Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

10 hours, 3 buses and 2 very sore butts later, we arrived in the southern highland city of Cuenca. Before we could even retrieve our bags, we were set upon by hostel touts, and ended up at the Posada Todos Santos, the nicest place we've stayed the entire trip. Immaculately clean, with great beds, free coffee and tea, and most importantly, an infinite supply of scalding hot, high pressure water and a shower head that sprays in just one direction. Heaven.

As yet another colonial city, we didn't expect too much from Cuenca, having been to so many now, but it charmed us from the start. Beautifully tended gardens fill the public squares that front many of its 16 churches and cathedrals, the people are exceptionally friendly, and the food is the best we've had in months. After months of $3 - 4.00 dinners for two, we splurged at a restaurant that wouldn't have been out of place in San Francisco. It was the best $20 we've spent in a very long time.

After lots of wandering, visiting the free museums, and taking in the view from the nearby hills, we headed out to Cajas National Park for a day of hiking. Cajas is uniquely beautiful thanks to the glaciers of the last ice age that rampaged through its rolling moor-like landscape, leaving behind jagged cliffs and hundreds of lakes. While we only explored a tiny fraction of it's 290 sq. km's, the portion we explored we had entirely to ourselves. I can hardly imagine any similar experience in the national parks in the states.

Once it started raining we hightailed it back to the road and flagged down the next passing bus for the ride back to Cuenca. On the walk back to the hostel, we had about 30 minutes free entertainment thanks to a student protest. In response to the local bus syndicate raising fares from $.25 to $.40, they've barricaded themselves in a local college and were trading volleys of rocks, fireworks, molatov cocktails and tear gas with the local police force. First the students would rally and force the cops back a block or two, then the cops would charge the students forcing them back, then the students would let loose a hail of rocks and flaming molatov cocktails, and so on in endless repetition. The cops shining moment was when they reclaimed the bus that the students had been using to barricade the road since yesterday. The students proudest moment was when they used cell phones to call for backup, resulting in another bus being delivered to the barricades less than 15 minutes after they lost the first one. A day's effort by the police foiled in under 15 minutes. That just had to hurt. We were eventually driven off by rain and tear gas, but not before we'd had a great time. I think the only ones who had more fun were the cops and the protesters.

We'll be back on the buses tomorrow, continuing the long slide south. More soon.

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