I have to add another airline to the list of airlines flown. That will be AeroGal. It stands for AeroGalapagos, and that is the airline we will be flying from here (Cuenca) to Quito. I had all of that planned on TAME, but when we got to Guayaquil, the entire system was down and they could only give us the tickets from there to Cuenca. Handwritten boarding passes with no assigned seating, it was really funny! When I tried to get the next ticket after landing in Cuenca, I couldn't do it because of what was now their "country wide system problem", so I just walked next door to the AeroGal lady in plain view of the TAME dude and became a satisfied customer. I did it all in Spanish too! TAME needs a techie if anyone is interested.
We are now off the ground. Had enough terra firma! Flying the rest. Our route from Cusco took us briefly to Lima, and then Guayaquil, and finally Cuenca. The last flight was on a 22 seater turboprop built by Embraer in Brazil. Just like the Dash 7's and 8's at home. I can see why Bombardier and Embraer are still locked in a competitive death grip - the planes are a lot alike. I think it was fun for Kristine to be on such a small one. A lot different from what we normally do, but a lot like what I do at work when we go to northern BC and Alberta.
Anyway, we never went to Arequipa in Peru. A lot of people said it is a beautiful colonial city. I had always heard more about Cuenca myself. I guess you have to pick sometimes. You can't see it all. But why do other backpackers try to make you feel guilty sometimes for not having seen what they have seen, or not having done what they have done? It's weird sometimes. And it seems to happen quite a bit. We pick Cuenca! Damn the Peruvian colonial towns! To hell with them! 18 months, eat that you lame 6 monther! No, I am not that nasty. And yes, I am exaggerating just a bit. I do that.
Cuenca is beautiful. And it is a lot less touristed than what is going on in Peru. Either people are afraid of the volcanoes nearby or the recent political instability in the country or it is just off season a bit. But the city is very nice. It's a great little city to walk around and just look at all the colonial churches and impromptu soccer games. These happen everywhere (the soccer games silly, churches just don't "happen"!). And as I stood to watch a shoot out at the end of one of them, I was just towering over the locals. A bit of a giant I am to them. Giant in orange as the case was today. Laundry day. By the way, the ice cream here is fabulous, so I think we picked our colonial flavour quite well indeed. We have already had two, and both were superb.
A funny thing about Ecuador is that they use the US dollar as their currency. A few years back the government decided to try and eliminate all the exchange shenanigans by simply getting rid of the Sucre and going with the more "popular" currency instead. Kind of bold, and somewhat unpatriotic. But the people today seem to think nothing of it. They do have their own unique coins, even though they are stylized after those from the US. Our challenge now is to find someone to cash our last US traveller's cheque at face value. They can't play any exchange games now, ha ha! I imagine they will still try for the fee though. We'll probably wind up carrying it all the way home if we want to avoid giving anything up on it. We'll see.
The hostel we are staying at is very nice. There is a tiny little lady who makes you breakfast in the morning and runs from place to place like a mouse serving you things. It's a pure comedy watching her at the stove because she can't even see into the pots she is so short. She looks like she's 90, but she's probably only 60 something knowing the hard life some of these people have lived. But Ecuador (at least at first glance here) looks a lot more developed than Peru oddly enough. I know they have oil here in the Oriente, and maybe they are a little more industrialized because of that. And there are far fewer indigenous people walking the streets here and manning the market stalls. Not sure why yet. I know the poverty levels are high out on the farms and in the mountains. It's probably just city life.
The cathedral is reminiscent of many in Europe, and has a more Italian feel than Spanish in my opinion. A mix of rococo and neoclassical styles adorns the many chapels and niches inside, including a spectacular alter piece that is strangely like the one in St. Peter's in Rome. I wondered if this church made the list scribed on the floor in St. Peter's of the world's largest churches (those not bigger than St. Peter's) because it is indeed large. There are many others around town, all less grand than the main cathedral, but charming nonetheless in their various states of decay.
When you stay in a city for a couple of days, eventually you find the "real" market where the locals shop. These places are great because you can experience the real foods and also the real prices. Even though the touristed areas are already quite inexpensive, when you find the real market it's about half again. These markets are the same everywhere in the world in poorer countries. In the centre are several butchers carving up all kinds of fresh and cooked meat and fish. Around their perimeter are many tiny little cubicle restaurants staffed by little old ladies who mix up whatever the traditional fare is. In this case it's the boiled potato/rice/chunks of meat combination. They all serve slight variations of the same thing. This is where people really eat. These two areas are usually under cover with some sort of warehouse style steel framed building. Outside, around the building, are several fruit and vegetable sales people sitting on all kinds of crates under blue and orange tarps supported by combinations of bamboo and twisted metal. These coverings are always set too low for me, so I am constantly bumping my head, bobbing and weaving through the stalls to catch a glimpse of all the fresh produce. Here in Cuenca the produce is really good. Of course, Ecuador grows a very high percentage of the world's bananas, but almost every other item is represented here. The passion fruit is huge and makes great juice. Cocoa (the good stuff) can also be found everywhere, but you have to be prepared to melt it and mix it with what you like, as it most often comes 100% pure.
We also saw the fabulous Ecuadorian roses at the flower market. We had forgotten about these, but they were discussed when we were planning our wedding. At home, and subject to seasonal availability, they will sell for up to 6 bucks a stem! Incredible, but you can see why. They are perfect in every way. Spectacular brilliance, great colour uniformity, and a swirling density of petals that makes you dizzy if you stare too long. Very beautiful.
Glad we decided on Cuenca rather than Arequipa in the end.