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Sunday, August 30, 2009

2 Legs Good! 4 Legs Food!

Now that we have already visited the handicraft market on a weekday, we had the weekend free! And with some prompting from our new friends Adeline and Nicolas, we decided to wake early (6am is really early when you don't have to go to work!) and join them for a quick jaunt to the animal market nearby.

A great-looking couple from France

A great-looking wife from Singapore - wearing the GREY jacket she bought

We hopped into a cab for a USD 1 ride to the market, and upon arrival, we were greeted by noisy squeals from pigs, as if they were being led to the slaughter. Well, actually, they really were.

You have to give George Orwell credit for his portrayal of pigs in Animal Farm. The pigs were really the ones who seemed most aware of their cruel fate. They fight against being led away, trotters splayed in the dirt, and had to be literally dragged or bagged

There goes Squealer!

Gruesome reminder to the pigs what they were in for

You can get away! All you have to do is jump!

Animal Farm was also spot on for sheep. The sheep seemed perfectly contented to be marketed and sold. To make them look tougher and more energetic, they were prodded to stand instead of lying on the ground. And they stood with nary a bleat of protest. Sheep are easy, I tell ya!

Presenting the Apple iSheep. Do anything you want them to do!

Animal Farm did not feature guinea pigs though. These were sold near the entrance of the market. Not as pets, but as food! The wife challenged me to eat guinea pigs during our trip here, and I replied,"Ah, but how do you know that what they serve you are really guinea pigs and not rats? To make sure that we eat guinea pigs, we should get the locals to show us the guinea pigs, and cook them alive right in front of our eyes!"

After turning green like the the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz-tavalo, the wife said that maybe we would not be eating guinea pigs after all. Disaster averted! :p

Why would anyone want to eat guinea pigs...

...when chicken is easily available?

We also saw food that we thought might appeal to our French friends, but unfortunately, at that time we saw this, we had actually spread out a bit and I couldn't ask for their confirmation.

I could have supplied these from my pond at home!

I looked at the slice of lemon in the bag along with the snails, and heard a sizzling sound in my mind. Then I remembered that it is salt that makes snails sizzle and melt into nothingness. Anyone knows what lemon does to snails? Other than to make them sour?

Those with 2 legs really seemed to have it better here, because while wandering around, it did seem like most of the 2-footed beings were not for consumption. Not immediately, anyway. The homo sapiens (heh, heh, I said homo) were obviously not being sold as food. And the little chicks can't be sold as food either. They are too cute, and need to uglify themselves by growing up, then they will be fit to be cooked.

2 legs? You're safe. Sell leashes? Even better!

Still cute now, but they'll be broaster within the month!

Chicken watched Happy Feet, and thought it'd try to tap-dance its way out of certain death as well

I was totally ready to leave the animal market within 15 minutes of arrival. I guess I was expecting it to be a little like what you see at Chatuchak in Bangkok, with cute little puppies (and iguanas!) to be sold as pets. I was just not mentally prepared to see a market place where live animals were being traded while they pooped all over the place! Perhaps buying food from NTUC Fairprice has blocked us from the reality of the lives we kill when we eat meat. Sobering thought. Almost makes one want to become a vegetarian, when you consider the savagery of it all.

Ah well, sobering thought over, and I'm hungry. Time for some broaster!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Villagers For A Day

Even with Singapore being such a small country, I've never walked from one town to another before. In-line skating yes (via East Coast Park), and cycling too, but actually walking like a pilgrim for hours and hours? Nope. The furthest I've walked was within the MacRitchie Nature Reserve in search for the treetop walk. I tried walking from our home in Bishan along the Park Connector Network to Kallang, but somehow found myself along the Pan-Island Expressway, decided against consuming lungfuls of vehicle exhaust and turned back. And I haven't yet attempted crossing the Southern Ridges from Telok Blangah Park all the way to Kent Ridge Park. (My, that's alot of things to try when I get home!)

