Happy Spring!

Cobble Beach, Grey County, Ontario
Friday, March 20, 2020

Happy birthday, Kenneth! Happy birthday, Susan R!

It sure is good that we had seats on the last Air Canada flight out of Ecuador. The JetBlue flight we had booked for 23:50 on Monday was cancelled. Ecuador has since added a string of restrictions. As well as no international or domestic flights, there are no forms of transportation: no buses, no taxis, no passenger vehicles. Trucks are parked on the airport runways to prevent any planes from landing, even planes arriving empty to repatriate their own citizens. There is a curfew and people are not to be on the streets except to get medicine or food. Restaurants are closed and hotels are closing. We are really glad to be home!

We are rich with friends looking after us, making sure we have food and supplies, even tulips for our table. 

We have been enjoying drinking water at home without worrying about whether or not it is safe. We do not need to drink water through a straw with an attached purifier. We had a poached egg instead of scrambled. All the eggs we had while away were good, but scrambled. 

Chef Brian is working his magic in the kitchen; so we have had beer-can chicken, grilled pickerel, fresh bread, waffles, grilled cheese sandwich and our own homemade granola. All delicious!

We are walking every day, usually twice a day. Mother Nature is awakening to spring. Yesterday we saw not one but two snowy owls, swans, mallards in pairs, many robins, redwing blackbirds and killdeer scurrying about to build their inadequate nests in silly places. The snowdrops are up. The daffodils and tulips are pushing through the soil and snow. The pussy willows are ready to burst forth. If you are not going outside, try it! There is plenty that is not right in our world now, but the outdoors is beautiful even in rain or snow. We can walk, keeping our distance from others and breathing fresh air.

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams.” Jonas Salk, medical researcher:  discoverer of a successful polio vaccine

Grateful to Be Home

Home Again…3 Days Early
Cobble Beach, Ontario


Monday, March 16, 2020

We are always happy to be home again. This was a long day that began at 4:30. We went out of our room carrying our packs and were surprised that it was raining. Fortunately we only had to cross the garden at our hostal and get into our yellow taxi that arrived within minutes, promptly at 5:00. We were grateful that our host had called a taxi for us the night before.

We slept much better than the previous night. Our queen-size bed was comfortable and it was cool. We even pulled on one of the large plush blankets in the night. We are back to long pants and a sweater after several days in shorts.

Even though we had secured booking with Jet Blue then Air Canada to get us home at 23:50, we were not taking any chances. If we could go stand-by and get on the Air Canada flight this morning at 7:30, we were going to try.

There was already a crowd at the Quito airport when we arrived before 5:15. We found the line for standby. Eight Canadians were already ahead of us. Everyone had a story of spending hours this weekend on the phone or online trying to get through to Air Canada and/or the Canadian Embassy, both unsuccessfully. One Ottawa family had only been in the country two days. They had come for a week of March break. A woman from Nelson, B.C. Had been on a bus for twelve hours from Cuenca and arrived last night at the airport. I claimed her as a sister and looked after her bag and held her spot in-line while she went to the washroom and tried to find other information. People from across Canada still have to find their next flight from Toronto to home.

I ran through the pouring rain to get us freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and small chocolate croissants while Brian held our place. At 6:30 the forty or so hopeful passengers were herded to a different line, asked to write our names and booking references on a piece of paper. Around 7:00, the first dozen of us were led to a tiny office where an employee very slowly entered data on the computer, but did not know how to override the system to include any of us on the flight. At 7:30 we were told the flight was closed. Ten minutes later we were led back to our second lineup then refused again and went back to the office. In the meantime someone had phoned our data man and explained what he had to do. At 8:15 eight of us were taken to the baggage drop off then through security. At 8:30 we were on the plane. At 9:30 we were still sitting and the remaining seats were still being filled. When it looked as if there were no seats left, the ground crew came onboard and were looking to remove some from the plane.we kept our heads down. In the end, I think all forty passengers got a seat and just after 10:00 we taxied down the runway and took off. Until we were in the air, we were not sure we would leave.

We are going into a fourteen day self quarantine, just in case. Neither of us is ill, but we do not know if we could be carriers.  Many thanks to friends and family who have helped us out and encouraged us with their supportive messages. We offer virtual hugs and will keep our distance. We are so glad to welcome spring in Canada.

