Ten Things We Will Miss When We Leave Ecuador

10. The Farmer’s Markets:
I have always wanted to live somewhere with a year-round fresh food market. The ease of purchasing delicious fresh fruits and vegetables has greatly improved our eating habits. I don’t know what I currently weigh but I know I’ve lost weight since arriving here and a good portion of that is because we are eating fresher, less-processed foods. The avocados, bananas, mangoes, strawberries, oranges, and many other fruits grow year-round and plentifully here and they taste amazing! We visit a market at least once a week to stock up. I have had some of the best fruit salads, smoothies and fresh fruit juices ever while living here. 20140302-201645.jpg20140302-221055.jpg20140302-221617.jpg

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9. The Perpetual Spring Climate
Cory may not agree with me on this one as he’d prefer to live somewhere with 4 seasons but I am not missing winter (and I hear this one has been brutal) and especially not summer! The only issue I have with it is that it’s hard to remember what month it is when the climate really doesn’t change throughout the year. The temperatures can vary from about 45-80F throughout the day and depending on the time of year there may be rain showers every afternoon that last for an hour or two.
Perpetual spring also means a perpetual growing season. That means we can enjoy the above mentioned fruits and veggies throughout the year and gardening is quite a pleasure. And a bonus is that the trees and flowers are in perpetual bloom.20140302-221312.jpg20140302-221411.jpg

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8. The City Parks and Town Squares
Cuenca has a multitude of parks and plazas, providing many opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors. Some of the equipment isn’t always in the best shape but many of them have updated exercise and play structures as well as plenty of green space to allow the children to run off their energy.
I also really love that each town has a square, usually immaculately kept with beautiful flowers, a statue, and possibly a fountain. And on weekends and special holidays they are crowded with families. 20140302-221742.jpg20140302-221753.jpg20140302-221802.jpg20140302-221811.jpg

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7. Walkability of the City
Growing up in the big city of Houston, I am impressed by cities that are easy to navigate via foot. Houston is so spread out and 99% of the year the weather is too unbearable to want to be outside the comfort of your air-conditioned SUV. I love exploring this town on foot, finding historic buildings, street vendors, and quaint shops along the way.
The only caveat to this is that the drivers are not entirely pedestrian friendly. The car definitely has the right-of-way in this town so you have to rush across crosswalks. Plus, drivers cannot be trusted to observe stop signs so you must always be vigilant of the cars here.
If someplace isn’t as close as you’d like, you can always take the buses for $0.25 per person (age 6 and under are free) or a taxi for about $2-3 a ride. And, coming in the next few years, there will be a light rail system in place. I just love places with great public transportation! Hopefully the light rail system will cut down on the diesel pollution from the buses. 20140302-225316.jpg20140302-225302.jpg

6. The Low Cost of Living
This extended vacation would have never been possible without the fact that it costs very little to live here. That is why many North American retirees flock here every year, they can stretch their retirement dollars so much further. Typical rent for a furnished apartment runs between $400-$700 a month, usually including all utilities/cable/Internet. Gas tank refills for hot water, gas stoves, and gas dryers run $2.50 a tank! We can eat a delicious meal at a restaurant for somewhere between $10-30 for our family of 4, depending on the restaurant. Diesel fuel is $1/gallon and we only have to fill up once, maybe twice a month. A trip to the farmer’s market provides us with ample supplies of fruits and veggies for less than $10. Mangoes the size of a my baby’s head are 4-5/$1, strawberries $1/lb, 15-20 bananas/$1. I’m going to miss these great prices and the ability to barter for the best deal.
A trip to the pediatrician cost us $6 and $20 for 4 medications. The dentist charged us $30 to clean our teeth (and that was more than some cost but she spoke perfect English so she catered to the Gringos and therefore charged more). Unfortunately, the low cost of human healthcare means that as veterinarians I shudder to think of the measly income we would make working here. Many people ‘have’ animals but it is uncommon to see them neutered and many of them freely roam the streets, often with a limp most likely a result of being hit by a car and not receiving after care. 20140302-225433.jpg

