When we first arrived in Ecuador and Cuenca, we deliberately sought out the bars that served American food, the English language bookstore, and various self-described "Gringo" social events. We knew we didn't have the language skills or local connections to jump into things on our own, and we needed the advice of Norteamericanos who had already settled here. As expected, recommendations were both sane and outright crazy as were the people we met, but we wouldn't have found our jobs or apartment, not to mention great new friends, without the GringoTree
email list or connections made at the Inca Lounge
All this was entirely necessary for the first month here, but we're now trying to move further out of our comfort zone. We've dabbled in the local mercados to buy produce and grab lunch, but it's time to venture into the meat and seafood sections and figure out what to do with all those unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. The Supermaxi supermercado is temptingly familiar and easy with fixed pricing and saran wrap packaging but we're reserving it for the occasional soy sauce or cheddar cheese purchase. We've had no problem sampling lunchtime almuerzo specialities and snacking on empanadas and salchipapas
it's shameful that after spending a month in the Andes, we have not yet had cuy
(roasted guinea pig). And while the Bulls and NCAA basketball (and really good burgers and pollo sandwiches) will continue to bring us to the Inca Lounge, we need to go out more locally and have faith that indeed the music does not come to a screeching halt when two white people walk into a bar. Justin is even localizing his sports watching and figuring out the schedule for Deportiva Cuenca
, the city's fútbol team (notice that the 2011 website is not yet posted even though the team is definitely playing right now).
So, this week we made a few inroads, with more to come. After school one afternoon, we checked out nearby Baños
for a dip in the thermal hot springs. Located just outside of town and an easy bus ride away, the hot springs, mud baths, and saunas offer a pretty nice antidote to a morning with 60 preschoolers.
We hit the weekend Feria Libre
- a massive outdoor/indoor market with vendors selling everything from tomatoes to toasters. No description can really explain the rambling aisles of wares. As usual we ate our
way through the place while spotting live crabs from the coast and live guinea pigs for that afore mentioned cuy.
And yesterday, when our plan to get out to the Cajas National Park was thwarted by downpouring rain, we instead visited the Museo del Banco Central and Pumapango
ruins. Honestly, how did it take Christine nearly a month to get to the free archaeology park! The museum is best known for it's small display of shrunken human heads from the Amazon, but the collection of antiquities, colonial art, and ethnographic materials were also well worth an afternoon's visit. Behind the museum is a mound of Incan ruins, but even for archaeology nerd Chris, the botanical garden and bird aviary were the bigger attraction.
Meanwhile we're both trying to stay studious at our Spanish lessons and push ourselves to chat with coworkers and neighbors (afterall we're getting a little tired of just talking to each other). Each day we get some new vocab from our preschoolers like "mas vuelo" (literally "more flight" when asking us to push them on the swings) and "no comí la pega" (that is "I didn't eat the glue" - how reassuring).
So with an emphasis on doing more
new stuff each week, we're still happy for home comforts. We did get to that Inca Lounge on Thursday for some St. Patrick's day whiskey and tournament basketball (btw, Happy Birthday, Mark Zanatta). And we had another great night of fine home cooking (homemade tortillas!), Ecuadorian monopoly, and customary trash talking at the Walkers'. (can someone please explain how it is that the Galapagos which is a pretty pricey trip even from Ecuador replaces the secondary Park Place, while the Mitad del Mundo equator line which took us less than $10 each in transportation and entrance fees to visit from Quito makes the Boardwalk position?). By the way, Happy Anniversary Karen and Dameon!
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