March 23, 2023
Stephen started the morning heading to the central market to pick up some chops for dinner while Eli did some work from the flat. While he was waiting for the chops to be cut, he walked down to the river and came upon the campus of the local university. This is the first university he's ever seen that had such a prominent location for the College of Education. Usually it's the business schools that get the best buildings.
Once we got the chops, we both headed out for a bit to check out a couple more places in the historic center. We started at the Museo Remigio Crespo, which is nominally a museum, but was far more interesting to us as a restored late 19th century home. In addition to the elaborate tin ceilings, we loved the tin wainscoting as well. And the house has a magnificent view overlooking the river. From there we headed to the Centro Interamericano de Artes Populares, the local folk art museum. They had a lot of very beautiful stuff from all over Latin America, but with a definite focus on Ecuador. They have a temporary exhibit on Latin American life-size puppets which was really cool, and we got to catch a snippet of a puppet presentation to local school children. We then headed to the Museum of Aboriginal Cultures, which had lots of pre-Columbian artifacts from all of the different cultures of Ecuador. Again, it was cool to see shapes and forms that we hadn't seen before in other museums.
For dinner tonight, we went to Guajibamba, which does roasted cuy (guinea pig). It was as delicious as everyone has said it was. It's a lot like rabbit as there isn't a lot of meat on the bones, but the meat was very tender and juicy, and the skin was extra crispy and flavorful. With the sides and an appetizer, the one cuy was enough for the two of us. The whole meal plus wine was under $50. We'd definitely eat it again! Be aware, though, that you do need to call ahead if you are planning on having cuy.
March 22, 2023
We had seen a listing in our Lonely Planet guide for Kushi Waira, a full day (and overnight if you want) immersion experience in the culture of the Kañari. It is basically the passion project of Alfoso Saquipay, who has been running the community organization for the last 25 years. After seeing the listing in the guide and checking out the website when we arrived in Cuenca, we tried messaging Alfonso via WhatsApp, but he didn't respond that day (it was late in the evening at that point) nor the next morning. When we didn't hear from him, we decided to head to the Carolina Bookstore, which is the meeting point for the experience, as we thought they might have some additional info. Sure enough they did, and they contacted him by voice (not by message) and we scheduled our visit for today.
We were picked up by an uber that Alfonso arranged and driven about 40 minutes up into the hills around Cuenca to the Kushi Waira community. We then began a full day immersion experience into the life and traditions of the Kañari of this area. He and female member of the village welcomed us with a shot of canelazo (which was very smooth) made from sugar cane. Alfonso started with an introduction to the spiritual beliefs and practices connected to the energy of the earth and the cosmos. We learned that he is 71 (he doesn't look it), and that he uses traditional medicines (and that's why he doesn't look 71). Then we had the opportunity to climb the hill behind the village up another 1000 meters up or so to practice a meditative ritual. On our way up, he explained native healing plants that we saw along the way. At one point, he asked how we were related, and we answered that we were married, and that opened up a continuing conversation about his life and our lives as we went through each stage of the experience. It was only the two of us on the experience today, and so everything that was going on was really just for us. It was an incredible privilege to experience that way.
After the meditation, the woman who met us with the canelazo earlier hiked up the hill with lunch, carried in aluminum pots in a basket in her carry scarf on her back (she's 72, by the way). After lunch, a 15 minute siesta, and a demonstration of the cleansing ritual, we headed back down the hill to the community buildings. Alfonso, along with a couple female members of the community demonstrated various traditional songs and instruments, some other food techniques, and some dancing. He also took us to his instrument factory where he makes and teaches others how to make the traditional instruments. He gave us each a traditional wind instrument to take back with us as a memento after playing the Kañari version of hitting the piñata to figure out which one we would get.
We can't say enough about the incredible experience we had with Kushi Waira. Alfonso is an incredible human, and a one-man font of knowledge about his community's cultural practices. He played every different musical instrument himself, demonstrated every technique he talked about, and answered all the questions we had so thoughtfully... and the guy is 71 years old (although he doesn't look a day over 50). His last name translated means, "leave him be" and it is very fitting. This full day experience was $40 a piece. The experience was worth so much more (and we decided to add more to show our appreciation). All of what they had done that day was basically just for us two.
