Saturday, June 20, 2009

Haciendas and Andean Markets (Otavalo day 2)

Otavalo features a massive market that spills out of Plaza de Ponchos into the surrounding streets. (Market’s on nearly everyday, but the busiest is Saturday.) I haven't seen this much the colours of the marketcolourful woven items in one place in a long time, if ever.  It's super tight negotiating around/between the stalls and tables of hats, baby sweaters, adult sweaters, ponchos, table cloths, scarves, various grains and maize, jewellery and carvings.  The best thing is that the  sellers are not intrusive at all, allowing you to browse fairly freely. Except that when you leave their table then you get the sales pitch and rapidly falling prices.
We bought, with excellent translating services by Ryan: a "Panama" hat for myself for $11 (decent quality given that you can pay up to $600 for them in their hometown of Montecristi on the coast), 3 alpaca scarves for $10, two little figurine paintings ($10, too much), and Julie bought a nice little pullover poncho/sweater, oh and a bunch of baby sweaters for all those newborns back home.
After running out of money, and depending on Ryan to fund some of the shopping, we left for Cotacachi. Wait, one more stop! We luckily parked near the ice cream place that Ryan had been shown previously but had forgotten where it was. The extremely jolly fat man inside creamtook much pleasure in showing off his homemade ice creams - actually not ice cream, but rather more like gelato as there is no  cream, just frozen fruit puree. They taste fantastic. I had a "copa frisky" that's a large cup, half filled with diced fresh fruit (watermelon, papaya, pineapple, banana) topped with strawberry and vanilla helado, then smothered in thick cream. Perfecto! and it's a $1.35!
Unfortunately due to our tight schedule, we couldn't stick around for the fellow to show us how he makes the stuff using a copper bowl placed into a larger bowl filled with straw and ice. Apparently it's pretty neat to see.
Cotacachi is just north of Otavalo and is known for it's leather goods. The main road through town is lined with shops and shops selling all sorts of leather stuff.
Julie went on a shopping spree, buying two pairs of boots and 2 hand bags. Unfortunately I couldn't find any decent men's shoes since the place seems to cater to women. 

Lunch @ Cafe D'Anita on calle Gonzalez Suarez: nice little restaurant, tasty food, good prices. Recommended by other shoppers and now by us!

We had arrived in Ecuador with US$600 and now we have virtually none left after 4 days. For being in a third-world (supposedly cheap) country, we're sure going through money pretty quick! I'm a bit annoyed at how expensive things are looking. Especially for tours out to the Amazonian jungle or to Galapagos (pushing $1000pp each!). But we just need to do a bit more research, as cheaper options are slowly presenting themselves. The sticker shock of Bermuda isn’t nearly what it is here, mostly due to the psychology of it since we’re expecting low prices here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bienvenidos a Ecuador!

The passengers on the plane applaud as the tires make contact with the tarmac after we skim the rooftops of central Quito during our approach to this Andean city. Leaving the customs area we’re excitedly greeted by Julie’s cousin Ryan and his girlfriend Nuala – our hosts for the next few weeks here in Ecuador. A short cab ride and we were at their apartment, naturally decorated in style for them to entertain foreign dignitaries as part of Ryan’s role with the Canadian Embassy here in Quito.

Julie & I spent a couple days getting used to the altitude (~2900m above sea level) helped along by a couple Diamox pills, but either way it feels like you cannot get a full breath of air.  We did manage to get outside the second day and walk around the large Parque de Carolina and play some frisbee without getting too winded.

Both of us were surprised to see the number of American chains here: Papa Johns pizza, Tony Roma’s, TGI Fridays, Chili’s, and all of the clothing store brands in the big [expensive] mall near their place.

First thing we learned about Ecuador is its wacky monetary policy. They dollarized a while back and now use the US$. Nothing weird there until you try to buy a Coke with a $10 bill and the store clerk looks at you blankly and asks if you have anything smaller, or just plain refuses to sell to you because they can’t produce change. They seriously have a lack of physical money in this country. And had we known in advance [Ryan!] we probably wouldn’t have brought in a stack of hundreds, instead cashing them in for rolls of quarters in Miami.

The second thing we learned is they like cheese. Cheese on everything and in everything. Ecuador the home of chocolate, potatoes and bananas, and cheese will go in all three of these. Blocks of chocolate are melted and then blended with small pieces of cheese for a chocolate con queso. Potatoes are mashed and mixed with cheese and fried as pancakes to form llapingachos. Finally, green plantains are sliced down the center, filled with cheese and then grilled to become platanos con queso.  The cheese that most locals seek out is unpasteurized cheese packaged in its own brine. It tastes fine, sort of like dry cottage cheese, but I cannot tell the difference between the flavours of it.

The third thing we learned is that there’s way too much to see and do here. We failed miserably at doing any research before landing here, but fortunately Ryan & Nuala (Nuala mostly) have put together a sightseeing binder after having so many visitors since they’ve been here.  After hashing and rehashing a timetable, Julie & I’ve decided to extend our stay by one week. It cost us the amount of one of our flights down here to make the change, but it will permit us to see most everything and do a little bit of travelling with Ryan & Nuala.

Julie’s Spanish language skills are coming back nicely, so she’s handling the dialogue although I think I’m better on knowing the numbers, just like Ryan can conduct full-on business conversations but Nuala’s better at simple words like “fork” (it’s a tenador).

Anyhow, Ryan & Nuala have set us up very comfortably in their apartment here in Quito. It’s going to prove to be quite handy to be able to leave behind some of our big bags while we go off on small trips around the country. The best perk is their little (quite little, literally) cleaning lady Carmen who tidies our room and does [some of] our laundry in between escapades. We’re so spoiled!

