Our first day in Cuenca was spent familiarizing ourselves with the city. Carlos would be with us this one last day to show us around and help us learn the lay of the land. We started the day with the typical breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, bread, homemade jam and of course “Cafe Con Leche.” While we ate breakfast we were fortunate enough to meet the owners of the Casa Ordonez which is the hotel we are staying at for the rest of our trip.
La Casa Ordonez
The Casa Ordonez is a small friendly boutique hotel in the heart of Cuenca, Ecuador and is an Old Spanish home, that has been in the familly for over 100 years. There are about ten rooms on two levels and they all surround a common court yard. It is an old house with creaky floors and yes you do hear every footstep. There is no sleeping in, because as soon as the first guest is awake everyone is awake, but that doesn’t seem to bother us as we are so excited with what new adventure each day holds that we can’t sleep anyway.
After breakfast we took a short walk down the street to do some investigating on our own while we waited for Carlos to pick us up. It was immediately apparent that Cuenca had a very busy downtown. It’s almost like a miniature Quito with taxis and buses constantly driving by and people scurrying everywhere. In many circumstances you can get to your destination faster on foot than you can riding in a car because the traffic can be so congested. In the short time that we had we managed to see some beautiful architecture, the whole town is full of it everywhere you look.
The Blue Domes
The streets were lined with small shops selling everything from candy to shoes. The Ecuadorian people are very resourceful and entrepreneurial in nature. We learned that 70% of Ecuadorians are self employed. It is amazing at how hard these people work, they take great pride in what they do and they never expect a handout.
Taking In The Sites
After Carlos picked us up we took a quick city tour and he pointed out some places of interest to us. We drove through some neighborhoods and along the river that runs on the edge of town where you could actually see the people washing their clothes on the rocks and laying them on the banks to dry.
View From The River
View Of The City
One of the first things we decided to do was to get some Panama hats, so Carlos drove us to the Panama hat factory for a tour. It was interesting to learn that Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador and not Panama as so many people believe. The factory itself was pretty amazing and Carlos showed us where the hats were soaked in Hydrogen Peroxide to bleach them out and then laid out to dry. The hats were then trimmed and pressed individually by hand on a mold. The hat bands were all made by hand at the factory and once the hat was finished it was hand chosen by the maker to bare his mark. After we spent some time modeling our hats for each other, we finally settled on our favorites and made our purchases (it was a very tough choice).
Panama Hats Before They Are Trimmed
Soaking In Hydrogen Peroxide
Look At All These Hats!
Seamstress At The Factory
Once we had our hats in hand, Carlos drove us to the countryside way up in the hills to look at some spectacular views. There was only a dirt road to speak of and we made our way slowly into the hills passing farms and ranches along the way. Carlos explained to us that he loves the countryside and someday hopes to have his own piece of land with horses. We could truly appreciate the beauty of it all and hope that his dream is realized.
The Beautiful Countryside
We had all worked up an appetite by this time, so we headed back to town to one of Carloses favorite restaurants where we dined on local fare. The restaurant itself was once an old mill and it still had the wheel in the dining room (very cool). The food was very good and very authentic, we enjoyed every bit of it. After lunch the tour continued and we saw the exterior of the Museum Of Modern Art that had its beginnings of the first clinic for Alcoholics. We also saw the Religion Museum which is the oldest building in Cuenca and dates back to 1557. We learned that 90% of Ecuadorians are Catholic and that there are fifty two churches in town alone, no shortage of churches here.
Lunch At The Mill
At the end of the afternoon it was time for Carlos to kick us out of the nest, but we had spent so much time together in the last week that we had become good friends and Carlos asked us over for dinner the next evening at his home. We gladly accepted and look forward to yet another wonderful evening.