Friday, February 23 will be the first anniversary of my living in Cuenca.
Following is a letter to a dear friend describing my flight and early impressions of Ecuador, which also became my first article for CuencaHighLife.
I have yet to find the words to thank the many of you who have been so supportive. But, I’ll keep trying.
Having been warned by City Cab to arrive early, as an ice storm was due, I arrived at the Portland, Oregon International Airport with plenty of time to check my bags. It seems six hours was a little too early because I was told I couldn’t even check my bags for another two hours. Fortunately, I was able to book an earlier flight and away I flew.
Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California.
At my sister’s suggestion, I flew business class, and a good suggestion it was. The seats are far more comfortable and there is a VIP lounge at the airports where I will lay over. I thanked her profusely — albeit figuratively — the moment I walked into the lounge in San Francisco, for it was a godsend. Soup, salad, fruit, cookies, and soda boosted my energy and satiated my appetite, three baggies of trail mix safely stashed away guaranteed I would be comfortable the rest of the way. After a twelve-hour layover, I was ready for the second leg of my journey; San Francisco, USA to Panama City, Panama.
I flew over the Panama Canal shortly before landing. That was very, very cool. Panama City itself was very, very hot. And very humid. After a three hours layover, we boarded a plane where we waited on the tarmac for another two hours before the third leg of my journey and where I would get my first glimpse of Ecuador.
I didn’t really.
Guayaquil may be the largest city in Ecuador but it is a place I can not describe. I had been up for over 30 hours and saw only the ceiling over my bed in the Sheraton Hotel — interrupted by a brief break to the hotel dining room for shrimp and squid, a daily staple of the city. I trundled back up to my room and slept until morning. My driver arrived right on time, and I began the final leg of my long journey to Cuenca.
I remember when I first visited Japan I was struck by how much it looked like the United States. No worry about that in Ecuador: This is not the U.S. by any stretch.
My first impression of Ecuador was that it radiates a peaceful beauty that is timeless and feels close to the earth. And the scenery!! The drive out of Guayaquil was highlighted by intense verdant green and a landscape of majestic beauty. We drove along a vast tabletop of carefully tended banana trees, rice fields, and sugar cane. Truly extraordinary beauty. And then I saw what loomed ahead: The Citadel.
The Andes. What mighty mountains! No rolling hills leading to “the big show”, no formalities here. Here they are. Here I am. Start climbing. In the three-hour drive, I ascended to over 14,000 feet before descending to the more modest 8,200 feet and the valley that cradles Cuenca.
The road is steep. It is inconceivable how the natives walked up and over these most forbidding mountains. But, I imagined I would have to attempt their feat as well because, just as in the U.S. Northwest, it has been demonstrably rainier this season — in fact, the road opened just hours before we arrived and after a three-day closure to clear landslides. The view was more than majestic. I surprised myself with a word I never use: Awesome. As in, like, totally.
As I climbed ever higher, the richest green became wrapped in a mist like milk beaten thin. In and out we would sway, always, always upward and into a torrential rain that engulfed us. A swirling white that buffeted the car and washed even the sky clear; it was as wonderful as it was scary as we traveled a path that seemed removed from the confines of the earth herself. And then we came down from the clouds and into the bustling city of Cuenca.
I had read that Ecuador is relatively poor. Cuenca certainly is not. The country gives way to a suburb of ‘planned communities’ that soon surrenders to narrow cobblestone streets, tiled roofed one- and two-story buildings as picturesque, eclectic and personal as the folks who live here.
And then, at long last, I arrived at what was to be my home for the next six months, The Cuenca Inn, packed cheek to jowl with other patrimonial houses. Fortunately, the inn is on a side street steps from a major thoroughfare, bus lines, and 200 yards from a grocery store, shiny and new and packed with fruits and vegetables I can only guess as to their use and desirability. I bought only that which I was unfamiliar and looked forward to what became an interesting and completely satisfying dinner.
Bill Dixon, manager/partner of the Cuenca Inn is a South African expat three years in. A perfect gentleman, he is calm, loves living here and is always available. The place is spotless, the accommodations are first rate and — Glory be to God! — the shower head is not aimed at my chest! As you know, these things are important, especially if you are 6’3” in a country of munchkins.
By the way, Bill got right to using the pectin I brought him and is busy making hot pepper jelly as I write. There is one other guest, Maria, a Canadian, she is away with her boyfriend on a motorcycle trip to Vilcabamba for the holiday.
It is Carnival! All of Cuenca — in fact, all of South America — is drunk on the celebration and well, drunk. From every corner, loudspeakers play music all day and night while the streets are pierced with parades, fireworks, and laughter.
I remember my brother Rick commenting on the national festivities in honor of his birthday (St. Patrick’s Day).
Although some will say the festivities are not related to my arrival, I consider that fake news!. I am impressed at the reception Cuenca planned for me.
It feels like home already.