but there was a learning curve involved. We have become accustomed to shopping in Budapest, knowing the stores, our butcher and our green grocer. We are familiar with which products to buy where. We intimately know the variables of our stove and oven; there are rarely surprises.

When you are in a different city and home, everything starts from scratch. Sure, we have been shopping here and cooking, but it is for us. If calamity strikes, we only have ourselves to blame. Do not get me wrong, Mike and Howard are not intimidating dinner guests; if things went south, they would be gracious. They are from Georgia after all, so they know when things go south.

Well, I am pleased to say we managed to get decent pork chops, find enough ingredients to combine with them for a delicious meal that Ron put together. Ron has been master chef almost every night, expanding his cooking repertoire with strange new edible ingredients and experimenting with items we cannot translate.

Dinner was as delight with fun company. We have been enriched this trip so far by having Mike and Howard to share social events with; we are maximizing the time. We will have dinner with them and a horde of others at Joe’s Secret Garden this Saturday night. There will be more about that after the event.

Having Howard and Mike over, gave us a hankering to try the metal museum once again. When we were there with them, we did not have any luck. It was closed.

Ron and I ventured over. Once again, the sculpture of the man evolving from the volcano really had an impact on me. There is something emotional here that is beyond description.  An energy overtakes me as I scan each piece of tile used to create it. The last time, Howard had posted a few pictures on Facebook. One of his commenters mentioned how she would like to photograph each tile. This made me wish I had done this. Today, I did photograph a number of the tiles that really spoke to me in various ways.

Can you imagine being this artist as a child and having to

write out his full name all the time?

Of course, the museum was still closed, so we never did get in. We waited beyond the reopening hour post lunch of 2pm, but by 2:45, it was still shuttered. 

On our way back to the bus, Ron was hungry for empanadas. Just by luck, we found Las Empanadas de las Herrerias on our way. We ordered two of each: carne, queso, and pollo. This was dinner. They were delicious! The crust was flaky and light while the insides of the meat options were stuffed with juicy meat. The cheese ones were good too, but not moist. This would be a return to place if we were here longer. 

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2501 ~ A Milestone


From over a decade ago to today, I have posted
blog entries here. This is quite a milestone if I do say so myself.

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Fat Tuesday - Lean Offerings


It is so appropriate that today is Fat Tuesday. Last night we watched the Spanish movie Gordos. Not wanting our last days in Cuenca to Passover with regrets, we pushed ourselves out the door today. With plans to visit the Museo de los Metales, we were proud of ourselves getting out before noon.  When we spent the day with Mike and Howard, we visited the man erupting from the volcano, but the museo was closed.

Walking to the bus stop has become a no brainer, but we did notice less traffic than usual on the major road. Approaching the bus stop was eerie; there was not a soul there. Normalmente, there is a small crowd leering into the distance seeking out any sign of a bus. This was ominous. After 15 minutes, 10 longer than usual, we realized there were no buses.

Ron had the bright idea to see if there were any by the Mercado on the other side of the river. Following the river path, we wandered down to the high traffic and commercial area. Right across the street is a great bakery, so we dropped in to check out their offerings for our special dinner guests’ dessert tomorrow night. We are entertaining Mike and Howard if I ever remember to tell them what time to come over. Guys if you read this, come over at 6:30pm. ;  )

As good fortune would have it, the number 100 bus was running.
We took this into the city center, just barely when Ron decided we should get off. We walked four blocks in the same direction as the bus, so we could have enjoyed the ride a bit longer. Nevertheless, the streets were vacant; we walked blocks before seeing another human. I mentioned to Ron that this would be the perfect day for a mugging. There was no one around to hear you scream for help.

Naturally, the majority of those we ran into were other Gringos who looked as perplexed as we must have. There was nothing open; no restaurants were serving food, no retailers were pushing products, nada. Realizing the void around us was probably an omen that the museum would not be open our plans were derailed.

 Changing our strategy, we decided we would check on our coffee roaster; if he was open, we needed coffee. Eureka! We found him behind the counter, pulling a shot of espresso. With nowhere to rush off to, I enjoyed his pulled pork sandwich, though I would not classify it as ‘pulled’ pork. Ron had the red velvet cake. The couple at the next table started chatting. They were from California via Hawaii, but moved here three years ago. The wife was saying there are more cultural events for her to involve herself in than then there were in Hawaii. She did not say, but certainly, the cost of living is dramatically cheaper.

I spotted a woman at another table wearing a t-shirt with
Exit 102
Asbury Park,
New Jersey

My resistance only lasted three minutes before I went over to ask her if she was from Asbury Park. The look she gave me
had me wondering if my face was particularly ugly today. She grimaced, pulled out her shirt and said it refers to the BOSS. Well anyone who has grown up in the area knows the BOSS is Bruce Springsteen

It was the Exit 102 that threw me, because the last time I was on the NJ Parkway, there was no exit 102. The closest one to my former home and Asbury Park was 105. She was not the least bit friendly, so I explained that is my home area and walked back to our table.

