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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Cuenca or Bust

The reason that I am so late with my blog postings lately is because I have to drive in a car... a lot.

Not kidding.

My ass will never heal.

OMG what a day.

Ok... the car-rental fiasco sorted itself out.  Fingers crossed... still!  Finally got the car... ready to go.

When I say that we 'got' the car,  I meant that I had to sign my name to about 700 documents... and I felt like I was signing my life away.   Well, my credit card anyway.  They kept phoning to confirm my credit card number and limit for a bunch of those old fashioned 'clunk clunk' machine verifications.  One, I think, was in case of any damage that may occur on the trip.  This one, they assured me, would be ripped up the moment the car was returned in one piece.   The second, they supposedly keep on file for a month, in case we get in to trouble with the police...

God forbid.

Note to self: make sure they rip up that authorization in a month.

I kept telling everyone that I was able to drive... but they kept telling me that I don't know how to drive here... but I assure you, I do.  Perhaps it's slightly crazier than the traffic and rules that I've grown accustomed to, but I think that if I'm schooled quickly on how to lay on the horn and yell from time to time, I'll make it on the streets here.

The dream of the drive will have to die with me.

I went out with Duval and Pamela last night. They took me to Puerto Santa Ana and it was fantastic. I am really impressed at the up and coming Guayaquil that I have encountered.  I remember a very dirty, dangerous city... but not anymore.

They had some beers (I had wine) - we laughed and miscommunicated a lot but... it turned out to be a really fun evening.  I had to have a bit of a laugh because I would never point at myself if we had to name a woman of high fashion or intelligence... but I do pride myself on having the smarts not to wear high heals clogs on cobblestones.  And cobblestones, they were!

Point for Jo.

At one point during the evening, we started talking about the weekend trip that Mari and I were going on.  Through thoroughly broken communication, I fully understood that Duval said something along the lines of Saturday is Ingapirca and Sunday is the Train Tour."

Uh... nope... sorry, but you've got it wrong...


No... once again... you're wrong... 

It went back and forth for a bit, but I held my ground, as I’d been the actual person who booked the tour…in English.   And I’d also been staring at the possibility of booking it for a couple months.

Finally I pulled out my phone and (regardless of the lack of internet connection, a confirmation email was in my in-box from earlier.)


I pretty much shoved my phone in his face...

Train & Ingapirca - same tour - same day.


I insisted that he phone Mari immediately because the last thing I needed was for this to end up being a mis-communicated confusing mess of going to Ingapirca twice...

Dios mio!

I have no idea how Mari was equally as confused, considering she was right beside me, reading about the entire tour in Spanish AS I booked it.  And all the confirmations for the tour, the hostel... everything, I forwarded on to her as well.

I was wondering why the blank stares, when I would say things like "Maybe we can walk around the city for a bit... and maybe go to Banos for a few hours?" ... and I'd get a response like "probably no time... maybe in the night."


I just sat there wondering what we were going to do with all our time, considering we were planning on leaving at 10am and it took 3.5 hours to get there.

Ok - so huge weekend trip problem number one diverted, thanks to me and my multi-lingual problem-solving go-go Gadget abilities.

Our car had a GPS... and when I say "Our car had..." it actually means that we had one in the car, but still Mari asked people on the street if we were heading in the right direction.

Just follow the purple line on the little screen... don't bug people...Follow the f'in purple line.

The road to Cuenca was .... well, interesting.

At first, fun and picturesque.  Driving though the little towns, seeing the banana trees, mangos, fruit stands... etc...

I took a few photos.

Of course, whenever I take a photo of someone selling something, I feel obligated to buy something. So I bought a stack of verdes for Mami... which is about 25 green plantains.  Looks like we will be eating this every day for the next week. They were only $1... how could I resist?

It was a really lush climb up... but a very sharp, curvy mountain road which made me happy that I wasn't driving (although I'll never admit it!)  Gorgeous views... 

As we gained altitude, it got drier and the walls of rock formations along the side of the road started to resemble a collection of angry ape faces.   Then the fog hit.

It was so dense that it made it almost impossible to see.  It was very reminiscent of being in a snow storm in Roger's Pass and having to open your driver's side  door to follow the yellow line.  That's how bad it was.

I would also like to say "Thank God it was a paved road," but I think that the word 'paved' could be discretionary...  A lot of it was 'paved,' but we can't forget about the mud, potholes, gravel, rockslides, boulders...

Not to mention the people just walking along the side of the road, the farm animals here and there, and the occasional truck just stopped, willy nilly.

I had to pee mucho during the ride because I thought it might be a good idea to guzzle 4 bottles of water.

It was really hot... but turned really cold quickly.  I almost wanted to turn the heat on in the car.

