It's easy to get caught up in the craziness.

Cuenca High Life, our online local expat daily, sometimes doesn't publish much if anything on Sunday. I was surprised by this little gem a few minutes ago. Take a few minutes to read this short piece and come back.

Cuenca offers a bouquet of kindness

Robert wrote something I needed so I thought I would share. My experience tracks his as he describes it. I have never lived among people who are so eager to help or just to share a few sentences with an old gringo whose spoken Spanish sucks but often humorously. As it was getting late on Friday evening the crew helping to rehinge and rehang our just refinished massive front door got a good laugh out of my observation, "Cuatro payasos, una obra." [Four clowns, one job.] The job wasn't quite a Marx brothers quality goat rope but close. The remark sure took the frustration out of a more difficult than expected job. Score one for all my work learning Spanish during the past four years.

Three experiences clearly demonstrate Robert's point of his story. What is also clear from the comments to CHL articles is that too many gringo expats brought themselves here with them when they moved to Cuenca. Let's forget that and get on with three short stories.

The night we arrived in Cuenca, Jan. 11, 2018, was cold and raining like hell. The three of us, and four cats along with animal crates and a shit ton of luggage filled every bit of space in a Hyundai H-1 ten passenger van with the driver and co-driver. (I would have to return to Quito to pick up our two pit mixes 48 hours later. That's a story in itself.) We had departed Quito early in the morning following a 10 PM arrival and a few hours to try to sleep at the Wyndham Airport. (Wyndham specializes in accommodating pets of travelers. I can't recommend them more highly although the chain can be expensive. The one in Quito is not expensive but is a great property with an awesome staff.) Ten hours crammed in a van was more than enough but arriving and finding the leasing agent had not left keys to the apartment as promised was not a good end to the day. Fortunately, her assistant showed up about ten minutes later to finish preparing the apartment. We were wrecked by the time we got everyone up the elevator and into the small three bedroom apartment we would live in for the next seven weeks.

We had noticed a small cafe in the front of the the building on the ground floor was open. Starved, we went down to see what we could get to eat. It was about 7:30 and still raining so there were no other options. Hole-y buckets! the lady at the counter spoke great English! (I would get to know Maria pretty well. She was an Electrical Engineering Ph.D. and university department chair from Caracus, Venezuela, who had fled that US inspired mess. She was unable to provide credentials due to the chaos and no university in Ecuador would talk to a woman looking for an engineering teaching position. Not everything is right here.) We had the first of quite a number of meals there. She asked if there was anything else and I asked if it was possible to get a cup of coffee. Of course it was possible. When she left for the kitchen my wife says to me, "You know they closed at 8:00, right?" No, I didn't. Crap. She returned quickly as I tried to apologize for my ignorance. She would have none of it. "Take your time. You've had a long trip. You looked like you needed us." You have no idea. It was after 9:00.

The next one was 2-3 months later. We were in a temporary house on the east end of town up on a mountain. High end homes and dirt poor farmers with their farms mixed together are all around. The barrio is two dirt streets accessible from a dirt road that goes way up the mountain. We drive up the main road and then come down our road, one way, that is a 22% grade right in front of our house. The temporary one is 100 meters up the hill at the intersection of the two roads. We lived there the nine months it took to build this house. (Another unplanned, unexpected amazing amount of good fortune.)

April and May are the biggest rainy season. 2018 was a bad rainy season. I got up one morning with water flowing from an access road to a water pumping station up the mountain, across the main road, and down our now severely rutted gravel driveway. It is only millimeters from cresting the threshold into the kitchen and it's raining like hell. By the time I can grab a coat and hat, a lot of good they did, I see Wilson (he was living with his family in the multi family home he was building next door) and two of his workers are beginning to dig a ditch across the road to divert the water from our driveway. We spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon along with the older farm lady in the house above us clearing the ditches, putting in a temporary 10" pipe to divert ditch water, and moving gravel to where it needed to be on the driveway. Nobody had asked for help, they just saw a need and showed up.

The last story is ongoing. There was a thwarted breakin very early Wednesday morning on Calle los Maizales - Cornfield Street (ours is Calle los Eucaliptos). Two guys in a newish Toyota truck had cut the fence of a neighbor's house who was not home. A new neighbor noticed and scared them off before they could steal anything. There have been a few of these in the 2 1/2 years we've been here and it's no surprise now considering the economic strife many are feeling. The neighborhood WhatsApp group exploded with messages. Those on that street are rather upset. That is evident in the messages but what is shocking and encouraging is not how upset they are but how are we as neighbors going to improve our security. The instinct is to band together, find a neighborhood solution, and get it done. Neighbors helping neighbors. What a concept! These two streets got together before our house was finished to design, get approved, self finance, and install a new potable water system to replace the inadequate one from the community water system on the mountain. It came in under budget and the neighbors all agreed to use the left over to resurface and place French drains on the roads.

The people of Cuenca are what I love most about living here. They've taught me something I already knew: having stuff doesn't make us happy. They know they are strong together. They don't bitch and whine and point fingers at each other but come together to find solutions and implement the solution. They just get shit done. And they have fun doing it.

This leads to a cultural difference that people new here have to get happy with lest they reamin their miserable selves. Cuencanos don't say no. It has become easy to spot when they should be saying no, sorry but I can't, or it isn't a good idea. It's also become easy to accept that if they say they'll do something they'll try. It may not be on my time or the solution I expected or wanted but they'll try. Working together we do just fine. It's up to me to work within their culture, not them within my expectations or desires.

