During our stay in Banos we realized that we had over 4,000 kilometers to travel to Santiago, Chile to meet our children for the Christmas holidays. As much as we enjoy slowly traveling, we had to speed things up. We would have to make an itinerary of all of the things that we wanted to do in an area and then wake up early and do as much as possible. Be tourists all day long, return to the hotel room exhausted, sleep, repeat.
At the top of my list were a few of the places that we didn’t get to visit the last time we were in Ecuador. First up was a ride on Nadiz del Diablo. A few years ago it was one of the scariest trains rides in the world. The brave and the crazy could ride on the roof of the train as it went high through the Andes and made switchbacks that are still considered a feat of engineering. After several people were decapitated and someone was scalped they ended the rides on the roof of the train. We were satisfied to just hang out of the windows during the three hour trip.
As a bonus, Ol and I got to practice our new Ecuadorian dance moves with the dancers that perform for the tourists. We felt a little like senior citizens as the majority of riders were foreigners on group tours and the average age was around 70 (oh no, are we now the couple who doesn't see ourselves as we really are!) . All in all, the Nadiz del Diablo was a fun way to break up the long drive between Banos and Cuenca.
Our real adventure was in making the three hour trip to the train by using a series of buses and taxis, before 10:30 in the morning. Once again a taxi dropped us off alongside a highway and told us to flag down a bus that should arrive sometime in the next twenty minutes. Despite our skepticism, the bus arrived and we made it to our destination. We almost hate to leave Ecuador as we think that we have mastered the amazing public transportation system.
After the train ride we again found ourselves standing alongside an Ecuadorian highway waiting to flag down a passing bus. Again, the reliable bus system worked and we reached Cuenca, Ecuador the city I was most excited to visit. For the past few years I have read many wonderful things about the Colonial Red City or the City of Eternal Spring. It is always listed in the top places in the world for expats to retire.
Two hours after arriving in Cuenca I had made a new friend, found a tennis partner and was looking at real estate. The weather was perfect. The architecture breathtaking. The streets were safe, landscaped, clean and quiet.
Cuenca is surrounded by mountains with lots of hiking and outdoor activities. Beaches and International airports are just a few hours away. There are also a lot of cultural activities in the city. On our last evening we enjoyed a free concert in the Old Fourteenth century Cathedral.
We had a lovely dinner and enjoyed visiting with an expat from Alabama. She was a retired military nurse and her husband a Methodist minister. She was on her way to another free concert and stopped for coffee where we were having dinner. She had lived in Cuenca for seven years and she gave us the ins and outs of the expat lifestyle. She raved about the healthcare system and how she can see her doctor within hours of calling, because the doctor answers his own phone! She doesn’t touch her social security and regularly flies to Shreveport, Louisiana to visit her son.
The following day we played tourist and rode a big double decker bus around town. We hopped on and off and visited the city’s sites. We were amazed that we were able to visit a great museum, archeological site, and a botanical garden, all for free. There were no admission fees and best of all there were llamas everywhere!
In the courtyard next to the new cathedral we found Fillippe’s authentic Italian pizza, the best pizza we have had in South America. It even has an imported authentic Italian pizza oven where guests can see their pizza being prepared. The beautiful courtyard drew us in, but it was the authentic pizza, breads and cheeses that made us come back for two meals in a row.
We spent the afternoon with Fillippe, the owner and chef, from Sorento, Italy, who joined us at our table at his restaurant. We spent several hours enjoying his stories of world travel and soaking up the beautiful view of the courtyard. He told us that last year he went home to Italy six times to visit his family. He told us that he is looking for someone to buy his beautiful 1,000 square meter, custom Italian villa that he spent years building in Cuenca. He is ready for someone to come in and takeover his restaurant and successful cheese business. We couldn’t help but think that this would be a perfect opportunity for a few of our friends; either Bill or Adriana and Gustavo.
Fillippe’s cheeses were so good that we couldn’t believe that they weren’t imported from Italy. Fillippe employs sixty people and sells his cheese all over South America. So, if anyone is interested, email us and we will put you in contact with Fillippe.
We were able to pack a lot into just a few short days in Cuenca. Up next, an overnight bus ride and midnight border crossing. The plan is to arrive on the northern coast of Peru mid-morning. We want to visit a few World Heritage archeological sites which are not easy for tourists to reach and are not as well known as Peru’s much more famous Machu Picchu (which we will be hiking in just a few weeks!).