Day 3 - Mon May 21, 2007 – Quito to Cuenca – Bob: 132, Kathy: 153

Another busy day, but would you expect anything different from us? We’re just not sit-on-a-beach kind of people.

We realized that we didn’t bring any alarm clock with us on the trip. So last night, we told our hotel management we wanted a wake-up call for 5:00am. Even so, I kept waking up throughout the night and checking my watch. When 5:00am came, I woke Kathy up and we started getting ready. At 5:20 or so, the phone finally rang with our wake-up call. Sigh.

Today, I was more awake. First of all, there wasn’t the previous stress of getting to our destination and dealing with airlines and security. Second, I had slept from 10:00pm until 5:00am, which was considerably more sleep than last night. Third, we bought a bottle of Coca Cola and I drank the caffeine to wake up. Kathy got even more sleep because she went to bed at 8:00pm while I sat up and wrote in this travelogue.

We packed up our belongings and it was a challenge because we had the extra “cute” jacket that Kathy bought yesterday and our luggage was already stuffed full. As usual, we brought an extra bag; a large duffel bag for storing things as we bought trinkets on the trip. We were hoping to avoid using it until later in the trip because that would mean one more bag to shuffle on and off the planes and in and out of taxis as we traveled around Ecuador and the Galapagos. Somehow–luckily–we managed to fit everything together without using the duffel bag, and after paying our hotel bill, we shuffled out the door and into a taxi we had arranged yesterday through the hotel.

I told the driver, “Aeropuerto, por favor.” The taxi took off down the street like a bat out of hell. Suddenly, he turned left and headed up the hill rather than down. Then he began speeding through strange neighborhoods we’d never seen before. That had me quite worried, because we knew he was heading away from the airport. I don’t know Spanish and I was concerned that I had mispronounced the Spanish word for Airport and that he may be taking us to some strange distant mountain with a similar-sounding name.

The driver sped down an unfamiliar highway, then, much to my relief started heading back down the very steep hill. When he got to the bottom, we could see that we were, in fact, at the airport after all. Apparently, he was just trying to avoid rush-hour traffic and get us there as quickly as possible. I tipped him well.

When we got inside the airport, there were security guards who wouldn’t let anyone pass without an airline ticket. Kathy asked me what I had done with them. I didn’t remember. There I was, standing in the middle of a crowded airport with hundreds of people bustling past me, and I’m checking all my pockets and all our bags for the tickets we bought yesterday.

I couldn’t find the damn things and Kathy was getting quite flustered. Finally I thought to look in the top of our camera bag and there they were. Relieved, we showed the guards our tickets and hurried past security. We found the proper “Tame Airlines” line for Cuenca without a problem (there were only eight lines, and only one of those six had a sign that said Tame.)

Soon, we were on an airplane, flying to Cuenca. The flight was short and uneventful.

After collecting our luggage we left the airport and hailed a taxi. We asked him to take us to our hotel, the Hotel Santa Lucia. He gave us a blank expression. Finally I pointed it out on the map and he drove away acting confused. I reiterated the street names, trying carefully to pronounce them as I thought a native would. Finally something clicked. The driver's face lit up and he drove with purpose.

I followed along on the map as he drove, and eventually he got close. He pulled over and I told him “One more block” motioning with my hands, and so he drove on. Finally, in the middle of the next block, he pulled over again, rolled down his window and asked a many who was standing near a doorway, “Where’s the Hotel Santa Lucia?” The guy pointed to the ground to indicate “Right here, this is it.” Happily, we disembarked and paid the driver. The total taxi ride: two dollars!

Things are very cheap here compared to the United States. As much as Ireland was outrageously more expensive, this place is fantastically cheap. You can get a pretty decent meal for two, for example, for around seven or eight dollars, including drinks and dessert.

When we checked into the hotel, we were amazed. This hotel is fantastic. It’s like a mansion with a courtyard,

several elegant rooms,

crystal chandeliers, and antique furniture.

Unlike last night, our room is spacious and beautifully decorated and has a nice big, comfortable bed.

It even has a refrigerator and a safe. We were very pleased. Best of all, they let us check in early.

Kathy did something to accidentally lock the safe, so we had to call someone to unlock it again. After dumping the computer and a few other things inside the safe, we were off to find some food, since we left the hotel in Quito before they had started serving breakfast.

Our first order of business was to talk to a nearby travel agent to arrange a day tour for tomorrow. Luckily, there was one just down the street, recommended to us by the hotel concierge.

After we booked tomorrow's tour, we started walking down toward the river,

hoping to find some quaint café but unfortunately, we didn’t find one. All we found was residents with strange flowers.

At one point Kathy found a private garden with a wall of thousands of black-eyed Susan flowers.

We kept walking along the river until finally we stumbled upon the University. We looked around, but the best we found was a tiny shop that had mediocre turkey sandwiches.

From the University, we walked along the river until we got to the Central Bank which supposedly had one of the “Star Attractions” in Cuenca, a museum. Yesterday’s bank-museum was so impressive that we paid our three dollars and went inside. Unfortunately, it was a complete disappointment. The rooms were very small and unimpressive. The only redeeming display was a room that had about seven or eight shrunken heads. Of course, it was impossible to top the museum we had seen before, so perhaps our expectations were too high. It was a tough act to follow. And this museum charges fifty percent more than the good one in Quito!

