Baños to Cuenca - from friendly village to the cultural heartland of Ecuador

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March 12th 2010
Published: March 12th 2010
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Ansley in the truck taxi to PandoaAnsley in the truck taxi to PandoaAnsley in the truck taxi to Pandoa

Truck taxi we took to the village of Pandoa, outside of Banos

Baños to Cuenca - from friendly village to the cultural heartland of Ecuador

Add On - Alert - Add On- I Forgot to Include Places to Eat in Cuenca
We already told you about the restaurant 'Bananas', located on Calle Hermano Miguel -- next to Carolina's Bookstore. Then, we found a splendid vegetarian restaurant, called Govinda's, located on Juan Jaramillo 7-27 y Borrero. And right across from them is this wonderful cafe, chocolateteria, called Leka. Yum...yum...yum... especially the chocolate fondue.

Before we left Baños de Agua Santos for Cuenca, we - along with several other volunteers at the BIB - had the opportunity to spend a portion of Saturday (March 6th) volunteering at the mountain village of Pandoa (actually it is the mountain village near the mountain village of Pandoa, but who’s counting? -- except Jody and Bobby!). We took a private truck taxi, escorted by the local police (it’s a long story) and arrived at the village at about 10:15 am. We started out reading some books to/with the children. This village was dramatically impacted by the 2006 eruption of Tungurahua. On the way up the road, we could see houses covered by the lava/mud flows. There are
Craft activity in PandoaCraft activity in PandoaCraft activity in Pandoa

Shari explaining how to make paper beads from magazine paper
signs everywhere warning that this is an area of ash fall (when the volcano blows).

After a bit, we organized a craft activity. I had shown some of the volunteers and lots of the children who come to the BIB how to make paper beads, using paper from magazines, cut into long triangles. So this became the main activity for the children in this village and it was immensely successful. Each child got to walk away with a beautifully handi-crafted bracelet. After the arts-and-crafts activity, other staff performed a play about a dancing cuy (it’s another long story). We left the village at 1:00 pm and rode back to Baños in the back of a pick-up truck in the pouring rain. Another typical/atypical day.

On our last Sunday and our last full day, we packed up, cleaned up and wandered around town. We then had a wonderful chat with Bobby and Jody who sent us off with precious gifts from the heart. Thank you Bobby and Jody and we will never forget our time in Baños, and yes - we are already scheming about how and when to get back. So Jody, has anyone ever tried to open
Street Scene in CuencaStreet Scene in CuencaStreet Scene in Cuenca

Typical street scene in Cuenca, Ecuador
up a bookstore in Baños? “Libros y Lattes” - tell you what - you find us the perfect building…..

We left Baños on Monday morning, after awaking early, turning in our llaves, rolling our bags to “Rico Pan” (one of our favorite restaurants) and then rolling all our gear to the bus station. Boarded a bus to Ambato and were left at the side of the road to cross 4-lanes of traffic on the Pan American highway. Yea - some fun (NOT). Boarded a bus more or less directly to Cuenca. We thought we might have avoided the bad movies on the bus, but shortly after the bus got underway, the Chuck Norris movies series began. Seen one Chuck Norris movie, seen them all. Unfortunately for us, we had to sit through over four of them! Oh well, guess that beats the American Pie series!
What can I say about the bus ride. First off, we paid $26 for all four of us to travel for 8-hrs. And the highlight was that there was a bathroom on the bus (but no toilet seat - that must be a luxury around here as most toilets here do NOT have a
Close up of Catedral NuevaClose up of Catedral NuevaClose up of Catedral Nueva

Close of Catedral Nueva en the main plaza, Cuenca, Ecuador
toilet seat - not that I’d sit on the seat anyway, but….). However, taking a pee on a moving bus winding down mountain passes is indeed an interesting experience. Getting dressed is equally as exciting.

We arrived in Cuenca about 4:00 pm, grabbed a taxi and set off to our hostel “El Cafecito”. The first night, we were in room #7, which is the room you DO NOT want to be in. Andy and my bed was like…like…like a rock. Might as well have slept on the floor. Between the bed and the loud music until 4:00 am, well - let’s just say that sleep was a bit hard to come by. Fortunately the next day, a worker at El Cafecito offered to switch us to room #6, which was tremendously better. Our first outing was to “Caroline’s bookstore”, which is run by an ex-pat couple. Needless to say, it has become our daily hangout as the girls get their fix of daily reading. Next to “Caroline’s Bookstore” is a wonderful restaurant called “Bananas” (yes, as in the fruit), owned and run by three wonderful women. And next to them is a wonderful hostel, which reminds us a bit
Puente (bridge) crossing Rio TomebombaPuente (bridge) crossing Rio TomebombaPuente (bridge) crossing Rio Tomebomba

One of several bridges in Cuenca, Ecuador
of McMenamins. While we opted to not move all of our stuff over there…should we ever return…or maybe WHEN we return, we would definitely stay there. For folks on the move to Cuenca, we do suggest you check it out. It’s called “El Hogar Cuencano” and the email is: We’re not, not recommending El Cafecito, but it is a bit noisy and we’re kind of like, frumpy non-partying types.

