Hard to Leave
It was emotionally draining to leave Cuenca today. Alfredo made us feel like family and during our stay in Cuenca, his immediate and extended family opened their hearts and homes to us. They showered us with kindness and hospitality.
We arrived outside of Alfredo’s house five days ago, after a rough night camped in high winds and difficult climb over a pass into Cajas National Park. After ringing the bell at his door, he enthusiastically waved at us from a second story window. Upon opening the door he bellowed “Sarita y Panchito¹, bienvenido!” He had us settled, showered and fed in short order — the perfect trifecta for a cycle tourist.
He and Gladys acted as tour guides for the next several days and everywhere we went, Alfredo seemed to know someone. We met several of his sisters over the course of our stay (he is one of 15 children) and visited the house he grew up in (a 21! room house in the old part of the city).
Cuenca is a livable, beautiful city and has become a destination for retiring foreigners. Cuencanos half-jokingly call it Gringolandia due to the foreign influx and make a distinction between Gringos (North Americans) and Europeos (Europeans).
Sarah and I seriously discussed the possibility of staying for a few months while we walked the city one day. Alfredo is adding an apartment on to his house and made the offer to finish it so we could stay. We ran through many scenarios but unfortunately, if we stayed in Cuenca, the timing would off for us to arrive at the tip of South America during the weather sweet-spot of Summer/early Fall. If we had arrived in Cuenca three to fives months on either side of July, we probably would have stayed. If we stopped now, we’d be rooted for about a year.
The leaving was not made any easier by our (diminished) conditioning and the weather. It was a dreary, overcast day to start and seemed to taunt us by turning windy, cold and rainy as we climbed. Our relative lack of riding over the past month was apparent by the burning in the legs and the gasping for breath like a fish out of water. This combination only contributed to my funk.
My mood only slightly improved after we set up camp and Sarah brewed up her new hot concoction of panela (unrefined whole cane sugar) and raw, unsweetened chocolate (fermented and processed cacao beans) from Glady’s family farm.
What day is it again?
Today was our 8th wedding anniversary. Both of us probably would have forgotten the date if Don and Veronica (another group of Alfredo’s friends we met) had not asked us how long we’ve been married and my parent’s email wishing us a happy day. Being out on the road, we’ve lost a sense of the days of the week (different from our old “working for the weekend” lives) and seasons. The latter is due to the weather, temperatures and daylight hours we are experiencing that are different from our accustomed calendar month.
For example, while we were miserably sweltering away in Central America, friends and family in the northeast part of the USA were living through one of the coldest winters in recent history. Currently, near the equator we’re experiencing short days (roughly 12 hours of sunlight) and colder weather due to the altitude, which makes it feel as if it is fall or winter back in the States, while a majority of the USA is sweltering through longs days of summer. Days of the week are nearly meaningless now, except for the rare occasion we need to enter a bank (closed on Sundays) and use a teller. However the biggest sense of reality distortion occurred during the final of the World Cup. Time seemed to stop.
We were sitting in Alfredo’s kitchen, which overlooks the corner of two busy streets, watching the match. Day and night there is always traffic noise. Looking down onto the street from the second story window, there are always pedestrians walking, from early morning to late at night. Except during the World Cup final.
Red Card: Daily Life
The street was spookily quiet, which drew my attention. During all of the World Cup matches, while in Colombia and Ecuador, daily life slowed to focus on the games. This time it was different. There was no car, bus, motorcycle or truck traffic, expect between periods— absolutely none. Likewise, there was not a single soul walking the streets.
At first, I thought I missed the Rapture. Which couldn’t be all that bad because “Fab Five Freddie told me everybody’s fly” according to the song Rapture by the group Blondie. I immediately regretted not raking in the cash by starting copy-cat insurance scheme like After The Rapture Pet Care Company. This surreal scene soon ended.
After the match, people were back out on the street and traffic resumed rumbling the windows as it passed by.
¹-ita and -ito are diminutives and also terms of endearment. For example perro (dog) becomes perrito (puppy); casa (house) becomes casita (small house, cottage). Since leaving the USA I’ve been using my middle name, Francis, when introducing myself because it is easier to pronounce in Spanish, “Francisco”. The nickname for Francisco is Pancho, which becomes Panchito.