Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 7.8 Magnitude Earthquake in Ecuador

Last Saturday, April 16, 2016, at 6:58 PM, Mark and I were sitting in our living room when we felt a "trembler"; we get them occasionally and never think twice about them. As California natives, we don't consider them noteworthy. But this one was different -- a lot different! The trembler got more intense and then shook hard as we watched the pictures fall  from the shelves and the lamps swing back and forth. The shaking continued for a good minute. We heard children crying in our building and watched as neighbors ran out of their condo complex. The swaying of our building was a "little" unnerving as we watched other buildings do the same thing with windows bulging. 

For quite some time afterward, I still felt like I was on a roller coaster and then I turned to Mark and said,  "Wherever the epicenter is; it's going to be horrific." The "trember" turned out to be a 7.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter in Pedernales.

7.8 Magnitude Earthquake -- April 16, 2016

Mark and I have always lived in earthquake-prone areas (California, Italy and now Ecuador). We knew about Ecuador's history of earthquakes,  but we figured it came with the territory. We've actually been in two big earthquakes since we've been here (2010 and 2016).

Ecuador is in the "Ring of Fire" which is a horseshoe-shaped ring stretching from Japan and moving around to Alaska, down the coast of Washington, Oregon, California, Mexico, Central American, and South America. 

Ring of Fire 

The April 16th earthquake was the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979. 
 For the complete list of the earthquakes in Ecuador, click here

There was only minor damage experienced in Cuenca from Saturday's earthquake, but on the coast it was a different story and we're only beginning to understand the true devastation as many of the roads along the coast have been damaged, making access to some areas further inland more difficult.

To date there are 577 dead with the most casualties felt in Manta and Pedernales; 5,733 injured and 163 missing. We have friends who have been to the hardest hit areas and they can only describe it as utter devastation. Pedernales doesn't even exist any longer.

There are three zones in Ecuador:"The coast is Zone I  for earthquakes; Zone II is the Quito area in the northern Andes, which has many semi-active volcanoes; Cuenca, in the southern Andes, is in Zone III, and has not had a major earthquake in 500 years; and the Amazonias (Oriente), in eastern Ecuador is the least susceptible area to earthquakes."  No one can predict natural disasters, but if you live in Zone I and II, then you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. You have to decide if the view of the Pacific Ocean every day is going to make your life more stressful or more enjoyable. 

Ecuadorian Coastline 

We love the Ecuadorian Coast and vacation there every chance we get and we've often talked about buying a place on the coast -- like Salinas, but Saturday's earthquake pretty much sealed the deal for us. We're staying in Cuenca until God calls us home. 

After Saturday's earthquake many have asked us if we're moving back to the States and I understand their concern, but we don't scare that easily and most of our lives have been spent in earthquake-prone areas. Ecuador's earthquake has destroyed the coast and it will be years before it will be rebuilt, but the Ecuadorian people are resourceful and resilient and I know that with proper planning the new coastline will be safer and stronger. Even as recovery efforts are still ongoing, engineers are planning the next phase. We know that the structures that withstood the earthquake were made from bamboo and wood--not stone or cement. We've seen some of the plans suggested and it makes perfect sense that in the future the structures should be flexible--not rigid. 

The outpouring of support for Ecuador has been so heartwarming and the relief efforts have been nothing short of miraculous. It hasn't even been a week since the quake hit and the outpouring of support from around the world has been so encouraging. There are donation drop-off stations all over town and caravans of trucks and airplanes bring in supplies daily to the hardest hit areas, but so much more needs to be done as we're only beginning to understand the long road ahead of us.

The poorest of the poor are giving what they have to help their neighbors on the coast and this earthquake has already stretched this country that has already been knocked down by the lowering of oil prices -- Ecuador's major export. But we're like a reed bending to the force of the wind and soon we will stand tall and stronger than before.

If you would like to help with the relief efforts, there are so many organizations that are available -- from the Samaritan's Purse Ministry by Franklin Graham to Cruz Roja (Red Cross) of Ecuador --where you can make a donation. No gift is too small. 

In the meantime, if you're planning  a trip to Ecuador, don't cancel it. The coast was ravaged by this earthquake, but there are still the southern beach towns like Salinas (the little Miami of Ecuador) that was kept out of harm's way; Quito is open and ready for business; Cuenca was spared any damage; and, of course, the Galapagos Islands were completely spared. One of Ecuador's greatest sources of income is the tourism industry and want you to experience this beautiful country and its warmhearted people they way we have.
We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your love, care and concern for Ecuador and for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. 

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Connie and Mark 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What to See While You're in Cuenca!

My sister and her husband visited us for three weeks and I thought it would be a great time to introduce Question #27 from the book, Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered   --  Second Edition

We also spent three days in Guayaquil, where we visited the Botanical Gardens, Parque Historico, Malecon 2000, Samborondon, and Plaza Lagos, which was my personal favorite. 

I'll save our time in Guayaquil for another post as the majority of our time was spent in Cuenca. Stay tuned...

Question: Can you suggest some things to do while we’re in Cuenca? 

Answer: El Centro is a great place to start your visit. Parque Calderon, in the heart of the historic district, is where you can enjoy a splendid view of the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) with its pink marble pillars. On certain holidays, you can even go up to the lookout towers. Across the park from the Nueva Catedral (New Cathedral), you will find the Iglesia del Sagrario (Old Cathedral). It was built in 1557 and currently serves as a museum, housing works from colonial and contemporary artists. Occasionally, the Cuenca Symphony performs there. It is a favorite music venue because of the excellent acoustics.

