This is a continuation of my previous post about the visit from my friend, Gail:
DAY 6: This day was set aside to rest and re-pack. We again started out on the deck having coffee in my hammocks. Afterwards, I served Gail another scrumptious breakfast. She really took the “rest” assignment of this day very seriously. 😂
DAY 7: Another day that started very early – our taxi picked us up at 6:45 a.m. 😮 He drove us the 30 minutes to Jipijapa, where we bought tickets and waited about 30 minutes for a bus to Guayaquil. That trip was 2.5 hours. Once at the terminal, we made a “bee-line” for the bathroom (pun intended – although our friendship goes back 25 years, you know Gail is now a co-worker “bee girl” too). Then I bought tickets for the next leg of our trip. Again, just about a 30 minute turn around and we were back on a bus and headed on our 4 hour journey that would take us through the Caja National Park and to Cuenca. I had packed a sack breakfast/lunch for the trip. But just after we had both pretty much eaten our fill, the bus driver stopped to let a food vendor on (one of the great things about bus travel in Ecuador is, depending on the route you are traveling, you can sample a plethora of goodies along the way). As I heard the vendor calling out what he had to offer, my mind said no until I heard one item. It was a large, thick slice of sweet plantain, battered and deep-fried. I immediately called him over and bought one for us to share for $1. I told Gail, “Welcome to the Ecuadorian version of the Texas State Fair!” 😂 (For those who aren’t familiar, our state fair has developed a long-standing tradition of coming up with some of the strangest deep-fried food items you cold ever imagine – for a past list of some of them, click here.) Gail just thought she wasn’t hungry any more – she almost had me flag him down to buy another one before he got off the bus! Needless to say the “cola” (which means “tail”) was a hit. 😋
The drive through the National Park was foggy and rainy most of the way, but that was OK, because due to our early departure and the altitude change (you climb to 14,000 feet in less than an hour!), Gail couldn’t keep her eyes open. We eventually descended to our 8,000 feet altitude and the beautiful city of Cuenca. By the time we taxied the short distance to our hostel, it was right at 9 hours from when we’d left home. We briefly settled in to our lovely, spacious loft room at Hostal Latina, in the heart of the historic district (where I’d stayed the last time I was there). We then headed out a short walk for an early dinner at a predetermined restaurant, where we made a meal of sharing and sampling several local food items. Afterwards, we stopped briefly to buy bottled water for our stay and made it back to our hostel before dark.
DAY 8: In the morning, we wandered a short ways until we found a suitable breakfast spot. After our “inclusive” breakfast (which usually consists of an egg item, bread item, juice and coffee), we both decided we needed more caffeine (in Ecuador, you don’t get refills on coffee). Since the first coffee was just OK, we wandered a little farther to a proper coffee shop for a cappuccino. Once we were well fueled, we headed to the main park/square to catch the city bus tour.
They had now made the bus tour a “hop on/hop off” tour (previously it had only been a driving narration with one stop at the scenic overlook). So we took advantage and got off at the first stop, a park and church area I wanted to show Gail. We wandered around a bit and bought a bag of one of our local fruits that I wanted Gail to try from a street vendor lady. We then waited for the next bus on the brochure schedule – that didn’t come. ☹️ We wandered around some more in the shops in the little area, still hanging around close for the next bus – that also didn’t come. ☹️ I know Ecuador, and if they didn’t sell any tickets to the tour, it would be like them not to run the bus, regardless of the fact that other people might have gotten off and waited for the next one to come. Fortunately we had only gotten off at the first stop, so we just walked back to the main square, where we explained to the attendant selling the tickets what happened. She then informed me that although the bus driver had told me we could only board a red bus, we could also board a yellow bus (we did see one yellow bus go by). At that point, we just decided to get back on at the beginning and ride the tour all the way around. It was a beautiful day and we got some great photos:
We got off the bus at the next to the last stop, the shopping mall in the modern section of Cuenca. I had been by it before, but never inside, and wanted to see what they had in comparison to our mall. We shared a light lunch, then briskly walked around all of both levels. Afterwards, we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the historic area, to explore a few more places I wanted to show Gail. One was the Sombrero Museum. Cuenca also makes straw hats using the same palm material harvested in our province of Manabi. But their method isn’t quite the same, and Montecristi generally produces a finer quality weave and more traditionally made Panama hat. However, the hats in Cuenca are quite beautiful.
I also wanted to show Gail one of the largest markets in Cuenca. This is the real deal of open air stalls (rows and rows of them) for buying produce, meat and whatever else you might need. And we also saw something I’d never seen before – an area where all the little old “medicine women” were practicing their art. Various people from the very young to old were receiving treatments of being “beaten” with herbs, having ointments rubbed on them, etc. I’d heard about these people, but had never actually seen it practiced in person. It was quite a site for a “first-world” person to take in.
At the end of our wandering, we matched up with Chris & Kelly (mentioned in my holiday post), the volunteers at my development for December. In January, they traveled to the Galápagos Islands for two weeks and then Cuenca for two weeks (but are now back at my development for the month of February). We got to see the lovely Airbnb they were staying in, then all went for a Thai food dinner at one of my favorite “bucket-list” restaurants. We had a lovely meal and visit, and walked back to our hostel a little after dark (feeling quite safe in the well-lit and still bustling historic area).
