Monday, November 1, 2010



Ecuador had stolen my daughter, now Cuenca was grabbing me.  From that first glimpse as our aircraft circled the city I knew I had fallen under its spell.

Below lay a sprawling tightly packed city, houses and buildings spreading out through a shallow valley;  mountains and foothills, narrow rivers tumbling over rocks and under bridges, church spires and huge blue domes, orange tiled roofs. Pure magic! I quickly realised I was falling in love with a city I had yet to step foot in.

The reluctant traveller and I arrived in Cuenca, in Ecuador’s Azuay Province as visiting family, honorary residents for the duration of a stay that would stretch to three months.  With passing time it became easier to understand Cuenca’s attraction, it’s magnetic pull, but how to adequately describe it?

The only way was to encapsulate all our days into one.  Tucked away in the high Andes,  Cuenca is an adventure waiting to happen, a city of endless exploration and discovery; a community where the  everyday theatre of life is colourful and diverse and where the unexpected unfolds in the blink of an eye. 

A casual walk through the narrow one way streets might reveal the joy and thrill of a Mariachi Band, or jugglers tossing colourful balls, stilt walkers, a religious parade, a peaceful protest.  Or the eye may catch just the one particular face in the crowd.

Day after day we roamed this beautiful city on foot, occasionally hopping on a bus, riding it to the end of its journey somewhere high above the city.  But most often our daily meandering led us first to  Parque  Calderon, named after a revered freedom fighter, a green patch in the middle of the city’s business and religious centre where photographers and their fake horses tout for business under the shadow of the great domed Cathedral. 

In comparison to Europe and indeed to any other part of the world there are few tourists roaming the streets of Cuenca.  I have no doubt this will change very quickly as visitors like myself extol its many virtues.  

But for this moment we are enjoying  the novelty of our presence.  Strolling the tree lined pathways of Parque Calderon , just two foreigners in the midst of a CaƱar community.

Under the fixed gaze of the flag wielding hero himself shoe shine boys beguile you with huge brown eyes their hands stained with dark polish while vendors offer ice cream cones and meringue confections.

Some set up their pitch in the busy  park thoroughfares  to be dispersed after a while by  a patrolling parks policeman in a dark blue uniform.  It’s all very light hearted, within minutes the vendors are back.

This six part chapter and verse will be the sum total of all our days, from the moment the church bells begin to peal early in the morning to the occasional ‘please god’ final explosion of fire cracker bombs, sometimes late at night, a catalogue of everyday Cuenca  through an Australian gringo’s eyes...

And what better time to start than the deathly quiet of midnight...


NEXT     Cuenca Part 2 - Between-Midnight-and-Dawn.

Robyn Mortimer