Expat Life

People we meet along the way: Getting to know Ecuadorians in the city and the country

Two country women at the end of a workday.

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.

A friendly wave from a girl on horseback.

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.

A campesino heads to town.

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.

Those Lollipops!

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!

Photos by Brian Buckner

  • M. Shahbaz Khan

    Another great one! Only thing is, I think it is 4th in the series and not 3rd as the editor’s note says. Also you should a added a picture of a cretaing someone from your hiking group helping a family lay down water pipes 😉

    • Brian Buckner

      Hey Shahbaz! You are certainly correct. This is the fourth in the series. I’m glad to post any pics that you like! But, I’m sorry, I don’t know the one you mean or about water pipes? Please, head me in the right direction. We hiked in a water canyon today. I got pretty wet. At home now dry and planning for a coast trip.

      • M. Shahbaz Khan

        Shared one on your time line

  • Victor R. Rexach

    Hi Brian: Moving to Cuenca at the end of this year. Your approach to local people is the correct one. After early retirement, I want to enjoy the culture of Ecuador and travel. Since I can speak Spanish is going to be more easy to engage and support locals as much I can. I’m going to start my on blog. Hope to meet you soon.
    Victor Rexach
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Victor, thanks for stopping by and posting your comments. See you here in Ecuador.

  • Cheryl Baldwin

    Loving your series. Having been here for only about eight months, the part that has grown on me the most are the people. Thanks for the sweet gift tip.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Cheryl! Glad your enjoying my photographs and memories. Sounds like you’re getting settled in here. Yes, those lollipops go a long, long ways!

  • Galileo

    Brian, Thank you for making my day a little brighter! The people here are sweet and you are a great ambassador! Peace to you!

    • Brian Buckner

      Hey Galileo! I think that’s a cool name. We do enjoy some amazing people here don’t we?! Stay tuned for more sunshine my friend…;)

  • Thank you for sharing your and Edie’s experiences in and around Cuenca. Our indigenous neighbors burn the midnight oil and are out the door at the crack of dawn. A great work ethic, like yourself, Brian.
    Loved the anecdote how you were caught in the rain on the covered bridge. Charming pictures, too!

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Jeremiah! I always look forward to your comments. They are positive and add additional flesh to the body we are working with. Please know I always look forward to your stoping by here and posting your thoughts!

  • Scott Cushing

    Hi Brian. I always enjoy your post and especially your photos. I am a photography enthusiast, but still have a lot to learn. You photos keep me inspired. I am moving to Cuenca in January and will be visiting for a bit later this month. Your posts have been giving plenty of ideas of things to do while I am there. Thanks again!

    • Brian Buckner

      Thanks Scott! I’m glad you’re enjoying my photography, it’s a really fun way to express yourself. I’m humbled to hear that you are inspired by my work! Thanks for stopping by to comment my friend!