You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
So let me take you then with me on my (brief) journey to and from school (the one where I now work, not the one that I attend ~ if you catch my drift). Since early January I have been teaching at a language school here in Cuenca. We usually work three classes a day (or two a day and a Saturday or other variations), and your shift depends upon numerous things, none of which I have quite figured out. Anyway, my first class begins at 7:00. A.M. Yep, 7:00 A.M. !!!!! I decided to walk to work if the weather permitted, so this means crawling (almost literally) out of bed around 4:45 so that I can get a cup of tea, maybe a piece or two of toast, shower and generally try to understand that I have to be up and not crawl directly back into bed again.
Our living room and kitchen looks directly out towards the Yungilla, situated as it is on Mariscal Lamar. Due to the fact that Cuenca sits in a bowl (Cuenca actually means a bowl in Spanish ~ or a derivative so I am led to believe) we are higher than Gran Colombia and have an (as yet) unobstructed view out towards the valley. As I begin contemplating getting out of the front door the view is beyond description. It is ever changing due to cloud formations, the sun (or lack of) the low clouds, or even the heavy rain clouds that have been lingering for these many days past.
Time to go. Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Money? Check. I-pod? Double check. What shall I listen to this time? Has to be something with a beat, walking to school I don’t want to sit down by the river and listen to classical music. Moby? Fatboy Slim? Orbital maybe? Ministry of Sound usually has something for me. I must have about 15 or more albums with this club music. Electronic Anthems of the 80’s I and II will do the trick.
I say good morning to the guard at the gate, usually waking him from his slumber, as he lets me out of the front gate. I then turn right, down towards town. I then turn right on one of the unnamed streets, (or if it is, I can’t find it on the map), and good luck to finding name plates on a corner somewhere. I guess Cuencanos have this inbuilt sense of knowing the exact name of every street in town from the moment that they are born. Down the hill (more on that later) and on to Gran Colombia and cross over towards the Jefferson Perez Coliseum. Turning left on 3rd de Noviembre the river is now on my right. I have chosen (subconsciously at first) to stay on the left side of the street, and pass by the school (two actually I’ll have to remember them on the way home today ~ Colegio Nacional & Colegio San Padre Corazon ~ I think ~ because that sign is behind a very large tree/bush and it’s hard to read), the second of which finds an elderly lady who might be 60 or 80 (or older) I have no idea setting up here roadside stand. She now greets me as I do her. Both of us have something which requires us being out earlier than most. She is there most of the day although she must leave between first class and lunch time as she has gone by the time I return home in the morning but there again both when I return to school and when I make my way home again.
The guy at the Lavado Otorongo now waves at me as I pass and we exchange occasionally “buenas dias” if he is within earshot. A little further on and the sights and smells of the comidas begin to fill the air, I can smell the early cooking for the almuerzos, some probably just breakfast smells from the houses along the street.
The city seems to wake from its slumber (although I am sure that there are many more people up and around and doing things than I see) at this time of day. Kids off to school catching the bus, arriving on the yellow Escolar Bus, or just walking. I walk down toward the Otorongo, knowing that I need to be there around 30 minutes past the hour and I am usually, meaning that I am on time perhaps with a bit to spare. The daylight, this being almost on the equator, is now rising quickly and the mountains around town are bathed in the early morning light, or covered in mist and cloud. I cross the river at the new pedestrian bridge opposite the new square, or cross about another 150 yards or so at the traffic bridge at Ave. Loja.
Pedestrian traffic is now getting a bit heavier as I near the University on Ave. 12 de Abril. Crossing Loja and passing the University the river is now on my left. I pass the lady setting up her newsstand. Again another buenas dias. Just past the University (well at the edge really) they are rebuilding the auditorium (I think it is). Lots of construction work and these guys are already at it by 6:30 or getting ready for the day at least. Turning right on Ave. Cueva, then left again on who knows what it is called and then right on Federico Proano, on which the school is located. I teach my first class which ends at 8:15 and as my next class isn’t until 3:00 p.m. I head back home. For the time being at least, as our Spanish classes are due to start in the next 2 weeks so I am not sure if I will find time to get back home, we’ll see.
The city is now beginning to become more like most other cities in that shops are starting to open and more and more people are around. Of course now the route is reversed and I choose to walk along the river. There are trucks parked by the bridge as I go from 12 de Abril to 3rd de Noviembre at Loja, and again what started as a morning nod, and a buenas dias, has now become a handshake and a really “good morning” and there is one guy who speaks a little English (still better than my Spanish more is the pity) with whom I exchange a few words daily. I know he likes fishing and lives out towards Sayausi because he told me that he lived 30 minutes away from town towards the Cajas. “Oh Sayausi?” I asked. He is amazed that I know. Now his friends all stop and shake hands. They are still there in the early afternoon, waiting maybe to either load or unload their trucks, perhaps both. And usually in early evening too as I make my way home at around 6:00 after the last of my two classes finish.
I forgot to tell you that the last part of my walk home is directly vertical. Or it seems so. Hors Categorie for Tour de France enthusiasts. For anyone who knows the town, they know where I am speaking of; it is as you come up from Gran Colombia back towards Mariscal Lamar. I am now half mountain goat it seems; I swear that I am developing cloven hooves. Returning to school around 2:00 or so, the streets are very busy, what with school doing two “shifts” as it were with some kids (the younger ones I think) going from 7-12 and the older from 1-6. The University now is a hive of activity. I actually am not too fond of the way back to school it is too “busy” as it were. Still the evenings coming home, as the sun is beginning to set over the Cajas, the people going home from work, the kids getting out of school, the vendors finally finishing up their trade and calling it a day. The kids waiting for the bus excited to be out of school at least for one more day, the men playing volleyball along the river, with vendors selling food courtside, the families all watching with seriousness (or as serious as one can be watching 40-50 year old men playing Ecuaball) and a general hive of day finishing activities.
Almost home the uphill beckons me. She seems to dare me to try one more time. I succeed. The walk in to work takes about 25 minutes early doors, about 30 minutes in the afternoon, but the return is about 30 or so going home early morning and about 40 in the evening. By now of course it has been about a 13 hour day, 3 classes and a total of maybe a 6 mile walk thrown in for good measure. Who said retirement is about taking it easy? But I wouldn’t miss it though. The city waking up, the people whom I have gotten to “know,” mostly the same faces early morning and later in the day, some different faces of course. The sights and sounds of the ever changing river and the landscape. Every day is really a new day, both physically and literally. I trudge home a bit weary but really happy that I chose Cuenca for my home. It is different things to different people, the same which surely applies to wherever one calls home. But I think that I have seen a lot more of the inner and outer of the city for want of better descriptions, its people and it way of living and breathing than most. For that I am very, very grateful. I am one of the lucky ones. Every day I look out of the window and thank whatever fate that it was that made me find Cuenca.