Postcards from Ecuador – Quito’s Church of San Francisco

Diplomonkey has been on the move once again throughout the Andes.  One of his latest sojourns has been through Quito in Republic of Ecuador; and just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July at U.S. Embassy Quito and even run into the Holy Father (i.e., the Pope) at the airport.

Quito's Church and Convent of San Francisco.

Quito’s Church and Convent of San Francisco.

View of the Jesuit Church of the Company as seen from San Francisco Church and Convent.

View of the Jesuit Church of the Company as seen from Quito’s San Francisco Church and Convent.

Interior dome and main altar of Quito's Church and Convent of San Francisco.

Interior dome and main altar of Quito’s baroque Church and Convent of San Francisco.

Quito is one of Diplomonkey’s favorite towns.  Rich in very well preserved Spanish colonial architecture, Quito offers incredible sights and sounds.  Nice people, good food, and a relaxed pace make Quito an excellent place to visit, and in Diplomonkey’s case also work.

Pulpit in Quito's Church and Convent of San Francisco.

Carved wooden pulpit in Quito’s Church and Convent of San Francisco.

Woman with Hats.

Woman with Hats.

Older Woman looking at Belts

Old Woman with Hat.

Enjoy the sights.

Cheers!

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Postcard from Peru: Quilmana, Canete 140 Kilometers and a World Away from Lima

Okay so the fog season has started, albeit with a slight delay.  Time to get out of Lima even if for a day.  Hop into the office car to seek sunshine afar. LOL

Quilmana, Canete Donkey Powered Cart

Quilmana, Canete Donkey Powered Cart

The cool thing about being posted to U.S. Embassy Lima, inspite of the opportunity to engage in some really poor rhyme making, is the possibility to go out and experience the countryside.  So last week, with the interns in tow, Diplomonkey headed out to Quilmana, Canete about 140 kilometers from Lima on the Pan American South highway (i.e., the Panamericana Sur).

Quilmana Moto Taxi

Quilmana Moto Taxi

Canete Corn Field

Canete Corn Field

Weather clears up a bit, but the fog does linger; which makes for some moody pictures.  Sorry no rhyme there.

Canete, Peru #2

Canete, Peru #2

Garbage Collectors in Canete

Garbage Collectors in Canete

Anyhow enjoy this new series of postcards from Peru.  Get out of Lima and see something different.

Cheers!

Home Again, Off Again…

Okay so the hours are long, the workload heavy, the time spent away from family painful; fortunately the work remains rewarding and wifie has not (yet) changed the locks on the front door.

Banana1

Rice field and shack outside of Babahoyo, Ecuador.

As a Foreign Service Officer, I must explore the countryside, engage with people, and report on new things.  These are requirements that appeal however to Diplomonkey’s inner Viking’s wunder lust.

In recent travel to Ecuador alone, I have seen the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano towering over the cloud line to shrimp and tilapia farms along the Guayas River to even Arabian pure breed horses in lush mountain pastures 3,000 meters above sea level (far removed from the burning sands of their origin in the Arabian peninsula).

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano and Quito.

Arabian Horses at Altitude.

Arabian Horses at Altitude.

Bulls Up High.

Bulls on up High.

At the same time, I have walked along the route that Francisco de Orellana took in the sixteenth century when he set out to explore and conquer the Amazon.  Pretty cool, but surreal nonetheless (can you say Indiana Jones).

Francisco de Orellana

Statute of Francisco de Orellana, Spanish Explorer and Conquistador.

Camino de los Conquistadores

Walking in the Footsteps of Orellana along the Camino de los Conquistadores.

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guapulo and Convent - or simply the Guapulo Church

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guapulo and Convent – or simply the Guapulo Church.

Anyhow, it’s off to Texas and Florida again in a couple of weeks to look at cattle for export to South America.  In the meantime, to make amends while still in Lima I will make wifie a Chilcano with ginger syrup tonight.  For the more adventurous, the recipe follows.  Cheers from Lima.

Ingredients:

  • One jigger Peruvian Pisco (use the Mosto Verde – Torontel variety if possible)
  • Half a jigger of Ginger syrup
  • A dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Juice of half a Peruvian lime (somewhat similar to a large key lime), leave the seeds that fall in for effect
  • Top off with Ginger Ale (about three jigger’s worth)
  • Add an ice-cube or two and gently stir.

Home for Christmas

JackJack this year asked Santa for a trip home for Christmas.  With the request in hand, the senior simian drafts his official decision memo, attaching a notional schedule of course, and moves forward the packet of documents in bureaucratically efficient and expeditious manner.

