Hell Yes I’m From Texas

Yes, I am a Native Texan through and through. Although I may not be as boisterous, as some Texans you have met, I am deep down very proud of my heritage and the state I was born in.Screw You We’re From Texas” by Ray Wylie Hubbard, applies to a great deal of our populace, but we all aren’t crass individuals.

Some people think we are the most obnoxious characters on the planet. Others think we are just downright “friendly”. We will, in most cases wave and say “Howdy”, if we pass you on the street and offer up a handshake. Just the way we were raised.

We are an uncommon crowd, with more pride in our state’s formation than most. “Remember the Alamo” is a phrase that everyone around the world knows freely and associates with the creation of Texas. Generally, we tend to let everyone know our history and the fact that we are Texans. We are a proud bunch.

 

Recently I had the pleasure of showing our CouchSurfer from Australia our state Capitol building in Austin. He is an architect and quickly fell in love with the historic structure and all its glamour. It had been ages since I roamed this wonderful building’s halls and thought it would be nice to re-visit the Capitol.

As we entered the grounds Allan Flynn (The Australian CouchSurfer) was awestruck and started taking photos rather quickly. I think he was attracted to the beauty and we stopped read most of the historical plaques from statues and objects on the grounds.

I learned a few tidbits, that I previously was unaware of. Like the cannons outside the front doors, were actually used in the Texas Revolution and the Civil War. I also discovered the Artesian well constructed in 1889 is still functional. Who knew?
We tagged along on the tour, which I highly recommend and visited highlights, like the Rotunda, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Allan noticed things that I wouldn’t see in a hundred years, from his architecture training.
His observation about the marble floors and the first step on all the staircases blew me away. The first step is shorter than all the rest, as the current floors were applied over the old floors and made the gap to the first step shorter. The floors were installed in the 1930’s and the Capitol was built in the 1880’s.
I personally was drawn to all the ornate brass placements on the doors, the hinges, the elevators and the door handles. It was awesome for a native Texan and I did not remember these from my last visit. I must have taken right at 100 photos and you can see them all at this link
We walked extensively around every floor, trying not to miss anything, That would be impossible though. The Capitol is such a large conglomeration of hallways, rooms and extensions, you might have to spend an entire week in the structure, to see it all.
We finished the tour and exited the building. A surprise awaited as Lady Liberty approached us and asked if we desired a photo. Of course I took her up on it! I even got to hold the torch!
I never cease to be amazed of what Austin has to offer and how our state’s history is depicted in monuments, government buildings and the various museums around town. “Hell yes I’m from Texas” and darn proud of it, if I say so myself! Safe Travels!

Over the Railing

Sometimes, I think I may advocate different things than the average “mature” person, do you like that term Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut, better than old? I am a fan of historical and cultural buildings and construction in my home country, my state and especially foreign countries that have an European influence. One of my passions is ornate balconies and I gravitate to them like there is a magnetic field drawing me in.

Thankfully my recent love, Cuenca Ecuador is filled with examples in the El Centro or older section of the city. On Kim’s and my recent visit, I kept running into stunning examples of this style of architecture and was compelled to shoot photo after photo. All of which can’t be shared in this blog, but can be found at an album on a Facebook album.
I am especially fond of the fact that there is a movement in Cuenca to restore and repair existing structures, which have been allowed to become run down. There is an uncommon energy and buzz these days. The transformations are astounding. All the before and after photos and results take my breath away.
Being a historical buff, I am enormously grateful to these investors, for appreciating these specimens of art and bringing their grandeur back to life. Some are ExPats like me, who desire a place in the El Centro area and some are Cuencanos trying to bring their roots back to life. This area has a beauty and charm unmatched in other parts of the city. At least that is my opinion and I am standing by it!
Hopefully, my choices of balcony photos have taken you back in time and helped you escape any issues of the day you are confronting. I look at each balcony as I walk through Cuenca and try and imagine what was in the designer’s mind. What were they attempting to express when the balcony was constructed? I hope that my post presented you with a brief respite and you find yourself getting lost in their glamor.
Safe Travels mi amigos and Saludos! Visit Cuenca and you will not regret the time spent!
*Mio Tours is a sponsor of Nomadic Texan and compensates me for this ad. Don’t forget to mention “Nomadic Texan” and receive a 10% discount from all their tours in Ecuador.

The Grand Dame of Congress Avenue

We recently had a CouchSurfer from Australian and what would a good tour of Austin be, without showing our guest the most beloved institution in downtown Austin. As an architect, he was drawn to the enchanting offerings and antique accoutrements of this grand building.

I personally, absolutely love historical architecture and am drawn to structures I deem worthy of my humble attention. One such building “The Driskill Hotel”, exists in my home town of Austin Texas. Its been around for approximately 125 years and was constructed in 1886 by a cattle baron named Jesse Driskill. Its western motif is attractive and appeals to everyone’s virtual Cowboy side!

It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and has a very illustrious past. President Lyndon Baines Johnson used it at every level of his ascension from Senator, to Vice President to the Presidency in 1964, for political gatherings. The iconic hotel has catered to many politicians, businessmen and the occassional movie star over the years.
The Driskil Grill, its award winning restaurant, has been recognized by Zagat in the Top 25 Hotel Restaurants and the Grill has received many associated honors through the years. Its current menu really isn’t that expensive and I know for sure I would have the Duck Confit or the 16oz Ribeye, if I was dining at the Grill.
The hotel is outfitted with many retro and western themed furnishings and one can’t help but take a vast amount of photos, no matter how gauche this may appear. I certainly recorded my visit with an array of appealing items and am pleased to share them. If you find yourself in Austin, you cannot afford to bypass a visit to this established hotel and view the assorted relics. I promise you will not be disappointed!
Safe Travels and Saludos!

