Monday, December 6, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend in Cuenca

What an epic weekend. In honor of Thanksgiving, Tom, Michael, Thomas and I took Thursday and Friday off of school to head down to Cuenca for a long weekend. Cuenca's been on my list to visit ever since my host Mom told me about its colonial history, and I learned it was one of the two UNESCO Cultural World Heritage sites in Ecuador (the other is Quito, fancy that).
DAY 1: Cuenca and La Liga, "hence the loss"
After stumbling bleary-eyed off our overnight bus at 6am Thursday morning, we wondered aimlessly (well, we followed Tom) until we found the city center and an open hostel. It ended up being a fabulous hostel, with a giant room with 5 double beds, super helpful family that owned the place, and HOT WATER. For $7.50 a night. Score. After dumping our stuff, we took off to explore the city. All told, I believe the final count was 6 churches, 2 ice cream cones, 1 cuy (first it was cute, then it was delicious) Thanksgiving feast, 2 markets, and 1 gun shop. Successful day.
It was understood that the highlight of this Thanksgiving day was going to be watching la Liga, one of Ecuador's awesome fútbol teams of whom we've become quite passionate fans, totally destroy a team from Argentina on the way to the quarter-finals. Now, I happened to forget my jersey at home, and also refused to barter my soul, firstborn child, or charity to beggars on the outcome of the game. Unlike the boys. Apparently, this resistance to alternatively bribing and threatening God (selling souls was involved at some points) resulted in the Liga's loss. Or so I am told, "hence the loss". Whatever.
But, we couldn't mourn the loss for too long, because we had to drag ourselves out of bed early the next day to get in a full day of hiking at el Parque Nacional Cajas, about an hour away.

DAY 2: El PN Cajas, "What are men compared to rocks and mountains," or "I stuck my leg in a marsh."
WOW. This is easily top 3, possibly higher, on my list of favorite places in Ecuador. We're dumped off the bus more or less along the side of the highway, but couldn't care less, gaping in awe at the vista surrounding us. Words really can't do it justice, and to be honest neither can pictures, but here are a few just to give you an idea...
It felt like the setting for a Lord of the Rings film. Even though the park is located inland in Ecuador, it's a RAMSAR wetlands site - something about the mountains must prevent the regular rains from filtering away, resulting in lots of mountain lakes and thick, mossy flatlands that ooze crystal-clear water with each footstep (sounds cool, until your socks are wet). Hiking with Tom, Michael and Thomas was easily also one of the most ridiculous experiences I've had in Ecuador. Like this beautiful panoramic video I was trying to take during lunch, interrupted by Tom:
Or Michael, who Tom reverse-psychologied into trying to jump from a rock to the stream bank. Mind you, we are in MARSHLANDS.
And as epic as the photos we posed for were, one of Jane Austen's lines from Pride and Prejudice kept running through my head (what, you don't quote P&P to yourself? don't judge) - what are men compared to rocks and mountains, indeed.
It started to get dark at around 4:30, but not because the sun was setting - oh no, that would be an imminent hailstorm. I happpened to have left my umbrella in my backpack from the trip, meaning I had a nice leisurely walk home while the boys hurried, hunched over, through the stinging hail. (And who didn't promise their soul to the Devil if Liga won? Oh right.)
After dinner and more ice cream, we played another round of hearts, which, despite an astonishing amount of trash talking, I won handily. Bah.
DAY 3: Ingapirca, ceremonial sacrifices and ritual baños (oh, that's what they mean...)
Our final day in Cuenca, we visited the famous Ingapirca ruins about two hours outside of Cuenca. They are somewhere on the list of "ten things you must do in Ecuador" according to Lonely Planet. Hmm. They are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. I take it the Incas didn't do much building in Ecuador. What is left of them - the majority of the ruins are actually rebuilt - are decently interesting. The ruins are a result of Inca colonization of the native Cañari people (it is located in the province of Cañar), first a brutal process but eventually resulted in assimilation of the two groups.
History aside, we spent the majority of our 2-hour visit taking incredibly politically incorrect pictures. Here's my favorite series, from the "ritual baths":
And did I mention the llamas? I touched one, of course.
Later that night, we caught a bus headed back to Quito - though not before Thomas got himself lost for an hour, during which time I was convinced he was bleeding in a corner somewhere. But, not a minute too late, we made the bus and seven hours later in the early-morning light, arrived in Quito. That Monday was the national Censo (census) for urban areas, which meant you would literally be arresting for leaving your house between the hours of 7am to 5pm. Businesses were closed. Public transportation was shut down. It was a zombieland, not that I saw any of it, because our apartment doesn't have any windows that look out onto streets. And after all that, I slept through the actual census interview, taken at 8am, since I didn't wake up until noon. Oops. My host Mom told me she defended my right to sleep against the high schooler's insistence that everyone in the house be present. Yeah, Janette!

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