Since we have been in Cuenca the life of wanderlust has managed to slow down a little. We rented an apartment here in Cuenca while we study Spanish. Rent is steep at $210 a month but we manage (lol). Our last day in Cuenca will be April 12 and then we will travel to Isla de Playa on the coast (called poor man’s Galapagos) before heading south to Peru. Judging by my (most likely inaccurate) calculations the last day on our Ecuadorian visa is April 26th. So we will work hard to be in Peru before then. Places we want to stop on the way south include Loja, and Villacabamba.
Since we have been here we have worked and studied during the weeks, but on the weekends we take advantage of all the natural beauty around us.
The first weekend we hiked in Cajas National Park, making our own trail up the side of a mountain and using a compass to navigate the way back.
Our second weekend, we went to Gualaceo and hiked up a mountain through an indigenous community where we found locals playing soccer outside a small Church at the peak of the mountain.
Our third weekend, we went to Giron and hiked to a waterfall about 5 miles outside the city. We stayed at an estate right next to the waterfall surrounded by mountains. At night the caretaker and us were the only people for miles.
- There are probably enough medicinal plants in Ecuador to cure all the worlds’ diseases. Recently, we have been learning about the traditional medicines indigenous people have been using for thousands of years to remedy everything from headaches to heartburn.
- If you are planning on coming to Ecuador and wear larger than a size 10 shoe, make sure you buy your footwear in advance! We spent several days looking for size 12 hiking boots at dozens of stores. When I would ask, they looked at me like I was The Sasquatch. I ended up finding a size 10 ½ and now our usual joyful hikes can be pretty painful.
- Currently, there is a lot of protesting going on across Ecuador. China, and private mining companies from Canada and America, have signed mining contract with the government, which will displace entire communities, pollute drinking water, and all around exploit the indigenous people who have lived on these lands for thousands of years. (Yeah, I think I might be protesting too) I hope these protests help to keep the contractors off Ecuadorian land. Interestingly enough it could. Protests have a strong influence on being able to shape public policy here in Ecuador. Also, in general the Ecuadorian government (now) does a good job of taking care of their people.
- Ecuadorians do not have to pay for College or Healthcare. They have no income taxes; the only taxes imposed are on houses, cars, and other material goods. The yearly property tax on a home is less than a percent. A $200,000 house would have a yearly property tax of approximately $100. The government is able to pay for free College and Healthcare by using the profits from the publicly owned oil company and the taxes they charge other countries on exports.
- Ecuador’s biggest allies are America, China, and Iran (what a funny combo). An alliance seems doubtful. ha.
- There are crosses that hang at waist level in the corners and crevices of buildings in Cuenca. This is not to symbolize prayer or remembrance of the dead. These crosses are to keep men from peeing in these normally easily accessible areas of the city. In theory this is a genius idea as I am still yet to see a cross with pee on it, but usually men just walk a few steps down the road and pee there.
- Cuenca does not have a weatherman because the weather is too unpredictable.
- Christina has taken a liking to cooking which has become a constant source of stress for her.
- There are a few Amazonian tribes that shrink the heads of their enemies they would kill in battle and then wear them as trophies. (The shrinking is done using an elaborate water and hot sand process). This process dwindled down over time until recently when the Westerners demand for shrunken heads rose and people were willing to pay thousands of dollars for this novelty. When the tribes got word of the amount people willing to pay, they decided to increase productivity. Unfortunately, at this point there were few wars between the tribes so they needed heads! Westerners who traveled to the Amazon began disappearing, never be seen again (well maybe you can see them again shrunken on someone’s mantle). I was assured this is not the case anymore. Does anyone else see the irony in Westerners being killed in order to provide for a demand that they create?
- We have come to realize a good way to study Spanish without realizing it is watching movies in Spanish w/English subtitles. In Cuenca there are DVD stores on almost every corner with a better selection than Best Buy. Every movie cost $1.50. (Thank you President Correa for not enforcing copyright laws)
- Two interesting documentaries- Crude and The Devil’s Miner. Crude is about the legal battle between 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians and Chevron after they dumped 18 million barrels of oil in the rainforest. The Devil’s Miner documents the life of a 14 year old boy in Bolivia who has to work in the lethal mines of Potosi to provide for his family. These are highly recommended