5. The Gorgeous Landscapes
From the beautiful Andes Mountains, to the azure Pacific Ocean, to the verdant Amazon Region, Ecuador is a country rich in natural beauty and, for the most part, the people here respect nature and take very good care to preserve it’s beauty. 20140302-225602.jpg20140302-225623.jpg20140302-225700.jpg20140302-225714.jpg20140302-225728.jpg

4. Los Ecuatorianos
The people here are hard-working, kind, and laid back. Despite the crazy driving here, road rage does not appear to be an issue. I especially love the indigenous, Quechua people of the Andes. I truly will miss seeing them in their brightly colored skirts, carrying a baby or something even heavier on their backs.
We also love how this is a family-centered culture. You see many people working alongside each other, children, parents, grandparents. Women wear their children on their backs and breastfeed wherever and whenever their child gets hungry. 20140302-225850.jpg20140302-225917.jpg20140302-230146.jpg

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3. The Popularity of Our Daughters
Everywhere we go we hear, ‘que linda’, ‘que hermosa’, ‘que bella’, ‘ojos de los angelitos’, while people old and young stroke their hair and grab their hands or feet. The light hair and blue eyes are quite the hit here. I even forgive them for calling the Miss P a boy because she doesn’t have earrings. Apparently the Ecuadorean girls have their ears pierced when they are 3 days old. Miss E finds the attention a bit overwhelming sometimes but it’s been a great way to keep up with her Spanish greetings. But alas, we will head back to the States where they will blend in with all the other gringitos. But I guess I am glad they aren’t teenagers here as they would probably be rather popular with the Ecuadorian boys, and I’ve seen plenty of public displays of affection at the local parks to be a little concerned about that. 20140302-230243.jpg20140302-230305.jpg

2. The Driving
This is all Cory. Other than the time I reluctantly drove to Loja, I have no desire to drive here. But, according to him, he enjoys the seemingly lack of road rules. Although, just before we moved here, there was a crackdown on speeding resulting in many people being jailed for infractions. So, I wouldn’t consider it a lack of laws, but they are not always enforced.

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1. My City Home and Country Home, the Best of Both Worlds
We were so blessed to have an apartment in a great part of the city as well as full access to my dad’s farm. I’m not a city or country gal as I like both for different reasons so it was nice to have the option to stay at either location. The city offers many great options for entertaining us but the country is a great place to relax and recharge.

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Honorable mentions include
Street Art: these elaborate murals are much more than just ‘I wuz here’ or ‘I heart insert name here’, they are true works of art.

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Ice Cream: there are some good ice cream shops here and we tend to have the mentality that we should stop for some because we are on ‘vacation’. Thankfully we do a lot of walking so we can burn off the extra calories. My favorite has to be Mixx off of San Blas Square. They have delicious creations, including many adult varieties, like Zhumir (an Ecuadorian sweet liquor in a variety of flavors), Bailey’s Irish Cream, wine, and many other flavors. Don’t miss this gem. My only complaint was the spumoni ice cream had candied fruits, not cherries and pistachios like I am used to. It was definitely not my favorite flavor from there. The Almond Joy and Bailey’s were a hit with my taste buds and tummy though.

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Cleanliness: while this is not always true (see my post from our visit to Puerto Cayo) many towns are kept extremely neat and people are constantly sweeping sidewalks and cleaning up stray litter.

Our new friends. We have met many wonderful people from all over that we will keep in touch with forever.

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The conejos (rabbits). Miss E adored her Papa’s bunnies!

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Christmas parades.

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Relaxing.

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Ten Things We Won’t Miss When We Leave Ecuador

10. The Lack of P-Traps
The P-trap is an easy to install, simple invention meant to allow drainage of waste water into the sewer and prevent the escape of sewer gas back out. Apparently, these don’t (or rarely) exist here. So because of this, our social/guest bathroom smells like the entire 4 floors of the apartment defecated in there and didn’t flush if we leave the window and door closed. It probably wouldn’t smell so awful if we regularly used the shower, but we opted to use it for storage since there were exposed electrical wires on the shower head and our landlords left it rather dirty and I didn’t feel like scrubbing/disinfecting two showers. Even a tile placed over the drain doesn’t keep out the stench. Gag!

