We flew to Quito, stayed overnight at a hotel near the airport and next morning hopped on a plane to Cuenca. Our VRBO was located on Simon Bolivar in Cuenca’s centro historica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Checked out Parque Calderon, Cathedral Nuevo and had dinner at Vietnam Pho. We also stopped by a travel agent to find a guide for a day hike in nearby Cajas National Park. the agent kept trying to sell us on short walks around the lake, while we wanted something around 7 or 8 miles to train for the upcoming Ingapirca Trek. We eventually settled on the 6 mile Tres Cruces hike.
On Wednesday, October 31 we met up with an old friend from St Matthews Lutheran School that I had not seen in 40 years and who now lives in Cuenca. Had coffee at Totto Freddo, went to Museum Pumpapungo, Remigio Crespo Toral house and the Panama Hat museum. Tried to see the Art Museum but it was closed. Stopped at 10 de Agosta (a huge indoor food market) and bought provisions for dinner. The language barrier was a tough one and it took a while figure out the weights and measures system for each item.
That night we suddenly heard music outside our window and saw a parade going down the street. We ran outside to watch and take pictures. Every group was dancing- it was the most energetic parade we had ever seen. We assumed it was a Halloween parade but soon found out it was the kick off to the multi day celebration of Independence Day.
Cajas National Park
On Thursday our guide for the Tres Cruces hike picked us up and drove us out to the park. We were a little unsettled when he started off by making us do calisthenics. About halfway through the hike we saw him looking at his cell phone as he wandered up and down the hillsides, completely lost. The only time we saw him move fast was when a wild bull charged him. When we finally got to the end he collapsed on the ground, freely admitting we were in much better shape.
We cooked dinner, went down to the massive arts and crafts festival taking place along the Rio Tomebamba and ended the night at Jodoco, a Belgian Brewpub.
On Friday we packed for the trek, went down to the river festival again and after lunch got a taxi to the bus station for the 4 hour ride to Alausi. The bus pulled over to the side of the road, pointed at us and then down the hill. We got off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, crossed the road and stared down at a small village. It was dusk and the streets were deserted, but we trusted the conductor and eventually arrived at Posada de Carlito and had a great dinner right across the street.
Devil’s Nose Train
Saturday we took the Devil’s Nose Train ride which some call the most difficult railway in the world. The gradient is so steep that the train goes forward then backs up, then goes forward again in a series of zigzags carved out of the rock. Views were spectacular and the reconstructed Quichua Village at the bottom was well worth the trip. The Quichua docents were extremely proud of the ruins and were more than happy to share the knowledge of their culture with us.
- Trek Length – 17.7 miles
- Trek Duration – 3 days
As soon as we got off the train, we saw our driver, Moses (who we knew from the previous year) grinning and waving at us. He lead us to the truck, where our guide, Luis was waiting and we set off for the trail head at Achupallas. We hiked 5.7 miles on Sunday and it started to rain near the end of the day.
Sunday it rained all day. We did 7.8 miles, crossed the high point of the trek at 14,000 feet and cut the day short by 2 hours due to the rain.
On Monday we hiked another 4.2 miles and then because of the lost time the previous day we took a shortcut to Ingapirca. Somehow Luis arranged for a one driver to pick us up along the road while Moses went to Ingapirca with our luggage and a third driver arrived to take us back south to Cuenca, since Luis and Moses were headed back north to Riobamba.
Luis gave us a great tour of Ingapirca, explaining the various plants and functions of the various structures. The Temple of the Sun is the most impressive and intact, a lot of the site is ruins. Ingapirca was occupied by the Canari people for over 500 years before the Inca people replaced the Canari structures with their own. It is theorized that Ingapirca was a fortress and way station on the Inca Royal Road connecting Cusco to Quito.
Return to Cuenca
We arrived back in Cuenca at 3:30 and went to Peppermill for dinner. Had a great conversation with the owner who had lived in New Jersey for 17 years before moving back to open the restaurant.
On Tuesday we breakfast with our friend Marilyn again and then set off to tour the Modern Art Museum. The woman at the ticket counter sadly informed us that there was not art to see, but we were welcome to look at the murals on the outside of the buildings.
Afterwards we took a sightseeing bus up to the city’s highest point, the Mirador de Turi. The pictures below include a view of the Town, Iglesia de Turi, a view of Parque Calderon, a view westerly down Simon Bolivar and our last night’s dinner on the roof top.
Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and has many of the same features as Quito but in a much more manageable size. Cuenca was founded by Spaniards in 1557 on the site where the Inca city of Tomebamba once stood before being destroyed in an Inca civil war. It is easy to understand the attraction for Americans to move there. The climate is fantastic, the cost of living is low and medical care is free. Our guides would often point out high rises and refer to them as “gringo villages” but when we asked if there was any friction, they all claimed everyone got on well.