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Cuenca and Guayaquil

I set off for the bus station at the crack of dawn... OK maybe not the true crack of dawn, but it was pretty early; 7am. The school day clearly starts early in Cuenca, for when I went past a school, children and parents were already streaming through the gate. On the road leading to the bus station I passed by the woman with the wicker baskets of chickens - this time she had a basket of live guinea pigs as well. Not sold as pets, I assume, but for food...

At the bus station I bought two chocolate ring doughnuts to keep me going on the four-hour journey. At the first village we came to after leaving the mountains a man got on with a straw platter piled high with empanadas and other similar snacks; he walked up and down for a while before being dropped off on the road out of town. I remember this happening in August as well. I was feeling quite peckish but decided to give them a miss, because I didn't know how long they'd been out for.

I arrived back at Guayaquil bus terminal at midday and hopped straight on a bus to my part of town; once I got in I couldn't rest for as long as I would have liked, though, because I was teaching that evening and needed to prep. I had my 2-hour Intermediate 1 class at 6 and then immediately after that a two-hour one-to-one IELTS class.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:39 Archived in Ecuador Tagged buses andes ecuador cuenca guayaquil english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Independence of Cuenca Day


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I spent a better night this time because I took better precautions against the cold; tucking in my t-shirt, wearing my coat instead of using it as a pillow, tucking the blanket into the hammock more, etc. I still woke up once or twice but I went back to sleep again quicker and I slept in a bit longer. Once I’d woken up properly a church bell started clanging nearby. Like the day before, I had two guaguas de pan for breakfast in my hammock whilst reading my guidebook. Filled with the joys of life, I then headed into town (only five minutes’ walk from the hostel).

I didn’t have any particular plans for today apart from just to wander round and take in whatever happened. I walked round the main square first for a look round. Some banners of the city’s coat of arms, made of flowers stuck onto board, were standing in front of the statue/monument in the middle. These had clearly been put up in celebration of the Independence of Cuenca.


The other things in the square, however, I recognised from when I was here in August - the man hiring out his massive cuddly-looking St Bernard dog for photos with members of the public (I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog that big before); the leather-saddled model horses for children to sit on and have their photos taken, complete with leather cowboy hat; the itinerant icecream sellers with coolbags filled with ice lollies. The latter are also a common sight in Guayaquil.


When I first entered the square I’d seen lots of people stream out of the cathedral doors. After I finished my walk round I went inside. Another service had clearly begun almost straight away, for it was in full swing when I entered. I heard the voice of the priest booming from the loudspeakers attached to the columns on both sides of the nave.


Then I noticed the candles burning in front of the shrines along each wall, and suddenly remembered that a while ago Dad had asked me to light a candle for him. So I walked along until I got to the shrine at the far end, before looking around for somewhere I could get a candle. I couldn’t see any anywhere, but then I noticed a doorway with people going in and out, so I went in too. I didn’t know the Spanish word for candle but thought I could mime lighting one and hopefully they’d understand. There was a nun standing behind some railings, but just as I waited to speak to her I noticed an open doorway next to me with stairs leading down to the crypt. A notice said it was $1 to enter, but the nun just waved me down, so I guessed that the fee is waived on Sundays or holidays.

As always when I see the word ‘crypt’ I thought of the little rhyme that begins ‘The cat crept into the crypt...’! I had that in my mind most of the time I was in there. I put my dollar into the ‘crypt maintenance’ box, seeing as the nun hadn’t asked for it upstairs, before walking round. It was a small crypt; first there was a shrine with chairs in front of it, then a corridor flanked with grave compartments and a couple of statues of angels. There was a much small shrine at the end of it.


Once I’d walked back upstairs I saw to my consternation that the door to the main part of the cathedral was locked. I knocked on it, but just as I did that the nun appeared from behind me and opened it. She asked me something in Spanish – I guessed from the context and the word gente (‘people’) that she was asking if there was anybody else still in the crypt, so I said no. For most of the time I’d been the only person there.

Relieved, I stepped back out into the main part of the cathedral. I noticed a man come up, arrange and light three red candles that he’d had in his hand, and then I suddenly remembered the stalls directly in front of the cathedral that sell candles and other religious paraphernalia. That’s where I was supposed to get hold of candles, not from inside the cathedral! So I went outside and bought a white one, before coming back in and lighting it.


Then I hung around to see how the rest of the service panned out. There were lots of other people walking around the back and sides; some of these were taking photos, so I didn’t stand out too much when I did the same. I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said, apart from things like 'todos los santos' and 'Madre de Dios'. There was a communion, with a gold cup and bowl taken from within a gold box in the altar, but only the front couple of sections of the congregation went up for it.


Then, during a hymn/piece of recorded music, the collectors went round with bags on the end of sticks. Soon after this about two thirds of the congregation left, so I assumed that was the end of the service, but then a nun started speaking into the microphone, so I’m not actually sure.

