Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hats off to Ecuador

After the lengthy boarder-crossing process, unfortunately we only had 3 days to spend in Ecuador. Someone at our hostel in Cusco had just finished her semester abroad in Cuenca and the city came highly recommended to us, so we decided to spend our first two nights there. Cuenca is a beautiful small city with gorgeous architecture, a temperate climate (at least while we were there), and is apparently the number 1 place for retirees from the U.S. and Europe to settle. 

We arrived in the city late, and after spending most of the day traveling and not having had a real lunch, we were famished. We found an artisinal pizza place that was owned by an Argentine and had fugazetta, this tasty cheesy pizza that is popular in Buenos Aires. After stuffing ourselves with pizza we ventured back to our hostel for the night--it is amazing how exhausting spending the whole day in buses can be.

The next morning we wandered around the city for a bit and decided to take one of those touristy double-decker bus tours for the first time on the trip. 

Unlike it most cities, it was ridiculously cheap, and though they tend to be somewhat cheesy they do let you see a lot of the city. That afternoon we visited the Homero Ortega hat factory. You know those white straw hats that most people refer to as Panama hats? Yeah, they are actually from Ecuador (or perhaps Colombia, as my friend Luis later told me). Wherever their actual origin, they are not from Panama. They are only called that because they are often shipped from Panama, it being a major world shipping port. Anyway, the hat factory is really interesting and impressive--they take you on a tour that shows the whole process of how the hats are made. 

They are completely handmade, and depending on the quality can take between a month to weave (for the least expensive) to 6 or 8 (we can't remember the exact number, but regardless they are the highest quality, feel like cotton and not straw, and cost over $1000). Although the weaving happens offsite, we did get to see the shaping and sewing of the hats, and then had fun trying them on and each purchased one.

The next day we went to the money museum, which gives you a history of Ecuadorian money, from before the Spaniards come until right before they switched to the U.S. dollar. Ah yes, I should mention it was strange to be paying with U.S dollars after months of not using them. And it was very nice for once not to have to figure out yet another conversion. 

Baby Jesus in a shoe (found on the dashboard in one of our cabs)
That afternoon it was time for another somewhat lengthy busride to Guayaquil (more beautiful scenery along the way!), the biggest city in Ecuador. We decided to treat ourselves to a hotel. The hotel had a pretty big buffet breakfast, which included liver stew. (It is always interesting to see what is considered normal to eat for the first meal of the day in different countries.) Thankfully they also had eggs and bread and Sam and I both decided, tasty as it looked, to skip the stew. 

Along the Melacon 2000
Our hotel was located along the Melacon 2000, this beautiful boardwalk along the cost that the city had built up in the last few years. There is an omni theater, botanical garden, a pond full of adorable ducklings (not sure where the ducks were), restaurants, exercise equipment, and a little trolley that went up and down the length of it. 

Since we had less than 24 hours in Guayaquil, we didn't too much other than walk along the Melacon and visit a plaza in the city that is full of iguanas. 

That afternoon it was off to the airport to make our way to Bogota! The little bit of Ecuador we saw was really beautiful and we wish we had given ourselves more time here, but just gives us an excuse to come back.


More photos:

2012.5 Cuenca, Ecuador

2012.5 Guayaquil, Ecuador

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