2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

LONDON

I arrived in London after a short shuttle flight from the Amsterdam Airport to the London Heathrow Airport.  Flying into London took me over the English countryside.  I was amazed at all the open land.  Much of it being used for agrarian purposes. England, not the United Kingdom, but England, itself--minus Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales is approximately half the size of little Ecuador. Yet the population of Ecuador (16,300,000)  is proportionately less than one-sixth the population of England (53,000,000) relative to size.  England is basically the size of Alabama, which has a population of five million.  So you can understand why, with such population density, I was surprised to see so much open space once I flew over the countryside, and later would travel by train outside the London metro area.




My other reason for emphasizing the smallness of England, is the fact that it played such an enormous role in world history.  This little island-country was able to put together the largest empire in the world, so large that it was said that, "The sun never set on the British empire". Some part of the far-flung empire was always experiencing the rising of the sun. 


The Anglos and the Saxons were Germanic in origin, and were among the first tribes to settle in England, which is why English culture is referred to as the Anglo-Saxon culture.

The Romans first set-upped their frontier outposts among the tribal groups of England.  Bath, England, which I visited along with nearby Bristol, has the best preserved-excavated ruins of the Roman era.  With the collapse of Rome, England found itself dealing with incursions of various Viking groups.  The Danes, in particular, had the biggest impact upon England at that time.  The Normans from France would control England and most of Great Britain about 1,000 A.D., which had a big impact upon the way in which the English language developed. The Normans also introduced French feudalism into England. 


The English would eventually develop into a modern nation-state with the Rise of Henry VII and his Tudor dynasty.  Under Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth I, England would become "Mistress of the Sea" with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1688--a title it would possess until the end of World War II when the U.S. Navy became the world's naval power.  During the reign of Elizabeth, under the leadership of Sir Francis Drake, the English expedition was the first of its kind to circumnavigate the earth, an accomplishment first achieved by Magellan, a Portuguese explorer. William Shakespeare also lived, wrote, and died during the Elizabethan period.  From thence on, the British would dominate the French who suffered one embarrassing defeat after another over centuries of warfare, until the twentieth century when the French were at the mercy of the Germans in both World War I and World War II.



The British Empire, like all the European empires began to unravel after the Second World War. Today, Great Britain attempts to maintain its own sovereignty in a struggle for survival against the European Union and the world globalists.



PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS



I found the Anglo-Brits with whom I dealt to be a very polite and patient people.  I was amazed whether they were wait-staff, bus drivers, or security attendants at all of the public building sites--all were very helpful.  The bus drivers, for example, did not rush to get to their next destination, but took time to provide directions. Even if it was necessary to repeat part of the directions to me, they did so without ever showing a hint of irritation, and before the driver would begin the bus to move to its next stop.  The security and guards at all the areas where I needed to engage them, never showed impatience even though they were most likely asked the same questions  by the multitudinous numbers of tourists repeatedly day in and day out.



The buses were very clean, hybrids, and in part battery-operated, as they came to a silent halt whenever they came to a complete stop. The patience of the drivers, the lack of constant bus lurching, and the air and relatively noise pollution-free buses made me yearn for the day that the political will and economic means would make such public transportation a reality in Cuenca. Almost all the buses in London were double-decked, a few actually were two elongated coaches joined together, as I often saw in cities like Chicago.



The subway, known as The Tube, is a magnificent means of transportation, relatively easy to use, and can whisk people rapidly to whatever destination they chose in London.  The transfers are relatively easy, no additional expense; and I bought an Oyster card, where I can put as much funds as I wanted on the card, since no cash is handled either on the buses or by The Tube. There were no long waiting periods.  I never waited more than seven minutes, and it was not unusual to have the next train pull-up a couple of minutes after the last one pulled-out.


