It was a sweet treat to begin out sojourn on Turkish Airlines. We can highly recommend it.

We’ve just arrived at our AirBnB in Skopja. It’s humble but comfy.

We’re too tired to share anything beyond the warm feelings and national pride we’ve already experienced from the helpful Macedonians we’ve so far met along the way.

And this is just to share my commitment to a visual document of the trip. It starts here with this yet unfinished symphony of my Bart ride to SFO and myself drawing on the plane to Istanbul. Maybe I’ll even finish it while I’m here.

More later

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Sam gets his ice water.

Barbara gets her almost affordable and almost good vino tinto.

At LAX

Locro de papa is a cheesy potato soup that is a staple of Ecuadorian cuisine. It’s traditionally garnished with avocado, and served with a spicy aji sauce. Locro de papa is simple and fairly quick to make, with basic ingredients. It’s nourishing and filling – the perfect comfort food. You can add a little aji amarillo paste to the sautéed onion if you like a little kick. Corn is also a popular addition (the large kernel Andean choclo cornis delicious).

Prep Time:15 minutes

Cook Time:35 minutes

Total Time:50 minutes

Yield: Serves 6.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 pounds yellow potatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 5 ounces monteray jack cheese, grated
  • Diced avocado for garnish (optional)
  • Crumbled queso fresco cheese, for garnish (optional)
  • Aji sauce (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a heavy soup pot. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, and optional aji amarillo paste. Sauté onions over low heat until soft, fragrant and translucent.
  2. While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Set aside.
  3. When the onions are soft and golden, add 1 cup of the chicken stock. Remove mixture to a blender and process until you have a smooth puree. Set aside.
  4. Add the potatos to the soup pot along with 1 tablespoon butter. Sauté until potatoes are fragrant and just start to turn golden.
  5. Add onion liquid back to the pot with the potatoes, along with another cup of chicken stock and 2 cups water. Bring liquid to a simmer, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook potatoes until they are very tender, about 20-25 minutes.
  6. Mash the potatoes thoroughly in the pot with a potato masher.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk the egg together with the cream and milk. Whisk a cup of the hot soup mixture into the milk and cream, then add it all to the soup, whisking to blend.
  8. Whisk in the grated cheese until melted. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Serve soup hot, garnished with chopped avocado and crumbled queso fresco cheese.
  10. Serves 6 generously.

As much as one enjoys a vacation it always seems you are ready for it to end just when it’s about to. Guess that’s a good thing. With 20 hours left my mind is returning to San Francisco with happy anticipation. (I’m looking forward to driving the new Bay Bridge with interest and concern.) There is the sad thought that all this will seem not much more than a dream once the 20 hours have past.

I still don’t know what to make of this country. It goes backwards and forwards at the same time. Perfecting highways that are already perfect; Ignoring others that are impassable. Well connected to the rest of the world with iPhones and flat screens, yet communications about relevant events that effect daily life need thorough investigation to find the truth.

The third world aspects are powerful. So much of the population lives so humbly, yet, they don’t appear concerned. Perhaps it’s their easy climate and the $60/month they get from the government, along with free or nearly free health care that keeps them somewhat complacent. Of course in the cities, they are less so but it often seems nothing more than attempts to keep status quo in the face of progress. (AKA – protecting their jobs.)

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Everyone is well fed and well dressed. Even the homeless dogs that roam the streets (and sleep in the middle of them) seem healthy. I especially love that in the highlands it is common to see people dressed in their indigenous garb. In these times where western styles seem omnipresent, it’s refreshing.

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Photo: She shows us how she makes the dies for the clothing.

Interspersed amongst the hovels are attempts at the good life. We’ve stayed on what Ecuadorians consider the best hotels and spotted what looked like glorious homes along our travels. But always, they miss the standards that have spoiled us at home. Doors don’t close properly, toilet paper dispensers fall off the walls, restaurants are skimpy with napkins, even furniture may be nicely designed but looks as though it will last as long as Ikea products. The streets can be strewn with litter. Even the loveliest buildings seem severely lacking maintenance.

The food is good. Our Ecuadorian guides took great pride in sharing some national favorites. Aji sauce; potato, cheese and avocado soup; Cerviche; Locro del sugo; Quinoa soup;
Quinoa risotto;
Plantains with cheese and honey; and
Pasteles del yuca. Fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap. You can get 20 tangerines for $1.00. Fresh fruit juices of many varieties ( have you ever had Tree Tomato Juice?) are always available. Beyond that their diets are filled with starch and fried foods. Typical meals come with both rice and French fries. Plantains (another starch) are equally abundant and delicious but almost always served deep fried along with fried cornbread, empeñadas, and whatever proteins you choose, be it beef, pork, chicken, fish, guinea pig – all fried. Our guide boasted that the Ecuadorians are not as fat as Americans but what kind of benchmark is that? Many are quite thick around the middle yet wear it with pride. Wish I could.

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Oh yeah! CHOCOLATE! Awesome! Maybe worth moving here for!

The local beer is tasty and inexpensive but most other alcohol that’s good is imported and is taxed at 100%.

We came here to experience another culture and see if this country might be a candidate to house us in retirement. I can declare it a successful trip on both accounts. We really did taste the culture, love the people and the landscape. We also have a renewed appreciation for our lives in the states. The quest for Mecca will continue as it’s a great excuse to explore the world and shorten the bucket list. But we’ve learned we are very spoiled Americans and finding Mecca may take a lifetime – which isn’t a bad task anyway.

In 20 hours I will flush toilet paper in the toilet, use ice cubes and eat salads without fear, drink from the tap and my hair will frizz a bit less! Yeah!

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Our shopping spree was thwarted today. No one warned us about Ecuadorian traffic problems. Our road to Otavalo was closed due to a landslide. The police said it would open in 90 minutes. The gas station guys said otherwise. We turned around attempting another lesser know path. There, the police stopped us again. They would only let traffic through in the opposite direction unless you were a commercial vehicle. Ruben tried to negotiate but we were left to our last alternative. Again, traffic problems due to construction which in the US would have taken place at night. Equally sad is that one hand had no idea what the other was doing. You would think a quick call to HQ could spread the word and make a few adjustments to accommodate the traffic. Ruben claimed they just don’t give a damn. But we made it – about 4 hours later than planned. We’ll try to shop tomorrow. No one will keep me from my shopping spree.

And then the happy surprise. Our accommodations tonight are amazing. Not in a luxurious way. We’ve mostly written luxury off as “different” in Ecuador. We are staying in a 300 year old hacienda. It was the home of a textile magnate and his servants. At one point they had 1000 employees. The home has not been restored much – just enough to be comfortable yet still feel like you are reliving a piece of history. The grounds are huge and lovely. The building as well.

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20130902-214557.jpgSam tries the key to room 7. We should have requested room #1. They say Simone Bolivar slept there.

20130902-214608.jpgA welcome serenade by the locals. Check out the cute boy!

20130902-214632.jpgView from the grounds.

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20130902-214618.jpgWe returned to our room after dinner to find the fire going and these things warming the bed.

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