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Palm Sunday in Cuenca

Guayaquil and Cuenca


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This morning Emma, Kate, Mark and Andrew got a taxi to Citymall, a shopping mall very close to me, where I met them and took them to see my flat. It felt quite strange, in a good way of course, to have them there with me in person when I have spoken to them so often online from the same room!

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After that I went back to their hostel with them by bus and waited while they finished packing up their stuff and checked out. Then we all went to the bus terminal to start our journey to Cuenca. I'd decided to go to Cuenca with them and stay the night there because I don't teach until the evening on Mondays. I'd been on this particular journey before on more than one occasion but obviously this was the first time the others had been. It takes about 4 hours and goes through flattish country at first, then up in the Andes.

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While still in the flat area we saw houses on stilts, rice fields, banana plantations and more, and when we were getting closer to the Andes Emma and Kate spotted what they think might have been a condor flying overhead! The journey was typically hair-raising, though, because although the inter-city and inter-provincial roads are very good in Ecuador, the driver had to deal with some very tight bends in the road and with driving through clouds as well.

We arrived in Cuenca in the new town, but walked over to our hostel which is in the old town just down the street from the main square. Once we'd dumped our stuff and Kate had emailed to say we'd arrived safely, we went for a stroll to the main square. This was very interesting because we saw lots of people walking around carrying palm leaves, flowers and various decorative palm crosses with foliage attached. It's Palm Sunday today. There were some people selling them on one or two of the benches, so Kate bought a palm cross with rosemary and another, unidentified herb attached to it.

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We then wandered past a market spread along on side of a street, through the flower market in an attached little square, and then into a bigger square where the main clothing market was almost completely packed up. On going back through the flower market Kate and I bought ourselves palm baskets, into which the seller threw free small branches of rosemary.

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On turning back into the main square, next to the cathedral, we could see people streaming in, most of them holding palm leaves etc, and in the cloisters and around the cathedral entrance there was a big cluster of street sellers selling the same things to people going in.

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After reassuring the others that the cathedral was big enough for us all to go inside to see what was going on without disturbing people, we went inside. On going in we could see lots of people sitting in the nave, and that the paraphernalia around the altar had palm leaves as decoration. We walked a little along one side of the nave and saw that the statues on one side of the main altar bit were decorated with palm leaves, too. We presumed that the service was a special Palm Sunday one.

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Once the priest began the service we made our exit and had dinner at a restaurant next door - I'd been there twice before, so could recommend it. The meal I had was amazing - a fish, vegetable & white sauce dish with a side of rice - but unfortunately Emma's and Kate's were the opposite. They ordered a fish dish where the fish turned out to be salty and quite tough, and the salad tasted strongly of capers or pickle despite not having capers or pickles in it. The restaurant had some artistic lampshades and vases made from painted cutlery.

After dinner I took Emma, Kate and Andrew on a quick tour of some of Cuenca's churches, because at weekends the fronts are lit up at night.

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We took some pictures of the side streets as well.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:49 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains market cathedral hostel buses sisters andes ecuador cuenca guayaquil unesco_world_heritage_site traditional_customs colonial_church palm_sunday Comments (0)

Borough Market and Bethnal Green, London

London


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I went into London today to do several things.

The first thing I did, after arriving at London Bridge and taking one or two pictures of the Thames, was go to Borough Market for the first time.

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Since it was a Tuesday, the full market wasn't on, but I did buy some late lunch at a pie-and-mash stall and have a nice wander round what other stalls were open. I winced at some of the prices (they contrast quite a lot to those in Ecuador) but I still definitely want to come back here in the summer when I am back from Ecuador!

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After Borough Market I went for a walk round the area. I popped into Southwark Cathedral next door first;

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Then I passed by the Clink Prison Museum and a bit later the Old Operating Theatre Museum... both are places I've wanted to go to for a long time now because they sound really interesting, but today I was put off by the price. I will definitely go to them both when I'm back in the summer, but not both on the same day.

Three more missions were in order after this; the first was a stopoff in Bethnal Green to buy some jalebi. These are some of my favourite sweets in the world and I have not seen any in Ecuador so far so I thought I'd make the most of my opportunities in London while I'm here! I walked down Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane in the dusk and promised myself that I'd come back to Brick Lane in the summer and on a Sunday, when the market's on.

After leaving Brick Lane I turned left and carried on along Whitechapel Road to the Royal London Hospital, where my uncle is currently recovering from a heart operation. He had to have a valve replaced. It was a major operation but when I saw him he seemed to be recovering pretty well, thank goodness. I was really glad I'd come.

