[Brag] Another Creative Photo Winner

Tonight at the Berkeley Camera Club, we had Creative and Nature category competitions.  Creative has always been one of my favorites, while Nature has never really been my strong suit.  Tonight’s results followed those strengths.

The procedure for competition at our club is to have the photos projected on a screen one at a time, while a commentator discusses the strengths of each image, along with suggestions for improvement.  The audience (club members, most of whom have images in the competition) sit quietly and listen, only occasionally whispering comments of agreement or not among themselves.  For my creative images, I try to shake things up and get a reaction.  Sometimes I try for a gasp from the audience, if I have something I think is stunning visually, or will instantly make the audience wonder how it was done.  Othertimes, I try for a laugh — something that will strike them funny enough that they can’t help themselves but give a loud guffaw.

Tonight I was trying for the guffaw — and I got it! 🙂  There was an immediate loud laugh, followed a moment latter by more laughter as the caption was read.  A double winner this time!

I titled it “In Hot Water Again,” and I am happy to say it was awarded 1st place at the Masters level of Creative photography tonight.

The image was actually pretty simple to make.  I put one of our pots on our home stove, added a oil thermometer, lit the stove and shot a few pictures handheld.  I then went into my studio and placed the lights to mimic the lighting in the stove, stood against a white background, and clicked off a dozen images while I made faces that I thought would work here.  15 minutes of Photoshop created the composite.

I also had an entry in the Nature competition, which won an Honorable Mention at the Intermediate level (2nd level of 4).  It is an image I shot of a Red Footed Booby on a trip to Galapagos Islands a few years ago.  Almost all my nature winners have come from that trip.  It is almost cheating using photos from there, since they are so easy to get.  In this photo, I was no more than maybe 8 feet from the bird, who had no fear of humans at all.  When walking, you have to careful not to step on the birds and reptiles that cover the islands.

[Brag] Another N4C Best of Show Plus BCC Winner

Competition at the Masters level of photography at our local Berkeley Camera Club is fierce.  There were 30 entries at that level again tonight, and as always, there were some really spectacular images presented.  This is really a talented group of Photographers.

As such, I am no longer King of the Roost, as I was in prior years at lower levels, and am happy to walk away with recognition for any of my entries.  Tonight I garnered 3rd place with the following image, titled “Shattered”:

 

The wine glass for this was created by heating a small area of the glass bowl with a propane torch until it was glowing red, then pouring a few drops of water on that spot.  That caused the glass to shatter, blowing a hole in the side.  I did this to 6 glasses (old ones that we had retired last year), and got 4 with usable holes.  In the studio, I then poured Sangria wine into the glass, while photographing the splashing.  The photo was then cleaned up in Photoshop, and a posterizing filter added.  finally I played with the hue and saturation to get the effect I was after.

In the Journalism category, I am still competing at the Basic (lowest) level.  That hasn’t really been my strong suit.  However, our trip last October to Cambodia and Vietnam resulted in several winning photos.  (Click on the October 2011 link on the right panel to read our blog from that trip.) One of the photos that won a couple months ago in our local BCC competition was just announced to have won 1st place and Best of Show at N4C — our parent photo club competition.  If I keep this up, I’ll be bumped up in level for Journalism too…

[Brag] Photo wins Best of Show at N4C

I was a bit bummed out last month when a recent favorite image of mine only received Honorable Mention at the Berkeley Camera Club competition.  I was only somewhat molified by the fact that I felt our judge that night was not very good (honestly — I had that opinion long before the Masters category I compete in came up for review).

Today we received the results of the N4C Pictorial competition for March.  This is the regional group that our club rolls up into.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they like the image a lot more than the judge we had that night.  At N4C, this image was awarded First Place in the Masters level, and Best of Show overall.  Yeah! 🙂

Just more evidence that photographic judging is highly individual and to never be too surprised when something you love doesn’t receive the reception you expected in any given competition…

Spanish School Interviews

Today was mostly dedicated to interviewing Spanish Schools for taking lessons when we come back.  But first, we had breakfast at San Sebas, as we had promised the owners yesterday.