DAY 9: We started out at another breakfast place and then again had our second coffee in a different cafe. Afterwards, we met up with Chris & Kelly again for a walking tour of the historic part of Cuenca. This tour is relatively new, and it was the first opportunity I’ve had to take it. It’s offered free (with hope of gratuity). When we first arrived at the meeting spot shortly before the designated time, we thought it might just be a handful of us. But as our guide arrived, the crowd suddenly gathered, and our group swelled to at least 30 people! Our guide did a wonderful job giving the tour in both Spanish and English. Ironically, the tour pretty much covered a walk through the streets and areas that I’d taken Gail on the previous day. 😂 But with it were additional stops and so much added information I did not know. I learned a lot about the history and culture of Cuenca. In summary:
- Cuenca is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador and is currently around 500,000 people;
- It was colonized by the Spanish in 1557 – the man who founded it was born in Cuenca, Spain. In the same year, the original cathedral was built in the adobe colonial style (it is now a museum);
- Prior to it’s colonization, there were two indigenous people groups living in harmony in the area – the pre-Columbian Cañari people, who worshiped the moon, and the Incas, who worshiped the sun. Eventually the Spaniards forced the local people to become Catholic, so that is the religion of most people today;
- In 1739, the first French colonists arrived. These combinations are what contribute to the mix of adobe construction and Spanish/French colonial architecture (much of which has survived and is continuing to be restored);
- The republic of the city started in 1880 and this was the year the “new” cathedral began construction. It took 100 years to complete and holds 10,000 people standing;
- Most of the wealth of the city during this time frame came from the export of the Panama hats, as well as other food exports (like chocolate). There were also a lot of imported building materials brought from France.
The tour lasted approximately 2.5 hours and unknowingly, but fortunately, ended right near the spot I had pre-arranged to meet two other friends for lunch. Although the tour was longer than I’d anticipated, we were only 5 minutes late for our meet-up time. Lunch was at another one of my bucket-list restaurants, the Sunrise Cafe. Originally opened by an Australian couple, but now owned by an Ecuadorian man (who wisely kept the food and formula the same), this place is loved by local ex-pats and visitors. It has a huge menu with a plethora of “comfort food” items that are always tasty and generous. They also have a wonderful and long-standing staff that the customers have all grown to love. Everyone I’ve sent there always comes away loving it and my friends, Claire and Lynne, who both live in/around Cuenca, had no hesitancy about meeting up there. I was grateful Gail had another chance to meet some of my precious friends.
After lunch, Gail and I spent the afternoon doing our final wanderings (my favorite pastime in Cuenca). We weren’t super hungry for dinner, so decided to just wander around and eat whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted. We stopped first at a little place that I had discovered on my last trip, but this time was closed. However, my friends Lynne and Claire informed me it had only moved to a new location and expanded. As fortune would have it, the new location was on the opposite end of town from where it used to be, and now literally right around the corner from my hostel! 😃 So we tracked down the Altisimo Chocolate Shop & Cafe and spent quite a few moments just drooling. 😋 We then decided to share one of their carrot cake desserts. Afterwards we wandered on. Later, we ended up inside another little courtyard that we’d gone through on our walking tour. It was just off the main city park, right next to the cathedral. Inside were several shops and restaurants, and we decided to have our next meal at a little French bistro. We shared a traditional French hot gruyere cheese and mushroom sandwich, and then an apple tart with ice cream for dessert. 😮 By the end of all that, we were ready to wander on back to our hostel and revel in our subsequent carb and sugar comas. 😂 Below are a few more photos taken during our final afternoon of wandering:
DAY 10: The fabulous menu and wonderful ambiance of Altísimo didn’t leave our thoughts. So we decided to alter our original morning plans for an early departure, in order to go back for a leisurely, full and scrumptious breakfast (and the coffee was so good, we even had our second cup there. ☺️) After splitting their shrimp, spinach and cheese omelette and an order of French toast (made with their own housemade bread), we were well fueled for our 4 hour bus journey back to Guayaquil (and each with a scone to-go). We bid farewell to our lovely host, Jorge, and taxied to the bus terminal, where we caught the next (frequently leaving) bus. The drive through the Caja National Park was more clear and Gail was more alert, so she really got to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
Once in Guayaquil, we took a taxi to check in to our pre-reserved room at Hotel Livingston (the only place I’ve ever stayed there and it never disappoints). We then walked the short distance to the Mall del Sol. The only things worth seeing/doing in Guayaquil are only if you are stuck there and need something to do. It’s really just a very big, commercial city. So Gail really didn’t miss doing anything exciting by our delayed departure. The mall was a good place for walking and stretching our legs after sitting half the day (and we even indulged in a 4 minute chair massage for $2 each). It also provided a plethora of choices for dinner, and most importantly in Guayaquil, being in air conditioning! We enjoyed a tasty, healthy wrap sandwich for supper, followed by some McDonald’s french fries. 😂 We then walked the short distance back to our hotel, to be back before dark and an early-to-bed night.
DAY 11: This morning was a 3:30 a.m. wake-up alarm and 4:00 a.m. taxi to the airport. 😮 I accompanied Gail the short ride and helped her get checked in. We then stayed out in the unsecured area and had a bite to eat and coffee until time for her flight to board. Airport security in Guayaquil is easy-breezy, and the walk to the gate very short. So at just 45 minutes before her flight, we gave our final hugs goodbye, and I watched her disappear through security, until the next time we see each other again. I then grabbed a taxi, headed to the bus terminal and bought my ticket. And poignantly, my bus pulled out at precisely the time of her flight departure – 6:32 a.m.
DAY 12: Rest and reflect on priceless shared memories forever! ☺️
So that’s the full summary of our awesome time together, but stay tuned in the next post to read Gail’s guest perspective of her visit here. Convinced yet of the fabulous time you will have if you come see me? So the touring reservation calendar is wide open – what are you waiting for?! 😉