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  • Writer's pictureGregory T. Wilkins

Ecuador (2021)

December 10, 2021

Ecuador is the country with the most biodiversity per square kilometer in the world. It has enormous flora and fauna thanks to the geography divided in four regions: Coast, Andes, Amazon, and Galápagos Islands. This creates a gastronomical experience that is endless, diverse, and unlike anywhere else on planet Earth.

It is a one of a handful of countries I have yet to visit in the Americas. Some advantages of traveling there are Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its primary source of currency and they use the same electric current. This saves me having to convert dollars in my head as well as bringing an electric converter for my computer. When I shard this with friends that Ecuador used U.S. dollars, they did not believe me that the country used it as their primary source of currency. When I told them there were other countries who used the American Dollar as their legal tender they were in disbelief -- Guam, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Palau, Panama, Virgin Islands, etc.) To top it off, there are countries that combine their own currency with the U.S. dollar. Someone actually told me I was wrong, and they were going to Google it. Guess what, they never returned to apologize...silly American know-it-alls. Ecuador has been on my list of places to visit for over two decades. I am excited to go, particularly because last year I had intentions of traveling there but Covid-19 kept me at home. I was in Italy when the virus struck the planet and everything across Earth went into a spiral. I decided to cancel my plans for South America because I did not know what I was going to inherit upon my arrival to Ecuador. Because I had purchased my airline ticket so far in advance, my airfare was returned which was better than a flight coupon as they would only be good for one year and was unsure what travel would be like in the future.

Because I had already done all the homework on what I wanted to do and see in Ecuador, I dusted off my schedule from the year before and settled to return to my original 2020 plan. While Covid is still very prevalent and there is now a new strain of the virus sweeping the planet (Omicron), there is no time like the present to see the world before another possible lockdown. Originally, I was to get to MSP Airport on December 10 in the mid-evening. The weather has taken a shift, and yesterday evening I received a call from Land to Air that they were cancelling their evening departures because of the 8 to 12 inches of anticipated snow. They created a new itinerary with departure at 2:00 p.m. I will sleep on the floor at the airport because the flight leaves the next day at 6 a.m. Travel to the airport is non-existent in the wee hours so napping on a chair (if I can find one) is what I will do until gates open. I am expecting the terminal will open around 3:30 to 4 a.m. The good thing is after getting back from Italy I was able to secure my Global Entry Pass which will save me time having to wait in the line with the rest of folks. WINNING! I will be able to use it for the first time since that experience with my travel south. Below is my travel itinerary: Saturday, 11 December


6:00 AM 11:00 AM

Sunday, 12 December


10:04 AM 2:10 PM

Friday, 31 December


2:57 PM 7:15 PM

Saturday, 1 January 2022


8:35 AM 11:04 AM


12:32 PM 2:15 PM

I had to take a Covid test 72 hours before my departure at CVS. I was a bit nervous because it's all about timing. Do I take a test on Wednesday knowing I am flying on my first flight at Saturday or do I take a test on Thursday with my knowledge my international flight leaves on Sunday? To complicate matters, you have to have faith the system will have its ducks in a row to provide you the results electronically within the time allotted time period or you don't get onboard the flight. To top it off, you also have to keep your eyes open on the Ecuador consulate sight in case they change what kind of evidence they require in order to receive you in country. I am trusting everything will fall into place without any mishaps. Let's see what prevails. I am bit nervous about an emerging economy like Ecuador to have their ducks in a row because yesterday when I arrived to CVS to get my Covid test they could not locate my reservation, even though I had their confirmation code in-hand. 15 minutes later all worked out for the best and was able to get my swab and place the sealed contents into the testing box. Now it's a game of wait and see. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the results will be ready for me by my departure to South America. I can fly domestically w/o it; it's the international leg I am most concerned. Let's hope Nestor has a printer at home so he can print it out for me to take to the airport with the backup on my phone.

