Cuenca – What a Magical Place!
I scratched all kinds of things today. Like the itch for adventure. And my cheapskate bone. All at the same time.
After a pleasant breakfast (2 fried eggs, 2 pieces of fried bologna, and two large slices of bread, all of which I turned into a breakfast sandwich) at the hotel, I took a cab to the bus terminal. There I paid $8 for a ticket to Cuenca. It’s only 125 miles away, but it takes roughly 4 hours because it is straight up. Guayaquil is at sea level, Cuenca is 8,200 feet above.
The scenery on the way was incredible. We climbed so high that we were in the clouds. Then we climbed above them. And the Andes mountains are simply spectacular. They are like the Rockies in one regard – as you move toward the Rockies, they look as if they are rising straight out of the plains, as if you could be standing on the plains, then step onto the mountains. The Andes do the same thing. But they are unlike the Rockies in other respects. Very green and lush, and very asymmetrical. Also, the mountains we crossed had tremendous cliffs, some of them curbside. I’m talking 500 foot drops, and if the bus flipped over the guardrail, the trip up to heaven starts with a long trip down. Every now and then, if there was just enough land, someone would squeeze a house into one of these spaces. The front door would be just a few feet back from the road. There was no need for a back door, lest someone step into the verdant abyss. I saw waterfalls. I saw llamas. I saw a cow with a hump like a camel. I saw another cow, like the cows I’m accustomed to, standing literally 6 inches from a precipice so deep I couldn’t see the bottom. I made eye contact with a mountain goat standing on a cutout in the mountain perhaps three feet from the bus passing by him.
Then I saw Cuenca. As George Takei would say, “Oh, my!!”
Cuenca is this incredible mix of old world Spanish colonialism and modern city. Picture a grid of streets. Each block is filled with four to six story buildings. The bottom of the building is a commercial shop of some kind. The upper floors are residences. There are few cars, and little need for them. You can get anywhere on a bus which runs every 20 minutes and costs a quarter, or you can take a taxi, which typically costs $1.50.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re wondering what the U.S. did with all those gold Presidential and Sacagawea dollar coins that we absolutely refuse to use … they’re all here.
So, I checked into my hotel, right in the heart of the historic downtown, and paid the $30 for my room. Then I walked three blocks to an incredible open-air market. And though I always wait until I’m about to leave country to shop for gifts to take home, I had to strike while the iron was hot. The prices were just so ridiculously low, I feared I wouldn’t see them again once I got to the coastline. I played the bargaining game that’s expected, but not too hard. I ate a heaping plate of chorizo sausage and potatoes for $1.50. I wanted to buy a custard-filled pastry for dessert (think mini-eclairs), but I was having a hard time communicating with the vendor as to the cost. Finally I just handed her $1, willing to accept however many mouthfuls of fresh-baked heaven that buck would buy me. She put ten in a bag. I’ll have to wipe the powdered sugar off the keyboard after I finish this blog.
I love this place. Absolutely love this place. And Cuenca was a side trip. I really came here to see the coast. Can it possibly be any better than this? I plan to find out. And that gives me this strange jumble of emotions. I could not be more content than I am at this moment, in this place. And I’m so juiced to see what comes next!