Change of pace for my Ecuador feelings – I really liked Cuenca! The town is beautiful, the food was slightly better, but the people remained a bit distant… more on that later.
After our adventurous day trying to ride the train, we finally got to Cuenca and were HUNGRY. We went to Chicago Pizza something-or-other and had mediocre calzones, before wandering a bit and finding a good-looking heladeria, ice cream parlor. We decided we’d go back there for dinner (really, it was kind of our only option!). When we did go back for dinner, it was PACKED with people – I assume because almost nothing else is open – and we had to wait, with the store’s armed guard (!?!?) before getting a table. We split a delicious pizza (hominy, bacon, and pineapple), then each got sweet concoctions including a lot of sugar and dairy. Oh what a life
Monday morning we decided to go to Ingapirca, the Ecuadorian version of Machu Picchu! Ingapirca, meaning “Inca Wall,” is the only Incan formation to include an ellipse – interesting, eh? I have several bones to pick with Lonely Planet, including it’s description of Ingapirca as “about as exciting as staring at a pile of rocks” (something along those lines) – I thought it was neat! The museum was very informative and the ruins themselves were very fun to walk around. Also, we could buy tons of alpaca goods afterwords – hats, gloves, scarves, ponchos, you name it! If you want more real information about Ingapirca, click here.
We thought going to Ingapirca was a safe bet for Monday, since nothing else was open due to Carnivale, but it turned out to be quite the adventure of a day. We had no problem getting TO Ingapirca – the buses were running as usual; however, they apparently stopped running midway through the day. We were told a bus would come pick us up at 1 o’clock, and when I asked someone at 1:30 where the bus was, I was informed that there would be no buses that day. WHAT?! How were we supposed to leave?! It seemed a bit odd. We hitched our way down into El Tambo, a town about 15 km away, and then waited for the bus back to Cuenca. Which did not come either. Finally, after waiting with a decently sized group of Ecuadorians, we decided to all split a cab back to Cuenca – about an hour ride, with four of us crammed into the back seat of a little cab, for only $6 per person! We decided it was worth it to not get stuck in El Tambo.
Monday and Tuesday were scary because we never knew when we would get hit with foam, water, or any other mysterious liquid. We got hit by all three numerous times. Walking down a one way street with your back to the traffic was SCARY – it just came out of nowhere! We were glad when Wednesday rolled around and we no longer had to wear our rain jackets everywhere.
Tuesday was a pickle, because nothing was open – again. We decided to do our own little walking tour of the town, and about halfway through stumbled upon the tourist information office – which was open! The woman there told us that there was a bus tour of the city leaving three times that day, so we decided to do it in order to see more of the town and actually have an activity. It was very informative (all in Spanish) about the parts of the city and different historical features, and ended up on the hill South of the city looking out over everything. For the first time in Ecuador, we actually saw American tourists! They were slightly obnoxious, but I suppose we probably are at times as well.
After our bus tour we had really run out of things to do, so we had a relaxed afternoon at the Austrian Cafe where they serve a lot of good food, and have free wireless! I updated the blog, did some research for Peru and my return home, and did plenty of useless diddling around. All in all, it was a glorious afternoon. I think I’ve reached the point in my traveling where I need a break. A real break. I feel like just sitting around and doing nothing – ALL THE TIME – not good! Whenever I have an internet connection I find myself spending hours looking at recipes online, tons and tons of them. I cannot wait to go home and cook, I really miss baking! While the list goes on forever, here are just a few of the things I plan to bake shortly after getting back to Boulder:
I’m not sure how to remedy my lackluster attitude right now. I start my Peruvian home stay on Sunday (if I can successfully get myself to Arequipa on time), then have two days in Puno (on Lake Titicaca) before Mom, Grandmother, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Debbie, and Uncle Bob all arrive in Cusco. I’m REALLY excited for them to come! It doesn’t feel so much like I’m homesick in the sense of being lonely and wanting familiar people – I have plenty of that – but I think I really just am tired of being homeless. I want to be in ONE place for a LONG time and be able to settle back into a routine. I can’t do that here, and I’m tired of carrying my heavy backpack (which is getting heavier as I near the end of my trip due to PURCHASES!). I’m sure the next three weeks will fly by too quickly, but I am ready to go home and not worry about where I’ll sleep, what I’ll eat, and how I’ll get to the next destination.
Back to Cuenca.
