I have received emails from friends and family back home, who wonder what are my overall impressions of Cuenca, and do I like it here. Granted I've only been here in the city for four days now, but I have already done quite a bit of exploring. Therefore,I will share my initial impressions with you.
No doubt the weather is grand, and even more so when placed in the context that July in Cuenca would be the equivalency of the middle of January back home in Chicago. Yesterday was quite warm. Today began raining and cloudy. It was the first time I had to wear my jacket, which was over a short sleeve shirt and I was quite comfortable. Cuenca, much like we have back home, has its share of rain showers, scattered showers, or showers that are brief or prolonged. To date, I have not experienced any thunder and lightning storms. I will need to ask someone if Cuenca has such storms. However, I understand that all day drizzle and rain is seldom. Although it remained cloudy all day, it had not rained anymore after the early morning hours. What was also surprising was that it felt warmer in the evening than it did during the day.
Just as the rains in Chicago make everything very green, and contribute to keeping much of the haze out of the air when we get those rains. The rains in Cuenca produce the same refreshing effect. The vegetation is vividly green, the showers cleanse the city, and everything just stands out to ones sight in Cuenca. It truly is a city where a cloudy day or not, unless the mountains tops are enveloped in fog, you can see forever. The cars undergo strict emissions standards. Unfortunately, the public buses do not, and there are many buses in Cuenca. If the buses were required to follow strict emission standards, I would not be surprised if Cuenca would have the best large city air quality in the world. Cuenca is the cultural center of Ecuador, so there is little industrial pollution. Possibly, being high in the Andes is another contributing factor for its clean air. Some people take a few days to adjust to the higher altitude in Cuenca, but that was not a problem for me. I find myself naturally taking in deep breaths of air, because the air has such a clean quality to it. My lungs behave as if I have given them a great gift, and my entire body feels invigorated.
Cuenca is also the only place in Ecuador where the water is not polluted to any measurable degree, and where gringos can drink the water directly from the tap. I have always liked Lake Michigan water, and from my experiences found it to be among the best tasting tap water in the United States. Some people I am told have problems adjusting to the water in Cuenca, because of its high mineral content. I did not experience that problem, and find the water to be the best I've ever had. There is no fluoride placed in the water. I have read a number of medical accounts that attribute fluoride as a contributor to plaque build up in coronary arteries, as well as contributing to alzheimer disease. I don't need either. Cuenca water is pure tasting, and free of any kind of aftertaste.
Cuenca sits in a basin and is surrounded by elevated land and mountains, which provides a beautiful setting. In some ways, Cuenca reminds me of the main island of Hawaii minus the oceans, Waikiki, and central Honolulu with it gleaming glass shrouded high rises. As one moves away from the ocean side, and eventually over to the least settle side of the island opposite Waikiki one gets a real feel for the typical homes of Honolulu and the natural beauty of the hills and sandy beaches. This is the part of Honolulu, minus the beaches, that reminds me of Cuenca. The tallest buildings in Cuenca are only eight to ten stories tall, and that is a relatively new construction phenomena.
The mountains, the low lying nebulous clouds that almost form a dome over the city; I can almost feel as if I can reach out and touch any one of these flawless acts of creation. The light of the equatorial sun, which can be masked behind the large dark clouds when it is about to rain, can enhance the light reflected on the city's buildings at different times of the day--a reflection that gives an entirely new mood and atmosphere to the city. From the vantage point of my condo balcony,the houses and buildings under these atmospheric conditions appear like little dioramas. The city does not follow a simple grid pattern, and parts of it is hilly. Streets oftentimes curve and meander. As evening approaches, and dusk sets in, the street lights appear to flicker as if they were lanterns which gives an enchanting feeling to the night time city
The mountains are most inspiring, and continuously changing as the lighting of different times of the day give an entirely new look and feel to what I see. From greens, to reflected streaks of sun light, to bold black hills that are sometimes blended with grays. Each moment speaks to the ever changing perspectives of the mountain views. As I snap photos with my camera, I fear that my lens is not capturing all the subtle shadings and moods of the mountains that I see with my naked eye. I guess you will just have to come to Cuenca to capture the experience of which words can only hint. There is also much more to what makes Cuenca so exceptional besides its biosphere, but that will be for another day.