The Rainy Season in Cuenca

Yes readers, we’re still in Ecuador and loving it !  On our trip so far, this is the longest we’ll have spent in one country: 46 days.  We left Banos on an early morning bus bound for Riobamba, where we were told it was an easy change of bus towards Cuenca, our destination.  Unfortunately the conductor was really confused, and tried to persuade us to get off the bus on the outskirts of town.  A number of friendly Ecuadorian travellers, and indeed the driver, suggested this was a bad move, so we all climbed back on.  We arrived at the bus terminal and were straightaway shuffled onto another bus bound for Cuenca – yes, it was easy after all (and as usual very cheap).  The only problem with these long distance journeys is getting food (or food as we know it).  Of course, numerous vendors always come onto the bus:  you can buy ice cream (Ecuadorians love their ice cream), sugary drinks, crisps, jewellery, newspapers and even CDs.  This time we cracked and bought crisps, the only food we ate all day !   Still, the scenery was exceptionally good as our journey continued through the Andes.  People-watching here is fascinating, also.  There were lots of local indigenous families travelling in between the mountain villages: interesting clothes, hats, babies in shawls, all juggling said unhealthy food items whilst crammed into a bus containing about 20 more passengers than was feasible.
As we neared Cuenca it started to rain, then it turned to hail and the grass verges turned white !  Luckily by the time we got off the bus it had stopped – April showers and all that.  Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city at about 2500m.  We are currently in the rainy season and for what it’s worth it’s winter, although when the sun shines you wouldn’t know it as it’s pretty hot.  We found our hostel easily and again it’s in a refurbished old colonial building with central garden and huge hummingbirds drinking from the flowers.  Oh, and it’s oh so quiet at night, we’re happy bunnies.
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The next morning we wandered around town, found the beautiful main square (Parque Calderon), had breakfast and visited a Spanish School nearby.  We had decided to take some more lessons, although didn’t fancy the standard group deal from 8-12 every morning.  The school seemed pretty flexible, as it’s low season here, and we signed up for three hours in the mornings, concentrating on conversation.   Here’s a photo of the bandstand in the main square near the school.  Occasionally there are bands playing music here, but more usually it’s the preferred spot for break dancing practice!
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The Spanish lessons went quite well, although they’re hard work, and we had the afternoons free to look around the city.  We took a tour bus to get an idea of the layout and some of the buildings were even more beautiful viewed from the top deck.
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We reached a beautiful viewpoint, Mirador de Turi, a couple of miles south of the centre (and luckily it wasn’t raining!).
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It was the week after the 455th anniversary of Cuenca’s foundation and luckily for us there were several events.  We went to three free music concerts and a ‘Mother Earth’ festival celebrating healthy living, but we still managed to lunch on salchipapa, basically sausage and chips :’)   There were several native folk dances, buskers, and various stalls (but not many tourists).
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Here’s Diane discussing the merits of eating guinea pig with a young student (however it’s unlikely she was negotiating to buy two).
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We had heard previously that Panama hats are made in Ecuador – Cuenca seems to be the epicentre of production.   As well as making new hats, which can cost $100 or so, local tradesmen refurbish them: it’s big business.  We even went to the Panama Hat museum and were shown how the top of the hat is moulded.
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As usual, the area around the city’s market is fascinating.  Here are some of the local fruit and vegetable vendors in their traditional dress.
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Another interesting conundrum for us was to work out what this confection consisted of.  They’re ice cream cones, but it would have melted too quickly, so it couldn’t be ice cream.  Diane had to give up and ask her Spanish teacher – it is meringue, and both adults and children can be seen enjoying them in the parks and outside churches.
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The street art is fascinating too.
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Cuenca is a good place, if perhaps just a little too touristy for our taste, although there is a nice microbrewery J  We’re heading to Loja, a few hours south of here, and then we’ll pick up a bus for the trip to Peru.  And we’ll soon be celebrating six months of our trip !

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