(16:00) 17:00 Canadian time – landed and doors open at the gate.

17:27 – passed immigration, customs, agreed to self-quarantine for 14 days

17:39 – taxi dropped us at Jim and Lynn’s, virtual hugs and thanks to you both for prepping our car and including drinks and snacks!

15:49 – headed north. Very light traffic in Mississauga and on 410 for this time of day. Sunny! No snow! Snow patches and leftover snow banks started in Caledon.

20:10 – home

Doing laundry

21:00 – Thank you for the delicious soup, Helen! Will and Helen, thank you for looking after our house, flora and fauna….Goose is contented.

            Adrian, thank you for picking up groceries. 

We will be ready to walk in the morning…keeping our distance….virtual hugs for all!

A sunbow with lovely sunset welcomed us as we drove home!

Homeward Bound

Mariscal Sucre Aeropuerto, Quito, Ecuador

Hostal Venus de Valdivia, Yaruqui, Ecuador

Sunday, March 15, 2020


17:19

We are very fatigued. We have been up since 5:00, travelled the Napo River in reverse, caught a forty minute flight from Coca to Quito, wasted time at the airport, found lodging for tonight. We did not sleep well last night even though we had the best suite of this trip with a large king size bed with mosquito netting surround (and no mosquitoes), large overhead ceiling fan, largest bathroom with twin stone sinks. Who could ask for more? Well, it would have been nice to stay until Wednesday as we had booked. Sigh!

Air Canada finally sent us a message at 14:21 today that our flight on Thursday was cancelled. We were unable to get on a stand-by list or talk to a human about Monday morning’s overbooked flight. We spent the past four hours searching for a flight from Quito to Toronto. And now we have two flights….one with JetBlue from Quito to Fort Lauderdale leaving Monday at 11:50 PM, arriving in Florida at 5:00 AM Tuesday. Then we have an Air Canada flight around 8 AM that gets us into Toronto around 11AM. I have the details but am feeling a little numb.

19:07

We went for a walk around this community of Yaruqui which is part of greater Quito, just a fifteen minute taxi ride from the airport. We were too late to see inside the white and yellow painted church with twin square bell towers. But I said a prayer as we walked around the garden in front of the church. There was a large indigenous female statue with two sheep and a large concrete cast hummingbird. There were many colourful painted murals. Around our red painted walled Hostal were several walled vegetable farms with broken class atop the walls. It would appear that vegetables might be objects of thievery.

Sunday is roast chicken day in Ecuador. We stopped into the corner chicken restaurant and had their eighth of a chicken supper including, rice, fries, salad, consommé and soda for $3.75. This was the cheap part of our day. Our flight costs made this our most expensive trip to date. We hope Air Canada will donate something to the cause.

About yesterday….the great part. We took a long open motorized riverboat (seated 27, there were fourteen of us plus four staff) with canopy down river for just over two hours covering some seventy kilometres. It was a faster ride than I anticipated. The breeze and spray alongside the boat created by the fast ride sliced through the humid heat and felt great. The locals found it to be cold and donned rain jackets and capes. We Canadians and the Americans from northern states were happy in t-shirts.

The Napo River, 1075 kilometres long, is a tributary of the Amazon. It was a kilometre and more wide but was lower than normal. Our boat pilot was very good at reading the river and we zigzagged from shore to shore. The guides who were with us pointed out and named birds (terns, snowy egret, great egret, roseate spoonbill, hawks, vultures)and trees as we breezes along. It was beautiful with pretty clouds framing the river. We saw small Quechua settlements then evidence of the larger impact of oil companies with barges carriying trucks and large equipment. 

After we docked and used the facilities we walked for ten minutes then got into two long canoes and staff paddled us silently down a magical river with branches and vines hanging close to us. The guides pointed out spiders, turtles, squirrel monkeys and so many birds: various tanagers, the hoatzin (a teenager with attitude!), snakebird cormorants, white winged swallows).

We then crossed the lake to the beautiful La Selva (meaning jungle) Lodge. We were greeted with a drink and what hikes, yoga, swimming and activities would be available to us.  I was beaming with excitement. We were shown to our fabulous room and Brian and I totally unpacked our bags for the first time in a week. We donned bathing suits and had a glorious swim off the dock. Never mind that someone had caught a piranha off the dock hours before or that we saw the shining eyes of a caiman when we were paddles around the lake in the dusky twilight. Later that night we heard big slaps on the water. These were from the three metre long big fish that reside in the lake.

