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A Cuenca Ecuador Sat

Sat in Cuenca
We enjoyed our last hotel breakfast in Quito at 4:30am and waited for our 5:00am cab to arrive to take us to the airport. It’s about an hour away and the cab driver had a great music selection and the cost was only $30.00.
The flight from Quito to Cuenca was about 35 minutes and we were presented a basket to choose a piece of candy to enhance our flight enjoyment.
Arriving in Cuenca we hailed a cab and a few minutes later and $2.00 we were at our hotel. The Forum Hotel is located just blocks from the central square and is a beautiful colonial style small boutique hotel. Our room although not large is lovely and steps from our room is a sala containing museum quality pieces of French Provincial furniture, an inlaid painted ceiling presenting a black crystal chandelier, heavy baroque patterned velvet burgundy drapes, an ornate piano and an exquisite subtle but elegant carpet made the perfect final finish. We enjoyed a glass of wine and catch up wifi time in this ambience late afternoon after exploring this beautiful city.
For dinner we found an Italian restaurant called The Jazz Cafe and we enjoyed pizza and pasta. The music didn’t start till a bit later and we opted for a stroll around the central square. We stopped for a while to watch some young men break dancing which was very entertaining and then we did an ice cream evening finale. Que yummo.
We were so ready to sleep.

Friday our last day in Quito

Friday’s Adventures
This is our last Ecuador tour day and after a lively breakfast at the hacienda we headed for Quito. We made numerous stops along the way for volcano photo ops as another perfect day had unfolded for us and the cloud cover had lifted and we were treated to spectacular views of the volcanos along the way. Romy told the folklore of each of the volcanos who represent mythical figures of people who had fascinating stories.
Once in Quito we were taken to the old town, where Wayne and I had walked when we arrived a day early. We went to two churches, one of which was very baroque in style and the entire church (except the pews and floors) was covered in gold leaf. Overwhelming and stunningly beautiful. Next came an empanada and juice stop at Romys favorite little to go vendor. A city tour we were told would not be complete without a stop at the Panama hat store where we learned quality Panama hats are all made in Ecuador. They use to use Panama as a distribution site, hence the name Panama. This distribution manufacturer was the best known and most prestigious with of course the most expensive hats. Sylvester Stalone had purchased one of their custom made hats, at one time, for $27,000.00. No one in our group made a purchase.

Back to the Mercure Hotel where we had stayed in the beginning of our trip. The afternoon was free time so we chose it to take Wayne to a skin Dr as he had a rash on his right index finger that was spreading and starting to swell. Romy walked us to the clinic and we were able to get right in to a woman dermatologist. She did quite an interrogation of his health history and then she wanted an explanation of exactly how he had been caring for this rash. It was cute (maybe not the best descriptive but she made Romy and myself laugh) watching her face cringe as he explained how he had been using alcohol and popping the blisters that had formed. The Dr explained that he had a bug bite that due to scratching had gotten severely infected. She wrote a prescription for antibiotics and two topical creams to use together twice a day after washing the finger with just plain soap and water. Since we were leaving in the morning she asked that we email her on Sun as she wanted to be sure he was healing. (So as to not keep you in suspense I am writing this on Sat around noonish and his finger looks sooo much better already. Success.)

At 6:30pm we all met in the lobby and Gerardo, our driver took us to a nice restaurant for our farewell dinner as quite a few in our group were flying out at midnight. We
Were fortunate to have an 8:30 am flight.
Dinner started with potato soup for Wayne and an empanada for me. Wayne had the pork entree which he was very pleased with. Dessert was an offering of dessert bites. As dinner started so did the floor show of music and dancers which was quite elaborate and extremely well executed. Before the had finished we had to leave as the group going to the airport needed to get on the road. As with any group of 27 every personality was represented and brought a different flavor to the table. So saying goodbye to the group was a bit on the sad side. Lots of hugs all around!!
Off to bed to await the 4:00am wake up call.