One Door Opens Another

I am entirely sure what attracts me to historical architecture and aged facilities. Maybe my own rapidly aging element is effecting my current construction cravings. As everyone knows, I am truly enamored by the city of Cuenca in Ecuador and visit as often as possible. Every visit one of my primary agendas is the photographing of the old doors, which still survive in El Centro, or the old part of the city.
On our last trip in March I took so many photos of old wooden doors that my wife Kim started locating prospective shots and identifying candidates, before I could see them. I always gravitate to these doors and I am not sure what the fascination is, but I can’t stop. I take hundreds of door shots each time I go somewhere with history, especially Cuenca with its 500 plus years of existence.
The beauty and craftsmanship that went into these doors originally, with limited tools slays me and I can’t wrap my hands around how much time it took, to create these masterpieces. I drool over these pieces of art. I am sure many will debate me on calling them art, but in my eyes this is what the doors are.
At this point I have a trip scheduled for the month of August and I couldn’t be more delighted. I am sure once again I will walk the streets of El Centro, find doors not yet photographed and add to my collection. Kim says I am approaching enough photos to publish a book. HMM? Hadn’t thought of that, but it might not be a bad idea. Safe Travels and Saludos mi amigos!
*Mio Tours is a sponsor of Nomadic Texan and compensates me for this ad. Don’t forget to mention “Nomadic Texan” and receive a 10% discount from all their tours in Ecuador.

Restaurante Corvel

I was not able to dine at the Restaurante Corvel in Paute Ecuador this time and Kim missed a great experience. Chef Patricio Coronel has won many awards, as he produces most of his food on the grounds of the restaurant. It does not appear to be anything fancy from the exterior, but the food is 5 Star in my book and the servings are quite large. The interior has a warm and cozy atmosphere.

I was at at his restaurant in October of 2011, while touring with Mio Tours. They suggested we try it. Omar Rachid, my traveling companion that trip and I were surprised at the quality level of the food and the amazing service Patricio offered.
Efrain and Patrico relayed the background of the restaurant and how Patricio desires to create fabulous entrees, only from products he grows. This includes the coffee we drank. He grows his own beans, harvests the bean when they are ready, then roasts the beans and brews it fresh. It tastes amazing, if you like coffee.
Patricio’s vision (as translated by Google) is as follows:
Vision:
Becoming a model company in food service and tourism nationwide, raising awareness on the conservation of cultural identity, social equity and eco-efficiency, using new green technologies that enable sustainable economic growth, supporting the canton (next level below province), advocate, advertise as a destination tourist and improve the quality of life of the population of the canton.
It is an admirable position and one I respect personally. He is not 100% free of outside products, as he serves seafood that has to be trucked in daily from the coast. I chose the Langostinos and they melted in my mouth and were basted with some type of creamy butter sauce. So delicious!
Restaurante Corvel has won the Rainforest Alliance Award, for his efforts in producing so many of his own products. The restaurant is about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca proper and on the way to many sites tourist visit. The quality is all extremely above average and priced very reasonably. I highly recommend you give it a try and I know you will not be disappointed. Saludos and Safe Travels!

Social Media Dragons

Lately I have been questioning whether Social Media platforms really desire being used by the little guy or is it just an avenue of PR for the wealthy and famous to play around with? I have had serious issues with three systems in the last week and touched on a fourth issue with another platform.

Twitter drives me completely insane with its plateau of 2,000 followers. Every time you hit the number you are locked out of “Following” any more Twitter accounts, that might be relevant to your traffic. The process, as far as I know it, is you have to delete one account at a time and that takes serious time and dedication. When you ask Twitter what the platforms for increased tolerance are, they can’t answer you and state it is different for everyone. Why is that I ask???
This past week I was placed in Facebook jail and could not message or friend request anyone for a week. They stated I was at fault for trying to friend to many people that didn’t know me. That is unadulterated BS. I did not ask more than five people to friend me. I did send out, on the Facebook platform requests for my friends on Facebook to “like” a new page created for his new business in Ecuador. This prompt is issued by Facebook and not by me. If that is what caused the issue I hope they can sleep at night.
Next I could not decipher what individuals were supposedly “liking” my new Nomadic Texas Facebook page and I wasn’t seeing the “like” they told me had transpired. I find out by accident and playing around that pages and people are not tallied together. So if you are a travel blogger like me and like my Nomadic Texan page from your Facebook travel page, I get no credit in the number of likes. Incidently to my knowledge there are no tallies for page likes.
Next, as of today I have been thrown in LinkedIn jail and cannot request connections. Again, its because I asked to many individuals that do not know me. I am in a quandary as every time someone asks me to connect, LinkedIn throws up a list of individuals they suggest you connect with, as the people are usually in your industry.
Yet, I was recognized last year as one of LinkedIn’s most viewed sites. I am ranked an All-Star in their ranking vernacular and it was my impression that the purpose of LinkedIn was to bring together individuals that prospectively had business ties and could help each other out.
Lastly my son told me my web site was down this morning in Japan for about 5 minutes and then mysteriously popped back on line. I had no issues all day until this afternoon and I lost connection with Go Daddy stating it was a “server error”. The same reason given my son this morning. I call Go Daddy and wait 7 minutes (an unusually short time for them) and as the tech comes on the phone my web site mysteriously pops open.
I ask the tech how and why this was happening. “I don’t know sir. Sometimes our servers go down and we try to get them up as fast as we can. Maybe you should have a cocktail”. Now that’s a great response! Maybe I will have several after this week.
Have to go get ready for my Couch Surfer from Australia who is spending the weekend. Safe Travels and thank you for listening to my rant. Power to the “Little People”!!!