Costs: round trip flight $654 Land to Air transport $24

December 11, 2021 The terrazzo floor at the airport was cold and uncomfortable not forgetting to mention the intercom system warning people that the U.S. President mandates wearing a mask in airports that cover the nose and mouth. Curling up next to the escalator, it would go on and off over the course of the night if someone was riding it. I curled up tight around my backpack with my arms put through it in case someone tried to snatch it while I was sleeping. I woke at 2 a.m. so I could get to the wash room, fix my hair, and get ready for the terminal to open. American Airlines opened their desk at 3 a.m., and it was already filled with at least 50 people waiting in line. Everything is now via screen and entering your data -- flight, number, frequent flier number, baggage to check, TSA number, etc. When I put my info in, it had me going to Miami and not Ecuador as my final stop. I had to go to the counter and ask about it. Because the MIA flight is not for another day, I would have to pick-up my baggage in Miami and recheck it the next day. I guess is this for security? Entering the terminal for security, it was over 150 deep by 3:30 p.m. The one blessing is that I was going to go via TSA pre-check. I was able to get it when I was coming back from Italy a year and half ago. It costs $100 and got it for free b/c of my Capital One Visa -- WINNING! It was a blessing b/c I was the first to go through TSA Pre-check. I did not have to take out my liquids out of my back pack. If I had worn a rubber sole shoe, I could have left those on also; however, I was wearing my steel toe biker boots and had to remove them for security. No complaints from me; I was in and out in less the 5 minutes. WINNING, again! The flight left on time and was in Miami 10 minutes early. My duffle bag was there as planned with no hiccups, and I had texted Nestor once I was on the tarmac so he would be ready for me. He picked me up from the airport 20 minutes later and was back at his place by 3:15 p.m. The one thing I was paranoid about was I had not yet received word from CVS about my Covid test. Nestor promised me it was going to be there in time. I was full of doubts because when I got it they did not have a record of me, despite me receiving a text from them confirming the appointment. Nestor and I did errands and drove around Miami. By 4 p.m., I was very nervous. I called CVS customer service and spoke to a woman about my test. She could see on the computer that I was registered as "no show" though it also appeared I got tested. It was "pending". I explained to her it was 48 hours since the test, and I did not have a result. I was leaving first thing to South America and needed the info immediately. She said she would have a tele-health nurse call me. Three hours later and no call, I called again. This time I was sent back and fourth from person to person only to find they were closed for the night. I was shit out of luck! So much for living in a "developed" nation. Miami International Airport has a Covid testing center at the terminal (door H, #20).They close at 9 p.m. Nestor drove me there at 7 p.m. and was in and out in less then 10 minutes. It would cost me $179! Sadly, I have to spend the money in order to board the flight and enter Ecuador. 20 minutes later they texted me the negative Covid result. YEAH! At least I can sleep well knowing that all is ready for tomorrow because I have to be at the terminal by 7 a.m. for check-in with a flight that leaves at 10 a.m. No rest for the wicked!


