The beautiful city of Cuenca

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, July 25, 2010

We are in Cuenca, a lovely colonial city with a historical centre dating back to the 16th century, now a World Heritage Site. The journey here from Puerto Lopez involved a 4 hour journey to Guayaquil on a very dilapidated bus that smelled of stale fish, followed by a further 4 hour journey on a smart, luxurious bus with masses of leg room and aircon! The second leg of the journey was spectacular as we wound our way up into the Andes and could see a blanket of cloud spread out below us. We passed through the stunning Parque Nacional de Cajas, a wild and windswept place that looked a lot like the Scottish Highlands, before descending through an Alpine valley to Cuenca, which is located at 2500 metres above sea level.

After seeing much poverty in Ecuador, Cuenca felt like a different country, more European feeling than Latin American. There is obviously considerably more wealth here. Most of the towns that we have passed through in the rest of the country consist of buildings that are half-finished, usually made of breezeblocks with metal poles sticking out of the roofs, and have streets strewn with rubbish. In Cuenca, the cobblestone streets are spotless, and there are churches and landscaped parks on every other corner. The old town is separated from the new town by the Rio Tomebamba which flows down from Cajas, providing the town with water clean enough to drink from the tap.  

We are staying in a hostal located on the sixth floor of a building overlooking an old monastery with a palm filled courtyard and kitchen gardens. We spent the first couple of days wandering the streets of the old town, peering into some of the old churches and sampling various cakes and ice-creams.

Yesterday, we joined a guided trek in the beautifully bleak Parque Nacional de Cajas. Cajas encompasses 2800 sq km of moorland or paramo dotted with hundreds of glacial lakes. The vegetation consists of different grasses and shrubs, ground bromeliads, big yellow aster flowers, tiny and delicate Alpine flowers that huddled close to the ground and small Polylepis trees that grow in sheltered hollows. We were driven by minibus to Tres Cruces, one of the highest points in the park at 4100 metres where we stood for a few minutes shivering in the cold wind. We then descended to 3500 metres to begin our three hour walk. We passed several lakes and entered a small forest of Polylepis trees. These trees grow at the highest altitude of any trees in the world and stepping into the dense dwarf forest of twisting branches was like walking into a Lord of the Rings set. We saw a Black-breasted Buzzard Eagle, an Andean gull and some type of duck on one of the lakes. We also spotted our first llamas from the minibus on the journey into the park. Spectacled Bears are also found here, bromeliads being their favourite food. The only downsides of the day were Tom sinking into a bog and gaining a very wet and muddy shoe in the process, and the weather which had been bright and blue the previous two days but had changed to cloudy and cold. It wasn't too bad though and certainly added to the wild character of the place.
At the end of the walk, we drove further down the valley to a restaurant where we feasted on a traditional and very tasty potato soup followed by trout. To drink, I had a glass of tomato-tree juice while Tom had Naranjilla juice, both of which are delicious. After lunch, we drove to a Laguna Llaviucu, a beautiful lake nestled in a classic U-shaped valley.

We are not sure how much longer we will be in Cuenca for. Our Steripen (UV water sterilizer) broke a few weeks ago and we are awaiting the arrival of a new one which is being delivered to Cuenca by DHL. Cuenca is so pleasant though that we are in no rush. Hopefully it will get here in the next few days and we will be able to continue on to Vilcabamba as planned before we enter Peru.
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Faith Mortimer on

hi you two,
everything seems to be going well (mostly) for you - hope the water sterilser arrives soon. we have jsut booked 2 hols for ourselves. Mid Mrach we're off to South Africa to do a spot of touring and after that for a bit of relaxation we're treating oursleves to a cruise. Dubai -Oman -India -Goa - Kerala - Mombai - so as you're there then MAYBE we might meet up! Realise this is a million to one shot of course. Anyway keep safe and continue to have fun

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