Are You Buying or Selling?

Growing up in Texas the way a man wears his pants inside of his boots, that is which leg is tucked in, defines if he is selling or buying cattle the story goes. If the pants were tucked in their left boot it meant they were selling cattle. If their pants were tucked in their right boot it meant they were buying cattle.

At Eduardo Vega’s Studio in Turi there is never any doubt. He is selling and you should be buying. The first time I visited the studio was in October of 2011 and I was amazed at the quality of his work and how inexpensive it was.
Mr. Vega captures Ecuadorian topics in his work and is an accomplished ceramic artist both at home and Internationally. His studio is worth the visit and you will find yourself strolling for many minutes and inspecting his work.
His artisans can be viewed from above the workshop and one can watch as they prepare renditions of his work. Additionally, the view out the rear windows of his studio give one a beautiful perspective of Cuenca and is a very scenic overlook.
Regardless of your financial situation, Mr. Vega has items available in every price range and one can take home his work for very reasonable outlays. Each time I visit his studio I am amazed at the detail and effort that goes into his art and want to buy it all.
You will not be disappointed if you visit his studio and more than likely will walk away with a souvenir. Saludos and Safe Travels !

Old and Not So Stupid Anymore

Once upon a time, I was young and stupid. I thought you went along to get along. I worked over forty years (yes I am old!), in the retail industry and it was a dog eat dog, aggressive business with only one factor in mind. Make more money for the company. There wasn’t any compassion, or understanding that Sometimes Life Throws You Curveballs. Life in reality, is a fantastic roller coaster, and it has a magnificent way of balancing order. In the end it corrects most of the punches thrown your way.

Once you understand you are in charge of your destiny and no one, I mean no one can interfere, unless you allow them to alter your path. I worked in a multi unit retail organization, that was literally a sausage grinder, for ten hard years and the CEO could care less about his second in command. He actually had nine various COO’s in the decade I was employed. The man was evil!
I learned to hold my head down, produce and how to play the game when the Czar came to town! One couldn’t afford very many mistakes or you were out the proverbial door and he cared not, if it hit you in the butt! After many sleepless nights, I recognized I was in the wrong company and decided to move my talents elsewhere.
At my new company I quickly discovered that the management world was a better place. Even though the new company desired profits, their attitudes displayed and the manner they treated their employees, was 180 degrees from my prior employer. I, fortunately had two great mentors, who shaped my management style and trained me to influence employees in a positive manner, to optimize results.
The commercial entities still butted heads the remainder of my career and I had sleepless nights, but I bounced back quicker. When I retired it was like slamming my head against a wall as my day of continual motion, became a day of surfing the Internet and being bored out of my fricking mind! My 125 MPH life came to a screeching halt!
I made the decision this past December, when my lovely wife Kim gave me the money for Christmas, to start my own Travel Blogger web site, to begin again and write. I have always loved to state my opinion (whether anyone listened or not). I rapidly discovered that the travel blogging community is a sharing, compassionate and friendly industry. I knew I found my home!
In the few months since I started, I have been fortunate to establish friendships with elite bloggers and various people, I idolize in the trade. I am slowly building a traffic count, that is beneficial in more ways, than just building my ego! I am a lucky person. I do believe now I am old, but not so stupid. The young part went away a long time ago, but I have learned invaluable lessons along the way! I feel that the Travel industy is right for me at this time in my life and I absolutely love the people I interact with. Saludos mi amigos!
*Mio Tours is a sponsor of Nomadic Texan and compensates me for this ad. Don’t forget to mention “Nomadic Texan” and receive a 10% discount from all their tours in Ecuador.

The 5 Things I learned from Lunch with Stephen Oddo

I was almost hesitant to agree to lunch with Stephen Oddo, as he is actually a few months younger than my oldest son. I received very impressive recommendations though from both my mentors Where in the World is Lola and Leah Travels and decided what the heck? Stephen is the co-founder of Walks of Italy and its CTO and Marketing Director currently.

What could I lose, except a lack of communication, from our age gap and maybe a slice of ego, since he was less than half my age! We met and I felt very comfortable with him immediately. He promptly started relaying advice, inquiring what areas I needed help in and asked me what I was trying to accomplish! It was almost an overload, as this young man moves at light speed and his genius of a mind, operates at warp speed!
#1 “Move your blog to WordPress yesterday” and get rid of that crappy platform you are using now! (I actually have been working on converting, but am just slow these days with my activities–I think it is an age thing maybe! Ha!).
-Has more flexibility
-Plug-Ins are free (I love free!)
-Pingbacks are a given and do not have to be written in the HTML language like your existing format
-SEO capabilities are praised by Google’s Web Spam Team
-Multilingual for better Global reach
#2 Define your NICHE. What is it you want to write about and what is it you like? Well…I like travel and food and would like to build my traffic sufficiently enough to have ad income.
-Have you made contact with DMO’s (Destination Marketing Organizations)
-Have you made contact with PR people in hotel chains and other related TRAVEL networks
-Have you made contact with local, province/area/state and country TOURISM boards
-Publish daily whether just photos, blogs or recipes
-Is your niche going to be luxury, middle of the road or lean more towards budget travel
#3 Collaborate with others in your niche.
-Make connections with other Boomers
-Publish photos
-Publish recipes
-Ask questions when you post across social media platforms (you will receive a great deal more interaction)
-Contact local area bloggers and learn from them. Schedule lunches, drinks, etc and ask questions at every get together
#4 Go to #TBEX and maximize your time.
-Network your rear end off
-Putting a face with a blog or platform is so valuable
-Do “Speed Dating” and ensure you have your message defined for the speed dates
-Make sure you have data that identifies what age groups are following you, to offer PR speed dates
-Give out business cards as much as you can (“Your cards have your links and you might be surprised how many have no links, including their websites”)
#5 Take advantage of the Baby Boomer group you are a member of and channel it to your benefit.
-Voice Boomer attitude and ensure Travel associations are aware that the Nomadic Texan is growing in this area and my goal is the be THE authority in the Boomer generation
-Contact travel discount sites (Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, etc) and establish a relationship. Boomers use these platforms to book trips, etc
-Understand the SEO needs of your age group and consider hiring an SEO Service provider to assist you.
-Learn the keywords and phrases associated with Baby Boomers and what will drive them to your site. For instance, there can be a high chance that your website could be large and can be associated with highly competitive keywords. In such cases, you may need to conduct a large-scale seo campaign that can improve the rankings of the site.
-Explore areas that Boomers will use that are NOT frequented by existing bloggers and take advantage of these opportunities
I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit with Stephen and would have sat for the entire afternoon if time would have permitted. He is obviously a very busy man and his phone was continually alerting him of new items. I thanked him genuinely and he stated we would have to get together more often, when he visits Austin. I said “Duh” you got a deal. Stephen is a brilliant young man with extraordinary thoughts and philosophies. I am lucky we connected and he will be invaluable to me moving forward. Thank you dear friend and Safe Travels!