Dinner with Nestor $17 (Peruvian ceviche) Covid PCR Test $179 December 12, 2021 I slept on the plane from Miami to Quito. The PCR (Covid test) was used at the counter and again when I got into Quito at Mariscal Sucre International Airport. Baggage claim went very well and was in and out within 15 minutes. The airport here is exceptional and very advanced for a developing country. I was particularly impressed by how clean it was, better than MIA. It is the busiest airport in the country and one of the busiest in South America. It is located 18 kilometers from the city and takes 30 to 45 minutes to get into town pending on traffic. It opened in February 2013 replacing a 53 years old airport with the same name. This can be confusing because locals call it the new airport versus the old, so you need to be clear as to where you are going. I had arranged transportation prior to arrival with my hostel. I am always a bit nervous when exiting the doors into the airport hub now knowing if the person would be there or not. Fortunately for me, he was prominently positioned at the exit door with a large sign with my name. He took my bag and escorted me across the street to the parking lot. Like so many countries in developing economies, there was your assortment of buildings alongside the road. A ramshackle of housing was spread into the hills and valleys with water collection on the roofs. One thing is telling on the safety of a country is if there are bars on the windows. I did not not see any along my route. The drive went quickly and without incident. When we arrived to the historic center and close to the hostel, the police had closed the street off. The driver found an alternative way to get to the front door. He helped me get my baggage into the building and I provided my passport at the reception desk. All went well until I had to pay for the taxi. When I arranged the taxi with the hostel, I was told it would be $20 from the airport and returning back it would be $18. Well, when I got there, I was told it would be $23. I shared with the desk attendant that I was confirmed it would be $20. Fortunately for me, he understood, and I paid $20. I will have to keep the price difference in mind when I come back on December 30. I also discovered that the price going back to the airport was different. Before it was $18 and now it is $20. Hostal Juana de Arco is an old building located at Plaza Santo Domingo. It is centrally located because it is also on a trolley line that goes in both directions. My room (#114) is located in the back of the building and on the top floor after going up a spiral staircase. You need to mind your head as it is close to the ceiling and not built for the average American. It is a simple room with medium blue paint, two walls with windows and one that opens into the interior courtyard to air out the room. The windows have margarine colored curtains. The room has a single bed with pillow/sheets/cotton blanket and a polyester top cover, wood desk with plastic chair, side table with lamp and an orange shade, a drinking glass, soap, a white towel with the initials of the hostel inscribed as well as a mirror nailed to the wall and a picture of roses. It is not fancy but does the trick for my budget consciousness ($8/night). No sooner had I arrived than I was out the door. Before departing, I was required to leave my keys at the reception desk and was told the door closes at 11 p.m. I was off to explore the surrounding neighborhood, go to the grocery, and get a feel for the area. I wanted to get back as soon as possible, because I needed to buy a plane ticket from Cuenca to Quito. I didn't want to do it until I got into the country if I had transportation issues arriving to Ecuador. I also wanted to get some rest and catch up from the last 2 days. The hostel is in an old building and like so many older places in the Americas, the building does not have heat or a/c. I am glad I brought my Patagonia long johns, wool sweater, wool sleeping socks, and long john long shirt to sleep in as it was cool in the evening. I also packed my wool hat which was a another good layer plus my Patagonia down vest. I snuggled under the covers, pulled the blanket over my head, put my ear plugs into my ears, and pulled the wool skull cap over my head and eyes. I was in bed by 9 p.m. and was out like a light.

Costs: $48.38 Hostal Juana de Arco (6 nights, single room, w/breakfast) $20 Airport to hostel $4.26 Grocery: 2 sm. chocolate bars, 1 lg. chocolate bar, cheese slices, 2 apples, liter of water, Oreos $1.00 Cheeries from street vendor $2.25 lunch: steak, rice, plantain, avocado, beet salad, sm. Sprite $66.98 one way ticket from Cuenca to Quito on Lantam and included one carryon and one duffle bag December 13, 2021

Ecuador's capitol and most populace city buzzes in the early morning at around 5:30 a.m. to early evening. Things settle down once public transportation stops. In retrospect, it is one way of controlling a population as many rely on public transportation to move around and cars are unaffordable for the average Ecuadorian. Twenty-four provinces make the country. Columbia lies to the north and to the south and east is Peru. To the west is the Galapogos Islands. The Equator passes through the country. The Andes divides the continent from north to south with the Amazon to the east.

It is the 10th most populous country in America with over 17 million inhabitants. It is the 15th most densely populated country in South America and the 5th most densely populated in the the Americas. What I find even more impressive is the rights of nature are written into their constitution! It was the first country on Earth to make this official and was guaranteed in 2008. The U.S. could learn a thing or two from this effort. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 guaranteed corporations as "people" while Ecuador guarantees the environment rights in 2008. I am not sure how much adherence those rights provide as money/power/greed have a way of distorting values, but from my first impressions all seems to be in order. Interesting facts: * The official language is Spanish with another 13 regional, indigenous languages --one of the largest is Kichwa. * It is a leading exporter of oil.

* It is the leading exporter of bananas in the world.

* Flowers, shrimp, and cocoa are leading exports.

