Friday, October 30, 2009


Catedral Nueva

Monday is the Day of the Dead and Tuesday is the celebration of Independence Day for Cuenca, so the whole country is taking a long weekend, and we are making it even longer. We flew to Cuenca this morning, which is a 45 minute flight over the Andes past Chimborazo peeking out above the clouds. It was difficult to find a hotel room in the city ahead of time because of the celebrations, so we took what was available which was a very basic, dark, and dingy room in the hardly majestic Hotel Majestic. We were obliged to pay the whole bill for the five nights in cash through a bank in Quito, so despite being rather horrified at the condition of the room, there was little recourse other than to pay more for a better room and that was not a good option for us. I resolved to spend as little time as possible in the hotel and to enjoy Cuenca as much as possible. We left our bags in the room and found our way to the parade passing by the Parque Calderon, which is the central plaza. The route was packed with spectators, and the parade consisted of young people dancing and wearing traditional costumes, which are bright and colorful. The music was familiar but the dances were different from what I had seen before. The theme was geared toward independence of the New World Spanish from the European Spanish, but the celebration and the participants were indigenous.


The Canaris were the indigenous group that inhabited the area around Cuenca long before the Incans and then the Spanish came. The Canaris were vital in helping the Spanish defeat the Incas. It was interesting to see the indigenous people celebrate a Spanish/colonial event which ultimately oppressed the local population for hundreds of years, but I am sure that is not the politically correct thing to say.

The city is recognized as a wonderfully preserved colonial treasure. There are dozens of churches. The Catedral Nuevo was designed to be the biggest church in all of South America with an expected capacity of 10,000, but there was some architectural miscalculation, so it was not quite finished. It is massive, and so very different from the churches in Quito. It has a beautiful pink travertine facade and entrancing blue tiled domes, and very picturesque. The flower market is nearby, and not too far is the Plaza San Francisco with a market for clothes and shoes. Maya chose a pair for school, and decided she needed a $1 belt as well. Our wandering brought us to the Convento de las Conceptas, which houses a religious art museum. It was a nervewracking experience, because whenever anyone got too near a painting or sculpture, an incredibly loud and obnoxious alarm would sound and the guards would have to find the culprit and turn off the alarm, which would take an inordinate amount of time. There have been thefts of artwork over the years at several museums in Ecuador, so it makes sense that they want to protect their collection, but the sensors were far too sensitive. The convent was once a house of a wealthy woman who donated it to the order as a dowry so that her three daughters could join the nunnery. The nuns stayed inside the convent all year, venturing to the world outside one day a year. Maya expressed far too much interest in becoming a nun, and decided she wants to try it for a month or so in the summertime!

Shopping at the Market

Ducks shopping at the Plaza San Francisco

Flower Market Plazoleta del Carmen

Shopping for the Day of the Dead

Museo of the Convento de Las Conceptas

Cuenca is located along the Rio Tomebamba, and many lovely hotels and homes are built along the banks of the river. We walked to a craft show at the 'Museo de Artes Populares' and admired the artisan work from all over Ecuador. Everything appeared to be of better quality than what one sees in the regular markets. The prices were also steeper and nonnegotiable, which is unusual for markets in Ecuador. We stopped at the Salasaca/Tunguragua booth where we admired a rug which depicted the Salasaca calendar. A mountain dog eating a 'cuy' represents January, February is a tortuga, March is a bird, April is represented by a pig, May is a bird, June is the mountain path where you go to collect plants, July is the rat, August is the burro, September is the mountain wolf, October is the dog and November is the cat and the shaman or 'yachak' represents December. Hearing the explanation meant I had to have the rug. Eric wants to buy a black poncho, which the Salasaca men still wear in mourning for the death of Atahualpa in 1533. The Salasaca were a tribe from Bolivia who were moved to the area around Tunguragua by the Incans and have settled there. He has wanted this poncho for years and has never seen one for sale. The woman in the booth promised to send for one from her home near Ambato.

Salasaca Calendar

We dashed back to the hotel in the rain. Hopefully it will be clear when we return to the river to watch the fireworks!

Iglesia San Francisco Altar

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