A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about traditional customs

Back in Cuenca for the holiday weekend!


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I arrived at the terminal at 7am and by 7.35 I was on the right bus.

The journey took about 30 minutes longer than if I'd gone in a minivan, but that was because the driver had to drive a little more slowly, so I felt slightly safer than I had in August when the minivan was speeding round mountainside corners. I was also sitting higher up, and on the opposite side to where I had on the minivan, so I could see more of the incredible views we got once we began ascending into the mountains. Some of these views were astounding - layers of cloud spread out below us with mountain tops poking through. None of the mountains we saw were high enough to have snow on them, but it was still a beautiful sight!


We arrived in Cuenca in bright sunshine. I remembered the way from last time, so I walked into the historic centre, passing shoeshiners and a lot of local women streetsellers on the way. One woman (and her small daughter) was sitting on the pavement with two great round, flat wicker baskets of live chickens and one smaller basket of eggs; others had pineapple, coconut and mango stands; others were sitting on chairs with sacks of clothes or bread rolls. I did a double take with one because I suddenly realised she was selling guaguas de pan, the sweet doll-shaped bread buns/ rolls that are widely eaten in Ecuador on All Souls' Day and a couple of days on each side. I stopped and bought four for a dollar; I ate two of them as I walked along and cunningly decided to save the other two for breakfast the next morning.

As I continued my walk I was surprised to hear 'Adagio for Strings' by DJ Tiesto come into earshot. Someone had put a loudspeaker out on their balcony and it was pumping out music, fitting in with the general festive atmosphere. It sounded quite surreal to me, because that version of the tune was played a lot in the nightclubs of Swansea when I was at uni there, so it reminded me of good times I had dancing until the early hours of the morning with my housemates.

Soon I reached the main square, realising with delight that I had arrived in the middle of a procession! To think that if I'd got a minivan at lunchtime like I wanted to originally, I would have missed this completely. It wasn't a religious procession, so I assumed it was an Independence of Cuenca one, held today instead of on the day itself (Sunday) for some reason. There were lots of colourful dancers, floats, balloons, etc., and recorded music. The historic setting was so beautiful - I wandered around taking photos from different viewpoints.


The crowds looked slightly odd to me because a lot of people had umbrellas up to give themselves shade from the sun - not parasols, but normal umbrellas. One guy was even going round selling little umbrellas that go on people's hats.


After quite a long time, I carried on to my hostel. Hostal Yakumama was easily found, quite close by to the one where I'd stayed last time.


I was shown up into the hammock terrace - a large room on the top floor with a view over the tiled rooftops of Cuenca. It reminded me a bit of the view over the tiled rooftops of Lisbon from Next Hostel. Each hammock came with a blanket, and there were lockers we could use.


I knew I wouldn't have time to handwash clothes this weekend like I usually do, so I'd brought laundry with me to Cuenca to sort out at a laundry place. There was a launderette opposite Hostal Yakumama, so I made full use of it. Once that was sorted I found an internet café to let people know I'd got here OK. I ended up staying on for a lot longer than I'd intended, so it was dark outside by the time I'd finished. I was struck by the cold when I stepped outside, so I fetched my Bolivian coat from the hostel before finding somewhere for dinner. I had a steak that turned out to be really thin, but also very wide and tasty. It came with rice, (naturally; this is Ecuador, after all...) and some chips and salad.

I was incredibly tired by now, so after dinner I went back to the hostel and read for a while before falling asleep in my hammock.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:43 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains hostel buses andes ecuador procession cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs Comments (0)

Rodeo Montubio


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The first things that come to mind about Ecuador for most people are the Galápagos Islands, the rainforest, Quito and the Andes. Something people don't tend to associate with Ecuador is the rodeo, yet this is the reason why I went to Salitre today, a backwater town in Guayas Province. I went with an Ecuadorian friend/colleague, 'E'.

The bus journey from Guayaquil to Salitre was interesting, firstly because we passed several rice fields (some just planted, some flooded and green) and secondly because after all the seats on the bus were filled and we'd left Guayaquil, about sixty more people got on and crammed into the aisle. 'E' told me it's common for intercity bus drivers to let loads of people on the bus who don't have seats, even though it's illegal due to the safety hazard, because since the standing passengers haven't bought tickets but just given the conductor or driver cash, the bus company doesn't know of their existence, and so the driver and conductor keep their fares for themselves.

