Monday, 14 April 2014

22) The imminent arrival of Mr Ramsay

Wednesday passed without a great deal of excitement. All three of us went to the market for breakfast this time, and having tried some the previous morning, I got "tortilla de choclos". Choclo is in fact the kind of corn they love here (not chocolate like you might think), and the tortillas were thick toasted and slightly sweet cakey type things which I fell in love with. Ale also persuaded us to try "Morocho" which is a rice pudding drink with cinnamon and a hint of aniseed, served hot and again fantastic tasting. We mostly ambled slowly around town, and checked out the planetarium we'd stumbled across the day before but unfortunately there weren't enough people for a showing despite it being free. Me and Jamie fancied a beer and decided to check out a place we'd passed a few times called "The Beer House" (what better place to find beer?). They produced their own, and the medium I got must have been nearly a litre glass and was mighty fine.
I left the bar before Jamie and went to an Austrian cafe to indulge in cake and coffee, and later when I got back to the hostel he still wasn't there. I killed time before hunger set in by watching awful, awful Ecuadorean soaps and government propaganda with Alejandra in her room next to ours but still no Jamie. Part of me wondered whether he'd been bungled into the back of a van and driven off into the countryside, part of me was just hungry. I figured I'd never find him in the city and Ale wasn't keen for food so I set off into the darkness in a bid to find one of the many cheap places to eat around the place. Wandering the nearby streets for a while revealed the cheap ones to be closed, leaving me with just a handful of expensive touristy places. Undeterred, I changed course down a side street and struck gold. "Asi es Cuenca!". By Jove they even had 3 self awarded stars plastered on the sign. Inside I took my seat and a girl with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp and a garish tracksuit on came over to take my order. It felt like home. I asked for the $2.50 menu of the day and she came back with a small bowl of popcorn and some mysterious green soup. The soup was pretty tasty and was clearly the majority of the cost as the next plate was rice, 8 chips, an egg and 5 small chunks of mystery meat in a sauce. I'll never know what the meat was as the girl seemed in no mood for questions. I polished it off and got out of there. Still no sign of Jamie so I took matters into my own hands, slid the window open and hopped in and got into bed, fairly certain he'd turn up by the morning.
Sure enough he was there when I rolled over the next day. It wasn't long before a small commotion downstairs signaled the arrival of our supervisor from Plymouth; Dr Paul Ramsay. We both went to greet him and he commented that I no longer looked like the ruined Italian Jesus fresco that that maid had tried to wipe clean. Thankfully his impressive "profesor" status meant they were going to give him his own room so that he didn't have to share with us! It wouldn't be ready for another few hours however, and a busy day lay ahead so he bunged his things in our room and we all headed off to the market again for some much needed breakfast. We caught up and listened to stories of past South American excursions over some more Tortillas de choclo, and there were quite a few colourful ones to say the least. Following that we browsed the market a little, and Paul found the stand he was after. It was a small old woman (as most are here it seems) with all things cocoa and chocolate spread around her stand. She handed us some to try and it was foul. Chocolate in it's purest form, and great big slabs of it too. Nothing like the refined, ultra sweet stuff we have back home. I know which one I preferred and my face gave the game away as the woman started chuckling. Paul handed over some cash and left with a patio slab sized wedge of the stuff! Apparently it would last the year and is good for cooking with; I don't doubt it because it certainly ain't for eating.
He and Alejandra had to go meet with Pablo and José to discuss our work in Cajas and various other projects. Because they were off for a while I figured I'd check out the other side of the old town that I hadn't been to before, having mostly gone up and down.
This turned out to be quite the mistake. I did find another market, about the same size as the one we'd been gorging ourselves in and filled with a similar variety of foods (though this one also sold pre-skinned guinea pigs by the dozen). I then stumbled upon a vast, seemingly underground market filled with stalls selling just about everything else. It was in here that I got hopelessly lost,. It wasn't until an old woman who'd watched me bumbling around (unintentionally) in what appeared to be the lingerie stalls section came over and guided me to an exit, that I found myself back outside on an unknown street with no visible landmarks to guide me. I wasn't fussed really, I had a couple more hours to kill and walking for miles on end had become somewhat normal lately. This was very much a locals area, and I mingled with the crowds of traditionally dressed Ecuadoreans like a lone marshmallow in hot chocolate. The quality of the shops began to deteriorate and I realised I must have been heading in the opposite direction to the centre of town so I made an about turn and headed back.
Paul and Alejandra arrived at the hostel not long after me, about 6 hours after their meeting had planned to start (the man can talk). We'd been invited to drinks with the suits from ETAPA that evening, at a German bar that brewed their own beer. We did have a meeting of our own planned that evening with our new and exotic friends, so there'd be no time for tea then! We got to the bar and there were already a few people there including Pablo and Jose. It was a dinky little place and they'd let you create a playlist from a great big book of the songs on the jukebox. Me and Jamie set about doing so after ordering a selection of beers, to try and drown out the grating voice of the Guiness World Records "Most American Woman" sat at the bar. The group were all very friendly, and handed out some books of Cajas fresh from the press. Paul told us all another reassuring story about a past experience in Quito, in which another professor from the university ended up in just his pants after mistaking their muggers for students fooling around, leading them to believe he was hiding something of value. His only gripe was that they'd thrown his chips on the floor! We were there for a couple of hours before everyone started making a move, which was lucky as we were cutting it fine for our rondezvous. Me and Jamie slunk off before Paul and Alejandra and set off at a fast pace back towards the hostel. 10 minutes later we established that we'd been going the complete wrong direction, and at the end of the correct road we could see Paul and Ale gathered around a street vendor selling Churiscos (meat on a stick). We joined them to their mild surprise, bought a couple ourselves and walked back to the hostel with them. Earlier in the day the folks that ran the hostel had invited us all to join them in some sort of Catholic ritual involving a shrine and rosary beads, but we decided to hit the bar instead. When we got back there was a gaggle of old women in the main area, and before we could stop him Paul had sauntered into the crowd to introduce himself. They absolutely loved it, and it was pretty cringey to see as I made my escape...
That evening, Jamie had the idea to bring our company back to the hostel. Needless to say the woman hit the roof, made perhaps worse by him breaking the door as we tried to back out, but apart from that it was an excellent night, including karaoke, gin and tonics galore and even a free umbrella!

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