Get Out of Your Cocoon

Hey you! Yes you! The one sitting in front of your TV or behind your desk in your 9-5 job, that is driving you completely insane. The one that is just waiting for retirement so you can do more of the same and sit in front of your TV all day long! Can’t you realize that there is more to this great planet than the 10 block radius between your house, your job and the grocery store?

I don’t get it! I have friends and relatives that think we are nuts, to want to travel to foreign countries and experience other cultures and people. They are more than content to sit and dawdle their life away. “Its not safe”! Their idea of an adventure is to take a trip to NYC, the beach or Vegas and stay “safe”! I hate to tell them, but we live in the country with the highest crime rate in the world.
As of July 2012 we have almost double the country (United Kingdom) with the second largest crime rate. Don’t start talking about population because the countries with the highest populations China then India, don’t have this issue. Most of the high crime countries are in the Western world.
I also hate to let you know this, but in Japan we saw 5 and 6 year old children walking alone after dark. We saw a 10 year old child riding the train for hours to Tokyo and back for piano lessons. In Ecuador we saw children alone on streets after dark and late at night. Kim and I felt completely safe to be on these streets and alone. Not what you thought is it? One obviously still needs to use common sense and be cautious.
Traveling is more than just safety though. Its learning new cultures and finding out countries really care about their population. Its about meeting new people that treat you with kindness and respect. Its about eating new foods that are as a whole, very tasty. Its about experiencing life and getting something back!
So the question is, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? Are you satisfied being a troll sitting in front of your TV or computer and only experiencing life vicariously or are you going to stand up and just do it? There is a whole world waiting for you to experience. Trust me you will not be disappointed! Saludos, Peace and Safe Travels!
World crime and population figures obtained from MapsofWorld.com.

Sorry We Missed You This Time

Before we arrived in Ecuador, Omar had made contact with an individual (Monica Mac Naughton) who turned out to be a legitimate and gracious host in so many various ways. I cannot truly describe what an asset she was to us. Her other half (Tom Mac Naughton) was a man after my own dreams. He actually bought a Honda scooter to tool around with, the second or third day we were in town, on the spur of the moment.
There are no better human beings on earth than these two individuals. They were most recently from Florida, before relocating to Cuenca a couple years back and are a wealth of knowledge in regards to Ecuador and any assistance you would need to relocate. True Americans (Or at least what we used to think of as True Americans. They are sincere and forthright in their recommendations and information (Not always the case in Ecuador).

They had plans the first evening we were in Cuenca but (almost, but in a polite way) demanded we meet them for dinner on Sunday night at the Goda restaurant, in the Hotel Dorado. We accepted the invite and were eager to meet the couple.

Omar and I could not decide whether we should dress up or go casual. Given it was a nice restaurant and the fact that we hadn’t met Monica and Tom. We thought we should wear nice shirts and slacks. When we met them at the restaurant we were slightly overdressed and I deduced that they were comfort driven and not concerned with image (obviously, if you know me I was attracted immediately to that characteristic),

We shared a fabulous meal and they discussed several “survival skills” necessary in Cuenca along with the do and don’ts of the indigenous people and central Cuenca interactions. They suggested a Trout dish that was superior according to Omar, but I had to have the Paella. It was delicious and included shrimp, fish, clams, a Langostina, octopus and other incredible and scrumptious seafood (The rice, sauce and peas were also excellent).

The next day we ran into Tom (In only 400,000 people what are the odds) at a shopping center. He volunteered to accompany us on a condo visit and give us their feedback and knowledge, as to the value of the residence and whether the area demanded the price point.

Tom and Monica are also looking for another condo, in addition to the unit they own currently, to provide additional rental income. So they had a dual purpose on their agenda. We all met at the condo and it was priced at $91,000 with tons of potential and great views, but the primary living space was just too small.
In addition, there were other issues that Tom and Monica discussed that made it overpriced. The outdoor living space was great and there was a rooftop area that could have been done up, but together you are talking another $20,000 roughly. Investing in sliding or french patio doors might be a better option. Plus, there was so many other things that the outside space could have done to it with some thought and a solid remodeling plan, for instance, a deck can weather all seasons and be used for tons of different activities, all someone would need to do is look into ‘deck builders near me‘ or something like that, and find local contractors that can show them a couple of great designs, however, we couldn’t see that with this particular condo.