I went straight to Waterloo Station after leaving the hospital. The reason was to meet up with Roz, an old friend who I really wanted to see before I leave the UK tomorrow. We had dinner at a restaurant & bar at Waterloo before we both had to catch different trains. It was really lovely to see her.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:30 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london united_kingdom market museum cathedral river_thames explorations british_cuisine Comments (0)

Party by the beach

Montañita


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Yesterday I went to the beach town of Montañita for our staff Christmas party.

We Guayaquil staff had to go as superheroes, and the staff from Quito had to go as supervillains. I went as a female Thor, as I had a plastic horned helmet and drinking horn to use. I plaited my hair and made a hammer out of cardboard and foil.

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Some of the other costumes I saw were very good - Superted, Wonder Woman, the Joker, 'Supermaxi' (Supermaxi is the name of a well-known supermarket in Ecuador), The Incredible Hulk, Lara Croft, Captain America and many more. Before we had dinner we all had to show off our costumes. The field was then cut to six semifinalists, from which the overall winner was chosen. I didn't make the semifinal unfortunately... Supermaxi won!

For dinner we had a barbecue. There were loads of steaks, chicken pieces and sausages, as well as a table filled with bowls of salad and small cheesy baked potato halves. As well as the meat, I had some delicious pasta salad and coleslaw. There was a bottle of Argentine wine on each table as well.

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After dinner the dancing got started! There was a small cocktail bar set up with Zhumir aguardiente (firewater), vodka and rum, soft drinks and orange juice.

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I had a lot of Zhumir & orange, drinking from my drinking horn! In between the bar and the pool was the dancefloor. After everyone had been dancing for a while some firedancers appeared and put on a show for us. One of them twirled around flaming balls on strings and the other one had flaming torches. At one point the latter balanced one of the torches on his nose!

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There were two other guys there, hired for the occasion I think, who had dressed up in what I assume is traditional tribal costume from either the highlands or the rainforest, with colourful masks and straw-fringed clothes. They were the life and soul of the party.

After some more dancing some people decided to get in the pool fully clothed... I got in after a while but I got changed into my bikini and board shorts first. It felt quite surreal to be in the pool so late at night. The water was very warm. After a while two tied-together giant bamboos were put across the pool and some of us tried to walk across it without falling in... I managed it but some didn't.

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When the party eventually started winding down in the early hours, some of us paid a visit to 'Cocktail Alley' in town. This leads out onto the beach and has tiny cocktail stands lining it on both sides. I had a Maracaibo cocktail, made of passionfruit juice, rum, coconut liqueur and condensed milk, and an Alexander cocktail, made of very finely crushed ice, brandy, condensed milk, cinnamon and créme de cacao.

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I got chatted up by a Peruvian guy who wanted to give me a free surfing lesson in exchange for an English one and insisted that Peruvian men are better than Ecuadorian ones because they are gentlemen and don't hassle girls. I politely declined and mentioned Dave, which resulted in the Peruvian thinking I was married, so I didn't enlighten him to the fact that I'm not yet.

Soon after I went for a quick look at the beach. It was quite crowded and the lights spilled onto the sand.

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Then I rejoined the group for a bit before some of us went back to our accommodation - it was now between 3 and 4am. I'd had a really, really good night.

Late morning, today, after a lovely English breakfast laid on for us, I went back into town to do some Christmas shopping. I also bought my bus ticket to Guayaquil (we had to make our own way back). As well as some Christmas presents for family, I bought myself a present too - a lovely polished stone ornamental knife. After I'd dumped my shopping at the accommodation and changed into beachwear I went back out to meet up with the others at the beach. It was perfect beach weather, at least 34 degrees and barely a cloud in the sky.

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The sea was quite warm - no 'getting used to it' period of time needed at all - yet refreshing, and the waves were big. Montañita is a centre for surfing and I could see why. It was exhilarating to bodysurf and to swim out to beyond where the waves broke. I worked out that technically, if I carried on swimming in a straight line, I would just miss the Galápagos Islands and would eventually hit the coast of either Indonesia or Papua New Guinea on the other side of the Pacific!

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After a nice swim or sunbathe some of us went to a coffee shop in town. I had a frappacino mocha - exactly what I needed.

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Once I'd got back I only had about 15 minutes before I had to go and get the bus back to Guayaquil with some of the others. The journey took about two and a half hours.