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The stinky drain. Notice the landlords didn’t bother cleaning it before we moved in.

9. Noise Pollution
Of course, this is mostly an issue in the city. People seem to have no concern for making noise at any time of day or night. They honk their horns, blare their music, shoot off fireworks any time they wish, wear high heels and tap, tap, tap on the tile floor upstairs, let their dogs roam the city, barking, etc. Car and house alarms go off round the clock. The gas man drives by multiple times every day honking his horn. Also, every morning around 4:30 or 5 the street cleaners roll their garbage cans along the uneven streets. My personal favorite, probably because they seem to schedule their drive by our apartment according to the nap schedules, are the trucks that drive by selling fruits and veggies or offering to buy your junk. They blare out advertisements from megaphones atop their trucks, “mandarinas un dolar!”

20140301-072143.jpgOkay, this noise pollution isn’t awful. I would get excited when one of these small neighborhood parades would promenade by. But I have heard that in some neighborhoods the bands may practice at 5 am. I would not be so delighted to hear them that early in the morning!

8. Air Pollution
Diesel fuel is commonly used here. The buses, and they are a frequent form of transportation here, are all diesel-fueled. The fumes are heavy in the air, especially in the city center. You will often see people walking around with scarves wrapped around their faces. There is a permanent black dust present on everything, including our floors.

20140301-071628.jpgBuses are a big polluter and they are also a good reason I hate driving here. In this photo he’s cutting us off.

7. Tile Floors and Having to Constantly Sweep and Mop
See number 8. We have to sweep at least daily and mopping must be done at least twice weekly because a black dust from the diesel exhaust fumes settles on the floors. Plus, tile floors and a new walker are not so fun. And the women here love wearing heels and apparently find it unnecessary to remove them once home, particularly the woman upstairs from us. The call them tacos because they tack, tack, tack on the hard floors.

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My daughter’s filthy socks. We could’ve just mopped and they’d look the same!

6. Overpopulation of Dogs
One of the reasons we’ve decided to head back to the states is it appears that veterinarians are not used very often for what we have been trained to do, treating and preventing illnesses and injuries in animals. It seems very few people neuter their pets or keep them indoors, let alone confined to their property. Because of this, we have seen numerous pets roaming the streets, limping along on a previously injured leg. The veterinary clinics seem to be nothing more than a dispensary and feed store. And even if they are doing an ok business treating animals if the dentist only charged us $25 to clean our teeth, I shudder to think of what measly salary we would make here. I know the cost of living is lower here, but I’m not sure it’s that low.
Also the rampant breeding and freedom of these dogs only adds to the excess noise of the city.

20140301-103140.jpgJust after this photo we met another VERY friendly street dog that kept humping Cory’s leg.

5. Fumbling Through My Spanish
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the opportunity to become more fluent in Spanish. I studied the language for a total of six years in high school and college and grew up in Texas where the Hispanic population has surpassed the Caucasian population. But it has been many years since my last Spanish class. My Spanish has improved since moving here and if I didn’t have the girls I would’ve loved taking lessons to improve my comprehension even further. I envy those that can fluently speak more than one language. But for now it is exhausting having to constantly try and understand what people are saying to me. Often I get the gist of what is being said, or I finally realize what they meant five minutes after they’ve said it. I do have a great appreciation for people that speak slowly and clearly and use their hands to help me understand. I hope I am the same way when speaking English with people that do not speak English as a first language.
I would love to continue learning Spanish once we return. It is a beautiful language and becoming fluent in it is definitely on my bucket list. There are no photos of this but I’m certain I have written many texts and email messages recently that sounded like a drunk 3 year old speaking Spanish.

4. Driving (Jessica)
Cory has grown to love the seemingly lack of road rules, winding mountain roads and aggressive driving. I, however, am quite happy allowing him to drive us everywhere. The one time I drove to Loja was quite enough Ecuadorian driving for me. I find it difficult and hair-raising enough being a passenger.

20140301-071945.jpgOn second thought, driving here is totally safe…just kidding.