With the R&R travel request approved, Captain Jack and the rest of the intrepid diplomatic simian crew hop onboard LAN Peru’s (Boeing 767) Lima-Miami flight (American Airlines code-share) for a stateside break – U.S. Embassy Lima’s Santa delivered, we are so grateful.

Santa at U.S. Embassy Lima

Waiting for Santa at U.S. Embassy Lima.

Beach outings along with seaside discussions about shadows and the wonders of Portuguese man o’ wars follow spectacular breakfasts not just at Starbucks, but also at Another Broken Egg Cafe – great Bloody Mary’s and crab cake stacks, if I dare to say so myself.

Bare Foot Diplomat

The Barefoot Diplomat and Son.

Portuguese man o'war: looks like an empanada, stings like a million bees.

Portuguese man o’war: looks like an empanada, but stings like a million bees.

Nothing says Florida like a shared sunrise with its true natives, even if in suburban Palm Beach County.

Sunrise in Wakodahatchee

Sunrise in the Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Wally Gator

Wakodahatchee Wetland’s “Wally the Gator”

For the record, for me home is Florida despite the years spent in Virginia and my ties to the Commonwealth.  Life is good in Florida, go Gators.

Cheers!

Arequipa: Quinoa, Cochineal, and Alpaca Pizza along with a Russian Hind Helicopter

Diplomonkey is on the move again this week heading out to Arequipa, a thousand kilometers south of Lima and a world apart. There is nothing like a 4:00 a.m. pickup for a 6:45 a.m. flight, fortunately there is always Starbucks coffee at Lima’s airport to brighten Diplomonkey’s morning. Yippy!

The early morning flight on LAN airways is not bad, nice plane (even for an Airbus) and a friendly crew, which is always a plus even on short flights. More interesting however is the view from 36,000 feet. The terrain from the air is wildly tortured; punctuated by mountains that seem to grow on top of each other only to be separated by unbelievably deep gorges. Peru is a truly a land ripped asunder by the ancient Titans.

Arequipa 6

Approach to Arequipa

 Dry, sunny Arequipa is a welcoming city set at respectable 2,328 meters (7,638 feet) above sea level.  It is a charming city full of interesting sights and sounds.

Arequipa 7

Arequipa Street Scene – Arequipa Women

Arequipa Fire Truck

Arequipa Street Scene – Yellow Fire Truck

A city since the days of King Charles I of Spain, Arequipa retains much of its colonial legacy intact (some 332 hectares). Work, alas demands that Diplomonkey leave exploration of the city for later in evening.

There is however time for a quick Starbucks mocha coffee stop on the way out-of-town. A treat made all that sweeter by affording Diplomonkey a glimpse of a condor basking in the sun on a neighboring water tower.

Outside of Arequipa, Diplomonkey hits the Pan American Highway. His drive south takes him along the Cerro Verde mine’s side roads; roadways populated with heavy trucks, tunnel construction, and even llama crossings.

Arequipa 9

Beware, Llama Crossing

Off the sierra and on the coastal plain, Diplomonkey visits quinoa plantations and a cactus farm where cacti pads are purposefully infected with cochineals (a sessile parasite) that produces the crimson-colored natural dye carmine (both used as a food coloring and in cosmetics such as lipstick). For those inclined to know more, here is the Wikipedia cochineal link.

Cactus infected with cochineal

Cochineal-infested Cacti

Cochineal buggies, before...

Cochineal buggies, before…

Cochineal buggies, ...and after.

…and after.

In a day just full of treats, Diplomonkey even gets buzzed by one of Peru’s Russian-made Mil Mi-25d Hind helicopters operating out of La Joya. Oh what a treat, so much fun.

Peruvian Air Force Hind  Helicopter

Peruvian Air Force Hind Helicopter

Harvesting Quinoa by Hand

Harvesting Quinoa by Hand

Women Threshing Quinoa by Hand

Threshing Quinoa by Hand

Arequipa 13

Road back to Arequipa – Chachani and Surrounding Peaks

With work done and the sun quickly setting, Diplomonkey starts back up the mountain. Two hours later, Diplomonkey checks into his Arequipa hotel. A quick call to wifie to see how she, the Samster, and JackJack are doing is followed by exploration of Arequipa’s historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Wrapping up the evening is a late night dinner of alpaca Carpaccio pizza and a Pisco Chilcano with extra ginger root at one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants.

Arequipa Cathedral

Arequipa Street Scene – Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary

Diplomonkey’s stay in Arequipa, only a day and a half, is too short. He plans to return with the family in tow next time.   As he boards his return flight to Lima, Diplomonkey makes a mental note to recommend to any would be Peru explorer to add Arequipa to their visit to do list.

Cheers.

