April 30-May 1 A day in Quito before going to the Galapagos

This was our first day arriving in Ecuador where we spent an extra day in Quito before heading out to the Galapagos.

This hotel sends a driver to pick up their guests so I was happy for that because it was so late at night and I was on my own.

The trip began smoothly enough but in a few minutes we turned off the highway onto a long dark quiet country lane where we drove drove drove, it getting darker and darker, and then we turn onto a Dirt Road. Where Are We I asked in rather urgent Spanish. Dos menutos, solamente dos menutos mas. Ok ok.

It's not that I was exactly frightened but I was becoming seriously curious how this was going to turn out.
I had made plans to stay here at this little place ten minutes from the airport because we got in near midnight on the 30th. By the time Merlyn decided to take the same flight as I'd booked this hotel was full so he took the 45 minute trip to Quito.

This was a wonderful spot for a first morning in Ecuador.
I went into town to meet Merlyn at 11 and we headed right out to see the sights.
The tour people were putting us up (now our second night in Ecuador) at the Marriott, one of the premiere hotels in Quito. If you look at the danger cones in the picture of the hotel and then look up to the glass you can see a broken panel. It's about the only damage at this place from the big earthquake in April.
The Marriott is in the Mariscal district of Quito, a surprisingly up-and-coming hot-spot where everyone goes for some night action. The Old Town has its one long street of night life but that's it.

Our first waiter!
What I really liked in that neighborhood was the big park...
...with a simple and interesting market of local goods...
...and activities for the family. A lively entrepreneur had rolled a virtual reality machine into the park and was selling turns.
I bought those two little cakes from her for twenty-five cents.

It's not that Ecuador is a bargain though, depending. You can get by on little if you are willing to, but one step above just getting by and you're into US-style prices in restaurants and for the cost of commodities.
This is the next morning on our trip to the airport to continue on to the Galapagos - all available in the Galapagos chapter.
We got to see Cotopaxi on the way which everyone says is a rare treat.
May 9 Returning from the Galapagos to the mainland

Waiting in the Guayaquil airport.

It took most of the day and late into the night to travel from the Galapagos to Cuenca via Guayaquil, the main reason being a three hour delay while we waited......on the plane in Guayaquil.

Why? Because it was raining in Cuenca 45 minutes away, and the last time in rained in Cuenca this very flight crashed on the landing skidding across the runway. No one was hurt but the plane was totaled. So we didn't mind waiting. It became quite funny actually especially when about two hours in they passed out juice boxes, like they do at a party for little kids.

Finally, we're off.
A quick shot of our local church...
...and a fun and yummy dinner at Chicago Pizza, the only place open for blocks around.
May 10 (today is the 21st...what will I remember? Let's see!)

Here's our first full day in Cuenca, a mighty delightful town. We got out early and it was go go go until dinner.

Our hotel...

...and the breakfast area; that is me huddled at the far end, closest to the long-awaited wifi that doesn't work in the rooms. But even so, we really liked this place. After the G$l$p$gos we chose very budget friendly places and we each got a room.

That's the hotel again in the middle of the block.

Long stretches of street in the old town were torn up like this in various stages of being done in preparation for a tram system. All the taxi drivers are hating the idea and all the people in the tourist trade are happy.
The back of the Catedral de la Immaculada also called The New Cathedral.

Wiki tells us about the cathedral: "Construction works started in 1885 and lasted for almost a century. This building combines many architecture styles, but Romanesque Revival is predominant. The cathedral is surmounted by three giant domes covered by striking blue and white glazed tile from Czechoslovakia. Its stained glass windows were created by Spanish artist Guillermo Larrazábal."
Huge stained glass windows...
...and candles.
The fabulously entertaining plaza in front of the Catedral, Parque Calderon.
The charming and gracious Plaza Central.
One example of the wonderful buildings that fill this Unesco World Heritage city.
A view of the cathedral.
American retirees with their retirement checks are pouring into Ecuador and Cuenca in particular is one of the hot spots, causing prices to get out of hand for the local people.

According to the website International Living as of May 2016: " Cuenca has almost everything you could think of. As is true everywhere, your lifestyle will determine your budget. A frugal single person can get by in Cuenca on less than $1,000 per month. Conversely, a couple who rents a high-end condo, eats out frequently (and enjoys good wine with meals), plus owns a car would probably have budget exceeding $2,500 a month."
So $2,500 gets two people living very well and getting by for considerably less. The weather is fantastic btw, entirely temperate all year.
The Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes, Merlyn's first choice for a museum.
Travelling with Merlyn means the occasional splurge in a restaurant with a view. This is the Restaurante El Jardin and is in the Hotel Victoria.
We enjoyed the break in a lovely white-tablecloth restaurant surrounded as we were by local ladies who lunch, all dressed up for a party.

After lunch we decided to walk a bit farther so we could see more museums because we were feeling it for museums in Cuenca.
Along the way we noticed The Ruins of Todos Los Santos. We didn't go in, we couldn't manage everything, next time, because it's probably interesting.
First stop, Museo Manuel Agustín Landivar where a sweet and ancient man led us through the museum of antiquities and let us into the small site of ruins.
I really got a kick out of the Museo del Banco Central.

