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- Visiting South America
I Love Ecuador!
After enjoying our "Bon Voyage" cocktail at the overpriced bar in the United States airport, we eagerly took our seats aboard Avianca International. The process was simple, easy, and quite relaxing. Could it possibly have been our cocktails? No. It was the extraordinary crew of Avianca. I especially thought that the stewardesses uniforms, red capes and hats were the cat's meow. Fabulous girls! Just fabulous!
I suggest and highly recommend if you fly to Ecuador or anywhere in South America that you fly "Avianca" due the comfort and the great treatment we received on our flights. The airplane itself was impeccably clean, as well as the rest-room.
The staff was very pleasant and courteous, as well as the food being absolutely delicious. We could hardly believe that we were eating 'airplane' food! Wow! The plane flight was mellow, offering small television screens, ear-buds, and an array of movies in front of each of your seats.
Avianca would be flying us to Bogota, Columbia for an overnight layover and back on board in the early morning to be flown to Guayaquil for a brief stay before our final destination spot! Cuenca, Ecuador.
We realized that due to my husband's proposed dental expenses of $7.000.00 in the United States, we could take an extended vacation, get high quality dental work and still save money! Why should the U.S. dentist get a vacation by overcharging us when we can take the vacation instead? So we did.
We arrived in Bogota, Columbia and customs were very strict as they should be. The uniformed soldiers held what I believed to be M16's. No doubt that they trumped any TSA gropers from the United States.
I can assure you that nobody got out of line in their airport and if they did...well it didn't last very long. Yes. The streets are patrolled as well.
We took a quick cab to our hotel and spent the evening at the Holiday Inn near the airport. As usual, the Holiday Inn's has always been a quality experience for us. Being that we were out of the country we were pleasantly surprised that the service at this particular Holiday Inn was even better than the service in the states. Yes! They speak English!
We headed downstairs after dropping off our bags inside a very plush room with a huge shower! We were quickly greeted by this awesome, smiling bartender who allowed us to take his photograph. Even though it was late, he kindly directed us to the places that would be open so that we could get a bite to eat, as well as the best Café Con Leche.
Thank you awesome bartender man! You were a pleasure to meet!
What is a Café Con Leche? A spanish white coffee beverage! Delish!
We walked the streets in Bogota in search of our 'treat' and our coffee at about 10:00 pm. The snapshot of the dessert store that we entered pretty much describes what I could never describe in words of how good our snack was!
I found it fascinating to see a "Friday" night in another country. Many of the men and women in their twenties were in open areas of the street around beverage stores enjoying a cocktail, friendship and music.
We took our snack and Café Con Leche and sat on the high curbs and enjoyed the scenery of the people before heading back to the hotel for our early morning flight.
LATIN AMERICAN CUISINE & DESSERTS & COFFEE
Throughout our stay in South American, regardless of location our food was delicious! Cultural differences and various food preparations are what made everything about this trip so enjoyable. If you love to see new countries and experience and taste new cuisines, whether it be Columbia or Ecuador, you will enjoy the food, the coffee, as well as the service while abroad. Yes we drank the bottled water, but the local water which made our coffee drinks in Cuenca came directly from the Andes Mountains. Refreshing!
We landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador around noon-time and spent only one evening in Guayaquil before grabbing a bus to go straight to Cuenca, our destination of choice. Our hotel, "Unipark" was directly across from the famous Iguana Park.
The most highlighted of Guayaquil that afternoon was experiencing the "Iguana Park" in the middle of the city. "Parque de Las Iguanas." A great statue of Simón Bolívar riding his horse was erected in the center of "Iguana park." Who is Simón Bolívar? He was a Venezuelan military leader who liberated Latin America from Spanish control.
AND THEN CAME THE IGUANAS....TOO MANY TO COUNT!
When is the last time you saw an iguana cross the street? No. This is not a joke. There is always a first for everything and that was my first "iguana crossing." I found it humorous and delightful to watch a small iguana cross the road and scuttle down the sidewalk. The majority of the other iguanas spent their time inside the park, in trees, on the ground, actually everywhere! They were mixing and mingling with the tourists, as well as the birds! Fabulous experience!
THE DOUBLE RAINBOW OVER CUENCA
This double rainbow appeared over the city of Cuenca after a powerful rainstorm. We had hurried out of the extreme lightening and rainstorm attempting to stay dry, as we slipped inside a restaurant for dinner. An hour later this rainbow appeared!
