Editor’s note: This is the fourth of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the first and second installments, click here and here and here.
By Brian Buckner
My experience may be simple but I really like the people of Ecuador. It’s a big part of the reason I live here, that I’ve made it my home. I find them genuine and that’s refreshing to me. I like direct communication and I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know where I stood with any Ecuatorianos I was engaged with. Particularly when I’m speaking with them face to face. As individuals, we all experience things in slightly different ways. Here’s how it’s been for Edie and I.
People of the City
Let’s start in the city. Cuenca in particular. It’s a place of commerce with lots of hustle and bustle. Vendors and beggars are shoulder to shoulder with bankers and lawyers in the crowded city streets. It’s a vertible wave of human mass in El Centro during busy times of the day. People are in a hurry and most are very interested in only their particular mission at hand. Curtness, if that, is way more the norm than friendly greetings.
Edie and I both greet folks in the city. However, she’s more diligent than I. She calls her greetings, “Buenos Díases” and she counts them up while she walks the city. The cool thing is that she counts how many she doles out and not the number of responses she receives…go Edie! If you can, this is a good approach as it’s always better to speak and not be spoken to than vice versa.
Don’t get you feelings hurt if you don’t get the response you’d hoped for. When you do, it’ll be even sweeter to your ears. Remember, making a living in a harried environment is the business at hand. Most don’t have chat time or a lot to say.
People of the Countryside
In the country, it’s a little different. The work day is in full swing from before light until after dark. The tempo of the people is very steady but not so much that they won’t usually be glad to pass a little conversation with you. You’ll meet people herding their dairy cows, riding horses, walking and on bicycle. All ages are well represented.
My favorites are the grandparents and the younger children. You’ll find that country folk, men and women alike, often want to shake hands with you. Many will go for the brief exchange of affection with women offering their right cheek to men. Once,we were waiting out a big rainstorm under a long covered bridge in the country. Edie and I were watching the water swirl by when a carload of people from babies to grey-headed folks pulled up, stopped and everyone got out and came to greet us. Every woman wanted a kiss, from the grandmother to the teens and niñas. Every man wanted a handshake and to grasp my arm with his other hand. They thanked us for coming to their community and wanting to see what it was like there. I felt pretty humble about all that and so we gave everyone lollipops or, in Spanish, chupetes. There were smiles from one end of that bridge to the other.
Now, the chupetes have become our signature gift in the countryside. We stop and offer them everywhere along the way with our best smiles and a gracious attitude.
Here’s my take on it. Something sweet given as a gift along with a smile is the international language of good will. No one’s ever going to think you mean them anything but good when you’re handing out candy and smiling. And sure, we could hand out little individual packets of oatmeal or fruit or something super healthy. However, it wouldn’t render the same effect of sweet good will and that’s part of what I’m after!