Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pronounced koo-E

One of the culinary experiences Leslie was most looking forward to on the first leg of our trip was the chance to try cuy. Yesterday that dream came true!

For those that don't know, cuy=guinea pig.

From Wikipedia:

Guinea pigs (called cuy, cuye, curí) were originally domesticated for their meat in the Andes. Traditionally, the animal was usually reserved for ceremonial meals by indigenous people in the Andean highlands, but since the 1960s it has become more socially acceptable for consumption by all people. It continues to be a major part of the diet in Peru and Bolivia, particularly in the Andes Mountains highlands; it is also eaten in some areas of Ecuador (mainly in the Sierra) and Colombia. Because guinea pigs require much less room than traditional livestock and reproduce extremely quickly, they are a more profitable source of food and income than many traditional stock animals, such as pigs and cows; moreover, they can be raised in an urban environment. Both rural and urban families raise guinea pigs for supplementary income, and the animals are commonly bought and sold at local markets and large-scale municipal fairs. Guinea pig meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, and is described as being similar to rabbit and the dark meat of chicken.

Neither of us get particularly hung up on the "what" we are eating so cuy didn't intimidate us really. It was quite good actually, if a bit greasy. It tasted to us sort of like rabbit, sort of like duck. It is served whole for two people with one half lengthwise on one plate and the other half on the other. It is pretty completely intact when served and we found it easiest to eat in the manner you'd eat fried chicken.

We got our cuy at a restaurant that came highly recommended by my Spanish teacher, Veronica. Cuy is her father's favorite food. The restaurant is call Mi Escondite and we'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting Cuenca that wants to try cuy.

Oh, one more thing... Last night while watching the World Series, I realized there is a close resemblance between our cuy and Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Anyone else see it? ;)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Cajas Parque de Nacional, Ecuador

On Saturday, Leslie and I headed up to Cajas National Park, about an hour outside of Cuenca. We took a bus to the park, but the bus driver neglected to stop at the park entrance (the final destination was Guayaquil) and so several people ended up just getting off on the side of the road in the middle of the park. We hitched a ride back down to the visitor center in the back of a pick-up truck.

Once we finally got to the ranger station/visitor center, we chose a trail and set off. The park is beautiful. We topped out at a little over 13,000 feet, but the terrain at 13,000 feet at the equator is more like what it is at about 9,000-10,000 feet in Colorado.

We got a little bit of rain, but nothing serious. Cajas is known for its lakes and it lived up to its reputation. The lakes on our trail were stunning.

We eventually made our way back to road and walked (with some llamas) to the entrance and waited to flag down a bus headed to Cuenca and headed home.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Feliz cumpelaños a mi

Leslie took me to a great traditional Ecuadorian restaurant to celebrate my birthday.

It was certainly among the quieter birthdays I've had, but there's no one I would have rather been with!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mercado 10 de Agusto - Cuenca

My Spanish class yesterday started with my teacher trying to figure out what fruits and vegetables I know in Spanish. I know a few, but it became obvious quickly that I was simply parroting back to her what I did not know. Therefore, my teacher decided it was time for a trip to the market, "10 de Agusto."

I like markets. Jim was kidding with me because I got so excited to take him to the market for lunch the next day. Markets tend to be where everyone in a city meets, and there is not the formalization or clean pre-packing and distribution of the food. The vegetables and fruit are being hauled in by the farmers, or as seemed to be case, the women of the families (as it was essentially women selling). Full gutted pigs and half of cows are on display by the people who likely butchered them. I believe that markets like this bring one closer to the food they are eating, and the people who are out there producing. That's one of the reasons I love the Farmer's Market back home, though I rarely see full pigs on display. It is easy when you are at the supermarket to pick up milk in a plastic gallon container and forget about the industries people and standards. Markets, at least somewhat, put the food and people in your face.

We were in the section of the markets where the herbs were being sold, when my teacher stopped me to have us watch a traditional Andean medicine ritual. I felt like I was intruding, but my teacher (who has lived in Cuenca her whole life) insisted that it was okay. We were in a crowded and poorly lit corner aisle of the market where we were practically stepping on a woman selling mote behind me, and people are having to push through because we are so close to the ritual. A woman in traditional Andean dress (I found out is called a Curandero) rubbed an egg all over a screaming toddler. After rubbing the egg on the child for a couple of minutes, she cracked the egg open in a glass of water and discussed the egg's look with another woman. The egg gave the diagnosis of the illness or malady which the child had. Then she started the limpieza, or cleaning. The woman drank from plastic bottles with different colored liquids and spit the liquids on the back and neck of the toddler. Another method is to make a broom with bushels of different herbs and brush the child all over with the broom. They perform the cleanings on Tuesdays and Fridays and the child will continued to be "cleaned" until they are better. It was amazing to witness this ritual, and would never have known about it had I not been there with my teacher.

I took Jim the next day to the market after class, and we ate hornado de chancho which is meat from a whole roasted pig served with mote and a mashed potato which is fried on one side. The best part of the dish is the pig skin, which tastes like the best bacon you have ever had. Crispy and greasy!

