Published: May 26th 2012January 20th 2012
Surrounded by countryside and farmland; this city is ripe with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and pine trees. Cuenca, Ecuador sits at about 2500 meters above sea level. Circa the equator; Cuenca is blessed with a temperate climate...45 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit (7 - 21 degrees Celsius). With a population of about half a million; Cuenca has the perks of a big city without a "big city feel." Small town folks. Peoplen here seem friendly and inviting.
I'm alone now. My travelling buddy heads to the coast while I break for the mountains. I find comfort here. Cuenca. Cuenca it is. From what I read it is beautiful. I can't tell yet. It is 3am and I'm sitting in a hostel...awaiting sunrise. I close my eyes for a bit.
Wake up, feet on cold concrete, head for the town center. Every South American city I have been to has one. Park Abdon Calderon sits between two cathedrals. Pine trees surround a statue at the center of the park. Around it are trees and bushes of all shapes and sizes. Vendors chant, people chat on park benches, I sit for a while. Take it all in; town centers give me a feel for the cities I visit.
The cathedral to my left is massive; 10,000 can attend a single mass here. About 70 percent of Latin Americans consider themselves to be Catholic; it's no wonder the words catholic and universal are synonyms. I marvel at its size as well as its design. Three blue-capped domes at the top catch my eye. Head for the entrance.The church is open at odd hours; I never make it inside. No time to be upset; there are no mistakes when you travel. Change locations.
Ignorant; I ask for directions. Instead of pointing and giving me the usual dialogue she walks me three blocks to my destination. Gracias. A bridge crosses one of the 4 rivers that flow through Cuenca. Translated literally, Cuenca means a basin made by a confluence of rivers. I see one of them now. I walk alongside; admiring the force of the water and the surrounding graffiti. Sightseeing, I visit the dots on my map. I walk about as far as I can walk in a day. My feet tire and I retire.
In the morning I head to Cajas National Park. Walk to the entrance, empty my bladder, grab a map. A worker greets me, briefs me on the park, and recommends a few hikes. Here I am. Here I go. Ten minutes into my hike I run into some Argentinian women I met in a hostel weeks ago. The world is so small in my mind at this moment. Friendly conversation, hugs, "see you in Argentina in March!"
Back to hiking. Five or six lagoons; I admire the mountains in their reflection. Natural beauty. National parks never cease to amaze me. Virtually untouched highlands, native plant and animal species, no houses or buildings in sight. Life of all shapes and sizes. Macro and microorganisms; I make sure to capture both with my camera. Loving life right now.
Five hour hike. It rains the last three hours; I enjoy it all. Towards the end of my hike I run into three tourists. We share a cab, head back to town, and dance the night away. Unpredictable travels. Wandering but certainly not lost.