By Louis Bourgeois
Nearing the end of my first six months of life in Cuenca, I was ready to look for a country house to rent. I had decided to live in a pueblo on the west side of Cuenca, up in the hills above the basin.
In my morning walks along the Rio Tomebamba I had befriended a local woman who was a regular at the bailoterapia (dance therapy) class, and she recommended that I take the bus to Rio Amarillo, where she lived, and then walk around and ask locals if they knew of a house for rent.
Here was my opportunity to put my faith in the prophecy of the eagle and the condor to the test.
I followed the advise of my friend, taking the bus to its end in Sayausi where I began to walk up a winding road into a heavily forested area. I marveled at the tranquility of the place and the people. The local industry of this area is the manufacture of bricks, called ladrillas, and I was fascinated with every aspect of this work. Over time, I would see the process in every detail as the country house that I found had one of these businesses directly across the street — but I am getting ahead of myself.
I asked the locals I met in Rio Amarillo if they knew of any houses to rent in the area. At first, there was no helpful information other than the suggestion that I continue walking the road until I came to a church. As I made a turn and began walking down hill toward the pueblo of San Jose de Balzay, locals kept referring to the church.
When I was perhaps a few hundred meters above the church, someone pointed to a house under construction. I became excited as I sensed that this would become my home. I walked over and met the man who was working on the house, and I asked him if the house was for rent and could I meet the owner. He responded yes and, in fact, the young boy accompanying him while he worked was the son of the owner.
This boy took me to meet his mother, Rosa, and soon I was talking about renting her house. When she showed me the house — really just a shell of a house — my imagination could see it completed, with my gardens and front courtyard. Rosa told me what she would want for rent, $125, and after just a moments hesitation I told her my proposal. I would rent the house for two years, paying $175 per month the first year, and $200 each month the second year. Plus I would pay to build the front wall, creating the courtyard, as well as a stockade fence around the rest of the property, creating my garden space. I agreed to give her the first year’s rent in advance, as she could not finish the work on the house without it.
I was returning to the U.S. for the last year of my 6-year contract managing a flower farm and wedding venue in Minnesota, a job that had supported my exploration of Latin America. I worked from mid-May through mid-October, having the winter free to travel. Rosa promised me that she would have the house ready for me when I returned in October of that year.
I was delighted beyond any expectations I could have projected onto my quest. I saw how magical life could be if it was built on a foundation of trust. My faith in the local people, my desire to live among them in this little pueblo, was being rewarded with a remarkable outcome. I had a great expectation that my time in San Jose de Balzay would be the turning point of my life. I was ready to go back to the U.S. and say goodbye.