I finally made it to Cuenca, Ecuador at 8pm after a total of 46 hours of transit from Arequipa (in southern Peru) to Lima to Tumbes (in northern Peru) over the border into Huaquillas, Ecuador then another 5 hours to get here.I must say it was a character building experience, although one that I don't plan to repeat!I did save myself over $300 though!I stayed in the cute Hostal Paredes that had nice hot water and was about a 10 - 15 min walk from Calderon park in the center of town for only $7 per night.I walked down to the park and had ice cream for dinner - I deserved it!
I missed the museums on Saturday since I slept in and they weren't open in the afternoon - oops!I did go into the cathedral in the main square and walked down by the flower market & along the river.I also saw a little Peruvian concert for a little bit which was a cute one man show.I then walked more along the river to the very small ruins on the other side.Unfortunately, it started to rain and didn't stop for the rest of the day.I did the bus tour anyways, not having anything else to do.The guy gave us some information about the city - some of the architecture is in French style and Pope Jean Paul II came to visit 2 churches in Cuenca.We toured the old city, went over the river Tomebamba to tour the new city, over another river w/ 3 bridges (Cuenca has 4 rivers) and up to Turi for a church and a lookout point.It was still raining so it wasn't a great view but at least it wasn't raining hard.I went to a typical restaurant, Raymipampa, for dinner & had locro criollo - potato soup w/ cheese & avocado & a llapingacho (potato pancake).They weren't bad, but not as good as the ice cream the day before!J
I took the 7am bus to the Cajas National park.It took forever - 1.5 hours since we stopped a million times and had to wait since they were doing construction.It was a nice view through the park though.Once I got there they gave me a big map which turned out to be useless.I made it around the lake OK but then it was unclear what to do.Finally, I saw a red marker and started following that.It turned out to be the red trail and I managed to follow it although I got lost & had to back track several times.It took me through beautiful forest by lakes, mountains, rivers, little waterfalls and lots of flowers.I even saw a bunny & an alpaca & heard some kind of frog or insect.It was quite striking & it was quite an adventure following the little red marks.I originally wanted to do 2 trails but I was tired after 4 hours of hiking & worried about getting lost so I decided to try to make it to the Gualaceo market for the afternoon.It was another long bus ride back to Cuenca because of the construction - always w/ people coming on board to sell potato chips & peanuts, etc… - I guess it makes sense, people get hungry & they have to wait anyways.I finally got back to Cuenca and was in the Gualaceo market by 4:30pm.I met an older man named Eduardo along the way and hung out w/ him for the evening.We had a nice walk through the fruit market and another market indoors where I saw them roasting cui - guinea pig!It was pretty gross!We walked down to the river & it was very pretty - a big park w/ lots of families.I also got to have guarapo - sugar cane juice w/ lemon again.It was so delicious!We went back to the market & had hornado for dinner (whole roast pig) which was very good.Back in Cuenca at the bus station there was a guy mixing this sugarcane honey goo from Colombia w/ his hands.It was supposed to be good for a bunch of things for your health but it was too sweet for me.After convincing poor old Eduardo that he had no chance w/ me (he had grandchildren!) I went back to my hotel and watched Chavez talk against the golpe de estado in Honduras then watched a cool Facetas program on TV highlighting Inti Raymi in Ingapirca where I was going the next day.
My last day in Cuenca I got up early and managed to visit the Aborigine museum, the Panama hat museum, and the Pumapungo museum.The Aborigine museum had a LOT of interesting artifacts. I had a guide in the Panama hat museum/store & it was very interesting.They did everything in Ecuador but then always exported the hats to Panama for the final touches (band, stitching) which is why everyone calls it a Panama hat even though it originated in Montecristi, Ecuador! The guide showed me the head molds, hat molds & the irons they flattened them with.I also saw the straw & the various stages of weaving.Now they use a machine to form the hats & to flatten them instead of by hand.I got to try on a few hats & then she took me to a beautiful lookout of the city & explained what we saw.It was nice to see on a beautiful hot sunny day instead of the rain on Sat..Finally, I bought a mini hat as a souvenir, wanting to buy a real one but not wanting to carry it around for another month.I tried to go to the Museum of popular art but it was closed in the morning so my last stop was the Pumapungo museum.It was interesting - especially the shrunken heads.It was a custom to shrink sloth heads in one of the Amazonian tribes as a right of passage for the boys and also for a long time they would shrink the heads of murderers in order to trap the bad spirit inside or something like that.Outside, I saw the ruins of the Incan terracing and below they had beautiful gardens w/ traditional & medicinal plants & herbs & crops as well as many kinds of parrots & hawks that the Incans had.I got my bags & got back on the bus to see the Caniari/Incan ruins of Ingapirca (the only well preserved Incan ruins in Ecuador).The views of the countryside were gorgeous -sprawling green hills w/ farms.It was so pretty I wanted to take pictures but I knew it wouldn't do it justice through the windows.Finally, since the bus was taking forever as usual and I would never make it otherwise, I got off early & took a taxi from Cañar to Ingapirca for $8.It was worth every penny!The taxi driver was very nice & took a shortcut up this dirt road where they were doing more construction and we almost couldn't get through.He pushed his little car over the dirt & we miraculously made it!I got to Ingapirca about 3:45pm but then the driver locked his keys in his car!I felt so bad since he had helped me w/ my suitcase & was so nice. I saw the tiny museum & then got a guided tour of the site w/ a German guy.The guide explained how the sight was shaped like a Puma w/ the temple of the sun at the head & the temple of the moon at the feet.It was originally a Caniari sight and then an Inca one.The Caniari buildings were in a round or elliptical shape & the Inca kept that shape for the temple of the Sun so it is the only Incan temple that is not square or rectangle.We saw the 28 hole calendar rock, the llama guillotine (lots of llamas too) and the priests & sun virgins houses by the temple of the sun.The temple had 2 identical sides w/ the sunrise & sunset falling in place w/ 4 niches for the equinoxes & solstices.We also saw an Incan face carved in the mountain.When I got back the taxi was still there but had the doors opened & took us both to Tambo for $5 - good deal.In Tambo the German guy when off to Riobamba and after waiting a full half hour I finally got on a bus to Guayaquil to meet up w/ Luz Marina, my friend Nadia's sister who lives there.