Cuenca is easily the most European looking city we visited on our travels in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It owes this distinction mostly to its historic architecture and overall city structure with its many public squares. Luckily, the city boasts an ideal climate thanks to its location in the Andes – almost 70-degrees (Fahrenheit) year-round – that allows us to stay outdoors searching for the next gorgeous building. We spend the entire first afternoon with our necks cricked toward the sky, eyes on the decadent trims, wainscotings, archways, gables, turrets, and domes. The buildings in their pastel hues look like little cakes topped with layer over layer of just-swiped frosting.
Our camera possesses almost no photographs from this first afternoon – and not because of the travel fatigue I talked about a few days ago. No, it holds no photographs because we were too busy holding hands and taking in the city’s beauty to remember to take photographs. This is how I know we will go back someday.
The second day we take it easy. The markets are open, but not bustling, and we take our time wandering through them – smelling flowers, thumbing the stitching on wool garments, and running our hands over the brims of panama hats. The quiet of the markets feels off to me. It isn’t a relaxed kind of quiet but more of a bored kind of quiet. This is where it diverges from other cities we’ve visited. With just 500K people, the city never reaches that electric vibe of places like Berlin or even Cartagena. Obviously, I do not blame the city for being small; I like small cities. I do, however, recognize this as where the travel fatigue fully takes over my brain and supplants joy with discontent.
I start to notice other things that aren’t exactly negatives: rain showers and the prevalence of English in both signage and overheard conversations. For better or worse, Cuenca is a mecca for expats and American retirees for many of the good reasons I mentioned above. This is both convenient and a little disappointing for me. I tend not to enjoy too much English in my travels because it takes away from the overall atmosphere of being in a foreign place even if it is easier to order food or figure out public transportation. This, for many people, would be a positive and for that I cannot hold it against the city either.
The final blurb I recall clearly – and happily – is the more genteel nature of the men and women, especially in comparison to the more brusque attitudes I have gotten used to over the years.
– M. Ray Hall