The more traveling you do, the more you’ll develop your travel style. How you travel really makes a lot of difference in terms of your experiences in a country. Apart from Guayaquil, Loja, Otavalo, San Pablo and Quito, we spent two months hanging out in Cuenca and a little town 15 minutes away from Cuenca city center called Banos de Cuenca.
While in Cuenca we stayed in a three-story home that was once an orphanage and the owner converted it into a Spanish school with rooms on the second and third floors. My kids were the only students in the school. That gave us the luxury of staying in two floors without other tenants or students. The teacher came to the school (our home in Cuenca) three times a week. The school (house) is located at the Bilingue area of Cuenca.
This must have been the place where we had the most involvement with the locals. We attended a Spanish-speaking church, walked to the cafés and the local fresh market and often walked for half an hour each way to the Coral Supermarket and Mall del Rio, the biggest mall in Cuenca.
The teens worked out every morning in the hall downstairs, doing their P90X and jogged around the neighborhood and at times they were chased by the neighborhood dogs.
On Sundays after church a espumilla vendor would park his bicycle in front of the church. All the kids and adults would gather around him to purchase his sweets for 25 cents each.
Sometimes the Bible school students would come and sell caramelized tree tomato (a local fruit) for $2 to raise money for their college fund.
We walked everywhere in Cuenca. Once, while on our way to Mall del Rio we saw this roasted pig facing the street. I was freaked out. The head and face of the pig was facing us and part of it was already cut off. The tail was still hanging at its rear.
There was no way we were going to avoid eating this pig. So we took a seat and ordered a plate to share for $3. It was not a place to call for a glass of wine to pair with my food.
Many days we walked for hours without a map and got lost in the city. Most of time we were trying to find a new place to eat only to end up going to the same place over and over again.
One day my son and husband wanted to watch a soccer game and we end up at La Barraca for three hours – free WiFi, TV and menu del dia for $2.20. There was not a tourist inside- just the locals and us. This restaurant is located at Borrero 9-68.
Another day we stopped at Mercado 10 de Agosto for encebollado (fish stew) and fried trout. We ate with the locals on a yellow table. It was a very yellow looking photo as it turns out – yellow soup on a yellow table! If you are in Cuenca, stop by this fresh market and get a feel of the local lifestyle. Be cautious with your belongings.
We met up with Cecelia of Terra Diversa, a friend we met through Twitter for breakfast at San Sebas and she showed us a local place where a lunch of soup, a main dish and drink is only $1.75 per person. The lady did not have a menu. She serves meals as if you were at her home- whatever she cooks for the day.
Through Cecelia we met her friend Cristian, owner and fashion designer at LlamaDesign. He has unique pieces of men and women’s shirts, jackets and pants in the store. After a few minutes of chatting he invited us to his exclusive product launch party. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the launch.
The locals in Cuenca are genuinely helpful and friendly. They invited us to their homes for tea and taught us a few things about Ecuador. Here is a plant from our front yard which apparently can replace tea leaves. Just add the leaves to hot water and drink it hot.
Cuenca is uniquely different. You can see ladies of all ages in colorful traditional dresses walking, selling or shopping in the streets. I love the lady with her yellow shoes and her perfectly matched yellow skirt.
This city is one of my favorites to live like a local in South America. It has all the conveniences and yet maintains some of their cultural heritage and local flair.
Did I mention it was cheap to have a haircut and to have our teeth cleaned by a dentist? Here are photos of my son’s visit to the hair salon for a $2 haircut and my daughter sitting on a dentist chair for a $25 routine clean up.
Cuenca, I think I’ll be back to discover more of you. Living like a local allowed us to meet new friends in Ecuador. What is your travel style?
Dentist: Yadira Reinoso Gomezcoello, Simon Bolivar 10-16 y Padre Aguirre, Cuenca. Telephone: 2823471 (Located on the second floor, close to the cathedral).