Diplomonkey’s Quito Adventures

Just back from stateside travel, Diplomonkey is required once again to travel, this time north to Ecuador. Yippee! The adage goes that there is no rest for the wicked; and old Diplomonkey is such a wicked little monkey – no bananas for you today, buddy boy.

So despite being home for less than a week, and that after nearly three weeks on the road, Diplomonkey heads out to Lima’s airport at dawn on a fine Sunday morning to catch a flight to white country map-land as eldest son Samtser refers to Peru’s northern neighbor. Why does Carmina Burana: O Fortuna roll around Diplomonkey’s noggin?

An unexpectedly quick, but still hour-long drive to the airport is followed by an hour-long wait to check in his bag. It seems that the traffic absent on Lima’s streets decided that Sunday morning to congregate in the Lima airport terminal. Oh well.

Fortunately there’s just enough time left before boarding to make a quick stop at Starbucks; ah the siren song of mocha coffee tempts Diplomonkey.

Starbucks Mocha Coffee

Starbucks Mocha Coffee and Alfajor

Fortified however by great coffee and an alfajor, Diplomonkey like an elephant in a china shop bursts through the ranks of massed well-wishers anxiously waving kinsfolk, friends, and significant others off to clear the security picket. At immigrations he is greeted by a somber official and given the de rigueur bureaucratic stare down. Not deterred, Diplomonkey pleasantly smiles and bids the straight-laced Ms. Bureaucrat a fond Starbucks mocha coffee-laden farewell. Ah the joys of another travel day.

Airborne, Diplomonkey sees Lima quickly fade away as his plane heads out over the Pacific and then northwards along the coast.

Peru's Northern Coast

Peru’s Northern Coast

He stares out his window and beholds a tawny-colored arid coastal plain sandwiched between a deep blue-colored ocean and the white snow-capped peaks of the Andes in the distance.

The rarefied air at 35,000 feet always makes Diplomonkey wonder at how fortunate he is to have such a great career.

By late afternoon Diplomonkey makes it out to Quito and his home-away-from-home favorite hotel with its view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Quito City in the Shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano

Picking up a city map at the front desk and grabbing his trusty iPhone and well-traveled Nikon D-70, Diplomonkey heads out in search of Quito’s famed native handicrafts market – a leisurely twenty-minute walk down the road.

Quito Craft Market Seller 1

Quito Craft Market Woman

Quito Craft Market 2

Quito Craft Market Women 

Quito Craft Market 3

Quito Craft Market – Buyers and Sellers

Quito craft Market 4

Quito Craft Market – Pan Flute Player and Wares

At the market, on Calle Jorge Washington (i.e., George Washington street), Diplomonkey sees cool handicrafts. Limited funds, and even less free bag space, will limit purchases on this trip.  Diplomonkey realizes that retail therapy must be kept at a bare minimum, with photographinating compensating for the purchasing shortfall. Ah the joys of Chimping in one of Diplomonkey’s favorite Andean cities!

Quito Craft Market - Local Cloth

Quito Craft Market – Local Cloth

EQT 4

Quito Craft Market – Cotopaxi Volcano Painting

Masks

Quito Craft Market – Local Animal Spirit Masks

Cheers!

Of Bulls, Heifers and Cold Beer

With negotiations and consultations now behind him, Diplomonkey hits the road to Florida by dawn’s early light.  Thanks to United Airline’s really nice counter person at Reagan (DCA), who went out of her way to help, Diplomonkey catches his Orlando via Newark flight.  The logistics of going north to go south are just astounding.

Dry Aged Beef

USDA Prime Beef Slab

In Newark, Diplomonkey gets to double dip; he gets both his Starbucks fix and salivates over Gallaghers’ meaty, 21-day old dry aged USDA prime beef slabs on display.  Although torturous, this is nothing less than a favorable omen for such a nomadic, unrepentant carnivore.

Cheerfully boarding his southbound flight, Diplomonkey catches up on Top Gear episodes, orders a Tapas box and red wine; ah life is good.  But Diplomonkey knows all to well that the respite at 35,000 feet is short-lived, for it marks the start of ten straight days of twelve-hour plus workdays.

Reaching Mickey Mouse country, Orlando for the uninitiated in all things Disney, Diplomonkey heads off to one of Florida’s largest cattle ranches.  Here he meets astoundingly gentle giants which act more like pampered farm dogs than thousand pound plus medium-frame young bulls.  They also crap prolifically, much like their extinct Aurochs forebears, so mind your step, and theirs when around them.

Little Big Bulls

Little Big Bulls – Florida Brahmans

Avoiding being crushed by these beasties, as well as not stepping in their poop, is no small matter.  It builds up a hearty appetite for, do I dare say…beef.  But lo and behold, there is no beef for Diplomonkey that night since he dillydallies at the ranch immersed in the talk of cattle.

