Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SPANISH SCHOOLS IN CUENCA ECUADOR - Yanapuma Spanish School in Cuenca - We celebrated TAITA CARNAVAL together!

Students from Yanapuma Spanish School Dance and Celebrate Taita Carnaval 2014

Recently, Bo and I decided to sign up for Spanish classes again.  There are many Spanish conversational groups meeting around Cuenca, but we both agreed it was time to take more personalized and individual classes to go to the next level.  I wanted private lessons, and Bo decided on a smaller group class.  We chose Yanapuma Spanish School  (http://www.yanapumaspanish.org/) because of their excellent reputation and also all their profits support and promote the sustainable development in indigenous and marginalized communities.  Their teachers are carefully screened and trained before being released to teach students.  They have individual and group classes, and also cultural excursions.  Though the school is only a few months in Cuenca (7 years in Quito), it is growing rapidly.  We were pleased they could accommodate us into their almost full schedule.

Right after signing up, we received an invitation for all students of Yanapuma to attend the 7th annual Festival of the Kushi Waira Taita Carnaval Celebration put on by The Cultural Tourist Centre Kushi Waira of the parish of Tarqui.  We accepted, and on a rainy Saturday morning, we boarded a tour bus with 15 other students ready to experience this special day of history, music, dancing, eating and celebrating with this beautiful and humble indigenous people of Ecuador.  It was a great group of students who celebrated with gusto and embraced this amazing culture.  We were honored to be a part of this community celebration and educational experience.

The CaƱaris (in Kichwa - Kanari) were the ancient inhabitants of the provinces of Azuay.  Today, they live in their customs and traditions, embracing nature with an utmost respect to mother earth (Pachamama).  They celebrate their festival at URCU AYA, the spirit of the mountain, and honor the fertility of the land, planting, and harvest.  The Kushi Waira celebrate yearly for the purpose of revitalizing the reality of their customs and traditions.


  It was a day of Andean music, laughter, darling children, festive attire, and JOY!

We were served breakfast with the typical food of the TAITA CARNAVAL.

Our lead host educates us on the different hand-carved instruments and gives us a demo.

There would be a drawing at the end of the festival for 4 of the flutes.  Yup, Bo won a hand-carved flute!!

It's time to take a walk......

.....and higher and higher we climb......

........away from the community below, up to the sacred place of Jatun Urcu.

Walking sticks were helpful for this steep, wet, muddy trail!

The community hosts carried drinks in large pots strapped to their backs for the celebration.

A magical forest trail.....

......with exotic medicinal plants......

......all labeled with their healing properties......

....graced the path......and we walked and walked.....

.....and finally reached our destination where musical instruments, song, and dance continued and......

.....hot spicy beverages.....

......were poured and served to the visitors. 

(We were served the traditional Canelazo drink and La Chicha de Jora (a rice drink with alcohol)

The ceremony to the PACHAMAMA is explained, as well as the customs and traditions of this unique community.  

More music and dancing.....

.....as this community honors their yearly celebration together.

Powdered faces are a part of this CARNAVAL tradition.

A colorful harvest wreath leads the music and dance procession.

Such a look of contentment on this festive indigenous community member.

Everyone was attentive as the history of Pachamama was explained.

Children filled with joy and splashed with powder.


It was time to return to the cultural center.....

.....where huge pots of celebration food were being carefully prepared for the guests.

There was enough food for twice the crowd.

The dancing and music continued....

..... and even the roosters celebrated!

Children twirled to the music.......

.....and the band played on!

It was time for the community meal.

Choclo, potatoes.....

.....chicken and pork.....

......rice and bowls of Aji - oh my!!!

We sat together in community and feasted and feasted and.....

.....feasted some more!  The "Ollas encantadas" were served before us with love, and we ate with gusto and gratitude. 

Bo and I had never experienced a community meal like this before, and the entire experience (including being powdered) was a wonderful memorable time for both of us. 

 If you go to their website at http://www.kushiwaira.com/ you will be able to learn more about this humble community in Tarqui and what they have to offer visitors.

The End!

Monday, March 3, 2014

RESTAURANTS IN CUENCA ECUADOR - Todos Santos Church and Restaurant in Cuenca - THE BEST OF THE BEST!


Some of Todos Santos Restaurant's Remarkable Chefs

Bo and I LOVE to cook!  We cook and eat most of our meals at home because we like to eat healthy, want to stay within our monthly Cuenca budget, and also because, since we know GOOD food, we're pretty picky about finding restaurants that we consider fabulous and reasonably priced.

Of course we could go out to eat every day here because many of the restaurants charge $2 to $5 for a full course delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  However, we like to go out occasionally and find that special restaurant we want to frequent because it's a treat, a celebration, an experience, and a great meal for a great price.  Yes, we do sometimes meet friends at a restaurant for a meal, or we sit down for a simple mid-day meal because we've been out and about doing errands and we're too tired to fix anything at home.  Yet, on a regular daily basis, we are home enjoying the fresh meats, fruits and vegetables from our neighborhood "mercado" which are then transformed into fabulous healthy meals, mostly prepared by my Chef Bo.
Platanos, carrots, and camote (a sweet potato) are in the three-tier basket.  Chard, red and green peppers, avacados, red onions, cucumbers, fresh pungent basil (what a find for 50 cents) leafy lettuce.  Wooden bowl abundant with local fruits including mangos, oranges, apples, papaya, and bananas.  All this produce for $11.50.  En Serio!!!! 

