2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Friday, January 29, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR TRAVEL: PART IV: BANOS-AMBATO

Over the last two years, I have traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rome, Venice, and Florence; Lima, Peru; and Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador.  My preference are big cities, and all that they have to offer.  Nevertheless, I  greatly anticipated writing this post and my next two blog posts which deal with something besides big cities, churches, architecture, museums, restaurants, and city landscapes.  Mind you, all these things are my favorite things to do at my age when I travel, but  the opportunity to share with you some of the natural beauty of Northern Ecuador is a real pleasure for me as well.

After my son, Marc and I brought our last day in Quito to a close, we returned to Casa de Eden, our bread-and-breakfast, at 5:45 p.m. to pick up our belongings. We also met  our guide, Milton Chiqui, who was more than fifteen minutes early.  I procured the services of a wonderful travel agency, Expediciones Apullacta, located in in the heart of Cuenca.  The agency is located on the second floor of a beautiful historic building at the northwest corner of Gran Columbia and Tarqui. Arrangements were made for our itinerary of travel, for our hotels and inns, and for transportation and guide service for the remainder of our trip in Northern Ecuador. Maria Velez, my travel representative at Expediciones Apullacta did a beautiful job of taking care of the details, and when I made a change in our itinerary, she handled it expeditiously.

Maria's greatest contribution to our trip was providing Marc and I with a fantastic guide. Milton Chiqui is well educated, very knowledgeable about Ecuador, and exudes an enthusiasm and passion for his love of Ecuador; which made for not only a most enjoyable, but also a very memorable trip. Milton is from Cuenca, and was about the age of Marc, so he made for a great traveling buddy to both of us.  He is a very careful driver, and what I wanted most was convenience.  I don't particularly enjoy long hours riding in a car. Milton always knew where he was going; and from his past experience we were never  lost.  Even when he had never been to Chimborazo before, Milton had everything scouted out beforehand. I did not want to spend hours aimlessly lost on unpaved, rut-spewed, and dead-end back roads of rural Northern Ecuador, no matter how beautiful the scenery. 

I was really looking forward to Banos-Ambato, a city of about 20,000 people.  Not only was the area stunningly beautiful, but there was an endless variety of things to do.  Our first night, the three of us went to the thermal baths known as Las Piscinas de la Virgen (The pools of the Virgin). The first pool of water was excruciatingly hot to the point that I stepped into the water and immediately stepped out without a second of hesitation. If I did not already see people in this pool, I would not believe that anyone could endure it.  

Another very hot but more congenial pool was our next attempt. Eventually we became acclimated to the heat of the water.  After awhile, Marc spotted a flow of extremely cold water gushing out of a rock just outside of the pool.  The three of us took our turns standing under the heavy flow of freezing water.  Our movement was as quick as the time it took to enter under the water and remove ourselves just as rapidly. We returned to submerge ourselves from the freezing waters back into the hot bath. Our bodies endured the sensation as if being pierced by a thousand needles.  

After relaxing in the pool for some time, I decided before we left the baths, that I would make one more attempt at the intensely heated pool, which challenged us when we first arrived.  I was able to immerse myself, and remain in the steaming water  for about ten seconds.  After a brief respite, I re-entered the pool from hell again and managed possibly thirty to forty seconds before my abandonment.  A sign above the pool warned us not to remain in the pool more than ninety seconds. I had not experienced anything that heated, since the Japanese baths in Kyoto many decades earlier. I was satisfied with my level of success, and much relieved that I did not experience a heart attack.

Because of the volcanic activity in Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, Banos-Abato was practically like a ghost town.  Government warnings were that if Tungurahua, which sits just above Banos-Ambato were to erupt big-time, the city would  be  but a memory in history. The volcano has been active since its last erupted in 1999. That night it rained in the city. We ate a fine Ecuadorian meal, spent time in a local bar, walked back to our hotel in the rain, and looked forward to the activities of the next day.


Below is a photo of our lodging, Hotel La Floresta.





I need to get one church in this post.  Although not a large city nor a large church, the interior of the basilica in Banos-Ambato was quite attractive.  The exterior is also made out of lava stone from a previous volcanic eruption.



Above is a photo of a street in the center in Banos-Ambato, and the photo below is the centro park and plaza in the city.


We had explored a ritzy hotel and grounds, and I captured a view (below) of some of the curve-linear trees.


Later in the day, we ate at the restaurant below.  Banos-Ambato has a large variety of bars and restaurants serving not only Ecuadorian cuisine, but also international cuisine as well.




Now the excitement began, as Milton drove Marc and me to the Devil's Cauldron, an area of formidable beauty.  The mountains, the lush green walls of the valley, the falls, and the river were breath-takingly beautiful.





The suspension bridge (above photo) allowed for an amazing walk across the crevice.



The rushing roar of the fall reverberated throughout the valley, and yet it was a scene of utter tranquility.


