Thursday, March 19, 2015

$4.00 Lunch

There is a restaurant right around the corner from us that we walk past every day. We are creatures of habit and usually rotate among our usual five or six favorites.  Today, we decided to finally give the place a try. Once you enter the door you walk down a little hall and then BAM!! It opens up into a huge restaurant that appears to hold the capacity of a couple of hundred people. The decor is very nice with lots of natural light. I ordered the daily special. Mike opted for a personal sized vegetarian pizza. Some local restaurants serve lunch specials that range from $1.75 to $6.50. Here is what I got for $4.00:

The soup of the day was potato and turnip greens

Fresh Pineapple Juice

The entrée was chicken with orange sauce, rice, mixed vegetables, and a slice of fried yucca. 

Wait, there's more!

Dessert was a multi-flavored gelatin

The restaurant name is Zona Refrescante. We will definitely add this to our lunch rotation!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

John Sartain and Michael Nifong Visit Ecuador

Our longtime friends, John and Michael, traveled to Ecuador last Tuesday to visit us. Mike and I flew from Cuenca to Quito and met them at the airport, at midnight. We took a very comfortable shuttle bus from the "new" airport to the "old" airport and from there we took two taxis, due to the amount of luggage, to our hotel. We arrived at 1:00am. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Quito's business district. It is located directly across the street from the JW Marriott. In the past, we have always stayed at the Grand Mercure Alameda. We now prefer the Holiday Inn Express. 

Views of Quito from our room:

Our friend Jack Abercrombie (Journeyman Jack) had invited us to attend his 2nd Annual Gringo Gathering Lunch at a restaurant on the Equator. So, we got up Wednesday morning and headed to the Equator to visit the "tourist trap" site. This was the first trip for Mike and me to the original site where the Equator was thought to be before GPS technology. Surprisingly, the actual Equator, as determined by GPS, is only 100 yards or so from the original site as designated in 1736 using manual calculations. 

Below, are pictures of the site where the Equator was originally thought to be. Most tourists only visit this location since it is heavily advertised. The monument is hard to miss. This is where the taxis bring you when you ask to be taken to the Equator, also known as La Mitad del Mundo, The Middle of The World. 

The museum offered the opportunity to dress in traditional clothing and have your picture taken in front of a pre-selected background. Here are Michael and John preparing for their photo shoot. 

Here are Mike and I. The camera was set-up for people several inches shorter than the two of us. 

We met a couple of "girls" while touring the grounds. One of them requested that we have our picture taken with them. 

This is the new United Nations of South America building located just outside the Equator museum grounds. Very modern design. 

We then walked about four blocks to the restaurant where Journeyman Jack was hosting his gringo event. We enjoyed meeting new people and catching up with folks we met a year ago while eating traditional Ecuadorian food. After eating, we took a taxi up the hill to the Intiñan Museum, the actual Equator. 

John was successful at balancing a raw egg on the head of a nail, directly on the line of the Equator, and received his "Eggmaster Certificate." The red line, in the lower left, shows the location of the Equator. The Equator divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. 

After participating in several educational and fun experiments, that can only be accomplished at the Equator, we caught a ride in a SUV that had much needed air conditioning. It was a warm and beautiful day!

Thursday, we took a tour of Quito on the Hop On - Hop Off bus. This was the fourth or fifth time for Mike and me. We always enjoy this tour. Quito is so beautiful. Especially when seen from the top level of the double-decker bus. Our first stop was the Basilica (La Basilica del Voto Nacional). 

We toured the basilica for an hour and then hopped on the bus and rode to the top of a hill to see this angel statue. This stop is called Mirador El Panecillo

The views of Quito from there are spectacular. 

We had a twenty minute stop here so that everyone could enjoy the views and the souvenir and food booths. Our next stop was Old Town Quito. We ate lunch, window shopped, and then walked over to a church called Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus, famous for the gold interior, seven tons of gold! Construction started in 1605 and was completed in 1765. Picture taking was forbidden so I'm sorry I cannot share this magnificent experience with you. However, I did manage to take these two photos of an exhibit that was located in an interior courtyard. 

