South of the Equator to the Southern Highlands

After a long and, due to fog and twisting roads, harrowing 9 hour bus ride, we made it from Latacunga to Cuenca.  (We’re staying off of long bus rides the rest of this trip!)

Cuenca is quieter than we expected, but we lucked into coinciding with the 12th Bienal de Cuenca.  We’ve now managed to hit two Bienals, one in Cartagena and here in Cuenca.  Probably, given the location, the artwork in Cartagena was a bit stronger than in Cuenca .  However, here, in Cuenca, the theme “Ir para volver” or “Leaving to Return” inspired some interesting pieces.  Plus, it has given us an opportunity to explore neighborhoods and buildings we wouldn’t normally see visiting a city for a few days.

Prior to the Spanish arriving in the 1500s, the Cuenca area was home to Inca and Canari cultures.  However, there is very little left of the indigenous cultures. Today, the architecture is an eclectic mix of brick, stone, metal and stucco buildings interconnected by many plazas and, of course, lots of churches. The streets are paved in large cobblestones and some of the blank building walls are painted with street art.

One rainy day (we’ve had very few this trip), we headed up to Cajas National Park 30 km outside of Cuenca. The park is high Andes grasslands dotted with hundreds of lakes at around 12,500 feet. It was cold and windy, but beautiful with llamas roaming wild, numerous waterfalls and colorful flora species. Our guide (good to have a guide because of fog, cold and lost hikers), Julio, brought us to an excellent restaurant that was also a trout farm where we found several dogs, one of them stuffed.

After five days in Cuenca we head tomorrow to Vilcabamba, a five hour drive south of Cuenca and from 7600 feet to a warmer, dryer 4500 feet.

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