Long Weekend in Cuenca
We had a 4 day weekend for Carnaval, so I flew to Cuenca with about ten other teachers for a relaxing vacation. Most residents of Cuenca leave for the holiday, which was bad because a lot of places were closed, but it also meant I saved money because we spent most of our time exploring and enjoying each others’ company. Laura and I stayed with her friend Brian who lives in an old colonial mansion in Old Town. I’m sure that building has some interesting stories hidden in its walls.
I much prefer Cuenca’s Old Town to Quito’s Centro Historico. It seemed a lot more clean, and safe. Buildings aren’t as run down, and the New Cathedral hovers over the city, similar to the Duomo in Florence. Also in Old Town is a really cute flower market.
Inside of Santo Domingo Cathedral
The New Cathedral of Cuenca
Laura picking out flowers at the flower market
A lot of enjoyment in Cuenca came from the awesome restaurants and food scenes. We started off our first night in an awesome pub with chair hammocks, giant microbrews in hand. The beer was actually really good. Brian took us to a hole in the wall Ecuadorian eatery with 3 tables and no menu for dinner one night. The woman who owned the place cooked up piles of humitas, empanadas, and bolones, all traditional Ecuador food. For coffees, a meal, and dessert, our total bill for the three of us was 7 bucks. Sakura Sushi and Café Eucalyptus were some other favorites while in Cuenca.
Fresh strawberries bought from a cart on a street corner
Lemongrass and Ginger tea with honey at Cafe Eucalyptus
Baked treats from a tienda in Cuenca
We took an afternoon to check out Cajas National Park, but seeing as we had a little over an hour before the park closed (woops), we wandered around a lake by the main entrance. Laura and I both fell on our asses in mud, so she continued to hike around and I took my shoes off by the lake and did some stretches and breathing exercises for 15 minutes, trying to dry off. The landscape was cold, quiet, and still, with grey moors stretching out into the mountains around us.
Near the entrance of Cajas National Park
I also got to go up to Turi, a lookout point over the city. I realized upon arrival that it is actually a little village in the mountains surrounding Cuenca. We met a nice family that talked to us in Spanish for an hour, drilling us as to why we would leave our families behind to move to Ecuador. They actually asked each of us if our parents are still alive! Most Ecuadorians can’t imagine leaving their families, the familial and community connections are a lot stronger here. I also got attached to a filthy stray dog who took a liking to me and plopped down on my lap, but had to leave the pup in its natural habitat.
Turi Lookout Point- Village in the mountains above Cuenca
View of Cuenca from Turi
This dog and I got quite attached in the hour we spent together
I really think Cuenca is a prettier city than Quito, and could possibly be more pleasant to live in. Brian said he could walk home at 2 AM with no problems, which we did. I would NEVER walk home alone after dark in Quito. Also, the city parks appeared cleaner, and the river running through the city offered lovely river banks for cute cafes, beautiful flower covered balconies, and couples laying with their feet in the water.
Friends sprawled out in the park for an afternoon nap
Rio Tomebamba- pretty river that runs alongside Old Town
The last thing I am going to say about Cuenca is this: Tsantsas!! That means shrunken heads. We visited the Museo de Banco Central, a huge ethnographic museum that covers all of the different ethnicities and tribes in Ecuador. It was difficult for me to see the subtle differences between indigenous groups, but the Shuar definitely stood out. These are Amazonians that are the first group to show up if you google ‘Shrunken Head.’ Apparently it was historically used as a punishment for murder, to reestablish the balance between life and death that was disturbed when a murder was committed. Ecuador has since made the tsantsa rituals illegal, so now they use sloths, but old shrunken heads remain, some on display in this museum. I wasn’t allowed to take in my camera, so here is a lovely Wikipedia photo that looks just like the shrunken heads we saw. Tsantsas!!!
Shrunken Head- notice the lips sewn together
Overlooking ruins behind the museum
Museo de Banco Central doesn't really fit in with the colonial architecture