We woke up quite early, however took our time getting ready and downstairs for breakfast. We left the hotel around 8:30am and were on a bus bound for Cuenca at 9:30am.
We were naive to think we would get a luxury bus to Cuenca as this bus was pretty basic, no air conditioning, windows were difficult to open and it was hot, hot, hot, already 28C! Oh well, it is only 4 hours and as we get closer to Cuenca we climb up to 4000M so it will be much cooler up there.
Other than being very hot, the ride was quite pleasant. Fields and fields of bananas, oranges, mangos and papayas, as well as wheat and rice – the soil looks so fertile and beautiful! Approximately 1.5 hours in, we started a steady climb into the Andes – the road wound hairpin turn after hairpin turn, up and up into the clouds. The air was fresh and cool and the foliage changed from tropical to high mountain grass and pine trees. After 2 hours of climbing & climbing we reached the high point of Cajas National Park at just over 4000M. And as you know what goes up, must come down, and down we did. The distance was much shorter coming down and at times it felt like we were careening down the hill out of control. Our driver was very good and finally we came into Cuenca at 2500M.
What a lovely looking town Cuenca is – it sprawls throughout the hillsides in every direction. It is one of the favourite retirement areas for ex-pats from the US, so many of the homes are newer and very nice. The town seems very organized and clean – hmmmm possibly we could live here a few months of the year!
We arrive to chaos at the Bus Terminal and before getting a taxi to the hotel, I check out the various bus companies to our next destination – Machachi. The choices for this long 8 hour journey don’t look very appealing as the buses look about the same quality as the one we just got off. I will get advice in town as to which is the best company for a couple of gringos and will book tomorrow.
We jump in a taxi to the Forum Hotel – the meter was running by the penny and it was a whopping $2 to the hotel. Amazing!
The hotel is absolutely gorgeous. It was a previous “Casa Grande” which would have been a mansion
for the aristocratic Spanish. The owners have done an amazing job at renovating is beautiful structure and the attention to detail is incredible – workmanship that you would find in Canada or Europe. The owner is from Germany and is Ecuadorian father-in-law is an architect and it shows.
We immediately head to the main square, a mere 3 blocks away, to find a place for lunch as we are now very hungry after our journey. We found a local restaurant that wasn’t an ice cream place and sat down. Fero did his usual and had what the guy at the next table was having as it looked fabulous. Turns out it was the special of the day – chicken in a yummy sauce, rice, salad etc. etc. and the best part it was $3 – yes only $3, no typo! I chose the shrimp in garlic sauce and it was enormous and was only $8. Love the prices here.
Following lunch/dinner (it is now 4pm so I think that will be he meal for today!), it is my mission to find the tourist office to ask their opinion on the best bus company to take. Following a five or six block walk, I found the office and the first person I spoke to was from Vancouver! She is here learning Spanish and helping the agency out so she wasn’t able to give me any advice. The second gentleman gave me several suggestions and sent me merrily on my way.
Returning to the square where Fero was waiting, we decided now was a good time for dessert – and we chose ice cream of course! The ice cream here tastes like ice cream should – lots of flavour and no artificial ingredients. The place we chose was a large restaurant and won an award in 2014 for best ice cream. Good choice!
We headed back to our “mansion” and rested for a time and before retiring for the evening, we had a glass of wine & beer in the lounge downstairs. A very nice introduction to Cuenca.