More Love Letters to Quito

Untitled

We spent a lot of time in parks while in Quito. The city is dotted with them, the kids enjoyed exploring, running and playing, and it was a good way to burn off the energy.

Untitled

Also, Ecuadorians really value family, so all the parks had facilities for kids, including this fun one at Parque Metropolitano.

Untitled

And how lovely was it to be able to enjoy the outdoors in December?

IMG_7399

The seasons north of the equator are beautiful, but I must say, I sure do appreciate a life without winter and the oppressive heat and humidity of summer.

IMG_7416

Quito has seasons, but they’re rainy season and dry season. The temperature ranges between 45 degrees (8 C) to 65 degrees (19 C) the whole year.

IMG_7423

In my book, that’s pretty much perfect.

IMG_7427

And leaves room for lots of sweet cousin time (and father-in-law/brother-in-law time).

Untitled

Taste of Ecuador

Untitled

Several friends who follow my Instagram account expressed concern that I might be leaving and moving back to Ecuador.

Untitled

I mean, I guess I can see why you’d think that, when I’m gushing over empanadas, locro de papas (typical mountain-region potato soup, above left) and humitas (similar to a tamale, above right).

Untitled

We did empanadas HARD, consuming these corn-based empanadas de morocho (cooking above, ready for inhaling below) in Quito’s old city.

Untitled

Later that evening we moved on to empanadas de viento (aka cheese-filled pockets of love) down the street.

Untitled

This boy became an instant fan.

Untitled

But while those were good, they couldn’t compare to the lusciousness that comes from Empanadas Chilenas (on the way to Cali Cali).

Untitled

Don’t be deceived, my friend. These are not Chilean empanadas, in spite what the restaurant name implies. These are Ecuador-proud, the best empanadas de viento known to man (or at least us).

IMG_7490

It didn’t matter how many snacks we’d consumed at Kelley’s friend’s house in Cali Cali, we were stopping for empanadas.

IMG_7493

Those crispy, gooey, oily, hot and sprinkled-with-a-dab-of-coarse-sugar pies always win.

Oh, and we also had empanadas verdes (made from green plantains) that Kelley’s house helper made for us for Christmas.

Untitled

We also made sure to hit up the local bakery for amazingly fresh and high-quality French-style baked goods. As my sister said, “This city runs on bread and fruit.”

Untitled

For Christmas Eve, we feasted on ceviche (shrimp cocktail, but not as pungent as the Peruvian version), bread, meat and chifles (fried platain chips). I think there was my brother-in-law’s eggnog, too.

Untitled

Of course, I’d made sure to get ceviche on my first day there, so I was topped up.

IMG_7299

And then there is the street food:

IMG_7258

Grilled corn, sausage, fruit juices and …

IMG_7265

what is roughly equivalent to donuts, aka huevos chilenos, or Chilean Eggs. ???

IMG_7266

These are kind of a New Year’s tradition for us, but I gotta say, as an adult, these were not super great.

IMG_7722

Food in the jungle is nothing special (but maybe makes for better stories if you can get yourself some smoked monkey, fried ants or grubs), but one must stop for a taste of the famous Banos taffy, made from sugar cane molasses.

Just beware it might come with a side of bacteria from the taffy-man’s hand. (Personal experience)

Untitled

And to finish off your culinary tour, made a stop with mora and tomate de arbol juice.

Just do it.

And tell them I sent you.

Street-side Shopping

As with many less developed countries, vendors can often be found on street corners and stoplights, hawking various goods. On one trip around town, you could reasonably purchase windshield wipers, a cell-phone case, a radio, a toy, some as-seen-on-tv item and a seat cover. Plus various snacks like homemade chips, candied peanuts or fava beans.

But the very best thing is produce.

IMG_7218

Need avocados? How about five for a dollar from the lady on the corner? Strawberries? Oh, try her, weaving her way through the traffic with plastic bags hanging off her fingertips.

IMG_7219

Act fast before the light changes!

My sister says it’s her favorite way to shop for food, and I tend to agree. It’s basically a drive-through.

Authentic Life at Iñaquito Market

IMG_7103

Let’s start with the colorful.

IMG_7104

Growing up, a trip to the capital city meant a stop at Iñaquito market for fresh fruits and vegetables was likely.

IMG_7105

Then later, my mom or the lady who helped around the house would hit the market up weekly for produce. There was always the typical grocery store, but Iñaquito was different in that these women were selling what they or their community had grown themselves. It was high quality and super fresh, right from Ecuador’s growing region a little south.

IMG_7109

Before, the outside of the market was peppered with indigenous women carrying a length of rope. For a little money, they’d tie your basket to their backs follow you through the market as you made purchases. Then, basket full, they’d follow you to your car and help you unload. I didn’t see any of those women on this visit.

In the past 20 years, the market has gone from a dark cave laden with the smells of over-ripe fruit and meat to a bright and clean place with orderly stalls.

IMG_7110

Outside, small stores ring the central market; before they used to be filled with flower-seller after flower-seller. But these days, more and more flowers are being exported for greater profits, and the outer stores now sell candy, crackers and cheap Chinese-made goods.

IMG_7111

Even if you’re just visiting and don’t need to shop, a quick walk around the market is worth it for the true experience. (Hang on to your wallet, though.) You’ll see the huge variety of Ecuadorian produce at it’s finest. And if you do decide to make a purchase, definitely haggle over the price. And if you buy a lot, ask for a “yappa”, or a freebie, kind of like a baker’s dozen.

IMG_7112

Appointing Myself as Ecuador’s Unofficial Tourism Ambassador

IMG_7788

You guys, I grew up in Ecuador. I spent the first 18 years of my life living there. I loved it, and it was a totally idyllic childhood.

IMG_7481

Fast forward to today. I’ve been to around 50 countries all over the world, and I still say Ecuador is super charming, beautiful, accessible and EVERYONE SHOULD GO AT LEAST ONCE.

IMG_7762

Lucky for me, my sister still lives there, so I have an excuse/reason to go more often than most.

IMG_7605

Look: tiny country, 4 distinct geological regions. Amazon jungle, Andes mountains, Pacific coast and Galapagos islands.

IMG_7687

Quito is one of the oldest colonial capitals in the New World, and the city has done so much restoration in the past 10 years. Downtown is a treasure trove of architecture and charm. And cobblestones and bare electrical wires strung between buildings.

IMG_4681

There is so much to do, see, experience and EAT, especially if you have savvy locals like my sister’s family to scout them out.

IMG_7283

We spent 12 days there over Christmas, and we were able to do and see so much in a short time, all with 4 kids 6 years old and under.

IMG_7216

Over the next several weeks I promise to INUNDATE you with photos.

And maybe I’ll even stop yelling about it at some point.

But really: PUT ECUADOR ON YOUR BUCKET LIST now.

The Coconut Man

IMG_6964

After breakfast one day, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.

IMG_6958

It was the coconut man, headed up the tree with rope and machete in hand.

IMG_6962

One by one, he climbed the palms barehanded.

IMG_6979

At each tree’s top, he’d tie the rope to the coconut bunch, then skillfully chop and lower the bunch to the ground.

IMG_6981

I watched as he climbed tree after tree, harvesting coconuts.

IMG_6974

And then he spotted me. And a little showing off was in order.

IMG_6968

That coconut man has some serious ab strength.