We said yu paichani (which is Kichwa for "thank you") and headed back to Cuenca. If you're interested in this kind of experience, we can't encourage you enough to book, and use the bookstore as your intermediary. Alfonso speaks Spanish and Kichwa, so if you need English, they do occasionally get bookings for groups like organized tours where someone is available to translate for him. If that's the case, definitely try contacting in advance to see when he may have availability with a translator (or you can probably just hire someone to translate for the day... at only $40 per person for the experience, a translator would be affordable).
March 20 and 21, 2023
We were up at 4am to head to the airport in Quito for our 7:30 flight (LATAM recommends arriving 2 hours before even domestic itineraries). It was fine, though, as we had breakfast and chilled out in the lounge which we have access to from our Priority Pass membership through our Chase Sapphire Reserve card. On the short flight to Cuenca, Eli was able to get some great shots out the airplane window of Cotopaxi erupting. The airport in Cuenca is close to town, so the cab ride to our new AirBnB was just $2. Cuenca is at slightly lower elevation from Quito, and also has a reputation for better weather. We definitely found that to be true today, with our arrival at around 10am into bright and sunny skies and a temperature of 71F.
We headed to the central market to pick up some fruit and vegetables and a chicken; we're going to cook tonight because the kitchen in this AirBnB is well stocked. We picked up a guanabana, some blackberries, and some mangoes to do aguas frescas, and a chirimoya to snack on. We also picked up a reddish banana (can't remember they name that they told us) that has a nice fluffy consistency, and some things that look like cherries (that we also can't remember the name of), that were not very tasty.
In the morning, we headed around to various sites in the historic old town. Cuenca has a feel of a smaller town, very much like Mendoza, with a much more relaxed vibe than Quito. We just strolled down streets looking for interesting colonial and 19th century buildings to photograph. We did stop in at a couple of churches as well. None were quite as elaborate as the couple that we saw in Quito. We walked by the Museo de Arte Moderno, and wanted to go in, but found a strange sign on the door saying that the museum was closed for very non-specific reasons. The Catedral de la Concepcion Imaculada was absolutely beautiful from the exterior, but the interior was not as interesting. We also made a point to stop by the Carmelite Monastery and this time we were able to check out the setup to see how they sell their products while staying cloistered. It also appears that they accept donations for trade through this system as well.
The list of products.
The lazy susan for maintaining the nuns' cloister while delivering the products.
March 19, 2023
We slept in late after having such a full day visiting Banos yesterday, and Stephen was feeling not great. On the plane between Lima and Guayaquil, he was sitting next to someone who was very clearly sick, and so we think he may have gotten whatever that guy had. He did a COVID test and it wasn't that, so hopefully it'll be over soon. For our last day, we headed to the TeleferiQo which takes you up an additional 4,000 feet above the 10,000 foot Quito valley for striking views over the whole valley. It's really important to go first thing in the morning, as it tends to cloud up in the afternoon. We arrived around 10:30 am and had only about a half our before we couldn't see any of the valley anymore. Our ride down the teleferiQo was bathed in fog.
From there, we headed to La Mitad del Mundo, which translates to the half of the earth, and it marks where the equator is (except the equator is actually about 300 meters further north from the official marker). We got the obligatory selfies and hung around for a bit to watch the folkloric performances that they do on weekend afternoons, and then headed to the place about 300 meters north where the actual equator is. They've also monetized this location now, and you need to pay to enter. It's called Intinan, and they've included information about local indigenous culture in addition to all the kitch related to the equator line. We did our obligatory selfies here, too.
After the equator stuff, we headed back to Quito to enjoy a lunch of Mexican tacos al pastor, and then to Pacari Chocolate. They have a cafe with chocolate drinks, chocolate sampling, chocolate desserts, and other light cafe fare for lunch/brunch. We had the hot chocolate with almond milk, and did their chocolate tasting for two people. It was a really enjoyable place to sit and relax and spend a few hours tasting delicious chocolate.
