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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

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.


Expats Musical Comedy at Fishbon

fishbon-play-2016-11 Cuenca Ecuador Theater

Tonight's show was a repeat of the sold out performances from 10/30-11/2/2016, which was produced by Laura Inks-Bodine and directed by Clay Bodine of Fishbon del Sur. Clay Bodine introduced the show by talking about how some ambitious expats got together 6 months earlier and wanted to produce a musical comedy. The result was a zany journey of two new expats, Maureen and Frank, confronting the challenges of adapting to a new culture and dealing with the family in the US. Bill Scott was the composer, and Cindy Benson played Maureen, both of whom have had Broadway experience.

The excellent singing, dancing and choreography, coupled with a multi-media presentation of scenes so familiar in Cuenca, made for an entertaining evening. It was hilarious for those of us who have experienced shopping for an apartment and walking 4 flights of stairs for a "view", the spitting healers, the shamans, the fast-talking sales agents, Sno-ball the cuy (guinea pig), experiencing the mercado scene with exotic-looking fruits, unrefrigerated chickens and roasted pigs, and dealing with the parasitos. It was delightful seeing the amount of creative talent, and knowing that expats can choose their creative paths in Cuenca.

CID 3 – Soap Box Derby & Markets

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - soapbox derby

Cuenca Independence Day #3

The 2016 Cuenca Independence Day blog concludes with a look at the annual soap box derby.  This race always starts on Calle Larga, just a little over a block from our apartment.  The contestants race down this gently sloped road for 4 blocks, then down a steeper incline for 2 blocks, make a high speed left turn onto 12 de Abril, and continue another half dozen blocks to the finish line.  This is our third time seeing this race.

Today it was raining lightly, which added an element of slippery risk to the race, and the umbrellas came out. The race went on as scheduled (well... as close to "on schedule" as anything in Ecuador is...).  After several heats of car racers, a group of four men in drag, plus one dressed as a Cardinal ran on foot behind them.  I have never understood the significance of that last group, but they have been the trailing act for every race I've seen to date. (Two prior races were reported here and here)

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - soapbox derby audience

I started watching the audience who were also patiently waiting for the start of the race.  One family with four kids was clowning around and started hamming it up when they saw my camera (middle row). The parents, clearly enjoying themselves with their kids, beamed when the lens turned towards their family.  Just before the race started, a group of three mimes came along, and toyed with the audience, accepting tips in an open hat to have their photos taken.  They were good enough that I anteed up a bit to enjoy the fun.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - food and art faire

Arts and crafts were being sold throughout the city during the three day Independence Day celebration.  Many were under city-supplied white tents to provide protection from the sun and occasional rain.  Others were in the open, such as the market at the Broken Bridge.  There were literally hundreds of such tents and this year (more than in prior years), there appeared to be more "crafts" and lower quality art than in years before.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - mercado (market)

The Broken Bridge (all of the above block) was probably my favorite area this year, with some better art work and some pleasant music being played by street musicians (lower middle and lower right). We stayed away from the battle of bands throughout the city, as the music there is extremely loud and distorted, with little focus on quality. This year, the higher quality art  and food booths were concentrated around the Pumapunga Museum, the Mercadito behind the Todos Santos church, and the plaza next to the Catedral Nueva across from Parque Calderon.

I recorded this one song at the Broken Bridge, as a reminder of the pleasant afternoon.

CID 2 – Military Parade

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - parade of bomberos (firemen)

Cuenca Independence Day #2

The Cuenca Day Independence celebrations continued this morning with a military parade.  Apparently, the military parade only occurs every two years.  Prior to this year, it was very difficult to discover what special events were going on, and catching them was mostly through serendipity, unless you read the newspapers or listened to radio in Spanish.  This year, there were  50,000 copies of a 150 page booklet available at special locations, plus online, which made it much easier to plan to catch events such as this.

As with most parades in Cuenca, this one started late. What was more unusual was the barricades along the sidewalk, with the military police enforcing the audience to stay behind them.  While most parades have the participants and audience freely co-mingling, the MPs made sure there was clear separation this time.

The parade opened with various "first responder" units -- primarily bomberos (fire fighters), including an impressive display of forest fighting vehicles (lower right).  Then, the parade seemed to just end...  Nothing else as far down the road as I could see.  After about 10 minutes of nothing, I was about to leave, when I saw a single convertible with two women sitting on the back seat, waving to the crowd.  Before they were a block from me, the crowd broke ranks, rushed past the PMs, and surrounded the car to get their selfies  taken with Miss Ecuador.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - light military parade

Another half-hour went by with nothing happening in the parade, but when I asked an PM (upper right), he insisted that more was coming. Sure enough, eventually the PM got control of the crowd again, moving them back to the sidewalks.  The light military then arrived.  These involved the Ecuadorian Special Forces, in camouflage fatigues, some with masks, some with rappelling gear (upper left).  Others were riding bicycles or motorcycles, for urban maneuverability.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - heavy military parade

The heavy artillery unit ended the parade, complete with bazookas (upper left), artillery (upper right), anti-missile rocket launchers (lower left), and anti-aircraft guns (middle bottom).  The faces of these soldiers looked ready for a major war movie (middle).

