Street Food Scene of Quito

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Ecuadorians like to eat all the time. They don’t follow strict rules about it either. There are no set breakfast, lunch or dinner hours, and most locals eat when they are hungry, which seems to be all day long. If you stroll through Old Quito during the hours of 10am and 4pm, you will see street vendors selling soups, hole-in-the-wall establishments making fresh tortillas, and casual cafes always packed with snackers. In fact, whatever formal sit-down restaurant there are in Quito, seem to cater mostly to visitors. The locals prefer cheap eats on the go that are satisfying and similar to home cooked meals.

Here are some of the sights from Quito’s street food scene…

My entire concept of “soup” changed after visiting Ecuador. Here you eat soup off the street. Vendors cook locro de papa (potato soup  with potatoes, onion, garlic, cumin, achiote and cheese), and calso de Manguera (made with pork intestines, stuffed with blood and rice), at home, carry it into the markets in buckets and sell it by the cup to busy workers. Every family has their own style of preparing these traditional Ecuadorian recipes. The regulars know which ones they favor and often wait for their lunch to arrive in the city. Potato salad and ceviche are other two famous bucket dishes found especially in the historic Cruz Verde (green cross) neighborhood.

street vendors sell soup in Quito

Seafood is another important ingredient in Ecuadorian cooking. With access to the Pacific Ocean, lakes and rivers, there is always an abundance of fresh shrimp, fish, clams, mussels and even oysters. Where else in the world can you stop for couple of oysters on the half shell on your way to the office?

street food oysters in Quito

Lunch is generally the main meal of the day in Ecuador. Restaurants in Old Quito advertise lunch specials “Almuerzos” for $1-2, which include soup and traditional entrees such as Arroz con carne (rice with meat) or Fritadas (roasted pork with potatoes).

quito food 6

For your next backyard party remember that plantains are not always fried. You can grill them whole on charcoal till they are slightly charred. Makes for a delicious and healthy side dish.

quito food 5

Street food doesn’t alway have to be unhealthy. In Quito, you will find fruit vendors selling fresh cut watermelons, pineapples and whatever else is in season. Grab a cup of fruit cocktail snack just for a few pennies.

quito food 3

School kids line up at food stalls in the afternoon just to snack on Tortilla De Tiesto, a corn pancake made fresh to order. It is usually had with coffee or hot cocoa.

quito food

If Italians love gelato, Ecuadorians can beat them to Espumilla consumption any time of the day. It looks like ice cream, but is actually a dessert made with freshly whipped meringue cream and fruit extract, such as guava or passion fruit. The best part about it is that it doesn’t melt so street vendors sell it from their baskets, scooping out Espumilla in cups and cones.

quito food 7

If you want to go on a guided food tour of Quito, Metropolitan Touring offers one-day and half-day walking tours.

Read more about what to eat in Ecuador.

 

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San Diego’s Obsession With The Beet Salad

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During my recent visit to San Diego for the Travel and Adventure Show, I dined at some of the most reputable restaurants in the city. I was delighted to find that many of the places cooked with fresh, high quality, farm to table ingredients that included locally sourced vegetables and meat.

San Diego is blessed with temperate climate, abundant sunshine and varied topography that allows for a variety of foods to grow year-round. Beets are in season during the winter and spring, although the chefs I inquired told me, “San Diego folks ask for it year round” and every restaurant is unofficially required to have beets on their menu. Apparently, the locals complain when they don’t see “beet salad.” Nothing wrong with that since beets are one of the healthiest vegetables out there. They are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, fiber, anti-inflammatory properties and cancer-fighting agents.

Trust me, after 5 days of noticing the beet salad at every venue, I started to think that all the chefs in San Diego area must have received some sort of a memo about it. Here are some of the variations I discovered…

Hotel Del Coronado‘s flagship ocean front seafood restaurant, 1500 Ocean served homemade burrata (Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream), with heirloom beets and valencia oranges, tossed in Temecula (a city in California) balsamic.

beet salad with goat cheesePrep Kitchen in Little Italy’s version included fresh baby spinach, satsuma (Japanese mandarin), avocado, goat cheese, whole pistachios, with a gentle dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. It tasted more like a salad with beet as an important ingredient hiding below the spinach leaves.

