2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


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, April 6, 2015


I learned early in life that I am not in control.  Most of us who have lived about seventy years, if we reflect back upon how we thought our lives would unfold over the next fifty years, we would never  imagine the ways our lives have played out.  Daily events in our lives generally follow the pretense of a routine; and even here, the unpredictability of life from one day to another is often something to behold, especially when events are within the context of a brief moment of time in our overall lives.  Here is a vignette of just two weeks in the life of Jim Mola here in Cuenca, Ecuador:

It was two weeks ago this past Friday.  I became aware of a medical problem the day after an amiga and I had visited a friend in Giron.  Giron is at a little lower elevation than Cuenca.  Therefore, it is warmer and produces more insects.  It was raining hard when we went up to the waterfalls for which Giron is famous.  My friend  was from Rochester, New York, and was only here for one more month before she would return home.  Therefore, we either see the falls then or not at all.  Actually, it was a magnificent time to be at the precipice of the lower fall as the heavy rains truly had the falls gushing water with a crescendo of thundering sounds.  The whole scene of the falls, and the immediate area across from the falls and behind us with its wisp of fog was like out of a scene from the movie Camelot, when King Arthur would visit Merlin in the primeval forest.  It was pretty thrilling to be in the midst of it all.  

It was the day after our venture to Giron that I noticed I had a red spot on the back of my left leg with a large puncture hole in the center of the spot.  At first I thought it might be jiggers.  I had a couple of bouts dealing with jiggers back in 2012 and 2013.  Unlike Jiggers, the spot did not itch, and I figured it would disappear in a few days.  I had no idea, however, if I was bitten/stung while on my friend's property, while up at the falls, or if it even happened in Giron.  I can't remember ever seeing spiders in my apartment.  The doctors eventually verified that whatever infected me was airborne.  

A few days passed and the original infected area did not disappear and had become bluish/purple in color, and now was joined by a much larger semi-circular red ring that was hard as a rubber ball.  I should have thought, "Maybe it's time to go see a doctor."  I thought instead, "Oh that's interesting, maybe, it will go away in a couple of days."  The next couple of days it became very inflamed with pain.  Now, I am not a lover of pain, so I decide that it is time to go see a doctor.  My doctor gives me a couple of antibiotics and he says, "James, come see me one week from today, by then your infection will have subsided, or I will have to lance it and clean out the pus.  One evening a couple of days later, my leg is in excruciatingly pain.  I almost decided to go to the emergency room of the hospital, but it was 10:00 p.m.  I didn't want to shower, dress, and go out in the Cuencano rain.  Over 5,000 taxis in the city, but most are not operating in the late evening, and all our occupied when it's raining.  I think this line of reasoning is called misplaced priorities, and thinking with my feelings instead of my brain.

About 12:30 a.m., I am ready to go to bed.  Just as I am about to climb into bed, I felt something dribbling down the back of my leg.  I checked it out, and I thought, "Oh great, my infection is beginning to drain itself, and the excruciating pain began to subside as well.  The next day, I explained to the doctor what was happening, and how the purple spotted area has enlarged, the outer skin has broken, and while I said to the doctor that the infected area wasn't looking good;  I did not tell him that it looked like rotten meat covered in maggots.

The doctor meets me in the emergency room at Monte Sinai Hospital the next day to lance the infection.  He takes one look, and is astonished at how quickly it has grown and changed from just four days ago.  Actually the change from when he first saw it had happened only in the last two days.  He says, "James (Every Ecuatorinano in Cuenca always call me James.)  we will need to clean it tomorrow, and take a specimen for a biopsy to better focus the most effective antibiotics for your very progressive form of bacteria.  Also we will need to schedule the anesthesiologist, since the procedure will be too painful for you otherwise.  In the meantime we need to check you into a room.

