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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

“Persona De La Tercera Edad” or “Person of Age”

Burt earned the status today of “Tercera Edad”, also known as  “Senior Citizen”. In Ecuador, seniors are revered and benefit from discounts when they reach the age of 65.  Not only do they go to the front of the line at banks, Burt can now get 50% discount off all in-country transportation or flights initiated from Ecuador, pay half for movies and some utility bills. Bus rides now only cost 12-1/2 cents, instead of the standard 25 cents. AND, he can now sign up for Medicare.

To celebrate, we went to Tiesto’s with two other couples. It turns out that Mark and Burt share the same birthday, so we decided on a joint celebration.  Tiesto’s is one of our favorite restaurants in Cuenca and Juan Carlos, the owner, recommended some scrumptious dishes for us. We started with eggplant and fish appetizers, a main course with langostino and lomo, then finished off with his hand-decorated dessert. Of course, Juan Carlos put on a candle with a flame that never dies, so Burt and Mark will never age.

Afterwards, we took the bus over to Mark and Evelyn’s for a second dessert at their light-filled apartment with amazing views. What a treat!

The next day, we decided to check out stunningly beautiful Restaurante Dos Chorreras near the Cajas for their fresh-water trout lunch. However, at 11,400 feet even with breath-taking views, we did not rush out to go horseback riding, sports fishing nor hiking. 


Carnaval Night Parade

Music and Dance were again a major part of the night parade. The children and the congo line were new tonight

We wound up our week in Ambato by watching the Monday night parade.  We were surprised to discover there were two parades.  Yesterday's daytime parade, and then another one tonight, called Ronda Nocturnal.  We were even more surprised to find that both parades were almost identical.  All the groups from yesterday were also here tonight.

There were a few new groups added. Tonight added a couple children groups of bands and dancers, plus a group of visually handicapped, then one with hearing handicapped people.  There was also a new section of tricked out cars with outrageous audio systems, named appropriately enough "Audio Fanatics."

All the same floats ran tonight and many were lit, but we had gotten slightly better seats, where we were able to get some photos of them (yesterday a tree blocked our down-steam photo view)

As before, every float had one or more  beauty pageant winners waving at the crowd


Ambato Carnaval Parade

ambato-parade-floatsThe numerous floats looked like they came out of the Rose Bowl Parade, created almost entirely of fresh flowers and fruits

We are spending the week in Ambato, Ecuador to see a different kind of Carnaval than we have had in Cuenca for the past couple years (where the week is a snoozefest punctuated by buckets of water thrown on us from balconies).  Today was the big parade of the week.

Carnaval is one of the most important festivals in Ecuador, and the celebration in Ambato is considered one of the most beautiful. The parade includes floats (like a miniature version of the Rose Parade in Pasadena) made with flowers and fruits, international dancers, and shows off their beauty pageant queens. The parade was organized by Ambato residents after an earthquake destroyed the city in 1949 (from wikipedia).

We discovered that parades in Ambato are run very differently from those in Cuenca. Parades in Cuenca have no real distinction between participants and audience.  Spectators in Cuenca dress up and can often be confused with the official parade members. Also, there is no barricade between parade and audience, and the two mingle constantly throughout the parade.  This allows photographers like myself to step right into the middle of the action for interesting angles, but it also means the streets are so crowded that the parade often has trouble moving forward, and it is hard to get photos that do not include unwanted spectators.

Both the Ambato parades we attended had the audience clearly confined to the sidewalks, much like in the States. Seats were sold by businesses who controlled the sidewalk in front of their establishment.  Some areas had police barricades in front of the seats, though the street was narrow enough where we sat that those were not practical.  We had a policeman standing right next to us the entire time though, assuring that no audience member left the sidewalk viewing area.

Another difference between the two cities is that water and foam spray cans are outlawed in Ambato.  We went the entire week and only got wet once from a 4 year-old with a squirt gun and second from a boy about the same age that got us while aiming at his sister.  I only saw two cans of the foam spray until the very last night, while in Cuenca it is hard to walk anywhere during Carnaval week without being hit.  After the finishing night parade was over and the police dispersed though, the foam cans came out and it was havoc on the streets -- we went up to the second floor windows of our hotel and could enjoy the mass foaming from a safe distance... :)

Vendors roamed the streets to sell to the waiting crowd before the parade started

Police were plentiful to assure no trouble erupted. Military marched arm-in-arm to clear the streets of everyone in front of the start of the actual parade.

We walked the streets prior to the actual start of the parade. Wherever I turned my camera, the audience hammed it up and waved.

The parade started with bands, with a few assorted clowns and characters

Dancing groups were spaced at intervals along the parade, each with a different theme

People in various costumes were part of the parade entertainment, most of which stopped briefly and posed in front of our viewing area

Our vantage point did not allow for any decent images of the floats, but every one was festooned with the winners of the beauty pageants (reinas) waving at the crowds


Toro!