Costs: $2.50 student ticket for Compania de Jesus

$2 Basilica del Votro Nacional .35 trolley to artisan market .35 trolley back to hostel $8 4 Covid masks with machine embroidered flowers and Ecuador symbols $15 rabbit slippers December 14, 2021 The streets are filled with people selling everything you can imagine -- cigarettes, fruit, toilet plungers, paper towels and toilet paper, candy, popcorn, drain stoppers, tablecloths, etc. If it can be sold, you will most likely find one hawking it on the sidewalk. Yes, there are stores filled with the same items, but the entrepreneurial sprit of people trying to carve out a living for themselves is evident. Everywhere you turn there is energy in the streets -- people playing live music, beggars, drunks and drug addicts, prostitutes, shoeshine boys, etc. The streets are relatively quiet in the early morning of people, by noon it is another story. I am impressed too by how well the central historic center is protected by police. They are everywhere! I am unsure if is has to do with tourism and the calming idea that their presence makes it feel safer, or if there is a crime wave. No matter, it does make me feel more at ease. I do know that people from other parts of the Americas are coming across the border which has increased crime. Desperate people will do desperate things to support themselves and a family. Regardless, I keep a watchful eye on my backpack and don't flash cash around for others to see. Costs: .45 busker (3 busker tip) 2.50 almuerzo/lunch: chicken soul with potato soup, shrimp with rice, plantain, veggie salad, juice

.60 large Coke December 15, 2021 I am surprised to find so few people in the museums. You have to register your name, country, passport number or cell phone number on a registry before you can enter. When I went in the afternoon, I was the first to have seen the religious art. My guess is the locals don't have much appreciation for it; they probably get enough of it in the church? And then there is the expense. The average person on the street makes $400 a month. Why spend $2 on a museum entrance when you have a a family to feed, house, clothes, etc. Even so, I would think tourists would see it. Again, I am mistaken; it is rather surprising. The great thing about it is I have an entire space to myself accept for a few guards sporadically placed in the hallway or gallery. I walk through the rooms in silence as the world outside bustles by keeping my ears filled with horn hunks and tacky, Spanish, disco music that drives me nuts. It penetrates the walls even in the most austere locations. I can only image what the Carmelite nuns must ponder.

Costs: .35 trolley to bus station $3.10 bus to Otavalo $5.00 artisan bone pendant $5.50 wool indigenous mask $2.50 lunch: chicken, rice, veg, fries, tomatillo juice, Coke $2.90 bus to Quito .35 trolley to hostel $3.50 taxi to URKO $3.50 taxi to hostel $68.00 URKO dinner with tip December 16, 2021 When families emigrated to Ecuador for a better life, I am told they had to change their last name to something Spanish. For ex., if you came from China and your name is Pong Song Yu, they would add something like Gonzalez to the end of the name. I find this peculiar and a bit odd. For a country that is supportive of environmental rights, I am perplexed that individuals would lose their right to keep their last name. It is a way of forced assimilation that would not resonate well in most parts of the world. Then again if it's a price for freedom and to become a citizen from a region of the world that is rattled in civil war, poverty, and catastrophe, beggars can't be choosers. Costs: $2.00 entrance to Carmelite de Alto Museum $4.00 lunch: lg Coke, tomatillo juice, soup with onion and fish, pasta Bolognese December 17, 2021 Some might think the closest point on Earth to space would be Mount Everest, but no. The reason has to do with the fact that the Earth is not a perfect sphere. Because of its rotation, it bulges slightly at the equator. That means that all things being equal, the equator is closer to space and farther from the center of the Earth than anywhere else. Mount Chimborazo is actually 1.5 miles taller than Mount Everest. Because mountain peaks are measured from sea level, Mount Everest is considered higher because the bulge in the Earth at the equator also means that the seas are higher, too. Costs: $3.00 Desayuno: rice, potato, tomatillo juice, coffee con leche, bread with jamon, fried egg .50 shoe shine on the plaza $1.36 lg bottle of water and Oreos December 18, 2021 Public transportation is to be revered in a world where owning a car is cost prohibitive for many. Waking early and taking the tram to the public bus terminal went well. The location of my hotel is perfect as it is on a tram that goes to two different bus terminals in the country. The folks at the hotel provided me excellent directions. Whenever I take public transportation, I always keep my backpack close and my duffle bag too. Slippery fingers can slit a bag when you are not looking. I keep my backpack in my lap and never overhead. The one thing that always makes me a little nervous is putting my duffle bag under the bus. Folks come and go from the stops. If placing the bag under, make sure you are giving it to the driver of the bus and never to someone who is being "helpful". While you want to be trusting, it can get you into trouble. I have heard too many stories of helpful hands loading your bag on one side of the bus with an extra pair of hands taking it away from the other side.

