Expatn Peter's Visit to Cuenca Collage

Published on March 16th, 2016


Good Times With Good Friends!

Aerial view of Parque Calderon, Cuenca, Ecuador

View of Parque Calderon from atop the New Cathedral

As an expat loitering in far-off foreign lands for nearly 5 continuous years now, I’ve had many delightful visits from fellow wanderers in Vietnam, Thailand, and here in my newest “home” Cuenca, Ecuador. But recently I enjoyed a first – a visit from an old geochum from my beloved Seattle.

The lad’s a veteran pilot for American Airlines and thus is able to whiz freely ’round the globe, but I must say, I was happily stunned when he announced that he had some spare vacation time (before heading to Hawaii for a week of R ‘n R with his wife) and would I be open to a quick visit to Cuenca? Would I? Why of COURSE – I’d love to show him around my (likewise beloved) new home here at the top of an 8,000+ foot mountain in Ecuador.

As he had just a handful of days to make the trip, while he fiddled with routing himself from Seattle to Cuenca (no easy fiddle via SEA-JFK-GYE-CUE), I busied myself with planning a wowzer itinerary for his short stay. Plenty of interesting things to see and do right here in my little cobbled “El Centro” hood of course, but I’d long put off taking a peek at the nearby (~ 5 hrs. by bus) towns of Loja and Vilcabamba, so I thought that would make for a nice little shared adventure.

His air fiddle resulted in a bit of a snag: his flight into Guyaquil was set to arrive at (the ungodly hour of) 3:20 a.m. while the connecting flight up here to Cuenca didn’t depart til 8:50 (a 5+ hour layover!) He could bus or taxi to Cuenca in less than 4 hrs. of course – but winding through those hairpin (often foggy) mountain roads in the dark – suffice, a good bit dangerous and not recommended.

BUT then I did a little air fiddle of my own and discovered he could instead fly from Guayquil to Loja (i.e. where we planned to head anyway) – and that flight left at 5:40 am (a much shorter layover wait), and we could start our adventures in Loja/Vilcabamba.   I could bus to Loja the day before, spend the night and easily meet his flight the next morning – shaving nearly a full day of bus travel time off our tight itinerary.

Hotel San Ezequiel, Cuenca, EuadorI also scored big time on a colonial hotel for him to stay while in Cuenca. A room the size of a tennis court (no exaggeration!) on the 2nd floor, with two balconies – on the corner overlooking those spectacular blue domes of the New Cathedral and the Cuenca Flower Market (voted *best* flower market in the entire world by no less than National Geographic).  And this – for what turned out to be a mere $28 per night!

The weather for his short stay proved perfect, and we jammed quite the eclectic potpourri of fun things into but a few days.  Hard to know where to begin, but suffice I’ve cobbled no less than 50+ images to help me tell the tale of an absolutely FANTASTIC visit with a good friend.


First a little back-story: Interestingly, there was a time when I thought sure I would HATE Cuenca, and instead would likely find that Loja (smaller, less gringos) better suited my expat tastes. I was living in Chiang Mai at the time (the expat “darling” of Asia) and wanted o.u.t. precisely due to waaay too many farangs (gringos/foreigners – suffice I don’t move to foreign lands only to hang out with folks “just like me”).

My research on Cuenca was all positive (for climate, size, health care, visa requirements, etc.) but Cuenca was also touted as a magnet for expats. Thus I was afraid it would likewise be the “darling” of South America – ugh!  Indeed, as my plane touched down on the tarmac here, I was fully 85% sure I WOULDN’T LIKE CUENCA, and would move on to the smaller, far less touted by gringos town of Loja.

The rest is history. The moment I gazed at Cuenca’s cobbled streets, the red-tiled roofs, the wondrous colonial architecture and those astounding blue domes of the New Cathedral it was love-at-first sight. And I’ve been blissfully happy here ever since. Indeed, in the past 2 years I’ve never given a moment’s thought to even checking out Loja, so it was with great curiosity that I finally headed there to meet my Seattle chum’s flight.

Loja, Ecuador collage

Suffice that when I first arrived in Loja, I was honestly underwelmed. Visually not nearly as charming as Cuenca, and on first glance – rather plain. Nonetheless, upon my friend’s arrival the next morning, we set out to explore the town and I must say – while comparatively, Cuenca far more tickles my toes – Loja has some lovely corners of its own.