The following day, I am wheeled to the surgical unit.  I am relieved that I will be put under during the procedure.  The anesthesiologist informs me I am going to have, what for me will be a first, a spinal tap.  "What! You are not going to knock me out?"  The doc says, "Would you like to be put completely under?"   I reacted without a second of hesitation,  "Oh yea!"  In what must have been a moment of Ecuatoriano humor, the doctor, replied, "No you will have a spinal tap."  Well, I am sitting on the side of the surgical table.  Needles do not bother me, but when whatever the doc was injecting higher in the spine would hit the left kidney, that was not fun.  No empathy here.  Just with each dollop from the injection, "Do not move."  

Ten minutes later, the doc asks me if I can move my legs.  That's the first time, I realized I didn't have any legs,  It was like there was just me from the waist up and everything else just wasn't there.  I was actually trying to decide what was better, being totally free of my body or having to deal with one.  At one point during the cleansing, the surgeon dangles this elongated strip of what looked like pork in front of my face, and says, "This is the piece we will use for the biopsy.  Look at all the green pus on it."  I provide him with a stoic nod, and I am just relieved I am not feeling pain.  The doctors informed me that the infection had gone deeper than they suspected.  A few more days, I may have been at risk of losing a leg.  I asked one of the doctors, if I had to lose a leg would I be able to choose which one?  I didn't receive a response, just a puzzled look.  Maybe he just doesn't get American humor.  I spent another three nights in the hospital, while the doctors waited for the biopsy reports, and then determined how to adjust my antibiotics based upon what they learned.

Now during my life since I was a kid, God has put me in many humiliating situations whether of my own doing, someone else's, or just what appears to be random misfortune. I long ago reached the point in my life that I can no longer be humiliated, and at my age generally care little about being self-consciously in need of fitting other people's mold of expectations.  So I will continue with my tale,  you are about to read about the rest of that day that even my closest friends and family have not been told, including those who visited me at the hospital, and who until they read this post have no idea how the rest of my day transpired.

A few hours after I am returned to my room,  I am getting back substantial feeling in my legs.  I decide it's time to give my legs a try.  I get out of bed.  I am standing in what feels like a very solid stance, and I am relieved--only to suddenly without anticipation collapse.  Now it's bad enough that I didn't call for assistance; even worse, that I knocked over everything on my tray table which cascaded to whatever else was in the immediate vicinity; and much worse, that my I.V. was ripped from my arm.  Suddenly, there is blood squirting everywhere.  It takes me about thirty seconds to get to the gizmo I press to contact the nurses.  The first nurse enters the room, immediately does a 180; and returns with a bevy of nurses, aides, whoever was available.  The first priority was to stop my bleeding.  Then get me out of my blood-stained gown, which means I am standing there in the room for the next what seemed like ten minutes in the nude, while eight to ten women are scurrying around trying to put everything back in order and clean and mop up all the blood.  Notice, I'm standing through this entire duration.  The scene was chaotically surreal, and I looked around just thinking of the movie title, "There Will be Blood."   All these women eventually got everything in order without ever missing a beat, as if they handled situations like this everyday.  Maybe they do.  Nobody treated me like I had done something terrible.  Eventually, I was given a fresh garment, and I was no longer conspicuously exposed.  None of the women went into heat over my nudity, probably because none of them had a microscope on them.  (That's meant to be a joke.)  

I literally can't recall if this next incident happened in sequence or later the same day.  I needed to use the bathroom.  "Yo necessito usar los banos."  Generally, those magic words would get me sprung from my I.V. and I could move about, and get away with  lying continuously on my back.  For some reason beyond my understanding, the nurse did not understand what I wanted to do.  Granted, a container was beside my bed for urination.  The problem is I don't know the Spanish word for urination or for bowel movement, or defecation--a word I  hate, it always sounds much worse to me than using the other "f" word.  I can't recall how my room became filled with women again.  I guess nobody wanted to miss what I might do for an encore.  Also, everyone was trying to figure out what I wanted.  

Oh my God, how during my time in the hospital, I wished I had learned a great deal more Spanish, and practiced, practiced, and practiced.  Life is full of regrets.  Now, I am living one of them.  