Leaving the café, Ron suggested we walk home along the river since buses were in short supply. Most buses were off the grid, but taxis were prevalent. I agreed to walk knowing we could get a taxi at any time. 

We did in fact walk home along the river. My pedometer shows we covered 5.51 miles, but we did stop at the SuperMaxi for fixings for tomorrow’s dinner. By that point, I really was ready for a taxi, but the walk is only another ¼ of a mile from there, so we hoofed it. 

I had to Google the parkway exits when we arrived home and sure enough, there is an exit 102 now. It is just three miles from 105. 

So Cuenca, with almost everything closed, we did have a passover after all.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Danger Alert - Be Wary of Younger Men


It had been days since we met up with Mike and Howard; they were going to be busy with out of town/country guests. When one of their guests did a no-show, they contacted us for a get-together. We arranged to meet after Ron’s Sunday church duty was over.

Getting to town early, Ron and I stopped into a couple of
lesser than basilica churches to see what is happening. YIKES! One church was decked out like New York City’s Radio City Music Hall back from my childhood. This is religious theater at its best.

After Ron’s church attendance, we met up with Mike and Howard at our old stomping grounds, the apartment building where we stayed. Our first stop was for lunch, but it was closed. These are carnival days; many businesses close for a few days so employees can go out of town. We landed at Original Italy Pizza. Pizzas here are large enough to share, and eating them gave us plenty of time to catch up on the latest stories to share.

Post lunch, Howard and Mike suggested we walk to Parque El
Paraiso, one we had not been to yet. We walked and talked and talked and walked. At one point, we were at the back base of the Pumapungo ruins. There is a small aviary located here, which we had wanted to revisit; our first time was two years ago.
Aside from the caged birds, (I know why they sing), there llamas grazing along the hillside in addition to a wide assortment of flowering plants and trees. Hummingbirds fly freely all over the area.

Getting high on nature, we continued our trek; much of it was along the river, which hydro-powered our mental outlook. The weather could not have been more idea,
hovering between the high 60s and low 70s all day. At one point, we walked through a tunnel where once again, the wall art was significantly stunning and original. Cuenca, considered the hub for writers and artists in Ecuador; no one can doubt the artistic part with the number of pieces on display in public places.  

We walked quite a distance before Parque El Paraiso was in sight. One of the special things about this park that Howard informed us about was that the Tomebamba and Yanuncay
rivers converge into one within the park. Covering an incredible 17 hectares, if the two rivers are not enough water, the municipal government created an artificial lagoon in the park. At times, one can rent one of the 10 pedal boats that accommodate up to four people to pedal around the lagoon. 

In addition, there is a driver education park within the park. When we first saw it, I thought it was a mini-driving course, but it is the real thing. There is something for everyone. A field is set apart for soccer and as you walk farther, tons of exercise and play equipment dot the landscape. One jungle gym alone made me wish I were 10 years old again. 

Walking various paths was intriguing. We bypassed the
elevated boardwalk to follow the paths through the wooded areas alongside the river.  Children were playing all over and since it is carnival time, they were spraying foam and squirting water at each other. Laughter is a melody that I never tire of hearing. Mike and I tried to keep our children in check, but it is holiday time, so they were feeling boisterous. Families, couples, and singles were all entranced with the beauty of the park. Dogs were dizzily running around checking every new smell. All human senses were rewarded with an enchanting feast making for a magical day, but it was not to end yet.

Howard had mentioned there was a sculpture he wanted us to see; it was of a man emerging from a volcano. Developing mental pictures, I could not think why this would be interesting, but we were enjoying their company. What the
hell? Walking hither and yon, we passed a young man making homemade taffy. The sample we were given reminded me of the old Mary Jane candies. As good as it was, it was a high sugar alert.
When we reached the sculpture, the guys directed us to, all preconceived thoughts were tossed out. This was a
magnificent piece of art. Photos from a distance do not do it justice at all. You need to get up close and personal for fully appreciating the work. Stones that create lava paths are decorated with assorted tiles, which are individually decorated with characters, symbols, people, and animals. 

I had to walk all around this piece in
order to take it all in. Each step gave it a new perspective. It seemed that I would never be able to ingest all that it offered. This place begs to be revisited often. Multiple visits are the only way to acquire the synergy on display. It is a creation where the whole complex is greater than the simple sum of its parts. Alternatively, all the parts are separate artistic creations. 

Set in the back of this courtyard is the Museo de los Metales. Mike told us it has been closed each time they have been here. Official documentation states, “The collection that this museum shows is based on metallic pieces, especially of corporal decoration, created in the pre-Inca era.”

