Monthly Archive: July 2014

Galapagos – Santa Cruz

We are back on mainland Ecuador after an awesome week in the Galapagos with Jennifer!  With so many experiences and cool animals, I’m breaking our trip into 2 different posts – one for each island we stayed on.

We flew from Guayaquil to Baltra – a tiny island in the Galapagos with just the airport.


To get to Santa Cruz, the most populated island, we had to take a bus and a ferry and then another bus and a taxi to get to our hostel in the largest town, Puerto Ayora.  After checking in, we explored town and went to the Darwin Research Center and saw a ton of huge tortoises!  Besides the giant tortoises, the center was a bit of a let down – we didn’t see too many other cool animals except a land iguana.

Erin with turtles

Darwin Center Turtles

Land iguana

The cool part about the Santa Cruz (and Isabela, the other island we stayed on) was just walking down the street and seeing a bunch of iguanas on the dock, pelicans trying to steal fish or sea lions taking a nap.



Seal on Santa Cruz

Most of the meals we ate on Santa Cruz were consumed on what we called “cheap street”.  There was a street a few blocks off the main drag that had typical cheap almuerzos (lunch specials) and at night, the little restaurants pulled tables out into the street and the atmosphere was really fun!

Cheap Street

After we got back from spending a few days on Isabela (more on that in a day or two), we explored Santa Cruz a little more.  We visited Las Grietas, a really cool swimming hole in the middle of tall cliffs.  Both Jen and I climbed about half way up and jumped in – the second picture is Jen’s blurry cannonball!

Las Gritas

Jen's Cannonball

We also visited the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen – Tortuga Bay.  It was a bit of a hike to get to, but breathtaking.  There were tons of cool cactus trees around it and of course, more iguanas.  Brandon and I took a kayak out on the water to try to spot more wild life but only saw fish and a sea lion darting around.

Brandon and Iguanas

Tortuga Bay

B&E on beach

Brandon Kayaking

More Tortuga Bay

Home sweet home Cuenca

Curious where we stayed in Cuenca?  We rented in a studio in the city center that we found on AirBnB for a month and it was awesome!  The location was great – only 4 blocks to our school – and walking distance to just about everything else we needed.  We were really surprised by all the nice finishes and the kitchen had everything we needed, even a really nice blender for making fresh juices.  Below are a few pictures of the place.

PS – We just got back to mainland Ecuador after an amazing week in the Galapagos.  We’ll be posting pictures in the next day or two of our trip!

One wall of the apartment was all windows - this was the view!

One wall of the apartment was all windows – this was the view!

A little dark because of all the light outside - but here's the kitchen table.

A little dark because of all the light outside – but here’s the kitchen table.

The kitchen was great!  You had to use a lighter to light the oven though so you can guess how many times we used it (0-I was too scared!)

The kitchen was great! You had to use a lighter to light the oven though, so you can guess how many times we used it (0 – I was too scared!)

We had a huge couch to lounge on.

We had a huge couch to lounge on.

The apartment actually had two beds so was perfect for when Jen visited.

The apartment actually had two beds so was perfect for when Jen visited.

And we had a huge cabinet to store our stuff.

And we had a huge cabinet to store our stuff.

Pretty standard - but nice - bathroom.

Pretty standard – but nice – bathroom.

Food in Cuenca

Cuenca has a lot of typical dishes that we’ve been making sure that Jen tries this week.  Of course we went to one of the markets for fresh juice but we also had some roasted pork – complete with crispy skin.

Lunch at the MarketPlate of PorkPork

Most restaurants in Cuenca have a multi-course lunch special for between $2 and $4.  We splurged and took her to a $3.50 place.  Most specials start with some popcorn or mote (cooked corn kernels, similar to hominy) and a soup.  Our soup was chicken vegetable.

First Course

The main course is almost always rice, protein, vegetables (usually corn or some kind of potato) and a piece of fried plantain.  Our main was chicken fingers with rice and a salad of corn and beans.  The chicken was awesome!  A typical condiment served with meals here is a spicy sauce called aji.  You also always get a glass of fresh juice.  Some places will give a small dessert at the end – this restaurant had small dishes of apples stewed with cinnamon.


