Cuenca, Ecuador -- Part 1

New Cathedral with Calderon Park in foreground
Arriving in Cuenca in the evening with heavy rain was perhaps not the best introduction to this lovely city.  Having booked an apartment on Airbnb, we were met at the airport by the couple managing the property and driven into the Historic Center.  As the sun greeted us the following morning, we went out to explore our new neighborhood.  For a city of over 500,000, this is a surprisingly clean city, as all the cities in Ecuador have been.

We headed first to the Parque Abdon Calderon.  Seated between the New Cathedral, started in 1895, and the Old Cathedral, which is now a museum, the park is a great spot for people watching.  First-rate ice cream, cappuccinos or traditional Ecuadorian food is available at restaurants across from the park, which we visited on more than one occasion.  Restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries or ice cream shops seemed to be located about every 100 feet or so.  No lack of eating out options in the city.

Professional shoe-shine vendors are situated in front of the Raymipampa restaurant, and offered to shine Alan's shoes one day.  When Alan pointed out that he was wearing sneakers, the man insisted that they needed to be cleaned, and he wasn't mistaken about that.  A few minutes later, Alan departed with "clean" sneakers, but they were now a bright blue, they had been gray.  With Alan's substantial shoe size, he looked a bit like a giant blue-footed boobie.

Another highlight of the city is the walkway along the Rio Tomebamba.  Considered the most important of the four rivers running through the city, this waterfront area provides a well-maintained green space, with lots of shade and occasional benches for hanging out.  While the path along the river is level, access to the path necessitates maneuvering down (and obviously back up again) the 90 steps to get there, but it's definitely worth it.  At over 8000 feet, everything seems to be a a little bit more of a challenge!

Ruins, looking up from the plantings
In a city with many museums, we narrowed it down to a handful, so we wouldn't be overwhelmed.  On the outskirts of the Historic District, there are two archaeological sites.  For the Pumapungo Museum and Ruins, we split the visit into 2 days because the museum and grounds are so expansive.  Buildings from the Inca and Canari cultures were destroyed in a civil war in the early 1500's prior to the discovery of the area by the Spanish.  Terraces were built to strengthen the hills for the structures on top, and gardens of plants, thought to have been grown by the original inhabitants, are now maintained on the grounds.  An on-site aviary houses injured birds native to the area.  In the museum, dioramas and life-size reenactments of the various cultures of Ecuador are represented.  One of the more unique displays is of the shrunken heads of the Shuar people, from the Amazon region of the country.  This practice was historically used to avenge the death of a relative, but the human shrunken head tradition has been outlawed since the 1930's.

Not far from Pumapungo, the Museo of Manuel Agustin Landivar is the site of other Canari and Inca ruins, which were discovered in 1972 during a private construction project.  The older ruins were overlaid with remnants from the Pre-Colonial Spanish.  As with many of the ruins found in this part of the world, diverse and successive cultures took advantage of the technology left by the previous civilizations.

The nearby Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes presents archeological finds from different historical periods of Ecuador going back to Paleolithic times.  The extensive collection is displayed by time frame and cultures; it starts with arrowheads and axes from 15,000 BC and moves through history to the Inca pottery, jewelry and metal works from 1300-1500 AD.  This fabulous collection was started back in 1992 by an Ecuadorian university professor and his wife, and now consists of over 5000 pieces.  It was a remarkable walk through the history of this country.

We've covered a lot of territory during our visit to Cuenca, so I'm dividing the story into 2 parts.  More to come soon.

Mirador de Turi, an old church looking down on the city.
Alan getting his sneakers "cleaned"
Gold leaf altar and pink marble in the interior of the New Cathedral
Flower Market
Natures best lawnmowers at the ruins
                                               From the Neolithic Era around 4500 BC

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