We had a plan for Cuenca Ecuador, a colonial town becoming popular with retirees from North America and Europe. We would get the second round of tent parts shipped there while we checked out the city for a week or so. We grabbed a room at Hostal AlterNative, a sparkling clean and well-run hostel about 15 minute walk from the center. George immediately stuck a pin in the hostel’s world map, the first Bulgarian to visit. A day later he met the second Bulgarian to visit. George gets a special kind of excited when he meets another Bulgarian, so he quickly flew up to our room smiling ear to ear to share the news.
A week of waiting quickly turned into two as our parts got held up by customs and FedEx employee laziness. Waiting for anything can quickly put a bitter taste in your mouth, but we kept things in perspective and explored Cuenca and the surrounding area.
Cheap veggie food, woohoo!
Guess which one belongs to George
River running through Cuenca
Street art close to the city mirador
View from the top
Our next expedition vehicle?
Standing on top
One of the many squares
Ecuador vs. Colombia
Cajas is a wonderful national park just 45 minutes outside of Cuenca. Hikers are greeted with hundreds of lakes and lagoons (most have lake trout), llamas, and stunning views. The weather was pretty shit temperamental when we were there, but the chilling rain didn’t detract from the scenery. We drove through a blue-skyed Cajas again on the way out of Cuenca. That’s highlands weather for you.
Thankfully, we had some company (Aaron and Linda) in Cuenca to drown our waiting blues in drinks and visit the Sunday markets and hot springs in the surround villages. The first order of business was for the guys to try the cuy (roasted guinea pig). A whole cuy will set you back about $10 – $12 USD, luxury eating in Ecuador. The verdict? Apparently it tastes like chicken 🙂
Delicious coconut juice
Taking a nap
Rodents on spits
George getting in on the action
Our parts finally cleared customs and we made a run for the border, excited to be heading into Peru.
A friend of mine once told me how much she liked transitions, getting warm after being cold for example. As we crossed from a bumpy dirt road to a paved road heading to Colombia’s Valley of the Sun, I was thinking about her and how much I agreed. Especially because it looked like we didn’t need to be on said dirt road to begin with. The transition from Villa de Leyva to Lake Tota (in the Valley of the Sun) also came to mind. One (Villa de Leyva) is a popular place to visit for Colombians and is becoming more popular for foreigners, while the other seems almost untouched by outsiders (although there has been a clear influx of government money to the area). Both are well worth a visit.
We pitched a tent at Colombian Highlands Hostel. The hostel has great communal space as well as a hike starting at the back of the property to a lookout of Villa de Leyva.
Colombian Highlands Hostel
The hostel provided us with a map of ample places to visit in the nearby countryside, so we took a little tour. The clay house you see in the photos was surprisingly interesting if only for the ancient Italian coffee maker we discovered. The first words out of George’s mouth were, “Should we buy it?”.
What did we find in the mud house? An ancient Italian coffee maker still in working condition.
This is the area around Lago de la Tota (Lake Tota). Small colonial towns rim the lake. You’ll also find a white sand Andean beach (Playa Blanca) at 3015 meters which of course we camped on. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had driving through the lush rolling hills around the lake. It looks like just about everything is grown in the fertile soil. If you’re looking for excitement, don’t visit. If you’re looking for authentic Colombian villages and some high Andean camping, please visit.
I’ve done my fare share of raving about some other colonial cities, but Cartagena really stands alone. Why you ask? Start with the fact that it’s gorgeous and well preserved. Add in the fact that it still feels like a Colombian city. Sure, there are plenty of tourists about, but Cartagena hasn’t (yet) been bought up by foreigners. Finally, throw in a cultural focus on the arts and you end up with something amazing.
In between the port runs, we managed to check out the city. We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood. A slightly less gentrified and more affordable version of the walled old town neighborhood. Both offer plenty of eye candy.
My favorite moment in the city is chancing upon an art walk. A run down street had been transformed by local artists until such time when the properties would be developed. This was an organized effort. A local man even stopped to explain the art and make a point about the countries focus on the arts.
I knew I was going to love Granada when we pulled in. Touristy yes, but with that came beautiful colonial buildings, nice cafes, and a well-maintained central square. We of course headed to get our internets fix. That night, we decided to camp out along the lake. Scouting the area, we came across two Mercedes trucks (German travellers, of course). We asked to crash next to them (safety in numbers and all that). The next morning, we chatted with one of our neighbors (Sonja, Claus, and Mia). They joined us for breakfast at one of the restaurants along a pedestrian street. We then strolled around the city. Did I mention Claus is also a kiter? The men soon hashed out a plan to head for the nearest kite spot (oh gee).