Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Adventure Of A Lifetime

Today is our last day in Cuenca and this afternoon we fly to Quito where we spend our last night in Ecuador and then fly out the next morning to Houston. This has been the trip of a lifetime and I feel so fortunate that I could share it with all of you at home. Isn’t the internet a great thing? We so loved hearing your comments and had just as much fun reading them as we hope you had reading our posts. At times it was almost impossible to keep up with the blog as our days and  many nights were filled with adventure leaving me very little time to write.

I stole away in late hours of the night and early morning hours to try and capture as many memories as possible and put them to cyber paper. There were so many things said and done that there was no way possible to record each and every experience, but it is my hope that I was a able to deliver a detailed synopsis of our trip. The story may or may not end here, but either way we have taken away a lifetime of memories that we will never forget.

Our Last Day In Cuenca

Monday morning it was off to view more real estate and take in more sights of the city. Since we no longer have a driver we are on our own to explore as we please. Every day we set off on foot or via taxi and just go where we wish, most of the time with no direction in mind. Bob is our leader as he is very good with a map, without him I’m afraid we would be hopelessly lost. We all decided one essential piece of equipment that one needs in a strange city is a compass and we will be bringing one next time.

We toured the city on Monday once again scouting out real estate, but came home disappointed. We had decided to focus on the historical downtown area, but the properties we viewed were to pricey. We sat down and talked to Juan (our property person) that afternoon and expressed our disappointment, but told him that we were still be interested in the ruin. Juan explained to us that the real estate in Ecuador is different from the U.S. and a lot of times people set their prices just by pulling them out of their hat so to speak and to not give up. We agreed to look at some more properties in the morning before we had to get to the airport and left it at that.

Tuesday morning proved to be quite eventful. We started by looking at the ruin one last time with two architects to get their opinion. A lot of work and restoration would be needed and I think looking at it this last time overwhelmed us a bit. Juan wanted to show us one last property that had just come on the market so we walked several blocks down the street and arrived at the building. The real estate agent that was showing the property opened the doors and we all stepped in and gasped.

This property made the ruin look like a dump (I know the ruin was a dump, but we saw potential). The property we were looking at now had tons of potential, lots of light and a lot less work for not much more money. An Arch Bishop had lived in this property and the house had been blessed, what more could you ask for? there was even a chapel on the roof. The location was excellent, right in the middle of the historic center and one block from the river. We were all so excited, even the architect was bubbling with ideas. Mom and Bob asked Rod to handle the beginning negotiations since they had to head back to Santa Fe. Rod is the NEGOTIATOR and better at keeping his feelings out of the mix, unlike Mom and myself who have already restored the property and furnished it in our minds.

The Potential Garden

The Front Courtyard

The House Is Built Around The Courtyard

One Of The Many Beautiful Ceilings

Sitting Area

One Of The Kitchens

The Chapel Upstairs

Staircase Leading To The Roof

Entrance Of Tumbled Marble On The Floors

View Of The Blue Domes From The Roof

If  property is purchased in Cuenca that will be a whole blog in itself and should prove to be very exciting. Stay tuned for updates.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Worse Things Can Happen

Last night after a great dinner with our new friends, Maca and Felipe offered to drive us to some small villages the next day where the local artisans set up in the markets. We were all excited to have the opportunity  to go to more  markets and agreed that it would be a lot of fun.

Just when we thought the worst thing that had happened to us was the lost wallet incident, things took a wrong turn for Rod and Myself. Sunday morning Rod woke up with stomach issues, but I felt fine. At breakfast I was giving him a hard time about being wimpy when all of a sudden I was struck with stomach cramps. After an hour or so and countless trips to the bathroom I had to concede to defeat and Rod and I both stayed in the hotel room and nursed our stomach aches while Mom, Bob, Maca and Felipe had all the fun. We really didn’t feel like it was anything we ate, but rather a change in diet our systems weren’t used to. All the meat, fresh juices and fruits were definitely playing havoc with our systems.

When Mom and Bob returned from their excursion they had lots of pictures and told us all about their day and the wonderful places they had visited. By this time we were feeling better and anxious to get out of the hotel room, so we all walked to the restaurant that we ate at the first night and I played it safe and ordered chicken noodle soup (whoopee).

Artisan Weaving

Mom and Maca Looking Through The Goods

Beautiful Textiles

The Wonderful Lunch We Missed

Tomorrow we have another full day of real estate hunting and I’m hoping my stomach settles down.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Exploring The City By Foot

I have realized that we have been in Cuenca nearly a week now and I have failed to give any information about the city. Cuenca is located in the Southern area of Ecuador as the capital of the province of Azuay. It is a well known city due to its writers and artists, its beautiful architecture, the four rivers that shower it, the skillful hands of its artisans and its succulent gastronomy. There are approximately 400,000 inhabitants in Cuenca. The valley where the city of Cuenca is located is defined by mountain ranges of exceptional features. Cuenca is the result of a fusion between three cultures which are rich in symbolisms, tradition and art: Canari, Inca and Spanish.