Brian and I had our personal guide, Rodrigo, and his assistant, Henri, who carried a large spotting scope carried so that when we went on our hike to the top of the 208 step observation tower we would be able to view so many marvelous birds in the top of the canopy: woodpeckers, blue dacnis, green and gold tanager, slender-footed tyrannulet, oropendola). The metal tower was built into the three hundred year old kapok tree which was about sixty metres tall and very wide.

As we walked through the primary forest, we saw titi monkeys and their babies swing from branch to branch. We stepped carefully over busy armies of leaf-cutter ants. Our guide knew all of the addresses of tiny frogs and baby ant birds in nests in tree hollows, lizards and forest chickens, even in the dark. We walked with flashlights spying on nature. From the canoe as the sun set behind the lodge we heard and saw owls (the pooto ), sand-coloured night hawks, herons and squirrel monkeys.

It was amazing! Unforgettable!

The food at the lodge was also terrific: quinoa salad, grilled shrimp and vegetables and delicious cheesecake. Great omelette at 5:30.

All good things must come to pass….I blinked away tears as we paddled from the dock this morning.

Amazing Amazon

La Selva Lodge, 

On the edge of Yasuni National Park, Ecuador


March 14, 2020

I never dreamed I would be in the Amazon region when I was learning about it in Mr. Nathan’s grade five class at St. Mary’s in Simcoe. This was an absolutely fabulous day until it was not! We learned that Ecuador has closed its airports to international flights as of Monday at midnight. We have been unable to get through to Air Canada to see what our flight status is. We were booked to fly out of Quito on Thursday morning but from the little we can learn, that is not likely going to happen. The lodge administration is advising us to leave by riverboat at 6:30 Sunday, fly from Coca to Quito and go home. Easier said than done. We cannot find a flight.

If you know someone who can help, please let us know.

Ecuador: El Coca

Hotel Auca
El Coca (Francisco de Orellana), Ecuador

Friday, March 13, 2020

18:45

The last bus! No more buses! Yahoo! This was the worst. What was to take three hours and five minutes took four hours and thirty-five…for no good reason! Maybe because it is Friday the thirteenth? Maybe because the driver had an extra person sitting beside him? Maybe because the driver was getting his license? For the first hour and a half the driver drove at a snail’s pace and stopped twice to get himself a bottle of water then lunch to go. He took the long way out of Tena. After half an hour we were in front of our lodge from which we had taken a taxi to the terminal to get the bus. 

We think he was killing time so that he would arrive at an appointed time to pick up a friend. Why else would someone squeeze on the brakes six times going down a gentle slope in town? We thought he might be learning to drive but after the first hour and a half he drove properly! Arghhh! I guess it could have been worse. We could still be on the bus!

On the positive side, we had our normal big breakfast on the verandah at Hostal Pakay. Good croissants! We watched birds flying from shrub to tree sampling nectar. They were too fast for us to photograph or even to identify, but we saw hummingbirds, a red bird, a bright blue headed one, a reddish brown one, a yellow bellied one with a yellow halo. We heard lots of unusual sounds in the night. And one not so unusual: roosters crowing, beginning at 2:30. One started outside our window then it was imitated every 200 metres or so by another one. When we could no longer hear the distant one, our local cock crowed again. This continued until daylight. A rooster conference or competition?

Part of our passage was serpentine up and down hills and across a fast-flowing river and all jungle: varying shades of green rising high around us for as far as we could see with no obvious entries or egresses. There were small villages hugging the road, at first concrete block with tin roofs then more simple wooden structures often on stilts, sometimes with a tin roof, sometimes thatched.

Apparently today was a school holiday because lots of families were on the bus, no school uniforms. Our many stops were to pick up a mother with baby in sling and two little ones or mom, dad and youngsters, then let them off down the road. This scenario was repeated over and over.

Buses are meant to have air conditioning but it was not on. The section between the passengers and driver is usually closed off but I pleaded with the ticket taker to leave the door open since he had the outside door of the cab open and that was where we could get a breeze. It must have been 33C plus today. Occasionally he left the partition open.

