May 18, 2014 – May 20, 2014
After hiking in the central highlands we moved on to Cuenca in southern Ecuador, and our last city before the Peruvian border.
After yet another all night bus ride, from Latacunga we arrived in Cuenca bright and early at 6am, and walked with our big packs to the hostel. After settling in we headed out for breakfast, it was Sunday however so almost every business was closed.
A note on Sundays in South America; it seems the entire continent shuts down on Sundays. We have learned not to make too many plans on Sundays that involve business transactions, unless you are in a big city almost nothing is open.
We did discover one café was open amongst the sea of closed up shops and stopped in, we were surprised to find a café that was owned and operated and frequented by Americans. It seems that Cuenca, Ecuador has a rather large population of American ex-pats and retirees. American style coffee! breakfast and conversation in English were an unexpected change. The cheap prices, pleasant city, nice climate and the fact that Ecuador already uses United States currency makes Ecuador, and particularly Cuenca, an attractive city for many retirees. We saw more Americans in Cuenca than we had in any other city so far on our trip.
After touring the city, the following day we took a bus for an hour ride to the next town where we heard there was a large orchid plantation. Along the way you can see many walled and guarded compounds with collections of nice large homes and condos where we presume many of the Americans around Cuenca live.
Ecuagenera – An Orchid Plantation
The Ecuagenera orchid plantation was truly massive with thousands of different species of orchids growing in huge green houses. We were given a private tour and shown many of the different rarer orchids. Some have extremely specific and interesting ways that they are pollinated. Ecuagenera competes and regularly wins worldwide orchid competitions, and are one of the world’s largest orchid suppliers.
Ruins of Pumapungo
Situated right in the heart of the city, the Pumapungo ruins are free to visit, quite well preserved and easily within walking distance of the central plaza. We explored these ruins on our final day in the city.
Before we left we wanted to try an alcoholic drink that is popular in Ecuador, the canelazo, served steaming hot. After ordering it we were surprised to get a whole pitcher of hot alcohol and two shot glasses. The drink is so big and strong that it is meant to be shared amongst a large group. You can either take it in shots or sip it, either way it is extremely strong. We barely made a dent on our pitcher when we decided that we had had enough! After some dinner, we headed to the bus station for our overnight bus through the border to Chiclayo, Peru.