From our cosy hotel in Quito we get a taxi to the bus terminal through the bustling side streets of Quito. We pass through streets full of fruit, fruit piled up in small stores, in doorways, on sidewalks and on tables manned by old ladies. Fruit everywhere! So many bananas! Then we pass through a street home to a fish market - cane baskets full to overflowing with shrimps, octopus, clams, fish, and a giant marlin lying on the footpath. We pass through a street where each small store has cows and pigs hanging from hooks, ready to be butchered into pieces for dinner. There are woman in traditional dress carrying all manner of things over their shoulders or on their backs - bundles of straw, sacks of produce, small blue barrels and babies.
Our taxi driver takes us to the new bus terminal 45 minutes south of the city centre, for just 10 dollars and then takes us into the terminal and gets us tickets on a 10.45am bus with Santa to the city of Cuenca. The tickets are $10 and we are given a mini coke and mini snack bag of chips for the ride. We are told the bus has a toilet and air conditioning.
We chill for a couple of hours til our bus leaves and hope aboard, getting a luggage ticket for our backpacks stowed in the holds. We are not totally organised and somehow we manage to misplace Ryan's wallet. We're not sure if it fell out of his pocket or if we had it on our bus seat with our daypacks and a light-fingered passenger nicked it. Police question and pat down the dodgiest looking of our three fellow passengers and appear to find nothing but remove him from the bus. Not sure what went down there really, maybe they took him off and he had the wallet after all and they shared in the profits. Or maybe the gummy old guy and his traditionally dressed wife had lifted it and dined like kings that night after they escaped being searched. We were pretty vigilant before, and are now much more so!
Our driver grinds through the gears and gets us out of Quito and down through the beautiful patchwork hills, farmed with small patches of crops, right the way to the top of impossibly high mountains on impossibly steep slopes. We see farmers tending these crops, by hand, hoe and rake.
We whip along the sides of mountains high above the clouds, we pass on blind corners, our driver has several moments of road rage abusing a truck driver and another bus driver and we screech to halts whenever someone sticks out a hand to flag down the bus or get off in the middle of nowhere. Generally his driving and the roads cause us to think we are going to come to an untimely death on a bus in Ecuador!
All manner of things are loaded into the holds, sacks of beans and other farm produce and a surprising number of tyres. In Ambato woman and children board the bus when we stop at the terminal and sell sweets, snacks and icecreams to passengers.
Eventually we stop for fuel and I make a dash for a banos as the toilet on the bus is locked. We continue to provide our air conditioning by way of a open window. Night falls and we eventually arrive into Cuenca around 8.30pm, a 9.5 hour bus ride later. Our luggage arrives too and we get a taxi for $2 to El Cafecito.
Luckily there is a staff member with good English, but he tells us he can't take our reservation for a double with shared bathroom as some guests have stayed on longer and our faces drop until he mentions he can give us a room with a private bathroom for a higher price. At 9pm, we are not about to look elsewhere so take the room which is away from the noise of the cafe, looks out onto a rear garden and is lovely with comfortable bed, plenty of blankets and private bathroom, for $25.
We make some phone calls to cancel Ryan's bank cards and then crash into bed and fall asleep despite the hum of music from the cafe in the hostal.
We enjoy a sleep in the next morning and a hot shower with some pretty decent pressure. We find a laundry to do a same day service on our 8kg of washing from the Galapagos tour and change to a room with shared bathroom facilities for $15.
Once a shower of rain passes we walk up the street to the Parque Calderon, the main plaza and admire the imposing 'new' cathedral with blue domes and the tiny 'old' cathedral on the opposite side of the plaza. We shelter from another quick rain shower outside the new cathedral amongst stalls piled high with candles for sale for worshippers. We see the small flower market with stalls manned by traditionally dressed indigenous woman.
In between seeing these low key but enjoyable sights of Cuenca we hunt for a bank that will change some dollars for Peru soles but we keep lucking out. The one bank in town that offers foreign exchange is all out of soles. We take a break in one of the many icecream palour/cafes and enjoy a delicious milkshake before we head down to the Rio Tomebamba to stroll along its pleasant banks.
We pick up our washing at the end of the day, just $6! We have dinner at La Vina, a pizzeria not far from our hostal. The service is great and we enjoy complimentary bread with dips and then a lasagne and pizza, both very generous sizes and a delicious red wine. We leave, just $15 lighter in the wallet and feeling very full. We head to bed, all packed for heading to the bus station the next morning to grab a bus down to Loja.
Cuenca was a beautiful town to stop in for a couple of nights, pretty colonial buildings, cobbled streets and a beautiful historic centre, better even than Quito.