We checked out of Banos the night before using a credit card for the first time (5% up charge); we wanted to preserve our cash. Having cash, and especially smaller bills is always an issue. We left early in the morning, walked to the bus station; We like to leave early because there is little traffic when wheeling the bags. We paid a little more to get an express bus; no roadside stops but direct to Cuenca. Between the constant stops, food peddlers and excess exhaust, we are fed up with Ecuador buses and wanted an easy 4 hour trip. However, after about 2 hours the main road was closed and the driver had to back up and try different roads through small farm towns. But as would be expected we ran into a dead end. Our driver was skilled; he turned our large bus around by Y-turn in the tiny front yards of 2 peasant home. He didn’t kill one chicken or dog, but he sure entertained the neighbors who stopped their chores to watch. We actually clapped when he was done.
At one point, the bus stopped at a small depot for a quick break, Frank exited the bus for a comfort break and to buy some soda (at my request). After a few minutes, the bus started to pull out of the station, without Frank or a French man sitting by us. Frantic the Frenchman's son and I got into a very heated argument not to leave, the boy actually was straddling the bus steps and the sidewalk trying to keep the bus from moving. The Frenchman came back first and upon realizing Frank was nowhere to be found, ran back into the station to find him. I am sure he would be at that station, no money, passport or wife if that Frenchman did not help.
I was running toward the bus at the same time I saw the Frenchman. He motioned "common on". I was trying to buy two cokes, but this little old sales lady would not let me take the bottles--again i was faced with a person that poured the coke into 2 plastic bags and tied a straw into the bag. Tic-Tic, Tic-Toc. I was breathing hard and felt stressed out as I jumped on the bus.
Finally, we arrived in Cuenca at dusk after 8 hours; these delays we have found are common. We hailed a taxi for a drive to “Cuenca Rooms”. I became a little jittery when the taxi guy didn’t know where it was and had to call dispatch. We drove far from the bus station and I said to Janet: “Maybe we need a place with an actual name”. In any event, we drove into the university district and once we walked in our proprietor Juan, greeted us. We met his wife Gabrielle the next morning. This place was clearly the best place we had stayed, having very modern fixtures and a European nature. We sighed with relief.
Between discussions with our host and trip advisor we successfully found a nice small bar on the river that advertised full coverage for all US football, so off we went on time for the MSU/Notre Dame Saturday night game. US television is a problem in South America, most networks and Amazon Prime is blocked. The owner of this bar was an American and he streamed all football games through a purchased web-site. It was great to see the game, but NCAA football clearly is not a draw in Ecuador, we were the only people in the bar for most of the game, the bar staff, mostly Ecuadorians did think we were funny when we jumped to cheer the goals and the ultimate MSU victory. The bar owner invited us back on Sunday for all day streaming of NFL Red Zone, assuring us that he gets a big crowd for the pro games, but we declined in favor of visiting our new destination.
One of our plans is to tour the larger cities using free walking tours so on our first day in Cuenca we found a tour starting in the main square, as most of them do. This tour was small, just 4 of us total and our local guide who spoke very good English. The tour was great, we had a great overview of the city including a trip to the local market with food samples, see Frank below with our samples, a trip to the Panama Hat Factory and a small INCA ruin right in the city.
Our second day in Cuenca began with big plans to visit our first large INCA ruin, on our own without a tour guide. Prior to leaving Janet had thoroughly researched how to take the local bus, where the site was and how to get an English speaking guide at the site. By doing this on our own we expected the total cost would be $25, verses the $100 per person the tour companies charge.
So off we went in a taxi to the bus station, just a little late for the 9:00 am direct route bus. We have already mentioned that our Spanish is bad which is really bad when you are in a hurry.
At the bus station we went to the information booth to inquire what bus company to buy the tickets, after some searching we managed to find the office, used google translate to purchase the ticket, wait for the attendant to find change for our $20 bill and she directed us, we thought, to where to go, with 10 minutes to spare. As we tried to enter the bus loading area we were stopped at a metal turnstile with an attendant that waived us away, we thought upstairs? so now we start running, from one end of the station to the other, I am sure we were a funny site, this station only had local people and here Frank and I are running back and forth trying to figure out how to get to the bus. The issue was the turnstile, you have to put in a dime to get through, that was all we had to do, add one measly dime. So once we paid we go to our bus dock at 8:59 and, no buss, already gone, too bad, they all leave EARLY in Ecuador. After some loud discussions, hand jesters and pointing at our watch, we got a refund for the fare and were directed to take the “transfer bus” to a secondary town where we could change to the bus that takes us to the site. Long story, but we did make it and this bus was truly a "chicken" bus, old, windows too dirty to see out of, twice the amount of black smoke. On the upside the people on the bus, all locals, were great, giving us instructions at each stop, how long we had to go, and after TWO hours we made it to the ruin, just in time for a major downpour! But I try to always be prepared so we took out our rain coats and pants and requested our tour guild, The attendant looked very surprised that we wanted to proceed, but after a small wait a tour guide with very good English showed up and we got a private 45-minute tour, in the rain. It was great, just like football games. We showed up 45 minutes early for the direct bus and had no issues finding our way home. Dinner was very good burgers and fries, after an 8 hour outing Frank pronounced he needed comfort food.
On our last day in Cuenca, we took it easy, one museum visit and back to the local market for a traditional lunch. Lunch was very good, but did not sit well on our tummies and we had our first issues with food, not great for the next day of full bus travel.
Overall Cuenca was a great city, a nice mixture of INCA, Spanish and European. We felt very safe walking at night and our B&B was the best stay so far.