Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cuenca, Ecuador - A Charming City!

Sleeping was not easy our first night here.  This may be the Equator but the mountain regions are experiencing a longer, colder "winter" here in Cuenca. They really only have dry season and rainy season with winter being the dry season, but not this year.

Regardless, most of the construction here is concrete block with NO heat. Let me repeat that - NO HEAT!!  The way you're supposed to get warm is by piling on warmer clothes and laying under many heavy blankets. That isn't always a great solution when you don't have many warm clothes and you don't want to buy any. And, the blankets really do weigh a ton and it's hard to sleep when you're being suffocated by weight!

We shed all our belongings or left some behind in the states so that we could pare down to only one suitcase and a backpack apiece. So we are short on warmer clothes because the majority of our time is in warm to hot climates and we wear as little as possible. Oh well.... As my daughter said "Suck it up!"  It'll only be for 5 weeks. We have been, but I've whined a bit on Facebook and I guess a bit now. Sorry!

Monday did dawn, after raining during the night, to a beautiful sunny day. Our Hostal is in the old historical center of Cuenca with beautiful Colonial buildings and cobble stone streets. As we were meeting a Facebook friend of mine, Sheila Felker, to take a tour of the city.

We found Sheila waiting for us in the park close to the gazebo. We hugged, we cried, and we giggled at finally being able to see each other face to face. How wonderful to be able to come so far to continue our friendship!

Off we went to the "new" cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which construction began in 1895! This is the cathedral that has the huge blue domes that are a hallmark of the city scape. The inside is magnificent with beautiful marble and gold. Stunning!






 
 
From there we went over to the flower Market with a vast array of delicious aromas and a feast for the eyes! It sits in the square in front of another church, which houses a sequestered group of nuns.





 
On to the artisans market, where Sheila found us Coca leaves for putting in our cheeks for helping with altitude adjustment. Then into the local indigenous market with such beautiful things. Too bad we're not buying!




 
Meandering more streets, we found ourselves in the incredible Mercado. Almost too much to absorb! But what an experience for the eyes!








 
Our next stop was the hat factory. The "original" Panama hats were actually made in Ecuador and still are. A truly fascinating place. Since I have a very small head (no comments from the peanut gallery), I am not able to wear hats because I can never find one small enough unless its a child's size and then they are quite fashionable enough for an adult. Well, I was finally lucky!  I found a beautifully colored hat that not only fit but I really liked!  Then I found out I was in the "Nina's" stack, of course!


 


 
I loved it and bought it. While they were sewing the custom band on the hat for me, we went upstairs to the rooftop and enjoyed a spectacular view of the "new" city overlooking the Tomebamba River.


 


 
Walking further down Calle Larga, we decided it was time for a bite so we ducked into Chiplote. A cozy little place with decent food. 

We continued to meander the streets taking in all of the architectural sites along the way but our legs were getting pretty tired at this point. So Sheila led us back to Parque Calderon for a cup of coffee at Cafe Sucre. A very quaint place.











 
The plan was for Mike and me to head back to our room to rest but when coming out of the coffee shop, a double decker city tour bus was just waiting for us to get on. We figured we could rest our legs while enjoying the 1.5 hr tour. As the weather was still decent enough, we sat up top and had a personal for just the two of us!

After riding through Old Town and then New Town, we headed up one of the hills surrounding the city to an old church where you have simply stunning views of the city!  The population is about 450,000 and it continues to grow.

















 

Once back down in Old Town, a stop for an evening drink with a great view overlooking Parque Calderon and people watching before tucking ourselves in for the night trying to stay warm.

 
Tuesday didn't dawn bright. It was overcast and quite chilly. But that certainly keep us from enjoying the day. Off we went to explore the many museums around town. Our first stop being at the oldest church (1563) located on the main square. A beautiful small church with an absolutely incredible pipe organ!  By the way, this city has 56 cathedrals/churches and all are magnificent!




