Grey skies, ex-Pats and Semana Santa

View from my room
View from my room

I have been in Cuenca for 3 days now and have yet to see much blue sky. What is it about grey skies and rain day after day that is so depressing? It has set me thinking about what I am doing here and not back in my own comfortable house with my own things around me. This has been exacerbated by a large repair bill from my property manager, about which I had not been consulted, and has made me wonder what the tenants are doing there. However, no doubt this mood will pass.

In the meantime, I have spent a lot of time in the apartment, which has been home to a Canadian couple for the last 2 months and who left this morning, an American, who has been here a month and a Ukranian lady, who is moving here from the States and who has spent a lot of time talking extremely loudly on Skype, not endearing herself to the rest of us!

Street in Cuenca
Street in Cuenca
Street in Cuenca
Street in Cuenca

There have been some very varied and interesting conversations, particularly with Shirley and Michael, the Canadians, who are well travelled, ex education specialists. Shirley, who started painting as a hobby, is now a professional artist, exhibiting her works, and conducting workshops in her studio at home.

I have also had lunch with them and Paul, the American, in some of the numerous small cafes that offer a daily menu of soup and a main course for $2.75. You can’t get much cheaper than that! The remainder of the time has been spent wandering the streets of Cuenca, which is a lovely old city with historic buildings and 52 churches, all of which our Ukranian friend appears to be intent on seeing.

Folklore Museum in Cuenca
Folklore Museum in Cuenca

It is, of course, Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the church bells rang out on and off all day on Palm Sunday. They were unlike church bells as I know them, though, as they sounded more like chimes. Many people were walking the streets clutching simple bouquets of palm leaves and flowers, including one red one, which were being sold outside the churches. In the evening, there was a candle lit procession along our street, which we could just see by hanging over the balcony. (Unfortunately, as I came back inside, I hadn’t realised that Shirley had closed the ranch slider and I walked straight into it. My nose is still feeling the effect!)

There is a preoccupation with learning Spanish amongst my fellow guests and the sounds emanating from Duolingo prompted me to start again. I became somewhat overwhelmed by my lessons in Quito and have paid little attention to any more learning since then. I have also been discouraged by the attempted conversations with locals on buses as I have found that I can’t bring to mind words that I know, which has been quite frustrating. And as for understanding their answers to my questions… incomprehensible! So, it is back to Duolingo. I have also purchased a book entitled ‘Painless Spanish’ (I think not!) from the English book shop. I am now going to try and make a concerted effort.

The University
The University

Cuenca is home to many American ex-pats, although the only obvious evidence of them that I have observed so far has been at an Italian/Ecuadorian restaurant yesterday that was entirely filled with Americans (and me) and at the aforementioned bookshop, where I shamelessly eavesdropped on conversations. Apparently, there is a member of the American community making public jokes about the life here, which is being taken as fact and offending and upsetting many people to the point that a lawsuit has been taken out. (This story was repeated loudly by the owner to several customers so I had ample opportunity to hear it.)

Whilst it is a very cheap and attractive place to live, I can imagine it would be very hard to integrate with local people, the cultures being so different. Having been very critical of people who immigrate to another country and do not make any attempt to learn the language or assimilate (e.g. British people in Portugal and Spain), I can now quite understand how it happens. I am, of course, being very super hypocritical, as, when I think of my closest friends in N.Z., they are all English, which is not something that happened intentionally but a natural gravitation to people with similar backgrounds.

Enough for one day. On with the Spanish…!

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