We struck up a conversation with a man sitting at the next table, and then moved our meals over to join him.  Jim Becker is a retired 3-star Lt General in the US Marines, who moved to Cuenca a little over a year ago.  We spent the next hour regaled by his stories, and the reasons he chose Ecuador to live (primary was the use of the US Dollar, so no “up front loss of 30% like with the EU”).

He is a member of the local Rotary Club, and we spent a great deal of time talking about that, and the good works they do in the region.  He told us that most of the local chapter are doctors and lawyers, with very little English and that Jim is the only retired member at the moment.  By the time we split up, he had offered to sponsor me into the local chapter, which I might seriously consider if we ever decide to move here for a longer term.

We visited and interviewed three Spanish schools — Si Centro, Amauto and Simon Bolivar.  All three had essentially the same pitch and the same price.  Simon Bolivar was the most polished in the presentation, and had their own books (rather than the apparent rip-off xerox of Si Centro and “each instructor has his own book” of Amauto).  We haven’t really made a decision yet, but it appears that Simon Bolivar may be our choice to learn Spanish.

Everywhere you look there is construction going on.  Mostly the streets are being ripped up and replaced with nice walkways, and with the old water piped replaced with modern.  This latter is particularly good, since the Cuenca water is good, but the ancient pipes are often the source of sickness.  It really seems the current president is putting the oil revenue to good use in providing construction employment and improving the overall infrastructure.

We had head that you could fish from the Tomebamba river just outside our apartment.  Today we saw it in action.  A middle-aged local was throwing a small net, of maybe 2 meters diameter into the edge of the river, then pulling it out immediately.  About every 3rd toss resulted in a fish. Some small (which he gave to a couple kids that had joined to watch), and some larger which he kept for himself.  Every time he would pull out a fish, he would throw it against a rock to kill the fish, then put it into a small bag.

El Cajas National Park

Today is Ash Wednesday, so the town is about half back to life.  Many people are still taking today off, but tomorrow should return to normal around here.

Efrain, from MIO Tours, picked us up again today at 9:00 sharp, and drove us to El Cajon National Park.  The trip was a little disappointing, through no fault of Efrain’s.  The weather was heavily overcast, cold, with frequent showers throughout the day.  Also, we haven’t totally acclimated to the 8,500 Cuenca yet, and were today trying to cope with a shack at 13,670 ft.  We couldn’t really move very fast, and certainly not do any hiking at that elevation.

As we got back into town, Efrain agreed to help us shop for a satellite internet dongle at Claro.  I was sure that would take more Spanish than I could muster.  At the store, we found that the price was prohibitive, so we passed. ($99 without a plan, plus $5 per 500MB data, or $30/month for 4GB data/month, but with an 18 month commitment.)

Efrain then drove us around some more possible rental areas, including one he referred to as “the 50-50 area,” because about half the occupants are gringos and half locals.  Looked like a very nice place to live, and he said a 2 bedroom apt there would run about $200-$300/month unfurnished.

We have seen several ‘Costto’ stores around, but have not ventured in.  Efrain commented that they are the same as ‘Costco’ in the states, with the only difference being one letter in the name. Perhaps we will check them out on our next trip.

Efrain next drove us to Paute, because we had heard so much about it and wanted to see it a bit more.  He stated that potato soup was invented in Paute (Wikipedia says it dates to 6000BC though, so we take that with a grain of salt), and that we should try it.  We stopped at Corvel Eventos for lunch, and their version of the potato soup was worth coming back for — delicious!

Paute is about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Cuenca, and is a bit lower, so there are birds (and bugs).  We have heard of several expats deciding to move there, but the town seems too small and isolated for our tastes. Move that 5 degrees to Cuenca though, and we would be in heaven! 🙂

We have heard various things about an international airport being approved for Cuenca, but never anything definite.  Efrain says that the issue was put to a vote and was resoundly defeated.  I can find Google references to it being approved in 2009 if new radar was put in, but can’t find any references more current nor to any vote, so am not really sure of the details — other than it is clear we cannot use Cuenca airport as a port-of-entry at this time.

