Saturday, November 20, 2010




I know, I know.  I did promise six parts but hey! It was all I could do to keep Cuenca’s delights down to this.  To compound the problem I keep reading other Cuenca enthusiasts blogs discovering places we missed.  I’ll just have to come back.

It’s dark now, let’s say its Friday night and you’re having trouble getting home by car or taxi.  The streets are thronged bumper to bumper.   The young are heading  to the nightclub scene,  families are shopping in the modern supermarkets.  The fruit and vegetable Mercado’s are closing for the night. We sit in the taxi advancing inch by inch through the traffic, but for our heavy shopping bags of ingredients for tonight’s meal we would hop out and walk.

If the current fiesta or celebration is Corpus Christi the night will be filled with colour and smoke as effigies are burned in the streets.

Above in the sky I sight a globo, a lighted balloon like a large candle set aloft somewhere down by the airport.  More follow to challenge the twinkling stars in the night sky.  The first of the loud fire cracker bombs resound with a deafening bang, some I swear are lit by next door neighbours on the other unseen side of high walls, they sound so close.

 Depending what occasion it is the bomb launchers are celebrating these amateur missiles will continue exploding for some time.   At a dollar a cracker, handily supplied on a stick in the local markets, they’re cheap enough to buy in bulk. I was tempted to buy the lot and corner my own ‘not for re-sale’ stockpile.  But then I’d be called a spoil sport.

As night falls I mull over the events of this day and all the days we spent here and I consider yet again the qualities of Cuenca, and there are so many.  Until I’m suddenly hit with the revelation that not only is this a clean city, a colourful one, even a happy community, I suddenly realise it is above all a polite city, people are well mannered.  

There is a  quiet dignity in Cuenca’s communal bearing and I wonder is it to a large extent due to the strong combination of family and religion.  

Religion plays a huge part in the daily life of Cuenca.  You have only to visit the Churches; on a Sunday or saints day; they are packed, standing room only.  Living as I do in a country where the sombre black habits of Catholic nuns have been replaced by conventional dress and where in fact religious orders have rapidly decreased it was a surprise to see the vast numbers of black garbed nuns going about their business in the streets of Cuenca.

To see them enmasse at a joint school parade through Cuenca streets took me very quickly back to childhood and carefree days in convent schools. To see the nuns so obviously enjoying their students prowess on stilts warmed my heart.  

That same dignity is evident in the elderly,  their backs bowed by a lifetime carrying heavy loads, faces moulded by generations of history. 

We came across this gracious old lady on the track beside Ingapirca, the 500 year old Incan ruins roughly two hours by road from Cuenca.  No doubt her trek along this country road to a neighbours house was a daily affair.  Her age?  I could hazard only a hazy guess, late eighties, perhaps early nineties, but I bet those legs of hers have quite a few years life left in them yet.

I can only surmise she is taking the kettle to be filled with perhaps her daily meal, or even milk.  Or maybe the daily jaunt is primarily a chance to gossip and chat with old friends..

My mind jumps back and forth between this day and all the other days we’ve spent roaming this small but exquisite part of South America.  Above all I will remember the children,  their wide eyed enjoyment of life, the close bond between all members of the family.

I snapped this pretty young Cañar girl with her younger sister gazing enviously through a barrier to other youngsters frolicking and skylarking in a local swimming pool.

Were the sisters visitors from out of town, was this a rare sight of bare bodies in a communal swimming pool; were they envious and wishing to be part of the fun?

In this next collage of Ecuador’s children the top two boys sit wide eyed, enthralled with a mariachi band and prancing puppets;  while the little charmers I snapped, bottom right,  in the mountain town of Chordeleg had inched bit by sneaky bit into a video shop to watch a Disney fantasy unfolding on a DVD player..

The budding artist with other pupils from a convent school had taken over Cuenca’s central park to showcase their work in progress.

The little beauty in the bright blue top shared an outdoor table with us in the township of Banos under the shadow of the brilliant blue church.  Youngest daughter of the stall owner, she watched us closely for the entire meal, eyes never wavering, and despite constant coaxing refused to crack a smile.

My reluctant traveller is a finicky eater, he dislikes eating out at even the best of venues. But in Ecuador he sampled the fare at several outdoor stalls and I enjoyed watching the slow realisation creep over his face.  Hey this food is really good!

So despite our dining companions poker face we all hoed into the freshly roasted pig on a spit with crispy baked potato and declared them pretty good tucker.

I could ramble on giving dozens, hundreds more reasons why Cuenca is so special.  You will just have to take my word for it.  But I should tell you I’m not alone; in  its April 2010 edition,  the prestigious International Living Magazine declared Cuenca the world’s number one choice as a retirement haven.  I’m not surprised.

Had my reluctant traveller and myself not been of such advanced years, we too may have joined the exodus to Ecuador.  I’m afraid though its a bit too late in life to learn Spanish, and we've left it far too late to tramp the Cajas.

 But right now I’m beginning to yawn, it’s been a long, long, day,  three months long to be exact.  Like every other night I’ve spent here I am plum tuckered out, and so is my reluctant traveller.

This has been probably the longest period of time I have spent in the one overseas location.  It has been both an education and a revelation, and an experience I would recommend to anyone.  We have grown close to the Ecuadoran people, to Cuenca’s people.  They have been unfailingly polite and patient with us.  Struggling to understand our abysmal attempts at Spanish, filling in the yawning gaps with smiles and laughter.

God only knows the true meaning of the many words I managed to mangle.  Next time I promise to swat up before I arrive, correct numbers and pronunciation might have been a help.

Inevitably we face the end of all our days in this paradise.  All too soon our visit has come to an end;  though not without a few hair raising twists I’ve written about in other separate stories.  Like all visits to family members settled in lands far from home we brace ourselves for the inevitable tears.

Our time here has satisfied our curiosity, assured us our youngsters  chosen path is not a hasty or ill conceived whim.   Mind you these children of ours, daughter and husband, are no longer youngsters, in fact they are fast approaching middle age.  They are the brave new face of world travel and immigration.  For them a place to call home need not be dictated by birth but instead by a system of global selection, a process of elimination and informed choice.

My daughter and her husband have chosen wisely.  Their beautiful house restored to its former glory,  their lives filled with friends and customers who have become friends. With a taste of nostalgia for the birthplace they left behind they have named their venture Kookaburra Cafe and Accommodation.

I envy them their courage and their new life.