Monthly Archives: October 2012

Confusing brands in Cuenca Ecuador

This was our last week in Ecuador, we had a great time in the 6.5 weeks we spent here. We are now off to Machu Picchu for a week and then to the Bahamas for 3 weeks to “unwind” from our vacation.

While in Cuenca, we noticed something interesting — they must have a real affinity for American brands because many stores shamelessly rip off them off.   We first noticed it when walking to the market where we saw a sign that said P.J. Maxx.  The logo was exactly like the T.J. Maxx logo but it was just a small store that sold clothes.  We thought it was funny.  Then we kept seeing others that follow that mantra.  Here are a few:

Would you like to buy your software from Microsoft or Markosoft?

Microsoft or Markosoft?

Don’t think you can buy any burritos from this Chiplote:

No burritos here at Chiplote

Need something for the kids?  Consider Hell Kitty instead of Hello Kitty:

Hell Kitty or Hello Kitty?

Finally, I thought Hudsons was purchased by Marshall Fields.  Guess it tells you how much I know — they just went south to Ecuador!

Hudsons still alive and kicking in Ecuador

We also noticed that you can purchase movies on DVD for a buck.  A buck, really?  How do they do that?  Well, I guess pirating movies here is a really big business.  They have DVD stores on every corner with the latest releases for a buck.  The movie studios must just be cringing.  Hey, consumers love it — similar to using Redbox for a buck but you get to keep the movie!

Ingapirca
In our final week here in Ecuador, we visited Ingapirca — probably the best Inca ruins in Ecuador.  They were impressive.  The Incas were similar to the Romans in that they wanted to dominate the region and they did for many years.  They occupied territory that is now Chile all the way up to Columbia and created the Inca trail that tied their territories together.  The Inca trail spans over 2,000 miles.  Ingapirca was one of the last areas they spread to by taking over lands previously occupied by the Canas.

Ingapirca was built in the highlands with incredible views of the valley.  Here are some pictures, but they don’t do it justice, you really should visit!

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Ingapirca

Notice how well the stones fit together

Ingapirca

Great views of the valley below

While we were visting the ruins, we captured on video an Andean band playing native Andean music. Click the picture below to see the movie. Very cool!

Hasta Luega!

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Spectacular Museums in Cuenca Ecuador

We are spending our mornings sleeping in late, grabbing a bit of breakfast and then visiting a new museum each day (there are so many in Cuenca to visit).   We spend the afternoons in Spanish classes — 4 hours a day.  Don’t believe me? I will translate it in Spanish:

?No hacer creerme?  Yo tranduco la frase arriba.  Nosotros pasomas manana dormemos tarde, comemos daysayuno y visitamos museo nueva cada dia.

OK, if you know Spanish I may have just butchered that but I think the main point gets across.   This week we were walking around to a museum and happened on to this Indian group playing indigenous music.

Indian band

We noticed that they were dressed very similar to Native American Indians, which seemed odd to us because we see indigenous Ecuadorians every day and they do not dress this way.  Our Spanish teacher said that it was not original dress, but the music they played was authentic.  Interesting!

One of the coolest museums we have visited is the Banco Central.  It has an inside museum of indigenous artifacts but also is built on some old Inca ruins.

Inca ruins

Inca ruins

Banco Central Inca ruins

Behind the ruins are some impressive gardens.

Beautiful gardens

In the gardens are fields of indigenous crops.

Crops and beautiful grounds

Next to the gardens is a pond full of fish that is inhabited by ducks and other birds.

Ducks around the pond

Toucan — endangered bird!

We also visited one of the many Panama hat factories this week.  These hats have always been made in Ecuador but are called Panama hats because when the Panama Canal was being built, they ordered tons of hats due to the hot sun and rain.  Since they were being worn so often there, they were dubbed Panama hats.

Making Panama Hats

Panama hats are made the old fashion way. It takes 2 days to make a single hat (the ones that cost between $25 and $250) and 6 months to make really high-end hats that cost $1500.

Can I help?

Once the hats are weaved, they use machines to press them into different styles.

Steam used to mold hats into different styles

Lynn tried to talk me into buying one but I just don’t think I am a hat guy. What do you think?