We only took a handful of pictures as we did not want to be obtrusive, but we will likely be heading to the market again Friday to buy our dinner, and hopefully avoid the supermarket the rest of the time we are in Cuenca!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We arrived in Cuenca on Saturday evening anticipating getting into our apartment to rest after the first of what will be many bus rides through South America. Cuenca is what seems to be the perfect first stop. It may seem cliche to say a blend of old and new, but sometimes cliches are true. Cuenca was first an Incan village on the river Tomebamba. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for the architecture, On the streets and in the square, it is native Andean dress to modern teens in jeans on cell phones.

We are staying at probably one of the nicest places we will stay throughout most of the trip. We are in a "student apartment" with a girl Maria (who owns the apartment). It is possibly nicer than our own townhouse in Boulder, but when you have two people, it is basically the same price as one of the cheap hostels in town. We are at about 8,200 feet, and while it is too close to the equator for snow of course (hence Equador) it is cold in the early morning, beautiful and sunny until about 2pm, then it is thunderstorms until about 5pm. The rain has created spectacular sunsets out of our windows each night:

We have started our Spanish classes at Amauta, which is a challenge to both of us (Jim as he has never learned Spanish before, and me as I am trying to get over a hump of inadequacy in speaking Spanish to hopefully be able to have more than just simple conversations with people). I am feeling good about it though, as I had a long conversation today with my teacher about everything from politics to movies! Jim is getting it, but after each class he says he feels like like a 5-year old in the remedial reading group. Jim and his teacher Veronica (yup! Like my sister's name!!):

A friend Sierra (who is also a student at the school) asked us if we wanted to join her in going to the original Panama hat factory. Original Panama hat in Ecuador you say? Yes, it actually originated in Ecuador, but was sold internationally out of Panama and the name stuck. People in the US started to wear them after Teddy Roosevelt wore one when overlooking Panama Canal construction (yes, my history dorkiness comes out a lot).

There's lots to do here in Cuenca and we are excited to have time in between our studies to do it. We'll post more from Cuenca soon!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With One 10 Hour Bus Ride

About halfway between Quito and Cuenca on a bus -- five hours in and five to go -- with Leslie sound asleep next to me I have some time to reflect. The Andean Landscape passing us by is beautiful, sometimes completely new to us, other times wholly familiar. It occurs to me that the people we meet seem that way also. They live very different lives in most cases, but are also so much like us and the friends and family we left behind.

There's the friendly woman and her daughter who jumped up to help us at the bus station at 5:00 AM when we (possibly) looked just a bit confused to find the ticket counter closed. She told us of her husband who works as a chef in Connecticut and was thrilled to learn I was born there. Then there was the old man on the bus who, despite speaking no English and our shoddy Spanglish, was patient and friendly, eager and curious to know about our journey. And there have already been many more ... and we've been here less than 24 hours!

The thing about a trip like this is that it isn't like a vacation. We are keenly aware that this is the beginning of a new chapter rather than a temporary diversion. For a whole year how can it not be? The feeling is more akin to when you move to a new town. But there are also no cold feet,no trepidation. There is excitement, but it is muted. Not at all like the giddy anticipation felt throughout the plane that is palpable as the flight attendant announces that we have arrived in Cancun or some such place.

Soon we will start our Spanish lessons (much more necessary for me than for Leslie) and hopefully we will be able to better share experiences with those that we will share our lives over the next five months. And hopefully we will experience many people, places and things that are sometimes surprisingly wholly familiar and other times completely new.


Friday, October 16, 2009

The Goodbye Whirlwind Tour

Before we could hit the road, we had to say goodbye (or "see you later") to a lot of great friends and family. This whirlwind tour began with a great Bon Voyage party at our friends Jed and Becky's house. A lot of people contributed to this party and a heartfelt thanks to them all. The party was a ton of fun but bittersweet to be seeing so many people for the last time for a year.

From there it was off to Colorado Springs to say "see you later" to Woody & Heather, Leslie's parents. They hosted a Monday Night Football dinner party that was a great chance to see a lot of friends as well.

The next day, following one minor root canal, we had a terrific lobster dinner with extended family. Following some tearful "see you laters" and a hairy ride to the airport in a snowstorm (Thanks again, Veronica!!!), we were off to Florida.

A few days on the beach and by the pool in Vero with Jane, Jim's mom, was perfect following the snow in Colorado.

Following more tough "see you laters," we headed to Wellington for more pool time and a bit of golf with Jim and Sarah, Jim's dad and step mom. We had some terrific meals and a really nice dinner party with Dan & Dianne Chase and Bill Weigold. All just terrific people!

Then it was time to put on the packs and off to Miami airport (thanks again for the ride Dad and Sarah!!). Tune in next time as we pick it up from Quito, Ecuador!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sometimes we visit your country and live in your home

We've been out of our house for 10 days now (a BIG thanks to friends and family that have graciously kept a roof over our heads) and leave Colorado in nine days. Today we got our address for our first stop.

As we wrote about previously, our first stop is Cuenca, Ecuador where we will take a two week Spanish immersion class. While there we will be staying at Calle de los Girasoles 1-21 y Paucarbamba.

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