Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Because I got lucky.

About to leave Cuenca after six months, I went looking for a doll.

They have Barbie dolls here, and Kohler dolls. Kohler dolls seem to be exactly like Barbie dolls, but they have a different name on the box.

Both varieties have all the grace and charm of bayonets, and they're plastic too.

The guy who works 16 hours a day, six days a week at my hotel has a wife, and a little girl. When I leave I don't want to just tip him. I think I'll tip his daughter too.

At Christmas I bought four candy bars. Chocolate Negro, 63% cacao, made by Fábrica de Chocolates Bios Cía. Ltda. in Quito. Two were intended as gifts, one for "Señor Jefe", whose name I've never learned, and one for Danny, who puts in double shifts six days a week.

The other two were for me. I hadn't had chocolate in around a year, and since the good stuff is available here, hey.

On my way out for a walk on Christmas Day, I gave a bar (100 g, solid dark chocolate, price $2.27) to Danny and showed him mine, to be sure he knew that if the stuff was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

When I got back, there was a woman here, and a tiny little girl. Hmmm.

I asked as well as my rudimentary Spanish allowed, if that was his family. Danny said yes.

Then I pulled out my fourth and last bar, told him it was my last, and said it was for his little girl. He ran out to the lobby area and gave it to her. And I do mean "ran". With a big smile on his face. The chocolate bar was half as big as she was.

You know how little kids are. She sort of held it and rocked, and leaned back against the wall, not knowing what to do next.

But I bet she caught on.

I went back to my room.

Time passes, and I'm about to leave Ecuador.

What to do now?

I thought Danny and his wife would appreciate a gift for the little one, so I went looking for dolls.

Barbie is like a cold-hearted, scarred hooker with a heart full of nails. Ditto for Kohler.

And they're all pasty white with synthetic blond hair, and rigid with the rigor mortis of the toy industry. Their skin color is nowhere near the girl's. Would this be the right gift?


I finally decided to get a teddy bear. Still synthetic, but squeezably soft. Probably a better choice for a three-year-old.


On my way up to the toy department I made a detour through the household goods. This was at the Coral Hipermercado in Mall del Rio, on Cuenca's south side.

It's a big place, full of everything you hate about giant chain stores, but with decent prices and, since this is Ecuador, also full of things you can't find in North Dakota.

Like my new cup.

I can't find a scale to weigh it, but it feels like it's around three ounces (85 g), maybe four (113 g), or in between (85 - 113 g).

It's choice, made by Imusa in Colombia out of aluminum, my favorite hiker-pot material. It is bigger than I'd like, at one liter, but it is big enough for sure. I never need anything larger, and have been getting by for years with a 16-fluid-ounce measuring cup (0.47 L) that I lucked onto once upon a time.

Unfortunately, the measuring cups are either unavailable now, or sold by some other company that remains secret. The one I bought mine from switched over from hardware to recipe books, and dropped all their kitchen products. At 1.8 ounces (51 g), I could put up with the cup's slightly sparse capacity.

In fact, for cooking it is pretty good, since all I do is heat water.

I heat 12 to 16 ounces (0.35 to 0.47 L) of water, pour that into a food bag, and wait. While waiting, I refill the cup and make tea. When the alcohol stove goes out I leave the cup sitting there, enclosed by the wind screen.

Usually my meal is about cool enough to eat by this time, so I do that, and when done, I'm ready for tea and it's ready for me. My full-coverage wind screen protects the brewed tea from breezes, and allows the tea to cool, but slowly. It's almost always just barely cool enough to drink when I reach for it.

So, I guess that works well.

Where I could use a bit more capacity is related to the other uses my cup has. Like dipping water from a stream, to fill a water bottle. But mostly in bathing.

Sixteen ounces, poured repeatedly, works. One liter (33.8 fl oz) is more, and works better. And it works better too if, every once in a while I want to wash a hankie or a pair of socks. In my cooking pot. A liter-sized pot holds more socks.

Sure, yes, I do clean out the pot after, by rinsing. And the last couple of years I've taken to finishing up by dumping a bit of alcohol into the pot and lighting it, which heats the pot, sterilizes it, and dries it. Otherwise the things I put into the pot (like matches) get damp, but not if the pot is gotten hot and allowed to air cool first.

This wastes a little stove fuel but not much, and makes things a whole lot more predictable and less messy. Get the whole cooking set dry, pack it away inside a plastic bag, and that's it. No more fussing with damp matches.

So this new pot is made of much thicker aluminum. I won't be using the pot often, but when I do it will be easy enough to carry extra stove fuel.

And it may have been a dumb purchase, but how often am I going to be getting back to Ecuador?

I had planned to stay here permanently, but am thinking that no longer, and doubt I'll be back. And when I saw the price, that about did it.

The cup was marked at $2.32, but my receipt says $2.07. Pricing is one thing I've never figured out here. Still a good deal, either way.

I understand that some Walmart stores, the ones catering to Hispanic clientele, may carry products from Imusa. And someone is reselling these at, but the price is higher - $16.67 - which would get me eight of these mugs if bought here. (And no shipping charges either, though the round-trip airfare does inflate the price a tad bit.)

Funny thing though.

In researching this Imusa mug I bought, I found that someone else is selling the next generation of grease pots on You can get a "Stanco Non-Stick Grease Strainer" for $8.77. This looks like the one that KMart was selling, at least for a while.

Unlike the Walmart grease pot, the body of this one has its rim rolled to the outside, not the inside, making it like a real cooking pot, and much easier to clean than the old Walmart greass pots were. Maybe it's worth checking out.


Coral Hipermercados

Imusa USA home

Imusa USA products

Imusa Aluminum Mug, 1.25-Quart, 12 CM, at

IMUSA Aluminum Mug, at Walmart, or not, depending on the store - also note that this is a smaller one, 0.6 L (0.7 qt)

Stanco Non-Stick Grease Strainer, at