On a recent trip to Cañar (pronounced, kahn-YAAR), about a 90-minute drive north of Cuenca, we visited the Sunday market and then, after lunch, the nearby ruins of Ingapirca, the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. Char and I were among a group of seven who hired a van and a driver for the day.
This particular market is not only a farmers’ market with all sorts of fresh produce, but also a market for housewares, clothing, jewelry, and other items. After we had bought fruit for the week, Char bought a necklace and and a pin and I bought another hat. It’s always fun going to a market. It’s kind of like driving by a Dollar Store–there is always something inside that you need, you just don’t know what it is until you go in to find it.
Our tour of the Ingapirca ruins was brief, a bit cold, and wet. Weather in the Andes is subject to sudden changes–bright and sunny one moment, rainy and windy the next. Although these are the largest Inca ruins in Ecuador, they are nothing like the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Nevertheless, Ingapirca is further evidence of the reach of the Incas. The most significant building at Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. On the top of the elliptical structure was a two-room structure (now mostly gone), one room facing east and one facing west. By the way, the Incas built structures without mortar–all of the stones were carved to fit perfectly in place. Wikipedia notes that researchers have learned by observation that the Temple of the Sun was positioned so that on the solstices, at exactly the right time of day, sunlight would fall through the center of the doorway of the small chamber at the top of the temple. I just find it fascinating how ancient peoples could develop construction techniques centuries ago that rival our own. And their knowledge of the stars and the seasons was anything but primitive.
We enjoyed meeting this young traveler from Austria
As our English-speaking guide led us around the Ingapirca archeological site, we were quietly joined by a young woman who was kind of hanging back. By the time the group was at the Temple of the Sun, we were finally close enough to engage her in conversation. She told us she is Sarah Zischka of Austria, and that she had been traveling through South America since March, 2019. Moreover, she is traveling alone–a phenomenon that is becoming quite common among young women. Indeed, when Char and I were traveling overland through South America in 2017, we met a number of young women who were doing just that. Safety, it turns out, is much the same when you travel as when you are home: get to know the local people, don’t go out at night alone, and find others to accompany you when you do go out. (Try googling “women traveling solo” or “is it safe for women to travel alone” if you’d like to see how popular it is.)
As Sarah was headed for Cuenca when we encountered her in Ingapirca, we offered her a ride with our group. When we arrived, we suggested a hostel for her, and after she had settled in, we asked her to join us for dinner to exchange stories. In early 2019, Sarah found herself working more and enjoying it less. She quit her job and took off, and after landing in Buenos Aires, began working her way through South America and is still on the go. One of the luxuries of Sarah’s style of travel is that she is not on anyone’s schedule but her own, so she can stay in any given place for a few days or a few weeks. When we encountered Sarah, she had still to see the Galapagos Islands, and she was headed in that direction.
And for my editorial note, I wish more young Americans would travel like this. This sort of travel is so educational, so enriching, and so rewarding. I wish more of our kids would step outside of our country’s boundaries to experience the lives that people live in different parts of the world. Experiences await them–some good, some bad–that they cannot now imagine, but they will tell the stories of their escapades for the rest of their lives.
No hablo español muy bien
For those of you who really do speak Spanish, and for those of you who have studied Spanish, you know what I am saying above: “I don’t speak Spanish very well.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak Spanish well. In 2018, Char and I enrolled in Spanish I at a local college. In Minnesota, anyone aged 62 or older can enroll for free in any course at any state school, as long as there is an opening. You must pay for books, parking, and other administrative fees.
It was a great course. Granted, we had to knock the rust off of 50 years worth of unused study skills, but we thoroughly enjoyed the course. Moreover, it gave us the basics, which helped immensely when we came to Cuenca last year. I had wanted to take Spanish II in the fall of 2018, but we instead took a three-week driving tour of France, which was also quite an experience. (You would be surprised at the number of times I replied to a French server or attendant in Spanish!)
So to enhance our effort at speaking Spanish, Char and I have engaged a private tutor–Grace. We meet with Grace twice a week at her house for an hour, then she sends us on our way–with homework! Our sense of grammar is improving, and our vocabulary is slowly growing. I know enough to make comments or ask questions, but when a native speaker replies, I’m like a deer in the headlights. I try to listen in on native speakers’ conversation, but I have no idea what they are saying. Frustrating to say the least. But we will nevertheless struggle along. It seems an appropriate activity, given where we temporarily live, and there is certainly plenty of opportunity to get real-life experience with the language.
Lunchtime in Cuenca
One of the really interesting traditions here in Cuenca (and all of Ecuador, I think) is “almuerzo.” The word translates as “lunch.” In this case, it is a set lunch, and it is offered by just about every restaurant. It consists of three courses: a bowl of soup, an entrée consisting most often of a choice of chicken or pork (sometimes in gravy) accompanied by a small salad and serving of rice, a dessert (usually a piece of fruit), and a drink (a juice of some kind). The cost of an almuerzo is between $2 and $3! I find that amazing.
While it is not fine dining, it certainly is easy on the pocket book. Restaurants here offer these lunchtime specials approximately between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. And they are all over the place. It takes a bit to wrap your head around two adults enjoying a three-course lunch for $5.50, as is the case for the restaurant, El Tunel. In addition, beer is inexpensive here and, as Minnesotans say, not half bad. It is often served in 18-ounce bottles and a common price is $2.50 per bottle. Add two of those to the lunch, and the total price of lunch for two pushes up to $10.50. Now, to be sure, there is not much variation in menus from restaurant to restaurant, and eating the same thing every day can become a bit boring, but it is an excellent, budget-priced meal. Char and I probably have almuerzo a couple of times a week–when we’re running low on groceries or we would rather take a walk and let someone else do the cooking.