Ecuador: Cuenca – A Colonial Beauty
Traveling from Trujillo, Peru, to Cuenca, Ecuador was quite the trip. I took an overnight bus from Trujillo to Piura. The problem with all these overnight buses is that they always arrive in town at 5 or 6 am….what’s a girl to do at 5 or 6 am in the morning in a new town, not to mention that places generally aren’t very safe at that time of night/day. After a few hours I was able to hop on a bus that would take us to Loja, Ecuador, stopping at the border for our immigration duties. At this point I was able to team up with some other travellers, a German guy, a French guy, a guy from Portland and a girl from Peru. The 5 of us bunkered down for a LONG day. Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that I have some temperature ¨issues¨…I’m hot when everyone else is cold, and I’m freezing when everyone else is comfortable. This applies to bus rides as well. Lucky for the German guy who got to be my seatmate, he got to experience this firsthand as I spent the entire 10 hour trip opening the window, putting on another layer, shutting the window, taking a layer off..etc. He dealt with it like a perfect gentleman and we arrived in Loja having exchanged all kinds of useful travel tips, as he is just ending his SA loop. Border formalities were minimal…get off the bus, sign out of Peru, walk across a bridge, sign into Ecuador…and wa-la. I wasn’t sure if I was going to spend a night in Loja, or not, but decided to let the bus schedules make my decision for me. There was a bus leaving for Cuenca 20 minutes after we arrived, so I decided to go for it. I made it to Cuenca around 11pm and made a beeline straight for my chosen hotel.
I chose Hostal el Monasterio because the book described it as a 6th floor gem. After nearly 3 weeks with walking being my only form of exercise, I figured I could use the 6 flights up and down each day. (I was counting on the fact that if they had an elevator, it would be broken, and I was right.) Anyway, in the morning I woke up to a beautiful plaza outside my window, already in full swing for the day. And thus began my 5 days in Cuenca, although I could have stayed a lot longer, as I really loved it!!
Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, but from the center where I mainly was, you wouldn’t even know it’s a city at all. It’s filled with plazas, markets, cobblestone streets, bakeries, cafes and book shops. I spent most of my time just walking around, checking things out, stopping for a drink here and there and people watching in the plazas. I also perfected the art of the evening stroll…not much else to do in the evenings as it’s a pretty quiet town during the week.
One afternoon I took a bus out of town to some thermal baths, which turned out to be a flop of a trip. I was expecting something a bit rustic and natural, but it turned out to be just a regular swimming pool where they were bringing in the thermal water. And, it started to rain like crazy the second I got there.
My second side trip went much better. I headed out to two villages about an hour outside of Cuenca, both known for their markets and handcrafts. I needed to do some Christmas shopping so thought that would be a good starting point…turns out, I only bought stuff for myself…that’s generally how my preliminary X-mas shopping goes. Go figure. The first village, Gualaceo was known for their panama hat making. The second, Chordeleq, was known for it’s jewelry (ok, that’s the real reason I went – everyone needs another tiger’s eye ring, right?).
Five days after I arrived, it was time to leave Cuenca. I really loved the city and it made a wonderful first impression of Ecuador.
One of the things I had wanted to do, but just couldn’t muster up the energy for the 5am wakeup call that was required, was to go out to the National Park Cajas for a long hike. I was thrilled to find out that my bus ride to Guayaquil would go right through the park. So even though I’d been lazy all week, I was still going to get to see the park, and from the comfort of my bus window!!!