ECUADOR: Quito & Cuenca

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Those white things are Panama hats before shaping. They are actually made in Ecuador, and one of the things I look forward to purchasing for myself and family.

I passed through Quito 41 years ago on a trip to the the Galapagos, and am finding the city to be equally repugnant as I found it back then. It seems as dangerous and filthy now as it did in 1974, save for the squads of Venezuelan pickpockets unleashed throughout the city that require you to leave behind in the room, your passport, cellphone, or anything else you plan on leaving the city in your possession. Thankfully the place hasn’t graduated to organ harvesting, or at least I don’t think so. I didn’t make it over to the gringo zone. I think it is the scuzzy area I stayed in the last time I was here. I was traveling with a school friend and his parents, and it was clear that this was just an overnight hub for us getting to the Galapagos.

Evidently, this is yet another country that has been ransacked by corporate America. At least Cuenca should prove relatively safe, but even if Cuenca is heaven on earth I wouldn’t want to live in a country that claims Quito as its capital city and is a current victim of U.S. interests abroad. I’m only going to include pictures from six square blocks of the Old Town that are quite pleasant. Also, some shots of the Calle La Ronda will show you the enticing restaurant row.

Other than that, the place is so depressing that I just don’t want to bring you down. So much so that I will only include one photo that grasps the whole situation. Otherwise, you would feel inclined to blame for a severe downturn in your mood, and seriously who needs that with all of the Trump stuff in the media these days. Believe me, if I were forced to live in this city for a year, I’d be nearly suicidal toward the end of my stay. That is if someone didn’t do me the favor first.




QUITO’S WELCOME MASCOT – I left the photo blurred for a couple of reasons. The blurred effect makes it look like a piece of fine art, but it also obscures some of the horrors that I encountered as I walked down the hill in search of a decent meal. This poor hunched over soul also had an unfortunate face, but the worst of it was the frequent half scream/half moans that emanated forth in a manner that left you feeling as if you were experiencing the suffering that the whole city had to offer.

It was at this moment, I wanted to find the nearest airport. I also stopped to wonder how I was going to handle India. The answer to that question came quickly. “Briefly!”


LA RONDA – Restaurant Row

The first restaurant I arrived at was recommended by my hostel. I should have avoided Leña Quiteña at all costs. I think it translates as “lengthy regret”. My coked out Cuban waiter should have been my first clue. I ordered the Andean Guinea Pig since I am so keen on exotic meats, and started off with chicken soup with a leg thrown in for good measure. My first indication of culinary issues was that the chicken leg that was so hard I could have beaten back an assailant in this dangerous city given a marginal effort. Think Fred Flintstone’s club for tenderness.


The second issue was the fried beyond all recognition, almost meatless Cui. Now mind you, this particular version was supposed to be baked and not fried. When I pointed out these details to my waiter, no apologies were offered. Then again, his addled mind was probably focused on his next trip to the bathroom to get the straw up his nose again. After this debacle, I went for a walk around the Old Town to get some uplifting pictures for the blog.




















LA RONDA – Back at the scene of the crime.


And after a long, appetite-stimulating walk around the Old Town, I return to La Ronda to indulge in some real food and some competent interior design.


I was so hungry and the food looked so good that I wolfed it down immediately before I could manage to take a picture. It was a filet mignon with pepper sauce, potato croquettes, and fresh vegetables. Off to Cuenca first thing in the morning.





If the Dordogne in France is the foie gras capital of the world, then Cuenca is the capital of the legendary Panama hat. The purchase of seven of these treasures was both delightful and nerve-racking. More about that later. As mentioned before in another thread, the true Panama hat is always made in Ecuador, and the best of them come from this region. The reason they got saddled with the epithet “Panama” is that so many of the worker that built the Panama Canal were wearing the real Ecuadorian article back at the beginning of the 1900s. I was probably overcritical of Quito, but Cuenca is such a wonderful contrast that the Quito experience helped to make Cuenca even more enjoyable.