Haciendas and Andean markets

The cultural concert that was scheduled for tonight was cancelled (and then re-instated – that’s Ecuador!), thus Ryan & Nuala became free to take off for the weekend. The embassy office shuts down early on Fridays so we managed to get out of town a [little] bit earlier. Although it took us a while to get going after stopping for a snack at KFC and plodding through traffic. Driving in Ecuador seems quite similar to Malaysian Borneo: two-way traffic on windy roads through the mountains with large slow trucks belching exhaust and crazy people passing wildly on corners. Eventually you join the crazies because you get sick of breathing diesel smoke and also get impatient at going so slow. Otavalo is relatively close to Quito, but the drive takes so long due to traffic.
hacienda pinsaquiHosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui is a historic (tres siglos de historia - 3 centuries of history) hacienda located 5km north of Otavalo on the Panamerican highway. When it was built in 1790 it was originally a textile factory, but then an earthquake levelled most of the place and new owners turned it into a hotel. Revolutionary Simon Bolivar stayed at the place while en route from Quito to Bogota and an  important treaty between Ecuador and Columbia was signed in the room that's now the bar.  It's all pretty neat, and the rooms that were shown to us all smelled really old (that museum smell) but were very nicely decorated and equipped. We chose #6 with two double beds, a fireplace plus the added option of a loft bed above the bathroom.  Since the place is owned by a grandson of a former ambassador, they try to maintain diplomatic relations and as such Ryan’s presence ensured our comfort.
A "surprise" concert was put on for us by a local band of brothers who played traditional Andean music (pan flutes and guitars/mandolins and drum) while we enjoyed cinnamon tea with sugarcane alcohol in it (tasty - a perfect winter drink!) and then were encouraged to dance around while being poured shots of liquorice liquor by Hector. Pretty fun with the small crowd of guests.

We had dinner in the dinner at pinsaquirestaurant with an adorable little Otavaleno lady (standing up she was as tall as Ryan & I sitting down!) as our server. The food (I had Carne Colorada - locally spiced beef) was good and we're getting used to enjoying freshly made juices once again! 
We had some drinks in the room and played cards for hours (Julie never lost “president”) while the fire warmed up the room.

Reservations: Ph: (593-6)294-6116, manager Hector

Photos of this weekend –>

Monday, June 15, 2009

Living the island lifestyle in Bermuda

Click here for pictures of BermudaTo sum up Bermuda: it’s nice here!  Flying in over the turquoise  waters, seeing an odd tall ship sailing in, and then the rainbow of pastel-coloured houses with their white roofs gleaming in the sun, we were pretty excited to be heading towards sun & sand after the cold weather in New Zealand.

Julie’s sister Chantal had been bugging Julie about not visiting her during our around-the-world voyage, however it was Chantal who almost missed the visit due to an off-island volleyball tournament.

Chantal and Rob had a bunch of events lined up for us over the weekend, which turned out to be a long weekend for the Queen’s birthday.  Julie & I had one day to recuperate from the jet lag and relax on the beach before the parties began.

Bermuda was playing host to the Tall Ships this weekend and it put the whole place in a festive mood, along with jamming the place up with tourists. I was pretty happy to see the big boats in the harbour, but since nobody else was all that interested we didn’t go aboard to take more in-depth looks. But they were impressive, sitting in Hamilton harbour with their flags waving.

Tall ships

To visit Bermuda is a good time. Lots to see and do and the people are nice.  To live in Bermuda is a good time too, as from what we found a lot of peoples’ (expats) jobs are pretty slack, after work is golf or drinks, weekends are out on a boat with drinks, or floating in the water with drinks, or out on the beach, with drinks. We came from NZ where pub-culture is alive and well, but these folks give them a run for their money!  Needless to say, that’s what our weekend entailed for the most part.

The ritzy Princess Hotel plays host to an after-work garden party on Fridays where we got to sample the Bermudian drinks of “swizzle” (rum punch) and a “dark’n’stormy” (dark rum with ginger beer).  As the night progressed Julie started ordering swizzles with an extra shot of rum for good measure. By the time we met up with Rob and his mates at the Pickled Onion, we’d swizzled enough.Bobbing along, beer in hand

Saturday saw us sailing on the Sally Bum Bum for another typical Bermudian scene.  The rains spared us in our little bay and it was pretty fun hanging out on the boat, or in the water floating on noodles. It’s weird how drained you feel after an afternoon of floating around drinking beer, but we were knackered when we got home. Which is a good thing becuase we needed to rest up for tomorrow’s volleyball tournament.

Now Chantal plays volleyball seriously as a member of Bermuda’s national team. So she’s good. The rest of us (myself, Julie and Rob) don’t count volleyball among our skill sets. So as the DesBrownskis took to the sands for the beach volleyball tournament we weren’t expecting to do well, at all.  But we managed to pull off a couple wins and occasionally showed good form, coordinating with each other to complete the 3 hits per volley.  Regardless it was a great day on a great beach (Horseshoe Bay) and sweet as to jump into the azul waters to cool off betweens sets. And to wash the sand off.


We capped off our Bermudian vacation with a BBQ at Chantal & Rob’s place. Andrew caught up with an old roommate (Nicole) from university who’s now an islander and learned that there are a bunch of Winnipeggers who’ve decided accounting in Bermuda is better than at home.

As the Tall Ships sailed on, so did we – starting our journey back south of the equator to Ecuador.