Are we being followed by the President?
We breakfast at our El Dorado Hotel in the company of a group from France. They arrived in Cuenca last night around 7pm and are on the road again at 8.30am this morning. Their stay in Cuenca is one night! They don't get much time to see this beautiful city. Their whole itinerary features one night stays and lots of travelling. Not our style.
Our coach driver, Neptali, picks us up around 9am to take us to the other side of the city centre to start our walking tour. Although the Modern Art Museum is officially closed in preparation of new exhibitions, we manage to persuade the superviser to let us in to look at the building which was the original Cuenca Jail and then Temperance House. From here we make our way to the busy central market. There are plentiful vegetables and fruits, meat, fish, flowers, and much more. On the first floor our guide Juan Carlos tells us about Ecuadorian chocolate, which has a high cocoa factor. Most of us try some and discover that in this form, it is very bitter indeed! Plenty of water is consumed as a result. Leaving the market we wander through the busy shopping streets and alleys, past the flower stalls to the main square. Here we visit the new cathedral, while outside, school bands practice for the upcoming Cuenca festivities. Rejoining our coach we visit the Homero Ortega Panama Hat Company where we learn about the history and process of Panama hat making. We see 'standard' hats that take two days to make and cost around $20 dollars, and really fine hats that take six months or more to make and cost $1,500. Guests are tempted and hats are purchased, though no one spends $1,500.
Next stop is the Eduardo Vega ceramics gallery. Mr Vega is a renowned ceramics artist, the most famous in Ecuador. More souvenir purchases! From the gallery we walk a few metres to the Turi Hill viewpoint to enjoy a wonderful panorama over the entire city.
After some free time back in town, Richard welcomes everyone to the hotel bar for a cocktail drink prior to dinner. This evening we dine in a rather special venue, the Mansion Alcazar. This tiny boutique hotel doesn't have sufficient bedrooms for our stay but we are borrowing their restaurant tonight. The menu features a caesar salad, proscuitto wrapped pork tenderloin, and sweet berry crepes.
And the President of Ecuador? Well, yes, he waved us off from Quito yesterday, and this evening he is staying at the Mansion Alcazar in Cuenca. The official line is that he has attended an important local meeting and made a TV appearance. Richard, however, believes he is secretly making sure that Furlongs Travel guests are being well looked after!