I was surprised to discover that I always had to make sure I caught the last subway home, since the system shuts down at 12:30 a.m. As a graduate student at New York University in the late 70's, the city subways operated all night, albeit with fewer scheduled arrivals and departures at night. I assumed that London with a population of about 200,000 more people than the Big Apple would operate its subway system on a twenty-four hour system. Ironically, the weekend after I left, the city officials were to experiment with all-night subway service.  If successful, around-the-clock service would be implemented full-time, which would result in an additional 2,000 jobs created. It was projected that more tourists, as well as Londoners from the outskirts of the city might spend more time and more money in Central London as well.  I must admit, however, I would not want to live in London and ride the congested subways on a daily basis.


Another characteristic I noticed about both the Brits and the Dutch is that generally they have nowhere near the weight problems of Americans, and they do dress better.  The Dutch are also suppose to be the tallest people on average in the world.  The suits that men wear in London, all appeared to be tailored, no off-the-racks, or sports coats as such.


One of the reasons, the Anglo-Brits and Dutch have their weight under control may be because of the focus of many of the population who choose to eat natural foods, and find ways to spice food without high caloric dishes.  Most importantly, fast-food exists primarily for the tourists especially from the U.S.  Few Anglo-Brits and European-Dutch eat at such places with any frequency.


The above photo is an example of at least three major chains in London, which are coffee houses where a customer can buy hermetically-sealed sandwiches in different loaves, with meats or vegetarian, with tasty low-cal natural dressings and spices.  They were always very delicious and very fresh.  The sides, as well, included various salads, yogurts, and bean and grain combinations. Always only fresh juices were served, free of sugars and not watered down.

Finally, another great cultural trait of the Londoners are their love of the pubs. The pubs are just everywhere in the city.  Many of them centuries old.  The are breath-takingly beautiful. The carved wood-paneled walls, the intricate carvings on the ceilings, the elaborate wood-carved bars--all of which would cost a fortune to duplicate in the U.S. or England today.  I wanted to do a blog post just of the pubs, but google photos lost almost all of these pictures.

Various Londoners did explain to me that the pubs are dying.  As hard as it is to believe, I was told there use to be far more pubs. The entire family made a day of it on Sundays, much like the colonial taverns in the U.S. With Anglo-Brits also moving toward becoming a minority population in London, more pubs are fated to disappear with time.  My young friends tell me that it is the older Brits who usually drink ale these days.  The younger Brits prefer stout and beer.  We hoisted a lot of pints almost nightly while I was in London, and I was pleased that as many as ten to twelve beers were offered on draft.



To the right of the photo of John, you can see the beauty and elaborate designs of a pub ceiling in London.

John was my first Spanish tutor when I first came to Cuenca, Ecuador.  He was raised in Spain, and had come to live with his grandmother near Machala, Ecuador before he spent some time in Cuenca.  He has dual citizenship in both Spain and Ecuador, and is now also a legal resident of Great Britain. While in Cuenca his friend, Tim, had visited Cuenca from London. John was an exchange student living with Tim's family in Liverpool when they were both high school students. John moved to London in 2014.  He was the perfect tour guide, and made my time in London so much easier and interesting.  As a retired educator, one of my enjoyments in Cuenca has been the opportunity to have young friends as well as older friends, something which is very difficult to do in the U.S. where an age-segregation mentality is so ingrained.  I also appreciate the friends and contacts like John and Tim that can exist across the miles.






Not everything in London is natural foods.  London is considered to be the most international city in the world.  Every kind of ethnic food in the world is being prepared somewhere in London.  Above is a photo of a small chain of Italian restaurants called Cafe Concerto.  Impressively-designed like something out of Paris in the 1800's.  The food was very good, and the desserts and pastries were decadently awesome, both to the eyes and to the taste.











They would just melt in our mouths, and John and I made at least three trips to Cafe Concerto.








GOOGLE PHOTOS


My next post will present all my photos that Google Photos put in a pre-designed album, which incredibly is all of London and Amsterdam in one album.  I can only tell you that I abhor, detest, and deplore Google Photos.  Oh, did I mention that I also hate them.  I struggled with Picasa for sometime, and just as I was very comfortable using it, Google Photos had to buy-out Picasa. Google Photos completely replaced all the formatting with a totally new program, which bludgeoned me with completely having to learn how to do everything from scratch. This was last year with my photos from my travels in Italy, some of which Google Photo lost.

