Saturday, October 3, 2009


We had two full days in Cuenca, a city in the Southern highlands of Ecuador.  It is the third biggest city in Ecuador and was named a UNESCO heritage site.  I should add that UNESCO seems to throw around its heritage site designations like confetti, but at least it indicates it is not a total dump.  Cuenca did not disappoint - it it the most intact colonial city we saw in either Ecuador or Peru.  It is also the home of the Panama Hat industry.  Ironically, the Panama hat has always been made it Panama, mostly in and around Cuenca, but was mis-named because it was associated with workers building the Panama Canal that wore them.

We spent the day walking around the city, enjoying the architecture and the ice cream.  This is real dairy country, so the ice cream shops were everywhere and had great, homemade ice cream.  This was also our last chance to buy souvenirs.  We held off on a lot of shopping, since we were traveling with carry-ons and did not want to load up our bags.  I was also on a quest to buy an Andean-style fedora.  It is amazing that you see thousands on indigenous people wearing these felt fedoras, but you never see them for sale anywhere.  I did manage to finally find one made by one of Ecuador's most well-known hat maker.

Cuenca is quite a laid-back City.  It has more of a "cafe culture" than other places in Ecuador and people generally seem to like to mill about the streets, even at night (way more safer than Quito).  There was a small-scale riot going on the whole time we were there, but it was across the river in the university district, so we weren't really affected.  Not really sure what it was about, but we did see people cheering on the riot police heading to the scene, so my guess is that it was the usual college-kid riot.  People generally disregarded it, so we even forgot to ask people what it was about.

There was some sort of "tourist"celebration going on when we were there.  At night, we watched a free concert in the main square, which was fun (except for the group doing 70's soft rock hits in Spanish - "Killing Me Softly" and so on).  They even had fireworks. Mostly locals that were enjoying it, but there were a fair number of touristicos about, as well.

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