“Watch your feet!” That is perhaps the best advice newbies get in Cuenca.
Sidewalks often have uneven surfaces and potholes, even new tile sidewalks can be dangerous when wet. I move like I’m 99 years old when going down the hill at B. del Padron…the extension of Padre Aguirre at Calle Larga. My good gripper sandals offer no help on this one. Then there are the big metal hooks that are scattered around town whose original purpose is a mystery. Are they designed simply to keep us alert or cripple us?
El Centro has so many distractions — the architecture, the tiendas, window shopping, and people watching. But, one quickly learns not to do too much looking around, but to step to the side of the walkway before taking in the sights. And, certainly we need to be alert when stepping off curbs. I’ve seen some as high as two feet.
So — I watch my step and haven’t experienced the twisted, sprained or broken ankles or legs of some of my friends — yet. I consider myself lucky. Recently, I was distracted for a moment and stumbled but just as I was about to smash face first into the concrete, I threw myself onto the grass beside it. I was lucky there was grass to break my fall.
For more about being a pedestrian in Cuenca, see A walker’s guide to Old Cuenca.
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I regularly wait for the bus at San Francisco Plaza, and have looked at everything that busy corner has to offer — the market, the shops, the other people. But, one day, I happened to look up. And, there it was! A total mystery. I took a photo and want any readers who know the answer to this mystery to share the story. There was a metal sign (about 4×6 feet in diameter). It was affixed to the side of a wall and in English it says “Time to Re-Tire” then “Fisk” (which I, as your intrepid reporter, checked to confirm it is an actual tire company in the US of A). It is rusting rapidly, so I can’t tell how old it is.. Who brought it to Cuenca? And, why?
Another favorite sign of mine in Cuenca is a huge, fading Coca-Cola advertisement. When I first saw it I was transported back in time to about 1952, Hamburg, Arkansas. Aunt Florene (I’m not making this up) lived next door to a grocery store. I’d enter that store, with the screen door slamming behind me. It was the typical store that had Kay’s (no relation) big cookies in a jar, dill pickles you could by one-at-a-time, and most importantly in those hot, humid Arkansas summers — cold drinks. The big decision of the day was which drink to buy. A Brownie (chocolate milk flavored)? A Delaware Punch? A Coca-cola in the original small light green bottle? Whatever my choice, it sure was a treat! The Coca-Cola sign? A sign very much like the one here in Cuenca was painted on the weathered wood side of the grocery store.
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Halloween has come to Cuenca! Sitting with my emergency taco snack, I heard loud (is there any other kind in Cuenca?) music coming from about two blocks away. As it approached, and the music became earsplitting, dozens of teenagers dressed in full costume marched down the street…to “Thriller.” I didn’t follow them, but they probably stopped somewhere and did the dance.
The shoe shine men that line the portico at the New Cathedral always amuse me. They ask if I want a shine and I just shake my head and point to my fabric sandals.
But, an unexpected shoe shine boy approached me as I neared Av. Las Americas one recent sunny day. I think he is about nine years old and seemed new at the job. I had on my fabric sandals so declined, but I never know if I should give these kids money. There is such an argument in the expat community about tipping or not tipping, or if tipping how much. I now realize I should have given this little boy at least a nickel because I can’t get his face out of my mind.