2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Monday, January 26, 2015

CLIMATE AND WEATHER IN CUENCA, ECUADOR





Climate and weather in Cuenca, Ecuador

Recently, I received an email from a Texan, who reported that he and his wife could not find an accurate weather report on Cuenca, and could I steer him to an Internet site for Cuenca’s weather. The gentleman said that he and his wife found the forecasts were all over the place. No doubt some forecasts are more reliable than others, but my point with the Texan was that accurate forecasts are hard to come by, because Cuenca weather is all over the place.

Nonetheless, a friend of mine here in Cuenca recommends the following site for relatively accurate weather forecasts covering the canton area and gives his rationale:
“www.wunderground.com is the best on the internet, I feel. The current Cuenca weather is reported from various locations around town. You will never get some nonsense reading of 90 degrees – probably Guayaquil. They have good forecasting, you can select metric or the U.S. system, and it carries a lot of historical data for trip planning.”
It’s difficult to get accurate weather predictions for Cuenca. The weather truly does vary a great deal during the day. If the sun is shining and there is no breeze, it will feel like it is in the low 80’s when outside in the sun. Go under a tree and it may feel ten or fifteen degrees cooler. Even in the house or condo, the day can be sunny outside; but with a breeze or some wind, it can feel ten degrees cooler on the inside. As a result, on partly cloudy days the weather can change considerably from one minute to the next dependent upon if the sun comes out from under a cloud or if it is suddenly hidden by a cloud.


There are numerous occasions, where I have experienced walking in from my balcony, and circling around the cabinet island that separates my living room from my kitchen area, and by the time I am arriving at the kitchen windows; the sun has disappeared. I don’t mean just behind a cloud, but has literally disappeared in a miasma of abrupt darkness, as a storm descends out of nowhere. Then there are the warm days when I have my windows flung wide-open. I make my lunch, about to enjoy my labors on the balcony, and the wind picks up or the sun hides, and the temperatures suddenly feel cooler. Either I grab a long sleeve shirt, or put on a light sweater or jacket, or I just forget it all as I close the windows and eat inside.

I literally have had days where I am walking down the street and one minute its warm, the sun goes under a cloud, possibly a breeze picks up, and on goes my jacket. Within a minute, the sun comes out from under the cloud, and off comes my jacket again. This game of peek-a-boo between me and the sun can be played out numerous times within a short casual stroll as I walk down the street. I hate wearing a hat. There are days when I am walking, and the sun is out. I wait for the sun to hide behind a cloud, in the hope I won’t have to put the hat in my hand on my head. Five minutes later I am still waiting for the clouds to blot out the sun. Nada is happening! I surrender. I put on the hat, and inevitably within a minute the sun goes into hiding. I eventually remove my hat, and right on cue, the sun emerges again. This performance is repeated numerous times in short order. Dependent upon my mood, there are days when I find this entire game of hide-and-seek humorous, and there are other days when I find the game quite annoying.

The same game is played with the rain. Cuenca is generally an umbrella-carrying kind of town. One minute the weather is fine, even sunny. The next minute I am being showered upon. Sometimes the rains are light and very quickly dissipate. Sometimes the showers are longer lasting—twenty to forty minutes, to one to four hours. It is very rare in Cuenca for it to rain all day. Torrential rain falls happen, but they too are rare. Maybe once or twice a year, we may get a real extravaganza of lighting and thunder. Most of the thunder here, however, is due to the perpetual number of fireworks that Cuencanos love to ignite. In the philosophy of the Cuencanos: “If it booms, it’s good!”

Coming from Chicago, thunder and lightning storms off the lake were much more frequent than in Cuenca. What a dazzling display of fireworks as lighting would streak across the sky, and thunder sometimes exploded with a ferocity that just shook the entire foundations and frames of the buildings. Moments like these felt like this is truly Armageddon. I loved the way the darkness from an approaching storm would actually cause the high-rises to silhouette against the dramatically dark sky, making them stand-out distinctively, and appear to be like miniatures against the soon-to-be storm-laden sky. Riding through Chicago on the edge of an impacting storm like this is one of the amazing things I miss about Chi-Town.

