I met many savvy travelers of all ages, professions, and personalities last year in Ecuador. It’s a little country where there’s so much exploring to do. I don’t know why people say, “Ecuador? You went to Ecuador? Why?” I want to say, “Go and you will find out. ” However, I don’t know why Ecuador. Why any country?
Quito, the capital, has what every big, wonderful, high-energy city has – museums, fine restaurants, a good transportation system, many clean hostals run by friendly people, hotels with all the amenities, excellent shopping, beautiful parks, magnificent churches, great walking neighborhoods, galleries, etc. Neighborhoods to stay away from and neighborhoods for strolling. Don’t let the armed guards fool you. The situation is not as it looks. The guidebooks say beware of crime. They also say that about Manhattan where I am at the moment.
It was early evening when the plane landed in Quito. The airport is small and clean and uniformed employees direct everyone to the exist. Cafe Cultura was on my list of places to stay, and I needed to call to reserve a room. I experienced a few sweaty moments attempting to use the phone and then the nearby attendant came to help. Cafe Cultura had a room www.cafecultura.com . The brochure in my room said it’s owned by an Norwegian. It was charming and friendly. In Ecuador it’s easy to find places to stay for $10 and they’re really okay places, but I find staying at a really feel- good place the first few nights in a foreign country is important. The location was perfect. After three days, I reserved a room at La Casa Sol to be in a different location www.lacasasol.com . I walked, and walked to get a feel for Quito. My idea was to not stay long in a big city, but to return there before leaving for the States.
It was time to visit Cuenca, a beautiful colonial city in the southern part of Ecuador. My book said that in 1999 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site. The lovely people at La Casa Sol, realizing I had neglected to learn their language, offered to make a reservation for me at Hotel Inca Real in Cuenca. The Hotel was once a private residence. It was quaint and lovely. The rooms were surrounded by a courtyard. Courtyards play a prominent role in many structures. Most are beautiful and tranquil. The people working at the hotel had an old-fashioned reserve in their manner. They were always extremely gracious to the foreigner who only spoke English. It was almost painful for me to watch their expression every time I approached the desk.
Cuenca has its share of foreigners who have set up busineses, are studying Spanish, or simply enjoying a different culture for a few months. There are many beautiful old churches and parks, outdoor markets, small stores for shopping, and restaurants where you can get a good meal. On Sunday it’s practically a ghost town as natives and tourists alike take off to visit the surrounding areas.
I’d been in Cuenca for a few weeks when it occurred to me to do something about the daily frustration of not knowing Spanish. I enrolled at the Abraham Lincoln on Borrero 5-18. Admittedly, I was not the best student there, but learned enough words to enliven the time I’d be in Ecuador. Once you study the design of the city, Cuenca is small enough to get around easily by foot. The streets are named after historical persons or events and, at first, it was rather dizzying trying to read the map.
After six weeks, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to the wonderful big market where I bought all my fruits and vegetables negotiating prices in Spanish, the Austria Cafe, Raymipampa, Plaza Rotary, lunch at El Maiz and Moliendo Cafe, Culture Aborigenes, Musea de las Culturas, San Francisco Market for sweaters, shawls and hammocks, Museo de las Conceptas for delicious pastries made by the few nuns still remaining in the historic convent, Museo del Banco Central, so many places, so much delicious ice cream, and some very wonderful people. But, alas, I grabbed my Panama hat and took a bus to . . .
A place in a valley in southern Ecuador called Vilcabamba.