Published: January 7th 2012November 7th 2011
I arrived in the city of Cuenca, my first stop in Ecuador in the late evening with my two English friends Lindsay and Julia. Little did we know that we had arrived in Cuenca during the last evening of the fiesta celebrations the cities independence.
The last night of the fiesta meant the final excuse for the youthful population to celebrate with crazy parties and we struggled our way through the mass of people on the streets, having left our hostel in hope of finding some cheap food. The first thing I noticed of the city was that despite being surrounded by drunk people and bars, the city is beautiful. The colonial elements combine with the modern to great effect and the lighting of the streets is particularly ornate. The second thing Lindsay, Julie and I noticed, at the same time, was the extreme campness of the cities men. Pink t-shirts and skinny jeans lined the filled the streets along with far too much hair product. There are many times where my dress code is not on standard with the people who I find myself around whilst travelling and I felt as out of place here and when
I walked into Sydney's Mardi Gras in regular clothing. Luckily we some a hot dog stand, probably not the best introduction to Ecuadorian food and we experienced the ever constant backpacker struggle of trying to break bank notes in Ecuador. Following the food we retired exhausted to our rooms..
There were quite a few things that we wanted to do in Cuenca, but we the previous days travel we were still sluggish the following morning and moved very slowly to a breakfast restaurant. We ate a pick me up in the form of both eggs and bacon, something of a luxury and decided that we should go and visit the large market in place for the fiesta.
We headed out, crossing the river under a bed of sunlight giving us the ability to see some of Cuenca properly and I was stunned. My recent times in South America had taken place in three very different environments, the coastal desert (e.g. Mancora, Lobitos, Trujillo, Huanchaco), the jungle (e.g. Iquitos, Amazonas, Tingo Maria) or mountains (Huaraz, Santa Cruz). For the first time in a long time I was viewing multiple colours at the same time. Cuenca
explodes with colour and beauty, many different types of flowers line the river which expensive looking buildings overhang in a very European manner. I could barely believe how beautiful this area of the city was in comparison to pretty much the whole of South America that I had visited so far, everything was stylish from the houses to the bridges to the flora lining the river that was bizarrely clean looking. My eyes were ignited with different shades of reds, yellows, purples, blues, greens and any other colour you can think of and as a result I fell rapidly in love with Cuenca.
We wandered the market stalls which we ran mostly by women in traditional dress selling everything from 'I heart Cuenca' junk to delicate jewellery and a huge number of paintings in various styles. I had a light haggling bout with a lady purely on the grounds that she seemed nice and was pretty (possibly sexist, by hey), and came away with a new woollen fleece and a scarf to replace items that had disappeared mysteriously whilst I was in the gringo land of Mancora. After we'd explored the market completely and the
adjacent park we left this wonderful area, leaving the happy parents with their laughing children behind to head towards the centre of the city.
Our day had begun with a great breakfast in a nice café, before continued with a fantastically pleasant time at the market, surrounded by beauty. This sort of theme continued throughout the remainder of our very laid back wander around a city that can described simply as casual and picturesque. We visited the central plaza and marvelled at the intricately designed cathedral - the first I had found even remotely interesting since perhaps Arequipa in Peru. The patterns are designs that cover the building and specifically its door are amazing and for once I was disappointed when I found those doors closed so I couldn't see the inside of the cathedral. We kept walking around the city, passing through a flower market where two Smurf's were walking, I guess a movie must be out soon, either way it was a comical vision.
We wandered through the meticulous city centre, admiring the architecture until we decided we were hungry and tired and ate decent pizza before heading
back to the hostel. The girls were travelling on a limited time span and so we all decided to leave the following afternoon for Baños, Ecuador's best known centre for outside adventures.
I spent the majority of my evening between my laptop and and internet café restoring a memory cards worth of Julie's photos that she's deleted by accident before the two of us settled into a pair of hammocks strung up in the TV room of the hostel to watch a bizarre John C. Reilly movie, Cyrus. I don't mention many hostels (although the number seems to have increased up late), but Turisto del Mundo deserves a mention for having cheap rooms, the hammocks in front of a TV/DVD combo and for having fantastic skyline views of the city from the rooftop balconies.
Unfortunately the following day when a miserable day of heavy rain so we did very little before leaving Cuenca in the afternoon. The city is one of several that I hope I can return to one day because although I saw little of it, what I did see was enough for me to understand why so
many expatriates settle there and so many students choose to study Spanish there. Cuenca was a great introduction to Ecuador.