Ever since I’ve arrived in Cuenca we have always carried umbrellas with us. However, in the last two to three months there had been less rain, and much of the rain that had fallen graciously favored us by cascading across Cuenca in the evening and night-time hours. I almost never carried my umbrella, which in my four years of living in Cuenca was a first. There were days during these last three months when the dark clouds would form, and I would anticipate a dunking and I had no umbrella. Once again, Mother Nature was just playing me, and nothing would happen. 

The relatively dry weather ended a week ago Sunday, which was an absolutely beautiful, warm, sunny day. Saturday, January 17th was one of the nicest weather days that I had experienced in Cuenca. About 3:30 p.m. all was about to abruptly change as Mother Nature unleashed a torrential downpour in which the baby was discarded with the bath. Flooding in many parts of the city was experienced, and the downpour eventually continued into a night of lighter showers. We have storm sewers in Cuenca, but city officials said the sewers were not effective in some neighborhoods due to the amount of debris that was blocking and clogging them. The weather forecast for Cuenca is above average amounts of precipitation during the first quarter of this new year. We had our yin the last quarter of last year. Now it is time for the yang. Currently we are in a pattern of cloudy and sunny weather with rain commencing on cue most days about 4:00 p.m.

Sunday's Storm in Cuenca, Ecuador
    Sunday’s Storm in Cuenca, Ecuador

The everyday rains this past week have bloated the four rivers that run through Cuenca as the headwaters rumble through the city; and despite four rivers, flooding is usually contained to certain parts of the city, generally were there are natural river-plains where, of course, people decide to do their construction and living. Well, few people have ever accused the human race of holding reason and logic in high stead. Flooding is not a major problem in Cuenca like in many cities. The flooding you see in the photo below is a common occurrence in many cities throughout the world, but infrequent and limited in their damage to Cuenca.


Everyday Rains

While Cuenca was having its Sunday deluge, Guayaquil on the coast was really being inundated with rain. Horrific flooding three to four feet high along the buildings was common, and over forty homes were washed away. This is the rainy season for many places on the coast. Although due to micro-climates along the coast, some places will have little rain. Investigating coastal micro-climates is something potential expats might want to keep in mind, if you are seeking to settle along the coast when you make that move to Ecuador.

In 2009 and 2010, many expats arrived in Cuenca when Ecuador was experiencing a drought. Despite the power shortages, expats were happy that the climate was so perfectly dry and sunny. Once again, that was the yin. 2011 witnessed approximately 75 inches of rain, which was about two-and-a-half times the average rainfall of 28 inches. Chicago, despite its location on Lake Michigan, only averages about 21 inches of average precipitation. The first half of 2012 continued with the yang before precipitation began to revert back to its mean average. Some expats panicked, “Oh my God, we thought we had the perfect climate, and now it’s rainy, damp, and cold all the time.” Eventually by mid-2012, panic subsided along with the rain, and for the most part, the precipitation in Cuenca has remained at normal average levels since then.

Keep in mind that statistical averages for weather are a guidepost of what to expect overall. However, like almost most places in the world, there can be erratic swings from season to season and year to year. The warmest months in Cuenca are September through June. However, there can be variances in that as with any area where statistical averages can vary from year to year. November and December are the warmest months and the breezes and winds are slight to utterly calm. January through June are warm months as well, but there is more breeze and wind, and more rainy days, which modulates the warm temperatures of these months. July and August are generally the coldest months, with temperature highs occasionally in the low 70’s, but usually in the 60’s and some days in the 50’s. Night time temps will be the low 50’s and 40’s with a rare one-to- four evenings a year where the temps may drop into the upper 30’s.

