Cuenca Reflections

Ecuador - Cuenca February 2016 225It has taken a couple of weeks to publish this post; it was forgotten in Drafts. Part of the reason is my state of mind when in Cuenca. Among the multiple cities that call themselves “the city of eternal spring” when I am here the cozy comfort is as endearing as curling up on the sofa with a thick blanket on a cold autumn evening. Relaxation permeates my body and soul.

The last weeks were actually filled with activities, most of them pleasant, but a few were disappointing. Disappoints had a minor edge. These included the Modern Art Museum not being open again after March 17, like the tourism office claimed. It included the Casa de Posadas not having a full exhibit, but only one room. Similarly, the Cultural Center only had one floor filled with weavings, but the second floor was vacant including their charming gift shop.

None of the disappointments was devastating, but when you have memories that you wish to revisit, it is disenchanting to find you are not able to do so.

Other things captured our attention in most positive and varied manners. We discovered an English book exchange on Wednesday mornings. Though our first go was less than thrilling, we did score an exchange the second time around.

Once a month, there is an artisanal craft fair held at Todos Santos Church. Though most of the vendors were selling jewelry, items we had no use for, we did come across three items that caught our attention and wallet. I bought a jar of Guanábana (Soursop) jelly from one seller and a bacon cream cheese spread from another. Both purchases happened as pure impulse shopping, but both turned out to be delicious. The third item consumed before leaving the area held the name Nordica: artisanal craft beer. Taking their business card, good intentions followed. We thought we would order a case of 12 bottles, which included free delivery. Time was not on our side; it never happened.

At the same fair, though not standing behind a table with products, we met Bernie Hemingway of Bernan Home Canned Foods. Bernie is a retired ex-pat who cans foods and creates other food items for ex-pat consumption. We chatted for quite a time and upon leaving mentioned, he would be selling at the upcoming food fair held at Common Grounds Restaurant. For some reason that escapes us, he mentioned if we ever needed an attorney, we should send his wife an e-mail for one they have used for years and trust implicitly. At the time, we had no need of such services.

Two weeks in a row on Wednesday nights, we went to Trivia Night at Café Eucalyptus. Teams comprise four players; most of the regulars come as a team. Others try to find stragglers to join them. One week, we had a single older ex-pat man join us and the following week, it was a couple from Canada. Some of the questions are so bizarre; it makes you wonder why you are there. “What was Pope Benedict’s youngest sibling’s confirmation name?” That was not a real example question, but the idea is the same. Regardless, it was fun and an evening out sharing with other English speakers.

Three Saturdays, we went to Joe’s Secret Garden. After having gone two times last year, this was on the high priority list. Joe’s as Ron described it is like going to a country club. The atmosphere is similar due to an exclusive nature.

On Sunday if you are observant, if you go to their website, you will find the set menu for the upcoming Saturday offering. Generally, they only offer dinner on Saturdays, though they have started rolling over to Sunday as well. If you miss the Sunday announcement, you can find it on the Monday edition of Gringo Post in your e-mail. Snap decisions are in order as Joe’s fills up fast for the one seating. They can accommodate up to 100 people in an expansive private home. Once you request a reservation, you get an e-mail stating either you were timely enough or you are on a waiting list.

Social hour starts at 5 PM with an open bar; people congregate and socialize in the backyard garden. Dinner served family style starts at 6:30 PM and is all-you-can-eat. This alone is dangerous; with lively conversation making the rounds across the table, more food enters the mouth without conscious thought. Wall décor needs additional precautionary hazards of overeating signs.

Manstranto Café Cuenca

Our $5 lunches included soup, coffee and dessert

One Saturday, we took part in a charity event that was quite different from anything we have ever done. Called a Poker Walk, we later found turned off many potential participants who dismissed it due to the name only. I for one do not play poker, but was intrigued enough to partake. Ron is always eager for new experiences.

This is how the game plays out. The starting point was San Blas Restaurant at any time from 2 PM onward; however, you have to Manstranto Café complete the game by 5:30 PM ending up at Café Eucalyptus. At San Blas, each participant pays $5 for a game sheet. The sheet has on one side across the top the four suits in a deck of cards: Hearts, Spades, Diamond, and Clubs. Down the side, there are boxes showing King down to Ace at the bottom with four columns for each suit. On the back of the game paper, there are the rules along with a map for completing the game. The rules are simple and not having any knowledge of poker will not stop anyone from playing.

At San Blas, after getting the game sheet, we were to draw a playing card from a spread out deck of cards that are face down on the table. The chosen card is then marked on the player’s game sheet. For example, the card picked is the nine of Hearts, so the box under the Hearts and the nine a highlighter colors in that box, which is then rubber-stamped and finally initialed by the volunteer.

From here on you can go to the other four restaurants in any order you wish, but you can only go to each one once. By 5:30 PM, the deadline is set for all cards to reach the volunteers at Café Eucalyptus. Each card has to have five boxes marked to win. If perhaps you had a decent hand, at the end there was the option to buy up to two more cards for $1 each. I had a low straight going 3, 4, 5, 6, but even with two more cards, it would not have been sufficient to win. The prize was two tickets to the community theater play, which happens after we leave anyway.

The added attraction to this game was enough to induce some to play. At each restaurant where participants went to choose a card, that restaurant offered free snacks to the gamers with the hopes making money on purchased drinks or you would return for a regular meal. We did not indulge in the snacking as we would have liked, because this was a Saturday that we had reservations at Joe’s. It was rib night at Joe’s, so saving appetites held priority.

With excellent and generous offerings, we did return to D’Santys Restaurant and Manstranto Café later on. Actually, we returned to Manstranto Café twice for lunch, each time with two friends in tow.

Being that ex-pats stand out from the rest of the population, it is not uncommon to run into others you have met at some event. Since we were living immediately behind Cafe de Nucallacta, we would often run into people we have met elsewhere sitting there sipping the fine coffee.

Cuenca holds a magic that sometimes is indescribable. The mix of indigenous people with Parque Madre CuencaSpanish descendants welcoming gringo ex-pats blends into a lively lovely culture. The city itself Parque Madre Cuencahas a long history predating colonialism, adding a special spice that embraces and warms the soul. There are a number of parks providing green space relaxation. This one in particular is called Parque Madre. Someone took it upon himself to carve the dying trees into works of art. Cuenca sits in a valley with mountains on all sides, but has four rivers running through it: Tomebamba, Tarqui, Milchichig, and Yanuncay.

Each time we are ready to leave, I miss being there before departing. This is from the top floor where we were living. I had all good intentions of going up there every hour for about five hours to take the same scene each time. The cloud changes in the background are remarkable and I Ecuador - Cuenca was mesmerized each time I went up to do laundry. Yet, time and other preoccupations managed to distract me from the plan.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.