For decades, we have wanted to see a bullfight.  Not that I endorse cruelty to animals, but I do like seeing different cultures and their customs (the USA ain't the arbiter of morality to the world...).  Though we have been in Mexico at least 50 times, plus to Spain and other Latin American countries, but there never seemed to be a bullfight in the city or time that we were there.  Today in Ambato, we finally had a chance to see our first (and probably last...) bullfight.

There were 3 bullfighters and 7 bulls.  In Ambato, they still kill the bulls in the fight.  One of the bulls survived because it was stronger than the bullfighter and refused to be killed.  When the 30 minute buzzer went off, the fighter left the ring in shame.  It took another 25 minutes to convince the bull to go back into the pen.  The auxiliary bullfighters tried to lasso him, but he shook it off. Finally he was coaxed into the pen, where he is now destined to live a live of luxury in a pasture somewhere (at least we can hope...).

The star of the show was Manuel Escribano, the sole Ecuadorian bullfighter of the day.  He displayed a mastery of the bulls that was clearly above the others.  He killed his first bull in a clean hit that laid the animal to rest in a few seconds, with minimal pain.  The second bull he faced actually got control of him for a moment, tossing his cape and forcing him to run briefly from the animal.  Manuel then returned to face down the bull, kneeling in front of him, then standing and putting his hand on the bull's head. The crowd went wild, waving white handkerchiefs, indicating that the bull should live.  Manuel looked at the crowd, nodded his head, dropped his sword, raised his cape for one last charge, then slapped the bull on the spine with his hand as the bull passed.  The crowd erupted with "Toro, toro, toro!" as Emanuel  took his bow and the bull was led off to his pen (which took about 5 minutes this time, as the bull seemed to realize he had been granted a reprieve).

All in all, I am glad we finally got to see this sport that is enjoyed in most of the Latin world.  Not sure that I want to go back and see it again though. We saw a master at work, and we saw a couple of bullfighters that were clearly not at the peak of their game.  It was an interesting glimpse into this particular sport.


Ambato Prepares for Carnaval Parade

We spent today exploring Ambato, seeing the city prepare for the big parades of the next two days.  We started up by having a taxi take us to "that big Ecuador flag up on the hill."  We discovered that it is the "parque de la familia" and is an educational park intended to attract family, particularly those with kids. Along with the huge flag on the very top of the hill, and the sweeping panorama of Ambato below, the park is broken into two portions -- the 'active' and the 'passive.'  Being more mature and a bit tired, we ended up only visiting the passive side... :)  The active side apparently (from the park map) includes a motocross track, as well as other sports activity areas.  The passive side included acres of orchards where visitors were invited to pick their own fruit (of dozens of varieties), plus numerous garden plots with different vegetables, and then a petting zoo with a dozen species of animals for the children to learn about.  All in all, it seemed an excellent use of city land for educating city kids about farms and animals they would otherwise not have a chance to see.

We then returned to the city square area, Parque Montalvo, which was alive with activity.  The poor shoe shiner (shown above left) didn't have much business, as most people were dressed in casual party clothes. We were particularly impressed by the large number of on-the-spot portrait artists, both realistic and impressionist around the park, and the quality of their 5 minute sketches.

Before long the main square filled up with dancers and actors in exotic costumes.  The next day we discovered these were all people and costumes for the parades on Sunday and Monday.  Each group performed their country's traditional dances as well as posed for the cameras. And, the winning and runner up regional queens also welcomed the crowds.

The main square (Parque Mantalvo) had several art galleries around it.  To be honest, I am a bit hard to please when viewing paintings, and think much of the "modern art" is nothing but a con pulled on museums with too much money.  That was not the case here though.  We saw gallery after gallery of excellent art.  I don't want all of it on my wall at home, but I have to admit that there is talent in the painting, and each artist did an excellent version of what they were attempting.  As Evelyn will be the first to say, I don't give praise like that often...

The main square was also surrounded by street artists showing their wares.  Again, I was massively impressed with the work shown there.  In most street art shows, I find one or two good artists and a lot of artists who are still learning and may (or may not) be good someday.  Not here.  Though it was not a judged show, every single piece I saw was fantastic in execution.  I tried to buy a couple of pieces, but the vendor would not budge on price and that took a lot of the fun out of the purchase, so I only came home with photographs... :)


Carnaval Ambato

Flambé dinner our first night in Ambato

It took us 12 hours of driving yesterday to end up at Black Sheep Inn -- an isolated vegetarian eco-lodge that had gotten rave reviews.  Suffice it to say that our reviews were not as high, and that we left early to arrive in Ambato today...  We have rented a car, using our new Ecuadorian drivers licenses, and are traveling with Ann and William, friends from the US that we met here a couple years ago, and who return annually.  We had an excellent dinner at the hotel where we are staying -- The Roka Plaza.

After dinner, we walked over to the main square in town (the Parque Montalvo), where we heard lots of free music, and saw an amazing amount of art -- both in display galleries and on the street.

