This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

454 Years in Cuenca

Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, but it feels much smaller. The population is about one-third of that of Quito, the second largest city. There also seems to be a larger sense of civic pride in Cuenca than in the capital. There is noticebably much less garbage, car pollution, dogs (which really means dog poop), shady characters and grafitti here which makes it quite a pleasant city to pass several days or weeks or years - In 2009 Cuenca ranked #1 on International Living magazine's best place to retire list.

Rocking Out in Cuenca

We settle into a hostel that is in the mini tourist ghetto of Cuenca. With cheap rent, a kitchen and not terribly too much to do in Cuenca we have some very very cheap days and Mika finally starts her own blog in Japanese. We end up staying here for fourteen days which is the longest we have stayed anywhere since being at Mika's mother's house way back in June. On a scale from Crappy to Fantastic I would rate the city as "Pretty Nice." I can see the charm and why some North Americans would want to come. But let's be honest, being much much much cheaper than Arizona, Spain or the fancy parts of Mexico is the real reason most expat retirees end up here.  
A typical old building of Cuenca
Our time in Cuenca happens to coincide with the city's 454th anniversary and it is celebrated with a whole host of free concerts. The first one has a whole host of bands and ends with Altiplano de Chile with sort of a traditional/rock fusion music. They use an impressive amount of (about forty) different types of wind instruments and the band leader takes joy in badmouthing Reggaeton.

We also catch another show with more flutes and a funky light show, an arts festival and a rock concert (thankfully this time without any flutes) headlined by Sergio Sacoto who apparently is pretty well known in Ecuador.
A psychedelic light show on the church wall
Sampling edible roses dipped in chocolate at the arts fair

Day at the Museum

Besides just walking around town admiring old, colonial-style buildings and waiting for the next concert to start Cuenca has some interesting places. There is the old and new cathedrals along with the usual assortment of other churches, plazas, some markets and museums. None of these museums are good enough to make the Guggenheim nervous but worth a peek. Plus they are all free.

Less than a block from our hotel is a nice little museum exhibiting traditional costumes and art from indigenous communities all over Latin America. I also, after three attempts, visit the Museum of Modern Art. The first time I go they just closed for their afternoon siesta. The second time they are closed all day because the night before someone had broken into the building. The third attempt I finally enter and see why the theives stole some cash and a computer, but not any of the art. The currnet humdrum exhibition is water colors (admittedly not my favorite medium). Half of the covered wall space is dedicated to children's art made in the museum's classrooms which is technically still modern art.The old building itself is art and my favorite part of the museum The former House of Temperance was a clinic for alcoholics.
The museum as seen through the eyes of children

and through my camerea lens
 The Museo del Banco Central has very extensive exhibits showing cultural aspects from every region of the country and a special, dramatically lit room dedicated to tsantsas -shrunken heads - a tradition that is not practised on humans anymore (or so they say), but is still allowed on unsuspecting sloths. We are not allowed to take photos at the museum so I have included a photo I took in Quito a while back.

Sloth and human tsantsas
Behind the museum are some Inca ruins of Pumapungo, a large garden where we pick some fresh chilies before seeing the "do not touch the plants" sign, and a depressing aviary.

The remaining walls of Pumapungo

Do not bother the birds.
If I were a bird being in this cage I would be quite bothering.

An Ecuador Hat?

French fries come from France, dutch ovens come from Holland and panama hats come from Ecuador.
Excuse me?
Panama hats
Back in the day the world famous hats made in Ecuador passed through Panama on their way to North America and Europe so the name panama hat stuck. In Ecuador they call the hat Paja Toquilla because the straw comes from the toquilla palm. Since I am American I will stick with "panama hat" for this post. I see no real need to be politically correct with regards to head wear.
This plant will be a hat
Cuenca is a center for making and purchasing panama hats and the shops are everywhere around town. Some hat purists will go out to smaller villages to find the perfect sombrero, but there seems to plenty of styles and different qualities from which to choose from in Cuenca. There is even one shop/museum where we can learn a little about the hat making process.
A panama hat press
Follow the link to see our daytrips from Cuenca.

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