This year, I cannot believe that Google Photo completely changed their program again, and it's worse.  First, it lost approximately 150 of my photos.  It can take days for the upload of photos to be completed, and it took weeks before their album of London and Amsterdam were composited into one album--over 450 photos.  At least last year, Google Photos had the sense to break-up my trip to Italy into multiple albums.  Furthermore, the photos it chose not to use appeared last year above the albums, where it was easy to drag them into place wherever I wanted them to be, if I chose to add them to the album.  This year, the photos not used in the album are in a different window, and I still don't know how to bring them into the album, since everything I have done to date has been a failed attempt.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg; but you the reader, get the idea.  I know some of the problems are with me.  However, I have wasted so much time that the process has been all agony, and no ecstasy.  I would never recommend Google Photos to anyone. 


With my next-and-last post on my travel, I apologize for so many photos that will be  in one setting.  Peruse them quickly, or make a number of trips to the site and view them periodically. Hopefully, if you wish to see a larger photo, you may be able to click on the photo and enlarge its size.  However, I am not making any promises.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A EUROPEAN HOLIDAY: LONDON AND AMSTERDAM: INTRODUCTION

Traveling is fun.  I can't say enough good things about it. It's been such a thrill for me to visit places that over my life-time I studied from books, viewed in photos, or experienced from television programming and the movies.  I've always been restless, and I've always been curious about almost everything.  Traveling has given me a chance to experience so many different climates and topographies from all over the world--the plant, animal, and weather variations that can never be fully appreciated any other way than to be in the midst of them.  There has been no end to  all the types of people who have crossed my path from all the numerous cultures I have visited who proved so very mind-expanding. The acquaintances and friendships that result from traveling and living abroad; some which were enjoyed momentarily, others which developed into longer friendships is a major plus from traveling.  I am so glad that my openness to new experiences, my love of history, my search for what makes people tick, and my wonderment at why cultures develop as they do; have given me the opportunity to enjoy such an incredible myriad of people, cuisines, languages, and art-forms--all of which I experienced only because I could and chose to travel.

Software programs today bring the outside world into our living room in ways that when I was a youth were unimaginable. Yet, software programs have some distance to go before they can create a virtual world that equates with our mind and our bodies to simulate anything close to actually experiencing the tastes, sounds, smells, touch, and stimulated-feeling conjured from such experiences when we travel. Ultimately, if it were not for my experiences in traveling, I currently would not be living in Cuenca, Ecuador, which would be the biggest miss of my life.

In the distant past, I traveled to what proved for me to be indelibly conscious-raising experiences in the Far East and India in ways I could never have imagined.  In recent years I ventured into parts of South America, and last year I devoted a month to a fabulous trip to Italy. This year, I wanted to travel to something different from Latin American and Mediterranean cultures.  Off I went for three weeks to London, and a week in Amsterdam. Since my one month visit to Italy last year was the first time I traveled to somewhere which was more than just a layover in an European airport, I was looking forward to the continuation of my exploration of Europe and what it had to offer.

I would encourage anyone who is approaching retirement, and has the financial and physical wherewithal and yen to travel, do so while you can. None of us can predict when unexpected health issues may arise. Even if one's health is still good at seventy, one's energy levels continue to dissipate with age, particularly when needed for strenuous and/or long-term traveling.

I handled my month of traveling relatively fine. However, despite six to twelve miles of walking every day for almost all but four or five days of my vacation--and I have the walking-city of Cuenca to thank for my mileage endurance--it does get tiring to have to deal with all the minutia of traveling: Do I have everything. Am I forgetting anything? Is everything logistically-related covered? OMG, the frustration of getting Internets, GPS's, Uber pickups, etc, etc, etc all working, and my brain working with them.  The minutia can really take a toll on a guy my age. So not every minute of traveling is enjoyable, but the beauty of returning and resting from a vacation as the dross falls away, and what I most remember are those aha moments.

