We took off Monday for the long drive to Cuenca. 3 1/2 hours to Guayaquil, then another 3 1/2- 4 hours to Cuenca. Manta is considered the poorest province in Ecuador. As we crossed borders into other provinces, you could see the difference. Slight better houses, roads, some emergeny services. Each time we passed into a province we paid a small toll…
The only other time H & T (I am now officially shortening Howard & Tanya to H &T) had driven to Cuenca before they got lost in Guayaquil. It is actually larger than Quito and very confusing. It took them 3 hours to find their way out of it. This time a friend gave them a hand drawn way to avoid that. T & I did the map reading, H drove and Gar kept watch. We thought we were doing OK, but then got confused. Saw 2 motorcycle police, so stopped for help. No english, but lots of hands pointing. One finally got on his bike, turned his light on and had us follow him to the correct exit heading to Quito. He got a nice handshake from H complete with a $5 bill from Gar.
The road maps are confusing as are the signs. T &I second guess ourselves many times, but knew were on one route to Cuenca. Just didn’t know if it was a goodor bad one. Got into lots of rain, fog, partyers during Carnival, etc. Mudslides,road construction. But we did get there after 8 1/2 hours total. Each little town had it’s own specialties for sale in roadside stands. One was corn (roasted in the husk,) then the honey town, then the rice town,then the pillow town, then the soda/water town. Small towns don’t have actual taxis, but motorized bicyles that have a covered carriage for passengers. We took lots of pictures.
We got to our hotel and the owner Alberto speaks great English, but they had misundertood the reservation and it was still Carnival. Only one room, 4 people. They found Gar and me a room 1 block away, and then we moved to the correct hotel on Tuesday, since Carnival was ending and people were leaving. We had a great dinner fun at the Eucalyptus bar and restaurant by our hotel. Considered the hippest place in Cuena. Also, the only place open due to Carnival. It is owned and run by a British guy… super nice. Met 2 different couples from Alaska there.
Cuenca is much cleaner and safer and prosperous than Manta. But very little English spoken anywhere.
Since Tuesday was still Carnival and all stores and museums were closed we took a taxi ($5) for a 20 minute drive to an area called The Banos which has several spa type places at the hot springs. T &I did the springs… the guys drank cerveza and listened to the great music. We did the red lava mud pool, then slathered ourselves in the mud. You let it dry for 10 min,then back in the pool, then shower and head to the other pools, steam saunas, etc. T got a massage, too. Glad I wore my old oldbathing suit, because the red mud may never come out.
The hotel we moved to is over 100 years old and has been in the Ortanez family the whole time. Alberto converted it from a home to a hotel in 1996. Small, quaint… old fashioned skeleton keys to the rooms, tiny bathrooms, but immaculate and beyond friendly and helpful. Alberto drove me around tofind an ATM thatwould work as many were out of cash due to Carnival..
Whew. fingers are tired. I will tell more of Cuenca and the very interesting trip back to Manta after a little siesta.