Cuencanos will often divide the weather in Cuenca into the wet season and the dry season. I have never found such divisions to be close to accurate, so I won’t even bother to share them with you. Just expect that some months will be rainier than others, but there will be to one-degree-or-another some months which are rainier than others, but from year to year they will not always be the same months. Wet and dry season patterns in Cuenca don’t really exist except in the minds of the beholders.

It is advertised that Cuenca has year-round spring weather. Most people from the southern U.S. think that’s disingenuous. However, it is year-round spring weather, if we compare it with the northern U.S. Some people like hot, humid weather. Others like hot and dry weather. If that is you, I don’t think Cuenca’s climate will be to your liking. Others who hail from such hot climates are glad to leave them behind. What can I say, “different strokes, for different folks”.

There are times when I wish we had more sunshine and slightly warmer temps. However, I am spoiled, and I have to remind myself what I would be enduring right now in Chicago’s winter. Now that I am older, I no longer can handle heat and humidity either. Much of Chicago’s summers can be humid. I dreamt of moving to a tropical island when I retired. For twelve years before retirement, I had a photo of a tropical island grace my wallpaper on my computer as my inspiration. In 2009 and 2010, I visited Hawaii in May. Temperatures were about 90 degrees. I discovered too much wind, which is why I don’t like coastal areas, as well as enduring winds off Lake Michigan in Chicago for most of my life. I didn’t like the heat and humidity of the beautiful island state, so my dream of retirement to a tropical island melted.

There are expats who love the rainy days, and occasionally I do too. On a rainy day in Cuenca, the temperatures in the city can be in the sixties while it is raining, even lower in the cooler months of the year, and the lack of sunshine and dampness can make it feel cooler. Many times it will feel cooler inside my apartment only to discover when I get outside it is at least ten degrees warmer. Since the walls in the condos and houses are concrete and plastered over, and therefore, do not have insulation; they become a poor conduit for the retention of interior heat. Older homes also tend to be drafty. Newer homes and condos are usually sealed more tightly. If one is considering building in Cuenca, installing double pane windows also helps in producing a warmer interior and reducing outside noise. Most existing homes and condos do not have double pane windows.

With no central heating units, there are some mornings during the coldest part of the year when propane or electric heaters help, especially to take the chill out of the early morning air when first arising. Such heaters are used more throughout the day by people whose body temperatures tend to run cold. People generally just dress warmer inside during the coldest months, by wearing a light sweater over their shirts; or dependent upon the coldness that day, wearing a robe over their clothes as well. I only used my heater once last year, but I could have used it a few other times as well. I suppose not using my heater more often was silly considering how inexpensive utilities are in Cuenca. Instead, I just settled for wearing my robe over my clothes and drinking hot drinks.

There are many times during the year when I walk outside with a short-sleeve shirt on, while Cuencanos are wearing long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, and jackets. The Texan who inspired today’s post wrote, “My wife and I always see photos of people bundled up in Cuenca.”  For some reason Cuencanos are usually cold, probably because they have not experienced northern North American winters. Also, many Cuencanos are protecting themselves from the rays of the Equatorial sun, which can be intense. Let the sun come out, and they think it is mucho calor (very hot). I tell them it is caliente (warm). I say, Guayaquil is mucho calor, (very hot and humid). The Cuencanos smile, and agree. A factor for aging expats who experience on-going coldness, especially women, is possibly due to poor circulation; many of their body temperatures drop as they advance in age. Some expats just don’t eat enough carbs, which can also lead to lower body temperatures of those who are perpetually cold, particularly if they are on high protein diets.

