November 3 is Cuenca Independence Day. Ecuadorians love to celebrate, and this 197th anniversary of independence from Spain was a chance for a 4-day holiday weekend. The city puts out a booklet listing scheduled events through the end of November that was 66 pages long, and copies ran out in the first 2 days. There is no way that anyone can attend every event. However there was something for everyone. We have already mentioned the Symphony in the Park, Moscow Circus, and art show reception we went to this weekend.
This was the 15th year that CIDAP has put on a festival of Latin American artisans. This is a curated show, and the quality of the artisans is always quite high, so we enjoy walking the few blocks where the tents line both sides of the Rio Tomebamba.
CIDAP also has a long term display of exquisite Indonesian art, which is worth a visit even after the Independence Day weekend is over.
Masks are always on display at this show, and many are of superb quality. We know some people that have wall collections of masks such as these.
Music is another common element of the show. Some music is from artisans who make the instruments and CDs they wish to sell, while others are street musicians entertaining the audience, hoping for some change to be dropped in their hats. There were also bands that we heard from our apartment window every night during the celebration.
The wood carving artisans always create elaborate items for sale. Some even continue to work in their tents, demonstrating how they create their art (lower-right).
One large plaza at Puente Roto is set aside for artists with their painting and drawings. There are two spray paint artists in Cuenca (upper-left) that were also showing off their work today (upper-middle) -- all done entirely with spray paint cans and newspaper rubbed over the wet paint. There were also artists drawing caricatures.
There are many artisans who make crafts of various types. Plus a few mime's that dress up and look like statues, unmoving until a coin is dropped in their can -- at which time they pop into motion (lower-left and lower-right). The reaction of young children is often more amusing than the mimes themselves, as the kids jump when the "statue moves." ☺
And then there was the food court section, which was much larger than in previous years. An entire block of every kind of international food you can imagine, with a meal running anywhere from $1 to $5. We ended coming back to this section a few times over the weekend, each time to try something different.
There was also a small kid's section. With so many children in Cuenca, I was surprised to see how small this section was, but it was still enjoyable to watch them create their own art or get their faces painted.
Every year during the Cuenca Independence Day celebrations, the Moscow Circus comes to town. The image above was on the screen during part of the performance. The first poster I saw in town had some other posters plastered over the top of it, and all I saw was the image of Elsa (from Frozen) and the tag "Suenos de magia y diversion" ("Dreams of magic and fun"). I therefore told Evelyn I wanted to go see the Moscow magic show! ☺
I had forgotten that the circus comes to town every year. It was still an interesting evening, even if not what I expected when I bought the tickets (and first looked at them closely and said.... hmmm... I don't think this is a magic show after all...)
The circus was on a theater stage at Pumapungo, instead of under a circus tent. Almost no verbal (so there was no language barrier issue), much like a Circus Soleil show. Superb balance was a recurring theme for the evening, as seen above. In the lower row is a tightrope walker jumping over his team mates on a tightrope.
There was only one clown in the show, who "talked" with only a whistle. He went into the audience and chose four young men as volunteers -- including the man sitting next to me. He put the audience volunteers through a few comical dance routines, then sat them down on four chairs... and proceeded to pull each chair out leaving them apparently resting comfortably in space (right image). He started to walk off stage, then returned, pulled one persons leg out and they all collapsed in a pile.
Other acts included a woman simultaneously twirling 8 hula hoops at one time (upper left) and various dancers (middle-right and lower row).
Another of the tightrope jumpers (upper-right) gave a rather interesting abstract photo effect, as he moved too fast for the camera. One tightrope performer had a bag over his head (middle-left), and his feet bound together, as he made his way across from one platform to the other. At one point, he slipped, and it was touch-and-go as a teammate reached out to him, but he refused, and managed to regain his position and finish the walk.
Of course, at any circus, the kids in the audience were a show unto themselves. One girl (upper-middle) went in front of the stage and danced to the music, while others played with various light toys their parents had purchased for them while in line waiting to enter.
