Thursday, April 7: City Tour

It was raining when we got up this morning and fixed breakfast. The rain stopped about 9:30 so I did some laundry in the sink and hung the stuff up to dry. By 10:30 it appeared as though it was going to clear up and so we walked over to the central square, Parque Abdon Calderon. We checked with the lady in the ITur office about the city tour and were told that the bus left from in front to the old cathedral at 11:00 am and that the driver would collect the fare of $5 per person.
Double-decker city tour bus
Before long the double-decker tour bus arrived. We got on board and claimed the right front seats on the upper deck. For a while it looked like there were only a few passengers, all Gringos and most from Canada. However, shortly before we left a large group of elementary school kids and their teachers got on board. We checked with the tour guide and he assured us that he would provide commentary in both Spanish and English.

The bus circled the central plaza and then headed West along Simon Bolivar. Our upper deck seats provided a close-up view of the colonial architecture of the buildings in the old city.

Wrought-iron balcony
Wrought-iron balcony
Colonial architecture
Colonial architecture
Simon Boulivar street
Simon Bolivar street

We turned left on Tarqui. On the corner of Tarqui and Simon Bolivar is the San Sebastian Church. To the left of the church is the San Sebastian plaza with trees and walkways. The street beside the church divides and creates a creates a very narrow wedge of buildings between the two streets.

San Sebastian Plaza
San Sebastian Plaza
San Sebastian Church
San Sebastian Church
Simon Bolivar divides
Simon Bolivar divides

From there we went West, crossed the Rio Tombamba and then came back up in the area where they are restoring the Plazoleta de “El Vado” and the stone retaining wall along the street. As we turned East onto Calle Larga, we passed a building whose roof was decorated with statues of various animals. A block or two East brought us to the main food market in central Cuenca.

Plazoleta de "El Vado"
Plazoleta de “El Vado”
Animal roof decorations
Animal roof decorations
Old city food market
Old city food market

We proceeded East along Calle Larga past the Hat museum (more later) and our hostel to the broken bridge (Puenta Roto). At one time this stone bridge spanned the Rio Tombamba. However, it was partially washed away during a particularly violent flood in 1950. It now serves as a sort of lookout point to the south of the city and as the location of an arts festival. The security guards in front of the Banco Central certainly look like they mean business. At Av. Huayna Capac we turned South and passed the Inca ruins behind the museum that we explored on Tuesday.

Broken bridge (Puenta Roto)
Broken bridge (Puenta Roto)
Security at Banco Central
Security at Banco Central
Inca ruins behind museum
Inca ruins behind museum

Just before crossing the Rio Tombamba we passed a statue of the Incan leader, Huayna Capac, who extended the Incan Empire to its most northern limits. His sons engaged in a horrific civil war, which opened the way for the relatively easy Spanish conquest. Across the river we came to a simple church, the Iglesia El Vergel, a church in the style of the Spanish missions in California rather than the ornate Spanish Colonial style typical of the rest of the city. We then drove through the iron workers’ neighborhood. This is where you go to get blacksmithing work done. There is a large statue honoring the blacksmithing tradition in this area.

The Incan leader, Huayna Capac
The Incan leader, Huayna Capac
Iglesia El Vergel
Iglesia El Vergel
Monument to the Blacksmiths
Monument to the Blacksmiths

From there we drove back to the Rio Tombamba passing the Regional Hospital and the Solca Institute that provides support to cancer patients and their families. We soon came to the traffic circle at Pancarbamba with it’s statue honoring ????.

Regional hospital
Regional hospital
Solca Institute
Solca Institute
Statue of ????
Statue of ????

We turned South onto Fray Vicente Solari, a major thoroughfare with a broad boulevard and passed the Collegio Benigno Malo (one of the first three public high schools in Ecuador). We continued past the statue honoring ??? This is new Cuenca and these are some of the modern apartment complexes in this area.

Collegio Benigno Malo
Collegio Benigno Malo
Statue honoring ???
Statue honoring ???
Modern apartment complex
Modern apartment complex

The bus now climbed a steep hill to the church Santa Ana of the Four Rivers of Cuenca.

Approaching the church
Approaching the church
St. Ann of the Four Rivers of Cuenca
St. Ann of the Four Rivers of Cuenca
Statuary in the churchyard
Statuary in the churchyard

Tour bus waits for usThe tour bus stopped here for about 25 minutes to give us an opportunity to take pictures of Cuenca in the valley below and to visit the various handicraft shops.

West Cuenca
West Cuenca
Central Cuenca
Central Cuenca
East Cuenca
East Cuenca

We came down the hill and drove past the Rio Mall, the largest modern shopping center in Cuenca. Note that there is security at all entrances to the parking lots. Is this to keep undesirables out? After the mall we followed the river back to Fray Vicente Solari and turned back towards the center of Cuenca.

Rio Shopping Center
Rio Shopping Center
Security at parking entrances
Security at parking entrances
Following the river
Following the river

Before long, we were back in old Cuenca and the tour was over. Although the 11:00 am tour was billed as having an English commentary, at least 95% of what the guide said was in Spanish. We complained to the Ministry of Tourism office and were informed that we certainly not the first to register a complaint. Tourists who do not speak Spanish are advised NOT to bother taking the city bus tour.

While we were at the iTur office I noticed these signs posted on the door. Since we needed some veggies for supper we walked over to the food market. On the way we passed a shop in the handicraft market selling all manner of cooking pots.

Lodging for rent
Lodging for rent
Cooking pots for sale
Cooking pots for sale

On the way home from the market we walked down Calle Larga and stopped in to see the Sombrero Museum. They had various types of hat-making equipment and a wide variety of Panama hats. They only had the low grade ($18) available in my size (XXXL) althought they would make a finer grade hat for me ($100). I may go back and get one of the $18 hats and wear it on the way home. Although you can flatten and roll up a Panama hat, they should not be kept like that for more than a couple of days or they will not retain their shape. I may get a good one just before we fly home.

The Sombrero Museum The hat-making company
The hat-making company
Hat forming press
Hat forming press
Women's straw hats
Women’s straw hats
Selection of men's hats
Selection of men’s hats
More women's hats
More women’s hats

Little vs big
As we walked home I couldn’t help but laugh at the driver of the micro-van who was beeping his horn frantically trying to get the big city bus to move.

I made spaghetti for supper tonight. Later on we went to the Creperie just up the block. Nan and I both had a crepe with sugar and lemon on it (sort of like a German pancake at the Pancake House). I had a coffee and Nan had a hot chocolate. The bill was $5.50.

Pouring on the batter
Pouring on the batter
Turning the crepe
Turning the crepe
Enjoying the crepe
Enjoying the crepe