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This was an accident a block up from us, one of at least 3 we’ve seen at that intersection in our 5 months here. Most certainly it was because some idiot ran the stop sign, or because the person without the stop sign didn’t warn the person with the stop sign that they were coming through with a courteous honk.

3. Lack of Seasons
While I adore the mild temperatures it is odd not having seasons. Having been in the Southern US most of my life, I am used to having an extra long summer with shorter springs, autumns and winters, but there were still signs of them, even if they only lasted for a couple of weeks.

20140301-071245.jpgIt’s perpetually Spring here.

2. Men Urinating in Public
It is very common to see a car pulled over along the road with a man walking back to it zipping his trousers up, or someone facing a tree, transformer box, or the river, relieving themselves. I even saw a tot at the produce market run out hurriedly, pulling his pants down to urinate in the drain.

20140301-070717.jpg Ok, this is not a man, but it is my child urinating in public. I wasn’t too interested in taking pictures of strangers urinating. It may not have ended well.

1. Lack of or Expense of Certain Products Easily Obtained in the US
Cost of living is rather cheap here. There are many things that can be obtained quite inexpensively. We’ve found that the Coral Hipermercado (basically their equivalent of Wal Mart) had many inexpensive products, most likely things that were rejected from the US. The mis-translated English words on the packaging are entertaining. Some cheap wall decals we purchased for Miss P’s birthday advertised that they were laser flavor. Yummy!
On the other hand, if you want to purchase something like electronics, automobiles, or name brand items (basically any quality items imported from the US) be prepared to shell out a lot of dinero. For instance, a brand new Toyota Hilux (Tundra) with 4wd, and non-power windows will cost you 40K, a set of Igloo coolers, $90, a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter, $6 and a large jar of Nutella, nearly $11. But gas is $1 a gallon for diesel, fruit and veggies cost pennies, and a very filling lunch at a restaurant may cost as little as $3.

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We’re so thankful my dad came a couple times while we lived here and brought us some goodies from the US.

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A couple products I suspect were US rejects. Look how excited that kid appears to have Electric Blocks and I like to call that Barbie (and each one of them looked the same), ‘Go Home, You’re Drunk’ Barbie.

A few others to mention are
Scorpions and their cousins, the giant spiders, at the farm.
Coins, dollar bills are rare here.
Choclo and Mote. These large and white kernel, nearly tasteless corn (similar to hominy) are served alongside and in many dishes here. We definitely look forward to enjoying it’s US cousin, sweet yellow corn.

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Now that I’m looking at the photos I won’t miss the large haba beans either. They’re kinda like lima beans but worse.

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Park Fun

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We visited a couple parks with friends. Parque Inclusivo has equipment handicapped children can use too. That’s a big step since Cuenca has poor access for the handicapped. The other park is Parque Paraiso.

20140225-232734.jpgSeñor J. Isn’t he a cute little guy?

20140225-232813.jpgMiss E’s favorite part of the playground. She loves construction sites.

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20140225-233022.jpgSeñor J and his mommy, Catty. They’ll be having a baby girl in the next few months. I’m sure she’ll be beautiful like her mommy.

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I’ll Let the Photos Do the Talking

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I’m going to miss exploring this city by foot. Lots of packing to be done. We’ll be heading back to the USA next week.

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Baños de Agua Santa

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Miss E always refuses to look at the camera for family photos!

We decided on one last trip in Ecuador before heading back to the US. Baños is in central Ecuador and is named after the hydrothermal mineral springs located around the city. There are many waterfalls nearby and the active volcano, Tungurahua, is a majestic site when the clouds are not enveloping it. It is also close to the Amazon River allowing access to the jungle, which we did not get to see this trip. There are many activities available for tourists in the region, including, but not limited to, canopy tours, mountain climbing, hiking, biking, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, ATV tours, therapeutic mineral springs, waterfall viewings, bungee jumping and bridge swinging, and jungle tours.

20140221-225620.jpgBaños is also known for meolcocha, a type of taffy made from cane sugar. You can watch them stretch and pull it on the wooden hooks in the doorways of the shops. We tried some but I didn’t care much for the extremely sweet, chewy candy.

