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To Ingapirca and Cuenca

Chimborazo partially obscured by clouds as we finally catch a glimpse far to the west of it.

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).

A herd of vicuña gallivanting across the high flanks of Chimborazo. They have been re-established here after being wiped out earlier in history.

A bit blurry, but a close-up of vicuña.

It was a beautiful ride across the flanks of Chimborazo. Here’s a few shots as we approached and then looped around it.

In Ecuador, fantastic green countryside with iconic volcanoes poking up along the long north-to-south crest of the Andes.

Looking back to the southwest from the high flank of Chimborazo.

Amidst bored, snoring passengers we were along in craning and bending ourselves around the interior of the bus to catch views like this.

This is one of my favorite shots from the whole month-long trip, Chimborazo as seen from due south, after we'd crossed the mountain and were starting to approach the city of Riobamba.

Across the valley in which Riobamba sits is another volcano, El Altar, which blew up long ago and left this jagged, amazing view.

El Altar.

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.

This is the intersection in Cañar where we were dropped in the middle of the night when there was no one and nothing out and about, quite eerie!

A five-minute walk from our hotel, here I am above Ingapirca, the best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador.

The Inca road system equalled that of the Romans. Here is a sign indicating the water system built into the road.

We caught up with the guide who did a fine job of detailing the history of the site. Here he is describing the use of this rock full of 28 holes as a lunar calendar.

This was our first close-up look at the incredible Incan stonework, requiring no mortar or cement, each stone fitted perfectly to those around them. We saw a lot more of this as we got closer to the heart of the Inca Empire later in Peru.

The temple has been restored after centuries of neglect, and it's quite a remarkable structure.

It was brisk but beautiful while we wandered around.

Here Adri is toasting our journey with a Canalazo, a local liqueur we loved.

The Posada Ingapirca is a beautiful place and has a fantastic restaurant too.

I ate as much fresh mountain Trout as I could get!

A tu salud!

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.

Spraying canned foam and throwing water are favorite activities of Carnaval celebrations in Ecuador.

Adriana enjoyed getting nailed a bit more than I did!

Fireworks ensued after a bit.

We were completely charmed by the river running through Cuenca, here at night.

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!

Critical Mass in Cuenca, Ecuador--every Thursday night!

Here's Adriana getting contact info for Jaime Lopez Novillo, whom we met the next evening and had a great chat!

And away they went!

We came upon this sign which was promoting the Day of Alternative Transit the next day, and here says "Cuenca Walks, And Does not Contaminate".

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.

Some nice stencils on the bridge over the river.

This is part of a huge block-long, two-sided mural by the same artist on a two-story stairway.

Next entry: A bit more of Cuenca from daylight, and then our 22-hour bus journey across the border into Peru…

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