Punta Sal Chica, Peru (a.m.)/ Cuenca, Ecuador (p.m.)

  • Date
  • 23 September 2001
  • Lodging
  • El Dorado
  • Distance
  • 320 KM
  • Total
  • 213564 KM

We reached Ecuador driving from a windy sand dune desert in northern Peru to fertile, green rain forest here. Really, quite stunning journey as we left one contrast for another. Border crossing was chaotic, as thousands of people walked, bought and sold nearly everything imaginable on the narrow, dirt, two-lane streets. As usual, few signs marked customs or immigration. Jim thrives on this madness, but I tend to experience rapid heartbeats as our car swerves from one vendor’s homemade juice stall to another’s wooden street shop selling fresh meat-filled empanadas. At the packed border beside a Christian revival of sorts, blasting songs and prayers through massive speakers, we changed our Peruvian soles into US dollars, since Ecuador converted to US currency in 2000 aiming to lower inflation.

After inspecting the money as best we knew how and hoping none was counterfeit, we drove on to Cuenca via pot-holed, winding roads. (We’re spoiled since most of Peru’s main roads were splendid, due to heavy tolls financing them.) Mid-afternoon, we reached Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, home to 400,000 people. Here, everywhere we walked, we saw a cathedral or church. Honestly, Jim and I strolled for more than an hour and with every turned corner, we saw more spiraling steeples protruding into the sky. The centuries old, ornate churches are in good condition, generally, and always breathtaking. In el centro, stately, tall marble buildings, which were once home to the wealthy, are now home to government or banks.

Sunday afternoon found Cuenca nearly closed for commerce save the three crowded ice-cream parlors we passed. The most delightful sight at one was a young nun carrying eight cones of double scopes all topped with whipped cream! Jim and I watched her dart to a pickup truck that held seven other nuns looking delighted over their afternoon snack.