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Cuenca

Written on: Monday October 1st, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador

Author: Kevin and Julie

Word of the day: Listo = ready

Today we ventured out into the colonial city of Cuenca with the intension of visiting parks, museums and churches. I?m not sure if you know this already but Latin American countries are big believers of the Christian faith, and fanatics of the Mother Mary. When the missionaries arrived to the New World, they mixed the tenents of Christianity with the local beliefs in nature. The people came to see Mary as mother earth and the creator of Jesus. That said, they have some very impressive churches that are worth visiting. We visited two in Cuenca.

We walked east down Tarqui street toward the downtown area passing bakeries, clothing stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. I had been thinking how I missed an opportunity to get my hair cut in Peurto Lopez and out of coincidence we stumbled upon a barber shop. Feeling a bit nervous to go in, I figured now is a good time to get it done. Sitting down in the chair I asked for a ?corte de pelo? (haircut) and the gentleman asked how I would like it cut. ?Corto por favour? I answered and fortunately he had pictures of men?s styles that I could point at. Julie said I looked nervous, but the barber was great, he first changed the blade on his razor and then proceeded to cut with the utmost attention. The whole process was complete in about a half hour, and the bill was $1.50. I and my guapo haircut were now ready to take on the city!

A store next door to the barber shop had two men hand making the famous Montecristi hat also known as the ?Sombrero de Paja Toquilla? (straw hat). Some mistakenly call it the Panama hat, but they are quickly corrected. Sure they were exported to Panama, but they were made here! In fact, in the old days before highways and fast transportation, the locals would walk the Panama Hat trail (part of the Inca trail) to the coast (10 hour bus ride), to gather the palms needed to make the hats. Once a hat was done, they would walk back on the same trail to the coast to have them shipped to Panama and the world. The making of the hats is a long process and to this day the best ones are still made by hand by a master craftsman here in Cuenca. The hat that I tried on was $75 but hats can range from $60 to $600, yes that is a lot of money for a hat, but aren?t they special.

At this time Julie and I are kind of lost and just wandering the streets, looking at everything that is appealing to us. We see this café and remember one of our friends who is now obsessed with taking photos of interesting cafes. The door is locked and we peer through the window to see if anyone is there. Soon the owner comes to unlock the door and let us in. There are already people here, some of them are students in prim school uniforms, but I wonder why the door was locked. To my surprise we enter a Goth art café with sculptures and paintings. We are told that all the heavy metal bands play here when they visit Cuenca. We are both taken by how much there is too look at. We later found out that all the artwork is done by the owner. Have a look at some of the pictures below to get an idea.

Ironically, next door to the goth cafe was an strange little antique store. We stopped in on the advice of one of the staff working at the cafe. I guess they figured it would be more our genre of thing to see. What?! We don't look like we listen to heave metal? We knocked on the door and this kind old lady let us in. The antique shop was in her home and she gave us a tour of all the rooms, stopping to describe many of the antiques she had for sale including old swords, dolls, porcelaine tea sets, copper pots, parts of a piano, a huge bellow, and many little interesting curios. She had things in all the rooms including her bedroom, library, sunroom, kitchen, rear courtyard which was inhabited by her chicken, rooster, doves, budgies, etc. It was an interesting place to visit and we learned much about this woman. She had lived in this house all her life and it had been passed down from her grandparents to her parents now to her. It was a lovely home full of beautiful objects, many we would have bought if we could have. Unfortunately, a backpack does not leave much room for shopping.

After the unholy cafe and the antique shop full of religious artefacts, we decided to cleanse our souls and found directions to the Catedral de la Inmaculada. The stones of the Cathedral were actually taken from Inca ruins after they were defeated by the Cañaris (local tribe) and Spanish. It is said that the Cañaris hired the Spanish to defeat the Inca in battle, paying them in gold. On the day of battle there was a solar eclipse and the Inca who worshiped the sun as a God, took this as a sign that their God was leaving them, and surrendered to the Spanish. Anyway, the church is of colonial style, even though it was built in 1885. Above the main alter hangs a massive gold crown that is hard to put into words?.stunning really. What was special about our experience is that there were thirty-some women singing hymns at a second alter, the Alter of Holy Trinity. Their voices raised in prayer floated in the quiet of the church.

What?s a better way to end a church visit than to have some ice-cream? So that?s what we did. We stopped at one of the best ice cream shops in town: Tutto Freddo. The ice cream in Ecuador is so delicious. We each had cup of ice cream and ate it down greedily, till we were scraping the bowls.

Walking along the cobblestone streets we gaze at white washed buildings with red tiled roofs. It?s no wonder why the people of Cuenca are so proud of their city. They had a mayor that planned on paving all the roads, saying that it would be easier on the cars suspension. This mayor was soon kicked out of office, and the city kept its charm. The old church, Iglesia del Sagrario was built in 1557, and a park divides this tiny church from the tower that is Catedral de la Inmaculada. This small church is in the process of renovation, and is now a museum. Inside they are uncovering murals on the walls that were long forgotten. Even though no cameras were allowed inside the museum, I managed to snap a couple without using the flash. Enjoy.

After spending the day walking the streets, we returned to our hostal. An old colonial home turned into a hostal. There is a small courtyard in the back, around which rooms face. Ours is inside, has a 12 foot ceiling, old wide-plank wooden floor, lots of space, and double doors we open during the day to let the sun shine in. There is also a kitchen for everyone?s use and they serve a great breakfast in the morning.

 

From Marc D on Oct 5th, 2007

Hey guys! Love the travel log! Keep on enjoying the trip of your lives! Marc