Disappointed, we went outside to an archeology dig that was taking place from the time of the Inca.

It was included in the price of the museum. Unfortunately, that was disappointing too. We walked to the bottom of the hill where there was a small botanical garden and a small building with several varieties of birds: Eagles,

parakeets, parrots

and so forth. Incidentally, I knew the Spanish word for parrot is “Loro,” not because of our prior trip to Peru, but because my favorite Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis is called “El Loro.”

By this time, we were tired of walking and our feet were sore so we decided to catch a taxi back to the far end of town near the central square.

We went to a big white church called “Cathedral Vieja” next to the town square (also known as Parque Calderon). It was a little boring compared to the churches we saw in Quito.

Next, we wandered around the town square, a relatively small but beautiful park with very big trees and lots of people wandering around.

Nearby, we found a small but very colorful flower market. With permission, we paid to get photos of one of the booths.

At that point, we were getting hungry so we decided to stop for lunch. We walked the perimeter of the town square until we found a restaurant that looked good. We sat down and ate an unimpressive meal consisting of grilled chicken breast that was cut into thin slices.

On the other side of the park is another church.

This one is a Monstrously big Cathedral with big imposing doors.

It was just mammoth in size. For all its size, it was not very ornately decorated.

But as usual, it had some beautiful stained glass.

There was some kind of funeral service going on because there was a group of people praying out loud and in unison in one of the chapels.

Actually, it was more like singing than praying and it was quite beautiful.

As I took photos, a cute little girl became fascinated with what I was doing. She started following me around from altar to altar and statue to statue as I took photos. Finally, I asked her if I could take her photo. She nodded her approval and I took her photo, then I showed it to her on my digital camera. When she saw her photo, her face lit up in a big smile. She was so cute. Of course, all of the children here have been very cute.

I was whining to Kathy that I was tired and needed a nap. Still, I was fighting it off. Resisting our tiredness, we took a taxi to the Panama Hat factory. We had a hard time explaining to the taxi driver what we wanted because we don’t known Spanish. Finally we said “Sombrero” and he understood.

The factory was very interesting. They had rooms full of different hats.

They showed us how the hats were woven,

dyed and baked in a strange iron

that takes lots of different metal hat molds.

The funny thing is that one of these hats can cost anywhere from $12.00 to $400.00 depending on the quality.

We didn’t buy any, although Kathy and I both had to try one on.

Incidentally, Panama hats are called that because people used to buy them in Panama. However, they're made in Ecuador.

Next, we hailed another taxi. It’s amazing how cheap they are. This is the only country where I’ve felt that they’re well worth the price, especially considering how tired I was. I asked him to take us back to our hotel and he began to drive. Unfortunately, it was rush hour and there was a little bit of traffic congestion. I followed our route on the map. When we were still several blocks from our hotel, we were hopelessly stuck in a minor traffic jam. Studying the map, I told Kathy, “We’re right near the convent! We forgot to go to the convent!”

Never say die! In a flash, we payed off the driver, left the taxi and walked down the street to the convent.

This was a Catholic convent that was very old.

It was still in use today by a group of about twenty nuns, but we were confined to a small section that had been repaired and turned into a religious museum filled with all kinds of Christian artifacts like paintings,

bloody depictions of Christ,

and strange wooden boxes, like doll houses, filled with religious figurines.

Some of these were graphic, showing babies being mutilated, a depiction of when King Herod tried to stop the prophecy of Jesus' coming by murdering all the first-born sons in the kingdom.

Or particularly bloody depictions of Christ after his death. It was fascinating and we took lots of photos, as promised, without using a flash.

In one room, there was an amusing antique machine for washing clothes from 1902. It had these words printed on the side: “The '1900' Washer Saves Women's Lives.” We've come a long way, haven't we? Especially considering the fact that I do all the laundry in our house.

In another room, there was an antique mold for stamping hosts, the little pieces of bread that Catholics eat during mass that is supposed to be the body of Christ.

The convent also had a courtyard of sorts where we saw the old kitchen,

and it also had some very strange looking red flowers.

My camera stubbornly refused to focus on them, but Kathy had no problem.

By then I really was ready to crash. We walked back to our hotel, stopping to take a photo here and there of things you would never see in the United States. Like men actually painting a roof!

When we got back to the hotel, I took a long nap. Kathy wasn’t ready to quit so she walked back to another church,

only to find out it was closed. Then she walked to another and it was also closed.

Bummer for her!

I woke up from my nap about the time she returned. We went downstairs and ate dinner at the hotel coffee shop. I had an excellent steak and we chatted with a lovely couple from England. We chatted about politics and such and it was a great time.

After dinner, the waiter came by and asked us, “Would you like some dessert?” We said no because we had other plans.. We wandered across the street where there stood an ice cream shop. It was glorious and tasty. We carried our cones back to the hotel. The waiter happened to be there and gave us a silent look. I said, “Busted.”

After that, we went to a large sitting room in the hotel next to our room where I did my nightly writing. Then we went to bed.