March 18, 2023
For our trip out of the city, we decided to book an organized trip to Banos. We had also looked at going to Mindo Valley, but decided on Banos for the waterfalls and ziplining. We booked through Quito Tour Bus. We had a nice small group of 5 and a really fun and energetic guide, Irene. Joining us were a couple from Mexico city who were lawyers and doing some extended traveling, and a woman from Canada who travels most of the time while working remotely. Eli had a great time talking withe Mexican couple about all things CDMX.
Banos is about a 4 hour drive from Quito, about half way to Cuenca. Our tour included lots of fun and interesting stops. On our way to Banos, we stopped in an area known for rose growing, and Irene picked up long-stemmed red roses for the two women in the group, then we stopped in a town known for Cuy (guinea pig) roasting and watched them twirl the rotisseries. Eli had wanted to pick up a roasted cuy to take home for dinner that night, but Stephen wasn't sure it would make it all the way home and still be good, so we skipped. There is a restaurant in Cuenca that serves cuy, so we'll have to order it there. We also made a stop to see them making guava candies, and Eli picked up a sample.
Then it was on to the waterfalls. There are over 60 waterfalls in the area, and we stopped at two. The more impressive was the Pailon del Diablo, which is now the tallest waterfall in Ecuador. After the waterfalls, we headed to ziplining. We had wanted to zipline for quite a while and each time we had arranged to do it, something got in the way. In Colorado ot was a thunderstorm, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a hurricane. Luckily, this time no weather events cancelled our plans. The ziplining (at Puntzan Canopy) isn't included in the cost of the trip, but it was very reasonable at $25 each for 6 lines. We got to do superman, hang upside down, and go tandem. You'll have to check out our videos on Instagram and YouTube for the action shots from ziplining. We then headed to the Casa de Arbol, which is a cute private park at the top of a hill overlooking the Banos valley. They have swings there that send you flying over the valley with really big and burly guys serving as your pushers. It was surprisingly very fun and brought back lots of childhood memories. The tour also offers an opportunity to stop at a location where you can bungee jump (also not included in the tour price) but we had so much fun ziplining and swinging, we didn't feel the need to bungee jump also.
On the way back, we got some great photos of Cotopaxi volcano. The volcano is currently in an eruption cycle and you can see a small plume of ash trailing up from the crater. Our one issue on the trip was that many of the sites were fairly busy (other than the zipline). It was a Saturday, and there were lots of organized tours of Ecuadorians at the waterfalls and at the Casa del Arbol.
March 17, 2023
Stephen taught YMHFA in the morning, and then we headed to the House of Ecuadorian Culture. The complex includes a number of different auditoriums, theaters, and gallery spaces. The art collections started off with the Banco Nacional and have expanded. The plan of the complex is not well marked, nor are there any maps, so it took us a while and a bit of asking to get to see all the galleries. We were also really interested in visiting here as they are supposed to have a collection of pre-Colombian musical instruments. Unfortunately, that exhibit is being reevaluated and so in its place, there was a small exhibit about Ecuadorian Cumbia. It was still interesting to us based on the fact that we had done the Chilean cumbia experience while we were in Valparaiso. Still, though, we were disappointed that we didn't see the original exhibit as planned.
From the museum, we walked about ten minutes deeper into Mariscal to a craft beer house, Abysmo. We just had beers here (a really nice bourbon stout), but they also serve food. There was also a great musician singing some original tunes and some covers. His voice had a Sivio Rodriguez vibe, although his music was much more singer-songwriter pop than folk or protest.
For dinner, we headed to Parque de las Tripas, which translates to Tripe Park. It's an area with lots of food truck/vendor stands. You would have figured that we'd had enough of tripe after yesterday's dinner, and that is true, but we figured they'd have some good other street food. They definitely did. And the environment was really fun and active with lots of people and families ordering food and hanging out and eating. They even had street performers as well. Eli got a whole tilapia for 5 bucks, and Stephen got skewers and choclo (Ecuadorian corn) with mayonnaise and parmesan for 5 bucks. We hung around for a bit and listened to the music and watched the street performers.
