International Writers Magazine. Ecuador:
Afternoon in Azogues
not a superstitious man. In fact, I think its funny that my
so-called 16-unit building really only has fifteen apartments. This
is because there is no Room 13. My credulous landlord, Dolores,
skipped it when numbering the apartments many years ago.
I wasnt surprised by the fact that I didnt see her at
all during the second Friday of the month, which was the 13th of
June. The elderly owner was probably holed up in her house on the
complex grounds, anxiously gripping a crucifix and hoping for the
clock to strike midnight.
Instead of hiding
in my apartment, waiting for Friday the 13th to pass by, I, on the other
hand, convinced my next-door neighbor, Sheik, to take advantage of the
beautiful afternoon that was spoiling us. Nevertheless, despite my cynicism
towards superstition, our excursion did get off to a bit of an unlucky
As my lanky, dark-featured friend and I made our way through Cuencas
bustling terminal terrestre, I felt a slight tug on my backpack. Assuming
that my neighbor simply bumped into me, I thought nothing of the nudge.
However, when we took our bus seats a few minutes later, I noticed that
my water bottle was missing. To begin with, I didnt hear anything
fall behind me. And given that the side compartment of my bag was elastic
and always clung tightly to its contents, I assumed that someone had
taken my drink. Although it was only a plastic container, I was still
bothered because it was the first time in my nine months in Ecuador
that something had been stolen from me.
"Maybe it happened because its Friday the thirteenth?"
I jokingly pondered aloud.
"Dont be silly! It happened because you were walking through
a busy bus terminal, where things often get stolen from people WHO ARENT
PAYING ATTENTION," Sheik affirmed. "At least it was only water.
Worse things have happened."
"Youre right. Its just sad, thats all,"
While I quickly shook off the incident at the station, a 31-kilometer,
whiplash-inducing bus ride along the Pan-American took my Costa Rican
friend and me out of the Azuay province and into the lush hills northeast
of Cuenca. Prior to arrival, the only things I had heard about our destination
were that the city was known for exporting loads of Panama hats and
it was home to my friend, Andrews (fellow English teacher at my
school), favorite Ecuadorian soccer team. Sheik knew even less. For
these reasons, we wandered aimlessly into Azogues, thankful for our
sunglasses, which protected our eyes from the blazing sun above, and
simply wanting to see what the capital of the Cañar province
(one of 24 regions that divide the country) had to offer.
Sheik and I very much enjoyed the townships (30,000 residents)
central plaza. Marked by its skyscraping palms, blooming shrubbery,
and spotless walkways, this tiny square proved to be beauteous and
pacifying. We found the antiquated, brick church that overlooked
the pretty park to be worthy of a few snapshots as well. Similarly,
the two of us were impressed by the balcony-bearing streets surrounding
the square, which were lined with well-preserved, traditional buildings
that proudly displayed their colonial architecture. These time-tested
structures appeared to be hundreds of years old, most likely erected
shortly after the founding of Azogues, which occurred in the mid-1500s.
In addition, my
graying companion and I stopped by the pueblos most famous landmark,
the Iglesia de San Francisco de la Virgen de las Nubes, which can easily
be seen on the towns steep hill from the Pan-American Highway.
While my 52-year-old neighbor nursed her arthritic knee at the base
of the steps, I ascended endless flights of stone stairs (lined with
many gold plaques depicting religious scenes) to finally arrive at the
magnificent chapels entrance. Standing at the enormous archway
to the churchs nave, I gazed at its pair of neck-breaking, cross-adorning
towers. Moreover, the intricately-sculpted facade was decorated with
many circular, stained glass windows, as well as several ornate, yet
false columns. Not only was its construction remarkable, but the cathedral
also provided outstanding vistas of the municipality below. I was able
to get a good glimpse of the colorful capital as well as the surrounding
Andes from the churchs excellent viewpoint.
this town was reasonably defined by its high holy house, I actually
found the true highpoint of Azogues to be its charming cemetery,
which rested near the eastern end of the city. As a matter of fact,
the color of death in this community wasnt black; it was a
cheerful orange, brilliant blue and pearly white.
Stumbling upon this hidden gem, Sheik and I were actually taken
aback by the delightful burial ground.
"The joy of the afterlife," the Tica said while chuckling.
"Its beautiful, dont you think?"
"Of course. I feel weird saying this, but the cemetery is the
best part of Azogues," I honestly answered.
In truth, this
necropolis had a tropical feeling to it. The entrance was marked by
two enticing arches, which not only sported a vibrant orange hue on
their undersides, but were also bordered by a striking shade of sky
blue. Furthermore, the comely curves introduced us to a pleasing palm
tree, which was a splendid centerpiece for this city of the dead. And
as we continued to amble past several mausoleums, hundreds of headstones,
and thousands of niches, the two of us couldnt believe how well-kept
the cemetery was. Not only were the pinkish brick paths lined with neatly-trimmed,
healthy lawns and countless tombs decorated with fresh flowers, the
entire area was also immaculate. To that end, I shouldnt have
been surprised to see a woman armed with a spray bottle and rag, carefully
cleaning each sepulcher she came upon. This potters field, in
reality, was so impressive that it almost encouraged one to give up
to ghost right then and there. I couldnt recall ever smiling in
a cemetery before.
my next-door neighbor and I had our fill of the funerary grounds
and, therefore, left the site quite satisfied. Conversely, our departure
from Azogues turned out to be rather abrupt.
Noticing a bus exiting the terminal from a half-block away, we sprinted
to the station and hurriedly hopped onto the southbound coach just
in time-only to see that every seat was occupied. It was a tad tiresome
standing all the way to Cuenca.
Despite our disappointing exit, however, Sheik and I felt that our
visit to Cañars capital was very worthwhile, especially
its final resting place.
And even though I doubt that Id ever want to return to dust
there, Im certain that Ill return to Azogues nonetheless.
© Tyrel Nelson
We finally pulled into a small, dusty lot in front of a giant, light-blue
church, which sat atop a small hill a few miles southwest of Cuenca.
Walk in El Cajas
With some free time at last, I felt relieved as the monstrous bus
roared westward through the green hills just outside of Cuenca.
© Images Nuryajans
Sheik Valverde and Tyrel Nelson 2008
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