Equador - Tomar lo Lento

My fondness for Cuenca increases with each passing day.  The city has served as a fantastic place to park my bike for roughly a month and cram my head with as much Spanish as I can before heading further south. Some days lend a sense of accomplishment and others a sense of stupidity as I struggle to string together a grammatically coherent sentence a three year old can spit out effortlessly. I seem to remind myself daily of one of Michael Jordan's quotes to help keep the fear of failure in check a bit:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."     

poco a poco.

Settling into a routine has been a wonderful luxury with afternoon hours after class spent visiting all of the churches, museums and other less traveled spots throughout the city.  Architecturally, the center of the city is full of one ornately detailed facade after another. 

with La Cathedral Nueva as the definitive centerpiece. I went to Mass one Sunday expecting it to be extremely religious but it was much more causal, focusing on family and living in harmony as a community.  And for all the grandeur of the Cathedral it was nice to see the entire socio-economic cross section of the city present.

It's hard to make headway in Cuenca with camera in hand.

I especially liked many of the column to base transitions. Beautifully artistic and truly wabi-sabi in the imperfections.

And there is an entire world of courtyards just off the main touristic flow.  Some spaces have been glassed over to create additional space while others remain open with vibrant gardens. "Soy architecto" was dropped liberally and always meet with a gracious, warm-hearted nod.

One of my favorite aspects of the city, though, is the rough edged nature to some of the buildings which helped give off a calm authenticity. 

And daily life infills many of these rough spots with tiny places to meet friends and get a bite to eat. 

I was fortunate enough to see Cuenca come alive for its Independence Day celebration (November 03) with a full-on spectacle of parades, music, concerts, traditional food and artisanal crafts spread out over four days. 

I had clearly only scratched the surface on my first wanderings as each new day revealed more and more very well done graffiti. 

A little nod to the Chilean man himself.

Inside the government building adjacent to Parque Calderone are two great art pieces, one of which is a painting that, for me, captures the intertwined relationship between the city and its more traditional beginnings.

The other is a ceramic tile map that abstracts the dependency the city has on the Andes for clean water.  Three of the four rivers that flow through the city and serve as the aquatic lifeblood originate from the surrounding mountains. 

"You live for water, you die for gold." Natural resource extraction with its inherent destruction of the environment and water contamination is a major issue with growing concern over the current government's sell-off of large portions of the countries resources to China.  While extremely challenging for my level of Spanish, "conversations" with my teacher about: Ecuador's resource extraction and exportation; the changing political situations in Latin America; books like The China Study; Señor Monsanto; the effects of animal agriculture, and other global issues have been extremely rewarding.  What has been sacrificed a bit in terms of grammar has been more than made up for in a far richer understanding of Ecuador's place in South America.  

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.  It sounds like Rafael Correa wants to be president for life.  He's probably going to need some more riot police to keep the increasing political discontent at bay.

One of the highlights of the trip and truly my life has been the compassion my Ecuadorian mother Elena (in white) and her family have offered throughout my stay.  Elena has hosted multiple students throughout the years and has one touching and amusing story after another about the people she's nurtured into better Spanish speaking students and definitely into better people.  I am extremely grateful to have been as seamless folded into family dinners, family ciclismos, and especially Día de los Difuntos.  It will be fun to return later in the year for more laughs, stories and coffee around the kitchen table. 

First time on a fat bike for Jose Luis. All smiles.  Next time I'll bring the Fixitsticks so you can sit down buddy...

Sadly, the time has come to follow the summer season down into Argentina, squiggle down to Ushuaia before flipping around and riding north from where I started until the nickels run out. Having just barely scratched the surface on Equador's stretch of the Andes in Cajas, I'm already looking forward to getting lost in the mountains and the wonderful Ecuadorian culture on my return.   

Chao Cuenca.