Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ecuador, Day 6

Today was a day of transit and rest. And because today was a Sunday, it seemed like just about everyone from Otavalo to Quito also had rest in mind. Small businesses everywhere seemed to be closed, although the Indian market was starting up again at 7 a.m. in Otavalo. I suppose it’s natural in many parts of the world for Sunday mornings to be slow, and for entire towns to shutter up until Monday.

Since I was unable to find any place to have breakfast in Otavalo, I decided to eat at the restaurant in the Ali Shungu Hotel, where I’m staying. If the meal wasn’t exactly Ecuadorian, at least all the ingredients were. I ordered a fruit salad with cream (think whipped cream), a homemade blueberry muffin (tasted sugar-free), and Ecuadorian coffee (rivals Vietnamese coffee for taste).

My fruit bowl was excellent, and that's the only bottomless cup of coffee I've found yet in Ecuador.

This fairly simple spread cost $8.35, which is a lot. Then again, I was in the mood for fresh fruit, and the flavorful pieces of mango, papaya, apple, banana, and pineapple really hit the spot. The muffin wasn’t worth $2.25, but hey, it was a good try.

I had a long conversation with one of the two American owners of Ali Shungu before I left. She regaled me with some amazing stories about her life in Ecuador over the last twenty-plus years. There were so many jaw-dropping tales that I it would be hard to do justice to them in this blog. If you find yourself in Ecuador, I highly recommend visiting Otavalo – you really have to go on a Saturday to get the full experience of the Indian market, however – and if you do come here, you’d make an excellent choice staying at Ali Shungu or their newer property, Ali Shungu Mountaintop Lodge.

In any case, I left Otavalo and returned to Quito, from where I’ll fly tomorrow afternoon to Cuenca. Most of the streets near my hotel were closed down, and while at first I thought there must be some festival going on, someone at my hotel explained that there’s no festival -- Old Town is like this every Sunday. The lack of traffic was fine with me, because the first thing I had to do was try to track down my glasses, which I’d stupidly left at any number of half a dozen restaurants or cafes before I traveled to Otavalo. I made a list of where I’d been – thank goodness for my blog, which was all the reminder I needed! – and started off for what I was sure would be a fruitless search. Unbelievably, the second place I checked produced my glasses. It took me all of five minutes to get them back. I said “Gracias” about a hundred times to the woman at the restaurant who found them, wishing I could say more in Spanish. But she clearly understood my relief and happiness, and now I’ve got my glasses back! After that I wandered around the city, able to see clearly into the far distance again, and took a couple shots of random subjects.

Cute girl posing beside horse. She looks like an ant next to that animal.

A quick shot of the Basílica del Voto Nacional from a street corner near my hotel.

But I was getting hungry, and I decided to try the food at my hotel -- Hotel Catedral -- as it’s always packed from about 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. At 2 p.m. there wasn’t a seat available in the restaurant, so I arranged to eat at a table in the lobby of the hotel. There were two lunch specials that day, and I chose the one that I more or less understood when I heard the waitress tell me what it was.

I ended up getting stewed beef that was mostly bone and fat, a nice soup of potatoes, maize, and carrots, a small serving of strawberries and cream, and a hard-to-drink glass of warm papaya juice (from a bottle, I think).

Looks better that it tasted. Or maybe it doesn't. Anyway, it was disappointing.

For $3.25 it wasn’t bad, but I could have done better elsewhere. I have no idea why so many people come here for lunch all the time.

After that disappointment I decided to hit an ice cream shop that was founded in 1858 – Heladeria San Agustín, which is located at 1053 Guayaquil Street, between Mejia and Chile.

This charming place is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Quito's Old Town.

They make all their ice creams here, and they also sell an assortment of cookies and other treats, as well as breakfast and lunch. Seeing that Christmas is just around the corner, they were all festived-up in greens and reds, and it was packed.

The employees here, who are apparently all part of the esteemed Alvarez Andino family, were very friendly.

I ordered a blackberry ice cream, which cost a mere 70 cents and was out of this world.

Lopsided but amazing.

From there I came back to my hotel to read, write some emails, and research Cuenca. I seemed to have fallen asleep for about half an hour, and it wasn’t long before I was hungry again – sorry, I know it looks like I eat twenty times a day, but in fact I’m just doing a poor job of describing the passage of time…

Anyway, when it was time for dinner I found myself in the same predicament as earlier – nothing was open! I ended up heading to the Plaza Grande to try some secos de chivo, which I’ve been dying to have since getting to Ecuador, but the restaurant I wanted to try was closed. The only other interesting option I could think of was Los Sanduches Hogarama, also on the Plaza Grande.

This place is in the perfect location: the Plaza Grande.

It was so crowded here that this was the best shot I could get of the sandwiches -- even my own.

This place was filled with customers eating there and taking their food outside. I ended up ordering a lomo de cerdo ahumado y queso, or smoked pork loin and cheese ($4.70), and a blackberry soda (a South American Pepsi product, apparently). It doesn’t look very appetizing in my photo – it’s hard to take photographs of food in very crowded eateries, especially knowing that everyone’s watching me and wondering what the hell I’m photographing a sandwich for – but it was very good. The quality of the pork loin and cheese was excellent, and there was an excellent yellow cream sauce that tasted slightly like oregano.

My sandwich was much, much better than it looks in this photo. Oh, and I won a free drink according to my bottle cap! Whoo! Too bad I forgot and threw it away...

Los Sanduches Hogarama is located at Oe4-36 Chile Street in the Plaza Arzobispal.

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  1. Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America. Worth visiting.

  2. I would love to visit Quito and Ecuador, as I didn't make it there on my one and only South American trip. If I should ever get that far again, I will have your travels as my guide :)

    And I think that if I were to describe everything I ate, it would sound like I ate twenty times a day too (which is probably true, I just wouldn't necessarily want to admit to it!)

  3. Zuri: Ecuador really is a beautiful place. I honestly can't understand why tourists aren't flocking here more. I agree with you completely.

    Daily Spud: I hope you get back to South America soon. But I'm not sure that my travels are a very good guide -- I'm mostly just winging it, and not always with the best results! And yes, looking over some of my posts I'm starting to rethink the wisdom of listing everything that I eat. I feel like the biggest pig after blogging, though I'm pretty sure I haven't gained any weight here. :) Thanks for your comment. And if you do make it to South America, remember that Peru has over 5000 varieties of spuds, while Ecuador has over 3000 varieties. It's mind-boggling.