Not a hat guy

Yep, that’s what I thought!  I did not buy one!

Next week is our last week in Ecuador, then off to Machu Picchu and then the Bahamas.  Hasta Luego!

!Hola from Cuenca Ecuador!

After luxuriating in Banos, we decided to travel south to Cuenca Ecuador to study Spanish and to experience why many Gringos (non-Ecuadorians) have been calling this town “the retirement haven” of Ecuador.   Any of you that have watched Househunters International will probably recognize Cuenca.  In our minds, it is the exact opposite of Quito. Quito is very historic yet we found it to be crowded, dirty and not very beautiful.  Cuenca, on the other hand, is surrounded by beautiful green mountains and it is clean and tranquil.

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Cuenca click here and Chobhi click here.

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is an older city (the Spanish settled it in 1557) and has about 500,000 residents, yet it feels very small.  In 2009, Cuenca was voted the most attractive place to retire and there are now about 4,000 Gringos retired here.  The allure is cost of living and moderate climate.  They have a really well supported expat community with several weekly meetups where you can meet other Americans, Canadians, and Europeans that have settled here.

On our first night, we learned of a Gringo meetup at restaurant “DiBacco Bar“.  Lynn and I went and met about 20 Gringos that have retired here.  Since then, we have seen them all over town.  We went to a local Gringo hangout (called the Inca Lounge) to watch American football last Sunday and we saw many of the same people we had met at DiBacco Bar.

Tomebamba River

Cuenca is cost-effective.  For example, we went to an Italian bistro and ordered 2 pizzas (about 10 inches each), a salad and 2 very large beers and paid a total of $12.   Most people rent apartments for $300 to $500 per month.  We are renting an apartment for 3 weeks complete with a flat screen TV, washer and dryer and kitchen for only $43 per night.   Many people say they live on $1,200 to $2,000 per month comfortably here.

Spanish architecture

The climate is pretty much the same all year around because it is situated close to the equator.   It averages about 50 degrees as a low and 72 degrees each day as a high.  That is a pretty big swing in temperature, so most people wear a light jacket every day.

Since we have been here, it has been hot and sunny in the mornings and cloudy most afternoons.  There is almost no humidity due to it’s 7,500 feet altitude.  I am told there are 2 seasons, rainy and dry — we are just entering the rainy season now, which is why it is cloudy in the afternoons.  For me, I prefer having 4 seasons and I enjoy the hot summer days and crisp winter days we enjoy in Florida.

Lynn enjoying the market (marcardo in Spanish)

Spanish Immersion
Lynn and I have taken some Spanish classes in the past (Lynn more than me) so we wanted to expand our Spanish knowledge.  We have decided to spend almost 4 weeks in Cuenca and attend daily Spanish classes 4 hours per day.  We are now 1.5 weeks into the classes and I have to say we have increased our conversational abilities already.

When you are visiting a country where few people speak English, you really have to adapt and hold conversations in their native tongue. Otherwise you will not be able to hail a taxi, get a hotel room or order meals.  I am surprised at how well we have adapted with the little Spanish we know, but it has forced us to do it which has been great.

Some of the phrases that have gotten us by are:

  • “hola” (hello)
  • cuanta cuesta” (how much does it cost)
  • “la cuenta por favor” (please bring the bill)
  • “buenos dia / buenas tarde / buenas noche” (good morning, good afternoon, good evening).

Incredible Cuenca Churches

Caves of Chobshi
Last Saturday, we took a tour of the caves of Chobshi.  This is about 2 hours east of Cuenca and is very interesting.  Dating back to 8050 BC, the early inhabitants of this town were nomads that moved from place to place looking for food and animals to hunt.  They lived in caves and made ceramics (plates, vases, etc.).  They also make weapons for hunting and protection from invaders (spears, axes, tools, and arrow heads).  In Chobshi, the caves are still intact from that time period and they have excavated many ceramics and tools from the site.

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Chobhi click here.

Caves of Chobshi

Later (around 1500 AD), the Incas took over this area and you can see the ruins left behind.  The ruins were where the Incas lived, worked and held court.

