Cuenca, Ecuador

Before I knew it, I had been in Peru for 5 weeks.
And now it was time to move on and my heart told me to go north and head for the hot climates, rather than down south to the winter of South America.
Next destination, Ecuador.
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Ecuador is here, right on the equator and hence its name, “Republic of Equator”!
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Did you know that it is one of the ecologically “mega diverse” countries in the world and has the most bio diversity per square kilometre of any nation? They also have the Galapagos Islands that add to this diversity.
So there’s definitely lots to explore here.
From Mancora, Peru, I was going to cross the border to get to Cuenca.
I was EXTREMELY nervous about this because I had heard and read many horror stories about robberies on buses.
At least 2 people I’ve met told me first hand about getting their camera, Go-Pro, lap-top stolen from their bags while they had them with them. Bags slit while unnoticed or asleep.
The advise was, take the day bus whenever possible and NEVER sleep on the bus. Hold on to your bags with your life or sit on them if you have to, but never place them down on the floor or in the overhead.
Unfortunately, I had booked the 11:30pm overnight bus, breaking the first rule but I had spent most of the day sleeping lazily in the hammock and avoided my usual intake of alcohol so I was going to make every effort to stay alert and awake.
Another tourist sat next to me which was comforting but I still held on to my bag for dear life and even wrapped a scarf over it to make it harder to slit.
Then… next thing I know, I was awaken at the border crossing for immigration. 2am. Shit!
I guess I had comfortably fallen asleep even though my “nervousness”.
Checked my stuff, all intact. Whew.
Border crossing was fine and no hassle at all. The Peruvian side on one counter and Ecuadorian on the other.
Adios Peru! Hola Ecuador!
Excited on entering my 4th country of this South American Journey, I got back on the bus eager to keep awake this time.
I had read stories of “unlisted” passengers that come onboard after the border and disappear after robbing sleeping passengers . It was only 5 hours so I’ll keep alert.
Next things I know, I was in Cuenca and all the others had gotten off.
DAMN IT!!!!
Well, nothing was touched, so I thank my lucky stars but I’ll have to drug myself up with caffeine or Red Bull next time.
So I landed in the city of Cuenca.
This destination was highly recommended by other travelers for its beautiful city and it is in fact, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Trusted Site for its historical buildings. It is the third largest city in Ecuador.
Sure enough, it was a cute little city with architectural beauty and lots of greens, parks, river side-walk ways. A beautiful mix of civilisation and nature placed in the centre of high Andes mountains. I could sense a bit of sophistication and class through the city and it was a nice refreshing change compared to the small ex-fishing village towns I’ve been surfing in Peru, which may or may not have a market in town. It was a nice to be back in civilisation and with supermarkets, universities, museums, cafes and restaurants and well maintained gardens and parks.
Churches
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The Plaza & flower market.
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Beautiful river-side walk ways and the red bricks/ tile in contrast with the green.
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Art
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The ancient ruins and the Lama
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View of the city from the view-point, Turi
The other highlight of Cuenca is the near by Cajas National Park.
It has many treks through the hills and the valleys and lagoons of the tundra vegetation.
Unfortunately it was not the best of weather when we made our way over there and the routes were muddy and slippery but it was a sight very different from Peru.
We took Route 1, which climbs through the hills and through the forest.
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Through the jungle. Mossy greens and twisting branches of the jungle trees. You really feel like Tarzan!
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Some interesting  vibrant plants
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And finishing up by the Laguna
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A good three and a half hour hike and we were ready to go.
We waited for the bus to head back to Cuenca, which was supposed to come “soon”.
Every time we asked, it was “its close”. Based on what? I don’t know but as you could guess, it really didn’t come.
For an hour and a half in the cold we waited sand waited.
Finally, in desperation, we started putting our thumbs up, half jokingly, but really seriously because we needed a ride.
Then about my 5th try, a truck with a grandmother sitting on the passenger side gave us the nod!
YES! We immediately boarded the truck and we were saved.
It was extremely cold but were ecstatic to be saved! My first hitch hike experience!
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One of the other highlights of Cuenca was going to the food markets.
I loved it!. The scale of what they sell there and the energy of people trying to make a living with a 50 cent sale.
Lots to see and lots of asking what things are.Fish, Meat, Veggies, fruits. you name it, it was there.
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A market specifically just for potatoes! They say there are more than 4,000 types of potatoes in the Andes!
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That night, we had an Ecuadorian + Japanese food night at the hostel.
Andreas, the hostel owner of Mallki Hostel made us Ecuadorian crab cooked in coconut milk, and peanuts. Yum!!!!
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From the Japanese side, I cooked Okonomiyaki (Cabbage pancakes) and Daigaku Imo (Sweet potatoes)
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The sweet potatoes was really wild in pattern!
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A fun night with new friends.
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Other fun facts about Ecuador and Quenca:
–  Being on the equator, the temperature of Ecuador is the same all year round. But they consider to have 2 seasons, summer and winter, the only difference being the amount of rain. Sunny days = Summer, Rainy days = Winter.
– Ecuador uses the US$ The bills are the same but the coins are original. It’s weird because things are usually like 1/2 or 1/3 the price. (ex. You can buy lunch for $3, ride a bus for 25 cents!)
– Quenca means Basin because there are four rivers coming together.
It’s been a relaxing city to stay in and I love that it is a mid-sized city that blends well civilisation and nature.
It is surrounded by the high Andes mountains so you can easily go for a hike or a bike ride, while still enjoying a certain degree of city life.
Really nice and relaxing, as you can tell from these three furry ones from the hostel.
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A well spent 5 days and I am off to the next destination, Quito!

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