Getting Settled in Cuenca

I cleaned my new apartment this afternoon and it feels great! I gave a thorough dusting and sweeping to just about every surface and then took the mop through every inch of the place. It is feeling especially fresh. I had a shower afterwards to top it all off. Now I think I will have a spinach and avocado salad (with some peppers and olive oil) and settle in for a relaxing evening.

But first I wanted to send a quick hello to anyone who might come upon this. 🙂 Hi! Life in Ecuador is unfolding fairly smoothly so far. Aside from a serious sunburn up at Cotopaxi (reminding me of the necessary respect for the sun at altitude) and a wee bout of Montezuma’s revenge, I have had rather good fortune.

Sunrise at Cotopaxi

On my first day here in Cuenca I not only found a great Spanish school but also the flat that I moved into. It was an unplanned day that opened up effortlessly. I walked from my hostel and dropped almost all of my laundry off to be cleaned (for $2.60!), wandered on and then bumped into The Spanish Institute of Cuenca where I was given an hour-and-a-half free lesson and put in touch with a woman who had a vacant flat. I met with her about an hour later and rode the city bus (for 25 cents!) up to her place to have a look. We are on the northeastern edge of Cuenca and it is rather quiet up here compared to downtown. There is a eucalyptus forest just behind my house and I tend to go out and sit there after my morning writing to enjoy a banana for breakfast. (Is a three-day sampling pool enough to indicate tendency?  Why not?) I saw some cattle grazing there this morning. It is a peaceful spot overlooking the city.

Eucalyptus

Cuenca is a gorgeous city. It is very safe and quite friendly. I can see why there are so many ex-pats down here. The climate is ideal. It is usually about 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon (occasionally a bit warmer, but not much) and things cool off at night. I can comfortably wear a sweater once the sun goes down, though I have survived without. The cost of life here is obviously a lot less than in North America, though I hear from some of the older ‘gringos’ that the prices have been climbing a lot in the last years as more retirees (both young and old) catch on to the place. The downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the colonial architecture being a big draw for tourists. There are several incredible cathedrals and a handful of other impressive government buildings standing out from the already charming standard structures throughout the city. It certainly has character.

View from Spanish School

I have met a handful of folks already and joined many for meals here or there, whether connecting through hostels (before moving into my flat), buses, or Spanish school. It seems like a very social city. The other day I bumped into an American guy I had met at a country hostel near Cotopaxi Volcano a week before and we sat in the town square playing guitar and harmonica for a couple of hours, being joined by a few locals and passing the guitar around to share songs. It was a lot of fun and we moved through a lot of different styles. Pedro, one of the locals, had a hankering for Cat Stevens and John Denver. We obliged him.

I have arranged to get my teeth cleaned next week and I am actually rather keen. It has probably been nearly ten years since my last proper cleaning, ever since my insurance knocked off after graduating. I heard from a friend that they speak terrific English there (although my Spanish is progressing) and that it only costs $15 US. And it isn’t the hygienist who administers the cleaning but the actual dentist! Imagine that.

So, I am only just getting settled into a routine but things are moving along nicely and I imagine I will be down here until sometime in mid-summer. I hope to have mostly productive mornings and then enjoy the culture and life of the city and surroundings in my afternoons. I have already found a great vegetarian restaurant (Govinda’s) where I get a hearty and healthy lunch for $3 flat – soup, salad, rice, veggies, beans and juice!

There is a lot of interesting music and street art to be found here as well. Though I  have yet to check it out, I hear there are a number of nice hikes in nearby Las Cajas National Park. I am told there are thermal baths not far away…and some Incan ruins to look through too. So I am sure I will have lots of exploring to do…

Curious Street Art

I guess that will do for now…enjoy life everyone! It’s free.

🙂

Advertisements

The Journey Continues…

Three weeks ago today I flew home from Rome. Now I am in Ecuador, having spent a wonderful Christmas holiday with my family and the past week in New Orleans with good friends. I arrived to Quito a bit wired, not having slept much during my ten-hour layover at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I stirred from wakeful rest on a bench by the luggage belt at about 5:30 AM to learn that David Bowie had died. I am just now listening to his last album, released only four days ago on his 69th birthday. He was a true artist. His video for the song Lazarus is hauntingly beautiful. It seems even his death was a conscious (and brilliant) work of art. Starting my blurry travel day to the news of his death was quite a shock. I listened to his 1971 album, Hunky Dory, on the flight here to Quito. It spoke to me in ways it never had before, as great art will.

I received a very warm welcome to the city of Quito. I promptly pulled my sweater off as I walked out of the airport and hopped on a local bus headed for the heart of the city. I dropped my bags in my cheap (but clean) hostal and set out for a stroll. After observing some of the old city I bumped into three interesting and friendly people crossing a street – one bald guy carrying a guitar; one girl with glasses and a small percussion instrument; and another girl with a Ukelele on her back and the Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted on her face.

I instinctively said, “Sad news today,” to the girl sporting the bright red Ziggy bolt. I mimed a tear falling down my cheek and turned to be on my way. But the bald guy carried on the conversation and in no time at all we were on our way together to a nearby friend’s house to play some music. We ended up hanging out for more than five hours, including an interlude where Zuro and Sol had to slip away for a radio interview and performance. They are currently on tour with AhoFest. This is somehow connected with GuruDeva and some Hare Krishna folks. (The evening proceeded mostly in Spanish and various details were lost on me…though I held up pretty well for my first day back into it…) These artists were very free and loving souls. We shared food and song, laughter and dance, and many stories. At one point one of us realized that we were a completely mixed bag of nations gathered: a Canadian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Argentinian, Colombian, Ecuadorian and one other girl that popped in briefly…but I cannot recall where she was from. I thought that was pretty cool. Meanwhile, I was totally sapped. My body was done in from a full day of traveling and very little sleep.

I tried to get up to leave a time or two but it never really took. As we got into singing some songs and dancing I found myself lifted up. Energy emerged from the mysterious depths. It reminded me of the amazing week of music I had been wading through in New Orleans. Occasionally my feet were tired from good days of walking around the Big Easy, but the music always lifted me. It literally blew my mind how much talent was simmering there, mixing and mashing up together. Aside from the ridiculous Las Vegas-y side of life, the vibrant heart of New Orleans came blistering to the surface. It was almost immediately palpable to me and steeping in it for a week with good friends only accentuated it.

But all songs come to an end at some point, if only for a moment of rest. And our New Orleans adventure did so along with David Bowie and eventually the great evening with new friends in Quito. As my new musical friends headed off to set up shop for the night in a dental office (arranged by the girlfriend of our host, Luis, who works there) I hopped a bus (for 25 cents!) back to my hostal. I showered up and crashed, sleeping nearly ten hours.

Today has been a day of orienting. I have been to a few different parts of town and have begun to acquaint myself a bit. I even found myself in a few familiar areas, having passed through here briefly about two years ago. I will begin looking more earnestly for long-term lodging in the next days and perhaps soon head south to Cuenca. One lodging prospect has already fallen through (due to a high ‘lowest possible price’), which simplifies the selection process. I trust it will all unfold as it needs to. I will keep following my heart as best I am able moment to moment.

I guess I will wrap it there for now. I just felt that it was a good moment to post a quick word to anyone curious to know how things are rolling down here.

And I will also share the last photo (of very few) I took in New Orleans. It ties in to Ecuador nicely as well, as the rainbow flag is also found in areas with Andean culture. Some simple advice: Be Yourself. I imagine Mr. Bowie would approve.

Taken near Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

Near Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

🙂