Occasionally, I see a question posted on an Internet forum from an expat-wannabe inquiring about quiet places to live in Cuenca. If I were ever inclined to answer, it would be to deliver an emphatic “Don’t come to Cuenca!” . . . or anywhere else in Latin America, for that matter, if your number-one priority is peace and quiet.
I would tell them that they would be much happier in the sleepy burgs of New England — or in Great Britain, Finland or Norway if they are intent on moving overseas.
Although there are, in fact, some reasonably quiet neighborhoods in Cuenca and the surrounding countryside, you need to understand that Ecuadorians love their parties, parades, concerts, and festivals, which are frequently accompanied by fireworks — if you were out and about during last week’s festival you are abundantly aware of this. In addition, car and home alarms, barking dogs, and the day-to-day traffic can fire up the decibels to overpowering levels. It’s a common joke here that the car alarm is Ecuador’s national anthem.
And then there is the noise that most gringos cannot imagine until they live here.
Ten years ago, shortly after I had moved to El Centro, I was awoken at four o’clock one morning by the sound drum rolls, blaring trumpets, and a couple of flutes. When I ran down to the sidewalk, a 30-piece marching band was passing by. I stood there amazed, the only spectator in sight except for a curious street dog. Later, when I asked my Cuencana wife what the hell was going on, she said, oh, it was just another tribute to the virgin being honored that week.
Even if you live in the country, unless you have hundreds of hectares with your house positioned in the middle, you can’t escape the noise. A friend who lives in Yunguilla, southwest of Cuenca, says that on most weekends the valley is veritably alive with sounds of music in the form of reggaeton, salsa, hip hop and some plain old rock ‘n’ roll.
To be sure, there are plenty of rural areas, unlike Yunguilla, that are not weekend retreats for Cuencano revelers. But these too, have their noise makers in the form of braying donkeys, caterwauling guinea hens, crowing roosters and, as in the city, barking dogs. And like their city cousins, country folks enjoy their fireworks, which they fire off whenever the mood strikes.
You may have read about it but two weeks ago police raided four nightclubs and discotheques on Presidente Cordova, a few blocks from where I live. The raid was notable for Cuenca because it was in response to neighbors’ complaints that the bars were making too much noise. One of the complainers, it turned out, was a deaf man who lived two floors above one of the bars who said that the vibrations were keeping him awake. In fact, police said that the barroom, which measured 12 feet by 18 feet, mas o menos, was using a sound system designed for a small auditorium.
I leave you with some Latino wisdom on the subject. On my first trip to Ecuador 16 years ago, when one of the gringos on my tour complained about noise in the Quito neighborhood where our hotel was located, our tour guide shook his head and said to no one in particular, “Noise is life. Silence is death.”
Updated and reposted from 2015.