The food is quality and inexpensive. A filet mignon in a French brasserie with all the trimmings, pumpkin soup, and beverages for a mere $20. That’s the splurge meal. Most daytime meals run $3-5.  I found a cafe that served the most delicious cappuccino that I stopped in at every possible time of the day, even if for only a small cup. Flowers here are dirt cheap, and a beautiful arrangement runs $7-8.

Many of the museums are free of charge as was the case with the two I visited today. The people here are very nice, but many of the people in sales positions are clueless as to how to deal with prospective customers.


One of the many museums of Panama Hats in the city of Cuenca. I bought my granddaughter a hat here that she’ll be able to wear somewhere around her fourth or fifth birthday. At that time, I’ll get her a whole outfit to go with the hat. Until that time it will sit in a closet or get hung on the wall of her bedroom.










MELATTE – My favorite cafe in Cuenca for my daily cappuccinos.




Symbol of me chasing a carrot which in this case is France.


HOMERO ORTEGA SINCE  1899 – Cuenca’s Finest Panama Hat Shop


I purchased four of these beauties for myself, three of which I shipped home. I also purchase three more for the folks back home. One for Danny’s birthday, one for Steve’s birthday and one for Mia whenever it happens to fit her head in about four to five years.


ULTRA-FINE HAT – Priced at $2,500. It takes two months to complete.

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The ultra-fine hats are kept in this special room.


After bleaching and before being shaped and dried.








Final steps of stitching on bands and decorations.


CELEBRITY HAT LOVERS – Avoid the Affleck hat on the left. You may find yourself turning into a bit of a douche. The hat on the right is the preferred hat of myself, Danny, and Steve.






A bunch of Cuencans gathered outside a church. They are seriously into Jesus in Central/South America. People are crossing themselves 24/7. Impoverished uneducated people are particularly vulnerable to the Catholic Church which is why they target Latin America so vehemently, and why people have so many children they can’t afford.


No those are not cheap whores hanging out in a doorway. They are cheap mannequins with even cheaper clothes.


THE JAZZ SOCIETY CAFÉ – A fantastic Jazz Quartet on a continent not known for its Jazz.














Very interesting tops on those columns. They have a slightly Egyptian feel but they’re not.


A bunch of dudes laughing at some sophomoric guy molesting half a mannequin.








Museo Municipal De Arte Moderno




















































Star Wars Themed Art – A Mixture Of Artists













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Leeram!!! – The protagonist of my brother Buell’s first novel. By incredible chance, I ran into him in the Museo Pumapungo in Ecuador where he has been held captive in this fifty-liter plexiglass cylinder. He was very much true to his character in the book and is none too thrilled to be trapped in his plastic prison while Buell galavants around signing books, and gaining the admiration of family and friends while he is stuck with a pathetic bunch of stiffs.

Granted it is a very nice museum, but that is hardly the point. Unfortunately, I am headed to Machu Picchu and unable to transport a stolen artifact across international borders. Leeram is, after all, Buell’s responsibility, and if anyone is going to bust him out of the place it is up to him. Now the good news is that although the museum has cameras throughout, for some reason they didn’t feel the need to place any in the dimly lit shrunken head exhibition area.

The main challenge as I see it is getting our little friend out of that cylinder. Thick plexiglass poses the greatest obstacle. Regular glass would have been a lot easier, but there is nobody really watching the exhibit. Also, visitors are easily detected and Leeram is in a fairly isolated spot. Anyhow Buell, there you have it. Leeram sends his regards and also wishes that you would come and get him the f@ck out of there as soon as possible.












