Adiós Ecuador!

Our last week in Ecuador has been a bit of a whirlwind.  It’s hard to believe that last Sunday we were hiking Cotopaxi, then biking in Baños on Tuesday, sightseeing in Cuenca on Thursday, and visiting some archaeological Inca ruins in Ingapirca on Friday.  And now we are in Guayaquil getting ready to fly to Peru.  Before we say a final good-bye to Ecuador, here’s a summary of our visit to Cuenca.

We travelled to Cuenca by bus from Baños on Wednesday via Riobamba.  The journey took a total of 10 hours including 2 hours wait time in Riobamba – the only time we have had to wait for a bus during our entire stay in Ecuador. While it was a long travel day, the journey south through the Andes mountains was unbelievably beautiful.  The trip from Baños to Riobamba was a little hair-raising as the bus ripped up and down the single track dirt road at breakneck speeds with only inches to spare on both sides of the bus. In spite of the maniacal driver, the scenery was breathtaking, although it was impossible to take any pictures as we were tossed from side to side as the bus driver took the curves as fast as he possibly could.  The bus ride from Riobamba to Cuenca offered equally spectacular, panoramic mountain views but with, thankfully, a more sedate bus driver.

Arriving in Cuenca at night amidst a downpour meant waiting until the morning to see the city.  We found our hostel easily (La Cigale) – or I should say our taxi driver found it – and we were pleased with our choice, even though it didn’t look like much from the outside.  Our room was on the second floor, at the back of the hostel, far away from the noisy restaurant up front.  We had a very large private bathroom, a fairly comfortable bed, and two night tables with a lamp on each – rare commodities in the hostels we’ve been frequenting.  Speaking of the restaurant, it was a busy hangout for mainly locals probably because the food was so good and Happy Hour offered half-price cocktails.  While their mojitos were not quite as good as the ones at home, they were nonetheless quite delicious and at only $1.50 each, we enjoyed plenty of them!

Thursday was spent wandering around the old city which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site because of its many historical buildings.  It seemed there was a church on almost every corner. Two historical landmarks were the Old Cathedral which was built in 1557, and later replaced by the new Cathedral (photo on the left) which began construction in 1880.  This cathedral has three large towers which had to be truncated due to a design error by the architect. If they had been raised to their planned height, the foundation of the church would not have been able to bear the weight. Today, the towers look somewhat out of scale with the rest of the building.  Nonetheless, this remains an important landmark in Cuenca.

As we explored the old part of the city, we discovered a great path along the Tomebamba river which separates the old city from the new.  We went for a run early Friday morning along this route and we were surprised by the number of locals who were out running, walking or doing exercise classes in a park dedicated to running (complete with a running track around the park perimeter).

Rather spontaneously during breakfast on Friday, after reading about it in our guide book, we decided to go to Ingapirca to see the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador.  We grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal, and then discovered the next direct bus would not leave until noon.  The woman at the ticket counter suggested (in Spanish) we go to El Tambo since the bus was leaving immediately and from there we could catch another bus or taxi to the ruins.  We hopped on that bus, not exactly sure where it would lead, since we can now understand the gist of what people are telling us in Spanish, but we’re still at a loss when it comes to the details.  Two hours later we pulled into the small town of El Tambo and the bus assistant motioned to us that this was where we get off.  He pointed in the direction of taxis ready to take tourists to the ruins, 10 km away.  At $5 per ride, we balked at this option (it had only cost $4 to travel to this point from Cuenca), but with no other bus in sight, we acquiesced to the taxi and sat back and enjoyed the scenery along the way.

The ruins are situated about 200m from the town, on the edge of a hill.  Only a few other tourists were at the ruins when we arrived, including a small group – two women and a male tour guide – who we had met earlier in the week while cycling in Baños – what a small world it is!

We meandered through the ruins which were very small in comparison to Machu Picchu. The most significant building is the temple of the sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. The building is constructed in the Incan way without mortar. The stones were carefully chiseled and fashioned to fit together perfectly. The temple of the sun was positioned so that on the solstices, at exactly the right time of day, sunlight would fall through the center of the doorway of the small chamber at the top of the temple. Most of this chamber has fallen down.

On the bus back to Cuenca, we met a large Ecuadorian family who were travelling from their home town Azuay to Cuenca to do some shopping.  Our introductions began when the oldest girl in the family sat beside me (Chris was sitting behind me).  She said hello and asked me where I was from.  We then began a little conversation in Spanish where I told here where I was from, my name, my husband’s name, my children’s names, ages, etc.  She introduced me to her two 9-year old cousins who subsequently crowded around us.  The girls’ parents were sitting across the aisle, listening to our conversation, and we were introduced to them as well.  As the conversation continued, the little girls commented on my green eyes and Chris’ blue eyes – it was as if they had never seen eyes like ours before.  Then one of the girls said my hair was pretty, and then she touched it and said it was so soft too.   They were also intrigued by our white skin.  One would have thought they had never seen gringos before!  While this all seemed rather innocent and sweet, it did remind me of our experience in Peru a couple of years ago when Chris and I were also swarmed by sweet looking children on Halloween, only to be robbed by them!  So, as much as I was enjoying the interchange with this lovely family, I was also very much on my guard (as was Chris).   Thankfully, we left the bus with all our belongings intact, but still not sure if our interchange was genuine or opportunistic. I hate thinking like this, but unfortunately it is a necessity in order to protect yourself while travelling.

Today we travelled from Cuenca to Guayaquil via the Cajas National Park on the Alianza bus line.  This was probably the nicest bus we have travelled on, with large, panoramic windows and very comfortable seats.  It would have been worthwhile taking this bus just for the scenery alone. The bus was truly a direct bus, no stopping at all along the way, not even to allow vendors on to sell their wares.  We arrived in 3.5 hrs, a full half hour ahead of schedule.


And so our time in Ecuador has come to an end.  Tomorrow morning we are flying to Arequipa, Peru via Lima.  Originally we had intended on doing this trip by bus, but after researching our options, we decided we would prefer to travel 3,000 km in the comfort and speed of a plane, rather than roughing it on a multi-day bus trip….what can I say, comfort and safety at the expense of adventure is sometimes the more prudent way to go.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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One Response
  1. Angus says:

    Awesome pictures again. Ecuador sounds like an amazing experience. I love the pics of the towns and hostels. They look very friendly and comfortable.

    You never told me about being robbed in Peru. What happened?