One further note regarding Guamote that I neglected to mention. I don't know whether to attribute it to the the pervasiveness of the evangelical sects but there was an almost total absence of cigarettes and alcohol in that community. Now that I think about, this was pretty much the case in Ecuador in general, particularly rural Ecuador so it can't necessarily be due to the religion. Perhaps the consumption of those things doesn't fit with life in indigenous communities. May it's a cost thing. I think the alcohol that they use would most likely be home brew chicha, the corn based drink. In Colombia or Mexico, whenever there is a gathering of guys (and women in upscale areas) there would be copious quantities of beer consumed whether it was rural or urban.
Also, here's what Guamote looked like the day after the market. You'd never know it happened.
I'm not sure what possessed me to return to Cuenca. I wasn't that taken by it on my first visit a couple of years ago. Yes, it's a beautiful old colonial city, the old town a UNESCO World Heritwage site and most people rave about it, but aside from the beautiful colonial architecture, I found it quite dull and very overrun by tourists and expats.
Diego, my friend from Otavalo, had a good experience there and recommended the accommodations where he stayed. So, on the strength of that I went back. Upon checking in to El Posada, it seemed ok. A basic room overlooking a street, a common kitchen, but a funny smell throughout. Freddy the skateboarder registered me. For $12/night I figured I could make it do for just a couple of nights. I settled in and went out and wandered around town for a while, scoping out dinner possibilities. I finally settled on a restaurant on the basis of it being busy. What I failed to notice until it was too late was that most of the people were drinking, not eating. And not feeling like eating alone I asked a man seated nearby who looked like an English speaker if he'd like to join me for dinner. He was an English speaker and, yes, he'd be happy to join me. Mistake. Randy, I think it was, was from Alaska and commenced to monologue nonstop, mostly self aggrandizement related conversation, the lofty career accomplishments of he and his wife and the important people they hobnobbed with. You win some and you lose some. And unfortunately, the dinner was commensurate with the company.
Returning to the hotel, I sat and read for a while trying to ignore the smell. Something like decomposing garbage. But I couldn't ignore the street sounds which seemed to increase in volume as the evening wore on. And had these sheets been laundered? Possibly not. When it all became intolerable, I called the hostal I'd stayed in before and booked a room for the next day. I made it through the night and bailed next morning as soon as it was reasonable. When I checked out, Freddy sheepishly acknowledged that it was "muy ruidoso", very noisy, in the night. I walked the few blocks to Hostal Macondo where I'd stayed on my other visit and was very relieved to settle in there. A lovely place, clean, nice kitchen, no bad smells, a lovely garden with resident hummingbirds and interesting guests from all over.
About three times the cost but, hey, I deserve better. At breakfast I met Christian from Belgium. He owned a bike touring company and was in Ecuador to scout a tour through the country. An avid cyclist himself, his job was to investigate routes and accommodations off the main highways by car, then return with the bike tourists to lead the way by bike. Sounded like a pretty slick way to fulfill his passion. This was the beginning of Carnival and the pace of the annual festivities was starting to heat up and the town seemed much livelier than on my previous visit. More about that later. I spent the day meandering around, did some shopping at the mercado for dinner stuff and idled away the day.
To be honest, this southern Ecuador part of my trip was something in the nature of killing time before returning to Mexico. True, I was having some nice social connections in Ecuador after an almost complete absence of them in Colombia and one can't help but be taken by the physical beauty of the country, but there was just something lacking. Maybe it was me. I don't know. And so I passed the day in Cuenca and headed off to Loja the next day.
Another interesting note: friends and family in Latin America are comfortable holding hands or putting their arms around each other; open displays of affection.