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Archive for March, 2012

The variety of fruits and vegetables in Ecuador are incredible, and incredibly inexepensive.  Problem is, we have absolutely no idea what some of them are, so when we saw a posting on the internet regarding taking a tour through one of the local Indigenous markets, with two local Cuencano women.  We decided it would be fun. 

We met at 10:00 a.m. at the Abril de 12 Mercado, along with 11 or 12 other Gringos.  We stood outside the market and were given a few tips about bargaining, an important one was to not try to get a lower price on what you are buying, but rather try to increase the quantity.  If the vendor offers 4 avocados for a $1.00, say you want 5.  

It was also suggested that we establish relationships with  particular vendors, a sort of “loyalty” program.  The seller will know you are a regular and give you the best prices.  We were told that loyalty goes along way, if your favorite vendor doesn’t have what you need, like cucumbers or something, she will go to a different stand/stall, (sometimes the other vendor might be her sister or cousin) negotiate a good price, and bring the items to you! 

Also, if you make a substantial purchase, maybe $5.00, $6.00, or more, you should ask for a “Yapa” (spelling??), which is a gift,  it may be a couple of tomato’s or a few peaches, just a thank you for your business. 

We also learned that there are little soap operas within these markets, one lady might not like another one, etc.  We were told to be careful and maintain your relationships, if you buy from a vendor, that your usual seller doesn’t like, your prices may go up.  LOL!!

Our guides took us to their favorite Pork vendor, everyone was offered a taste of the roasted pig.  I took a pass on that, but Michael, a guy who is not fond of pork, said it was delicious.  We also got to visit the chicken lady, the beef lady, and the fish lady. 

The fish lady was cool, yelling out stuff like typical fish mongers (We had absolutley no idea what she was saying, but it sounded cool).  Several people bought some Corvina Fillets (Sea Bass), and they were given a “Yapa” without even asking for one.  The Yapa was a little red fish about 4 inches long, we have no clue what the fish was, or how the heck you could get a fillet out of the little thing, but it was a gift. 

The meat areas of these kind of markets can smell kinda funky, but this one was really clean and well ventilated.  We didn’t take any pictures in these sections simply because cow legs, pig heads, hanging slabs of beef, whole or plucked chickens, don’t make a picturesque photo, well, at least not to me.

We have been in three other markets in Cuenca that are similar to this one, however the Abril de 12 Mercado is off the tourist track, a genuinely local market.  We were told the prices here are lower because of that reason. 
I don’t think we saw a single Gringo besides those belonging to our little group.  We attracted alot of attention due to this, some people stared, but most had big smiles.

A few pics from the market:

Vibrant colors, so, so fresh veggies and fruit.

Some of the stalls in the market. 

Every time we have been in these type of markets, you see young children sitting in the booths.

We see sacks of all kinds of different grains in these markets, and again, we didn’t know what they were.  It was interesting to learn about them, we were told that the corn kernels sold here were way better for making popcorn than the stuff you buy in the store, and that the ground corn makes outstanding corn bread.  A pound of the ground corn was $0.30.  I have not tried to make the corn bread yet, but they were right about the popcorn, with this stuff you don’t even need butter.

A pic of me and a few other people learning about the grains.

A picture of the fruits in the market, we love this type of basket.  They come in a huge variety of sizes, we frequently see women of ALL ages carrying Gigantic baskets like these on their backs, hauling an assortment of stuff in the city as well as down the road behind our house.   

One of the Cuencano women that was helping with the tour of the market negotiated the price on a basket for someone in the group.  The facial expressions were hysterical as the two women bantered back and forth.  Our Cuencano guide prevailed.  She got the vendor down to $6.00 from $8.00,
it was a true negotiation.

We moved on through the market, but one Gringa went back and bought a basket on her own.  When she returned to the group the Cuencano woman asked what she paid, and the look on her face was PRICELESS.  She was upset because she knew she could have gotten it for at least a $1.00 less!!