March 16, 2023
We wanted to head today to the Casa Guayasamin and the Capilla del Hombre. We started by thinking we'd take the bus. Google shows bus routes for Quito. There was a stop not too far from our place that would take us right to the sites in about 40 minutes and the appropriate bus was supposed to arrive every 8 minutes (bus number 51). Great, we thought. As we were walking down the hill to the stop, we saw a number of buses pass by, so we thought we were all set. When we arrived at the stop, though, none of the buses had route numbers, only lists of streets and neighborhoods that they passed through. None of that was helpful as we weren't familiar enough with the local geography to get the right bus. We asked three or four bus drivers who passed by if they were the right bus, and none were. We headed over to the BRT station just to see if they knew if the route we wanted passed by the stop we were standing at and they didn't know, we asked a local restaurant owner if they knew and they didn't. After about 5 or 6 buses passing where we asked if they were the right ones and they weren't, we gave up and cabbed it to the sites. We could have taken one of the BRT routes north but we still would have had to cab it up the steep hill about another mile to get to the sites. In all, the cab ride only cost us $5, but we were annoyed that we couldn't make the public transit thing work. When we arrived at the site, we saw buses heading the other direction, so clearly there were buses we could have taken to get there, but we couldn't figure it out.
Oswaldo Guayasamin is the most famous modern Ecuadorian artist (although we had not heard of him previously). He was born in 1919 and died in 1999. His last name translated means "happy white bird in flight". We started at the Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man). The chapel was Guayasamin's final project and he did not live to see it completed. It's designed in the form of an Inca temple, and houses his large scale works relating to the cruelty and the hope of humans. It was really impactful; his art focuses on the hands and the face and is incredibly expressive and emotive (which can sometimes be lacking in modern art). Tours of the chapel (and of his house) are all guided (in English and in Spanish). We then moved on to see the Casa Guayasamin which the artist built in 1979 and where he lived and worked until his death. It also houses his impressive collection of pre-Colombian, colonial, and modern art. We also got to see the studio where he worked, and watched a video of how he painted a famous portrait of a Spanish musician. The man was crazy talented.
We picked up another cab (we've given up on the buses, we think) to head to the Botanical Gardens. The relatively compact but well curated gardens were a nice hour and a half worth of strolling. We ate our picnic lunch and then headed back to the flat. Quito has a brand new metro (just opened last month and so far a single line) that runs up and down the spine of the valley. There was a stop right by the botanical gardens, but the closest stop to our flat is still about 1300 meters all up hill, so we cabbed it back again.
For dinner, we went to La Canoa, which serves traditional Ecuadorian food. We were a little hesitant when we arrived because the restaurant was housed in a hotel, but we were pleasantly surprised. Since it was a bit cold an drizzly, we decided to start with soups. We both had soup with what could only be considered an Ecuadorian version of a matzah ball, made with platanos and stuffed with veggies and shredded meat. The broth was flavorful and just what we needed to warm us up. For our mains, we had different "botas," which are mixes of different traditional Ecuadorian dishes. They both included a goat stew, a shrimp ceviche, and "guata," which we didn't know what it was, but it looked good in the picture. The goat stew, while different from the one Eli had at Modelo, was very tasty. We both tried the guata and didn't particularly care for it. It was a little bland, and kind of chewy. We thought it might be the pork skin dish we had heard about. We looked it up, though, after we had eaten it, and it is actually tripe. Probably not something we'll choose to order again. In all, the meal was $52, which we felt was on the expensive side for what's the Ecuadorian equivalent of soul food.
March 15, 2023
Since we lost out on time yesterday for sightseeing, we worked our way through a lot of the sights in the historic core today. We started at the Basilica del Voto Nacional. This is one of the few gothic revival churches in Latin America, and was built in the late 19th century. The most interesting part of the church is the local flair that they brought to its construction and decoration with the gargoyles shaped like local animals; we saw armadillos, turtles, sloths, etc. We then headed to the church and convent of St. Agustin. The convent was more interesting than the church; the pineapples on the ceiling were a cute local touch, and it is also where the Ecuadorian independence agreement was signed. We then headed to the Church of the Compania de Jesus. We were not allowed to take photos here, and they were really policing it, so you'll have to click the link to the google page about it. It had one of the most gilded interiors we've ever seen.
We decided we wanted to start occasionally doing our main meal at lunch vs. dinner, so we stopped in at Cafeteria Modelo that was recommended in Lonely Planet. We had a wide range of foods recommended by the staff (and Lonely Planet). We had goat stew, empanadas de verde which are made with platanos instead of flour, a tamal (in banana leaf), and a corn cake that we can't remember the name of now. It was all delicious and came to $22.
After lunch, we went next to the Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia. It's a well preserved colonial house with lots of traditional furnishings from the 18th-20th centuries. More interesting, though, was the story of its last owner before it became a museum. Maria Augusta Urrutia, born in 1901, was a from a wealthy family who decided to give her life to service to the impoverished children of Quito. Each day should would work with her staff cooking meals for the youth and sewing clothing to distribute. She was honored many times over by the government of Ecuador. It was interesting to see how she continued to use the historic kitchen of the house along with buying new appliances and incorporating them as they became available. Unfortunately, we couldn't take photos inside here either (although Eli managed to sneak a few), so check out the link to see what we're talking about.
From there we swung by the Casa Sucre, but we missed the guided tour and didn't want to wait until the next one an hour later (we were pissed that the guard didn't mention that we had to go accompanied when we stopped by earlier and it was closed for the docents' lunch hour). We walked down Calle Ronda, a cute well restored cobblestone street, and then up to Museo del Carmen Alto. It was a strange mish-mash of items, some contemporary, some antique, with some modeling of how it would have been used by the Carmelite nuns who lived here (with wax figures included). More interesting was that the were workers there doing painstaking restoration of some of the frescoes on the wall.
Our last stops were the Cathedral de San Francisco, another incredibly gilded church; then on to Santa Catalina, which we wanted to see because the nuns create natural products to sell but don't interact at all with visitors, but it had been closed for the last 3 years; we passed by the Teatro Bolivar to see if there was anything cultural going on while we were in town, but it appeared that it had been damaged by a fire and we hadn't seen anything advertised since December, and then to the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is not that architecturally interesting but famous for the depiction of the last supper where they are eating cuy (guinea pig) and have a llama looking on instead of a donkey. We didn't think the meal really looked much like cuy, but we're including a photo for you here so you can decide for yourselves. We also never saw the llama.
March 13th and 14th, 2023
After LATAM declared bankruptcy, they trimmed their flight schedule, so we could no longer travel leaving from Mendoza in the morning with a single stop in Santiago to change planes and arrive in Quito in the evening; no matter what, we would have to spend a night somewhere. We ended up rebooking to stop in Santiago overnight, and we stayed at the Holiday Inn that is connected directly to the terminal so we could just walk to our flight the next morning, and then booked the flight leaving Santiago at 5:30am through Lima to Quito, arriving at around noon.
When we got up for our flight (at 3am), as we were walking to the terminal, we received a push notification from LATAM that we'd been rerouted and that now we would be traveling Santigo-Lima-Guayaquil-Quito and would not arrive until 4:30. Ugh! It was a long travel day, made slightly easier by the fact that we could stop in the lounges at each airport that are affiliated with Priority Pass, which is one of the benefits offered through our Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. We hydrated, snacked, recharged our devices, and relaxed in (relative) solitude at all three airports.
We arrived and ubered the 1 hour drive to the historic center, where our AirBnB is. Uber seems to be the main platform here, vs. in Mendoza where it was Cabify. Our Uber driver said that they also use DiDi here. There are lots of great neighborhoods for staying in Quito, but we thought we would want to be walking distance from the historic sites here vs. in a more contemporary neighborhood. Our place is up on a hill with an incredible view over the historic core. Our legs, though, may not appreciate us as much after our 5 days here. We walked down to get some fruit (a pineapple, a few guavas, sweet cucumber, papaya, bananas, and passion fruit all for 4 dollars) a fruteria that our hosts recommended, and then got some staples at the supermarket. We cabbed it back up the hill with our bags, though. We were so tired from the travel day, we just made sandwiches for ourselves and headed to bed.