Wednesday, 22nd October
We woke up for the last time in the Galapagos Islands, and after packing and eating our budget cornflakes, checked out of our hotel. The buses to the airport leave at very inconvenient times, starting at 7am and with the last one for the day leaving at 8:30am. This means that if you have a flight around lunchtime of later then you have no option other than to take a taxi. We think this is something to do with the ‘taxi mafia’ as it means they get their share of the fares. We flagged down a pick-up truck which passes for a taxi here and paid the US$20 for the ride which took around 45 minutes to the ferry dock at the north end of Santa Cruz Island. From there we caught the US$1 ferry to Baltra Island and shortly after the free shuttle bus to the airport. The flight back to the mainland was hassle free with this being a very quiet airport and we found ourselves back in the tropical heat of Guayaquil by around 4pm. We knew the bus terminal was walkable from the airport but with our large bags and the tropical heat we opted for a cab. We paid US$4 for a taxi which literally took us around the corner to the bus terminal and found a company with buses to Cuenca. We were keen to head straight on to Cuenca and not that keen on staying in Guayaquil, both to get moving and also to get back to the cool climbs of an Andean town. We found a bus easily enough and after buying our tickets (US$8 each) jumped on board the bus which, after leaving at 5pm, brought us to Cuenca at 9pm. The ride might’ve been nice, passing through the Cajas National Park but it was dark outside and as such we didn’t see a single blade of grass. We did stop once though at a fruit stand where everyone went mad for mandarins. Odd, I thought, but then they might’ve been a real bargain there.
Cuenca bus terminal is fairly large and well serviced and we caught a taxi without any problems to our hostel in Cuenca, the other ‘El Cafecito’ (the other one is in Quito). We arrived late and so didn’t see anything of the town expect for me going out for a late night dinner of some chicken and chips. We seem to be in a lively part of town with plenty of bars and restaurants around us. We will have to explore further tomorrow. When I google Cuenca to get some information about this city most of the articles that come up are about Americans retiring and relocating to Ecuador, and Cuenca in particular. So that tells you something. It’s a good-looking city with a UNESCO Heritage old city and plenty of historic landmarks down cobblestoned streets along with some Inca ruins in town. Along with the history there are plenty of bars and restaurants, art galleries and cafes. We came here to see more of Ecuador and also to make our way south to Peru. It’s also a good place to buy a Panama hat.
Thursday, 23rd October
They appear to be doing some construction at our hostel with hammers and drills getting us up after the church bells had down their job of waking us up at 6am. We have one full day in Cuenca but, safe in the knowledge that we have seen many a colonial town, we were happy to take our time in getting up and going out. This is a nice hostel to lounge at, with a communal cafe area within an inside courtyard. We enjoyed their breakfast and coffee then I looked into what we could do in Cuenca with our one day. There are plenty of day trips to do from the town, but again this covers much of the same stuff we have done already. So, I came up with a plan to see where Panama hats are made by the expert people of ‘Homero Ortega’, then check out a local museum with artefacts and displays relating to the indigenous Ecuadorians, the ’Museo Pumapungo’. We walked through the old city, which is charming, towards the Panama hat workshop and showroom. The old city is a lot smarter than many we have seen and there appears to be a Cuenca festival going on today. Around the main square, the Plaza Abdon Calderon, there were stalls with local produce, some women weaving hats and some other woman turning some guinea pigs (‘guy’) on a spit. We took in the sights, and smells (guinea pig) and then made our way on towards the hat workshop, keen to get there before it closed at 12:30pm. Once there we were quickly led on a tour of the workshop, seeing Panama hats being made first-hand and getting to understand the process. The hats are firstly woven by locals in the area, then they are brought to the workshop for cleaning, preening and shaping. At the end of the tour we entered the showroom where we could try on as many hats as we liked. I thought there might just be a couple of designs of the famous Panama hat but there were easily over a hundred and we ended up buying some. I bought a the classic design of the Panama hat and Kirsty bought herself two rather fetching sun-hats. They even organised shipping of the hats back home. I won’t say how much they were but they were surprisingly cheap for the quality. Not cheap exactly but cheaper than we would’ve thought.
By now we were in need of a sit down and a drink so we headed back to the Plaza Abdon Calderon where we had seen a nice looking cafe with booths and windows from where we could ‘people watch’. We got some drinks and cakes, I had a ‘cafe con brandy’, which was very strong, and took our time watching the world go by. Once we were satisfied we had refreshed ourselves a little and I was a bit tipsy from the brandy in the coffee, we headed towards the Museo Pumapungo to check out some indigenous relics and ruins. The museum has an indoor exhibit which showcases different indigenous groups in Ecuador, their clothing, tools, housing etc. and then out the back there are the ruins of an Inca town. We also got to see some real-life shrunken heads.
We then headed back to our hostel to relax in the cafe, write some postcards and make use of their speedy wifi. We had seen a place for dinner on our walking through the old city and when we were hungry we walked toward the main square, Plaza Abdon Calderon, and took a couple of seats at ‘Raymipampa’, where we sampled some traditional food. I had a ‘plato tipco’ which consisted of large white corn, grilled pork loin and a blood sausage. Interesting but not my favourite traditional food although definitely eatable. Kirsty had a nice dish of chicken stewed in sauce. When we left the restaurant there was quite a commotion going on in the main square, with, we think, some acts from ‘Ecuador’s Got Talent’ singing in a bandstand. They drew a large crowd and were clearly popular. We didn’t hang around that long, but long enough to witness the talent in Cuenca. We wandered back to our hostel for bed. We would leave tomorrow for Vilcabamba, further south towards Peru.