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Cuenca Part 2

A small portion of one of the markets in Cuenca
Whenever possible while traveling, we find a place with a kitchen.  Even though eating at local restaurants can be an excellent way to learn about the food in a culture, going to fresh food markets can be even better.  While not all produce purchased in Ecuador is organic, a lot of it is. Much of the produce imported from other countries, and typically sold in the grocery stores, have been grown with pesticides or herbicides, and this isn't restricted.  Small, indigenous farmers cannot afford to purchase pesticides and herbicides, but also in 2010 the Ecuadorian constitution established something they call food sovereignty.  The bottom line is that many of the pesticides used in the U.S. are illegal in this country, glyphosate has not yet been restricted but health and science activists are working to change this.  Quito, Otavalo and Cuenca all offer large fresh markets, and the fruits and vegetables offered were outstanding, and cheap!  Another plus on the food issue, all the cattle are grass fed, so any dairy products produced in country are grass-fed.

Another tradition we witnessed during our visit to the market is the removal of the mal de ojo (evil
eye).  Typically this procedure entails rubbing various flowers or herbs over the skin of infants or children to ward off illness, or to help them if they are having problems, such as fever, diarrhea, etc.  The process is usually performed by older women, who have knowledge of the proper plants to use for different problems.  We were told by a local that the process is done at the markets on Tuesdays and Fridays, but in an emergency these women will do it out of their homes.  On our market visit, several women were on hand doing the procedure and lines of mothers were lined up with their children.

Panama hats, started in Ecuador back in the 1600's, became known as Panama hats for a couple of reasons.  During the 1800's and 1900's the hats were shipped to international destinations from Panama, and in 1904 Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one of the hats while inspecting the Panama Canal.  That photograph cemented the idea that the hats came from Panama, and Ecuadorians have not been able to change that perception, even more than a hundred years later.  One 86-year old woman we met, started weaving hats when she was 12-years old.  She is still weaving.  It takes her 2 days to make a hat, which she sells for $10.  At a store in town the same hat would be $20.  Superfino hats, which have about 3000 weaves per square inch, take months to make and sell for around $3000.

Located on the outskirts of the city, the privately-owned, 40-acre Amaru Zoo, provided a glimpse at a
number of native and exotic animals, which had been rescued.  Built into a hillside with large natural areas for the animals, we got a strenuous workout.  The highlight of the visit was seeing the endangered Andean Bear and Andean Condor.  Several varieties of monkeys are on the grounds.  They're on monkey islands and also they've constructed a chicken wire tube highway, which extends over a large area allowing them to run through the park.

 Cuenca is currently undergoing a transformation, and Gran Colombia, one of the main streets through the city center (and the street where we were staying) has an electric tram system being installed to help reduce the pollution which is starting to take hold of the city due to the many diesel buses.  Completion was originally set for July, but like most road project, this one is behind schedule.  Though, it should be a nice addition to the city upon completion.

There are numerous things to love about the Ecuadorian highlands, but one of the things we appreciated most was the delightful weather.  Temperatures range somewhere between 50-75 year round.  We were visiting during the rainy, winter season, which runs from October to May.  The dry, summer season runs from June to September.  But there isn't much difference in the temperatures between the two seasons.  During our rainy season stay, weather frequently started in the morning at 55 degrees, peaked for a few hours at 75, and at some point during the afternoon or evening it would rain.

We'll be taking a couple of side trips from Cuenca, and then down to the hot, steamy coastal city of Guayaquil, and then on to the Galapagos.  Can't wait!

Acrylic artwork from the Museum of Modern Art near San Sebastian Plaza

We knew the Andean Condor was big, but had no idea it was this big!




Street entertainer in Cuenca
Restaurants in many Ecuadorian cities offer Daily Specials, a $2.50 lunch, which includes
soup, entree with a side and a small salad, dessert and a beverage.
Very popular with the 10,000 gringo retirees in Cuenca!
Street entertainers near the New Cathedral


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