June 25, 2006

Cuenca and Ingapirca — Old and Older

Filed under: Ecuador 2006 — Lilli @ 6:31 pm

The Inca ruins of Ingapirca are no Machu Picchu. In fact, they’re not exactly sure what this outpost from the late part of the Inca empire was really all about. But the hour and a half trip was another chance to experience the stunning scenery of the agrarian part of the Andes, and the ruins interesting enough to make this side trip from Cuenca worthwhile. Plus, our driver asked me to marry him, so what more could I ask for?

What they do know is that the Cañari peole who lived here when the Incas arrived were not easily conquered. And from what I saw in the museum in Quito, they had a reason to be proud. For one thing, their art was way better than the Incas, but that’s just my opinion. For another thing, they were here way longer — centuries, in fact. The Incas didn’t even last a hundred years, and then the conquistadors did them in.

But the Incas did have a plethora of forts and outposts throughout Ecuador, including this one. They also manage to perfectly align their worship space such that the sun shone directly on a different god, displayed in these little alcoves, each season.

Incapirca worship space

For important areas such as a worship space, they also used top-grade construction by cutting stones to align perfectly without the aid of any mortar material.

Inca construction, tight blocks with no mortar

They also created sort of their own version of Mount Rushmore by making this cliffside look like their ruler.

Inca faces in stone

But I say it’s no wonder the Cañaris put up a fight. Some poor slaves, probably Cañaris, had to go fetch the water for some Inca’s ritual bath. This photo was taken from the bathtub. Those tiny figures way down there are cows, just to give you some perspective on how far this ancient Jack and Jill had to go. I also made the climb down and up, at an altitude of around 10,000 feet (approximately 3,000 meters), but much slower than our guide, whose lungs were much more adapted to the altitude.

View from the bathtub to the river

By afternoon I was back in Cuenca and exploring the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although it has the requisite narrow, cobblestone streets and charming buildings, I have to say Cuenca is no Antigua (as in Guatemala). Of course, it’s much larger, and perhaps the population of nearly half a million eventually takes its toll since they have to live here as well as try and preserve the architecture. Or, as my travel companion said, “it looks like UNESCO got here too late.”

But wandering the old city and hanging out in Parque Calderón like the locals is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. When that equatorial sun is out, it is burning hot, but the altitude of more than 8,000 feet (2530 meters) makes it just about perfect for a light shirt and slacks. After dark, a fleece will do.

Parque Calderon, Cuenca
Cuenca colonial buildings
Across from Parque Calderon

The new cathedral, started in 1885, is the centerpeice of Cuenca. In a skyline filled with church towers, the blue domes of the new cathedral — the Cathedral of the Immaculate conception — define the city.

Domes of the new cathedral, Cuenca

New cathedral, from Parque Calederon, Cuenca

Although in the Bible Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, clearly Ecuadorians are counting on him having a sweet tooth. One wall of the cathedral, an entire city block, is lined with vendors selling cookies, cake and candy. Many of them looked the same to me from one stall to the next, but they must differentiate somehow. There were more versions of coconut candy and macaroons than I’ve ever seen, so naturally I had to try several. It was only later we noticed some vendors use netting to keep the flies and bees off their product. If you look closely at the detail, you’ll see an unwanted visitor.

Sweets vendor, Cuenca
Insects like sweets too

In search of a cab that evening we ended up following the sound of explosions and police lights to a celebration of Corpus Christi complete with fireworks, paper balloons and a procession for the Virgin Mary. I almost got taken out by the fireworks because I entered the street before I realized the man standing in the center of the intersection was putting on the show. He’d wait until there were no cars and then light a few commercial-grade pyrotechnics that whizzed past the 400-year-old buildings, exploded and then dropped back into the street around the crowd.

But everyone seemed to enjoy the show. Any cars that wanted to get through just drove around the fireworks man. The cops were all there standing by with their motorcycles in front of the church. Vendors sold roasted meat and popcorn balls while a brass and drum band followed the procession of worshipers into the church behind the illustration of the Virgin mounted on a truck bed.

Popcorn vendor outside church procession, Cuenca

The best part of all were the paper lanterns, lit on fire and propelled by hot air like balloons. Using a torch that looked like it was made of tree sticks, men lit the bottom of the lanterns and set them free to float past the crowd, the beautiful colonial buildings and then up into the black sky where they would eventually burn themselves up.

Fire lanterns over Cuenca for Corpus Christi

Sunday is very sleepy here in Cuenca. In fact, I would not recommend this as a weekend destination because you only get a day and a half. Most places are shut down on Sundays and all museums and churches close by 1 p.m. There was hardly even anyplace to eat.

The day started with the possibility of much food and drink, but then Ecuador lost the World Cup game against England. I spent the morning with Sue, my travel companion who is from England and knows more about the World Cup than anyone I’ve ever met (probably because most people I know are Americans). Excitement had been building all week and every time anyone found out where she was from they all wanted to talk about the game.

After much searching for a fun place to watch the big event, we found ourselves in a sports bar with about 10 patrons and 20 waiters. Another patron, who was from San Diego, told me the bar had been packed for every other game, but there were only gringos for this one. I think most people watch the game at home with friends and family. The only other bars we found that had any activity were near the university. But it was a cultural experience nontheless. I had chicken fingers for breakfast in a nearly empty bar while watching the World Cup with a British friend wearing an Ecuador shirt.

Sue and Lilli, final Ecuador World Cup game

If you’ve got some more time wander the world vacariously, check out Sue’s blog. She’s been on an around-the-world trip for close to a year.



  1. I especially love the photo of the lanterns over Corpus Christi.

    Comment by Susan Carrier — June 29, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  2. Interesting stuff, Lilli. I like your photos a lot. You have some good shots there, right down to the fire lanterns at night. What kind of camera do you use? Do you like it?

    I’m using a Sony Cybershot, 6.0 megapixels, with a Carl Zeiss lens. It has many automatic settings, and a lot more manual than I had any idea. Another guy on the trip had a similar camera, and showed me a lot more about it. I got it about a week before I left. My first digital!

    Comment by Donnie — June 29, 2006 @ 8:40 pm

  3. I’ve really been enjoying your journal, Lilli, and am very impressed by your travel, writing and pictures–envious, actually. I’m very inspired knowing you’re meeting your goals to travel and write. Thanks for including me.

    Comment by Holly — June 30, 2006 @ 11:20 pm

  4. Fabulous stuff, Lilli. My next door neighbor is from Ecuador and a rabid football fan. Last night, we cheered England’s defeat and mourned Brazil’s loss — it was a very non-English crowd — with Miriam wearing her Ecuador jersey!

    Comment by Kris — July 2, 2006 @ 9:19 am

  5. is “Ingapirca” but no “Incapirca”, and your blog is great!!


    from Cuenca - Ecuador.


    e-mail: mcjativa7@yahoo.com
    blog : http://mcjativa7.blogspot.com

    Marco — Thank you for catching my typo in Incapirca (vs. Incapirca), which has now been corrected. I usually write my blog after a long day of traveling and I break my own rules about writing — always proofread and, better yet, always have someone else proofread for you. At least, that’s what I teach in my workshops. Oops! — LC

    Comment by Marco Játiva — August 21, 2006 @ 9:23 am

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