Friday, 8 March 2013

Living the Life Ecuador Coast



Just 28 Km. east of Cuenca and a world apart.
The roads out of Cuenca are wide and modern, but very quickly narrow to a single lane and steep sides of bare rock and lush vegetation.
Passing over small, fast, running rivers and streams, the air is clear and crisp, as we get closer to Gualaceo. The architecture of Cuenca is left behind, and we move into buildings that remind me of Austria and northern Italy.
 As we approach the city, I see that it is placed in a valley that has a single river running into it. The steep sides have buildings clinging onto the hillsides, and the valley fades away between two mountains. There were no low clouds or haze from pollution obstructing my view. I can see how the city has grown, from the main road that cuts through the heart of the old city. To one side, the river forms a natural barrier; on the other side, the sprawl is halted by the steep terrain.
The hostal we stayed in was in the center by the mercado where they had general food, meat, and fruit vendors. Also, this is where you can go for your breakfast and lunch. They have delicious local food that I had not experienced in other parts of Ecuador.
The hostal was nice- the room was on the third floor; it had a double bed, shower, toilet and a TV. No heating, but for $15.00 a night, what can you expect? It has been a year or more since I have needed to have a blanket to keep me warm.
As we arrived in the late afternoon, we checked in and then went driving around to get a feel for the place. We found some very nice picnic places set up by the river. The river, we were told, has boats on it, and they have swimming contests in the high season. This was difficult to see as the water was moving very fast, and it is very cold.
Back up to the main square where, during the day, they have a very busy market. For now, it is night time and the square takes on a very different mantle. This is where young and old couples are walking and talking, enjoying the evening. There is a church in the center and the square in front of it that has a fountain as the centerpiece. On the walkway around it, there are blue LED lights set in to the pavement. I found this to be a very relaxing place.
As the night moved on, hunger is nipping at us. We went to a restaurant that is owned and run by a friend. The El Portal is just a few blocks from the church. The place is small; just 10 tables, and all the cooking is done on a range outside the front door. As we are introduced to Pancho, the owner, we are seated and brought a warm drink that is red in color. It is a local drink called horchata, which tastes very good. The menu consisted  of three choices: beef, pork, or chicken. It was 8 o'clock and the place was empty. I was not sure if this is normal. I was told that here, people do not start to eat out until after 9 .
Pork was what I asked for; it came with rice, salad, beans and what looked like white corn(we had this same corn with the drink) and you get a sauce and salt. This same corn is used to make pancakes that are served for breakfast.
As we ate and talked, the restaurant filled. I became very tired as the conversation was in Spanish only, so my brain was working overtime to keep up. I excused myself and went back to the hostal and bed.
After a good sleep, I was up and out by 06.00. The effects of altitude were still a factor, but at least I did not have to breathe in the polluted air of Cuenca.
I went across the street to the Mercado, watching the movements of the vendors and people making their way to work, stopping off to have breakfast and read the newspaper. Back in San Francisco, Calif., when people stopped for their breakfast, the absence of a newspaper was replaced with an Iphone, Ipad or some other electronic device to get the news.
Here and throughout South America, cell phones are and have made a big difference to the landscape of communication; but newspapers rule, and they have book shops,also.
So, as I stood back and watched for a time, I found that one side was for hot food and the other side was for cold drinks. So I approached and, in my best Spanish, I asked for pancakes and coffee with milk. The lady said $0.80, and I had my breakfast.
The pancakes are made from ground white corn formed into a pancake and placed onto a hot plate. You can cover them with marmalade or syrup, and they are tasty and filling, washed down with a large cup of coffee. It was good.
The meal last night was enormous and I was not able to finish it all, but the cost for all of that food was only $2.50. For some reason, the food in this area is very cheap. Petrol and diesel prices are no different from the coast.
As my companions were still sleeping, I wanted to look around and get a feel for the place. The temperature is cool but not cold; heavy clouds cover the sky. As I walk around, many people are polite and bid me good morning. I am not sure if this is normal or because I am the only white person around. I am sure that this place receives many visitors.
The narrow streets cobbled and clean, the sidewalks clean and well maintained convey pedestrian and vehicle traffic alike. Because of the streets' construction, a one -way system has been imposed on all vehicles, which makes it much safer for the pedestrians.
As I make my way to the open market, a throng of people has erupted.  This was a tranquil place last night, and now it has been transformed into a hub of commerce.
Fruits, vegetables, shoes, clothes, livestock, etc. all for sale. One thing that I have noticed is that all the stalls are run by the women. The men fill the stands and do the humping, but the women are in charge of the money.
About this time, I get a call from my companions that they are ready to have breakfast.
After I have a second breakfast, we move out and, with the help of Pancho, who lives here, we are taken around to all the sites. Now, most of the things I was taken to are not in any tour guide, and I was thankful for that. But we did make it to the weavers' shop and factory. What a treat!
Here they have a water park, two spas, picnic areas, shoe shops, food markets, traditional clothes and much more. You will have to come here to check out what they have for you, because I was taken well off the tourist path. I encourage you to try and do the same. Enjoy the slide show.

