I’m late again!

Well, only a month late as these are our May adventures.
Several months ago a handful of friends met for lunch. This was the beginning of the Cuenca Lunch Bunch, a group of friends who meet for lunch the first Wednesday of every month. We are not a club or organization, just a group of friends who enjoy each other’s company. One month we might have 5 people attend and the next we might have 16. No matter the number, we always have a good time.
Mike has been active with his writing, not only for his book, but for the Cuenca Expats Magazine as well. On May 9th we joined the magazine on a tour of the San Isidro Cooking school as Mike was scheduled to write the cover article on the school for the May issue. It is in a building we had passed many time on our walks around Cuenca never knowing what was going on behind the doors. Below is an excerpt of the article.
The brainchild of Francisco Encalada, San Isidro has quickly gained a reputation for turning out some of the best and most innovative chefs found anywhere, not just in Cuenca. While traveling throughout the United States and Europe, Francisco noticed that in many places top chefs were acknowledged as stars in their own right. Such was not the case in Ecuador and many other Latin countries where chefs received little recognition, prestige or formal training. He studied how and where many well known chefs were trained and decided Cuenca offered a perfect setting to create the Ecuadorian equivalent of such famous schools as Le Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Francisco is not a chef. His background is in economics and business administration. He was, however, astute enough to recognize a need and develop a solution to meet that need. It took four years of paperwork before San Isidro Instituto Superior received full governmental approval to open its doors in 2009 as a culinary institute, the equivalent of a college for cooking.
If you would like to read the entire article or the entire magazine, click
I am still writing for the Cuenca Expats Magazine as well, doing my “Meet Your Neighbor” (formerly “Date Night”) article. I also have some of my pictures in the magazine from time to time.
As you know, there was a massive earthquake, a magnitude of 7.8, along the coast of Ecuador on April 16th. The whole country rallied, including the expat community. There have been, and still are, numerous benefits being put on to help with the recovery. On May 12th we attended one such event where each person was asked to bring 10 items of food.
Then on the 14th a group of local expat authors held a benefit where a minimum of 50% profit from the sale of their books at the Carolina Bookstore went to benefit the earthquake recovery. Mike donated 100% of the sales of his books.

For you cribbage players, look at what I got on May 18th, a 29 hand! Well, Mike ended up getting a 28 hand a couple of days later.
From the 21st thru the 24th we had a wonderful trip to Vilcabamba. We walked to where the van was leaving for the 3 hour and 15 minute ride to Loja. Once in Loja a taxi sent by Tierra Madre, where we stayed, met us and took us the final hour to our destination.
That first afternoon we just settled in, relaxing in the common area. Both Mike and I commented that other than the fact there was no ocean for hundreds of miles, it felt like we were in Hawaii.
7EC 5-21-16Vilcabamba
After our relaxing afternoon we had an early dinner then went to bed and read for a bit.
The next day Doug, from Tierra Madre, led us up to the local brewery. We did have a little detour on the way, but because of it, we saw countryside we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
 After our little mishap we made it to the brewery. The brewery is really next door to where the owners live in the back of the house. It is a small operation but very impressive. There is a small unimpressive stand along side the main road into town that sells the beer and small meals. But it is the view from their seating area that was spectacular. The beer was really good. I had a dark one and loved it, even though beer isn’t my favorite.
Back “home” we sat around the pool drinking smoothies and reading. I wonder what the rich people are doing?
The next day we had a 2-hour tour of the area. We drove through town and up into the mountains where we had the most spectacular views of the mountains and valley.
Two hours just wasn’t enough time as we didn’t get to stop as often as we would have liked nor did we get to see some of the things our guide pointed out to us. But we are planning on going back and are even looking into the possibility of housesitting for a month so we can really explore!
When we got back from the tour we had a “couples massage”, could there be a more decadent way to end this wonderful day?
Oh, did I mention how spectacular the view was from the patio just outside our room?
19EC 5-21-16Vilcabamba
17EC 5-21-16Vilcabamba
A couple of days after we got home, Mike’s brother, Steve, his wife, Jojo and son, Carter arrived. One of the days they were here we spent a full day on a 4-city tour. We first headed to SigSig where they make Panama Hats…YES, Panama Hats are made in Ecuador!
You see women weaving the Panama hats everywhere.
The hats can come in many shapes, colors, sizes and forms. Here are Jojo, Steve and Carter showing hats that haven’t yet been finished. After they have been woven they go through quite a process to finish off the edges and shape them.
Here is my beautiful hat, thank you Steve and Jojo! To make the designs in the hats, the material is first dyed the desired color.
Then we headed to San Bartolome where there are many guitar makers. This is what the countryside around San Bartolome looks like.
We visited, San Bartolome Guitarras Uyagari, they have been making guitars for 4 generations.
The intricate detail on the guitars is amazing. Some of these guitars are VERY expensive. We were told they sell their guitars to some very famous people but integrity doesn’t allow them to say who those people are.
After San Bartolome we headed towards Chordeleg, but before we got into town, we made a stop at Fernando and Rosita Loja’s shop. The Lojas make ceramic figurines depicting life in Ecuador.
6EC5-31-16CeramicsClayFigure 11EC5-31-16CeramicsClayFigures
 Then we headed into Chordeleg for a brief stop. Chordeleg is known for its silver jewelry so it was fun window shopping.
By now we were all really hungry so headed for some lunch before our final stop. Gualaceo is known for its beautiful leather work, particularly women’s shoes.
What do you think OSHA would say about this?
Our final destination was the weaving shop where we learned how they dye the various colors of yarn, and weaving using a backstrap loom and a large foot-treadle loom.
The backstrap loom is deceptively simple. For the most part, it consists of sticks, rope, and a strap that is worn around the weaver’s waist. This strap, which allows the weaver to keep the necessary tension, is how the backstrap loom received its name. Because of the simplicity almost anyone can own one and they can be used almost anywhere. But, from what we have been told, although easy to own and transport, it is very hard on the back.
To say May was jam-packed with adventure would be an understatement. I hope you have enjoyed our adventures this month as much as we love sharing them with you.
Until next time!

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