Monday, November 8, 2010

Cuenca Part 5. AFTER SIESTA


Keeping tabs on Cuenca is tiring work,  so much to see and do.  A quick snooze works wonders, refreshed after 40 winks here I am back on track with more of Cuenca in a day.

Police in Cuenca are ever present but not overly evident.  When power cuts or exceptional traffic upsets the flow they swing into action controlling any backups in the city centre with a system of whistles that seems remarkably effective. 

Yes there is crime, opportunistic pick pockets do abound but with common sense we never at any time felt threatened.  Having said that though, my reluctant traveller did manage to have some money lifted from his pocket on a bus.  Locals however blamed it on visitors from other South American countries.  As I had found some years ago in Jordan, and later in Tashkent where locals blamed visiting ‘Egypts’ for misdemeanours, here the poor old Peruvians or Columbians take the stick.

 On our usual stroll I came across this policewoman taking a government employee to task for parking on the footpath while unloading plants.  Of course he objects, after all his only consideration is the backup of traffic while unloading.
It wasn't long before passers-by joined in. All could see the drivers point of view except the policewoman who, after lengthy discussion, of course finally won the argument.

   My husband, an Australian and therefore an enthusiastic partaker of fine beer,  has discovered an acceptable local drop available at a nearby grocery outlet and each day he carries his brightly coloured basket up Calle Larga to replenish his supply. 

As he strolls past,  the security guard in the travel centre across the road smiles and waves, the old lady sitting just inside her mini shop frontage gestures an invitation to her browning bananas while the cardboard man staggers by with his load.  By now they are all used to his daily odyssey.

The old lady’s shop is one of the great mysteries of Cuenca.  All day long this elderly lady of indefinable age sits on a stool in the entrance to her very small cluttered and dusty mini shop kept company by an extremely lazy cat. She obviously has regular customers but what they buy I can’t imagine. You can just see the old lady’s yellow baseball cap as she passes the time of day  with two ladies  loaded up with produce from the nearby market to take home. 

The reluctant traveller though is not one of her customers,  he has a brighter, larger more modern shop in mind and he passes by with a nod and smile.  It’s not long before with transaction made he retraces his steps home.  Note the jaunty stride, the heavy basket.

Mission accomplished at the busy  grocery shop of his choice,  my reluctant traveller arrives  home with his daily cache. As daughter Jenny comments ‘There’s no way you can separate an Aussie bloke from his beer’.

     Afternoon is also the time to think about dinner, the nights menu.  Renovation Cuenca style creates huge appetites.

Here we are arriving home, shopping bags full of goodies.  With Jen and Chris heavily involved in their new home’s restoration process we took over the daily cooking, sourcing all our supplies at the constantly busy two level  Mercado 10 de Agosto on Calle Larga just a short stroll from home.  

Central food markets are dotted all over Cuenca; Mercado 9th de Octobre and Ferra Libre just two others.  All are packed with individual stalls bursting with every imaginable delicacy, from home made chocolates to exotic fruits, from fish trucked up from Guayaquil to sides of freshly slaughtered meat lying disconsolately on open benches.

 A small bucket of potatoes is exchanged for a single dollar, the same for a bag of shelled peas or broad beans.  Onions, purple and white displayed minus their outer wrapping, carrots shredded.  Huge mounds of tomatoes and apples, oranges and bananas, an artists palette of colour and substance. A  Mecca for the lazy cook.

Tourists on a tight schedule  seeking the real Ecuador should place a Mercado visit high on their must do list, I guarantee  instant pleasure and hundreds of photos.

Horrified yet perversely compelled I find myself daily wandering through the meat stalls in the Mercado; no part of a cow is wasted, whole heads on display tongues lolling, eyes staring lifeless, axes wielded by men and women alike hacking huge hunks of flesh to hang on display. Apparently no abattoirs in Cuenca. And on the brighter side no flies either.

 I soon learned the meat might look edible, even tasty but for my spoiled Australian taste glands and teeth the steaks and roasting cuts proved impossible to enjoy.  This, for me, would be Cuenca’s only drawback.

The chickens though were a lifesaver, and so too the fish.  Fresh trout from the mountain streams sold at a Saturday organic market appeared on my menu three and four times a week.

At the same market I could have bought guinea pig or cuy as its called in Ecuador, either cooked or ready to prepare. My daughter assured me they were a tasty delicacy, but somehow I couldn’t get my mind around the tiny little clawed paws and the general impression of a mummified carcass.

On one of our walks through the outer suburbs we discovered how eggs were delivered to local shops; on the back of a truck, thousands of them bumping along all day uncovered, nestling neatly in uniform rows on cardboard cartons, driven alternately over conventional  tarmac and cobble stone streets.  I was surprised to see only the one broken egg.  

On the same jaunt we came across this example of high wire electrical spaghetti.

It seems Cuenca has yet to discover health and safety regulations in the work place.

Robyn Mortimer