I left too, because I suddenly realised I’d spent ages in the cathedral and I wanted to see if anything was going on outside. There was, as it turned out; a protest. There were demonstrators crowded outside one of the official buildings at the side of the square. It was quite small, and peaceful, but was quite loud. They appeared to be disaffected immigrants. One row of soldiers and another of police separated them from the entrance to the


I hung around for a while but then moved on to have another look at the handicrafts market that ran along one side of the cathedral. I watched the glassblower for a while but didn’t buy anything. I had another quick look round the market where I'd bought the jumper yesterday, but didn't buy anything there either. I did however see some people crowded round a stand, so I went to investigate. It turned out to be a salesman with plastic models of parts of the human body around him, and bags of leaves and roots and bottles of what I assumed were ointments, salves or medicine. The guy was speaking into a microphone and the crowd was lapping it up, reaching forward to take the bottles he occasionally proffered.


Then I bought a bag of fresh pineapple chunks from a pineapple and coconut stand and sat down on a stone bench at the flower market opposite to eat them. As I sat there I pondered what to do next. I thought about going online or just back to the hostel for a rest, but then I remembered the river Tomebamba and decided to go for a walk along it. On my way there I stopped at an almuerzo (set lunch) café and had a plate of seco de pollo and bottle of Pepsi for $2.50.

Once I got to the river I congratulated myself on my decision to come, because I saw a whole series of market stalls, under gazebos and open-sided tents, stretching along both sides of quite a decent-sized stretch of the river. As well as the stalls, there were many more people with their wares on the ground in front of them. The market was the ‘Festival de Artesanías de América’, and there were stalls from Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Suriname and Paraguay.


I bought myself a $1 llama keyring made from twisted reeds/straw, and then had a look inside a tent run by the Asociación de Mujeres de Huaoranis, the women of the Huaorani, a Kichwa speaking tribe who live in the Amazon rainforest. Kichwa is a native language quite widely spoken in the highlands and the rainforest in Ecuador. As well as necklaces and string bags and other things, there were some photos of some tribespeople, which appeared to be just as exotic to the middle classes of Cuenca as they were to me, for they crowded round taking photos of the photos with their phones.

Then I realised I needed to get some cash out, so I walked back into town. On the way back from the cash machine I noticed that there was a little art exhibition on inside the Superior Court of Justice building, so I went inside. The interior was beautiful, full of marble and very light because of the glass roof. I was really taken with one picture of fish, but it was $600 so I wasn't tempted to buy!


On my return to the market I wandered around both sides of the river. I made two purchases but won't say what they were here... I also bought myself a stick of candy floss for 50 centavos. I walked round the park next to the river, too; rather surreally it was dotted with giant plastic models of dinosaurs. There were also a couple of club-jugglers.

After I left the river I went for another walk round town. At one side of the flower market a woman had set up a stand with an industrial-sized saucepan/tureen on it.


Just as I passed by it I did a double take because I overheard her say to a customer 'Colada Morada' ! Colada Morada is the drink traditionally drunk in Ecuador with guaguas de pan on 1st/2nd November. I simply had to buy some! It's purple, made from black corn flour, blackberries, other fruits (these vary, but mine had some little chunks of pineapple), sugar and spices - you can get it hot or cold, but mine was hot. It was delicious!


A couple of hours' rest back at the hostel followed before I went out again for dinner. I had shrimp ceviche, yuca chips and some Fanta at this place;


Then I walked round looking at the fronts of the churches, which are lit up on weekend nights. I took one or two photos before going to bed.


Posted by 3Traveller 09:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges art night market spanish cathedral hostel dad andes ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

All Souls' Day, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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 Comments (0)

Back in Cuenca for the holiday weekend!


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I arrived at the terminal at 7am and by 7.35 I was on the right bus.

The journey took about 30 minutes longer than if I'd gone in a minivan, but that was because the driver had to drive a little more slowly, so I felt slightly safer than I had in August when the minivan was speeding round mountainside corners. I was also sitting higher up, and on the opposite side to where I had on the minivan, so I could see more of the incredible views we got once we began ascending into the mountains. Some of these views were astounding - layers of cloud spread out below us with mountain tops poking through. None of the mountains we saw were high enough to have snow on them, but it was still a beautiful sight!


We arrived in Cuenca in bright sunshine. I remembered the way from last time, so I walked into the historic centre, passing shoeshiners and a lot of local women streetsellers on the way. One woman (and her small daughter) was sitting on the pavement with two great round, flat wicker baskets of live chickens and one smaller basket of eggs; others had pineapple, coconut and mango stands; others were sitting on chairs with sacks of clothes or bread rolls. I did a double take with one because I suddenly realised she was selling guaguas de pan, the sweet doll-shaped bread buns/ rolls that are widely eaten in Ecuador on All Souls' Day and a couple of days on each side. I stopped and bought four for a dollar; I ate two of them as I walked along and cunningly decided to save the other two for breakfast the next morning.

As I continued my walk I was surprised to hear 'Adagio for Strings' by DJ Tiesto come into earshot. Someone had put a loudspeaker out on their balcony and it was pumping out music, fitting in with the general festive atmosphere. It sounded quite surreal to me, because that version of the tune was played a lot in the nightclubs of Swansea when I was at uni there, so it reminded me of good times I had dancing until the early hours of the morning with my housemates.