I am desperate to get these women to understand, because I really needed to get some serious business done, and I did not want to have an accident on the floor, which just would be the frosting on the cake to a day people just don't choose for themselves.  Finally, I hoped that maybe "I have to do number one and number two"  works in Ecuador like it does in the U.S.  No such luck, the women just give one another quizzical looks.  I figured my only hope is to act this out.  So I begin to act as if I am peeing, and making a vocal pissing sound the entire time, in what was definitely a teaching moment and comedic besides.  Suddenly, in unison, the light went on for all the women. They got it, they all began to laugh, and I am granted release and relief.  There was actually something endearing about the episode, one I'm glad I had, and will long remember.  

I was always delighted when any of the women could figure out what I wanted or was trying to say.  They were anxious over wanting to understand me, and their faces would light up whenever communication was successfully made.  The young women in particular, all of whom are diminutive in size; whenever two or more were present,  were like groups of giddy girls in that twelve to sixteen age bracket in the states.  What brought tears to my eyes was whenever more than once some of the women would apologize to me because they did not know more English.  Here I am in their country, and they are apologizing to me.

Well, I wasn't home free yet.  My last evening in the hospital witnessed my blood pressure rising.  I don't have blood pressure problems, what's going on?  Within twenty minutes I had my answer, I looked down at my right arm and it doubled in size and had that hard rubber feeling to it.  Oh God, no, don't tell me I have another infection with which to deal.  The nurses were having a very difficult time finding a vein large enough for an I.V., so I'm already like a pin cushion.  It turned out the catheter for the I.V. was faulty, and the saline and antibiotics were not passing through my vein.  Problem resolved.  My blood pressure eventually subsided, and by morning the swelling in my arm has gone down.  I've spent much time in hospitals, if not for myself, then for family members in particular.  Things will go wrong.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Nothing is perfect.

I was really happy with the overall care by all staff involved.  No real complaints there.  The doctors and nurses all did a fine job.  The better hospitals in the big cities in Ecuador can hold their own with the better hospitals in the states.  Ecuador, however, can not provide some of the latest and most sophisticated medical attention that may be found in some of the specialized and research hospitals in the states.  

Hospital food is universally hospital food,and you better love rice as much an Ecuatorianos do, because you're going to eat plenty of it in Ecuadorian hospitals.  Toward the end of my hospital stay, I was given real soup not primarily broth, which had big, rounded white beans that made the soup substantial, tender, and tasty.  The chef could do no wrong when it came to preparing fish, always savory, and cooked to perfection.  My final evening meal, which ironically was on the night of Holy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper, had what appeared to be a pastry cup filled with fish.  Upon further investigation, the chef must have taken two or three fillets and somehow encircled them in a rather artistic mold that did not require an external pastry to contain it.  I must admit, the medical cost although inexpensive by American standards was higher than I anticipated for my four day adventure.  A buddy said, "They must have charged you for that gourmet chef you had."  Possibly, possibly.

Now I report to the emergency room every other day, so the doctor can examine the area, dress it, and put a new bandage on it. He warned me that there would be a big hole there, and not to panic  when I see it, it would eventually fill out.  Today, he took a photo and showed it to me.  Well, at least now the once infected site looks like dried meatloaf.  Yes, it also looks like a lunar crater, or the effusive end of a volcanic crater.  Doc says it is progressing nicely.  I hope so.  I have two weeks to make a final determination as to whether or not I will be able to follow-through with my month of travel later this April to Italy.  I have had so many medical and financial hurdles arise to challenge me from getting this trip off the ground.  I am determined to make it, and hope no more impediments emerge.  In the end, it will work out as it is intended.  There is only so much I can do to pretend I am in control.

I thank my friends who were bearers of flowers and gifts, visits (not visitations), prayers, dinners, and concern.  A friend who also brought me elegant chocolates, and hard salami from our very own Italian, Italian cheese and sausage maker; in a country where local cheeses leave a great deal to be desired, and imports are almost an impossibility due to government restrictions.  Needless to say, hospital personnel had no intention of letting me eat any of these things.  A very special shout-out to my Ecuatoriano friends who late at night and over the wee hours of the next day were busy--and--about running back and forth getting items I needed from my apartment, and just willing to do anything for me.

