I got in to Cuenca late on Sunday night the 16th, and immediately got chills being back in the place where it all began. Its strange, but I had much more of a "coming back home" feeling than I had anticipated. Not that Cuenca really felt like home, but I think just because I had established myself there, and had been so mobile ever since, that those feelings were creeping in. But it was late, so I'd have to save the exploring and reconnecting for the next day. Instead I just took a cab to a hostel in town. It had been so long since I had stayed with my host family there, and did not keep in very close contact with them during my travels, so even though they offered to put me up while I was there, I felt more comfortable staying in a hostel.
On Monday I did not get to see any of the people I had intended to visit. Everyone I spoke with said Tuesday would be better. So I spent some time getting business things done like bank and laundry and a haircut. I also walked around the town a lot, and was lucky to have a beautiful day. I walked all over the place, sat by the river for a while, and of course went back to get some ice cream at the reknowned Tutto Freddo (read my October entries about it). I also went back to Cedei and spoke with some of the staff there that I knew. It was an uneventful and relaxed day, and that suited me fine.
Tuesday was a day full of visits. As I said I had planned to spread these out, but everyone was busy on Monday and I wasn't sure if I would be staying for Wednesday. First I went back to Cedei where I had arranged to meet up with one of my old teachers Leonor. We sat and chatted for a bit and she immediately commented on how improved my Spanish was, which was nice to hear. Its funny, she thought I had come back to visit Ecuador again from the US. She knew I was leaving on a trip after our classes together, but just never realized I could still be on that same trip now, and was amazed to hear all I had been doing since I last saw her. We talked for a while then I left.
I went straight to my host family's house from there for lunch. Just like before, walking home from Cedei to have lunch with the family. Again it was real good to see them, and I just tried to give as concise yet detailed an overview of my whole trip as i good. I probably stayed there for about 2 hours chatting and catching up, and they too commented on my Spanish.
I went back to the hostel from there, but soon met up with my friend Javier, who had originally been my guide on the weekend trips I did. We had written each other a few emails over the months but not much, but I was still very excited to see him. He picked me up at the hostel and I went with him on some errands he had to do around town. After such a long time walking around towns on foot and taking buses, it was a fun experience to just be cruising around in a car again with a friend. Reminded me a lot of home, and it sunk in again how soon I would be there. Javier then took me to a very unique and bizarre museum/hangout space I had never heard of while living in Cuenca. Its called the Prohibido Centro Cultural, which means the Prohibited Cultural Center. Its part art gallery, part music venue, and part local bar and hangout, although no alcohol is served nor allowed in. The walls are full of photos and stickers, and there are some very interesting and creative sculptures all over the place and etchings and paintings too. It was created by one local man named Eduardo who wanted to support and encourage the underground local art scene. The theme tends much more towards the goth and heavy metal side, yet is strictly opposed to aspects of it such as drugs, alcohol, and crime. I'm not really sure how to describe it sufficiently, so I'll just stop there. You can check out the website here http://www.prohibidocc.com/, where the full name of the place is translated as Museum-Cafe of Extreme Art, and the visitor counter is preceeded buy the words "you are the mutant #". There you can find pictures of the place and some of the art there (mostly under the link on the left "prohibidocc", then "rincones"), as well as descriptions and histories if you read Spanish (under "historia").
After a while here which I really enjoyed and appreciated, we met up with his girlfriend and the three of us continued to hang out all afternoon and evening. At one point we went back to his house and I got to meet his 8 year old son and his parents as well. From there we went out and got dinner, stayed out for a while longer, and eventually he dropped me off back at the hostel and we said goodbye. It was the most time I had ever spent with him, but we just had the feeling that we could be good friends if given the time to get to know each other well and see each other a lot. He is a cool and interesting guy, and its always nice to recognize that you can make these connections with other people regardless of any percieved differences.
The next morning I did decide to head out, having seen everyone I wanted to see in Cuenca, and still itching to have one more adventure on my trip before returning to Quito with a few days to spare. I spoke with Javier a lot about his take on the issue and where I should go and what I should do, and even though he was very knowledgable on all the touristy spots in Ecuador, trying to get a definitive answer or preference out of a guide is nearly impossible. When trying to decide if I would visit the beautiful volcano Cotopaxi, or the lake-filled crater inside an old inactive volcano, Javier responded, "Its tough, they are bothy very beautiful. One is a perfect cone shape, and the other the perfect inverse of a cone." Fair enough, well said. I guess I'll just have to decide when I get there.
I got on a bus early Wednesday morning. I bought a ticket for Latacunga, the usual place to stop for many excursions into the middle sierra of Ecuador, but was still debating getting off at earlier stops to try something else and change my mind at the drop of a hat. It was a short but nice stay back in Cuenca. It felt good to be back, yet strange at the same time. Surprisingly, I didn't take a single picture this time through.