Tom, Alberto, Monica and Omar
Omar descending from the rooftop deck
Mountain view from the Patio Deck


When we left this condo, Jose the owner, Tom, Monica, Omar and I all piled into his little Isuzu SUV. We drove up to a overlook in the city of Turi and it started raining. Then pea size hail started falling. Very unusual.

We passed Eduardo Vega’s studios, where he actually creates his artwork and basic Ceramic work. I think under normal weather patterns you could walk down to a small park below and experience the view from a different perspective and vantage point.


We then went to Tom and Monica’s condo to see what a different value would return. It was in a section of Cuenca named “Gringoland” and I am sure you can deduce the reason for the area name. Their Condo was breathtaking and was on the 5th floor, if my memory is correct.

The reason we went initially was to get Coca Tea for my altitude sickness. They validated the authenticity of the product and had used it many times to help. I did not decline and took their entire inventory.

They have a beautiful two-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-story condo with more than enough living space and beautifully decorated with local artwork, as well as a patio with an extreme outdoor kitchen area, which they probably added later in their house. While having a conversation with them, I learned that they had most likely used cheap skip bin hire sydney services to ensure that no waste from the new construction remained inside the house. And as a result, they were probably quite clear about what they wanted. The reason is with all of the trash lying inside the house, and consequently, you can’t come up with any ideas until you get rid of it completely. Words cannot completely describe the shock and awe I received at the first glance.

It was a condo I could reside in for the rest of my life and I am sure Kim could. Maybe one day, if we ever were to build our own condo, I could incorporate these designs and also add an Asphalt Driveway to accentuate the features of the patio. In addition, Tom has a love for Hummingbirds and they are ever present on the patio. You literally have to duck as they fly through and around the patio’s furnishings and support columns. It was fascinating.

Tom grows and obtains Orchids that are unavailable in my price range in the US. This one set him back $25, if I recall correctly. I didn’t take a myriad of pictures, as I should have, but trust me it was an unbelievable condo. Monica sent us a 2 page list of restaurants in the central area with specialties and descriptions of the fare at each place. Such nice people!

They directed us to markets, shops and other sightseeing prospects. They are working hard to help Omar secure a condo in his price range and do this just because they are good people. They have stayed in contact with Omar and myself, since we left Ecuador.

Cuenca is a place that I would definitely review and explore again to see if I could overcome the altitude. Who knows I might make it permanent! If you find you are headed to Cuenca, by all means make contact and I will be glad to furnish their info if they agree.
A blog from my original trip to Cuenca with Omar Rachid. Tom and Monica were celebrating her mother’s 80th birthday in the states and we weren’t able to connect this time. Funny how things change and Omar is running for Mayor and I may be the one in the market for a condo in the future. Saludos, Peace and Safe Travels!

SPF 30 and I Should Have Worn My Hat

I am not inclined to take tours and adamantly decline offers often. Many fellow visitors and Ex-Pats residing in Cuenca voiced their favorable opinions of the Double Decker bus tour. Kim wanted to go and I finally acquiesced about three days before we left. The tour departs from the entry of the Old Cathedral and takes roughly about an hour for $5.00 US. The guide delivers the spiel in Spanish and English both, in case you are bi-lingual challenged!

Immediately I felt I made a wrong choice, by NOT taking the tour when we first arrived. I highly recommend you swallow any reservations and jump on the bus your first or second day. Of course you have to ride from the top deck and see all the city from a different viewpoint. Do make sure you apply sunblock or you will wind up looking like me, similar to a very ripe tomato!
The tour heads out of El Centro to the Tomebamba river area and begins the ride to Turi. You ride on Calle Larga for several blocks and pass the Museo del Banco Central, a wonderful story in itself. You follow the Avenue Huayna Capac and pass many monuments, cathedrals and interesting historical sites in Cuenca.
It was hard keeping up with the information provided by the tour guide, as I was busy snapping photos as fast as I could. I also think a few of the riders were irritated that I kept taking photos and jumping up for various views. I think I had 200 photos when I counted late that evening. I especially like this young boy climbing the fence and showing off for us near the stop sign. It was hilarious.
You follow the Avenue until you reach Avenue 24 de Mayo, where you cross a second river, the Rio Yanuncay. The third river crossed is the Rio Tarqui, as you start to visualize Turi. Turi is a gorgeous overlook that provides a view, which spans the entire valley and city of Cuenca. It is quite a panorama and the bus takes a 15 minute stop for you to see the view, shop and use the facilities if needed.
Even though Eduardo Vega’s studio  was just a step away I did not feel that 15 minutes was appropriate and Kim and I decided we would return later. I would urge each of you visiting Cuenca to partake of the Double Decker bus tour and make use of their services. You will be glad you did and I promise you will learn and digest more information on Cuenca, than you can by reading a tour publication or exchanging emails. Saludos, Peace and Safe Travels!

Lifted by the Light

Kim and I took the Cuenca bus tour and were very glad we did. I suffered a major sunburn and looked like a tomato. Afterwards we decided to visit the Old Cathedral

The Cathedral is located on the Parque Calderon square directly across from the Nueva Cathedral in Cuenca. Construction began in 1567 and in 1999 the Cathedral was renovated. It serves as a museum today. Photos are okay, but no flash! We walked through the magnificent doors.

