Tiddley-Bits tea

Tiddley-Bits tea

Sunday, 30 January 2011

{Novena & Nascimentos}

{Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe}

For those of you who have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I spent this Christmas in Ecuador at my sister’s home in Cumbaya, a valley just outside Quito.  This year the families living in my sister’s housing complex decided that each house would host the Novena. The Novena is a Catholic tradition associated with Christmas, and very typical in Ecuador. For nine days before Christmas, families get together in each other’s homes, follow liturgical readings associated with Christmas, and they sing traditional Ecuadorian Christmas songs together. The nine days represent the nine months of gestation, when Christ was in Mary’s womb.
{the novena in my sister's home}

{after singing carols, the kids enjoyed lighting sparklers every night}

This was a great chance for my sister’s neighbours to get to know each other better, and the parents decided that each kid would have an ‘amigo secreto’ or secret friend. Nearing the end of the Novena, we all gathered together in the park that is part of their complex, we had lunch (which included mouth-watering ceviche) and the kids exchanged gifts. It was a great opportunity for me to partake in a local tradition, get to know my sister’s neighbours, and to learn some great Ecuadorian Christmas carols. I actually learned a few & featuring among my favourites are Claveles y Rosas, Bienvenido Seas and Los Peces en el Rio.
{the girls in my sister's complex exchanging gifts}

{me & my sister's family (minus baby Juan) at the gift exchange for Novena}
{decorating cookies for our Novena party}

 In Ecuador, as in many Catholic countries the nascimento is an important part of Christmas. This is a crèche that every family has in their home. Some really go all out with huge scenes taking up half the living room. Baby Jesus isn’t found in the nativity scene until Christmas Eve, when He usually makes a grand entrance.
One day we visited the Glass Palace, in the Parque Itchimbia. The structure, I’m sure, is based on Paxton's design for the Crystal Palace built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, London.

{me in front of the Glass Palace, Quito}

{Paxton's Crystal Palace, London, 1851}

The views are breathtaking, but the space is often used for exhibitions and we were lucky to stumble across an exhibition competition of nascimentos done by local artists.
{exhibition space}

{my niece & brother-in-law 'inspecting' the artworks}

{reconstruction of San Francisco}

Visitors are asked to vote, and we were happy to see later in the paper that the nascimento we voted for won the competition. Our favourite was a wonderful replication of San Francisco, the monastery and church complex that my sister was married in.  
{the views from the Glass Palace are breathtaking}

{my niece playing in the playground near the Glass Palace (look at that view behind her!)}

{we went to a restaurant nearby for a drink, with once again, an amazing view of Quito}

Other highlights of Christmas traditions leading up to Christmas, were... driving and getting a Christmas tree from a local grower...

{me & my niece picking out the *perfect* tree}

{stuffing the tree into the trunk}

{my niece & the decorated tree}
...I also fully enjoyed attending my niece's Christmas pageant--she had to wear the dress featured above, and danced the salsa to a Gloria Estefan song...it was a delight seeing all the kids dressed up for the Christmas pageant (Christmas, of course, with a Latin American twist).

{my niece on the right}

Saturday, 22 January 2011


...and so read the advert in the national paper of Ecuador. The foreign investor was my father, the text crafted by my brother-in-law. Who could blame my Dad?

{my father, the finca hunter (also sometimes mistaken for Sean Connery)}

{finca hunting in 2006}
Our first trip to Quito involved what we like to call 'finca hunting.' Fincas, or traditional farms, are in abundance in Ecuador. Beautiful colonial (sometimes crumbling) buildings with farm lands that bring back memories of a time forgotten. Well, my Dad never did find the perfect finca, but Ecuador is full of amazing mansions once belonging to European settlers or wealthy locals, some of which are now left to ruin, while others have been beautifully restored and transformed into restaurants or hotels.
One of the highlights of my trip to Ecuador was taking a quick road trip to a nearby hacienda and enjoying a tour of the grounds and having lunch in the restored splendour. Many of these are somewhat rustic, a South American version of the classically-inspired Palladian villas often found in the Veneto, and often evoking the idyllic pastoral qualities found in the paintings of Giorgione or Tiziano (Titian).
El Establo de Alejo is a converted hacienda in the Valley of Cumbaya, where my sister lives. The food is excellent--I had a mouth-watering steak and the ambiance is amazing--it feels somewhat like you are eating in converted stables surrounded by antiquities and curiosities.
{a bust of a cow greets you at the reception}

{antique milk cans & sewing machine are typical of the various antiques you can find littered around the restaurant}

{my niece beside the Christmas tree & an old-fashioned typewriter (typewriters, of course,  are always a favourite with me)}

{typical of Latin America, they have a play area where kids can play whilst parents enjoy their meal}

{the delicious smells from the grill permeate the air--here my niece's corn is being grilled}

{me outside the restaurant--across from the play area. They use this area to host parties outside as well}

{cool bottles from the bar reflected through the glass}

{my sister, Esther, at the funky bar}

{license plates & other curios decorate the bar space}

{the entrance to the restaurant has these piles of hay which lends to the 'farm/finca' like quality to the ambiance. Here my gorgeous sister & her gorgeous daughter}
One weekend we drove to the wonderful Hacienda La Cienega, an old colonial hacienda, an hour and a half drive from Quito on the outskirts of the Volcano Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second largest. The place reminded me of an old English villa you might find around Lucknow, in UP, in India. You reach the estate after driving down a long and winding unmarked road, and the colonial structure emerges at the end of a tree-lined  entrance.

{the grand entrance to the Hacienda La Cienega}

The hacienda has a rich history. The lands were purchased in the 17th century by Don Mateo de la Escalera y Velasco and the house was home to Don Mateo and his wife, Dona Gabriela Munoz. With increased interest in geological activity in the Andes Mountain Range in the eighteenth century, La Cienega's close proximity to Cotopaxi meant that it hosted a variety of famous personalities. Illustrious visitors include Charles Marie de la Condamine, a French scientist who participated in the Geodesci Mission (1736-44), Alexander von Humboldt, German naturalist who came to study Cotopaxi's volcanic activity, as well as political figures such as Ecuador's first president, Juan Jose Flores.  While we were leaving, an American  with piercing blue eyes informed  us that perhaps some of these personalities still 'haunt' the manor. Indeed, he came up to us rather abruptly and asked my sister if she knew the place was haunted, she snubbed him with a 'no', but she didn't see what I saw--that he had a cast of cameramen with him, and most likely was some tv personality, planning to feature the hacienda & its histories on some travel show.
The hacienda today has been converted into a hotel, but there is also a restaurant on site, where we enjoyed lunch after touring the grounds.
{antiques retell the history of the hacienda visually}

{guests can curl up by the fireplace in this elegant drawing room}

{bright hallways filled with antiques lead to guest rooms}

{the hacienda has a courtyard in the middle}

{the hacienda also has its own private chapel}

{altarpiece in the chapel (above) & details of the chapel's ceiling decoration (below)}

{these are the grounds leading to the hacienda's stables}

{the hacienda's dining room where we enjoyed lunch}

{views of the courtyard & chapel from my seat at lunch}
On my last trip to Ecuador, we had lunch at Hacienda Cusin, near the town of Otavalo. This also has rooms you can rent, and beautiful grounds to walk, & I would highly recommend a trip to see it:

{My Mum & my sister, Christina. Note the doors marked 'library' where guests can go to read}
{beautiful views from Hacienda Cusin}
Stay tuned for more tales from Ecuador...