Along one side of Devil's Cauldron is a walkway and path overlooking the awesome beauty of the cauldron, and is a relatively easy walk for most hikers who are not dealing with serious health issues.  On the other side of the Cauldron is a more challenging walk, which we then attempted.



This more challenging hiking path let us through a cavernous rock of about thirty feet in length where we either had to crawl or crouch down to pass through it.  Once on the other side, it was our intent to walk immediately behind the fall. However, upon our arrival, we discovered that rocks collapsed behind the fall some months earlier, which prevented us from passing under the fall. We were told that attempts were being made to reconstruct and open the damaged area.



Notice the walkway behind the fall in the photo below; where due to the damage, we were not able to enter.


On our way back from the falls, I had to crouch down again to move through the cavern.  Half way through, I moved to the side when there was room enough to allow another couple coming from the opposite entrance to get pass me before I could continue. Upon finally arriving at the other end, the time I spent crouched down sapped all the blood out of my legs.  I had to try three times to stand up, before I could  feel my legs and actually stand again without collapsing.



To be in the midst of such absolute beauty was not only remarkably enchanting, but also gave me a sense of standing in the Garden of Eden.



I had not experienced anything this mystical, since some of the beautiful scenes along the Hozu River in Kyoto, Japan.



Some scenes reminded me of the utter beauty Frodo and Sam experienced in the motion picture, Lord of the Rings, as they made their way to Modar in search of the ring.



Jim and Marc Mola (or maybe Frodo and Sam)


Milton Chiqui and Marc Mola





Jim and Marc Mola


Milton Chiqui and Jim Mola


Marc


Upon leaving the Devil's Cauldron and completing our hike, Milton next took us zip-lining, which is called canopies in Ecuador.  Five different lines were offered. Zip-lining upside down wasn't much of a thrill.  I most enjoyed the lines that involved flying like Superman, and particularly where Marc and I  flied simultaneously side-by-side.  The forward motion coupled with the awesome view of the valleys and ravines below made for something special I never did before. Zip-lining is actually quite safe and tame, as long as the cables don't snap, and your harness doesn't fall off with you in it.

First, upon arrival, we took a cable car (below) across the wide ravine, and then hiked to each of the locations of the various zip-lines




The photo above, is a luminescent caterpillar.  Ecuador is the butterfly and bird capital of the world.



Before we left Banos, Milton took us to the Casa del Arbor (The Tree House).


This wasn't just any tree house.  Here one takes the most memorable swing of their lives into nature.  If not death defying, then certainly awe-inspiring.  It appears in the photo as if one is swinging in a movie studio, while the scene is a studio prop. However, the scene is very real.
















In my posts, many of my photos have presented cathedrals from around the world.  Man-made beauty of some of mankind's greatest artistic accomplishments.  Yet the Cathedral of Nature is splendid in its beauty, and awe-inspiring in its mystical qualities.

Below is an aerial view of Banos-Ambato nestled in the valley, as we say goodbye and make or way to Chimborazo.  We had not begun to indulge in all the outdoor and adventure-type activities the area offered.  I would gladly return to Para-glide, horse-back ride, and bicycle downhill.  There is also dune buggy riding, river-rafting, bungee jumping, rock climbing, canyoning, and hiking in the wake of the Tungurahua Vocano when not spewing lava; just to name a few fun things to do all within the context of the artistic hand of God.  




As we departed, Milton pointed out to us that Banos-Ambato is known as the Gateway to the Orient, which is the Amazonias. If we had the time, it would take only two hours to arrive by car into the hot and humid rain forests.  A two hour drive west as the crow flies and we would be on the Pacific coast.  Now we were heading southward toward one of the highest elevations in the world, and the glacier line.  So much climate change, so much topographical changes all within a country the size of Colorado.  Below is a link to a post I wrote about a year ago on the geographical variations in Ecuador.  It is one thing to read and to write about those variations, and it is quite another to actually experience them.

https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=311130598749211263#editor/target=post;postID=7486998145142885894;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=24;src=postname






















Thursday, January 21, 2016

QUITO: Part III: HISTORIC LANDSCAPE AND MITAD DEL MUNDO


If you read my posts on Lima, Peru, then you know I am a foodie. I enjoy good food of every ethnic persuasion; whether the selections are gourmet, modest family-owned, or simply hole-in-the-wall establishments known for good cooking.  Monday evening, Marc and I ventured out to Zazu Restaurant, one of the top-rated restaurants in Quito.  Needless to say, it did not surprise me that chef Perez is Peruvian, and built his reputation in Peru. Like many a gourmet restaurant with influence out of Lima, many of the specialties are of a seafood persuasion, and Chef Perez exhibits that flair for creativity, and for selecting very fresh ingredients for which true gourmet chefs become known.  

Marc and I ordered the tasting menu, and we were not disappointed.  Zazu would certainly rank among the top ten restaurants in Lima, which is a city currently sizzling with a number of many of the top restaurants in the world, with their fusion of classical Peruvian cuisine with Chinese, Japanese and Thai features. Peruvian chefs are appearing in a number of up-scale restaurants in Quito, with most of them trained at the prestigious Cordon Bleu Academy in Lima.  The ambiance is what one would expect of a restaurant with the reputation of Zazu, the interior design is chic, and the service is quite good.  I never took the opportunity in the past to investigate  many of the better restaurants in Quito, which will make the city just one more reason to want to return again.

