Monday, January 9, 2017

Tienda Shelf

The people of Cuenca keep surprising me in the most awesome ways.

Many gringos have never been to Feria Libre, the largest mercado in the city.
For many the place is intimidating. For one thing, it's huge and easy to get lost in.
Also, there's no place in the city more steeped in local ambiance and filled with local people.
Everywhere you turn is a bustle of commerce - people, pushcarts, cars, dogs, trucks, whatever.

Everything under the sun is for sale. Things you don't recognize and things never seen before.
People come up to you with their wears in hand, asking if you'd like to buy.
Nothing has a price on it - you must know Spanish to make your way around.
Shoppers flow in interpenetrating streams every which way.
For tall gringos, it can be an extra-interesting obstacle course
since there are canopies and other kinds of sunshades held up by ropes to protect the vendors.
Those shades are often below 6 feet in height. Don't be looking at the aquacate and walk into a rope!

Added to this, many gringos fear the place as if to go there is to make oneself a target -
not only for price-gouging but for crime. I've always felt safe there, and as far as
price-gouging, if you know Spanish and don't act like you just got off the boat from Fresno,
you can negotiate appropriately -- especially since as a buyer you always have the power to walk away to another vendor. 
You can also stand back behind a local who's buying something and see what price they get --
the merchant is more on the hook to then offer you the same for the same thing.

True, a gringo will really stand out - simply because there are so few of them there.
Most times I walk all throughout the place without ever seeing another gringo.
But be realistic -- if you're a gringo, you stand out everywhere, even at Goza or Sunrise Cafe.
For many, the familiar US-style supermarket comforts of SuperMaxi are much preferred.
Granted, after one has shopped at Feria Libre, you feel like you've been on some sort of ride,
especially if you hit it on weekends or Wednesdays when vendors from outside the city and the coast travel in to set up shop.
They should have t-shirts -- "I've survived the Feria Libre ride!"
Fortunately for me, I really enjoy the ride.

But this post is really not about that.
It's really about the people of Cuenca.
And yes, they keep surprising me in the most awesome ways.
Today I finished my shopping and walked out of Feria Libre with a full backpack and another shoulder bag stuffed with fruits and vegetables and chicken -- and out of nowhere, a man, walking with another man on the sidewalk coming the other way from me, lit up with a big smile and raised his hand to get my attention. When I glanced at him coming my way, he smiled even broader and proudly, in obviously well-rehearsed English, called out to me..."Enjoy the city!"
The exchange was so genuine and friendly - typical of so many Cuencanos.
I smiled and gave him a thumbs up and to reciprocate called back to him 
in my best, rehearsed Spanish, "Gracias! Que tengas un buen dia!"

It only took a few moments in passing. 
It was nothing he had to do. He had nothing to try to sell me. 
There was no other agenda than to be friendly. 
It was an awesome surprise at the end of a busy shopping trip that brightened my day.
I call it a surprise, but the longer I live among the wonderful people of Cuenca, the less I'm finding I'm surprised. 
And that's a very good thing. "Que buena!"

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Midnight in Cuenca, Ecuador - the start of 2017 could have been called the "Battle of Cuenca" for the sheer volume of fireworks set off. Fireworks are common for all kinds of occasions in Cuenca and it is not unusual on any night to have colorful bursts in the sky coming from one direction or another. But this was orders of magnitude different - definitely THE night for fireworks. This is all the more amazing since all of this is done by individuals in their neighborhoods - none of these displays are officially organized fireworks put on by city government. 

The video starts about five to seven minutes before midnight. Only about 1/4 of Cuenca is visible to give perspective but the uproar of fireworks that ensues gives you a good idea what it was like over the whole city. The skies were clear when all of this began. Afterwards, the whole city was under a drifting battle haze. Along with the fireworks, it is also traditional to burn life-size effigies in the streets and parks of whoever from the past year you'd like to burn and then jump over the flaming carcass to say good riddance!  Also in the sky were flame-lighted balloon-lanterns that gained altitude and glided with the breezes - the video ends on one of them. Great fun!