Cranky in Cuenca

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
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16
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Trip End Jul 24, 2011


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Where I stayed
La Casa Cuencana

Flag of Ecuador  , Azuay,
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

After yet another bus journey across the border into Ecuador (the novelty is definitely wearing thin now!) we eventually arrived into the little city of Cuenca. Unfortunately our first impressions of Ecuador were slightly marred by the discovery on arrival that some scoundrel had rooted through James' rucksack during the ride and stolen the thing of most value – his travel wallet complete with his passport, other important documents and our only supply of dollars. We were not heartened by our landlady’s assertion that the thief could not possibly have been an Ecuadorian; he must have been Peruvian! The longheld rivalries between countries here never fail to amuse me.

Needless to say, much of the first day was spent trying to rectify the situation by speaking to the police and our Man in Quito – the Embassy. Without wanting to bore you with the details, it seems losing your passport with 3 months travel yet to go is not a smart move – and we were suddenly faced with having to alter drastically our itinerary. In an effort to get the ball moving, we decided to cancel our plans to amble steadily up the pretty Andean towns on the way to the capital and head straight to Quito.

Cuenca is a very pretty city – all cobbled streets, white houses and many, many churches. Unfortunately just short of half way through our trip and perhaps precipitated by the theft we did get a major bout of traveller fatigue. This wasn’t helped by endless rainfall which made many of the sights and activities in the area more difficult to enjoy. We headed for one day to the Cajas National Park which offers beautiful, rugged scenery. Or at least it did for the first half hour until the skies opened and we were faced with torrential rain for the remaining three hours! After negotiating yet another mudslide masquerading as a path and falling on my bum, I did confront the fact that I really don’t enjoy trekking – and need to face facts!

A second trip to visit the picturesque mountain villages surrounding Cuenca – Chordeleg and Sígsig - also ended up something of a damp squib (and not just because of the rain). Instead of the artisan paradise of handmade jewellery we expected in Chordeleg, we discovered a range of stalls that sold mass produced tat and ostentatious costume jewellery. In Sígsig we thought we would see the famous Panama hat being woven – instead everything was shut because of Easter and, if we didn’t feel out of place enough, we were greeted with shouts of "gringos!!!"

Of course it wasn’t all bad! James and I particularly enjoyed a little museum which showed some fantastic pieces of gold and pottery from pre-colonial times as well as an extensive ethnographical exhibit. James was particularly excited about the section on a tribe in the Amazon, complete with real life tsantas or shrunken heads. Unfortunately he now seems to want one of his own, which does not really fit with the look I was going for in the flat! Cuenca did also satisfy a growing need for some retail therapy: I came away with a rather lovely Panama hat. Apparently the hat is only called the Panama hat because it was exported through Panama; it originated in Ecuador and they are incredibly proud of this fact.

Shortly before we were due to leave Cuenca we also received the news that a Good Samaritan had found James’ passport and other documents which had been dumped after the theft. The bad news was that they were in a place called Machala, a town not that far from the Peruvian border – so a good 5 hours back the way we had come. Nonetheless it seemed worth the trip and we hopped straight onto a bus. Now, Machala is not a major tourist destination. In fact I can think of little reason for a tourist to ever go there!  A little research revealed it is famous for one thing and one thing only: bananas. In fact the town has earned the dubious title of Banana Capital of the World. It embraces this title by emblazoning it on every available billboard and holding elections every year for – wait for it – the Banana Queen. Every little girl’s dream! Needless to say after picking up James’ passport and thanking our Good Samaritan profusely, we exited Machala as soon as possible and headed on our way up to Quito – this year’s Latin American City of Culture where surely our luck was about to improve! 
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