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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Symphonic Fly Fishing

I have fished exactly once in my life, in the 1970's using lures on the Deschutes river in Oregon.  There is a story behind that one episode, but that would be a diversion here.  For the last couple years in Cuenca, I have heard periodically about a local fishing guide that teaches fly fishing.  I have toyed with the idea of trying this, and today finally took the plunge and went fishing with James Drummondo of Fintastic Adventures de Ecuador.

He picked me up at a park about 5 blocks from our home at 8:00.  One other man was given the class as a Father's Day gift and joined us.  We then drove up to Dos Chorreras sport fishing lake, which is what they called stocked trout lakes here.  You pay $1.50 to enter (which was included in Fintastic's fee), are not allowed to throw any fish back, and pay $2.20 per pound on the fish you catch.

We spent the first hour in the restaurant, where James taught us about the poles, tackle and flies use for fishing. We then went out to the stocked lake, where he demonstrated proper casting methods, and we cast the line sans hook for a few minutes (that is James demonstrated middle-left above).  We were then ready to install the flies and start actually fishing.  I thought his demonstration of how to attach the fly was so clear that I could do it myself.  After two failed tries though, I let him attach mine... :)

Within a few minutes I had caught my first 2 pound trout (center image).  Another 20 minutes and I landed a 3 pounder (that is James holding my second trout middle-right).  I figured two fish was my limit, so I returned to the restaurant to wait while Jerry caught one. (It was very cold, occasionally misting, and pretty windy all day up there at 11,200 ft in the Cajas!)

When everyone was happy with their take, we let the owner clean them for us.  Tonight I baked the first of the two fish for our dinner.

If you have ever wanted to learn how to fly fish, I highly recommend Fintastic. James did an excellent job of teaching the basics, and has good equipment.  He also has more advanced classes for those that already know the basics.  For myself, it will probably be another 30 years before I go fishing again though.  Personally I don't find the throwing of a line repeatedly to catch something I could purchase at the local mercado to be as calming as some people do...

I have commented several times on the amount of free music available in Cuenca.  Tonight launched the Cuenca Opera Fest 2015, with a free performance by the University of Azuay symphony and chorus.  Stephanie (the daughter of Evelyn's Spanish tutor, whom we have mentioned several times) was in the chorus (top row, left in the images above), so we decided to go.  They were playing at a theater about 3 blocks from our home, which makes it particularly easy to attend.

The theater was packed, with the last few arrivals forced to stand in the back.  This symphony is much smaller than the professional Cuenca symphony we have also heard several times (also free), but they had a very nice performance. There were also four opera singers that came on singly, in pairs, and as a group for various songs.

All in all, a rather long, but pleasant day in Cuenca, Ecuador...

Corpus Christi Fireworks

Today was the first day of Corpus Christi.  It began with a procession, which I wrote about in a separate blog entry. Tonight was the opening day fireworks.  There will be fireworks and castles every night for seven days.  Fireworks in Cuenca are nothing like in the States, where you must keep a "safe distance."  Here you can get as close as you want.  Fireworks explode overhead, with sparks streaming down on you.  I made the mistake of wearing a nylon down jacket last year, and it was destroyed by those falling sparks.  I now always wear an inexpensive cotton jacket when going to these events!

We'll talk a bit more about "castles" further down, but the above photo shows one such castle.  The man has stepped about 2 feet in front of this fireworks-laden structure and asked for his picture to be taken by a friend.  I am standing no more than four feet from him, so maybe six feet from the structure myself, while taking a series of photographs.  You can see how the sparks hit his head and bounce off, as they are doing on the ground.  When this structure was burned out, my jacket and camera were filled with white "fireworks corpses!" :)

The fireworks and castles are set off at irregular intervals, based on nothing more than the person with the match deciding "this is a good time."  There is the needed time to construct the castles -- bamboo structures with four or five levels of fireworks -- but other fireworks go off almost at random.  The audience is patient though, and hundreds crowd the square waiting for the next ignition.

When the fireworks start, they only last a few seconds.  A minute is a rather long burst.  However, these bursts continue until nearly midnight at random intervals.  Again, the timing is no more than the guy with the match deciding he wants to launch one now.  After we got home, the fireworks continued off and on, so I put my camera in our living room window, and shot the two images above where the church domes can also be seen.  For the others, I was pointing straight up, then dropping the lens quickly so the lens would not be covered in falling sparks.