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20140221-225720.jpgA couple of the animals encountered while exploring.

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20140221-225843.jpgLa Iglesia de La Virgen de Agua Santa. Notice the volcano and waterfalls play a very important part of their religious worship. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared nearby a waterfall, La Virgen, in the city.

We stayed at a lovely eco-hostel called La Casa Verde. For $50 a night (kids under 5 are free) we stayed in a 4 bed room (a double, single, and 2 bunk beds). Guess who slept in the double bed. Yup, Miss E! Our stay included a wonderful breakfast of fresh, local fruit salad, yogurt, granola, fresh made juice (mandarin, blackberry, maracuya, banana smoothie…), homemade bread, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, different varieties of jams and honey. I also had a relaxing hot stone massage for $25. The owners and everyone that worked there were super friendly and very helpful directing us to appropriate activities with the children. They also offered dinner at an extra cost of around $6 but we opted to eat dinner in town while we were there.

Our first day we decided to do the ‘short hike’ up to Bella Vista where there was a nice panoramic view of the city of Baños. The hike up to the view point was basically a climb up the mountain. That’s quite difficult without kids, but downright strenuous with them. I wore Miss P the entire time and Cory had to wear Miss E for a large portion of the uphill climb. I told Cory I was taking it like childbirth, 20 steps at a time then resting in between. The paths are not well marked and we had to ask some farmers where the view point was. They kindly pointed us in the correct direction. They wondered why Cory wasn’t carrying Miss P and I told them because he had been carrying Miss E. After reaching the view point we asked a hiker where another trail led and she told us, Baños. We decided to take it back down. It was a a bit slippery and steep, but no worse than they way we’d come. There was an encounter with an unfriendly dog, but Cory and I were able to keep the family safe while he made his way around us, darting down the trail. After that I wasn’t sure if my legs were shaking from fear or exertion, though I suspect the latter.

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20140221-223059.jpgWalking on her own didn’t last long.

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20140221-223130.jpgLa Chamana Falls from a distance.

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20140221-223203.jpgTomate de arbol tree.

20140221-223212.jpgPeeling a tomate (de arbol) a kind farmer gave us. It did not taste very good. It is normally used to make juice. The juice is sweet and has a hint of tomato flavor.

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20140221-223436.jpgThe view of Baños from Bella Vista.

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That same evening, after resting, we drove up to the La Chamana Falls, a short distance from the hostel. The falls were beautiful and there was even a little path leading down to the base of them. We drove up a little ways from the viewing area and stopped at a hotel/restaurant, Finca Chamanapamba. The place was quite impressive, with lovely natural wood details, stained glass, mosaic floors, terraces. We had a small meal and enjoyed chatting with the owners’ son. They are from Germany and he was born in Ecuador shortly after they came to the country. The menu included some Hungarian cuisine, of which we tried, and enjoyed, the goulash. Miss E and P loved the puppy, Anya. We then headed into town to the La Virgen thermal bath, completely unprepared. Apparently you need towels, soap, shampoo, and a shower cap. But you can purchase or rent these things. So if you find yourself there, take those things with you. The girls enjoyed the pools, but the coolest of them (think hot bath) was rather crowded. If crowds aren’t your thing you may want to skip it or find out when they are not so busy.

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The following day we headed up to see if we could see the Tungurahua Volcano. It is notoriously shrouded in mist but we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it with an ash plume on our way into Baños. And that was the best view of it we had the three days we were there. We attempted viewing the volcano twice our second day there. On our second attempt we arrived at one of the most popular viewing spots, La Casa Arbol, a tree house and swing, just before sundown. A minute or so after climbing up to it the clouds again enveloped the top of Tungurahua. But we did stay for a little while and Cory and Miss E enjoyed swinging over the edge of the mountain for a bit.

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Our final dinner we had in a restaurant called Casa Hood. I was not a huge fan of the Pad Thai but Cory really enjoyed the Mediterranean plate and we were delighted by a lovely French-Canadian band, Tcha-Badjo, that stopped in to play a few songs before heading up the street to play at a local pub. Miss P was happy enough to bounce along to the beat.

