By Susan Schenck
From nearly anywhere in Cuenca, look south (toward the rivers), then raise your gaze and you’ll see a big white church on a hill. The Church of Turi, with a commanding view of the entire Andean valley, has been home to civilzations for thousands of years.
The trip up to Mirador de Turi is one of the most popular excursions in Cuenca. Turi is located in the perfect place to bask in the breathtaking panorama of the entire city of Cuenca. Mirador means “lookout” or “viewpoint”; “Turi” means “brother” in Quechua, the language of the pre-colonial indigenous people of the same name.
Turi is within shouting distance of Cuenca’s major shopping center, Mall del Rio. Most people pay $3 from El Centro to take a taxi. You can also get to the mall on the number 7 and 13 buses for a quarter, then catch a cab up the hill for $1.50.
But the least expensive way to get there is also the healthiest! You can get a great workout by climbing the stairs.
To get to them from the mall, take a left on the Pan Americana Highway, locally known as the Circunvalación Sur. In about a half-mile, you come to the Turi roundabout. Bear right. On the right, you pass the imposing Body Care Gym and Spa, the largest gym in Cuenca; on the top floor is Fogo, a trendy youth-oriented restaurant.
A short walk past Body Care is the Turi bus stop. You will pass a stone retaining wall and below a couple of white houses, then you’ll see the wide stone staircase heading straight up the side of the hill to Turi.
If you have any trouble finding the staircase, there are usually people around to point the way. Just ask, “Dónde están las escaleras a Turi?”
I recently climbed the steps with a friend and counted them: There are a total of 439. Each flight is 12 stairs with a landing in between, where you can catch your breath, rest, and enjoy the unfolding view. Though it’s exhausting at this altitude, it took us only ten minutes to get to the top, ut we’re both in good shape.
You will end up at the amphitheater in front of the church. Once there, you not only enjoy the view, but you also will understand how Cuenca got its name. In Spanish, “cuenca” means “bowl” (made out of wood; “cuenco” is a bowl made out of earthenware). Cuenca is definitely situated in a sort of bowl — a valley surrounded by mountains.
One of the main attractions at Turi is the souvenir shop, one of the best in town. Its prices are at least 10 to 20 percent less than those of downtown shops, likely due to the lower overhead from being outside the city center..
The quantity of goods from the many artesanos (artisan craft workers) is such that you could spend hours sifting through things like artsy Ecuadorian refrigerator magnets for only $1.50; cotton and alpaca scarves for $2 to $6; alpaca sweaters for $17 to $22; traditional cotton shirts; T-shirts; vases; handcrafted jewelry; alpaca rugs and even pillow cases of varying sizes; animal statues; purses and cosmetic bags, and much more.
Another popular stop in Turi, 100 meters down the road, is the workshop and showroom of world-famous ceramicist Eduardo Vega.
Sunday mornings are a great time to make your way up the hill if you want to attend mass in the large and ornate Church of Turi.
You can also walk up the road on the right side, just past the church. Continue uphill until you come to a fork in the road. Take the higher one (on the left) and after a few minutes you will reach a graveyard, another interesting place to explore. The small shrines are fascinating, very different from anything you’ll see in the United States.
Call me a little unearthly, but I enjoy exploring — plus jogging and bike riding through — graveyards everywhere I go. Why? For one, they’re peaceful and usually cooler, thanks to the old horticulture. For another, I grew up with a graveyard from the 1800s in my own backyard. Burial sites, for me, are a strong, if also stern, reminder that life is short and we need to savor every day, even every moment.
Turi is said to be especially great at sunset, when you can view a backdrop of pink and purple in the dusk sky, with traditional music playing from the church loudspeakers.
I never tire of the hike, so my next trip to Turi will probably be at sunset. Maybe I’ll see you on the stairs!
Susan Schenck, LAC, is a raw-food coach and author of Live Food Factor. You can contact her at email@example.com
Credit: Reposted from the Miami Herald International Edition, December 28, 2011; photo captions: The church at Turi and the popular mirador overlooking Cuenca.