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.
The ultra-fine hats are kept in this special room.
After bleaching and before being shaped and dried.
BEFORE AND AFTER
SHAPED HATS DRYING
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
HAPPY ECUADORIAN FAMILY
Star Wars Themed Art – A Mixture Of Artists
OLD LADY SHRUNKEN HEAD
SHRUNKEN HEAD WITH SEVENTIES MOUSTACHE
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.
SHRUNKEN HEAD EXHIBITION