Monday, June 6, 2011

Three Weeks In Cuenca

On May 13th Sharon, Feisty ( our 16 year old cat) and I left Sherwood, Oregon for our new life in Cuenca, Ecuador. We flew from Portland to Atlanta. After a 5 hour layover, we traveled on to the port city of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador.  The van we hired didn't show up so we hired a taxi to take the three of us plus multiple bags to Cuenca.  The taxi driver seemed polite, exchanged brief pleasantries with us and the fact that he spoke only a tiny amount of English just as we speak only a little Spanish.  Jose started out as a normal-seeming driver  - we already had experience with the breakneck speeds at which Ecuadorian taxis travel.  We already knew that stop signs seem to be optional.  What we did not expect was that with each 1000 ft rise in altitude, Jose seemed to undergo more and more of a personality change.  Guayaquil is at sea level and Cuenca is at 8200 ft altitude so this became a very drastic change over the 3 hour hair-raising ride.

Sharon busied herself taking photos out the side window to avoid terror of watching things rush at us beyond any possible hope of survival if anything went wrong.  After passing banana fields, papaya trees and sugar cane crops with small villages scattered along low elevations, we began to climb into the Andes. Suddenly we came around a large curve into a full cloud of thick fog.  I mean THICK.  Visibility seemed to be only about 4-5 car-lengths yet, unbelievably, Jose sped up.  He was revving the engine.  I asked if the fog would be all the way to Cuenca and he answered "No, only about 10 minutes."  Well, he was correct, it only lasted 10 minutes and we climbed out of it.  However, not before he managed to pass a slow moving truck on a blind corner where there had been a recent wash out so the road was all washboards. 

At one point, we stopped at a view point, very high in the clouds, and soaked up breath-taking views.  Then it was back to the drive.

To make a long story slightly shorter, this trip ended with 4 things: as we approached the city limits of Cuenca, we called a friend to tell Jose how to find the cottage we had rented.  1) Jose got in an argument with our friend and hung up on him.  We then called another person, a Cuencano who speaks Spanish. 2) Jose picked a fight with him and hung up on him also, expressing that they both did not know how to get to the cottage.  Huh?  They both were at the cottage!  3) Jose rolled down his window and asked a Cuencano taxi driver to show us the cottage - a very good solution, except that once we arrived at the cottage, Jose refused to set our bags out of the car and again argued with the people who were there waiting for us.

And the most amazing part of this story, besides the grace that got us here safely? How long was the trip? EVERYONE told us it would be at least 3 hours and could be as much as 5 depending on herds of goats, landslides and related issues on that spine of the Andes highway. Well, Jose made that3-5 hour trip in an unbelievable 2.5 hours!  We were incredibly glad to see our new home and immediately noted the graciousness and friendliness of the people of Cuenca.  Oh, and that 4th thing?  We both promised each other that our first taxi from Guayaquil to Cuenca is an experience we do not plan to repeat!  Chalk it up to a rite of passage to a new continent, a new country and life in a new city.  We are GLAD to be here!

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