Would you stay in a place where the whole village has street names but no numbers? The cab driver couldn’t even find our apartment after circling the area four times. All that was given was just a street name and the color of the building.
To experience true local lifestyle we took a chance and rented a walk-up apartment in the village of Banos de Cuenca. Banos de Cuenca is located 15 minutes drive from downtown Cuenca. It is located at a higher elevation at an average of 11,000 feet above sea level. In the village, cows grazed the land in our neighbor's yard and chicken ran across the street. Every day I met up with this white and black cow I called "natural lawn mower" grazing on the piece of property. The owner tied it up and harnessed the rope to a small stick in the ground. Bit by bit "natural lawn mower" chewed up the grass. What a great way to feed the cow giving us grass-fed beef. Not to mention it is also good for the environment.
For heating we gathered firewood from the owner's backyard. A wood fireplace in the apartment kept us warm and cozy. Sometimes my husband wrapped a few potatoes in foil and cooked his potatoes in the fireplace.
Bus number 11 and 12 connect Banos de Cuenca to downtown Cuenca and to the SuperMaxi supermarket. Regular taxi fare is about $4. Taxis in Cuenca are not metered. We were charged $5 each way and sometimes $3.50 going to the same location. Interestingly the first cab driver who took us from Cuenca bus station to the apartment charged ten bucks. It is not unusual to be quoted different prices by different cab drivers. This is part of being a non-local who hardly speaks any Spanish. It can be frustrating as a traveler in a foreign land.
Banos de Cuenca is not a town where tourists gather and visit often. Occasionally we saw tourists going to the thermal hot springs and spas like Piedra de Agua, NovaQua and the thermal pools in Hostal Duran.
From our apartment’s balconies we could view the whole village. On the right of us was the village Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe church. This blue building stood out whether it was morning or night as we looked out each day.
Every Sunday, local vendors gathered around the church and set up the street market selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, household goods and cooked meals.
But on September 8 the village celebrated the birthday of the Virgin Mary where local leaders and believers walked from the foothill to the Virgin of Guadalupe church on the hill. The crowd gathered around the church where vendors were selling all sorts of local delicacies including guinea pigs, espumilla and candy apples.
Locals would set up tables and chairs and grill guinea pigs on an open stove of all sizes. Each may cost $15-$18, cheaper than the restaurants in the city of Cuenca. One farmer transported a cow in his truck and was backing into a driveway probably bringing the cow for slaughter.
The views of mountains, houses in the valleys, houses in the mountains and pine trees and locals were visible from all the windows and the apartment’s two balconies. I enjoyed looking at the sky and seeing men, women and children walking in the streets below or on the hills in the distance.
While walking on the hills where the locals walk each day, we saw deep cracks on the ground and bubbling hot water flowing down the valley. Locals got their raw eggs out and placed them in black plastic bags and began to cook their eggs for lunch.
Our apartment is on the top floor of a four-story simple building. It was here that we took a rest and enjoyed our time together living like locals and preparing our own meals using fresh produce from the local fresh produce vendors and Sunday market. We ate well and cheaply. Here was a typical breakfast and lunch.
We rented this apartment through AirBnB for a month. It was $25 per night including the use of washer and dryer. The hot water system in this apartment was the best out of the five months of apartment stay we have had.
Walking on the dirt roads of Banos de Cuenca one day I thought about JRR Tolkien’s quote from The Fellowship of the Ring: “[Bilboa] used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river, it springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary.” Every road I have walked will be one of the tributaries that lead to the Road.
We said goodbye to the lady who served us every week with fresh fruits and vegetables up the road from our apartment. Then it was time to say goodbye to the bakery owners down the road. One word we should have learned but never did until the day we left Banos de Cuenca was “yappa!”
Yappa means, “give me more!” If you purchase 10 bananas for $1 you are supposed to unashamedly ask for “yappa” and the vendor would give you probably two or three more bananas.
The apartment we stayed in was very clean and cozy. We have all the important amenities we needed to stay comfortably. Staying in apartments has been the best way for us to travel and explore the local lifestyle.