Soon I reached the main square, realising with delight that I had arrived in the middle of a procession! To think that if I'd got a minivan at lunchtime like I wanted to originally, I would have missed this completely. It wasn't a religious procession, so I assumed it was an Independence of Cuenca one, held today instead of on the day itself (Sunday) for some reason. There were lots of colourful dancers, floats, balloons, etc., and recorded music. The historic setting was so beautiful - I wandered around taking photos from different viewpoints.


The crowds looked slightly odd to me because a lot of people had umbrellas up to give themselves shade from the sun - not parasols, but normal umbrellas. One guy was even going round selling little umbrellas that go on people's hats.


After quite a long time, I carried on to my hostel. Hostal Yakumama was easily found, quite close by to the one where I'd stayed last time.


I was shown up into the hammock terrace - a large room on the top floor with a view over the tiled rooftops of Cuenca. It reminded me a bit of the view over the tiled rooftops of Lisbon from Next Hostel. Each hammock came with a blanket, and there were lockers we could use.


I knew I wouldn't have time to handwash clothes this weekend like I usually do, so I'd brought laundry with me to Cuenca to sort out at a laundry place. There was a launderette opposite Hostal Yakumama, so I made full use of it. Once that was sorted I found an internet café to let people know I'd got here OK. I ended up staying on for a lot longer than I'd intended, so it was dark outside by the time I'd finished. I was struck by the cold when I stepped outside, so I fetched my Bolivian coat from the hostel before finding somewhere for dinner. I had a steak that turned out to be really thin, but also very wide and tasty. It came with rice, (naturally; this is Ecuador, after all...) and some chips and salad.

I was incredibly tired by now, so after dinner I went back to the hostel and read for a while before falling asleep in my hammock.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:43 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains hostel buses andes ecuador procession cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs Comments (0)

Gorgeous Cuenca


Today my intention was to visit the Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas, a small museum contained within a working convent of cloistered nuns, and also the Museo de Arte Moderno, which is in a building that used to be an mental institution and is very highly regarded. Unfortunately I was let down by my guidebook which had told me both were open on Sundays, because neither were in reality. Never mind - I will definitely be coming back to Cuenca so I'll visit them then instead.


Instead, I spent the day wandering around again, starting off with another visit to the 'new' cathedral for a look round. A service was in progress so I felt a bit self-conscious walking up and down the sides.


When I came back outside I took some photos of the covered walkway in front of the cathedral and buildings next door, because there were some stalls selling candles and icons and other religious things.


I also saw some stalls with a pile of what looked like brightly coloured ice cream on a slab of marble, so I tried an ice cream cone of that. I thought it must either be ice cream (which was why they were in the shade) or fluffy marshmallow mixture, so although I'm not desperately keen on fluffy marshmallow, I thought I'd take a risk. Of course it did turn out to be marshmallow, and was so incredibly sickly sweet that I only just managed to finish it, despite being starving hungry. My fault for not asking before buying, though!

I simply had to have some actual ice cream after that, to take the taste of marshmallow away as well as to cool myself down, so I got one from an ice cream shop. Then I walked through a handicrafts and clothes market in the square next to the church of San Francisco, and the flower market next door.


I didn't buy any handicrafts or clothes, reasoning that I will buy stuff like that the next time I come here, but I did buy two massive, sweet and juicy chunks of pineapple on sticks for $1 each.


I had a quick look around the religious museum that is inside the now-deconsecrated 'Old' cathedral, but there wasn't that much there. There were some interesting black and white photographs of Cuenca and other parts of Ecuador in the 19th and early 20th centuries, though.


I went on an open-topped bus tour of the city in the afternoon - the first tourist bus tour I have ever been on. The commentary was very fast which wasn't ideal, but it was nice to get a higher viewpoint of the city. A lot of the buildings date from the revolutionary period and have distinctive balconies in the French Baroque style.


The tour also included a stop 4km away at a great lookout point over the city:


After taking photos at this lookout point I wandered around a corner or two and discovered a shrine/grotto hidden away, set into the side of the hill:


On the journey back to the city centre we drove through a street in the new part of town which had several shops with whole pigs rotating on spits outside them.

It had just started to spit with rain on the way back to the city centre, and as I walked back to my hostel the rain suddenly became torrential.


After a lie down for a couple of hours, however, I went back out for dinner and although the sun had gone down the sky was pretty clear. I went to a pizza place for dinner, not having had any pizza at all since I arrived in Ecuador in May. I ordered some yucca fries as well. When the pizza arrived it was so large I couldn't finish it, so they put the last slice into a doggy bag for me. I decided to take it back to Guayaquil with me the next day and use the language school's microwave to heat it up for lunch (I don't have a microwave in my flat).

Posted by 3Traveller 11:17 Archived in Ecuador Tagged market museum hostel andes ecuador cuenca explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine extreme_weather colonial_church Comments (0)

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