Tuesday night we ate at a Spanish Tapas Bar which had REALLY good food. I had spinach ravioli (not very Spanish, and not a huge portion, but delicious!), and Aunt Mary had a vegetable crepe which looked VERY good. We had a relaxed evening again because Cuenca was still in a shut down stupor for Carnivale!
Wednesday finally meant stores were open – what a change! Cuenca came to life after being so lazy and quiet for the previous three days. We started out the morning by going to Homero Ortega’s – one of the most famous makers of Panama Hats. Why is it called the Panama hat, if indeed it originated around Cuenca, Ecuador? Well, there are a variety of answers, but the most reputable one I’ve heard is that while being shipped to some international expo back in the day, the hats went through Panama to be shipped and were stamped PANAMA as the port of origin – confusing the fact that the actual origin was Ecuador!
It is really cool to see the process for the hats, woven by hand, and then see them in the store room to try on! They had some very elaborate ones, but I actually ended up buying a mid-range (meaning $45 instead of $20 or $300) classic Panama hat, like a fedora. It is now rolled up in my backpack and hopefully will regain shape when I unpack it at home! Excuse the Brittany Spears photo, but my hat looks a bit like this, only more finely woven and with a better shape.
After hat shopping, we went to the huge Museo Banco Central – full of information on indigenous Ecuadorians, money through the ages in Ecuador, and even a full on ruin in the back. We learned a lot about the various regions of Ecuador, including how the people are perceived. True to what we have experienced, the museum said that people in the central area we have been traveling in are known for being distant and quiet. I’m glad to know that my perception is not fabricated! We walked all around the outside ruins as well, through a garden of typical Ecuadorian crops, and past a lot of birds (macaws and toucans and more!).
We headed back into the main part of town to see the new cathedral, which is magnificent from the outside, and were greeted by throngs of people attending services for Ash Wednesday. There were two lines in the cathedral which wrapped all around the inside and out the door to the street. This is serious business! We walk in and stood in the back, admiring the alter (which is the main attraction because it is apparently a replica of the alter at St. Peter’s in Rome), then decided we’d seen it and headed out to get lunch. We had our first Cuencan lunch, which (HALLELUJAH!) included BEANS! Big step up.
Wednesday afternoon we went to the Modern Art Museum, which frankly was not good at all. It had multiple rooms of the same woman who did bland watercolors I really didn’t like, and then multiple rooms of crayon and colored pencil drawings from children. The kid artwork was fun to see, but not what I was hoping for in a modern art museum. The museum in Leon, Nicaragua completely put this one to shame! One our way back from the museum we stopped in a peluqueria to get my haircut – I’ve been desperately needing one. I really just wanted about a centimeter off the ends, but ended up getting layers and layers and layers – much shorter than I normally would! Oh well, I look fine. It was actually very nice to get my hair blown dry – I haven’t done it since December!
One thing I was repeatedly warned about before coming down here, but haven’t actually experienced until Ecuador, is getting ripped off. Perhaps I just wasn’t aware of it in the other countries, but I have noticed MULTIPLE times here (buses and haircuts being prominent) being given less change or being charged a totally different price (e.g. MORE) than I should be. Usually I just let it slide because I don’t especially care, and I don’t have the guts or language skills to really fight it, but it kind of irks me that just because I’m a foreigner it is assumed I can be taken advantage of! ARGH.
We ate an early dinner and headed over to go to a Wednesday night service at the CS Society in Cuenca, but discovered that the Journal listing is old and that they don’t actually have Wednesday services anymore. We ended up talking to the guy whose house we showed up at, and Aunt Mary noticed that he was an amateur radio operator (like she is), so they dinked around with the radio for a while before we headed back to town for our last night of ice cream at Tutto Freddo’s.
Today, we got up at a normal hour, took a 4 hour bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil, and are getting ready to leave EARLY tomorrow morning for our respective destinations (California and Peru!). I’m excited to move into Peru, but also not thrilled about having to move and move again so many times in the next week. Luckily I really only have six more times of packing up my backpack and moving it before I get home, but right now that sounds overwhelming.
I feel as if I have not done Ecuador justice, and would love to come back to see the other parts of the country. I think I would LOVE the coast, and be really interested in the Amazon. One day I’ll have to journey back and polish up my image of Ecuador, but that also poses the question: is it better to see other places first, or to revisit places I’ve been to experience them in more depth? Aah that is the question. At this point I still want to go back to Panama ASAP since I skipped 80% of what I wanted to see there, but Ecuador will remain on the list so I can experience it in a different way.