Salitre didn't seem a particularly good place to go if you're vegetarian or have a weak stomach, on a market day at any rate. There were several street stalls and small shop counters with rows of hacked-up carcasses hanging up - plucked chickens and unidentifiable red meat. One man was plucking chickens on the pavement at a street corner, and elsewhere I saw several live chickens in individual wooden cages on the ground. There were lots of fruit stalls and shops as well though, and hat stalls.


'E' and I bought our rodeo tickets first and then had some street food. The first thing we had was 'cazuela'; an extremely thick soup made from plantain, shrimps, fish, a kind of sauce I didn't recognise, herbs and a ring or two of raw onion, green pepper and tomato.


It was nice but I was still hungry after that so I had a delicious 'muchin' - a ball of mashed up yuca with cheese and a bit of onion inside, elongated and then fried. It was only 50c. Apparently you can get them in Guayaquil, but I've never seen them there.


The rodeo was supposed to begin at 12.00, but they waited for the stands to fill up more before starting, so it didn't actually begin until nearly 13.30!


Several sellers made rounds of the audience both before and during the performance.


From one of them I bought an icecream lolly for 50c which came in a tub. You pulled it out of the tub using the embedded lolly stick and then ate like normal. A beggar went round who had no arms; people handed down money from rows above for people nearer to the chap to tuck into a pouch he had round his waist.

The presentation of the 'Queen' competition was the first stage of the rodeo. All the rodeo performers work for or have some connection with different haciendas in the Ecuadorian countryside, old historic houses where people can stay but are also working farms/ ranches. Each hacienda enters a team into the rodeo that includes a girl who enters the ring, gallops around it with their mostly male team and then stays to one side with the rest of their team.


Once every team has entered the ring and presented themselves to the crowd an 'overall best appearance' team winner is announced, and the Queen contenders stay in the ring while their teams leave. Then in turn each girl puts on a performance for the judges - galloping round again, standing on the saddle once the horse is stationary, making the horse lie down and lying down herself while she put one of its legs over her neck briefly, even crawling underneath the horse lengthways. I'm almost as far from an expert as one can be, but I couldn't help but think that surely the last thing was a bit dangerous... if the horse kicked out then she could find herself missing part of her face! Eventually the Queen is chosen, though I think there are one or two other categories of winner as well.

The next stage consisted of men trying to stay seated on saddled mules that were trying to throw them off. The longer a man stayed on, the louder the crowd cheered.


Then they brought out a very skinny white bull. Two clowns appeared with whistles and staged a bit of a 'bullfight', waving red cloaks around, before both bull and clowns exited and there was another long round of men trying to stay on mules (though this time these weren't saddled, and actually they may have been ponies, not mules).


This time, after the rider had dismounted (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), the men in the middle of the ring used lassos to catch the ponies, instead of riding up and using their mount to calm the other down.

Even though we knew there was still half an hour or so to go, E and I left while the latter activity was still continuing. We'd been sitting in the same spot without moving for over five hours, hemmed in sitting on wooden boards without any cushions, so simply had to get up and move around properly. As soon as we got outside we had some more food - I had a fried maize pancake type thing that turned out to be a lot like a plantain fritter. The maize batter was delicious, and although I wasn't desperately keen on the plantain (it tastes and feels too much like banana for my liking) I still ate it all because I was really hungry.


E had a 'bollo de pescado' that was grilled in a banana or plantain leaf.

Once we'd eaten we needed to get some cash out, but there turned out to be only one ATM in Salitre and that didn't work properly when we tried it. I was concerned because it meant I didn't have enough cash to get the hats I wanted, and E didn't have enough to lend me. So we decided to check out the hotel that had been pointed out to us near to the rodeo entrance, so at least we had somewhere to stay the night. It was after dark by now. This hotel was the dodgiest I have ever entered - no sign to indicate it was a hotel, the stairs were in complete darkness, and although there was a light in the corridor between rooms, in the 'reception' area the guy was just sitting there in the gloom. He never asked for any ID, just got someone to show us the only room available. The room could be locked from the inside, but not from the outside because he said he had no key to give us. The condom clearly visible on the floor when we walked in was one indication that it was a hotel where people can hire rooms by the hour as well as by night.The whole place seemed very run down in general.