When we arrived , it was a bit of another stress induced factor trying to find our hostel.  Winding our way through narrow one-way streets... drove around and around and around.

Finally I took over. 

Turn left.  NO!  Turn left...

FINALLY... we found the little door that led in to the hostel.

Ok... I don't mean any disrespect... actually, maybe I do.  

This place was a dive. #shithole

I'll bring you back to yesterday when we booked, ok?

I was online, perusing different locations to stay at... and had actually picked out quite a few.  There were some really nice ones, centrally located, beautiful views... breakfast included...

Mari said "No.. only for 2 nights. Muy caro." (translation: Too expensive)

True... we were driving in... sleeping... tour... sleeping... gone. 

Ok- Then I found a place that looked "not bad."  Quite quaint actually...

How about this place? It's only $7... two twin beds.

Fine. Booked. Done.

Then the 'arrival at the hostel' part of the day comes in to play... and it's not the dream vacation world they presented to the world on the internet.

First- they only take cash. 


Second - when they showed us to our room, it was DIRTY!  We had to sit there while they made the beds.  And that was all they did.  I kept staring at the floor and the table thinking .. sweep? vacuum? wipe?.... 

I had to let it go though... it's only $7... 

No private bathroom either... but it's only $7.

Might I add that the bathroom is a teeny weeny room under the stairs... like where the little people live.

They handed us both towels, that I can only assume were left over from the early 1970's.  Thin, small... more like the rags you pull out to wash your car or clean up when your dog accidentally pees on the linoleum. 

Finally they got the beds made and off we went to explore Cuenca.

Hold on, NO... I'm lying... wait... we couldn't go explore Cuenca... because the door wouldn't lock. And the reason it wouldn't lock was because there was a major hole in the frame where one would only assume that the lock would normally go.  Close the door... the door swings open... slam close the door... the door swings open...

Security at it's finest.

They told us that they "had no idea"...


I'd only been there 7 minutes and already, I thought I had lice.

At least I'd forgotten about my itchy ankles and was now just concentrating on scratching my head.

Need to change rooms immediately.   

I also could've really used some wine too.

My bed was like compressed sawdust... and had been placed on a pallet frame with wheels.  I sat on my bed and leaned against the wall to do some writing and my bed wheeled away on me!  I almost fell between the crevice of the bed and the wall.  Thank God for my micro-speed reflexes.

And it's cold again.

I had to sleep with my jacket on.

Speaking of cold... Cuenca is at a higher elevation, so guess what that means?  ... the one and only outfit comes out!

It was like being reunited with an old friend.

You again.

My friend, Dorothy, gave me the advice of 'half the clothes, double the money'... but unfortunately she was about a week too late with this guidance.  So I'm going to start a Go Fund Me page.  Send money now... I only have one outfit for colder climates.  I really think it'll appeal to the affluent and generous. Some hippy was upstairs wailing on his guitar.  Sirens kept going off.  Cars honking.  People yelling.  I could hear the person in the room next door sneezing. I hated this place.

I realize that I am such a complainer.  I think it's just because it was  raining & cold, and I was tired, and my ankles itched, and it was loud, and my bum hurt, and my whole body felt like it was a nesting bed for small bugs... that's all.

No biggie.

Guess it's not THAT bad here... if you like fleas and dirty stuff.

I decided then and there that we were definitely NOT staying another night in this hole, so I started researching other places around the city... and I had the "money is no object" frame of mind.  Usually I never ever enter in to that frame of mind... unless there is wine involved. Then Mari had a bit of a freak out about the tour we were taking in the morning.

Did they know where our hostel is?  

I think so.

Did I tell them the address?

Pretty sure I did... but you know when someone questions you, you suddenly start to doubt yourself.

I think I told them the address... but I don't really remember. 

God, I don't remember how many bananas I ate yesterday.  

So then she wanted to see every email and verification... and is desperately trying to phone them, to no avail.

Life is suddenly turning mucho chaotico rapido... so I decide to send the company an email and ask them to call Mari.  They did... all is fine... they were set to come pick us both up at 7am... stress over.

When people ask me why I travel alone, this is why.  If I screw up, I'm usually only responsible for my own mess. 

We walked around Cuenca and neither of us remember a single thing.  Took some photos, had some food, filled each other in on the past 26 years via Google Translate and a bottle of red...

It's funny to think that 26 years have passed. In that time frame, I have traveled through Europe and Australia.  September 11th happened... along with the 2004 Tsunami. John Candy, Mother Theresa, Michael Jackson and Princess Diana have died... to just mention a few.  When I was in Ecuador, Pablo Escobar was at the height of his drug empire in Columbia...

Of course, not much has changed with me... I'm still that broke, clumsy, silly ole drunk I've always been.


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