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Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is a very conservative city, but we have discovered a secret corner there that I will reveal to you. List of places to visit, among others: museum of shrunken heads, panama hats and cultural center of prohibition (Prohibido Centro Cultural).

La Plaza Cívica et le Mercado 9 de Octubre
La Plaza Cívica and the Mercado 9 de Octubre
Fast Stats Cuenca, Équateur

The little history of Cuenca and an extraordinary dinner

Arrived at our hostel, our host Tony explains the customs and traditions of the city. Extremely Catholic, Cuenca has 45 churches for around 50,000 inhabitants! If the family has two daughters, the oldest can marry, but the youngest does not have the right. It is his duty to stay at home all his life to take care of his parents until the end of their lives. Boys are obviously not subject to this tradition. It gives us a bit of the mood of the place, but honestly looking down the street from the terrace, what we see is tinged with modernity and that surprises us a little. At the same time, the system certainly does not allow the elderly to be sent to centers as we are doing somewhat cruelly. For or against... it remains to be determined, but we are certainly not here to judge and change their way of life. In short, he ends the little lesson by showing us on a map the most touristic activities. Probably resenting our gender, he tells us that the Prohibition Cultural Center would surely interest us, but insisting that the locals really don't encourage this place. Which obviously puts us on the alert, we agree to go and have a look at it the next day... Tony invites us to participate in the 5-course dinner he organizes every evening to socialize with the other backpackers. from the hostel, which we gladly accept. The food was excellent and we had fun participating in the game he offered us: we have 15 minutes to know our neighbor on the left (so a total of 30 minutes to allow everyone to be able to question their neighbor on the left! ) thereafter, each in turn, we must present this famous neighbor on the left to the group! Really, it was interesting to see what our right arm took away from what we said to him. Of course, Tony encourages us from the start of dinner not to sit next to people you already know!

Vue de la Plaza Civica de l'hostel ''El Cafecito Cuenca''
View of the Plaza Civica from the hostel ''El Cafecito Cuenca''

Shrunken heads and Panama hats

We had a busy shooting day as usual. With Tony's advice, it was easy to make a small day itinerary. First stop: the Pumapungo museum, because we had heard the rumor that they held the only real shrunken heads in South America (so there yes you understand correctly or maybe not, they are real human shrunken heads)! We couldn't miss filming this, especially when we knew that our stay with the head reducers was fast approaching... woe! We are clearly told that we are not allowed to film inside! We said to ourselves that we would go and see anyway... the museum is full of relevant information, but we really didn't have the head for that (sorry for the pun, too easy! Hahaha!)! All we wanted to see was shrunken heads...I apologize in advance, I didn't follow the rules, I hope that if they ever find out they don't will not want too much... Really something to see, it was incredible.

Continuing our journey, I knew from my research that Cuenca and its surrounding towns specialized in the creation of the famous Panama hat! No, this hat is not from Panama! They actually called it that because when they built the Panama Canal, that model really became fashionable, all the men wore it. There are several hat shops in the city but we visited the most popular and largest, the "Barrancos Panama Hat Museum". They obviously make the hats on site but in front of the public, it was interesting to see the process. We had fun trying on all kinds of hats!

J'ai opté pour un tout autre type de chapeau! Partout ailleurs sur l'image: le Chapeau Panama
I opted for a completely different type of hat! Everywhere else in the picture: the Panama hat

The Secret of Cuenca: Cultural Center of Prohibition

Our day ended with this museum which the inhabitants of Cuenca did not really approve of! We are already impressed by the exterior, which has a somewhat satanic and colorful artistic touch at the same time. A lady of the house, Martha, charges us the modest sum of $3 at the entrance, and invites us to explore as we wish. I'm going to say it in my good Quebecois, we were really freaking out! The museum is actually an interactive work of art. Right at the entrance, there is a guillotine where you can lay your head and a gigantic throne encrusted with handmade skulls, tons of monstrous and diabolical masks. In the center of the square, a stage: we remember that it is a cultural center (we learn later that they organize shows and plays). We walk between extra-terrestrial sculptures, heads with sewn mouths, unknown monsters, gnomes, Satan, Jesus holding a split cross, paintings illustrating obscenities... the museum even extends under the ground : we open trapdoors, and in one of them, there is a tomb placed at our disposal to extend there; in the other, a catacomb where Machiavellian dolls look at you strangely, in the next is an exceptionally beautiful chest, adorned with an imp, which we did not have the courage to open (opened -he?)... there are other holes covered with a grid, where you can see a doll of a decapitated baby, others of the aliens... in addition, and the icing on the sundae as they say, the tattoo studio upstairs! My memory fails me a little as there were so many works! It's sincerely magnificent and at the same time, all this art digs into a part of you that makes you vulnerable, amazes you and scares you... we understood why the locals were a little disapproving of this place. But we are not locals! We are all the more curious to speak with the person (or people?) who created this absolutely extraordinary place! There's a small bar where they offer microbrewery beer (we couldn't believe we found that in Ecuador!), so we decided to sit down there and start investigating! Martha and Eduardo, owners of the place, are more than happy to hear that we want to know more. They are indeed the ones who created all this. We connect immediately, and they even invite us to dinner, with their two sons, Franco and Kuap! It was without a doubt the most exceptional meeting of the shooting... we were supposed to stay only 2 days in Cuenca... we stayed there 4 days! Including the majority of the time with this family of artists. They explained to us how challenging it was to carry out a project like this in such a conservative city! But they never despaired, despite all the challenges! We found that to be very inspiring. An unforgettable exchange, engraved on our skin (Yes, we got tattooed!). We even concocted a poutine for them with the means of the bar! Be sure to say hello to them from us when you go to meet them...

Mike et Cameron avec la guillotine, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
Mike and Cameron with the guillotine, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador
Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
Cameron in the Catacomb of Dolls, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador
Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador
Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
The Throne, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador
Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
The coffin, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador
L'alien, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Équateur
The Alien, Prohibido Centro Cultural, Ecuador

This is not a shrunken head! Mike found out he slept next to a real human skull when our new friends invited us over for our last night in Cuenca! Cameron slept in the coffin where there had been a real death inside... and me well... I slept normally on a mattress (who's the worst?).

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