Ecuadorians love to celebrate and have parties. There is some festival going on in Cuenca pretty much every month. Whereas the US celebrates Independence one day per year on 4th of July, Cuenca makes a four day festival of its independence from Spain every year. This year is the 197th anniversary of that independence. There is a book listing the various events around town for this four day period -- and it is 66 pages long!
One of the events today was a Symphony in the Park, which we decided to go to, at Parque Miraflores. The Cuenca Symphony was led by Jeffrey Sean Dokken, a visiting conductor from the US, and all the music was from various movies. In the leading image above, they were playing the theme from Star Trek: Into Darkness, while portions of the movie were being played on a giant screen behind the musicians.
The crowds were smaller than we had expected, probably because there are more than 20 other venues active at the same time, for this Independence festival. Of course I went with my new drone, and the top image gives an overview from the air. Those umbrellas are not for rain, but rather for sun. It was very hot today, and this high in the Andes (8400' elevation), UV warnings were active.
I have mentioned before that Cuenca often has four seasons in a single day. Note those clouds in the upper and lower-left images? As sweltering as it was at 1:00 when these images were shot, we had a drenching downpour by 3:00, and you needed to wear a jacket outdoors by 5:00.
There were plenty of food vendors cooking up hornado (roasted pig), cuy (guinea pig), and plenty of chicken. After we lunched on hornado, we strolled around the game arcade where the kids were having a ball. Most of the larger parks in Cuenca also have exercise areas that get plenty of use. The lower-left and lower-middle images show aerial views of those areas.
Here is a short 90 second portion of the Star Trek portion of the music program, to give a feel of what it was like with the massive screen playing the movie while the symphony supplied the music.
It seems that every time Evelyn has an art reception, it's pouring rain. Some of the guests came in soaked, and we heard many others could not find taxis. Even with the inclement weather, more than a hundred braved the storm to attend the opening night, which was located at the Miguel C. lllescas Art Gallery. This is the most prestigious art gallery in Cuenca, with Miguel doing a lot of the construction himself. This show, Visiones Sin Fronteras (Visions Beyond Frontiers) featured 5 artists: Evelyn Johnson, Lorena Duca, Sandra Doren, Keith Paul, along with their maestro, Alberto Soriano.
The show was a grand success, as every student was able to sell at least one of their paintings. (Thank you Susan.) The paintings were all in different styles, yet all the paintings were harmonious when shown together, largely in part because of the gentle guidance of Alberto Soriano, their art instructor.
Many friends came to the show, including other artists. Evelyn's other maestro, Garry Kaulitz (upper-left), also attended the show, and told Evelyn that his lessons on printmaking obviously rubbed off on her latest painting.
I have been using my new drone around Cuenca recently. I expect to be using it more in the future, both around the upcoming Cuenca holidays, and hopefully elsewhere around Ecuador. It will probably be awhile before I am ready to take it on trips outside Ecuador though.
As a result of this new style of images starting to appear, our web site now has a new top-level menu called, appropriately, Drone. If you look on the top of this screen, you will see a menu to take you to various photo galleries of our favorite images from each category or trip, including this new menu where we will be gathering images created using the drone.
Check it out, and see what my favorite images are from my first month with this new toy... er, I mean tool...! ☺
I haven't posted any new images since returning from our 3-month Europe/Asia trip in June. Partly from medical issues that came up, partly from "blog overload" and partly because I have been experimenting with a new toy.
Evelyn bought me a Phantom 4 Pro drone for my birthday this year. Due to the difficulty of getting it from the US to Ecuador, plus our lengthy travel mentioned above, I didn't get my hands on it until late June.
Turns out learning to fly a drone and get decent results is similar to getting my first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera -- there is a LOT to learn.
This week, I am finally getting some results I feel like sharing. Above are aerial views of the iconic Benigno Malo Collegio (High School) and the New Cathedral, whose towers are on pretty much any poster or web site related to Cuenca.