My Machu Picchu Travel Agent & New Panama Hat

This is shortly before I hopped on a bus for Guayaquil to eventually catch a plane to Cusco. The trip proved to be unusual. I was messing around with my gear in the overhead when the driver made a sharp turn which dumped me into the laps of what looked to be an Ecuadorian father and son. After extracting myself and feeling a little embarrassed, I apologized and went about my business. Seemed like no harm done other than a little bruised ego. That was until the guy that I fell on made a big deal about it three hours later right before we were to arrive at the Bus Station. It turns out he had a colostomy bag and was going out of his way to show me repeatedly. Clearly, he wasn’t injured or he would have cried out in pain or brought it up when it happened, but he saw a chance for some easy money from the gringo with the new hat. I gave him $20 to get him off my back, but that didn’t seem to satisfy so he mentioned something about the police and went to the front of the bus to talk with the driver. The driver probably didn’t want to get involved since it was his driving that landed me in the guy’s lap in the first place. Long story short my the guy disappeared, and my ride picked me up to take me to the hotel. My suspicions had been accurate after all. Let’s go to Peru, shall we?


  1. Karen Devers
    March 9, 2016

    I wonder where in Quito the IL reporters go? They seem so in love with the city it’s hard to believe it is the same place you describe. I actually trust your perceptions most.

    The cui would be a challenge for me, especially since it is served in its entirety. It looks like you had half a cui on your plate. Maybe the coked up server ate the other half and hoped you wouldn’t notice. It looks like it was partly cremated rather than cooked, not that I looked that closely. Disgusting.

    The bell tower reminds me of Columbia, minus the lovely ladies. Sounds like they have been replaced by swarms of pick pocket children, criminals in training.

    The Ecuador economy depends on oil and that is one thing that is a red flag for me, in terms of settling there. I don’t know if they have plans to expand into more sustainable options.

    I hope Cuenco is a more enjoyable experience, I guess it couldn’t be much worse. Perhaps Quito has prepared you for India. That is actually not a country I would like to visit.

    I watched a DVD on dirt, called surprisingly “Dirt.” One of the spokespersons was a very senior Frenchman named Pierre Rabit. I’m going to look him up and see if he’s still alive. He was very knowledgable about making living soil and has helped people in countries all over the world reclaim and improve their soil.

  2. Jason B.
    March 10, 2016

    Wait a second. Is that the head of the rodent on the plate? That looks freaky! Good descriptions!

  3. The Travel Zealot
    March 10, 2016

    Yeah Mon,
    That’s the head of the rodent all right. Of course my coked out waiter looked a bit like a rodent himself. I may try it in Peru. It may be better there, but only if it isn’t fried. The food here in Cuenca is good and cheap. I found a place that does coffee as well as in Colombia. Amazing cappuccino. I’m still off the Coke Zero and Monsters!

  4. The Travel Zealot
    March 10, 2016

    I was probably a little hard on Quito without enough personal investigation to back it up. I slept through my first day to catch up on all the sleep I’d missed in Cartagena. Be that as it may, I overheard the owner of the hostal training one of his new people, and he emphasized over and over the security risks on the streets of Quito. Even the safer ones. Perhaps the guy was a nervous Nellie, but when hostal owners put up red flags I tend to take what they have to say, seriously. I didn’t actually get to the gringo zone. My evaluation was based on my viscerally disturbing experiences, my hosts rhetoric, and just my general take on the place.

    That said, I was glad to move onto Cuenca’s safe and friendly environment. I have no desire to return to dredge up a more comprehensive and accurate evaluation of Quito no matter what I.L. might think of it. They were wetting themselves over Boquete in Panama, and it was clearly not all that.

    As far as India goes, I have heard that the smell of feces hits you the second you leave the airplane. I think my time in India will be brief. Of course I can keep a dab of Vicks Vaporub on my top lip or get one of those nose clips that swimmers wear. That could very well extend my time, then there the crowds, the crushing poverty, and the throngs of people constantly in your face begging or trying to sell you something. It drove me completely spare in Egypt, and it will be much worse in India. I’m sure it will certainly be interesting, nonetheless.

  5. Janet
    March 13, 2016

    Hi, John – I’m a friend of Karen Devers. She has pointed me to your blog. It’s disappointing to hear how decrepit Quito is. My husband and I are thinking about retiring outside the U.S., and the descriptions and benefits of Ecuador sounded attractive. We proceeded to take a tour of Quito via YouTube, and we’re disappointed to see the artless construction throughout the city, as though the exteriors were all screwed-on metal panels. There didn’t seem to be any big box stores, like Walmart (we were glad about that), but I could see how shopping for the basics could eat up a lot of time and energy if you were limited to the street vendors. It was discouraging.