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Posted by 3Traveller 03:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties coast beach market buses cocktails barbecue ecuador montanita cocktail_alley Comments (0)

Independence of Cuenca Day

Cuenca


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I spent a better night this time because I took better precautions against the cold; tucking in my t-shirt, wearing my coat instead of using it as a pillow, tucking the blanket into the hammock more, etc. I still woke up once or twice but I went back to sleep again quicker and I slept in a bit longer. Once I’d woken up properly a church bell started clanging nearby. Like the day before, I had two guaguas de pan for breakfast in my hammock whilst reading my guidebook. Filled with the joys of life, I then headed into town (only five minutes’ walk from the hostel).

I didn’t have any particular plans for today apart from just to wander round and take in whatever happened. I walked round the main square first for a look round. Some banners of the city’s coat of arms, made of flowers stuck onto board, were standing in front of the statue/monument in the middle. These had clearly been put up in celebration of the Independence of Cuenca.

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The other things in the square, however, I recognised from when I was here in August - the man hiring out his massive cuddly-looking St Bernard dog for photos with members of the public (I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog that big before); the leather-saddled model horses for children to sit on and have their photos taken, complete with leather cowboy hat; the itinerant icecream sellers with coolbags filled with ice lollies. The latter are also a common sight in Guayaquil.

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When I first entered the square I’d seen lots of people stream out of the cathedral doors. After I finished my walk round I went inside. Another service had clearly begun almost straight away, for it was in full swing when I entered. I heard the voice of the priest booming from the loudspeakers attached to the columns on both sides of the nave.

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Then I noticed the candles burning in front of the shrines along each wall, and suddenly remembered that a while ago Dad had asked me to light a candle for him. So I walked along until I got to the shrine at the far end, before looking around for somewhere I could get a candle. I couldn’t see any anywhere, but then I noticed a doorway with people going in and out, so I went in too. I didn’t know the Spanish word for candle but thought I could mime lighting one and hopefully they’d understand. There was a nun standing behind some railings, but just as I waited to speak to her I noticed an open doorway next to me with stairs leading down to the crypt. A notice said it was $1 to enter, but the nun just waved me down, so I guessed that the fee is waived on Sundays or holidays.

As always when I see the word ‘crypt’ I thought of the little rhyme that begins ‘The cat crept into the crypt...’! I had that in my mind most of the time I was in there. I put my dollar into the ‘crypt maintenance’ box, seeing as the nun hadn’t asked for it upstairs, before walking round. It was a small crypt; first there was a shrine with chairs in front of it, then a corridor flanked with grave compartments and a couple of statues of angels. There was a much small shrine at the end of it.

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Once I’d walked back upstairs I saw to my consternation that the door to the main part of the cathedral was locked. I knocked on it, but just as I did that the nun appeared from behind me and opened it. She asked me something in Spanish – I guessed from the context and the word gente (‘people’) that she was asking if there was anybody else still in the crypt, so I said no. For most of the time I’d been the only person there.

Relieved, I stepped back out into the main part of the cathedral. I noticed a man come up, arrange and light three red candles that he’d had in his hand, and then I suddenly remembered the stalls directly in front of the cathedral that sell candles and other religious paraphernalia. That’s where I was supposed to get hold of candles, not from inside the cathedral! So I went outside and bought a white one, before coming back in and lighting it.

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Then I hung around to see how the rest of the service panned out. There were lots of other people walking around the back and sides; some of these were taking photos, so I didn’t stand out too much when I did the same. I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said, apart from things like 'todos los santos' and 'Madre de Dios'. There was a communion, with a gold cup and bowl taken from within a gold box in the altar, but only the front couple of sections of the congregation went up for it.

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Then, during a hymn/piece of recorded music, the collectors went round with bags on the end of sticks. Soon after this about two thirds of the congregation left, so I assumed that was the end of the service, but then a nun started speaking into the microphone, so I’m not actually sure.

I left too, because I suddenly realised I’d spent ages in the cathedral and I wanted to see if anything was going on outside. There was, as it turned out; a protest. There were demonstrators crowded outside one of the official buildings at the side of the square. It was quite small, and peaceful, but was quite loud. They appeared to be disaffected immigrants. One row of soldiers and another of police separated them from the entrance to the
building.

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I hung around for a while but then moved on to have another look at the handicrafts market that ran along one side of the cathedral. I watched the glassblower for a while but didn’t buy anything. I had another quick look round the market where I'd bought the jumper yesterday, but didn't buy anything there either. I did however see some people crowded round a stand, so I went to investigate. It turned out to be a salesman with plastic models of parts of the human body around him, and bags of leaves and roots and bottles of what I assumed were ointments, salves or medicine. The guy was speaking into a microphone and the crowd was lapping it up, reaching forward to take the bottles he occasionally proffered.