Banos a.k.a. Banos de Agua Santo (Baths of Holy Water) is the gateway to the Amazon Basin. It is the last city in the mountains before reaching the jungle. The bus station is around the corner from the town center and is very walkable. Banos is famous for its rich mineral, hot springs. People come from all over to soak in its hot waters. Some locals believe the Virgin Mary appeared here by the waterfalls. People gather alongside next to the baths to take water from the falls as they believe it is holy and blessed by the Virgin. The myth lingers of its healing and Kichwa come here to be blessed as well as the cathedral in town by the town square. Local legend also states that, like many beautiful women, Mama Tungurahua has a temper. When she doesn’t get what she wants, she becomes furiously enraged and spews hot ash and lava high into the air in a spectacular and terrifying display. The last time she had a melt down was in October 1999 when a major eruption caused the entire town to evacuate. Let's hope she will remain in state of calm during my adventure.

Costs: $3.50 Laundry .35 trolley to bus station $5 bus to Banos $2.50 lunch: soup with corn, carrot, potato, beef; steak with rice, plantain, veg salad $3.05 Coke, 3 local chocolate bars .25 tagua bead $4 night admission to Virgin volcano pools .50 bathing cap $1.75 lg beer December 19, 2021 I went last night to the Baths of Holy Water. I was advised to arrive early because a line forms. I was like the 12th person there and was ready for an enjoyable evening. The gates opened, and the people poured in. Setting you towel and personal belongings into a plastic bin, I left my things with an attendant. If you go, it is advisable to leave any valuables at home. I made a grand tour of the place to scope out everything -- massage tent, lower cold pool, lower cauldron pool (super hot), and upper level pools, changing rooms, showers, snack bar. I went to the far end and made my way into the water. Bobbing heads rose up through the water. I sat on a ledge in the water submerged. There were a few other gringos here but not many - maybe 4. I sat there for about thirty minutes and then decided to head to the cauldron. Only a few would enter. I decided I would be brave and enter the steaming water. I first dipped my toe in and backed away. It was mighty hot indeed. I heard the secret was to enter the waters and do not not move. Sit calm and still; don't event move your arms. Your body would adjust. And sure enough, it was true. I stayed for maybe five minutes. And yes, as soon as I moved, I could feel the heat wrap around my body like a envelope. I decided to return to the upper level. I spent approximately 1.5 hours here and had enough. I slept like a baby tonight. *********************** Rio Verde is a sleepy town of approximately 20,000 that would be overlooked by many if it weren't for its famous waterfalls -- the Devil's Cauldron (Pailon del Diablo). The main town road points toward this landmark with tourist kitsch along the way. Before arriving there, you will see adventurists who will go base jumping, parasailing, and canopy zipline tours. I am always a bit cautious as some of these have less safety practices in-hand compared to U.S. standards. All the same, you only live once! The bus will drop you right next to the park. Just follow the signs to the waterfall. The hike is a workout and not for those who have physical challenges. Arriving in the morning, it was quiet and peaceful. There were a few others ahead of me, but at least I beat the throngs. Up and down the slippery rocks, you make your way through the forest. Keep your eyes open for flora and fauna. Some the mushrooms are brilliantly colored. And you walk closer, you will look across the valley and see a swinging bridge with the waterfall in the distance. It looks amazing! 80 meters high (262 feet), the falls seem taller because the water is pushed through a narrow channel and you are pressed up against it soaking everything around you. Even if you bring a poncho to keep dry, it will have little affect as the water will find its way in. Cold water send chills refreshing chills across your back and chest and will cool you down from the journey there. For the less adventurous, there is small restaurant with drinks and wood burning fireplace. My thoughts are though if you made it this far, keep going for the grand finale. The hike back is a climb upward. There is the occasional resting spot with a view, a place to snap a few photos, and on the pathway up to the town small huts for a snack or drink. Costs: .50 local bus to Rio Verde $2 Diablo Cauldron waterfall $3 lunch: veg soup with chicken and rice; rice avocado beans, coleslaw, chicken skewer, juice, Coke .50 local bus to Banos $3.35 assorted chocolates $1 coffee ice cream cone $1.50 lg beer $14 Hostal Chiminea - 6 bed dorm room (w/o breakfast) December 20, 2021 Riobamba is a bustling city of over 155,000 people. The bus leaves you outside the main part of the downtown. It is a small hike but not miserable. The old colonial part is lovely with classic architecture. Sadly, it appears as if all the churches closed except for Sunday. I am keeping me fingers crossed I will be able to get into some. The key spot for most tourists is this is the city for the starting point for the train ride to the Devil's Nose aka Nariz del Diablo and Alausi. Up until 2009, you could sit on the roof of the train. (This practice stopped according to urban myth when some dumb gringo fell off and died while trying to get a selfie) A masterpiece of engineering, a lot of people had to lose their lives during construction between 1899 and 1908. I decided to not go on it, as the locals don't go on it b/c it's cost prohibitive -- $40 for journey. I am told the views are spectacular. Costs: $2.30 bus to Riobamba .50 (2) black tagua beads .80 1 croissant $1.80 lg water and assorted chocolates $2.50 lunch: veg soup w/potato, rice and mart; chicken, rice, beans, babaco juice December 21, 2021 I had read in a travel guide that Guano was a sleepy little town outside of Riobamba that was famous for its handmade carpets and leather goods. I paid thirty-six cents to get there, and it was truly a disappointment. There is a town square with government building, a cultural center, a church, and park in the middle of it all. There are small shops around the park but nothing worth mentioning. Dusty roads surround the square with a bank in one corner. I walked several blocks outside of the main square only to find cheap plastic items made from China and few restaurants tucked between buildings. I spent more time riding the bus there and back than actually in the town itself. I only hope the market at Guamote on Thursday is a better experience than today. Costs: .36 bus to Guano .36 return bus to Riobamba 1.00 2 scoops ice cream