As I said, I am restless, and I knew there was no way I could make an eleven hour flight from Guayaquil to Amsterdam and then another additional one hour flight to London without going stark-raving mad in a claustrophobic coach seat. I traveled business with KLM, the Dutch airline, which I was surprised to discover has a slew of flights out of Ecuador to Europe, many of which are non-stop.  I was so happy to learn I could take a non-stop flight, and avoid the Miami Airport, and all of its logistical nightmares. 

The KLM flight attendants were the best.  The ladies were conscientious, and the service was outstanding.  I enjoyed my flight to and from Amsterdam as one of the highlights of my trip, which is the last thing I thought I would ever say about any flight. I actually slept on a flight.  I don't sleep on flights, no matter how long they are.  I could not believe I slept for four entire hours.  I would have slept longer, if the attendants hadn't served breakfast at 4:00 a.m. in the morning Quito time, but which was already 10:00 a.m. Amsterdam time. 

The movie selections were great, with a large array of films from which to choose.  I watched them on the back of the seat in front of me with every genre offered. Before I knew it, with all the seating and leg-room space in Business Class, and the ability to lay out my seat like a bed, take off my shoes, and indulge in some good quality drinks (I hadn't had Chavis Regal in years); the flight felt like it was over in half the time.  

I admit I enjoyed being spoiled, and certainly recognized why the European and American elites are so out-of-touch with everyday people.  This was only business class, imagine how out-of-touch these elites are with their own private jets, etc.  I must admit, however, that Air Italia last year, had the best cuisine I have ever had with any airline I've used. Unfortunately, the Italians have such a terrible reputation for losing passengers' luggage.  Nevertheless, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to fly KLM again.

NEXT:  MERRY OLE ENGLAND




Flying high above the clouds with KLM Dutch Airlines:  (You may notice me with my harp and halo on the center right cloud--okay corny, but what do you expect from a free-read blog.)



Friday, August 26, 2016

VISITING CUENCA: A FIRST TIME EXPERIENCE

Dear Readers,

I haven't posted in quite awhile, and my deep appreciation goes out to the number of people who have emailed me in just the last two weeks alone. Some of them are friends, but most are people I neither know, nor with whom I had any previous contact. These are readers of Cuenca Perspectives by Jim who wondered if I was all right, and why they have not seen any new postings in months. First I appreciate, your interest in my blog posts, and your expressions of support and value that you have found in my writings.  Although the numbers of my international blog audience is quite high, I had no idea so many people are regular readers who look forward to new postings. Second, mass problems with photo program changes, the usual Internet snafus, along with the time it takes to plan a one month trip to Europe, and all the other everyday minutia of life has left me with little time and even less motivation to post.

In the meantime, while touring London for three weeks, and Amsterdam for a week, and just returning a couple of days ago; prior to and while I was gone, my cousin's son, Sam, had spent three months in northern Ecuador living with an Ecuadorian family in a language immersion program.  Sam's father, John, arrived in Ecuador to visit and travel with Sam at the time that I was traveling in Europe. As a result, our paths did not cross.  With John's permission, I have pasted his email written to me during his trip to Ecuador and to Cuenca. Sometimes, for someone like me who has now lived in Ecuador for almost  five-and-a-half years, it is nice to experience Ecuador through the eyes of someone like my cousin, who is  visiting this charming country for the first time:

Dear Jim,
As you can imagine, it was a tremendous disappointment to discover that you would be elsewhere during my trip to Ecuador. But I assure you that my trip was still a thrill. Sam and I did end up visiting Cuenca, flying in Sunday morning and out again Wednesday morning. It’s about as different from Quito as Akron is from New York City, but what a gem. We did some exploring Sunday morning and afternoon after checking into the Casa San Rafael, about four blocks east of the cathedral square. We did some exploring, went to a few museums, and had a terrific dinner before returning to the square where a military band dressed in full fatigues and berets played some outstanding salsa music. (At least I think it was salsa; it’s difficult for me to distinguish between some of the Latin American music genres.) These gents were pretty stern looking, but could they play!