 

Florida Cattle at Sunset

Florida Cattle at Sunset

Red Brangus at Sunset

Red Brangus at Sunset

So poor Diplomonkey eases his hunger that evening with something other than beef.  He ambles à la John Wayne into the first late night open eatery available and orders the special – all you can eat pork ribs, as well as quench his thirst with well-chilled Yuengling beer (from America’s oldest brewery, of course).

 

Diplomonkey volunteers to his traveling companions that he is courageously taking one for the team; to prove that there is no trichinae in the U.S. pork.  The sacrifices we make. Thank you, please I will have some more Porky Pig.

 

Service Animal/ Pet Relief Area

Service Animal/ Pet Relief Area

Travel to Madison, Wisconsin via Detroit (DTW), the latter of which has a great, animal friendly airport, follow visits to Orlando and Gainesville.  For those that have served in the Middle East and traveled with four-legged hairy buddies, this sort of attention is always a big deal.  But old Diplomonkey, who misses family and dog, digresses.

 

Holsteins

Holstein Cows

Early morning meetings follow a midnight arrival in Madison, as well a visit to the Wisconsin World Dairy Expo.  Again Diplomonkey sees spectacular animals and meets wonderful people.  But the hunger for beef grows by the minute; bananas are just not quite doing it for him any longer.

 

So with his erstwhile companions in tow, Diplomonkey heads out that evening in search of animal protein matter, preferably bovine.  Across from the state capitol, at Madison’s Old Fashion restaurant, Diplomonkey comes across one of the best burgers and fries that he has ever had and to top it off great local IPA.

 

Capitol Building - Madison, Wisconsin

Capitol Building – Madison, Wisconsin

In the course of the evening not only does Diplomonkey convert his South American pilsner drinking traveling companions to the wonders of American IPA, but also exposes them to that great American spirit known as bourbon – yes, culinary diplomacy at its finest.

 

Departing Madison for Texas fortified by beef, excellent IPA, and outfitted in a new green John Deere cap, as well as with some great hometown Landjäger sausage in his pack, Diplomonkey is oh so happy.

 

Houston's Moonwalker

Houston’s Moonwalker

Greeted in the late evening by Houston’s Moonwaker, Diplomonkey’s travel through the great state of Texas is a blur; one day in Houston followed by another in Madisonville and then two nights in College Station before returning once again to Houston.

But the hunger for beef remains, one that cannot be satiated by salmon or pork chops no matter how delicious.  Where is my sirloin, my rib-eye steak, how about my Texas brisket?

Diplomonkey discovers that just outside of College Station, stands the town of Snook, home of Sodolak’s Original Country Inn and its Texas size steaks and burgers.  One of the companions, Andy, in all honestly went to Texas A&M and recommended that we stop here to partake of excellent, bountiful, and affordable steaks.  Coming off the farm from late evening meetings, we barely beat the closing time clock and place our orders.

 

19 Ounces Texas Lucy

From Andy’s build up, Diplomonkey realized that this would not be a ramen noodle sort of night, but rather an orgy of beef.  The small sirloin steak (let’s call her Texas Lucy, heifer flesh always taste better if it has a name) weighs in alone at nineteen ounces.  And for good measure, a can of ice-cold Lone Star beer makes Lucy’s taste all that better.

Steak, two sides, Texas toast and local beer plus tip, came out to less than twenty-five bucks.  Proof positive that life on per diem is possible if you know how to look. They advertise orders to go; dreamily Diplomonkey wonders if the delivery area could include Peru.

Brahman Bull Wash

At the Brahman Bull Wash

Texas A&M Summer Sausage

Texas A&M Summer Sausage

Texas A&M, like the state of Texas, is a huge but friendly place.  Diplomonkey sees state of the art teaching and processing facilities, meets wonderful, capable professionals and academics. The Rosenthal Meat Center’s beef, pork, and lamb offerings, especially the summer football sausage sorely tempts Diplomonkey with its fleshy bounty.  Unfortunately Diplomonkey has no way to transport any frozen or chilled meat back to Lima – next time he will come better prepared.

So pleased is Diplomonkey with his Texas A&M visit, that despite being a Hoya, he caves in and buys Aggies memorabilia for the little dudes.  Sorry wifie and other fellow Hoyas, just in case the kiddies one day decide to go study agricultural economics and eat beef out there.

In any, case, that evening Texas brisket Bambi follows her rib-eye steak little sister (that’s Ms. Betsy) devoured earlier by Diplomonkey at lunchtime.  A truly memorable occasion scouting out animals for export.

 

Cheers.