December 22, 2021 I have visited church after church after church here in Riobamba and for the most part they are all closed. I was fortunate to tuck my head into one because they were blessing a baby Jesus figurine dressed in finery for the winter holiday. I popped into the back and snapped a few pictures before they kicked everybody out. I was at the right place at the right time. If it was not for this serendipitous occasion, I would have not gone into any churches. My guess is they are only open on Sunday? What a vast difference from Quito where they are open constantly. Sadly when I walk the streets, I see shop after shop selling the same old thing -- plastic items from China, cheap shoes, polyester blankets, and nothing much worth buying. My guess is the people either see these things things as valuable or do not appreciate the things that are made by hand (which are often times better quality). I can't tell you how many stores I have walked into this city only to find the same thing from shop to shop. The only surprise was to find a lovely, handmade hair tie for $7, which I immediately snapped up at the artisanal market at the train station. I will have to keep my eyes open for more. Costs: .39 liter of water

$1 bag of cherries $7 green beaded handmade hair tie $1 mora y fresca ice cream cone $2.15 handmade chocolate bonbons and a Coke December 23, 2021 I woke early to get to the bus station and take a bus to Guamote. Guamote is about one hour away from the city and in the hills. It has a very large indigenous Kichwa community. I was unsure as to where to get off so I stopped at the bus station. I walked into town and asked a local person where the market was located, He provided me excellent directions and found the streets and railroad tracks filled with vendors. I towered over them. The average person there is less than 4 foot tall and wears brightly colored clothing. The women for the most part wear hats with a peacock feather protruding from the side. The men also wear the same hat and adornment. I had hoped to purchase one for myself, but even the largest hat was too small for my head. The women wear brightly colored, pleated skirts with ribbons sew on the bottom. Their blouses are white with embroidered flowers. In the old days they were handmade, but now the majority of them have machine made embroidered flowers. Between the blouse and skirt is a brightly colored belt. Many are now being made in china from machine made designs but the authentic ones were wool and had a design. Gold necklaces and beads adorn the women's necks with gold dangling earring from their ears. Their hair is usually tied back in a braid and usually goes past their mid-back or butt. What I love about their hair is it is jet black and very thick. Even the men wear their hair long and braided. Some have it cut but many leave it in its natural state. I fit right in with my long hair. The women wear shawls--some of cotton but most are in wool. They are usually red, green, orange, or a shade of pink. The men also wear ponchos in the same colors as well as striped. The ponchos go to their waist. Women have a pin adorning theirs and clipped together by it. Costs: .35 bus to terminal $1.40 bus to Guamote $1.40 Bus to Riobamba $10 (2) hand beaded Kichwa hair clips $2 handmade beaded jacket pin (yellow flower) $15 (3) hand beaded Kichwa hair clips $2.75 breakfast: two fried eggs over rice and mashed potato, cabbage, tomato, bread, strawberry juice, cafe con leche $1 taxo y mango ice cream December 24 - 26, 2021 The USA really goes all out for Christmas when I compare it other countries around the world. Others have become more Americanized with holiday decor in parks and lights down streets and avenues; however, the USA blows it out of the water. One disappointment I have is churches and the lack of music and festivity celebrating the birth of Jesus. One might think the birth of a savior would be all encompassing and celebratory. Nope. It's very lack luster and almost like just another day on the calendar. Because of Covid (this year and last), the Pase del Nino was basically nothing but a car with some officials and a Jesus baby statue that taxied through one of the main plazas and down the street. Usually, this is one of the grandest events in Cuenca with a parade that last for 7 hours and folks coming into the city from around the area. It is believed that Pase Del Nino Viajero started in Ecuador around the 1960s when a Christ Child statue, known as Nino Viajero, was brought back from Rome. The statue had been blessed by the Pope himself. Preceding festivities leading up to the Pase Del Nino festival take place from the start of December. The Pase Del Nino Viajero is always celebrated on December 24, Christmas Eve.

