Ecuadorians definitely know how to take advantage of their vacations. Last week there was a five day holiday consisting mainly of two important days: the independence of the city of Cuenca and the day of the deceased. I have never witnessed a country mobilize for vacations like they did here in Ecuador, it was as if they were preparing for war. Hotels repaired and cleaned their premises, stores and restaurants stocked up, I even saw businesses that have always been closed open the doors and brush the dust off the counter.
I spent the first few days of this holiday in the beach town that I’ve been living in for the last month, a special place that I’ll explain more about later. With the holiday came a lull in the waves here, and also an influx of obnoxious noise. The mayor of the town decided to set up a giant stage with hundreds of pounding speakers where music and dancing would be performed all day and night. This stage was positioned directly in front of my hotel.
I was lying in my bed at 4:30 am on the second night of the holiday, tossing and turning, fighting off mosquitoes as the worst singer I’ve ever heard continued to throw out horrible Latin songs. It was at that point that I decided I needed to get out of here, at least for awhile. I needed a break from the beach and the constant sun, from the ceaseless music and the dry landscape. So I would go to Cuenca I decided, the renowned colonial city in the Andes that was celebrating its independence.
I arrived in the evening and took a cab into the historic downtown. Everyone had warned me to book a room because everything would be full, but when I called a place earlier in the day they told me they had plenty of rooms available and that I needn’t worry. I found the hotel and walked up the stairs.
“Hey there, I’d like a single room please.”
“We have nothing available.”
Alright, so I should have reserved something. I took to the streets again and found a different hostel. It was full. This continued for the next hour with about ten different places. It was around 8:00 now and I had given up, I had accepted the fact that I’d likely be sleeping on a bench in the central park that night, the party would be going until dawn anyways.
I made my way to the park, having no idea where I was, I just followed the people and the music. I emerged from a small cobblestone street into a huge open area of giant trees and towering colonial buildings, there must have been at least five thousand people enjoying the festivities. There were fireworks and marching bands, glow sticks and cotton candy. I bought some street food and settled against a wall, enjoying the spectacle without a worry in the world. Things always seem to work themselves out when you are positive, and not too long later I got a call from a friend who had a place for me to crash for the night. We met up and the celebrations began. It was a long night and I had an amazing time from what I remember, I really liked what I had experienced so far in Cuenca, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I really came to appreciate the city.
I awoke the next morning on the top bunk in some sort of dorm room which turned out to be a fair trade organization, or something along those lines. I went outside, it was quiet and cool but the sun was shining, making the temperature perfect. There was a small park across the street that was covered by bright green grass, I was ecstatic. I quickly walked over, bought some sort of pastry from a vendor, and then sat down on the grass – an experience that I had missed dearly. Sitting there on the soft grass in my hungover state I looked around and noticed the cleanliness and calm, I realized that where I was at that moment was a place that I could not distinguish from any other small park in a rich North American city, except I was deep in the heart of Latin America.
My other friends awoke and we took a bus to the centre. Along the way I began to notice the architecture and layout of this city, it was perfect. There were small cobble stone streets everywhere which were lined by magnificent colonial buildings. There were museums everywhere, and churches that were clearly several centuries old. There were restaurants of all kinds and quaint cafes serving real coffee. There were parks and open spaces where trees and flowers were abundant. It was decidedly the most beautiful and perfect city I had ever seen.
I spent the next couple of days exploring this city by day, and enjoying festivities by night. I came to learn that it was a city full of foreigners, many of them living there permanently, which is understandable. Besides its aesthetic wonders, it seemed to be a perfectly functioning city. It was well maintained and clean, you could drink water from the tap, poverty and crime seemed to be under control, the transit system was organized and easy. I realize now that I had only seen but a small part of the city, and for a short period of time, but it was a clear example of a city that had taken the steps to organized itself well in a relatively poor country.
I’m back at the beach now, recovering and focusing on work. Seeing another part of Ecuador was valuable to me, it showed me how diverse this tiny country really is. In a few hours I went from a dusty, hot beach town where I was surfing, to a cool and magnificent city in the mountains where I needed a warm sweater. Whether it be the geography or the people, everyday this country seems to amaze me more and more.