Walking the main area of Cuenca, I was happy to find a city that was not obnoxious, but actually beautiful and fairly tranquil. The main plaza was filled with people, and the large cathedral was one of the most beautiful I've been in yet. It was monstrously large and one of the more impressive.
When I first walked in the back, a strong incense seemed to be in the air, until I realized the mist was in fact spray paint. To my right a man had been spray painting an entire Christmas display and I have no idea how many cans it took, but I can tell you the people in the back of the cathedral were seeing things in the heavens much more than the people at the far front.
Outside, the afternoon was sunny, clear and paint fume free. It felt good to walk around.
I wandered here and there as the day slipped away, spotting some white boxes piled on the floor of a small chapel. As I peered in, a woman and her two daughters came up next to me. The lady spoke to me in English and said that evening would be a festival of lights just as they had in Villa de Leyva, Colombia. I thanked her and told her I had been there just a couple of weeks before. She said she had never been, but this day was her birthday and she had come to visit from Quito since the celebration coincided with her birthday weekend.
True to her words, as darkness fell young people began lining the streets and plazas with the candle containers. Here and there, folks began to light the candles and let their children stare, fascinated with the flickering flames. It was a beautiful sight and as I walked the streets in the cool air, the crowds grew and grew until the streets were shoulder to shoulder.
I wandered into a smaller church that was the center of festivities and watched in silence as the evening message was spoken, listening to the squeaks of the wooden floors as tourists snuck in to try and take photos.
Outside, the festivities continued as the city painted itself in Christmas lights and the glow of countless cell phones on the crowded streets.
The next day I located another hotel a few blocks away, that was a bit cheaper and advertised free parking. Though it was only a couple of blocks away, the one-way streets and repairs turned it into a 15 minute ride. Unfortunately I discovered that there was absolutely no parking on the street in front of the hotel to check in. In addition the road was a major thoroughfare and trying to even stop proved almost impossible. I looped several blocks twice trying to find the combination of the gap in the traffic and to try to get up onto the curb. Buses and cars don't give a crap here.
The stars aligned and I was able to get on the sidewalk without getting hit or dumping the bike. After checking in I asked the girl where the free parking was, and she indicated for me just to pull the bike into the lobby. First of all the lobby was very tiny, and secondly, there was a large step up into the hallway from the sidewalk. I finally got to use my camping duffel bag for the first time of the trip, using it as a ramp to get the bike in. It was quite a bit of maneuvering on the sidewalk to avoid having to try to back into the traffic and take a run at it. Lots of gentle clutch burning and I finally got the bike into the hallway to the lobby where she then indicated to continue into the dining room. I finally got the bike in and the cases off, rolling it back into a gap between tables before moving into my new accommodations.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the streets again, looking for images. I walked to the Pumapungo museum, an interesting place featuring the ethnology of many of the tribes in Ecuador. One of the displays featured true shrunken heads from the Amazonian tribes, somewhat macabre and fascinating. Outside the museum, a walkway lead to Incan ruins and the park, complete with llamas and an area with birds on display. Both the museum and park were very impressive and worth every penny, which amounted to none. The museum and park were free.
True to my childish inner self, the heads were fascinating...
Outside, the walkway led to preserved Incan ruins in the original layout, with an original garden location and a small park with an aviary.
One thing I never knew was that the Incans had sloped roof dwellings with brick style walls
After walking the streets I had a small meal as the sun set. Stepping out of the café onto a dark side street, a small procession of people walked in the darkness. They were dressed in robes and religious attire and I walked around the corner with them to the front of the massive cathedral.
Apparently a statue of the virgin was to be carried in and I stood near the cardinal and officials while the band played and the statue arrived.
It was a solemn affair and as I watched the officers lift the statue to carry into the Cathedral, suddenly I was engulfed in white and had no idea what was happening until I realized that from above, thousands of rose petals were pouring off the roof onto the statue, the Cardinal and the few of us standing with them. It took everyone by surprise, including the soldiers, the Cardinal, officials and myself and everyone's solemnity turned into laughter. I watched as the statue was carried into the church in the procession behind the religious officials and relished the moment.
There was a mad rush to gather the rose petals from people on the street, stuffing them in pockets or bags for use in some form or fashion.
Chuckling, I walked back to my hotel brushing stems and rose petals off my head and out of my camera bag.
As it turned out my new hotel was even worse with noise than the previous. That night I don't think I got any sleep, and the next day Michnus sent me a message saying they would like to meet in Ingapirca, the sight of some Incan Ruins about an hour north of Cuenca the next day.
It would be good to see Michnus and Elsebie again, having met them a couple of years previous at MotoHank's place in Dilley. At the time I was still living in the Texas Hill country near Medina, and had ridden to Hank's shop to hang out for the day. There were two almost brand-new Suzuki DR 650s outside his shop when I arrived, and when I walked in I saw a guy mounting tires. When he turned around I immediately recognized him from a ride report about Angola on ADVrider. It was fun meeting Michnus and Elsebie that day. They'd only just bought the DRs and were in the process of outfitting them over the next month or so for their Americas tour.
Now, a couple of years later, life had twisted and woven a path that crossed in a foreign country, something I would never have expected.
The morning of leaving I got the bike turned around in the dining room and started it, one of the guests in the lobby holding the doors open for me as I rode out, dropping down the steps and out into the street. It was a beautiful sunny day as I headed back North into the mountains. The traffic was reasonable and the drivers were fairly courteous in comparison to some of the other countries. A few miles out of town I passed through areas where complete roasted pigs were on display and man did they look good. We'd agreed to meet around noon or one so I didn't stop.
I made good time and arrived in the high mountain area around 11, exploring a couple of small villages and killing some time until about noon when I rode on out to the park.
I spotted their bikes parked at the curb, and saw them smiling and waving from a coffee shop. As I got off the bike, three people began talking to me about the bike and Ecuador, stalling me long enough that Michnus and Elsebie walked on over. It was good to see them again. We bought our tour tickets and then had a cup coffee to catch up before walking through the ruins. The sunshine had quickly disappeared to be replaced with the heavy mountain mist.
When it was time for the three of us to head back to Cuenca, there was a puddle of oil beneath my bike and my heart sank. I hoped it was coming from my recently replaced oil filter, however that was not the case. We had decided to stop and have some roast pig for a late lunch, but decided that it was more important to get the bike back to Cuenca. I followed as we wove our way down the mountain. Luckily, my clutch had not begun to slip and I was thankful for that as the slow and certain realization that a big problem lay ahead.
Again, my tent and camping duffel saved the day getting the bike back into the hotel. I watched as drops of oil collected on the white polished marble beneath the bike and felt the excitement of traveling drain away, in the knowledge that my trip was going to be stopped for at least three weeks or more. At least I was in a great town and not in a Peruvian desert somewhere. Such is travel and the accompanying adventure that is his partner.