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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
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