Have Walker, Will Travel

By Mildred Boyd

Cuenca, Ecuador


elderly-womanIllness is a real bummer when you are on vacation. It took a visit to the Doctor and several gallons of Gatorade before I was able to sit up, take notice and venture out into this new Equatorial world I had come so far to visit. I must say it was well worth the effort.

Cuenca is a beautiful city. Though it sits at an altitude of 8,200 feet, the true Andes still tower in the distance and closer, heavily forested peaks surround a city filled with flowers, lush foliage and nearly half a million people. Imagine an Alpine valley filled with tropical vegetation and you will know what it looks like.

One of the most charming features is the mountain streams that give the city its full name, Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca. Each stream forms a narrow green belt of parkland all along its banks and is spanned at intervals by gracefully arched bridges.

One of these, the Tomebamba, was just across the street from my bedroom window, and watching the passing parade along its banks was one of the first things that caught my interest. I could see how much the local people use and enjoy them.

Women came with loads of laundry, laughing and gossiping while they stood knee deep in the swift current as they soaped the clothing and slapped it over handy granite boulders to get it clean. They helped each other to wring out the heavier towels and bedspreads. Other large boulders served as handy drying racks for the brightly colored garments, giving the place a festive air.Still other rocks provided seating and tables for picnic lunches while the tropical sun dried the clothes.

Small children were bathed in the stream while older ones splashed happily about ‘helping’ with the work or, like children everywhere, just getting underfoot. In their midst, stray dogs dashed in and out of the roaring torrent, pausing only to give anyone nearby an unscheduled shower. Pets being taken for walks plunged in to retrieve some bit of flotsam or a thrown stick to drop proudly at their master’s feet.

In many ways, the place reminded me of our own corner of paradise, Ajijic. Although it is some 3,000 feet higher, Cuenca is only three degrees from the Equator and has a mild climate with sunny days, cool nights and an average temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also two seasons: rainy and dry.

Architecture is very similar although their designs incorporate more wood. Judy’s and Allen’s (my daughter and son in law) condo boasts gorgeous, golden-brown hardwood floors with inlaid designs of reddish and yellowish woods and beautifully carved wooden doors and trims are everywhere.

Best of all for the handicapped, although the streets are paved with stone, very few are cobbled. Most are covered with lovely flat flagstones that made getting around with my walker a delight rather than a chore.

What did I see? That will have to wait until next time.

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