Thursday, April 7, 2016


Cuenca was hardly on my list of things to see, it was just a city on the way to where I wanted to go. I planned on taking a single day to relax and get some errands done, and ended up staying a few more days than planned (like usual, at this point).
I got into town and found a hostel (La Cigale), and after confirming that I could park the motorcycle inside the entryway, I checked in. Unfortunately, since they had a restaurant downstairs as well, that meant I had to leave the motorcycle outside during the day - pulling it in to the entry way at 11pm, and taking it back out before 8am. Not usually too much of a problem, but it would prove to be a little annoying.

The hostel was very cool though, and when I arrived there was a Finnish girl in my room as well. We started talking some (first in Spanish, before deciding that English was easier for both of us), and she mentioned that she was planning on heading to the nearby national park, El Cajas, for some hiking the next day. I decided that instead of taking a lazy day, I'd join Saara and actually see a bit of the area, since I'd had no plans on what to do nearby.

So the next morning, we headed to the grocery store for some water and snacks, and headed out to take the bus - we'd heard there was one at 8:00 and 10:00, so we went to catch a cab around 9:20. Unfortunately, when we told our cab driver the place we needed to go (Terminal Sur, the secondary bus terminal that the people in the hostel told us to go to), he thought he knew it but apparently didn't. So he took us some weird way, and then at some point was like, "so where is it? Is this it?" We were still a 10 minute drive away, plus there was traffic, and it was now 9:45.

We showed him on the map, and he tried to cover himself and tell us that there was no such thing as "Terminal Sur" and there's just a place where some buses leave from, which we were having none of since multiple people had told us to go to that place and named it specifically. We eventually got there almost exactly at 10:00 (it's clearly a bus terminal, with covered loading areas and everything) and sprinted across the street only to see a bus pulling away - but when we asked, they said it wasn't ours. Ours would come at 10:45. So much for hurrying.

With some time to kill, we decided to head over to the market next to the terminal, which was huge. We wandered through, trying to avoid the meat sections with carcasses hanging on hooks so Saara didn't get sick, and enjoyed the sights. I never get sick of wandering through markets, despite never buying anything but food since I don't have room on the bike for more.

Fish and a puppy.

That's all chocolate. All of it.
We both bought some chocolate from the lady in the picture. "It's bitter," she warned. "That's okay, we like bitter chocolate," we replied. Turns out it was unsweetened chocolate. Not so tasty.

We wandered back to the terminal and hopped our bus with a few snacks from the market to munch on for the short (45 minutes) ride to the park. "When do we get off?" Saara asked. I looked around the bus. "When everyone else gets off. The bus is mostly white people, they're probably going to the same place."

Sure enough, we all got off just after climbing up some switchbacks to almost 4000 meters (13,000 feet). First stop was the ranger station, where we were all required to sign in and get a short talk from the rangers on which routes we might take - apparently enough people struggle out there that they want to make sure they know who's out there and advise them not to do something too difficult. Our ranger recommended one route, and said it was easy - so we asked if there was something a bit more difficult, in the medium range. So they gave us a series of connecting trails we could take. "Take trail 2 around until it meets trail 3, and then follow that around the loop. If you have time you can do the spur too."

While we were glancing at the map to orient ourselves and make sure we knew which trails were which, one of the rangers asked (in Spanish) if I spoke English, and wanted to know if I could translate and explain which trails he should take. Instead, we just said he should come with us. So the three of us, Saara, Brad (from Canada), and I, started trekking up the road. It didn't take long before we came across some llamas on the side of the road, but they were a little too skittish to get a good picture.

The trek started off through some rolling highland hills, before approaching one of the higher rocks around. We followed the pink paint on the rocks to stick with the trail, and they went right up the side of the large rock. So up we went. It was very steep, and not just a little slippery from the rain the day before. We got drizzled on a bit as we headed up, but it held off from getting too heavy, fortunately, or the climb would have been close to impossible without traction.

After numerous breaks, we made it to the top... to some spectacular views.

The next highest rock.

A break on the way up.

Always hike with friends. Or copies of yourself.

Down into the valley on the other side.
We started trekking down the other side, which wasn't nearly as steep fortunately, but was still plenty slippery from loose rocks. We moved almost as slowly downhill as up (though with less breaks) and at the bottom finally met up with the other trail we were supposed to take. After a bit of debate (and actually heading down the trail about 50 meters), we all three decided the first trail had worn us out, and we'd just take the shortcut back to the ranger station.

Caught this guy admiring the scenery on the way back.
As we walked up to the ranger station, a bus pulled up, so we ran and hopped on. It was close to full, so we ended up way in the back - where it smelled like pee. Awesome. We got back to the terminal and flagged down a cab to take us back to our hostels - Brad's was just around the corner from ours. The cab driver told us $3 for the ride, but we'd gotten it for $2 the other direction so we talked him down. When we arrived, though, he complained angrily to us that we should pay him $5 and was threatening to not give change for our $5 bill, because "you're from a richer place, you can afford it." Screw that. We were gonna give him $3 just because it was easier to split and to be nice, but after that we decided to only give him $2.

After dinner in the hostel (with craft beer), we were exhausted so both Saara and I called it an early night, though I had to stay up til 11 to pull the bike inside. It was a struggle.

Yum. Craft beer.
My "lazy day" taken up by hiking, I decided to take it the next day instead. So I went out in the morning and, following Saara's directions, found a guitar shop she'd seen where I found a small-bodied guitar. After picking around on it for a while and deciding that it was much better sounding than most of the smaller guitars I've seen, I paid $60 and walked out of there a happy man. I spent the rest of the day picking the guitar and practicing songs, with occasional breaks to read a book or otherwise relax, and a few quick trips around town to take some pictures and get some food.

Some of the cool architecture in Cuenca.

Breakdancers in the square.

I have so many church pictures from this trip.

Cool door on the main square.
In the evening, Saara and I decided to grab some dinner before she had to catch her bus, and I invited our other roommate along, who had been pretty quiet up to that point. It turns out we got along swimmingly, and the three of us had some awesome discussions about Ayahuasca and spiritual experiences and American politics over some mediocre curry at a restaurant with less-than-mediocre service. Afterwards, Saara went to catch her bus while we grabbed a beer at the nearby bar before heading back to the hostel.

With the day coming to a close, though, I started feeling cold. I bundled up as much as I could, but was still shivering. Uh-oh. Sure enough, before I'd gone to sleep I had a fever. I didn't sleep well, and other than getting up at 8 to pull my motorcycle outside, I didn't get out of bed until noon. Guess I'm staying another day. I didn't eat much other than some soup, and didn't even play the guitar because I didn't have the energy.

By evening though, I was feeling a little bit better, so I got things ready to go to head out in the morning.

The main task for the morning was to learn how to attach a guitar onto my motorcycle. As it turned out, it wasn't too hard. I pulled out the two spare bungee cords I'd brought with me, and just stuck it right on the side of the backpack.

I got on the road and headed towards the border, but there was a bit more than one day's ride left to get there, so I had an intermediate stop to make in Vilcabamba. Of course I'd end up staying longer than expected there too, but the end of Ecuador was in sight, and Peru on the horizon.

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