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Trip Report Ecuador: Chapter 1-- Wonderful Cuenca

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Just home from 12 fabulous days in Ecuador and want to share a few details and tips. My husband and I (late 50's) travelled sometimes on our own, but mostly with a group of ten Rotarians. The purpose of our trip was to visit our sister club in Guayaquil and to visit the hospitals of the Junta Beneficencia, which we support.

Getting Started
We overnighted in Guayaquil (GY) but immediately flew to Cuenca for 3 days. Beautiful town absolutely designed for walking, walking, walking. Loved the Hotel Inca Real which was quaint, charming, and staffed by friendly, helpful people. Fresh juice, delicious scrambled eggs every morning. Our friends stayed at the Hotel Boutique Santa Lucia, which was also charming and friendly, but fancier and more expensive. Both hotels happily arranged drivers and guides for our side trips.

I speak 'un pocito' of Spanish and thoroughly enjoyed practicing on the welcoming, agreeable population of Ecuador. If I could string three words of Spanish together, they were delighted and made the most of whatever grammatical hash I had dished up. However, I must say that having an English-speaking guide added immeasurably to the ease with which we travelled and to our feeling of getting the most out of every stop along the way. The guides provided lots of personal insights into Ecuadoran life, politics, history, etc. Even better than the books ;-)

Highlights of Cuenca:
Fell in love with mora (blackberry) juice--fortunately it can be found everywhere, every morning.

Best lunch of all-time: Tiestos where Chef Juan Carlos personally chose our dishes and made us feel like we were long-time patrons. Large, bubbling platters of angostinos and beef with mushrooms, delicious side dishes of cucumber & tomatoes, rice, hominy, semolina pasta, on and on. You can find lots of reviews on line--everyone loves Tiestos. Juan Jaramillo 7-34 | City Centre, Cuenca, Ecuador

Museo y Monasteria de la Conceptas--I really enjoyed the docent-led tour of this small, intimate museum attached to a still-active convent. Former infirmary rooms and common areas of the two-storey adobe structure dating to the 17th c. have been converted to galleries. The central courtyard is a lovely garden.
Between Presidente Córdova and Juan Jaramillo Calle Hermano Miguel 6-33

The Homero Ortega hat factory provided the opportunity to see the entire hat-making process beginning with indigenous weavers coming in from the countryside bearing stacks of unfinished hats in hopes that some would meet the standards of HO. We saw the whole process of bleaching, dyeing, shaping and finishing the hats. HO has a lovely showroom and almost every member of our group succumbed. We left looking very well-turned out in handsome sombreros de paja toquilla.

The side trip to the Incan ruins at Ingapirca was well worth the 1-1/2 hour drive, even though the site itself is only about a 45-minute activity. The drive out into the country and the Andean hills is beautiful and reveals much about Ecuadoran rural life--especially for the Canares culture. Drove through villages, admired beautiful iglesias (churches) and capillas (chapels) that dot the hillsides. Of course, loved the llamas.

En route back to Cuenca, we diverted briefly to Gualaceo and Chordeleg. A bit too late and too dark to really see things. However, we had a nice visit with an ikat weaver who showed us the different types of weaving styles and looms. I was especially fascinated by the dyeing of the wool. I knew that cochineal bugs produce a crimson-colored dye but was fascinated to learn that several different colors can be achieved with cochineal depending on additives like salt or borax.

Our last morning we were given a great docent-guided tour of the Old Cathedral of Cuenca, or Iglesia del Sagragrio. Really so much is about the guide--and we were lucky to find several that made their site come alive.

Don't miss the small art exhibit in City Hall.

Be sure to order a caiparinhia cocktail at some point in your trip--the bar at the Santa Lucia is a fine place for your first :-)

If you enjoy a steam bath and massage as much as me, I recommend Piedra de Agua Spa. A luxury treat but a bargain compared to the States. Piedra seems a bit new and not entirely pulled together but an enjoyable, relaxing way to wind down at the end of the day. Be sure to take a bathing suit--we didn't and I guess they will be talking about us for a good long time. Non-slip shoes would be good also for walking from showers to steam to warm springs to mud bath, etc. The stones can be slippery.

What they say about cash and credit cards in Ecuador is true: Take cash. Take small bills. You will want to break a $20 into $1s and $5s before heading out each morning. The vendors scramble amongst themselves to make change for a $20 so it's inconvenient for buying street food or trinkets. BTW: We saw plenty of ATM machines, but we heard that the service fees are hefty.

Contrary to some advice posted on-line: you do NOT need to take your own water purification system unless you are going camping. Hotels provide fresh bottles of water along with the fresh towels & sheets. And, we were never more than a few steps from a place to buy cold, bottled water--they even hawk water in the middle of the highways to motorists.

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