Our arrival in Cuenca did not go well. We were well on track to get to a place we knew we could stay when we hit roadworks and our usual nemesis, the Desvio (diversion!). Diversions are almost NEVER signposted and inevitably we generally end up getting quite lost. Although not usually as badly as we did in Cuenca. After several unsuccessful attempts to loop around the roadworks we ended up in dead end road needing to turn around.
I jumped out to help Sarah reverse and as we were doing this a guy drove up to us and asked if we needed any help – in really good English. He said he was at the bank and had seen us passing back and forth and realised we were lost, so he had jumped in his car and followed us. We told him where we were going and he looked it up on his iphone and then told us that it was really difficult to find. Oh Shit – we thought – but then he offered to drive there while we followed him. How nice is that ? Many thanks to Sebastian for coming to our rescue that day !
We finally arrived at our destination ,Cabanas Yanuncay ,which was a nice grassy oasis about a 20 minute walk from the centre of town.
Cuenca is a beautiful old colonial town with a massive New Cathedral (built in the 1800’s) to replace a much smaller one which is still intact and used as a museum.
One thing Cuenca is famous for are it’s Panama Hats. The odd thing about the Panama Hat is that it actually comes from Ecuador. The hats were made in Ecuador and sent to workers on the Panama canal and hence became known as the name Panama Hat. Ecuador have been trying to take back ownership ever since but the name has stuck. There is more to buying a Panama Hat than you think and a Superfino (the highest quality) costs several hundred dollars.
I had decided that I wanted a Panama hat but we didn’t want to go to one of the tourist shops selling them at inflated prices. On a side street we came across a hat shop selling the type of hats the indigenous people in the area wear so we went in and asked if they also sold Panama Hats. The response involved the proprietor telling us to follow him and disappearing down an alley next to the shop, up some stairs and unlocking a back room. We nervously followed him and went into the backroom which we were relieved to see was filled with hats and not a couple of men with baseball bats! He left us there with what looked like his 12 year old son to look after us.
After trying on a number of hats I settled on a Fino (one step down from the superfine) and bought my hat for $80. I’m hoping this is a bargain but with our level of Spanish we’re never quite sure – it was $15-$20 cheaper than the ones we had seen in the artisan shops.
After a couple of days hanging out in Cuenca – including enjoying a very rich lunch at an opulent old colonial style restaurant we decided that it was time to move on. Our destination was Peru !