Notes from Ecuador

The panorama of colorful Las Peńas and central Guayaquil

Traveling through Ecuador I visit some interesting places. Guayaquil is a vibrant and modern city, which despite its size (its bus terminal could easily compete with many international airports in Europe) has a few nice spots captivating with ambience. One of which is Parque Seminario, a full of iguanas park next to the Basilica in the city center.

Some of the iguanas look scary and dangerous, but in fact these are not much more than innocent and tame giant lizards. I wonder how is it possible that all of them stay within limits of the park, but a short conversation with a caretaker enlightens me that many of them accidentally escape and die under wheels of cars in the city center.

We ascend more than four hundred numbered stairs leading to the top of Las Peńas, the district of colorful houses. It’s an extraordinarily renovated place which has a touch of colonial splendor and an alternative non-plastic modernity made of brick. Having reached the summit we continue to climb a lighthouse to see the skyline of the city with a small chapel lying right below in the foreground. A warm sunlight just before the sunset perfectly highlights vibrant and colorful parts of the city.

Bańos de Agua Santa

Preparing melcocha in a traditional way

I board the bus to Bańos de Agua Santa having no idea that I am heading to one of the most visited destinations in central Ecuador. The town is picturesquely situated between the peaks of high mountains and the active volcano Tungurahua. However, it is the hot springs of Piscina de la Virgen that attract hordes of tourists here.

It is not exactly what I had expected, but a hot bath in a pool of 39 degrees water and a cold shower right after accompanied by a bath in an even cooler pool is an interesting therapy. While the pool of 35 degrees medium-hot water is filled with hordes of people, there are far less people entering the hottest pool and virtually no one in the coldest pool.

Having walked around the town I got the impression that half of the population of Bańos earn their living selling cane sugar and melcocha, a product made of sugar cane. Melcocha is a kind of a very sweet fudge or caramel having an extremely chewy consistency. Melcocha is available in many flavors. An interesting fact is that in each shop there is a person dedicated to preparing and spectacularly, continuously stretching and twisting melchoca. Another interesting fact is that in Bańos there seems to be much more sugar cane shops rather than people showing any sort of impression of interest in buying these products.

I admire the city skyline from a viewpoint at night having taken a ride on a party-vehicle chiva, which is some kind of a truck partially made of wood adapted to carry people. This is not an imitation, there is a vertical bar for dancing, very loud music and lots of colorful lights, just as at the disco! In such a place no one minds when me and Camille sit on the rooftop of chiva speeding through the darkness of night.

American dollar

The official currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar. While the notes are authentically American, the vast majority of coins, including the unseen in the U.S. 50 cent coin are produced in Ecuadorean mint. I constantly come upon problems with getting change. Withdrawing $100 from an ATM I get 5 notes of $20 and I already know that I am going to have five times a problem to get change. A single $100 bill is difficult to break even in a bank. It seems that in Ecuador there is not enough dollars!

Ecuadorean coffee

A cup of coffee in Ecuador is served as a hot water along with a jar of Nescafe. Coffee with milk is the same with hot milk instead of hot water. Do it yourself. But where is real Ecuadorean coffee? There is an another ridiculous surprise when I order another cup of coffee. La esencia is an infused sediment that is left in a Nescafe jar after dozens of people have dipped a wet spoon inside to make their regular coffee. According to the saleswoman at the marketplace, it is la esencia that is the best quality. Ecuadorians definitely need to learn a lot about preparing and drinking coffee.

Italian pizza

Ambato is more like a small city where you change your bus rather than a tourist destination. However, it is worth a short stopover. In the center you can see a well-kept and historic quinta buildings. Contemplating in the Parque Cevallos and thinking what to do next we get an idea to eat a pizza.

Incidentally, just a block away, there is a real, 100% Italian pizzeria run by exactly as genuine Italian guy. The owner has lived here for a year. He is not a particular fan of Ambato, but he is married to a local woman. He considers Quito to be far more interesting and open city. Let’s get to the point. All the pizza ingredients are imported from Italy and the largest pizza on the menu is called metro, therefore we decide to order a half of it, called medio-metro.

Soon there is something gigantic that appears on our table. The pizza is sensational, but the four of us is not enough to consume it. Half an hour later I am so full that I feel like my stomach is going to burst. In fact, I will not eat anything else for the following 24 hours. Just before leaving I ask the owner how many people on the average do you need to eat this huge pizza.

Ecuadorians do not eat much. As a rule, a medio-metro is enough for 8-10 people

At this point, I thought we are really big eaters. And then he continued,

However, when we eat in Italy, usually a medio-metro is just enough for three people”.

At the end we have a small glass of grappa, a strong, original liquor made of Italian grapes. It is about time to take the next southbound bus.

December 2011

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