Mind you, we left the apartment at 10am. By this point in time, it was bearing down on 5:45 pm and we had not stopped for a sit break yet. I kept waiting for someone to suggest it, but even Ron failed me. When we reached a small square filled mostly with stores closed for the holiday, I made a beeline for the bench. 

After a 15-minute break, I decided we should take a taxi home. The thought of continuing to walk, then climb 96 steps, followed by another four blocks of walking to catch the bus, seemed un-doable. We did walk a few blocks where we thought getting a taxi would be easy. Not so, it seems. They were either full or diverting to other places. Knowing it would be close to 7pm before we reached home, I gave in to the inevitable. 

We did finally arrive home at 6:45pm. I turned to Ron and asked, “Aren’t you tired?” His reply was “My legs are like tree stumps.” Lesson to be learned here ~ Be Wary of Younger Men – They can be dangerous to your health. All considered, it was a damn great day! Thanks fellows.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Be (Lated) My Valentine


Realizing I have taken a vacation while on vacation, I will do a little catching up. Being out of the center has been a very different experience. Having the river at our doorstep has been the ultimate relaxation experience.

We took a walk along the river on the path to the very end. What is stunning is that along the way, there are dozens of flowering plants all well maintained. On one side, you have the river rushing over rocks like rush hour traffic in a hurry to get somewhere. On the other side, you have grassy areas cushioning your feet like green foam rubber while you feast your eyes on the varieties of fauna.

After one mile of river walking, the path ended so we were going to take a cross street and return to the apartment

walking down the major road. What we did not expect when we started on the cross street was to find a small field with two cows and one bull tethered in their respective spots. Surrounded by high-rise apartment complexes, in the midst of all, there is a patch of country living.
Roses may say, “I love you”, but here they also say you are cheap. Ecuador grows over 60 varieties of roses, with the multitude exported to the US, Canada, Italy, Germany, and Russia. They have over 5,000 acres of land devoted to roses and this is a (pardon the pun) growing field. Needless to say, browsing the flower market each time we are around the center square is a must thing to do. Strangely, we have not bought any for ‘home’ only because we never intend to return ‘home’ for hours.

Other surprises included seeing booth after booth appear on the side of the new basilica peddling Valentine’s

paraphernalia. Items ranged from helium balloons to stuffed bears that would dwarf me in size. Significantly, the flower market is directly across the street; gorgeous bouquets of assorted flowers are available for $3.

Carnival in Ecuador started on Thursday, February 12. Of course, we again were in the wrong place at the right time. I stopped at the tourism office to check on festivities as we had read this was a major celebration. It is, but not in Cuenca. Tourism informed me that all celebrations would be held elsewhere.  The one tradition that they do maintain here is squirting others with colored foam and
spraying them with water. With the advent of technology the spraying has progressed to powerful water guns, but for those financially challenged, buckets of water suffice. 

For days now, we have been relaxed, not doing much at all. We seemed to have visited all of the museums that are open for business. Being outside of the city center has been a deterrent for getting out early in the morning and going somewhere. Now, we laze about thinking about getting a bus to the center, and then laze some more. 

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Merge and Purge


Let me take you on a little travel news tour uncovering how changes in the works, will impact the way we buy our airline tickets. Unless you persistently follow travel news, you may not be aware of what is happening. This little post could save you some time and potentially some aggravation.

For years, Travelocity has been a go to site for seeking out the best prices on airfare and hotels. This was part of my arsenal when I did my searches. Now, I can scratch it off the list. Here is why…

As quoted from Skifttake “As expected after the early termination of a Federal Trade Commission antitrust review two weeks ago, Expedia Inc. acquired Travelocity outright for an underwhelming $280 million in cash.” The full story is here. Of course, they will maintain the Travelocity name and website for those not aware.

Well, Expedia is on a shopping spree for sure. Not only did they bargain for Travelocity, when you are on a streak, why stop there? They went after and acquired Orbitz, another former competitor. This narrows the field from the four major players: Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, and Priceline down to two. Are you keeping track or do I need to spell it out for you? EXPEDIA and Priceline.

If you were not aware, Expedia also owns, Hotwire, Trivago, CheapTickets and eBookers, Venere,, Classic Vacations, Expedia Cruise Ships, plus others with lesser-known names. Priceline’s stable includes, Kayak and Most roads will lead to Expedia.

Other mergers you may or may not care about, depending on your search style, Skifttake also reports “Switzerland-based Bravofly has an agreement to acquire, often referred to as Travelocity Europe, for $120 million. Subject to regulatory approvals, the deal is expected to close in the next couple of months.”

This news will certainly help me purge my travel searching bookmarks. Hunting through multiply versions of Expedia will result in a paraphrasing of Albert Einstein’s quote “Stupidity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Until something happens to them, my favorite search engines are Hipmunk, Adioso, Google Flights, and Drungli.

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