Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Cuenca (Ecuador)

Picking up the bus after our Galapagos Island adventure, seemed fairly easy. We just had to show up at the Guayaquil bus terminal after our Galapagos flight, and buy a ticket for a same day bus to Cuenca (pronounced kwenka), our next destination.

Yeah right. Tell the taxi drivers that.

First off, we couldn’t get a taxi outside the airport terminal to take us and our suitcases, the short distance to the bus terminal. When we finally did, the guy dropped us off at the mini-bus terminal, not the place of the main buses. Dammit!

How to find the main terminal with more comfortable buses at a cheaper price?!

After asking all and sundry, and fending off all-comers trying to sell us a ticket to everywhere, we walked the additional 10 minutes, with suitcases dragging behind us, to get to the right place. Then…….

We got into the bus terminal only to find that the whole population of Guayaquil was trying to get to Cuenca too (or at least it seemed like that). Turns out there was a national festival being held in Cuenca, and the queue for the bus was huge.

Our lovely hotel - Casa Hibiscus Hotel
Eventually, after queueing for around 50 minutes, we got on the bus and headed off at about 5 pm.

After a very speedy ride mostly in the dark over a winding road, we arrived in Cuenca, the 3rd largest city in Ecuador (around 340k people) and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We grabbed a taxi to the historic centre for our hotel - Casa Hibiscus Hotel - which we found was gorgeous. It is an old house fully restored and added to by its owner's, Cheryl and Dean, previously from Canada.

Beautiful and buzzy Cuenca
It’s situated on Calle Larga with lovely views out over the Tomebamaba River within an easy walk to everywhere.

It was wonderful to stay in a spacious, clean and comfortable hotel with fantastic hosts.

Cuenca is delightful with red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flower filled plazas, lovely buildings and a great café and restaurant scene.

Festival down the stairs near our hotel
We arrived to a huge week-long artisan and gastronomic festival and everyone in Ecuador seemed to be there.

Events were happening all over the city and a major part was just down a big flight of stairs right near our hotel.

There were food tents and lots handicrafts stalls everywhere surrounded by happy people enjoying themselves.

We felt lucky that we had managed to get accommodation because the town was totally booked out!

Cuenca festival
We sampled all sorts of food and enjoyed ourselves as part of the happy crowd.

Cuenca is a lovely town to wander around despite the huge number of people there - it just made it more buzzy!

The old historic centre is filled with two Cathedral's, lots of churches and masses of attractive colonial buildings. We visited the Central Bank Museum with its fascinating ethnographic displays including some genuine shrunken heads from the Amazon.

Cuenca's very modern Pumapungo Theater & Museum
We also visited the Pumapungo Theatre and Museum, and the adjoining Pumapungo archaeological site which was interesting to wander around.

We walked across town to climb many, many steps up to the Mirador Turi which had a fabulous view of the city.

We came back down the steps and decided to walk a different way back to our hotel - bad mistake!

Mirador Turi view
We had to walk past some scruffy shanty dwellings and we had just passed them when suddenly, a horrible little white dog pounced at Leigh's leg from behind. 

This gave us a big fright and while it drew blood it did not break the material of trousers or seriously puncture her leg, thank goodness.

We instantly decided to catch a taxi home! Our hostess was shocked and being a nurse checked it out and said it seemed OK. 

Leigh had a small wound and big bruise on her leg for weeks as a reminder!

Gualaceo-guinea pigs cooking
While we were in Cuenca, we took an hour long bus ride to the artesian village of Gualaceo which had a large fascinating market.

We were told it was a good place to sample cuy (pronounce koowee) - known to us as guinea pig.

Leigh was all set to sample until she saw them being roasted with a huge bamboo skewer right up through the middle of them – through their poor little bums!

Gorgeous Chordeleg silver street lamp thingy
She sampled a knuckle and proclaimed it tasted great, but we were still put off by the cooking method.

Instead we settled on some local food from a suckling pig stall upstairs which looked much more appealing.

We then caught another local bus to the cute village of Chordeleg which is famous for its gold and silver jewellry. It is a delightful little place, set on a hillside with pretty houses and shops and fascinating silver thingys hanging off the street lamps. Marg bought a pair of lovely filigree silver earrings.

Happy with our day, we headed back to Cuenca. The bus was so full bus that we ended up sitting in the two front seats next to the driver. We had a great view of the road but was rather cramped, and Marg had to keep avoiding the gear stick!

Next day, we were back in Cuenca and wandering around, and we found the Panama hat factory and museum. It was fascinating to see the history of how these local hats had been made over the years – they are still made by hand here. 

We tried on several but none were right or would fit in our suitcases like our good old Aussie hats!

Then the time came to farewell our lovely hotel hosts and we caught a taxi to the airport to fly to Quito, our next destination.

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