With all that time to spare in Otavalo and all the good food that we had been wolfing down, we decided to take up Lonely Planet's suggestion to walk to a nearby artisan village called Peguche and the waterfall park, named after the village (Las Cascades de Peguche). Adeline, our new friend from France, also confirmed that Peguche was a mere 30-minute walk from Otavalo (but then, she and Nicolas aced us to the summit of Fuya Fuya, remember?)

The fresh, crisp mountain air in Otavalo is best savoured outside of town. After choking on 2 weeks worth of vehicle exhaust in Bogota and dust from the roads on every long distance bus journey, we really appreciated the oxygen treat that this Andean region had to offer (except for when the occasional vehicle put-putted by, kicking up a cloud of dust.)

We were pretty much the only people on the path, definitely the only tourists walking that route that day. A few local women, with babies and vegetables wrapped up in the same piece of cloth and secured tightly onto their backs, hurried past us. The babies' legs dangling from one end of the makeshift cloth haversack and the tops of leafy green stalks sprouting from the other. Stray dogs scampered past (gotta watch out for their fresh doses puppy poop on the pavement) and bored cows mooed mournfully at us.

The Ecuadorians seem to be ardent fans of DragonballZ or Naruto. The DVD stores carried many Naruto cartoon series (pirated of course) and the mural that adorned the wall of this humble provision store was pretty impressive.

Las Cascades de Peguche is housed in a neat little park, fronted by artisan (nooo... no more shopping for us although I was sorely tempted to get one of those little woolen caps) and food stalls bearing steaming pots of sweet white corn. A cobblestone paths guides visitors past the camping area and delivers them right before the waterfall.

Finally - the pony he had always wanted

Las Cascades de Peguche

I tried scaling the rocks to get nearer to the falls. But they were totally covered in algae (or was it scum?!) and slippery to touch. After much slipping and sliding and repositioning my hands and feet in various rocky crevices, I finally managed to haul myself up - palms, pants (which had just been laundered!), jacket and camera bag (sorry Roy!) stained in a murky palette of greens and browns. Ugh.

Trying to get a firm footing on the slippery rocks

Ah-ha! Slightly unglam, but I managed to hike my foot up onto a high ledge.

Still, it was pretty shiok cooling off under fine spray under the gushing falls.


The picture of victory. Messy mist-matted hair and all.

Satisfied with making a total mess of our clothes (okay, just my outfit - Dan somehow managed to remain scum-free), we left the waterfall park and trekked on to Peguche, planning to have lunch at the little village. It was really quiet for some reason, there didn't seem to be anyone around. We could hear the clacking of looms behind the brick walls but there was no activity whatsoever on the streets, except for food trucks delivering local produce to the stores. Before realising it, we had strolled right past the village centre and found ourselves along the Panamerican Highway outside the village!

Trying to find some life in Peguche. Where's everybody?!

The rumbling in our tummies prompted us to check our watches and we realised that we had been walking for 4 hours straight. We ditched all hopes of finding anything to eat in Peguche and lumbered back to Otavalo. We felt like real villagers for a day, walking from town to town on foot! Tummies empty and bladders bursting, we stumbled into a Shandong-run chifa for much-needed nourishment in the form of chalaufan with chicken wings (Dan's choice, of course) and deep-fried wanton skins (yes, only the skins. Strange!)

And then it was back to our hostel for what was meant to be a short late afternoon nap. We woke up at 8.30pm when Adeline knocked on our door to make arrangements to visit the animal market together the next morning (stay tuned for Dan's entry on that!) It's a good thing she did, otherwise we may have slept till midnight and woke up all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and very hungry!

Ah well, time to wake up and head back to the chifa for dinner!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Traveler's Corner

We spent 6 nights in Otavalo, out of which 5 were at the homely Rincon del Viajero just 2 blocks from the famous Plaza de Ponchos.

