When can I move here? Goodbye to Ecuador

Cuenca is a colonial city in southern Ecuador, and considered the most beautiful in Ecuador.  Nearly everyone I met in Ecuador suggested I go there.  Checking in for the 30 minute flight, a very pretty woman in line with me said hello.  And thus began an amazing adventure I’m still reeling from 5 months later.

We sat and talked while waiting for the flight, then decided to sit together on the plane.  The next morning we met at 7am for a walk.  From that point we were nearly inseparable for the next 2 weeks, except for a 4 day trip I made while Catalina had family visiting.

Days with Catalina were filled with exploring the colonial buildings, soaking in hot springs, day trips to nearby villages, a national park, Inca ruins, and mellow South American life.

Bliss

Cuenca is perhaps most famous for four stunning churches that are lit up at night.

A few minutes bus ride from Cuenca is the village of Banos de Cuenca, which has several hot springs.  Catalina introduced me to the nicest one at Hosteria Duran.  Happiness is soaking for several hours of hot springs soaking with an amazing person in a beautiful mountain village!

In the *other* Banos – a small village just outside Cuenca. What a shame I couldn’t go inside this church, because it was fascinating from the outside.

While Peru has the best Inca ruins, Ecuador has several that are still very interesting.  Catalina & I spent a day exploring the countryside on the way to Ingapirca and Banos del Inca.

This image for me somehow captures the essence of the Ecuadorian highlands countryside.

Ingapirca is the finest Inca ruin in Ecuador. Viewed from above, it makes the shape of a jaguar.

Our guide was fantastic, but had I been without Catalina I would have been lost, as he spoke not a word of English.

Indigeneous woman at Ingapirca were selling colada morada, a delicious hot cider made from blackberries. YUM! They were also preparing cui (guinea pig). This was the first time I saw how they killed the cui - by sticking them live into boiling water.

From Ingapirca we traveled a few miles to Banos del Inca, a smaller and more remote but still fascinating ruin.

Normally about a 90 minute drive from Cuenca, Cajas National Park is insanely beautiful.  Unfortunately our time was limited – our poor navigation skills more than doubled our drive time!  A short hike led to amazing vistas.  If I return to Ecuador, I will spend several days hiking this wonderful park.

Driving to Cajas. It felt very mythic with the mountains, mist, and heavy clouds.

Banos is situated under the active volcano Tungurahua, which feeds the many hot springs in and around town.

PARAGLIDING!!!!!!!

Ever been?  Well, neither had I.  I highly recommend it!  $60 got me 25 minutes of tandem paragliding with a wonderful guide in the mountains near Banos.  With sunset views of 4 active volcanoes, it was a remarkable evening.  If you’ve never been – DO IT.

While Catalina visited with family, I took a bus trip to Banos de Ambato, ideally situated at a moderate elevation.  With mild temperatures year-round and easy access to rafting, kayaking, biking, jungle trips, canyoning, paragliding, Banos is an ideal vacation spot.  Unfortunately I arrived during a national 4 day holiday – if felt like the entire country was on vacation in Banos.  Exciting, but a little exhausting as well.

Each day I tried to organize a canyoning (rapelling down waterfalls) day trip with the only reputable operator in town.  Unfortunately, in typical South American fashion, every day the answer was “perhaps tomorrow.”  So no canyoning, which was my primary reason to go to Banos!

Only in South America! So gaudy that it's cool.

After returning to Cuenca, Catalina and I took the 2 hour bus ride to Vilcabamba.  This mountain village became famous in the 1960’s when Reader’s Digest reported that villagers regularly lived to be 120.  This has been disproven of course.  But no matter – it’s in a beautiful valley, and next to our intended destination – Podocarpus National Park.

The cabin Catalina & I stayed in for 2 nights. Both of us could be very happy living in this place. Quiet, peaceful, simple, pleasant. With a full kitchen, it had all I need. The outdoor shower was wonderful!

Unfortunately, 5 weeks of travel caught up to me.  My stomach, unaffected until then, rebelled.  Hard to have a romantic weekend in that situation!   Instead of hiking in Podocarpus I spent 2 nights hiking to the bathroom.

The hammock that would have been amazing to hang out in had I not felt so sick!

All things must come to an end.  Bus back to Cuenca, then flight to Quito.  A night of salsa dancing in Quito then goodbye to Catalina and Ecuador.

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