After 8hrs and 2 buses, we arrived in our last Ecuador destination, Cuenca. Cooler and more drizzly than Banos, Cuenca is home to a large American expat community. Actually Ecuador generally is home to a large American expat community given that they share a currency and the $USD goes a long way here.
The main activity was a visit to Cajas National Park. At 4000m, the planned hike was set to give us a taste of what the Inca Trail has in store. On arrival, the group had to split in half and pretend not to know each other – groups bigger than 7 are required to be accompanied by a tour guide, which isn’t ideal when they don’t speak English and your Spanish still sucks!
Since arriving in South America I’ve done a few national parks, and am fascinated at how different they are. Tayrona on Columbia’s Caribbean coast was lush and tropical (and hot and wet with f*** loads of bugs!!). In complete contrast, Cajas in Ecuador is cool, misty and has an almost ethereal quality about it. Just as beautiful as Tyrona, but in a very different way. Whereas Tyrona is alive with the sound of insects, Cajas is eerily quiet.
After registration, we were given a route for a 5hr hike. We managed to communicate with some wheezing and panting that this was way too far, and we settled on a 2hr jaunt around the lake. I did indeed get a taste of the Inca Trail, and of the altitude squiffiness that is going to come with it. It seems that, as well as death and taxes, one other thing is certain. The Inca Trail is going to kick my arse. Hard.
On arrival back in Cuenca it was time to take in a few city sights. Churches, churches and, um, you get the picture. We also hit a flower market, where we learn that Ecuadorean women get given flowers all the time by their husbands / boyfriends etc. Granted, a huge bunch of roses costs about $8, but guys, it’s all relative!! Next a visit to a food market, where we take some interesting photos in the meat section. This is where they got the props for the ‘Saw’ films.
We rounded off Cuenca with a trip to a Panama hat factory. Panama hats, apparently, are not made in Panama. They were made in Ecuador and shipped via the Panama Canal. Anyway, upshot is i now have a $100 custom Panama hat, which i shall wear twice. And I’m convinced it’s shrunk since i bought it.
Waving goodbye to Cuenca we boarded a bus to Huayquillas, where we were due to cross the border into Peru and head on to Mancora beach (finally, some beach!!). We were looking forward to some sun, sea, sand and … um … ceviche!!
Photos to follow …!