EG’s OMG Ecuadorian discoveries


ECUADOR (eTN) – Like other international cities, there is a mix of rich and poor, suits and shorts, making the exploration of the streets of town absolutely entertaining. Although just about everything is wonderful, the following lists the things I would see and do a second and third time.

Shopping As an Art
1. Ari Gallery: Ancestral Jewelry and Art. The award winning designer (who happens to use silver as his medium), is the heir to a family of outstanding designers of jewelry. The young, charming and talented designer, Byron Ushina, counts among his many accolades, the Ecuadorian Ancestral Dream award for sculpture Federation for World Peace and Unification and his work can be found in the Heon Jeong Gung Museum in Korea (2009). He also received recognition and honorary certification as a jewelry design by SIPPO, Zurich Switzerland (2006).

Ushina’s never duplicates his designs and each is handcrafted by Ecuadorian women who have learned the complex and intricate skills required to create silver treasures under his tutelage.

• For the first (and last) place to shop silver works of art:

• Location: Bolivar Oe6-23. Plaza de San Francisco.

2. Jose Cotacachi Master Weaver. The fake Ecuadorian sweaters, bags and tapestries can be found being sold on the streets of New York, and the flea markets around the world. They are so ubiquitous (and awful) that I no longer notice them. What I had not considered is what the originals looked like. What the original sweaters, bags, skirts, pants, tapestries, made by hand loom from alpaca, and high quality wool would look like. When I met Master Weaver Cotacachi and his enterprising spouse, I was in the OMG stratosphere. Closer to works of art than clothing, the garments and bags sold from Mr. Cotacachi workroom are beautiful and value priced (especially for cash transactions).

• Cotacachi’s studio/workshop is located in Peguche, a bit north of Otavalo and reached by taxi or bus, to the right of the church. Although the designed are grounded in pre-Hispanic cultures such as Valdiva, Nasca and Inca, the garments can easily be worn with leggings and jeans and make perfect casual wear for movies and martini nights out.

• Location: (correspondence must be in Spanish).

3. Cereria Luz de America. Who knew that candle making was an art, and awards presented to the most creative artist in the field? On a narrow street, in a step-down storefront, behind a dingy glass case, in a darkened room, seekers of candle art will find Zolia Unda de Munoz e hijo, Ecuador’s internationally acclaimed maker of candles for churches. Her family has made candle for 118 years, over three generations. She proudly claims that she uses only German paraffin for her works of art that are on display in the government buildings in Mexico City and she recently became the “Best Artisan in Wax in Latin America (2011).”

• Location: Calle Flores 300.

4. Buttons, Buttons and More Buttons. Plus Trimmings. Fa Ma & Wen. Barely a shop, more like an alleyway between two buildings, but holding a plethora of buttons, trimmings, zippers, embroidery for collars and cuffs, ribbons, sequins, and shoe laces, Garcia Moreno’s shop is a joy to behold for dress and pillow designers, as well as the everyday shopper who needs to fix something.

• Location: Garcia Moreno N2-50y. 2284-351.

Dining and Eating
Quito is packed with dining opportunities from wonderful, flavorful, and inexpensive and delicious goodies from snacks to gourmet meal. Feel comfortable exploring Quito streets, malls and markets for the city is a foodie’s grand buffet.

1. Tierra del Sol. The most interesting kitchen, preparing the most wondrous of Ecuadorian dinners for unpretentious guests, this neighborhood spot (Plaza del Quinde) deserves its own time-slot on the Cooking Channel. From the low-key successful 29 year owner to the articulate, attractive chef, 31-year old Julio Avendano, Tierra del Sol is on its way to receiving a Michelin star.

• Using locally grown fruits and vegetables indigenous to the locale, the magic that happens in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp cannot be overstated. Regardless of diet constraints, place an order for the crab cakes with Ecuadorian grown avocados followed by the seafood medley that marries peppers, brandy, cream, and squid with black potatoes in a cheese sauce. The Ecuadorian fish is incredibly fresh because it is only 6 hours from the sea to the plate.