We told Efrain that we were thinking of returning Nov 1 to study Spanish for a month.  He warned us that Nov 1, 2, and 3 are big holidays (Dia de Muerta and Cuenca Independence Day) and that we should arrive a few days earlier to get settled before the big celebrations.  Sounds like a good plan to us.

Dinner was at Guajibamba, where the house specialty is cuy.  We had the cuy, but I think I prefer the preparation of the roadside vendor on Monday.  The rest of the meal’s side dishes were good though.

Another birthday survived… 🙂

Gangland Attacks on Fat Tuesday!

Today was a lazy day for us.  Most of the town was closed down for Fat Tuesday (the day before the Catholic holiday of Ash Wednesday).  While Rio and New Orleans have massive parades on this day, Cuenca goes into a mass hysteria of kids bringing out all their big guns.  Everywhere you go are squirt guns, buckets of water, “silly foam” aerosols and even water hoses.  This is clearly a major day for every kid in town to make wet and get wet.

We noticed today that there are almost no birds in town.  Occasionally you may hear a bird call, and even once we saw a bird, but they are a rarity.  The reason is that there are almost no bugs for them to eat.  Seems strange coming from the San Francisco area, but this is a natural side effect of living at 8,500 ft elevation.

When wandering around town, we happened to meet the owners of San Sebas restaurant, on the San Sebastian square.  We were told they opened 7 weeks ago, and we promised to return to try them out the next day (they were closed for Fat Tuesday too).  It was interesting that they said they liked “Synergy Spanish” for learning the language, but did not like Simon Bolivar school because “they are too focussed on short term quick learning” — actually that sounds like an endorsement to me… 🙂

Wandering near the center square again in the late afternoon, we came across a fireworks scaffolding being built from bamboo.  We decided to wait around and watch the show.  As soon as Evelyn pulled out her pocket camera, a couple of young kids started clowning around for pictures. They loved to see themselves in the LCD display after Evelyn shot them.

Evelyn bought an “empty empanada” from a vendor on the square — an empty pastry shell with powdered sugar on it, freshly fried by the vendor.  It was so good that we ended up eating half a dozen of them during the hour we were waiting.

We also talked to a few other people in the square while waiting.  Once again, strangers in this town are easy to approach, and always welcoming and friendly.  Before the fireworks, a family started sending up fire lanterns — paper lanterns with a small patch of burning hay suspended under them for hot air.  Dozens lifted into the sky, as I wondered what would happen when they came back down, possibly with fire still burning…

Once the Big Show started, a pyrotechnics worker put a cigarette lighter to a fireworks spinner and ran.  He repeated this a few times, with one of the spinners going out of control and landing inches from a family with several small kids.  The only thing to do was run fast as he lit the next one!

After a few of these, he lit the major structure, which had several spinners, firecrackers, and sky rockets attached.  He then dragged a box with roughly 30 tubes in it and lit that too.  I was standing about 6 feet away, photographing the burning structure and this box exploding at my feet.  When I finally thought to look up, I saw the standard fireworks exploding overhead, as you would see in any American fireworks display.

Except in the US, you don’t get to photograph it from 6 feet away.  At that moment, I nearly regretted not bringing my “real camera equipment” for this scouting trip.  Nearly, but not quite — this has been a great week to just explore and experience with only a point-and-shoot occasionally brought out mostly for blog photos.

Playing Carnaval

We had scheduled a tour of the surrounding craft villages for today.  Efrain was there waiting to pick us up at our hotel a few minutes before the scheduled time.  We have noticed that everyone is on time, and even restaurant service is fast in Cuenca — not at all what we have come to expect in a Latin American country.  Makes for a nice surprise…

We were barely out of town when a bucket of water was thrown on the car’s windshield.  Efrain laughed and said “everyone in Cuenca plays Carnaval — the kids play it in the streets with the water, and the adults play it behind closed doors with the drink.”  For the remainder of the day, we always drove with the windows rolled up, so the kids with buckets and hoses just washed down the car, and not the passengers.