The Transept on the left as you enter, had a particularly interesting facet. There was some exploration in the crypt areas below the first and second floor. It was visible through the glass covering and one can only guess at the history these levels hold.
From this Transept you walk into the Nave area where one can view the altar. It now contains a life sized replica of Jesus and the Apostles at The Last Supper. I was blown away by the panorama had to take it all in. It was magnificent. The light coming through the windows of the altar was uplifting and made it an inspiring moment.
The artwork throughout the Iglesiais is gorgeous and intricate to examine. The statues of the stations of the cross are impressive in person and had to involve many hours of labor.
The Transept on the far side was made up of several rooms, containing many artifacts. They included a liturgical head covering, Chasuble and Stole from ancient services. They are under glass and beautiful to gaze upon.
One cannot take this tour without questioning what it was really like in Medieval times. It is very humbling to realize this Cathedral is almost 500 years old and more than likely 12 to 15 generations have celebrated mass in the Old Cathedral.
As I returned to the Nave and turned around, I had a view of the altar that was stirring. I noticed the organ above. It must have been a very audacious feeling when this organ was played. It is immense and I can only imagine the dramatic emphasis it added to the services.
As we were leaving Kim noticed that one of the support columns was leaning. We showed a guard and he commented that many were not straight. As we looked around we found several that looked unstable. A little scary and I hope they have it all under control.
Happy Easter, Peace and Safe Travels !!!

Daibutsu

A year ago I was sitting in my son’s house in Zushi Japan, wishing I didn’t have to go home so soon. He relocated to Japan almost two years ago and I miss being able to see him on a regular basis, like I can our other two sons. Google+ is great, but it is not the same as hugging him in person.

On my trip I was fortunate enough to accompany him and a guide to the Big Buddha in Kamakura Japan. We made the decision to take the train as it is the most practical style of transportation in Japan and very economical.
We arrived at the shrine, bought our tickets and viewed the entrance way. It was a simple wall and gate and not the elaborate prevalent structure that is present at most temples in Japan. We entered and all attendees are required to wash their hands with the purified water at the fountain as you enter. One is obviously aware that this is a very significant Temple in the Japanese culture and it was very populated the day we went.
“Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thy enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda (sic) and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.” (a) A sign posted for all that enter.
You then view the Buddha for the first time in a direct frontal position and it is a very imposing structure. There is a large structure that incense is burned in in front of the Buddha and one is supposed to wave the smoke across one’s body to relieve themselves of aches and evil applications.
The Temple was constructed in 1252 approximately. There is some debate as to the exact year. The first Buddha was wooden and was completed at this site in 1243, after ten years of labor according to temple records. (b)
The statue is bronze and is 13.35 meters or 43.8 feet tall. It weighs approximately 270,000 pounds or 121 tons. (c) It is hollow and visitors can tour the inside and see the various construction methods used to build and repair the shrine over the years and through many storms.
The statue was the subject of a poem by Rudyard Kipling “The Buddha at Kamakura” and is a National treasure. The Temple is located on a large site and has plenty of places to meditate and gain relaxation. There are a few sundry locations that offer souvenirs and there is a large pair of straw hanging slippers on one wall. I was taken back by the size of the slippers.
Our guide gave us an additional benefit when she took us through a side gate to her family’s shrine located on the exterior of the shrine property and adjacent to the main area. Josh and I were very thrilled to see this hallowed area and be allowed to view the family shrines that were in the private burial place. Some of the tombs and structures had been there for centuries. We were totally respectful and only asked questions after we left.
It takes a couple of hours to thoroughly view the shrine, its satellite structures and tour the interior of the Buddha. I would recommend bringing water if it is a warm day to stay hydrated. Regardless, one leaves this Temple with a high sense of respect for the Japanese people and their dedication to their religion.
I know the tour had a substantial impact on me and I will never forget my visit to the Big Budhha. Peace and Safe Travels to all people.
(a) Takao Sato (ed.). Daibutsu: The Great Buddha of Kamakura. Hobundo. p. 18.
(b) Wikipedia Kotoku-in
(c) Wikipedia Kotoku-in

California Here I Come

Surprise! I’m not referring to the Golden State in the US. I am doing a story on California Kitchen in Cuenca Ecuador. Kim and I stumbled upon this restaurant, on Luis Cordero one Sunday after walking around Calle Larga and other streets in El Centro. The restaurant has moved location recently. It is now on a second floor near Honorato Vasquez and Cordero.

They were offering a brunch menu and I was starving from our walk. Carol Evans came by our table and visited for several minutes. She was very engaging and positive about living in Cuenca for the past three and a half years. Carol encouraged Kim and I to relocate.
Our food arrived and I started eating immediately, as it looked terrific. I had Eggs Benedict which is one of my downfalls in life. I know they are not good for you, but they are so tempting. I did not take a photo. My Eggs Benedict vanished in record time and it was supreme! George Evans came by our table and told us their story about relocating to Tucson when they retired and deciding after a couple of years to move to Cuenca.
George stated they never looked back, brought both grown children and opened a restaurant that endeavored to recreate dishes with a California flair. They wanted to present a menu that was healthy, appetizing and affordable. He stated this would keep them and their children busy. George sat at our table for around 45 minutes and really articulated the benefits of retiring in Cuenca and why others should consider the move.
They invited us to come back Friday night for an artist showing, live music and to eat again. We stayed until mid afternoon and most of the customers had left after brunch. When Kim and I departed, we remarked that Carol and George were happy, satisfied and remarkable people to give us that much time. We were instant fans of the California Kitchen and Carol and George Evans.
We returned on Friday night with our new friends Connie and Jim Jolliff from Tulsa Oklahoma. Jim ordered a huge club sandwich and it was bodacious. I can’t imagine eating the entire thing in one sitting. Jim is a big guy and just barely managed to finish. He loved it. Their grown children are active in the restaurant and Susie makes the handmade shortcake for this desert pictured below. Yum!
A film crew was taping and luckily I discovered that it was Paul Collins a friend that was making the video. He graciously allowed me to use his video. Paul publishes weekly videos on California Kitchens and is an active proponent of Cuenca and an avid food critic.
After dinner George took us into the room an artist was setting up in and introduced us to Gustavo Lopez Moreno. Kim loved his art and stated if we lived here she would have me purchase a teal and black painting. There is always some event transpiring at California Kitchen whether its music, art or charity oriented you can be assured it will worth your time.
The food is always consistent. The hosts are fabulous people and I guarantee you a wonderful experience, if you visit The California Kitchen!

