Panama hats, hot springs and colonial buildings
22.09.2008 - 03.10.2008 25 °C
After returning from the Galapagos, Josh and I headed to Cuenca, Peru. Cuenca is considered the prettiest city in Ecuador and it didn't dissapoint. The cobbled streets are lined with interesting and beautiful colonial buildings. We spent most of our time there roaming the streets and peeking into churches. One of our highlights, however, was visiting a Panama hat museum and manufacturer. The famous Panama hat, is more accurately called a "Monte Cristi" hat and it is not from Panama at all, but from Ecuador! It was called a "Panama hat" by gold prospectors heading to California during the gold rush. It was faster for prospectors from the east to travel by boat down the east coast, through the Panama canal and up the west coast to California than to travel over land. When they were heading by Panama, a popluar purchase was a Monte Cristi hat from Ecuador. That's how they got their current name. Anyway, Cuenca is famous for their Monte Cristi hats. They are made with a type of soft straw, woven by hand and then hammered on a wooden mold to make the classic shape. The prices varied depending on how fine and tight the weave was. Josh found a hat that looked great on him so we bought it for a steal.
After Cuenca, we headed for Baños. Baños is a fairly small town, about 2000m in elevation and pretty much right on a volcano. Because of this, they have geothermal hot springs ...and don't worry, the volcano hasn't erupted for about a year or two! Josh and I had a really enjoyable time there hiking in the hills, riding bikes to explore the many, many waterfalls in the area and soaking in the near-scalding waters. We stayed there an extra day or two to wait out a referendum that was taking place in Ecuador at the time, but finally we had to move on.
From Baños, we took the bus to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We picked a cheap hostel at random in the Mariscal district where most backpackers stay. The streets were lined with trendy restaurants and bars. The most interesting part of Quito has to be the old city. The colonial buildings and churches would rival those of Europe, I'm sure. We toured the sites, museums and churches and my favourite things were the Santa Catalina convent where the nuns live in isolation (even from eachother) but make soaps, creams, wine and elixers for sale and climbing up into the bell tower of the San Fransisco church. I had to go on my own because Josh is afraid of heights but I took the camera to capture the view from the top. The climb started up narrow stairways but eventually declined to ladders with unevenly spaced rungs. I climbed and climbed and was eventually ABOVE the bells in the tippy-top of the spire. There wasn't even a floor here but some chicken wire stretched over some beams. I balanced on the beams and carefully removed the camera from the case so I could snap a picture of the great view. Click, click -nothing. There was no battery in the camera! Oh well, I'll just have the picture in my mind. On my way back down, I had the (mis)fortune of being IN the bell tower when the clock struck 5! I was startled to say the least and a little deaf.