Tuesday, September 29, 2015

City bus tour in Cuenca

This is Mike...
We took a city terribly, touristy, open air double-decker bus tour of the city today and had a blast. We loaded up at Parque Calderon for $8 per adult and $4 per child and drove around for nearly 3 hours if you include the half hour pause at the lookout. A couple things stood out on the trip. First, the city is far more urban hip than we thought, with classy restaurants and a vibrant university town aura about it. Secondly, the city never planned on open air double-decker buses zipping tourists through town and in some cases literally millimeters below high voltage power lines. Yep, you read that right, high voltage power lines almost scalping us on the upper deck as we drove by the sites. I know it sounds hard to believe and you may even be calling the B.S. card on me right now but I promise it is true. We all ducked to avoid certain decapitation multiple times and the other tourists on the upper deck were amused that Sierra and Zoe kept shrieking, "Daddy duck! Duck now Daddy!" I guess my kids still do love me. Best advice I could offer, if you are over 6'3" tall or have any fused vertebrae, don't sit on the upper deck of the bus. Who knows, maybe getting a flattop haircut by electrolysis might be a future selling point for this bus ride? Other than that we had a blast and would recommend this tour to anyone wanting to know more about Cuenca while you are in town.   
The open air double-decker bus had few visitor while we were there.

The town parks and squares make it a "green" feeling city

The weather was superb at 77F (25C) degrees and sunny

Looking down on the University of Cuenca

The city is bustling during the weekdays

The city has a rich history of preservation

One of the more popular restaurants in Cuenca (If you look to the upper right you can see an armed guard ensuring the patrons are left undisturbed). Seeing armed guards everywhere is something you have to get used to if you plan on visiting Latin America.  

The city has a European yet distinctly South American feel about it.

Cuenca has 4 rivers that course through town

Some of Cuenca is very modern

A bridge linking the modern and historic sections of town.

The older stately homes have better views of downtown.

The kids loved looking down from the upper deck

One of the many higher education centers in town.

Nice homes throughout town.

Indigenous peoples wearing the colors of their villages walking to work.

The hills above town are very reminiscent of Southern California hillsides

Looking down on Cuenca

Driving on the main street to "el Centro"

After the bus ride we stopped by a great restaurant for a late lunch.

This restaurant is a regular for expats and many of them run up tabs that are later paid when the Social Security checks role in at the end of the month.

Zoe and I, let Elise and Sierra go shopping downtown and we headed to a neighborhood park.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Saturday afternoon in Cuenca

This is Mike...
Cuenca has long been an exclusive area in Ecuador. Today, the 8,000 foot (2,500 meter) high city has another claim to fame, an expat mecca. The city draws retirees or easy going folk looking for a slower pace of living from all over the world. Cuenca,_Ecuador has a moderate climate, affordable housing and has great health care for cheap. The population of the metro area is about 700,000 people and is a relatively clean city for Latin America.
   We are renting a home from expats who moved here from Colorado almost 3 years ago. Their old lifestyle in the US cost about $5000 a month to sustain, down here they pay less than $2000 a month. According to them, they did not sacrifice quality in the move and as we can see in their home, have all the amenities of a modern American home. Moreover, they were both on Social Security Medicare back in the states and their monthly premium was $90 and had a co-pay of $150 a month. The husband takes 3 medications daily and back in the states his monthly expenses for the meds was $240. Here, he does not have to get a refill monthly, rather he gets a 3 month supply upfront. Also the cost for a 3 month supply of the exact same drugs is $60, working out to $20 a month with no B.S. follow-ups etc. On our travels to date, affordable healthcare has been a real issue for many people considering retiring abroad.  After seeing what is available outside the states, one could hardly blame them for leaving.
One of the many squares in the old town

Beautiful buildings surround the open spaces

Many churches and cathedrals are near the town epicenter

Colonial chic

One of the many flower markets in town

The streets were clean and we did not see any panhandling

The building of a bygone era.

There was a lot of action in town giving it a nice urban feel.

The famous cathedral of the Cuenca skyline.

Deutsches Zentrum (German Center) showcasing German heritage in the area.

The buildings were tastefully restored to their former grandeur 

Different sections of town had different specialties, leather goods, textiles, flowers, etc.

Clean and safe feeling town. There is a noticeably large police presence here to maintain order

One of my favorite buildings

The textile market - great deals on any alpaca or llama items

Stately buildings are a backdrop to commerce below

The flower market is where $1.50 can buy a lot of joy

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ingapirca - Ecuador's largest Inca ruins

This is Mike...
We visited Ingapirca on the way to Cuenca. The elevation was 10,400 feet (3170 meters) so the air was thin, the wind cold, and it even drizzled a bit on us. The girls tried staying warm but since they were wearing summer clothes and it was near 40 degrees (5 degrees centigrade) it was a challenge. The ruins are just amazing and made with such detail. The ruins sit on a high hill between two rivers with four high mountain peaks surrounding it. The mountain peaks around the site happen to be positioned perfectly north, south, east and west. During the zenith of the Inca empire each mountain top had spotter camps on them to alert the temple of impending attacks etc. The Inca temples of the sun and the moon were important places for them indeed.
Many of the mountains in the Andes are treeless or nearly so. Many of the forest have been replaced by agriculture.

The pre Inca ruins of the Canari peoples served as a base for the Inca temples

Each angles and curve had a meaning for the solar and lunar observations

A moon dial near the lunar temple

The stone tools that were used for grinding food

A grinding station for pulverizing ingredients for paints

Many of the stones are being returned to the temple from nearby looters

A section of stone aqueduct that distributed water through the villages and temples for thousands of years

The girls standing in front of amazing stone work

The remains of the only intact Inca home. The inner walls had insets for religious artifacts and other special items.

The girls tried staying out of the icy wind behind the walls of the temple of the sun.

The joints and seems were perfect

The white tags on the outer walls are there to measure movement of the walls. The temple of the sun is built next to a made made wall that is nearly 150 feet high in places.

This view shows how vegetation grew up the hills and walls of the temple compound

The drive from Banos to Cuenca was some biggest changes in altitude on our journey so far. Our ears were constantly adjusting to the ups and downs ranging from 5,000 feet to 12,000 feet.