It was only $5 a night but since we hadn't paid yet we wisely decided to give it a miss and caught an Ecuadorian version of a motor rickshaw (which were everywhere in Salitre; I think they're used within the town instead of buses) along the road into the centre to find another hotel. This we managed to do, and we were glad we had, because it was still only $5 a night but wasn't dodgy and was much cleaner and brighter, if still basic. The only strange thing was that the mattress on the bed was leather, which isn't something I'd come across before.

After checking in, paying and dumping our stuff we went out again, just for a wander round. This part of town looked more salubrious than down the road; cleaner, with some nice colourful buildings and some beautiful trees.


We bought a drink and snack each from a supermarket and sat down on a park bench. We spent quite a while chatting, when suddenly some funny music became louder and louder and we heard some shrieks and then saw a lot of neon lights flashing as a strange vehicle went past! 'E' told me what it was - something called 'The Worm' - apparently there are one or two in Guayaquil, though I've never seen one. It's like a fairground ride almost, lots of 'cars' joined together like compartments, and the driver in the front car swerves to and fro across the road to make the 'tail' of the worm also swerve.


We worked out that we had just enough for a ride and the bus fare to Daule the next day, so we went for it. We walked a while before we found where we could board 'The Worm', passing though a night market of stalls piled high with household goods on the way. The ride was exhilarating! When we got off it we walked through a little carnival with various children's activities such as a big trampoline contained in a cage with big bouncy balls inside - I almost wished I was 7 years old again so I could have a go on it! I bought a delicious Ecuadorian version of coconut ice instead - very long strands of coconut, and a lot of condensed milk was clearly in the recipe.


To be continued...

Posted by 3Traveller 05:36 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hotel buses ecuador rodeo_montubio ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs salitre Comments (0)

Independence of Guayaquil (and other celebrations)


I went into town on Wednesday morning to see what I could of the 9th October Independence of Guayaquil procession. The bus journey took a very long time because of all the traffic, but even though I missed the military part of the procession, I caught the latter stages which consisted of schoolchildren twirling batons, waving Guayaquil flags and playing drums, trumpets and portable steel glockenspiels (though not all at the same time...) It was very colourful and musical - the sound of the glockenspiels reminded me of Caribbean steel pans.


I started off watching it on Avenida 9 Octubre, the main street in Guayaquil, but then walked along to the Malecon and saw some of it there before returning the way I'd come.


I could only stay for about an hour because I had to get back to work, but I was really glad I'd made the effort to come.

I did a bit of food shopping earlier today at the supermarket and noticed they had some (undressed) artificial Christmas trees on display - the first sign of Christmas I've seen here. I suppose in the UK there's Hallowe'en stuff everywhere. Here, apparently a couple of years ago the government banned Hallowe'en for being an US import and not a native Ecuadorian festival. They celebrate All Souls' Day, 2nd November, as The Day of the Dead, but officially at any rate they don't celebrate Hallowe'en.

I was told this by the students in the pre-advanced conversation class I had for the past four Monday mornings but has now finished. (The conversation classes come in blocks of four). I enjoyed that class a lot, despite it being between 7-9 am on Monday mornings, because there was a great atmosphere, everybody got on extremely well and there were some very interesting discusssions about such things as the high levels of corruption they feel is present in the government and Ecuadorian society in general; the problems with drugs which they think has only become a major issue since Correa came into power; the All Souls' Day, Christmas, New Year and Carnival celebrations in Ecuador and other countries; the popular meaning (in Ecuador) of different colours of flowers, which led on somehow to the importance of love and positivity; whether people's destinies are fixed from birth or fluid; and freedom of speech and where the line is.