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Then I bought a bag of fresh pineapple chunks from a pineapple and coconut stand and sat down on a stone bench at the flower market opposite to eat them. As I sat there I pondered what to do next. I thought about going online or just back to the hostel for a rest, but then I remembered the river Tomebamba and decided to go for a walk along it. On my way there I stopped at an almuerzo (set lunch) café and had a plate of seco de pollo and bottle of Pepsi for $2.50.

Once I got to the river I congratulated myself on my decision to come, because I saw a whole series of market stalls, under gazebos and open-sided tents, stretching along both sides of quite a decent-sized stretch of the river. As well as the stalls, there were many more people with their wares on the ground in front of them. The market was the ‘Festival de Artesanías de América’, and there were stalls from Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Suriname and Paraguay.

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I bought myself a $1 llama keyring made from twisted reeds/straw, and then had a look inside a tent run by the Asociación de Mujeres de Huaoranis, the women of the Huaorani, a Kichwa speaking tribe who live in the Amazon rainforest. Kichwa is a native language quite widely spoken in the highlands and the rainforest in Ecuador. As well as necklaces and string bags and other things, there were some photos of some tribespeople, which appeared to be just as exotic to the middle classes of Cuenca as they were to me, for they crowded round taking photos of the photos with their phones.

Then I realised I needed to get some cash out, so I walked back into town. On the way back from the cash machine I noticed that there was a little art exhibition on inside the Superior Court of Justice building, so I went inside. The interior was beautiful, full of marble and very light because of the glass roof. I was really taken with one picture of fish, but it was $600 so I wasn't tempted to buy!

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On my return to the market I wandered around both sides of the river. I made two purchases but won't say what they were here... I also bought myself a stick of candy floss for 50 centavos. I walked round the park next to the river, too; rather surreally it was dotted with giant plastic models of dinosaurs. There were also a couple of club-jugglers.

After I left the river I went for another walk round town. At one side of the flower market a woman had set up a stand with an industrial-sized saucepan/tureen on it.

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Just as I passed by it I did a double take because I overheard her say to a customer 'Colada Morada' ! Colada Morada is the drink traditionally drunk in Ecuador with guaguas de pan on 1st/2nd November. I simply had to buy some! It's purple, made from black corn flour, blackberries, other fruits (these vary, but mine had some little chunks of pineapple), sugar and spices - you can get it hot or cold, but mine was hot. It was delicious!

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A couple of hours' rest back at the hostel followed before I went out again for dinner. I had shrimp ceviche, yuca chips and some Fanta at this place;

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Then I walked round looking at the fronts of the churches, which are lit up on weekend nights. I took one or two photos before going to bed.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges art night market spanish cathedral hostel dad andes ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

All Souls' Day, Cuenca

Cuenca


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To be honest I had a pretty bad night, not because the hammock was uncomfortable, because it wasn’t, but because I was so cold! The hammock terrace was unheated and Cuenca gets very chilly at night. I woke up several times in the night and it always took me a long time to go back to sleep. However, once I woke up for good at about 8.30, I saw the blue sky and the sunshine through the window opposite and felt really happy and excited about the day to come. Before I got out of my hammock I had my remaining two guaguas de pan for breakfast, and ate them while reading my guidebook.

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One place I was desperate to go to last time but didn’t manage to was the Museo de Arte Moderno. It’s very highly regarded and the building used to be an institution for the insane.I didn’t really trust Lonely Planet’s information about opening times, so the first thing I did once I was up and about was go to the museum to check in person.

When I arrived I saw that the entrance was closed, but noticed it was 9.50 so thought maybe it would open at 10.00. I hung around in the square until then – the museum is on one side of the square, the church of San Sebastian is on the opposite side, and there’s a small park in the middle. There was a big group of teenagers next to the church who looked like they were rehearsing something – they broke off at one point to play a chasing game around the square, and I noticed they were all wearing Scout neckties.

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At 10.00 the doors to the museum opened. Just to make 100% sure, before I went in I asked the security guard if it was open, and he ushered me through to reception to sign the visitors’ book before I walked out into a sunny green courtyard. I noticed a lot of doors around each side of the courtyard; I supposed that the rooms inside used to be the little rooms or cells where the inmates had to live.