Brandon and I also tried our hand at cooking a few traditional dishes for Jen.  My food photography skills are not stellar – but I promise these all tasted good!  We made chifles (Brandon’s specialty) which are just plantain chips served with a salsa that I think I’ve made a dozen times now – it’s so easy!  1 red onion, 1 green or red pepper, 1 hot pepper, cilantro, juice of 1 lime, a little salt and a little oil – and that’s it!  You’ll see it along side all of our Ecuadorian experiments.


We also made a few egg dishes.  This one is called tigrillo. It is boiled and mashed plantain cooked with scrambled eggs and cheese.


And this is my favorite – mote pillo.  I made this mote pillo by just sauteing green onions and mote and then adding in a few eggs and cheese.  Of course with salsa on top!

Mote Pillo

And a visit to Cuenca wouldn’t be complete without at least one stop at one of the many heladerias (ice cream shops).  There’s a shop called Mixx that had my favorite flavor combo – chocolate ice cream with chocolate cake in it with a scoop of Bailey’s ice cream on top!


Parks, Museums and Jennifer!

My little sister Jennifer arrived on Tuesday to hang out with us for two weeks!  Besides bringing us a few requested items (peanut butter, peanut butter M&M’s, new fitbit for Brandon) she surprised us with some Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn!  It didn’t last long.


We’ve been showing her around Cuenca and taking her to some of the museums and parks in the area.  There are a ton of museums in Cuenca and almost all of them are free.  My favorites are the Museum of Modern Art and Banco Central.  Banco Central is the largest museum and has a bunch of stuff in it including art, the history of the different cultures in Ecuador, and money in Ecuador.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Banco Central

Behind Banco Central is an Incan ruin called Pumapungo.  It’s pretty big and besides the ruins, has a lot of different plants and animals.

Pumapungo from the top

Me in Pumapungo

Brandon in Pumapungo

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that my favorite part of Pumapungo is the Belgium Waffle stand hidden in the trees.


We also went and checked out some more Incan ruins a few hours outside of Cuenca called Ingapirca.

B&E with J at Ingapirca

Sun Temple at Ingapirca

We hiked to a hill behind the ruins to see what we deemed the Original Mt Rushmore.  Can you see the “Inca Face”?

Inca Face

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping in Cuenca is a bit different than in the U.S.  There are a few grocery stores here that look just like a typical grocery store in the U.S. but for the most part, the grocery stores in the city center are small and have a large selection of dry goods and then smaller (or non-existent) sections of refrigerated goods, fruits, and veggies.  The place to go to buy your fruit, vegetables and meat is one of the “open air” markets.  There are a two that are within walking distance of our apartment, but one that we like more than the other.

Outside of Market

The inside is very clean and open and it is organized by levels.  Fruit and veggies on the main floor, meat downstairs and prepared food booths upstairs.

Market 1

Market 2

The juices here are awesome and made fresh right before your eyes.  A glass (and not a small one) of fresh juice will run you $.50 – $1.

Juice at Market

On the fruit and veggie floor, we usually go from booth to booth asking prices and checking out which produce looks good.  There are different varieties of produce than we have in the U.S. and quite a few different fruits that they only use for juicing.


Here’s a blurry shot of me negotiating, which is definitely part of the shopping experience.


Because the markets are so close to us, we usually end up going 2-3 times a week to pick up exactly what we need for cooking and snacking.  Here’s an example of a grocery haul from a few days ago.


We paid a total of $5.25 this time.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1 pineapple for $1
  • 10 bananas for $.50
  • 3 green plantains for $.50
  • a bag of onions ~10 for $.50
  • a bag of green peppers ~7 for $.50
  • a bag of hot peppers ~10 for $.50
  • a bag of limes ~12 for $.50
  • a bag of tomatoes ~5 for $.50
  • a bunch of green onions for $.25
  • a bunch of cilantro for $.25
  • a bag of garlic ~12 peeled cloves for $.25

Most of the produce stands sell bags of produce for $.50 to $1.  A lot of the vegetables are $.50/bag and the fruit $1/bag but it just depends on what is in season and who is giving you the price.  We probably are getting “gringo prices” on some of the stuff, but we honestly don’t mind because it still seems pretty cheap to us!