Rode 3 1/2 hours in a van 'bus' from Guayquil to Cuenca. Not many views as the day was overcast and we were soon ascending into the clouds. The road (route 582) summits at 4,161masl / 13,651fasl. There is a monument dedicated to the many 16th & 17th century travellers who died from altitude sickness along this mountain route. After the summit we descend thru winding switchbacks into green valleys sided by high rocky mountain peaks and enter into Cuenca.
Stayed the first three nights in a nice hotel 2 blocks from the city center Parque Calderon. The dominant building is the 19th century (construction started 1885) Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion; aka Nueva Catedral. It is huge - our walking tour guide stated, "the 2nd largest in the Americas after the one in Mexico City. It purportedly can accommodate 10,000 standing worshippers; the total population of the city at the time of its construction. Pink Carrara marble from Italy comprises the floors, stained glass windows designed by a Spaniard, domes of blue tile from Czechoslovakia, and gold leaf (for the altar) from Germany; the altar resembles the one in St. Paul's Basilica in Rome.
There are numerous churches throughout the city, though some are no longer churches; instead have second lives as museums & art centers. In fact we enjoyed a live performance of Vivaldi & Piazzolla music at the Viejo (Old) Catedral. Might be the 1st time attending a concert of 18th & 20th century music in a 16th century 'concert hall' performed by a 21st century 20 stringed instrument ensemble - all dressed in Baroque period clothing, complete with powdered wigs, women included ! The solo violinist, from Mexico, was phenomenal; Osvaldo Urbieta.
For a change in entertainment we walked from the old town to the new town crossing the Rio Tomebamba (which divides the Old (upper) city from the New (lower) city) to watch Ecuador play Argentina for the Sud-America Futbol Cup at the Golden Prague brew pub/restaurant. We left at halftime with Ecuador leading 2-0; there had been a long rain (biblical deluge !) delay at the game being played in Asuncion. Ecuador eventually won 3-1.
After three nights Lidia decided we would try another hotel; she is in charge of selecting where we sleep at night. So we moved across the Parque Calderon to the Santa Lucia Hotel; formerly a private residence. Beautiful building kept immaculately clean and served a delicious breakfast with the best tasting coffee we've had yet on the trip.
Another day we visited the Museo Pumapungo and really enjoyed an exhibit of the artist Jorge Chalco. The history & ethnology sections were also well curated and explained a lot of the long history of human civilization that has resided in Cuenca; as early as 8,000 B.C. In fact the grounds of the museum, on a high bluff in the old city section, has an archeological site of those peoples from 1,000's of years ago.
Also walked thru El Parque Paraiso, at the convergence of two of the four rivers that course thru Cuenca; hence its name. Those two rivers are the Tomebamba & Yanuncay (Tomebamba retains claim to river name) and eventually flow into the Amazon. Lidia identified another lifer while we were in the park; Golden Grosbeak. So this trip began with birding in Peru to a tributary of the Amazon, and now here in Ecuador we're still birding and visiting tributaries of the Amazon !
Tomorrow we'll ride back to Guayquil and then fly to the Galapagos Islands.
Have been told there will not be any iNet during our 8-day cruise to 7 of the archipeligo islands, so,
Ciao for now