So... why only 5 nights out of 6 at Rincon del Viajero? Dazed and tired from a hectic border crossing from Colombia (which involved transport in 4 different vehicles, 6 luggage checks by the police, having our limbs pulled in 8 different directions by bus touts, getting dumped along a highway and some backtracking between the Colombian and Ecuadorian immigration booths), I just lucky-picked a hostel name from our guidebook and gave the address to the taxi driver. Hotel Riviera Sucre wasn't the cheapest of choices, but the travel guide promised "outstanding value" for the price. Plus, we figured that with it being foreign-run and nearer the top end, there would be free WiFi available in the hostel, which we had been hankering for - cos I don't like backlog on our blog!

Well, free (but slow - even a tortoise can crawl faster) WiFi and "outstanding value" certainly came at a cost. The lack of available rooms with shared bathrooms added to our hotel bill. At US$26 per room (with the promised agua caliente - which failed miserably), excluding breakfast, we could already visualise our money flying fast from our pockets (in the classic form of dollar notes with wings, flapping far into the clouds.)

So later that night, we went shopping - for a cheaper place to live out the rest of our week in Otavalo. We liked what we saw at Rincon del Viajero - good security, tranquil setting, cosy rooms, clean shared bathrooms, hot showers (yes, there really was agua caliente - lots of it!), friendly super-responsive staff and free WiFi (at a slightly faster crawling speed.) We negotiated a lower rate for our 5-night stay (considered lengthy for visitors to Otavalo who usually only descend upon the town on Friday for the Saturday market) and were rewarded with a US$2 discount for each night. The final price of US$18 was inclusive of tax and breakfast (fresh rolls, eggs and coffee!) We loved Rincon's proximity to Plaza de Ponchos (so that I could window shop en route to lunch everyday and sneakily suss out some coveted items before displaying any form of interest to the eager vendors), steaming fruit pies, awesome gelato, sweet nuts, heavenly chifas and stores blatantly hawking the latest movies on pirated DVDs (no, no, no, whoever said that I used to be an anti-piracy lawyer busting those enterprising copy pirates on raid after raid? Must have been my evil twin sister.)

I've posted a review on TripAdvisor singing praises of this little gem (it's still one, despite being listed in Lonely Planet's South America on a Shoestring which I see every other tourist toting around the continent) but the review is still pending approval. Do check back on the link to my reviews on our blog's sidebar for the full details.

Rincon del Viajero literally translates into "traveler's corner'. And rightly so. Not only was it physically located on the corner of 2 streets, it offered weary travelers a haven from the dusty roads and honking vehicles (but unfortunately, not from the yapping dogs from the nearby pet shops.)

The rooms lining one side of the corridor remind me of our HDB flats back home!

We had alot of fun with the lovely murals adorning the walls of the guesthouse. In fact, I think we were the only guests who shamelessly treated the place like our very own photo studio with various backdrops to pose with. Everybody else seemed to be serious shoppers, cool shooters sinking balls on the pool table or laid-back smokers puffing away along the corridors. Ah well, to each his own.

Ponchos, plaits and hats. Can't tell whether the two people in front are male or female - the men in Otavalo keep their hair long and wear it in braids!

He was muttering something about sore tummy muscles here

Good reading spot under the Volcan Cotacachi. Pity about the hole in the lake though.

Owning an iPod can make you the coolest person around here

Yes, doing an exact representation of how he treats his wife when nobody's looking

Rabbits are food for the condor. But don't play dead when you see one - this big lazy bird loves his meals to be as dead as a doornail!

If you're ever in Otavalo (don't worry, I had never heard of this place too until we started planning for this trip), do check out Rincon del Viajero for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bargain Hunters

I should first let you know that both the wife and I abhor shopping. Loathe it. It puts us to sleep. That's why places like Bangkok and Hong Kong (which all other Singaporeans seem to love) hold no particular fascination for us. So when the wife deliberately organised our schedule to include a weekend in Otavalo simply because of the weekend market, I was a little curious to see what the fuss was all about. But when we arrived at Otavalo, various people told us that it was actually better to visit the market during the weekdays. The market is smaller (roads surrounding the marketplace are closed on weekends, and the market expands by another 50%), and the variety is not as great, but on weekdays, vendors are more eager for business, and you therefore get more attention and better bargains. Just don't expect to see Kate, Louis, Chanel, Dolce and Banana (Republic) here though.