Thursday

Thursday
Off on the days adventures….
Our first stop was at a “locals only market” in a town called a Salcerdo. For some of the group it was a bit on the disturbing side as the animals, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs were in sacks, cramped cages or gunny sacks ready for sale along with fruits, vegetables, fish, household goods, clothes and a choice of two elixirs that would cure cancer. Romy wanted us to get a real feel of a non tourist market and this one certainly was it. She confided to me that she bought a new bra at the market for $5.00.
Back on the bus and we were off to Cotopaxi to visit an export Rose farm. The operation, which is one of a few and are all certified and part of a cooperative but privately owned. The workers make about $450.00 a month and work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and are fed breakfast and lunch daily. The entire operation is monitored by computer as the Rose that is exported must be perfect. Each market that they sell to, USA, Russia, Europe etc have different requirements, stem length, thorns or no thorns, leaves or not and some require the addition of greenery and baby’s breath. We were allowed to walk thru the growing houses and also the final production area and the workers were listening to music and it was amazing to watch the workers prepare the stems with virtually no effort and each one was perfect. At the end of the tour we were each given a beautiful stem.
Our next stop was for lunch in the private home of Ieda Lopez, an artist, and were we ever in for a special treat! She has lived here for years in this home she and her late husband, also an artist, had designed. Every nook and cranny contained an original piece of art and we were told that everything in the home, including the home, was for sale. One of the gals, Cindy, bought the table cloth that was on her table at lunch. We were seated in three areas and Ieda had three local ladies helping her serve but she had done all the cooking herself. We started with a tamale that was just a flavorful masa and a pico de gallo salsa accompanied and was the perfect compliment. The main part if the meal was served family style starting with a very flavorful Waldorf style salad, a platter of avocados drizzled with a light honey type sauce, a bowl of creamy flavorful mashed potatoes and the main course was a creamed chicken dish with basil. For the two of us vegetarians we were served, in place of the chicken, half of an avocado which was stuffed with a well spiced garbanzo filling along with our choice from all the sides. The final finish was a frozen custard that was the perfect palate pleaser. Wow, what a meal and we also had our choice of a glass of Chilean (red or white) wine which put the entire dining experience into the “perfect” category for sure.
We were given the run of the house, which was quite extensive, for viewing and shopping. The real highlight was the upstairs master bath almost entirely done in stone. It gave the feel of being outside with nature while having a luxurious experience. I told Wayne that the marble addition is out and it needs to be totally redone in rock!! Can you hear him laughing…he did agree that this bathroom was stunning.

Back on the bus and we headed to another local artist who did the traditional Ecuadorian paintings done in bright acrylic colors and depicting the volcanos, animals and life in the countryside of this beautiful country. While we watched he created a very simple but beautiful painting on the traditionally used cured sheep skin. The tradition started when they made drums and then it evolved into the paintings as the people realized the better marketing opportunity of the small paintings for the tourists. These paintings are seen for sale on the streets and in the markets that cater to tourists and all the artists follow the same style with just slight variations.

On the way to our Hacienda La Cienega, where we will spend the night, we stopped at a commercial dairy farm. The production is done by machine but those who wanted were given the opportunity to try and milk by hand. What a hoot, both for those milking and the rest of us that were watching.
Our hacienda was at one time the former residence of a very wealthy family. Our rooms, which varied from the former owners residence to guest cottages, was done by lottery and as our names were called we picked a room number out of the bowl. When our name was called I sent in “my lucky Wayne” and he drew room number 3 which was absolutely perfect and in the main part. We had a balcony overlooking the beautiful front garden and entrance to the hacienda. There was a small separate sitting area with a desk and large mirror. The only downside was that we had two small beds which has been common off and one during this trip.
Dinner was on our own and we had purchased, the day before, a bottle of cab wine and Rick and Edy had bought a Merlot so we sat in the lobby and shared a little before dinner libation.
During dinner, at the hotel, we were treated to a group of 5 musicians who serenaded us with marvelous Andean music. Yes, another CS was purchased.

