A Travellerspoint blog

Independence Day, Ecuador


Once I'd got up the first thing I did was walk down the road to the Museo del Banco Central, the ethnological museum. Given the public holiday today I was afraid it might be closed, but five minutes after I arrived at 10 am the doors were opened. I overheard the woman at the desk using the world 'gratis' ('free') to one of the hoverers nearby, so within deliberate view I walked into the part of the gallery opposite her and nobody stopped me to demand payment, so I carried on. I guessed that entrance fees are waived on public holidays at this museum.

As I expected, the museum was very interesting. The main highlight was the section on the Ecuadorian Amazon Shuar tribe, formerly famous for their practice of shrinking the heads of their enemies. Non-Shuars used to call them the Jivaro or Jibaro but don't anymore because it developed the meaning 'savages'. They're not allowed to shrink human heads now, but they do still shrink the heads of sloths as part of their male initiation ceremony. There were five human shrunken heads on display here - very eerie - and one sloth one. The Shuar display ended with colour photographs of the life of the tribe now which I thought was a really good touch.


The rest of the museum was good too. It had displays about lots of other indigenous peoples in Ecuador, including the Afro-Ecuadorians from Esmeraldas Province who are descended from slaves brought from Spain in the 16th century. I also really liked the display of traditional musical instruments, and some photos they had of children playing traditional playground games like skipping, cat's cradle, spinning tops, marbles and hopscotch.


After leaving the museum I had some lunch at a restaurant nearby. I had a 'humita' first, a traditional dish made of steamed ground maize served on a maize husk. Not sure what else was in it, maybe onion or herbs or both. It was delicious, and the funny thing is that the instant I first tasted it I got the most powerful feeling of deja vu. Not in the sense that I felt I'd been to the restaurant before, but in the 'I have tasted this taste before'. It had a very particular taste, but I have definitely never eaten it before.


After the humita I had a Cuenca speciality - 'seco de chivo', goat stew. It came with 'arroz oro' or golden rice, some fried long plantain slices, a piece of tomato and slices of avocado.


After a bit of a rest back at the hostel, I went for a long wander around town. To my joy, I discovered a couple of secondhand bookshops with large English sections, so I had a nice browse. I made one purchase - a book called 'The Great American Gentleman', the diary of an important colonial American called William Byrd. Some have called him the American equivalent of Samuel Pepys.

At one point in my look around town I sat down on a bench in the square in front of the cathedral, and after a while an oldish man sat down at the other end and started talking to me in Spanish. I managed to hold a basic conversation about what my name is, where I'm from, what job I have and which city I work in. He said he was Bolivian and was from Santa Cruz. I wanted to say "I've been to Santa Cruz' but then realised I didn't know how because I'm too much of a beginner. I did have my phrasebook in my bag but didn't want to get it out whilst in the middle of a conversation. So I just said "ah, Santa Cruz!" in an 'I know that place' kind of way and he looked excited. I continued with "y La Paz, Potosi, Sucre...". He said "Uyuni?" so I continued with "si, Uyuni, y Salar de Uyuni". Then he said something that I didn't understand apart from the words 'tu' and 'bonita', whilst gesturing at me, so I decided at that point it was time to move swiftly on... We spoke for a couple of minutes more before I left.

I wandered around a bit more after that, taking pictures of the beautiful colonial buildings and small flower market.


Close to where I'd just sat down there was a stone stand with a metal UNESCO plaque announcing that fact that the city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site.


To one side of the cathedral there were two men, dressed in North Native American traditional dress (feather headdress etc), playing panpipes to loud CD music. They had a stall with what I assumed were copies of their own CDs on it. I had a 'small world' moment when I saw them because I thought I recognised them - I could swear I've seen exactly the same men playing exactly the same music in St Albans city centre back in the UK!

I spoke to Dave on Google Video chat at an internet cafe for a while in the late afternoon and when I left it was dark outside.

Dinner was at a restaurant next to the cathedral; I had a pancake filled with a delicious chicken and mushroom mixture in a creamy sauce, with chips and salad. I wasn't very hungry after the main course but still fancied a non-filling pudding, so I had a look at the dessert menu. I hoped they'd have the type of creme caramel I've had before in Guayaquil and in Rio, but they didn't. In the end I went for cheese with sugar cane syrup because I thought it sounded like a novelty. The cheese was a little bit salty and I think they gave me a bit too much of it, but it was still nice overall.

After this I walked around taking photos of the lit-up church exteriors before going back to the hostel to bed.


Posted by 3Traveller 10:09 Archived in Ecuador Tagged museum spanish cathedral hostel dave ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs colonial_church

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