Published: November 8th 2007October 15th 2007
From Alausi to Cuenca the local bus raced thru the countryside as it picked up passengers on high roads, in deep valleys and in barely lit towns.
The setting sun put on a magnificent display of pink and fuchsia reflected on the low lying clouds. As the bus went around peligroso curves, emerged from behind mountainous hills and dipped into valleys, the sun played hide and seek.
There were some tourists on the bus but local passengers filled the empty seats and clogged the aisle from back to front. After six hours the bus arrived at the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre. Seems every town has a Terminal Terrestre.
By taxi we found The Casa Naranja. The streets were dead quiet. The Scot women followed right behind. Paul and I took the bigger room. The lady who answered the door was worried about toilet paper.
We four were worried about food. Found some pizza place. None of us ate pizza. The meatballs were tight enough to put a hole in the wall. The spaghetti was cold. The tomato sauce lacked colour, was lifelessly watery and did not stick to the noodles. The ladies had chicken and chips.
The Casa Naranja is an old colonial house converted into a hostel. The lady that had opened the door is the owner. She and her daughter have done the work of renovating. Where are her nine siblings? Upstairs, the daughter has an atelier where can be found her knitted creations. They are all done in garter stitch.
Our room in the Casa Naranja seems higher than wider. The bathroom is big enough and the shower has a recessed floor so that water does not flow all over. Getting the hot water to flow is a challenge. Once successful the pressure and temperature are good. This is a topic to be discussed because of the succession of cold water showers. The last hot shower was in Popoyan, Colombia.
In the morning, after consulting the map it is decided to walk to the hat factory. The walk affords us a view of the city. After dropping the laundry we set off. On the way breakfast is found in a small hole in the wall that has all the tables occupied.
Fish soup with huge pieces of tune is the order of the day. Paul loves it. I give
him my tuna. The broth is tasty and the bread is soft.
More walking thru street construction and over busy intersections brings us to the bus station. Here we buy our tickets for tomorrow. This is a hasty decision. Turns out Cuenca deserves a minimum of three days.
Looking across the street a woman is noticed putting a striped plastic sac bulging with woven hats, into the trunk of a taxi. The Hombres Ortega Panama Hat Factory lies across the road from the bus station.
We are welcomed by an English speaking guide. The tour begins in a foyer where stacks of hats cover the floor. A man sits on a small stool sorting the hats.
We listen to the guide as she recounts the steps involved in the process of the hat before it comes to the city.
The toquilla straw is specially suited for the weaving of the hats. Once picked, boiled and dried it is split and then woven into hats that fit over wooden blocks to give them the desired size. The thinner the straw the tighter the weave the more valuable the hat.
At the factory the straw
ends are trimmed down to 5cm.
Now the hats are ready to be bleached, 365 at a time, in deep rectangular vats. The hats have to be turned by hand while they stay in the stinky chemicals for three days. Some hats are dyed different colours.
There are hats lying around all over the place as we go thru the factory to hear about the next step. Once dried the hats are put into a hot metal form and steamed into required shapes.
Each hat is hand finished with sandpaper to make the edges smooth and eliminate any stray straw fibre.
It seems a fast process when reading it here. And there are thousands of hats visible in the factory. But the fact remains that all the hats are made by hand.
In the shop Paul buys a $100 hat and I spend $30. The hats are in a lovely box that Paul is guarding with his life. He can hardly wait to wear the hat… he loves it so much. I’m looking forward to wearing mine during summer days at the cottage and on other holidays.
The biggest item on the agenda accomplished
we can now relax and see how much more of Cuenca we can absorb before the nine o’clock bus in the morning.
We wander around looking at beautiful Spanish architecture.
At the Hotel Saint Lucia the coffee is good and the postres even better. The tiramisu that I ordered was divine. The bathroom was a treat to!
We inquired from the man at the reception desk about eating Guinea Pig. He directed us to the perfect place.
We shoot lots of pics. My battery dies. We return to the hostel picking up the laundry along the way.
More wandering … ice cream in a lovely shop in the arcades by the Cathedral …sitting in the park in front of the Cathedral with music playing in the background … all together a perfectly lovely day.
I have to live here!
We come early to the restaurant for our ‘Cuye’ dinner. Once we order we sit, admire the décor, talk of things and shoot the breeze. The little critter will take one hour to be grilled.
The waiter asks if we want to see the rotisserie. OF course we do.
We follow the man out of
the restaurant, down an alley, thru a parking facility and under a roof that covers four grills, a prep table and a group of women peeling potatoes. No one was skinning little pigs.
One woman did show us the bleached carcass of one naked ungrilled guinny piggy.
Our critter was the biggest of the five that were rotating over the hot charcoal embers. After more talk and admiration of our meal on the spit we returned to our table waiting for the presentation of our critter. Two beers and over an hour later the four paws sticking up from the plate arrived at our table. Salad, boiled potatoes in sauce and more beer made up our repast. Did I mention that in a S.A. painting of the Last Supper the ‘Cuye’ was on a plate front and centre before Jesus. And for DiVinci Code fans so was Mary Magdalene.
The meat of the guinea pig is tasteless except for the generous basting of salt. The bones are tiny. I had to suck each bone dry to get enough protein. The ladies at the rotisserie said they ate a piece of Cuye every day. At $18 an animal
A Quaint Place
Where is the lover to go with the atmosphere?
I am wondering if what is returned from queasy tourists constitutes this piece a day. The animal comes cut into four - two fronts, two backs and a head. Paul and I did not eat the dead. Combining two senses of humour, one more gross than the other, we took unkind pictures of the dead thing.
We wandered back to the Casa Naranja thru the dark streets. The early train necessitated an early rise.
At 6:00 in the morning, without breakfast, we were ready for El Nariz del Diablo.
There are more photos below