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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Turkey – Cappadocia Timelapse

Last year, we spent three months in Turkey (click here to see the blog posts from that trip).  We traveled to Cappadocia as part of those travels (blog here and here).

I rarely show photo or video work from others in my blog, but am making an exception today.  I came across this fascinating 3 minute video today about the area.  It is actually a commercial commissioned by Turkish Airlines.  I definitely think it is worth seeing...

Once Upon a Time in Cappadocia from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.


Day of the Innocents Masquerade Parade 2017

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - Ruliman

Every January 6, Cuenca celebrates the Day of the Innocents with a parade that combines satire, political and social commentary.  It is variously called the Fools Parade, Inocentes Parade, or Masquerades Parade. This was originally a religious event commemorating King Herod's death sentence for all new-born boys after the birth of Christ, though Cuenca's version has evolved into a fun-filled costume party combining April Fool's Day, Carnaval, and Halloween, with some politics thrown into the mix.

Our first time seeing this parade was in 2013, when we found it definitely unique among the festivities we had seen previously. 2014 followed with a large number of men dressed in drag.  2015 saw a definite subdued political satire, as President Correa had just put through a law making it illegal to make fun of political leaders, and most groups were clearly worried about crossing that line.

The local newspaper reported that there were three times as many entrants in the contest as in past years. However we only captured the first hour of the festivities starting at 6:00 PM, as the party continued well into the night with many arriving after 8:30 PM. This year, the University of Cuenca won the Mascaradas 2017 contest prize of $4,000. The $3,000 second prize was awarded to the University of Azuay for their skit  that included zombies dancing to Michael Jackson's song, Thriller, making fun of the obsessive use of electronic devices and social networks.

Every year there are groups that come through where we can recognize the parody... and then there are numerous ones where we just shrug our shoulders and wonder what the heck they are referring to.  One repeating theme this year was Ruliman.  Who is Ruliman, you ask?  hmmm... I am still asking that too...   I have since read several articles that talk about the Ecuadorian government creating a solidarity hero called Solimán.  Ruliman is a character from a local voice impersonator named Santiago Illescas. The crowd cheered every time a float or group came by with the Ruliman theme, but I still don't understand why...

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - signs

There were numerous groups led by floats or banners.  Sometimes we knew what they meant.  For example, the upper left is complaining about the Tranvia light rail project in Cuenca that is running more than a year late and well over budget, partly due to political maneuvering and mismanagement. Lower right says "Water is love and parties. Gold is death and the demon."  This one is objecting to massive gold mines that have recently been opened in the Amazon.  Upper right is telling people to "never forget" Cuenca traditions.  Another skit with caskets reminded everyone of the many famous people who passed away the past year.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - groups

Many groups traveled in costumes, all matching a single theme.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - superheros

Superheroes were in plentiful supply.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - masks

Masks and elaborate face paint was common, and many were quite well done.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - police

As with all large parades like this, the police and Red Cross were on hand as needed.  I have never seen any disturbances at any of these events.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - audience

The audience is often as interesting as the parade itself, and tonight was no exception.

Fools Inocentes Parade 2017 - Cuenca, Ecuador - others

Just a last few more images that I particularly liked tonight, as the Inocents enjoyed their party.

Subdued New Year’s Eve in Cuenca

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - politicians

As usual, politicians were mocked throughout the large neighborhood dioramas. Clinton, Obama and Trump were all represented from the States, plus an assortment of Ecuadorian political figures.

This was our fifth New Year's Eve in Ecuador.  Except for 2015 in Salinas, we have spent each of them in Cuenca. Our first was at the end of 2012, and was easily the largest and most elaborate we have seen here.  Each year since then has been smaller, and this year was much more subdued than any prior celebration.  There were fewer elaborate dioramas, fewer manigotes (effigies), fewer fireworks, fewer cars decorated with their manigotes and fewer people walking around el Centro. There were supposedly 19 entries for the annual neighborhood Amistad Club contest, however with no map nor addresses published, people walked to their favorite spots looking lost and saying "nada".

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - nazi

Given the vitriol that Trump spewed towards Latin Americans, it was not surprising that he was a major target of ridiculing.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - manigotes

There were a smattering of other manigotes around town, some humorous, but most poking fun at various politicos.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - cars

There were a few cars driving around with their manigotes tied to the roof or bumper, but far fewer than past years.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - food

As always, food was plentiful. There was even tripe (3rd row right) this year, and a manigote of a woman cooking cuy (2nd row left).

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - characters

There was the usual collection of characters and toll collectors having fun.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - kids

Kids were enjoying themselves, whether climbing trees (middle left) or reading a tablet (upper right), or playing with sparklers.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - fire-small

Many families started burning their own manigotes before midnight this year.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - fire-large

Though the large neighborhood bonfires started at midnight, which has been the tradition. However, it did not feel like a war zone of numerous fires this year, as it has in the past.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - fire-audience

 The smaller crowds enjoyed the ritual of burning bad thoughts from the past year, and starting the new year fresh.