In the end I thought I would just share my story with whomever may be interested in the read.  In the bigger scheme of things, it doesn't mean much, and in years to come no one will remember.  For the moment, it is significant to me; even if in the grander scheme of things, like most of us, all our shared experiences will be lost floating on some inaccessible computer cloud somewhere in eternity.  Maybe, life is meant primarily to be experienced.  Well, this was one of my experiences.

Friday, March 20, 2015


When I first arrived in Cuenca in 2011 there was barely a pulse of a real-estate market in the city.  Generally, somebody new to Cuenca who sought a rental, or a house or condo to purchase would hire a translator for about $7.50 per hour; who would take the prospective buyer or renter to see possible properties and serve as an intermediary between the seller and the buyer, or the renter and the  landlord.  This method is still frequently used in Cuenca.  

Since 2011, however, the real-estate market has also developed.  More real-estate firms have been created, legally formalized, and generally will now charge a three percent commission.  Rules and training, if any,  for real-estate personnel, to the best of my knowledge, is left up to the individual agencies. There are no particular requirements and qualifications that require potential real-estate agents to earn a license of any sort.  

One of the problems in using a real-estate person or a facilitator is that particularly where a property deed is needed, attorneys must be used to protect the buyer's interest.  Attorneys will conduct the search needed to determine the number of deed owners, that all owners are indeed selling the property and sign-off on the property, and that the dimensions of the property being purchased are in fact stated in the deed and are accurate.  The use of an attorney while not required by law is a must when buying property in Ecuador, if one wishes to protect one's rights when transacting real-estate.

Similarly, even a short-term rental should never be transacted without a lease involvement.  Short-term lease rentals become more difficult to transact when the renter is in a foreign country, and attempts to transact a future rental long-distance.  Oftentimes, a lease may not be signed until after the renter arrives in Ecuador.   At a minimum before the renter forwards any money, any rental should involve paper-work which spells out the parties involve, the date of transaction, the duration of the lease and specific time parameters, the rental amount, and specific utilities involved, and whether or not pets are allowed, as well as the names and other information of the individual or lease firm involved.  All of this can be transacted by Internet.  More importantly, if you are using an individual or some type of rental management service be sure that you have access to the name, address, and phone number of the landlord.  If the management service or individual will not provide such information do not use them.  

The landlord information is very important.  It often happens that an intermediary will charge an exorbitant security deposit or will hike up the price of rent whether short or long-term, if they are renting you the property.  This is more likely to happen if you are to make your monthly payments to a manager instead of directly to the landlord.  Such attempts are more likely when the landlord is living in the United States and will often not know that the person or agency representing the landlord is bilking the renters,

This week's post is primarily about one couple who had the misfortune of utilizing the services of one highly unscrupulous agent.  The Nelsons are a couple who are avid followers of my blog post for years, and accredit my blog for a significant part of their allure to investigate Cuenca as a potential retirement site.  No one traveling or moving to Cuenca should have to endure their experience.  If anybody can inform us with the name and possible contact information of the American landlord who most likely has no idea what legal transactions have transpired, it would be much appreciated.  Here is the story in Nelson and Rebecca Ellison's own words.  (The only change I made was to bold face the name of Beth Nielsen Gavilanes throughout the text.):

Nelson Allison and Family


Hi fellow Gringos, my name is Nelson Allison. My wife Rebecca, my two adult sons Ben and Brian and I came to Ecuador for one month in February 2015 for a family vacation and to research it as a possible retirement location.

After arriving to our rental in Cuenca, I could not believe my luck to have rented the one condo in Cuenca where I would fall victim to a woman posing as a professional real estate rental agent who ruined our vacation with threats and attempts at extortion. Her name is Beth Nielsen Gavilanes. She somehow convinced the owner of apartment 13I in the Palermo building to let her list their condo at on HomeAway.com and take the position of managing agent.

Our story is below but is incomplete purposely because of ongoing litigation with Beth Nielsen Gavilanes.

