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Cuenca was the northern capital of the Inca Empire in the 1400s and was known as Tumebamba. Impressive buildings were constructed with 1,500 pound stones being brought from Cuzco in Peru almost 1,000 miles away. Brought by hand labor (no draft animals or wheeled conveyance in the Empire) through the Andes, it was an arduous task. The important Temple of the Sun was covered in gold and silver with turquoise and emeralds. Today, all that is left is the outer parts of the old capital, Pumapunku and Todos Santos. An Incan civil war destroyed much of the city and when the Spanish arrived, they used the impressive stones for building the current Cuenca and thus, most of the imperial city lies underneath the modern city.
Kathy and I spent a good part of the day exploring what remains of the ruins of the imperial city and the magnificent gardens surrounding it on the River Tomebamba. We had a magnificent time. It is sobering to realize the great empire that once existed and the grand history that shaped our American experience. The remains are extensive and so the mind imagines how large and grand the imperial capital must have been!
Kathy loves gardens and so this was a special day for her, since the gardens by the ruins were beautiful. An aviary in the gardens contained Ecuadorian birds: parrots, parakeets (big ones–not our little birds), eagles, etc. A tranquil lake was surrounded by lush greenery and flowering trees. The ruins and the gardens intermingled, and we often stopped to sit and contemplate.
Once we had walked ourselves silly, we realized we had a long walk back to our hotel and I told Kathy, “Just remember, it is good for us!” We could have hailed a taxi, but then we would not have been able to walk along the rushing river in the cool afternoon/early evening. So we walked and stopped along the way for a respite at a riverside cafe for a beer for me and a mojito for Kathy. Refreshing. That gave us the umpf we needed to make the rest of the way home to our wonderful Cuenca Suites, where the owners had washed and dried our clothes while we were away for the day. Couldn’t ask for more! WEG
Did it! Climbed over 600 feet almost straight up to reach an altitude of 14,200+ feet above sea level. Still, the Andean peaks were another 1,000 feet higher in Cajas National Park, just outside Cuenca, Ecuador. The park contains over 1,000 lakes/lagoons, and I could see them in every direction from my vantage point. As our tour bus drove into the park, we were astounded by the sights—deep valleys cut between towering peaks, rivers flowing and waterfalls feeding the flow, pine forests and then grey green cliffs and mountain sides and, all along the way, small lakes to large lagoons.
Kathy and I felt guilty–our beautiful tour bus belonged to us! No other tourists had booked and so we had the bus, chauffeur and guide to ourselves. It turned out to be a private tour for the day, and it only cost $70 for the two of us. The majestic sights soon drove the guilt away! Our first stop was to the holiest place in Ecuador, Sanctuario de la Virgen del Cajas, an outdoor pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to an indigenous woman. The setting was amazing, a valley running one direction and high peaks the other. A tall crucifix stood to one side with a mountain chapel with straw roof, and across from the chapel stood the rock upon which the apparition of the Virgin was said to have occurred. Our time here was both tranquil and uplifting.
We stopped at lagoons, and at the the “three crosses,” a short climb to a vantage point with three crosses where pilgrims place rocks in honor of those people who have died in the mountains. Of course, we also took “the climb” to the vantage point. Honestly, I was huffing and puffing at these high altitudes, but I was determined to see the sights. As the tour ended, we stopped at a restaurant in the lower park and had a wonderful traditional mountain meal of trout, lima beans, rice and marinated salad. We also got a glass of steaming hot agua de tipo, an indigenous drink made of medicinal mountain plants and drank to give energy for these 13,000-15,500 foot heights…all for the cost of $9 for the two of us.
Once we arrived back at the hotel, we were ready to put our feet up for awhile. We also thanked God for His beautiful creation and for blessing us with the opportunity to experience it! WEG
Kathy and I arose in the morning rearing to tackle old Cuenca. I had mapped out a route that would take us on an exploratory journey for the day. It was a good decision! The weather today was as near perfect as perfect can be. It was mostly clear and sunny, and somehow the sky here is bluer than we have ever seen. It probably has to do with the altitude and close proximity to the equator. Still, the air is cool and, while you can sunburn easily, I went with a short sleeve shirt all day and was just right.
