Cuenca: Yeah, we’re back in Ecuador!

Cuenca Ecuador
The Old Cathedral with its famous blue domes.

We heard a lot about the magic of Cuenca when we first journeyed through Ecuador but we never made it there on that jaunt.  On the way back north, we made it a priority to stop in this city full of colonial beauty.  Although Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca seems worlds smaller than Quito or Guayaquil.  It has a very old-fashioned, livable charm to it.  The only downside was that it is the most expensive city in Ecuador, with hostels and food costing much more than in most of the country.

Cuenca Ecuador
The New Cathedral

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador
Flower market
Cuenca Ecuador
Front of the Old Cathedral. Palm trees and pine trees in Cuenca!
Cuenca Ecuador
Walking along the river.

 

Cuenca Ecuador

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Old Town Quito – Ecuador’s Colonial Capital

Once we FINALLY found the street in Old Town Quito that our hostel was on, we breathed a sigh of relief.  One last hassle, of course–we realized the hostel recommended to us by Lonely Planet was waaaaaay out of our price range–like $20 for a dorm bed!  Luckily, we were saved by the small, not-trendy-but-perfectly-functional Hostel Belmont down the street.  While it didn’t have the bar, restaurant, art, and hip vibe of the last place, it did have $12 double rooms with private bathrooms and free internet.  Score!  Actually, the really nice young woman who runs the place is looking for a female volunteer to help her with her English.  If we had been staying in Quito longer, I totally would have obliged in exchange for the free room she offered!  (Someone jump on this!)

Anyway, after decompressing from our stressful intro to Quito, we hit the town for some exploring.  First we hit up La Ronda, a narrow street in the Old Town which really gets hopping on weekend nights.  The street was filled with musicians performing, artist’s shops, cafes and bars.  The highlight for us was trying our first canelazos:  a hot drink made with rum, sugar, cinnamon, and fruit juice.  These are on offer at every stop along La Ronda, so we tried two different places.  I preferred the orange flavor to the blackberry, and be forewarned that a whole pitcher gets to be almost too sweet by the end!  We also got some plantain and cheese empanadas as we sat relaxing and beginning to forgive Quito.

Old Town Quito

The highlight of Old Town Quito is the architecture.  Intricate stonework and beautiful white-washed bell towers fill the sky everywhere you look.  Our problem was that we really only had one day, and it was a Sunday so almost everything was closed!  Hence we just did a lot of walking and picture taking!  Take a look!

Old Town Quito
La Virgen de Quito

Old Town Quito

Old Town Quito

I wish we would have had more time to get to know Old Town Quito.  But we had to move on quickly to Baños for our second WWOOFing adventure!  Coming up next!

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Quito Chaos

Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, didn’t exactly get on our good side right away.  What happened was a typical episode of traveling-into-an-unfamiliar-huge-city hassles.  We got off the bus from Otavalo and grabbed our backpacks.  We wandered over to look at a wall of maps in the rapidly-emptying bus lot.  While we found maps detailing the routes of all, say, six different bus systems in Quito, somehow none of these maps seemed to indicate WHERE WE ACTUALLY WERE AT THE MOMENT.  We knew we were somewhere in the northern part of the city since we hadn’t driven through much of Quito before stopping, but we were clueless as far as how to get to the Old Town.  (Thanks, but no thanks to Lonely Planet also, for having next to no details on this.)  Eventually we asked someone and he waved vaguely over at a waiting area for a couple local buses.  We headed over there, determined to figure it out and not take a taxi since we were still around 20km from the city center and it would have been expensive.  At least we have enough sense to always ask several different people for directions, and luckily caught ourselves right before we got on the wrong bus!  We lugged our packs into the aisle, getting in everyone’s way, and settled in for a ride to the centro.  But no, this bus was not actually going to the city center, only to the Trole station, where we had to get on one of Quito’s new dedicated-lane cable-car type buses.  The Trole station had about six different options and we had to ask someone again.  Once on the correct Trole, I grabbed a seat and Zach settled in a standing spot in the corner.  This turned out to be a grave error, as the Trole stopped practically every block and every time more and more people crammed into the bus until it was packed tighter than a mosh pit at a rock concert.  Again, I had to ask someone to find out where to get off, as we had no idea.  The actual prospects of getting off though, seemed slim.  I was crammed into a seat I wished I hadn’t taken, with about 20 people glued together in the aisle between me and the door.  Zach was slightly closer, but also faced a hard elbow-throwing battle to get out.  There was no way I could even stand up and start making my way to the exit in advance.  My plan was basically just to push as hard as I could with my huge backpack, scream “¡Perdón!  ¡Pérdon por favor!” over and over again, and hope I made it.  And it worked!  But barely!  In the mad crush for the exit door at our stop Zach recalls making it, then looking back to see me still far away and fighting as the doors started closing.  Honestly, I don’t know how I got out of there alive and with all my stuff, but after I did I was cursing Quito and swearing to never ride the Trole again.  Thinking the hard part was over as we had made it to the right neighborhood, we tried to hail several taxis to get to our intended hostel.  Surprise, surprise, not a single driver recognized the address.  We wandered up and down the narrow streets receiving vague directions from shopkeepers like “Walk uphill two blocks and then ask someone up there.”  Finally, finally, after asking about 5 different people and wandering on foot for half an hour, we stumbled upon the correct street ourselves.  Who needs you, taxis?  Huh?

The lessons in all of this?  I’m not sure.  Probably number one would be:  Take a taxi if you can afford it!  This whole crazy mess kind of left us wondering if it would have been worth it.  Also, we always try to arrive at our destinations before dark, as it’s much less stressful and safer to find your way around public transportation in the busier daylight hours.  We definitely, definitely would have taken a taxi if it had been dark outside.

Up next…find out if Quito can reverse our initially bad impression!

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