Tuesday, 25 March 2014

16) Cuenca

Sorry for the late posting, I've been out of range and very wet and cold for a few days!
As I mentioned, Cuenca is pretty impressive aesthetically. However the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and constant stream of traffic cause quite a build up of exhaust fumes which is not pleasant, particularily when one of the great big public buses trundles by belching a cloud of black smoke into your face (they don't have thousands of minivans as in Peru). It is a small price to pay though. In the middle of the two main streets; Simon Bolivar and Marsical Sucre, there is a huge plaza covered in towering trees and benches and fountains, and in front is the remarkable three-domed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
We wandered around for a place to get breakfast and a few blocks across from the central hub, we found "Chipotle", a small bar with a fantastic American sounding menu, they even had hash browns! Hash browns!!
Central Plaza
After breakfast Jamie went back to the hostel and I headed across the road to "Mercado de 10 Augosto". It was huge! Across two levels were countless stands selling just about everything. The second floor consisted mostly of an assortment of food vendors and fruit and vegetable traders. So many colours, and so many things I'd never seen before. There are four types of banana here! I drifted through in a bit of a daze amongst an amalgam of people calling out their wares and bartering and the constant hum of conversation.
Towards the back I found a stall with a barbers chair and a woman painting her nails. I bit the bullet, pointed at my hair and she nodded. For $2 she tidied me up, though I couldn't get across that I wanted the beard gone and when she was waving the straight razor around my face like a sword I didn't really want to interject.
River walk

That afternoon I got a map from the helpful hostel lady and she explained where a lot of stuff was. Our hostel was between the two main streets of the old town and not too far away from the centre. Later on we wandered down Calle Larga; the main street for bars and discotecas, and went to eat at a place called "Wunderbar". $6 and three courses later we couldn't help but stay for a little longer to enjoy the cheap beers of happy hour before retiring.

The next day I planned to get up early to explore Cuenca more but found myself wandering out of the hostel at 11 to find some breakfast. I went up and down the main streets and settled on a chicken empanada (pasty) and a cup of that irresistable South American coffee and an alfahore in a small bakery down a side street. There are lots of shops in Cuenca selling all sorts of things as it's quite touristy. I stopped in a few and bought a postcard for Nan back home, asked for directions to the post office and set about trying to find it. An hour or so later, the card sent, I took a stroll towards the bottom of town. There was a sign pointing to some ruins and after a 10 minute walk I found them at the bottom of  a steep hill near a busy roundabout. They were pretty piss poor even for ruins, consisting of a few arrangements of stones behind a wall and a locked gate. It took me another 10 minutes to get back across the road and up towards the town again. I followed another sign towards a museum called CIDAP. Goodness knows what it stands for but the building was grand and situated on the river. It was quiet and I couldn't work out where to go so just headed up some stairs into the building. I'm fairly sure it wasn't the museum. There were a lot of people hurrying around and I think they were preparing for some sort of exhibition. I looked pretty out of place but no one said anything so I continued to plod about trying to keep out of the way. There were several peices of art floating about and a few things for sale made from hemp and things, not that there appeared to be anywhere to buy them. Through the back was an office and that's when I realised I was clearly in the wrong place and made a silent exit. On the way out I found a locked door downstairs with Museo written above it. It was only 4pm but closed already. Peering through the windows it looked to be all clothes and jewlery from the various indigenous peoples of Ecuador so I wasn't too disappointed. Heading back up to the town I stopped at the building next to Chipotle as I'd noticed a few people taking pictures of it the previous morning. Heading down the dimly lit hallway was a little eerie, and at the end was a sign on the wall. It read " IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE STORE RING THE BELL THREE TIMES" in English. It was like something out of a goosebumps video but I figured I'd go for it anyway, and pressed the button near the door the required three times. A dog started barking and a few moments later there was creaking of stairs. A tiny old woman opened the door and explained that the shop was closed for the day and to come back tomorrow. Despite the dingey hallway it looked light and airy inside, dominated by a large central staircase. I apologised to the woman and she replied "No problem" before chuckling to herself something about gringos. I left, glad I hadn't ended up part of a horror plot, and headed across the road to a store containing all sorts of expensive homely things. The contents of this shop looked like they could total the cost of the whole of Huaraz, and I didn't linger for fear of breaking something worth more than my soul.
That evening we headed back to Chipotle to take advantage of their happy hour. A few gin and tonics in and we met a couple of delightful American girls; Renee and her friend Hayley. They were here as part of a year for their degree programmes. Degrees are a lot different in the states it would seem! We chatted for ages, and they explained that Thursday through to Saturday nights were the best to go out in Cuenca. I didn't realise the time until the barman came over and handed us the bill before stacking up chairs around us. We left feeling a lot merrier than we perhaps should have been and agreed to join them for their friends 21st the following week...

1 comment:

  1. In the words of your nan, you make sure you have an overcoat to hand as one can never be sure how the wet weather can end up causing all kinds of infections!