Here is my first attempt at an aerial time lapse too, flying past the Benigno Malo High School.
I also completed my first 360 degree panoramic shot using the drone. Not sure if this will properly work in this blog software, but here is giving it a shot. (If this doesn't work, you can check my Facebook page where I do have it properly navigating. I will then try to figure out how to present future 360's here)
Nope, didn't work. This is a flat projection of the 360 degree pano. I will study this some more, and see if I can figure out how to add these interactive panos in the future.
Our three month adventure in Europe and Central Asia is now over. This is our 37th and final blog entry covering this trip that has taken us to Italy, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, and finishing with a month in Portugal.
On our last day in Lisbon, we decided to check out their zoo. We arrived just as the dolphin show was starting, so we quickly went to Dolphin's Bay to watch. It was excellent entertainment, and a good way to start the day. As it turned out, this was the highlight of the zoo.
There was the usual cast of animals at the zoo, in fairly standard zoo enclosures. Many of the enclosures appeared empty at first, as the animals were sleeping. Later, many of them woke up and made an appearance. The white Siberian tiger (center) was the most unusual animal among the collection.
We often enjoy watching children at places such as this, and the zoo was no exception. There was an interesting standing cable car (center and upper-left) that circled the zoo property, giving an aerial view of the property. As expected, there were groups of school children (center left, bottom-left and right-center) having fun. Some people used public transportation, including the ubiquitous trams (upper and lower right), to reach the zoo.
Near the AirBnb in the Alfama district where we were staying was the São Domingos cathedral, which is considered a national monument, built in 1241. We had seen so many cathedrals in the past three months that we almost passed this one by. We decided to walk in, on our way back to our apartment, and were glad we did. This one was quite different from every other cathedral we had seen. It was a medieval church that had been destroyed and restored several times. The stone columns showed the centuries that have passed (upper left), with signs of the fire in 1995 that gutted the church left intact.
Lisbon is a city undergoing massive change. Almost everywhere we turned, there were more construction cranes or facades under protective covering (center left) for new construction projects or renovation. Unfortunately, the river front is being transformed into a massive cruise ship terminal (bottom row). On some days, more than 10 cruise ships come into the Lisbon port already, as cruise ship companies are adding this city to their routes. This will not be a very pleasant place to visit in the next year or two when this all opens... ☹
Lisbon is famous for Fado, a music genre characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, and some consider this the soul of Portuguese culture.
There were at least a dozen restaurants within a few blocks of where we were staying that had Fado with dinner, so of course we had to sample a couple of them. In general, the music was very pleasant, but the food was poor and the prices were exorbitant. Here is a short clip that gives a feel of the music without the downsides...
Some say that the fado music in Porto is quite different from this Lisbon variety, and was originally sung by suitors below the balconies of the singer's affections. By tradition, a person is only allowed to sing Fado if they have attended the music university and have reached at least the third year of study.
Portugal is a country that loves music. We came across dozens of street musicians that were enjoyable enough to stop and watch for awhile... and video. We will finish our Portugal blog with this street performing group singing "I wanna dance with you," with a few of the zoo images interspersed.
Hope you have enjoyed reading about our recent travels as much as we have enjoyed experiencing – and writing about – them. ☺
We went to the world-class Oceanarium in Lisbon today. We were joined by David and Debi Billings (right column), friends we knew in Cuenca who have recently moved to Portugal.
The Oceanarium opened in 1998, was the centerpiece for the World's Fair, and is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe with more than a million visitors a year. The free-standing building sits in an artificial lagoon (upper left), and has many educational exhibits promoting conservation of nature, including the whale made from plastic water bottles (bottom left).
Of course, in any aquarium, the main attraction is the large variety of sea life, from sharks, rays, seahorses to star fish and sea urchins. There is even a sunfish here (center), which is rarely kept in captivity, due to their unique requirements and demanding care. The main 23 foot high tank allows bottom dwellers (manta ray top center and right) to coexist alongside surface dwelling fish (barracuda top right).