I wish I had brought a pen and paper to take notes!!!! A fruit in this picture is one that we had wondered about when we had seen it markets, it is on the right side of the pic, it is kind of an ivory color with purple stripes.  We now know it is referred to it as a “Dulce” (sweet) cucumber.  We bought one, DELICIOUS.  

A few more pics of fruit we bought in the market:
We purchased  three Granadilla. It was amazing how light weight they are considering their size. You use your finger nail to make a seam around the middle of the fruit and the skin pops off, you remove the pith, and a little mound of what looks like fish eggs are inside, black seeds in sacks of gray liquid.  It looks like something out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, but it is really, really delicious. In a million years I would not have eaten it, just based on what it looked like, but it is  really refreshing.  
The other wierd looking fruit is called “Tuna”, not to be confused with
“Atun” – , Tuna Fish in the States.  Tuna is a Prickly Pear or Cactus fruit.  It is in abundance here, and is supposed to be a great for cure for Diabetes.  One thing that is hard to get used to with alot of the fruit here,  is that the flesh of the fruits, as well as the seeds, are all eaten.  Makes an interesting crunch with the sweetness of the fruit.  
We also bought Taxo’s, known in the states as Banana Passionfruit, Cherimoya (cannot even describe the sweetness, but LOTS of seeds), and Orito, which are tiny bananas, they are wonderful, really rich and sweet.  Sorry, we ate these fruit before taking pictures, too good to wait for. 
The round green fruit in the picture is just simply the local oranges, yeah oranges, I know they are green, but they are juicy and sweet, we have to stand over the sink when we eat them.

This is a close up off the weird looking interior of the Grandailla fruit.
 Michael said that it look’s like something you would find in you Grandfather’s handkerchief.  Way too funny, the fruit is great, you just kind of inhale the sack and seeds. 

The Tuna fruit comes in either red or white flesh, you don’t know until you open it up.

We also learned what area of the market to purchase potatos in. (The “inside” vendors buy from the “outside” potato guys, and then they add a profit, so you should buy from the “outside” potato guys) . 

The variety of potatos here is amazing.  We are going to make Locros de Papas, a typical Ecuadorian potato soup with cheese and avocados – we were told to use the  “Super Chola” type, the big red ones on the bottom left of the pic.

The incredible variety of potatos.   We bought the finger potatos, the little red and white ones in the silver bucket, but I haven’t cooked them yet.

There isn’t alot of “processed” food in our area of Ecuador.  We have learned to make our own salsas, pasta sauces and dishes with local grains such as Quinoa. I substituted Quinoa for rice when I made chicken stuffed red peppers the other day and it was great. I think it is easier to cook than rice, it tastes good and the health benefits are enormous, it is often referred to as a “super food”

Shopping in the local markets for the fresh fruits and vegetables needed for cooking is fun, and interesting.

By the way, the cost of the tour of the market was $5.00, and all profits go to a local charity called “Hearts of Peace”.  They buy shoes, clothing, and blankets for the children of the women that work in the Feria Libre Mercado.   

So, we learned alot, got to try great fresh veggies, meat, fruit and our experience will help children in need.  Can’t beat that. 
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We had been talking about going fishing in the Caja’s ever since we got to Cuenca.  So we decided to do it!!!  We found out where to catch the bus to the Caja’s from a terminal in the city near a market called  Feria Libre. 

We got our gear together, the poles, lures, snacks, warm clothing, Oscar got stuffed into the bag we bought for him in Montanita, and off we went to catch our bus.  It left on time, and our fare to go into the mountains was $1.25 each, we were finally going fishing. 

The bus was filled with Ecuadorians, some Indingenous ladies with HUGE bags of stuff they had bought at Feria Libre, and 3 or 4 other gringos. We traveled about 15 minutes into the mountains and then the bus was pulled over by the Transito Policia.  They boarded the bus, we understood when they said “Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen”, but that was it!!!   The Policia made the bus driver and his helper show lots of documentation. Then after about another 10 minutes the driver said something in Spanish and most of the Ecuadorians walked off the bus and lined up on the roadside.