If you have had a bad rental or real estate experience with Beth Nielsen Gavilanes — please post here or email me

We must stop people like her giving Cuenca a bad reputation. Please help! Our thanks in advance to you!

Nelson Allison and Family


Rebecca and I run a small resort of seven log cabins called Asheville River Cabins in North Carolina that we are looking to retire from soon.

One may ask by what qualifications can I make such a statement that this woman was not the professional she claims to be.  Well, for one because I have been a professional real estate broker since as far back as the 70’s. Prior to that, I was a college professor.  I also taught real estate courses as required by the licensing board. I was the owner of The Allison Company, a commercial real estate company in Raleigh, NC and the first to market multi-million dollar office condominium complexes in North Carolina. 

I’m also a graduate of the Realtors Institute with a GRI designation. Rebecca was also a licensed broker as well as an appraiser.  She worked with state government and rose to a position as head of the appraiser section in Asheville, NC.  So yes, we are qualified to make a judgment call on the professionalism of someone who is engaged in real estate rental activities. 

Our opinion is that lack of professionalism is too much of an understatement.  Individuals with her lack of moral ethics should not be allowed to participate in this type of industry.  In the U.S., if she were ever smart enough to pass the tests and get a license she would have lost it for the kind of activities she now engages in. In fact, that would just be the beginning of her problems in the U.S. Where what she is doing is considered a crime.

Extortion occurs when someone attempts to obtain money or property by threatening to commit a harmful action against the victim.  In addition to fines, if a person is convicted of extortion she must often pay restitution to the victim

Extortion is also a crime in Ecuador like the U.S. but only after the act. But attempted extortion is called 'contravención' is a misdemeanor violation of law.

People like Beth Nielsen Gavilanes, must get excited as Ecuador is like the Wild West, and anything goes. For example, her threats and actions made on vacationing families like ours.


Since we did not give into her threats of eviction for more money, she preceded to turn off the cable TV and Wi-Fi service to the condo after the first week.

She sent threats saying that if we did not pay extra that she would show up with the Police and evict us. Our vacation was ruined by her actions!

My Ecuadorian attorney presented our case to the Court of Tenancy and won.


Special Judgment No. 0140120150062 following [NELSON BURGEN ALLISON] against [BETH ANN NIELSEN GAVILANES  ] from the Court of Tenancy. Below is the Judgment:

62-2015 Cuenca, 26 February 2015. 15h12. SEEN:

BETH ANN NIELSEN GAVILANES in a totally abusive act without legal reason attempted to charge an additional payment after the reservation was made, the verbal contract closed and the payment made.  The refusal of  Mr. Allison to accept the illegality of the demand and make the extortion payment, inspired BETH ANN NIELSEN GAVILANES to implement a campaign of harassing emails. These emails threatened; to cancel the prepaid  reservation and to bring the police to evict his family from the unit. BETH ANN NIELSEN GAVILANES then proceeded to turn-off Internet and cable TV service to the unit. This harassment made for an atmosphere of insecurity and a situation that undermines the peace and emotional stability of the visiting family.

Beth Nielsen Gavilanes was ordered by the court to proceed immediately to restore Internet and cable TV service to the property and to refrain from impeding or interfering with Mr. Allison’s lawful occupation of the property.

What was her response to this Special Judgment?

She did not turn the cable TV or the Wi-Fi back on, and she did not stop with her email threats of showing up at the door with the police to evict us at any moment.

Again, if you have had a bad experience with her; please post here or email me at: nelson@parkwaylane.com.

We must stop people like her giving Cuenca a bad reputation. Please help!


Nelson Allison & Family




Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Fourth Year Anniversary of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador

I cannot believe that with this week of March 9th, I am celebrating my glorious and fortuitous fourth anniversary of­­­­ my permanent arrival in the splendidly auspicious city of Cuenca, Ecuador.  I know that first sentence reads pretentiously.  Nonetheless, I am in a whoop, whoop, whoopie mood; and I want to shout it from the spectacular Andes mountain tops and have this joyous moment resonate throughout the entire world!  