I have failed to mention that during this entire trip we have had fabulous weather with any real rain happening at night except for the torrential downpour in the Amazon while most of our group was on the raft. Thank you Pacchi Mama!!!

Wed night addition

Wed night.
This is quite a story of how lemons became absolutely delicious lemonade.
I had described the museum beauty of this hacienda in the last post so we were all quite anxious to see our rooms. The first group were called and a young woman took them to their rooms. The second group was then taken to their rooms and there were 6 remaining couples. Romy mentioned that someone would come and get us for dinner at 7:00pm and then passed out our room keys and a young woman proceeded to lead us to our rooms. Off we went down a path with many steps veering to the left till we came to a bend and headed down to the right for a ways. By now we were all joking about how we would scale the side of this mountain to get to dinner. We were still laughing and joking as we traversed down several more switchbacks till we spotted a long modern building. We all finally made it thru the one entrance and were met with a lounge area with a couple of couches, chairs, TV and what could have been a bar but was now just a piece of furniture. We were still laughing about how we would have one heck if a party after dinner, if we could ever find our way home in the dark.
Each couple went in to check out our rooms and everyone was commentating that it smelled like bug spray. I opened our window hoping to air out the room and went to the lounge area to see if I could get wifi.
A few minutes later Edie came busting out of their room yelling that there was a huge black spider in their room and Rick was trying to kill it. Wayne went in and took a picture and then took it outside to become mulch. As this all was progressing my head was beginning to feel really headache and I never get headaches. After the spider incident Rick also found a sac of spider eggs in their closet. Collectively we then agreed this was not going to work so Edie, Wayne and Jack (an attorney) headed up on the ling trek to the lobby while the remainder of us seriously chatted about our overnight accommodations.So far on this trip we (as you have read) have had exceptionally nice accommodations and this was certainly not meeting our expectations.
I won’t bore you with the details but the six couples were transported to different accommodations that literally knocked our socks off. Fernando greeted us and took us to our rooms which beyond exceeded our expectations!!
Beautiful rooms, chocolates on the pillow, extra super soft alpaca blankets and the sheets had to be a minimum of 1500 thread count as they were beyond luxurious. The bed spread was a hand quilted intricate cotton beige covering. Beyond night time heaven!!
The next morning we had coffee with Fernando and were then transported back to our original hotel for breakfast before we headed out. What a great night.
As a great side note for my shopper friends, there was a beautiful alpaca blanket folded cover the end if the bed that was so colorfully beautiful, soft and snuggly that I just would have loved to have taken home and in the morning I asked Fernando where I could buy a blanket as beautiful as the one draped on my bed and he said he would sell it to me for $20.00. OMG what a screaming deal as I had been tracking on pricing of these blanket treasures our whole trip and he was definitely getting me a deal.

Wed

Wed 11/11/14
We had an early breakfast and on the river heading out of the Amazon by 8:00am.
The seats on the bus are rotated daily with a first come rule except for the front row seats which must not be day in more than once. Yesterday Wayne and I took the front left seats which was a great score as the majority of the day was bus riding and Wayne was able to enjoy his first totally comfortable day on the bus with no cramped legs!