New Year's Eve Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - gobo

As we arrived home, our neighbors were preparing to launch their globo (paper sky lantern written with all the hopes they wished for in the new year, such as "salud, dinero, amistad, familia...)  Though now formally discontinued in town, after 2 churches caught fire in 2013, this family has continued to launch one each New Year's Eve.

Pase del Niño Parade 2016

Peter Dudar, a gringo expat actively involved with various Ecuadorean charitable causes, led the parade as one of the Three Kings

The Christmas Eve el Pase del Niño (the passing of the child) parade is claimed by its organizers to be the largest in all of Latin America. This year, at least 100,000 people lined the streets to watch the celebration with a perfect mix of sun and clouds, compared to the heat in past years.  This is our fifth year watching the celebration (prior years can be seen here -- 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 part 1, and 2015 part 2).  The parades all follow the same schedule(with varying routes), with the transfer of the child from Iglesia El Carmen de la Asunción (the flower market) around 9:00 AM to Iglesia San Sebastien around 10:00 AM, when the parade officially starts. Then, around 4:00 PM following the dancers, horseback riders, marching bands, floats with boom boxes, the doll child is then escorted by soldiers and the bishop along Calle Simón Bolivar to Iglesia San Blas. This year, there were some expat entries, as all Ecuadoreans are represented in this celebration. The religious celebration is a 3-month long event, with numerous events at local schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

As always, we took a zillion photographs this year, so here is a flavor of how the day progressed:

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - doll

The "traveling child" (upper left / bottom right) is the centerpiece of the parade, and numerous Baby Jesus dolls are carried throughout the parade.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - women

Many more women than men participate in the annual parade.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - babies

Many women marched along the parade route while carrying their babies.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - girls

The parade shows off the beautiful children of Ecuador.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - boys

Boys were often dressed as kings, shepherds or vaqueros, and painted mustaches were common.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - masks

Traditional masks appear regularly throughout the parade.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - santa

This year it seems that more kids were dressed as Santa Claus.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - food

Chickens, cuy and pigs are often displayed. This year there was a goose in the mix too (top center).

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - audience

The people watching the parade are often as interesting as the parade itself.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - military and police

Police and military take part in the parade, and also help maintain order.

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - Bishop

The local Catholic Bishop always rides with the Niño Viajero at the end of the parade.  (There were two bishops on the float this year, the old and the new.)

Pase de Niño 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - rain

The rain held off this year until shortly after the parade ended, then the sky opened up and helped us break the recent drought.

Music and more music…

Music at Jazz Society of Ecuador in Cuenca, Dec 21, 2016

This week leading up to Christmas has been filled with holiday  music in Cuenca.  First we went to 2016 Christmas Candlelight Concert put on by the Cuenca International Chorale.  In our opinion, this year was their best  performance ever, and we especially enjoyed hearing Mara Gano. Kudos to the director, Andrea Lyman, accompanied by  Sheila Johns and the entire chorale group. A couple days later, we got into the holiday spirit again with a special performance from Karen Kennedy and her daughter, Daniela, at the Jazz Society of Ecuador, a club just a few doors down from our condo.

Other music performances  that we could have attended included a children's choir, two performances of the Cuenca symphony, Novenas, additional performances at the Jazz Society, the military band playing at Parque Calderon, a concert with the choral group from the conservatory performing with the Cuenca orchestra at the University of Cuenca, plus many more performances at several bars around town.  All this within a single five day period! As always, there is no shortage of activities for us to choose from.

This was a Christmas song compilation by Karen Kennedy on Thursday evening, at the Jazz Society of Ecuador.

Silent Night was the closing song from the Christmas Candlelight Concert on Monday evening. And, here are some of the attendees with their candles, while waiting to exit the church.

Christmas Chorale Candles in Cuenca, Ecuador Dec 21, 2016

[Recipe] Hard Boiled Eggs

Hard Boiled Eggs

Hard boiled eggs have been one of those things that seem so easy to make, yet are so hard to get "looking good."  The yolk is often smushed to one side, and the outside white frequently looks like it was the survivor of a chain saw massacre.  Yet there is hope!

[Recipe] Hard Boiled Eggs
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Hard Boiled Eggs That Come Out Perfect
  • Eggs -- as many as you want, but don't crowd -- room temperature
  • Ice for water bath after steaming
  1. Rotate eggs 180 deg for half hour prior to cooking, to center the yolk
  2. Boil water in a vegetable steamer. I have one I used for crab that I bought at Costco that works perfectly.
  3. Insert eggs into steamer basket.
  4. Steam for 12 min at sea level, or 14 min here in the Cuenca Andes of Ecuador
  5. Drop into an ice bath for 15 min. Do not leave too much longer, or the eggs will get hard.
  6. Crush the shells all the way around, and peel under running water.
  7. The results will be perfect eggs that look like they came from a cookbook (instead of the Chain Saw Massacre horror flick mine used to resemble!)

