El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Baños de Agua Santa

By Jill Sare

Just three and a half hours from Quito, yet a world away, Baños de Agua Santa is a popular destination for every kind of tourist and part of a larger Andes-Amazon traveling circuit.

Baños is known not only as a place of religious pilgrimage and a haven for health and healing, but due to the surrounding natural wonders, it is a popular jumping-off point for adventure sports and great hiking.

A well-developed tourist infrastructure in Baños provides a myriad of lodging and dining options, numerous handicraft shops and a lively bar scene.

Along the way

Part of the charm of Baños is simply getting there. The three-hour drive from Quito offers a trip through the Avenue of the Volcanoes where you pass Ecuador's tallest peaks: Cotopaxi (5,897 meters), the Illinizas (South peak: 5,230 meters), and Chimborazo (6,310 meters).

You can stop at one of the traditional markets along the way - Pujilí on Wednesdays and Sundays and Saquisilí on Thursdays - and enjoy a variety of national cuisine such as the chugchucaras in Latacunga, helados (ice cream) from Salcedo, and the colada morada and the famous bread of Pinllo, served all year long.

Once you arrive in Baños choose from adventure, relaxation, or a cultural encounter among the rich attractions of the town.


Baños lives up to its slogan, "Un Pedazo de Cielo" (A Piece of Heaven). Nestled in a bowl-like valley at an altitude of 1,800 meters (5,850 ft), Ecuador's adventure capital boasts a year-round, spring-like climate.

From everywhere in town visitors can admire the "Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen," (Cascading Hair of the Virgin) waterfall. Green hillsides beckon trekkers to the well-marked trails that promise breathtaking vistas. And any of the numerous tour operators can arrange for a river-rafting expedition, a bungee jump from a local bridge ("puenting"), or a rappelling adventure down a waterfall gorge ("canyoning").

Many tourists rent bicycles and ride down the "Ruta de las Cascadas" (Waterfall route), which follows the Pastaza River and offers views of stunning waterfalls along the way. Stop to take a "tarabita" cable car across the river or clip on a harness and fly along a canopy zip line.

Other great pasttimes in Baños include a hike to the base of the powerful "Pailon del Diablo" (The Devil's Cauldron Falls) and a refreshing dip in "El Rocio" Falls near Machay.

Admire the view from the "Madre Tierra" (Mother Earth) lookout where the river widens as it flows to the Amazon Basin. After an exhilarating 4-6 hour downhill ride, tired cyclists can load their bikes on a truck or bus to head back up to Baños. Less athletic visitors can visit the Waterfall Route via open-sided wooden buses, better known as "chivas."


At the end of a day of hiking, biking or adrenaline sports there is nothing better than a soak in La Virgen hot baths at the base of the waterfall (every day until 4:00 p.m. and again from 6:00 -9:00 p.m.). Or visit the mineral rich thermal pools at El Salado, nestled in the Bascun River Valley, a 20-minute uphill walk from town. The Salado baths are open daily from 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and are located at the base of the frequently active Tungurahua Volcano (5,023 meters / 16,480 feet). The Santa Ana baths offer hot, warm and cold pools in a lovely natural setting located just east of town (open Friday through Sunday). La Moderna is a large in-town complex with water slides and warm and cold pools (open only on the weekends). In addition, the Santa Clara public swimming pool has just been remodeled.

If those aching muscles require more than just a soak or a swim, Baños also offers a wealth of spa treatments, from healing mud packs and ionized foot detoxification baths to ear candling and facials. Individual steam boxes called "Baños de Cajón" are also very popular. All around town you can find many types of massages while the larger hotels offer full spa facilities. Two popular places for a secluded treat are Luna Run Tun and Samari Spa.

The Cultural Beat

"El Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa" is the official name of the Baños Catholic Church. Hordes of faithful worshippers come to visit and give thanks to the Virgin of Agua Santa. The walls of the sanctuary are lined with paintings depicting miracles attributed to the Virgin. During Carnaval the town fills to capacity as both national and foreign tourists arrive en masse; the colorful indigenous dress mingles with all-too-common backpacker garb.

