After the long journey from Peru into Ecuador, we stopped off in Cuenca for a week. This is a rather lovely town back up in the Andes, at around 2,500m above sea level - so we had to acclimatise yet again after spending the previous couple of weeks lower down. I spent most of the first couple of days in bed with a cold - five long bus journeys adding up to over 1500 km of road over the last ten days had clearly caught up with me.
Of all of the places we'd been since Lima, Cuenca was definitely the best to be stuck in bed in, though. It's high enough up to be sunny but not too hot, and not high enough to make it too hard to climb stairs. There are apparently a lot of retired expatriates living there, taking advantage of the good climate and the low cost of living.
The museums were rather disappointing after Peru, although the Museo de Sombrero was quite fun. It's much more of a shop than an actual museum, but it does have a bit of an explanation of the process of making a sombrero de toquilla (please don't call it a Panama hat when you're in Ecuador!), a lot of old machinery for blocking hats, and an extensive selection for sale. There's a special room for fino and superfino hats, which start at around $150 each and go up to several times that for some truly exquisite headwear.
On Valentine's Day the streets were overrun with people selling balloons and stuffed animals. The flower sellers by the cathedral didn't seem to make a big thing of it, strangely.
Food notes: Cuenca convinced us to stop ordering Ecuadorean ceviche. We had had an interesting, almost Bloody Mary-like ceviche variant at Riscomar in Loja (our best meal there by far, and actually quite good in an absolute sense), but every other one we tried in Ecuador was a sad disappointment, even in otherwise good restaurants. We were always given pre-cooked fish sitting damply in a bland sauce with barely a hint of citrus or spice - completely different to the delicate, well-seasoned dishes we'd been so used to getting everywhere in Peru. The Riscomar one also used cooked fish, but there was enough heat and acid to make up for the lack of texture.
Inside the Seminario San Luiz, just next to the new cathedral, both El Confesionario and Le Bistro are excellent places for lunch or a coffee. We had good, reasonably priced, dinners at Sofy's Glocal and Mangiare Benne. A Pedir de Boca has mostly great reviews but must have been having a really off day when we went: a "thai noodles" and a "tuscan pasta" came out barely distinguishable, and both were inedibly spicy. We left most of the food and had a hot dog on the way home to fill up.