My adventure began with the initial discovery of Cuenca in December of 2009, and then followed by an exploratory month from early July through the first week in August in 2010.  I recently perused my only other anniversary post which I wrote at the odd 19th month stage of my life in Cuenca.  Surprisingly, almost all of what I posted at the 19th month stage is just as true for me about changes taking place in Cuenca then as they are today.  If you would like to read that post, since I don’t plan to rehash the changes I observed at that time, you can click here.

When I first arrived in Cuenca, I had described it as reminding me of life in the U.S. in the 1950’s, especially when I was living in the Italian neighborhood of my grandparents as a young boy.   Older expats who were in their 70’s at that time thought that for them it was reminiscent of life in the U.S. in the 1940’s.  I would not say that either perspective is true just four years later.  So much continues to change. 
Click here.


The thing about third world countries is that they don’t have to go through the evolutionary process of the industrial nations to reach a new peak of modernity.  Technology makes it possible to leap-frog decades in catching up with the older industrialized nations.  Cuenca is somewhere today between the 70’s and the 90’s, and in some respects as with cell phone technology as one example, Cuenca is contemporary, as such technology for the masses did not exist even twenty years ago in the world.  The city of Cuenca is no third world status today.  If people want to really experience traditional Ecuador, they need to do so in the small towns and rural areas of the country.  Better come quickly, because everything due to new highways and mass communications is changing the society very rapidly. 

Today, the simple life continues to dissipate in Cuenca.  I am not sure why it has happened, but I can’t recall the last time I have seen an ice cream vendor peddle down the streets selling his wares from his hot-ice freezer, with its colorful umbrella that protected him from the equatorial sun.  Maybe one has to go to a place like Parque Madre or wait for a festival to see the ice cream man bicycle his wears as a sight that only yesterday was so common on the streets of Cuenca, and such a common site during my own American childhood.

Life in Cuenca for better or worse continues to become increasingly regulated. The young hippies who once brought color to the square at Parque Calderon as they spread their wares out in front of Tutto Freddo’s ice cream parlor and Ramipampa Restaurant and who were as much an attraction for the tourists were forced by municipal officials to abandon the sidewalks.  Hippies are resilient, as some have re-stationed themselves along the escalantes in the Calle Larga area.  The hippies were not the only group in Cuenca affected by new municipal regulations. The indigenous in their colorful dress selling their fruits and vegetables up and down the streets of El Centro from their equally colorful wheelbarrows have also been barred, and now appear primarily around the Mercado of 9th de Agosto and the other mini-malls in the city.

Noise ordinances have been implemented and tightened.  I am conflicted about many of these new ordinances. When I first arrived in Cuenca, the city and neighborhoods were alive with Latin music.  Parties were going on all night, and that meant the partiers were singing through the night as well in some cases until noon the next day.  I truly loved being enveloped in a Latin culture, even if on some nights I had to close my windows and crank up my white noise machine when I retired to bed around 1:00 a.m.  The people seemed so happy and warm.  Such partying at least outside is rare now.  On one hand, I miss that excitement and the feeling I was in another culture.  Now except for the dogs, oh and our local rooster, the nights are quiet.  Maybe this is something many of the Cuecanos wanted.  Maybe, the quietude is forced on them. I don’t know.  I don’t know who the impetus is behind all these regulations.  I do know that peace and quiet are appreciated, but I also know that Cuenca is not the same lively town it was four years ago, when the vincendarios or barrios (neighborhoods) were alive when I arrived.  It just seems to me to be another indication of the homogenization of cultures around the world into the same bland conformity of behavior, and the need to squeeze everything into a gentrified upper-middle class standard of behavior and appearance.

Driving was absolutely crazy four years ago.  Pedestrians had absolutely no rights.  The drivers were truly “kings of the road”.  Today, and rightly so, drivers are a great deal more respectful of pedestrians.  Speeding has increasingly been minimized as well. As a city with barely a traffic light four years ago, Cuenca officials now continue to frequently add them.  Patrol cars were almost nonexistent four years ago, that’s not the case today.  Very strict traffic laws will usually find a speedster over a fifteen mile limit doing jail time.  Jail time in Ecuador means you better have family or close friends who will bring you your meals and bedding and toiletries.  Some expats still complain about “the crazy drivers in Cuenca”, but only expats from small town America can make such claims today as seemingly viable from their experiences.

