Most of us would have never made the move to Cuenca if it were not for the Internet. Being able to keep in touch with friends and family, not only with words but photos and videos is essential for many of us.
The online tool I use most is Facebook. For me, Facebook is like talking over the back fence, only I get to choose my neighbors. I don’t know how anyone in Cuenca keeps up with what’s going on in our community without it (and CuencaHighLife!).
There are Facebook pages for almost any need or interest. Virtually every organization and many businesses have pages. Want help with finding foods, spices, nuts? Ask the foodies on Food and Cooking in the Highlands. They also offer advice in high-altitude cooking and their latest recipe successes or failures. These helpful folks are located all over Ecuador and have expanded my personal community beyond the borders of Cuenca.
See a beautiful flower or tree and can’t identify it? Ask the folks on Flora and Fauna. Need to sell something? Leaving Cuenca Stuff Exchange. Want to just give stuff away? Leaving Cuenca Stuff Exchange Friends. There are ‘secret groups’ that require an invitation. Our Expat Women (closed group) is a wonderful place to get advice ‘for girls.’
I lament my lack of expertise in using all the features of Facebook and when I extoll the value of it, friends will say they haven’t joined because they don’t know how to use it. Anyone want to conduct a class on How to Use Facebook?
(Next time I’ll discuss the personalities and friendly and not-so-friendly battles that are endlessly entertaining on Facebook.)
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Babies are everywhere in Cuenca. I can honestly say I have seen more babies in my 20+ months in Cuenca than I have in the rest of my entire life. These little ones are carried everywhere and can be seen in public any time of the day or night.
The important thing seems to be physical contact with the parents, rather than an early bedtime. Maybe that close connection with the parents makes for more contented babies? They are certainly well-behaved! It is rare to hear a fussy baby and any fussiness never lasts for long. The babies were either held by the mother or father, or (especially with Indigenous women) carried in a sling on their backs. One day I was walking into El Centro behind a woman with a tiny girl on one side and a little boy on the other, with a baby slung on her back. The baby was starting to slip out from under the sling, so I gently tapped her on the shoulder. We didn’t speak the same language, but we both spoke “Mother” so I was able to communicate that the baby was slipping out. She quickly readjusted the sling and thanked me. I do know the word for Grandmother, so smiling I pointed at myself, said “nada, Abuela”.
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One change I’ve noticed in walking around El Centro is that I never saw strollers when I arrived. Now, I occasionally see them. One day near Parque Calderon I passed two young women putting a little boy into a brightly colored plastic car with a big push-handle. As they got him into the car and started pushing, I laughed when I recognized the song the car played. It wasn’t a nursery rhyme or a Disney tune … it was the Battle Hymn of the Republic!
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Before I came to Cuenca, I read warnings about the many cultural differences I would see — including the one of men peeing in public. The southeast corner of the busy San Francisco Plaza market is referred to by locals as the “world’s largest outdoor urinal.” When I pass it, I hold my breath and quicken my pace. I’ve also witnessed men hugging a tree or leaning into a doorway, relieving themselves. One late afternoon, as I walked along the Tomebamba River, I saw in sweet silhouette on the high bank of a father and his small son. My initial thought was they were looking at the rushing waters, but as they turned to leave they were zipping their pants. This was a Class in Male Tradition being handed down (pardon the expression) father to son. What’s curious is that there are several well-maintained, staffed, public restrooms throughout Cuenca. I guess men just prefer the traditional ways.
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Taxis present unique experiences in Cuenca. There seems to be a macho attitude in driving. It is as though there is a race to get to the location, disregarding other cars and innocent pedestrians. Riding in a taxi can literally seem to be life-threatening. I often ride in the front seat and simply have to surrender to the process and hope the driver doesn’t want to die any more than I do.
I’ve been told there has been one huge change since the days before meters were installed. Passengers are no longer at the whim of the driver when it comes to fares. It is still a good idea, however, to make sure your driver turns on the meter. It’s also a good habit to check the seat you are leaving so you don’t forget cameras, purses, umbrellas, computers. Some expats routinely photograph or write down the number of their taxi in case they leave something behind or have problems with a driver.
Women and men friends have shared vastly different stories of taxi drivers.
We females know it’s important to use common sense when we ride solo. One friend never takes a taxi when arriving at the airport late at night, but has a male friend meet her at the airport. That’s the result of an experience with a taxi driver picking her up at the airport and yelling something like, “I got a single female” at the other drivers as he pulled away. Needless to say, she was uncomfortable on the ride home.
Women commonly tell of being asked “where do you come from” but they are additionally asked about their marital status. When I respond that I’m not married there is often consternation and I’m asked why. My adamant response in Spanish “no necessito esposo!” results in shared laugher. When one friend told her driver she wasn’t married but had a boyfriend, he offered to toss the boyfriend into the Tomebamba so he could have her. I always get a reaction of surprise that I came here solo. I offer that I have many amigas and amigos here, and that somehow seems to help. Women are often asked if we have children. Those who answer no are often met with real puzzlement on the part of the driver.
Some gals are asked how much money they have, and how much rent they pay. I’ve heard it is a common question, and a cultural difference, but I wonder if these drivers ask financial information of other Cuencanos.
One female friend told of a driver flirting with her, telling her how beautiful she was. He didn’t stop there. He took her hand, kissed it, then asked for her phone number. When they arrived at her destination and she got out, he tried to hug and kiss her. As she put it: “way too much love from that guy.”
Another friend told a similar story, but that driver must have been really smitten. He stopped the taxi, ran into a store and returned with a long-stemmed red rose for her.
But the wildest story was shared by a good friend. She keeps her beautiful feet well-manicured and was wearing sparkly sandals one day when her taxi driver could not stop looking over the seat at her feet (obviously a “foot man”). Finally, he could stand it no longer, pushed the passenger seat up as far as it would go, reached back and took her foot in his hand. He stroked her foot, kissed it, and before it was all over he was sucking her toes! After I stopped howling with laughter, I asked the obvious question. “Did you give him a r-e-a-l-l-y good tip?”