Each of us has to decide what best fits are needs in retirement. If you are seeking a tropical climate, Cuenca isn’t it, even if it is south of the Equator. The Equator may keep Cuenca at 8,400 ft. elevation from experiencing the frigid winters and snow of the “mile high city of Denver (5,280 ft), but the high elevation also prevents Cuenca from having a tropical-type climate. However, you will find a tropical climate along many locations on the Ecuadorian coast.  If you are really adventurous, you can always settle in El Oriente, the Amazonas, and soak up all the heat and humidity that your little ole heart desires.  Whatever you decide, go where you think you will be happy. Climate-wise, Cuenca for me appears to be as close to perfection as I can hope to find.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cultural Diversity in Ecuador



Cultural Diversity in Ecuador


In my last post, I wrote about the great bio-diversity of Ecuador. In this post, I would like to share with you another great diversity in this small country, which is that of its people.

Ecuador has a population of approximately 15,100,000 people. Ecuador is about the size of Colorado with a population of 5,300,000.  As you can see, the population of Ecuador is about three times the population of Colorado.  Like many other countries the bulk of the population lives in the urban areas in about six to eight of the largest cities. The remainder of the population basically populates smaller cities and towns in rural areas.

About ten percent of the Ecuadorian population lives outside of Ecuador. Due to a couple of past economic repercussions and political instability during the 80’s and 90’s, large numbers of Ecuadorians left the country to find jobs in Spain and the United States. As both of these country’s economies have suffered in recent years, and as the U.S. continues to implement a schizophrenic immigration policy toward illegal immigrants in the country; increasing numbers of Ecuadorians return to their homeland, and fewer of them are emigrating from the country. President Correa is encouraging Ecuadorians abroad to return home, especially the 20,000 professionals, whom the President would like to see contribute to the Ecuadorian economy. However, many Ecuadorian families continue to prosper from the money sent back from the states and from Spain, as most Ecuadorian émigrés continue to live abroad.

Amer-Indians of Ecuador

       



Approximately seven percent of the Ecuadorian population is indigenous, and most of these Amer-Indians live in the rural areas of the country. Increasingly over the last forty years, more indigenous have relocated to the larger cities. Cuenca, for example, has been impacted by large numbers of indigenous in recent decades, when forty years ago their numbers were negligible. The indigenous groups are divided into many various ethnic or tribal groupings. Some of these people, particularly in the urban areas have modified their dress and other habits and customs; while other native-Americans continue to maintain much of their dress and other ethnic markings.


                     


One of the largest indigenous groups is the Quichua, who continue to maintain their language; and while fewer men who reside in the cities maintain their style of dress today, many of the women still do. The men, however,  oftentimes can be identified by the cords they wear around their wrist, which reminds them as well as others of their identity. The Quichua men and women who wear traditional garb can be identified by their tall top hats.  Some women also are identified by their bouncy, pleated skirts which widen at the hips. Some Quichua as well as other indigenous women who live in the cities will find young women abandoning their traditional dress and only the older women may be found to wear such outfits in some families. Other young women sometime revert back to their traditional garb when they become middle-age or older. Therefore, it is difficult to predict with certainty, if many of the traditional clothing will be totally abandoned or not among the city-dwelling indigenous in another ten or twenty years. A fascinating tidbit of history is the fact that the traditional garb of the indigenous was actually imposed upon them by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, as a way for the Spaniards to be able to tell the various indigenous groups apart, and also to put some clothes on many indigenous groups.

Interestingly, in a Spanish-speaking culture, Spanish is often a second language for many of the indigenous members, while their ethnic tongue is their primary language. What can be entertaining is when an expat with broken Spanish attempts to speak with indigenous vendors in the mercados with their “Spanish as a second language” skills; it can be like the blind leading the blind. “Why do these vendors have so much trouble understanding my Spanish?” an expat might say, without understanding that Spanish may not be the vendors primary language.  There are many Amer-Indians groups with their own language, but the Quichua language in various dialects is spoken by 2,500,000 people in Ecuador.