One of our favorite places to dine is at Todos Santos Restaurant on Calle Larga.  It is located in a 16th Century Convent, and the food is absolutely fabulous! Recently we went there with friends for lunch.  I asked the head chef, Mauricio, if I could come and do a photo shoot for my blog.  He immediately said, "Yes," with the offer to take Bo and me on a private tour of the restaurant, organic gardens, and church grounds.  We met Mauricio the following day before the restaurant opened, and what a fun time it was photographing this kind and friendly chef and one of the most amazing historical buildings in Cuenca.  Mauricio explained a lot of the history as he took Bo and me on our own personal guided tour.  It was another fabulous "behind-the-curtain" experience I will cherish, which I love about living in Cuenca.

So join us through my lens and then plan on stopping by to meet Chef Mauricio and enjoy experiencing his artistic organic cooking.  It will be a memorable meal in a quaint and historic atmosphere which you are sure to enjoy and will never forget!


Chef Mauricio Bernal has his own special place in the garden area where he like to go and "chill" before or after a long day of meeting, greeting, and serving the public.  His passion for his restaurant and its location was evident as he proudly showed us around this beautifully restored historic building.
Cobbled floors, antique pieces, and original woodwork grace the entrance with a rustic and historic feel.  The original building was built in the 1500's.  Though recently renovated, it boasts an old-world historic ambiance with many original features intact.
A huge double wooden door leading to a cafe-bakery is open to the public daily.  Their fresh on-sight oven-baked breads and delicious pastries are absolutely worth the trip.
The daily breads and sweets are.......
...... freshly baked in this over 100 year old historic wood-fired oven.  The master baker uses long wooden paddles to turn the breads for an even browning.
The public can purchase these delectables Tuesdays thru Saturdays from one of the only five charitable nuns living on the premises.  Apparently, there used to be 100 nuns living here.
Chef Mauricio took us through one of the many quaint dining rooms, and we climbed over the plants that barricade this staircase.......
.......walked down a little rustic hallway.......
......into a tiny room where, in the past, a newly received nun would be called to isolate herself for a year from the things of the world (yikes, no texting or internet).  This was her time to pray and be sure she wanted to continue her life strictly devoted to her religious faith.  Yes, this is where she slept - on that thin little mat on the floor.  Ouch! 

It was time to go down and tour the lush and grand organic garden from where all of Todos Santos' fruits and vegetables are harvested.  Mauricio's salads, vegetable dishes, and desserts are always organic, freshly prepared and so delicious!  The fabulous Tomebamba River runs parallel to this abundant landscape.

We walked along beautiful tiers of stone pathways adorned with cascading plants......
.....enjoying a fabulous view of this historic city!
The leafy lettuce were abundant and thriving.

Delicious plump berries.....

.....and more!  We witnessed a wonderful array of fruits!

We sampled one of many black walnuts ripe for the harvest.

The day was sunny and warm - perfect weather for a colorful fragrant organic garden tour!

Every few steps there would be another variety of juicy fruit or colorful ripe vegetable.

Some areas were ready for planting another rotation crop.

The lush grounds are planted, weeded and harvested by one of several gardeners.

As we circled around.....

.....the rustic garden grounds......

.....Mauricio explained to us that the nuns use some of the restaurant and bakery proceeds to help support this school adjacent to the Convent-restaurant.  They also support the poor.
We watched the children come out of the building for their daily recess time.  Children in Ecuador wear uniforms to school, and each school has it's specific uniform colors. 

It was time to head back to the restaurant, but difficult to pull myself away from the beautiful church grounds and this amazing sky and view overlooking the city.

Back at the restaurant, special cakes were being created by......

.....one of Todos Santos' master bakers.

A paper is formed into a cone and filled with a sweet fruit syrup.....

.....then squeezed onto the center of each cookie.

Five different fruit flavors were pressed while we enjoyed watching this antiquated process.
While the master baker decorated his pastries and cookies, this student chef prepped vegetables and greens for the soon-to-arrive lunch crowd.

All from that abundant organic garden!
Finally, the tour is over and Mauricio heads downstairs to the elegant dining area.....

.....to check on the table settings and ambiance and give it his final approval!

Todos Santos is located at Calle Larga 5-19 y Mariano Cueva.  

They opened October 1st, after a two-year renovation.  Go early and Mauricio will take you by the hand and show you around, explain the history, and seat you for an elegant and memorable meal.  On your way out, stop at the bakery to take home some of the delicious and unique breads and sweets. 

You can order a tasty and reasonably priced elegant lunch (above) in the day time. I had "Seco de Chivo" - goat that is slow-cooked for 12 hours overnight!  It was melt-in-my-mouth delicious and tasted like the most tender steak ever!   Buen Provecho!