I met another backpacker in my hostel in Cuenca. We decided to walk around the city. I didn’t write down many details in my journal but as far as I remember, we took a bus to the lookout as both of us wanted to go there.
I think she arrived in Cuenca before I did so she knew the bearing (or maybe she just had a better sense of direction than I).
She also knew Spanish. As our bus went past a bridge, she taught me the word puenta. She said, ‘you can see quite a few street signs saying puenta here.’ I had no idea. 😅
Anyway, we arrived at the lookout and we both agreed that we made a good decision. Cuenca was beautiful and the lookout offered a view that confirmed that. I remember saying to her, ‘I can see myself retiring in this place.’ She agreed and she said, ‘so you should stay in Cuenca for a longer time.’ Honestly, I didn’t plan to stay in Ecuador for this long. I wanted to move on to other places. Cuenca was supposedly to be a stopover for me. My plan was to go from there to Peru. But now, I wasn’t sure.
We found a nice building at the lookout so we walked towards it. It turned out it was a posh restaurant.
Then it started to rain.
There was no shelter there except the restaurant so we walked in.
It was a really nice place and there was no guest there except the two of us.
The waiter took us to a table and recommended a few drinks to us. The price was… I remember it was quite cheap for a person who had a job but quite expensive for a long term backpacker but we each ordered a drink anyway.
The restaurant had huge windows and it played old English songs like Beatles’ Yesterday. We started changing the lyrics as we talked about Guinea pigs, the delicacy in South America, and fitted silly words into the song like ‘Guinea pigs, you are being eaten by us everyday…’ I don’t remember how else we changed it but it was really fun for us. The waiter let us try the alcoholic drink canelazo. Guess what happened afterwards? We drank and laughed and continued to make up some words for those old easy listening songs. We had such a good time. 😁
And then all of a sudden, we saw a rainbow through the large windows.
We stood by the windows and took photos. It wasn’t just one whole arch. It was a double rainbow!! With the background music, I decided to take a video.
After that, every time I saw a rainbow, I was with some Swiss travellers. Believe it or not. 😄
I don’t remember when we went to the information centre in the city centre but I remember when I was still deciding if I should stay in Cuenca for one more night, a lady at the information centre asked about a thermal bath package. Then we found out about a ‘two for one discount’ package offered by that place every week and it happened that it was on the very next day. Helen looked at me. I was so tempted to do that because it was so cheap. USD15 per person for half a day after the discount. That was the time when I decided to stay in Cuenca for one more night. Look, I’m female. Good deals like this don’t come very often. So you need to seize the chance. 😄 Helen was of course very happy about it. But she forgot I had no sense of direction so on the next day, I was a little late for that. Keep reading…
After having fun at the restaurant at the lookout, we went back and I think we ate something and headed back to our rooms.
Because the half day two-for-one discount package could only be used starting from the evening, I roamed around the city in the morning to check out the churches. My plan was to visit them all but of course I couldn’t. There were too many of them. When I came back to the hostel, I saw Helen again. She was talking to a Spanish guy. I suggested we go to Pumapungo (ruins in the city centre). The Spanish guy had been there already. He highly recommended it and handed us a leaflet. Having worked in Mexico, Helen had been to many spectacular ruins and she loved them. So, there we went.
Pumapungo means puma’s door. It was the first developed zone of the Inca city of Tumipamba. It was mainly a religious, military, political and administrative centre. So, you can imagine, it was quite big.
It was very sunny. Helen took me there as if she knew the way and as if she had been there before. I just needed to follow her. I really enjoyed being taken around by a knowledgeable person. 😄 I had been reading maps for quite some time. I just wanted to relax. Honestly, if it weren’t because of her, I wouldn’t have found the entrance of the ruins. It was quite hidden. It sat behind a retail bank and beside a museum.
If I didn’t have the map, I would have thought it was just a huge park. I saw some tunnels, a round disk, a house – reproduced… It was so interesting. There were also signs introducing the plants grown in Andean region. It was very informative. There was an aviary too with different kinds of birds. After walking around for an hour or so, Helen suggested we should go as she wanted to make good use of the 2 for 1 offer which was supposed to start at 5pm. So we left.
I wanted to book the ticket to Cuzco at LAN office so Helen took me there. (I had the LAN office address with me). I couldn’t book it online as the system somehow didn’t accept my credit card.
While I was booking my flights, the weather changed. Helen wanted to go back to the hostel to take a jacket so she went back first. Well, I went back to the hostel by myself again. Guess what happened? I got lost again. But this time, it was ok. I didn’t go very far. But still I was late. We couldn’t be there at 5pm sharp because of me. ☹️ Sorry.
