Friday, July 23, 2010

Exploring Cuenca

We had a busy few days continuing to explore Cuenca. We visited several very good museums in El Centro and learned a lot about the history of Ecuador and Cuenca. One museum had an amazing collection of indigenous artifacts going back more than 3000 years. From the outside, the museum looked like a little hole-in-the-wall, but once inside, it was huge. It was really fascinating seeing the development of forms of art and pottery through the years.

We also visited Pumapungo, which is an Inca ruin right here in Cuenca. There is an aviary on the grounds -- evidently the Inca kept a zoo of sorts which included birds, jaguars and other animals. Here are a few shots of just a few of the beautiful birds that were in the aviary.

A Tucan

An Amazonian parrot

A Red-tipped parrot
Pumapungo, while no Machu Pichu, is a very interesting site. This was thought to be both a religious center as well as housing for royals. Here are a couple of shots of the Pumapungo ruins.

There's also a botanical gardens at Pumapungo. We are not certain, but we think this plant is quinoa. Its fronds have tiny seeds that resemble quinoa. The plants in the food garden are supposed to be those that the Inca would have eaten. And then, like now, quinoa was an important food crop for the people of the highlands. So, we believe that this is quinoa.

By the way, the quinoa we've made here is delicous. It has a very nutty flavor and reminds me of peanut butter. Yummy!

After visiting Pumapungo, we made our way to our favorite spot, Parque Calderon. We met a very nice Ecuadorean man there. He spoke no English, and our Spanish, though coming along, is still scant. But, we managed to have a long conversation. Turns out he is an electrical engineer, and worked for years with an Italian based company working on electric generation plants in Ecuador. He highly encouraged us to go to Ingapirca, some larger Inca ruins outside of Cuenca, and we definitely plan to do that before this trip is over. We were quite pleased at how much we could understand what he was saying. Of course, he spoke slowly for us. But we are starting to understand more and more Spanish.

Here's a picture of our Ecuadorean friend.

We then tried to walk off some of our overly large lunch by continuing to explore El Centro. We found a block on one street where the shops focused on all kinds of party goods, from decorations, pinatas, fancy party clothes, etc. El Centro streets are often like that. There will be multiple shops catering to the same theme within a block. One block might have more clothing stores, one street fabric shops (beautiful fabrics!, although I haven't found where to buy notions like pins, needles, threads, etc.), another block lots of electronics or appliance stores.

Two bumbs hanging out together on the fiesta street.

Finally, although it's a bit hard to see due to the shadows, here's a shot of the flower market that is open everyday. The flowers are really beautiful, and we're told you can get a lovely arrangement for just a few dollars.

This morning, we walked over to Parque Calderon and caught up with some of our new expat friends. It started raining again today, just a light rain, but that drove us all off to another fine lunch. We thought we'd lose some weight on this trip because we are doing so much walking. But the lunches we've been eating have been so huge (and mostly very inexpensive), so that doesn't seem to be happening. When we are living here though, we won't be eating out everyday for lunch. Almost all of the expats who come here to live lose weight because they start walking more and eating healthier. Although gaining weight on the first trip seems to be normal. Sigh. I was hoping to get a head start and lose ten pounds during this month. You can tell from these photos that that has not happened.

There's a bit of excitement outside our apartment windows right now. Evidently, there must have been some minor traffic accident. There are about 50 people out there all giving their opinions about what happened. Well, I'll tell you right now that there is no way that all of those people actually saw what happened because there are never that many people outside our place at one time. One older woman is pointing to and pulling her white hair while clearly telling off the driver of a cab who was evidently involved. Not sure what her white hair has to do with it. There's no yelling or screaming, but everyone is talking at once and trying to get their opinion stated. Latin America is really a fun place.
Have I mentioned that there is always a reason to party? This week was Simon Bolivar week. Yesterday was his birthday. (For those of you who don't know, he liberated much of South America from Spain.) There have been festivals and fireworks all week. Seems the Cuencanos find lots of reasons for shooting off firecrackers -- big ones. We hear them all the time. It's so common that I don't even jump when one goes off now. Life is a constant celebration in Cuenca!

Until next time,
Gil & Deborah

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