We stopped briefly at a roadside stand where several hopped off to urinate at the side of the road. At Loreto, we stopped for ten minutes while the rest of us used the facilities, for twenty cents each. That gets you toilet paper. Of note, the shelves are not empty in grocery stores in Ecuador.

19:55

When we arrived in El Coca, also known as Francisco de Orellana (discoverer of the Amazon in the 1500s). We took a taxi to our hotel, El Auca ( “the savage” ). El Auca was in 1971 a dwelling for the Texaco workers. It was then made into a hotel, the first in El Coca. The town sits on an alluvial terrace surrounded by three rivers: Coca, Napo and Payamino.

We had our lunch while walking along the boardwalk beside the Napo River: first an ice cream cone then we shared  an onion seafood soup with plantain chips across from the Coca sign by the river.

Now we are in the garden behind our hotel waiting for a burger for Brian and a tuna salad for me. I had a lovely conversation in Spanish with our server.

Ecuador: Tena

Hostal Pakay
Tena, Ecuador

Thursday, March 12, 2020

16:20

We have advanced past the gateway to the Amazon. Many people stay into near Puyo which we passed on the bus nearly an hour before arriving here around 14:30. Our bus ride was supposed to take three and a half hours. It was closer to four hours but we also served the elementary school population along the way. Uniformed boys and girls got on by the half dozen and got off in ones, twos or threes. There were children from about four years to fourteen years. 

We did not look around in Tena upon arrival but hopped into a yellow cab as a downpour had just started. Our cab driver took us about 1.5 kilometres out of town to the Hostal Pakay. The final road into this small lodge looked a little dicey, a broken up road uphill, but the lodge itself is comfortable and clean and in a jungle setting surrounded by flowering trees. The rain only lasted less than an hour then the hummingbirds and other birds came out.

I went for a walk around the paths admiring the huge pink brugmansias and other flowers for which I have no names just lovely photos. The birds were too fast for me. Yellow butterflies and orange ones were jetting from flower to flower.

Our corner room on the upper floor has a double bed, a set of bunk beds and a private small bathroom with a composting toilet set two steps up, rather throne-like, and a shower.

Our bus ride this morning took us away from the mountains within an hour of leaving Baños. We were at1860 metres in Baños and are now at 580 metres. The landscapes is ore lush,very green with plenty of trees, shrubs and vines dotted with colourful flowers. There are many small tin-roofed houses in small village clusters although Tena itself is a sprawling city of sixty thousand. Many Amazon adventures branch out from here.

We have not been immersed in Coronavirus news but we keep up to date online. On the bus we noticed a large bulletin board in a school yard with Coronavirus as a heading. In Cuenca in the bus terminal a booth was set up and a hand-washing lesson was being demonstrated.

The temperature rose as the altitude dropped. It was 24C when we left Baños and 32.8C upon arrival. It is much more humid here.

Since we each have only had tea, half a clementine and half a snack bar since breakfast on the balcony, we are ready to walk into town in search of an early supper. 

The cicadas are actively communicating.

19:10

Our walk into town was all downhill. West of town the Andes still lined the horizon. We were told they get great sunsets here but not tonight. Interesting clouds above the Andes but no colour in the sky.

We found what was rated as the number 3 dining establishment. El Vagabundo is not elegant dining and has no air conditioning but is open air. We sat at the outside corner and occasionally felt a light breeze on this very still day. We walked most of the length of the main commercial street trying to stay in shade. Many store owners have a plastic sheet hanging on the edge of the sidewalk to provide shade for the store front and customers.

Our supper was made slowly from scratch but served with utmost care. I had steak and Brian chicken wings, both with home-made french fries and salad. Jane, we obviously did not eatin any of the restaurants you did, because none of our meat was over-done. I had a thick piece of steak. It was tough but pink in the middle and very tasty.

We took a taxi back to Hostal Pakay and are on the bamboo covered deck listening to the night life. Brian made friends this afternoon with the grey-striped house cat.

We just met Tony, the owner, who helped us sort out tomorrow’s bus and will call for us in the morning. Water is being boiled for tea.

Ecuador: Baños

Balcon Del Cielo
Baños, Ecuador

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

We thought we had impressive views from the train and bus yesterday but our waterfalls tour out of Baños this morning was superb. Our only complaint on the open air truck driven bus was the too-loud music while on the road. I am sure the villagers along the route would not like it either. The bus will hold forty passengers but there were only fourteen of us, 5 kids (20 something) from Washington DC in Ecuador for a week, seven Ecuadorians ( 5 of who were similarly aged kids) and us. 