(The following is about our luxurious spa experience. 🙂 Keep reading if you are interested. Otherwise, you can wait for my next blog. 🙂 )
Helen and I took a bus to the thermal bath. The bus driver told us where to get off but Helen didn’t understand fully. Very fortunately a passenger was going to that direction too. After we got off the bus, he took us there. That was so kind of him.
When we arrived at the place, we were greeted by the staff. What we didn’t expect was each one of us was assigned to a personal butler. 😱 We only paid USD15 per person. What more could we ask for? Helen said, ‘you don’t need to have a lot of money to live like a rich person in this country.’ I absolutely agreed.
We were first ushered to the sauna and was told to stay there for 15 minutes. But guess what? I needed to open the door and cried for help before the time was up. There was an Ecuadorian couple in the sauna room too. They looked so sweet. One of them was a lawyer and I don’t remember what the lady did but this was who this place was for – the middle class and relatively wealthy people.
I told Helen it felt like summer in Asia in the sauna room. And then both of us agreed that for hot places like those in Asia, there was no need to have sauna. Guys usually went there for some other purposes. 🤫
After the supposedly 15-minute sauna, we soaked ourselves in the blue mud pool and then the red mud pool. I actually didn’t know the different benefits that the two pools gave us (the butlers had explained but I forget) but it was fun. We put red mud on our faces. Helen put the red mud around her eyes. It was so funny. We made ourselves look so scary. We posed for photos and enjoyed our time in the pool. There was a mirror beside the pool. The Ecuadorian couple from the sauna room were standing in front of it and I went behind them and posed like a ghost. The lady screamed when she saw me in the mirror. That was so funny.
The lady we met in the information centre who asked about this discount package was there too. We bumped into her that evening. She told us she had been there for the whole day. Gosh!
After the mud pools, we took a very hot shower in a ‘cave’. They called it ‘volcano shower’. Then we had sauna in a barrel. We sat on a chair with our head outside the barrel. There was a switch on our right where we could control the temperature. Helen accidentally kicked the door of her barrel open but she couldn’t close it and I couldn’t help her because my body was literally inside the barrel. Her body was freezing. We screamed for help but no one heard it. We then realised it was actually quite dangerous because there was no SOS switch and we couldn’t leave if anything happened.
After a long while, the staff came and helped Helen close the door. We requested to extend it for a longer time. I was so hot even after I turned the switch to warm or even turned it off that I wanted to take off my swimsuit. It actually looked like an ancient Chinese torture where you can only see the head of the prisoner. We took a few photos on Helen’s camera. Another lady we met in the sauna and her friends joined us. There were four barrels in the room.
After this, we took another quick hot shower. The staff took us to the ‘contrast pool’ where we were supposed to stay in the hot pool for 15 mins and then in the freezing cold pool for 10 mins. We tried the hot pool first. Helen said she couldn’t do the cold pool. But I tried it anyway. It was really freezing cold! I stayed there for a few seconds then I had to start moving my arms to keep myself warm. After a minute or so, I jumped back into the hot pool. That felt really good in fact. The Ecuadorian couple was there. I asked Helen to translate that to them: I really envy them. It is such a romantic place to be.
Apart from us and the others we had met, there were actually quite a number of guests there. It’s just that the place was so big that we couldn’t see them until now. More and more people came to the contrast pool.
As we were indulging ourselves in the pool, the staff gave us a menu to order dinner. Menu was great. I ordered a USD8 meal which was nearly equivalent to the cost of one night’s accommodation. Helen said, ‘I know what you mean. I felt the same too when I first started the journey.’ Just enjoy being a rich person for one night. 😊
We had our dinner after the contrast pool. I felt that I wanted to eat more but it was ok. We jumped into the last hot pool. The place closed at ten so we hurriedly enjoyed the last pool and left with the lady we saw at the information centre.
We took a taxi together and dropped her off at her place and them Helen and I went back to the hostel. She had bad news – she left her camera at the spa!! All the photos we took were gone too. Oh no!!!! She said she’d call the place tomorrow before she caught the bus to Riobamba. Oh no!!
Helen called the spa the next day but they couldn’t find anything. Helen suspected it was some guests who stole it because they looked at her strangely and they looked very suspicious. Poor Helen. That’s her boyfriend’s camera. Not hers. Oh no! I hope her boyfriend wouldn’t be upset.
We left Cuenca to different places. That’s probably the hardest part for backpackers. You meet really nice people and spend time with them and you become friends then you say goodbye, all happen within a few days. It was hard but we needed to move on.
My next destination was Cuzco, Peru, even higher than Cuenca. I flew there instead of taking a bus. I had spent enough time in Ecuador. It was time to see something different.
Having had the experience in Tibet, I took a rest in Cuzco once I checked in the hostel to adjust to the high altitude. I couldn’t wait to explore this country.
27 – 30 November 2012
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