Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Venturing Out: Chordeleg, Ecuador

Written by Karen.
Adam gave himself another reprieve from shaving today.  We woke up to find that our Cuenca apartment didn't have any water.  Again.  Zero.  Nada.  This is the third day without having water.  Unlike what we are used to in the States, there is no notification - either advance or after-the fact - that you will not have water and when you might expect to have the water turned back on. You find out that there is no water when you turn the spigot and you get nothing but air.

We have asked our neighbors in the apartment building who also don't have water, and they shrug their shoulders and say there may be something wrong with the pipes.  Or maybe they are working on the water.  Or maybe the water will be turned on in a couple of hours - mas or menos.  They are seemingly unconcerned with the situation of not having water and we are baffled by their lackadaisical responses.  

We sent out a couple of questioning emails to our property manager a few days ago, but haven't heard anything specific yet.  She is still working on it.  Putting aside our growing irritation - for the moment - we used our rapidly dwindling supply of moist wipes and decided to hit the streets again.

Today we took another scenic bus ride and visited a small town about 42 km outside of Cuenca: Chordeleg.  What an absolute gem!  A very quaint town with absolutely lovely people.  We fell in love with the town almost immediately.  

The town square is beautiful with flowers, a fountain, a myriad of trees and cobblestoned streets with tiny shops that line the square and the side streets.  Chordeleg is one of the towns that is considered to be a craft town in this region.  Their speciality is gold and silver jewelry making with roots in the craft going back to pre-Hispanic times.  For me, walking around an artistic town pretty rapidly puts me into my bliss.  

As you walk through the streets, you can see artists/craftspersons working in their tiny shops or on the front porch of their homes.  We saw women doing embroidery or needlepoint, a family making shoes with many wooden molds surrounding them, a woman weaving straw into a hat, and a jewelry artist fashioning a new piece of gold jewelry.  People were friendly and the atmosphere was quiet and calm.  I truly enjoyed being able to stop and watch the artisans at work in their homes and shops. 

After awhile, we started thinking about lunch and wandered down the street and found a wonderful restaurant called Casa Vieja.  There were families already eating in the small restaurant - a good indicator of a good local restaurant - and we ordered what they were having:  the menu of the day.  We had a large bowl of homemade corn, beans and chicken soup, beef stew with rice and a boiled plantain, and jello for dessert.  It was filling and delicious.  You rarely can go wrong when you order what the locals are having.  

But, for me, the dish that put me right over the culinary edge was their homemade aji.  Wow.  It was absolutely delicious and this one had a bite to it.  The family next to me joked that I was eating it like soup!  It's true.  There wasn't much left in the bowl when I was finished with my entree.  

I asked the owner/chef if he wouldn't mind showing me how to make his version of aji, and to my absolute delight, he did.  He took me back to his kitchen and showed me the ingredients and how he put them together.  He later came back out into the restaurant as I was writing his comments down on paper and made sure I had captured everything as he had showed me.  

It turns out that the owner/chef, Fernando, lived in the United States for several years, and attended a two-year cooking school in New York. It shows.  Fernando is a great chef and cooks with a passion that turns his food into something absolutely delicious. 

Later as we were walking off our meal, I saw a glass nativity scene in the window of one of the many shops.  We really aren't purchasing items on this trip because of our limited backpack space, but nonetheless, I decided to purchase the nativity scene.  As a result, we met Joel and his daughter.  Joel had been planting maize behind his shop when we came in, and he apologized for his dirty hands.  

We didn't mind - the nativity scene was made out of glass and could be washed one day when we unpacked the set.  Joel painstakingly wrapped each small glass object in paper and while he did, we chatted about life here in Chordeleg.  There were 6 Americans living here, Joel said, as compared to the approximately 3,000 ex-pats living in Cuenca. 

Joel had also lived in the United States, working in Long Island for 7 years/7 days a week.  I thought I had misunderstood him.  No break for 7 years?  There wasn't enough time to relax in one day, he said.  He offered us a coffee and said when we come back to Chordeleg to look him up again.  

Our experience in Chordeleg had us wanting more.  The artistic town is absolutely picturesque, the Andean mountain vistas with the sun and shadow are amazing, the food is delicious, and the people are truly gracious, kind and friendly.  

We may try to come back again to Chordeleg on December 29th, when the town is featuring a contest: who has the best looking rooster?  We'll let you know....

By the way....when we arrived at our apartment this evening, we had water!  Who knows how long it will last, but what a great end to a great day!
Chordeleg Cathedral 
A beautifully landscaped park in the main square of Chordeleg.  The fountain is unique and is comprised of cement, pottery sculptural jugs and colorful ceramic tiles.
A close-up of the fountain
One of the sides of the main square
Another side of the main square.  The town was quiet and had very little traffic.
Another side of the main square with colorful wares available
The town of Chordeleg is built on the side of a hill.  This picture illustrates the steep hill going down to the primary road into Chordeleg.
Heading down from the main square.  In addition to the hanging flower baskets, there were also silver/gold "earrings" hanging from the light poles.  I also saw smaller versions in the jewelry stores!

Delicious and hearty soup 
Main Entree: Filling and especially good with a lot of aji! 
Ecuadoran aji is very different from Colombian aji.  Here is a picture of Fernando's aji, which is tomato based with onions, peppers and cilantro.  It is absolutely delicious when spooned on rice or potatoes. 
Here is Fernando, chef/owner of Casa Vieja with his sister.  
Quiet Streets
A look down on the town from the hill above Chordeleg.  
A peek into where caskets were being made. 
Elvis has been spotted!  He's not in Graceland....he's in Chordeleg!
Color and Texture 
Colorful rocks that are a part of an outside school wall.
Strolling through the garden in the main square again.

"Air" plants growing in a palm tree 
The hibiscus trees that were in the main square garden were at least 15 feet tall and full of huge flowers. 

The following three pictures show the scenery surrounding Chordeleg as we hiked back down to the bus stop.
The light and shadow of the Southern Andes mountains

Every available plot of land is used for growing maize.  We were told by Joel that it will take 8 months before the maize will be ready to harvest and eat.  


Anonymous said...

This place sounds like heaven! The idea of quiet, beautiful and colorful is nice. I'm glad your water was turned on. I guess there's a lesson in that too: why stress over what you can't control? As long as you have moist wipes, that is.;)
Love you! Janet

Observers of Life said...

Hi Janet! We really liked the peacefulness and the artistic nature of Chordeleg. The water is still on - thankfully! Moist wipes and Febreeze have been a life saver! :) Take care!


Anonymous said...

I feel absolutely compelled to go Ecuador...Chorteleg looks awesome..I am looking to visit Cuenca and Loja next Year..cant wait to go...

LyndaS said...

Thanks for sharing your photos and story. (I especially like the photos of your meal!). I hope to visit EC someday - I have been thinking about Cuenca. Now I know to visit Chordeleg, too.

Observers of Life said...


Thanks for visiting! :) You will love Ecuador! There is so much to do/see and you can get lost exploring the towns surrounding Cuenca.

Best Regards,

Observers of Life said...

Hi Lynda!

Thanks for your comments! I hope you are able to visit Cuenca - it is a beautiful colonial city. I fell in love with Chordeleg with its friendly people, beautiful scenery and wonderful food.

Best Regards,