By Robert Bradley
Having been warned by City Cab to arrive early, as an ice storm was due, I arrived at the Portland, Oregon International Airport with plenty of time to check my bags. Six hours was too early, it seems, because I could not check my bags for another two hours. However, I was placed on an earlier flight and away I went: My first leg: Portland to San Francisco, California.
At my sister’s suggestion, I flew ‘Business class’ — the seats are far more comfortable and there is a VIP lounge at the airports where I will lay over. Boy, was that lounge in San Francisco a godsend. Soup, salad, fruit, cookies, soda and three baggies of trail mix safely stashed away, and a twelve-hour layover later, I was ready for the second leg; San Francisco, USA to Panama City, Panama.
I flew over the Panama Canal shortly before landing. That was very, very cool. Panama City was very, very hot. And humid. After a three hour delay before boarding, we waited on the tarmac for another 1.5 hours before the third leg of my journey: destination: Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador is a place I know nothing of. I had been up for over 30 hours and saw only the ceiling over my bed — interrupted by a brief break in the hotel dining room for shrimp and squid, a daily staple of the city. I trundled back up to my room and slept until morning. My driver arrived right on time, and I began the final leg of my long journey, to Cuenca.
I remember when I first visited Japan I was struck by how much it looked like the U.S. No worry about that in Ecuador. This is not the U.S. by a stretch.
My first impression of Ecuador was that it radiates a peaceful beauty that is timeless and feels closer to the earth. But the views! On the drive out of Guayaquil, what struck me most was the intense verdant green of the landscape. We passed through a tabletop of banana trees, rice fields, and sugarcane. Truly beautiful. And what lay ahead: The citadel.
The Andes. What mighty mountains! No rolling hills leading to “the big show”, no formalities here. Here they are. Here I am. Start climbing. In the three-hour drive, I will ascend to over 13,000 ft before the drop to the more modest 8,200 ft. which is Cuenca.
The road is steep. It is inconceivable how the natives walked up and over these most forbidding mountains. But ‘the walk’ I imagined, is what I would have to do because, just as in the U.S. Northwest, it has been demonstrably rainier this season — in fact, the road opened just hours before we arrived, after a three-day closure to clear landslides. The view was more than majestic. I surprised myself with a word I never use: Awesome.
As I climbed ever higher, the richest green became wrapped in a mist like milk beaten thin. In and out, we would sway always, always upward into torrential rain. And then we were in the cloud factory itself were the rain is brewed. A swirling white that buffeted the car and washed even the sky clear; it was wonderful and scary at the same time and seemed removed from the confines of the earth herself. And then we came down to Cuenca.
Ecuador is relatively poor. Cuenca is not. The country gave way to a suburb of ‘planned communities’ that soon surrenders to narrow cobblestone streets, tiled roofed one- and two-story buildings as picturesque, eclectic and personal as the folks who live here.
And then, at long last, my home for the next six months, The Cuenca Inn, packed cheek to jowl with other colonial houses. It is on a side street that is steps from a thoroughfare and 200 yards from a grocery store, shiny and new and packed with stuff I do not know. And, being South America and all, the cosmetics section merits its own dominant corner of the store.
The Inn is perfect. Bill Dixon, manager/partner is a South African expat three years in. A perfect gentleman, he is calm, loves living here and is always available. The place is spotless. The accommodations first rate and — Glory be to God! — the shower head is not aimed at my chest! As you know, these things are important.
By the way, Bill got right to using the pectin I brought him and is busy making hot pepper jelly as I write. There is one other guest, Maria, a Canadian, she is away with her boyfriend on a motorcycle trip over the holiday.
It is Carnival! All of Cuenca — in fact, all of South America — is drunk on the celebration and well, drunk. From every corner, loud speakers play maudlin music all day while the night is pierced with parades, fireworks, and laughter.
I remember my brother Rick commenting on the national festivities in honor of his birthday (St. Patrick’s Day).
Although some will say the festivities are not related to my arrival, I consider that fake news!. I am impressed at the reception Cuenca planned for me.
It is good to be home.