While admiring the gold interior I said hello to a group of school kids that were obviously on a field trip. The kids, all teenagers, suddenly stopped and asked for my name. I said "My name is Howard." I got the puzzled look that I always get. As you can imagine, Howard is not a common name here. The "H" here is silent and there are no Spanish words that start with the letter "W". Most locals pronounce my name as "Jaguar Good." After two or three boys repeatedly asked for my name, and me responding to each, a girl looked at them and shouted "His name is HOWARD!" They then pretended to understand and proceeded with their tour. A few minutes later we were headed to the exit and walked by the group. Several, six or eight, of the students completely abandoned their group, and tour guide, to approach and ask me more questions. I enjoyed talking to them but thought the behavior was a bit odd. We left the church, walked down to the next block, turned around to walk towards the Plaza Grande, and walked back in front of the church. Then, this happened:

It was a fun experience and look at how cute they are!  We sat in the Grande Plaza for a while before hopping back on the bus to make one more stop at the local artists market called Mercado Artesanal. The market covers an entire block and includes more items than you can imagine. Hats, alpaca blankets and scarves, tablecloths, t-shirts, pants, chocolate, coffee, key chains, food vendors, and much more. It's a must see if you visit Quito. From here we walked to Foch Plaza, the party district, and enjoyed people watching. Afterwards, we walked to a restaurant near our hotel called Crepes and Waffles. Mike and Michael enjoyed salads while John and I enjoyed crepes.  

The next morning we flew from Quito to Cuenca. LAN Airlines rescheduled our flight which was originally scheduled to leave the evening before. So, we had to get up at 3:30am!!  We arranged for transportation to the airport the night before and we left the hotel at 4:30am. We arrived, with time to spare, for our 6:20am flight. Forty minutes later we were in Cuenca. The taxi ride from the Cuenca airport to our apartment is maybe ten minutes. You can see the airport from our rooftop terrace. 

We decided that instead of going to bed, and taking naps, that we would just head out to tour the city. Here are some highlights of the following four days:

Double-decker tour bus in Cuenca

Visit to Pumapungo Ruins

The Modern Art Museum. We've heard wonderful things about the exhibits at this popular museum. Only thing is there is NEVER anything there when we go. We get a lot of laughs out of this. 

A museum that we enjoyed a lot was the Museo de las Culturas Aborigines. Our friends Ryan and Ron, from Hungary, discovered this place and recommended it to us. 

Yesterday was Michael and John's final day in Cuenca. Their flight to Quito was at 7:55pm. We had an entire day to enjoy. Our first stop was at the Arawi Chocolate Factory. Their offices are located one block from our apartment. After purchasing chocolate bars and 100% cocoa nibs I guided everyone to my favorite bread and pastry shop. John purchased several goodies including doughnuts, and cookies of various flavors. Next, we walked a few blocks to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in El Centro. We all enjoyed the delicious cream of carrot soup and a choice of either tacos, enchiladas, or fajitas, a drink, and a dessert of fresh pineapple for only $5.75 each. 

Mike had to leave us to attend rehearsal with the Cuenca International Chorale. I took Michael and John to a local municipal building to enjoy a small art exhibit. We then walked to the "old" Cathedral (Museo Catedral Vieja) for a look around. The two crypts are usually closed but an employee asked if we wanted to see one of them. It took two men to open the heavy wood door to the crypt. The stairs went straight down under the Cathedral. 

This hole contained the bones of over 200 wealthy and important people of Cuenca. The bodies were stacked on top of each other. 

Wooden boxes, containing only bones, sat on these shelves. 

This is the original stone door to the crypt. 

Door to the second crypt. 

This is a wood carving of the "new" Cathedral which is now located across the street on the opposite side of Parque Calderon, Cuenca's Central Park.

Various pictures inside the "old" Cathedral. 

Here are examples of the original artwork on the walls which is being slowly uncovered. 

After a quick visit to San Francisco Plaza for Michael and John to purchase ponchos and alpaca scarves, for souvenirs, we walked back to the apartment to rejoin Mike. We sat around the dining table and enjoyed the treats that were purchased earlier and reminisced about the week that we spent together.