• The chef goes out of his way to discover (and rediscover) the fruits and vegetables that have been part of the Andean region for centuries.
Of particular note:

• Mashua, this locales fourth most important root crop (after the potato, oca and ulluco). A hardy plant and often found in the poorest regions because it fiercely grows without pesticides and fertilizers.

• The Chamburo is a fruit native to South America and has an appearance similar to a papaya. The fruit is usually processed into juices and preserves or thinly sliced, preserved in a sugar solution, and eaten as an accent at meals (e.g., with cheese).

• Guayusa plant is the parent of white, green, oolong and black teas. One of three caffeinated holly trees in the world, it is a distant cousin of Yerba Mate. The leaves have a smooth ribbed edge with over 98 percent of the trees located in Ecuador.

• Location: Mariscal Foch y Joaquin Pinto, 2do.Piso.

2. Panifacadora Superior. Looking high and low for wonderful breads and cookies and pastries in NYC leaves the seeker weary and disappointed. Bread making as an art has been usurped by giant machines, resulting in a serious loss. How I yean for the aroma and taste of fresh bread, cookies, pastries, and rolls.

• If you share my dismay, get on the next flight to Quito and indulge your taste buds in treats that are in the OMG stratosphere.

• Formerly in aviation, Marco Morejon started the bakery with his wife 36 years ago. When he recently retired from his executive position with the airlines, he found that his pension had been reduced to $800 per month, not nearly enough to live on! So he hung up his suits, put on an apron, and now turns out OMG breads, pastries, cookies and cakes that could set a global standard for being wonderful.

• For a fortunate few, Marco is providing baking classes in the back of his shop.

• Location: Garcia Moreno N1-56 4 Bolivar.

3. Juan Cuzco Restaurant. Often it is difficult to forecast when a hunger pain will strike, sometimes in the middle of a meeting, or the middle of shopping. It is reassuring to know that from 10 AM – 2 PM, Juan Cuzco is serving sandwich platters and fresh eggs and sausages for only $4 per platter. Why does he close his shop so early in the day? Because he rushes home to create incredibly interesting paintings and sculptures (some reflect a fondness for Picasso) that line the walls in his small but cozy dining nook in a ramshackle shopping plaza. Do not be dismayed with the ambiance, focus on the food and the art!

• Location: Pasaje Amador – lower level (look for the mini-Guernica on the wall).

More than a Museum
Casa Museo Oswaldo Guayasamin. Born in Quito, Ecuador (1919), this Quechua native became an Ecuadorian master painter. Guayasamin dedicated his life to painting, sculpting, and collecting. A man of extremes, throughout his life he admired the communist ideals of Fidel Castro, and received a UN prize for “an entire life work for peace.”

• The incredible museum features his works that suggest an interest in Pablo Picasso, from brush stroke through the themes of political oppression, racism, poverty and class division. Art historians link his unique late style to the ancient civilizations of pre-Hispanic America including the Inca, Maya and Aztecs.

• Located less than one hour from Quito, this is more than a museum visit. From the arresting architecture to the OMG magnitude of the work, the few precious hours invested here will create enduring memories and images.

• Location: Bosmediano 543, Quito.

Finally Recognizing Vocational Education
Recognizing that skills needed for sewing, tailoring and embroidery, electrical and wood-working, stone-carving, plumbing, furniture building, mechanical repair, building painting and roof repair, as well as gardening were disappearing from Ecuadorian society, the city of Quito started a school to develop young people (over the age of 16) to learn the skills necessary to maintain the city as a cultural heritage site.

The Workshop School (Escuela Taller Quito) provides the opportunity for motivated student to learn traditional crafts (and employable skills) in a supportive but enriching environment. Located in a historic building (The Old Maternity Hospital), the master trades teachers work with the eager students to reclaim crafts skills that are on the verge of extinction.

• Classes are taught in Spanish, and international students may apply for admission.

