Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the road again ... Loja ...

Once Danny was finished at the University of Cuenca,

 Danny and some of his students

we gave up our apartment in order to see more of Ecuador beyond the realm of a 1-day bus ride from Cuenca and back.

So off we went...south towards the Peruvian border.

First stop, Loja. A mere 4 hour bus ride to the south, through some gorgeous mountain vistas, switchbacks and horrendous climbs and downhills, we peaked over ft. The eco-systems went from a lush, vivid green to a stark yellow/brown, no vegetation landscape and back. The views down the valleys from the top were awesome with a winding river at the bottom, like a thin kinky ribbon. The bus, as always was full to standing room only; filled with gringos, latinos and indigenous alike. Some conversation but not a lot with everyone in their own little world.

Loja is considered one of Ecuador's most culturally advanced cities, is also one of the oldest, and one of the cleanest. We were met by a mix of the old and the new   It is an university town, and boasts one of the best music conservatories with one of the universities symbol incorporating both - religion with a cross and music with a harp.

With it's strong education and music heritage there are, expectedly, free music concerts almost every weekend. In our wanderings we wandered into one in front of the cathedral, free for all to enjoy, which we did. 

Walking around the same day we also found a double-decker tour bus. Oh how I enjoy these to see an overview of the city and boy did we. We were the only ones on the bus so had the guide to ourselves, a personal tour you might say. In the UNESCO Heritage part of the town, the architecture is of a mix from colonial times to today. 
The gate that is the entrance to the old town. It is not only the city gate but also a tribute to not only the Spanish Conquistadores but also their freedom from them. 
 Looking towards the gate down the Inca Trail which goes straight down the middle of the old town. This is the second time that we have walked the Inca Trail, the other being on Calle Larga in Cuenca.
  the middle and right buildings are colonial, the left is 1950's  The mix is not so evident when looking down the street as most have had paint refurbishing. As a Heritage site they cannot change the exterior of the buildings other than repairs in the manor of the original building and paint.

 Colonial outside refurbished

 look closer and you can see that the paint doesn't weather as well as the building.

In San Sebastion Plaza one finds the renown Clock Tower. It truly is a beautiful piece of art, especially the lower part above the base.

Across the square from the cathedral we found a replica of an old Incan sundial. It is an amazing piece of scientific knowledge as not only does it tell time, it also tells the seasons.  Inside the cathedral we lucked into the final week of the festival of the Virgin of El Cisne. Every year in May she is brought on the shoulders of the devout from El Cisne, approx. 67 km, to Loja's cathedral where she remains until Nov. 1, when she is returned  in the same manner.
 The alter is a wondrous sight that adorns her well, compared to the one we saw at the bus station. 

And on we go, seeing new and maybe even odd things every time we walk somewhere.
 Love the saying here ... We are running into all sorts of Canadian involvement in Ecuador.

 The previous government was building a tram to go up to an overlook over the city. The new government decided they didn't need it so the building sit dominating the skyline without a tramway.

Throughout the city we found many different, interesting murals, many by the same artist. You could tell his work because his subjects had no eyes. It is said that the reason for this is that he had a member of his family who was blind. But who knows really? 
 You can recognize Bolivar anywhere by the shape of his face.

And finally there was the pedestrian overpass by the bus station giving recognition to the musical personality of the city.  Do you see the guitar? At night it lights up for all to see.

And so ended our stay in Loja ...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Around Cuenca...

From Cuenca we made a couple of day trips to the Sunday markets. First was Gualacea: A short 1 1/2hr bus ride to the northeast takes you through a winding, ribbon of tarmac, at the base of towering mountains, past many small villages and one humongous water park. Arriving on a Sunday to visit the market, I was surprised to find a town teeming with activity. The market, found on the side of the mountain, was not as I thought it would be, instead it was all fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, chickens, and an eating area with the prerequisite whole roasted pig: No crafts to be had. And this was supposed to have weavings.

Instead we found a beautiful park with a walk along the river, at the base of mountains on either side. The river walk was used as a by many for relaxing with many statues,   walking, playing, picnicking, and selling. The river however, was used for ambiance, clothes washing and the odd doggy bath.  Walking along we came up on an old building  that stymied us until we got to the other side  a bathroom, and old bunker? No an old but still used bandstand.  A covered bridge and a swinging walking bridge offered access to either side. 

In town, sitting on a park bench looking at the front of the church, I was amazed to see a statue, not of a saint or the usual religious people but of a priest on horseback, wielding a sword in a fighting manner.  It took awhile and a few people being questioned but we eventually found out that it was a statue of the priest who led the battle to get the Conquistadors to leave. And how about a hurst just sitting and waiting to be used? 
Gualacea was interesting and well worth the fun bus ride and the walk around town.

 A trip to the museum on the following Saturday took us to see Cuenca from the time before the Incas to today.  The museum is build on the site of a massive archeological site and has been excavated and at times, rebuilt or refurbished. It explores the many peoples who have inhabited the area and looks at the differences in the many indigenous peoples of Ecuador. The Incas even had gardens of microclimates representing the various climates of their lands.  I even found some quilting motif inspirations.  It is not just in museums that you see antiquities here in Cuenca. Along the roads and sidewalks you can come across signs of the early settlement, such as this step going into an older building: 

We had quite a bit of rain during our weeks in Cuenca and the rivers running through town show it. This is shown by a walk along the riverbank looking at various murals. 

Then to SigSig:
SigSig was another little town farther south from Gualacea, in the mountains. As we left town on our way, we happened onto a local pork for sale.  Yes, they roast them on a spit and then simply tear the meat out with their hands,and sell it by the pound, if not in a dish. Gives us flashback memories to the festival that we went to in Romania where they butchered and then cooked a hog in an open fire. This town had the bus station at the bottom of the hill and we had to walk all the way uphill just to get into the center of the town The town, like Gualacea is founded in a river valley and goes up the sides of the mountains on either side of the river. The market is up the mountainside, giving a view of the town. Again being Sunday, market day, everywhere we went was busy.  The one thing that we were interested in was the Panama hat factory, but alas it was closed. Guess who provided the town with the factory?  Yes, the Canadian government. And of course, they give thanks and put Panama hats on the Virgin and Baby Jesus over the doorway.  All of these little towns give the impression that they are booming. The houses are being rebuilt and modernized and many new ultramodern ones are being built. Where the $$ are coming from is anyone's guess but even the young people seem to have a lot discretionary funds.

As we run around the countryside, sometimes you just want a little something of home. Starbucks this isn't but it was as good as what I used to get in Colombia at Juan Valdez coffee shop.