Our first stop was in Gualaceo, a traditional weaving town.  Because of Carnaval, most places were closed, but Efrain had arranged for one family to stay open just for us.  Anna, a grandmother with no English showed us how she wove shawls the same way as has been done for the past 800 years.  It takes her 3 days to make a shawl, which is then sold for $15.


She also showed us how the cloth was dyed.  Black is produced by volcanic rock. Flowers from Peru produce indigo blue, while a pea-pod kind of plant produces brown.  She then showed the body of a tiny spider, which she crushed in her palm to create red.  Mixing in a little lemon juice turned the ink orange, while baking soda made it purple.  In all, she can 7 different permanent dye colors from the spider body, by combining various other materials.  We ended up buying one small runner. How could we not buy something from this woman?

As we left Anna’s workshop, Efrain spotted a BBQ cuy stand nearby and asked if we wanted to try it.  Cuy is an Ecuadorian specialty, better known as guinea pig to Americans.  Sure!  It has an interesting taste that I am still trying to find the right words to describe.  I guess you will just have to come down and try it for yourself. Then maybe you can give me the right words (it is good though — I can at least attest to that much).

Next stop was Chordeleg for silver shops.  We browsed a few open silver jewelry stores, but nothing caught our eye enough to want to buy, and we moved on.

Sigsig is the home of Panama hats.  The hats have always been made in Ecuador, but in the 19th century they were shipped to Panama for export, and Europeans started calling them Panama hats, since that was the origin of the ships bringing them over.

We saw how the hats were made, which was rather interesting.  They had 3 hat molding machines — one over 100 years old and two more modern ones.  It was the 100 year-old machine they used though, because it was the most reliable!  The showroom was not very impressive, and no hat really looked good on either of us, so we moved on.

We passed through Paute, with its numerous fields of flowers, and San Bartolome with all the guitar workshops.  Both towns were effectively shut down due to Carnaval.

On the way back, Efrain drove by some apartments for rent at half the prices we had been shown Friday.  The primary difference is that these were not going through a real estate agent, and in a couple cases were also a bit further out of town.

After Efrain dropped us off, we went looking for lunch.  Not much in the town was open, and we ended up at Carbon.  A large, delicious chicken soup, large lemonade and a bottle of water set up back $7.

On our way home, we stopped by a tiny grocery store a block from our apartment for some supplies.  The store was completely barricaded with a small window to tell the merchant what we wanted.  I tried to say we wanted some toilet paper, and was getting nowhere until a woman came up, saw I was having trouble and asked what I needed.  Turns out it is called “papel higienico”.  Add a new (important!) word to my vocabulary…

And of course, there was one more military band playing in the park, as we turn towards home.

Silly Foam Fight

Squirt guns have been left at the door, as it seems every kid in town is now toting an aerosol can of Carnaval Foam.  This looks like a cousin of the “silly string” we have terrorized friends with in past years around New Years.  A broad spray of foam is sent out to the hapless passerby.  A few minutes later only the laughter of the kids remains.

Bring your sun block!  The clouds have been constant since we arrived, often black and threatening, though there have only been a few scattered showers.  I forgot to use sun block yesterday (who needs it when the sun can’t be seen?), and today I am paying the price.  My face is sunburned, and my ears have scabs from the burn.  Sun block will be on my face every time I leave the apartment for the rest of the week!

We went walking into town again this morning, in search of Bananas, a highly recommended breakfast restaurant.  We got hopelessly lost, and ended up eating at Cafe Austria, which was across the street when we gave up.  There were only 4 breakfasts on the menu — American, Continental, Austrian and <can’t remember what #4 was called>.  I ordered the Austrian – eggs, bacon and juice.  Evelyn saw pancakes going by to another table and asked the waiter.  Turns out they were available, even though not on the menu.  Evelyn’s pancakes were better than my passable eggs.

