¡Bienvenidos a Cuenca! Or really, welcome to Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca
After our more than interesting bus ride, we arrived into Cuenca a good five hours later than we’d expected, thanks to the hop-on/hop-off rabbit run from Guayaquil. Fortunately for us, we weren’t on a chicken bus, that’s coming later apparently, but there were chickens underneath the bus that we could hear on the odd occasion. Settling in for a quiet night we went for a quick dinner and then off to bed… bus days are not nice days.
Clang, ding, dong, noises and stuff
Looking forward to a little bit of a lie in Saturday morning, we were surprised to be woken up numerous times during the night with the sensor light on our floor, and then the ongoing church bells from 5:40am. Our hostel was supposed to have a breakfast that we could opt to have for $2, realising they didn’t have this option we wandered into the little café next door. Not sure what to expect, we thought we’d try one of the local breakfasts that was a strange but delicious mixture of scrambled eggs and corn, along with toast, jam, coffee and the most delicious raspberry juice ever!
Panama hats are not from Panama
Ready for a day of exploring we walked around the old part of Cuenca, coming across a Panama Hat museum… as you do. While there we tried on numerous hats, being nearly conned into buying one (not sure where it was going to fit into our backpacks), and learnt a little about the history of Panama Hats, apparently they are not from Panama. Different sources give different reasons for the name, and like most things it is probably a bit of A and a bit of B. When the toquilla straw hats were shipped to Europe they went through Panama to be exported, and later on the US president wore one while inspecting the construction of the Panama Canal making them more famous.
Along the way we found some weird sculptures on the street, such as one of people trying to climb up a pole with items hanging from the top. We have no idea what they were trying to represent, but worth a photo.
We came across a Venezuelan place for lunch that served the most delicious carrot soup and a traditional Venezuelan main that included a mixture of delicious spices, chicken and salad, as well as a fresh juice. On our quest around the find out a little more about Cuenca we stumbled across a market happening next to a church (we think it may be the church that had the bells clanging at 5:40am) and tried a few of the local delicacies, including craft beer.
Later in the afternoon we stumbled across another bar that had two-for-one cocktails, so of course we had to try them! For a change in the South American cuisine we decided that we might try some German food for dinner… we felt that it was the Ecuadorian version of bad German food… unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Hopefully when we get to Germany it will be much better!
Another Sunday with everything closed
Like many other countries in South America, Sundays in Ecuador aren’t the most exciting of days… many places are closed and the local people enjoy shenanigans in the parks. Living in each other’s pockets for as long as we have been, we decided we were going to spend a little time apart… we’d been driving each other a little crazy. After another delicious breakfast at the tiny café next-door James went down the south side of the river past the university and towards the mountain, while Dee went into town to try and find some hydrolyte. Six pharmacies, some impressive broken Spanish and hand actions later she had success! The walk along the river is quite pretty, and we can see why there are so many ex-pats here.
Food without power…
Finding each other back outside the hostel a few hours later we decided we’d go and find somewhere to have a little chill out, and potentially some happy hour specials at a cocktail bar. Being in a continent that takes soccer as seriously as religion, if not more so, we were inevitably going to come across a soccer game at some stage… especially when the UEFA Cup is being played. Not knowing many rules about soccer, but we knew enough that we had to support one team or another and enjoy some cocktails while we were at it. Settling in at a bar we watched the second half of a game we cheered on whichever of the European teams were playing and enjoyed our cheap drinks.
Deciding that we should probably have some food to counteract the potency of the 2-4-1 $5 cocktails, we hunted for a place to have dinner. Sundays there is bugger all open, as per usual, so we settled on an Arab/Pakistani place for dinner with some pretty decent looking food. Just as we had settled in and were ready to order, the power went out at the restaurant, and the surrounding four blocks. We waited for half an hour, settling in with a beer, then decided that it was probably better that we didn’t sit and drink more before eating… Less than five minutes after we walked down the street, the power came back on. At that point we’d already decided that we’d give the Mexican restaurant around the corner a shot. Blue Monday was not our best choice… we stepped into the American styled place, greeted with 1980’s style margheritas and Mexican food similar to the poor quality that Montezuma’s offers at home, except double the portion size.
Shopping in Cuenca
Another morning of cling-clang bells at some ungodly hour meant that we were up well and truly before we wanted to be. In our wandering around in the previous days we’d decided that we were going to give a new café a try for breakfast… Ecuador has a large amount of ex-pat Americans (allegedly 2-3% of the city’s population), many of the breakfast stops have very American breakfasts which isn’t really exciting; they do however, have decent coffee though… not more instant coffees! A confusing thing when you’re in the ex-pat cafes is that the menu is in American English, not Google translate English, or Spanish. After getting used to the Spanish menus, it was quite hard to read in American English, and not automatically try to translate the food words in your head, more so before the first coffee… brain function was not good.
The day was panning out to be fairly quiet, we needed to find a currency exchange and then find some new shoes for Dee. The shoe situation wasn’t improving in our travels around, starting on the third pair in less than three months on the trip. We all know how much James loves shopping, and being dragged into multiple shoe shops, clothing shops, just shops in general. To thank James for his patience with the shoes shopping, and wandering around for hours on end trying to find a currency exchange, Dee decided to take him for a treat of mid-morning cocktails (at the $5 place again). Both exhausted, the cocktails were a nice pick-me-up for what was going to be an otherwise relaxing day.
How to blend in with the locals
It appears that drinking in Ecuador at any time of day is something that the locals do frequently. It is ok to walk around with alcohol on the street at any time of the day, and drink it at any time of the day. Alcohol is sold at every corner shop and is cheaper than soft drinks, tea and coffee, and even water! So to blend in with the locals you pretty much need to be in a café, brew pub or restaurant with one of the local types of alcohol and you’re set. We decided that for the rest of Monday we were going to blend in with the locals by going back to La Compañia (the microbrewery around the corner). This ended with us sitting with two Ecuadorian guys, talking about who knows what, and missing dinner - probably not a bad thing given the terrible dinner experiences we’d had the two previous evenings.
When the blending in goes bad
So Tuesday… the clanging was not good. The bells… not good at all, it was 5:40am, we were very under the weather and we had a bus to catch. Why oh why do we continually decide that having a big night before catching the bus is a good idea? We eventually packed, we probably left things behind, we were dying… things were not good.
On the plus side, we were heading to our next stop… Baños!
Go see all the photos from Cuenca