I have never seen a rainbow of such intense color, nor a city of people so delighted to see "God's Covenant" shown to them.
The religion of the people of Ecuador are mostly Catholic or should I say Catholica? The children of Guayaquil and Cuenca were dressed in Catholic uniforms during the day. It is not unusual to see Catholic nuns on the street as well.
The children and teenagers are very well behaved, orderly and courteous. I was very happy to see the clear difference of the behaviors of the young Ecuadorian youth compared to the United States youth. Never once did we hear any cuss words or see any disrespectful actions while we walked the streets among the children or teens. God is surely among the country and the people of Ecuador. God bless you all!
We entered this huge cathedral in Guayaquil for a noon mass, as well as an evening mass that night. I am not of the catholic faith but a follower of Yeshua, so we did not attend but we did take some pictures and observe the people, cultures and customs. In the evening we entered the gates and there were many vendors outside selling rosaries and photographs of Jesus.I have selected only a few of the photographs. The view inside this cathedral was one of a mouth dropping experience. Statues of angels, popes, monks and shrines that I can not even describe to you with adequate words. This building is one of jaw dropping expense and very well taken care of.
A BIBLICAL EXPERIENCE
We stepped into the foyer of the back of the church that afternoon when one of the most biblical experiences happened. A blind man with a cup lifted his head up and seemed to look directly at me, smiled and shook his cup. I was shocked by this because his eyes were clearly glazed over--he was blind. We went over and helped the dear man and my husband shook his hand and I hugged him. We could only assume that he noticed that someone had entered through the doors by the shadow stopping the sunlight. How it could have been possible that he knew exactly where I stood? I don't know. It did put tears in my eyes though to see this elderly beggar man standing in the back of the most expensive church I have ever seen.
The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
The Market Place
The market place was a cultural shock to us but amazing to experience. If you come to Ecuador you will be seeing an abundance of various fresh fruits sold not only the market place but on the sidewalks in wheelbarrows day and evening.
The fresh strawberries, as well as all of the fruits are offered with no preservatives! The size of the strawberries were the size of our fists. We were amazed!
The street vendors have everything you could ever dream of eating and snacking on. Fudge, plantain chips, empanadas, even what looked to be like ice-cream but wasn't. What were they? Espumillas! These are flavored meringue cream overstuffed inside a cone! Terrific!
The meat, pork and beef is sold in an open air market hanging from hooks. I love the way the Ecuadorians live. Simple and healthy living has certainly made the people of Ecuador much happier because we did not endure what we would endure in the United States.
Five Star Hospitality
5 Star Rentals
My husband and I were again in favor when we 'accidentally' met a wonderful family, Oscar Bolivar and his two sons who own many properties in the city of Cuenca. We rented a comfortable and affordable studio efficiency apartment with full laundry and a rooftop patio while my husband received his local dental work.
This family is in the process of renovating upstairs from the three studio apartments below. Oscar allowed us the privilege to tour the finished work of two of the apartments. Fabulous! I felt as if I was in a New York City high rise by the decor and quality of construction. These will easily accommodate families, business groups and those who need a temporary home away from home while transitioning to the area.
They were not only a friendly and Godly family but they made us feel like family as well. As we arrived to our comfortable studio there was a bottle of complimentary red wine and fresh flowers left for us. What a pleasure to have met them and it surely was a pleasure to sip on my wine as I sat on the rooftop patio in the sunshine overlooking Cuenca.
I highly recommend renting from this family and if you have any questions you may reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bus Depot
We entered the bus depot and we were shocked! Everything was in Spanish. Uh-oh. We were limited in our Spanish (yes we live dangerously) but we do know our numbers! It still didn't help. As we stood in line at one of the bus cashier's booths waiting to speak to female teller a commotion happened that left us laughing and quite aware of the culture.
A man in the front of the line was yelling in Spanish at the Ecuadorian female behind the bars inside the booth. He must have been swearing at this young lady because one of the elders came to correct him quickly and stop him and she did.
A very wrinkled yet energetic, elderly Ecuadorian woman dressed in her traditional wear showed up like a ninja. She began to swat him with her hands, slapping him everywhere on his body in one huge fit. She yelled and then shook her finger, only to quickly leave and take her seat in a row far behind where we were standing. The argumentative man was not related to the "Respect Ninja Police" but he surely quieted down to a gentleman after that episode--as he should have.
BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER or PAY or DRIP DRY
I found out a bit late for my own comfort but I will share this very important travel tip with you. If you are using the bus transportation in Ecuador and you need to use the restroom be sure to have a small bit of toilet paper with you or you will have to pay at the restroom door for a few sheets of toilet paper. There is no toilet paper available inside the stalls.
As a matter of fact there are no toilet seats on the toilets bowls either. Be prepared to squat only. Yes. I said it-squat. Don't ask me why because I still have no idea of why there are no seats on the bowls. Inquiring minds would like to know. Is there any reader from South America who can answer this? Please leave it in the comment section. I am baffled but I have become a good squatter anyways! Ha! Ha!
Toilets With No seats
NO FLUSHING PAPER DOWN THE TOILET! POOP PATROL WILL ARREST YOU!
Because of the sewage system not being as efficient as the United States standards...no used toilet paper can ever be flushed except in modern hotels. Be prepared to BYOTP or pay at the door and do not flush any toilet paper from any number one or number two! All paper products must go in the garbage can! Yeah...I know what you're thinking right now, sorry.
When we finally reached the head of the line for our tickets we were in favor by God and a young man hurried us through the bus station and took us to our specific bus. He grabbed our bags and threw them into the storage and low and behold, he was our bus driver all the way to Cuenca, as well as the driver on our ride back to Guayaquil!
It was approximately a three to four hour bus ride to our destination. Other than a playful child who sat behind me who had grown attached to me, and the immense sunlight that kept me awake, the ride itself was very pleasant. Often on each of the stops, a person would come on board and sell ice-cream, soda, snacks and quesadillas. Yum!
Traveler tip! Please do remember a small blanket if you want to take a nap because it is very bright because of the altitude.
Cab Drivers & Directions & Tips
Shuffling around in a cab was a breeze! American money takes you much further here in Ecuador than it does in America. We were shuttled all around town throughout our stay and the charges averaged between $3.00 to $5.00 with the tip included.
Yes! A tip included! They work very hard and they do expect to be tipped. Non tippers will get the very same treatment as a non-tipper in America. The difference here? When they are tipped, the Ecuadorean people are genuinely gracious and thankful for the tip.
We had very limited knowledge of Spanish, yet we managed without much difficulty to break the language barrier. Many of the people of Ecuador speak some English, as well as most of the cab drivers but I would highly suggest that you write the address down and hand it to the cab driver. They know the streets very well and our pronunciation of streets and buildings left them with strange looks on their faces.
WRITE YOUR DIRECTIONS DOWN ON A PIECE OF PAPER AND HAND IT TO THEM!
Please do not be surprised at what you may see walking down the streets on your rides through towns! No they are not hitchhikers looking for a ride...they are llamas!
Amazing Nature & Animals of South America
The Cab Driver Who One Upped Me
We arranged to go to the zoo from the front desk of our hotel. We paid at the front desk ahead of time. The cab driver picked us up, drove us to the zoo and he waited in the parking lot for us until we were done enjoying our fun. Can you imagine that ever happening in the United States? The only thing that we had to do when arriving back to the hotel was to give this awesome gentleman a tip. The majority of the hotels have itinerary at the desk and are they are very courteous in letting you know the attractions.
My experience with this particular cab driver was off the charts! We had no idea that he knew English. I was sitting behind the driver and my husband was sitting to my right. In the middle of the drive to the zoo we went through a very congregated area of people and a narrow street. He was slowing down for a light and then he began to yell out at me! Out of nowhere he took his left arm and slid it back toward my door handle and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Get out! You get out now!" His hand kept clicking the door lock!
GET OUT! YOU GET OUT NOW! GET OUT!
My eyes were as large as pancakes wondering what I possibly could have done to upset him? I hadn't said a word so I knew it was not my mouth this time! He screamed again, "Get out!" I looked at my husband with my non-blinking eyes and my mouth wide open in shock of what I was hearing! I looked at his face in the rear-view mirror and I realized that he was having fun with me.
The cab driver was laughing and just messing with me as he probably does throughout the day with the tourists! My husband thought that he was hilarious to do that to me, knowing that I am usually the practical joker! My husband tipped this cab driver big when we arrived back to the hotel! He even made me take a picture with him so he could laugh forever and never let me forget that somebody finally 'one upped me!'