Five years ago, I was visiting in Hawaii. The Mormons have a large tourist compound where one can visit a site devoted to the traditional Samoan culture, another devoted to the people of Fiji, another to the Hawaiian Native Americans, etc. However, the sites and the programs were presenting cultures that no longer existed. The entire venue had a Disneyesque quality of virtual-reality and entertainment. In Ecuador, the exciting thing about the indigenous cultures is that they exist in the here-and-now as living, breathing cultures. This is not to say that these groups have not been affected by the cultures and modern conveniences around them, but they most certainly, in general, continue to identify with their ethnic heritage and many of their customs and dress. This tendency is even stronger in the rural areas, and the beauty of the various groups’ clothing can be seen in many of the parades and festivals across Ecuador.


As mentioned in my last post, in El Oriente (Amazonas), where only three per-cent of the population of Ecuador resides, the densely tropical rain forests provide shelter and isolation to some small tribes that live much as people did in the Neolithic age. These cultures which hearkened back in most people’s minds to a by-gone age are quickly being destroyed by the encroachment of modern civilization. Yet these people do live in the 21st century, and by virtual of that fact alone have every claim to being identified as people of the 21st century as well. Well most “moderns” would view such people as “primitive” because they do not live in complex cultures, there are many beautiful qualities in these cultures of simplicity for people who have been raised in such cultures, that can be superior to the down-side of the rabid pace of material accumulation, obsessiveness, and the hectic stress-inducing pace of modern day civilizations. If progress is defined only by complexity, GNP, and technological advances; as it obviously is, then the remnants of such simple societies that still exist in the world will not survive.


Afro Ecuadorians


The Afro-Ecuadorian population is also about the same size as the indigenous population, which comprises seven per-cent of the population. Almost all of the Black population of Ecuador is located in the province of Esmeraldas, which is located in northwestern Ecuador along the Colombian border and directly east of the Galapagos. Blacks make up about seventy percent of the population of Esmeraldas, and ninety percent of Ecuador’s Black population lives in the province. Blacks are almost non-existent in the river valleys of the Andes Mountains.

A seventeenth century shipwreck brought the first Blacks to Ecuador. The survivors infiltrated the jungles off the coast which offered them protection, and as indigenous populations began to realize that they had little to fear from the survivors, the groups began to mix. Eventually “zambos” was the term used to describe the offspring of the indigenous and Black populations. Mullatoe is the term used as it was in North America to describe the offspring of Black and White parentage. Runaway slaves also arrived from Columbia, and joined the Blacks in Esmeraldas. The Jesuits also had slaves brought from Columbia to work their sugar cane fields. Otherwise, Black slavery was almost non-existent in Ecuador, as the indigenous populations were used to cultivate the fields in a less binding form of semi-slavery or a kind of feudal serfdom.

Terms like Afro-Ecuadorians are used primarily in scholarly circles. The Ecuadorian people never use African-Americans and neither does the Black population. Black is the term normally used by the Ecuadorians in identifying Black-Ecuadorians, both by Blacks and non-Blacks alike. Some ethnicists and linguists believe the term “zambo” was the Spanish derivate for the Anglo term, sambo, which later became a pejorative term. However, other ethnicists and linguists claim that there are other explanations for the source of the North American term, sambo.

White Ecuadorians

             

White European stock in Ecuador comprises slightly above six percent of the population. Most of the White progeny in Ecuador are of Spanish descent. The Spaniards were the conquistadors of Ecuador and all of South America, except for the Portuguese colony of Brazil, in the early fifteenth century shortly after Columbus had made his voyages to the West Indies, which today is known as the Caribbean Islands. Over the years other White ethnic groups also came to settle in Ecuador. Germans, French, and Italians were among the larger groups. There are also smatterings of Jews who have settled mainly in Quito, Palestinians, and in Cuenca there are some Pakistanis and Chinese. Only recently have a small number of East Indians made their way to Cuenca to test the viability of relocation to Cuenca as well.

Cuenca also has the largest group of expats from the United States and from Canada of approximately 4,000 people. Almost all of these expats are White. Ninety percent of the expats living in Ecuador are from the United States, while ten percent are from Canada. A minute number of Europeans and Australians are also found living in Ecuador.

