Franny is one of the many expats who volunteer in their new community. She takes a bus to a small village outside Cuenca, then walks several blocks along a dirt, potholed road passing goats, chickens, cows, and farmers to a large house where special-needs kids come to school. She's helped get the school in shape for re-certification by coordinating a paint-a-thon, getting monetary donations, as well as supplies such as computer equipment. In the course of her efforts, she learned of the need of a remote school near Zamora, Ecuador. The kids are from very poor families and the school was in need of basic school supplies such as notebooks, pens/pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, etc. Franny put the word out and soon she had several boxes crammed with school supplies ready to be delivered to the edge of the jungle where the school resides.
So, enough about Franny already. Geez, you'd think she was a SAINT or something!!!
But, how to get them delivered? Remember your friends who had pickup trucks and how they always got tapped to help with everyone and their cousins move? Bingo (hi Mom!). Well, I don't have a truck, but I have a small SUV which is all that's needed since 98% of expats here don't own cars.
So, nary a week after returning from Zaruma, I was behind the wheel again, headed for Zamora. Zamora (not Zaruma) is an hour outside of Loja, which is 4 hours drive time from Cuenca. I've been to Loja before but only in passing and never had the time to check it out. So was the case with Robert and Franny (see, I rotated the placement of their names!!). Plus, we had all heard about the town Saraguro but had never been as well. It's along the way.
9am Friday morning we hit the road. In a little over 2 hours, we pulled into Saraguro. It's a charming town with the typical central square anchored by a large church...one that looks like the town would be completely emptied out if they all went to church on Sunday. Like many towns in the Andes, it's mostly populated with indigenous people of a specific 'tribe'. However, in Saraguro, they're somewhat unique in the way they look and dress. Men, for example, wear black pants that end at their shins, black shoes/socks, and black hats. They also wear their hair in a single, long, braided ponytail. Woman wear long skirts to their ankles, embroidered blouses, and many many strands of beaded necklaces and/or gold chains. Depending on the 'tribe', their hats vary between a black fedora-type and a wide-brim white hat with the underside in a motif that looks like the hide of a black and white cow.
We wandered a bit to enjoy the architecture. It was a nice halfway respite from driving. A friend of ours had been to Saraguro before and told Franny/Robert about a a neat restaurant we should make sure to have lunch. Her initials are MH and she bitched at me when I posted my last blog saying (in essence) 'EFF the bullets'...she wanted to read about our trip. So impatient!! (me thinks she was tipping too many at the time).
We sat at a table outside on a raised sidewalk and admired the beauty of the people walking by. We kept trying to get a photo, while being discrete, but it was impossible. Every time I focused my camera, the person I wanted to capture ended up going behind a lightpole, or a car would pass by, or the fire-hydrant would hide the short pants I was shooting for, or their backs would be to me. It was as if it was not meant to be, to get a photo of these people.
The food came. WHOA!!! Cameras were whipped out to take shots of our artistically arranged food. THIS...in SARAGURO ECUADOR??? Who presents a plate of food in an artistic fashion in.....well..... ECUADOR???? And, for less than 5 bucks?? What a treat it was to look at, and it all tasted great, too.
Onward to Loja, a mid-sized city of about 200,000 located a few thousand feet lower than Cuenca. About an hour and a half later we arrived at the Grand Hotel which we had booked online earlier in the week. We were led to our, much to our surprise, large suites that included a separate living room space, fully set dining table, king sized bed, flat screen TV, and jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. I thought someone made a mistake because the room I booked online was just a regular room for $42. There was no mention of the price when I registered at the front desk. UH OH. So, I went downstairs and asked. I was informed my room would cost $36. OKIE DOKIE....NO PROBLEMO!!!!
After a short nap, we headed out to walk the centro area. The downtown (known as the 'centro') has narrow streets which causes a lot of traffic congestion. But, we were on foot and not hindered. The buildings looked nicely maintained and had a similar architecture as Cuenca. Noticeably, there was little graffiti unlike Cuenca. Almost every 2-3 blocks there was another square, another church to walk into and gape at the soaring ceilings and ornate design. Loja has a nice walk-able ambiance for window shopping unlike many towns where the shops are more purely for function, than they are cosmetically enhanced experiences on top of providing a needed service.
Tuckered out, we took a taxi back to the hotel. We decided we didn't want to wander about to find a place for dinner, therefore we opted to dine in the hotel restaurant. Usually, that's a recipe for boring food at high prices. Not so here. We were the only ones there, seated at a nice table decked out with linens and crystal.
I needed a drink!!! Just so you know, Ec'ers aren't big drinkers, yet alone drink cocktails much. If they drink, it's primarily beer, with wine coming in second. That said, bars are not stocked with much hard alcohol. If you ask for a 'Cosmo' here, you're going to get a blank stare. But, on our menu was 'Vocka Martini'. YEA!!! I hadn't had one in a long time and I didn't care they misspelt Vodka. But, asking for a martini in EC is like betting on craps in Las Vegas. What the hell, I wanted one and it was only 4 bucks!!! Woohoo!!!
The waiter came back and apologized as they didn't have any martini. But, they could give me vodka with either orange juice or soda. Ummmmmmm. I soooooo wanted to say 'if you have vodka, you can make a martini!!!' but I didn't want to confuse the poor guy so I got a vocka martini with orange juice...which they also call a 'Screwdriver'. Who knew????
Cut to the chase. I ordered baked parmesean chicken for $9.50. It was HUGE and included rice, vegetables, and garlic bread. The three of us thought the food was great. I, for one, ended up on my king-sized bed sprawled out on my back because I was so uncomfortably stuffed to the hilt.
I wanted to enjoy my jacuuzi tub as I've really missed the TWO I had in my house back in the States. But (there's always one of those isn't there?) bathtubs in EC are made for people who are 4' 2". I mean....C'MON!!!! I was undeterred. I alternated between my upper body and my legs. I could get my torso under the water only if my legs from my waist down went straight up the wall. When I switched to treating my legs, there was barely any water in the tub because it was all pushed out the overflow while my torso was submersed!! As a result, the jets were not under water and started spraying sh_t all over the place.
Hope you got a laugh at my expense. You're welcome.
On to Zamora (not Zaruma) in the morning. See Part 2.
|Corn is king here in EC. And, here, is the Queen of Corn herself...Franny.|
|Fountain in the central park of Saraguro, with the church in the background.|
|Part of the central park/plaza.|
|Multi-purpose bench, protection from weather, and street light in Saraguro.|
|Robert and Franny at the sidewalk cafe in Saraguro (let's see...that's 2 for Franny named first, and 2 for Robert named first. Good...I'm safe.)|
|My mini burgers and stack of thin fries.|
|Franny shopping for jewelry. Most everything on the table was made of tiny beads. |
You can barely see the cowhide motif on the underside of the lady seller.
|4-sided monument in Saraguro, each side telling a different story.|
|Typical architecture of downtown Loja.|
|Church in Loja.|
|Another church in Loja.|
|Notice the size of the church's doors in relation to Franny and Robert (or Robert and Franny).|
|Yet ANOTHER church in downtown Loja.|
|A mural depicting Simon Bolivar.|
|Strange gateway to downtown Loja. Looks like it's straight out of Bavaria.|
|Wiley Coyote. Oh wait.....Don Quixote|
|....and his sidekick Tanto.|