Pumapongo Museum

The Pumapongo Museum is a free museum dedicated to the development of Ecuador in general and a lot of information about the indigenous people as well. The museum has a main building as well as partially excavated grounds directly behind the museum.  There is a small area for live birds on display too.

Not only is there no charge to go into the museum, I never even saw a donation box!

There are wonderful small dioramas showing life for the indigenous and early settlers. They are so detailed that they even show plants growing on the roof of a house…something that you do see sometimes even today.

Most of the museum is only in Spanish which we can read mas or menos (somewhat) but occasionally there was English.

There is a section of money. Originally things from nature were used as money, shells and such. Later coins and then later paper money were used. Starting in 1830, the Peso was used. The Franco was used from 1856-1871. Then they used the Peso again until 1884 when the Sucre was used until 2000 when they went to using the United States dollar because the sucre had been so devalued.

Today although we mostly see paper bills of $5 to $20 and the presidential dollar coins as well as other US coins, there are still occasional Ecuador coins that we receive in change, but not often.

The archeological site has ruins from the Inca Kanari civilization. I couldn’t find much online about the museum and archeological site (guess that is the down side of a free museum) but I did find this. If you are interested in more, you can do an online search and find bits and pieces about the area.

This is a sacred area below the museum and archeological area.

In the lower section there is an area of sacred corn that was planted as well as information on various medicinal plants and other plants which are used in the area.

There was a final area with a few birds in cages. Not all of them were named. The two most interesting to me were this blueish/greenish bird  (unnamed) and Black Chested Buzzard Eagles which are much larger than they appear in this picture.

Cuenca

According to WIKI, the city of Cuenca is located at about 8,200 feet with an urban population of approximately 400,000 rising to 700,000 inhabitants in the larger metropolitan area. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its many historical buildings.

The air is crisp and much cleaner than the other large cities like Quito or Medellin. And the air is very dry even though we are fast approaching the rainy season. We were the first AirBnB guests of Marco and Miriam. They are a retired couple who built what I would call a hacienda on the edge of town 8 years ago. The U shaped house has 4 bedrooms along the legs of the U with a large covered area in between and the living, dining, and laundry rooms and kitchen along the base of the U. There is a separate structure on the property where Miriam’s mother lives.

We took the bus to the center of town most days, $0.25 total for both of us each way. The bus stops within 100 feet or so of their property.

We took 2 tours in one day early on in our stay. One to the North part of town, the other to the South. The architecture in Cuenca shows Spanish, French, and Arabian influence. At least one building shows all 3 in the same building exterior.

There are 4 rivers in Cuenca. Along one street, the houses look like they are 2 story houses but when you drive along the street parallel to this street which fronts one of the rivers you can see that those houses are actually up to 7 stories high.

On the South tour, we went up to a viewpoint and then spent some extra time going to a famous ceramic workshop and bought 4 mugs, a small vase, and a number “7” to go on the manufactured home when we move back to Durango.

During the North tour we stopped at what I believe is the original “Panama hat” factory. All true Panama hats are made in Ecuador. The story about the name of the hats is that they were worn by the workers who were digging out the Panama Canal. When Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while he inspected the work, the name became “Panama” hat. These hats are lightweight and breathable which makes them very comfortable. More on them in another post.

I saw two little girls (maybe 5-7) on the bus with their hair braided from one side across their head to the other side. I wasn’t close enough to get a good picture but what might look like a headband is actually braided hair. Really cute!

Speaking of hair, not as many women have long hair here as in many places we have been although there are still lots who do. Guys aren’t always as well groomed as other places but they aren’t dirty or messy…just not as many with very recent haircuts.

Here are a couple of nice murals we have seen. One is probably the Devil vs God with earth in between. The other is a guy playing an electric guitar sitting in a field so that is a bit odd but nicely done.

Lots of dogs here, many loose. Loved this vendor who had their dogs dressed from paws to heads and in between.

Here is a good picture of what I have mentioned in the past…that commas and decimals are used differently in Latin America (and elsewhere maybe?). This is a sign for a building project with the cost down to the penny (cents are after the comma).

And finally, it is not uncommon to see people dressed up as a living statue for money. This was an especially interesting one because the man is only balanced on his arm. He must have a support under his clothes but nothing is visible from the outside.

Here is a random small mural I saw on a building. Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria maybe?