• Location:

Tourism Presents a Rosy Future in Quito
I did not know that Ecuador was a major exporter of flowers! Over the past few years the quality of the product has captured a huge share of the international market. The country’s geographical location and topography provide the country a natural advantage over the competition (Kenya and Holland). The ideal climate and inexpensive production costs also provide the country a competitive advantage. In 2008 flower exports total $565 million. Beginning in 1991 the US market offered duty free treatment to Ecuadorian flowers under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is subject to annual congressional approvals. Prior to 1991 flower exports were charged a tariff of 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Flower exports represent 9 percent of the country’s nonpetroleum export earnings (2005).

Flower exports include over 60 varieties of Roses, plus Carnations, Chrysanthemums, and Daisies. The major markets include the Canada, Germany Holland, Italy, Russia, and the USA.

According to a 2008 study by Henry Vega of George Mason University, the flower trade provides jobs and makes a financial contribution to the country; however, the export of this perishable product presents challenges to the growers, and tests the resiliency of the supply chain. Studies show that a shipment of fresh flowers from the time of harvest on a farm near Quito until the moment it arrives at a US retailer can take from 44.5 hours to almost 13 days. Depending on the time of year, transportation costs can run between 10 -20 percent higher for Ecuador as compared with Columbia. In addition, there are inadequacies in current airport operations such as insufficient cargo facilities, runways that are too short to allow large aircraft to take off with full loads, complex governance issues of economic rights in air transportation, high costs of navigation services.

The Flower Trail
Flower growers across the Andes meeting special safety measures receive the Flor Ecuadors seal indicating that the company offers workers improved working conditions and guarantee correct use of pesticides. The 125 point program prohibits the employment of child labor, and to pay salaries and commissions promptly. Employees using pesticides must wear protective clothing. Companies located on the Ruta de las Flores have met these stringent requirements and are open to tourists.

The Flower Trail can be accessed by public transportation (not efficient) or by contacting a tour guide/operator (contact Patricio Placencia: and plan the tour with Patricio. He will arrange dates/times and other logistics, provide translations, determine costs and assist in understanding the entire growing process. Some Spanish speaking visitors go it alone. This can be very challenging since the signage is limited, the roads may be unpaved, local driving habits are unpredictable and can be dangerous.

The days are long in Quito. This is not a complaint. It is a fact! There are so many wonderful things to see and do and eat in Ecuador (and the surrounding towns) that there is a fervent wish that the days should not end. Since wishes have no influence at all, the weary tourist needs a really nice, value priced placed to sleep, have a light snack before saying good night and a hearty breakfast in the morning.

1. In Quito my vote goes to the 147 room Accor Mercure property, complete with wi fi, an Internet center (no additional cost), a bar, coffee shop and on-site casino.

Since the morning and evening air quality in Quito is clear and spring-like, it is really pleasant to sleep with fresh air in the room. The good news is that the Mercure windows actually open making A/C an option rather than a necessity. The buffet complementary breakfast in the Spice coffee shop is more than adequate, and many local and international business executives arrange their first meetings of the day at the Spice.

A word of caution: chauvinism lives at the Mercure! The restaurant wait staff is partial to male guests; while women meander among the eggs and sausage selecting bits and bites for breakfast, the waitresses are busying taking the best morsels (plated and personally presented) to the suited male guests. This special treatment for the men puts requests for espresso (at an extra charge) into the “whenever” category (whenever the men are finished dining). Unless you favor lukewarm shots, focus your sights on the hot pots of caffeine that are available next to the chocolate croissants.

• Location: Mercure Grand Hotel Alameda. Roca 653 and Amazonas Avenue.

2. Hacienda Santa Ana. Getting out of Quito for a few days of horseback riding and mountain hiking is an attractive interlude. Located in the Cotopaxi Mountains this is a destination property for you and your significant other…this is not a place to bring the kids and the extended family. Located in a valley surround by the Andean mountains the hotel is built on the foundation of a 16th century Ecuadorian hacienda that belonged to the Jesuits. It is the original stones and steps that add to the charm of this remote hideaway.