  6. The Travel Zealot
    March 14, 2016

    Hi Janet, Unfortunately Quito is my least informed and insightful of my evaluations. Although I still wouldn’t live there on a bet. Cuenca was quite pleasant, but certainly not enough to derail my retirement in France. Cuenca still had that run down look to it as well as a hand me down approach to store merchandising except for the Panama hat stores. I think one of the best things to do is take a quick sweep through the region. I knew within two weeks that I wouldn’t be ending up in Central/South America. The sanitation played a large part as did the weather, and the fact that our country’s behavior in the region has been extremely exploitive, damaging, and manipulative. Although the people don’t hold a grudge for the most part, you are still referred to as a Gringo which just feels like a slur to me so no thanks.

    If you have any questions about any of the countries I have visited I would be happy to help out. I checked out your website and enjoyed what I saw. The lunatics are truly running the asylum. I shake my head sometimes. People like the Kochs have lost all touch with reality, and are aiding and abetting the destruction of the lives of their own children and grandchildren with impunity. They are like pirates on sinking ships who would rather be drowned clinging to their treasure than live another day.

    It’s like I once said to my friend, the sooner these dinosaurs who like to burn dinosaurs die off, the better off we’ll all be. Even China is rejecting coal, and the Rockefellers have divested themselves from the petroleum industry. People are waking up all over the country. Not everyone is a Trump drone. Me, I just live every day like it’s my last. I just have to stay alive until Wednesday because I’d really like to see Machu Picchu.

  7. Z
    March 15, 2016

    Great review, Big V! Fascinating excursus into Panama hat-making and the murky lives of plastic mannequins.

    One of the big advantages of France is a “high culture.”
    Every country in the world has local culture, but not everywhere has world-class museums, opera, and theater and pastry :).
    Some cities in South America offer a fair imitation, including, for example, Buenos Aires. But as I understand, South America, not Central America. Central America looks like rough around the edges. For some people it’s charming, others find Central America frustrating, disappointing, even appalling.

    Good luck in Machu Picchu!

  8. Z
    March 15, 2016

    Big V, check Pau, France
    More than 50,000 expats, including many retirees, live in Pau, in the Béarn region of France.

  9. The Travel Zealot
    March 19, 2016

    Thanks Z, I will make sure to add it to my list and check it out.

  10. The Travel Zealot
    March 19, 2016

    Actually Z, South America can be very rough around the edges like a trip to Tijuana or Rosarito. As you mentioned places like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro can be exceptions, but their economies and political systems are very unstable. Brazil is in a state of economic depression and political upheaval. It also has one of the worst wealth-poverty gaps in the world due to terrible corruption. The economy is so bad they are waiving the usually exorbitant visa fees from June-October this year, but I am already weary of Central/South America, and will be happy to move onto Europe for seven months.

    As Americans, we are fortunate to live in such clean environments. Ironically, a lot of the squalor suffered in Central/South America can be traced to our policies in the area,as well as, supporting the people that inflict such terrible corruption on their people. Brazil, I am sad to say is no exception to that rule. My travels have been quite an eye opening education. As a result, I have booked a number of local tours to put money back into these peoples’ pockets. It feels good to at least offset a tiny bit of the damage my country has done in a small way. I always leave decent tips as well.

    Poor merchandising and slutty plastic mannequins seem to be the norm throughout the region. It’s amusing, but I will be happy to be free of the filth and lousy aesthetics on April 12th. when I arrive in Paris. I am currently in La Paz, Bolivia. It is a shithole if my neighborhood is any indicator, but I am taking a city tour today so I will report if my assessment is inaccurate. My neighborhood is the kind of place that after walking around for a half hour, you feel like heading back to the hotel for a long hot shower. In countries like this it is best to get out of the cities and see the Incan Ruins at Lake Titicaca or visit the Salt Flats of Uyuni.

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