The celebration of Pase Del Nino usually begins at approximately ten o’clock in the morning and lasts throughout the day. Musicians and merrymakers follow the procession through the streets of Cuenca, from San Sebastian, down Simon Bolivar Street, past the Calderon Plaza and ending in San Blas. The route may vary from year to year. Many days of planning and organization goes into this wonderful celebration, as the procession is a sea of floats, trucks and costumes honors the Christ child.

The parade of color, horses in full splendor, and uplifting music depicts the journey of Mary and Joseph to the town of Bethlehem. Children run around trying to catch a glimpse of the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and angels. Is one of the biggest religious festivals of the year. Costs: $9.20 bus to Cuenca $1.25 taxi to bus station $48 Chewck Inn Hostel for 6 nights with breakfast $5 hostel laundry $8 hand embroidered 2 face masks $5 hand embroidered two face masks $4 hornados for lunch at market $2.25 taxi to hostel $1 tram to bus station $2.25 ham and cheese w/fresh juice (breakfast in Gualaceo) $1.30 bus to Cuenca from Gualaceo .10 exit fee from bus station $1.30 return bus to Cuenca $2 tram to Supermaxi, plus return $1 return to hostel via tram .60 liter of water .20 cacho bread $3.80 3 prong to 2 prong electric converter .60 liter of water $2.15 lemon tart with merengue $1 pocadillo sweets .60 liter of water .15 busker .15 bathroom $2.21 handmade wooden spoons (4) December 27, 2021 I left right after breakfast and walked to San Blas to the Museum of Modern Art. I got there by 8:30 and waited in the park. I watched the local neighborhood start their day. I waited until 9 a.m. and the doors of the museum remained closed. I asked an elderly woman and her daughter about the museum opening, and they thought it was 9 a.m. I decide dot leave at 9:15. In the evening, I went to Facebook and found out they are not open on Monday. Sadly this information is not posted on the door of the museum. I will have to wait until tomorrow. No worries, I walked back along the river and went to the indigenous museum. I had heard they had an indigenous artisan market there below the museum. When I arrived I discovered the market was not open, though the museum was, and I was able to see come local craft on the subject of the nativity. I later walked to the artisan market with the intention of purchasing the inlaid, wooden box that stores a bottle of wine. Sadly, I had remember it as being $24; it was $42. I swapped the numbers in my head. Oh well... No worries, I discovered handknit, wool socks and got two -- one for me and another for Bear. Costs: $20 artisan, handmade large necklace with crystal stone and three smaller stones (one is a tigers eye on a handmade chain -- originally wanted $45) $4.50 lunch $12 (2) pairs of handknit, wool socks December 28, 2021 Costs: .60 liter of water $210 bespoke, wool cape with wool embroidered flowers $1 fresh fruit in orange juice December 30 - 31, 2021 The return flight home was a rollercoaster of a trip. I got tested at the hostel yesterday morning when I arrived to the hostel. I had arranged the visit before I left Quito last week. The medical team came to me and did a nasal swab. I would have the result within the day.

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