No! I am not putting the other part of the spliced picture up but I can assure you that my face was bright red! This is the cab driver! Look at his face and remember it! He has a habit of doing this to the foreigners for fun so beware and don't get duped like JG did.
He was fabulous! It was very funny...I guess.
The ZOO 'El Pantanal' in Guayquil, Ecuador
The zoo in Ecuador is amazing and one we will be going back to again! There is a tour guide who walks you through the zoo and you are never left alone. The animals are greatly protected and they are in their natural surroundings.
I have been to many zoos around the United States but this zoo had the most memorable and unique animals that I have ever seen. The Tortuga Galapagos hanging out with pink flamingos was a sight to see!
Probably the most strangest animal that I have ever seen in my life was the bird that I have placed here for you to view. It is also a bird that I never want to see again unless it is in the zoo. This thing is what nightmares are made of. The 'Aguila Harpia.'
The more I stared at this animal, the more I wanted to run! I have never seen anything so surreal yet real. If I would have seen it in a picture I would have believed it was photo-shopped. This bird had the face and ears of a cat, a pointy bird beak and its body appeared to look almost human like in a fur 'tuxedo' coat. To make this already frightening bird even more scary? This bird had a tail that looked like a skunk-like cat tail.
I do not say this in jest but this bird looked so terrifying that I was praying that it would not find its way out of its area, as well that I wouldn't have night mares. I just could not believe what I was seeing. Amazing!
This zoo was fabulous and many of the animals and birds were free to move around in the midst of the tourists. My husband was actually able to pet one of the small baby monkeys that stopped on a branch next to us! How awesome that was! I recommend that when you are in the area of Guayaquil that you make it a point to go to the El Pantanal zoo. You will not be disappointed.
Hotel Casa Ordonez
Hotel Casa Ordoñez
We also stayed at Hotel Casa Ordoñez in Cuenca. We give the highest recommendations for a stay at this hotel. They will treat you not only as family but they also will treat you like a King and Queen.
Alberto, the owner was very personable and fantastic! I felt as if I had known him forever. He previously worked as a chef for a very popular restaurant in New York City and is the chef at this Colonial Spanish boutique hotel. His cuisine will cause you to never want to leave the beautiful dining table! Wow! This amazing hotel has been in their family for over 100 years.
The rooms were impeccably clean, the staff were all warm and friendly and very attentive to any of our needs. Yes! They accept tips and they are gracious.
My husband and I are not very big eaters in the morning as many people are and we keep a specific diet of certain foods. I was blown away when Alberto accommodated us unexpectedly with a breakfast of fresh squeezed juice, creamy yogurt, toast and all of my favorite fresh local fruits! The amazing server stood behind me and constantly kept my steaming coffee filled. I made my husband take a picture because it was just over the top in what Alberto and his staff did for us. Oh yes! I felt like a queen at my stay at Hotel Casa Ordoñez.
We thank you Alberto and your staff for the most exquisite stay. We were in favor again by our choice to stay at your hotel. It was fabulous and we hope to see you all again!
Wonderful Lunch at MYO
We had lunch at a little cafe and seated ourselves outside on the patio deck of MYO! How relaxing to sit under the umbrella on the patio of MYO near the beautiful Tomabamba river in Cuenca.
We had a delightful server, friendly and efficient. The food was delicious and it was a very relaxing lunch choice.
As we finished our lunch the owner and our server unexpectedly presented us with a complimentary desert! Yum!
We were so impressed by their restaurant and how considerate and thoughtful they were to honor us with one of their sweet authentic creations. Thank you MYO for making our trip to Cuenca, Ecuador so special! You both were the very best of the best!
Again, we were in favor during our trip to Ecuador and we met the most beautiful people on our adventure in many places that our feet stepped.
Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba, Ecuador
If you are a lover of nature, hiking and seeking a quiet getaway vacation, Vilcabama is the place to go. Vilcabamba is a small village in the southern region of Ecuador. Spend a few nights in the foothills of the Andes and you will understand why we would love to return. We hired a private van that drove us to our three day private hideaway of beauty in Izhcayluma.
