In Ecuador the hospitality industry seems to use hostel and hostal without any regard to the significance to the rest of the world. So far both places we stayed in Quito used ‘hostal’ in their name as did the place in Otavalo. However, all three were definitely within the ‘hotel’ category, not even close to any mental image of a hostel.
In Cuenca, all terms are out the window. The place we are at has a huge courtyard divided in quarters with walking paths, but each section within is abundant greenery. Around the courtyard are five rooms, but they all share a bathroom. We had initially requested a share bathroom room, but when we viewed the setup, changed our mind fast. Switching to another room was not a hardship since there are so few guests here. The Austrians we met last night are leaving this morning as are the Minnesota people. That leaves us and one Japanese man. But here lies the problem.
Our room with the private bath is off of the courtyard right next to a humongous patio that has five large tables and chairs along with a sofa and three arm chairs under an oversized flat screen television set. This is the breakfast area, but the room right next to ours is the communal kitchen. At 6:45 am, the wife-owner has served breakfast to the Austrians who have an early bus. They are sitting outside our door and window to the patio and yucking it up big time, which means naturally we cannot sleep. By 7:30, we are showered and setting down to breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit juice, coffee, and a roll of wheat bread. She found out I was diabetic and so is her husband. Nice touch!
There reportedly only one museum in the city worthy of any time and it closes at 3pm on Saturday, closed Sunday. This makes it our first destination. Museo del Banco Central is a massive museum, archaeological site, and botanical gardens in a magnificent modern building and outdoor area.
The museum itself covers several floors in a modern building next to the Central Bank building, but the lower floor exhibits were all closed. This was not too missed as the walk-through re-creations of typical dwellings from the various regions of Ecuador were plenty to absorb and impress us. The museum was constructed over the ruins of an Inca palace called Pumapungo. In this room is the history of the Incas in Cuenca along with local archaeological artifacts. Upon exiting and walking behind the museum, the actual archaeological site is on view. There are a few llamas tethered in to the area, but one baby is loose to wander around it. The complex is set on a high hillside, from which the views of the botanical garden below are superior to appreciate the plants. In addition to the Inca archaeological excavations beyond the botanical gardens is a small aviary. We spent longer than initially we thought we would need. Walking the outside, climbing up and down the staircases and trying to get the llamas to pose for a picture all around took over an hour and a half. It was worth it.
We decided on Café Eucalyptus for lunch; it was termed as a tapas restaurant. Something happened as there was not a tapa on the menu. I settled for Indian vegetable vendaloo and Ron had Thai green curry chicken. With a Spanish flair in the décor, the menu was odd. One oversized painting on one wall was a bull fight scene with the bull on hind legs ready to spear the matador. The upper level has antique saddles hanging from the wall. The portions of food were very generous and the food was great. Mine was not quite hot enough, but the poor waitress had the entire place to cover herself besides aiding the sole cook in the kitchen.
After walking around the town for a few hours, we thought it best to visit the agency that provides shuttle services from here to Guayaquil for our trip there on New Year’s Eve. All we had was a website, but that did not list an address. Ron asked a number of people, but with the tourism office closed, it was hit and miss. Then I spotted a Hop-On Hop-Off bus and suggested he ask the driver. Sure enough, they knew the address and wrote instructions for a taxi driver.
We asked the driver about what we heard regarding a large North American population here. He pointed in one direction and said “Yes over there is the American contingency.” Then pointing in a different direction, he continued “Over in that direction are the Canadians.” Both areas were significantly away from the center of the city, necessitating a car for transportation. Any fantasy of a later life living in Cuenca has been dissolved. After a twenty minute taxi ride, we paid $2 and went to the office making our reservations. A different driver who had lived in the US for 6 months in Minnesota of all places got lost bringing us back when we wanted to go to the Panama Hat Museum, so charged us $4.
There is a misnomer that Panama hats originated in Panama. Clearing up this mystery, we learned long before leaving home that they originated here in Cuenca. What caused the identity crisis was that the hats were originally being shipped from here to the World’s Fair in Paris. There was no direct route for shipping them, so they went from here to Panama and from Panama to Paris. Once they arrived, the assumption was that they were from Panama and the moniker stuck. Ron who loves hats had quietly dreamed of visiting here and getting an authentic hat. What a disappointment for a museum. Two tiny little rooms showed the raw materials and little else. There were hundreds of different hats for sale ranging from $25 to 300. Ron wanted the crushable type, which of course started at $150; he left with his Tilley hat only, the hat he arrived with.
As fortune would have it, I had seen women selling avocados and wanted to buy some. Shortly after purchasing them, there was an Artisans Handicraft Arcade. In this small mall, there were three sellers of Panama hats, so Ron was able to get his hat after all.
Writing and snoozing was how we spent the late afternoon and early evening. One did one thing while the other did the snoozing. By 7:30 we went hunting for a dinner place, not too difficult in this area. A cute and quaint eatery had opened just 2 weeks ago. Both having light dinners, we were more than satiated. Across from us was an American ex-pat from Connecticut. He had only been here 7 weeks, but has been here in the past. He has not been thrilled with the ex-pat community stating that they are cliquey snobs. Having attended a party the night before, he recited the number of things that other North Americans had to say about living here that were not up to their expectations including the pollution.
Returning back to the hostel/hotel at 9pm, we were greeted by 2 young women who were decorating the patio outside our door. Initially it seemed that it was for some future celebration, but alas it was for the night’s festivities. They were throwing a party for the 2 year anniversary of the hostel. What trumped up reasons for a party. She said “We hope we don’t disturb you, but you are welcome to join us.” What fun to join an all-Spanish speaking party. No thanks! We asked how many were expected and was informed only some friends and a few family. The Japanese guest had left, so we were the only guests in the place.
Not only were there 16 people that we could count through the slit of the blinds, but they had live and recorded music. Adults from 20s – 70s were out there playing musical chairs. The music was loud enough for a stage performance. The screaming and laughing went on for hours. Just when we thought it was over, it started up again. There was no peace until 2am this morning. I was so angry, I was half tempted to go out there with nothing but a towel, but thought they would consider me part of the entertainment and just party on. The extravagance of the party was way over the top. There were tables of food and what looked to be party favors for the guests as well as presents from them. This place is getting a rotten review in every place I can find. You would expect guests at a hostel to have a party or get overly rowdy, but not the proprietors.