The San Francisco market was in full swing on Sunday and the days following. We even took the bus tour that covered most of the western portion of the city including a stopover at the church atop Camino a Turi. All in all, it’s easy to understand why you find the city and area so appealing. I even bought a panama hat at the hat museum on the bluff overlooking the Riobamba. I wore a generous dose of sunscreen, but the panama was added protection for my ear lobes--and pretty snappy to boot. 


I’m intrigued by some of the shops I saw in Cuenca (as well as Quito) that appear to retail in almost every consumer durable on the market. I like the fact that appliance dealers also find a way to work motorcycles, cotton candy machines and ice cream dispensers into their inventory. During our Monday walkabout we stumbled across a luthier working in his street-front workshop making charangos, fiddles and guitars. That night I got it in my head that I should go back and purchase a charango from him. Sam and I returned the next day and I simply couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a purchase; first, I don’t play a charango (yet) and second, I was concerned how I might bring it back safely on the plane. C’est la vie. 


We didn’t take you up on the suggestion to hire a guide around Cuenca since I’m happiest when just wandering around exploring and watching. But Sam did arrange for a guide to take us around Quito’s old town and markets and (a day after returning from Cuenca) to the Otavalo region. In the end, the sights, sounds and topography were overwhelming, and the seven days went by way too quickly. I want to return with Robin next time. BTW, Sam’s command of Spanish is pretty impressive and, based on my brief experience there, I wondered how you are able to get by in the day-to-day with what you have described as a minimum of Spanish-language ability. I think you are selling yourself short. Neither Cuenca or Quito struck me as easy to negotiate on your own without at least some Spanish ability. In the meantime I hope your trip was fun. And we will meet again; if not in Ecuador then on some water slide in the Dells.

Vayas con Dios Muchacho

John


Dear John,

In response, to your statement about my language skills.  My Spanish is decent. You are right.  One needs some Spanish skills to navigate one's way just through daily shopping, let alone reaching a moderate conversational level.   However, for the five-and-a-half years that I have been in Ecuador, my language skills should be at least highly competent if not fluent, and that is not the case. However, I continue to work on increasing my language ability.  Sam, no doubt, has learned much, as he is learning a new language the most effective way one can by total immersion.  Learning a new language is a great deal of work for beginners.  Something, that people who wish to relocate abroad should give very serious consideration.

Glad that you and Sam enjoyed your time in Ecuador, and look forward, John, to the day you bring Robin with you.










Sunday, April 17, 2016

EARTHQUAKE STRIKES ECUADOR

Last night, Saturday, there was a big quake (7.8 magnitude) along the coast, mainly in northwestern Ecuador in the Esmeraldas area directly across from the Galapagos, which is about a thousand miles from the coast of Ecuador. (Since this post was first published, the epicenter of the quake especially struck Bahia de Caraquez and Jipiigapa, which are towns located in Manabi Province, south of Esmeraldas Province).   Cuenca High Life reports that based upon the number of people who have yet to be accounted, the death toll will easily be over a thousand lost lives.

It was the biggest tremor in my life.  I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and looking out the window when just before 7:00 p.m., things started shaking.  At least for twenty seconds no more than a half-a-minute, the Palermo started swaying back and forth from my left to my right. It was a really cool feeling. I'm glad I could experience it while awake, and looking out the window at the other buildings as well.  A few street lights went out, but most stayed on.  When the swaying stopped, I walked over to the sliding doors in the dining area, and slid the door open. It took another twenty-to-thirty seconds for the building to stop creaking and seeming to settle back into place. I hate to think what may have happened if Cuenca had been at the epicenter of the quake.  I see there was a lot of destruction at the epicenter on the coast. Here, there wasn't anything of which to be fearful. Although if the walls of my apartment began to crack with major chasms, that would have been another story.

