Cuenca, Ecuador – Exotic Christmas with detonated tennis balls

The morning: The thermal spring
The day starts too early, uncharitably early I would say if it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Paco picks us up at 5 a.m. to warm ourselves in sauna and hot springs. 20 minutes later we know why we started so early: Even now quite a lot of people are here: It’s weekend. In a neighbouring town of Cuenca, called Baños like the other famous Ecuadorian hot springs, boiling water bubbles directly from the volcanic mountains. There are different swimming baths with different standards and prices.

The medicinal springs at Hosteria Duran are especially popular with locals, admission fee is $ 3. 95 per person. The steam saunas are heated by the hot mountain water. The grotto-like men’s and women’s sauna are very hot and atmospheric, although the ladies’ ward is in need of renovation. The mixed sauna is less hot, in o.k. condition, but kind of sterile. Around 60 swimmers crowd in the pleasantly lukewarm thermal pool at 7 a.m. Time to leave.

The midday: The parade
We hardly returned before we have to leave again. The tradition of the Christmas procession lasted in Cuenca longer than in other cities. In the morning of the 24th December a pageant starts and lasts to late afternoon. Hundreds of decorated trucks, pick-ups and cars as well as thousands of adults and especially children dressed up or wrapped in traditional costumes take part in the El Pase del Niño. The little Indígenas, performing traditional dances in national costumes, are especially enchanting; or the mestiza girls who proudly sit on their horses, dressed in valuably embroidered riding dresses adapted from Spanish princesses, with perfect patronizing-arrogant gaze and seductively pursed lips. All that takes place with little Christmassy bright sunshine, and in front of historic backdrop. Cuenca’s centre doesn’t have to hide from colonial Quito. The city is blessed with 52 beautiful churches – one for each week of the year.

The evening: The repast
In the evening we initially celebrate Christmas with Ray and Jo, although we didn’t get a duck or goose (the traditional German Christmas meal). The turkeys were too big for my camper oven, thus we decided for a giant chicken. The homemade red cabbage is great, only the potato dumplings basically appear like exploded tennis balls. Was it the wrong sort of potatoes of a physical altitude problem? Since Jo as not-dumpling lover demands second helping, it can’t have been so bad. Or perhaps he was just hungry. Or polite. The biscuits for desert are flawless, despite the altitude. After dinner we pay Lissi and Marco a visit for a drink. After all the two of them don’t have German speaking visitors every day.

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