Amaya, the Mediterranean restaurant at Grand Del Mar, took a slight twist on the classic recipe. Their Roasted Beet Salad was a simple concoction of pickled shallots, tangerine, goat cheese, molasses-candied walnuts and mache (French name of the edible salad green Valerianella locusta).

My favorite was this elegant creation by Chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten Restaurant, located at The Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla. Red and yellow baby beets were adorned with a light goat cheese pudding, shaved fennel, smoked oranges, drizzled with citrusy beet vinaigrette, and sprinkled with pistachio and cacao crumble. I would have never thought of using cacao dust for garnish but its an ingenious idea. The dish was a symphony for all the senses.

nine ten la jolla

The chefs in San Diego have inspired me to cook Beet Salad at home more often. Here is a simple recipe that I have created using all that my tastebuds have guided me from this trip.

Easy Beet Salad Recipe:

Soak the beets in water with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, then scrub them well. Cut them into quarters and boil in water for 15-20 minutes until fully cooked but not too tender. If a sharp knife can go through easily, the beets are good enough to use in salad. Drain water and cool. You can also use them raw if you like.

In a large bowl, combine any greens (Boston lettuce, Bibb lettuce, Baby spinach), with fresh chopped oranges, diced avocados, crumbled goat cheese and roasted pistachios. Add good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar, toss gently and serve immediately.

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Driving Into Mexico, by Accident!

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The beautiful city of San Diego, California is located only a few miles north of the Mexico border. In fact, I was driving on Interstate 5 and noticed highway signs that read “Mexico exit is coming up.” My plan was to drive to the end of the US border, park my car at San Ysidro and walk over to Mexico. It is much faster and convenient to go this way especially if you are doing a day trip. There is a pedestrian bridge that one can take into Tijuana, the first town, an important financial and industrial center of Mexico, and the largest city on the Baja California Peninsula. After arrival, buses and taxis are available that take you into the center of town which is bustling with shops and restaurants.

Unfortunately, the exit on I-5 that I was suppose to take had no sign stating that “this is where you need to get off to park your car if you are going to Mexico” so, I accidently drove into the border.

I thought there must be a place to park at the border crossing, or at least I can turn around somewhere. But no, an unmanned check post said “Welcome to Mexico!” and there I was. Nobody checked for identification or stamped my passport but I’m sure there were cameras all around.

crossing US border into Mexico

The moment I crossed international borders, my GPS went out of service and cell phone switched to roaming. I didn’t bother to print any maps of Tijuana beforehand since I wasn’t planning to arrive there by car. I had not notified my car rental company that I was going to take it to Mexico. Neither did I have a phone number to call in case of an emergency.

Here I was in Tijuana, supposedly one of the most dangerous places in North America. People later warned me that its famous for kidnappings, gangs and drugs.

There were well maintained highways and people seemed to be following some laws. Exit names were nicely labelled, although very confusing and inconsistent. I wasn’t sure where I was suppose to go even though I wanted to see the city. So I just kept on driving wherever the roads took me, which in this case was to Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico.

Rosarito, located only 30 minutes south of Tijuana, seemed like a quiet beach town with lots of newly developed homes. There were margarita and taco shacks dotted all along the ocean which was waiting to alive once the sun went down. A few tacky souvenir shops sold shot-glasses, sombreros and t-shirts. It didn’t take very long to drive through the stretch of the main street, which was also heavily guarded by Mexican police.

Rosarito beach Baja California

I stopped at a gas station to pick up a map, only to realize I didn’t have any Mexican Pesos. The lady at the cash register accepted my US Dollars but returned the change back in Pesos. There was no prior understanding of the prevailing currency exchange rate as I got the “take it or leave it” look from her.

Thankfully, I was able to find my way back into the city (mostly through trial and error) and see the main attractions of Tijuana. By this time, I gained enough confidence to park my car and step out. I visited Tijuana Cultural Center, Avenida Revolucion, Amigos del Artes, churches, food markets, shops and plazas. Downtown area was overwhelming with lots of cars, pedestrians, street hawkers and everyone trying to sell me something. It didn’t feel unsafe, although someone who is not use to traveling in third world countries may perceive otherwise. In any case, Tijuana was not the sort of place I would like to spend more than a couple of hours at.