Posted by 3Traveller 04:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged buses ecuador procession guayaquil english_teaching malecon_2000 avenida_9_de_octubre traditional_customs Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Arrival in Cuenca

Guayaquil and Cuenca

Once I arrived at the bus terminal in Guayaquil I had a great deal of trouble finding the office of the minivan service I'd been recommended instead of the big public bus because it turned out not to be at the terminal itself. I wandered around getting increasingly frustrated, especially after 8.30 came and went (the time I'd been told I had to arrive at for a 9 o'clock departure time); I asked a couple of people for directions but couldn't understand enough of their replies for them to be much use. The third person I asked, however, an old woman working in a small shop at the 'commercial centre' nearby, took me part of the way there. I eventually arrived at the office at 8.55! Luckily it didn't matter that I was late, because I had to wait there until quarter past nine anyway.

The journey to Cuenca took about three hours. Before we got to the mountains we passed several banana plantations, what I guessed was a sugar cane plantation, an orchard of small trees with a fruit I couldn't recognise, lots of wooden shacks on stilts, and a few hamlets with shacks/ houses/ shops made of brick but with corrugated iron roofs. Most of these hamlets had large roadside fruit stalls with tables piled with oranges, plantains and massive watermelons, and pineapples and bunches of bananas hanging from strings from the ceilings.

Eventually we started to climb and climb, and the popping of my eardrums made me realise the altitude. We passed through low-lying clouds - for about 10-15 minutes we couldn't see more than about 10 feet ahead, and although we were driving along a mountainside we couldn't see over the side at all. I thought this a shame because I guessed the view was probably amazing. The driver only slowed down a little bit at the many bends in the road, and on several occasions during the whole journey he talked on his mobile and drove at the same time, which would have worried me more only I'm used to terrible driving in Guayaquil! At least the road was of good quality.

We drover higher, broke through the clouds and kept on going. I kept getting glimpses of the view of the clouds spread below us with mountaintops peeping through, as if we were in an aeroplane! It was amazing, but I never managed to get proper photos of it because the road barrier and trees and bushes kept blocking the view and I never got more than a second or two to take a picture. Some time later we saw a range of mountain peaks ahead which had clouds near the top - of these I managed to get better photos.


Eventually we descended into a valley and I saw llamas for the first time in Ecuador! It brought back memories of the first time I saw llamas in South America, in Bolivia in 2009. There were also grey ponies and black and white cows. Not too long after that we passed shacks and then the outskirts of Cuenca.

I had no idea where the minivan company's office was in relation to my hostel, but instead of getting a taxi I decided to walk. My hearing was a bit messed up, just like it usually is after a flight, but it soon cleared up. I headed towards a main road and came across a river, so although I had to follow the road next to the river for ages before the streets started appearing on the map in my guidebook, I did get to my hostel in the end. The hostel, Hostal Villa del Rosario, had no record of my single room booking but gave me a twin room to myself straightaway instead, so I didn't mind. Although it was basic, the room still looked cosy. The hostel had a really nice laid-back rather arty/ bohemian air, and had a courtyard with several tropical plants and trees in it.


As soon as I'd dumped my stuff I headed back out. I walked around the corner to Museo de las Culturas Aborigines - an archaeological museum of Ecuador's pre-Columbian cultures - which was interesting. Things I saw included; clay whistles in the shape of animals, carved bones used as boards for ritual games, bone flutes, shell spoons, a clay statue of a set of conjoined twins, clay statues of shamans with religious offerings, small figures of deformed humans, stone corn on the cobs, and stone bolas used for hunting.


After leaving the museum I walked down a long flight of steps to the river Tomebamba.


I said hello to it from a bridge and walked along the path for a bit before going back up the stairs and wandering around town taking pictures. Cuenca has a lot of beautiful colonial buildings.


I noticed a lot of the local women were wearing the traditional women's clothes of Cuenca, which is a brightly coloured skirt, some with an embroidered hem, a shawl and a Panama hat (or Montecristi hat as they are known in Ecuador...) Cuenca is a centre of Panama/ Montecristi hat making. Some also wear their hair in two long plaits. The men of Cuenca just wear ordinary clothes, as do many of the younger female generation.

After about an hour, however, my hips and knee started hurting a lot for some reason, so I decided to call it a day and went into an internet cafe for 40 minutes. It was getting dark when I came out. I still had crisps and a chocolate brownie from my packed lunch left, so I had those for dinner instead of going for a meal out. It was actually cold at night which was a novelty to me after living in Guayaquil for three months!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:33 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains museum hostel andes ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site pre_columbian_artifacts traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

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