Michael and I stayed on the bus with a few other Ecuadorians, the other Gringos, and one really mad Indingenous woman, she had TONS of food and grains that had been loaded into the baggage compartment of the bus, food that she had purchased at Mercado Feria Libre.

We had no clue what was happening. We were sitting in the first row, on the right side of the driver, so we watched all the goings on from our seats. I had the little point and shoot camera, but decided that taking pictures of the cops that had pulled the bus over might not be a great idea.

After another 15 minutes or so the bus made a U-turn, it was going back to Cuenca, we got off at this point and Michael asked the “helper” guy what the heck was going on?  He said that the Policia had not given an answer as to what the the problem was, but there was a problem.

Our options were to stay on the bus and go all the way back to Feria Libre, or wait on the side of the rode for a replacement bus into the Caja’s. No one could give us an answer as to when the replacement bus might come, so we decided to go home.  We knew that we were not too far into the mountains, and we would be able to catch a city bus back to our neighborhood, so we scrapped the idea of fishing for the day and waited for a local bus that would take us home. 

Darn, we wanted to go fishing.

A few days later we headed out again, we packed our stuff again, warm clothing, snacks, a few PB & J sandwiches, water and a thermos of coffee, but this time we left Oscar at home.  We walked out to Ordonez Laso, (we now knew that the bus came right by our neighborhood) and we caught the 7:00 a.m. bus. We were off to the mountains. 

We got to the lake in the Caja’s in about 45 minutes. The scenery along the way is unbelievable,  Llama’s, waterfalls, mountains, truly incredible beauty.   We have taken this road before, but it was always like a job – trying to get to Guayaquil. This journey was different, it was the first time we just looked out the window and enjoyed the beauty of the ride, gorgeous.

We got to the area of the park where the lake we were looking for was, so we got off the bus, along with a few other VERY young people. They were going to go hiking. The nice lady in the Ranger station explained the 1, 3 or 5 hour treks and the trails. We just laughed and said we were just going to go fishing in the lake.


The start of our hike down to the lake.  Good thing we left Oscar home, it was a difficult walk down, dodging little streams and rocks, etc.

The quiet and the beauty was overwhelming. 

The trek down to the lake took about 25 minutes, Michael set up our poles and we fished.  It was incredible.  I was thinking to myself that it seemed unbelievable that I was fishing, in the moutains, in Ecuador, trying to get a trout. 

Total Beauty. 
Did I mention it was really cold??
The elevation in the Caja’s is about 4,000 feet higher than Cuenca. 
The flora  is incredible.

Tiny, tiny little beautiful flowers.

Wow, I guess we are not in Chicago anymore. 

Our fishing companions in the Caja’s.

 
We fished for about two hours, and we caught ABSOLUTLEY nothing.  It was pretty cold, we had brought all the right gear except for gloves and our hands were getting pretty cold.  We decided to go home and we started the climb back up to the Ranger station.  It was not going well for me, I got really dizzy and felt pretty weird.  The altitude was getting to me.  I had to sit and just breath a few times.  Michael was great, he grabbed my back pack and helped me along.  Gosh, that made me mad, I thought I was used to the altitude stuff, but I thought I was gonna keel over a few times.  LOL!!!
Yeah, I am smiling in this pic, but totally faking it!!

 LLamas along the way.

While we were fishing we saw a group of school boys trekking around the lake.  When we got back to the Ranger Station, they were heading back up as well.  Michael and I were sitting and eating our PB &J sandwiches and a few cookies.  Michael shared  our snacks with the kids, and that sealed the deal.  We were friends.  They practiced their English on us, and we practiced our Spanish on them. 

We had been told that all we needed to do to get home was to walk out to the road and wait for any bus going by, they would all be going to Cuenca, so that is what we did.

We sat at the bus shelter across the road from the Ranger Station for about 20 minutes, and Perfecto, a bus came by, we jumped on an it brought us home.

We took a trip into the Caja’s mountains, we didn’t catch a fish, but the journey was incredible. 

