Last minute shopping

We had some last minute gift shopping to do before heading back to the states so we hit up some markets.

Plaza San Francisco market is a great starting point because it is near Parque Calderon  and close to other shops that have good souvenirs.  But at the market you can always negotiate a good price.  I usually avoid the main part of the market which is just Otavalos mostly selling “made in china” products. But on the sidewalk (round the corner from the flower market) there are vendors selling ponchos, blankets, table cloths, intricate sweaters, scarves, hats etc. But if you are looking for something smaller, things like jewelry or trinkets then head over to La Casa de La Mujer which is at the end of the block @General Torres 7-33 and Presidente Cordova.

La Casa de La Mujer is a building with a number of shops all selling different artisan crafts.  There is a lot of variety here; from paintings, jewelry, leather, hats, baskets and other woven products, clothing and toys.  One of my favorite jewelry shops can be found here on the upper level called Tagua.  If silver is your thing, there are some shops here but I would recommend taking a day trip to Chordeleg, the silversmith village about 20/30 min. from Cuenca.

If you are on a tight budget but would like to bring home some cool jewelry for friends and family then stop by the hippie market; it is somewhere around Mariscal Lamar y Benigno Malo on a corner.  Here there are a few tents set up with roughly the same merchandise.  Most of the jewelry or pipes etc. are made out of Tagua or bone and they will offer to carve a name, word or sometimes a design on certain things for sale.

And if you head down to Mercado 9 de Octubre then visit Plaza Rotary which is down a little alley in the middle of the block; if you take a taxi then ask for Gáspar Sangurima y Vargas Machuca because most are baffled by the name Plaza Rotary. There they sell woven products like baskets and mats, the blacksmiths sell weather vanes and other stuff, and you’ll find a number of stands selling roughly the same types of trinkets like keychains, purses, toys, ceramics etc. While living in Cuenca, I frequented this spot to buy things for the home like flower pots, hampers, cutting boards, wooden mixing spoons and such; which was more affordable than buying the same types of products but in plastic at hipermercados.  Most people tell you to avoid the area near Mercado 9 de Octubre but I say check it out.  Yes, you will see a few prostitutes on the sidewalks here all day long and probably your share of drunks but it is fairly safe during the day just don’t whip out a wad of money or an expensive camera and you should be fine.  At night it is a bit sketch so you can avoid it at night; but don’t avoid the area entirely.  And on Fridays the indigenous shamans set up a spot in the market where they offer up “limpias” or cleansings for a small price.  A word of warning to prepare you if you get one, they will spit alcohol in your face as part of the ritual and put ashes on your forehead and back.  So don’t be surprised if they ask you to pull up your shirt.  You should feel great after some good ol’ chuca chuca.

Advertisements

Prohibido Centro Cultural

This is a must see museum.  A great guy named Eduardo has turned his home into an everlasting art project.  It is incredibly interesting and some of the artwork is a bit taboo for such a Catholic city like Cuenca.  Many of the locals don’t approve but it is a really cool place and a great youth hangout when there are events going on which are mostly music and theatrical in nature.

Check out the website: Prohibido Centro Cultural

Bus Pass

This is the bus pass that you can buy at many farmacias and other places that have a sign outside with a picture of this card and the words “Tarjeta Prepago”.  You buy the card for $1.70 and then fill it up with however much you want.  One bus ride costs 25 cents so if you aren’t taking it every day then $5 will take you far.  When you run out of money on the card then you just go into any place with the sign and refill it.

There are other stores with signs outside that say “Prepago” and have pictures of cards on them but these places may just sell the parking meter ticket that you need to fill out and put on your car if you park in certain areas of the city.  If you don’t do this then you may end up with a giant ugly sticker stuck to your car window which is actually your traffic ticket.

Maria’s Alemania

If you haven’t checked out Maria’s Alemania Bakery and Restaurant on the corner of Hermano Miguel and Mariscal Sucre then you have to go there right now.  They have the best bread in town; and that is saying a lot because there are a ton of good panaderias in town.  What I like about them is that they make pan de agua.  Most bakeries here only have pan de leche or pan dulce; they are good too but sometimes I want my bread without the milk.  Not to mention, some of their german pastries really hit the spot.  And just like Nectar, you won’t feel embarrassed trying out your spanish there, she’s a great lady.

