09 October 2012

Cuenca 2

Cuenca is a beautiful city. It is certainly one of the more beautiful South American cities I had been in. It is also filled with American retirees. I had never seen so many older Americans in one place, even in America. It is a retirement village of sorts.
At the breakfast place next door to my hostal there were many of these older gringos and I would listen in on their conversations. They all appeared to know each other and would talk about the different activities during the week they were planning to be present at. Very few of them could speak Spanish with any facility and the old part of Cuenca and its shops had adapted to their presence. The waiters and hosts of the restaurants would greet all the gringos in English when they entered. When they realized I could speak Spanish it surprised them.
The prices too reflected the presence of these gringo retirees. Hostal room prices were almost double what my guidebook listed them at three years before. There were still little restaurants to get a cheap almuerzo in the old part of the city, but there were many more restaurants selling gringo food. There was New York and even Chicago style pizza, as well as bars and clubs that catered to the Americans.
But cities for me are an opportunity to get things done that I can‘t do in the countryside. I went looking for butane gas canisters for my stove and after going to four shops I found them. I also went looking for a good wool hat to wear up in the mountains and spent part of a day at Cuenca’s outdoor artesanias markets. Going looking for things and asking where to find them, especially the gas canisters, gives me an opportunity to see a city and to meet its people. I ended up walking through much of the old city, no doubt seeing many of the important churches and buildings discussed in the guidebooks.
I also had my very dirty clothes washed by an old woman who ran a laundry spot down the street from the hostal. The clothes washing would take two days and cost me $3. With my clean clothes and wool hat and two large gas canisters I was ready for the mountains. At the tourism office I had inquired about the road through El Cajas National Park that led back out of the mountains. I had asked if the road was paved and indeed it was.
As beautiful as Cuenca is I did not want to stay too long and lose the mountain conditioning I had built up on the ride there. I wanted to apply this conditioning to harder riding in higher mountains. From what I had read the mountains around the park were just the challenge I was looking for. I was going to ride to up to 4500 meters.


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