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After three nights we checked out of the hostel and took a little drive in the opposite direction of Cuenca. There were a couple more waterfalls to see. If we hadn’t had our bags in the car and it wasn’t so rainy we may have taken the cable car across the river. We were very glad we decided to make the long trek to Baños. It is a beautiful town with so much to offer the traveler. Many things are difficult with young children, but not all are impossible. For now, I don’t mind having an excuse not to bungee jump anyway.

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Pumapungo

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Cuenca is a city with a rich history. It boggles my mind to think of how old some of the structures are here. Bear with me as I’m not a historian but from what I have learned from my trip through the Museo del Pumapungo (Museo del Banco Central) and the wonderful Wikipedia (eye roll), the Cañari were a major inhabitant of the area from around 500 AD. The museum thankfully has translations in English, but with a toddler there is barely enough time to read one sentence unfortunately. I end up taking photos of the descriptions in hopes of reading them later. The Cañari were defeated (actually they peacefully surrendered) by the Inca empire. The Inca commander, Tupác Yupanqui, then built a magnificent settlement, Pumapungo (Door of the Puma) in what is now the city of Cuenca. It was rumored to be quite a glorious sight, filled with golden temples and other magnificent structures. It rivaled the Inca settlement of Cuzco in it’s beauty and may have been the mythical city of gold, El Dorado, the Spanish conquistadors sought. But by the time the Spanish settled here, Pumapungo had been destroyed during the civil war (1529-1532 Ad) between Tupác’s two grandsons, Huáscar and Atahualpa. Therefore, by the time the Spaniards discovered the area, Pumapungo was in ruins. The Spaniards used much of the stone to construct the early buildings of Cuenca.

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On the western outskirts of El Centro (historical Cuenca) lies the ruins of Pumapungo and the museum. The museum offers a look at Ecuador’s vast history and the inhabitants of the different regions of this diverse country. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the costumes and customs of the different groups. Photography is not allowed inside the exhibits so I can only say that you will see the colorful costumes and customs of the people of Ecuador. There are glimpses into the life and history of it’s people. It is free admission and a must-see while you’re here. Without children, I’d suggest about 2-3 hours to explore. If you want to see the ruins too on the same visit allow another 1 1/2 -2 hours. We broke it up into two visits as the children did not last but an hour and a half in the museum. There is a snack bar within the grounds of the ruins, near the aviary in case you want to get lunch while visiting.

The ruins were magnificent. There is a beautiful garden of indigenous plants, a peaceful lake and an aviary full of local birds. It is such a peaceful place in the midst of a bustling city. There were numerous places to stop and take in the serene views, my favorite was under the cover of trees alongside the lake. Whatever you do, if you visit Cuenca, do not miss this gem!

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El Cajas

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So we’re coming down to our final month here in Ecuador and we’re trying to fit as much into this last bit as possible. We had a leisurely visit to the farm last week and then Monday we took a trip out to Parque Nacional Cajas which is a scenic 30-40 minutes from Cuenca, heading toward Guyaquil. We had been mesmerized by it’s beauty on our way from Guyaquil our first day in Ecuador and again we admired it’s majestic landscape, covered in mist as we drove to the Pacific Coast.

We drove to the information area overlooking a large glacial lake. There are several hiking trails throughout this large park. We saw one on the map in the information center that looked fairly easy until the information woman told us it was a five and a half hour hike. Yeah, that ain’t happening with two young kids! So we decided to hike around the lake. I had read reviews about hiking here, that it was difficult even for seasoned hikers, so I figured it best to stay near the visitor’s center. The two hour hike was a bit challenging, especially when carrying a one year old, and even worse if you have to carry a three year old (poor Cory). There were some soggy areas, difficult to find paths, steep climbs and descents, and areas loose dirt making for some unsure footing. Ms. E slipped several times, but all in all we did fairly well. I especially loved the beautiful paper trees as is evidenced by my many photos I took of of them.

