The resurrection of Cuenca’s El Vado neighborhood

Apr 4, 2021 | 13 comments

Cuenca street artists who enjoy painting large-scale pieces are familiar with El Vado.

Bajada del Vado is famed for the often dramatic street art climbing the steep draw, some crumbling even more rapidly than the wall they use as a canvas. The plazoleta itself, a beautifully designed common area, allows awe-inspiring views of the Cajas is regularly used as a backdrop for music videos, model portfolios, tourists taking selfies, and locals taking a break.

Times and conditions have dramatically changed.

Plazoleta Cruz del Vado, or the “place of the river crossing,” was once a very dangerous neighborhood. The now-demolished public restrooms were dank caves. Broken-down hostels housed broken-down people. For most Cuencanos, there was no reason to go into the neighborhood. Those who did pass through the plaza did so quickly, in pairs or more, and certainly never at night.

It all came to a boiling point twenty-five years ago. Community leader Hernán Alvarado explained it this way, “People had had enough. After years of twisting ourselves into knots of in-fighting and recrimination, a band of neighbors formed a neighborhood support group and reached out to city agencies for help.”

Fortunately for everyone, their voices were heard, loud and clear.

Cuenca’s Director of Historic Areas, Felipe Manosalve, the Tourism Foundation for Cuenca, and the Ministry of Tourism joined together with a multi-pronged approach for cleaning up one of the most beautiful and most scary parts of the city.

The public restrooms were the first to go. Years of neglect and a lack of monitoring transformed the facilities into de facto drugstores for addicts, criminals, and reckless travelers looking to get high. They were torn down and hauled away. Next on the list was an accounting of the abandoned houses in the sector. Once issues of ownership were clarified, several houses were remodeled, repainted, and generally upgraded to acceptable standards. A third and equally important component of the restoration effort has been the city’s commitment to using the plazoleta for concerts, art shows, and even an occasional wedding. All of this activity has made a dramatic change.

Today, Plazoleta Cruz del Vado is touted by tour operators as one of Cuenca’s crown jewels and a must-see destination. Anytime is a good time, but it really shines in the evening.

Neighbors walk Calle de la Cruz late into the night, perhaps after a dinner with friends; a gaggle of teenagers is nearby playing being grown-up and casual futbol. Young lovers flock to view the city, old folks are walking even older dogs needing a late-night outing, someone is learning how to skateboard, someone else is painting, his easel illuminated by city light.

Late night on the Plazoleta Cruz del Vado is a Felliniesque carnival of dancers, skaters, and artists all playing under the stars in one of Cuenca’s crown jewels.

My, how things have changed.

Robert Bradley

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