I know what you’re thinking:
(Probably not, but let’s pretend I do):
What is a cuento?
Cuento means “story” in Spanish. Or so I thought. I decided to consult the Real Academia Española to find out, because you can’t go wrong with the official Spanish dictionary.
And here’s what I found:
Narración breve de ficción.
Relato, generalmente indiscreto, de un suceso.
Relación, de palabra o por escrito, de un suceso falso o de pura invención.
Basically, a cuento is a story of fiction, according to the RAE. My experiences, however, are not fiction, and as strange as some of my travel experiences have been, they really did happen. So the use of the word cuento in this post would be misleading.
That being said, I’m still going to use it. The title is super catchy. I got a few high-fives when I thought of it.
And, I would like to compare the two Cuencas I’ve visited, in two beautiful countries: Ecuador and Spain. Both are different, yet both are beautiful in their own ways, and both are highly recommended.
Cuenca, Ecuador 2016
How a Missed Connection and a Spontaneous Decision Led to One of the Best Trips of My Life
Life’s too short not to take a chance and reach out to a missed connection.
Or be a little spontaneous.
The reason why I visited Cuenca is way too long and personal to share on this blog post, but to summarize it, I caught up with a long-lost friend in Ecuador.
It was through this friend that I met one of their family members, who somehow convinced me to go on a road trip from the capital of Quito to a small mountain city called Cuenca, and then to an even smaller town that barely shows up on a map.
Do I recommend anyone run off to another city in a foreign country a friend’s relative they’d just met? I would not. Do I regret running off to another city in a foreign country with my friend’s relative I’d just met? I do not. My friend’s family are wonderful people, I made a bunch of new friends, and I had the time of my life.
Moral of the story is trust your intuition. And sometimes as a solo traveler, you have to learn to know who you can trust on the road. Yes, there are people out there with not so good intentions. But there are also many people out there who are willing to help you out, open to sharing their country with you, and interested in your stories and experiences. I can’t thank the people I met in Ecuador enough for their kindness and hospitality.
The tiny town I visited is called La Paz. Its name couldn’t have been more fitting. I did indeed feel very much at peace there.
Cuenca, on the other hand, is a small city in southern Ecuador, about 10 hours driving from the capital. Several expats and retirees live there due to the nice weather (dry, springtime temperatures) and cheap cost of living (compared to the States, for example). It’s quiet and peaceful, and I had so much fun there that I visited a few months after my first trip.
Cuenca, Spain 2020
How Sometimes Having No Expectations Can Bring the Best Surprises
After several failed attempts at booking trips to Portugal and Morocco, my friend had the idea of going to Cuenca for a day trip.
We were a group of five. You’d think that, if five people are going somewhere for a day trip, someone is bound to look up places to visit.
Nope. Not us. We knew very little about where we were going.
What does that remind me of? Oh yeah, the time I went to this tiny town that didn’t even show up on a map in Ecuador four years prior. Where I didn’t have cell phone service for a few days, and was surrounded by mountain bikers and cows.
And like that time, having no expectations and very little knowledge about where we were going resulted in us being blown away by how beautiful and unique the city was.
Several of my students had told me about the “casas colgantes.” Hanging houses. I was imagining some kind of tapestry or decoration hanging from the houses. Instead, we found these houses built who knows how many hundreds of years ago, held by rocks that looked like giant fingers.
Getting to these houses was a hike. Some of us were smart and wore sneakers to go up the steep hills and several stairs. I was not one of those people, because dressing stylishly yet impractically is what I do best on vacation. Thankfully, I was able to walk uphill without falling once. Victory accomplished.
After we walked around the hanging houses, we walked higher in the city and got a bird’s-eye view of everything. My friends and I speculated how these strange rock formations came into place. Was this place a canyon? Were some of the rock formations used as a bridge? How did the erosion look so level, so uniform?
We could have spent the day sitting on top of the mountains, taking in the fresh air, and I would have been happy with just that.
After taking some epic pictures, we walked around to find lunch. And by find lunch, I mean find a place that didn’t have an hour waiting time. I think from walking around trying to find lunch, to getting served and paying out bill, took about three hours. But we got to eat good food and drink Spanish wine while sitting with an amazing view of the mountains. And I got free cheesecake. Can’t complain.
After lunch, we walked around the main plaza for a bit, got cocktails at a bar called the Cave, and then walked back to wait for the train, admiring a cotton candy colored sunset.
I highly recommend Cuenca as a day trip on a budget. Our tickets were 25 euros round trip, and we spent about 20 euros in the city. The views were everything.
Cuenca, Ecuador versus Cuenca, Spain: Which One Wins?
They both win, for different reasons.
Cuenca, Ecuador is a bigger city that’s worth a few days’ visit. It also has a lot of stairs and fresh air, and there are several natural parks and small cities nearby that you can check out.
Cuenca, Spain is smaller, and had a more traditional feel to it. The city has enough for a day trip, and is a good small escape from city life.
What I can say about both trips, though, is this: I went to both having little expectations, and was in for a wonderful surprise. Planning a trip is great, but sometimes, the best trips happen through curiosity and serendipity.