Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some Differences

I toured Cuenca last Saturday.  I shed the notion I’m too cool for such plebian activity long enough to climb aboard a red-colored tour bus parked right downtown. It carried us through narrow streets and onto mountain terrain where panoramic views of Cuenca awaited. 

Most of the people on the bus were Spanish speaking tourists or Ecuadorians and almost everyone was taking pictures. Cuenca is an old city built of tile and brick and it’s evident everywhere. I did see new apartment buildings.  Modern office buildings dot the city in lots of places that would fit well into the urban landscape of any city.

Cuenca is a city of contrasts. I saw women washing clothes in the river while later I spied two people in white coats standing in front of a pharmacy.

I don’t see antique furniture in Cuenca.  Most people in the city are far too poor for a market in antiques to exist. I see lots of stores selling new well- made furniture.  Sometimes the ATM machines don’t work until later and sometimes connections to the internet are down or slow to access. People in Cuenca don’t deposit used toilet paper into toilet bowels because doing so would clog the city’s sewer system. It’s put into little plastic garbage cans situated next to the toilet.

I don’t take hot water showers here in Cuenca. The water temperature is somewhere from cold to lukewarm. In the house where I live the cooking and heating is powered by propane tank fuel and I assume it’s the same for most other households in Ecuador.
People driving cars don’t make a big deal out of waiting for pedestrians as do American drivers. It’s best in Ecuador to let traffic pass before crossing the street.  On the other hand, pedestrians cross the street when a break in traffic occurs.  Police and security guard presence in Cuenca is heavy compared to that of any city I’ve seen in the states.  Most carry shotguns or rifles in full view and guard stores, banks and sometimes it seems nothing specific.

Prices and costs in Ecuador are very low compared to those in America. Before I moved to Cuenca, I’d heard this is true. Personal experience drives the news home much more tellingly.  I dined at a fine restaurant and the cost of the meal was $8.00. In a similarly well-appointed restaurant in San Mateo that same meal would have cost at least $20. It’s better to buy with coins or one dollar bills for a service or product in Cuenca. Merchants not infrequently don’t have change for $10 or $20 bills. The most commonly used currency here is the one dollar coin.  

Flower shops abound in Cuenca and it seems they get a lot of business. I often see people carrying bouquets of flowers. A low fee modern medical clinic near where I live serves anyone who goes inside with health concerns. I went there for relief from insomnia.  The charge for the doctor’s consultation was $40 and the prescribed medication cost $60.00. That night I slept the whole night through.  Many vendors sell food on the streets in downtown Cuenca. I pay whatever a vendors tells me the item costs, but I’ve been told I can bargain for lower charges. 

I don’t see evidence of social discontent in Ecuador.  I saw a small march in downtown Cuenca one day and the people were Catholics carrying statues and crosses. I have seen no evidence of people pushing for social change with actions like a march for gay rights or a demonstration to oppose abortion.  Children in Ecuador wear uniforms to school. 
Frequently after the evening meal I’m in my room upstairs in the house where I live.  I can hear the Fernandez de Cordova-Lafebre family members in the kitchen laughing and talking and they can keep up the merriment for hours.