The cloisters beside the church house a small museum which includes a surprising array of folk art and the ample wardrobe of the Statue of the Virgin.

November 2, "Día de los Difuntos," or All Souls' Day is also a busy time in Baños as families pay homage to their ancestors. In early December the Fiestas de Baños are celebrated with parades, fireworks and go-kart races.

Children will enjoy a ride on the whimsical "Gusano" Bus or a visit to the Baños Zoo. Perched on the edge of the San Martin Gorge, the zoo makes use of the hilly terrain to create natural animal enclosures. Just across the road is a Serpentarium and Reptile house. Visitors can admire the rushing river below from several lookout points, ride across in a cable car or take a canopy zip line flight.

"Pacha Mama" has graced this magical place with vivid representations of the four elements: Winds sweep up from the Amazon Basin. Water is everywhere – falling, surging, shaping and carving the terrain. The land is rich with agricultural bounty, the green patchwork hillsides yielding exotic fruits. And fire explodes upwards from Mama Tungurahua, offering breathtaking sights, sounds and sensations. Her powerful volcanic activity is but one of the many attractions that draw visitors to this pocket of paradise that is Baños.

Where to Stay:

Luna Run Tun, www.lunaruntun.com

Posada del Arte,www.posadadelarte.com

Magic Stone, www.magicstonebanos.com

Hotel Sangay, www.sangayspahotel.com

Samari Spa, www.samarispa.com

Where to Eat:

Swiss Bistro, www.swissbistro.com

Samurai Sushi, www.samuraisushibanos.com

Café de Marianne, Avenidas Montalvo y Halflants

Where to Heal:

El Refugio, www.spaecuador.com

Monte Selva, www.monteselvaecuador.com

Spa Gamboa, www.gamboaspa.com

The new wine culture of Ecuador

By Lance Brashea

Estella de Frutos, the representative of Uruguay Wines at the Gala de Vino III Exposition in Quito this past October was asked what she thought about Ecuadorian wine. This was her response:

"For me, it deserves an honor. It is exciting.” She shared her encounter with a local winery, Chaupi Estancia, where she discovered a Palomino variety. "This means a lot for the history of wine in South America because in the history of wine it is said that the Spanish conquest introduced wine in Peru, which was the head of the empire. From there it descended to what is now Chile and Argentina. If there was Palomino in Ecuador it means the grapes also traveled north. From a cultural point of view this is very important. Here there is a wine culture."

The Gala de Vino, an event sponsored by the Cofradia de Vino - a non-profit organization that promotes wine in Ecuador - is one of the most important manifestations of Ecuador's developing wine culture.

Wine was first produced in Ecuador almost 500 years ago. Documentation shows that wine-producing grapes arrived to Ecuador in the 16th century, but production was halted early in Ecuador's history only to resume seriously again in the 1990s. Since then people like Estella de Frutos have begun to take notice of the increasing importance of wine in Ecuador and of Ecuador in the world of wine.


Today Ecuador has several local wine producers but production of wine at the Equator remains very modest. The majority of wine consumption in the country comes from imported products, a business that began roughly in the 1950s.

Felipe Cordovez, General Manager of Cordovez S.A., one of Ecuador's oldest and largest importers of wine and liquor, marks the true start of today's wine culture at the turn of the 21st century, a result of the economic situation of the day. Cordovez says sales of imported wines increased steadily at about 20% a year for almost a decade starting in 1999. And then starting in 2005 the industry saw a pronounced increase in the sale of expensive and high quality wines.

He attributes the change to Ecuador's currency conversion to the U.S. dollar in the Spring of 2000. Cordovez says it brought a measure of stability such that importers could more easily issue credit, manage prices, and even start a business. Additionally, he says, "Wine developed in an environment of restaurants and gastronomy…since 2000 gastronomy, especially in the big cities, developed significantly. In Quito now we have restaurants that could be found in any grand capital of the world. This was not the case ten years ago."