Nothing was seriously damaged in Cuenca.  The coast is Zone I for earthquakes; Zone II is the Quito area in the northern Andes, which has many semi-active volcanoes; Cuenca, in the southern Andes, is in Zone III, and has not had a major earthquake in 500 years; and the Amazonias (the Oriente), in eastern Ecuador is the least susceptible area to earthquakes. 

The death toll on the coast continues to climb. Wow, the death toll  was only twenty-eight last night.  Now, the count is over 200, with hundreds more buried in one town, and it is believed that most of them have perished.  

I'm surprised some of you heard about it.  Last night, I could only find any mention of it on CNN on-line before I had gone to bed. Until then, I thought Cuenca had just experienced one of its normal tremors.  I had no idea, our tremor was related to an actual quake on the coast. Even Yahoo with all of its links still had not mentioned the quake this morning.  Marc, who is in Lebanon, heard about it on BBC International, so the story must be getting out there. As I mentioned, there was no real damage in Cuenca. Occasional tremors are not unusual.  Only today, did I realize how extensive the damage and loss of life was on the coast. The loss of lives has been tragic. Thank God, the quake did not strike at the heart of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, which lies south of where the quake struck along the coast.  The death toll would have been at least in the tens-of-thousands. I have no idea what you are reading out there.  Possibly you may be interested in reading something close to Ecuador. Here's a link for those of you who are interested: 

https://www.cuencahighlife.com/earthquake-death-toll-rises-233-hundreds-missing-thousands-police-soldiers-en-route/  

Unfortunately, I was told by an Ecuadorian engineer, who is licensed in Illinois, and who has done extensive work in Chicago; that if a major quake were to hit Cuenca, this is not a quake-proof city.  Most of it would be rubble in a major quake.  I was in Beijing in 1977, and saw the aftermath of just months before of a major quake in that city.  All those one story buildings were nothing but rubbled-brick piled on top of one another.  The Palermo is a new building, which I understand was made to sway with such quake motion to withstand the earth's movements.

I understand there may be more aftershocks.  I would assume that they would affect the coast more so than us here in Cuenca.  However, one never knows. Thanks for all of your inquiries and concern.  Mucho appreciated!

Update (4/23/16) of the aftermath of the Ecuadorian coastal quake can be found on the following link below.  Cuenca High Life will give you a local perspective:  

https://www.cuencahighlife.com/strong-quakes-continue-demolish-buildings-losses-mount-spread-disease-including-dengue-zika-major-concern/ 


The risk of quakes on the Ecuadorian coasts--geological report (5 20 17):

https://www.cuencahighlife.com/coastal-ecuador-expats-educate-ring-fire-risks/ 


https://www.cuencahighlife.com/quake-reconstruction-take-years-says-international-red-cross-president/   (5-30-17)



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR: PART VII: INGAPIRCA

As Milton, Marc, and I left Alusai and continued our southward trek first to Ingapirca and finally to Cuenca, the scenery became lush and green again. We had the advantage of descending from higher heights to panoramic views of majestic splendor along the way. The mountains, the tundras, and the rivers sang out with the beauty of Canar province.  












A visit to Ingapirca also had the advantage of breaking up our ride from Alusai to Cuenca, which otherwise would be about a four hour trek. For many folks and tourists who travel from Cuenca and try to take in the Devil's Nose Train in Alusai and return to Cuenca all in the same day; the trip can be tiring and take eleven hours, which would not include a stop at Ingapirca, where we probably spent about ninety minutes. Besides, Alusai is too adorable of a town, not to spend the evening.




INGAPIRCA  (INCA WALL)



Our arrival to Ingapirca was at mid-day.  It was another beautiful and sunny day.  I had visited Ingapirca once before in July of 2010 when I first visited Cuenca.  I enjoyed the visit then, and will never forget the incredible return ride to Cuenca as new highway construction was taking place, and our driver gave us a ride that would challenge any of the most dangerous roller-coasters in the world for thrills and unabated gasps. My first visit of 2010 was met with a chilly, windy, slightly rainy day.  The visit was still enjoyable. However, with unusually beautiful weather for this trip, it made the visit all the more pleasurable.  Guides are available at the site, and some speak English; but Marc and I had Milton, and Milton was one great guide.