After our hike we rewarded ourselves with lunch at Dos Chorreras. The beautiful atmosphere made up for the mediocre and somewhat pricy meal. I wish I hadn’t been too tired to take pictures of the inside, but you can see some on the provided link. It would be a nice hotel to stay at if you were to visit the area.

Our visit to the farm. We love the hammock we got my dad for Christmas!

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El Cajas

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Categories: Ecuador | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Oh, The Places She’ll Go!

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Friday was Miss P’s first birthday. Ever since Miss E had her first birthday I have been obsessed with planning fun parties. I totally blame Pinterest for this. I have been thinking about the party for about 6 weeks now. I get so excited when I settle on a theme and start planning out everything. For Miss E’s first birthday, the theme was hippos because we called her our hungry hippo, but Miss P hasn’t really inspired any nicknames like her sister. But, she has had a very adventurous first year, traveling to 3 continents and 5 countries! So I settled on a travel/Dr. Seuss Oh, The Places You’ll go theme.

Decorations included a map bunting, hot air balloons, globe balls, map flowers and Dr. Seuss quotes. I wish I had a printer here but I had to settle on handmade signs. The gifts were left at the baggage check-in table and favors were picked up at baggage claim. I had a little art corner for the girls to design their own hot air balloon and we ended the party with a canned snow fight. The only decoration I forgot to make was mile markers of places we’d been. Oh well, Miss P didn’t notice.

For food I made hot air balloon sugar cookies with buttercream icing and chocolate ganache details. I made a globe smash cake with stars placed in the locations she visited this year. With the rest of the cake batter I made matching vanilla cupcakes with marshmallow cream icing. I put flag toothpicks in each as a simple decoration. We had vegetable crudités and chips with a sour cream and onion dip, sun dried tomato, spinach and salami pin wheel sandwiches, and fruit salad in a hollowed out watermelon hot air balloon with yogurt and homemade granola. Get the granola recipe here.

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Miss P thoroughly enjoyed her cake. She took awhile to get into but in the end she demolished it and once she removed it all from the platter, she signed for more. At the end of the party the kids took home favors of travel stickers a globe beach ball, a few chocolates and a foam puzzle of South America. We had a great time with new friends and their children. It was another party success if I do say so myself!

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Categories: family, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Russian Food in Ecuador? Why Not?

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Ok, last food post for awhile…I think. There has still been a little rain, but not nearly as bad as last week. This week we’ve met two couples with young girls, new playmates! I’ve been doing some preparations for Miss P’s birthday. With our new friends we’ve doubled the amount of people coming so I am working on some fun stuff. It’s been difficult without a printer. I’m hand writing plenty of things I’d rather do on the computer. Miss P won’t remember it but we’re gonna have fun anyway. I can’t wait to post photos!

So, back to the subject…Russian food, Borscht to be exact. I brought back two very large beets from my father’s farm. Now, I’ve not had much experience with beets. It’s one of those vegetables that tends to be overlooked and shunned by many. My mother swears she loves them, but I don’t recall her ever eating them. Her mom, however, loves pickled red beat eggs. I’ve seen my grandma eat several at one sitting! But me? I’ve maintained my distance from the root vegetable. So why bring them home with us? I was going to serve them up to the kids, of course.

Well, I thought of just roasting them, but then I had the crazy idea of making them into the one thing I knew had beets in it (other than pickled red beet eggs), Borscht. My only experience with Borscht was in middle school while visiting my Russian friend’s home. Her mother had made Borscht and offered to ladle out a bowl for me. I politely declined and ran far away from the strange magenta soup. But now I’m a bit more adventurous and I figured if we don’t like it, we can walk down the road to a restaurant for pizza. So began my culinary adventure.

I searched on Pinterest for some recipes. There were many different variations so I made my own version with what ingredients I had on hand. One of the most important steps to making a good Borscht is to make a good stock from beef or chicken (unless you’re a vegetarian, then a veggie stock will have to do). The more flavorful, the better. My Lithuanian friend, Kristina, gave me this great advice.