Enclosed are photos of the urban landscape in Historic Quito. 






Below, the Sucre Theater in Quito




The Sucre Theater dominates the site on this plaza.


Notice the unusual building in the center of the photo.  It is across the street from the plaza.  How this contemporary-styled and rather eccentrically-designed building (Maybe something a psych major would create) was constructed in the historic area is dumbfounding. Yet, it does become an eye catcher, both for its unusual design and for its incongruency.   I could easily peer into the windows from the plaza, and surprisingly the building is used as a warehouse and little else.



Street performers entertain in the plaza.  Here the guy in the blue shirt and cap had the dog doing whatever the dog was doing.  The performer (the guy not the dog) was talking a mile a minute, and sounded as if he was getting hoarse from projecting his voice.  Just as I turned my back, and was beginning to walk away; there was this loud commotion as another dog came from out of the crowd from what seemed like nowhere, and attacked the performing dog. I missed the momentary mayhem, thus, no pics.  As for the street performer, Ah, what's a guy to do?  Just trying to make a buck, but not having much luck.

The faces of historic Quito:




There is no doubt that a number of the buildings in historic Quito have a gravitas to them that is lacking in the  structures of Cuenca's historic district.  Cuenca has a nice feeling on a smaller scale with its generally more simple facades, and its iron-wrought balconies.

Some of Quito's buildings reminded me of the buildings and facades I so enjoyed last spring in Rome and Florence.  Buildings of massive masonry, set-off  by  stone, bricks in the mid-section of the buildings,  finished with plaster toward the elevated areas, and off-set by cornices, stone balconies, and heavy window trim.




The photo below is reminiscent of a number of archways along narrow streets in Rome.




Edifices and designs worthy of elegance and grandeur.  




MITAD DEL MUNDO (The Center of the World)

Marc and I did a great deal of walking, and we spent Tuesday afternoon with a break from the city by traveling nearby to Mitad del Mundo (the center of the world).

The monument below and the park surrounding it in the following photos were built by the Ecuadorian federal government to mark the spot on the Equator where one can stand both in the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere at the same time with one foot in each hemisphere. After the money was expended and the monument and park was built on a spot that was based upon the calculations of a French explorer; it was determined that his calculations were wrong.  The center is about 240 meters further north.  

Actually, any spot on the Equator can be designated the center of the earth.  Quito became famous for the designation, because the Ecuadorian government capitalized on it with the building of the monument and park to honor the French explorer with a new monument on the site, and advertently  or inadvertently it resulted in a marketing coup d'etat for Ecuador.  If by chance, it hasn't crossed your mind yet; Ecuador is Spanish for the Equator, from which Ecuador derives its name.






Marc Mola and the hummingbird.  The Andean Condor is Ecuador's national bird. If cities have a city bird, the hummingbird should be the bird of Cuenca.  It is by far the most frequently spotted bird in Cuenca, followed by pigeons in some of the city plazas.





The monument was completed in 1972, and is approximately 90 feet tall.  There is an ethnographic museum inside the monument of three or four floors, which exhibits the extensive diversity of various indigenous cultures throughout the country, and their traditional livelihoods. There is also a miniature layout of Quito. At the top of the monument one can get some nice views and photos of the park and the surrounding mountains.  





I won't increase the size of the photo below, because my belly already looks big enough.  It looks like I am a pig about to be skewered.  I wish I had abs like the spear thrower.  By the way, I've lost twelve pounds since that photo was taken (lol--no seriously!).




The site is very tourist-oriented, with lots of shops, snack bars and restaurants. There is also a galleria, which is basically (you guessed it) more shops of merchandise on which to blow cash. Visitors will also find a planetarium, but Marc and I did not visit it. It was well worth the trip, and takes about two to four hours with travel time to and from Quito.  It's also a nice way to spend an afternoon away from the city without venturing out too far, especially for folks who may have a flight later in the day to catch after a layover.




Below is the Intinan Solar Museum, which is adjacent to Mitad del Mundo.  It claims to also be the accurate on-site location on the Equator, also reports say that military GPS mapping indicates it may be forty kilometers off.  Oh well, just another excuse for another venture capitalist to construct another site on the really real site on the Equator.  Intinan Solar Museum is an outdoor museum with many Disneyesque-type artificial structures intended to convey the culture of  an indigenous past. There are also many interactive experiments conducted to entertain the tourists, and further erode any basic understanding of science that they may have.  

IntiƱan Solar Museum



There is much to see and do in Quito.  Not only inside, but also outside of the historic center. Alas, we only had two days to visit. However, that just whets my appetite for future trips to Ecuador's capital, besides just staying in an airport hotel or hostel outside the city to catch a flight out the next day.  Viva Quito!