My oh My-Mio Tours Makes Your Day

I generally do not do tours and like to explore new destinations on my own. I am not a “go with the crowd” type of guy. Kim was surprised when I agreed to go along on this tour and I was very glad I did in the end!

After all, Efrain my buddy was the guide. I have known Efrain for about a year and a half and he has always represented Mio Tours very well. I especially like his honesty and wonderful sense of humor. He will keep you laughing all day and is a walking encyclopedia for Ecuador!

We shared the tour with two other gentlemen Max and Earl from Ohio. Efrain thought we were only going to the craft cities outside of Cuenca which are east of the city. Turns out the other guys wanted to see a waterfall south of the city. He didn’t miss a beat, even though this would add about 5 hours to his day! Our first stop was at a National Shrine named for the Battle of Tarqui. It transpired in 1829 and basically helped liberate Ecuador from Peru. It established Ecuador as an Independent country. If you are curious there are 73 steps to the upper level. Make sure you rest and hydrate before making the ascent!
Efrain knew all the nuances of the El Chorro waterfall and elaborated as we hiked to the base viewing platform. He ensured we didn’t have too fast of a pace. After all we were at around 9,000 feet and all were over 55 years old! Efrain knew where to take the optimum photos and made sure we got the opportunity to just sit back and digest the waterfall’s beauty.
After hiking back to the Ranger station, Efrain had us try the Canelazo warm drink made from water, sugar, lemon and cinnamon. It was very refreshing! You can add aguadiente also, if you choose! From there we traveled back to Cuenca and ate lunch at Fogo.
After consuming mass quantities of food we went to our first stop of the afternoon, at the only weaving operation left in Southern Ecuadaor. Anna, the owner is a National figure and keeps the ancient weaving traditions alive. It was an inspiration to see the tactics used in creating this woolen art, in place for centuries!
From the weaving operation we drove to the Orchidarium and my camera froze up when I took so many photos! It was mind boggling to view the various styles of orchids. I learned the plants take over 3 and one half years to mature enough to bloom. That’s a lot of effort, but the results are awesome!
We proceeded to Chordeleg and looked at all the Silver jewelry and fine work done with silver. The town was very busy with locals and tourists and my favorite part was a carved wooden chair in the form of a turtle. By this time we were so tuckered out we could hardly walk. Efrain then took us back to the Casa Ordonez to get some rest before a late night dinner.
I always use Efrain to transport from Guayaquil to Cuenca and any other destinations in Ecuador. He is a safe and trusted guide and speaks English very well. Mio Tours offers a variety of expeditions and I urge you to take a look and give them a chance. You will not be disappointed when you choose Mio Tours, or Efrain to assist you in Cuenca.
Contact Mio Tours at
Email: miotours@gmail.com
Twitter: @mio_tours
Saludos mi amigos and Safe Travels!

Casa Ordonez-Just Like the Good Ole Days

I often receive social media posts in regard to how it used to be, when I was a child and growing up. Most of us yearn for a different time when things in the world were more stable and interaction with others brought smiles rather than grimaces. Kim and I were fortunate recently, to “go back in time” and experience a boutique hotel in Cuenca Ecuador named Casa Ordonez.

The building that houses the hotel is 123 years old and has been in the family the entire time. The general manager and all around wonderful human being is Alberto Ordonez. He oversees the present day establishment that was his grandfather’s home until a few years back. Alberto is a master at customer service and exceeds all expectations one might have of staying in El Centro, in Cuenca Ecuador.
The matriarch, Ms. Ordonez, still frequents the hotel daily and greets all guests with hugs and friendly smiles. You feel like you are at your Mother’s house and she makes every effort to insure your comfort and well being. Even though her English is limited her message is always conveyed.
Maria Ynez is Alberto’s sister and greets most guests as they enter this special place and directs them to the local establishments as needed. Maria delivers any help a guest may desire with a warm smile and gentle disposition. She holds the hotels third successive TripAdvisor award in a row, received while we were staying there recently.
The others that have been employed for my various visits; Edwin, Rene and Elva greet you daily at the wonderful breakfast and do not miss a step when serving or helping you. They and the rest of the staff have all been trained very well in customer service and dealing with guests.
The accommodations and facilities are outstanding. One feels that they have been transported back in time to another place. You cannot help but slow down, rest and enjoy the camaraderie generated by the Ordonez family.
Individuals, both Ex Pats and locals tend to wander in during the day and the compassion bred by Alberto and family is contagious. It is normal for Alberto to sit for hours with friends and customers and insure they are entertained, knowing full well he has tasks to attend to later. On our last day Alberto, who normally cooks breakfast daily, made breakfast burritos for us to honor our visit and the fact that we were from Texas.
I have stayed all over the world and have not encountered such warmth and appreciation from a owner of a hospitality location. Comfort, satisfaction and service is guaranteed at the Casa Ordonez  and you will never be disappointed mi amigo! Saludos and Safe Travels!