Amigos del Artes Tijuana

After paying the parking attendant with the rest of the Pesos I had, I made my way back north towards USA. The 6-lans drive-through immigration was perhaps the most chaotic border patrol I have ever seen. Separate lines for US citizens, permanent residents and visitors were non existent. There were no signs for wait times, documentation or anything whatsoever. The lanes kept shrinking, so we had to merge every few minutes. Then there were street hawkers who set up shop in the middle of the highway, making it a marketplace. It was easy to do so since we were virtually in a “parking lot” situation for many hours.

Mexico immigration crossing

The Mexican vendors walked around selling everything from souvenirs, furnishings, cold drinks, fast food to puppies and medicines. There were men wearing t-shirts identifying themselves as “pharmacy” who sold antibiotics without prescriptions, ladies taking orders for fresh tacos and burritos, handicapped citizens begging for money, young men washing cars without permission hoping for tips, and kids running around collecting anything American tourists would give them. It was a grave sight while I waited 2.5 hours in line to cross the border.

puppies sold at Mexico immigration crossing

 

medication sold at Mexico immigration crossing

Once I reached the immigration counter, the office asked me what I went to Mexico for, and I explained the whole situation of “driving there by accident.” He didn’t seem amused, as if this happens all the time. Truly, next time I will be careful not to blink while driving, or end up in Tijuana. The officer looked at my passport, inspected my car, asked a few questions and allowed me to re-enter California.

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Typical Day On A Galapagos Cruise

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Cruising the Galapagos Islands is for those who seek nature, adventure and an active vacation. One-week cruise aboard The Letty, a 20-passenger yacht run by Ecuador based company, Ecoventura will show you the very best of islands flora and fauna. Expect to get up close with animals and marine life, enjoy delicious meals and learn about Darwin’s evolution theories.

sunrise in the Galapagos IslandsA typical day aboard The Letty starts early in the morning. Watch the sunrise as you eat a healthy breakfast inside the dining room of the yacht.

cruise day 3The first activity for the morning is a hike or walk to one of the islands, where you will get to see amazing landscapes.

wildlife in the Galapagos IslandsDuring the island visits, expect an up close encounter with endemic wildlife, such as pelicans and iguanas. The Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only marine lizard to exist in the world.

giant tortoise of the GalapagosBe astonished by the Giant Tortoises that inhabit the islands. A Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 595lb (270kg) with a carapace length of 4ft (1.2m) and outlive most humans.

snorkeling in the Galapagos IslandsBy 10am, the sun is up and it can get pretty hot, so time to cool down with a swim, snorkel or kayak. The convergence of three major oceanic currents brings an incredible mix of marine life to Galapagos.

kayaking in the Galapagos IslandsExpect to see beautiful coral reef, sharks, sea lions, penguins and lots of bird while you are out at sea.

cruise in the galapagos islandsAfter a busy morning, return to your boat for an authentic Ecuadorian lunch of ceviche, salads, grilled tuna, rice and beans prepared by experienced chefs. After lunch, its time for a Latin style afternoon siesta while your boat sails off to the next island.

sea lions in the Galapagos beachOnce you have renewed your energy, go to an undisturbed beach for a walk and some more sea lion watching. The Galapagos fur sea lions don’t feel threatened by the human paparazzi as long as you keep a safe distance.

blue footed boobies on the GalapagosBird watching is one of the highlights in the Galapagos. The islands are home to Nazca boobies, Darwin finches, frigids, cormorant, Blue footed boobies, and an occasional owl. Get your cameras ready to capture males performing mating dances to attract females.

sunset in the Galapagos

Enjoy picturesque sunsets of the Galapagos from the deck of the yacht while sipping a glass of wine.

eating in the Galapagos After a long day, its time to enjoy another scrumptious three course dinner. If you are lucky, you may even get a seat at the captain’s table.

To book a cruise to the Galapagos Islands with Ecoventure, click here.