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We usually make our own St. Patrick’s Day cards, but that isn’t really an economical thing to do from Ecuador, the postage is $2.00 to the US, and delivery can be several weeks, sometimes months before it gets delivered to the States.  So we are sending some pics of Ireland taken during our trips there.  The quality of some of the pic’s aren’t great, most are scans I did on our home scanner.  They aren’t really in any order, but I wanted to start with this one.  My Mom took it of my Grandmother on our first family trip to Ireland in 1971, it was the first time my Grandmother had seen her brother Brian in many, many years.
Brigid King, my grandmother  and her Brother Brian O’Malley
Me at age 11, my Mom , and my Grandmother standing on my Grandmother’s land on Clare Ireland, 1971.
My brother Michael helping to bring in the hay on my Father’s family farm, 1978

 
                                                                     The Free Derry Square, Derry City, Co. Derry Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle at Sunset, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

                                                                                 My Mom sitting in front of Dunluce Castle

                                                                                    The  Custom’s House, Dublin, Ireland

A road leading into Connemara, desolute beauty.
County Galway, Ireland
                            Drombeg Stone Circle, County Cork. 
This site has been Carbon dated to 945-830, B.C.  It is similar to Newgrange in the fact that the recumbent stone is placed to align with the rising sun on the Winter Solstice. 
Glendalough, County Wicklow, a mystical place. It dates back to the 12th century.
Flowers growing in the mist in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.
 A view from the Skelligs, County Kerry, Ireland. 
This monastic settlement dates back to the 7th century.
                                            Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare.  The Dolmen’s are also known as a Druid’s Altars, this
                                            one is believed to have been constructed anytime time between 4,200 B.C.
                                            and 2,900 B.C.

Monasterboice Round Tower and High Crosses, County Louth, Ireland. 

              The complex dates back to the early 6th century

                                 My sister Kathleen and the caretaker at the top of the Round Tower.
 

Our view from the Round Tower, once in lifetime chance!

                                    The Children of Lir Sculpture in the Garden of Rememberance,  the sculpture depicts the legend of the King of Lir, his children were turned into swans. 
 Dublin, Ireland.
                                            Grace O’Malley’s Castle, Clare Island, County Mayo, Ireland.
My Grandmother, Brigid O’Malley, and my father’s Family, The Murray’s, all lived on this Island. 
The “castle” dates to the 16th century.
The Clare Island Lighthouse, County Mayo, Ireland

                         Monument to Michael Collins, this is the place on the road where he was ambushed and  murdered. 

County Cork, Ireland

      Famine Memorial along the River Liffey, Dublin, Ireland.
                    Extremely moving.

Close-up of the Famine Memorial In Dublin.  Such Sorrow.

This is a close-up of the gates to a Famine Cemetery on the outskirts of Sligo Town, County Sligo, Ireland.
      Trees like this are sometimes called famine trees, because they
                                    grow and flourish in harsh condions as did the Irish during the Famine time.
 We don’t remember where we took this picture in Ireland.

      Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Lady of the Lakes, Killarney, Co. Killarney, Ireland

           The Rock of Cashel at dusk, County Cashel, Ireland

The Rock of Cashel, Co. Cashel, Ireland
Red Boat on Killarney Lake, Co. Killarney, Ireland.

Statue on the O’Connell Street Bridge, Dublin, Ireland.

The Infamous Prison in Dublin, Ireland

This is the interior of the prison where the Patriots of 1916 were housed before being executed in the yard area.   
It was also the setting of the movie “In the Name of the Father”.

                                           This is a  view from Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Ireland

Carrying in the Curraugh, Aran Islands, Co. Galway, Ireland

A view of The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland.
A Flower Window Box on the island of Inishbofin, County Galway, Ireland.

Newgrange, a passage tomb. 

It pre-dates The Giza Pyramids by 600 years, and Stonehenge by 1,000 years.  The interior illuminates on the winter solstice.  Some say it was the inspiration for the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when he places his staff in the receptacle in the tomb.