I miss the young people who would gather drinking every Friday and Saturday nights in the LaTaberna liquor store parking lots.  They always appeared to be having a blast, and when I walked by, they would often invite me to join them in their not so sober yet endearing manner of join the camaraderie.  I never did, but they, from what I observed, never appeared to cause the security guard any problems that he couldn’t handle. Yet when the party was over, someone had to drive home.  Designated drivers? I don’t know if there were any or not.

Kids and pets would ride in open pickup trucks, and young people would be seen riding by holding on to the sides of cars and trucks as well.  Imagine seeing some dude horizontally hanging on the outside of a pickup truck.  Such sights are rare to see today, as more regulations curtail such activities, and fines are very stiff.  I can’t recall if seat belts are required to be worn in Cuenca, or whether attempts are made to enforce such laws.  Taxis which contain functional rear seat-belts certainly are rare.  Seeing small children and babies in the front without a car seat or protection has been common.  All of these behaviors were common in the states back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s as well.

I haven’t seen a herdsman herd his goats of about thirty down the street since 2011.  Chickens, ducks, and roosters that would saunter about on the sidewalks of El Centro in front of family homes and in front yards are unfortunately a thing of the past.  (It just wouldn't be dignified, just wouldn't be dignified to see barn animals on the streets of classy Cuenca in this modern day and age.  Geeez!)

Tiendas selling cell phones were ubiquitous back in 2011, but most Cuencanos didn’t have the phones.  Now it’s like everybody has them, no matter what their station-in-life. There are still computer stores with public phone booths and public computers, but even their numbers are dwindling as more people have personal home and cell phone access to the Internet.  

When I arrived in Cuenca, guns and really big guns (Hell, I don't know anything about different types of guns,)  were strapped across the chests of security guards positioned in front of commercial buildings, banks, and in hotels and condo buildings.  The elimination of these guns strapped across the chest or their reduction to small side pistols was probably due to the Chamber of Commerce feeling such sights were not exactly a tourist friendly confidence builder in the safety of the city.  I must admit that I never saw anything like it except when I toured red China in the 1970's were military were stationed every fifty feet in Beiging with a rifle.  Quite frankly, it was dramatic overkill in a city of very low-rate and generally petty-type crimes.

Sometimes after living in a culture for a time, it is easy not to pay attention to things that once seemed novel.  I will need to become more cognizant of whether women especially the indigenous are still wrapping their babies and toddlers close to them in what was a very frequent sight such a short time ago, or if baby buggies and strollers are usurping another tradition in Cuenca.  Only once all last year did I see a teen walking down the street with his arm around his mother's shoulder, which was another fairly and endearing sight that has bit the dust in Cuenca.  Nor what use to be a very common site of men hugging one another in greeting is far less prevalent today.  For me it is sad to see so much of Latin culture become increasingly Anglicized at least in Cuenca.

Unfortunately from my perspective, traffic continues to get heavier on the streets of Cuenca, and can really tie things up on many roadways into El Centro and other outlying streets.  I don’t see this getting any better as long as the middle class continue to expand.  Whether a car is needed or not, the imitation of the Norte Americano life-style requires a car as proof of one’s middle-class status, and demonstrate keeping up with the Joneses”, or maybe I should say in Ecuador of “keeping up with the Alvarados”.  Parking in Chicago now costs thirty dollars a day.  Rates like that would quickly cure the traffic problem in Cuenca, and guarantee plentiful passengers for the new tren via to open in about a year.

Traffic hasn’t been helped by the inordinate amount of road construction taking place.  The building of the tren via across the town, the widening of Ordonez-Lasso west of Hotel Oro Verde, and many other streets and bridges under construction are certainly adding to traffic head-aches.  Delays and frustration can aggravate.  However, the taxi drivers don’t mind the extra fare in longer detours around construction, and they for the most part have the patience of saints.  I am just so glad I don’t need to own a car in Cuenca.  I would go crazy driving in stop-and-go traffic, especially all day long like the taxi drivers.