Read more about traveling to the Galapagos Islands 

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Difference between Spanish and Mexican paella

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If you missed my presentation at Taste of Travel stage at the San Diego Travel Adventure Show, you didn’t get to taste my delicious paella. But all is not lost. You can still watch some clips from the show and follow along the recipe below.

Paella is a rice based dish that was invented in the mid 19th century around Lake Albufera, which is in the Valencia region in the East coast of Spain. Paella means a round “pan,” that is shallow, made of steel and has two handles. You can find paella pans at pretty much every kitchen equipment store, but a wok or flat deep dish would also do.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a national dish of Spain. In fact, most people in Spain don’t even eat paella unless it’s a special occasion. It has gained a lot of popularity around the world and still considered a delicious entree. There are mainly three types of paella – Valencia, seafood, mixed and others. Paella was traditionally cooked by men over open fire fueled by orange and pine branches and pine cones.

toasted rice on the bottom, called socrarrat, was considered a delicacy

Trivia: In 2001, Juan Galbis in Spain created the largest paella that served 110,000 people.

taste of travel san diego

The difference between Spanish and Mexican paella is that the Mexican version is spicier and soupier. It also does not have saffron, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing the most expensive spice in the world. Mexican paella is cooked using parboil rice. If you frown upon cooking with parboil rice, you must not know that it contains 80% of nutrients of brown rice (as it is rice with husk on boiled). This is how 50% of the world eats its rice. 

As the Mexican paella is spicy it uses Arbol (chile de arbol) in the recipe. Arbol is a small and potent red chili that is commonly used to decorate wreaths. It is also known as tree chile, bird’s beak or rat’s tail chile. If you cannot find Arbol, Cayenne is a good substitute.

Another difference is that we use white wine in the broth for Spanish paella, whereas beer is used in Mexican paella (preferable Mexican beer). Other ingredients include seafood (Clams/ shrimp/ mussels) that must be properly washed and spicy Mexican chorizo that is mashed up into the sauce as well. 

The Mexican paella is an easy dish to prepare and makes for a great one meal dinner. It can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature.

Here’s our easy and authentic Mexican paella recipe that you can try out at home.

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Limpia – Natural Healing in The Andes

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I never heard of Limpia before I arrived in Ecuador. My guide Giovani with Metropolitan Touring tells me that Limpia is a cleansing procedure which is typical of Andean medicine. It involves the use of natural herbs, oils and rubs to cure diseases, reduce symptoms, and ward off spirits.

In Quito, we visit the Mercado de Santa Clara, a municipal market located in historic Old Town that was established in 1904. I am overwhelmed with the sights and smells of this large building that houses vendors from all over Ecuador. Most of them are indigenous people who live outside Quito in neighboring villages and have come to sell their produce. After passing through stacks of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, housewares and just about everything, we see a row of “clinics.” These clinics distinguish themselves from each other by nothing more than the booth numbers and the names of the ladies who run them.

limpia in Old Quito

We step into number 8: clinic of Senora Rosa Lagla. The clinic is a narrow 8×2 feet booth packed with plants, most of which are unrecognizable to me. On one corner of the clinic is a bench where Rosa asks me to sit down while she examines me. Limpia is not performed only when you are ill, rather as part of a wellness maintenance program. Giovani explains to her that I am a writer and would like to learn more about Limpia. Rosa doesn’t speak English, but I can understand her slow and articulate Spanish.

herbs used for limpia

She decides to demonstrate her work by rubbing a particular kind of herbal leaves on my arm. I couldn’t identify what this was and my skin instantly starts stinging. Small rashes develop and I rethink this research on “natural medicine.” Rosa instantly rubs rose petals on my skin, which helps calm down some of the irritation. She tells me that these herbs are used to whip kids when they behave badly. That this is also the first step in Limpia because it helps you get control over your feelings, namely “pain and suffering.” It is suppose to heighten your senses and increase your awareness. You see, Limpia is an act of bodily, as well as spiritual cleansing, and you can’t cleanse your spirit unless you first control your mind.

limpia  healer in Quito

Rosa then shows me her collection of fresh herbs she uses for her practice. She picks up  huge bundles of fresh mint, sage, rosemary, rue every day from the market. There are also scented oils, lotions and medicinal drinks that she prescribes to her patients.

