. As we decend upon Cuenca we get a panoramic birds eye view of beautiful rolling hills and red tiled homes.
We make contact with Rick and Carol, friends of Lisa and Trevor who own Kookaburra Cafe and Lodging who have a room waiting for us. Cuenca is a safe city of around 500'000 residents that includes quite a number of US and Canadian retirees. They are all looking to enjoy a beautiful place that comes with friendly folks, warm weather, free symphony performances, thermal baths on the outskirts of town and an economy that stretches the dollar considerably. Also staying at Kookaburra is retired Vancouver Province sports columnist Kent Gilchrist and his wife. They invite us out for dinner and we enjoy conversation around travelling Ecuador, fixing the Canucks once and for all and the good old days of BC Lions training camps in the Comox Valley. Kent has pretty much seen it all covering everything from the Kentucky Derby to Stanley Cup Playoffs and was selected into the Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 2005.
Rick organizes a trip outside of town to the Central Ecuestre Bellavista equestrian centre ( you tube trancas roundup ) for some horse back riding. As I write this my ass, back and groin are still recovering but it was without a doubt the most breathtaking ride I have ever been on
. Marg decides to rest her vertigo successes from Banos and takes the day off. The ride is full of rolling hills with ridges that peak over craggy bluffs and wind back down to farm country, then back up again weaving through stands of swaying pampass grass, pine and eucalyptus trees for a four hour return trip of around 40-50km. The horses are excellent in all types of terrain, can put the gas pedal down when asked and are sure footed on the rocky ridges. Sebastian is the owner/guide and trains horses for equestrian, instructs jumping, marathon racing and puts stallions to work looking for that perfect South American race horse. His reputation for breeding beauties has caught the attention of race owners in Saudia Arabia. He is in training himself for a 80km race coming up but finds time for planning a new community rodeo centre and expanding his lodge to accommodate overnight riders. All the best Sebastian and thank you for sharing your part of the world with us, sore ass and all.
Who really decides after wandering the streets of Cuenca under a full moon you will end up in the Austria Cafe listening to a young talented string harp player from Argentina with your beautiful wife of thirty two years? Very romantica ...
A day trip from Cuenca takes us to the little town of San Bartoleme, internationally known as a guitar making town for over 200 years but just not today? The bus ride comes complete with a drop off and connection along a dusty side road where we climb into the back of a covered pickup taxi along with half a dozen locals
. The international language of smiles and hellos is complete by the time we round our final upwards turn in pea soup and arrive in what appears to be Bartoleme the ghost town. Hardly a sole in sight, the designated local huge sow gives Marg a grunt, shop doors are locked, even the dogs seemed disinterested. The beautiful town church has some funky metal guitar sculptures in front giving us hope. A man walking by says hello and says "guitares?" and we are soon in his shop where Alejandro proudly gives us a tour showing us his tools of the trade and works in progress. His son marks the fifth generation of family guitar makers and works out of their shop in Cuenca. We visit the next day to see a number of beautifully finished guitars and traditional instruments. Christian is also seriously talented with wood carving tools and has done a few of the former Inca King on the backs of Botelos. After playing a few and talking about Ecuador wood, North American music and girls...I am seriously considering having a custom made guitar and having it sent home in a few months.
The sticky notes have been mysteriously changing pages in the guidebook during the night. After thirty six years of reading each others minds ( my part is easy... ) we have come to the conclusion that Peru and Bolivia would need another trip. We are really enjoying Ecuador and would like to spend more time here rather than the long haul to Peru. If Rotary will have us we could accompany them on their wheelchair distribution trip to Bolivia in 2015 and take in that part of South America at that time. After a great week in Cuenca our bags are packed for Saraguro, a small indigenous village five hours south. Thanks Rick and Carol for your hospitality and insight into the beautiful city of Cuenca.
The bus driver must have a sixth sense to go with the proverbial cross hanging next to him. It is so thick with fog at 9000ft you can barely see past the windshield. But he seems to know every curve and corner and the porter knows every passenger and exactly where to let them off in the middle of nowhere, only to disappear within seconds. The South American James Bond movie is just loud enough....and has enough special effects to distract most of the passengers from the outside world, including the many peasant farm hands boarding and exciting the bus and enjoying a short dose of hollywood after their long day in the mountain carved year round crop rotating fields. I wish I had a headcam to capture the characters as they board the busses here. As we descend into Chuchi we can see farmers ploughing fields with burrows, hand hoes and the odd tractor on a steep hillside that should likely be ploughed by hand. We randomly pass a "Seaweed Extract" plant, some guys repainting the torsos of mannequins roadside and animal carved hedges.....never a dull moment gazing out the windows on a six hour ride that takes us through a shortcut section of road between Banos and Riobamba that had been closed from rainy season slide activity