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Adios Madre Tierra!

Today we said our farewells to Madre Tierra. We met John, Carol's husband, an actor who was in Hill Street Blues, Dynasty and Knotts Landing amongst other things. Leaving was a lengthy process. Every time we got close to reception to pay up it seemed like something happened - saying farewell to the Brits getting married tomorrow, then the Belgian family etc etc.

At breakfast we had been joined by an American girl traveling on her own. Her boyfriend in still in Huaraz in PerĂº climbing and she is here for a while until she meets him in Quito. She was not good company. She almost seemed spaced out and not really there. She is a big fan of GW Bush (he has great domestic policies apparently). She works for Congress which we did not feel boded well for the US government machine, and could not stop herself from name dropping all the places she had been to for work. We got talking about Carol and how she had been involved in space and Star Wars. He reaction was really negative - "I've come across loads of activists like her at work. There seems to be a link with full moon because there are definitely more of them that come out then" she drawled in a whingey high pitched voice. It would have been interesting to see how she reacted to Carol over the next few days.

Finally we made it away and headed back to the main road to get the bus. A caterpillar had crawled onto my day pack and we spent a few minutes taking photos. As the camera was put away the bus turned up and we were on our way back to Loja. Again it was a little mini van and people crammed in at every stop. At Loja we timed it just right. We had time to buy our tickets to Cuenca and the bus left ten minutes later.

Again the bus was full of locals (there was one other "western" traveler) and it was packed. Crammed into the corridor was an elderly couple with two small children, I assumed their grandchildren. The youngest was sitting on the floor so I asked if she wanted to sit on my lap. She fidgeted and looked at me with very suspicious eyes until finally she decided to stand after all. People were standing for most of the way. Cuenca is higher altitude than Loja and Vilcabamba and we climbed and climbed and climbed.

Most of the people on this bus seemed to be farmers from the outlying villages. Sunday must be market day as people were getting on with bags full of food, mainly fresh fruit and vegetables. Here too were signs that people do not have much spare cash. Clothes looked well and truly worn but one man had a small dash of colour, a red button sewn onto the back pocket of his beige trousers. It seemed to have no purpose at all in relation to the pocket so it must have been for decoration!

As we drove through different villages there were slight changes in the local traditional dress. One constant is that pretty much all women have long, black hair tied in a pony tail or plaits. This was the case in most of PerĂº as well and a couple of times my short hair led to me being called Senor. The journey to Cuenca was smooth enough but, unusually, there was no Steven Seagal or Jean Claude van Damme to keep us company. The TV stayed off all the way, a very welcome change.

At Cuenca we got a taxi from the bus station to our hotel, The Tomebamba. We were surprised to see four stars above the door as it did not look that smart. We were even more surprised when we saw the room - very small and basic. The guy from the hotel sensed we did not like it before we said anything. He apologised that this was the only one they had, the hotel is full of conference people, and gave us a get out if we wanted it. We retrieved our cash as we had had to pay in advance for the first night, something we have had to do a couple of times (some hotels are obviously not very trusting of their guests!) and looked at our options. Carol from Madre Tierre had recommended another hotel, the Posada del Angel ("although the breakfast is not much" she said), which was just a bit further up the same street. As we were hoisting our packs the chap from Tomebamba was, unprompted by us, on the phone to Posada del Angel and he confirmed that they did have a room.

A few blocks up we found Posada del Angel. You have to ring a bell to get in. The hotel opens into an inner courtyard with a glass roof. Rooms are mainly on the next level up, which is surrounded by a wooden balcony. Further back there is a second covered courtyard with more rooms and tables for breakfast. The hotel is busy and they only have two rooms free, a small but cosy double or a larger twin room up three flights of narrow rickety stairs. We opted for the double with a promise that we could change the following day for a larger room.

We headed out to see a bot of Cuenca. As it is Sunday all the shops are closed. The city is very quiet with not many people walking about. At the main square we stopped for a late lunch and then headed back to the hotel to unpack and catch up on diaries. We then realised why this place is probably not in Lonely Planet - it is used by tour groups. First to arrive were a very loud group of Americans and Brits. I think the whole hotel must have heard their decision to eat first and shower later. As we headed round the corner for our free internet time the second group arrived - about ten Dutch girls in their early twenties. They were probably even noisier than the first lot!

The young chap at reception had been very friendly and recommended places we could go to eat (they even have copies of the menus here so you can look before you go). We decided to check out a Lonely Planet option first and if that was no good to go for his recommendation, the Eucalyptus, that he assured us was open even though it is Sunday. Both were closed! Earlier in the day we had talked about another "pizza in front of the telly" type of evening and that is what we opted for. The New York Pizza company was on the way back to the hotel so we stopped off and got a take away.

At the hotel they tried, in a very friendly way, to get us to eat in the breakfast bit but Stef politely said we were eating in our room. They supplied us with plates and cutlery, the latter much needed as the pizza slices were too big to manage with fingers only. I cannot remember what we watched on telly so it could not have been that good!