Monday was a warm, sunny day with temperatures into the low 80's--my kind of winter! I took a taxi to Parque Central Calderon. It's a beautiful square with the magnificent and imposing new cathedral located across from the square. The new cathedral was built in the 1800's, as opposed to the old cathedral which was constructed in the 1500's. I shot a few photos of the fountain, the church, and the palm trees that also grow in this part of the Andes due to Cuenca's mild climate.
I arrived early, so I could catch the 11:00 a.m. double-decker bus that would take me for a two hour tour of Cuneca, which included a stop at a pinnacle of the city that provided a panoramic view of Cuenca in its entirety. At 10:50 a.m., I am in the middle of the square as I spot the bus moving around the square. I assume the passengers were from the previous excursion, and would be dropped off, and then I and anyone else would board the bus. The driver drove around the square twice. I moved in whatever direction the bus was moving. The bus stopped at each corner of the square, granted I was always positioned on the driver's side of the bus. However, I never noticed anyone embarking or departing from the bus as it made its stops around the square. If anything, it appeared the tour was in process. The driver then proceeded down a side street. That was the last I saw of the bus, and it was only 10:55. I waited another ten minutes, in case another bus came. I sat on a bench near the location where a police officer told me I would catch the bus. While waiting to see if another bus came, I conversed with a professor from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, who would be leaving Tuesday for the states.
Since no bus appeared, the professor and I departed are own ways. I spent the morning being a tourist, and began taking photos of the endless squares, churches, and utterly beautiful colonial facades. I made my way down to the open market, did a little haggling, and made some purchases. I entered the huge mercado filled with vendors--half the building devoted to freshly cut meat--entails, heads, claws; and the other half devoted to fresh fruits and vegetables. One vendor cracked open with her fingers a fruit the size of a tennis ball, yellow in its exterior color, and inside was a texture of slime filled with lots of little black seeds. I imitated the vendor by eating the pulp and smooth seeds. I believe the fruit is called granadilla. It is my understanding that grandilla is called passion fruit in some parts of the world. It was deliciously sweet, and quickly made me forget its slimy appearance. I believe I may have seen these fruits in the supermarkets back home, but the expensive price and not knowing how to eat them prevented me from purchasing the granadilla.
When I was at the SuperMaxi on Saturday, I had purchased half of a papaya. A sweet tasting papaya is good, but for my taste is not a favorite compared with mellow mangoes and succulent peaches. Papayas have more the texture of a melon, although not as grainy as water melon. The cashier told me the best way to eat papaya was to squeeze fresh lime over it. I will have to attempt that the next time I purchase a papaya, and see how lime enhances the taste. One thing to date I have not seen in Cuenca is seedless grapes. Otherwise, while back home, we appreciate that we can buy most fruits the year round, we also know that buying fruits out of season does not provide us with the fruits at the peak of their succulence. Because of the year-round growing season in Ecuador, most fruits are at their peak throughout the year. Fruits, therefore, remain very inexpensive throughout the year as well.
After exploring here and there and taking my allotment of photos for the day, I began to walk home. I stopped and had my personal pan pizza at my currently favorite pizza spot. I then stopped at my currently favorite bakery for fresh baked loaves of bread. The first time I shopped at the bakery, I bought a loaf of cuesa bread, which is made with cuesa cheese layered throughout the bread. This time I tried a different loaf with sesame seeds sprinkled on it. The first time I entered the bakery, what little Spanish I had in my command completely abandoned me. I could not get the lady to understand that I wanted to know what the price was. I finally pulled out a dollar, so she would know I wanted to negotiate price. I thought the dollar would be the starting point. Instead, she broadened into a large smile took my dollar and presented me with twenty cents change. Fresh-baked bread for eighty cents, such a deal! The next time I returned to SuperMaxi, I checked out their baked whole loaf bread prices--$3.50 to $4.50--Panera prices back home. It took me four days to finish off a loaf of bread. Most amazingly, the bread remained fresh right up onto the last piece late in the evening of the fourth day before it began to harden. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking--just what you need more carbs.
Marc, will be glad to know I am becoming more diligent in my study of the Spanish language. I am using the "Spanish for Dummies" course, and I study from the book and listen to the tapes. When I return to Cuenca, I will hire a Spanish tutor, so I can receive immediate feedback and interaction. I do try to practice a line or two and build on it everyday with Jose, one of the security workers here at the La Cuandro II were I reside. Jose is very patient, and forever correcting my Spanish and sentence structure.
Last evening I took a taxi out to the the Mal Del Rio, which is a beautiful, two story mall. It is fully enclosed, which surprised me. With the mild Cuenca climate, I thought the mall might be fully or partially open-air, like malls I have visited in San Diego and Honolulu. I'm not big on malls, but its food court adds a nice variety of Ecuadorian choices as well as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. No, I have no intentions of eating at either of them. Video arcades are still very popular at least at the mall. There is a very large one aimed at children, and a smaller version aimed at teens.
My purpose for going to the mall was to experience the cinema complex. I particularly had hoped to study my Spanish. I had read in a book that American movies in Ecuador were generally in English with Spanish subtitles. The movie "Eclipse" seemed like a good way of beginning. First surprise, the movie was only $4.50 in the evening yet. Refreshments looked about as expensive as back home. Don't expect to find stadium seating, or long back rocking chairs. Otherwise, they were nice, attractive, comfortable theaters. My next surprise--the movie was in Spanish with no English subtitles, although I was expecting a movie in English with Spanish subtitles. Either way I could have boned up on my Spanish. Under the circumstances, I could do neither. If I only had the dialog to listen to, I would not have had any idea what was being said except for an occasional word. Seeing the film at least helped me figure out the plot. My third surprise, it has been decades since I saw a dubbed film. I always hated how the lips did not synchronize with the words. I assume the sophistication of computer-generated software has allowed the lips and Spanish to move in perfect sync. I would have believed the movie had been originally filmed in Spanish with Spanish-Speaking actors. I was very impressed.