I cannot even begin to give you the history of it.  It is by far the most incredible ancient structure we have ever seen.  Google it, you will be amazed.
County Meath, Ireland.

We hope you enjoyed our little tour of Ireland.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Our home is in a small community.  Most people / taxi drivers don’t even know it exists.  Taxi drivers will comment when they come into our gated community and say it is “Muy bonito”.   Our little enclave is built  along a  river named “Rio Tomebamba”, it is one of the four rivers that run through Cuenca.  The community is a lovely place to live and we can stroll to the river in about 6 -7 minutes from our front door.  

Michael has always been interested in fly fishing so  he ordered fly fishing gear from Orvis and had it delivered to his Mom’s home in Florida.  When we came back from the States after the holidays, we brought our new fly fishing gear home with us.

Michael has gone out to the river several times to practice casting.  He doesn’t really care if he catches a fish, he is out there standing on the bank of a beautiful river, fishing.  How cool is that?

We went fishing together one Saturday morning, and found a place that was suitable for casting the poles, so we fished. 

Rio Tomebamba

Michael in action fly fishing

Me getting ready to make my first fly fishing cast.

Michael chose to stand on a huge rock, and suggested that I stand on an area on the shore where I could cast into a moving pool of water.  I threw a few casts out, lost two lures on rocks and trees (fly fishing means you have to be able to whip the line around, and this place is loaded with Eucalyptus trees).  

Suddenly I felt a tug on my line,  OMG, I had a fish. I got excited and shouted to Michael, he started calling out helpful stuff to me as he came over to my fishing spot.  “Hold the pole up, be gentle, keep pulling the line in”. 

We got a fish.  It was a rainbow trout from the cool, sparkling waters that flow down from the Caja Mountains. 

It wasn’t huge, but we had a nice lunch that day.

My Rainbow Trout

Our plan is to go to the Caja’s National Park next week and try our hand at more fishing.  The Caja’s are beautiful, so even if we don’t catch a thing, it will be a great day trip.

A THOUGHT ABOUT SOMETHING I MISS:

I don’t know why, but the other day I decided that I miss driving a car.  I really, really don’t miss sitting in rush hour traffic on the Interstate, or trying to negotiate snowy, icy streets.  I just miss driving.   

Specifically, I miss the first warm weeks of spring in the midwest, when you start driving with the windows all the way down.  No more warming up the car on cold winter mornings.  The time before the approaching Summer months when you have to blast the A/C.  

For those few weeks in April and May, you get to feel the breeze in your hair and play the stereo a little louder.   I miss that.

Since we have been married we have owned two pick-up trucks, a Dodge Dakota and a Chevy S10, a Honda Accord that my mom gave to us, a Ford Focus Wagon, a Honda Element, a 1994 Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail, and a 1972 Volkswagon Westfalia Camper.  I miss them.

The Harley that we spent many wonderful afternoon and evening rides on. 
It also took us to two Harley Davidson Anniversary Celebrations, the 95th,
and the 100th.

Our Honda Element that we took to go camping and kayaking at Paradis Marin in Quebec 7 times. 
Our Westafalia.  It cracked us up when we drove around in it, kids that were not even born until the 90’s would be giving us the “peace” sign as we drove by. 

It was definitely a Greatful Dead Bus.

You COULD NOT pay us to drive in Cuenca.  The traffic is crazy, it reminds me of what the wild west might have been like. If there is no oncoming traffic, even the bus drivers will make a left on red, and when the light is green, whoever gets to the intersection first, does what ever they want, U-turns, lefts, rights, whatever, and they had better do it fast or the guy behind them BLARES the horn. 
There are lanes painted on the streets, but like stop signs and stop lights, they are really simply suggestions. 

Life in Cuenca means taking buses, cabs or walking.  All are OK.  The buses cost a quarter, and once you know your way around, you can get to most of places you need to go to.  Cabs are inexpensive and most of  the drivers want to help you learn Spanish, or want to practice their English, and walking is great for our health. 

I just miss driving sometimes.


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