An American friend called today and asked if we were “done with the blog.” Wow, that bad huh? He even said he understood it must be difficult to blog as much when we’re not traveling like we were. Well, yes, that’s true to some degree, but in reality, we’ve just been a bit lazy about it! We have plenty of topics to blog about, so let’s see if I can start to get us back on track by writing a post today.
We’ve been living here over five months now, since early November, and whereas we don’t know a ton of locals (as opposed to Gringos – the expats), we have made some local friends here. The locals we have met are extremely friendly, kind, and a bit on the quiet side. Mostly just friendly though. We have not experienced any negativity from local Cuencanos. They are often curious about us, and interested to work on their English by speaking with us. I’m amazed that they never even seem to judge us for not being fluent in Spanish; they seem to prioritize learning English over teaching us Spanish!
In January, we started going to a semi-weekly Spanish conversation event that occurs at our favorite Italian restaurant here, Fabiano’s. Both locals and Americans are invited to attend this gathering, where one comes to learn English or Spanish. We sit in small groups around the tables and spend the first 45 minutes speaking Spanish, and the last 45 minutes speaking English. It’s a wonderful way to learn a language and meet new people without having to pay a dime!
On our second time there, we met a local named Jhonny. He was very excited to meet us and we made some small talk for a few minutes, but in less than five he asked us what we were doing the next day. We didn’t really have plans. He is a self-employed engineer and had a small project to work on in a small town north of Cuenca and he invited us to come with him for the day. He told us the town was near Ingapirca, the largest Inca ruins in Ecuador. We looked at one another, a little shocked at the quick invitation and unsure of ourselves, shrugged our shoulders, and said sure – we were free. It was definitely one of those moments when even we wonder exactly what we are doing; if we are taking too big of a risk. But we had heard how friendly the people here can be, so we decided not to read into it.
It turned out we had made a great decision. The next morning at 7am, Jhonny pulled up to our gate and we hopped in his car with him and drove for a few hours through the sleepy yet gorgeous Ecuadorian countryside. We spoke some English, some Spanish, and tried as best we could to understand one another. We found out he really only needed to work for one hour, and then he could be our tour guide for the rest of the day! How wonderful.
Jhonny’s work that day consisted of inspecting a muddy field to determine if it was suitable for building houses. Elliott and I took a nap in the car and before we knew it Jhonny was finished and ready to guide us. First he took us to Cañar, where we enjoyed a wonderful almuerzo (typical Ecuadorian lunch consisting of soup, a plate of rice/noodles and meat and maybe beans or salad and a glass of fresh juice).
We traveled on to find Ingapirca, which is no easy task. You have to wind through small villages and there aren’t many signs! Jhonny’s excellent Spanish came in handy as he asked many locals for directions, and eventually we arrived there. We went inside the Visitor Center and got really excited when we realized our resident visas and cedulas (Ecuadorian ID card) qualified us for a discount! Instead of $6 each, we each had to pay only $2. Woo hoo!
Ingapirca itself was beautiful. It is an archaeological complex marking the existence of both the Inca and Cañari civilizations. Ingapirca literally means “Inca Wall,” and was a stop on the famous Inca Trail which cuts through Ecuador on its way through South America. Although we’ve been told it is not as impressive as Machu Picchu, we haven’t seen that yet and we were thrilled! I guess we’re doing things in the right order.
The ruins are actually of an entire Inca village, and we were able to see dwellings, storage areas, and communal meeting spots. The focal point, however is the Temple of the Sun – exactingly built without mortar! Our local guide pointed out niches where idols of the Inca gods were placed, and at certain times of the year, the sun would light up a particular niche indicating, for example, that it was time to plant or harvest. The sun still lights up the primary niche on the summer solstice, so many people converge on Ingapirca for a multi-day festival. It’s purely secular now as the Incas are long gone, but their impressive knowledge of celestial geometry still remains.
Behind the ruins is a difficult-to-find path that took us down to the “Inca’s Face.” The mountainside here resembles the profile of a person similar to the Old Man of the Mountain that used to exist in Massachusetts.
Our drive home from Ingapirca took us through the town of Biblian. The town is watched over by a church literally built into the side of a mountain. Not only is it cool; it is sure to give its congregants a workout each week! We climbed to the top and enjoyed the awesome views of the surrounding area.
Our desire to improve our Spanish gave us a one-two punch of gaining a local friend as well as getting to see some of the regional sites close to Cuenca. Jhonny still comes over to hang out and work on his English from time to time.