After only a 3-day week at our villages, we began our Mid-Program Break Wednesday night at Jenny’s cabana with pan de guagua (a traditional bread in the shape of babies in honor of Dia de los Defuctos – Day of the Dead), setting the tone for our long weekend of endless eating. The following morning we got on a 3-hour bus to Guayaquil, then transferred onto another bus for 4 ½ hours that finally brought us to the beautiful Cuenca, a historic cultural mountain city. We spent our first day in Cuenca eating pizza, sampling ice cream, visiting churches, hanging out in flower markets, and making popcorn!
We got a late start on Thursday morning after a nutritious yogurt-cereal-granola breakfast. Our first stop was the cultural heritage museum of Cuenca, an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits that outlined the history of the many cultural groups in Ecuador. Once we’d had our fill of the shrunken heads and other exciting remnants of ancient Ecuadorian culture, we headed off to lunch. We all enjoyed typical Ecuadorian cuisine at a small, popular restaurant called Café Jhuly. Having properly filled our stomachs with fried local treats, we decided to take advantage of our hostel’s communal kitchen to embark on a culinary adventure: chocolate-chip cookie making. Sugar, flour, and glassware went flying as we whole-heartedly produced, and then consumed, some of the best cookie dough ever known to man. About ½ of the dough survived our eager taste buds and made it into the oven for cookies. Notwithstanding, it was a delectable batch of cookies, both cooked and uncooked. After eating our fill of cookies, we realized it was time for dinner, which we enjoyed at a nice Mexican restaurant a couple blocks from the hostel. On our walk home, we were treated to seeing some traditional Ecuadorian dances in one of the city squares. We finished our day sipping manzanilla (chamomile) tea in the hostel, chatting, and reflecting on all of the delicious foods we’d consumed.
We forced ourselves to wakeup early on Saturday to make it to the weekend markets. We found ourselves surrounded by colorful and fragrant produce and treated ourselves to pan de chocolate and fruit. We then moseyed on down to the Panama Hat Museum where we learned about the manufacturing process and even tried on some of the styles ourselves (Amelia looked especially dashing!).
After a morning on the town we headed back to the market to buy fresh avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mangos, and strawberries for a healthy lunch. When we finished up munching we decided to check out the open air market under the “Puente Roto” (Broken Bridge) and then spent a couple of hours in the Aboriginal Museum learning about the first cultures that existed in Ecuador. Afterwards, on our way to run some errands, we stopped at a playground and became a human spectacle as we had the time of our lives on a pair of seesaws.
As the day came to a close, we prepared for our next meal: a treat of some very classic dishes from back home at the lovely Café Eucalyptus. From ravioli to mixed salads, we all walked away pretty happy. We got even happier to find some more homemade cookies waiting for us at the hostel, which of course we couldn’t help but top off with some of our favorite Pinguino ice cream. Don’t judge! We spent the night watching YouTube videos as we digested our evening’s delectable treats.
Sunday morning saw us rise bright and early to get to the bus station on time. On our first bus, a 5 hour ride to Guayaquil, we saw a miraculously entertaining movie entitled The Warrior’s Way and got some shuteye. At the Guayaquil bus station Ben, Rani, and Amelia got the turkey sandwiches they had been missing and Elena, Hannah, and Jenny picked up some classic Ecuadorian fare (you can never have too many humitas!). We made our next bus to San Luis without a hitch and are heading back home to our villages now. Hope the second half of this journey is just as good as the first!