Our guide spoke from the cab through a loudspeaker and although in Spanish I got most of what she said. One of the DC kids had parents who were born in Ecuador. He filled in what I missed. We drove through the mountains in three very long tunnels and we zigzagged above the Pastaza River stopping to photograph and admire the biggest waterfalls. We stopped for the adventure playground where no one opted for the one kilometre zipline across the gorge but two of the kids walked across on the swaying Nepalese bridge to which they were harnessed. We picked them up on the far side. All of us took the cable car across the next part of the gorge by the 200 metre waterfalls.

As we drove along I also enjoyed the red, orange and pink flowers we saw. I was sure, even from a distance, that the large pink flower was and orchid even though it was on a very tall stalk. I was delighted to confirm this when I saw it up close on our last stop.

All of us were excited to descend the path, the many steps and the two swaying suspension bridges to go down the mountain to view the Pailon Del Diablo Waterfalls. There was another access beyond ours that gave us a view of more people even further down in the gorge. Maybe they paid for the $8 trip. Ours was $5 each. A great deal for a three hour tour.

We returned to our room for a brief respite to allow our ears to relax. We walked the streets again in search of lunch. Our Edmonton acquaintance from last night had recommended arepas at a tiny Colombian Restaurant. We did not remember where he said it was but we found it. A Colombian who had been in Ecuador for eighteen years with his Quito wife invited us in. The two of them prepared an arepa and an empanada for us with berry shakes. We chatted as best we could in Spanish. Brian was interested in their chorizo. Even though we were already full, Brian ordered a chorizo but we were given three of them, two different flavors so that we could try both. We did not have a favourite. They were equally good. Our lunch cost $5.

We watched one of our DC friends bungee jump off the bridge below our room.  He was thrilled! Later we saw an Ecuadorian lad do the same although it took several “3-2-1 Go” before he dove off. Brian did not think our insurance would cover me. It is just as well. I had no desire to leap.

We walked across the bridge and were joined by a couple from Boston, freshly arrived from Galapagos. The man thought he had figured out a good way to get under the car bridge to be able to cross the pedestrian bridge. His wife said she was wary of her husband’s plan. She stayed on the vehicle bridge. The lady at the info centre said we could not go there. We followed our Bostonian friend and so crossed the pedestrian bridge in the gorge below our room. His wife met us on the other side.

We opted for take-out pizza from Leoni’s. We watched our pizza creator slide our thin-crust pizza into the wood-fired oven. We took the pizza back to our dwelling and enjoyed it sitting on our balcony just as we enjoyed our breakfast, with an excellent birds-eye view of the raging river below. It’s a good thing we ordered a medium pizza. It was very good and very filling.

Ecuador: Devil’s Nose Train

Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

This morning we hurried to get to the Alausi train station for 7:00 as we needed tickets for the Devil’s Nose Train which was to depart at 8:00. Brian had tried unsuccessfully four times on Sunday to book the train online but there is something wrong with the website as it always crashed when we got to giving a VISA number. At 7:00 there were already six people in line. The ticket master did not show up until ten minutes later then he was painfully slow registering each person. So slow that I decided to go back to the hostel for breakfast. Brian arrived with tickets just as I was about to go relieve him. As well as a delicious fried egg, ham and cheese bun, we had yogourt and a big bowl of fruit. I asked to store our fruit in the fridge until after our train ride as we did not have time to eat it.

We left the station in our old four car wooden train pulled by a French locomotive from 1992. It was very foggy. The guide was explaining what we would see if we could see. We were a jolly bunch doing our best to imagine e fabulous scenery. We stopped at the Devil’s Nose where the fog had lifted somewhat and we took photos and walked on the tracks. When we arrived at Sibamba the fog was almost completely gone. There were dancers to entertain us, a guide to explain the history of this Quechwa community of 3200 still dressed traditionally and doing the old crafts of weaving, hat making, cane sugar drink making. It was very interesting.

Our return to Alausi gave us breath-taking views. People who were on the better side of the train were generous in letting others use their open windows for photos.