 
From there we wanted to go through the catacombs of the Immaculate Conception. But it was closed so we headed toward the river to have lunch at Inca Bar, overlooking the Tomebamba River.  To get there, you have to climb down the many steps descending toward the river.  While there we met another couple from Atlanta and had a nice visit while we shared a huge hamburger!  

We continued our stroll along the river and found an unexpected museum of local artisans. A small exhibit, but well worth the stop.






 
Continuing on, we realized we would have to climb back up to Calle Largo to get to the Banco Central museum so up we climbed the streets, up and up and up!  We continue to take it easy at this altitude of 8,200'. Everything is beautiful here from the parks, landscaping, and architecture.

The museum is 3 levels and FREE!  An amazing exhibit of artifacts and depiction of the 26 different indigenous tribes in this wonderful country. We thoroughly enjoyed the couple of hours we spent here. Unfortunately, by this time, the weather had gotten really windy and cold with mist, so our tour of the Inca ruins wasn't as enjoyable as we had hoped.  These ruins are older than Machu Pichu and were the Inca capital before Machu Pichu, although not as spectacular.


 





 
On our walk back, we stopped in at the local Microbrewery so Mike could enjoy a "real" dark beer only to find out that the World Cup futbol (soccer) game between Ecuador and Bolivia was going on.  The place was packed!! But we found seats and enjoyed not only the game but watching the locals enjoy themselves.  The game ended with a 1-1 tie.  And, Mike enjoyed his 750ml $3.25 beer!!

We finally made it back to our place, took a hot, enjoyable shower and off we went again down to Di Bacco's, an Italian restaurant just 2 blocks from us.  It turned out if was Gringo Night and we got there just as it was wrapping up.  The wine and food was good at reasonable prices. 

During our stroll through town, we came up a tour agency and made reservations for the Ingapirca tour.  This is an ancient Inca ruins that is located an hour and a half north of Cuenca.  So on Wednesday morning at 8am, we were picked up at our hostal and after picking up one more single lady tourist from Switzerland, Nadja, we were off with a nice private tour given by our driver and a wonderful guide, Adrian!








On the way there, we stopped in the small town of Biblian to see the incredible cathedral of the Virgin here.  The church is built way up and into a stone mountain.  An incredible structure that we were thrilled to get to see. 






 





 
Ingapirca is higher in elevation and thus, a bit colder.  The weather had started out being a bit sunny but by the time we were walking through the ruins, it turned windy and cold again.  However, we prevailed and enjoyed the sights.  It's a truly magical place and so glad we took the time.










The temple of the sun gods is having issues with the stones separating after all these centuries.  Studies are being conducted now to find out why after all this time.  We encountered the scientists there and they told us they are trying to determine if the extreme and unusual rain that they've been having has anything to do with it.  Interesting when you think of how long these stones have been here and you couldn't even put a fingernail into the seams, I tried.  Now you can see how wide the separation is in one particular place.








At the end of the tour, there was an artisans shop where I finally broke down and bought a beautiful purple and black Alpaca wool scarf.  Love it!!  Perfect for getting me through this cold weather.

A wonderful lunch at the Posada de Ingapirca Hostal & Restaurant was an absolute delight with its old world charm but I guess it's really not old world, as it's still the way of life and dress for the indigenous throughout the country.  The food was divine and we had a chance to visit with each other in more intimate surroundings.




 

 
We arrived back in Cuenca in time to rest a bit before meeting Nadja for drinks and dinner at Wunderbar Bar & Restaurant along Calle Larga.  It was great getting to know her and her adventure of traveling for 10 months alone throughout the world.  I also got to practice my German once again and that was fun! After a night cap at the Austria Café, we bid her adieu with promises to keep in touch!

Today dawned bright and sunny.  After sleeping in a bit, I had my coffee out in the courtyard and actually sunned myself! Nice to feel warm!!

We plan on taking it easy here today but are going out this evening to the Jazz Café for some live guitar music. Looking so forward to it!!

Hope everyone is having a great week.  We are!! 
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