International Writers Magazine:
through the Rotary
morning. Thats always my answer whenever Im asked what
tops my list about Cuenca. Most would lean towards the citys
colonial architecture, numerous museums, varied greenspace, or even
its four rivers if they had to choose their favorite part of the
capital of Ecuadors Azuay province. I, on the other hand,
run with Sunday for one important reason: the streets are practically
empty during the AM hours.
Maybe the partiers
are just getting home, hardly removed from painting the tranquil town
red? Or, perhaps others are packing the pews or simply sleeping in?
I am not sure why the majority of cuencanos dont go on early Sunday
strolls, but I what I do know is that I like the extra legroom.
For this reason, I can usually meander along the narrow, cobblestone
sidewalks without bumping into passing pedestrians; something thats
virtually impossible during the rest of the week. Moreover, due to this
absence of amblers, I dont have to worry about speeding up, downshifting,
waiting, dodging, bobbing, and weaving to avoid contact with other walkers.
I can truly appreciate the community which Ive been calling home
for almost a year by traipsing about and taking pictures at my own pace.
Well, this had been true until recently
Annoyed and on the verge of anger, I stayed right on Sheiks hip
as we snaked our way through the human traffic that was jamming central
Cuenca. We both couldnt believe how many foot-travelers were out
and about on this sopping Sunday morn. In addition, while the two of
us swerved around countless individuals, my Costa Rican neighbor and
I tried to guess the reason for the unusual crowds that filled the drizzly
byways. And after noticing the overabundance of parents with their youngsters
rambling on the wet roads, we finally concluded that they mustve
been school shopping. Most of the learning institutions, in fact, were
starting their fall classes the next day.
Pressing on, my lanky, graying companion and I fought our way north
on Hermano Miguel, constantly scanning over the endless sea of dark-haired
heads to prepare for the two-legged obstacles in front of us. As a result,
Sheik and I cautiously zigzagged to Gaspar Sangurima, but we werent
done. The two of us had to continue our battle eastward for a pair of
blocks before reaching our stopping point at last.
In spite of arriving
at the Plaza Rotary, which was our objective, I still knew we had a
long way to go. I never forgot during this distracting morning that
I was accompanying Sheik on an errand run and, therefore, predicted
that our lengthy journey to this maze of kiosks would soon seem like
a millisecond. Furthermore, I suddenly remembered something that my
friend, José, had told me about his days with my next-door neighbor
in the Galápagos, on San Cristóbal Island.
For six years, Mr.
Martínez strode shotgun with Sheik on a daily basis, accompanying
her on what must have been thousands of struts across Puerto Baquerizo
Morenos malecón. Even though this boardwalk wasnt
any longer than a couple of city blocks, it was lined with crafts stores,
restaurants, and other small businesses; all run by people who knew
Sheik or occupied by browsers who would soon get to know her. Consequently,
José endured eternities of listening to his dark-featured friend,
nodding whenever asked for confirmation about one of her stories as
well as endlessly being introduced to tourists and persons hed
probably already been introduced to.
In truth, I recalled José telling me that it was common for him
to spend an entire morning with Sheik as she conversed her way from
one end of the planked beachfront stretch to the other. And in spite
of the fact that I hadnt personally run the gabbed gauntlet with
Sheik in Charles Darwin land, I had nonetheless been there before.
Living alongside my long-haired friend for 10-plus months, I was all
too familiar with Sheiks tendency to chat with almost every person,
plant, animal, and inanimate object she happened to come across while
wandering through Cuenca. Knowing what to expect, I, therefore, entered
the colorful labyrinth of arts and crafts sporting a smile. Although
I was sure I was going to be there for a good while, I was also certain
that I would be entertained.
Immediately, I saw that my neighbor stayed true to form. During our
first half-hour under the soaked tarps of the Plaza Rotary, Sheik and
I managed to saunter past a stunning total of six of the dozens of wooden
stands dominating the cement lot that we slowly stepped across. While
I patiently listened and occasionally offered my opinion, I carefully
observed my friend in action, paying close attention to the way she
interacted with those around her. And right away, I saw Sheiks
trademark moves that Id grown accustomed to.
For example, my pal never really looked at the merchandise. If not asking
to take a picture, the high-pitched Tica always got her foot in the
door by pretending to hold up a souvenir, turning it at various angles
in front of her face, and then questioning the booth owners for the
items price. From there, her magnetism would kick in.
Within minutes, Sheik would have her spindly arms wrapped around an
elderly Ecuadorian woman, embracing her newfound friend and laughing
loudly. I must have heard a handful of the stout, weathered women tell
Sheik about their families and how far they had come to get where they
were. On a couple of occasions, I stood in awe, watching how quickly
the conversations transformed from professional to personal. Sheik just
had a way with people and it was fun for me to take in.
Unsurprisingly, the next couple of hours occurred in the same fashion.
Be that as it may, I entertained myself by not only watching many more
Sunday shoppers and workers find themselves abruptly involved with Sheik,
but also snapping quite a few photos of one of the municipalitys
most popular marketplaces. All in all, I was content roving the Rotary.
When we finally left the plaza, I chuckled while listening to my neighbor
gripe about not finding anything that caught her eye. I laughed because
I knew that Sheik was never in it for the product, she was in it for
Someone may think this is strange, but not me. Ive always been
able to see how much people are in to her too.
Nelson November 2008
Breathing in dust and pouring out sweat, I trudged along the sultry
gravel road beneath my feet. I pressed on, walking a tightrope on the
Fighting off a fierce caffeine headache that made my previous 2
hours on the bus from Quito agonizing, I struggled to keep up with Andrew
as we proceeded south on Bolívar.
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