Last night our hotel recommended an authentic Ecuadorian restaurant not far from us, so we decided to give it a try. The name of the restaurant is Tiestos and run by Chef  Juan Carlos. It just so happened the night that we were there, a large party was sitting close by and come to find out they were the expats that write the blogs that Rod and I have been reading for months prior to our trip. We met one of the bloggers and he gave us his email address so that we could send our blog to him (Yikes I hope I have all my facts right). There was also live entertainment and Mom ended up buying all of the artist’s CD’s and having them autographed. Bob thought the music was a little to loud, but he didn’t have any earplugs, so Mom gave him the cork out of her wine bottle and he cut it in half and stuck one half in each ear.

Chef Juan Carlos

Bob Invents A New Ear Plug

The food was fabulous and we were given an assortment of condiments like nothing we had ever tasted before. There was charred spicy pineapple, spiced mango, some kind of roasted green pepper and an assortment of other condiments that we really didn’t know what we were supposed to do with, but we kept piling them on our bread and eating it that way. When the main courses arrived they were brought out in huge covered clay dishes. We were then served an assortment of side dishes such as rice, potatoes and hominy. Rod’s favorite were the big thick cut potato wedges that were baked with sea salt and parmesan cheese.
We had ordered enough for eight people and by the time we were done there was only one lone beef medallion left which I promptly had boxed up for any stray dogs I may encounter on the way back to the hotel. We all agreed that this would be the restaurant that we would bring Carlos and his Family to the next evening.

Our Dessert

A Fabulous Shrimp Dish

Another Fabulous Dish

Today we set of on foot to explore the downtown area of Cuenca. We started by visiting one of the local food markets. As soon as we walked through the doors our senses were assaulted by all of the colors and smells. There were aisles and aisles of fresh fruit and vegetables as far as the eye could see, many of them we didn’t even recognize. On the top floor there were endless stalls of Ecuadorian “Fast Food” where people could sit at the counter and enjoy their lunch. On the bottom level was all the meet and seafood. It was amazing to see that none of the items were refrigerated, not even the fish.

Pork Anyone?

After the market we set off once again to take in all of the beautiful architecture. We walked several blocks and managed to get lost just as many times. Rod was praying for a red light in order to catch up to Mom and Myself as we sprinted ahead like two little kids in a candy shop. After lunch we walked back to the hotel and dropped Rod off (you know how he enjoys the walking) while the three of us went out again in search of new sights.

So Many Different Styles of Architecture

After a day of sightseeing we joined our new friends at our favorite restaurant. The food was outstanding once again and we all enjoyed the company. When we returned to the hotel, Rod realized his wallet was missing, luckily there was only about $30.00 in it, but still upsetting. The next day the restaurant called to say they had found the wallet, but when it was returned to us it was missing the $30.00. We figured if that was the worst that could happen to us, we had been lucky.

Our New Ecuadorian Friends


Friday, February 19, 2010

Immersing Ourselves In The Culture

Thus far our trip to Ecuador has been spectacular and every day is filled with new sights and sounds. We knew that one of our main goals would be to immerse ourselves in the local culture in order to get a feel of what it would be like to live here on a day to day basis. For the past two days it has been our main focus to learn about the real estate in Cuenca. We have seen a lot of properties and we were quite surprised at some of the prices. Mom and Bob are looking for something to purchase in the very near future, while our plan remains for several years down the road.

A Bouquet Of Roses Only Costs $1.50

Beautiful Church Doors

It seems the raw land near the city is no cheaper than many places in the states and we have all agreed that we want to be close to the city for convenience. A lot of the houses we have seen in the nicer neighborhoods near downtown are quite expensive and still need a lot of renovation. In fact we have seen some houses in a state of disrepair that were asking the prices of houses you would find in the U.S. in much better condition. It is true though that if you want to purchase a brand new condo or apartment overlooking the river with granite countertops and plenty of square footage, you can get a much better deal than in the states.

The realtor has shown us a couple of properties in the downtown area that have really caught our eye. One of the properties is a huge 10,000 square foot building that is in serious need of renovation. We have nicknamed it the “Ruin,” but it has so much potential and a lot of historical architectural elements. This particular property would be a great investment as it could be turned into retail space as well as living quarters. Mom is really Gung Ho on this property and Rod has already volunteered to offer his remodeling expertise whenever we are visiting as this would be right up his alley.

