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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Comedy and Magic


Cork Proctor, Stand-up ComedianAs we have noted several times, there is always something going on in Cuenca. You would have to be a hermit not to find something to do every week.  We started this morning with a going away party for some friends that have decided to return to the States after several years in Cuenca.  Walking to that party, we came across a food festival at a church (they are roasting cuy -- aka guinea pigs -- in the upper right image above).  We left that party to meet with two other couples for brunch at a new restaurant (those crop up every week too!) a block from our condo.

If that wasn't enough, we then headed over to a comedy show headlined by Cork Proctor -- a Las Vegas performer for five decades, he is now living in Cuenca, with stories dating back to Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and others from that era. You can see him in the upper left image above.  Hard to believe he is 82 and still going strong.  The show was a sell-out in a small auditorium seating 100.

He was opened by Buddy Winston (center right above), a well known Cuenca resident who was a lead writer for Jay Leno for several years, and gave a very funny comedy launch to the show.  When Cork started his routine, he introduced several people in the audience that were neighbors living near him in Cuenca.  One was a very talented magician, with excellent "up close" magic and an excellent stage presence, named Juan Alvarez Estrella.  He said he will have a show of his own here in Cuenca on November 19, but we will be out of the country on that date, so will have to miss it.  He will also be part of an open air performance at Parque Paraiso on Oct 19, from 10:00 to 2:00.

We were actually planning on going to the free circus at the Pumapungo theater tonight too, but by the end of the comedy show, were tired and went home to relax for the rest of the evening...

Ambassador Sings The Blues

USA Ambassador to Ecuador Adam Namm plays with his blues band

Music is largely free in Cuenca, Ecuador.  We could go to multiple music venues every week without spending a cent.  Tonight there was a free Blues concert at the Teatro Sucre -- about 4 blocks from our condo.  It was starring Adam Namm, the US ambassador to Ecuador, on keyboard and as lead singer.  We enjoy the Blues, and thought it would be interesting to hear our ambassador, so of course we went and the theater was jam packed.

They played mostly an hour+ of "covers" plus one song of their own.  Unfortunately, they followed the Ecuadorian habit of maxing out the volume of every mic on stage.  That not only nearly made my ears bleed, but made it nearly impossible to hear the words.  Blues is supposed to be about the words, but you couldn't tell it by the performance tonight.  If I didn't know every song by heart, I would have had no idea what they were singing... :(

The Riot That Never Was

Police surrounding park during protest

Walking home in Cuenca today I came across a group of protesters and an veritable army of police, many dressed in full riot gear with shields, helmets and tear gas canisters.  The were two demonstrations going on, about three blocks from each other.  One was at a plaza filled with anti-government protesters, while the other had government officials giving speeches, and a few (maybe 100 or so?) supporters standing around listening.  The police surrounded the pro-government group, with the show of force clearly intended to dissuade any violence.

The same demonstrations were also going in Guayaquil and Quito.  The one in Quito did turn violent, as protesters attacked the police with burning sticks and molotov cocktails.  In that one, reports stated that 76 protesters were arrested, and that some police sustained unspecified injuries.  The Cuenca demonstrations ended peacefully though.

Protest signs at rally

The anti-government protesters outnumbered the government supporters by maybe 3 or 4 to 1. There were a variety of groups and topics included, from labor unions (the main organizer of the protest), to those objecting to the congress allowing President For Life (actually allowing unlimited reelections), protests over the oil damage in the Amazon, over the loss of water rights for indigenous peoples, and some others I didn't really understand.

Speakers at protest rally and their crowds

The top image shows the pro-government speakers and crowd, while the lower two are from the anti-government rally about three blocks away.

Guayaquil Art Show


Today we traveled to Guayaquil to attend the opening reception of an art show by four Ecuadorian artists. We were traveling with one of the main artists -- Alberto Soriano and his wife Maite. Other painters exhibiting included Boris Ordonez and Pepe Luque.

We had always fled Guayaquil as soon as our international flights arrived, so this was our first time to really visit the city.  Unfortunately, though the Malecon and museum were nicer parts of town, in general I found it reinforced my earlier visions of the city -- hot, humid, smoggy, dirty, and generally dreary.  Not a city I recommend to anyone for visiting...



