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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

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.

Rainy Cañari Experience

We spent today at the "Kushiwaira Cañari Education Center" near Tarqui, to learn about the Cañari indigenous culture.  As luck would have it, this was the first full day of rain we have had in about a month.  We were fed a typical Cañari breakfast and a traditional Pampamesa lunch, where food was spread on table cloths right on the ground, to share with the earth.

We learned about medicinal plants, walked along the Inca Trail, listened to a musical performance with hand made instruments, as well as getting photos of the enterprising Ecuadorian indigenous family.

[Recipe] Sirloin Steak

Sirloin Steak


Ecuador has lots of good food, but beef is rarely listed as a favorite.  It tends to be tough, and since BBQ's are rare, we can't cook it our favorite way. We therefore mostly do without steak.  I recently discovered a way to make delicious tender sirloin steak though.

Obviously, you want to start off with the best meat you can find.  I buy mine at Valley Farm Butchers, at their new store on Gran Columbia, in Cuenca.  As of this writing, they charge $4.50/lb.  Being butchers, they will cut it to any thickness you want.  The image above shows 1 pound, sliced into 4 pieces of approx 3/4" each.


  • Sirloin Steak -- cut into 3/4" slices
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Chili Powder to taste
  • Herb Butter

You can season the steak as you prefer.  As noted above, I use salt, pepper and chili powder. We happen to like the spicy taste, so are heavy on the pepper and chili powder. Salt brings out the flavor, but I go pretty light on it, as I don't want to actually taste the salt itself.

Wash off the steaks, then pat dry with paper towels.  Add the seasoning, and return to the fridge for an hour.  This hour gives the seasoning time to permeate the meat, and really does make a big difference in the final flavor.

Remove from fridge and let come to room temperature -- about half an hour.

Place a small amount of oil in the bottom of a pan, and heat until very hot.  Make sure the pan is large enough for all the steaks to fit without crowding.  Cook in batches if necessary.

Once the pan is very hot, put the steaks in.  Turn them every 30 seconds until done.  Rare only takes a total of 3 min, or medium in 5 min.

DO NOT overcook!  That is a sure way to get tough meat.

When done, place the steaks on a plate, drizzle herb butter over them, and let them sit for 3 or 4 min before serving.  That lets the juices settle in the meat, and also allows it to finish cooking.

PS: For my herb butter, I mix 4 tsp Oregano and 4 tsp Thyme into a 250g (6 oz) stick of butter.  I then place the mixture in the fridge, pulling out as needed for future recipes.

By the way, I didn't get a photo of the finished cooked steaks because fireworks started outside our window again, just as I was finishing cooking this meal.  I rushed over to the window to take some photos, and by the time the fireworks were over, it was time to eat...


Nomadic Art

The Musical Nomads opened their Cuenca home tonight for an evening of art, music and food. They are one of our favorite local bands, performing "Classic Hits For All Occasions" (the byline on their business card).

They had a sold-out crowd for the event. Everyone first socialized while walking around the improvised art gallery, then sat and listened to the Nomads. The second half of the music cleared the chairs and the dancing started.

 Two artists were displaying their work, Dale Lance as a painter and Tom McNaughton showing metalwork.

Almost all the songs played by the Musical Nomads tonight were ones I have in my iTunes collection.  They included such songs as:

Here they performed Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard (Paul Simon) tonight for us.

Could be a Wedding. Could be a Divorce. Who Knows?

Another day in Cuenca, another parade it seems.  Last night we heard music blaring from Parque Calderon in the center of town, with fireworks later. This morning we heard a band going by at 5:15AM, but rolled over and went back to sleep.  This afternoon I walked out my front door and discovered the largest parade I have seen since February passing by half a block from our front door.  I walked down and snapped a few images.

I realized the parade started (and later ended) at the church by the Flower Market a block from Calderon.  I walked over to the Don Colon restaurant and talked to the owner (Don Colon...) asking if he knew what the parade was about.  "Could be a wedding. Could be a divorce. Who knows? They celebrate everything with a parade here!"

We have often noted how we only find out about celebrations when they are under way around here.  We have asked several Cuencanos about it, and always get a shrug and a statement that they don't know either.  Here was one more example of a local not knowing what was going on literally next door to him...

