Our first “Cuencan” hour was lived with mixed feelings… Ok…no mixed feelings at all, M and I completely disliked it. We considered jumping back on a bus and skip Cuenca all at once. To start with, we arrived on a grey Sunday and the streets were literally empty. This made Cuenca’s town center look pretty sinister. On top of this, a rude taxi driver tried to rip us off, the town center seemed to be a war zone (for their defense, they are building for a better future, implementating a tram network) and we were struggling to find a decent and affordable hostel. Many places were named hostels but were applying hotel prices. Confused and very tired, we walked around a lot, entered many ho(s)tels but couldn’t find what we were looking for. Funny enough (almost want to say as usual), when we were about to give up, we found a place that looked nice enough to be called home for a night. They were offering free pizza for dinner (you gotta love Sundays at Bauhouse) and the staff was very friendly. We weren’t leaving Cuenca after all. Fast-forward 2 days, we were glad we didn’t!
The city with 70 churches came to life the next day and on that sunny Monday we took a free tour which was recommended by many travelers. Since the tour guide was 45 minutes late, most of the tourists had given up and we ended up having a private tour. We went through many neighborhoods, learnt about Cuenca’s churches and laid a visit to its wonderful cathedral (my favorite so far among the 9 countries we visited the last 4 months). This free tour became even better when our tour guide took us to the market (a wonderful place filled with fresh veggies, fruits, meat and fish where delicious affordable meals are served on the first floor) and treated us to some local food. Wait… It was free and we were given some. free. food? We tried Ecuadorian tamales (as you do in Latin America) called humitas and drank mora juice. After our satisfying culinary break at the market, we went to visit a Panama hat factory and I must say it was surprisingly interesting! The tour itself was not as good as our free tour in Medellín but we were grateful that our tour guide showed us a beautiful Cuenca. Its Cañari ruins, river promenade and shady parks charmed us and we knew then that it would have been a shame to miss Cuenca!
While in Cuenca, it seemed almost mandatory to take a day trip to Ingapirca, the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. Located two hours away from Cuenca, it was really easy to reach. Since the entrance included a guide, after an hour, the ruins had no more secret to us and we had conquered the temple of the Sun. Our Spanish speaking guide was very knowledgable. We were surprised to learn that the Inca (invaders) and the Cañari had found a way to peacefully live along each other. Sun and moon were equally worshipped and the two peoples were smart enough to respect each other’s believes. This is something that some leaders and nutters around the world might want to look into. Ingapirca was definitely an inspiring place to take a day trip to – even tho the bus ride took longer than the visit itself.
With two interesting archeological and cultural days spent in cuenca, the time to say goodbye to Ecuador was unfortunately upon us. We were nowhere near ready to start our journey to São Paulo (long story!) but I guess it had to be done: Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in 13 days… Let’s do it… Next stop: Tumbes.