Nueva Catedral

For $2.00 you can go up to the terrace of the Nueva Catedral for the best view of the city.
The staircase winds up many flights, which reminded me of the
For $2.00 you can visit the Old Cathedral, which is more like a museum filled
with artifacts and murals, including life-sized sculptures of the disciples. 

Now you can make your way over to the flower market, which is located at Sucre and Padre Aguirre next to the New Cathedral and the Carmen de la Asunción Monastery (founded in 1682). The flower market is still one of my favorite places in El Centro. And the church, Iglesia Carmen de la Asunción (Santuario Mariano) is one of the most impressive churches in Cuenca and features Baroque and Renaissance architecture.
Since it was the week of  Palm Sunday, there were lots of palms
to choose from that were woven by hand with flowers mixed in. 
Palm weaving near the Nueva Catedral

We celebrated Easter and my sister's birthday at Mansion Alcazar on
Simon Bolivar.

La Pergola -- Mansion Alcazar

Take a stroll down Calle Larga (the longest street in the city) and enjoy some of the best restaurants and hotels in Cuenca. Off the main street, you will find the Barranco district—the cliff overlooking the River Tomebamba where 120 of the oldest structures in the city are located. At night, the lights and bridges make it a spectacular photo spot.

Calle Larga

Other areas to visit are:

Mirador de Turi. The double-decker tour buses leave from Parque Calderon next to the Old Cathedral and take you through the city up to Turi where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Day and night tours are available.
The church of Turi (which means brother in Quichua) was built in 1930. You can approach the viewpoint via the Turi steps, which are always an option to bring you to the top; plan on a few stops, though, as the steps are steep. While in Turi, you can visit the lovely restaurant and souvenir shop.
Turi is also the home of Eduardo Vega, the world-renowned ceramicist, who not only has residence there, but also his work studio. Cost to visit the studio is free (minus the souvenirs you'll want to buy). 

It's more fun to take the yellow or red tour bus up to Turi, but if you want to save $5.00
you can take one of the blue buses for 25-cents that says "Turi" or "Tres Puentes."
My sister and her hubby at the Mirador de Turi.

Iglesia de Turi

Eduardo Vega's Studio on the road to the Mirador. It's a great place to buy souvenirs.

Eduardo Vega was kind enough to pose for a picture with us. 

Pumapungo Museum: Pumapungo is an archaeological museum located in Cuenca’s historic district at Calle Larga and Huayna Capac Streets, next to the Banco Central. The museum is spectacular and even has a collection of shrunken heads. The Temple of the Sun and the Convent of the Sun Virgins, which were all part of one of the most important and beautiful cities of the ancient Incan Empire, are located just outside the museum.

Entrance to the Pumapungo Museum 
Pumapungo Runins 

Pumapungo Ruins and Garden 

Following a trail down a flight of stairs, you’ll reach a bird sanctuary and park where you can enjoy some of Ecuador’s most exotic birds.

Look-out Tower 

Some of the exotic birds at the Pumapungo Park

The Belgium Waffle Guys were closed the day we went. They are open Thursday - Sunday.
By now, you might need a break and a snack. Enjoy a waffle from the Belgian Waffle Guys, who have a restaurant in the park.
Other notable museums are the Aboriginal Cultural Museum (Calle Larga and Mariano Cueva), the Monasterio de las Conceptas (Juan Jaramillo and Presidente Cordova), and the Museum of Modern Art (Mariscal Sucre and Colonel Talbot). When visiting the art museum, take time for lunch at San Sebas Café in the plaza.
Aguas Termales de Baños (the town with the thermal baths). No trip to Cuenca is complete without a trip to Baños and the thermal baths. Hostels and spas offer volcanic mud and vaporized massage services. Located fifteen minutes outside of Cuenca, these hot springs rise from a geological fault named Loma de los Hervideros. Our favorite is Piedra de Agua, which has a lovely restaurant, three pools, mud baths, underground caves, and spa services in a tranquil setting. On Tuesdays, Piedra de Agua features an international visitor’s special—two-for-one—which includes all the spa amenities, including the mud baths, underground pools, and saunas. With the special, the price is only $16 per person.
Other notable favorites are NovaAqua (the newest “pool” on the block) and Hosteria Duran, which has turco baths, a hostel, and a restaurant.
Amaru Zoo. If you’re traveling with children, you have to visit Amaru, which is on the Cuenca-Azogues Highway (Km 10). It’s a bio park built along the mountainside and has cultural activities for kids, along with flower and amphibian reserves. Allow at least two hours.
Chordeleg, Gualaceo, and Paute. For day trips, you have to visit Gualaceo where leather goods are made: shoes, purses, and jackets. On the way into Gualaceo, there’s also the Orchid Factory (as I call it)— Ecuagenera,  where you can see hundreds of different varieties of orchids in all stages of development. Also, if you would like to spend the night in Gualaceo, we highly recommend Hosteria Santa Barbara, which is a palm-tree lined oasis and resort facility.
Chordeleg is known for its silver and gold jewelry, which you pay for by the ounce. If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home, this is the place to pick them up.
Paute is a great place to have a picnic lunch along the river. The weather there is warmer than in Cuenca, and the view is amazing. In fact, many expats relocate from Cuenca to Paute to live in the country and escape city life.
Longer day trips include. Ingapirca, Cajas National Park (up to 15,000 feet) with lunch at the Dos Chorreras Lodge (awesome fresh trout), Giron Waterfalls, and Yunguilla Valley. One of our favorite places to stay is Jardin del Valle in Yunguilla, which is relaxing and exotic; the lovely Bambu Restaurant is nearby.

My sister and her husband loved Cuenca so much -- they'll be back! 

Waterfalls going over the Cajas

Dos Chorreras (Two Waterfalls) 

Roadside company!

Dos Chorreras Lodge

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Connie & Mark 

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