The castles are the fireworks highlight, and what draws us to the park, instead of just sitting in our warm home and watching from the window.  Some builders will have the entire castle fire at once, while others fire one level at a time, to stretch out how long the structure lasts.  They have fountains, spinners, whistlers, and are fun to stand a couple feet from and watch the world explode around you!

Corpus Christi Procession

Corpus Christi started today, and not many places celebrate it as largely as Cuenca, Ecuador.  Also known as Septenario, this was originally an indigenous celebration of the June Solstice, but was co-opted by the Catholic Church in the 1600's and turned into a Christian event.  One of the highlights for many is the booths filled with sweets that line Parque Calderon in the center of town for the entire week. The booths do a steady business, as locals indulge in the huge variety of sugary candies.  Personally I have tried them, but found them all way too sweet for my tastes, so I steer clear.  By the third day, these booths will also be teeming with honey bees that will have found their way here for their own taste of sugar.

The first day of Corpus Christi has a procession from Parque San Sebastian to Parque Calderon.  Many of those living along the route place altars outside their homes.

The procession is led by altar boys and priests from the local churches.

A few hundred faithful also join the procession, carrying candles.

Museum Tour

Our Spanish class went on a tour of four museums today, three of which I didn't even know existed in town.  The first was Simon Bolivar's home, which has been converted into an art gallery, shown above.

I knew of two Panama Hat museums in town, but we went to a third I had not seen before. This was actually a smaller museum, with fewer of the production steps shown than the one out by the airport.  As with the other hat "museums" it was actually more of a hat store than museum...  By the way, all "Panama Hats" have always been made in Ecuador. In the 19th century, hats from Ecuador were shipped to Panama, and then on to Europe.  Because they arrived from Panama, they became known as Panama Hats.

Third stop on our trip was at the oldest hostel in Cuenca.  The museum guide (center man with white beard in top photo) was the best guide of the day, regaling us with stories of how the hostel was originally on the very edge of the city, and was used as a stop by those arriving from the Amazon after a four day trip.  He also told us of the rumors of treasure still buried on the property, and how people prior to the 20th century did not have banks, so buried their gold coins or valuables -- and then often forgot where they had been stashed.

I bailed before the group went on to the Modern Art Museum.  I have seen that one three times, and each time thought someone conned the management to call that junk art...  [At the next class the following Tuesday, I asked the other classmates what they thought of that museum, and they universally said it was a waste of time...]

Another Senior Moment

Evelyn blows out the candle on her special dessert cake

Burt turned 65 in February.  Evelyn caught up today, so she now qualifies for the Ecuadorian term of Tercera Edad or Anciano, meaning she is now in her Third Life (aka Senior Citizen).  In Ecuador, that is a major milestone, which qualifies for half price on planes, trains, buses, theaters, parks, etc.  Banks have special lines for senior citizens, and in theory you get to cut in line at the grocery store (though I have only seen one woman ever do that).

As in February, we returned to Tiesto's for a special dinner with friends. When you tell Juan Carlos (the owner) that you have a birthday dinner, his wife paints the plate with edible fruit jellies, and Juan personally delivers a special birthday cake to your table.  Since we had two birthdays at our table, we got two plates -- each with a different design painted on them.

We will close with some family photos of Evelyn through her life.  Only the first here was before we met. The second was in college shortly after we started dating in 1969, then continuing up to the last one, which was taken in Iceland this past November.

And the fun has only just begun.  Tercera Edad means we now have the time to do even more! :)

[Recipe] Buffalo Wings (hot!)

This is another of the appetizers that I now make for parties.  Very easy to make, though there is a fair amount of elapsed time for this recipe.  These are for those that like their wings hot and spicy!

[Recipe] Buffalo Wings (hot!)
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Hot and spicy buffalo wings -- perfect for any party!
  • 1 lb Chicken Wings
  • 2 cups Water
  • ½ cup Vinegar
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 7 tbsp Hot Pepper Sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 cup Yellow Mustard
  • 4 tbsp Ketchup
  • 1 Orange (peeled and pithed)
  1. Cut chicken wings, and throw away tips
  2. Steam wings for 10-15 min in double boiler Pat wings dry and set aside.
  3. Bring water, vinegar, hot pepper sauce and crushed pepper to boil in heavy saucepan
  4. Whisk yellow pepper and ketchup into sauce
  5. Stir in orange. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until sauce is thick -- about 2+ hours
  6. Preheat oven to 375 deg F (175 deg C)
  7. Arrange wings in pan and bake for 30-45 min, turning once halfway through
  8. Stir the wings in the sauce and serve warm


Alberto Soriano Art Show

Alberto Soriano has been Evelyn's painting instructor since we arrived in Ecuador.  He is a well known painter, originally from Peru, who has exhibited throughout the world.  Last month he and his wife were featured in an article in the local English language magazine, Zero Latitude (click here to read the article).