I once did a post in 2012 of a Jewish Seder I attended. Every year about the time of Seder, I continue to get emails from Jewish-Americans asking if I can put them in contact with the Jewish worship community in Cuenca, as they consider a move to Cuenca. However, my Jewish contacts tell me that there is no synagogue or worship community here in Cuenca. Most Jews in Cuenca tend to be ethnic Jews, rather than religiously practicing Jews.

Metizos



The largest ethnic group in Ecuador are the mestizos at 71% of the population. The mestizos are a mixture of Indian and Spanish ancestry. Cholas is a term sometimes used to describe Indians who have abandoned their ethnicity to assimilate with the ways of the cultural dominant Spaniard White class. Tribal language may be abandoned, and Spanish may become the primary language. Efforts are made to increase schooling, and to seek jobs that have been traditionally reserved for Whites, concomitantly abandoning traditional dress and hair styles to qualify for such jobs in retail, the bureaucracy, small businesses, etc. is undertaken. Total abandonment from their indigenous communities into an assimilated world is rare, however.  Most Cholas will make the move in incremental steps, as they move further away from their indigenous values and beliefs taking possibly a generation or two to accomplish.  Although Cholas have little if any White ancestry, because of the assimilation process, they are to varying degrees or not considered Metizos. Many Metizos also self-identify as Whites.

Many Mestizos work in blue-collar jobs that are the backbone of the economy, whether in mining, oil-rigging, construction, manufacturing, and skilled labor type of jobs. Artisans are still an important part of Ecuadorian economy and culture. Sixty percent of the furniture made in Ecuador is made in Cuenca, generally by hand. The arts of gold and silver smiting, and of jewelry-making are examples of crafts that continue to thrive. Bead-work, embroidery, and weaving, on the other, are examples of crafts under stress, as the amount of compensation many crafts persons can earn can be very low for the amount of hours required to meticulously complete an item. Fewer in the younger generation, therefore, are less inclined to want to learn the intricacies of bead-work, embroidery, and weaving. Efforts are being taken to maintain vibrant artisan communities in Ecuador before they become a lost heritage as has been the case in so many cultures around the world. Only time will tell if such efforts are successful.



Religion in Ecuador

Celebrations and processions for Holy Week in Quito Ecuador       Procession during Holy Week (Semana Santa) on the Tuesday before Easter called Entrada de los Jocheros, Quito, Pinchincha Province, Ecuador : Stock Photo

Ecuadorians continue to be overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, at the rate of slightly over eighty percent of the population. Especially among the rural indigenous, there often will  be a mixture of Catholic and indigenous religious practices. Protestantism has grown in Ecuador, primarily of the evangelical variety, and over eleven percent of the population is now Protestant. While other groups are represented, their numbers are miniscule to the over-all population. Two of the larger, smaller groups are members of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons with numbers of 185,000. Young Mormon missionaries can easily be spotted here in Cuenca, and they obviously are succeeding in making inroads with conversions among Ecuadorians. The other larger religious group is the Jehovah Witnesses who are about 85,000 in numbers in Ecuador. I have met more Jehovah Witnesses here in Cuenca than I have ever known when I lived in the Chicago area. Ninety-one percent of the Ecuadorian population identifies with some form of religion.


A Nation of Great Diversity, and Yet Greater Homogenization

While the White patrician class continues to dominate the leading positions of power, professions, and business; greater fluidity in class mobility is taking place as new avenues of advancement open to classes and ethnic groups of Ecuadorian people that had once be reserved only for the upper classes. There was a time in the U.S. when one ethnic group thought it was superior to another and vice-verse. Much the same attitude exists in Ecuador today, so class lines and group distinctions of superiority do have more fluidity than the rigid rankings that once existed in Ecuador. Yet it is the traditional White standards of middle class respectability, a strong work ethic, articulate speaking of Spanish and increasingly English, the value for schooling, the desire for material possessions, and the striving for white-collar jobs that motivate the upward mobility of the people.