Well - our impressions of Cuenca are that this city is the heartland of culture in Ecuador. It was founded in about 1540 and there are ancient buildings everywhere. The streets are cobble-stones and the sidewalks in places make of stone, of marble, of a variety of beautifully colored materials (also very, very slippery when it rains). As well, Cuenca might as well be called “La Ciudad de las Iglesias” (the city of the churches. I think there are over 3 dozen churches in Cuenca, each more beautiful and grandeur than the next…and geez, we’re not even religious or anything, but my oh my are they incredibly spiritual and holy places.

Our second day here in Cuenca, we walked to El Museo del Banco and then to the
Donde Estamos?Donde Estamos?Donde Estamos?

Looking at our map, trying to figure out where Pumapungo is...
largest Inca ruins in the city, Pumapungo’s Archeological Park. It was a lengthy walk and we all wondered why we were so tired when we got back…we then remembered that Cuenca is situated at well over 8,000 feet in elevation.

Our third day here in Cuenca, after our breakfast at “Bananas” and after a visit at the bookstore, we walked up to the music conservatory, with the tip that it could be the place to sell our violin. Well, we found it and heard a lone trumpet player and a some amazing piano playing, but learned that the conservatory didn’t open up until 2:30 pm. So we wandered all around Cuenca, visited a craft market with way too much kitch. Then, Andy and I went out in the afternoon, back to the conservatory, while the girls relaxed with a “Lord of the Rings” movie (I guess you could call that relaxing). And VOILA (okay, I know that’s not Spanish), we sold the violin. We sold it for a bit less than we were asking, but it is a relief to not have to lug it around for the rest of our trip.

On our fourth day - of
Edeficio muy viejoEdeficio muy viejoEdeficio muy viejo

Old, old, old building in Cuenca, Ecuador
course desayunamos en Bananas (pan francesa - YUM), then we tried to find the zoo…there is a zoo type of building, but it was closed for renovation. After that, we walked to the Museo del arte modern - and then found a wonderful café/gelato place. From there, to another museo de escultura (de los partes de las bicicletas), then wandered to a craft market and meandered back to the hostel. Apparently, Cuenca has been named by “International Living” as the #1 place to come to, to retire and as a result, there has been a huge influx of ‘gringos’. I can see why - it is a beautiful city, quite clean, relatively safe and tons of things to do. Nonetheless, from what we hear, there is increasing tension between the Ecuatorianos y los gringos. I think that folks who historically have come here to settle have made great efforts to learn Spanish and to learn the culture and customs of the area. But, it seems more and more it is more about the ‘investment opportunity’ and an intolerance to the culture they are moving into. It then becomes a poor reflection of the rest of us Americans who really want
Indigenous women selling frutaIndigenous women selling frutaIndigenous women selling fruta

Indigenous women in Cuenca selling fruit
to learn, who want to genuinely offer help and who want to engage in cultural exchange.

Well - this is one of the briefer blog entries. Internet here has been spotty and also, for that, no videos this time around. We just wanted to let everyone know that we made it safe and sound to Cuenca and are enjoying this beautiful city.
Tomorrow we take a bus from Cuenca to Loja, then another bus from Loja to Vilcabamba, then a taxi to our next hostel. We will try to make one last entry before we head into Peru and will hopefully have a better sense of exactly what we will be doing (we sort of know…but kind of don’t - that’s okay, it’s all part of the adventure!

Ciao por ahora - y abrazos a todos,
Shari, Andy, Ansley y Marleigh


13th March 2010

I am enjoying the blogs!
Thanks for all your fun and interesting and sometimes funny blog entries. I am really enjoying hearing about your trip!! Cuencas sounds and looks wonderful. Can't wait to hear more!
14th March 2010

Blogging On
Thanks Anne-Marie...we're now in Vilcabamba after another long day of buses. This hostel, Izhcayluma, is set up 2 km from town and is absolutely spectacular. We'll be here for a few days, then will make our crossing into Peru.

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