Ingapirca is no Machu-Picchu, but it is the best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador.  Its place of importance helps to explain the pre-Columbian history of the Canari and their eventual loss to the Incas.  The Incas arrived from Peru, which is to the south of what is modern day Ecuador.  With the conquest of Ecuador, the Incas had amalgamated the largest Pre-Columbian empire in all of South America.  The Incas built the city of Tomebamba in what today is modern day Cuenca, and where some ruins still exist. Tomebamba, in size and splendor, was close to rivaling the Inca capital in Cuzco, Peru.  The Incas managed to co-exist with the Canari, and solidified their relationship with marriages among the royal families of the two groups. Unfortunately, for the Incas their dominance over the Canari would be a short-lived duration of mere decades, as the Spaniards would appear on the scene, and conquer the Inca Empire. 




The Temple of the Sun is the focal point and largest remaining structure in the compound, and also the only remaining sun temple in the Inca Empire.  The compound was constructed primarily for religious ceremony and rituals.  The Incas were sun worshipers, while the Carnaris worshiped the moon as their primary deity.  The Incas, who like the ancient Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Mayans, and the Aztecs were great astronomers. All of these group's sophisticated knowledge of astronomy spilled over into the development of very intricate astrological systems as well.


In the above photo, the Incas constructed their foundations and buildings with stones that were sculpted to fit together without any mortar. There are palaces, temples, houses, storage facilities used even to replenish warriors, bathrooms, theatres, sacrificial altars, burial grounds and tombs. 


There is an abundance of guanto bushes (photos below) which grow on the premises.  Their fruit is used as a hallucinogen.  At one time, the drug was given to family members of dead royalty to ease their passage into the netherworld, as they were buried alive with the deceased.







The Incas also developed an underground aqueduct system, which provided water for the entire complex.


                    Now llamas and alpacas graze over the land.



Four days with Milton Chiqui Lopez was not only fun, but also a great learning experience as well. Milton, who graduated from Azuay University, has been licensed in many areas of tourism, which includes eco-tourism. His passion for and knowledge of Ecuadorian history, biospheres, and the various indigenous tribes in Ecuador allow for a fascinating, and all encompassing understanding of Ecuador.  If you are touring anywhere in Ecuador, and seeking a first rate guide, you cam contact Milton at mickytron8@yahoo.com.






                                        Marc and Jim Mola


As we left the compound, we made our way along a trail that took us passed various homes. Indigenous ladies would emerge from some of the homes in the attempt to sell us various handicrafts and antiques.


We arrived at the site of what is known as the Inca Head, which is a natural sculpture that looks very much like the head maybe of an Inca chieftain.




For me, this was the absolute best part of the tour.  The photo below captures a scene that could only be appreciated on a beautiful, sunny day.  Upon my first siting of this scene, it was like an incredible fairy-tale setting, or something out of a movie like Lord of the Rings. Notice the moss-covered house with its steep roof to the right of the photo, surrounded by the meadows, vegetation, and hills.  Oh my God, is that sheep in the meadows?  There must be cows in the corn.




Could this little boy in his blue sweat pants be Little Boy Blue?  He and the other indigenous children, and parents; and yes, even the dogs along the trail were the perfect end to our tour of Ingapirca.




Monday, March 7, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR: Part VI: ALAUSI AND THE DEVIL'S NOSE TRAIN

As we departed from our astounding experience in Chimborazo, we continued our trek southward to the town of Alausi. It would be in this little town of Alausi where the next day we would board the Devil's Nose Train. Our southward trek to our eventual destination of Cuenca continued to decline in elevation.  Our peak for us was at 16,000 feet in Chimborazo. Now as we arrived in Alausi, elevation had dropped to just under 11,000 feet, which was still well above Cuenca's elevation of 8,400 feet, and Quito's 8,600 feet where our trek began.

As we traveled, we came across the oldest church in Ecuador, which was built by the Spaniards in 1534, which was just forty-two years after Columbus' first voyage to the New World.