Graffiti in Cuenca is Art

I have had this discussion with many individuals and the line is usually drawn between age groups. I personally think that some of the graffiti in the world is magnificent art and have always felt this way. I promised a blog on Cuenca graffiti and here goes!

My apologies as this was shot out of a moving car. The left side is more in focus. It was the first day going into Cuenca. Arbitrary photo!
We walked to the stairs between Calle Larga and Doce de Abril. This stairway is alive with wonderful art!
It is fine art in most cases, where the “taggers” haven’t overlaid the original work.
I love the creativity behind the scenes and the art is so colorful!
I couldn’t take enough photos. I will have to share the complete album later as there is no way I can post all of them in this blog. #LovedIt!!!
This was one of my favorites and not just because Kim was in the photo! It was a couple of blocks off Calle Larga near Tres Estrellas.
This was on a wall in the San Francisco mercado, when we were shopping and saying good-bye to our new friends from Tampa, Laura and Emory! Great people!
This one we ran into on Luis Cordero between Calle Larga and the Rio Tomebamba. The guy in the sandwich shop next to it, will try to sell you everything on his menu! Good luck escaping.
This one was a favorite and is in black and white only. It was in a hallway leading to a hostel in Cuenca. I hope that these artists one day can gain the recognition they truly deserve and place their art on canvases for all eternity. They are truly talented! Peace and Safe Travels mi amigos!

Living La Vina

I know. I know. Its not “Living La Vina”, but “Living La Vida”. I felt compelled to use the wordplay. My apologies to Ricky Martin. In a way when you visit La Vina in Cuenca you are living the life!

The first thing that happened on our initial visit was Monica, one of the wonderful owners approached me, gave me a hug after I mentioned I had been there before and talked with Eugenio, her husband. She stated Mi Casa es Su Casa and I know she really meant it!
You instantly feel relaxed and accepted. There is a European influence to the food, the service and the decor and you will fall in love with the owners and the food. Monica informed me that Eugenio was in France. My Spanish is not the greatest so we miss-communicated about not being able to see him. We sat in the front dining room.
We were served bread, a very spicy aji salsa with onions and a wonderful Basil/Olive Oil sauce. We waited for our food and the aperitivo was perfect. Then came the vegetarian pizza con jamon (Ha, a little oxymoron for you!). The waiter was prompt and the service was impeccable. We left very satisfied and stuffed from our dinner.
We returned a few days later and to Kim and my surprise Eugenio greeted us with open arms and Monica gave us a warm welcome back. She struggled in telling Eugenio that I was writing a blog now and stated I was a block writer. I had to laugh!
After exchanging hugs and greetings with Eugenio and Monica, we sat and decided we needed another pizza. This time rather than jamon we decided we would add camerones. OMG it was delicious. I even remembered to take a photo to share with you
We struggled to finish this “Grande” pizza pie and I almost felt bad cutting into this artistic presentation. You can plainly see the zucchini, asparagus and shrimp on this pie. I cannot offer a better restaurant to dine in if you visit Cuenca, than La Vina.
Eugenio and Monica Rota treat you like royalty and the food is so delectable. Maybe one of these days, on a visit to Cuenca I will only visit once…Not!!!  Great food. Great Owners and Great Service!

A Taste of Luxury

Upon our return trip from Cuenca to Austin, Kim and I stayed at the Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil again. Upon check-in, we were given warm, mint scented towels and fresh juice to take away the humidity and heat of the city. This time we stayed in the Oro Verde Suite and were delightfully surprised at the glamorous and stately attributes of the suite.

We met and talked with Mr Xavier Polastri, the “Gerente de Recepcion” or the Front Desk Manager. Not only was he very gracious, but he showed us to our suite personally and ensured us that our every need would be met.

He gave us the key, made sure we were comfortable and bid us a pleasant stay. I thanked him and stepped back to take it all in. Kim decided to rest her weary bones and stretched out on the couch in the living area of the suite. I had to step into the guest bath.
Notice the fresh red roses on the dining table. I had to look at the rest of the suite and started to venture into the other rooms when the doorbell rang and an attendant brought a bottle of wine, two glasses and a handwritten thank you letter, from Mr. Vasco Baselli, the “Gerente General” or the General Manager of the hotel. I cannot remember the last time I received a handwritten note and one so warmly written.
Additionally, we were brought a bowl of fruit, chocolates and personal service for our IT issues. We settled in and decided to try out the private dining area on the eighth floor, stocked with all kinds of tasty snacks, sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, breads and pastries. We loved the offerings and satisfied our hunger. Returning to the suite I had to take advantage of the wonderful bath facilities with multi-head shower and huge tub.
I wanted to spend the entire night in this fascinating shower. After being totally spoiled in this unbelievable shower I continued to the vanity. The exterior double sinks had every accessory one could fathom. Any toiletry you forgot was in place.
It was time for bed as Kim and I had an early 3:00 AM wake up call to make the shuttle and return flight to Austin. Kim remarked that the bath and bedroom area was larger than ours at home. It was very spacious and nicely appointed with a huge king size, palatial bed.
The wake up call came at exactly 3:00 and sadly we were leaving Ecuador returning to reality, jobs and our lives in Texas. The Hotel Oro Verde is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World  and I feel positive that the guest treatment would be comparable, in any of the chains many luxury hotels around the world.
We were treated so kindly and the generous management of the Hotel Oro Verde is to be commended for such excellent customer service, cleanliness and a desire to please their guests. I have never been treated so royally and have stayed in major hotels across the world. Thank you sincerely for a “Memory Making” visit.

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Amateur Traveler Episode 471 - Travel to Austin, Texas



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