Fiddle dee dee

So you might be like me and most of your historical knowledge of Southern United States comes from Gone with the Wind and that Civil War doco series. Therefore you would be interested in Plantation Homesteads that you can visit in Virginia. We only had time for one so we chose the oldest, Shirley Plantation. This was a beautiful location, a lovely homestead that has had 11 generations of the same family involved in its running. The family still lives in the floors above and below ground level. One of the tour stories told is that the reason the homestead still exists is due to two sisters living there during the Civil War helping hundreds of wounded Union soldiers that found their way there after a battle nearby. The Union General declared that no Union soldier would harm the family or the property after that. The usual modus operandi was to burn everything. IMG_5489

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Archaeological mysteries 
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View of the Kitchen and homestead
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More about ‘welcome pineapples’ later

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Magic Mashpi

On our second day at Alambi we travelled to the Mashpi cloudforest area, a region about an hour and a half away which is becoming well known for amazing bird life. Next to a very very very expensive lodge, for a mere US$10 you can see an incredible range of birds, some of which are only found in the Mashpi area. Gorgeous day.

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Some more Vilcabamba

Around the town there are plenty of walks you can do to enjoy the local wildlife. We took an easy walk in Rumi Wilco (aka Rumihuilco), a large reserve and ecolodge which is about a 10 minute walk from town. We saw many birds, camera shy butterflies, a couple of squirrels, and some nudists. Something for everyone.

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View from the hammock

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River view on the walk to the reserve
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Rumi Wilco – main track
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Accommodating butterfly
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Coffee drying

For a great view, you can climb Mandango. Or you can catch a taxi to Sol de Venenado Cerveceria in San Pedro.  We chose the latter.

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On to Loja

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BNB view

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.

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 Street rejuvenation in progress
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Famously old Lourdes Calle
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Beer venue wall (Loja has ‘windmills’)

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Cuenca Places

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.

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Todos Santos
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Views from Todos Santos Bell Tower

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Top hat box
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Honorato Vasquez (Surely Bill Bailey must be related)
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Dining room
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View from the Museo cafe deck

 

More from Cajas Park

At Llaviucu Lake there is a picturesque ruin. Our guide told us it was the site of a German Brewery that was established there before WWI. What a fab location. Now the only other buildings there are a lodge where you can stay (but you need your own linen and everything) and a  covered walkway on the far side of the lake, part of the Sendero Uku path around the lake. This is an easy walk around the lake once you traverse the narrow, pebbled road to get there.

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A walk in Cajas Parque

For this trip we travelled with Arutam Ecotours, meeting our transport and guide at a healthy 6 am to start the day. Parque Cajas is a large park, and our introduction was at one of the lower entrances, Llaviucu Lake. It’s only about 30 minutes from Cuenca central. With a guide we went to parts you might not otherwise see, but the walk around the lake would be easy enough to do by yourself. A great benefit (besides information about the birds, animals and location) was that with a guide we were let into the park a good 1.5 hours before it officially opened. One of my favourite trips for this hol.

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Ruins of Ingapirca

Had an outing with Cuencabestours to check out Ecuador’s most significant Cañari & Inca ruins near the town of Ingapirca. The Cañari were the people who lived at the site for hundreds? of years before the Incans – they were eventually overtaken by Incan culture but some elements of their culture are thought to exist at the site. Of course Machu Picchu in Peru is the outstanding example of Inca ruins, but Ingapirka is remarkable in its own way. Apparently some parts have been ‘rebuilt’ but the Inca trail and Sun Temple are original and impressive when you realise how long they have been there, exposed to the elements. On the day we went (during the week) there were not many people around, which was great. The archaeological park is surrounded by farms, so from the site we also observed someone ploughing a steep and rocky field with bullocks. Apparently farmers do find items but at the moment there is not much government investment in archaeology.  You can also do an enjoyable short walk once you leave the park to see the ‘Face of the Inca’. Our guide was very skeptical that it had been carved, but nevertheless it did look imposing.

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Overview of the Ingapirca site looking to the Sun Temple
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Incan calendar – the reflection of stars in these water filled holes indicated the time of year
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Those Incans really knew how to build a wall
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The Face of the Inca – can you see it?
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Sun Temple and Inca trail view

 

Cuenca town

So far Cuenca feels like a laid back uni town. Centro Histórico has some amazing looking buildings, with many impressive churches and plazas to admire. So far my favourite location is San Sebastian square. There is a cute park, an impressive church, a local brewery bar (Jodeco) and a modern art museum (with the latter still to be experienced). On the afternoon and evening we were there, we saw very well-dressed wedding guests making their way to the church (and looking longingly at the bar). One of the photographers used a drone to capture aerial shots of guests and the plaza’s pigeons. There were kids playing in the fountain, dog fights and a subsequent argument between the dog owners, people riding bikes. The bride waited in her black Mercedes as more guests arrived. There was a busker playing first a hollowed out stick, then a recorder. Then later a band, who looked liked they should play reggae, but actually played a cool kind of jazz, entertained bar and plaza patrons. After the wedding ceremony, there was a fireworks display virtually in our laps. It was like being in a Fellini film.

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Catedral Nueva ( aka Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
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San Sebastián and Jodeco
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Wedding fireworks
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Bar view