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Independence of Cuenca Day

Cuenca


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I spent a better night this time because I took better precautions against the cold; tucking in my t-shirt, wearing my coat instead of using it as a pillow, tucking the blanket into the hammock more, etc. I still woke up once or twice but I went back to sleep again quicker and I slept in a bit longer. Once I’d woken up properly a church bell started clanging nearby. Like the day before, I had two guaguas de pan for breakfast in my hammock whilst reading my guidebook. Filled with the joys of life, I then headed into town (only five minutes’ walk from the hostel).

I didn’t have any particular plans for today apart from just to wander round and take in whatever happened. I walked round the main square first for a look round. Some banners of the city’s coat of arms, made of flowers stuck onto board, were standing in front of the statue/monument in the middle. These had clearly been put up in celebration of the Independence of Cuenca.

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The other things in the square, however, I recognised from when I was here in August - the man hiring out his massive cuddly-looking St Bernard dog for photos with members of the public (I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog that big before); the leather-saddled model horses for children to sit on and have their photos taken, complete with leather cowboy hat; the itinerant icecream sellers with coolbags filled with ice lollies. The latter are also a common sight in Guayaquil.

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When I first entered the square I’d seen lots of people stream out of the cathedral doors. After I finished my walk round I went inside. Another service had clearly begun almost straight away, for it was in full swing when I entered. I heard the voice of the priest booming from the loudspeakers attached to the columns on both sides of the nave.

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Then I noticed the candles burning in front of the shrines along each wall, and suddenly remembered that a while ago Dad had asked me to light a candle for him. So I walked along until I got to the shrine at the far end, before looking around for somewhere I could get a candle. I couldn’t see any anywhere, but then I noticed a doorway with people going in and out, so I went in too. I didn’t know the Spanish word for candle but thought I could mime lighting one and hopefully they’d understand. There was a nun standing behind some railings, but just as I waited to speak to her I noticed an open doorway next to me with stairs leading down to the crypt. A notice said it was $1 to enter, but the nun just waved me down, so I guessed that the fee is waived on Sundays or holidays.

As always when I see the word ‘crypt’ I thought of the little rhyme that begins ‘The cat crept into the crypt...’! I had that in my mind most of the time I was in there. I put my dollar into the ‘crypt maintenance’ box, seeing as the nun hadn’t asked for it upstairs, before walking round. It was a small crypt; first there was a shrine with chairs in front of it, then a corridor flanked with grave compartments and a couple of statues of angels. There was a much small shrine at the end of it.

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Once I’d walked back upstairs I saw to my consternation that the door to the main part of the cathedral was locked. I knocked on it, but just as I did that the nun appeared from behind me and opened it. She asked me something in Spanish – I guessed from the context and the word gente (‘people’) that she was asking if there was anybody else still in the crypt, so I said no. For most of the time I’d been the only person there.

Relieved, I stepped back out into the main part of the cathedral. I noticed a man come up, arrange and light three red candles that he’d had in his hand, and then I suddenly remembered the stalls directly in front of the cathedral that sell candles and other religious paraphernalia. That’s where I was supposed to get hold of candles, not from inside the cathedral! So I went outside and bought a white one, before coming back in and lighting it.

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Then I hung around to see how the rest of the service panned out. There were lots of other people walking around the back and sides; some of these were taking photos, so I didn’t stand out too much when I did the same. I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said, apart from things like 'todos los santos' and 'Madre de Dios'. There was a communion, with a gold cup and bowl taken from within a gold box in the altar, but only the front couple of sections of the congregation went up for it.

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Then, during a hymn/piece of recorded music, the collectors went round with bags on the end of sticks. Soon after this about two thirds of the congregation left, so I assumed that was the end of the service, but then a nun started speaking into the microphone, so I’m not actually sure.

I left too, because I suddenly realised I’d spent ages in the cathedral and I wanted to see if anything was going on outside. There was, as it turned out; a protest. There were demonstrators crowded outside one of the official buildings at the side of the square. It was quite small, and peaceful, but was quite loud. They appeared to be disaffected immigrants. One row of soldiers and another of police separated them from the entrance to the
building.

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I hung around for a while but then moved on to have another look at the handicrafts market that ran along one side of the cathedral. I watched the glassblower for a while but didn’t buy anything. I had another quick look round the market where I'd bought the jumper yesterday, but didn't buy anything there either. I did however see some people crowded round a stand, so I went to investigate. It turned out to be a salesman with plastic models of parts of the human body around him, and bags of leaves and roots and bottles of what I assumed were ointments, salves or medicine. The guy was speaking into a microphone and the crowd was lapping it up, reaching forward to take the bottles he occasionally proffered.

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Then I bought a bag of fresh pineapple chunks from a pineapple and coconut stand and sat down on a stone bench at the flower market opposite to eat them. As I sat there I pondered what to do next. I thought about going online or just back to the hostel for a rest, but then I remembered the river Tomebamba and decided to go for a walk along it. On my way there I stopped at an almuerzo (set lunch) café and had a plate of seco de pollo and bottle of Pepsi for $2.50.

Once I got to the river I congratulated myself on my decision to come, because I saw a whole series of market stalls, under gazebos and open-sided tents, stretching along both sides of quite a decent-sized stretch of the river. As well as the stalls, there were many more people with their wares on the ground in front of them. The market was the ‘Festival de Artesanías de América’, and there were stalls from Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Suriname and Paraguay.

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I bought myself a $1 llama keyring made from twisted reeds/straw, and then had a look inside a tent run by the Asociación de Mujeres de Huaoranis, the women of the Huaorani, a Kichwa speaking tribe who live in the Amazon rainforest. Kichwa is a native language quite widely spoken in the highlands and the rainforest in Ecuador. As well as necklaces and string bags and other things, there were some photos of some tribespeople, which appeared to be just as exotic to the middle classes of Cuenca as they were to me, for they crowded round taking photos of the photos with their phones.

Then I realised I needed to get some cash out, so I walked back into town. On the way back from the cash machine I noticed that there was a little art exhibition on inside the Superior Court of Justice building, so I went inside. The interior was beautiful, full of marble and very light because of the glass roof. I was really taken with one picture of fish, but it was $600 so I wasn't tempted to buy!

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On my return to the market I wandered around both sides of the river. I made two purchases but won't say what they were here... I also bought myself a stick of candy floss for 50 centavos. I walked round the park next to the river, too; rather surreally it was dotted with giant plastic models of dinosaurs. There were also a couple of club-jugglers.

After I left the river I went for another walk round town. At one side of the flower market a woman had set up a stand with an industrial-sized saucepan/tureen on it.

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Just as I passed by it I did a double take because I overheard her say to a customer 'Colada Morada' ! Colada Morada is the drink traditionally drunk in Ecuador with guaguas de pan on 1st/2nd November. I simply had to buy some! It's purple, made from black corn flour, blackberries, other fruits (these vary, but mine had some little chunks of pineapple), sugar and spices - you can get it hot or cold, but mine was hot. It was delicious!

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A couple of hours' rest back at the hostel followed before I went out again for dinner. I had shrimp ceviche, yuca chips and some Fanta at this place;

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Then I walked round looking at the fronts of the churches, which are lit up on weekend nights. I took one or two photos before going to bed.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges art night market spanish cathedral hostel dad andes ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs colonial_church

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