Corpus Christi

The Corpus Christi celebrations have been going on for weeks, well maybe 2 weeks and may linger on for a few more.  In Cuenca’s Parque Calderon the sidewalks are lined with sweetie stands.  During the day you can find all sorts of chocolates, coconut macaroons, doughnuts, lollypops, and a plethora of other sweets.  And when night falls firework castillos are set up and venders line the streets with games and empanadas, meats and all sorts of other things for sale; it is kind of like a carnival without the rides.  What kicks off the festivities is the procession at the end of Mass, the bishop carries the communion or body of Christ around Parque Calderon and everyone follows in adoration.   Usually, Corpus Christi starts the first or second week of June and lasts 7 days but each year it keeps lingering on longer.  It is a fun family event to enjoy in Cuenca, you should check it out.

Tagua

If shopping in Cuenca, you should check out Xavier’s shop “Tagua” in La Casa de La Mujer (Torres 7-33 by the San Francisco Market).

He makes all of his jewelry by hand out of this palm nut called tagua which is found in the rainforest.  You can find more of this type of jewelry or key chains in the Hippie Market for much cheaper but Xavier’s stuff is quality and he has some great unique pieces that you wouldn’t be able to find in the market.

Plus he is a great conversationalist and loves talking about his work, he may even offer you a free tagua massage.  There are also some more wonderful little shops in La Casa de La Mujer to check out as well.

Vibes 1988

I had to watch the movie “Vibes” the other night; 1. because  Cyndi Lauper is in it and 2. because it was filmed in Ecuador close to where I am staying.  It was totally cheesy and ridiculous but i enjoyed it even with Jeff Goldblum as the main character.

You’ll notice different shots were taken in Azogues, Cuenca, Cajas and Cojitambo (pictured above).

Qiwiña

 

The qiwiña tree or polyepis can be found all over the Ecuador highlands.  From far away it looks like a gnarly shedding tree but when you look close up you will notice that its bark is paper thin!  To the touch it feels like tissue paper and flakes apart just like puff pastry.

 

 

If you head to Cajas National Park look closely at your surroundings.

Visit Ingapirca

You will find these ruins in the Cañar Province of Ecuador, about 2 hours from Cuenca.  Ingapirca is the largest known Incan ruins found in Ecuador; I’m sure not as impressive as Machu Picchu but interesting nonetheless.  The guides at Ingapirca are very knowledgeable but if you are a Spanish beginner you may want to bring someone who can translate.

The Incans were not the only inhabitants of this place, there were also the Cañari people.  So the history and construction of the site is quite interesting and varies depending on who built it or who lived or worked in each building. For instance, the walls surrounding where the market would be, the cracks of these walls are filled with mud and dung.  But the Temple del Sol, which was built for Huayna Capac was built with large stones and nothing was used to fill the cracks, in fact there are no cracks because they assembled them perfectly (like our guide said it is a rompecabezas).  This stone also has traces of copper in it so it gives off a different color; these stones may have even been brought all the way from Quito.  I would get more into details but I’ll leave that to your guide!

For foreigners  it costs $6.00, otherwise it is $2.  There is also a museum which displays many different artifacts found on site.  And if you are up for a short hike you can see some interesting natural formations like this one.

Dos Chorreras

If you get hungry hiking around Cajas, you can backtrack down the road and check out Dos Chorreras.  It is a bit pricey but the food is delicious. Not many vegetarian options unless you eat fish but there is always soup and salad.  Upstairs the ambiance is really cool as the lodge is built right into the mountain.

When it is raining the water trickles in along the rocks and you feel like you are eating outside by a stream.

Dos Chorreras is also a lodge; the rooms are beautiful but run from $50-$250.  They also offer a few activities like horseback riding, fishing and kayaking,  for an added cost of course.

Hosteria Dos Chorreras