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February 5
I catch the morning Air Canada flight from Winnipeg to Toronto and my seatmate is a young Peruana, traveling with her baby.  Her husband works for Valle in Thompson, Manitoba and she is on her way home to visit her family in Peru.  Despite my initial misgivings, the baby is delightfully well-behaved and I have a chance to brush the dust off my Spanish.

At Pearson International, I board Air Canada flight 80 to Lima, Peru.  In the old days of regulated air travel, Canadian Pacific Air Lines owned all the South American routes.  Since absorbing CP Air, Air Canada continues to operate these direct flights.  My seatmate is another Peruana, but her English is much more fluent than my Spanish, so I don’t get to practice.  She is pleasant company and the eight-hour flight passes quickly.

As promised, there is a young man from the hotel, waiting at LIM, holding a sign with my name on it.  He takes me the short drive to Hostal Victor, where I get a good night’s sleep.

February 6
The same young man drives me back to LIM in the morning for my TACA flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador.  Out the front door of the Guayaquil terminal and a short walk brings me to Operazuaytours, a shuttle bus service to Cuenca.  Luck is with me; I get the last seat in the van and we leave within minutes for the three-hour trip.

We travel for nearly an hour across a flat coastal plain.  The weather is tropical, hot and humid, but a cloud cover keeps the temperatures from being uncomfortable.  The coastal plain is very fertile, devoted to growing bananas, sugar cane and rice.  Then, we leave the costa behind and in a matter of minutes, begin climbing into the Andes.  And do we ever climb -- thirteen thousand feet in just over an hour!  The road rises into the clouds and visibility is reduced – probably a good thing.  This road would be even more terrifying if one could actually see the sheer drops from the shoulder of the road.  Tres Cruces, the top of the pass, is high above the tree line and we see free-range llamas (pronounced yamas, here) wandering beside the road.  For the next 45 minutes, the road winds down into the valley, where Cuenca sits at a mere 8200 feet.  Mike meets me at the bus station and we take a cab to their lovely three-bedroom apartment overlooking the Rio Tomebamba, close to the centre of town.



Top of the pass: 13,750 feet

View from the top of the pass



View of Cuenca

Traditional dancing in the street


February 7
We walk down into the old part of the city.  The streets are cobblestones and there are lots of old colonial buildings.  It seems that every other corner has a beautiful old church and the main cathedral in the centre of town, with its tiled domes, is a Cuenca icon .  We climb aboard a double-decker sightseeing bus – there is no better way to get an all-over view of a new city.  The weather is cool, with the occasional light shower, but not enough to be uncomfortable.  Then the sun comes out for about twenty minutes.  It never occurred to me to either put on sunscreen or wear a hat and I get a ferocious sunburn on my face.  We are only 2 degrees south of the equator and I should know that the sun will be very strong, especially at this altitude.



The new cathedral with its iconic dome

High altar in the cathedral



Beautiful building overlooking the parque central

Pretty building on the corner of the square



A beautiful church on every corner


February 8
We head out early to visit the archeological site of Incapirca, the most extensive Inca site in Ecuador.  The bus ride takes us north through the neighbouring province of Cañari.  The scenery is absolutely spectacular:  deep green valleys and high alpine pastures, well above the tree line.  Many, many people live at these very high altitudes in spite of the harsh conditions and generally cloudy wet weather.  The archaeological site is very well done and we have a knowledgeable, English-speaking guide.  The Inca and Cañari people lived side by side in this area and the excavated structures demonstrate both types of buildings and artifacts.   By the time the bus delivers us back to Cuenca, it has been a long day.  So far I haven’t been affected by the altitude, but I don’t try any hundred yard dashes, either.



Our (very short) guide of local Cañari heritage

Inca terraces at Incapirca



Inca and Cañari structures


February 10
Our plan is to take the shuttle back to Guayaquil, but Mike and Marilyn’s friend, Maria Elena, offers us a ride.  Maria Elena lives in Guayaquil, but frequently visits her aunt who lives in the apartment next door.  She is heading home today and we quickly accept her offer.  Then we discover her hidden motive.  She hands me the keys and says:  “You drive.”  It is an interesting and challenging drive, to say the least and I manage not to hurt the car or scare the crap out of my passengers (or myself). 

We arrive in Guayaquil around 4:00 in the afternoon and check into the nice hotel that Mike booked for us, right in the centre of downtown, directly across the street from the cathedral.  The central square in front of the cathedral is called Parque de Iguanas and for good reason:  literally hundreds of iguanas live here.  They lie on the sidewalks, scamper across the grass and drape themselves over tree limbs.  They are very tame and obviously completely accustomed to being admired and photographed.



Guayaquil cathedral

       Classic wrought-iron gazebo on the central square



Parque de Iguanas

One of the senior residents


Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and has been a busy port since colonial times.  It used to have a very bad reputation for crime and tourists were advised to avoid the city entirely.  However, Ecuador has discovered oil in the eastern Amazon region of the country and the revenues are fueling enormous infrastructure development.  It is obvious that a lot of this oil money has been spent to clean up Guayaquil.  Many beautiful old classic buildings have been totally restored to their former glory, but most appealing of all is the redeveloped malecon.  This is an attractive walkway that runs for a couple of kilometers along the riverfront.  It contains shops, restaurants and bars as well as museums, art galleries and other attractions.  A heavy police presence discourages petty crime and it is now a popular family attraction.  In the company of thousands of people, we stroll along and enjoy the evening.

At one end of the malecon is a high hill where the original settlement was located.  The colourful houses of a funky neighbourhood called Las Peñas  crowd together along a staircase, which runs up to a lighthouse at the very top.  There are 459 steps; we know this because each one bears a little number plaque.  We reach the summit – and then we even climb to the top of the lighthouse.  After that, we decide to reward ourselves with a cold beer.  In fact, we reward ourselves several times.



Colourful houses of Las Peñas

Still many steps to go!



View from the top of the lighthouse

Little church from the top of the lighthouse

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