Adorable suspenders for tiny tots. One color for every day of the week and a spare!

The only riots in Otavalo are caused by colors

The hammock with legs cost extra, because it will walk to you when you're tired

Pinnochio will like his hammock very much because he is such a liar

Hard at work

I need to get home and put this pic as a wallpaper on my PS3

Hammocks and comfortable pants. Perfect accessories for the home theatre system

Our primary mission was actually to take pictures at the market, because we have grown to be such shutterbugs. But to make the market visit even more bearable, we reasoned to ourselves that we do need new clothes. The yellow-reversible-to-blue jacket I have been wearing since the beginning of the trip has begun to shrink after repeated washing and drying. (No jokes about me expanding instead, please. Heh. I hereby forestall you! Consider yourself forestalled!) And given that we will soon be going on some very cold treks up some very cold trails around some very cold mountains, I need another jacket. And the wife (who is not giving up her La Fuma jacket) has also decided that she needed another sweater, and a poncho. because she apparently likes Chos...

The wife insisted on having alpacas on her sweater because alpacas are a symbol of warmth

Which looks nicer? Brown?

Or grey? Which do you think she bought?

As we walked on to the middle of the market place, my eye was caught by some really funky hats. I guess there were court jesters even in ancient Ecuador, and the court jesters had to wear something like this to please their king. Just like I had to wear them to please my queen! Since the lady who was selling them was so nice to let us "fool" around with the hats, we cooked up a some justification for ourselves to buy something from her. The cloth bag that we bought had the image of a blue-footed booby. I know what you're thinking! But seriously, the blue-footed booby is a bird!

I could store a couple of hot dogs for the trek in the extra space!

This hat had two tails. That means four hot dogs!

Okay... really going all out for hot dogs now...

Maybe the hats were a booby trap to make us buy stuff!

We arrived at another section of the market that focused less on textiles and more on accessories. Here, you get earrings, necklaces, aromatherapy joss stick holders, wicked-looking knives disguised as a troll figurine, stuff like that.

I got beady-eyed looking at these

There is supposed to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I was a little reluctant to open the blue containers

Damned cute keychains. Costs only a bark!

As we were making it through to the other side of the market, I was drawn to a wood carving of a blue-footed booby. Being a boobs man, I knew that I just had to have a pair of them! Taking a deep breath, and remembering the dirty looks Roy gave me in Shanghai due to my lack of bargaining skills, we set off to spend almost ten minutes haggling with the shopowner for a pair. He tried really hard to sell us a family (small, medium and large boobies), then when that failed, tried selling us a pair of medium sized ones. I kept insisting that I only wanted a small pair, and he kept saying that he only had one small piece, not a pair, and had to sell me one small and one medium piece instead. To cut a long story short, we bargained for a pair of medium sized boobies (yes, yes, about B-cup), bringing the price from USD 44 down to USD 32. I think we did a good job, because the shopowner still looked dazed as we snapped off a shot of our triumph!

I am happiest when holding on to a pair of boobies

The Otavalo market was definitely one of the nicest markets we have ever been to. The cool weather and the civilised bargaining was a distant cry from the markets we suffer when in Bangkok. Despite that, shopping and bargaining is still a great energy-sapper for us, so after a quick stop for pie and a sack of nuts for the wife, we headed back to our hostel. After all, we did get some inspiration on what to do next from one of the stallowners at the market!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

La Comida De Otavalo

Otavalo was our first destination in Ecuador after crossing the border with Colombia. The largely indigenous Andean village sits 2 hours north of Quito, the capital.

