I’ve been touring the countryside photographing villages in the agricultural region that supplies our mercados. It is a wonderful adventure that reminds me that time need not be so accelerated, and that, at least here, moving at a speed dictated by farm animals is all the urgency people need. How peaceful it all is. And quiet. Even in the most bustling of villages, there is a softness in tone and clearness in volume that is immediately discernible. The peal of church bells is sharper, and the vibration lingers long after the knell.
A recent trip included the most pleasant of surprises, a village so romantic I nearly moved right in.
The pace of Cumbe seems unchanged from the time of wagon-wheels and saddles which is not surprising because this is well-established horse country with ranches spread over the valley displaying grand barns, pearl-white split rail fencing, and corrals of muscular animals. These horses are special and they know it, you see it in how proud and tall they stand.
The central square of Cumbe is the hub from which all else radiates. It is anchored by a fountain surrounded with inlaid tiles portraying significant events and people in the community. One end of the square is dominated by a Catholic church, the other a hair-stylist. The third side rises quickly, bending uphill towards a swatch of blue sky lining the narrow valley, and the last side falls into a twisting street and a town crowded with shops selling tools for the ranch and finery for the home. And then there are the gemstones — small cafes, phone shops, clothing stores, multiple bakeries, and restaurants everywhere; quaint shops that are nestled into elegant brick buildings lining curving lanes festooned with flowers. The only thing I did not see was another gringo.
School was recessed for lunch shortly before I arrived. The square was a festival of activity, with kids playing, digging into their lunches, and of course, checking their phones for messages and texting their own.
I watched a gaggle of young girls playing on a swing. Their laughter and exuberance was so fresh and…well, innocent. Soon their time will be taken up with boys and responsibilities. Soon they will become the young women of Cumbe and carry with them all that that entails. And, soon enough they will have their own children who will play on the swings, laughing with their friends and swinging wildly in a rush to grow old while cherishing the last vestiges of childhood.
On the outskirts of town, folks were harvesting food for their guinea pigs. Their scythes created a swath of cut grasses alongside the narrow road. Woven plastic bags were stuffed full and left behind as the march continued; the trucks will come soon enough to load the many bags and take them away to family farms raising the signature dish of Ecuador — cuy.
As I left Cumbe, I watched students heading home, up a hill known to them by heart. Stories of faraway lands anxiously awaited them in the books they carried, but the easy conversation between friends comes first. Soon they will be home, finishing their chores, and then chattering away over dinner with the family. In the quiet of the evening these young voices will return to their books, to their homework, and then to stories of their own choosing, to explore the vast reaches of the imagination.
I highly suggest that you too get on a bus, any bus, take it to the end of the line and enjoy a day in the country. I’ll bet you will find it is a beginning to a better appreciation of the wonders that surround us every single day.