Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canari and Incans

Pumapango Ruins

Cuenca has a small town feel, with many of its inhabitants out on the street all day and evening. Perhaps because it is Independence Day weekend, there is more activity and celebration than usual. We were invited last night to join friends for dinner at their hotel on the other side of the river, so we hailed a taxi and gave him La Casona as our destination. On his way to the restaurant by that name, we passed an outdoor market with crowds of people milling about. The traffic was heavy, and when we redirected our taxiste to the hotel rather than the restaurant, we discovered that most roads in the direction of the hotel were closed off to traffic, with police monitoring access. It turned out that there was a soccer game at the stadium( I believe it was Cuenca against Quito, the later being up in the standings) and that the hotel in question was close to the stadium, so it took far too long to reach our destination. Our dinner started late and continued at a leisurely pace, so that we missed the fireworks that we had planned to watch at 9. On the other hand there are sure to be many more to go off over the next few days.

Day of the Dead Booths

Our non-majestic hotel is centrally located, only a couple of blocks from the main plaza, which is its only redeeming quality. We are housed in a cellar with no windows and hardly any light (two lightbulbs hang from the ceiling). There are three beds that are reasonably comfortable, but the room is depressing and oppressive. Our door opens out onto the main reception/dining room area, so it is not very private, and it locks with a padlock rather than a key. I am trying to convince myself that our hotel's inadequacies just do not matter.

Parque Calderon

We met our friends Kenneth and Anne this morning at the Museo of the Banco Central, where a small archeological and colonial section gave us a little background about the pre Incan, Incan and Spanish inhabitants of what is now Cuenca. There is a confusing ethnographical exhibit upstairs which required a guide which we did not have. The section on the Schuar people of the Amazon was most instructive, so much more than every other exhibit in the museum, otherwise I was just confused. Before we left the indoor exhibits, we were instructed to look at a modern video installation. I learned that Cuenca has a yearly 'Bienal' and that all the competing art pieces are currently exhibited all over the city. Yesterday at the Convent Museum we saw an entry from Uzbekistan which showed a man praying in the snow. I did not understand at the time how this piece fit in with all the colonial art we had seen. I recalled that at the Casa de la Cultura yesterday we had also seen some Bienal works, but I paid little attention at the time.

Attached to the Banco Central is a huge excavated ruin of an Incan palace which was destroyed in the civil war between Huascar and Atahualpa. The palace is huge, and has a commanding view of the valley all around, and with just a little imagination, one could sense how grand and ostentatious it was. The Incans also grew extensive gardens and collected animals, so there was a little zoo on the grounds of the palace with toucans and eagles and parrots. This was our introduction to what we would be seeing tomorrow in Ingapirca, the most extensive Incan ruin in Ecuador.

Incan Gardens

Huayna Capac's Palace

Cactus Flowers

Reconstruction of Incan House for Women who Served the Inca

We had arrived at the museum with warm clothes anticipating rain and cold weather, so of course it was hot and exhausting in the harsh sunshine. We walked back to the town centre and passed another archeological site with Canari, Incan and Spanish colonial ruins. It is not unusual for the Incans to build on top of Canari structures, and the Spaniards to use Inca stones and foundations to build their own structures. We visited the craft fair again and talked to the Salasaca booth attendants to confirm arrangements for a Salasaca poncho for Eric. Our lunch was in a bar/restaurant with a wonderful view across the Tomebamba river, the most impressive building being the university, which is almost 500 years old. Cuenca has three universities and is very proud of having one of the earliest higher institutions of learning in the Americas.

View Across the Tomebamba River to the University

Colonial Buildings

The churches we visited were closed, including the Catedral Nuevo, the old cathedral, San Francisco and Santo Domingo. Across from the Catedral Nuevo, in the plaza (called Parque Calderon) street theatre is very popular. There was never a time that I did nto see a big crowd laughing and clapping and growing in size. I wish I understood more!!! A man in a woman's evening dress was performing to great applause. Much of what I heard was very sexually suggestive, but there we children and women laughing too, so perhaps there were multiple meanings which I did not understand.

Catedral Antigua

While Eric and Maya rested in our hotel room, I wandered back to the main plaza for more street entertainment, including musicians and street performers. I walked up and down the streets with beautiful colonial buildings and checked on the churches, which were lit up when the sun went down. I walked to the other side of the river and visited the outdoor market geared to the local population. There was music and what appeared to be a revival meeting going on. Families and children were eating grilled meat on skewers, ice/cream, cotton candy and other treats. There was one booth which attracted the most customers, and it sold wafers with fillings to order. We met Kenneth and Anne at 'El Jardin', which is where Eric and I had eaten years before with the Johns Hopkins students. The food was good (we have had wonderful food in Cuenca!) but the service was extremely slow, no different this time than the last time we were there. I believe that with the students it took four of five hours to get served. I think we got in and out in less that two hours tonight!

Every Building is Unique

Santo Domingo

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