This Month

March 9, 1864 - Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned as a Lieutenant General and became commander of the Union armies.
Birthday - Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512) was born in Florence, Italy. He explored South America and the Amazon River, believing he had discovered a new continent. In 1507, a German mapmaker first referred to the lands discovered in the New World as America.
Birthday - Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) was born in Gzhatsk, Russia. On April 12, 1961, he became the first human in space, orbiting in a capsule 187 miles above the Earth's surface in a flight lasting 108 minutes. His space flight caused a worldwide sensation and marked the beginning of the space race as the U.S. worked to catch up to the Russians and launch an American into space. President John F. Kennedy later asserted the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960's.
March 10, 1862 - The first issue of U.S. government paper money occurred as $5, $10 and $20 bills began circulation.
March 10, 1880 - The Salvation Army was founded in the United States. The social service organization was first founded in England by William Booth and operates today in 90 countries.
Birthday - Politician and playwright Claire Boothe Luce (1903-1987) was born in New York City. She served in the House of Representatives from 1943 to 1947 and then became the first woman appointed as U.S. ambassador to a major country (Italy).
March 11
March 11, 1918 - The 'Spanish' influenza first reached America as 107 soldiers become sick at Fort Riley, Kansas. One quarter of the U.S. population eventually became ill from the deadly virus, resulting in 500,000 deaths. The death toll worldwide approached 22 million by the end of 1920.
March 11, 1941 - During World War II, the Lend-Lease program began allowing Britain to receive American weapons, machines, raw materials, training and repair services. Ships, planes, guns and shells, along with food, clothing and metals went to the embattled British while American warships began patrolling the North Atlantic and U.S troops were stationed in Greenland and Iceland. "We must be the great arsenal of democracy," President Roosevelt declared concerning the fight against Hitler's Germany. The initial appropriation was $7 Billion, but by 1946 the figure reached $50 Billion in aid from the U.S. to its Allies.
Birthday - British prime minster and statesman Harold Wilson (1916-1995) was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. As a young boy he once posed for a photo in front of 10 Downing Street, the residence he occupied 40 years later as head of the Labour government.
March 12
March 12, 1609 - The island of Bermuda was colonized by the British after a ship on its way to Virginia was wrecked on the reefs.
March 12, 1888 - The Great Blizzard of '88 struck the northeastern U.S. The storm lasted 36 hours with snowfall totaling over 40 inches in New York City where over 400 persons died from the surprise storm.
March 12, 1938 - Nazis invaded Austria, then absorbed the country into Hitler's Reich.
March 12, 1994 - The Church of England ordained 32 women as its first female priests. In protest, 700 male clergy members and thousands of church members left the church and joined the Roman Catholic Church which does not allow women priests.
March 12, 1999 - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic became full-fledged members of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) less than ten years after exchanging communist rule for democracy and ending their Cold War military alliances with Soviet Russia.
Birthday - The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) was born in Salonika, Greece. Following World War I, he led the Turkish revolution and became Turkey's first president.
March 13
March 13, 1943 - A plot to kill Hitler by German army officers failed as a bomb planted aboard his plane failed to explode due to a faulty detonator.
Birthday - Scientist and clergyman Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) was born in Yorkshire, England. He discovered oxygen and advanced the religious theory of Unitarianism.