Eduardo Segovia was also there showing his ceramic art.  Eduardo is another local favorite of Evelyn, and we have one of his pieces in our home.


The artists were all on hand to autograph programs and mingle with the guests.


Musical entertainment was also provided.

Art Watchers

Attendees were fascinated with the art on display.

Art Show Attendees

Attendees also mingled and were there to be seen.

Karen Kennedy provided vocalist entertainment.

20/20 (and 19/20)

ANT agency logoWe are both now legal Ecuadorian drivers -- we both received our driver's licences today!

The process here is almost silly in the number of steps required, but we completed the last of the hoops today and walked out with our licenses. We can now rent and drive cars within Ecuador.  (The International Driver's License is not valid past 90 days after receiving your cedula, so that was no longer an option.)  These were steps we took:

1) Obtain our California driving history from California.  Get it notarized, then apostilled, then translated into Spanish, then have the translation notarized.

2) Go to the Red Cross and get a blood test and obtain a blood card showing our blood types (this info goes on the final license).

3) Fill out a bunch of paperwork in Ecuador and turn it into the ANT (Agencia Nacional de Tránsito), the Ecuadorian equivalent of DMV -- which is an hour's drive from Cuenca.  That paperwork included the driving history noted above, our California driver's licence, our cedula, and a bunch of paper forms filled out.

4) Wait about a week for all that paperwork to be approved in Quito (the capital of Ecuador), upon which time we were told we could go to the next step. Then, we studied 215  practice exam questions, all in Spanish, of which 20 would be randomly picked by the computer.

5) Drive to a different location and go through a battery of tests:  eye test (left and right eye, distance and near, color blindness, recovery speed from dazzling, distance perception); hearing test (left and right ear on 7 frequencies); reaction speed (look at a screen and move from gas pedal to brake pedal when a red light shows); dexterity test (use two hands to move a pin around a complex curved track -- think of the child's game of 'doctor'); and a test something like the whack-a-mole game.  It was pretty exhaustive, compared to California!

6) Drive back to the ANT with all those results, plus blood card, another set of photos, the original apostiled driving history, plus approval from Quito and fill out more paperwork.

7) Drive to a bank about a mile away to pay the $38 per person for the license.  Yep, can't pay at the ANT...

8) Drive back to the ANT and take a written test -- in Spanish -- of the driving laws of Ecuador.  Surprisingly, they are very similar to the laws of California, though you wouldn't know it by stepping on any street in the country.  These laws are completely ignored in the real world, and there is essentially no enforcement of them at all.

9) See the magic "aprobado" on the computer screen, meaning we've passed!

10) Get our picture taken, and a few minutes later get handed our laminated license.


Oh yeah, the title of the blog entry.  You see, Evelyn will never let me live this down.  She got 20 correct answers out of 20 Spanish questions, while I only got 19 correct.  Oh, the shame of it! :)

Always a Parade

As I have said before, Ecuadorians will start a parade at the drop of a hat, and for almost any reason.  Apparently this applies to Peru too.  We went in the town of Tumbes, and quickly came across these school kids preparing for a parade on the theme of ecology.

Taxis in Cuenca are plentiful, but are the normal cars we would see in San Francisco.  The weather in Tumbes, Peru is much warmer though, and the taxis there are small motorcycles built on a three-wheel frame.  In Peru, they call these "mototaxis", but we saw the same taxi transport system in much of Asia, where they were called "tuk-tuk".  Each driver painted and decorated his taxi to his taste (all drivers we saw were men), and many also had advertisements painted on them.

A Free Lunch

Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch was obviously not thinking of blue footed boobies around a fisherman's catch!

The boobies would stand around the crates of fish being brought in by fishermen.  As soon as the men turned their backs (with only a couple exceptions, they were all men), the boobies would walk up to a crate, grab a fish, and swallow it whole.  No need for the birds to go fishing when the fish were being brought to them in bulk!

