Window To My World – Part 2

This is the follow-up to my last post about my friends, Mike and Dana’s, visit…

DAY 6 – This day was our relaxing beach day.  We slept in a bit, enjoyed breakfast, then got ourselves and our gear ready to head to the beach.  The weather and waves cooperated perfectly, and we enjoyed our time swimming in the ocean, laying out and walking on the beach. After several hours, we returned home to begin washing clothes, packing and preparing for our next day’s travels.  We then headed next door again for dinner, where once more they enjoyed the atmosphere, food and visiting with some of my local friends.

DAY 7 – We were up EARLY in order to be picked up by a taxi at 6:00 a.m. to go to Jipijapa, and then catch a bus to Guayaquil, and then another to Cuenca.  I got to make my first trip to Cuenca back in December with my friends, Donald & ML, and I was excited to get to share it with Mike and Dana.  However, this would be my first time to travel there by bus, and the other major caveat was that it was Carnaval weekend!  Dana had booked their flights, we’d made our plans and I’d made our reservations and then later thought, “I should see when Carnaval falls this year.”  Sure enough, it was right on that weekend.  Carnaval is a HUGE holiday here lasting 5 days and is a time of revelry and travel for Ecuadorians all over the country.  Every time I told anyone, including Ecuadorian friends, that I was going to be traveling to Cuenca over Carnaval, their eyes got huge as if to say, “You are brave – good luck!”  My only hope was that our travel timing would fall ahead of the normal days/times and that we wouldn’t have any problems.  Fortunately, this turned out to be the case and everything went smoothly.  Well, almost everything…

Partial view of mudslide as we were driving past

Our bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca encountered a spot where there was a huge mud/landslide blocking the road.  A very bumpy and treacherous bypass had been made, and shortly after going over it, our bus got a flat tire.  Once we realized what was happening, several men got off the bus.  Dana and I were feeling good that with so many men available to help, we’d be under way in no time.  But when we finally stuck our heads out the window to see what was happening, in true Ecuadorian fashion, all the men were standing around with their arms folded watching the poor bus driver change the flat tire!  Finally after an hour, the chore was completed.  Mike helped carry away a bolder that was used to prop the bus, and we were ready to head out again.

One of many waterfalls

Our drive through Caja National Park was even more beautiful than when I went in December.  Since we’ve been having so much rain, everything was more green, and the waterfalls were flowing everywhere.  We arrived in Cuenca around 3:00 p.m. and caught a taxi to our hostel in the historic area, that I’d booked for us on Airbnb.  We were sharing a two room/one bath apartment.  We settled in and then went for a walk through part of the city and found a great little cafe for our dinner.  Mike had stopped in a store on our walk to buy a deck of cards, and we enjoyed playing our card game while waiting for our meal.

The newspaper we saw when we checked into our hostel told us the Carnaval festivities had begun!

Our walk back to our hostel was very fortuitous.  Dana was really wanting to find a church for us to attend on Sunday morning.  She’d been in touch with a missionary friend of a friend in another part of Ecuador, who had given her a contact in Cuenca, however she never could reach him to get any information.  She was still trying to research and make contact while we were having dinner.  But as we walked back to our hostel (which we could have done in many possible routes), we passed a building with a sign and realized it was a Christian church.  Mike and I were reading it and the name of the church was “Tiempos Nuevos” – New Times.  Their byline said (in Spanish), “Where the presence of God is real.”  As we were looking at the worship times posted, a man came up going inside the building and greeted us.  Turns out he was the pastor’s son.  We talked with him a bit about the church and shortly after, his mother arrived as well.  He showed us the auditorium and told us they had over 500 members and two Sunday morning services!  We were very excited and told him we planned to return on Sunday.  We walked back to our hostel and after a few more card games, turned in for the night.

DAY 8 – After a hearty breakfast at our hostel, we walked to the main park in order to catch the city bus tour.  Life in Ecuador does not begin early, so there were not many people out or shops open as we strolled through the city at 8:30 a.m.  We purchased our tickets for the first tour, then stepped inside the main cathedral during our wait.  They were having a mass, so it was a treat to be in there at that time.  Once our bus arrived, we took a strategic seat up top in the open air to enjoy the view.  This was the same tour I took in December when it began pouring rain, so it was wonderful to get to experience it with clear skies.  Dana got some great pictures of historic colonial Cuenca:

Once we reached the top area, called Turi, we had a picturesque view of the city.  Dana got a great panoramic shot and then some nice young guys, who were taking some very professional looking photos, traded group picture shots with us:

Mike and Dana along the river walk

Dana and me at our lunch spot along the river

After our tour, we strolled down to the river walk area, where we found a nice place for lunch.  Here, they got to experience “Almuerzo,” which is the typical Ecuadorian lunch.  It’s like the daily special and consists of soup; a second course of main entre (this day it was fish with a sauce), rice, fried plantain and salad; juice; and in this case dessert – all for $3.50.  Mike loved it!

