Through the alcoholic haze induced by the eastern European occupation of our formerly civilised state, the sights and sounds of Cuenca continue to impress. We finally get around to the Ecuadorian dish controversially called a delicacy by some, cuy, otherwise known as cute little fluffy guinea pigs. It’s definitely an experience and quite a unique and potent flavour to say the least. I’m not sure we’d be clambering to return for this dish, it’s more of an experience than a delicious dining experience but by no means unpleasant, I just wish the little buggers had a bit more meat on them.
The typical free flowing reduction in moral standards ensues over two bottles of wine and something approaching 20 odd cocktails between us all. This time however it’s Charlie leading the charge ordering drinks by the trayfull. We’re in the restaurant space of our hostel in a pumping atmosphere being serenaded by a raucous three piece guitar group, even venturing to dance in the restaurant, yes a festive mood is in full swing and we’re gleefully being swept along with the tide. The crowd here is also super suave, it’s impossible to ignore. With guys in dapper semi formal dress and girls looking like a million bucks this is anything but the humble casualness so common in South America, this is European middle class tinged with latin flavour, a combination dripping with style.
Skipping forward we wake to much of a daze and desperately trying to get our heads together to journey to a nearby national park, Cajas. With blood that is probably flammable by this stage we seriously need a bit of nature, fresh air and exercise, literally a walk in the park. We jump on the bus with notably diminished energy levels, Ola particularly nursing a hangover of comic proportions. With Ola sitting by the window nursing genuine hopes for vomit we are surrounded by the dictionary definition of narcissistic vacuousness in the form of a group of young American girls. What’s the collective noun for these creatures I wonder: I’m going with ‘abattoir’, an abattoir of skanks, yes that has an appropriate ring to it. Safe to say that the bus trip is funny in an appalling kind of way if not entirely comfortable.
As we near the park the landscape reveals its nature, and it’s turning out to be a little more than we thought. Never seeming to diminish in grandeur over time, mountain regions such as this have an enormity, scale and power that continues to intoxicate. The slopes are aggressive, and the peaks rear up above us like gods with scattered lakes and tarns dotting this landscape that demands no other adjective than beautiful, utter beauty.
We pass up on a more adventurous walk in favour of a more gently walk around a small lake, Ola particularly is flagging badly and I think we’re all a little happy for the excuse to abandon a more macho ascent. As is often the case walking in mountain landscapes each turn presents a new revelation so ever welcome to these sore and sorry heads. Pictures tell the visual story; what is moreso felt here is that familiar sense of humility and surrender. It’s impossible to feel self important here (possibly not for the abattoir), but for normal people of socially functioning EQ there exists an absolution of stress and burden unavailable anywhere else.
To balance all that is beautiful, we have poor Ola. The walk is only a couple of hours but the descent into a world of pain is etched all over her face. Towards the end of the walk Charlie and Piotr strike off onto a side path to explore a different view. At this point I glance back and see a face that communicates desperation and resignation that can only possibly engender compassion. I quickly declare that we can take the direct route back. I admit it is a little funny watching someone else in a world of hurt, usually, but for now it’s just pity and we struggle our way over the last few hundred metres. So it’s no alcohol for tonight me thinks.
Being in Cuenca we have been immersed in a more constructed existence, the visit to the park only expands the appeal of this town, far more than a one-trick-pony. What Ecuador seems to do with effortless ease is to balance an experience and offer a crazy range of experience with absolutely no need to hunt or look for it. It’s in this respect that Ecuador throughout feels less like a tourism destination and more like a place you’d like to be. There’s an elegance in having all the things you want to do, see and experience when it’s not contrived or built. It makes sense now that tourism is so inadequately advertised. What do you propose as your best drawcard when the cards are so evenly scattered, and indeed you don’t see them as cards at all, rather just normal living?