Limpia patients include adults who still believe in this practice, and a lot of kids. Ecuadorians have a custom to take babies from birth until the age of one or two to a Limpia clinic on a regular basis. This is mainly to release past life and birthing traumas, balance their energies, and keep off bad spirits and diseases. As we leave Rosa’s clinic, we see a few parents lined up with babies in their arms. I ask one of the dad’s if I could film the treatment being performed, and he tells me no.

My hotel in Old Town Quito, Casa Gangotena offers personal in-room Limpia service that allows for privacy as one does need to take off their clothes for a proper ritual. The following day, Rosa comes to my hotel room to perform with her bag of herbs and oil. She makes house calls for $30 (it costs only $10 to see her at the clinic and no appointments are necessary). She sets up in the large marble bathroom and places a chair in the middle. I volunteer my husband to be cleansed, so I can observe and make notes, or so I tell him.

limpia spiritual cleanse

He strips to his shorts, takes a seat in the chair and closes his eyes, while Rosa treats him with a number of plants, flowers and oils in some order that she only understands. Most of this involves tapping him on the head, shoulders, legs and body with bushes. It lasts for 15 minutes and doesn’t feel spiritual or magical. Just a lot of dusting leaves and brushing the skin.  There is a huge mess on the bathroom floor, as if a strong wind went through a garden and Spring turned to Fall in matter of minutes, but Rosa cleans it all up.  I ask my husband how he feels afterwards and he uses “refreshed, relaxed” as if he came out of a spa session.

Perhaps the treatment really works because he doesn’t fall ill during the rest of our travels, but mostly the outcome of personal Limpia is to generate blessings of peace, harmony and prosperity. Traditionally though, Limpia is not a one-time fix, rather than a maintenance of a healthy balanced body, as most holistic wellness methods are.

Read more about traditions of Quito

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Death Highway and War: A Tour through the Eyes of the Vietnamese

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Arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, I can immediately see the difference from the north. It’s calmer, more relaxed, the people are friendlier and the streets cleaner. Hue is a huge city with a lot of history, specifically regarding the Vietnam War. I am a little wary on how they would receive Americans, as one should be in every country that has been hit with about seven million tons of American bombs in a ten year period. I sign up for a personalized tour of the city on the back of a motorbike for $10, and thats how I meet Bill.

renting a motorcycle in Vietnam

Bill picks me up on the biggest motorcycle I’ve ever seen sporting an American flag and a huge smile. The local tour company, Easy Riders, had connected us. Easy Riders employs Vietnam veterans to take tourists around the south and tell them their story. At 21, Bill became a translator and advisor for the US marines from 1966-1973. He worked for the Americans, he is very clear about that. When I ask if he was also a part of the southern Vietnamese army, he yells, “No, American only!” His boss was American, his fellow marines were Americans, but he is Vietnamese. He didn’t say so, but I have a feeling his real name is something quite different, but Americans couldn’t pronounce it so they started calling him Bill. He’s quite proud of his past, and considers himself an American citizen. However, I can sense some underlying bitterness towards America as well. When the war ended, the south had surrendered, the American marines packed up their stuff and took off in helicopters, leaving a complete mess of the surrounding region, and leaving Bill. As he watched his fellow marines fly to freedom, he was imprisoned for several months. After being released, he wrote to the US embassy in Saigon for five years, asking for a visa to move to the States, and never heard back.

sites to visit in Hue, Vietnam He takes me to all the major sites in Hue, which aren’t very impressive. Not Hue’s fault, the Americans had heavily bombed the city, and its famous imperial citadel where the Viet Cong hid out. Bill shows me a local farming village where an older woman demonstrates how rice is made. I also visit an artist studio; like in other communist countries, art is a way to disguise political opinions. I end the day sipping beer with Bill and his friends. I am glad to ride on the back of his motorcycle, because in this crazy Vietnamese traffic, you wouldn’t want to drive.