The rest of the day we just walked around the city, exploring the different areas.  Dana did some final souvenir shopping for her family in the artesian market area, while Mike wandered around catching unsuspecting Ecuadorians by surprise with his cans of spray foam, in true Carnaval fashion.  Afterwards, we headed back to our hostel just as it began to sprinkle.  We dropped off our things, grabbed our deck of cards and went across the street to a pizza parlor for dinner.  While there, the rain really began to come down as it was getting dark.  We enjoyed our large and delicious slices of pizza, while talking, laughing and playing cards, and were so thankful that we didn’t have to walk any farther than across the street in the rain to turn in for the night.

DAY 9 – Dana and I were at breakfast at 7:00 a.m. sharp, so we could then catch a cab to the bus terminal to purchase our tickets for the next morning.  That whole endeavor took about 15 minutes round trip, then we returned to match up with Mike, who had gone for a morning run.  After he finished breakfast, we walked back to the nearby church we’d discovered on Friday.  We were the first to arrive and greeted Jonathan, the son of the pastor, that we had met before.  The auditorium filled up and the worship music began.  It was almost like being back in my home congregation – except it was all in Spanish.  But much to my delight, as I read and sang the song lyrics on the screen, I could understand almost every word!  Just before the sermon, the final song was one that many of my church family back home would recognize – “Oceans.”  Dana leaned over and said, “That’s your song!”  Here is a video clip she took:

The pastor was animated and funny, and although at times I had a hard time keeping up with what he was saying, I got the general gist of the sermon, as he told the stories of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and encouraged the congregation that no matter the challenges and difficulties we are facing in our lives, Jesus never abandons us.

After church, we met the pastor and his family out front and chatted with them for a little while, before the next service began.  We took a group photo and then Dana pulled a fast one on Mike.  As he and I continued to talk with the pastor, she approached one of the young guys hanging around out front.  How she communicated with no Spanish I don’t know, but she convinced him to take the can of spray foam she’d tucked away and surprise Mike by spraying him when she stepped aside.  It was a pretty funny moment:

Dana and me relaxed and glowing after our spa treatments

After church we found a cafe to grab a quick bite to eat, then caught a taxi to Piedra de Agua Spa, just outside of Cuenca.  The spa has caves, hot mineral and mud baths, all from volcanic origins.  Mike and Dana each enjoyed cave massages, while I waited for them in the steam room.  Afterwards, Mike headed to the pool area, while Dana and I did the full spa circuit: steam rooms, red mud bath, blue mud bath, hot pool, cold pool and steam box.  Afterwards, we relaxed in one of the three swimming pools.  We didn’t at all mind when it started sprinkling.  Although a bit crowded with holiday families just using the pool facilities, we had a great time.  Afterwards, we took a cab back to Cuenca, enjoyed dinner at one of the few restaurants we were able to find open (everything shuts down in Cuenca on Sundays), and then walked back to our hostel and called it an early night.

DAY 10 – Our final day, we caught an 8:00 a.m. bus back to Guayaquil.  The drive through Caja National Park was as clear and beautiful as I’d ever seen it.  Once back in Guayaquil, we checked into a hotel that I’ve stayed in several times before, dropped our bags and headed down to tour the malecon area.  The first thing we did was ride the new four month old giant ferris wheel.  For my Dallas friends, it’s not quite as big as the Texas Star, but close enough, and during its 20 minute rotation, gives a great view of Guayaquil.

After our ride, we grabbed a smoothie and then walked along the malecon (riverwalk) area, taking in the sites.  Of course, Mike continued to accost unsuspecting children with spray foam.  He finally decided to relinquish what he had left to one little boy, who was thrilled with the baton hand off:

Mike engrossed in watching the international game

Much of Guayaquil was actually shut down for the holiday.  Because it is a big city, most people leave and go to the beach.  Due to not having a lot of available options, we ended up in the mall at the food court for dinner.  But don’t be fooled!  This is no ordinary food court, with at least 20 different types of restaurants, with every kind of food imaginable.  We each were quite happy with our choosings, and Mike was also quite happy that some older men sat down next to us and began playing chess.  He was very absorbed in watching them, which easily allowed Dana and I plenty of time for a shopping stroll.  Once she and I returned, we all walked the short distance back to our hotel and spent the rest of the night in the breakfast area finishing out our 31 card game tournament (I came back from behind to win it!)

The following morning we met down in the lobby at 5:30 a.m. to say our goodbyes.  Shortly after, our respective taxis arrived – their’s to take them to the airport for their 7:45 a.m. flight and mine to take me to the bus terminal, where I was able to immediately get a bus to Jipijapa, then another to Puerto Cayo, and a taxi to my home.  I walked in my house exactly 4 hours after leaving the hotel.

So there you have it – the summary of Mike & Dana’s “Window to My World” tour.  So who is going to come visit me next???

Below is a slideshow of a few more pictures of some of what we saw and did – enjoy!

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