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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

EARTHQUAKE STRIKES ECUADOR

Last night, Saturday, there was a big quake (7.8 magnitude) along the coast, mainly in northwestern Ecuador in the Esmeraldas area directly across from the Galapagos, which is about a thousand miles from the coast of Ecuador. (Since this post was first published, the epicenter of the quake especially struck Bahia de Caraquez and Jipiigapa, which are towns located in Manabi Province, south of Esmeraldas Province).   Cuenca High Life reports that based upon the number of people who have yet to be accounted, the death toll will easily be over a thousand lost lives.

It was the biggest tremor in my life.  I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and looking out the window when just before 7:00 p.m., things started shaking.  At least for twenty seconds no more than a half-a-minute, the Palermo started swaying back and forth from my left to my right. It was a really cool feeling. I'm glad I could experience it while awake, and looking out the window at the other buildings as well.  A few street lights went out, but most stayed on.  When the swaying stopped, I walked over to the sliding doors in the dining area, and slid the door open. It took another twenty-to-thirty seconds for the building to stop creaking and seeming to settle back into place. I hate to think what may have happened if Cuenca had been at the epicenter of the quake.  I see there was a lot of destruction at the epicenter on the coast. Here, there wasn't anything of which to be fearful. Although if the walls of my apartment began to crack with major chasms, that would have been another story.

Nothing was seriously damaged in Cuenca.  The coast is Zone I for earthquakes; Zone II is the Quito area in the northern Andes, which has many semi-active volcanoes; Cuenca, in the southern Andes, is in Zone III, and has not had a major earthquake in 500 years; and the Amazonias (the Oriente), in eastern Ecuador is the least susceptible area to earthquakes. 

The death toll on the coast continues to climb. Wow, the death toll  was only twenty-eight last night.  Now, the count is over 200, with hundreds more buried in one town, and it is believed that most of them have perished.  

I'm surprised some of you heard about it.  Last night, I could only find any mention of it on CNN on-line before I had gone to bed. Until then, I thought Cuenca had just experienced one of its normal tremors.  I had no idea, our tremor was related to an actual quake on the coast. Even Yahoo with all of its links still had not mentioned the quake this morning.  Marc, who is in Lebanon, heard about it on BBC International, so the story must be getting out there. As I mentioned, there was no real damage in Cuenca. Occasional tremors are not unusual.  Only today, did I realize how extensive the damage and loss of life was on the coast. The loss of lives has been tragic. Thank God, the quake did not strike at the heart of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, which lies south of where the quake struck along the coast.  The death toll would have been at least in the tens-of-thousands. I have no idea what you are reading out there.  Possibly you may be interested in reading something close to Ecuador. Here's a link for those of you who are interested: 

https://www.cuencahighlife.com/earthquake-death-toll-rises-233-hundreds-missing-thousands-police-soldiers-en-route/  

Unfortunately, I was told by an Ecuadorian engineer, who is licensed in Illinois, and who has done extensive work in Chicago; that if a major quake were to hit Cuenca, this is not a quake-proof city.  Most of it would be rubble in a major quake.  I was in Beijing in 1977, and saw the aftermath of just months before of a major quake in that city.  All those one story buildings were nothing but rubbled-brick piled on top of one another.  The Palermo is a new building, which I understand was made to sway with such quake motion to withstand the earth's movements.

I understand there may be more aftershocks.  I would assume that they would affect the coast more so than us here in Cuenca.  However, one never knows. Thanks for all of your inquiries and concern.  Mucho appreciated!

Update (4/23/16) of the aftermath of the Ecuadorian coastal quake can be found on the following link below.  Cuenca High Life will give you a local perspective:  

https://www.cuencahighlife.com/strong-quakes-continue-demolish-buildings-losses-mount-spread-disease-including-dengue-zika-major-concern/  




Tuesday, April 5, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR: PART VII: INGAPIRCA

As Milton, Marc, and I left Alusai and continued our southward trek first to Ingapirca and finally to Cuenca, the scenery became lush and green again. We had the advantage of descending from higher heights to panoramic views of majestic splendor along the way. The mountains, the tundras, and the rivers sang out with the beauty of Canar province.  












A visit to Ingapirca also had the advantage of breaking up our ride from Alusai to Cuenca, which otherwise would be about a four hour trek. For many folks and tourists who travel from Cuenca and try to take in the Devil's Nose Train in Alusai and return to Cuenca all in the same day; the trip can be tiring and take eleven hours, which would not include a stop at Ingapirca, where we probably spent about ninety minutes. Besides, Alusai is too adorable of a town, not to spend the evening.




