Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Chiva Tour in Baños Sounds Like Something Naughty

Time is passing so fast; it is more of a daze as opposed to days flying by. It seems like we just left Cuenca and already we have traveled and traveled around this glorious country.  Our
first full day in Baños, we signed up for a Chiva Tour. A chiva is a colorful rainbow vehicle that looks like a cross between an old-fashioned train and a flatbed truck. The fee was $6 per person including an English and Spanish speaking guide. WRONG! He, the guia, spoke only Spanish. Apparently, since there were only three English speakers, so he did not bother. 

The only time he spoke English was to try to get us to pony up
more money for the cable car ride where the group waited 20 minutes for those who wanted to risk life and limb to go back and forth over the canyon. An open-air cable car with low barriers all around was not my idea of a
good time. At the next stop, there was an attempt at getting us to zip line. Again, another 45 minutes flashed by while waiting for the others to put on their gear, before they went speeding off over the canyon. When the last one took off, we took off by Chiva to pick them up on the other side. All were accounted for, no tragedies.

The final layover was for those who wanted to pay yet another $1 to go for a hike down to the waterfalls. It was forty-five minutes free time or doing nothing time for those who did not want to climb down the hill and back up again. Those over 50 years old, who did it, said it was overexerting and some turned back half way. Even some of the younger people returned huffing and puffing claiming it was not worth the energy. You can guess which category we include ourselves. 

I was entertained by this dog. I could say "I chewed his ear off
with platitudes", but in fact, I found him adorable.

Just for the ride in the open air on the Chiva, it was okay. If you expect to get a tour, chances are you may not, unless you are in the majority language group. One needs to be prepared to shell
out more money along the way for other "opportunities”.  Alternatively, you can rent a bike or go-cart and do it on your own. The go-cart probably requires a driver’s license, which neither of us has, so we are out of luck. 

For dinner, Ron chose to go to the Swiss Bistro, after reading about on TripAdvisor. I left with mixed feelings. To be fair, the restaurant itself is great. Outside, the restaurant decoration is spots of black and white cow-like patterns. I guess Swiss cows are too monochrome to make the walls exciting. Inside, there are multiple levels to find tables. We chose the outside balcony on the upstairs level, though there was plenty of room upstairs inside. As it was getting chilly out, a staff member immediately lit the heaters. It started raining hard and the woman staff person asked if we wanted to move indoors; we were the only people outside. 

We stayed to listen to the rain and enjoy the flora. The atmosphere is outstanding, if quirky for Ecuador. There are Swiss flags, Swiss candleholders, and a good deal of cow paraphernalia adding to the atmosphere. Actually, you are never sure if this is a restaurant or a dairy farm. 

The woman server was attentive without being overbearing. We felt cared for, but not dominated. She performed with excellence so must have been well trained or she has an intuitive nature for this type of work.

When we opened the menu, we were a bit taken aback by the prices. Having been in Ecuador for over 2 months, the prices were sticker shock. Based on our previous experiences with similar restaurants in Cuenca and even Guayaquil, they were high. We had to restrict what we ordered as we only walked out with $35 and no credit card. As helpful as the menu may try to be with multiple languages, I found it confusing looking for the English under each item. They different languages did not seem to follow a pattern under each menu item. That said, I used prices to guide my choices so we did not have to leave one of us hostage while the other did a hotel run for more money.

With this in mind, I ordered the Swiss Rosti; though I was not entirely clear what it was. I went for the farmer option. What arrived was a small cast iron skillet filled with bland white food. The dish consisted of what seemed to be hash brown potatoes, with sliced ham bits (I thought the menu said sausage) Gruyere cheese layered on top and finished off with a fried egg. As much as I love cheese of any variety or country of origin, there was nothing here to bring out any significant flavoring overall. Mild flavor added to mild flavor does not create anything piquant.

Ron ordered Capun - what we read was this is a traditional dish of Swisse. He too received a similar cast metal frying pan with three balls of chard filled with spätzle, Parmesan cheese and covered with a cream sauce. This was the large portion. Was the small portion one ball?

Diminishing our anticipation of a delightful dinner by our lackluster choices, we enjoyed the ambiance instead. Again, this is partially our fault for not carrying enough cash, but it does not resolve the issue of spice and flavor.

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