Cuenca

Our next destination after the beach was Cuenca, the third-largest city in Ecuador and one of the prettiest places we’ve been so far. On Monday we woke up early anticipating a relatively long but straightforward journey taking two different buses back to Guayaquil and then catching another bus to Cuenca. That was until a woman working at our hostel told us buses weren’t running in town that day. No problem, we thought, so we caught a $5 cab to the next town and luckily came across a bus heading to Guayaquil. At the bus station in Guayaquil however, things went downhill. Apparently we had gotten lucky and found out that there were actually no buses running from Guayaquil because of a strike related to diesel fuel prices. We talked to a few different ticket offices, all of which confirmed that there were no buses.

Unsure of what to do, we wandered around and talked to a few taxi drivers, but sitting squished in a cab for 3+ hours with our bags in our laps didn’t sound great. Not to mention it would cost significantly more than a bus ride. Next we looked into renting a car for the day, but again couldn’t find any place with available cars that wasn’t way too expensive. After messaging anyone we knew in Guayaquil and wandering around for the afternoon trying to come up with a way to get to Cuenca, we eventually gave into a guy at a van rental company who would drive us there that night. It was about 5 times more expensive than we were thinking the bus would be, but we needed a ride.

Happy to finally be on the road and not standing in a bus station with nowhere to go, things got even better about an hour into our drive when we made it up into the mountains. Our long day of travel timed up perfectly with sunset over the clouds and our driver happily pulled over several times for us to take pictures.

The next day we set out to explore the city. Our first stop was a walk across town and then up about 700 steps to a lookout point, Mirador de Turi, which offered a great view of the city. This turned into a little more of a hike than we expected, so we rewarded ourselves with a beer at the top.

Overlooking Cuenca from Mirador de Turi

The walk back down the other side of the hill turned out to be equally as long. It felt like we had been walking forever when we finally got to our next stop for the day: Avenida de Bosco, also known in English as Pork Road. We stopped at the first restaurant we came across with a full pig out front and were not disappointed. After we sat down we were greeted by the restaurant owner with a giant spoon full of fresh fried pork rinds and that really sealed the deal. We split a typical plate which came with several different parts of the pig, either fried or roasted, over corn and fresh veggies. The fried skin was super crunchy and salty, and the pork was as tender as was possibly manageable. We finished the first plate and followed that up with another plate of pork since the first one was so good.

After eating our fill we grabbed a cab back to the main square in the historic part of town, Calderón Square, for a free walking tour we signed up for. Our guides for the afternoon first took us to the Catedral de la Immaculada Concepcion, where we climbed the steps up through one of the main towers to the roof. We visited Plaza de las Flores (the flower market), learned about the few remaining cloistered nuns living in the monastery across next to the market, and drank a cup of Agua de Pitimas, a drink made and sold by the nuns that’s supposed to be a cure-all. It tasted kind of like flowers. We’ll report back if it cured all our ailments (Nararator: it did not cure all of their ailments).

Our last stop on the walking tour was another market, full of different vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs and flowers, fresh juice, and an entire section of ladies selling pork. Anytime you came near that end of the market they would each try their hardest to get you to come eat their pork. The real stars of this market though were the ladies doing spiritual cleansing. Elizabeth and I each participated. An adorable woman dressed in traditional clothes used a raw egg, a bunch of fresh flowers, and various scented oils to cleanse us. The boys opted out.

One of our favorite things to do while traveling is try all the local foods and drinks we can try. There was no shortage of that in Cuenca. After our spiritual cleansing we drank a glass of canelazo and then enjoyed ice cream topped with mild shredded cheese which was surprisingly good.

The next day after breakfast we ventured to Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (Cuenca’s modern art museum) which our tour guides from the previous day had recommended. None of us are big into visiting museums when we travel, let alone modern art museums, but this place had an exhibit on color that ended with us getting to paint on the wall in a gallery and it turned out to be pretty cool.

We spent the rest of our afternoon eating and drinking our way across the city which included another plate of pork from the market, fresh coconut juice, a beer at the highest Belgian brewery, and happy hour on a rooftop at sunset overlooking the cathedral.

On our last morning we visited another market for a cheap breakfast where we had something that tasted like a buttery, delicious, cornbread arepa and fresh fruit juice. With full bellies and an awesome trip to Cuenca, we packed up our bags and took a taxi to the bus station for our next stop.

  • Emily

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