No Wonder They Want to Go to Cuenca

In my previous blog I mentioned that Cuenca, Ecuador was the home of 700 American ex-pats and probably twice that number now. I didn’t give a good reason why. Let me try.

On the morning of October 30, 2011 Nancy and I came out of our hotel just after breakfast to find crowds of people all walking in the same direction. At the corner we asked a man what was going on. He said it was Independence Day. The parade was about to begin. 

“Will we be able to watch from here?” I asked.

“The best place is the park four blocks up,” he said. "You can sit down.”

As promised, we found a section of plastic beige folding chairs neatly arranged beneath a large white tent, perfect shelter from what promised to be a very hot, sunny day. A yellow ribbon marked off the area. I ducked under the ribbon, found a good seat and settled in. Nancy was happy as a clam at high tide. Now she could go off without wondering what to do about me. I was equally happy. I wouldn’t have to tag along waiting impatiently for her to take one more photograph before stopping for coffee.

The parade started. First, came the inevitable motorcycle cops followed by a police car; then a line of antique cars and trucks. In the first was Ms. Cuenca, a tall slender woman who sat on the seat back of a spiffy silver Bugatti Racing Car, circa 1935, maybe earlier; then a two-toned Buick, same vintage, silver and copper, with white walls. They were beautifully maintained. The colors were vibrant, the motors purring. Every vehicle carried a notable. As the parade went by I wondered why the two rows in front of me were empty. Then I understood. The next contingent of marchers stopped to disgorge a phalanx of dignitaries. They streamed out of the parade and instantaneously filled up the empty seats as if they couldn't wait to get out of the heat. There was a uniformed officer with lots of ribbons on his chest.

Another uniformed officer sat in front of me. I took him to be the chief of police. A young woman dressed in a simple blouse and jeans sat between the general and the police chief. She was the focus of attention. Whenever a parading group stopped with someone holding a baby, the baby was presented to this woman. She swooped it up and kissed it vigorously on its fat apple cheeks. She must be the mayor’s wife, I thought.

I settled in for the long haul. It was a cushy setup. Here I was under a tent, protected from the sun sitting just three rows back from the paraders and enjoying the spectacle when a uniformed policeman came up to me.

“You’ll have to leave,” he said. “This section is reserved for dignitaries.”

I was startled. 

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I didn’t realize.”

I started to get up to go when a voice from several rows behind me said, “Let him stay.  What’s the harm?”

The policeman looked at the person who had spoken up on my behalf and started to reply when another policeman, this one with a fancier jacket and two rows of ribbons came over.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

The first officer explained.

The newcomer shook his head and then turned toward me.

“It’s fine,” he said. “Stay where you are. Enjoy Cuenca’s Independence Day.”

No wonder Americans want to come here.