Colonial Cuenca

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What an easygoing place for quiet reflection and meditation … I am holed up at the lovely Mansion Alcazar, yet another homey, lovingly restored old house in Ecuador, in yet another World Heritage Site city, Cuenca. I am surrounded by peaceful gardens, humming with hummingbirds and step out from the front door of this beyond charming 12 room Inn, into the cobbly streets and balconied apartments of old town Cuenca. There is a church seemingly around every bend, and I wander in, often sitting a spell in quiet contemplation if not exactly prayer 🙂 … some days, I go in to escape the rain which has not let up since I arrived Sunday night but it is not heavy rain and the downpour only lasts a few hours in the mornings … afternoons are usually clear and I explore the various museums, churches, coffee cafes and restaurants; Tiestos is my favourite …. the best food in town!

The Panama Hat Museum presented some interesting history and I decide on the spot, to buy a few hats from the museum shop! … For over a century, Ecuador has endured the world mistakenly crediting another country with it’s most famous export! The work involved in making these hats is quite arduous, from harvesting, to drying, to splitting the fronds … the prep work takes days, before the fine art of weaving can even begin! …. Cuenca happens to be the Center for the Panama hat trade. To an Ecuadorian, the hat is known simply as ‘sombrero de paja toquilla’ … (toquilla straw hat) or to hat connoisseurs, a Montecristi! The origin of the misnomer dates back to 1800’s when Spanish entrepreneurs began exporting these beautifully hand crafted hats via Panama. During the 19th century, workers on the Panama Canal wore these hats to protect themselves from the tropical sun ….. and when U.S. President Roosevelt wore one, well, all this helped equate the Ecuadorian hat with Panama. I shall rename my hat to honour the people who grow, harvest and weave them …. The Ecuador Hat!

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