They had plenty of things including some art, a bit of history and culture, ethnological exhibits, but my favorite was the entire room devoted to displays of the currency of Ecuador over the centuries. Missing: USD that is now the only recognized currency.
The Museo Pumapungo is connected to the Museo del Banco Central complex, and it is huge...
...with ethnographic exhibits of a hundred designs.

When we emerged from room after room it was pouring rain.

We got entirely drenched tracking down a taxi and made our way back to Hostel Ines Maria. Merlyn went out as the rain had abated to bring back beers and the folks at the Ines Maria happily reheated our leftover pizza.
May 11

For our second and last full day in Cuenca we decided to take a road trip (by local bus) to see some of the surrounding towns.

Our route took us to Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and Sigsig. Each of these three towns has a particular specialty that we took the opportunity to enjoy completely.
It took us a good long walk to find the market in Gualaceo and we were so glad to have persevered. They are also most well known for the crafts and craft market but we were in search of the food market.

In Ecuador, food-wise, it's mostly about the pigs. We shared one of these and discovered the spicy sauce that actually comes with every order of anything. It was delicious and kicked up a bland but well-made dish to delicious.
We had to have one of these, a cake filled with cheese and then griddled.

Oh look, a different and equally delicious preparation of pig. And hot sauce. Gotta have one of those too.
There were another one or two buildings like this one as part of the market.

For each kind of dish there were 5-10 vendors selling exactly the same thing, in a row. Doña this and Doña that - I'm thinking they all worked for the same people and were not really in competition since, within a certain preparation, the choices were identical.
Next on to Chordeleg, LP: "an important jewelry-making center since before the arrival of the Inca." You can't miss that decoration, and the whole town was full of them...
...as here, a different street with a different design. We strolled past so very many jewelry shops.
The plaza central and the main church in Chordeleg.
While moving on to Sigsig, here's a corn patch by the bus stop. You find corn patches in peoples' front garden, in empty lots between buildings, just about anywhere actually.
Sigsig LP: "a charming vestige of a colonial-era indigenous town, best know for its panama hats."
It really did seem a charming vestige.
Does this run?
We stopped for a snack and did some pointing.

This is the best way I've found so far to get pictures of people - buy something and then ask them to hold it. Unlike many other countries where people wave and ask/insist to have their picture taken, it feels mostly invasive to take pictures of people along the way here.
I was fiddling with my camera and snapped this one from the table while they were all hysterically laughing at us. There were not a lot of tourists in Sigsig. Actually, we saw none.
A couple views along the way home.
Plenty of churches (or maybe that's a city hall?).

Ecuador is predominantly a Catholic country but I've heard from several sources that the evangelicals (Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Fundamentalists, Mormons, etc.) are all making strong and effective efforts here.
May 12

We left Cuenca fairly early by taxi to make our way to Riobamba.

The landscape was gorgeous although very cloudy and I'm sure we missed range after range of the Andes shrouded as they were in clouds.

Check out those cows in the foreground. I was daily amazed at the year-round temperate nature of the climate here in the high Andes, and then I reminded myself that Ecuador is sitting on the equator.
This is Alausi, the town that kicks off El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). We didn't stop for the famous and now totally touristic train ride since it can take half a day depending on when you arrive, but it is supposed to be at least interesting.
Our hotel in Riobomba, Mansion Santa Isabella. Merlyn's the best about getting hotel pictures.

Riobamba was once the busiest trading center in Ecuador accepting goods from the coast and from the mountains and jungle, but no longer. Now it's main claim to fame is that it is near other tourist attractions, such as the towns of Baños and Alausi, and near adventure trekking, and other active tourist attractions such as zip-lining and bungee-jumping.

There are some nice buildings around the plaza central.
And they have a cathedral, in Maldonado Park.
From ecotravel.com: "Maldonado Park is located in the historic center of the city of Riobamba, and was originally the Plaza Mayor or Plaza Central. In the center of the park is the monument to riobambeño, Pedro Vicente Maldonado, the most outstanding Hispanic scientists in the colony. He collaborated with members of the French Geodesic Mission (to identify the equator). Besides his political, physical and mathematical activities, he was an astronomer, surveyor, and geographer."
At Maldonado Park there was another building that held a music school and art exhibits. We wanted to get to the top of that building as a chance to see the volcano Chimborazo. I got to use my Spanish to advantage here and found a guy who directed us to the roof.
Here she is!

Wiki tells us: "With a peak elevation of 6,263 metres (20,548 ft), Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador. It is the highest peak near the equator. Chimborazo is not the highest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth's surface from the Earth's center."

A nice way to get a lot of -ists in your name.
A view of the church from the roof of the music school.

We had dinner at the hotel and talked with the owner about our drive to Quito the next day. He said no problem, he would arrange it and as it turns out he drove us himself.
May 13

Another long drive through the Andes, this time from Riobamba to Quito. We decided to take taxis instead of renting a car because it was both less expensive and less stressful and once we rolled into each town we realized what a good decision that was.
The owner of our Riobomba accommodation told us he had organized a taxi and then for whatever reason he decided, for the same price, to drive us himself.