INGAPIRCA  (INCA WALL)



Our arrival to Ingapirca was at mid-day.  It was another beautiful and sunny day.  I had visited Ingapirca once before in July of 2010 when I first visited Cuenca.  I enjoyed the visit then, and will never forget the incredible return ride to Cuenca as new highway construction was taking place, and our driver gave us a ride that would challenge any of the most dangerous roller-coasters in the world for thrills and unabated gasps. My first visit of 2010 was met with a chilly, windy, slightly rainy day.  The visit was still enjoyable. However, with unusually beautiful weather for this trip, it made the visit all the more pleasurable.  Guides are available at the site, and some speak English; but Marc and I had Milton, and Milton was one great guide.




Ingapirca is no Machu-Picchu, but it is the best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador.  Its place of importance helps to explain the pre-Columbian history of the Canari and their eventual loss to the Incas.  The Incas arrived from Peru, which is to the south of what is modern day Ecuador.  With the conquest of Ecuador, the Incas had amalgamated the largest Pre-Columbian empire in all of South America.  The Incas built the city of Tomebamba in what today is modern day Cuenca, and where some ruins still exist. Tomebamba, in size and splendor, was close to rivaling the Inca capital in Cuzco, Peru.  The Incas managed to co-exist with the Canari, and solidified their relationship with marriages among the royal families of the two groups. Unfortunately, for the Incas their dominance over the Canari would be a short-lived duration of mere decades, as the Spaniards would appear on the scene, and conquer the Inca Empire. 




The Temple of the Sun is the focal point and largest remaining structure in the compound, and also the only remaining sun temple in the Inca Empire.  The compound was constructed primarily for religious ceremony and rituals.  The Incas were sun worshipers, while the Carnaris worshiped the moon as their primary deity.  The Incas, who like the ancient Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Mayans, and the Aztecs were great astronomers. All of these group's sophisticated knowledge of astronomy spilled over into the development of very intricate astrological systems as well.


In the above photo, the Incas constructed their foundations and buildings with stones that were sculpted to fit together without any mortar. There are palaces, temples, houses, storage facilities used even to replenish warriors, bathrooms, theatres, sacrificial altars, burial grounds and tombs. 


There is an abundance of guanto bushes (photos below) which grow on the premises.  Their fruit is used as a hallucinogen.  At one time, the drug was given to family members of dead royalty to ease their passage into the netherworld, as they were buried alive with the deceased.







The Incas also developed an underground aqueduct system, which provided water for the entire complex.


                    Now llamas and alpacas graze over the land.



Four days with Milton Chiqui Lopez was not only fun, but also a great learning experience as well. Milton, who graduated from Azuay University, has been licensed in many areas of tourism, which includes eco-tourism. His passion for and knowledge of Ecuadorian history, biospheres, and the various indigenous tribes in Ecuador allow for a fascinating, and all encompassing understanding of Ecuador.  If you are touring anywhere in Ecuador, and seeking a first rate guide, you cam contact Milton at mickytron8@yahoo.com.






                                        Marc and Jim Mola


As we left the compound, we made our way along a trail that took us passed various homes. Indigenous ladies would emerge from some of the homes in the attempt to sell us various handicrafts and antiques.


We arrived at the site of what is known as the Inca Head, which is a natural sculpture that looks very much like the head maybe of an Inca chieftain.




For me, this was the absolute best part of the tour.  The photo below captures a scene that could only be appreciated on a beautiful, sunny day.  Upon my first siting of this scene, it was like an incredible fairy-tale setting, or something out of a movie like Lord of the Rings. Notice the moss-covered house with its steep roof to the right of the photo, surrounded by the meadows, vegetation, and hills.  Oh my God, is that sheep in the meadows?  There must be cows in the corn.




Could this little boy in his blue sweat pants be Little Boy Blue?  He and the other indigenous children, and parents; and yes, even the dogs along the trail were the perfect end to our tour of Ingapirca.




Monday, March 7, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR: Part VI: ALAUSI AND THE DEVIL'S NOSE TRAIN

As we departed from our astounding experience in Chimborazo, we continued our trek southward to the town of Alausi. It would be in this little town of Alausi where the next day we would board the Devil's Nose Train. Our southward trek to our eventual destination of Cuenca continued to decline in elevation.  Our peak for us was at 16,000 feet in Chimborazo. Now as we arrived in Alausi, elevation had dropped to just under 11,000 feet, which was still well above Cuenca's elevation of 8,400 feet, and Quito's 8,600 feet where our trek began.