But the next day I rent a motorcycle of my own and follow Bill and another girl to the DMZ, which is about a three hour ride outside of Hue, on Highway One or what tourists call the “death highway”. I quickly discover why, as semi trucks pass each other taking up both lanes of a bridge while bikers squeeze to the side. When a truck passed me coming so close it brushed my elbow, I decide that this is a terrible idea. The DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone, was the dividing line between the north and south during the war, at the “17th parallel”. No combat was to take place here, (although the Americans dropped three thousand bombs on it). Military leaders could meet and have negotiations here, families could reconnect in this area safely.

Vietnames war ventral Bill id card

As we walk around the 17th parallel bridge, Bill explains that even today it is still dangerous to speak positively about the south; twenty dissidents were imprisoned recently, and as he explains this he looks over his shoulder. Around the DMZ are the Vinh Moc Tunnels, a complex that stretches about 2,000 meters long and 30 meters

deep, with seven entrances and three different levels, all underground. Five hundred Vietnamese soldiers lived in these tunnels with their families, children were born here and an entire village thrived underground. The tunnels were a fascinating aspect of the war to explore, and as an American, I found it really important to see first hand the impact of our wars.

~ By Teresa Murphy of Tess Travels. Murphy visited the Thaipsum Festival, a Hindu ritual that takes place every year in the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur.

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6 Ways to Wind Up with the Best Deals during Shoulder Season

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  1. Book early—reserve a room in advance to reap benefits like peace of mind, plenty of selection and discounts that are only available if you book ahead. For example, the oceanfront Courtyard by Marriott in Carolina Beach is currently offering 20% off when you book a weekend stay 14 or more days in advance.1605-Final
  2. Stay standard, but be prepared to upgrade—as with rental cars, it can be worth the risk to book a standard room, or the cheapest available, and hope for an upgrade upon check-in. Often, when reservation agents hear the reason you’re visiting—i.e. honeymoon, anniversary, long overdue vacation—they’re happy to offer you a free or low-cost upgrade if they have the rooms available. Chances of getting an upgrade are greater during shoulder season when more rooms are available.
  3. Look (and book) online first—before you pick up the phone to call the reservation agent, look at the property’s website to see if they’re currently offering any online-only specials. For example, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort at Wrightsville Beach has weekly e-specials that are only available online.courtyard 3
  4. Consider a longer stayVictory Beach Vacations in Carolina Beach is running a deal for buy three nights, get the fourth free. Often hotels don’t advertise their discounts for extended stays, so be prepared to bring up the subject.
  5. Shoulder, shoulder season—stay during the week for cheaper rates. Many properties such as Dolphin Lane in Carolina Beach and Darlings by the Sea in Kure Beach offer double discounts in the shoulder season. Not only are rooms cheaper because it’s not summer, but they’re also discounted again for stays that fall between Sunday and Thursday.Kure Beach
  6. Don’t limit yourself to discount websites—while websites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia can be convenient for quickly finding hotel rooms, they often lack the more charming accommodations that offer character, and in some cases—lower rates. Leave it to the locals—a.k.a. visitor bureaus—to provide the best inside information on accommodations in the area. For example, the Wilmington and Beaches website lists accommodations for all three neighboring beaches and regularly posts updates on special packages and promotions. This is information that comes from the proprietor and is information that discount websites may not be privy to.

~ Courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB

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The Artisans of Old Quito

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Quito is not just Ecuador’s political capital but also a beautiful city with colonial architecture, well preserved Catholic churches, Spanish squares and cobblestone streets. While its easy to get overwhelmed by the must-see attractions Old Quito offers, it is also important to take a behind the scene look into Quito’s artists and traditions.

You may pass by these tiny stores, not realizing they hold a part of Ecuadorian history, so make sure to pay attention and watch out for these highly recommended stops.

Restauraciones Carrion

(Carrion’s Restorations), Imbabura 823 y Rocafuerte

artist in Quito restores Baby Jesus dolls

Here you will find hundreds of chipped, burned and discolored statues of Baby Jesus of all sizes. It is a tradition in Ecuadorian households to keep a Baby Jesus in the living room, typically dressed in the occupation of the family members. You can see Jesus doctor, farmer and even a soldier carrying a gun. 

The statue is considered to be a part of the family and instead of throwing of replacing a broken one, Ecuadorians bring it in to the restoration shop, sort of like they would take a family member to a doctor if something was wrong.