Different habitats were created representing the Antarctic coast line, Indian coral reefs, to the Pacific kelp forests, which displayed puffins (upper left), penguins (upper center), frogs (lower center and right), and otters (remaining images). Surprisingly, the penguins on display came from the San Francisco zoo, while the otters came from Alaska.
In addition to the massive central tank, there were 25 thematic aquariums housing animals such as spiny lobsters (bottom center), jellyfish (center), moray eels, a very active octopus over 10' long (upper right), sea dragons and other impressive creatures. It was a well conceived design with many indoor and outdoor viewing areas on two stories. The ocean ecosystems were displayed in a very natural setting with well preserved coral and marine plants.
Exhibits like these are always enjoyed by families and school groups, and this was no exception. The kids were a joy to watch.
In between Porto and Lisbon, we stayed in Aveiro, a town that boasts canals and is sometimes called the Portuguese Venice. Our first stop was the fish market around the corner from our hotel. Though small, with no more than 15 stalls, it had charm and the people were friendly. A vendor selling eels (center) particularly caught our attention, when we realized that the eels had already been gutted and cleaned... yet were still trying to wriggle away and seemed very much alive! (bottom center).
As evening set, we wandered around town and the few canals. The system of artificial canals was opened in 1808, and has remained largely unchanged since that time. The primary source of income for this town is tourism.
The next day, we wandered to explore other parts of the town. The boats ("barcos moliceiros") were decorated with elaborate paintings on their bow (lower left) and in the past were used to harvest seaweed. Now they carry tourists around the canals. There were also several murals around town (upper center and right), and many buildings had decorative mural tiles on their facade (the former rail station is shown in the lower center and right).
On our way out of town, we decided to stop by Salinas to see the salt producing flats. This was Sunday though, and work was shut down. We heard some music and laughing from a small hut, and were walking past it to reach the salt ponds (upper left and center), when we discovered a birthday party underway.
A group had gotten together to celebrate the birthday of the man above playing the accordion, who also oversees the salt pond as his day job. This group has been meeting here every Sunday for years for music, Portuguese stew and wine. Another man came over and offered us both a piece of cake and a glass of wine, as we were invited to join the fun. We ended up talking to a woman in the group whom had spent years in Canada and spoke excellent English, as she shared her story with us.
All in all, another example of how welcoming the people are from this Portuguese village...
As always, friendly faces prevailed at the gigantic Feira de Barcelos open-air market. This market has been held here since the early fifteenth century, and is a must-see if you're in the area. It is the largest market in Portugal, and one of the largest in Europe.
Every Thursday, the vendors fill the tree-lined Campo da Republica public square. The open-air market is filled with a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, live chickens and rabbits, bacalao, pastry, cheeses, cured meats, saddles, handicrafts and designer and counterfeit clothing. The Barcelos Cockerel (bottom right) is seen everywhere, in the form of cork wine tops, painted souvenir handicrafts, pot holders, coffee cups – and even live (bottom left).
The vendors are some of the friendliest we have met, with villagers hawking everything, including scrawny chickens, clothing, hand-embroidered linen, pots and pans, pottery, fruit, shoes, lingerie, and many other goods. The market is teeming with shoppers from neighboring countries as well as those from the region.
Situated in the heart of Minho, Braga is one of the oldest cities in the country and one of the country's main religious centers. Above are images from the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary, just below our hotel, at sunset.
Minho is famous for their wine, called Vinho Verde (literally 'green wine', but which really means 'young wine'). We enjoyed this light and fresh sparkling variety at many of the restaurants from Braga to Viana do Castelo. The vineyards here have a different growing style that is unique among the areas we have seen so far. The vines are grown high off the ground, letting the grapes hang below, protecting them from moisture and frost. Harvesting of these grapes looks fascinating, and we hope to return to Portugal in the near future during grape harvest time to witness it ourselves.