Checking In From Cuenca, Ecuador
February 4, 2009 by rtwsenior
Whew! This has been one of those weeks in which I ask myself why I do this. It`s been a hard three and a half days and I`m sure you might be wondering if someone should send in the troops. Nope! It`s just that cities here, even within the same country, are not easy to reach quickly. Very labor-intensive. But, I have arrived in a real beauty of a place and plan to stay for a few days, so you`ll be hearing more about Cuenca, Ecuador soon. First, to catch you up:
1) I got sick. When? Saturday? No, last Friday night…(today is Wednesday)…with a sore throat. I tried over-the-counter medicine all day Saturday and finally resorted to my antibiotic prescription meds hoping that the thing would respond and not prove to be a virus. It did, but didn`t clear up all the symptoms, so I`m still coughing and hacking. Spent a lot of Sunday resting and drinking hot lemonade, sweetly cared for by my host family.
2) I spent Monday on a long, hot series of buses, creeping down the cloud forest and farming regions of Ecuador towards Guayaquil because the road back to Quito had been washed away in Saturday`s 12-hour deluge. The night was spent in a cold water (what else is new?) hostel there and then yesterday, I took a small six-passenger bus back into the mountains to Cuenca. We were to travel through a wild National Forest, a route which I had chosen because it was reputed to be only 3.5 hours long, as opposed to the more civilized way lasting five hours. Ha!
Those were the scariest mountains I have ever crossed; so high that they remain perpetually clouded with fog and the roads are so pitted with enormous potholes below the steep places that are most likely for more boulders to come crashing down to pock any passing vehicles as well as the pavement. Crews must clean them up regularly because you see piles of this natural artillery pushed to the side, or else great swaths of mud carrying guard rails off the edge in their slow-motion disappearance. We traveled for four hours in thick fog at an altitude so high that my sealed lotion bottles built up a vacuum from the air pressure the same way they do on airplanes.
Couple this nail-biting excitement with the distressing things that my body was involved in:
1. The simplest, but most obvious, was that I could smell the exhaust, or maybe the burning of our brake pads, from my rear seat. This sent me into paroxyzms of coughing so I kept taking small slugs of water to try to control it so that my fellow passengers wouldn`t worry about my contageousness.
2. I`m one of those folks who believe that a bathroom stop is in order at least every two or three hours and this hair-raising ride lasted a full five hours, from portal to portal, without a break. The cough control drinks weren`t helping.
3. By day three of my bacteria-killing medication, all of my good bacteria were long dead, as well, and I hadn`t found any yogurt with live cultures to replace them. Anyone who has ever been in the same boat knows exactly how distended a belly can become when the good bacteria are gone. Not at all comfortable under the best of circumstances, but then, try slamming along for hours on a corduroy road full of deep potholes. It`s a test of endurance of the highest order.
The driver was very sweet and he drives this route every single day. I couldn`t understand why all the passengers didn´t beg for the nearest bathroom when we finally made it to the beautiful city of Cuenca, but most went their separate ways while he showed me to his transport office´s baño. Then, he offered to drive me to the hostal that I had selected out of my Lonely Planet. Dennis was one of the other passengers who also needed to find a hotel, so he decided to tag along with me to my Hostal Monasterio. He is traveling with a humongous soft cloth suitcase and when we got to the hostal (that´s how they spell it down here) entrance, we learn that it is six floors up at the very top of the building and the elevator is broken.
I have my huge pack strapped on my back and my big daypack across my chest, so I start climbing, laughing about having to climb Cotopaxi twice in the same week. Dennis buzzes up on the intercom and asks someone to come down and help him with his. This young lady in high heels comes clacking down and the two of them wrestle the monster up the ninety-four steps, passing me in the process, though I did manage to tease him mercilessly for not being able to carry his own weight. Obviously, that´s what bellboys are for in his book. When I rounded the top of the stairs, he was already signing up for a private room with bath for $10 per night. Not the only one, I hoped, since he was coat-tailing on my hostal search. Luckily, she had another one for the same price, or I´d have been really upset with this 32-year old travel novice.
This isn´t really a wonderful hostal as there´s only cold water and the bed is very dippy and uncomfortable, but the view of the city is stunning and I´ll stay at least two nights to give me time to find a really good place. You can´t beat the price and it´s located perfectly in the center of the best part of the old city.
So, off I go now to find a perfect spot to lay me down. This city, as beautiful as it is, turns out to be the least expensive so far. My huge dinner last night cost under $5. This is a great vacation destination, seems to me. Carl and Jose were very impressed with it and I can sure see why. Okay, more soon.