Colonial south

Cuenca Travel Blog

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The southern city of Cuenca was our last destination in Ecuador - 'our' now being Sam, Ryan, Liz, Ruth and myself. Cuenca is the third-largest city in Ecuador and is considered relatively independent from the rest of the country because it only recently became accessible by paved road.

To get from Banos to Cuenca we had to get a bus first to Ambato and then another on to Cuenca. The bus to Ambato was a non-eventful couple of hours. We switched buses at a dodgy road side stop but thankfully didn't have to wait long for the Cuenca bus to arrive. We were under the impression it was about four hours to Cuenca but it ended up taking about six or maybe even seven. It was hard to tell why because despite the roads consisting of going up and down and around mountain sides we were going flat out and hardly stopping. It is a hairy experience being on buses in Ecuador (and really anywhere in the third world I suppose) because the lack of adherence to road rules means there is an evolved pecking order to right of way. Buses, being really big, get right of way. This usually means that if someone in front is not going fast enough then the bus goes right up behind them and honks until the smaller vehicle moves out of the way, and all this while screaming around sharp corners on mountaineous roads. Credit to the drivers though as they are very skillful at handling the big vehicles.

We finally got to Cuenca at about 9pm and felt a bit stressed out about finding accommodation and food as we hadn't booked anything and hadn't eaten much since breakfast. The guide book Ryan had said that Cuenca was dead at night so we had a mental picture of what it would be like. We got off the bus and scanned the guide book for hotels and found one that seemed ok. We got a short taxi there and realised the book was wildly off, maybe because it is a few years old. The strip was buzzing with hostels and restaurants and bars. We decided to get a hotel room that was intended to be set up for a family - double bed (or "matrimonial" as they call it here) downstairs and three single beds upstairs. The place was quite nice and because we were splitting a room five ways meant it was also quite cheap. We dropped our bags off and had dinner across the road including ordering a jug of Pina Colada to the amusement of the waiter.

For our first of two full days there we decided to check out the city in the morning and go to some Incan ruins out of town in the afternoon. First we had the basic included breakfast at the hotel where Ryan asked in Spanish for a spleen for his coffee. He meant to ask for a mug, which would be considered a more sensible request. we walked around the city centre for a good couple of hours. Cuenca really is a beautiful city by Ecuadorian standards. The city centre has very nice buildings, it is clean, and the people just seemed a lot more attractive and well-dressed. We checked out the New Cathedral which had some great detail inside. I have really liked the big churches, I suppose because Australia is too young and secular for such huge ornate ones, and I haven't been to Europe (yet) to see their renowned ones.

After that we found a travel agency and booked a day tour of Cajas National Park for the next day. We then headed to the bus station to get out to the Incan ruins only to be told that protestors outside Cuenca had blocked the road there and so the buses weren't running. It was pretty disappointing, but if that is the worst of the disruptions we have in our trip then we will have done well. Having an afternoon to kill we consulted the travel bible and found there were a couple of museums that were worth a look.

The first museum was the Museo del Banco Central, which as you might tell is a museum at the central bank. Thankfully it wasn't all about the history of banking in Cuenca, although there was a cool exhibit of progressively older and older currency from Ecuador, even from before the nation of Ecuador existed. Other exhibits there were around religious art, famous people who helped Ecuador gain independence from the Spanish (notably Simon Bolivar and General Sucre, who are national heroes and seem to have a street named after them in every town or city), and artifacts from the various Incan and pre-Incan peoples who both previously inhabited Ecaudor and those who still do in remote areas.

The second museum we checked out was a medical museum at an unused area of a hospital not far from the city centre. It was a very rudimentary museum with nearly no-one there, but it made up for it with its quirkiness. There were lots of displays of old medical instruments and biographies of pioneer Cuencan doctors. In places it got downright weird with the most bizarre award going to the cabinet that had a dried carcass of a toddler and a jar with preserved foetuses. The most uncomfortable instrument award goes to the "rectoscopio". Guess where that one goes.

Feeling informed enough for the day we went to a bar nearby and got some beers. Pretty soon it all got messy and a couple of hours later we were making way too much noise playing drunken pool at some other place that thankfully was nearly empty so we weren't asked to be quiet/leave immediately.
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photo by: Ils1976