As promised, I’m going back in time for a very brief telling of life in Cuenca – Ecuador – where we settled ourselves amongst the constant sound of car alarms that seems to be South America, for the best part of three months.
Life in Cuenca was very comfortable after we stopped all the huffing and puffing when climbing stairs and being forced to pause mid-sentence for extra breath, all side effects of living up at 2,500m above sea level. This colonial city set in a valley which is supplied by four rushing rivers and surrounded by Andean mountains, is very picturesque. The centre is littered with historical buildings that earn it the listing of a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site.
As much as we tried to find authentic Ecuadorian housing, in the end we fell for an apartment in Zona Rosa (Pink Zone, named for all the new red brick apartment buildings in the area) also named ‘Gringo Landia’. We got sucked in by all the modern amenities it had and which we often crave whilst on the road. As an added bonus there was an hour long party every weeknight on the two basketball courts downstairs in the form of ‘dance therapy’ or ‘Zumba’ to you and I.
This is a free service for the people provided by the Ecuadorian government and one which I enjoyed participating in even if I was the only ‘gringo’ attending. It didn’t take long before I was embraced by the locals.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the plan was to do intensive Spanish lessons in Cuenca but after a few weeks the classroom competition got a bit heated. My instructions to ‘under perform’ didn’t go so well and in the end Michael assigned me as the official ‘Myerscough’s Resident Spanish Speaker’.
Evidence of Ecuador’s fertile, volcanic soil is everywhere in Cuenca, but especially evident at the local flower market where colourful and lush blooms are in abundance and cheap to boot. The indigenous ‘mercados’ are another place that is a feast for the eyes and full of richness. They have a staggering variety of fruits and vegetables all super fresh and mostly organic. So our modern home was always filled with flowers and the kitchen put to good use once I got my head around the fun fact that water boils at a lesser temperature at altitude and oven temperatures also need to differ to accommodate the higher elevation.
A place we had fun visiting was the Panama Hat Museum or Museo del Sombrero which is both a museum and working factory. Interestingly, the Panama hat is actually Ecuadorian and the first factory was started in Cuenca in 1836. The hats today are still labour intensively handmade, woven and finished in the traditional way using what looks like the original machines from back in the 1800’s. Unfortunately the hats wouldn’t endure all our travelling but it was fun to play dress up for an afternoon.
Many people pay a visit to Cuenca for the close by Cajas National Park – one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Ecuador that straddles the continental divide. Hiking up to a wild and rugged peak at El Cajas on a clear day is amazing, offering truly outstanding panoramic views of the ancient primitive landscape, full of glacier-scoured valleys and vast quantities of glistening lakes.
The challenge is to strike it lucky and experience El Cajas on one of these superb days as the weather there can be rather unfriendly, frequently plagued with rain, fog and hostile winds. We took a couple of goes to get it right but were fortunate enough to be able to see (or mostly not) the mountains from our balcony. Peaking up in their direction upon waking in the mornings, a couple of times the mountains weren’t hiding behind the clouds, so we got cracking before it all changed (mountain weather is incredibly changeable!). Gear on, we travelled the mere 30km from Cuenca to the park for some hiking, solitude and escape from the diesel bus fumes of the city. Even with all the wonderful places we’ve visited, we found El Cajas to be magical.
Currently living in Cusco, Peru, still amongst the automobile fumes and car alarms of South America as well as having gone up a few considerable notches as far as altitude living is concerned. We are amidst city discoveries and adventuring in the Sacred Valley, not to mention preparing ourselves for two big hikes this week. No doubt you’ll be hearing all about it when you tune in next time. Oh and if you might spare a few crossed fingers and toes on our behalf for the rainy season to hold out for us a couple weeks more, it would be most appreciated!