Afterwards, we walked over to Parque Calderon again.  There was a band playing, and about 3 dozen varieties of rocking horses around the plaza, with a vendor taking pictures of kids sitting on the horses.  While Evelyn was photographing, I sat down on a concrete bench to watch.

A Peruvian woman came over and started talking to me in rapid Spanish.  When I replied “Hablo muy pequeño Espanol” (“I speak very little Spanish”), she sat down and we worked out a crude conversation with the limited Spanish Evelyn and I could muster.  She was another example of just how easy it is to meet and talk to people here — even if you don’t share the same language.

At one point, she asked our plans for the day, and we said were going to Banos.  She was confused, and said that was a 4 hour drive, so we couldn’t possibly be going this afternoon. I told her I thought it was only 20 minutes away, but she insisted.  Oops, further than we thought, so I guess we can’t go after all.

Later, our first Google search “distance from Banos to Cuenca” confirmed the 4 hour drive.  However, after more research tonight, we discovered there is a “Banos resort” near Quito (the 4 hour drive), and another “Little Bano” with hot springs 20 minutes from Cuenca.  Could have gone after all, but too late now.  We will have to do that when we return to Cuenca sometime in the future.

After leaving the square, we walked about a block away and came across a flower market, then on to the local indoor co-op market where Peter and David (both Gringos we met earlier on the trip) shop for their produce.  There were rows of open-air counter-tops with butchered beef, pork and poultry, just as we have seen in many Asian markets.  The difference is there were no flies on this meat — a benefit of being at 8,500 and too high for most bugs.  We were later told that the merchants are required to sell the meat on the day it is slaughtered, and any remains are fed to dogs in the evening.

We tried to eat at Tiestos restaurant tonight, but it was closed.  In fact, the first 4 restaurants we called were all closed.  The city is largely shut down for Carnaval.  

We ended up eating at the Akelarre restaurant in the Hotel Inca, which was recommended to us by the California Kitchen when we called to get in there.  The food was fabulous. We opened with a great potato soup (a specialty of Cuenca), then had the best sea bass béarnaise we have ever eaten.  I talked to the owner for awhile. He said they have been there for 7 years, and are just starting to get positive reviews in Lonely Planet and other travel books.  I added a 5-star review for them in Trip Advisor.

Squirt Guns

Shot in the back!  Squirt guns rule the roads!  All flee in panic!

Carnaval is upon us, and here in Cuenca, Carnaval is more “water war” than booze.  The weather is warm and (mostly) kids roam the streets, often in the back of their parent’s pick-up truck, spraying anyone they see — with Gringos being an especially favorite target.  Within a few minutes of the passing attack, you are dry again and can probably expect another shot Real Soon Now…

We had an excellent breakfast at the Kookaburra Cafe.  An Australian couple opened this place 4 years ago, and have recently sold it, to move to Paute. The Canadian couple that has purchased the restaurant have not yet taken it over though, so we had a nice chat with the original owners.  If you go, I recommend their “stuffed omelet”, though you should probably skip the veggie juice unless you are health nut that likes that kind of thing. Give me good old fashioned jugo naranja (orange juice) any time.

Next we walked over to the main square (Parque Calderon), and visited iTur — the tourist information center.  Nobody at iTur spoke a bit of English, but we managed to muddle through (hurray!) and got the map and info we wanted.  We then walked around the square, where Evelyn photographed the cathedral.

I have variously read that there are 52 or 53 Catholic churches in Cuenca.  Though I am not sure which number is correct, I have no trouble believing there is one for every day of the week.  You can’t go more than a few blocks without coming across another one.