After our ride and fruit, we checked out and caught the bus to Riobamba, a much larger city than we anticipated. After two hours of hilly ascents the bus driver dropped us off on a busy road. We had no idea where the terminal was for our next bus. A cab stopped and asked us what we needed. He had us at the terminal just in time to get the bus to Baños. That driver said he would have us in Baños is one hour and forty minutes and he was not much over that. 

On our way to Riobamba there were many planted fields in long parallel rectangles coming down to the road. After Riobamba there was more pasture with cows, llamas, sheep, horses and some donkeys. Then the land use changed again to many more orchards. I would not want to pick on those steep slopes.

The two nearby volcanoes of Tungurahua and Chimborazo were hidden in the clouds except for one exposed flank.

We arrived in busy Baños before 15:30 and were at our new lodging of Balcon du Ciel in minutes. We have a room with Mountain View and the Sound of the rushing river below. We are delighted to be able to open our window. Last night’s room was windowless.

We went in search of lunch but settled for an ice cream cone. We were overwhelmed by the number of small restaurants and adventure tour operators and a whole block of shops all selling the same sweets and candies. Nothing appealed to us,  I put the cone hit the spot.

We explored the large church of Nuestra Senora del Rosario del Agua Santa, built of volcanic stone. The interior walls display huge paintings complete with stories (in Spanish) of people who had near-death experiences but escaped tragedy without a scratch as they prayed to our lady. This church is an important pilgrimage site for Ecuadorians and others from around the world.

We were more than ready for dinner by 19:00 and found an Italian restaurant: Pappardelle. Brian had spaghetti bologna se and I savored spinach and cheese cannaloni. The servings were very generous. We conversed with three female Canadian travellers from Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Peterborough.

Ecuador: Ingapirca- Alausí

Community Hostal Alausí
Alausí, Ecuador
Monday, March 9, 2020

Another day of adventure with variable weather, altitude, transportation, scenery and new town. We left Pepe’s by taxi. $1.77 got us to the bus terminal. We waited eighteen minutes for our big Sucre Express bus to whisk us away, only three minutes late. It was a bit of a milk run stopping to pick up new passengers then to let others off. It took two hours to get to Cañar about sixty kilometres north, but it only cost $4 for both of us and this time the WIFI worked for the first time on a bus. We were busy watching the scenery as we rose out of Cuenca and moved to farm land on mountain sides with cows and some sheep, the occasional donkey grazing.

At Cañar, we had time for a washroom break. So far none of the buses we have taken had a functioning toilet. We were told to get on the Ingapirca bus with no ticket. We thought we were hurrying to leave but sat for twenty minutes. It was only when we arrived an hour later ( not twenty minutes as one might think) that we paid $2 for both of our rides. We hoisted our backpacks on and walked one kilometre up hill to the Ingapirca ruins. I honestly do not know how we walked up to thirty-three kilometres for thirty-three days on the Camino. Surely it was not the 3160 metres of altitude that were killing us today. We were delighted that we were able to secure our bags behind the entrance desk to walk about the ruins.

There is pottery evidence of habitation of these Inca ruins as early as 500 BC but the last known community was here in the first thirty years of the 1500s. The ruins of this settlement were first described in 1736, but from 1967 to 1995 several cleaning and archaeological works were carried out to display what can be seen today.

When we started touring the site, a light drizzle began but within twenty minutes we were drying. We enjoyed the peaceful scenes all around us, the pillow block walls so neatly set, the definition of the walls that showed a large dwelling, warehouses, roads and a residence atop the site that served as a religious and astronomical structure. There were only a dozen people viewing the site. There were almost as many llamas chewing their way around the enclosure.

We walked part of the path outside the main ruins onto private property and saw the magnificent “Inca Face” that Mother Nature carved into a cliff, this above a beautiful garden of flowers, vegetables and herbs. On the way back from this carving, which also resembled Jesus, we stopped and admired beautiful Alpaca garments. I could not resist buying a silky smooth alpaca poncho even though I may have to wear it rather than find room in my backpack. We figured we more than saved the price of the poncho with our cheap bus tickets.

Many more women wear traditional dress in the mountains. Even school girls’ uniforms reflect this: bright blue full skirt, red shawl, navy wool socks, fedora hat. On the bus we saw women in elegant colours sporting different coloured fedoras. Two women, not together, were wearing wool stockings with USA prominently displayed on them.

