Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bulletins From BA #22

Bulletins From BA #22
13 febrero 2014

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.


Excursión a Ecuador (continuación)

Día Tres - Next up: Cuenca (,Ecuador), a three-hour thrill ride from Loja in a rented car driven at very high speed. The mountain scenery is spectacular and varies considerably, from lush greenery to desert cactus, depending on altitude. Regrettably, we couldn’t stop for photos, as that would have been suicidal. (I wish I had a picture of the young hombre on the roadside leading three sheep on a leash while reading a book. Or a smart phone… hard to tell.)

Upon arriving in Cuenca, we repaired to the Hotel Crespo on Calle Larga. I love this place: lots of aged wood, great art on the walls, and the best trout I have ever eaten. A.J. had an appointment, so I took time to walk about and tend to a commercial matter, to wit, a hat.

And not just any sombrero. I was in the market for a genuine, real deal, Made-in-Cuenca Panama hat. After strolling around the town and spending some time in the Nueva Catedral de Cuenca (one of the most ethereal places I’ve ever encountered), I arrived at my destination: Barranco’s Panama Hat Factory, a family-owned operation since 1942. Now, it is possible to spend a small fortune on one of these things, but I opted for a $45 custom-made, natural color fedora with a brown band. Sharp. Very. Sharp.

[Sociological Sidebar - Practically the only people sporting Panama hats are gringos. Like me. It’s very interesting. Some estadounidense (“Americans”) come to settle in Cuenca, it being a relatively inexpensive, eco-friendly place to live and/or start a business. Others come because it is cheaper to retire and live in “Gringolandia,” where you can save money and pretend you’re in the U.S. We heard tales of estadounidense being quite snotty with the locals, a violation of my personal First Rule of Diplomacy: Show some damned respect.]

Following dinner with the local BNC director at a restaurant located in the basement of a convent, our host escorted us on an evening drive around Cuenca, taking us past many of the area’s 52 churches, including one with a spectacular panoramic view. Cuenca is a lovely place and we wish we could’ve stayed another day or two.

Día Cuatro - Our return flight from Cuenca to Quito was scheduled for early afternoon, so we spent the morning visiting the Museo del Banco Central, that included pre-Columbian, colonial, and contemporary art as well as excellent ethnographic exhibits of Ecuadorean indigenous cultures. Behind the building are the Pumapungo ruins, the remaining foundations of a once great Incan city. Then it was off to the airport.

Travel Summary (short, but brief): Three hour flight delay due to mechanical (not volcanic) trouble, followed by an actual 35-minutes in the air, followed by a 90-minute slog in rush hour traffic to our hotel. Eat, crash, burn.

Día Cinco - Anne was up and off to Embassy Quito early, leaving me to my own devices. Fortuitously, I hooked up with a muy agradable taxi driver named Raoul and arranged a trip to Fundación Guayasamín (, a complex dedicated to the works of Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999), the Ecuadorian painter, sculptor, art collector, and national treasure. Guayasamín was both prodigious and prolific and he left a hell of a legacy.

Two buildings perch high on a hillside overlooking Quito: La Capilla del Hombre, where his large paintings and sculptures are exhibited, and his former home, La Casa Museo Guayasamín, which houses his extensive collections of religious, pre-Columbian, and other art, as well as his studio, where two paintings still stand unfinished. If you ever visit Quito, do not fail to visit this amazing place.

Continuará en Bulletins From BA #23.


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