We hopped on the double-decker bus for a city tour ($5), since it had been recommended by two other couples.  Of course we sat on the top, and thus found ourselves doused by a water bucket throwing teenager as we passed under his balcony.  Oh, the joys of Carnaval again… 🙂

If you go on this bus, don’t sit in the front row of the top level. There is a barrier there for looking pretty from the ground, but it completely obscures your view.  We moved back a couple rows for a better view.  They take you through town, speaking almost exclusively Spanish at far too rapid a clip for me to pick any of it up, and then take a short break on top of a hill overlooking the city for a scenic view.

On the way down, we opted to get off at Mall de Rio, so we could see what a mall was like in Cuenca.  The anchor tenant there is Coral.  Think Walmart + Best Buy (sans computer) + Home Depot + Ikea + motorcycles + groceries, and you begin to get an idea of the size and variety of this monster store.

We decided to buy a space heater, since our apartment was so darn cold at night (it is setting records, much to our chagrin).  How do you say “space heater” in Spanish?  We tried various iPhone translators, and got a variety of alternatives, none of which made sense or which the clerk could understand.  Finally Evelyn just pantomimed being cold, and the clerk took us directly to the right place.  The magic of hand gestures works round the world, even when the spoken word is not understood!  The heater cost $42 + tax, so we were perfectly happy to buy it for a week’s use.

We also picked up some snacks for the apartment (we have a kitchen, so have occasionally made our own meals), and together with the space heater grabbed a taxi home.

Ah yes, the taxi.  Be sure to come down here with lots of $1 bills, because you will use taxis a lot, and they are $2 whether going one block or across town.  We came with far more $1 bills that I thought we could possibly use, and by the end of the week was running low. $1 buys a lot down here.

Back at our apartment, we met Vick and Joan, a retired Canadian couple that are now full time RVers roaming Canada and the US.  They have been in Ecuador a couple months, but Joan “did a face plant” as she tells it, in Quito in their first week in-country.  She now has a cast on both her wrist and foot, which makes getting around this hilly town difficult.  They are both full of life and fun though, and aren’t letting anything as small as some broken bones keep them down.

They found out about a show with great reviews for tonight, and invited us to join them.  The show was at Likapaay, but was a disaster.  The normal “traditional dancers” were replaced by a so-so Cuban singer, and the food was reduced to just appetizers. We asked the owner if there would be dancing later, and she said “yes, the guests will dance.”  I look around the almost-empty room, with literally nobody engaged with the music, and said “I don’t think so…”

We asked for the check, and they tried to charge us much more than we had originally been quoted.  We told the owner we would not pay that much, and were leaving in the middle of the show.  To give the owner credit, she apologized, accepted the $10 originally agreed to, and called a taxi for us.

When we left, another group of 6 also left (that meant that 10 of the 21 patrons walked out with us).  Martha (pronounced ‘Marti”), from the other group, invited us all over to another restaurant that she said had good food.

We all took 3 taxis down to the Eucalyptus restaurant (Gran Columbia 9-41 y Benigno Malo), where we had an excellent meal together.  Marti was born in Ecuador and left at the age of 17 to go to the US.  She later married and settled in San Francisco with a silver jewelry business.  After 40 years, she decided to visit her home country for the first time — and ended up with a damaged meniscus in Quito (sounds like a dangerous town — two people we met on the same day were hurt there…).  She was forced to stay in Ecuador for medical treatment, and by the time she was back on her feet, found she had fallen in love with the country.

We talked well into the night, and Marti helped turn a potential disaster into a night of fun and laughter.  She was another of the people we kept running into all week where a stranger one minute became a friend the next, with little more than a Hello needed to make the switch.

Cuenca

We took a 30 minute TAME flight from Guayaquil to Cuenca at 7AM. While in the airport and on the flight, I attempted to read the Spanish language newspaper, and was very pleasantly surprised at how much I could understand.  I have rarely attempted any spoken Spanish since we sold our last airplane in 1992 and stopped taking weekend trips into Mexico. We have been an occasional tourist to Spain and other Spanish speaking countries since then, but not really tried to use the language very much in the past 20 years.