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As I stood there looking at the courtyard, a girl came up to me and asked if I’d like a free tour, so I thought ‘why not’ and said yes please. The two of us walked round together. It turned out that she was called Paola and was an art student at the University of Cuenca. She seemed a little bit shy but was very knowledgeable about all the artists and works displayed (which were all Ecuadorian or from other Latin American countries). Her eyes lit up whenever she said she thought a certain work of art was interesting and explained why – I could see she was absolutely genuine in her love for modern art, and I liked that. Yet she wasn’t being evangelical about it; she was just stating what she thought. One or two of the installations left me cold, but others were interesting, and were enhanced even further by what Paola said about them. There were some lovely paintings, too, and in the courtyards there were sculptures as well as trees and other greenery. In one courtyard there was a eucalyptus garden.

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As we walked round, I noticed that the walls of the rooms were very thick – no doubt a remainder from when the place was a mental institution. I asked Paola about the history of the building but unfortunately she didn’t know anything about it apart from that it had been a mental institution; nor was there any written information about the building’s history.

I had to fulfill a specific mission next, so that is what I did. After that was completed, I had to pop back to the hostel briefly, and then I wandered into town in search of some lunch. I had two humitas, one tamale (similar to a humita,made from steamed ground maize but with some pieces of egg, onion and red pepper on top) and a chocolate milkshake at a café where I was the only customer until just before I finished. The humitas were more filling than I'd remembered from the last time I was in Cuenca, so I got the waiter to put one of them into a doggy bag for me.

After lunch I wandered around the main square next to the new and old cathedrals and through the flower market.

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On one side there was a handicrafts market, which included a glass blower with a blowtorch.

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I didn't buy anything from there, but I did at another market nearby. This one has several sellers from Otavalo, a town north of Quito that is famous for its weaving and massive market. I bought myself a grey and white patterned jumper, but before that, just as I entered the market I saw a man with a tiny coca stand - he had some coca leaves burning, and was selling ointments made from coca.

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Close by there was another little stand, this time selling what looked like quail eggs.

I went on the internet for about an hour, before having a quick look through yet another market - this time it was an indoors market, mostly food stalls. I got the impression that tourists hardly ever came into this one. I walked past rows of butchers' stalls with various carcasses hanging up, and fruit and vegetable stalls with bags of different kinds of loose beans. I passed another woman with a sack of guaguas de pan, so I bought two to have for breakfast the next day.Then I walked back to the main square and sat down for twenty minutes.

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I decided to go back to the hostel for a bit, but thought 'I'll just have a quick look round the streets on that side first'... I was glad I did, because what should I come across but the Museo Esqueletología... the Skeleton Museum!

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It was very small, only three rooms, but very interesting. The owner spoke English well and told me that none of the animals were killed for the museum, which was comforting to hear. The only exotic specimen, as he put it, was a baby African elephant. I assume he meant exotic as in non-native South American animals, because to Europeans a lot of them would be exotic. There was a skeleton of a llama, various monkeys, a sloth, various birds (including two hummingbirds - it was fascinating to see how incredibly tiny their bones and beaks actually are), the tooth of a sperm whale, the skull of a tapir, a caiman, shark jaws, a sawfish saw and several other things.

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There was also a display of five or six human skulls, arranged in age order from a seven-month old foetus to an adult.

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After this unexpected and diverting experience I went back to the hostel and rested in my hammock for an hour or so before going out again for dinner. I went to an Italian restaurant for the first time in Ecuador (there are several Italian restaurants in Guayaquil, but for some reason I haven't got round to visiting any of them yet.) I had some bread to start; this was where the Ecuadorian touch came in, for instead of butter, it came with a bowl of chimichurri sauce and a bowl of reddish sauce. I thought with the latter that I saw little pieces of chopped garlic in it, so tried a little bit, but it nearly took the roof of my mouth off - it turned out they weren't chopped garlic pieces at all, but chilli pepper seeds! I put the chimichurri sauce on the bread instead, and very nice it was too. I had a small but delicious tomato and mushroom pizza for my main course but was too full for pudding.

I didn't want just to go to bed after this, so I went for another wander round town now it was after dark. As I entered the main square I came across a crowd in a big circle surrounding what looked like a television presenter with cameras trained on him. I'm not sure exactly what was going on but it involved him showing off Panama hats and putting some on the heads of one or two of the onlookers. Then a younger man went into the middle and sang a song to recorded music (or he could actually have been miming; I couldn't be 100% sure.) Then the original chap came back in and said some more stuff, before the crowd dispersed. I walked around for a while longer before going back to the hostel to bed.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art night market museum hostel andes ecuador sloth cuenca hummingbirds explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine caimen colonial_church Comments (0)

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