What is also clear to me now is that the craziness, here or elsewhere **cough**cough** EEUU **cough**cough**, can be dealt with in the same manner. It's only what I do that matters. Helping and working with others is what's right. It's when we expect or demand the kindness in return that things go sideways. Do it because it's right not for reward. Compost still happens but I don't get spun up over it.

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Comments

Lookout's picture

Living in a cooperative culture must be rewarding. People will help here especially in a emergency...fire, blizzard, and so on. But day to day everyone is on their own.

I find it only takes a week or two to improve my poor Spanish skills when I'm immersed in the language out of the country. Never have become really fluent though.

Great stories. Stay safe and enjoy your new world.

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12 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

vtcc73's picture

@Lookout @Lookout but the reality is that this culture is what it is because of centuries of oppression and colonialism. I cringe every time someone who works for me calls me jefe. The common people have learned to work together out of necessity. Like I've seen all over the world it is the ones who are relatively well off who have a sense of superiority and entitlement even if their circumstances are barely better than those they look down on. Here that is behavior more common to the very well off and the unscrupulous who will take advantage of people for their own gain. I've run into a few of them too but not many. I always have to remember that this is Cuenca. This city and most parts in the Andes are special in this regard while much of the rest of the country, especially the other big cities, is more like the modern world.

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17 users have voted.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."

mhagle's picture

Wonderful inspiration for a Sunday afternoon.

Thank you!

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12 users have voted.

Marilyn

"Make dirt, not war." eyo

vtcc73's picture

@mhagle I had other things I wanted to do today but I read Robert's story. It resonated with me and our experience. Sharing seemed more important than the goofing off I wanted to do.

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8 users have voted.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."

Granma's picture

It sounds like a wonderful place to live both from the article and your own experiences.

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vtcc73's picture

@Granma in the Expat Living section that is accessible from links just below the top banner. I like his story about shearing Alpacas. This is a spectacular land that would be easy to get lost in a simple life. Nothing is easy here but simple is amazingly peaceful and attractive.

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9 users have voted.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."

Granma's picture

@vtcc73

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6 users have voted.

to Ecuador.
Haven't been to Cuenca, but did see the tourist-filled metro areas, and quite a bit of the rural.
I got doses of American tourist "eews", Ecuadoran upper class disdain for the lower class, and much kindness shown by the Ecuadorans.
I envy you for the life you have.
We do not have "kindness zones" here in the USA, do we?
Take care.

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vtcc73's picture

@on the cusp We visited Quito, Otavalo, and Cotacochi in the north. I didn't care for Quito, too big city, but Otavalo and Cotachochi were nice but more rural and isolated. I hear they are wonderful places to live. The elevation is higher than Cuenca which can be an issue to some people. Loja and Vilcabamba in the south have a lot of appeal. Loja lacks a lot of what I want in a nearby city but is supposed to be nice. It's just a bit too busy and seems crowded to me. We love Vilcabamba. It's overrun with Gringos though. We could easily live with the rural aspect if Loja had a more to offer. The climate is warmer, subtropical but pleasant, and the elevation is lower. It is probably my second choice for where to live. We've only been to Salinas, nice, good climate, and fairly quiet, and Machala on the coast. I've not seen enough of Machala to have an opinion. I just don't get that good a feeling there. The aunt of our builder is from Machala and her son really dislikes it. Sebas and I get along really well so I think I have to take his word. I want to see more of the coast and go out to the Galapagos Islands but we got sidelined by the virus. Guayaquil has nothing I want and a lot I really don't care for - heavy traffic, crowds, heat and humidity, mosquitoes, and crime. The Amazonian areas are supposed to be awesome. Anywhere there's nature we'll try to go eventually. I'm fortunate to have friends who are guides and one who owns a travel/tour business and small boutique hotel in Quito. Marcelo also has contacts all over South America and will put together almost anything we would want to do. sigh It will all have to wait.

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7 users have voted.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."

Suizo Amazon, a resort lodge on the Napo River.
We went to the middle of the world park along the drive.
I have wanted to see Galapagos, but the travel tips I have gotten sort of put me off. For one thing, the waters are extremely rough. Going there for cheap would result in horrific sea sickness for me. I think I would opt to do a day tour from a cruise ship instead.
The lodge is very quaint, nothing fancy, but more than sufficient amenities. It is located near a world class butterfly farm, and hotel employees will provide guides for birding, jungle hiking, or rafting in the river. We were entertained by an indigenous family with some checha,
and grilled plantain served on a palm leaf. (Yes, I bought some jewelry made from seeds. It was a return visit to the lady's home.) We also enjoyed the jungle hike with a local giving us pointers on which plants were medicinal, etc...
I loved grabbing a cold beer, sitting out on the balcony, watching a monkey jumping around in the tree only a few feet away.

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vtcc73's picture

@on the cusp Guide certification in Ecuador is no joke. I'm sure there are plenty of "guides" who take a chance. Using a certified guide gets you someone who has completed a five year course equivalent to a university program. All of the activities and information you mention are course a guide has to pass then also has to pass a certification program for specific areas like the Cajas Mountains. I bet the Galapagos is one of the big ones.

Eddy, our guide in Cuenca, I count as a friend. He is the only person I know who can come close to matching my wife's plant knowledge. He, of course, has an advantage with indigenous plants and their medicinal and other uses. History, geology, geography, indigenous peoples, the Incas, and a bunch of other subjects centering on Ecuador. I know a few of them and I highly respect each of them. They tend to be really good people for pretty much anything I could need in Ecuador. I don't know of many countries that take tourism this seriously.

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"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."