From Banos we took a bus for 80c up to Ambato (1 hour – you’re dropped off on the highway so you just need to cross the road and the locals will all shout places so you can’t stray too far here). We then caught a bus to Cuenca for $8 (7 hours) and caught a $2 taxi from the bus station into the centre. We decided to stay at La Casa Cuencana on Hermano Miguel for $22. Not a very happening spot but fine if you just want a bed and some wifi. We stayed here for 2 nights. Hermano Miguel seems to be where most backpacker accommodation is situated. There are a number of cafés here and some crazily overpriced secondhand bookstores too. You get $2 for every book you bring it and most books are about $12 to buy. Love in the time of Cholera was $19 – SECONDHAND. Would you be well?
Cuenca is pretty much all about the churches – you can’t turn a corner without having to tilt your noggin up to have a gander. The new cathedral on Parque Calderon is stunning – a fantastic addition to the city skyline. There’s a flower market just to the left of the cathedral which is definitely worth checking out. So colourful and there’s a very popular hole in the wall juice place here too – locals queuing for ages to get their hands on some! There’s a town nearby called San Bartolome which is famous for making guitars – we didn’t get to visit but there are a few stalls selling guitars around the city. Music seems to be a pretty big deal here actually; music shops on every corner! We wandered to Plaza San Sebastián one evening and there was a group of guys (I think a family) all dressed up in suits and playing the drums, saxophone, trumpet, triangle …it goes on! So cool.
Our favourite thing in Cuenca was the Parque Arquelógico Pumapungo (about a 20 minute stroll out of town). It’s free to get in here. To be honest we made the mistake of going into the museum first and although it was nice to see their exhibition on indigenous cultures, we were a bit disappointed with the place overall. If you go here be bloody careful not to put your big toe anywhere near the yellow tape on the floor near the exhibitions. Security will get you. Walking behind the museum is where it gets exciting. There are foundations of an ancient Inca city called Tomebamba here. They’ve rebuilt one house to give you an idea of what it would have been like and the garden below the terraces is supposedly a replica of Incan times. It’s being well looked after and comes complete with a little family of llamas. It would be an awesome spot for a picnic. There’s also a rescue centre for birds here and an amazing Belgian waffles spot just next to here. Now when I say amazing I mean it. It’s called Waffles de Belgica and it’s run by a chap from Bruges who’s married to an Ecuadorian. $2.50 for the whole shebang of waffles, fruit and ice-cream. John had a toastie and went back for seconds…and we learned how to make proper Belgian mayonnaise. Not bad for a days work.
Cuenca is where most of Ecuador’s Panama hats come from these days (even though they originated in Montechristi, remember?) so there are a number of factories in the area. You see people at every airport in Ecuador toting around a bag from Homero Ortega and they have a factory out near Cuenca’s airport where you can look around and purchase a little something. We skipped this one and went to check out Barrancos Panama Hats in the city instead. It’s actually a large enough shop with plenty of choice price and colour wise. There’s a little museum on the way in to the shop where you can get an idea of the process. Free entry so definitely worth a stop.
Next stop: Vilcabamba, Ecuador and on to the Peruvian border at Zumba.