Tuesday, 8 April 2014
21) More of Cuenca!
Tuesday morning me and Alejandra went to the chaotic market for breakfast. I followed her lead to one of the many vendors on the second floor, and ordered a "Bolon" and some Humitas like we'd had on our way back from Quesh Que. A dumpy little woman came over with our orders a couple of seconds after we'd sat down. A bolon turned out to be a large ball of cooked potato and green banana (one of the many types of banana here), and probably some of the shit cheese they have here too because they put cheese with everything. It was quite nice, if a little dry, and didn't taste overwhelmingly of banana. It went down well with the coffee and followed up with Humitas, which I may have explained before is a sweet cooked maize meal steamed in a leaf. After the exceptionally cheap breakfast Ale took me around the market pointing out various fruits and vegetables I'd never seen before with names I couldn't hope to remember. I've got to hand it to the South Americans, they do fruits very well. We figured we'd find and check out "Pearla Cuenca" to see if they had rooms spare. A quick google showed us where we'd missed it before and it looked awesome so we headed over. It was down an alley and up some wooden stairs and frankly "Pearla Cuenca" is quite the pseudonym. Inside the predominantly wooden place was a faint musty odor and as far as I could tell, no one else aside the uninterested receptionist. The pictures we'd seen on the internet had presumably been taken some 30 years ago. The communal area was a battered old sofa and not much else, and the rooms had great big antique beds in and more wooden cladding everywhere. On the way out I had a brief look in the bathroom which was grim. We exchanged a glance which said everything it needed to and got out of there.
It was still quite early, so we headed back across the river to the museum I'd unsuccessfully attempted to visit the other day. It was fancy inside and specialised in textiles and their subsequent creations throughout Ecuador. Alejandra was a pretty useful guide there, explaining what various things were and where you would find them. It wasn't very big and after all the wicked contraptions in the Medical Museum fell a little flat but killed some time and was free to visit. By now it was lunch time and I let Alejandra lead me to a small Colombian place at the other end of the old town. It was very popular and we were waiting for a while for a seat, but when we did get one it was easy to see why. It was another "Menu of the day" place, and very satisfying indeed.
After a brief stop back at the hostel we headed to a big supermarket in the new part of town. We passed through a quaint park called "Parque de Madres" (Mothers Park). This area looked almost brand new and had a running track, Planetarium, basketball court and all sorts of features including a McDonalds (the first I'd seen in SA). We found the "SuperMaxi" a little further down the road, and inside I had to leave my backpack with a man who's job it was specifically to look after bags. It was a pretty standard supermarket affair to be honest, though the foods were a little different. Lots of processed meat, little good dairy (no proper cheese), and absolutely no shower gel for some reason. Alejandra hadn't been very impressed with our version of porridge in Cajas, and showed me why. Apparently it's normally eaten in Ecuador as a drink with juice! Imagine! The savages. There was a good half an aisle dedicated to little juice cartons of porridge. Except it wasn't porridge it was juice with oatmeal in. She picked one up for me to try and then we hit the alcohol aisle. The alcohol aisle was quite a polarised place, with any imported brands such as Jack Daniels costing anything from $50-$100 a bottle, but any rip off brands or local spirit (such as Zhumia, made from sugar cane) costing as little as $5 for 750ml. There was also a sign noting that the purchase of alcohol on Sundays is illegal, which is true for all of Ecuador.
After the excitement of the supermarket we strolled back to the hostel in the blazing sunshine with our assortment of goodies. Porridge-juice wasn't too bad actually, and not chunky like I'd been anticipating.
Later, we went for food at the only Indian restaurant I'd seen in Cuenca at Jamie's request. Well I say Indian restaurant; it was called "The Taj Mahal" but the menus proclaimed to offer the best "Pakistani food in Cuenca" so who knows. I wanted to see if their Tikka Masala was up to British standards because I got the impression they were actually English in the first place. The chap came over before long with an unexpected appetiser of plain popcorn and some sauces. After 6 or so weeks I was no longer surprised at odd things turning up at the dinner table, so began dipping and munching whilst we watched utterly bizarre music videos to Bollywood style music. The food was good though not quite the same as back home, but hey with the only Indian in a thousand miles you can't complain. Another early night ensued.