Favorite Spots in Cuenca #5 – Quinta Balzay

For those of you wondering about my silence on this blog lately, I should let you know that I landed safely back in Colorado last weekend – I’m HOME! But I still have a lot to say about Ecuador, and many blog posts in the works, so stay tuned! Today I want to share a bit about another of my favorite places in Cuenca.

I’m one of those lucky people who, mostly, enjoys my job. Given how much time I spend working, that’s a good thing. So, for this installment of ‘Favorite Spots in Cuenca’, I felt I had to mention the place in Cuenca where I spent the most time (other than the house where I lived): The Quinta Balzay, a satellite campus of the University of Cuenca.2015_0721i Continue reading

From the Devil’s Nose to the Inn of the Clouds

The old railway ride to el Nariz de Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) and back is one of the big items on most tour agendas and tops the checklists for those making the rounds through Ecuador’s central Sierra. This two and a half hour trip originates from the mountain pueblo of Alausí, about a 4 hour bus ride north of Cuenca. The train goes down a rather stunning river gorge along a set of railway switchbacks, and, after a rest in a small village, makes its way back up the mountain again. The trip has come highly recommended to me by tourists and locals alike. Obviously, it’s quite popular. But I think the many people that pass through town are missing out on what was the highlight of my own visit: A chance to rest in the clouds at Posada de las Nubes.

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View of the Andes from my room at Posada de las Nubes.

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Cuenca’s 7-day tribute to the sweet tooth

I always associate an overabundance of sweets with the Christmas holidays, but in Cuenca, the holiday of sweet abundance is in June, coinciding with the religious celebration of Corpus Christi. For one week, vendors line the streets surrounding the New Cathedral in central Cuenca, tables laden with cookies and candies of every color and flavor imaginable. Just walking down the sidewalk is enough to give you a sugar high and make your teeth ache. I feel like I’ve stepped into my favorite childhood board game, Candyland, or like I’m touring Willy Wonka’s factory. 2015_0607e Continue reading

Amaru: A day at the Cuenca Zoo!

I’ve been checking out the Trip Advisor reviews of Cuenca’s Amaru Zoo for the past couple of months. Most people love it. Some hate it. People who hate it tend to be of more advanced years, tend to have very young children, or have some very different expectations. How could a zoo NOT be a place for young children, you might wonder? Imagine a zoo built into the side of a mountain where you scramble up steep trails, over tree roots, then duck under chicken wire as monkeys, birds, and tigrillos (little tiger-like cats) threaten to poop on your head. If you like that kind of stuff, this is the place for you.

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Abril, aguas mil y lodo, lodo everywhere

The Ecuadorians have a saying ‘Abril, aguas mil.’  (And lodo=mud.) The direct translation is roughly: April – a thousand waters (and I added the part about the mud). You get the idea – it’s basically the same sentiment as ‘April showers bring May flowers.’ True to form, the atmosphere has delivered us aguas mil this month. For that matter, March was also a month of aguas mil. I have become accustomed to donning rain gear, boots, and marching out of the house with my giant umbrella (mi sombrillo gigante!) that I purchased on a street corner in a moment of soggy desperation sometime back in March. Everyday I wish we could send some of this deluge off to California, where people actually need the water.

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A Cuenca city bus about to cross a bridge over the muddy and raging Tomebamba river not far from my office at the satellite campus at the University of Cuenca.

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Celebrating Colorful Cuenca

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Cuencanos doing a Peruvian dance in one of the parades celebrating the foundation of the city.

I’m starting to lose track of the number of holidays and festivals I’ve experienced, seen, or heard of since I’ve been in Ecuador. I thought Carnaval was big. But last week we had the annual celebration of the ‘Foundation of Cuenca.’ And let me say, the Cuencanos go ALL OUT for this one. In fact, I’m not entirely sure on which day festivities began last week, and how long they lasted (there may still be things going on this week). Continue reading

Into the Misty Mountains

There is something about a windswept, lonely place that draws me in. It’s the escape from the bustling crowds and the diesel. Living in Ecuador’s third largest city is sometimes a challenge simply because it is a city. When I first arrived, I thought I was suffering from culture-shock. I think a lot of the shock was simply adjusting to city life. I’ve adapted, but I still need to escape regularly – to breathe fresh air and wipe the grime from my face.

New Zealand has the Middle Earth claim-to-fame. But the Andes could have easily played a starring role as the Misty Mountains in Lord of the Rings.

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Favorite Spots in Cuenca #3 – Puro Cafe

I’m not a coffee drinker. But I will purchase a cup of good coffee now and then – especially if it means I can sit at Puro Cafe, on the terrace of Iglesia Todo Santos, and watch the rain showers pass by. I discovered this place about a month ago, on my first big walk through town. The terrace at Todo Santos is one of the best views above of the river Tomebamba. The Tomebamba divides the old, central part of Cuenca, which sits up on a hill, from the newer, modern part of Cuenca, sitting below, in a valley. 2015_0322b Continue reading

Favorite spots in Cuenca #2 – Rio Yanuncay

When I need to escape city life, I can retreat to this amazing river only a 5 minute walk from home. I walk or run here whenever I can. The Rio Yanuncay is the second largest (of four rivers) in Cuenca, and urban planners must have had a field day with this one as there is a walkway along the river for several miles. Along the way, you’ll find benches, playgrounds, nice landscaping, and (this was new for me) exercise machines.

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