June 29, 2011

The Cuenca Experience. Cuenca, Ecuador.

So I have been in Ecuador for a little over two weeks now and the following are my top 10 impressions of this small city.

1. Cheap - Bread for 12 cents, lunch for $1.70, a good beer for $2.00, bus for 25 cents, taxi anywhere for between $1.50 and $2.00. If you are looking for a rich experience on a budget Cuenca is the place you want to be. For example I am going to Sol y Agua this weekend with a bunch of friends and it will cost me roughly $30 including transportation, food, drinks, and lodging.

2. Colonial - I feel in love with the architecture as soon as I arrived. Every building has a rustic, colonial feeling to it, it is absolutely gorgeous.

3. Indigenous - Cuenca and Ecuador has such a rich history. First the Canari, then the Incans, and finally the Spanish. I have seen all groups represented in Cuenca. However there is such a stigma attached to being indigenous, people tag them as uneducated and lower class. For this reason the younger generation of indigenous linage are choosing not to embrace their heritage.

4. Dangerous - Okay not dangerous in the fact you are going to get robbed or killed, Cuenca is actually a pretty safe city. Obviously at night you need to take more precautions but that is the same in any city. What I mean is they are crazy drivers, they shoot off fireworks with people 20 feet away, and they don't believe in car seats for children. I guess Cuecanos just like living on the edge...

5. Foodie Paradise - There is so much variety here in Cuenca. You have your Empenadas, plethora of fruits, fresh bread and juice, and of course cuy. :)

6. Religious - Very catholic, very devoted, very conservative. This also means beautiful churches and not too much leg exposure.

7. Wild - Check out my post about Cajas.
8. Slang - Some survival words if you plan on spending any time in Cuenca, Ecuador.
                  Chendo - just kidding
                  Chevere - Cool
                  Siga no mas - Go ahead

9. La Compania - just go there and thank me later. 

10. Just do it - okay this is more just advice, but it doesn't matter what it looks like, what it smells like, if you are scared, or even terrified. It is worth it trust me.

Well those are my ten first impressions/advice for Cuenca, Ecuador. I have cooking class today and a charla on Andean music. Stay tuned.


June 28, 2011

Siga no mas. Cuenca, Ecuador

Hello everyone!
This is my first post since I have gotten to Ecuador...which was two weeks ago! Ugh! In my defense the house I am living at doesn't have internet so it has been pretty hard for me to get motivated for the 40 minuet walk to my school to use the internet...

For those of you that don't know I am taking an intensive language course in Cuenca, Ecuador at CEDEI, a non-profit English and Spanish school. CEDEI is an absolutely amazing place, with awesome coordinators and teachers. It is a total immersion school so you live with a host family, take 2 to 4 hours of classes a day, have a dance class, cooking class, and different speakers come in to lecture. On top of all those fun things they also set up different excursions for you.

The first excursion we had was to Cajas National Park. It is about 30 to 40 minuets away from Cuenca and it is a must see if you are in the area. Beautiful mountains, lakes, and everything in between. The highest peak gets to be around 14,300 ft, which of course was the start for our 4 hour hike.

Our group at the start of the hike.
Now I didn't find the hike too strenuous, but I think that was because of the adrenaline and because I am in shape. Due to the altitude and the steep climbs you make you definitely might need to take a breather here and there and drink lots of water and chocolate.  

Me at the highest peek in Cajas
After our 4 hour hike we set up camp at one of the most beautiful spots I saw in Cajas. Now for this hike and the camping we had guides that helped us the entire time. Due to the high elevation it gets very, very cold in the night. Many hikers/campers have died in Cajas due to the cold and not being prepared. You definitely need lots of layers, impermeable shoes, rain jacket, and wool socks! For those that are seasoned hikers and campers you would probably be okay without a guide, but Cajas is huge and it is very easy to get lost. I recommend getting a guide, they know where all the cool things are too.

Above is what we woke up to the next morning. Absolutely stunning. We got lucky that it never rained and it was a beautiful day after our night camping. That made it an easy decision to opt for the 2 hour hike to Virgin of Cajas. They call it the Virgin of Cajas because in the late 80s a girl name Patricia claimed the Virgin Mary came to her while she was there. This story has a lot of controversy around it, because a lot of people believe the girl made up the story so she would get in trouble for going with her boyfriend to Cajas to you know...Nevertheless it became this huge ordeal. Every month for a year Patricia would give the messages of the Virgin to thousands of people in Cajas. That meant thousands of people flooded into Cuenca. All the hotels were filled, all the restaurants were always busy, the economy was booming. However, all the people in Cajas basically trashed the place. So the church put an end to it and she hasn't given any messages since. I personally don't believe her, but lots of other people do, including my host family. It was just really interesting to see how important and serious religion is here in Ecuador and South America as a whole. 

Since I have been in Cuenca I have lots of more interesting things about this small town but I will leave that for tomorrow. So until tomorrow.

Hasta manana!