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Expat Life

Expat notes on Cuenca’s foundation holiday, orchids, and the ‘why am I here’ question

Another celebration has come and gone. It is seen as the founding of Cuenca but in reality it was the renaming of this city by the Spanish on April 12, 1557.daves logo

The city had been around in various forms for more than 3,000 years being in an ideal location in a bowl with four rivers running through it. The Spanish found it ideal also, especially with the stones from the Inca temple and buildings being available for their buildings, which continued into the 20th century. Most Ecuadorian cities have their celebrations but those

of Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil are national holidays as well.

Cuenca holidays.
Cuenca holidays.

In any event, beginning April 9th, tents were erected along the river and in some city streets with artisans and others selling their wares, lots of extra musical and art presentations, fireworks with a couple of late night shows that I believe were longer and louder than any I have heard to date. I will make an extra effort during the next celebration to know where and when so I can get there. It is always an exhilarating and wonderful thrill for me to be close to, or under, a fireworks show. The big grin on my face says it all.

* * * *

chl orchids
Gualaceo orchids.

I didn’t know this before I came here but orchids are native to Ecuador and are an important export crop, being shipped all over the world. I had visitors from the States who wanted to know more so a called to my friend Juan, a wonderful guide, who was free the next day, and off we went to Gualaceo, home to the world’s largest orchid cultivation facility, or so they say.

In the 1950’s a priest began collecting and conserving Ecuadorian orchids in Gualaceo and got Ecuador into the World Orchid Congress in 1968. I wonder if he got into trouble for spending more time with orchids than with people.

Anyway we toured the facility that has the priest’s collection and grows, hybridizes and sells some 6,000 varieties. Must have seen a hundred different ones with one so small I had to get within a few inches to see it. Learned, or at least was told, all about the meticulous care needed to grow and ship orchids. It takes five years before you know if a new orchid is going to work out; seeds in a sterile media for two years sealed in a glass flask. As usual for me, it’s all kind of a blur now, but what an interesting afternoon.

* * * *

Meanwhile, life continues (with the exception of Spanish class) comfortably on. Every once in awhile the “what am I doing here?” question pops up but a few minutes of thinking about it and the “I am in the right place” answer manifests itself. As always, the warm and welcoming people is the primary reason. Perhaps the people are the explanation for the calm and peaceful ambiance that suffuses the air here. But why do I want to explain it? It just is, and that is enough.

Cuídense. With my love, Dave


  • Katheryn

    Hi Dave,
    I am a 62 year old female who will be divorced from a 36 year marriage in June. I have done a lot of research for the last year and have concluded that Cuenca is the right choice as a new place for me in starting a new and probably last chapter of life. I am taking on line Spanish lessons and will of course wish to enroll in lesson classes in Cuenca. Although I wish to integrate and interact within the local community, I also would like to know that there is a close expat community at hand also. Any insight or advice you would be willing to pass along and share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    • StillWatching

      Katheryn, the passage you are facing can be a difficult one and I commend your boldness as well as your frankness in giving the public a glimpse of yourself from afar. However, I would strongly recommend that before you even commit to the notion of making Cuenca your next (and perhaps final) home, you should take a trip here and spend as long as possible investigating for yourself.

      Disabuse yourself of any notion you may have that Ecuador is the United States on the cheap. The cultures are vastly different and after you pass through the inevitable honeymoon phase, you will discover that there is a dark side to all of the wonderful reasons there are for living here.

      I have lived here longer than dirt and my own experience reveals that this simply isn’t a culture of the word. That is, it isn’t based on keeping ones word. My oldest Ecuadorian friend, who does have integrity, expressed this simply in Spanish thusly: “Amigo, esto no es una cultura de la palabra”.

      If you are sucked in to believing that this is a family oriented society in the sense that you may know that notion, you will be disappointed. Sure, they pay a lot of lip service to being “family oriented” but once you get close enough to talk intimately with Ecuadorian women, ask them in confidence what percentage of Ecuadorian men are faithful to their wives. I am very confident that the responses will surprise and shock you.

      In addition to the infidelity there is a hell of a lot of outright abuse, physical and emotional. Seek the published statistics and you will find that 7 out of 10 of Ecuadorian women have suffered such abuse and if you are naive enough to think that the catholic church is a mitigating factor in this phenomena, you will also be disappointed. Often, they perpetuate the abuse by telling abused women that they mustn’t leave the abusing spouses or amantes “because he is the father of your children”. What a bunch of crap.

      Sadly, mothers also perpetuate this culture with similar notions of tolerance for the abuse. The only hope I can offer is that the situation is changing slowly and there is an emerging class of younger, more educated women that just won’t tolerate the abuse and realize that having no relationship is better than having an abusive relationship. The idea that a woman isn’t complete without a man at her side is one that has persisted for centuries here and until that notion dies completely, Ecuador will continue to be a culture of machismo where integrity is just an abstract notion.

      • Katheryn

        I appreciate your taking your time to fill me in on some of the deeper intimate relationships specifically with regards to women and their husband’s or significant others. Sadly, even in the US much of what you say is still thriving here. However, due to the “women’s movements”, there are more women not putting up with it, fitting harder than in other countries for their rights and have become equally adept at the cheating game. Yes, I need to find a less expensive place to live a more financially comfortable existence but I am fine alone, meaning not looking for a replacement significant other, but friends. I believe that the US is changing rapidly in a direction that I find most uncomfortable and probably as frustrating in many ways that will make a new place a new adventure with new experiences and some things less frustrating than here in the US but as you said, with a dark and also frustrating side too. This is called life, I guess. Cuenca seems to offer many of the things that I am in search of including the weather and easy accessibility without owning a vehicle. Even though married all of these years, I have existed alone even though living with someone. That part can’t be any worse but in a way much more liberating. Again, I pray that Ecuador and its people are safe now and will begin the process from the earthquake. Best Regards. Katheryn

        • StillWatching

          Katheryn, as a scientist I try to avoid anecdotal evidence to support my perceptions of reality but the things I have alluded to, while undeniable by anyone not engaged in foolish denial, are not well published, either. This is a thing that you have to live to experience and it starts by developing intimate relationships with the people you come in contact with, if or when you come to live here. That said, other than for academic interest, it doesn’t serve you well to become absorbed in what society around you is doing as much as creating your own reality in the relationships you develop yourself. Although you may be engaged in the proverbial endeavor of looking for a needle in a haystack, they only assurance I can offer is that somewhere in that haystack, there is the needle you seek and to be a little cynical about it, what other alternative do you have than to look for it?

          The only parting observation I would offer is that the major difference I see between the infidelity you note in the U.S. and that found here is that here, it is reinforced and institutionalized by the culture of machismo which seems to have gotten its start around the time of the Incas. Speak out against it when you see it and do what is in your power to change it, but don’t let its pervasiveness ruin your own personal life. Frankly, the other practical things you seek are actually here for you and I get the sense that you will do fine here. Eleemosynary activities are endless and you will certainly have no dearth of them to choose from if that is what feeds you.