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We just returned earlier this week from Hakuna Matata-not the Disney movie nor the phrase meaning “No Problem,” but the name of the fabulous jungle lodge in the Amazon.

Just about 3 hours from Quito, the lodge is nicely removed from the main highway just after the town of Archidona, a few kilometers off the main road. You drive through some small native communities, cross a swinging bridge just wide enough for your vehicle over a big river,

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and end up at the lodge entrance. You hear nothing from the highway, so the only sounds to fill the nights are the bugs and the heavy rainfall if you’re lucky. We had both, and it was a great way to get a restful sleep.

Upon arriving that afternoon, we headed down to the “beach” on the shores of the Inchillaqui River that is on the extensive property.

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Rudy and Marcelina, the Belgian owners, are delightful people and have trained their local staff extremely well. The food is first class, mainly continental European style simple and classic dishes, executed well. We were served sliced pork loin in red wine marinade, scalloped potatoes, and a vegetable the first evening, simply prepared. They have smartly carved out small logs, placed gravel inside, added a wire grate on top, and use tealights inside to keep additional portions warm for you tableside. The portions are more than generous. Since it was our son Sebastian’s birthday and we had let them know ahead of time, they even baked a simple cake for him, and presented him with a t-shirt, wrapped in an orignal and elegant style inside a banana leaf, tied off and adorned with a  local flower. The staff is attentitve without being overbearing, and very polite.

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On the second day I unfortunately had an accident you can read about here, but the staff, my wife Maria, and my kids took good care of me. We were served first an appetizer of pork and chicken liver paté, with a cornichon, white onion, and orange marmelade, then for the main dish chicken in white wine sauce, pommes frites, and fresh carrots and peas on our second evening.

But before the fall, we visited the Ranarium, or frog area. It’s a small, screened in greenhouse with a variety of different types of poison frogs, which the guide will clearly tell you about and answer all your questions, including methods of use for the poison, mating habits, habitat, etc. The guides were very knowledgeable and friendly.

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Frogs in Hakuna Matata

While I recuperated from the fall, Maria and the kids took a one hour hike through the jungle with the guide. More on that adventure in the next post!

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Our kickstarter project is now live! Please RT and check it out at http://ning.it/vM7yro

Whether you’re coming for a short visit to see the Galapagos, spend a few days in old Quito, or learn about chocolate making with us, a number of new possibilities for rentals have opened up. I’ll mention right away AirBnB.com, which has dozens of listing for Quito alone, as well as other cities throughout Ecuador. We have also listed an available apartment next door to the chocolate shophttp://www.cuencacondos.com/blog/2011/07/cuenca-organic-chocolate/#more-393

We make all our own fruit purees for use in our chocolates and pate de fruit. Fresh fruits are abundant and cheap in Ecuador, and it’s only a short walk over to the local market where the fruits and vegetables overflow in abundance. One of my favorite fruits here is Passion Fruit-instead of paying something upwards of $50 per kilo for a frozen puree, I can go over and buy the fresh fruit, process it myself, and for under $10 have at least 2 to 3 kilos of fresh puree.

It starts with a brief jaunt over to the market. The fruit usually comes in bags of 5 or 6 Passion Fruits already bagged up. I’ll ask for half a dozen bags, which is about as much as I can carry, and head back to the workshop. Passion Fruits begin to get wrinkly when really ripe, and it has more natural sweetness at that point. They’re usually pretty firm when you buy them fresh, so a day or two in the kitchen ripening helps develop the best flavor for the puree.

Once a Passion Fruit is ripe, you cut it in half and scoop out the insides with a spoon. They are full of black seeds and the fruit itself is basically a liquid with some mucilage surrounding the beans. It’s not very sweet and not something you’d eat fresh right out of the pod. Most of the time it’s used for juices or mousse, juice being the most frequent use.

We gather up the juice and seeds in a bucket, then hit it with a large immersion blender for a minute or two. It’s better not to grind it up too long or the seeds get broken into tiny black specks that are hard to remove even with the finest strainer. At this point, the kitchen is redolent with a fruity, tangy smell that is unmistakably delicious. Once it’s been ground up, we strain it through a small tamis to remove all the seeds and are left with a bright orange liquid.

