Cuenca

Thursday, March 17

We all woke up reasonably early and finally got up at 7:30 am. Breakfast was included, so we went downstairs to the buffet. None of us went for the hot food, instead opting for cereal, fruit, and sweet rolls. We had organized with the hotel to take the shuttle back to the airport from where we would figure out how to get to Cuenca. (Although this had been a complicated discussion; the Grand Hotel apparently isn’t used to customers who want to take the bus.)

Lowland area near Guayaquil

When the shuttle finally arrived at the airport we headed to the tourist information booth, where they told us about several options for getting to Cuenca. It turned out that the Operazuay service was the best deal; we checked two other services but they were much more expensive. We went outside and got a taxi to take us over there, which turned out to be a bit ridiculous considering that it took all of five minutes to get there. After paying our $12 each the shuttle was about to leave (so it was a good thing we invested in the five-minute taxi ride). We piled into the eight-seater minivan, our luggage safely stowed behind our seat.

It wasn’t far from the airport to the highway headed east. When we got there our driver took off like a rocket when the road was clear, otherwise he would barge his way through. In Ecuador there are speed limits but no one pays attention to them, and sometimes there are lines between the lanes but once again no one seems to pay attention to them. Passing is a game of chicken here. Our driver passed anything and everything including police cars, cows, llamas, large trucks, and other cars passing large trucks. We would hurtle along the road, roaring up behind someone, then pass regardless of the colour of the line, whether there was a curve in the road or a blind hill. We knew our driver was a pro when we saw him putting a CD back into its case while passing at a blind corner in the fog.

Once we arrived into Cajas National Park, the road became even more twisty and narrow. The scenery in the park was quite lovely when we could see it through the mist, with lakes sparkling in the páramo. It was unfortunate that we hadn’t been able to fit a visit to the park into our schedule. Along the route we saw llamas but unfortunately we couldn’t get a picture of any of them. Finally after three hours of travel we made it to Cuenca. The Operazuay office was on the outskirts of the town, but they organized a taxi to take us to our hotel.

Cajas National Park

Our hotel, Casa Ordoñez, is an old historic family home. It has been in the family for over 100 years and has been lovingly restored by the grandson. We are staying in his grandmother Isabel’s room, which is painted a lovely blue. The furniture was original, including a lovely dresser. Outside our room on the landing was an antique table complete with vases of roses, and in the corner stood a grandfather clock.

After putting our bags in the room we headed out to explore. The town is a UNESCO world heritage site, with buildings built in the colonial style, all very ornate. There are numerous churches of a variety of sizes which we took pictures of. Then we walked down to the Rio Tomebamba and along its banks for several blocks. The river had a lot of green algae in it but otherwise made a nice scene. After a while we crossed back to the side where we had started, and climbed some steps back up to the main shopping area. Here there was a shop which made and sold Panama hats (which are not made in Panama). Inside there were hundreds of hats with little name tickets on them, presumably for repeat customers.

Churches in Cuenca

Flower market

Fruit vendor

Cuenca is not a very large town, at least in terms of the city centre where we were located, so it didn’t take us very long to get back to the main square near our hotel. By now it was 3 pm, so we decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a while. But then we heard thunder, and shortly afterwards there was a deluge of rain out of the skies. We had timed our walk well and were glad to be inside.

Provincial government offices

Our door was open, and we could overhear the conversation of three people in the courtyard below. One had just received her visa so that she could live permanently in Ecuador, and the other two were thinking of moving to Ecuador rather than living in Texas. The husband said that they couldn’t afford to retire in the US due to the high medical costs.

After a while the rain stopped, so we headed back out to find a bank machine and then go for dinner. The first machine we tried accepted Matthew’s card but not ours, so we went around the corner to a different bank which did accept our card. Once the transactions were done we went across the square to a restaurant we had seen earlier. Matthew and Rosemary had trout, which is caught locally (or perhaps farmed, we don’t know) and Paul had a “plato tipico” of traditional Ecuadorian food. There was a lot to eat, so none of us wanted dessert. We paid the bill and then went off to take photos of the churches which were illuminated at night. And finally we went back to the hotel to pack our bags a bit and go to bed.

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