Last known location: London, England

Curry and Cathedrals

A $2 taxi dropped us near the Tomebamba River in Cuenca‘s historic centre – the Ecuadorian government dropped the old currency, the Sucre, in 2000. Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and is pretty high, at 2530m. So it was off with the flip-flops and t-shirts and back on with the shoes and jumpers. We found a decent place to stay, La Cigale, which is a hostel cum bar/restaurant and we’d heard good things about it. Desperate to get a bit of fresh air in before it got dark we headed down to the river which is a picturesque spot with grassy banks and pretty bridges. The river is lined with some really attractive colonial buildings. In fact, the whole of Cuenca’s old town is full of beautifully restored buildings.

From the river we walked up through town, stopping for a quick coffee (or cocktail in Dan’s case – it was happy hour!) before making it to Parque Calderon, the main plaza which is dominated by an impressive ‘New Cathedral‘ on one side and a more diminutive ‘Old Cathedral‘ on the other. Whilst we were checking these two buildings, down the rain came. We ran for shelter, ending up in one of Cuenca’s many funky little bars. Happy hour was now in full swing so we had a drink while we waited for the rain to stop. Once it had changed to a light drizzle we quickly dashed back to the hostel. It turns out we were staying at one of the most popular places in town; the bar area was full to bursting with locals and tourists alike so we grabbed a seat at the bar and settled in for an hour or 2 of very good Mojitos at just over a dollar each. Rude not to! Eventually we decided dinner would be a good idea so nipped round the corner to a restaurant serving tasty pasta. Before we knew it it was time for bed – cocktails plus wine tends to bring on sleepiness!

Up bright and early the next day with only a slight suggestion of a hangover we were determined to get some serious sightseeing in. Our attempts were thwarted at the first hurdle when the museum we wanted to see was closed for fumigation! The Pumapungo museum is apparently Cuenca’s most important museum with an interesting display of Tzantza (shrunken heads), which Dan was most disappointed to miss. The clouds of black smoke blowing out of the building suggested we were better off missing out this time. On the way back to town we stopped by the Inca ruins near the river. Most of the stonework was destroyed to build colonial buildings so there wasn’t much to see but we noted some walls and what looked like a tomb.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the city. Saturday seems to be the day for church here, we spotted lots of smartly dressed people heading in or out of several of the many churches around town. We had a look round the inside of the New Cathedral, which was beautifully lit with atmospheric music giving the place a very spiritual feel. The flower market, more or less next door, was lovely. Lots of sweet smelling roses and other brightly coloured bunches. For lunch we had a $2.50 Menu del Dia which was 4 courses and, whilst not a culinary masterpiece, was certainly filling!

The remainder of the afternoon was spent wandering around town, taking in the many lovely colonial buildings and stopping off in some of the pretty squares. That evening we visited a beer house that brewed its own beer, and was just down the road from our hostel – Dan had been itching to try it since we’d arrived! It looked like a bit of a hole from the outside but was quite pleasant once inside. We tried some sort of golden ale which wasn’t really to my taste so Dan drank most of it! For dinner we tried out Cafe Eucalyptus, highly recommended in the guide book and definitely worth a visit. Great Thai Green Curry and Chicken Vindaloo (not quite as spicy as your average Vindaloo but quite a kick!).

On Sunday we were moving on again, heading through the mountains once more to Baños, a town famous for it’s hot baths and spa treatments. The 7 hour bus journey was not without it’s issues. The toilet didn’t seem to be in operation but fortunately we did have a quick lunch stop. I have taken to enforcing a no drinking rule on most of the bus journeys for this exact reason, but don’t stick to it religiously! The scenery on the journey made up for the discomfort though, as we wound through the wide alpine-like valleys of La Sierra. We had to jump of the bus at Ambato and somehow cross a rather busy dual carriageway in order to hail another bus that was going to Baños.  All a bit disorganised but after another 40 minutes rolling through the beautiful green mountains we arrived at the small town. Bring on the thermal baths!

  1. Rose 25 May, 2011

    Was that a red London bus I saw in one of the photos?


    Mum x x x

  2. Gem 25 May, 2011

    It was an open-top tourist bus – not quite a London bus!

    Love Gem

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