The Road to Cuenca

When you’re traveling, you can’t expect to be having fun all the time.  In between those times of traveling merriment, there’s the actual traveling.  Many times it’s illuminating, other times it’s bizarre, but not altogether fun.  So, here’s what to expect when you’re expecting…. to travel in Ecuador:

Upon leaving Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos, I discovered that two of my nurse friends that I met in Mindo, were taking the same flight out as me.  We discussed what our plans were, and I finally decided against going to the west coast of Ecuador and instead following my friends to Cuenca.  I was beached-out and it was the best bet that I could still meet up with them in Mancora, Peru for Thanksgiving dinner.

On the plane, I surprisingly discovered that my brother-in-law has an Ecuadorian doppelganger appropriately named Hector.  He was just as good looking if not more so because of his exotic Ecuadorian look.  I was even more impressed with his assertiveness when he insisted to the teenager next to me that his iPhone need to be “turned all the way off”.  Upon arriving in Guayaquil, the three of us booked a taxi to the Terminal Terrestre (Bus Terminal) in search of a bus to Cuenca.  We found one leaving at 5pm and arriving in Cuenca at approximately 8pm.  We had a little over an hour to catch our breath before our bus left.

Being a bit hungry, I went to a burger stand in the mall area of the bus terminal and ordered up some food and drink for all of us.  It was there that I had the most interesting and disgusting burger I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.  It was a McDonalds-thin mystery-beef-type patty with crumbled up Doritos, lettuce, tomato, and onion between a bun, and topped with mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, and cheese sauce.  It was a hamburger built for clogging every artery in my body.  After my 2000-calorie meal, I was ready for my 3 1/2 hour food coma / bus ride.

The most disgusting burger I've ever eaten.
The most disgusting burger I’ve ever eaten.

In Central American and South American countries, the buses commonly pick up other riders between cities and make pit stops in small town markets for food, etc.  During those times, expect people to board the bus trying to sell you anything imaginable.  On that particular night I had 2 gentlemen trying to sell me a cheap watch or an icicle.  Helado!  Helado muy frio! was shouted as the man went up and down the isle of the bus trying to sell his wares.

The buses are also equipped to blare the national pop music of that country over the speakers.  You can attempt to drown out the noise with your own headset, but all that really accomplishes is what sounds like a very bad Girl Talk remix and the ultimate loss of your hearing for a couple hours.  Que?  Que?  No entiendo.

I was able to sleep off some of my Ultimate Ecuadorian Burger.  About an hour before arriving in Cuenca, I looked out the window to discover the absence of all city lights, and an incredibly clear and bright view of the constellations of the southern hemisphere.  It was so clear that you could almost imagine reaching out and swirling the contents of the milky way galaxy around your index finger.  I fell asleep once again and when I next awoke, we had arrived in the beautiful colonial town of Cuenca.


Arriving in Cuenca, Kaci, Kate and I hail a taxi for the hostel that Toni is currently staying at.  It’s 9:00pm and we enter La Cigale.  It’s a hopping joint with all kinds of bohemians sitting around and socializing to popular American music blaring in the background.  It’s definitely my kind of joint. It’s got a cool french feel to it with Spanish undertones.  I’m relieved to find out they have a room for me.  They put me in with two other females, Christine and Natalie.  I’m exhausted, so I end up staying in and crashing for the night.

The next day, I get up and start walking around town, checking out the Spanish architecture.  First stop is the lavendaria to get my clothes washed.  I’m on my last day of clean clothes, and I’m already recycling my current pair of boxers for their third time.  But I digress.  Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city.  I stop into Coffee Tree and start chatting up the manager there.  He gives me some recommendations for things to do while I’m here.  I continue my quest, going up and down streets with names like Simon Bolivar or Honorario Vasquez.  Around noon, I stop into Villa Rosa, a french / italian restaurant for some lunch.  I’m the first one there, but it feels fancy.  After a table of business people stop in, I start to feel out of place with my convertible pants and t-shirt.  I order some Shrimp Fettuccine in pesto sauce and some Chilean wine.  All around, lunch is $20.  Very reasonable for an upscale joint like this.

Later I head back to La Cigale.  They’ve moved me in with the nurses.  I get in an afternoon siesta before heading down the block to the only microbrewery in Cuenca, La Compania.  Their beer is good with an offering of a lager, red ale, and stout.  It’s the first place I’ve visited that reminds me of home with beer labels from Sierra Nevada, Alaskan Amber, etc.  Also rounding out the nostalgia is a great selection of music by the likes of Audioslave, Oasis, and Radiohead.  I’m buzzed after two beers and head back to the hostel.  Kaci and Toni are intent on checking out a South American film festival in town.  I decide to join, but when we find out that the film festival is shown in a mall rather than outside, we all decide to head back to La Cigale for some drinks and bohemian chatter.  With happy hour specials for caipirinha’s and mojitos priced at $2, you can’t go wrong.  We talk about many interesting topics including, but not limited to psych patients and other misadventures in nursing.  I’m especially captivated by the background music consisting of Brazilian Girls, The Verve, Toto, Police, REM, and Johnny Cash.  Soon after, I call it night.

The next morning, Kaci, Toni, and I get up around 8am for some breakfast and then head out to Parque Nacionales Caja.  It’s about a 45 minute taxi ride up in the Andean mountains.  The plan is to hike near Tres Cruces (Three Crosses).  I’m glad I brought my marmot rain/wind jacket and a long sleeve shirt.  At 40 degrees, it’s colder than I was originally expecting.  We all start by laying a rock on each of the three crosses to commemorate those that have lost their lives traveling the region.  We hike to the transmission tower and get a great view of the area.  Next, we start hiking towards one of the lakes.  It turns out we completely missed the trail initially, but hey – sometimes you have to forge your own trail.  After 2 hours of hiking, we return to the beginning of Tres Cruces and flag down a car to take us back to the car entrance.  My legs are screaming at me at this point.  We stop into Dos Chorreras, a nice restaurant at the beginning of the park restaurant for an incredible lunch consisting of trout, cheese soup, and a slice of coconut cake.  After lunch, we head back for a late afternoon siesta.  Afterwards, I return to La Compania for my final two beers in Cuenca.

I return to my room, and work on uploading some of my memories to my smugmug account.  Later, Kate, Kaci, Toni and I head to the Eucalyptus Cafe for some Ecuadorian and Thai fare for dinner.  The food is good and the conversation is even better.  After a couple glasses of wine, we head back to the hostel and call it a night.  The girls are heading out for Mancora, Peru tomorrow, and I’m planning on heading to Loja or Vilcabamba.  My next adventure awaits.