To Cuenca

We wake up after 10. All of us have developed horrible sunburns throughout the night from our rafting trip. We look ridiculous. My arms and neck are so burnt, the white parts of me look like I’m wearing a woman’s one piece swim suit. Pack up our stuff and i realize the alpaca sweater i bought yesterday is way too bulky. MacKay is gonna mail some stuff home today, I decide to do the same. I jam the sweater, some souvenirs, my collapsible camping stoves, pimping car charger, and other random nonessentials into a bag. Nice! Lots more room now. Zip up and… oh no.. super heavy travel backpacks on terrible terrible sunburns. Naa-ouch!

Find the post office and box our stuff up to ship home. A little expensive, but probably worth it to lighten the load without ditching stuff. I’ll probably make it home before that stuff does. Around the corner we stop at a local spot for breakfast, although it’s now lunch time. We get the daily almurezos. This was another typical dish, it came with a soup with rice and unidentifiable chicken parts in it. Then came a plate with rice, lentils instead of beans, salad, and chicken. Cut it all up, mix, dump the pasty, oniony hot sauce on it, and erase the hangover.

While we’re eating a marching band passes through the street behind us. We’re always finding ourselves around parades of some sort.

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We relieve or sunburns and grab a taxi to the bus terminal. There is no direct bus to Cuenca. Have to go to Ambato first and from there to Cuenca. That bus leaves in 5 minutes. Every bus we take leaves in the next 5 minutes. So weird. It costs 80 cents. Buses in Ecuador are generally a dollar an hour.

The bus takes us back out the gorgeously scenic road through the valley beside Baños, away from the volcano. There are a bunch of cute little school kids on the bus with backpacks as big as themselves. The bus stops at all of these random little houses along the valley dropping them off. It’s be annoying if they weren’t so damned cute.

Pull into Ambato and de-bus. Guess when the bus to Cuenca leaves? 5 minutes. It’s 8 bucks. Uh oh does that mean 8 hours? Almost.

The Ecuadorian scenery continues to be incredible. We climb higher into the mountains until we’re basically at the top. Sometimes we’re just enveloped in a cloudy haze. Others we’re starting down into a deep green valley spotted with farming structures and animals.

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We pull into a town called Alausi. “Heard this was Alausi place to live” (groaner). On the contrary it seemed a peaceful place, especially the way a cloudy haze hung gently in the air midway above the town. In the center on a hill was a statue of some saint.

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As we pull away and continue our climb, the sun starts setting between mountain peaks, sneaking out to explode on the clouds. The whole ride was surreal.

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At one point in the ride MacKay tries to open the bathroom door. We’re sitting in the far back so thankfully not too many people witness this. He’s pushing on it but it won’t budge. Is there a button? Hulk shove! Nada. Wtf? An hour goes by and he’s a little more desperate now. Hulk shoulder. Nothing. Damnit! A half hour later this cute little girl comes by in some pink pajamas. She grabs the handle and just pushes it in. MacKay is speechless. Drisdelle and I die laughing at him. She leaves. He gets up. Still can’t get in. Haha. Must have to ask the driver to let you in. Well, drive’s almost over at this point. We’ll never let it go, MacKay getting shown up by a 5 year old girl.

We pull into Cuenca and can instantly tell the caliber of the city. Seems very modern and very pretty, even at night. We go by several parks and cross a bridge over a river running through the city in our way to a hostel I’d looked up back in Baños. I’d read somewhere that the debate between whether Quito or Cuenca was prettier was still undecided. Quito has more in terms of architectural beauty, while Cuenca was scoring points in the natural beauty side of things. Could easily see the validity of the argument already.

The taxi drops us at Mallki hostel. It’s a funky, colorful little A-Frame house. We buzz in and a guy comes to the gate. Rooms available? Yes come on in.

There’s a cool hostel dog there, a big English sheephound. Was his name? Vincent Vega. Hmmmm I know that from somewhere. Front Desk Guy’s name is Andreas. He’s very nice and speaks excellent English. He describes that we’re 2 blocks to the historical center, they have bikes we can use, beer and water on the upstairs patio, just keep track, they also have breakfast with fresh brewed coffee (whaaaat?! YES!!), tomorrow they’ll be doing a tour of a large local market at 11, and this is the safest city in Ecuador, you can walk most everywhere anytime. He marks off some Cuenca highlights on a map. He’s only got the one map so i take a picture. That way he can give the map to the two French girls that just came in behind us. Any good food recommendations? Oh yes, the Chilean Grill. Across the street. Down the alley. You’ll find a park. There’s a planetarium with Saturn on it. MacDonald’s on the next block. Block after is the restaurant. Got it. D, G, and McB are on the case.

The directions are perfect, we stroll through uber-safe Cuenca streets down a back alley. Down the road is the park. It’s pleasantly lit up orange on green and full of people even though it’s around 8:30 at this point. There’s a futbol game happening. Couples are doing laps around the running track. There’s exercise equipment and children’s playground stuff. A funny statue commemorates since famous runner, “The Terry Fox of Ecuador” quips Getz. A giant Saturn tilts on the planetarium. Behind the glass are astronaut outfits and star charts. We’re on the right track.

Keep heading forward one more block to… oh its called Chill and Grill. Lost in the accent. Impeccable detail in the directions.

Chill and Grill is a fusion restaurant with an outside seating area next to where the cooks make the food and you can kind of watch them prepare things. They have a great menu. Extensive burgers and sandwiches list, as well as pastas and entrees. MacKay and I go the burger route, Drisdelle shoots for a mystery meal. Nope they don’t have that right now. Next pic. Nope. Ok mystery number three. Sure.

The burgers are fantastic. Best I’ve had in a long time. They come on a cutting board with a pile of thick cut, oval fry chips, hand tossed in oregano. Bombshell. Drisdelle gets a bowl full of those fries stacked with various meats, veggies, and cheese. Ecuadorian poutine? It also looked killer. Great recommendation.

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Trucking back we start dropping into our food comas. It’d been a long day of busing hungover. The other guys felt pretty shitty all day. We chilled at the hostel for a bit, Andreas had a few guitars in the upstairs lounge. A sweet black, old looking resonator and a nice Takamine 12-string. I don’t own either type of guitar. After test driving both, I can see a purchase or two in my future.

Hit the hay early so we can have a full day of sight seeing in Cuenca tomorrow. Plan on taking an over night bus into Peru tomorrow night.

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