We left Vilcabamba feeling a bit eager to cross into Peru, while also still wondering if we should have settled down in Cuenca, yet we had plans for enjoying Loja, Ecuador to the fullest. We heard Loja had amazing food we needed to try to round out the Ecuadorean dining experience, craft beer brewed by a Texan who married a Lojano, and we read about a park that was home to miniature replicas of famous buildings from around the world. However, all of our musings would have to wait, because we arrived in Loja on a Sunday and the entire city was closed and deserted. We wandered through the center of the city, checked out some beautiful churches (San Francisco, Santo Domingo, and San Sebastian), saw the gate to the city, and settled with dinner from a supermarket.
The next morning offered beautiful weather and we made our way to our first culinary experience, El Pez Volado, a local eatery specializing in the regions tamales and humitas. We stuffed ourselves with delicious lunch items for breakfast, before setting off to accomplish the rest of our check list. After navigating through a sprawling market and wandering along the river, we arrived at Parque Jipiro completely unprepared for what we were about to enjoy.
Upon our arrival, we were impressed by the abundance of sport fields and aquatic facilities, but weren’t quite sure we found what we were looking for. We carefully navigated around the athletic complex, hoping to avoid paying any entrance fee, when suddenly our gaze settled on the most amazing jungle gym either of us had ever seen. The impressive Eiffel Tower replica, while displaying a sign that prohibited climbing, showed obvious signs of ascension enjoyment, but before Ryan could climb up on the ping-ping table and wrap his hands around the steel frame, we were distracted by the colorful towers and winding slides of the St. Basil’s Cathedral replica.
We were soon overwhelmed with an abundance of options for play. The St. Basil’s Cathedral was far less crowded than the one in the Red Square in Moscow, and the one built by Ivan the Terrible definitely didn’t come equipped with tornado slides. In the center of the park, surrounded by a lagoon, rested the Chinese Pagoda, a replica of a Buddhist temple with octagonal ceilings and superimposed floors. The temple was located next to the pedal and rowing boats docks, which provided access to the flamingo and peacock inhabited island.
There was also an Arab Mosque, which replicated the Muslim shrines of the countries of the Arab ethno-cultural community, and also housed a planetarium and telescope. We wandered more of the park before climbing the Indomaláico Temple, which represented the culture formed by India, Thailand, Malaya, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Ceylon. The Saharan culture of northern Africa were represented by the Chozones Style Bantu and the Eurolatino Castle accounted for European cultures that developed around castles, eventually forming nations like Italy, France, Holland and Belgium. Lastly, the Puerta del Sol replica from Lake Titicaca, and the replica of Ollantaytambo, account for the Mochica Incan cultures.
A bit knackered and definitively hungry, we made our way back to the city’s center, excited for A Lo Maro Maro’s set menu almuerzos (lunches) offering Mexican / Ecuadorean appetizers, entrees, and desserts for $5. We demolished our meal and asked for second servings of the cake, before heading to buy our international bus tickets to Piura, Peru. Tickets in hand, we made it to Zarza Brewing just as they were opening for the day.
We were fortunate to meet one of the owners, Gregory, who’s been brewing for 8 years. He’s a former backpacker from Dallas, TX who lived in Vilcabamba, Ecuador for 3 years running an acupuncture clinic while desperately missing craft beer. He married a Lojano woman, taught himself to brew, and now serves delicious stouts, dunkels, IPAs, ESBs, and (if you’re as lucky as we were) you can sample his special Belgian Sour. Greg has learned to produce his own yeast, and combined with imported malts and grains, brews some fabulous, true to style craft beer.
When we had our fill of cerveza artesanal, we went to Ricon Sarumeño for a local delicacy, humitas (fresh ground corn with onions, eggs, spices, and an olive, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed), and a popular bar food dish, tigrillo (a green plantain mash combined with eggs in any form).