Our hotel (on the Amazon) sent sack lunches and our wonderful chef Pedro, at the lodge, seemed to delight in creating special vegetarian dishes at each meal for Hema and I. Our vegetarian box lunch was not a disappointment for either of us. He made a type of sandwich creation of mashed potatoes which were delightfully seasoned and in the center we encountered the yummy green beans from dinner last night. Fruit, juice, chips and cookies accompanied our lunches and we were able to enjoy at our leisure on the bus.
Our first adventure stop of the day was El Pailon del Diablo (Devils Cauldron) which was a beautiful waterfall but the hike was billed as quite a demanding and somewhat treacherous event so Wayne went with some of the others and I hung with those that stayed behind. Wayne ended up soaking wet from head to toe but had a great time. A bit further down the road we pulled over for a basket (for 8) zip line adventure across the river to a beautiful photo op of a dual waterfall. 16 of the 26 did the ride and the rest of us safely placed cheered them on. It was $1.50 per person which by our zip line standards was quite the deal.
Our next stop was was the town of Puno where we were taken to a factory that made jewelry and figurines out of a nut called Tagua. This nut when dried is as hard and the same color as ivory and there was a great poster in the shop of an elephant with two beautiful tusks of ivory and the writing on the poster said “thank you for saving me!” We were able to watch the artist create a vase and do a lustrous final finish using the nut shavings to polish the outside. After that we were given free time to wander the city till we took off to head toward our hacienda for the evening.
A few of us enjoyed a delicious and significant size pour $4.00 a glass of wine.

Off to Hacienda Leito for the evening. Upon arrival we entered a beautiful hotel that could have qualified for a museum and were greeted by the owner. I will do a separate post for what happened next.

Tues

Tuesday 11/11/14
Today was an early day as most of the group was heading out for a two hour hike in the jungle which Romy described as quite challenging so I and four other ladies opted to stay behind and we did a ten minute walk with a nice young man from the lodge to a butterfly farm. There were 16 different varieties of extremely vibrant colored beauties. We spent about 45 minutes enjoying being surrounded and having them landing on us when we were not moving in the enclosure. On the way back we stopped at a little tienda as a couple of the ladies wanted a coke and we bought one for our guide which he appreciated as it was quite hot already at 10:30am. Back to the lodge to wait for our hikers who were scheduled to arrive around noonish. After the hike they were taking a raft down the river till they encountered the rapid part of the river and then they transferred back to the motor canoe for the final approach to the lodge. At about 11:00am when the Trekkers had just gotten on the raft the sky darkened in less than a couple of minutes and a torrential downpour began and lasted for about 45 minutes. The ladies and I were sitting under cover in the bar area and the wind was so intense that we had to move way back as the intense rain was just blowing in on us. Our poor folks on the raft were being drenched by the downpour and when they arrived back at the lodge were totally soaked to the skin. What an adventure!! They quickly went to their rooms for a shower and dry clothes before lunch. One of the afternoon options was to go on a zip line which we both passed on and retired to the bar area and 6 of us had a great afternoon telling stories. Dinner again was fabulous and we all agreed that we could stay here for an extended stay!!!
After dinner we retired back to the bar for some more wine and more stories. Don’t think we all stopped laughing till we headed off to bed. Another extremely enjoyable day!!

Monday

Mon 11/10/14
On our way out of the Andes and down to the Amazon the clouds lifted and we witnessed a volcano smoking which according to Romy is not a common sight due to the heavy cloud cover that is present most of the year. She said we had some good karma.
At one of the potty breaks there were food vendors and Romy described the contents of the packages of leaves grilling over the hot coals. There was fish, pork and chicken but the highlight was the grubs that were grilling on a stick and still moving. Well of course Wayne and Rick had to try them. Both agreed that they tasted a bit like shrimp except for the crunchy head. Enough said.
Onward to the river edge where we boarded motor canoes for a short trip down river to the lodge. Upon disembarking we climbed a ton (and I’m not exaggerating) of steps up to a beautiful lodge overlooking the river and jungle. A big pool was the center focus and palapa seating areas, a bar with more seating and two covered eating areas surrounded the pool. We arrived around noon and shortly we were served a delicious buffet lunch.
Casa del Swiss is really a great jungle observation environment overlooking the river. The other guests in the lodge are French and I won’t spend time discussing cultural differences but let me just say it’s been interesting in the buffet line at meal times.
The afternoon activity was a trip to an indigenous family home but Wayne and I along with three other couples opted to stay at the lodge and swim and just enjoy relaxing. When the group came back the chef of the lodge did a demonstration of the grilled meats, fish and hearts of Palm wrapped in large leaves. He also had grilled grubs which once again Wayne enjoyed. We spent the remainder of the afternoon bird watching and enjoying the scenery.
Dinner buffet had three different vegetable choices as did lunch with one being my favorite cauliflower in a cheese sauce and baked which was fantastically delicious. Each lunch and dinner always had a potato offering and beef, chicken and pork selections. There also was a table of fancy desserts for a scrumptious final finish.
Great first day in the jungle!!

Sunday in Ecuador

Sunday
We were up early for a 7:00 breakfast and on the bus by 8:00 heading for the Octavalo fruit market. Romy took us in a walking tour and explained all the fruits and vegetables that were not know to us. We then had free shopping time at the craft market for a while. Saturday is the big market day but we still had a lot of vendor options. Next we ventured on to a leather town with blocks and blocks of high end leather options. It reminded us of the leather district in Buenos Aires. Most of the ladies bought beautiful purses and one gal got two pair of boots.
Off again we traveled for a four hour (potty stop every hour for the geriatrics on board) trip to Papallacta resort and spa. Whoa, we were not expecting anything better than last night so imagine going to our room and finding three therapeutic (with no sulphur smell) soaking pools of different temperatures just outside our room. There were just a few rooms around these pools and the other small cluster of rooms each had their own pools. I’m thinking an after dinner, before bed soak will be on the agenda.

Gate 1, our (I thought very budget priced) tour group is really blowing our minds with the accommodations so far!! Most of the meals have been included and very worthy also so far.

We are at about 10,000 ft in the Andes and the clouds are rolling in as I sit on our veranda and write this. Except for our pools of heated water all of the surrounding mountains are covered in clouds giving our area a very intimate and cozy feeling. I know I said this about last night but we both could stay here for a week easy!!

Tomorrow we do our second Amazon trek. Just made me remember we need to take our weekly malaria meds with dinner.

Sat in Ecuador

Saturday in Ecuador
After breakfast we headed up to a spot high above Quito for a beautiful photo op and more history from Romy. Quito has 70 active volcanos and every single day there are between 17 to over 200 tremors of which mostly are under 4 on the rector scale. If you happen to live on the third floor or higher of a building you will have more opportunities to feel the tremors. This city, containing 2 million people, realize that there is a possibility of a volcanic eruption at any time but they don’t dwell on this issue according to our guide.

Next stop was in a neighboring small town along the highway at a sorbet factory. We were each treated to two scoops of our choice and then the young man did a demonstration of making the sorbet. He filled a large shallow metal container with ice and salt and then placed a beautiful rather flat copper pan on top of the ice. He poured a thick fruit purée in the copper pan and then started beating the purée while twirling the copper pan in the opposite direction. Very quickly the fruit started to congeal and presto we were tasting a fresh batch of sorbet. Que yummo!!

Onward to the equator and The Center of the world. We had a good time doing photo ops.

About an hour down the road we went to a women’s cooperative to have lunch. The options were spit roasted cuy (guinea pig) or chicken soup and the lunch choices were pre ordered so lunch was ready when we all arrived. The two of us vegetarians had potatoes with a peanut sauce and avocado for our plate which was very tasty.

After lunch we stopped at the home of a musical family that has international acclaim and when not performing make Andean instruments. We were treated to a demonstration of all the different So American instruments and then the family performed a song from their CD. Great stop.

Onward to the afternoon hike up to a beautiful waterfall before we headed to our hotel, Cabanos del Lago, which turned out to be a paradise on the edge of a lake surrounded by volcanos. We arrived about 5:00pm and after checking out our beautiful cabana we headed for the bar for a little libation. We sat outside on the deck over the water and enjoyed a glass of wine and the brought us some plantain chips, their delicious Ecuadorian salsa and some guacamole to enjoy with our beverage. Shortly a few other couples joined us on the deck. In about 15 minutes a bit of thunder started to rumble and we then noticed the lightening over the mountains. Shortly it began to rain lightly and little by little the rain came down heavier and the winds picked up and even under cover we were getting wet so we all snuggled closer to the building and all enjoyed what was by now a torrential downpour. Pachi Mama at her finest!!! We finally came to our senses and moved into the bar to a air dinner at 7:00pm.

The dinner starter was either potato soup which comes with chunks of cheese and avocado or pumpkin soup (we did one of each and both were yummy) and choices for entree were steak with a baked potato or rainbow trout and the vegetarian option was called a risotto type option made with quinoa and vegetables in a creamy cheesy sauce that was devine. Wayne had the steak and said it was really good.

After a great dinner and conversation we moseyed back to our room as the rain had stopped. We were greeted by a rip roaring fire in our fireplace and snuggled together, in our turned down bed, it looked like a male and female doll which turned out to be hot water bottles dressed to look like a man and a woman. What a great thoughtful touch. I couldn’t believe it but they were still warm in the morning. One quick night here was just not enough. I also have to mention the grounds around the lovely cabanas were beautifully manicured with a man made creek meandering thru out with little foot bridges and a waterfall. Flowers were everywhere and so were the hummingbirds. This truly was a paradise and everyone did not want to leave!!!

A note from along the way:
As a side note while on the newly (this week) reopened Pan American highway which had been closed due to the last earthquake about two and a half months ago which did a lot of damage to this road.
Construction was occurring all over the hillside and just now as we were driving by a cliff that was being excavated we viewed a landslide occurring. It was close to the road and our bus was just ahead of the major dust cloud that occurred which had to have covered the vehicles behind us with dirt.

Ecuador Tour Day One

Tour Time
Our tour started this morning by meeting Romy at 8:00am along with the 25 other members of our group. It was a mix of 50+ age groups with 2 young ladies in their mid 20’s but mainly was top heavy in the silver sector.
We took off for the Mindo Cloud Forest and about two hours from Quito we stopped at a family owned orchid reserve. We hiked for about an hour over very slippery and challenging terrains, foot bridges over the creek but we were treated to a beautiful waterfall and pond believed to have reviving powers and some unusual flowers and breath taking photo ops along the way. Thank goodness for my trekking stick and my Wayne!! Totally worthwhile stop.
Coming from a tour group of 5 in Peru this group of 27 was handled a bit different. There are rules and the most important one is that if you are not on the bus on time the bus leaves without you without any exception. Guess we’ll certainly be on time on this trip!!!
A little further down the road on our bus we went to a restaurant tucked a ways off the road that also had cabanas, a pool and it advertised a spa. The dining area had a floor made of teak wood and shoes were not allowed in the restaurant but we were given little disposable slippers to wear. The room overlooked a humming bird garden and during lunch we were entertained by many different varieties.
Lunch started with a hearts of palm and apple salad that was delicious and was followed by an entree of either farm raised trout (which most of the group had) or grilled chicken. There was a creamy sauce which had a lot of oregano and was very tasty. One other lady (originally from India but lives in New Jersey) and myself had the vegetarian option which was a deliciously seasoned rice dish with lots of vegetables. Perfect option.
After lunch we were able to wander thru the gardens and enjoy the hummers up close and personal. Wayne got a great photo of one iridescent hummer with an extremely long tail. He perched right in front of us and was the perfect model posing for our photos. Really awesome moment!
The trip back out of the cloud forest was really slow as only one lane in each direction and it is the main road to the coast for the trucks.
We had a welcome meeting and drink at 6:15 pm to have everyone meet and Romy gave us the program for tomorrow.
We then took off walking five blocks to the main restaurant and night club district. Being Friday night the main square was jumping with throngs of young people. Romy had suggested a restaurant called Mamas and we decided to try. We were taken to the third floor which overlooks the square and along with a great meal we had a floor show of people watching that couldn’t be beat.
Great day, great evening!!!!