One of the highlights of our morning’s amble around Loja was sneaking up into the tower of the “Puerta de la Ciudad” (The City Gate). Built in 2000 and modeled after the castle on the city’s coat of arms, the structure seems a bit Disneylandish. And while the stairs to the tower were blocked by construction, I simply asked the workers if we could por favor tip-toe around the construction debris (an utterly reckless act that would never in a million years be allowed in my native land for fear of a dozen law suits should I happen to stub my toe). Their response? “Si” – which gave us some great aerial views of the entire city.


I’d made reservations at a lovely place in Vilcamabamba, so we next headed there by local bus. Most sources say the bus from Loja to Vilca is about an hour, but – with all the stops along the way, it took more like two. Nonetheless, we eventually arrived and Madre Tierra turned out to be truly enchanting and each of our rooms offered a hammock and patio with a breathtaking view. Unfortunately however, with but a handful of days for his visit, we only had but that afternoon, and the next morning to enjoy those views before heading on to Saraguro and Cuenca.

Hostal Madre Tierra Vilcabamba, Ecuador collage

Room at Hostal Madre Tierra, Vilcabamba, Ecuador collage

(note the little rock “waterfall” where the water flows into the sink)


Settled into our sublime digs, our first priority was to… why grab the nearby GEOCACHE of course! A super fun “World-wide game of hide ‘n seek”, Peter (a.k.a. “Dayspring”) is well-known in Seattle for his ingenious hides. And one of my fondest finds in Seattle, was the day he invited me to hop in his private plane and fly 60 miles north to grab THIS incredible cache hidden by one of our fellow geocachers (spoiler: it uses a remote am radio transmitter to announce the final location of the cache).

Vilcabamba geocache

Our Vilcabamba quarry was much simpler and more typical though – a small tupperware container tucked into a nook alongside the road just a short hike from our hotel. But even better – the owners of the cache lived nearby, and we had a fun visit yammering about our favorite hides, and getting a quick tour of their small micro brewery.

Scary trail up to Cerro Mandango, Vilcabamba Ecuador

A tad daunting, even for my chum, the mountain goat. 😉

The next morning Peter was up at the crack of dawn to climb up to the tippy top of “Cerro Mandango” (that proved a bit of a challenge even for my mountain-climbing chum) , while his more dodderin’ partner in crime opted for a leisurely breakfast and a morning’s fiddle with her brand spankin’ new Sony M2 camera he’d kindly muled in from Seattle. And by noon it was time to head (via a series of zany, albeit speedy taxis) to…


Among my favorite havens nestled amid these Andean mountains, I’d been to Saraguro last year for the Pawkar Raymi Festival and I was anxious to share it with my Seattle chum. And especially, I wanted us to eat at the amazing ShamuiCo Espai Gastronómic restaurant that I’d discovered there. As I was also determined to find him a plate of the quintessentially traditional Ecuadorian dish “cuy” during his visit (yup, that would be your cute little furry pet “guinea pig” for those of you up there in my native land) – lo and behold! Shamuico had the critter on their menu!

Saraguro "cow hat" and cuy in Saraguro, Ecuador collage

(note the bitty roasted “cuy” feet in the bottom dish)

I’d hoped to also drag him out to the countryside to meet the lad who makes those silly “cow spot” hats that are unique to the tiny village of Saraguro, but alas we were running late from Vilcabamba so we had to swiftly move on to Cuenca for the night. Nonetheless, we did get a most bewitching photo of him wearing one!


And finally – onward to Cuenca (though not without a small skirmish at the Saraguro bus station wherein the bus from Loja was already full and there was no sure way to confirm seats on the next bus so…) We instead did a super quick negotiate with a taxi collective, and within minutes were stuffed into a (recklessly, or so it always seems) speeding taxi to Cuenca for a mere 5 bucks each!

Once back in Cuenca, my geopal was game for most anything, and everything we touched seemed to turn to gold. Passing the new cathedral, we tip-toed inside and discovered that a tour of the crypt beneath the church, as well as a climb to the rooftop was scheduled in just 20 minutes. So we dashed over to San Francisco Plaza and chowed down on bowlfuls of my favorite ceviche, then headed back to the cathedral for the tour. Needless to say – the views from the top were spectacular!

Street food ceviche in San Francisco Plaza, Cuenca, Ecuador

The New Cathedral, Cuenca Ecuador collage

9 Octubre Mercado

The next morning I took him to my favorite fresh food market where I shop for most all my fruits, veggies, meats and fish. I introduced him to my favorite veggie vendor, Mila and mentioned that Peter was a “piloto de avión”.  He happened to have some pics on his phone of the 777 jets he flies, and needless to say, Mila and her market friends were very impressed!

