By Louis Bourgeois
I first came to Cuenca, Ecuador in October 2013 after exploring for four years in other Latin American countries.
After one night in a hostel in El Centro with the help of a new friend I located an apartment in the area near Féria Libre, Rio Tomebamba, Super Maxi and Gringolandia. It was a new building and I was on the top floor of the four-story walk up. For two bedrooms, unfurnished, I would pay $200 in rent. I furnished the place in a few days and rented out my extra bedroom to another gringo for $225, so my rent and most of the utilities were covered. I was on my path of living freely in my new paradise. I was thrilled with the Féria Libre, the largest farmers market in Cuenca, and possibly in all of South America, according to hearsay.
I would walk each day along the river, what became for me the heart and soul of Cuenca. The Tomebamba is one of four rivers that run through Cuenca, but it holds a special place, in part because it flanks the old city, dividing the historical district from the more modern southern half of the city. I walked each day down to the special steps, called the Escalinata, that lead up from the river into downtown. Then I would walk to Parque Calderon, observing the lovely mix of locals and gringos, sit for awhile, and then walk back home. I knew that I had finally and truly found my home.
Like my experience climbing Cotopaxi, it felt essential for me to fully integrate with the Andean region and Inca culture to venture into Peru and visit the famed ruins at Machu Picchu. I planned my trip in December, to be in Peru almost a full month.
After an extremely challenging few days in Lima I made my way to Cuzco, and just as I had found in Cuenca, I was immediately entranced with this city. I might share more extensively in a later blog about Cuzco and Peru, but for now I simply want to focus on my experience in the Sacred Valley and the ruins at Manchu Picchu.
What was going to be a visit of a few days became a stay of several weeks, as I was very attracted to the culture and energy of the Sacred Valley, especially the small city of Urubamba. A friend from Cuzco showed me parts of the Sacred Valley, and I knew that after my time at Machu Picchu I wanted to come back and explore further.
I booked my ticket on the train that leads you to Aguas Caliente, with the plan to stay two nights and visit the ruins twice. I had the lucky experience of being in Machu Picchu on a rainy day, exotic and mysterious, and then on a sunny day. I was moved to tears by the energy and magic, and I spent several hours each day just sitting near the famous perch where every tourist wants to take a picture. I marveled at the reactions of people from all over the world. It was clear that many were overwhelmed, speechless and often teary from an experience that perhaps they had dreamed about for many years. In South America, Machu Picchu is the most sacred and most visited site on the whole continent.
Back in Cuenca for the very special Christmas parade, I again knew that the guidance that had drawn me to Latin America was perfect. And I knew that given the choice I would never again leave the Andean world of Ecuador and Peru. This was my soul’s home, the place for which I had felt a longing since my childhood.