As we traveled, we came across the oldest church in Ecuador, which was built by the Spaniards in 1534, which was just forty-two years after Columbus' first voyage to the New World.






ALAUSI, ECUADOR





We arrived in Alausi toward early evening.  The most dominate feature of the town is the statue of St. Peter, which most likely is its patron saint, and which hovers over the town from a higher man-made constructed elevation within the city.


Not quite the pearly gates, but close.




 The Nativity Scene is at the base of the statue of St. Peter.


Above is a night view of  lovely Alausi from the base of the statue of St. Peter.




Alausi by night or day had such a magical quality to me, Marc, and our guide, Milton.  If I were a movie producer or a film director, I would not hesitate to use this town for a movie set. 





The next morning after breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the train station, and boarded the 11:00 a.m. trip to Silambe.  It amazes me when I think of the technological challenge the railroad builders faced 100 years ago. They drilled and carved through the mountains, laid track, and measured inclinations for some very steep drop-offs.  Drop-offs, which had to survive  downward thrusts bordering on almost vertical declensions without the train leaving the track, and uphill inclinations that required the power of the old steam locomotives to jugged their way onward and upward as they pulled the coaches behind them. 



As you can see from the above photo, there is a grandeur to the landscape, however, rocky and vegetation-sparse it may be.  Spectacular to see, but for me, not the beauty of the greenery of the mountains and the valleys of Banos-Ambato.



On the train, windows do open.  Looking out the window and shooting photos is about as risky as things get.  Up until the 1990's, people could ride on the roof of the train cars.  Imagine the thrill of those rides.  Needless, to say, people died, and the government eventually removed one more risk to lost lives.



Already, in the photo above, you can see our approach of the Silambe train station.



Tickets are for reserved seating, but don't fret.  Once the ride begins, passengers are constantly moving about.  You will be able to get photos from every possible vantage point.  I must admit, however, that our car was probably half-full that day, so I can't say if maneuverability is as easy on a day when the coaches are filled to near capacity.


As we disembarked, Marc wasted no time making friends.


The next forty-five minutes to an hour was spent at the Silambe stop, before returning to Alusai.  Silambe is a modern facility focused on tourists, with refreshments, a restaurant, and shops.



Marc and I had refreshments in the roof-top restaurant, after a long stair-way climb up the side of the mountain to the restaurant, and of course, to further shops.



Below is an aerial view of the Silambe station from the restaurant.


As we arrived, there were indigenous dancers performing traditional dances that are still a part of their culture today.


I paid little attention to the dancers on our arrival, but after a respite in the restaurant, we made our way down to watch the dancers perform as we waited for the return ride.




The dancers then encouraged the passengers to join them.  The lady with whom I was dancing in the photo below, kept me dancing for ten minutes, until it was time to board the train again.  I very much enjoyed this part of the day.


Upon our return to Alausi, we ate lunch at a local restaurant before we traveled to Ingapirca.



Ecuatorianos are great soup-makers.  Some folks like croutons or crackers sprinkled on their soup,  Ecuatorianos prefer pop corn. 



Approximately three hours should be set aside for riding the Devil's Nose Train.  It is probably best to lodge in Alausi, if you plan to take the early morning train.  We took the 11:00 a.m. ride, and were glad we spent the night prior to our ride in this charming town. We were able to sleep-in until mid-morning, and also have time for breakfast before the ride.  There is also a ride at 2:00 p.m.  

Tickets can be purchased on-line, after filling out a lengthy form of personal information.  Tickets can also be arranged, along with accommodations if necessary, through travel agencies in cities like Cuenca.  If the trains are not filled, tickets can also be purchased on site at the station in Alausi. However, if your are an international tourist or an expat, you must provide your passport number to purchase a ticket.  On-site at the station requires that you show your passport.  If your ticket was purchased on-line, you also need your passport when boarding the train.  Dependent upon the personnel with whom you come into contact at the station, you may or may not be required to show your passport, so cover all bases by being sure that you have your passport with you.

It was early afternoon, and now the three of us still had plenty of time to continue our southward trek, next to Ingapirca--the largest known Inca ruin in Ecuador.