French Cuisine in the middle of Ecuador

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, September 6, 2007

The way from Cuenca to Baņos, included a transfer in Riobamba where we had time for a quick lunch at a roadside cafe. The woman running the cafe probably hadnīt had tourists in there before, judging from her reaction - we had a good lunch, great value. She was sweet and helpful, to the point of leaving the kitchen and keeping an eye on the buses with us to make sure we got on the right one.

The scenery from Cuenca to halfway to Riobamba is generally dry and mountainous. We found it a little depressing due to the huge amount of deforestation - required on one hand for agriculture because Ecuador is the most densely populated country in South America, but on the other hand is probably a byproduct of a slash-and-burn method of agriculture. Heavy rains also leave the villages below these cleared areas at risk of landslides.

Nearer Riobamba, the countryside becomes more lush and there are numerous fruit trees and roadwide fruit stalls. Much prettier.

During the journey, we had the now frequent experience of people jumping on the bus and trying to give everyone caramello sweets (for a few cents). At this stage, they generally tell you that they need to sell them to feed their children or to attend school - people buy or donīt buy and the sellers leave the bus again. Unusually, one of the caramello people was a female clown - good enough to warrant a tip from Ed.

The third seller was a man essentially selling packets of some kind of herbal tea (made in Korea) able to lower cholesteral, help prostrate problems and goodness knows what else. It was a superb performance, we were enthralled! His gravitas, tone, pace, body-language, interaction with the audience, confidence and animated facial expressions marked him out as a master of the bus sellers - only matched by a seller we once saw in Honduras.

At one stage, Ed answered one of his questions with the correct answer "triglycerides" and became part of the act. "Yes, this gentleman has the answer right, but his pronounciation wasnīt too good because he is foreign." The well-dressed seller sold plenty of his herbal sachets and even had to hand out his contact details for future requirements.

Nearer Baņos the road follows a green valley with lots of cultivation among the dark volcanic soil. The late afternoon sun lights up the valley beautifully. We can see recent dark lava flows (the town has been evacuated in the last few years) near the town and the volcano itself is covered in cloud.

Our trip also passed through a town known as the blue jean manufacturing capital of Ecuador (we have never seen so many jeans shops in one place) and a town famous for breedings cuy (guinea pigs) for consumption - errr, no thanks - once was enough..

That evening in Baņos, we walked to a mirador complete with the Virgen Maria presiding over it, giving a great view of the smoking volcano.

The next day consisted of walks, post office, food, drinks and just general relaxing. Both feeling a little under the weather, we gave the famed thermal springs a miss and just concentrated on feeling our best for the upcoming Galapagos Trip.

Two shameless plugs to follow:

Princess Maria Hostel - own bathroom with hot water, lovely decor, comfortabel bed, cable TV, friendly owners - $10USD for both of us

Restaurant Mariane - a French restaurant near the square, not bargain basement - but totally worth it!
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