Back to the high altitudes of La Sierra – this time in the south. Cuenca, Ecuador is the capital city of Azuay province and enjoys a cool climate at 2500m above sea level. Our plan is to wander at leisure in this lovely city, visit a local family who run a panaderia (bakery) and drive to Chordeleg and other nearby villages before returning to the coast the next day.
Part of our road trip from La Costa is shrouded in mist and cloud. When we reach the National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas) – gateway to the mountains – to photograph the lakes of glacial origin, we are more than 3000m above sea level. It is now relatively clear, windy and very cold on this October Saturday.
Cuenca was founded in 500 AD as a Canari settlement – “a land as big as heaven”. When the Spanish arrived in 1557 to establish the walled colonial city that stands today, both the Canari and the Inca who had followed them, had abandoned the site.
Cobblestone streets, colonial parks, squares, churches and cathedrals and museums – Cuenca today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Sunday we take a very scenic drive. The pretty town of Chordeleg with its silver and ceramics shops will be the first stop. Our driver, Sergio, has a plan to select a roadside cafeteria for a “typical” family Sunday lunch before visiting his father’s village of Sig Sig. The Pan American Highway will then provide a fast route back to the coast. Hairpin bends, heavy traffic and double lines seem to be of little consequence to our driver and certainly do not slow the speed of our descent from the mountains!
We took few photos on the return to the coast. We were too busy holding on tightly as Sergio drove skilfully (but VERY fast) through the pretty green valleys, sleepy villages, rolling farmland, cloud forest and then the flat rice fields and sugar plantations to reach the outskirts of Guayaquil. The equatorial sunset was incredibly dramatic – huge red sun, golden, hazy light, soft mauve dusk.