Before we left Banos we saw a very odd sight. As we walked from our hostel there was a car with all four doors, boot and bonnet open. A family were stood around it. A man dressed as a priest was walking around the car sprinkling water in all the open orifices. I suppose it gives a new slant on having your car serviced.
The day we were leaving Banos it was raining. I guess if you are in a rain forest area you should expect a lot of trees and rain. Time to put all the wet weather covers on the ruckies. We walked to the bus station with 'John Wayne' legs following our two days of exertion.
We were headed for Riobamba. There is nothing much here except a train station which runs a train down through a switchback rail track into Alusi. Until recently and a couple of fatal accidents you could ride on the roof. Unfortunately it seems that the train station and the track are undergoing repairs so there was no train. Oh well never mind. We stayed one night and caught a bus to Cuenca.
There is a friendly battle in Ecuador as to which is the better city, Cuenca or Quito. I think Quito is grander and larger but Cuenca is quainter. Cuenca is listed as one of the world's top retirement destinations. We booked a suite (self catering room) in a colonial hostel. It is rather nice.
We arrived late afternoon as it was a six hour bus ride through the central highlands. The scenery was again fabulous. Today we have spent exploring the city. A quick trip to tourist info and we were armed with a map showing a walking tour of the city. It took us through some pretty districts and past numerous museums. We went first to the Museo Sombrero. Here we saw how the Panama hat is made. I know what you are thinking and I didn't know either. Apparently Panama hats were first made in Ecuador. Cuenca is the second most famous place for their manufacture. They became known as Panama hats because they were mostly shipped through Panama. They say the best quality Panamas (Montecristis) which are made of straw should be so tightly woven they can hold water and when rolled can pass through a wedding ring before returning to their original shape. May buy one tomorrow. Not a Montecristi as they can cost a thousand dollars.
After the hats we went to the museo de banco which is next to the national bank. It is a museum of Ecuadorian history. A fascinating insight into the people of this country. Part of the tradition of some of the tribes was head shrinking. It was part of conquering or avenging a murder or other serious wrong doing. The head was slit and the skull removed then replaced with a ball. All the fat was removed then it was boiled in water with tannins added. As it shrunk it was remodelled to keep the features. The museum contains a number of exhibits. Bizarre but fascinating to see. Right up there with the mummified Inca children in Salta.
It's now tomorrow or rather today. We've had a lovely day wandering around the street markets in the sun. I know the weather has been pretty dire at home but here it's been sunny and a pleasant 24 degrees. Interestingly Jill and I are in shorts and short sleeved shirts but the locals are in long trousers and jackets. We couldn't resist so we are now the proud owners of two handmade Panama hats. Don't care what anyone else thinks we think we look cool!!
Tomorrow we are flying back to Quito for a one night stopover. We are starting to head towards the Columbian border.