Inca Ruins

In 1557, the Spanish conquered the Incas and replaced most of the Inca buildings with colonial Spanish buildings, which are now present.  They are built with Adobe (bricks made from mud, manure and straw).  The indigenous people still build their homes this way.  When we were in Chobshi, we saw many people making adobe bricks and living as they have for many generations.

Ceramics and Tools

Adobe brick shed

On our way home from Chobshi, we stopped by a family that specializes in hand-made guitars.  These guitars are really impressive and have lots of details with great workmanship.  I really wanted to purchase a guitar for my dad and my brother, but I knew there was no way we could continue our travels while lugging 2 guitars around.  The cost was very reasonable (ranging from $150 to $250 each).   Shipping goods from Ecuador is a bit suspect (they may or may not make it to the intended recipient) so I was afraid to purchase and ship them.

Guitar Store

Hand made guitars

Finishing touches

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Cuenca click here and Chobhi click here.

We are planning a lot more tours while we are visiting Cuenca so we will share some of those over the new few weeks.  After leaving Cuenca, we will visit Machu Picchu, then hang out in the Bahamas for about 3 weeks.

Relaxing in Beautiful Banos Ecuador

We have returned from our two-week trip to the Galapagos, flying back to Quito.  From Quito, we decided to spend Saturday in an indigenous market in Otavalo, Ecuador.   This is where all the indigenous people come each week to sell their wares.  Otavalo is located about 2 hours north of Quito. We took a bus there for $2 each — it was a nice bus with a flat screen TV showing the movie Mission Impossible.

Otavalo, Ecuador

To see a slide show of pictures for our Banos trip, click here.

We enjoyed our day at Otavalo and decided we wanted to have a few days of rest and relaxation. Banos is a city about 3 hours bus ride south of Quito. So on Sunday, we jumped on a bus ($3.50 per person each way) and made our way to Banos. Banos is well-known for its hot springs and massage shops (legitimate massage). It is set in a beautiful setting, about 8,000 feet above sea level surrounded by incredible huge green mountains.

One of the big attractions of Banos is its massive number of waterfalls.  We enlisted a local taxi driver to give us a 4 hour tour of the waterfalls and a tour of the city — all of this cost us about $35 (he wanted $22 but we tipped well).  The first stop of the tour was a huge canyon (about 2,000 feet deep) that had a waterfall driving into the canyon.

Waterfalls of Banos

As you can see, they have a cable car that you can take over the canyon.  But even more fun, they have a zipline that you can take over it.  When ziplining, you can elect to zipline normally or Superman style.  Of course, I elected to go Superman style!   The zipline is very long and about halfway through the zipline, it starts bouncing like crazy!   Then when you enter the end of the route, you come in very fast and it looks like you are going to hit a rock wall but a 14-year-old boy snags the zipline just feet from you crashing into the wall.  Quite exhilarating!

Steve ziplining Superman style

Once we finished the zipline, we journeyed on to another 8 or 10 waterfalls until we ended up at a waterfall that is only visible by hiking about 20 minutes down a canyon.  On the way to the waterfalls, we stopped by a vendor that had huge snake you could take a picture with.  I hate snakes (as most of you know), but Lynn was brave and put the snake around her neck.  You go girl!

Lynn being brave

As we trekked down the canyon for 20 minutes, we knew it was going to be a bear to trek back up.   But the view from the bottom was definitely worth it.  The waterfall gushes down a 240 foot wall and is very surreal to visit.

Gushing waterfall

We ended the day by having a wonderful dinner, Skyped with our boys at college and both had a massage.  We stayed at this wonderful B&B called Casa Verde.  It cost us only $40 per night with breakfast included and it was in a wonderful setting.  Outside of our window were beautiful green mountains that allowed you to just relax and take it all in.  And the massage was incredible.  The massage therapist came to our B&B at 8:30 at night to do it — what great service!  And the massage was only $25 for an hour!

View from our B&B window

To see a slide show of pictures for our Banos trip, click here.

So our next adventure is moving south to Cuenca, Ecuador.  We plan to enroll in a Spanish immersion school where we will take Spanish classes 5 days a week for 4 hours a day.  We will probably stay there for 4 weeks so that we can improve our Spanish.  Hasta Luego!