To Ingapirca and Cuenca
Our journey continues through the Ecuadorian Andes (sorry to all who might be waiting for me to finish this… my plate in San Francisco has been super full lately, so I’m trying to get to this as soon as I can). We left Salinas on a hilariously speeding ride in the back of a pickup through the emerald green terraced mountains, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous volcano Chimborazo. Suddenly it appeared in the distance, swathed in clouds, but after we switched to a bus in Guaranda we took a route across the western and southern flanks of the mountain, and got incredible close-up views of it. Perhaps one of the most magical moments of our trip was seeing a herd of vicuña (an antelope-like creature that lives only in the high Andes, a cousin to alpacas and llamas–my mother had tasked us with bringing her back some vicuña wool to knit with but we learned that it was banned since the animals are extremely endangered).
It was a beautiful ride across the flanks of Chimborazo. Here’s a few shots as we approached and then looped around it.
Across the valley in which Riobamba sits is another volcano, El Altar, which blew up long ago and left this jagged, amazing view.
We were trying to make several connections and unfortunately we had to wait two hours in Riobamba for the bus going south towards Cuenca. Our plan was to stop at Cañar, a town nearest to the Inca ruins at Ingapirca. It turned out to be one of our most harrowing moments of the trip. We finally arrived in Cañar at midnight. We’d called ahead to our hotel, the charming Posada Ingapirca (which sits adjacent to the ruins, about 25 kilometers from the Panamericana highway we were dropped off on), and the guy who we spoke to said, no problem, just grab a taxi at the bus station. Problem was, no bus station. No taxis. Nothing. Just a desolate intersection where the bus dropped us. No stores, no bars, no restaurants, not even any cars parked anywhere. It was eerie. We walked around for 40 minutes trying to find a cab or anything, but no luck. We called the hotel again, and finally they agreed to find someone to come and get us. Another 45 minutes later a guy in a pickup pulled up and drove us to the Posada. We were feeling a bit vulnerable out there as the occasional car or bus or truck rolled by, but as I told Adriana, the chances of a predator/criminal being out there when there was absolutely NOTHING moving was really low. In fact no one ever paid us a bit of attention and we were in bed by 1:30 a.m. outside of Ingapirca in a fantastic old hacienda.
After spending the morning at Ingapirca we caught the bus to Cuenca and found ourselves in what might be Ecuador’s most beautiful city. And unlike the other towns in the country, Cuenca stayed open and alive well into the night. Of course, Carnaval preparations were fully underway as we arrived, so we headed into the city center and were soon being sprayed with foam and watching live bands and fireworks.
As we wandered around Cuenca on our first night we were shooting a lot of photos, including of some samba dancers who were cooking along at one busy spot. As we looked away from them much to our amazement, here came a Critical Mass ride! We met Jaime Lopez Novillo, one of the main activists in town, who turns out to have been promoting cycling in Ecuador for the past three decades, organizing rides, and he even has a weekly radio show every Sunday night across the country!
Cuenca completely charmed us. There were great museums, beautiful architecture, and great public art too… Here’s a whole gallery of graffiti from one of the staircases that run from the busy center of town down to the river.
Next entry: A bit more of Cuenca from daylight, and then our 22-hour bus journey across the border into Peru…