I also listened to the speakers around me.  Though I didn’t know much of the vocabulary, I found that I could hear where one word stopped and the next began.  I have never been able to do that in other Spanish speaking surroundings.  What we have read about Ecuadorian Spanish being spoken more slowly and precisely seems true on first impression.

Most of the ground below was brown for much of the trip.  Just was I was beginning to think Cuenca might be a brown featureless landscape, we topped a mountain and saw the green valley ahead — we could now see Cuenca.

We had arrived to be picked up at the airport for a “rental real estate tour” to see the kind of rental properties available in Cuenca, in preparation for possibly returning in December for Spanish lessons.  This was arranged with Cuenca Real Estate (www.CuencaRealEstate.com).  A few hours before we had boarded the plane in San Francisco, an email exchange with the owner made us worry that they were backing out entirely.  We looked around the airport terminal, and found nobody waiting to pick us up.  Uh-oh. Bad start for the trip…

We decided to wait a half hour in case there was some mixup.  Our Cuenca Real Estate contact was William, and he arrived about half an hour after we had collected our bags.  He had been given the wrong flight time, and thought he was arriving early to pick us up.  A trip to their office allowed us to meet other members of the team.  It turned out that the email just before our departure was a misunderstanding.  They assigned a “rental real estate guide” and we were off and running.

Svein took us around to see several apartments that were vacant. We got a good idea of the range of living spaces available for a month’s rent, though of course we will have to see what is specifically available come December.  Svein also gave us some good information about the city in general, and even helped us go to a Claro (mobile phone) store to get a SIM card put into Evelyn’s iPhone4S (which failed, but that is another story).

One apartment Svein showed us was currently occupied by the owners.  We met Peter and Chris, a couple from Montana that has purchased an excellent Cuenca apartment and plan on living here during the Winter, while summering in Montana.  We talked with Peter for quite awhile, and finally had to continue our rental property tour.  Before we left, Peter offered to get together later to talk some more, and we jumped at the chance.

We continued our rental property tour, seeing some nice units, and seeing others that we decided weren’t desirably primarily because they were in “Gringo Land” — where many of the expats lived.  We prefer staying more among the Ecuadorians, where we hope to have more chance to practice our Spanish — once we have much anyway…

Svein also gave us a running commentary on the best places to go in town:
    – Inca Lounge for Best Burger
    – Junes had biggest burger in town
    – Mall de Rio was largest mall
    – Almacenes Chordeleg for electronics
    – Coral for a wide variety (think Walmart)
    – San Blas for ice cream
    – Kookaburra for breakfast

Svein dropped us off at the condo of Peter and Chris, and we offered to take them out to lunch.  We walked to “El Tunel”, where we had “menu de dia,” which means you skip the printed menu and just have whatever the restaurant is serving for lunch.  Juice, soup, main course and desert came to $2.25 per person — filling and delicious for the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks!  After lunch, Peter and Chris took us on a walking tour of the area, including their favorite local market co-op.

For dinner, we went to Gringo Night at California Kitchen.  We met David Morrill (author of “Ecuador: The Owners Manual” available through International Living), plus an American couple from Florida whose name I neglected to note.  That couple was an interesting side-note, in that they had come planning on retiring in Cuenca and decided they did not like the city.  They were the perfect poster couple for why you need to investigate in person before deciding to move here.  As they went through the things they did not like, Evelyn and I just smiled and nodded, while thinking “those are the exact things we do like”…

One big lesson from today’s travels — when taking a Taxi, you must know the address and cross-street of your destination. Every time we just gave a name of a hotel or restaurant, the taxi drivers had no idea where we wanted to go. We always had to go back and get an address before they could get us where we were going.

Our first day in Cuenca was full, and we met far more friendly expats and locals that we expected.  The trip is off to a good start!

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At the top of this page is a menu that will take you to a variety of galleries showing our favorite images.

The most recent galleries include our recent trips to India, Dubai, Botswana, Namibia and New England. You can see all our favorite images from our 2018 travel here:

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