The church on the square is lit in blue, while free music was playing in the art galleries

The theme of Carnaval in Ambato is "Flowers and Fruits" so flowers abounded

The galleries were filled with fine art of several media


Carnaval La Merced

As usual, the kids were the center attraction of these parades

Today starts off Carnaval week in Latin America.  Cuenca has always been a snoozefest in past years, but the government is now trying to encourage tourism and this year has some "first time" events planned.

We heard a band playing outside our condo this morning, and decided to go out and investigate.  We stumbled upon a parade forming right outside our front door.  This was another church "el nina" parade, where a statue of the baby Jesus is marched out of the church, with a variety of kids, horses, clowns, and food in attendance.

Kids love these parades and the extra treats they get

The baby Jesus doll is always carried by elder women

Carnaval meant there had to be clowns -- and the horses are also dressed up


Cooking New Orleans Style

I went to a cooking class today to learn New Orleans style menus.  The class was taught by Leslie Breen in her home.  Some of you might know her as the original creator and owner of Eucalyptus restaurant here in Cuenca -- one of the oldest high end restaurants in town.  Though she is no longer affiliated with that restaurant, having sold it, her skills from such an establishment were very visible throughout the class.  Click here to contact her for future classes.

When we started the class, I must admit that I had some reservations. She was in the kitchen doing the work, while we sat at the counter and watched.  She started out by handing us a recipe sheet for "Bread Pudding With Lemon Sauce."  Though it sounded good, I was wondering if we were going to get a full class today...

I needn't have worried.  As she completed that dish, she handed us the next recipe, which she completed, then handed us the next... and the next... and the next...  At the end we had learned to cook five dishes -- far more than in any other cooking class I have attended where the students help prep the food.  We were taught:

  • Bread Pudding With Lemon Sauce
  • Shrimp Romolade
  • Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
  • Paneed Chicken and Fettuccine
  • Potato Salad With Green Onion Dressing

Each was delicious, and each was also presented well.  Leslie now does catering for parties, and I am seriously thinking of maybe hiring her for our next big party and bypassing the kitchen for myself... :)

cooking_new_orleans_people

I don't think it would be fair to Leslie to just post her recipes here.  Over the next few months, I will try them at home, make my own modifications (because what cook doesn't?), and publish them as blog entries when I am happy with my results.  For now, contact Leslie either for her classes or for catering.  She will make you glad you did!

Unfortunately, I missed her class earlier on the cuts of meat in Ecuador and how to map them to what we are used to in the States.  I definitely want to take that class if it comes around again.


Cuenca Almost Became Part of Peru

Peru-War-SignsToday marks the twenty year anniversary of the start of the most recent war between Ecuador and Peru in 1995. 

Last weekend we drove to Girón to see the countryside, accompanied by six friends that were all visiting Ecuador.  We had originally expected a trip to the waterfall in Girón to be the highlight, but instead we were treated with a fascinating history lesson of the wars between Ecuador and Peru. Our initial stop was at a monument commemorating the Battle of Tarqui, where troops from Peru and Gran Colombia fought in 1829. At the time, Ecuador was part of a triad with Colombia and Venezuela. Peru believed that Guayaquil and Cuenca both belonged to Peru, because their then-president (José de la Mar) was born in Cuenca. Gran Colombia emerged as victors and retook Guayaquil back from Peru. Otherwise parts of what is now the Azuay state in Ecuador would have been part of Peru. Ecuador emerged as a separate nation a year after the Battle of Tarqui.

We then stopped at the Casa de los Tratados Museo Histórico Militar, which is Girón's focal point, and where the peace treaty between Gran Colombia and Peru was signed after the Battle of Tarqui. The treaty of 1995, after the last Ecuador-Peru was was also signed here. Displayed were portraits of the war heroes, long muskets, pistols, army boots, and bayonets. What was surprising was seeing the graphic depiction of how the borders of Ecuador have shrunk over time. 

Vic was with us, and seemed such a good fit for the old Ecuadorian soldier's uniform that the museuym staff had him wear it and pose for photographs.


Murals On Our First Anniversary

Murals on walls near our home in Cuenca, Ecuador

One year ago today, in 2013, we received our Ecuadorian resident visa and became officially able to stay in Ecuador as long as we wish, albeit with certain travel restrictions.  I was thinking what I should write on this auspicious date.  I finally decided I would use this post to share some of the street art around Cuenca.

I have said for years that culture and art are common themes in this city.  One of the daily reminders of this is the array of murals found around the city.  A few are actually commissioned by the city, but most are "street art" or possibly even "graffiti."  This is distinct from the kids with black spray paint tagging walls.  Unfortunately that happens too, but most taggers respect the true artist and do not deface their work.

So here are a few of the mural photographs I have collected of Cuenca over the past couple years.  This is less than half the murals I have images of, and I definitely have images of far less than half of those in the city, so consider this only a small sampling.

These murals are on the sides of bus stops

Some of the murals take on the form of cartoons

Others are artistic pieces

Even some businesses get in on the fun


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