As we walked, we saw that the city is on the move. Rail tracks are being laid for trolleys/light rail and, for lack of a better word, “gentrification” is happening everywhere. Old colonial buildings are being restored and renewed and there is definitely an air of excitement. The city is already beautiful, but when the restoration projects are completed, the city will have an upscale feel.
We walked into a large Mercado and spent time perusing the beautifully displayed food items. How, how, how you wish you had these “fresh from the garden” selections at home. It is not just the huge variety, but the endless choices. Take the largest grocery store produce and meat sections you know, quadruple the number of varieties available and double the entire grocery store size and fill it with those vegables/fruits/meats and you have an idea of a neighborhood market. All straight from the farm/garden/ocean/river to you. Not frozen, homogenized, chemical laden–but fresh! We bought some cheese and chocolate to munch on as we walked. When we tried the chocolate, my mouth puckered–this was 100% dark chocolate. Thankfully, we have some fresh honey and milk in our suite kitchen and we will have some great hot chocolate tonight.
We walked by the “new” and immense cathredral with its three blue mosaic domes. It is quite beautiful with a golden altar. There are spotless restrooms nearby, but you pay about 30 cents to use them. For the money, you also get a small amout of toilet paper to take in with you. I buy extra–I am not sure how it would be possible to make it with the nine one-ply paper sections you are handed. When finished, you wash your hands and as you walk out, the attendant hands you two paper towels to dry your hands.
We ambled down to the Rio (Tomebamba River) that cuts through the heart of the city. It has a magnificent smooth cobblestone walkway along the rushing waters. We walked quite a long way, stopping at a small pub with outdoor seating to share a beer. Refreshing!
We had to climb our way from the river up to the city on a long stairway. With the high altitude, we didn’t dart up. The Andes rose up in the distance and the flowers were blooming, the air was cool and fresh, the city was amazing and the river was relaxing. It was a wonderful day! WEG
I bask in the first cool breezes of fall at home in Texas. You know how it feels when that cool north air hits your face and you breathe in the fresh air. Still, the sun is shining and you get those warm rays at the same time. That was Cuenca, Ecuador, today. At 8200 feet above sea level, the city of 350,000 was clean, fresh and cool on this day when the sun and clouds mixed in the sky.
After arriving in the evening the day before, we slept in at our suite at a remodeled colonial home in the Centre Historico of this charming city. Our accommodations are modern and roomy. The interior courtyard has a fountain and the walls have wonderful art displays and the original wood railings on the floors above the courtyard remain. Cuenca is alternately known as the best preserved “colonial city” in South America and the most European city in Ecuador. The heritage of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture is everywhere. We were impressed as we walked the cobbled streets to see beautiful plazas with usually white washed churches and colonial buildings. Passage ways through buildings open up into interior courtyards filled with flowers and fountains and shops, restaurants, and small hotels. It is quite inviting.
As we walked, we crossed a street and all of the sudden above us loomed the city’s cathedral with its blue domes. It was an impressive sight and, frankly, overwhelming. We had not expected this imposing or massive building! All around the cathedral, teeming life. Plazas with vendors and gardens and large colonial buildings, restaurants and hotels stretched out in every direction. As we walked in the main plaza, Kathy noted what looked to be an American couple sitting on a park bench beneath trees blooming with beautiful purple flowers. She struck up a conversation with Doug and Barbara that lasted well over an hour. They regaled us with stories of this beautiful city they now call home. Four through ten thousand U.S. expatriates call Cuenca home at any one time during the year. It is easy to see why: impressive weather, natural beauty all around, marvelous colonial city, culture and art and inexpensive. We found out that if you are a senior, health care is quite attainable and quite inexpensive; entrances to all cultural events from opera to sports is free; if there is a line anywhere, you are moved to the front, as seniors are valued, and transportation originating in the country from bus to air is half price automatically, and the list goes on.
I am heading out the door. We had a great lunch today in a beautiful restaurant. Kathy chose the featured entree’–a delicious potato cheese soup and a main of beef and rice and fried plantain–all for $5. I chose the chicken stuffed with shrimp in a palmodoro sauce. So, we are not particularly hungry tonight, having stopped in a pastry shop and eaten sweets around 5pm. I saw an elderly woman last night upon our arrival with a movable charcoal bar-b-que on the street corner with kabobs of chicken and pork situated across from the plaza where our suite hotel is located . Sounds just right to me! WEG