By bus it’s about 1.5 hourseto Loja from Saraguro, another ride with stunning views. We didn’t do as much as we’d planned in Loja due to bad weather, being under the weather and time taken for writing job applications. However, we thought it seemed like a friendly, quiet, city. However, if you’re interested in visiting, just wait for about a year. The city is in the midst of renovations, and it seemed like most of the streets in centro historico have been dug up, waiting for the tarmac treatment. The pavements were in many places also undergoing ‘rejuvenation.’ So every time the wind blew, there was dust everywhere. We talked with a couple of locals as to how tough that must be, but they were both in favour, despite the disruption.
Cuenca is a lovely town to walk around. One of our guides told us there are 52 churches – one for every week of the year. They wanted to build one for each of the saints and then realised it would be impossible – so they build one called Todos Santos (All Saints) to make sure everyone not already honoured was covered. This is one of my favourite churches that we’ve been to – for $1 you can take a tour up to the tower for great views of the city.
There are also many, many museums, only a few of which we’ve visited. Some I’d recommend. The Municipal Museum of Modern Art is a fantastic old building, with changing exhibitions and some Ecuadorian sculpture. On the day we were there, we met very friendly staff who will happily converse with you even if your Spanish is terrible.
Pumapago is one of the largest, but sadly when we visited most of it was closed for renovations. However, the architectural ‘ruins’ out the back is a great place to walk around, and there’s information on plants. There is also a park next door with a small menagerie of birds.
The Museum of Aboriginal Cultures has an incredible number of pieces, with some information available in English. Nothing about the skull with the gold studs though.
I think my favourite was the Remigio Crespo Toral House Museum. There was an exhibition of historical clothing (reimagined by the textile students of Azuy University), as well as some information about the famous poet who lived there, and other important Cuencans. For example, politician and all round renaissance man Honorato Vasquez, who we thought bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Bailey. On the bottom floor there is a cafe with a great deck looking out to historic buildings and the river.
A post from Not Your Average American alerted M to a different part of Centro Histórico for us to explore. San Marco is near the old centre but has a very different feel as there are still many people living in the area, and businesses are very low key. Many of the houses in Junin Street had tiles with photos of previous inhabitants and some words about their lives. Predictably, M found un bar de cerveza artesenal, Sirka, for us to visit while we were exploring. Sirka is a great location to visit for beers, food (we only tried the hommus, but that was good) and quirky artwork.
Our first introduction to Ecuador’s most famous artist was quite fitting for this post-postmodern world – great t-shirts. Although we didn’t realise until later, the fabulous images were the work of Oswaldo Guayasamin. In Quito you can visit Capilla del Hombre, which is Guayasamin’s home / studio, and a chapel he designed to pay hommage to humankind. This is a wonderful location to visit, not only to view his art but also see his art collection (pre-Columbian, colonial and the work of international artists like Picasso, Goya and Chagal) and his house, with great views across the city.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Quito has many, many interesting sounding museums and art galleries. One that had been recommended in the guide book, and personally, was the Museo de Arte Colonial in Centro Histórico. If you’re interested in religious art and religious influences on colonial history, you will like this museo, especially the upstairs rooms. I was especially impressed by the escritorios (writing desks) on display, so detailed and beautiful. The building, another old but renovated colonial house, is a lovely setting. Downstairs there was an interesting exhibition about the art school that used to be based there ( I think – no English translations were available). And on the day we visited there was no charge.
Quito has a lot of museums. We recently picked up a map that identified 72 different locations – that’s a whole lot of culture. We’ve been to a couple so far but one of my favourites is the one we visited most recently – The Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Located in a renovated colonial house, it has an amazing collection of art collated in themes, with information boards in Spanish and English. Entry includes an audio tour – not all items have audio information but enough to be useful. Fascinating and beautiful. I also discovered they also have an amazing website with detailed information about their collection. (Check out the Google Project on their website). And it’s in the same street as some piñata shops, which are pretty cool. I never realised there was such a thing as a piñata shop.
We thought we’d go for a weekend stroll in La Floresta – and hit the jackpot! This weekend is ‘La Madre de las Ferias’ (‘the mother of all fairs’ says google translate), a fact we stumbled on while having morning coffee and noticing an interesting map in the window showing the cafes, artists studios and shops in the area. La Floresta is celebrating 100 years (and mother’s day fairs seem to be a thing) and many of the businesses were promoting their wares, providing tastings and generally being welcoming. We bought some produce at El Salinerito, and I want to go back to Fui, which recycles bike tyres and billboards into really cool things. So many amazing walls to admire too.