This particular parade took up three blocks, and consisted of six different bands playing.  They all played the same music at the same time, so at least it wasn't a cacophony, but did make it rather loud...

The parade also had a couple of floats, and horses, and people dancing, and marching with banners (that appeared to be celebrating the Pope?).  At the end was the traditional Child Jesus statue, carried by 16 military officers, which was followed by perhaps a hundred other military men in uniform. 

That statue gave the clue to the true meaning of the parade.  Each church has a celebration on its "Saint's Day," which is the day set aside for the saint the church was named after. On that day, they parade their Child Jesus statue around town.  Apparently, this was their day.  Indeed, upon further research, I found it was in celebration so "Virgen del Carmen de la Asunción."

Evelyn’s First Art Expo

After years of having friends try to convince her to have an art showing, Evelyn finally caved and had her first opening reception tonight.  After weeks of being nervous and fearing nobody would come or like her work, she sold 6 out of the 14 she displayed within the first 3 hours -- far more than either of the more two established Peruvian artists she was exhibiting with.

These are some of the paintings Evelyn displayed tonight. Sara, in the lower right, is placing the 'sold' sticker on one that she bought.

Freddy Llerena and Alexander Sucasaire also exhibited in the same show.

Turn-out was great, with pretty much everyone we knew showing up to support Evelyn

[Recipe] Chicken Tetrazini

This is a pasta dish that Evelyn used to make in California using the leftover turkey from Thanksgiving or Christmas.  When I started cooking, this is one of the recipes I got her to teach me.  Of course, I made a few modifications in the subsequent years.  For one thing, I no longer wait until we have turkey.  Since we often have chicken in Ecuador, but rarely turkey, one simple change was to now use chicken as a base.

The shopping list includes:

  • Spaghetti, 10 oz
  • Mushrooms, 10 oz sliced thin
  • Chili, 2 small, chopped
  • Butter, 5 tbsp
  • Flour, 1/4 cup
  • Milk, 2 cup
  • Chicken Broth, 2 cup
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken or Turkey, 3 cup coarsely ground
  • Peas, 1 cup
  • Parmesan Cheese, 2/3 cup
  • Bread Crumbs, 1/3 cup
  1. In a large saucepan, cook the mushrooms in the butter over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in the flour and cook the mixture over low heat for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add in the milk, broth and wine, while stirring.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.  If the mixture is too thick, you can add more broth.
  5. Mix in the turkey, chili, bread crumbs and peas.
  6. Meanwhile -- cook the spaghetti in a pot until al dente, then drain well.
  7. Mix the spaghetti, sauce and parmesan cheese in the saucepan well.

I usually double the recipe, using a full package of pasta, giving us plenty of left-overs.  Those are packaged in meal-sized containers. When ready to reheat, add a little water and microwave until hot.  Tastes just good as the first day, as the juices get absorbed by the pasta.

33 Stages, 83 Bands, 2 Days of Music

Alliance Francaise is an international group that promotes French culture and language.  Their Cuenca branch put on a massive music festival the last two days. There was very little tie-in to anything French, but there was music for everyone -- jazz (our favorite), rock, metal, rap, electronic (actually a DJ when we went by that stage), folk, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  We offered to shoot some publicity photographs for the Alliance, and received press passes giving us pretty much free access.  We wandered from stage to stage and had a great two days of music.

Here are a few of my favorite images out of the 1,993 that we shot, and 50 that we provided the Alliance.

Setenario Celebration (aka Feast of Corpus Christi)

Corpus Christi is a major Christian holiday in Ecuador. The celebration starts when the local Bishop leads a procession through downtown to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception (aka "New Cathedral")

Following the Corpus Christi procession, the celebration of Setenario begins, as family businesses begin bullding castles.

Castles always bring out large crowds to watch -- and photograph the event.

Wherever people gather in the streets of Cuenca, you can count on blaring music and impromptu dancing.

Once darkness sets, the castles are lit. Note above how close they are to cars and people. Very little concern for firework safety here...

Fireworks are shot overhead too. I was hit twice by burning embers falling -- which is why I now always go to these with a cotton jacket (no nylon down jackets allowed!)

Setenario celebration centers around sweets, and after the fireworks, people wander dozens of newly set up tents filled with sugar in all forms.


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