Sunday – Ron went to church again. I swear he is obsessive with this tradition. Again, I sat in the park to read and people watch. When he was done, we decided to check out this mall, we have heard so much about called Mall del Rio. Having a bus card makes it easy to hop on and off buses, but sometimes it take extra skill to discover which bus to hop on in the first place.
Mall del Rio is not as impressive as I had expected from the varied reports. If you like variety, the food court is like a restaurant city unto itself. There must be 30 different eating options. Beyond that, there are few stores selling products or services. Based on the food choices, one would thing a clothing store for over-sized people would flourish. No such store was obvious.
The highlight for me was the pet store, because of the puppies in the window. This sets off a love-hate relationship. I hate seeing puppies cooped up in small display cases, but I love puppies. This little critter refused to awaken even when the
beagle was biting his ear; this made me wonder about the health of the dogs. The one anchor store of the complex is the Coral Hipermarket (sic). This two story mega-commercial outlet has everything from major appliances to sexy lingerie to a full supermarket.
Since we were already here, the Coral Hipermarket was convenient for getting our grocery shopping out of the way. Remembering the problems at SuperMaxi, we divided our groceries into two orders; each was under $15. Ron’s part came to $10.26. They asked for his passport. I was blown away. I said if you want a passport, you had better put all of this food away, because it is in the locker when we were instructed we could not take our bags into the store. Suddenly, our purchases were approved. What insanity. We were not about to apply for a Coral card knowing we would never return.
Monday – We had plans to have Barbara and Bill Wolfe, our past home exchange partners, plus Howard and Mike over for lunch. Originally, we were going to cook chicken breasts, shred them and have a full salad bar with chicken. However, Ron had the bright idea to return to the area where Museo del Artes de Fuego is located and get empanadas for lunch tomorrow. We called Edgar, the owner of Empanadas de las Herrierias and told him we would be there by 3pm to collect nine chicken and nine beef empanadas. Ron thought ahead to bring a large metal pan to bring them home. We were able to take the bus there, but we had to take a taxi home. After we dropped them off, we headed out again to stock up on beers.
Tuesday – Everyone arrived at noon. We sat around drinking beer while the empanadas were warming per Edgar’s instructions. Lunch turned out to be lovely, sociable and entertaining. Unfortunately, all the guests had later afternoon engagements, so by 2:30pm, we were alone.
Wednesday – Our days in Cuenca are running thin. Ron wanted to return to Casa de Las Posadas to see once again the
exhibit of the flowers. As a compromise to me, we stopped at the Jodoco Belgian Brew microbrewery to sample their February selections. They change each month. Across the park is the Museum of Modern Art. Ron had wanted to revisit it
and surprisingly they had a new collection. This time, most of the work was ceramic, with offbeat designs, some fantasy, and others an artistic take on reality. Regardless, it was refreshing to get another dose of culture before we left the city.
Thursday – Close to airport is the Homero Ortega Panama Hat Museum. This was supposed to be superior to the one on Calle Larga. Ron thought he knew how to get there, but we took the wrong bus or at least took it too far. We took it to the end, thinking we could walk from there. When the bus driver recognized our confusion, he offered assistance in English. He was so kind telling us to stay on the bus so we would not have to pay again. He instructed us to sit close to him so he could tell us where to get off on the return trip. He instructed we would need to walk five blocks after he left us off or take a different bus.
As we were walking, we stopped for an almuerzo (lunch). In Ecuador, almuerzo signs reflect a full meal that is served from 11am to 3pm. We had a berry flavored drink, a lentil-potato soup, followed by beefsteak with gravy, rice, and French fries for $2.50 each.
At the museum, a guide is assigned to guests. Maria Elisa was ours. She was charming and very well informed, not only giving the guided spiel, but answering questions as well. This is a real museum and working factory. Woven in the
countryside, the hats are brought to this facility for bleaching, dying, shaping, ironing, and shipping. It was quite a comprehensive tour and well worth the hassle getting here. Homero Ortega, who founded the company, died in 1998. Though he had multiple children who are all involved in the company, his eldest daughter is currently the president.
We were able to walk to another Super Maxi from the museum to get our last stock of groceries in Cuenca. It did take us 2 buses to get back home again.
Friday – We wanted to do the tour bus one more time. We picked up the noon bus at Parque Calderon, but this time when we reached the summit at Mirador de Turi, we checked
out the E. Varga Ceramic Studio. Varga, considered one of the premier ceramists in Ecuador, created the giant ceramic mural at the University of Cuenca. We discovered he has another large mural in Ohio as well as European countries. His work knows few boundaries as he has pieces large and small, simplistic and highly intricate. Walking through the four rooms of his showroom, our mouths were hanging open most of the time.
Deciding to have lunch on the hill while waiting for the bus to return, we discovered that the restaurant with the most glamorous adverting never opened for the day. We climbed the poorly created steps up the hill to the first level only to find a less than thrilling craft store loaded with junky tokens for the unaware tourist. Alongside it was a ‘café’, which only offered drinks.
Climbing up the hill an additional landing, prompted by a restaurant sign, we only found a heritage photograph display of Cuenca past. Discouraged, we walked the perimeter of the church, but the only options were a fast food truck without seating or a small restaurant that only sold salchipapa. For the uninitiated, this is French fries with a hot dog on top. We ate most of the fries and donated the hot dog to the stray dogs of the area.
Saturday – Finally, today we went to buy our tickets for Loja. We leave Cuenca tomorrow on a shuttle at noon. We will arrive in Loja at 3pm. I am having a little bit of separation anxiety about leaving Cuenca, but we know that there are other adventures and beauty ahead of us.
With tickets in hand, when I scanned through my e-mails on our return ‘home’, we now have home exchanges planned for Belfast, North Ireland just prior to our two week exchange in Dublin. We have a request for one week in Marseilles, France in August and a five-day exchange in Oslo for October.