Miguel de Arregui first came to Quito in 1999 and since 2008 has managed his own restaurant, Alma. He says he has witnessed a significant change to Ecuador's wine culture during that time.

"In 1999 there were just a few wines, cheap wines..little by little, in 2002-2003 the importers began to bring more wine from Argentina…now you can go to Supermaxi or to a liquor store and find a huge variety of wines from Argentina and Chile, even from Spain, Italy, France, EEUU. Still we are in the beginning of this new stage but it is very good."

Arregui says that 90% of the wines he offers at Alma are from Chile and Argentina, a number that mirrors the overall market, according to Cordovez. Both countries have enjoyed favored treatment for having signed trade agreements with Ecuador. Because their wines have had an economic advantage for so many years, people have become accustomed to drinking them and still favor them today over labels from other countries.

Cordovez explains that all the factors contributing to the developing wine culture in Ecuador seemed to coalesce at the same time. Wine imports and the number of importers increased, the restaurant scene grew, and people began to get excited about wine thanks in large measure to an organization that arrived on the scene at about the same time: the Cofradia de Vino.


In 2002, sisters Patricia and Grace Donoso, with the support of the wine community, helped to found the Cofradia to promote their favorite beverage. Ten years and 1,126 members later, the results speak for themselves.

The Cofradia de Vino recently inaugurated its "Salon de Gusto," located at their main office in Quito, where members can meet and the Cofradia holds tastings. There they also have a classroom for their Sommelier specialization course – a program sponsored in part by the University of San Francisco in Quito and the University of Maza in Mendoza, Argentina. Additionally, the Cofradia has begun to travel around Ecuador educating people about wine. Their goal: "To change the culture of the country," says Patricia Donoso.

"We have a project," she explains. "We are going to reach 1,500 students in one year to initiate them into the wine culture." Donoso says their message is simple: "You can enjoy a wine that has 15% alcohol, a drink where nothing is added, it is a natural drink. It is the juice of the grape with sugar converted into alcohol. A cup a day is very healthy, always with food. Furthermore, drink it slowly, smell it, look at it, appreciate it. Learn a little to enjoy and develop your senses."

The Cofradia de Vino offers three different memberships where members receive, among other benefits, a monthly bottle of wine. And every other month the latest edition of Vinissimo, a wine magazine that began seven years ago, riding the coattails of this new fascination, arrives at their doorstep.

Vinissimo co-founder Cristina Jarrin says, "The inclination to enjoy the consumption [of wine] and broaden our knowledge to discover the secrets of the culture of wine passed from being a fashion to becoming a habit with a new lifestyle that involves the consumption of healthy and more natural products and does not leave behind pleasure and enjoyment."

Though it has taken almost 500 years, it would seem that wine is finally here to stay.


- Celebrating ten year anniversary
- 1.126 members nationwide
- Host of bi-annual Gala de Vinos en Quito
- Founder of the USFQ Sommelier
San Javier N26-63 - Quito Ph 5932 2501690 // 5932 2564707


Classic Members: Broquel Bonarda 2009 from Trapiche- Mendoza Argentina

Vintage Members: Red One 2006 Syrah Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere y Petite Verdot from Via Wines-Chile

Ultra Members: Trapiche Malbec Single Vineyard 2007


3.320 attendees, 50 wine producers from 9 countries
200 samples evaluated, 40 labels recognized for quality


- Celebrating seven years of publication
- Bi-monthly magazine
- Distributed among all members of the Cofradia de Vino
- Available on newsstand or subscription. Coverprice: $4
Isla Isabela N44-363 & Güepi,
Ph. 2260691 / 2432089 / 09 942862


Dos Hemisferios, www.doshemisferios.com
Chaupi Estancia www.chaupiestancia.com
Uyama Farms www.miranaturals.com

More on Ecuadorian "Cusine"...we thought this was a bit of a stretch but interesting.