Inge and Donna – Dog Bitches

There are expat women who are known as the “Happy Dog Bitches”.  This group of ladies devote their time to raising funds for Happy Dogs in Cuenca, which spades and neuters large numbers of dogs each year.  They have been quite successful.  However, what is very mysterious is that all the dogs that were running the streets along the river and most everywhere else have for the most part disappeared over-night.  Dog disappearance doesn’t just happen from spading and neutering, but nobody is talking.  “Beam me up, Scotty.”  Maybe. Yet, I do miss all those dogs.  They never bothered me. They didn’t run in packs except at nights, and only protected their territory. Once walked out of the range of their master's homes, the dogs ceased and desisted with their barking. To see two dozen doggies lying on their sides, basking in the sun along the medians on Avenida Solano, resting by day, so they could keep the humans awake by night was just another one of those touches that increasingly disappears from why some of us came to Ecuador in the first place, to experience something different, to experience life differently from what existed back home.

For better or worse, things change.  They always will.  Nothing stays the same for very long.  Each of us has a benchmark for how we remember the past and all the various people and instances of life who at one time or another where a part of our lives, and each benchmark varies dependent upon the age of life’s participants.

Four years of living in Cuenca with my friends gives us history and collectively shared memories.  I still love Cuenca as much now as I did when I arrived.  I still love as much now the views of the mountains that surround me.  I never tire of the magnificent panoramic visions, awesome depths of layered peaks, and colors of cloud formations particularly at sunset; which I disappointingly never could truly capture through the eye of the lens of my camera.  I still marvel at the sound of the Rio Tomebama especially after a heavy rain as it cascades against the many rocks in the river creating a thunderous sound like the drumming of the spirited ancestors of the indigenous.  More so now than ever, I revel in the beauty of the green belts along the rivers, and the sky line as I walk or take a taxi along Avenida Doce de Abril. The taxi driver worries about the traffic, while I can focus on the view of the Tomebama, the parks along the banks of the river, and the beautiful colonial architecture of the buildings upon the bluff above the river. I still love the smell of the foods cooking in the open markets and prepared by the vendors who populate the street.  The meats on a stick that youngsters and adults grasp from the released hands of the vendors as the broiling comes to perfection; the corn, the humitas, the tamales, the empanadas—all waiting for a taker.  I love the sounds of Spanish as I walk along the streets; the families with their young children on a Sunday afternoon stroll, who are able to enjoy a tranquil day from work without any great expense, and the enticing scents and colors of the veritable splash of flowers in the Santa Carmen flower market.

I very much continue to enjoy my many expat and Cuencano friends.  Some of whom are a part of my life briefly, and others who have been a part of my life since our arrivals.  Friends also provide many small yet memorable surprises in life.  A lady friend who prepared for me the most exquisite salmon dish I have ever tasted.  A friend who just today made for me fantastic home-made sour dough bread; and whoever thought that it would be in Cuenca, Ecuador where for the first time I would hear of and experience eating Dutch babies.  No wonder the Dutch are losing population when they eat their young!  All kidding aside, this dish made from simple eggs, a small amount of flour, honey, generous amounts of melted butter, and a dusting of powder sugar was a marvel.  How did so little in ingredients arise to such a major dish, and provide so much taste?  Frequently there are good times and surprises with life in Cuenca.

If at times, some of these many experiences become commonplace; inevitably, the time comes about once again where I see, hear, and experience with new eyes and new ears.  I remember once again why I love Cuenca, and why I came to make this wonderful city in the Andes my home. That no matter what the ups and downs in my life, I still have Cuenca to see me through and buoy me up.  I am truly fortunate that I am in this place, at this time, and I continue on this journey to see what the next four years of discovery of myself and my life in Cuenca will unfold, and hopefully not unravel, as we both continue to grow and change together.

Share this: