Sunday afternoons in Cuenca are not unlike Sunday afternoons in other parts of Ecuador: pretty dead. The other thing that struck me on my arrival in Cuenca was the cold: chilly, damp cold that made the streets seem even more ghostlike.
Staying in Casa Sol (not to be confused with La Casa Sol), an unsigned family home-cum-hostel was a fair choice, where a private room and breakfast cost $7. There were no other guests (this increasingly seems to be the story as my travels progress and I move away from the big cities and out of the high tourist season). Casa Sol was a big, old house, cold and quiet and ideally situated within a few blocks of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.
As dusk approached, I wandered the cobbled streets close to the hostel, passed closed shops and restaurants and tiled street signs towards the main plaza of Parque Calderón and the cathedral, it’s blue domes and structure lit up against the incoming darkness. Here, there was some more life. A few eateries still had their doors open – creperies and pizzarias and heledarias and places serving comida tipico – and well-dressed Ecuadorians supped on Locro de Papas and humitas and… spaghetti bolognaise.
In the park opposite the cathedral a group of young musicians struck up some tuneful music – percussion, guitar, recorder and flute-like instruments – headed by an animated, blonde-haired guy who sang and clapped, bouncing around in a tracksuit and woolly hat pulled down firmly over his ears. Show over, money was collected with a smile and thanks and a dramatic flourish of the hat.
Monday morning brought with it an increased bustle as the working week began, but despite the open shop fronts and a tenfold increase in people treading the pavements, Cuenca remained organised, serene, dignified.
The small market two blocks from the cathedral was ready for business but felt spacious and digestible (compared to the likes of Otavalo’s Saturday markets). Unfortunately, Mama Kinua in the Casa de Mujer was shut. I had hoped to eat there to find out about the non-profit organisation whilst feasting on some nutritious food, but no such luck this time. Although no tasty quinoa, I did finally try the sticky, foamy pink goo sold by street traders and served up in an ice-cream cone. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected, or as dense, just a bit empty, full of nothing. It’s not something I’m craving to eat again.
Back at the hostel, I was feeling the cold and as night approached I piled on the layers and for the first time since being in Ecuador, out came the cosy hat. The rain started to pour and, despite Cuenca’s beauty and delicate appeal, the weather impacted my mood and I felt a bit lost and lonely and in need of something more than architectural wonder. Time to move on.