ALAUSI, ECUADOR





We arrived in Alausi toward early evening.  The most dominate feature of the town is the statue of St. Peter, which most likely is its patron saint, and which hovers over the town from a higher man-made constructed elevation within the city.


Not quite the pearly gates, but close.




 The Nativity Scene is at the base of the statue of St. Peter.


Above is a night view of  lovely Alausi from the base of the statue of St. Peter.




Alausi by night or day had such a magical quality to me, Marc, and our guide, Milton.  If I were a movie producer or a film director, I would not hesitate to use this town for a movie set. 





The next morning after breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the train station, and boarded the 11:00 a.m. trip to Silambe.  It amazes me when I think of the technological challenge the railroad builders faced 100 years ago. They drilled and carved through the mountains, laid track, and measured inclinations for some very steep drop-offs.  Drop-offs, which had to survive  downward thrusts bordering on almost vertical declensions without the train leaving the track, and uphill inclinations that required the power of the old steam locomotives to jugged their way onward and upward as they pulled the coaches behind them. 



As you can see from the above photo, there is a grandeur to the landscape, however, rocky and vegetation-sparse it may be.  Spectacular to see, but for me, not the beauty of the greenery of the mountains and the valleys of Banos-Ambato.



On the train, windows do open.  Looking out the window and shooting photos is about as risky as things get.  Up until the 1990's, people could ride on the roof of the train cars.  Imagine the thrill of those rides.  Needless, to say, people died, and the government eventually removed one more risk to lost lives.



Already, in the photo above, you can see our approach of the Silambe train station.



Tickets are for reserved seating, but don't fret.  Once the ride begins, passengers are constantly moving about.  You will be able to get photos from every possible vantage point.  I must admit, however, that our car was probably half-full that day, so I can't say if maneuverability is as easy on a day when the coaches are filled to near capacity.


As we disembarked, Marc wasted no time making friends.


The next forty-five minutes to an hour was spent at the Silambe stop, before returning to Alusai.  Silambe is a modern facility focused on tourists, with refreshments, a restaurant, and shops.



Marc and I had refreshments in the roof-top restaurant, after a long stair-way climb up the side of the mountain to the restaurant, and of course, to further shops.



Below is an aerial view of the Silambe station from the restaurant.


As we arrived, there were indigenous dancers performing traditional dances that are still a part of their culture today.


I paid little attention to the dancers on our arrival, but after a respite in the restaurant, we made our way down to watch the dancers perform as we waited for the return ride.




The dancers then encouraged the passengers to join them.  The lady with whom I was dancing in the photo below, kept me dancing for ten minutes, until it was time to board the train again.  I very much enjoyed this part of the day.


Upon our return to Alausi, we ate lunch at a local restaurant before we traveled to Ingapirca.



Ecuatorianos are great soup-makers.  Some folks like croutons or crackers sprinkled on their soup,  Ecuatorianos prefer pop corn. 



Approximately three hours should be set aside for riding the Devil's Nose Train.  It is probably best to lodge in Alausi, if you plan to take the early morning train.  We took the 11:00 a.m. ride, and were glad we spent the night prior to our ride in this charming town. We were able to sleep-in until mid-morning, and also have time for breakfast before the ride.  There is also a ride at 2:00 p.m.  

Tickets can be purchased on-line, after filling out a lengthy form of personal information.  Tickets can also be arranged, along with accommodations if necessary, through travel agencies in cities like Cuenca.  If the trains are not filled, tickets can also be purchased on site at the station in Alausi. However, if your are an international tourist or an expat, you must provide your passport number to purchase a ticket.  On-site at the station requires that you show your passport.  If your ticket was purchased on-line, you also need your passport when boarding the train.  Dependent upon the personnel with whom you come into contact at the station, you may or may not be required to show your passport, so cover all bases by being sure that you have your passport with you.

It was early afternoon, and now the three of us still had plenty of time to continue our southward trek, next to Ingapirca--the largest known Inca ruin in Ecuador.