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - parade audience

Most of the audience stayed on the sidelines patiently to watch the parade...with vendors hawking plastic seats, umbrellas, bubble makers, baseball caps, food and drinks, with the military police trying to keep a path clear for the parade vehicles.

CID 1 – A Parade and Magic Show

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - kids parade

Cuenca Independence Day #1

The battle for the independence of Cuenca was held 196 years ago, on November 3, 1820.  Though the battle only lasted one day, in typical Ecuadorian fashion, the celebration lasts three days each year. One of the first events of this year's celebration was the Desfile Estudiantil, or Student's Parade.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - girls in parade

Most of the students in the one-hour parade appeared to be middle school or high school age, with each school having one to three groups of dancers in various matching costumes.

Here is a 1 minute clip with examples of several of the dancing groups.
Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - marching band in parade

There were also a few marching bands and floats in the parade.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - Transvia construction

After the parade was completed, I walked to another location where another event was being held.  I never could find that other celebration, but did find that the Tranvia (Cuenca's new light rail train) work was continuing at full pace, regardless of the festivities.  This project has been plagued with problems -- mostly of political origin -- and the mayor has put the workers on overtime to try and complete it by mid 2017.

Cuenca Independence Day, Ecuador 2016 - comedy and magic

We ended the day by attending a show titled "A Night of Comedy and Magic." We have seen a few magic shows in Cuenca, and they are almost always entertaining.  From the show title, we had expected three magicians performing magic with a touch of comedy.  Unfortunately for us, instead it started with an hour of stand-up comedy, all in Spanish.  The theater was packed with Ecuadorans laughing and clearly enjoying the show, but our Spanish was limited.  We picked up a word here and there, but it came too fast and with too much cultural nuance for us to really appreciate any of the humor.


The Russian Circus is in Town

Russian Circus in Cuenca, Ecuador - posters

The Russian Circus (Circo de Rusia) is in town this week for the Cuenca Independence Day celebration.  We went to the Sunday matinee show yesterday, and had a grand afternoon.  There were no animals (other than a small dog masquerading as a lion), however there was cotton candy, candied apples, popcorn, hot dogs and chili eggs. This circus is along the lines of a lower budget Cirque du Soleil -- a venue we have seen many times in the States, and always loved.

Russian Circus in Cuenca, Ecuador - kids

As with most circus performances, we love watching the reaction of the audience, especially the kids. One little girl emulated the performers in the ring and the mom did everything she could to keep the little girl from running into the ring.  During the 150 minute show, the kids (including the older kids like us) were enthralled with the talented acrobats, the jugglers, the quick change performers, and of course, the clowns.

Russian Circus in Cuenca, Ecuador - clowns

Before the show, rides on the aerial slings were sold for $5 (upper left) and kids lined up for the chance to be part of the circus.  Of course,  selfies are everywhere (upper right), and the circus is no exception...  Starting the show, and appearing throughout during set changes was the inevitable clown, with his ferocious lion (lower left).  The lead clown frequently pulled people from the audience -- some of which were playful (middle left), while other  times, the volunteer was left in the center stage minutes after the stunt was completed, which was very humorous for all, except maybe the volunteer....  The lead clown later showed himself to be an accomplished juggler(juggling plastic wash basins), with his assistant (middle right).

Russian Circus in Cuenca, Ecuador - High Wire

And, of course, what circus would not be complete without a series of high-wire acts.  The show opened with the entire entourage of (very Russian-looking) performers entering the ring (upper left).  As the show progressed, there were several high ring and wire performers.

Russian Circus in Cuenca, Ecuador - Other

We spent most of the afternoon either smiling or slack jaw in awe with the skill of the performers.  We heartily recommend anyone in Cuenca who enjoys being a kid again to see this high quality act.  (And, be sure to ask for your senior discount.)

Cuenca Independence Schedule 2016


This is a a quickie post to help out those in the Cuenca area.  This weekend launches the 196th anniversary of the independence of Cuenca, Ecuador, and whole slew of events over the next couple weeks.  You can get an electronic version of the official schedule by clicking here.

It can also be read online is a somewhat different format by clicking here.