Waste water systems in Latin America can’t usually handle toilet paper so you throw your used paper in a trash can. Not my favorite thing but I am used to it. This is the most graphic sign have I seen on the subject.

Cochasquí Archeological Park

Pyramid with long ramp, compliments of http://www.larevista.ec

The Cochasquí Archeological Park is a short drive (19 miles) from Quito. This is a fascinating area where the pre-Colombian and pre-Incan natives built pyramids that were built with much precision. The location is about 9,970 feet above sea level with a 240 degree view. The park is 84 hectares (210 acres) and has 15 pyramids and 21 burial mounds.

Partial view from one of pyramids

The pyramids are a bit different from Egyptian pyramids. They have been covered with dirt to hide them and 9 of them have a ramp going up the face of the pyramid. They are thought to be ceremonial and astronomical in nature. There are indications that they created a 13 month, 28 day calendar using the sun and the moon. (That’s 364 days which is pretty close to accurate!)

The pyramids were built by alternating layers of stone and a mixture similar to adobe.

It was a beautiful day to tour the site. The park guide spoke slow clear Spanish and our English guide also translated for us. We could understand a lot of the Spanish without translation.

There are over 150 llamas and alpacas that roam freely in the park. These gentle animals were comfortable approaching us.

If you are ever in Ecuador, I highly recommend visiting this park. I’m always amazed at the scientific knowledge that theses ancients had. (I still think that they were helped by aliens but that is a different blog that I probably won’t write.)

Old Town Quito

View of Quito from Basilica del Voto Nacional

The current city of Quito was developed over the ruins of indigenous people. This was known previously and when they started excavation for the subway, they had to temporarily halt construction while they retrieved relics.

According to WIKI, The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978. On March 28, 1541, Quito was declared a city and on February 23, 1556, was given the title Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito (“Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”).

In 1884, Basílica del Voto Nacional church construction was begun and Pope John Paul II celebrated the first mass there in 1985. While largely completed, if you look, it is subtle but there are missing statues and probably other things that have never been finished. Starting in 1895, there was a  tax paid by Quito citizens for its construction. It was 3 cent or per cent (not sure) tax on salt to help defray the cost of this structure. (The currency at that time was a “sucre”and $1 was 25,000 sucre at today’s rates. That tax is no longer in effect but imagine having to pay tax on a church building if you aren’t of that religion (although at the time the country was largely Catholic). If you are interested, there is more info on the Quito churches and pictures here.

For a couple of dollars we could tour the church and go up across the inside part of the roof and then outside. Dan who loves heights was in his element and he went up the open stairs to the top viewing area while I stayed on the lower level; I was outside and quite high up and not comfortable but I was there.

The view from either place was beautiful. You could get a feel for how large Quito is. People have started cutting down trees and building up the mountain. Across one area, you can see a hill called the Panecillo. That area has always been a poor area because when the Spaniards came they made the poor servants/slaves live up the hill and they settled the flat areas which were easier to navigate. I’m sure someday these shacks will become valuable and developed by the wealthy.

House formerly owned by one family. Sisters side is on the left of the picture, brothers on the right.

One unique building in the Old Town was originally owned by a single family. At one time, this two story, block long building was willed to a sister and brother. The sister remodeled her section and made it quite attractive while the brother kept his part very austere. You can see the differences today. In both areas, note how thick the walls are, about 3’, to keep the temperature comfortable in the building.

Later the church bought the building and now leases out various areas to vendors, restaurants, etc. Dan enjoyed having his picture taken with a mime totally covered in gold.

When the indigenous people built the town originally, they didn’t not use square or rectangle blocks. These skilled workers cut blocks to fit like a puzzle. Later the Spanish recut some of the blocks to exert their power and remove that reminder of the locals.

Not to be outdone however, there are subtle reminders of when the slaves were doing construction; they put their own subtle mark. There is one building with a row of cherubs on the top. If you look closely, you will see that all of the cherubs are draped except the end one who has quite an erection. But it isn’t something that is easy to notice, even when you are looking.

In the St. Francis church, instead of a statute of a slave holding up the pulpit on his back, you see that it is 3 Spaniards. No idea what happened to the artisans if/when their creativity was discovered but I doubt that they were praised by the Spaniards.

 

Street of the Seven Crosses

As would be expected, the churches are very ornate. There is one street informally called the street of 7 crosses; you can see a cross outside each church. We didn’t go into all of them but we did go into a couple. One, Compañía de Jesús (160 years in construction,beginning in 1605), is purported to have 7 tons of gold leaf on the walls. At $1300 per ounce, that is $291,000,000 in just gold! We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (they think that the flash from cameras is oxidizing the gold) and we didn’t but this website states that I could have taken pictures since I was planning to write about it in our blog. They got permission and their pictures will give you a good idea of how it looks.

While the photo was snapped quickly and isn’t very good, I loved the name of one store. Maní is Spanish for peanut and one store was named “El Super Maní”, a play on “superman”. Cute

In a gift shop, Dan got a kick out of seeing a chess set. One set of players was Spanish conquistadors while the other side was indigenous people. (We don’t have room for such things so we just took photos instead of buying it.)

Pasto and Ipiales, Colombia

Mopa Mopa Vase. Each strand of color was individually added. The process looks like making taffy with the plant sap being stretched and pulled. Once it is the right consistency, color is added. Then it is rolled into thin sheets where it is cut into strips and each piece is pressed into place with a hand tool.

One of our last stops in Colombia was the small town of Pasto, less than 2 hours from Ecuador. We were only there a few days and we saw a few interesting things.

Below are a couple of pictures from a night parade right outside the gate of our apartment. It was church related; can’t tell you anything more than that. Here are a man and a woman on stilts and below that a float.

 

We took a walk one day and there were cows grazing on the meadow by this large apartment building. In Colombia you can tell small towns by medium sized ones when apartment building like this show up. This one is on the edge of Pasto, about two blocks from where buildings are built side-by-side.

Beautiful view of the area. Many Andean mountain cities and towns are like this, where the city suddenly ends and fields appear.There was a place on the river close to where we stayed where a number of people hand washed their laundry on the river. I took a quick picture of them but can’t find it. We were surprised because it was inside the city limits. We heard about a business where a washing machine is delivered for under $5 and then carted to the next place.

We went to a house built in 1623. This is the oldest restored structure in the town. It was especially interesting to Dan with his construction/restoration background but I enjoyed seeing the old tools and the newly made wooden sculptures, boxes, and wall hangings. One thing they talked about was Mopa Mopa art. The best way I can describe it is that they make something akin to vinyl from resin which is  colored and cut into shapes and then applied to almost anything (wood, metal, ceramics) as a decoration. More pictures below when we went to the local store where they actually do this.

The Blacks and Whites Carnival is held every year in early January. We missed seeing it but we went to the museum where they house a lot of the old floats. These floats are not flower decorated floats…they are made of a paper mache base with fiberglass applied and then painted. Each float can be up to 50 x 60 feet in size and intricately designed and painted. They take about 4 months each to make and their is stiff competition for the first place prize money. Keep in mind how big these floats are when you look at the gallery.

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Mopa Mopa Art is amazing! Watching the gentleman apply to filmy color and looking at some of his art work it is hard to believe it is done by hand. Here is more info on the process although you will have to use a translate program if your Spanish isn’t up to par.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in nearby Ipiales was built on the location where  in 1754 a young deaf girl reported seeing the Virgin Mary and the girl spoke for the first time. The bridge for the Sanctuary crosses a river and is incredibly beautiful. The cathedral itself is stunning. All along the path to the cathedral and past it people have added various plaques, probably thousands of them!

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At the Sanctuary we met Juan who is from Bogota Colombia and traveling by bicycle to the tip of South America. He has pretty good English and we bumped into him the next day at the bus terminal in Ibarra as well.

From the Sanctuary we took the cable car up the steep hill and caught a taxi. We paid the driver to take us to the cemetery which is across the border into Ecuador. More on that in another posting but here are a few pics from the cable car.

 

 

 

Courtyards in Nicaragua

The Garden Cafe. Good food at reasonable prices. The tables are under the roof to the right and left of the photo. This courtyard seemed unusual as it had more plants and dirt than any others we saw.

Courtyards are a necessity in Nicaragua (and should be elsewhere as well). The air in the courtyard flows into the rooms which surround it and help to keep the temperatures tolerable.

All of the courtyards that we saw were full of lots of plants and sometimes a fountain or pool. They were very pleasant to see and to sit in.

My only question about this practice is that it means that the majority of all land is covered by impervious cover (concrete, asphalt, buildings, etc.) so I’m not sure how much of an issue rainwater runoff is.

Here are just a few of the many ones we saw. In the pictures we took from the bell tower, you can see that almost the only plants you see come from the courtyards.