He opened a show this week called "Universo Mágico" in downtown Cuenca at the Galería de la Alcaldia (the Mayor's gallery), where we attended the opening reception.  The images above are from his Manglares series -- one of three series of paintings that he showed off that night, plus some watercolor paintings.

There was a sizable turnout for the reception, mostly composed of expats.  Alberto has developed quite a following among that group, and half a dozen paintings were sold in the first hour.

These paintings were also included, from his "Pre-Columbina" series

Alberto's "Urbano" series was also represented by these paintings

[Recipe] Breakfast Sausage

When we were living in California, we used to like Jimmy Dean spicy sausage as a frequent side for breakfast.  Now that we live in Ecuador, we can no longer get Jimmy Dean.  Some searching on the web, and a bit of tweaking on my own, and we now have breakfast sausage whenever we want them.  I think I like this version even better than Jimmy Dean. Easy to make, and quite cheap too.  Nice combo! :)

[Recipe] Breakfast Sausage
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Easy replacement for Jimmy Dean spicy sausage.
  • 1 lb Ground Pork
  • ¾ tsp Sage
  • ¼ tsp Thyme
  • ½ tsp Pepper
  • ¾ tsp Salt
  • ¾ tsp Parsley
  • ¼ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • ¼ tsp Nutmeg
  1. Blend everything evenly into the pork.
  2. Best if left in fridge overnight before cooking.
  3. NOTE: I usually make enough mix of the seasonings for 10 batches and store it in a jar. I can then spoon out 3-1/2 tablespoons of the mix into one pound of ground pork.


[Recipe] Spinach Cream Soup

Last week I took three cooking classes from Maite Eusebio, here in Cuenca.  She is Peruvian-born, and her recipes are highly influenced by that origin.  She has been living in Ecuador with her artist husband, Alberto Soriano since the 1970's.  Alberto has been Evelyn's art instructor since we arrived here.  There was an interesting article about the couple recently in Zero Latitude Magazine.

Maite had made spinach cream soup for us when we visited them in the past.  I remember seeing the green goo and thinking "this looks like one of those health food drinks that tastes like crap."  One spoonful changed my mind though -- it was delicious!  Last week, she taught us how to make it ourselves.

[Recipe] Spinach Cream Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Peruvian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
A delicious, creamy spinach soup that is trivial to make.
  • 8 oz (250 g) Spinach leaves
  • 3 spoons Corn Starch (can substitute boiled potatoes if desired)
  • 3 cups Semi Skim Milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  1. Cook spinach leaves until tender. Drain water and discard.
  2. Blend spinach with milk, corn starch, salt and pepper in blender until smooth.
  3. Return to pot and boil for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Serve immediately.
  5. NOTE: If you do not have corn starch, you can substitute some boiled potatoes to thicken the soup.


[Recipe] Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

This is our new favorite appetizer for when friends come over.  It is SO delicious that everyone who has had it raves about it.  Since it combines three of my favorite treats -- bacon, shrimp and jalapenos -- it had to be a hit! :)

There are two parts to this recipe.  First, we'll make the butter sauce that is used for basting while cooking the final combination:

[Recipe] Basting Butter Sauce
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This is the butter sauce that will be added to the bacon-shrimp skewers during final cooking.
  • ½ cup melted Butter
  • ½ oz Tequilla
  • 1 tsp Lime Juice
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Paprika
  • ½ tsp Oregano
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • ¼ tsp Cilantro (dried)
  1. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan
  2. Add the spices and stir

Now we come to the main piece:
[Recipe] Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 16 pieces
Delicious appetizer for when you have guests over for dinner.
  • 1 lb Shrimp (cleaned and deveined)
  • 2 Red Jalapenos (veins and seeds removed, sliced into thin slivers)
  • 16 Slices Bacon (I prefer Peppered Bacon, but any will work)
  1. Pre-cook bacon until it is almost done, but still flexible
  2. Butterfly the shrimp. Place 1 or 2 strips of jalapeno in each. Wrap with piece of bacon, and secure with toothpick. Place in a single layer in a large pan.
  3. Brush butter sauce over all shrimp in pan.
  4. Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 min, turning once and basting again with butter sauce.
  5. Serve immediately.


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