Friday, December 20, 2013

Cartagena's Whisper

What do you get when you combine an earthy, exotic Caribbean vibe with the architecture and dreamy streets of the remains of the colonial Spanish empire? Gorgeous ancient buildings in terra cotta and earth tones are accented with moorish arches. Along side are houses in a rage of happy Caribbean colors, cascades of bougainvilla tumbling over the walls. Somehow its rich history of pirates, freed slaves, the burning of witches and the expulsion of the oppressors seems to have instilled in the people of Cartagena the freedom and creativity to welcome a vast variety of styles, cultures and people, making it today one of the most fascinating - and exciting - cities in the Americas. Whether you feast on the sweet fruits from a street vendor's cart or at one of the upscale haunts of the beautiful people, Cartagena provides flavors to remember. And just as you think, wandering the charming streets and plazas of the walled city, that you must be somewhere in Spain, an exotic woman, dressed in the bright colors of the Caribbean and carrying a basket of fruit on her head, crosses your path. The music may be cumbia, champeta, raggae, tango or something unrecognizable. But it's music to make you smile, to take a deep breath and relax. What do you get? You get a city that welcomes you with warm open arms, and then smiles as she says farewell, whispering "you'll be back."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Forget Medellin

You know me ... as long as I can take a few good photos, I'm pretty happy - but we'll talk about the photography later. Mom always said if you couldn't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. So here goes. Medellin has some good public transportation. The Metro system is efficient and comfortable. The people in the city are very friendly and helpful. Prices are very low. The fresh fruit is incredible. As far as I know, there are no more impressive Christmas lights anywhere in the world. And of course Medellin is the home of one of my favorite artists - I got to see all of those famous Botero statues in the plaza, as well as many more in the museum. I will have a whole greater appreciation of my Botero print which hangs in my bathroom now. My main reasons for coming to Medellin were to see the incredible Christmas light shows along the river, in the parks and throughout the city and also to see the Boteros. We did that. Both were great. My suggestion if you want to come to Medellin - come during December to see the lights, go to Plaza Botero and the museum. And bring your own food. Allow yourself two days.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Christmas Store

Special Christmas Things
I haven't been posting here lately. Most of my posting I just do on Facebook, since that's where all my friends and family seem to gather every day. Once in a while I get the urge to come over here, like I'll probably do to report on our upcoming Christmas trip to Colombia. Meanwhile, my online store has been keeping me busy getting ready for Christmas.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Farewell, Cuenca!

Last Night in Cuenca

We've loved our time here and can easily see why so many people have chosen to move here recently. It is not only one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it also has some of the friendliest people, from the lovely women who served us breakfast, answered questions and were always there to help at our hostel to the sweet man who rushed over to the sidewalk from his market stall with a stool for me to sit on when he saw me leaning against a wall to rest, everyone we met here was truly friendly and helpful. A smaller city, it is relatively quiet. The architecture, the charm of the cobblestone streets, the flowers, everything about the city exudes charm. But it's time to go home - home to sea level air, home to really great food, home to friends and familiar places where we know what the prices are supposed to be. There's a lot more to say about Ecuador, and another couple thousand photos to show, but it's time to go.

The Guitar Shop

Guitar in Process

Guitar Makers Capital of the World


Some of the best guitars in the world are made in San Bartolome, near Cuenca, Ecuador. Many of the guitar makers are from the same family, the Uyaguaris, and have learned their craft from their fathers and grandfathers. Most of them welcome visitors at their small rustic shops and are happy to discuss the skills, materials and processes involved in designing and making these beautiful instruments. We really lucked out at this place the artist showed us how he makes the guitars and the amazing designs on their fronts. Hidden away halfway to nowhere, this was one of the highlights of our trip.

Monday, June 10, 2013

And the Food

Roadside Cafe
Unfortunately we still didn't find Ecuadorian food to get excited about, even in Cuenca, except for this!  As you know, I've always said that the best food of most countries is found on the side of the road. This was no exception. At the top of the viewpoint hill high above the center of Cuenca, this woman prepared the most delicious pork I have ever tasted in my life, with no exception!  Offered with some delicious native potatoes that had been cooked with the pork and thus soaked up the juices and flavor, it was amazing. Eaten sitting on a stool at her outdoor "cafe," this was without question the best meal we had in Ecuador. The cost was $3 and I spent the rest of our time in the country hoping to find food like that again, but it never happened.

The Weaving Shop

I love weavings. This was a fun and colorful place to stop on our afternoon tour. We got to see the looms and other equipment, watch them prepare the materials and weave them, and I even actually managed to buy something this time - two gorgeous shawls, which can also be used as table runners, etc, so it seemed like a great investment! What incredible artists these people are! And the colors! - from dyes made from natural materials.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hats

Ecuadorian Hat Factory
One of my favorite things in Ecuador was something I didn't know existed before we went there - a hat factory! First off - who knew that Panama hats were made in Ecuador! Yes, it's true. When years ago they were shipped to Panama for shipment to the rest of the world, they became internationally known as Panama hats when of course they should have been called "Ecuador hats!"
On a tour around through the towns in the hills around Cuenca, the first stop was the hat factory. We got to hang out in the factory and watch as the people actually made the hats. There were weavers, pressers, molders and sewers. Some of my best photos in Ecuador were taken at the hat factory.  The colorful hats simply screamed to be photographed, as did the women at the ancient singer sewing machines. Well, actually the women didn't scream, but they smiled and were most friendly to these intruders into their work place. I wish that I had bought one of these famous hats since I adore hats anyhow and these are world famous. But in my usual travel fashion, I knew that I didn't have any space in my bag, I would never end up wearing the thing and I didn't really need it. I need to get over it. I didn't buy the most incredible rug in the world when we were in Tangier and I didn't get a Panama hat in Ecuador.
By the way, in Ecuador they are called sombreros de paja toquilla, toquilla being the straw they are made from.