Though there seems to be little similarity between Italian and Ecuadorian cuisine, what makes both culinary traditions equally rich are their commonalities.An abundance of natural products, regionalized cuisine, and outside influences have given both countries unique, gastronomic traditions. And both countries have, in some way, influenced one another.

Italian cuisine can mean different things to different people, just as Ecuadorian cuisine also takes on a different connotation depending on where you are eating.

Both Ecuadorian and Italian cuisines are highly regionalized, which is to say that what is prepared in Manta is not what one finds in Cotopaxi. Likewise, what one finds in the northern province of Lombardia is not the same as what is prepared from the products of Tuscany or Sicily.

Though the availability of ingredients is much broader in today's modern Italy, this was not the case until recently (before WWII).Olive oil has been traditionally enjoyed in Southern Italy, while in the north it is too cold for olive trees, so they typically used butter to fatten their dishes. With more sun in the south, dry pasta made with durum wheat and water is more traditional, but as you head north, fresher pasta with eggs may be more popular. And in the very north of Italy, risotto and corn meal often replace pasta altogether.

The tomato, often considered a very Italian ingredient, is used more frequently in southern regions due to climate. But the tomato is not an old world ingredient. It came from the New World, along with other products that are found naturally there: potatoes, peppers, and corn.

What Is Italian?

Before the 19th century, the country known as Italy was a fragmented collection of regions inhabited, invaded, and conquered by many whose traditions took hold. The Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all left their marks, with the latter often accredited for introducing the most Italian of all dishes: pasta.

But the use and preparation of vegetables, fruits, and fish predate the noodle. And the Normans, Spanish, French, and Germans came to shape the food throughout different regions of the Italian Peninsula, creating a highly diversified cuisine.

What is Ecuadorian?

Ecuador, too, has had outside influences that have shaped its food traditions. Most notable is the Spanish conquest which brought not just Spanish products and techniques, but influences from all over Europe.

When the Spanish arrived they brought new products, such as wheat, which allowed for the production of leavened bread and cattle, which introduced not only a new meat source, but milk and cheese. Aside from cows, the Spanish introduced pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and honey bees. They brought more grains in the form of rice, barley, oats, and rye, and nuts like almonds and peanuts. New vegetables were introduced such as lettuce, radishes, peas, onions, and cabbage. And fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, mango, and papaya are from the old world.

But there is a natural richness found in Ecuador that is often overshadowed by the imported influences. Ecuador has one of the greatest diversities in fruits and seafood. Andean products like pumpkins, squash, avocados, yucca, quinoa, amaranthus, and many other grains, legumes, and vegetables give Ecuador a distinctively rich source of ingredients from which to prepare meals.

Regions of Italy

Northern Italy is characterized by hearty meals with significant meat production. Dairy is more important in the north than the south. Soups, risotto, corn meal, and stuffed pastas are staples and a distinct seafood tradition includes eel, mussels, clams, and other fresh water fish.

As one heads into the central regions of Italy a wider variety of meats are enjoyed, including lamb and poultry to accompany beef and pork. There is a great farming tradition and more grains. The climate is warmer, offering more vegetables.

Southern Italy enjoys a long tradition of breads and dried pastas. Meats such as lamb are more common due to the shepherding culture, except along the coast where fish and seafood are more prominent.

The richest source of cuisine in Italy is often attributed to Sicily. It is perhaps the most diverse because throughout history it has been the source of every traveler and invader in the Mediterranean, all of whom brought new ingredients and new methods for cooking.

Regions of Ecuador

We can divide the Ecuadorian food map, too, into some general regions. Cuisine from the sierra, though it varies greatly from north to south, has many of the same ingredients: hearty grains, starches, and legumes are combined with pork, beef, goat, chicken, and guinea pig.

Coastal traditions in Ecuador change dramatically as one moves from Esmeraldas in the north to Manabi in the central part of the coast. The "encocados" of Esmeraldas come from the local supply of coconuts. Manabi has a richer selection of seafood due to the cold currents that hit their coast and unique tradition of "sal prieta," a seasoning made from two key ingredients: peanuts and corn, ground together often with a few additional products that give it flavor. But all along the coastal plain it is the banana, or plantain, that unites Ecuadorian seafood traditions.

