Having never been to Australia, I had wanted to visit this winter, but as oil prices continued to plunge and the Canadian dollar dropped 30%, it quickly became too expensive, so my husband and I decided to spend more time in Cuenca, a UNESCO Heritage Site. We had explored much of Ecuador last year, and of all the places we visited, Cuenca by far had the most promise. We thought it lovely — the domes of the new cathedral reminded me of Florence, so we decided that when we returned to Ecuador we would spend more time there. Evidently we are not alone in our thinking, as it has become a popular spot for American and Canadian expatriates.
We arrived on a hot, sunny New Year’s Day and were picked up at the small local airport by our friendly host. We rented a condo from him in the new town which is just perfect for our needs. There is only one bedroom, but it is upstairs in a loft-like set-up, giving us extra space. Downstairs we have a large, fully equipped kitchen and a living area where we spend a good deal of time. The neighborhood is modern and mostly residential, with a number of restaurants and shops within easy access.
Cuenca is divided into two parts, the old town and the new; they are separated by the Tomebamba River, along which one will find a beautiful walk way lined with trees. The old town, or historic center, is only six blocks from our condo, but to get there, you have to cross the river and walk up a steep hill or climb the fifty stone steps. Cuenca is over 8,000 feet about sea level, so the thin air (less oxygen) takes some getting used to. I suffered from altitude sickness during the first week. Two days were especially bad, so I slept a lot. For some people it is much worse. You can actually pass out or get sick to your stomach. I only suffered from a lack of appetite (much needed), some dizziness and general fatigue, making me a bit lethargic, but I am getting over it now that I’ve been here two weeks.
There are two seasons in Cuenca, the wet and the dry. What we consider winter is their wet season, but it is actually the warmer of the two. In the afternoon it generally ranges from 70-75 F in the sun while the evenings can be cool, requiring a jacket. This year is unusually dry, so when it finally did rain, the next day I noticed that many of the trees were in bloom. Here is a shot of Jacaranda trees on a street only a few blocks from where we are staying. There are other blossoms as well, some yellow, some pink and a few are red.
Ecuador actually grows and exports many flowers. There is even a flower market across from the New Cathedral.
The main square, or Parquet Calderon, is simply gorgeous and one can sit and watch the people, who are generally quite gentle and friendly.
Another beautiful square is San Sebastian. It is smaller, but even lovelier. On the corner there is a popular café called San Sebas. Mostly expats eat there as they serve delicious hamburgers, evidently an important staple for the homesick.
There is no shortage of food in Cuenca. A quick look on Tripadvisor shows over forty restaurants. My husband and I are gradually making the rounds. While some are inevitably better than others, they do not disappoint. One that I especially like is called the Windhorse Café. What an enchanting name! It is a very small café, run by an older couple who must have migrated here some time ago. The breakfasts, soups, salads and lunches are all delicious and unbelievably inexpensive.
To save money, one can also buy fresh food. There is an old market near the centre that sells fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meat and fish. We shop there for the shrimp, which are large and cost a mere $5 a pound. The produce is also much cheaper than in the supermarket. We also found an excellent Italian butcher that sells all the meat we need, such as chicken and steaks. We have yet to try the chorizo sausages, but they look tempting.
Mornings I spend on my computer and listen to meditation taps, then my husband and I walk to a restaurant for lunch, do some shopping, and return home to read. Fortunately we don’t have cable television, so after making dinner, I spend the rest of the evening reading. This is my idea of the good life.