Before it’s too late I thought I’d put down some first impressions of Cuenca. We were here a couple years ago with cousin Mary Alice – all favorably impressed with the old, colonial town. Neat, clean, busy (I must have forgotten exactly how busy it gets), cobbled streets and old churches, plaster or masonry frieze-work over the old town. We were plunked down two years ago in a soulless modern approximation of The Sheraton or The Four Seasons.
Then we were shepherded about by Juan Carlos and his driver who were from a tour company we picked up Quito: we were hand held, never a dull moment nor hardly a moment to ourselves, well fed and presumably as content as gringo tourists get. We were sent careening from one small town to another, from one church to another, guitar maker to orchid farm to rural restaurant to silver smiths to god-knows-what-all. We thought a break in the proceedings was in order.
No worries: this time: on our own, fed what we want when we want and also responsible for getting from here to there. We go to either the huge old 10th of August Mercado just up the road where Cuencans go to get their vegetables and meat. The meat is truly disgusting; however, being unrefrigerated and sitting out for whatever vermin are about. Actually, it’s not that bad for vermin but the smell of 20 different kinds of meat all sitting out in its various forms: pig bodies, intestines, sausages, giant cow hooves, organ meat, chickens, geese, probably a few goats, fish up to 25 lbs., clams, shrimp, and unknown reddish chunks of undetermined origins. Usually I try to race through holding my breath.
Our apartment: we are wedged into the angle of a newish building and just across the street from one of the main entry points for this city of 330,000 spread in between mountains (not the Andes) (actually I found out from our Cajas Natnl. Park guide that Cuenca is on the eastern slopes of the Andes so water flows 4000 miles across the continent from here and empties into the Atlantic – how about that?) like a bowl with 3 rivers tumbling endlessly through town. This entry is a short bridge over the largest of the three rivers, the Tomebamba which I am told means “river valley of knives” because Cuenca has been inhabited far longer than Europeans presence here.
Cuenca for the completists means “bowl” in Spanish. Or river basin: take your pick. The apartment or “suite” (or “swit” if you prefer the local spelling variant but pronounced the same) as the Hotel El Puente styles our abode is two rooms and a teeny baño. Those rooms would be a bedroom (naturally) and a kitchen/dining room where it is never dark. A parking lot is just below our window – we’re on the 2nd floor. Out our two windows is the bridge, the river just beyond our view and the very busy Avenida 12th of April running along the river on the other side of the Puente de El vado. The reason our kitchen is never dark is that there is a light as bright as a small star in the parking lot where some idiot is usually setting off his car alarm.
The kitchen/dining room is 12 x 15 with small fridge, microwave (no stove), sink, cabinets with blue tile counters, and a blender. Oh, and a couple bowls (you know that word already if you’ve paid attention), cups (tazas), glasses (vasos), plates (platos), flatware (cubertería) and small plates (platillos). So much for the Spanish language lesson for today.
Now, there is no snow in the mountains which only go up to 4500 meters or so and the snow line starts another 500 meters higher at maybe 16000 feet. Finding 16000 peaks is not a problem in a country this mountainous. Ecuador is chock-a-block with 5000 meter peaks. So, if there’s no snow in the mountains, how do four rivers run with considerable vigor through town twelve month a year? Well, it rains a lot. We’ve been poured upon here in this, the rainy season a few times. That would include last night when we went out for a spendy dinner at Vino & Olivo just across the river and down 12th of April past the University of Cuenca. From our table we could watch the students either practicing for a show or attending an aerobics class in the lobby of the theater building. It poured buckets of rain and the sky is almost always grey.