In addition to the traditional Andean dish of “cuy”, I was likewise determined that we have platefuls of my bar-none favorite Ecuadorian dish: “hornado” (succulent pulled pork – right off the roasted pig! – along with puffy dollops of fried mashed potatoes and a side of marinated “ensalada”).

9 Octubre Market, Cuenca, Ecuador collage

Shamanic Ritual

After polishing off our delish “hornado” (sloshed down with a shared cerveza), we strolled across the street to “Rotary Market” – a collection of vendors clustered together selling kitschy souvenirs, along with more practical local kitchen items, terracotta cooking pots, etc. The market is also one of the places where indigenous lasses randomly gather to conduct “shamanic cleansing rituals”.

I’d seen them pat folks with handfuls of herbs and flowers on earlier occasions but hadn’t yet experienced the ritual myself. So I was thrilled to take turns with Peter, as our chosen lass energetically slapped each of us with aromatic greenery, chanted unintelligibles whilst rubbing whole chicken eggs over our skin, smudged each of our foreheads with a sooty cross, and (the grand finale) spit a swig of alcohol in my face (apparently Peter was laughing too hard to capture a photo of my stunned reaction to that endearing event).

Shamanic Cleansing Ritual, Rotary Market Cuenca, Ecuador

And then it was Peter’s turn…
Peter's Shamanic cleansing ritual, Rotary Market, Cuenca Ecuador

New Geo Hide!

And finally, on the last day before his evening flight back to Seattle, the absolute perfect frosting-on-the-cake: Peter had kindly brought me an array of geo-paraphenelia from Seattle – including a ready-made pvc “tube” to replicate his legendary “Totally Tubular!” Seattle hide here in Ecuador.

Seriously, what could be more fun than scouting out the perfect spot along the river (with sturdy fence and handily adjacent drinking fountain!) and placing a southern hemisphere version of my geochum’s signature geohide: “Inca Tubo”? And afterwards, we celebrated our geo-mischief with cappuccinos along the beautiful Rio Tomabamba!

Good times with GREAT friends, along the Rio Tomebamba Cuenca Ecuador

What more can I say? Thanks so much Peter – for a chance to share my new home here in Ecuador, and create so many great memories!

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

8 Responses to Good Times With Good Friends!

  1. Leslie in Oregon says:

    Wonderful stories! Your Ecuador sounds great to me. Maybe I’ll rethink going to Uruguay first.

    I don’t remember any of the Pan Am pilots with whom I flew in the 1970s being that much fun…you must bring out the best in your fellow adventurers! Did Peter tell you very much about flying the fly-by-wire B777? Does he feel like he gets enough actual-flying time in that computerized aircraft?

    • Dyanne says:

      I’ve not (yet) been to Uruguay Leslie, but yes – do consider dropping into Ecuador when you head to South America (and btw, I can show you how to visit those luscious Galapagos Island – on the cheap!)

      Ah yes PanAm in the late 70’s – I (along w/ my 2 daughters then aged 8 and 11) flew PanAm over the poles from Seattle to London. You’d have to ask Peter about how he feels about the 777 though. But I know for certain he…A. absolutely loves his job, and B. he’s no doubt THE most conscientious pilot American has!

      • Leslie in Oregon says:

        I now plan on including Ecuador next time I come to South America, Dyanne. Thank you for offering the Galapagos Island advice! So far, I have only visited Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. (Going to law school and practicing law ate up most of my free time during the last five years I flew for Pan Am.) But I may well have been among the crew on your SEA-LHR in the late 70’s, as I was then based in Seattle and flew that route many weekends. I hope that you and your daughters got a glorious view of the Canadian Rockies out of the port windows during that flight!

  2. Thanks for sharing your Ecuadoria adventures.

    • Dyanne says:

      Thanks for commenting Vivienne, and glad you enjoyed a replay of our many eclectic shenanigans here on this mountain top. Looks like you likewise live in a beautiful part of the globe. Have you ever traveled to Ecuador? Do give me a holler if you ever drop in!

  3. Sounds like you had an awesome time playing travel host to your friend. Your post makes me think we might have to visit Ecuador again someday to explore Cuenca in particular and more of Ecuador’s amazing wondrous places!

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Anita, we packed a lot into his short visit – but there’s tons more to do right here in and around Cuenca (hike in the Cajas, visit the Aztec sun temple at Ingapirca, etc.) Indeed, even after 2 years here, *I* even still have many things/places yet to see.

      That said though… I may be headed your way soon – leastwise Eastern Europe, but ya never know when I might pop into Portugal!

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