Did we like it? No, not all of us, but we all tried it, including my picky toddler. Miss P liked it the first day, but would not eat it after that. Cory ate a small bowl, but I think the look of it turned him off. I enjoyed it, but can say I didn’t like it enough to be the ONLY one in the house eating it. It was a very flavorful soup, not as sweet as I thought it would be, especially with the good stock I made. If you like beets, get some in a CSA batch and don’t know what to do with them, or are just feeling adventurous, I encourage you to try it out. It really was pretty good. My sister-in-law was inspired to make a batch from my recipe. She said it was delish.

Borscht

2 large beets – peeled and chopped (I think next time I will chop them smaller) then toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper
About 2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 small red onion (or two shallots) chopped
1 carrot cut it into matchsticks or coins
2-3 garlic cloves crushed or diced
5 cups stock (beef, chicken or veg) – the richer the stock, the better
1 tsp thyme
1TBSP tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
I roasted the beets at 400 F for 45 minutes. You could also roast them along with the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic (if you do, I’d leave the garlic whole and toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper too). If not roasting all the veg, sautée the onions and garlic for a few minutes in olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add potatoes and carrots. Stir around for a few minutes. Add the broth, thyme, beets and tomato paste. Bring to a boil then simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender. If you roasted the veggies then that shouldn’t take too long. Salt and pepper to taste. I puréed some and left the rest chunky, but pureeing is not necessary. Some people strain out all the veg and serve the broth only. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, heavy cream or goat cheese. You can also top with chopped chives and/or parsley.

Variations:
Several recipes also used 1/2 a head of shredded cabbage. It was sautéed for about 15 minutes before adding it to the broth mixture.
You can also add coriander and parsley.
Several recipes called for red wine vinegar to be added just before serving.
I was lacking all the variation ingredients and Cory doesn’t like cabbage or vinegar. So I didn’t add them.

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Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Huevos de Aji

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I was wanting something a little different for breakfast the other day so I looked through my large breakfast Pinterest Board the other morning. I found a spicy Arabic recipe but it used peppers I could never hope to find here, but it was my inspiration for a new creation. I had plenty of tomatoes that needed to be used before they went bad and tons of potatoes and eggs from dad’s farm and a jar of Aji peppers to add that spicy kick. And the bonus ingredient, pesto sauce, I bought at an artisan’s fair. I’m sure you could omit peppers or use ones that aren’t so spicy. Aji peppers are common around here but I can’t say I’ve ever seen them in the states. You could sub jalepeños, bell peppers, banana peppers or pepperoncinis (or any other favorite pepper). The outcome was a delicious, spicy breakfast dish I will keep with me forever. This summer, I recommend trying it with heirloom tomatoes and homemade pesto!

Huevos de Aji
Makes 2 Servings

1 medium potato
1 Tbsp olive oil
1Tbsp pesto
1/2 a small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced (you may omit this if pesto is garlicky enough for you)
1 Aji pepper (fresh or pickled) finely diced (increase or decrease amount of pepper or try different types of peppers to adjust heat to your liking)*
1 large tomato chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 eggs

Scrub the potato, pierce a few times with a fork and then microwave for 2-3 minutes until slightly soft. Alternatively, you could use leftover baked potato. Chop the potato into bite-sized pieces.
Add the oil and pesto to a small nonstick pan (this would be perfect in a cast iron pan) over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper and stir. Cook for about a minute then press the mix down to a flat layer. Crack both eggs atop the mixture, being careful not to break the yolk. Cover the pan and allow the eggs to steam cook. Cook until the eggs are the desired consistency, about 3-5 minutes. Delicious served with pita bread, but really any type of bread would work. Try it with fresh basil or a little more pesto atop it.

*Removing the seeds and pith (soft spongy inner tissue)from the peppers helps to reduce the heat. Also, be careful after chopping peppers to not touch your eyes (or face). You think onions make you cry…

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20140113-203803.jpgSautée the potatoes, onion and garlic in the olive oil and pesto.

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20140113-203959.jpgCrack 2 eggs on top of the mixture and cover and steam until desired doneness. You can test the consistency by putting gentle pressure on the yolk.

20140113-204206.jpgServe with bread of your choice. I chose whole wheat pita bread.

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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