Tuesday, February 14, 2017

¡Cuenca, Cuenca!: 5 things I've learned about Ecuador

CGEE Student Voice
Environmentalism in Ecuador series
by Steven Beardsley

The City of Cuenca
By Marc Figueras (Oersted) (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
I've been in Cuenca for the past 5 days or so after taking a plane from Minneapolis at 5:00 in the morning, enduring an 8 hour layover in Miami, and then taking my final plane from Miami to Quito. When I arrived in Quito, the taxi driver took me to Color House Petite, my hostel in Quito. I should preface that this part of the journey had been planned while the rest of it had changed a month ago. I had booked a round trip ticket, but Cuenca's airport decided to close before September which meant my only options were to take a van or a bus from either Quito or Guayaquil to Cuenca. I opted for a bus and what follows are my 5 takeaways from that incredible journey and first impressions about the people and culture of Ecuador.

1. ¡Cuenca, Cuenca!

The kitchen I share with my roommate in Cuenca
The first thing I noticed while getting on the bus was a door that separated the bus occupants from the two drivers. Yes, the bus had 2 drivers because they would switch driving while the other would collect change and yell out the door for people who wanted to get on throughout the journey. It was also common for vendors to get on the bus with snacks that cost between 50 cents to 1 dollar. I thought that was convenient since the bus only stopped once during the entire 9 hour trip. Also, unlike the U.S. where a bus will continue to a place with empty seats, buses will continually pick up and drop off travelers all along the trip. I found this particularly amusing especially when 30 people had bought their bus tickets at the terminal when only 13 people (including myself) had actually showed up. To get peoples' attention the other bus driver will also shout out the door "¡Cuenca, Cuenca!" if anyone was heading to the city.

2. Ecuadorian people are very nice
Front view of the "Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción"
or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception,
also known as the New Cathedral of Cuenca
Something I heard a lot about Latin America is that the people there are typically very warm and nice. I have lived in Murcia, Spain for 6 months and had heard the same about Spaniards, but the help I got from Ecuadorians while traveling alone was astounding. For instance, my taxi driver to the Quito bus terminal accompanied me all the way to my bus, helping me buy a ticket and making sure I got there safely. When I was on the bus from Quito to Cuenca I met a mother, her child, and a grandmother who talked to me. It turned out that they were a family of teachers, and they actually drove me all the way to my flat once I arrived at the Cuenca bus terminal.

3. Showers in Ecuador are a lot colder

On a bridge in front of el Río Tomebamba:
one of the four rivers of Cuenca
I noticed this in my hostel at Quito but especially in Cuenca where the bathroom in my flat basically consisted of a shower head that looked like a large fire alarm with no curtain or bathtub (my roommate got the better bathroom with an actual bathtub). I was surprised to find out that lower pressure allows for hotter water, but generally Ecuadorians take shorter showers. Here is an interesting article about how cold water is good for you and the benefit of taking shorter showers in general: 7 reasons why taking Cold Showers are good for you.

Liquid yogurt in a bag; it goes well with granola or cereal
4. Most things come in Bags
From mustard to tomato sauce to yogurt, practically everything comes in a bag. Yes, that includes milk which is similar to Canada in that respect. I also noticed that because everything comes in plastic bags the trash is usually sorted into black bags as any kind of trash including compostable material and blue bags including anything that can be recyclable. I find this interesting since people usually just leave their bags outside their apartments or homes to be collected during the week.

5. Sustainability in Cuenca?

So far I've noticed quite a few things such as the lack of packaging and cardboard to how Cuenca sorts their trash. Unlike Spain with its different colored receptacles, it seems that Cuenca only separate trash and general recyclables as I mentioned before. I did notice that the toilets operate on using less water for liquids and more water for solids. At the same time, a considerable issue I've noticed about Cuenca is how the narrow streets create a lot of traffic with buses and cars that spew noxious fumes. It's so bothersome that people who sell things on the street actually cover their faces with scarves or even wear masks. I hope to learn more about sustainability in Cuenca and even visit some of the nearby national parks.

A view of Cuenca and the surrounding Mountains on top of CEDEI where I will be teaching

That being said, the water here is much safer then other parts of Ecuador (like Quito and Guayaquil) since we live about 8,000 feet about sea level and get our water from the Mountains. If you want to learn more about Cuenca, Ecuador you can check out this link: Cuenca, Ecuador.

Otherwise, I hope to continue blogging about the things I'm learning both from living and teaching here to meeting people and learning more about the culture. I plan to blog at least once a month depending on my schedule. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post.

¡Hasta Luego!-Until then!

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