We splurged with the next part of our journey and paid $50 for a driver to take us the 116 kilometres to Alausí in a club cab Toyota pickup. The first third of our trip was on serpentine roads up and down the mountain overlooking breathtaking valleys, some with animals in pasture, some corn fields. We even saw our first three pigs (not roasted). Then we came upon a white steam filled valley from steam generators. After that we were buried in thick fog. We were ever so grateful that we had not taken the bus. We were sure it would have taken two hours longer. Certainly a bus driver would not have passed where our driver did. There were mini land slides, some of which had been mostly cleaned up, some trees and bushes occupying part of the road.

We are now comfortably installed in a large room with private bath in the very clean Community Hostel Alausí. There are several wonderfully painted walls of local life including the Devil’s Nose Train which we plan on riding in the morning. There is a lovely alpaca blanket with local scene on our queen size bed.

Since we had not eaten since breakfast until 4 PM, we went to a local bakery and bought a chocolate bun each. Brian bought a large bottle of beer and two bags of chips….all of this for $3. I made myself a hot chocolate at the Hostal and we chatted with a young couple from Scotland who are part way on their South American four country adventure. They head for the Galapagos on Thursday.

Not too many restaurants are open on Monday night in Alausi, but Nando’s a non-descript restaurant almost across the street was. We were the only customers. The single female employee cooked and served us a delicious meal. Brian had grilled shrimp with boiled potatoes (a plate full) and salad. I had grilled chicken with salad and home fries. $17 including a tall fruit juice for me and a glass of wine for Brian.

Last night for the same price we dined well in Quenca at Don Colon’s across from the cathedral: shrimp primavera pasta with vegetables, salad, garlic bread and drinks.

Ecuador: Exploring Cuenca

Exploring Cuenca
Pepe’s House

Cuenca, Ecuador


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Happy International Women’s Day! We could not forget that it is International Women’s Day because many signs in restaurant windows advertised this and there were speeches with megaphones in the main square of Calderon Park with many people observing.

After a hearty breakfast that included local cheese, jams and tapinade Brian and I hwent to the market: Mercado 10 de Agosto, a huge two storey market. We went up and down every row admiring fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, beans, peas, grains, meat including pig’s heads/feet/entrails, whole chickens well-plucked with feet attached and partially formed eggs, fish, crafts, clothing, hardware and a huge section where food was being prepared and served: plates of rice with vegetables and stews/chicken/beef/pork. Soups and stews were bubbling in large pots. We had samples of delicious hornado: whole roasted pork. Brian was so happy to dry different pieces of crackling. We did not try the roasted guinea pigs.

In the fruit and vegetable area, I was delighted to be offered a golden berry. I have only had dried ones at home. I asked in Spanish what various fruits and vegetables were. I recorded the names the way I thought they would be spelled. Now I have to see if I can find translations. So far I am not doing so well as the translation is often the same word in English or another word I do not recognize but the internet is great with photos!: capuli (look like small black cherries), pitahaya ( from the photo is dragon fruit), tuna (prickly pear), Zapote (sapodilla), achogchas (a green vegetable with good nutritious value), melloco (ullucus…a root vegetable…small red and white tuber).

We spent more than five hours today walking up and down every street in the centre looking at the architecture, going in and out of churches. I caught parts of five masses. I especially liked the one in which a young woman was singing one of my favourite hymns: Pescador des Hombres….in English, Lord, you have come).

It was supposed to rain but we had sunshine and chose to walk on the shady side of streets except when I had to cross the street to get a better photo of a door or church tower I liked.

We met up with Rachel and Andrew’s friends, Hugues and Caroline, who are living and teaching here in Cuenca. They treated us to a very authentic Cuenca cuisine at Raymipampa Restaurant on the main square. We were the first to sit down on the upper floor but the place filled quickly (after mass, we think) and people were lined up at the door waiting to enter when we left. We had a most enjoyable lunch in good company, including their young daughter and her friend. Rachel and Andrew, they are waiting for your visit!

We did not get back to the art museum before it closed. There are many interesting museums in Cuenca. They close early on Sunday.

We walked along parts of the Temebamba River. This meant going down a flight of 65 steps then up 91 steps twice. Even with his knee brace Brian’s knee is tender. We needed an ice cream cone to recover. The first shop we went to had a very long line up. A few blocks away from the busy square we found a cone at half the price…and another two churches!