Then he lead us to his favorite place in Quito and we had a wonderful meal. All our previous taxi drivers both in towns and for the long runs only spoke Spanish so although it was fun for me, not so fun for Merlyn. This guy, a Brit married to an Ecuadorian woman, was obviously a full on English speaker and full of experiences and stories of Ecuador.

After checking into our accommodation and having lunch with our Riobomba man, we took a little walk to the Plaza Central.

Of the statue, which you will see many more times, Wiki tells us: "The Virgin of Quito (Spanish, La Virgen de Quito) — also known as the Virgin of the Apocalypse, Winged Virgin of Quito, Dancing Madonna, and Legarda's Virgin — is a wooden sculpture by the Quiteño artist Bernardo de Legarda (ca. 1700-1773) which has become the most representative example of the Quito School of art, developed in the Ecuadorian capital during the Spanish colonial era. This particular Virgin became a popular cult image which is still venerated — via innumerable replicas — throughout the northern Andes.

"The original 1734 work was conceived and commissioned as a Lady of the Immaculate Conception and is venerated at the altar of the Church and Convent of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador."
The Cathedral...
...and another side of the Plaza Central.
May 14

This was Merlyn's last day and he put together our whole program, which was an excellent plan.

First, up early and a taxi ride up to the base of the Teleferico.

Wiki: "The TelefériQo (from teleférico and Quito), or TelefériQo Cruz Loma, is a gondola lift in Quito, Ecuador, running from the edge of the city centre up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to lookout Cruz Loma. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 ft to 12,943 ft. The ascent takes about twenty minutes, traveling 2237 linear metres."
A view at 13,000 feet. Sadly the clouds made it impossible to see the three volcanos that surround Quito, even the peak of the volcano we are standing on was obscured. We were clicking away at this which turned out to be a little side-bit of the main show.
...and a communications station.
Enjoying the view...
...and I am sparing you the 10 more of other parts of the city.
Then we had the return taxi drop us off at the Basilica instead of taking the time to walk up there from our hotel.
It was a good one inside...
...with stained glass of course...
...and a good main aisle...
...and a very nice entrance.
You can also climb climb climb...
...up past the clock in the clock tower, wow...
...to another excellent view.
We walked down the hill and had a late meal at a lovely view restaurant.
Also from the restaurant, there she is again, the Virgin of Quito.
We took just a little rest and then went out to see the main nightlife street of the old town - Calle La Ronda!

This was early, because any time before nine is way early for La Ronda.
At the end of the restaurant and club portion of the street there was a small plaza for entertainment. That's a band setting up as an accompaniment for...

Merlyn had to be off at 5am so we didn't stay long which was a-ok with me...Adiós Merlyn, it's been FABulous.
May 15-21

Now for a week of Spanish School. Here are the teachers and students at Yanapuma and mi amiga de casa, and mi amiga de classe.

Details to follow if I can EVER finish!
I bugged out of class for an hour so I could see the weekly appearance of El Presidente.

He just shows himself on the balcony there. Soldiers march, horses parade, bands play, and there is ZERO security. Some cops stand around that is IT. El Presidente, it was awesome.
El Presidente and the Vice-President too.
Ahh, really, the view from my bedroom. I loved my room even though the internet was iffy because I had a corner with big two-sided floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony.
One of the nearby lunch spots...
...where this meal including a beverage was $2.65.
The restaurant from the outside, a couple of blocks down from the school.
On the left, mi amiga de casa Frederica, a French speaker from Quebec who lives in my homestay and we walk to school together. Good thing it's downhill the whole way because she walks fast. We have different afternoon schedules so I walk up the hill by myself. Good thing because it takes me twice as long.

On the right, mi amiga de classe Julia, from Germany who is my only classmate. We two and the fine teacher whose name escapes me right now, have had a ton laughs together.
I had a salsa class with the young folk.

And then there was this guy, the one standing next to me in the picture, and I could feel it, he was THE Salsa Man so after the class I asked him to dance which he agreed to with an agreeing but hesitant head bob and then when he realized I could actually do it, I got one of THE most memorable dances of my long life.

YIKES. Even the kids clapped at the end.
Rob from the Neatherlands, also of my homestay family. He volunteers during the day to teach English at a local school and in the afternoon studies Spanish at Yanapuma.

We spent a Saturday and Sunday out and about together.
The home and museum of the Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin.

((Not done yet with the PICTURES!))
((Get the rest of the PICTURES!))

The historic equator with Fred and Rob in the distance. We hired a taximan and went together to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world. For the first many times I heard the name I was thinking it had something to do with Lord of the Rings, but no, it's the equator as identified by the eighteenth century Franco-Spanish Geodesic Mission.
About a half mile away is another tourist attraction and the actual GPS 00.00 location. This place felt homemade - we really liked it.
YES! Cuy and Chicha. A feast of Ecuador. We treated our driver and he was so so happy. He ate only half of his portion and took home the rest and all our leftovers and the next day when he drove me to the airport he told me how happy his whole family was to enjoy the treat.
Here's where we got the cuy and chichi. What a blast.
Mi Familia at La Casa Sosa.
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