This fin de semana brought another travel adventure: Cuenca, a super cute city in the south of Ecuador. On Thursday night, we hopped on the 10:45 bus and arrived at our destination by around 6:30am on Friday morning.
Overnight Bus Ride Pros: If you can sleep, you’re good to go. Very calm and relaxing. You get the entire day of Friday to explore. You absolutely make the most of your weekend.
Overnight Bus Ride Cons: If you can’t sleep, 8 hours is a long time. Sometimes the bus plays horror movies like Texas Chainsaw (just picture me trying to sleep with the sweet, sweet sound of chainsaws and human screams in the background). Sometimes they crank the heat up on the bus and you just want to rip off all of your clothes, but instead are stuck in a tiny seat.
As you may have guessed, the bus ride to Cuenca was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. However, it was worth it when we reached Cuenca, dropped our bags off at our hip hostel, and headed to an American style cafe for (wait for it) pancakes and bacon. With powdered sugar. When you live abroad, the littlest things can make life great.
After breakfast, we headed up to El Mirador, an overlook where there are spectacular views of Cuenca and the surrounding mountains. We also got to check out a really cool ceramic museum and shop up on the mountain.
Cuenca is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. The city was built in a colonial style and it feels very European. It is extremely safe and extremely friendly, and for this reason it is filled with retired gringos. It was also the most cultured I’ve felt since I’ve been here: we spent Friday doing a wonderful walking tour of the city’s various churches, plazas, parks, and murals, lead by our fearless leader Becca. (Quick shoutout to Becca and the Lonely Planet guidebook for putting together the coolest adventures!). The churches we toured had some of the most spectacular architecture that I’ve witnessed. We got to explore the stunning university in Cuenca, spent some time walking along the river and perused a local bookstore. We also took a pit stop at a cool ice cream shop, because our group is nothing without ice cream.
For dinner, I went out to a little Italian restaurant with Caylee, Frank, and Becca, and it was so enjoyable. We sat outside in the main plaza and watched the nightlife of Cuenca all around us, while having a great life chat. Inside the restaurant was a little strange though- it was completely filled with retired gringos who were enjoying some live music. I hadn’t seen that many white people in one place since January 2 and it was honestly a bit of a culture shock to see them all together and to hear them speaking English. Weirdly enough, I did not enjoy seeing people from my own country and speaking my native language. In fact, our group went a little bit out of our way to speak Spanish to prove we weren’t just the “average” gringos in Cuenca haha. Just a preview of what it will be like returning to the States, I guess.
After dinner, the four of us walked around the plaza and came across a pretty legit dance off under the gazebo. We sat and watched it for quite some time. It consisted of a group of very chévere breakdancers, some younger kids trying to be cool, a male baton twirler who was more funny than he was talented (Claire, you’ve set my bar for baton twirling talent WAY too high), and an elderly woman who was dancing the salsa while holding her dog. It was too good.
Our hostel was called Hostel Yakumama and was extremely cool. The front desk workers were helpful and very friendly, the walls were covered in cool murals and designs, and it was our first true hostel experience with dormitory style rooms. On Friday night, our hostel hosted a giant party with live music. It sounded very fun, but we were all exhausted from the bus ride and went to bed instead of checking out the party.
Saturday found us heading outside of Cuenca to Cajas National Park. This national park was absolutely stunning- from the rivers rushing down the mountains, to the cloud covered peaks, to the rolling grassy areas, to the blue lagunas, to the mystical forest we randomly encountered. We hiked for about three hours as it rained on and off, creating a heck of a lot of mud. It wasn’t a hard hike by any means, but it was very slippery and I fell about 6 times. The best fall of the day went to Maria when she slipped, somersaulted down a hill and landed in a small river. Don’t worry everyone- it was very graceful and she was fine and it gave us a good laugh.
All in all though, such a beautiful place to explore. Definitely had some serious Secret Life of Walter Mitty vibes, and I felt in awe of the views at every turn. If you want to see a fraction of the natural beauty of Cajas, check out my Facebook photos!
We spent Saturday night eating a delicious dinner, walking around, and checking out a local brewery that the guide book recommended. It was so fun to explore a city that unlike Quito, is perfectly safe at night!
On Sunday morning we toured a museum and got to explore some ruins from the Incan Empire, which was pretty cool. After this, we grabbed lunch before starting the 9 hour bus ride back to Quito. Another long bus ride, but it wasn’t quite as hot, I was able to sleep for a little while, and instead of playing a horror movie, they played a Chinese action movie called Wolf Warrior two times in a row. I’ll count it as a win.
Overall, a really wonderful weekend in a really wonderful city! So thankful for the opportunity to explore Cuenca and to travel with such great amigos.
Life outside of weekend adventures is still exciting, but has also become very normal in many aspects. While I’m thriving here and loving my semester, there are really simple things from home that I miss: drinking a glass of ice water, putting toilet paper in the toilet, wifi that doesn’t go out when it rains, being able to go out at night without safety concerns. This is all just part of living abroad/in a Third World Country, but these are honestly things I’ll never take for granted again.
Another thing I’ll never take for granted is the overall absence of machismo from culture in the US. Machismo is a very prevalent belief in Latin America that men are dominant, all-powerful, and should display their masculinity at all times. In daily life, this manifests itself in a lot of catcalling, especially at American women (who are seen as “easy”). This week I had an especially negative experience with machismo in the bakery across the street from my house, and I walked away from the encounter feeling shaken and sad. It doesn’t feel good at all to be objectified as a woman or as an American. While there are so many things about Ecuadorian culture that I absolutely love, machismo is a huge problem in this society and something that I won’t miss even a little bit when I return to the US.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a culture different than my own and that my time here allows me to not only see daily life, but to live it! It’s amazing to compare and contrast the differences between society in Ecuador and in the US. Both cultures can learn a lot from each other! I’m learning so much about myself and growing so much, and it’s crazy to think that the semester is almost halfway over. Game plan is to focus on absorbing all that I can for the next 2.5 months!