Immediately we freeze the unadulterated pulp, and then pull out what’s needed on a per recipe basis. Some of our items with Passion Fruit are the Pate de Fruits, Passion Fruit Caramels in Milk Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache Pralines. But the only way you can learn about how those taste are to stop by the shop! So please, come by when you can. And if you’re lucky, we’ll be making the puree fresh that day-and you too can be transported with the heady smell of fresh Passion Fruit!

Headed south from Quito today to visit the towns of Saquisilí and Pujilí. We were in search of handicrafts mainly, but since there´s literally almost zero info on the internet about market days, we arrived in Saquisilí to find the crafts market only takes place on Thursdays. As is the usual routine most everywhere when we headed out into Ecuador´s unknown, we arrive at whatever town we´ve chosen to go to, and just starting asking…”Where is the market?” or “Where can we find ____” fill in the blank-whatever it might be we’re looking for. Usually this leads to some interesting diversions….”go two blocks and turn left, it’s nearby.” Or “just keep going straight, you’ll be there soon,” which could mean anywhere from two minutes to 30 minutes or more. Does nearby and in 30 minutes mean near on a bicycle, a donkey, a horse, on foot, or by car? You can never tell, since country people’s definition of time and distance are often measured in units that we city people would rarely consider-or maybe even they are units we don’t know about!

Since there was nothing going in Saquisilí, we headed on to Pujilí. Both towns, by the way, are just a few miles north of the city of Latacunga, the first major city on the Panamerican highway you reach when heading south from Quito. In Pujilí, the open air market was on, one of the largest markets I´ve seen in South America and a spectacle in its own right. Measuring probably two football fields and of course spilling out into the adjacent streets, the market offers up Ecuador’s bounty from all over the country…tangerines, lemons, limes, grapefruits, bell peppers, swiss chard, various types of potatoes and bananas. As well, there were all sorts of cooking going on…llapingachos (a potato cake colored with annatto or achiote) and cooked in lard and served with fried pork aka fritada, stews with crab and other seafood, cebiches, tripe, and other local dishes. Not just foods but pirated CDs of any kind, cheap trinkets, hair pins, nail clippers, and ever other type of junk from China are available. On one street a man with the voice and earnestness of street-corner preacher offered up a cure for every type of ailment, for the prostate, stomach, liver, arthritis, indigestion, while a crowd of people gathered around.

Market in Pujilí

Pujilí Market I really enjoyed seeing these obviously hand-crafted lollipops for sale, being carried around in a hand-made basket!

Candies in Pujilí

Already the obvious tourist no matter how much I might have tried to blend in (I didn’t try and even if I had it wouldn’t have worked), I carried my camera at torso height and shot pictures surreptitiously as best as I could, and managed to get a few good ones shown below. At one point we stopped to see two parakeets sitting atop a  wooden box with small drawers filled with different colored papers.

I had never seen this before-you pay the woman fifty cents, she asks you “Married? Single? Divorced?” and then picks up one of the birds and commands it to peck your hand, then speaks to it in all earnestness and utter seriousness telling the bird your condition and then ordering it back to the box. The bird then goes to one of the small drawers open in the box, and through its divine power picks up your “horoscope” or fortune, she plucks it from the bird’s beak and passes it on to you. When we first stopped, and I raised my camera, she covered the birds and said no pictures. On our return pass, we stopped and paid her and I took a few good shots while she wasn’t paying much attention.

Fortune Telling BIrd

On the return we stopped at Hosteria La Cienega for lunch, a 300 year old Hacienda with decent food and gardens.You can feel the oldness in the place, and there´s often a cool breeze and a spooky, haunted sort of empty feeling about the place. My Mother-in-law won´t stay there…says it´s too creepy! Maybe it´s the “Burundanga” trees all over, from which scopolamine can be removed, that makes you feel weird!

Burundanga-Scopolamine Tree

Hosteria Pinsaqui

There are also a lot of nice antiques on display inside, with great lighting.

Hosteria Pinsaqui

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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