Vern: We woke up just before 5am in our sparce but comfy room on the Quilotoa crater crest. My watch-arm was buried below three alpaca wool blankets and the alarm only sounds for 30 seconds so we'd slept through this, but luckily Andrea's body clock had roused her (isn't it amazing how we can do that) and she threw off the covers and initiated our morning routines.
We were packed, ready and waiting by the time that the bus driver and his son - who were coincidentally staying at the same hotel (as a loyal readers will remember) - were up. They opened up the bus and we boarded, taking seats 1 and 2 up front. The bus eased off at 5:05am and by the 5:07am, we'd already picked up two more passengers. In fact by sunrise the bus was full - a lot of people off to an early start! Most people boarded with a friendly, "buenos dias" and since we were up front we repeated this back to everyone and beamed big smiles. This was good practice for the positions waiting for us after our career-break - since we both left professions in industries which move so quickly, our skill-sets are fast becoming obsolete so upon our return we look forward to rewarding roles as Walmart Greeters. The sunrise over this picturesque setting was a masterpiece. The landscape appears like an immense patchwork quilt, each patch one of three shades of green, thrown over Manhattan. Huge peaks disappear into deep canyons and the steep hillsides are portioned up into little farms and grazing lands. The snowcap on the massive Cotopaxi volcano glowed sureally as if under a black-light and the strips of cloud alternated grey and orange so the sky looked like neon tiger print.
We were dropped off back in Latacunga, and popped back to the hotel to fetch our backpacks and laundry which we'd left there. We then took an uneventful bus ride an hour south to Ambato and caught a connecting bus to Cuenca.
"Muchos gringos," said a woman to her husband, as we boarded. Andrea and I stared at then woman--we know that word--and when she realised she'd been heard and understood, she smiled guiltily and gave us an, "ola."
The bus ride to Cuenca was terrible! It was over booked by about 30% so 12 or so people had to stand for all or part of the seven-and-a-half hour journey! Thank goodness we had bought tickets (rather than hailing it) and had thereby reserved seats, and that the broad-shouldered man who was squatting in our seats got up to move without incident. The couple supposed to be sitting behind us were not so lucky as the man sitting in their allocated seats told them where he thought they could put the ticket they waving around. The mob of passengers were in a foul mood because of the cramped conditions and in addition to screaming at the bus driver to stop picking people up (quite valid) and there were a few anti-gringo comments since there were a handful of white backpackers on this bus and we all had seats, since we'd all bought a tIcket knowing no other way to have been let on this vehicle. They played two old Spanish movies with screeching sound quality which the CIA should invest in as torture implements and to top it off a man holding a one-eyed fighting cockerel boarded, squeezed his way down the center of the bus and stopped next to us. "I hope it doesn't eat my cookie", I said to Andrea. I was rather enjoying an Oreo-knockoff when the bus turned into a barnyard. "I hope it doesn't eat my eye!", Andrea responded and I conceded that that would be worse. Also my cookie was now finished. We kept a cautious eye on the cyclops chicken until its handler moved on.
Finally we arrived in Ecuador's second biggest city, Cuenca, and found a hostel. We had dinner and went for a walk around the colonial part of the city. Immediately we liked it more than Quito. Cobblestone streets run past the attractive colonial buildings - though a dash of fresh paint wouldn't hurt - and all the architectural delights: churches; bridges; plazas and statues are dramatically underlit. Also lit up was a grand building with imported bricks and a pompous pillars-and-stairs-and-flags entrance. It would not look out of place on Park Lane and we attempted to poke around expecting a marbled lobby and bellboys. But the door was shut - only open on weekdays 9 - 4. It was a municipal office building administering public works and the like. I hope there are no potholes in Cuenca, because as a local I'd be fuming at the cost of this extravagant edifice. Round the corner, a youth talent show was underway in a public square and we watched a petrified girl singing a Spanish song followed by a young man with a mop of black hair skillfully pluck out the melody to Penny Lane. It was a pleasant evening altogether and we were quite pleased to have decided to stop over here.