Cuenca: a historically beautiful city

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and generally considered the most beautiful city from an architectural and aesthetic perspective. I visited Cuenca coming right of the heels of a time so short in Guayaquil I could almost call it a layover. My plan was to meet up with a group from Boston that was already in Cuenca. I got up in the morning, took the Metrovia (city bus) to the main bus terminal, and bought a ticket for Cuenca. It was difficult getting around since the terminal had three levels and snaking hallways with shops. Luckily I was able to get some food and catch my bus in time.

Most of the ride was through relatively flat farmland. However, this land was prettier than on the ride to Guayaquil from Puerto Lopez. The land here was much greener and lusher as opposed to the dry, dusty land before. It was surprising how long it took before we started gaining altitude. The bus route passed through Cajas National Park, a striking mountain park full of lakes, peaks, and open landscapes. Upon arriving in Cuenca, I immediately noticed how every building, even outside of the center, was very pretty in its architectural style and different from anywhere else I have seen. Even though I haven’t been to Cusco, Peru, I have seen pictures that look somewhat similar to Cuenca.

I took a bus to the historic center where I was told I could easily find the hostel where my friends were staying. Unfortunately, I asked a few people on the street for directions and no one really seemed to know where the streets were. I wandered around among the historic buildings and churches until I finally was able to find the hostel very close to where I originally got off of the bus. After settling down and hearing from my friends that they were napping, I went to the market. It was similar to Iñaquito but two levels and larger in its selection of food stalls. The hornado (whole roast pig) was calling out, so I got a plate of that and a cup of coconut juice.

My time with the others from Boston turned out to be short. They were flying home the next day (Saturday) in the morning while I had the whole day to spend there. We hung out and had dinner together, reminiscing about our experiences in Ecuador. Out of all the strange things, the Hinkles decided to just show up. They had an extra day before they wanted to get to Loja, so they left Guayaquil later, went to hike in Cajas, and then arrived in Cuenca. The next morning everyone left, andI had a day to myself. I decided to get a bus to Cajas National Park to go hiking.

What I arrived to was an amazing park with a great interpretive center (that I didn’t have time for), and many trails. The rangers told me of a trail that would take about 2 hours, which is what I was looking for. Along the way, I walked past lakes and marshes and through conifer forests. I saw a little rabbit and lots of birds. Many interesting plants were also present along the way. A family was fishing for trout in a little stream. That surprised me because I didn’t know that trout lived in Ecuador, much less at over 12,000 feet. Finally as I was near the end, it started pouring a mixture of rain and hail. I quickly put on my coat over my pack to try to keep everything as dry as possible. My jeans still ended up getting soaked. Then, a bus wouldn’t pick me up when I flagged it down. I had to flag one at the park entrance toll booth.

Once I got back to Cuenca, I quickly got on dry clothing at the hostel, which was kind to let me keep one of my bags there and change in the bathroom. My goal was to catch the 4 PM or 4:30 PM tour bus so I could see the city before it got dark. This seemed to be the best thing to do because I really wanted to see as much of Cuenca as possible in a short period of time. The ride was nice and only cost $5. We passed by most of the important plazas and churches in the city, with narration by experts on each item. It turns out that the incredible cathedral is the 2nd largest in Latin America. Little did I know that there were some Incan ruins in town, which I also got the chance to see. We had our final stop at a viewpoint with a view of the entire city.

There was little left to do upon returning. The cathedral was closed at that time preventing me from entering. I ate dinner at an Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal. It had delicious curry, making it some of the best international food I have had in Ecuador. To finish off the evening, I walked to a plaza and watched a little Christmas concert to pass a couple of hours before taking an overnight bus back to Quito. I had an interesting encounter with a group of three young ladies. They sat down next to me and began to make a lot of commotion. At one point, it appeared that one of them elbowed me gently three times in a manner that didn’t feel accidental. Finally, one told me that she was taking pictures. I said I could move out of the way, but it turned out that she wanted to take a picture with me. We got to talking a little bit, and it turns out that one of them is from the coast and runs a seafood restaurant, while the other two work there and are from Colombia. The one from the coast also had a little son who was there.

Cuenca turned out to be a great historical and cultural capital within Ecuador. My time there was far too short to absorb everything, but I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures, again because of my broken camera.

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