Cuenca, Cuenca, Cuenca ! The web is full of articles on Cuenca, primarily for and by expatriates who have moved there. International Living Magazine surveys the world and evaluates places for retires to live. For the last number of years, (I think 4 or 5), Ecuador has been rated number one, for cost of living, quality of life, weather and more. Cuenca, a colonial city in the South of the Country, has always been mentioned and retirees flock there. I could not believe all the rhetoric and felt that I had to see for myself.
It was a spur of the moment decision – we would pack up, leave Quito early one morning and make the seven hour drive South. The New Year would begin in Cuenca.
The major highway, number E 35, Pan American, from Quito to Cuenca is excellent. Mostly two lane, it is well paved and signed. While it passes between the Eastern and Western Andes Mountain Ranges, there are dangerous areas where the road winds tightly around mountains, with extreme precipices that border the shoulder of the highway. For the second time in a month, I passed motorists stopped to look down where a vehicle had just fallen over a cliff.
The scenery between Quito and Cuenca is beautiful. You move from lush greenery near Quito, through a dry area, then, again, through mountains of thick vegetation and farming. Though for much of the trip the mountains are clearly visible on both sides, the valley is much wider around the half-way point, Riobamba. Sometime mountains had rounded tops; others rough, rocky, jagged. As always, I am amazed at how land is plowed and crops grown on the steepest of mountain sides. Houses often seem to sit high on slopes with no clear road access. Valley floors allow for space for larger operations, bigger fields and dairy herds. Looking down at scattered clouds provides many jaw dropping panoramas. However, when those clouds are in your immediate path and vision is reduced to a car length, there is reason to be fearful.
Not one police officer was seen on the highway during either the trip there or back.
Travel in South America offers sights that are not normally found on main highways in North America or Europe. Here are a few.
On leaving my home in a Quito suburb, characterized by walled in large houses with neighboring cement block, unkempt homes of the poor, I had to slow down to avoid hitting a pig with six piglets, a goat, a lamb, chickens and a pack of dogs.
On the highway:
o A lady shepherd leading her sheep on the pavement, blocking traffic.
o A man and woman walking with their mule on the shoulder of the road. There were many spots where mules carrying milk cans to be taken to a nearby town were
o A farm couple herding sheep and cows along the roadside and having to chase the wayward off the pavement.
o People riding horses on the highway.
o Escaped cows, bewildered, not knowing where to go, wandering in the path of traffic.
Did I enjoy the journey? You bet. This weekend, I'll head South again to take the time to photograph some of the "off the highway" sites that merit attention.
The next blog will be about my assessment of Cuenca.
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