Catedral

The Cathedral from our Balcony
The view from our balcony - one of the most beautiful cathedrals we've ever seen - just a block from our hostel, on the other side of the market!

Cuenca!

As soon as we arrive at our hostel, I see why Cuenca is so popular with expats these days. This small city just may be the most beautiful city in the Americas. By the  time I see the view from our room, my stress level has been reduced a good 60%.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Turtle & the Iguana


Wondering what this guy's thinking!

The Iguana Park


Commonly known as the Iguana Park, its actual name is Seminario Park, except when it is Bolivar Park. How many parks have this many names? In a city filled with statues, Simon Bolivar rides his horse in the middle of his park, which is directly across the street from our hotel. The town of Guayaquil used to end here, and the iguanas apparently chose this place as a good feeding ground and stayed. There are dozens, if not hundreds of them, along with turtles, fish and birds. All of this and a gazebo where the municipal band sometimes performs, it's a great place to spend some reading time, or just plain old people - or iguana - watching time.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Cathedral

It seems I couldn't stop taking pictures of the cathedral across the street from our hotel. From the inside or the outside, day or night, it is an amaziiing structure. Built in 1948, it appears much older. An interesting touch, inside a cathedral that looks hundreds of years old, are the video screens throughout, apparently to provide a closer look at the priest during mass.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Fun Afternoon Walk

Las Peñas
"Las Peñas," the neighborhood below the hill, is also charming - a beautiful place for a walk. Easily walked in half an hour, it can also be a 2-hour or more leisurely afternoon. We stopped by a couple of artist's studios, talked to a couple of people along the way, and discovered, at other end, a huge new busiiness complex with at least 6 sleek commercial buildings of at least 12 stories. The complex felt like a brand new ghost town, which we never figured out. Looked like some developers got carried away without a good economic analysis. This was probably our most pleasant afternoon in Guayaquil.

444 Steps Up

Santa Ana Hill
The stone stairway to Santa Ana Hill is 444 steps up. We didn't go. But the hill certainly makes for pretty pictures from the city of Guayaquil. Apparently there are charming cafes and shops and such as well as the rustic and colorful houses.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ecuador!

We're back from a 3 week to Ecuador. I will try to post some of the photos and stories soon. But for now just let me say that it is a beautiful country with friendly people, gorgeous flowers, amazing crafts and not very exciting food.
In answer to the question that all my friends have been asking: yes, I could live there, but didn't really find any good reason to do so.  Guyaquil is not a bad place at all, is on the river (you know I love being on the water), is hot and rather humid, has a lot of statues and monuments everywhere, a few museums and some good seafood, but not a lot more to recommend it.
Cuenca is a beautiful small city and it's not hard to see why a lot of expats are settling there. Walkable flat city with charming, cobblestone streets, vivid flowers everywhere, lovely old architecture, and surrounded by villages filled with creative people designing and producing amazing textiles, leather goods, guitars, silver and gold jewelry for starters gives a hint of what we found. Add into that mix a lot of truly friendly and helpful people pretty much rounds out the picture. Much as we enjoyed the city, however, the altitude is quite a bit too high for my breathing problems, so you won't see us joining all those expats in the latest expat hot zone.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Huaca Huantille

Leisurely Afternoon with Friends

We had a great day with friends yesterday. Lea and Archie called to say they were headed in our direction to buy some DVD's at the market. So they came by our place and we went to lunch at our "new favorite huarique" (hole in the wall) where we all enjoyed a good lunch for about 10 soles ($4 US) each. Gene and I shared a "Combo #6, which was a big portion of ceviche and a generous serving of arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood). After lunch we walked a block up the street to the huaca. Strangely enough we've lived here half a year now and had never visited the huaca which is 4 blocks from our apartment. So more on the huaca later, because it is a fascinating place. After our tour of the huaca, we decided that we really deserved ice cream! The 3-block walk to the heladeria (ice cream parlor) took us by one of my favorite little corner markets, which just happens to be next to a building that we once considered buying in. Lea and I stopped by to check it out. The building was nice, quality wood floors and doors, fabulous view of the huaca from the balcony. Nice area near the cupola, the heladeria and everything else. But what I remembered was that we had rejected it originally because of its size. The apartments are truly miniscule - actually made our apartment seem spacious! And by the way, the price was just about the same as the one we bought.
At the end of the next block is the cupola, the beautiful church which is the main landmark of Magdalena del Mar. And then the following block has enough diversity in its architecture to make me realize that I truly do not need to travel elsewhere to find new sources of photography subjects.



And another great day ends at the best heladeria in Lima, just 4 blocks from our apartment.