First, in case you're curious, my wanderings around all the towns I am visiting are visible on my Strava profile. There's a link to it in the column to the right, or if you're on a phone or small tablet it's probably below these blog entries. So far, the towns are Buga, Popayán, Pitalito, Mocoa, and Ipiales in Colombia, and Tulcan, Ibarra, and Atuntaqui, in Ecuador.
This afternoon I left Ibarra and headed for Atuntaqui. I took a bus that cost only US$.45 (45 cents) for a 20-minute ride of about 11 kilometers. Yeah, a whole 45 cents.
The US dollar is used in Ecuador and it's messing with my head. After not using or even seeing dollars for the past 9 1/2 years, now they're back in my presence, and the prices are unbelievably low. A bottle of coca cola is .25 cents. My lunch was $2.50. Everytime I hear a price I have to pause to process it. And, while the paper money is only dollars, the coins are a mix of US coins and Ecuadoran coins. The dollar coin is far more common than the one dollar bill (which I haven't even seen, yet).
So, Atuntaqui is a small mountain town of about 25,000 people. It sits at about 2400 meters (7900 feet) and between two volcanos - Cotacachi and Imbabura. They're usually shrouded by clouds. The distance to Cotacachi, as the crow flies measured on Google Earth, is only about 14 kilomters (9 miles). The distance to Imbabura, again as the crow flies measured on Google earth, is about 9 kilometers (5 1/2 miles). The weather is generally spring-like to North Americans and Europeans, all year round.
So, while walking around in the mercado I came across a fruit I've never seen before (see the photos in the photo album). It's called "pepino fruit". Pepino fruit has scientific name Solanum muricatum from genus Solanum, so botanically this fruit is closer to tomato and eggplant instead of melon or cucumber, though the pepino in Spanish means cucumber in English. It has a mildly sweet flavor, the skin is a little on the tough side, but the fruit is eaten just like eating an apple, and you don't eat the seeds. At least, when I first tried the fruit in the mercado the woman told me to not eat the seeds, but, at least one web site says the seeds can be eaten. According to the website drhealthbenefits.com it is considered a "rare fruit" though it appears to be quite common here in Ecuador. I never saw this fruit in my 9+ years in Colombia. It is commonly called Pepino Dulce in Spanish to differentiate it from cucumbers, which are called pepinos in Spanish.
I have decided after walking 25.5 kilometers of Atuntaqui that I don't much care for this little town. Why? Because the bakeries do not have tables to sit at so you buy and leave, and there are no coffee shops in this town. Hard to believe, but apparently true. My next destination: Quito.