A Day In Loja

Loja is a town in southern Andean Ecuador that is known for having some of the best and most unique cuisine in the country.  It is a lovely and modern colonial town with the tourist area overlapping with the downtown area.  Not that many tourists really stop here, but I stopped to get a taste.  I’d found this website http://www.ecuador-travel-planner.com/lojafood that stated specialties included all sorts of pork, delicious tamale and other corn wrapped goodies, baked goods and desserts, and horse.  Alas, it turns out most restaurants only served variations of the husk wrapped goods and little else different from the rest of the country, so I ended up only here for a day.

Still, Loja has a charm that I could see being pleasant to live in if one was to choose a city in Ecuador.

There's a weird, almost Disneyland-esque quality to things in Loja.  This is the town gate that had a statue of conquistadors and I think Don Quixote.

There’s a weird, almost Disneyland-esque quality to things in Loja. This is the town gate that had a statue of conquistadors and I think Don Quixote.

Failing to find any delicious pernil (roast pork) or horse, I settled for something I’d tried in Banos but was told was the best here, cuy.  I find the meat tender and a bit greasy in a good way.  There was a lovely spicy green sauce to go on it that helped too.  The pink cup in the corner is horchata, a flower based tea that is often sweetened.

Hello ass end of a guinea pig, pile of mote (large corn), and potatoes.

Hello ass end of a guinea pig, pile of mote (large corn), and potatoes.

Well, if every restaurant is going to have the same menu, I might as well try it.  I went to Loja institution El Tamal Lojano and ordered one of every possible food item.  Every other table mostly had one tamale a person.  Although the set menus of boron, eggs and bread seemed pretty large to me as well. I was full of delicious regret.

From left to right clockwise: boron de chicharron, quimbolito, humita, and pork tamale.  I enjoyed the savory ones but found the humita and quimbolito to be steamed dry sponge cakes too reminiscent of Chinese New Year's steamed cakes in a bad way.

From left to right clockwise: boron de chicharron, quimbolito, humita, and pork tamale. I enjoyed the savory ones but found the humita and quimbolito to be steamed dry sponge cakes too reminiscent of Chinese New Year’s steamed cakes in a bad way.

I also realized too late that ordering cafe con leche (with milk) meant I got Nescafe instead of what looked like a nice drip coffee other people got.  After stuffing myself silly I headed over to a museum to check out Loja’s other namesake, music.  Sadly it was somewhat disorganized and mostly in Spanish so I didn’t spend much time in there.  I did enjoy the fellow practicing on his violin and the other Lojano music blasting out in every room.

The music museum also had a Disneyland feel to it with the manicured garden and pastel colors.

The music museum also had a Disneyland feel to it with the manicured garden and pastel colors.

As I had too much time after the museum before I could shove in one more meal, I tried to make it to the oldest botanical garden in Ecuador.  The hotel manager gave me directions to go by bus.  Some things you just get used to in Ecuador, like terrible directions or an inability to say anything but yes, even if they don’t know.

“Is there only one roundabout?”
“Yes!”

No, no there’s not.  There’s at least two.  The first one is in fact almost two miles from where I had to be and I ended up taking a bit of a trek.  It was also where the buses ended, which I had asked and was emphatically told, no that wasn’t where the bus line ended.  It’s never any bad intent as much as most people in developing countries just do not seem to understand the concept of maps or directions.  I arrived at the gardens to find out I had hit the beginning of the siesta that was left unmentioned in the tourism information map and guidebooks.  Ah, Ecuador.  At that point I turned around and headed back to the market to try Chanfaina, a paella like pork and rice dish.  Alas I could barely eat a few bites as I was still stuffed from breakfast and so I headed onward to my next destination.  Later Loja, I’m sure you’re more awesome to live in.

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