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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Other Side of the Hill

I may have mentioned this before, but Cuenca is so named, due to it resting (at least partially) in a bowl of mountain ranges that surround the city. (The Spanish word for bowl is el cuenco.) This particular situation makes the central part of Cuenca (el Centro) seem like it is the be all and end all of the city, which is just an illusion. That would be like equating Central Park to the entire island of Manhattan, downtown Vancouver as the city itself or Prince Edward Island as the Maritimes.

The steps BEFORE the steps!
This fact is very easy to forget, as the soaring peaks of the Andes cut your line of view and you forget about all the barrios (neighbourhoods) beyond the hills.

In preparation for our hike up Machu Picchu, we've started getting back in to taking long walks which invariably lead us to the outskirts of el Centro. Yesterday, as we've done a few times in the past, we hiked up to Mirador Turi, a charming little church on one of the lower surrounding hills. Now, be that as it may you must, walk through half the city, climb a steep set of stairs and cross a highway just to get to the starting point of the hike up the 439 stairs that lead to a church and the village that surrounds it. (But this certainly isn't an 18km, 9 hour hike that we'll be attempting in Peru. Did I mention we hike like that for five days???)  Anyhow, usually when you get to the top of the stairs, you turn and admire the stunning view of the heart of the city, perhaps enjoy some of the local cuisine, admire the church, if it's opened and then truck back down the stairs and head home. But this, we did not do.

Mirdor Turi
As we wandered the small road that surrounds the church, we noticed a small road down the back side of the hill and seeing what seemed to be a rather bucolic view decided to follow the road wherever it might lead. While still within the city limits (or so we believe) we encountered cows (vacas), horses (caballos) and even sheep (ovejas) including a very new lamb. (So sweet.)

We also noticed that the dogs were very mellow here. They were enjoying their sueñacita ( meaning "little dream", not siesta, as in Mexico). Not a single one barked at us and very few even bothered to lift their heads. We were the only gringos on that side of the mountain and our visit was met with cautious welcome. (Head nods, but very few vocal greetings, despite our offer of "Buenas tardes" (good afternoon).
View of El Centro
Surrounding hills
 Needless to say it was a very lovely day and we enjoyed the "stroll". We aim to repeat the experience climbing other hills and discovering the little communities that make up Cuenca in the upcoming days and months. That's one of the beautiful things here, you never know what's around the next bend or hiding in plain site. It's truly a place of wonder and discovery.

Stayed tuned to hear about our first Cuencano fiesta. (Sin fotos or without photos)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ecuadorian Happiness...a theory

We've noticed, as we wander the city (rather aimlessly, but no less enjoyably) that Ecuadorians seem, for the most part, to be happy. This in turn radiates out and makes those around them happy, which most conveniently means that we get a good dose of this daily happiness.
Tell me this doesn't make you smile!
That's not to say that things here aren't difficult for Cuencanos and gringos alike. (Okay, more so for the locals here, but I'm sure that there are gringos out there that are also having a difficult time of it.) Despite a lower standard of living, longer work hours and lack of things we would consider necessities, most Ecuadorians seem pleased with their lot in life and this makes me wonder why? How is it that we, as North Americans, can be so dissatisfied with daily life and someone with so little can seem, well, grateful and dare I say joyous?
I read a nifty little saying on Pinterest or Facebook (don't judge!) that stated: What makes you think something new will give you happiness, when everything you already have doesn't. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.) It blew my mind. It was so succinct.

Is having less this magic formula? Perhaps. We're just as pleased, if not more so, to be alive now than when we had a large house, new car and all sorts of frills. But this isn't the whole equation. I've also noted that many of the local news papers seem to lack world news. No horrible reports about Syria, Nigeria, climate change, mass murders, gun rampages etc. Sure there's bad news, car accidents, environmental problems, crime and other nasty things, but Ecuadorians aren't inundated with it. Nor are they addicted to internet news feeds, as most don't have internet at home and even their news is more limited to local current events. This got Ron and I to this tsunami (or tidal wave, if you prefer) of horror contributing to the North American dependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds.
Mamas and Babies!

Just like Mom!

Or is the Ecuadorian joie de vivre just a happy accident? I can't tell you, but the more I stay here, the happier my days become. Of course, I still keep up on NA news, but in little bytes of information, no news tickers, reinforced by the newspaper at work, no breaking news on the radio as we drive in the car and guess what...this is pleasing.
More mamas and babies. Cute or what?

Don't hate me because I have awesome eyelashes!

Sometimes I feel a little out of the loop, but if it's really important, I learn of it in a timely fashion, but don't spend hours obsessing over it through various media. The point is that I'm grateful. Grateful to see smiling faces and be greeted by the people in our neighbourhood (yes, a Mr. Rogers moment, everyday) and spending time writing, blogging and learning a new language and appreciating a new culture. These challenges make me happy and I hope that I give a little of the happiness back to the people around me.

So maybe have a media free day, maybe once a week or get nuts and take a break for a whole week and see if you perk up and smile more often. Let me know if there's any validity to this theory, or if you think that sunshine, warm temperatures and doing whatever the heck we want is the true source of our happiness! (Okay, I admit, it's pretty sweet to get up when you want.)