Burt’s 3 Years of Cooking

Stuffed mushrooms, baked with cheese and herbs,

Mushrooms Stuffed With Cheese Are  a Guest Favorite Appetizer

When I wrote our 3-year anniversary blog yesterday, I forgot to add a section on food and the joy of cooking, which has been a major theme in our lives since we arrived in Cuenca.

Mercados. From the start, I have shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables from the mercado located closest to our apartment, 12 de Agosto, about 4 blocks walking from our apartment. Fresh food is everywhere, and the lack of processed foods (ready-made) compelled me to learn how to use fresh produce. I learned that some vendors had better produce than others, most (but not all) charged the same to gringos and locals, and there are now 3-4 vendors that I buy from regularly, who offer me “yappas” (their term for adding a little extra) as a thank you. The vendors selling the large, scrumptious, strawberries are always a joy to see. When we were in Colombia, we went on an exotic fruits tour at a local mercado, giving us a chance to taste various exotic fruits we didn’t have the nerve to try on our own. After the tour, I even made maracuya ice cream.

Maracuya ice cream

Homemade Maracuya Ice Cream

Cooking. Evelyn cooked for the first 30 years of our marriage, with me barely able to boil water.  During an extended unemployment period after the internet stock bust in 1999, it seemed only fair that I should try to learn to cook, since Evelyn was then the only one bringing home a salary.  With some encouragement from Pauline (Evelyn's sister) who presented me with my first "4-ingredient cookbook", I discovered that I actually could cook, and, in fact, like to cook.  We decided that, since Evelyn cooked for the first 30 years of our marriage, I would cook for the next 30.  I am halfway through that period...

Adjusting to high altitude cooking. Some of the earliest frustration was adjusting times for cooking and baking, whether it was boiling water for pasta, or baking a pie crust.  I joined a Facebook group called Food and Cooking in Ecuador, where there are a number of gourmet cooks who are willing to share. Now, whenever I have a cooking question, there is always someone online who can answer the question, helping with issues of what ingredients to substitute, or changes to make due to the 8500' altitude here.  I now periodically add a particularly good recipe I have developed, to my blog, already adjusted for this elevation.  There are currently 22 listed there.

Finding expat foods. When we first came to Cuenca, we found that the bacon flavor that we loved in California did not exist. In fact, the bacon found at Supermaxi and the local supermarkets was bland. We had a similar withdrawal for other favorite food  items that we were accustomed to getting in the US, such as English muffins, spicy sausage, spicy cheese, etc.  In the past 3 years, many expats have started up new business enterprises producing many of the foods us expats crave, and it's only rarely we find ourselves unable to obtain a favorite food or ingredient now.

Cooking schools. I make a point of trying to make at least one new meal each week.  Some of these new recipes are found on various internet cooling blogs that I read.  Others come from the cooking classes I now frequently attend.  I have gone to a dozen or so such classes here in Cuenca, and have learned how to cook Ecuadorian dishes such a locro de papa (a thick potato soup) and seco de chivo (goat stew).  Other classes have taught me how to make various American, Italian and Peruvian meals. However it's always the little hints or secrets that are not in any cookbooks that I really appreciate. When we were in Istanbul recently, we both took a Turkish cooking class, where we learned (among other dishes), Manti (ravioli in Greek yogurt, often eaten for breakfast).  We also learned to use a "Turkish pinch" for spices -- three fingers picking up as much spice as they can hold.  Since that is maybe 4 times as much spice as the "American pinch" (thumb and forefinger grabbing spice), we began to realize why many of the spices in my earlier meals were barely noticeable.

Exploring new restaurants. When we first visited Cuenca in 2012, there were only a handful of great restaurants, mostly Ecuadorean cuisines. TripAdvisor showed something like 50 restaurants in town. Since then, the diversity of the types of cuisine available has grown astronomically, and TripAdvisor currently shows 362 restaurants. The cuisines now include great seafood, sushi, Thai, Italian, Indian, Russian, fusion, and even comfort foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and American-style pizzas. The annual turn-over of restaurants has been staggering, as the start up costs to open a new enterprise are low (under $1K in some cases). We still regularly have “almuerzos" for lunch, which run from $2.00 to $4.00 for a 5-course meal. We also go out to dinner a couple times a week to experience new restaurants in town (and to help keep the better ones in business). In fact, we are heading out to Prickly Pear, another new restaurant a couple blocks from us, as soon as I finish writing this.

PS: We just returned from dinner.  We have always realized there were a lot of restaurants in our neighborhood, but decided to actually count tonight.  Our destination was four blocks away.  Enroute, along that four block stretch, we counted 41 separate restaurants!  One of these days, we will make a 4-block grid and try to actually count the total number of restaurants in that range.  I am betting there will be more than 150 within 4 blocks of us...!

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