Birds were swarming in the skies above

Evelyn was looking for some pelican photos to paint from, and they were plentiful. The pelicans usually caught their own fish though, rather than stealing from the fisherman crates.

We took a tour among the mangrove marshes, where we saw many male frigate birds in full mating plumage. 


Dramatic Elevator Rescue

Today we embarked on a short trip to Northern Peru, traveling with Alberto and Maite Soriano.  It started off on an exciting note -- we were stuck in an elevator!

We loaded up our small packs and camera bag and got in the elevator at 6AM to go down to meet Alberto and Maite.  The elevator started down... then suddenly stopped?  I tried to force the door open.  It would only open about six inches, and I could see the floor near the top of the elevator. We were stuck between floors at 6:00AM -- hours before anyone would show up for work and find us.  Fortunately, we both had our phones. Evelyn first called Maite to explain we were stuck and might be "a little late."  She then called Edisson (our security guard) at home and told him we were stuck.  Edisson doesn't speak a word of English and I wasn't sure she had really gotten the idea through, but 20 minutes later the elevator started up again.  Edisson had come in based on our call, saw the elevator was stuck, and performed some magic reset in the elevator control room.

We were off and on our way!  For awhile...

After driving a few hours, we came close to the Peruvian border.  Since auto gas is subsidized in Ecuador ($1.48 / gallon!) and not in Peru, we stopped to top off the tank.  When we tried to get going again after getting gas, the battery was stone dead and wouldn't start.  Evelyn, Maite and I got out and had to push the car for two blocks before Alberto finally got it jump-started.  We drove to the nearest town, revving the engine at every stop sign, and bought a new battery.

And we were off again!  For awhile...

When we reached the Peru border, there were huge long lines at immigration, reaching out the door.  With the wonders of government inefficiency, we found we had to go into four lines.  First line gave us an exit stamp from Ecuador.  Move over 4 feet and to the back of another line.  That got us a stamp, but the officer said we had to go another line because we had an American passport.  This line #3 got us a stamp in our passport, and sent us to line #4.  That final line got us an entry visa into Peru. (Really? They can't do this all in a single line??)

Oh yeah, their computers were down, so the officers were on the phone to Lima. They read off the passport number to someone in Lima that looked up the data, then spoke some magic numbers back to the immigration person, who would then stamp your paper and pass you through to the next line.  That is why it took even longer than normal and the lines were so long.  (Three days later when we were going the other way, the computers were still down and it was still being done via phone...)

About this time I was wondering if the gods were trying to keep me out of Peru?  We stopped for lunch at "El Brujo" though, and all doubt went away.  That was the best seafood I had eaten since leaving San Francisco.

As we approached Zorrito, we checked several possible beach hotels.  The place was completely vacant -- quite literally we were the only people in all five places we tried.  We ended up with a fairly nice hotel, swam a little, had dinner and some great pisco sours (first time I have had that drink -- good stuff!).

And through all the trials and tribulations, Alberto just kept laughing and having a great time.  Nothing ever gets him down.  There is a lesson to be learned there...

Hugh Done It

Hugh Done It Murder Mystery Dinner Show

We are finding an increasing number of talented artists, musicians, actors, and others moving to Cuenca and developing ways of expressing their creativity. Last Saturday,  we were treated to a murder mystery dinner show created by a witty and talented group of actors called The Cuenca Characters. Set on a cruise ship, the audience was involved in solving the murder of cruise director, Sunny Sails, who had been strangled.

Five shady suspects were introduced: Lou Cruise, whose wrestling career Sunny destroyed, Becky Messer (suspected jewel thief), Harv Carver (cheating gambler), Molly Rotter (Seminar Marketing Director, who worked with Sunny's brother in the past), and Rhoda Blogger (scammer billionaire real estate developer who owed money to Sunny).  The motives, means and opportunity of  the five suspects unfolded throughout the night, and the plots were moved along by Inspector Hugh Dunit. With a name like this, he might have "done it", however Hugh wasn't a suspect. Using her "it can't be that obvious" skepticism, Evelyn was one of four people in the audience who correctly guessed the name of the murderer.

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