Cuenca Calling


Yesterday we toured Cuenca, a city of about 400,000 and lots of Colonial architecture, in a yellow double-decker bus. Mountains rise on all sides, and red tile roofs paint a pretty picture as you look out over the city.

Our hotel is an old home converted for guests and run by the original owners, the Ordonez family. It is just a few blocks from a major park and square. I can assure you an Apple Watch will not unlock the door of your room here. Instead, each has a 100-year-old key that you turn in perplexing motions to lock or unlock your room. Instead of numbers, the rooms have names; ours are Carmen and Letitia.

Breakfast is on the first floor of a two-story atrium, and the stairs are of creaky old beautiful wood. One downside is that you can hear everything in the building. When I walked–softly, I thought–to my writing area this morning I drew the frowning attention of Maria, the Ordonez family member who checked us in Wednesday night, who informed me that “we have other guests sleeping.” Trying to fall asleep early last night we heard voices in the dining area that sounded as if they were on the next pillow. In my mind, this is a small price to pay for the venerable ambiance and fantastic location of the hotel.

In a few minutes my Internet buddy and namesake Lenny Charnoff will pick us up for what he called the 55-cent tour of Cuenca this morning. His wife Sharon is a quilter, so Darlene may have a chance to compare notes with her. Lenny recommended Casa Ordonez and has been very helpful pointing us toward a good experience in the city where he and his wife have lived since moving from the U.S. four and a half years ago. I am very interested to learn more about the expat experience, in case Donald Trump somehow ends up president of my country.

Darlene and Deb's guide to Cuenca, Andre.

Darlene and Deb’s guide to Cuenca, Andre.

Our guide on the city bus tour, Andre, agreed to give a private tour of the area to Darlene and Deb yesterday afternoon. He was a U.S. exchange student in Pittsburgh when he was in high school, so his English is excellent. They had a terrific time, and Darlene tried on one of the surprisingly heavy velvet skirts we’ve seen indiginous women wearing in Ecuador. She deemed it unflattering in the bulk it added around the waist, which is apparently considered sensuous here.

It was a shock Wednesday to leave the utter tranquility and safety of Ali Shungru resort in Otavalo and land at the Cuenca airport at about 7:30 p.m.We hailed a cab after having difficulty figuring out which lane outside the airport they used to pick up passengers, and the ride in to the central part of the city made clear we had underestimated how big a place it is. The hotel appeared to be a mysterious place on a narrow street, and by the time Deb tried to get her room open with the ancient key she was muttering about how soon we might relocate to “a real hotel.” We’ve since come to appreciate the unique features of Casa Ordonez and have figured out the keys, so I’m very glad we had a chance to stay here. By the way, the price is very reasonable, about $50 a night per room, given the location and good services–excellent breakfast included, comfortable beds, plenty of hot water, and decent Internet.

Lenny will be here soon to tell us all about the real Cuenca from an expat’s point of view. Onward!

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