The cabins had many windows, a beautiful stone shower, clean fresh bedding and each had a personal hammock hanging from the deck outside.The cabins are surrounded by beautiful flowers, various cactus and trees. You will see the ultimate beauty of nature while you are having your first cup of locally grown fresh coffee in the morning. It is a stunning place!
My husband and I were celebrating our honeymoon and the only negative which we endured was that the flyer promoted it as more of a 'private' place of serenity then it really was. It would have been great if they would have had separators for privacy to each cabin as you see in the photograph. Other than that everything was fabulous and beautiful.
We saw an astounding lightening storm over the hills our first evening and a rooster woke us up in the morning-- just as it should be. They even have a small bar where you can have a cocktail or beer and relax with friends...all you have to do is follow the stone paths. This lovely resort was impeccably clean and the shrubbery, flowers and trees in the immediate area of the resort were well maintained. They also have a well maintained pool and a hot tub on the grounds.
There is one gathering place for diners to come and have breakfast and dinner. The food was of more than ample portion from the menu. Many of the dishes had an American flair as well as the cultural cuisine, very fresh, delicious and the service was superb. As you see by the photographs, the picturesque view while having breakfast is so refreshing! Fresh cold water is free in coolers on the dining deck and after a long hike it is even more refreshing.
Izhcayluma offers various trails that you may hike and the itinerary that the front desk offers is impeccable on what you will expect to endure and how long it will take to move through the trails. The staff was courteous and friendly.
My husband and I took the beginners trail and let me say that we 'endured' with no casualties. Remember to wear sunscreen as well as a hat covering for your head. You will need it! If you are going to be hiking, please remember to bring ample water!
We failed to take more than two bottles of water in our backpacks not giving in account the altitude as well as humidity. Let me just say that I drank more than half of their water out of the cooler when I stumbled back. I was taught a great lesson on what it feels like to those who die of water dehydration. Oh my! Don't forget your agua!
Yes! There are major restaurant chains in Ecuador as well. Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC...
The only deviance to their menus that we witnessed was that they adapt to the culture with a few different cuisines. KFC did not sell my favorite mashed potatoes that I was craving, but instead offered beans and rice as an alternative side.
If you are visiting Cuenca, I suggest that you try "Goda" where you will find fresh fish plates, interesting salads as well as pasta dishes. We truly enjoyed the food, as well as the coconut caramel flan. We continued to return for the desserts as well!
We also found a wonderful Italian restaurant called "That's Amore." It had an American flair to it, stylish inside and their Tirimusu was to die for. We almost missed it because it was tucked away in Cuenca off the major road and in the midst of a residential area. It is a fabulous little hideaway!
Ecuador Travel Guide
Affordable Dental Work
My husband's dental treatments went off without a hitch. Dr. Grace Ordonez was wonderful. She did her dental training at the University of Connecticut Dental School in Farmington, Connecticut, followed by ten years of private practice in Connecticut. As an Ecuadorian she returned back to her home country of Ecuador and opened her own practice.
The office was immaculate and the staff members were professional, well trained and courteous. We highly recommend Dr. Grace Ordonez should you need any affordable dental care. She is known as the best dentist in town, and by my husband's smile....that is a fact!
Thank you Dr. Grace Ordonez and staff for the excellent care and thank you to the people of Ecuador for the wonderful stay in your Country!
A Double Rainbow & 5.8 Earthquake
On our last day in Guayaquil, an hour before our hotel alarm was to wake us up to catch our flight to Bogota, Columbia, we were awakened by something strange. I thought that I was having another vision of an earthquake till I popped my eyes open and jumped off the moving bed.
Our tenth floor hotel room was making very unnatural squeaking noises. It was coming from the ceiling to floor windows and it sounded as if steel was being twisted loudly. Our bed and building continued to shake with extreme hard tremors. Yes! An earthquake! A 5.8 to be exact and we were only 11 miles from the epicenter, and just three days after a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake hit Nepal.
I laughed hysterically by the thought of that happening right before leaving Ecuador. The laugh may have had something to do with that big glass of red wine I chugged in the bathroom of the hotel as I finished doing my make-up getting ready for our flight out! No other tremors came but it apparently caused damage and chaos eleven miles away!
We received a double rainbow as we came into Ecuador and we got the shake of our lives when we exited. You just can't get any better than that can you?
What an amazing fun trip Ecuador was! I can not wait to go back again!