The Ruin

Inside The Ruin

Another Scary Shot Of The Ruin

The Sky Light Over The Central Courtyard

The second property is just down the block and has five bedrooms and five bathrooms and a common living area all of which can be rented for $650.00 a month. The building has already been nicely renovated and is quite a deal.

The Rental

The Rental Kitchen

After a hard day of looking at properties, we returned to the hotel to freshen up and wait for Carlos to pick us up for dinner. Carlos arrived at the hotel with his adorable daughter Gabby. When we arrived at Carlose’s house his Brother Felipe and Sister-In-Law Maca were there as well. Both Maca and Felipe spoke very good English as they had lived in the States for quite some time. The evening was absolutely wonderful, we enjoyed good food, wine and we made new friends.

The Chefs Hard At Work

A Beautiful Meal Complete With Fresh Juice

Good Friends And Good Conversation

We all decided to invite Carlos, Gabby, Maca and Felipe out to dinner on Saturday to show them how much we appreciated their hospitality and they happily accepted.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our First Day In Cuenca

Our first day in Cuenca was spent familiarizing ourselves with the city. Carlos would be with us this one last day to show us around and help us learn the lay of the land. We started the day with the typical breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, bread, homemade jam and of course “Cafe Con Leche.” While we ate breakfast we were fortunate enough to meet the owners of the Casa Ordonez which is the hotel we are staying at for the rest of our trip.

La Casa Ordonez

The Casa Ordonez is a small friendly boutique hotel in the heart of Cuenca, Ecuador and is an Old Spanish home, that has been in the familly for over 100 years. There are about ten rooms on two levels and they all surround a common court yard. It is an old house with creaky floors and yes you do hear every footstep. There is no sleeping in, because as soon as the first guest is awake everyone is awake, but that doesn’t seem to bother us as we are so excited with what new adventure each day holds that we can’t sleep anyway.

2nd Floor


After breakfast we took a short walk down the street to do some investigating on our own while we waited for Carlos to pick us up. It was immediately apparent that Cuenca had a very busy downtown. It’s almost like a miniature Quito with taxis and buses constantly driving by and people scurrying everywhere. In many circumstances you can get to your destination faster on foot than you can riding in a car because the traffic can be so congested. In the short time that we had we managed to see some beautiful architecture, the whole town is full of it everywhere you look.

Church Entrance

The Blue Domes

The streets were lined with small shops selling everything from candy to shoes. The Ecuadorian people are very resourceful and entrepreneurial in nature. We learned that 70% of Ecuadorians are self employed. It is amazing at how hard these people work, they take great pride in what they do and they never expect a handout.

Taking In The Sites

After Carlos picked us up we took a quick city tour and he pointed out some places of interest to us. We drove through some neighborhoods and along the river that runs on the edge of town where you could actually see the people washing their clothes on the rocks and laying them on the banks to dry.

View From The River

View Of The City

One of the first things we decided to do was to get some Panama hats, so Carlos drove us to the Panama hat factory for a tour. It was interesting to learn that Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador and not Panama as so many people believe. The factory itself was pretty amazing and Carlos showed us where the hats were soaked in Hydrogen Peroxide to bleach them out and then laid out to dry. The hats were then trimmed and pressed individually by hand on a mold. The hat bands were all made by hand at the factory and once the hat was finished it was hand chosen by the maker to bare his mark. After we spent some time modeling our hats for each other, we finally settled on our favorites and made our purchases (it was a very tough choice).

Panama Hats Before They Are Trimmed

Soaking In Hydrogen Peroxide

Hat Molds

Hat Press

Look At All These Hats!

Seamstress At The Factory

Once we had our hats in hand, Carlos drove us to the countryside way up in the hills to look at some spectacular views. There was only a dirt road to speak of and we made our way slowly into the hills passing farms and ranches along the way. Carlos explained to us that he loves the countryside and someday hopes to have his own piece of land with horses. We could truly appreciate the beauty of it all and hope that his dream is realized.

The Beautiful Countryside

We had all worked up an appetite by this time, so we headed back to town to one of Carloses favorite restaurants where we dined on local fare. The restaurant itself was once an old mill and it still had the wheel in the dining room (very cool). The food was very good and very authentic, we enjoyed every bit of it. After lunch the tour continued and we saw the exterior of the Museum Of Modern Art that had its beginnings of the first clinic for Alcoholics. We also saw the Religion Museum which is the oldest building in Cuenca and dates back to 1557. We learned that 90% of Ecuadorians are Catholic and that there are fifty two churches in town alone, no shortage of churches here.

Lunch At The Mill

At the end of the afternoon it was time for Carlos to kick us out of the nest, but we had spent so much time together in the last week that we had become good friends and Carlos asked us over for dinner the next evening at his home. We gladly accepted and look forward to yet another wonderful evening.