The "prep time" listed is actually the ice bath time.  The only prep needed is to boil the water in the steamer.

Note that I actually found this recipe online.  I have been using it for the last year or so, and it comes out as near to perfect as you can get.  The original can be found here.

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - candle setup

Last night was the Festival of Lights (Festival de Luces) at Santo Domingo Plaza in Cuenca.  This is an annual event, honoring Our Lady of the Rosary.  However, in past years, we always heard about it after the event. This was the first year we learned about the event in time to attend.

The schedule showed that the candles would start to be placed at 6PM.  Since we know that almost all Ecuadorian events start late, I wandered over a few minutes past 6 -- only to discover that the setting up was already well under way, with students already 3 blocks from the church lining them up along the roadways.  To my further surprise, every part of the schedule was almost exactly on time.

Festival of Lights 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - church

A mass was given at 7:00 PM, and doors opened about 6:30.  I was able to enter and see the interior of the Santo Domingo church (above right column).  I tried to also find stairs to the upper floors for an aerial view of the lights, but was stopped by a nun who told me "Está prohibido."

Festival of Lights 2016, Cuenca, Ecuador - candles lit

People started lighting the candles at 6:30 sharp.  As the sun set and it became darker, many  people  with smiles on their faces had their photos taken among the candles.

Turkey in Spanish

Today was the final class of the year for the Coffee Club Spanish class that I attend.  Our homework for the final class was to write a short story about some trip that we have taken in the past.  The instructor suggested I write about Turkey. Some other students suggested I do a photo presentation to go with it, since I have gained some local reputation for our travel photography.

I agreed, and gave the presentation in class today. I had expected it to take about 10 minutes, but with all the questions (in Spanish, of course), it was closer to 40 minutes. Since only three of us wrote any story (out of a class of four students), that was not a problem.  I thought I would show the same slides here, for those interested in the our current level of Spanish.

Spanish Class Story - miles

Spanish Class Story - tulipsSpanish Class Story - mouque outsideSpanish Class Story - mosque insideSpanish Class Story - christian muralsSpanish Class Story - transportationSpanish Class Story - cappadociaSpanish Class Story - ephesis librarySpanish Class Story - farmersSpanish Class Story - foodsSpanish Class Story - turkish delightSpanish Class Story - cooking schoolSpanish Class Story - whirling_dirvishSpanish Class Story - aquariumSpanish Class Story - scarySpanish Class Story - selfySpanish Class Story - smiles2

Orchid Wall 2016

Orchid Wall Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - variant flowersThe Orchid Wall flower show is on display this weekend, running through Sunday, November 27 at the Casa de la Provincia, on the edge of Parque San Blas.  As I write this, the show still has one day for you to catch it.  If you like flowers, and orchids in particular, you should set aside some time to attend.

EcuGenera is the largest grower of orchids in Ecuador, and is one of the main backers of this show.  They claim to grow more than 6000 varieties of orchids, many of which are on display.  There are many that are color variations on a theme, such as shown above.

Orchid Wall Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - unique flowers
 Others are completely different, and I would not have identified as orchids if they had not been labeled as such.

Orchid Wall Cuenca Ecuador 2016 - relief mural

Though technically not part of the orchid show, the metal relief mural in the Casa de la Provincia is also worth seeing.

House Concert – The Charango and Estefani

House Concert Stephanie Ortiz Cuenca Ecuador

Tonight was another House Concert from Colibri Conciertos, which are hosted in private homes or boutique hotels in Cuenca. Mara Gano (lower right) organizes these special monthly events featuring talented local (and frequently world-class) concert musicians. This month, 30 guests were invited to the home of Greg and Charlene Redenbacher.

Guests were treated to hear a rare performance combining the charango and piano. The charango is a 10-string instrument, a small Bolivian/Andean relative of the guitar and ukelele.  This performance  featured Adrian Ortiz on charango (middle left and bottom left), Estefani Ortiz singing South American songs (upper left and right), and Daniel Brito (the pianist and lead musician at every house concert) on keyboard (top middle and bottom middle).  Gloria Uyaguari has been Evelyn's Spanish teacher  for the past three years, and is the mother of Estefani and wife of Adrian.  The family asked us to record the performance, which we were happy to do.

In all, 15 videos were made of 15 musical pieces performed.  They can all be seen on my Facebook timeline (burt.johnson980), or they can all be seen here on Vimeo.

One of the songs performed tonight was Angel de Luz.  If you are interested, here are the lyrics for the song, in Spanish, or course.

Stephanie Ortiz sings Angel de luz from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.


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