Coming Together

Ecuadorian cuisine continues to grow in richness, a result of the continued influences from abroad.Fabrizio Bari is an Italian chef working and living in Ecuador. His wife, Tania Espinoza, is an Ecuadorian chef who trained in Italy. Together they own and run Rincon Italiano in Quito, which offers traditional Italian dishes. Today we offer their recipe for "Spaghetti al frutti di mare" (Spaghetti with fruits of the sea) using the native products of coastal Ecuador.

RECIPE Spaghetti al frutti di mare

Rincon Italiano
olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 lb. of squid
4 large prawns
3 tomatoes, peeled and cut
2 cups fish broth

Bring to a boil four liters of water, add a pinch of salt, and cook spaghetti until you have the consistency desired.In a separate pan, heat the oil and garlic, frying briefly before adding squid (cut and with skin removed). Add parsley, tomatoes, and fish broth. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. Place prawns (previously cleaned) in the sauce for two minutes, then add shrimp and cook for an additional two minutes. Mix spaghetti noodles with the seafood sauce and serve.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Checking in with Bill Bonner....real Democracy and Capitalism...

Hillary Clinton calls up Egypt, Syria, Libya, and China to “democratize.” But democracy, as practiced by the US and other developed countries, is a fraud. It is just a way for the insiders to scam money and power from the outsiders, by pretending that the voters are in charge.

Just ask how many taxpayers would vote to spend about $10,000 each on the war against Iraq?

How many would vote to spend $1.60 cents for every dollar in tax revenue?

How many would vote for the latest mortgage deal...where homeowners who saved their money and paid their mortgages are forced to make up for those who bought houses recklessly...and then couldn’t make their payments?

How many would vote to bail out Goldman Sachs...Bank of America...or Citigroup?

But voters never get a chance to vote on the issues. They vote for candidates...financed by insiders, with agendas the outsiders cannot even imagine.

The word ‘democracy’ arose in small, Greek city states, where the voters actually voted on the concrete issues, not just the slippery candidates. Citizens voted to go to war...knowing not only that they would have to pay for it...but that they could be killed in the battles themselves. War was a matter of life and death, not just a campaign slogan of a chubby, middle-aged draft-dodger.

The Italian city states practiced real democracy too. In 15th century Florence, for example, citizens voted on whether or not to build a cathedral... Then, they voted on what shape it should take.

A scale model was built. Citizens knew what it would look like. They understood how it was built and how much it would cost them. They cast their ballots and took responsibility for the outcome.

American democracy, circa 2012, has no more in common with real democracy than American capitalism has in common with real capitalism. Both are degenerate...corrupt...and geriatric.

*** We spent a week at our place in Nicaragua...and we wonder why we don’t spend more time here.

“Because life is a struggle,” said our friend. “Here, there’s nothing to struggle against...except your worst enemy, yourself.”


The climate is benign. No need to fight against the elements. The views are the best in the world. Nature has made this coast her chef d’oeuvre; it would be a sin to complain, ingratitude to ask for more.

But more is just what we can’t help asking for...

The food is delicious. The pace is relaxed. We wake up...the sun shines in the window... Outside, the surf pounds the sand. We take a walk along the beach...often seeing no other human being...splashing our bare feet in the warm water.

Returning up the steps to the house, Tere, our housekeeper has already put breakfast on the table...fresh fruit, coffee, eggs...

Later, we sit on the porch...overlooking the ocean...and do our work. No commuting. No traffic. No parking. No snow. No ice. Nothing disturbs our work...or our thoughts...

What’s not to like?

“Well...you can’t sit still and enjoy things. You need to look for challenges. And if you can’t get mad at other drivers or God, you’ll have to get mad at yourself.”


What kind of world is this? We work to make it better...and then, when it is nearly perfect, we can’t resist improving it.

..Or making it worse.


Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning