Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday before Palm Sunday in El Centro

We had plans to meet up with a new-to-us couple for lunch at Don Colon's. We did the same last Saturday and I lamented that I forgot to bring either phone or camera. With a gorgeous sunny day greeting us, I made sure to bring my camera this time.

As expected, downtown El Centro was busy, as it is every Saturday. But this wasn't just any Saturday, this was the Saturday before Palm Sunday. The flower market was exploding with flowers, bouquets, hand woven baskets and palms woven into crosses and other symbols.

Of course there were plenty of vendors for fruits, beans and vegetables as well as those selling freshly pan fried potatoes, coconut, pineapple and more.

We had a wonderful lunch with our new friends and I hope we see them again. Of course we did discover they live right across the street from us...LOL! We had a great lunch at Don Colon's and enjoyed our chatting while the flute players across the street entertained us and the youngster at a neighboring table (and you can see Don also entertaining us in the photo below).

After lunch we stopped at our ATM and then got an ice cream at La Fornace, across the street. I've posted before about their ice cream - it's gone up from $1 to $1.12 (or $2.50 for both with tax). We usually get Malaga, a kind of rum raisin that is quite delicious. This time I opted for Mora which is sort of an Ecuadorian blackberry. YUMMY!!! New favorite for sure, reminds me of Black Raspberry ice cream back in the states.

From there we walked to Rotary Market where I snapped a few photos. We bought a lamp for over the kitchen sink, $16. We started with the one in the photo but them saw the nice rustic orange one and got it instead. I eventually bought a little wooden bowl with a lid, with a wood burned scene on the side, for $6. Also, everywhere we looked, the ladies were knitting/crocheting. The lady is the photo, who let me take her photo, is the one who sold us all our benches, several side tables and more. We also saw large groups of locals scrubbing the benches in preparation for a new staining. We love Rotary Market, always so much to look at!

Next was the mercado for some fruits and veggies (needed to make soup today). We got a head of cauliflower and broccoli for $1.50, 8 bananas for .50 and 2 large bags of strawberries for $2.

Back to the bus stop, home by 4:30. Shortly after arriving home, this is what we saw...soon it we were in a downpour with hail, thunder and lightening. No problem, we were inside, right? Well, except for my leaving my bedroom window open. Two towels and two inches of water cleaned up - the nightstand, floor and wall are all clean. LOL!

All in all, it was about a perfect day. Life is good!

Ciao for now!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day trip involving tequila, friends and water fun!

Yes, I know I still owe you a blog about the Galapagos but I'm still culling through the photos and then have to upload them. So instead of keeping our outings in date order, I thought I'd take you along on our trip yesterday.

We set our alarm for 7am so we'd have time for breakfast. We had loaded our backpacks the night before: money, raincoats, water and snacks. The air was cool so we did our usual layering, hoping that we'd be able to shuck at least one during the day.

We had invited several friends on the trip, most made it, a couple had to cancel due do plan changes or illness. The bus held 40 passengers and I think we had around 30 people show up. Our good friend Emilio was the tour guide - we were all surprised that he was still going since his wife was due to give birth any moment.

We were on the road by 8:45, headed to the town on Oña to visit a local tequila factory, no - farm, no - distiller Angel Salvador Ortega who produces world-class aguardiente de agave in a desert valley south of Cuenca (he can't call it tequila because of an international agreement that tequila can only be used to liquor produced in Jalisco, Mexico).

But back to our ride. The bus was comfortable even if the roads weren't. The rain of the last few weeks has taken its toll on roads all over Ecuador. But that didn't deter horde of thirty plus on our bus!

We rode for about ninety minutes, enjoying the gorgeous countryside. The clouds broke for a while and the sun came out before hiding again. The temperature was comfortable and the conversation flowed freely.

Our first stop was at a local gas station/convenience store. Bathrooms, snacks and drinks! Several locals were selling hot empanadas as well as various snacks of nuts and other things. Some opted for these, others bought things inside the store. While we ate and waited for the bathroom lines to disappear, we were entertained by the huge moths as well as two friendly St. Bernards. They loved having folks around who were willing to share their snacks.

Then it was back on the bus for another thirty or so minutes to our tequila maker. We had an informational tour, I won't bore you with the details but I highly suggest you read this article. Needless to say, the majority of the group enjoyed tasting the tequila, some berry wine they are testing as well as the agave syrup. Then it was time to get in the line to BUY these products. People came out and held their bags holding their purchases as if those the bottles were their babies. ;)

I think the most fascinating part of this is that it's a community project. Everyone collects the juice from their agave plants by tapping the plant and bringing it here to be processed. In Mexico, they have agave farms and they cut off the plant to process it. This little community helps support itself and keeps the plants alive and growing.

We loaded back on the bus and headed off towards our lunch spot. Bottles were stored, some safely, some not so safely as one bag hurtled towards us, hitting the owner of the bag on the shoulder before safely landing in Stu's lap. Phew!! Crisis averted...and most folks opted to remove their purchases from the overhead bins.

We made a side stop for a scenic overlook as we traveled to our lunch spot. It was now drizzling pretty good but the photos were worth it. Back on the bus, it was time for the driver to BACK UP THE HILL to turn around. We held a collective breath Emilio guided him from the back and he managed to get unstuck and headed in the right direction. Second Phew!!

It was after two when we finally stopped for lunch at the Agave Restaurant. Beautiful buildings! The staff was ready for us, taking us one table at a time and sending that table's orders to the kitchen. Everything was freshly prepared and we all left either overfull or with a doggie bag.

Clouds were hanging low over the mountains as we headed towards our final destination, the Girón waterfalls. We wound our way up the mountain, trying to take photos of the views as we approached the falls. Suddenly we could see them in the distance. Higher and higher we wound until we hit the final stop for the bus. To go any higher would require walking and probably getting wet.

Raincoats were donned as well as boots, for those who had been here before. My knee was bothering me so I opted out but Stu paid his dollar and headed up the steps towards the falls. He had made a selfie-stick out of a dowel and his GoPro was primed and ready! About a dozen of us stayed back, took photos of the area, ordered coffee or hot chocolate and waited...

Soon they returned, wet and muddy. A HUGE tree had fallen across the path and they scrambled over it to get further. But according to all who went all the way up, the trip was well worth it.

Once everyone was down, more coffee, ice cream and hot chocolate was consumed and tales were shared.

Loaded back into the bus, another 30 or so minute drive back to Cuenca with fogs and clouds heavy. Once in town, Emilio and the driver made several stops, attempting to get folks as close to home as they could.

Oh, the cost for this? Originally $12 a person plus snacks, lunch and any souvenirs from the tequila stop. What a bargain!!! If anyone is in Cuenca and is interested in taking any tours, I hope you will contact our good friend Emilio Morocho. (email or call 098 699 5694

[Glutton for punishment? You can see ALL the photos in our SmugMug album.]
Ciao for now!
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