We were rather surprised to find little in terms of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine in Otavalo. I guess the indigenous folk live on the outskirts of town and have mainly home-cooked meals. Eating options in town were mostly fast food! Not your usual hamburger chains, but pizza, fried chicken, fries and burgers nevertheless. Oh, and chifas - aka Chinese restaurants. Lots of them! One of the chifa owners said that there were at least 10 outlets in town alone.

Although transactions are in US dollars, food in Otavalo was relatively cheap. It was also a welcomed change after 5 weeks of Colombian almuerzas (set lunches), instant noodles and instant pasta. So we pigged out a bit! But just a bit...

Here are some pictures of our favourite food in Otavalo:

Manis Dulces (sweet peanuts)

This is my all-time favourite snack in Latin America so far. The peanuts in Otavalo are much bigger and of better quality than the ones in Colombia. And they are sold in much bigger packets too!

Mmmmm, the aroma of freshly cooked peanuts swimming around in a sugary paste.

The light brown ones are corn nibblets cooked in sugar. US$1 for a large pack! The smallest costs only US$0.25.... but who buys the small ones anyway?!

Shenadoah's Pie Shop

The deep-dish pies sold at this small cafe are SO good. SO SO good. The best I've ever eaten, and all for US$1.30 per slice. Per HUGE slice. All freshly baked throughout the day. We went back 3 times - it could have been more, if I hadn't started feeling fat halfway through the week.

A different array of pies greets you at the counter everyday. Chocolate, lemon, banana, strawberry, blackberry, pineapple, apple...

I liked the strawberry pie best. The fruit was sweet (but not fake sugary jammy sweet) and so moist!

The fluffy, wobbly lemon meringue pie. The super sweet meringue complements the tangy lemon custard very well.

Chinese Food

Chifas are really popular in Ecuador. We figured that the term 'chifa' must have been derived from 'chi fan' in Chinese, meaning to have a meal. Chaulafan, fried rice, is the most popular dish on the menu and is served with either chicken, pork, shrimp or all three! As for the name - Chaulafan is pretty similar to 'chau fan' - so yeah, I geddit. But noodles are called tallarin (I don't know how that came about!) and if you want rice and noodles in one dish, you would order a mixto. We spent our evenings alternating between a Guangdong-run restaurant and Shandong-run outlet. And yes, we ordered the famous "Singapore noodles" too!


Wantan soup! Not quite the same as what we get back home, but warms your tummy nonetheless!

Mi Otavalo

This eatery serving traditional Ecuadorian dishes was recommended by Lonely Planet and in our opinion, overpriced (US$5 for a lunch set) and nothing great. The starters were quite interesting though:

Popcorn - I don't know how they cook the corn without the kernels popping and turning fluffy! Corn definitely tastes better fully popped.

The fancy presentation for the appetizer (guacamole, a nacho, a sausage and some onion salsa) impressed us a bit. Then it went blah from there.


Best ice-cream I've eaten in a long long time ever since leaving the Land of Ben & Jerry's. Home-made gelato in various flavours like blackforest, rum & raisin, mint chocolate, strawberry, coconut, blackberry, bubblegum, pineapple, mango... oooh! So many! A single scoop cost only US$0.70 and a double on a cone, US$1. Now, obviously we would go for the double scoop... maybe the full works for US$2.80 per sundae?

Treating ourselves to a whole lotta ice-cream

His all white Alaska thingamajig

The Really Cheap Stuff

It's not really yummy, not really filling and not really satisfying. But this giant pizza slice is served fresh, hot, gooey and stringy and gives your tummy something to work on until it's time for pie or ice-cream. So big that it can't fit within the plate, this pizza slice goes for US$1, with a glass of Coke or Sprite thrown in.

Open wide and say aaaaaaaahhhh.....

And these, dear folks, are what kept your 2 travelbug friends very happy throughout our 7 days in Otavalo.

Now go treat yourself to that long-awaited ice-cream sundae. You know you want it!

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