When we got back to the capital we had a mad rush to get back to our hostel and pick up our bags before getting the taxi to drop us at the airport for our flight to Cuenca. This part of the journey was uneventful, although we arrived late, hungry and wet as the heavens had opened. My cold and cough, picked up in the cloud forest, had got much worse and so we collapsed into bed, postponing our sightseeing until the morning.
We managed to drag ourselves out of bed relatively early the following day. I was feeling a little better and so we decided to catch a bus out of the city to the site of Ecuador's most famous Inca ruins at Ingapirca. This is about 3 hours by bus from Cuenca. The journey took us through some beautiful countryside and when we arrived we were pleased, but not entirely surprised, to see that we were amongst only a handful of visitors to be there.
Ingapirca roughly translates as "Inca Wall" and was built during the Inca expansion into Ecuador towards the end of the fifteenth century. After a delicious set lunch we set off on a tour of the open air sight with two other older couples. Our guide was a young local man with a clear passion for the subject. He told us it was constructed on an area that had been occupied by the local Canari tribes for about 500 years and showed us where the conquerers sometimes made use of previous structures when erecting their own buildings.
I haven't been to Macchu Picchu yet, but Jim has, and says the Peruvian site isn't that much bigger than this one, but was overrun with tourists when he visited nine years ago. It was really nice to be able to wonder around and not have to fight to get photos without huge tour-groups in them.
We arrived back in Cuenca and decided to buy our onward bus ticket to Guayaquil. We'd just bought them when a young woman with a backpack on approached us. We think she was Israeli and she looked quite harassed. She asked if we had a hotel and asked us to write down the address as she'd just been robbed and lost her guidebook. We thought maybe she'd fallen victim to some chancer trying to rummage in her bag, like we nearly had, but while Jim was jotting down the details for her, she told us what had happened.
Her and her friends had just got off a bus from Guayaquil. Half way through the four and a half hour journey, three of their fellow passengers got up and pulled out guns. They demanded everybody hand over their valuables and even went so far as to pistol whip a few of the older women who were too slow handing their stuff over! Needless to say we were shocked - you read about horror stories like this, or hear of it happening to a friend of a friend, but never before have we met anybody it's just happened to!
After hearing this story we decided to go out for dinner and a few drinks - dutch courage you could call it. We picked this great place that had live music and before we knew it it was really late.
The following day we packed up our bags (not easy with quite so many hammocks!) and went for a wander around the city. Cuenca is a beautiful old colonial town with lots of churches and squares to explore. We walked around the centre, which has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, visiting the impressive New Cathedral, apparently over two million bricks were used in its construction and its blue Islamic-looking domes dominate the city's skyline.
Across the square is the beautiful Old Cathedral (El Sagrario), it's now a museum. The interior has been elaborately painted and is unlike anything we'd ever seen - really lovely. We also stopped off at the small, but colourful nearby flower market.
We had a lovely time, the sun was out and we enjoyed a stroll down by the river. Now here's a fact for you - do you know that Panama hats are originally from Ecuador? No, neither did we. But apparently in 1910, when the Panama Canal was being built, these hats became popular among the workers. They duly returned to the US and called them Panama hats.
But they've always been made in Ecuador: for generations, the indigenous people on the coast have been using local straw to create finely woven hats. The trade has moved inland, and Cuenca is now the major hub for the production of Panama hats. So of course we had to go shopping - we toured the showroom, tried some on and then settled on a lovely fine classic Panama for my dad. We watched them steam it into shape and then fold it up and box it for the trip home.
After shopping we had a little time for a brief lunch and then we had to collect our bags for the bus journey to Guayaquil. After hearing about the armed robbery we were slightly nervous especially as we didn't want to lose the camera and all our photos just a week before going home, so we took some precautions. We removed all the memory cards from the camera bag and I hid them down by top. We placed our wedding rings in our shoes and secreted all our documents in a special leg money belt. But would that all be enough?
The journey from Otavalo back into Quito was quite eventful, as usual we were packed into the bus with a million others, and as usual we were the only non-locals. What isn't quite as usual though is that the man in the seat behind us tried to steal the contents of one of our bags. It was on the floor between Jim's legs and he casually reached down and tried to undo the zip. Fortunately the bag was stuffed with unwieldy large hammocks and Jim felt his exploratory fumblings. He lifted the bag up and placed it on his lap, but didn't say anything to the bloke. In hindsight we'd have loved to have made a fuss, but couldn't quite believe he was so brazen about it.