Some of the statues are made from paper mache, others are ceramic or plastic. The artist, Gonzalo Carrion, uses a special family secret recipe to create the color of skin that makes the dolls looks natural. He says this skin color is also good for treating human skin diseases, so he bottles them up and sells it in his store, although it is not used as make up.

Baby Jesus dolls in Quito, Ecuador

 

Colociones Cruz Verde (Sweets in Green Cross Area)

Bolivar 8-97 y Chimborazo

candy shop in Quito, EcuadorThe traditional candy shop run by Luis Banda, makes sweets the same old fashioned way that his family has been doing for generations. He uses a heavy bottomed wok heated with charcoal and continuously rocks it with a rope. Molasses, nuts and coloring are added to it to make different concoctions. The locals eat these sweets as a midday snack between 10-11am and pack them for road trips.

 

Sombrereria Benal Cazar

Av. 24 de Mayo

hat shop in Quito, EcuadorCesar has been running his family hat shop for over 50 years. Hats have always been an important part of the Ecuadorian culture, as different ethnic and social groups were identified by their hats. The porters wore a flat white hat, while the countryside folks wore another rounded style. Rich landlords wore tall black hats.

Cesar hand makes every hat in his closet size work room behind the store using traditional ways. The shop sells hats, costumes and sandals that are worn during carnival and festivals. At new years eve, people wear masks, mostly faces of previous presidents.

traditional hat shop in QuitoRead more about Ecuador.

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Cruise Ships and Naturalists Conserve the Galapagos Islands

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Often times, once a destination gains popularity, tour companies and travelers pour in from around the world, threatening the sanctity of the place. Finding a balance between allowing for outside visitors and not destroying the natural habitats, can be a challenging feat. It was however, humbling to see the extent of preservation initiatives in the Galapagos National Parks of Ecuador during my recent visit.

First, I found that tour operators must pay a significant license fee to the park to obtain permits. These can range from $25-100k, depending on how many guests the tour agency plans to bring per year and how much they charge per person. Once the National Park gives permissions to visit the Galapagos Islands, they assign itineraries that must be strictly followed. This means that the tour companies are told which routes to take, which islands they can visit at what times of day, how long to spend there, etc. By doing so the Park ensures that visitors don’t constantly walk around in the same areas and disturb the wildlife each and every day. It also means that tour operators cannot travel the same route two consecutive weeks and have to offer different programs to their clients.

cruise ships in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador

Visiting Galapagos Islands by small to medium size cruise ships is very popular. Private boats can be arranged for 10+ passengers, while most vessels are designed for 16. There are also a few ships that take 100 passengers at a time. Unlike other cruise docks, the ships and boats in the Galapagos are only allowed to anchor themselves far from land. Most islands do not have a port, so transfers have to be made via water landing. Even the islands that have small ports, such as San Cristobal and  Santa Cruz, allow only fishing boats to be parked near the docks. When travelers get out for day excursions, they have to transfer from the cruise boat to land via panga (dinghies). Even when going kayaking and snorkeling, they have to jump off the panga at the sites. As a result, you could see sea lions, iguanas and pelicans welcoming visitors at every island. It seems they did not feel threatens by humans, as the boats here do not produce loud noises or oil spills.

panga used for water landing in the Galapagos Islands

Thirdly, naturalists who work for the park accompanied the tourists throughout their tours. It is required by the Park to have at least 1 naturalist for every 16 passengers, although companies like Ecoventura organize 2. They not only educate visitors about the flora, fauna and history of the Galapagos, but also act as eyes and ears of the park. They made sure that the humans did not touch the animals, walked off the trails or wandered on their own. The naturalists were required to report any hazards seen on the islands to the park authorities.

sea lions resting on the beach in Galapagos Islands

While most islands in the Galapagos looked pristinely beautiful with white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters, water currants would occasionally bring debris on to shore. It was good to see that the naturalists made sure to collect any garbage they saw. They even asked the passengers to collect it during our excursion and took it back to the boat for proper disposal.

naturalist pick up trash from the Galapagos IslandRead more about the sustainability efforts of the Ecuador based cruise ship company, Ecoventura.

Read more about our experiences with the Galapagos Sea Lions.

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