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All Souls' Day, Cuenca

Cuenca


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To be honest I had a pretty bad night, not because the hammock was uncomfortable, because it wasn’t, but because I was so cold! The hammock terrace was unheated and Cuenca gets very chilly at night. I woke up several times in the night and it always took me a long time to go back to sleep. However, once I woke up for good at about 8.30, I saw the blue sky and the sunshine through the window opposite and felt really happy and excited about the day to come. Before I got out of my hammock I had my remaining two guaguas de pan for breakfast, and ate them while reading my guidebook.

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One place I was desperate to go to last time but didn’t manage to was the Museo de Arte Moderno. It’s very highly regarded and the building used to be an institution for the insane.I didn’t really trust Lonely Planet’s information about opening times, so the first thing I did once I was up and about was go to the museum to check in person.

When I arrived I saw that the entrance was closed, but noticed it was 9.50 so thought maybe it would open at 10.00. I hung around in the square until then – the museum is on one side of the square, the church of San Sebastian is on the opposite side, and there’s a small park in the middle. There was a big group of teenagers next to the church who looked like they were rehearsing something – they broke off at one point to play a chasing game around the square, and I noticed they were all wearing Scout neckties.

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At 10.00 the doors to the museum opened. Just to make 100% sure, before I went in I asked the security guard if it was open, and he ushered me through to reception to sign the visitors’ book before I walked out into a sunny green courtyard. I noticed a lot of doors around each side of the courtyard; I supposed that the rooms inside used to be the little rooms or cells where the inmates had to live.

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As I stood there looking at the courtyard, a girl came up to me and asked if I’d like a free tour, so I thought ‘why not’ and said yes please. The two of us walked round together. It turned out that she was called Paola and was an art student at the University of Cuenca. She seemed a little bit shy but was very knowledgeable about all the artists and works displayed (which were all Ecuadorian or from other Latin American countries). Her eyes lit up whenever she said she thought a certain work of art was interesting and explained why – I could see she was absolutely genuine in her love for modern art, and I liked that. Yet she wasn’t being evangelical about it; she was just stating what she thought. One or two of the installations left me cold, but others were interesting, and were enhanced even further by what Paola said about them. There were some lovely paintings, too, and in the courtyards there were sculptures as well as trees and other greenery. In one courtyard there was a eucalyptus garden.

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As we walked round, I noticed that the walls of the rooms were very thick – no doubt a remainder from when the place was a mental institution. I asked Paola about the history of the building but unfortunately she didn’t know anything about it apart from that it had been a mental institution; nor was there any written information about the building’s history.

I had to fulfill a specific mission next, so that is what I did. After that was completed, I had to pop back to the hostel briefly, and then I wandered into town in search of some lunch. I had two humitas, one tamale (similar to a humita,made from steamed ground maize but with some pieces of egg, onion and red pepper on top) and a chocolate milkshake at a café where I was the only customer until just before I finished. The humitas were more filling than I'd remembered from the last time I was in Cuenca, so I got the waiter to put one of them into a doggy bag for me.

After lunch I wandered around the main square next to the new and old cathedrals and through the flower market.

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On one side there was a handicrafts market, which included a glass blower with a blowtorch.

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I didn't buy anything from there, but I did at another market nearby. This one has several sellers from Otavalo, a town north of Quito that is famous for its weaving and massive market. I bought myself a grey and white patterned jumper, but before that, just as I entered the market I saw a man with a tiny coca stand - he had some coca leaves burning, and was selling ointments made from coca.

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Close by there was another little stand, this time selling what looked like quail eggs.

I went on the internet for about an hour, before having a quick look through yet another market - this time it was an indoors market, mostly food stalls. I got the impression that tourists hardly ever came into this one. I walked past rows of butchers' stalls with various carcasses hanging up, and fruit and vegetable stalls with bags of different kinds of loose beans. I passed another woman with a sack of guaguas de pan, so I bought two to have for breakfast the next day.Then I walked back to the main square and sat down for twenty minutes.

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I decided to go back to the hostel for a bit, but thought 'I'll just have a quick look round the streets on that side first'... I was glad I did, because what should I come across but the Museo Esqueletología... the Skeleton Museum!

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It was very small, only three rooms, but very interesting. The owner spoke English well and told me that none of the animals were killed for the museum, which was comforting to hear. The only exotic specimen, as he put it, was a baby African elephant. I assume he meant exotic as in non-native South American animals, because to Europeans a lot of them would be exotic. There was a skeleton of a llama, various monkeys, a sloth, various birds (including two hummingbirds - it was fascinating to see how incredibly tiny their bones and beaks actually are), the tooth of a sperm whale, the skull of a tapir, a caiman, shark jaws, a sawfish saw and several other things.

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There was also a display of five or six human skulls, arranged in age order from a seven-month old foetus to an adult.

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After this unexpected and diverting experience I went back to the hostel and rested in my hammock for an hour or so before going out again for dinner. I went to an Italian restaurant for the first time in Ecuador (there are several Italian restaurants in Guayaquil, but for some reason I haven't got round to visiting any of them yet.) I had some bread to start; this was where the Ecuadorian touch came in, for instead of butter, it came with a bowl of chimichurri sauce and a bowl of reddish sauce. I thought with the latter that I saw little pieces of chopped garlic in it, so tried a little bit, but it nearly took the roof of my mouth off - it turned out they weren't chopped garlic pieces at all, but chilli pepper seeds! I put the chimichurri sauce on the bread instead, and very nice it was too. I had a small but delicious tomato and mushroom pizza for my main course but was too full for pudding.

I didn't want just to go to bed after this, so I went for another wander round town now it was after dark. As I entered the main square I came across a crowd in a big circle surrounding what looked like a television presenter with cameras trained on him. I'm not sure exactly what was going on but it involved him showing off Panama hats and putting some on the heads of one or two of the onlookers. Then a younger man went into the middle and sang a song to recorded music (or he could actually have been miming; I couldn't be 100% sure.) Then the original chap came back in and said some more stuff, before the crowd dispersed. I walked around for a while longer before going back to the hostel to bed.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art night market museum hostel andes ecuador sloth cuenca hummingbirds explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine caimen colonial_church

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