The accommodations are more than comfortable with down quilts and private bath or shower. The rooms may get chilly (heating is not centralized), so pack warm sweaters, wool socks, hiking boots, scarves, sleeping booties, bathrobes and flannel pjs to keep the cold/damp climate at bay. The kind-hearted staff is ready to arrange for trekking, biking, and horseback riding guides. The adventures are not for the novice or faint of heart…so practice and workout before making a reservation.

Pack for a serious walk, hike or horseback ride… this is not folks who enjoy a pony ride around the children’s zoo.

• Location: North entrance to Cotopaxi National Park Machachi-El Pedregal.

3. Caution: Hotel Patio Andaluz (Quito). The information online makes it look like a really interesting place to rest for a night or two; what the copy does not tell you is that the rooms have no access to fresh air. Housekeeping uses air freshener (think airport toilet strength) in the rooms, which only makes the mold from the old wood furniture worse than it could be. In some cases old is wonderful; unfortunately here old is just plain old.

• Quito branded properties are plentiful. Select one that meets budget and location requirements.

Heads Up
1. To enter Ecuador you must have at least 6 months remaining on a US passport.

2. Evidence of return or onward travel (i.e., airline ticket) is necessary.

3. Traveling on a regular passport for tourism or business is ok; visas are unnecessary for 90 days or less.

4. Tourists cannot remain longer than 90 days per 12-month period.

5. A US passport is required to exit Ecuador.

6. Tourists can be reimbursed for Value Added Tax paid on hotel bills and purchases of national products valued over $50. Only purchases made at businesses displaying the tax-free logo and a properly documented receipt for $50+ will be reimbursed.

7. Political demonstrations frequently occur and protestors block city streets including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway. Public transportation may be disrupted. Protestors may burn tires, throw rocks, damage cars, and detonate small explosive devices. Police may respond with water cannons and tear gas. Visitors should avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress.

8. Many Ecuadorian tour vessels operating in the Galapagos Islands are neither inspected nor operated in accordance with US regulations and do not meet US safety standards. Travelers should inquire about the safety features before boarding and look for life-boats, flotation devices, and inspect the life vests used in the case of an emergency (before the crises occurs).

9. Crime is a severe problem and runs from petty theft to violence, including armed robbery, home invasion and sexual assault. The rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals is very low. Pickpockets and petty thieves are active in airports, restaurants, public transportation, crowded streets, bus terminals, public markets and grocery stores. Backpackers are frequently targeted as are travelers carrying laptop computer bags. Be cautious, not curious!

10. To lower risks of becoming a victim leave valuables in a safe place (i.e., hotel safes), avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry or designer clothing, and carry only cash/credit cards needed for each excursion.

11. Do not leave anything of value in plain view in a car (i.e., sunglasses, sports equipment, purses, briefcases).

12. Be aware of your surroundings.

13. Be cautious when using ATMs or entering/exiting banks; robbers may use motorcycles to approach and flee the scene with your valuables in tow.

14. Robbers have been known to approach tourists on beaches and hiking trails with guns.

15. Cellular phones are popular targets and over 4000 phones were stolen in 2010.

16. Secuestro Express Taxi Assaults. After entering a taxi the vehicle is intercepted by armed accomplices of the taxi driver who may be complicit in the crime. The accomplices enter the vehicle, threaten passengers with weapons (guns, knives, pepper spray, scopolamine a “date rape drug”) rob the passengers, drive to ATMs and attempt to withdraw money using the victims debit cards. Some victims have been beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted. Use taxi’s provided by hotels.

17. Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods as purchasing these products may be breaking the law.

When To See Ecuador
Now – is probably a good time to visit this incredibly diverse country. The good news is that is NOT like home…in many cases it is better!

• Every tourist and MICE visitor needs a professional tour guide. My personal favorite is Patricio Placencia:; 099 666 907.

• For additional information: .