2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


While my brother, Leo, his wife, Carla, and I were visiting in Guayaquil we walked along two or three streets that paralleled the Malecon Drive.  Primarily, we were seeking a place for lunch.  Restaurants seemed far and in-between.  Restaurant scarcity seemed odd in an area dense with financial institutions and government office buildings.  We did find a crowded corner restaurant, which offered a buffet amuerzo.  It was heart-warming to see how quickly the young wait-staff went to work to find us a table and help Carla get herself situated as we made our way down the tight aisles on one of the few days we used a wheel chair.  I don't recall if we were the only gringos in the place, but the staff having to deal with a crush of customers, went out of their way to get us situated and explain the procedure for using the buffet and the various dishes available on the buffet.  I don't how my brother pulled it off. I wasn't standing next to him when he went through the buffet line, but while I had to make choices among the food items offered, Leo just told the server that he wanted one of everything, and that's what they gave him for the same price.

After lunch we walked along the city streets and snapped photos of the beautiful architecture in that part of town near the Malecon.  I didn't take notes on the buildings we saw, so all I have to share with you are the unidentified architectural facade photos.  In the opening slides along the sides of some tall buildings, if I understood correctly, were actual paintings done by well known Ecuadorian artists. It would be great to see a project like that completed in Cuenca.  If not with well-known Ecuadorian artists, then certainly with established and up-and-coming Cuencano artists, who can be free to express their own thing.

We also visited the the Museo Nahim Isaiah, which has a collection of over 2,000 art works.  The exhibits are particularly focused on colonial art and religious art.  Many videos are scattered throughout the exhibits with what I assume were explanations of the history of much of what was being presented on exhibit, since the videos were presented in Spanish.  Those of you from Chicago, who have seen the European religious art on display in the Art Institute would be underwhelmed by most of the paintings on display here.  However, it was interesting to see the contrast in South American artistic take on how the religious art was presented in the various statues and paintings. What I enjoyed the most was the museum structure itself.  It is a beautiful modern building inaugurated in 1989, architecturally designed as truly an art work unto itself, and I did enjoy the way in which many of the works of art were presented without just simply flat-wall lining.

I don't know what many parts of Guayaquil look like  However, near the Malecon, and the plaza walkway a couple of blocks in from the Malecon Drive, one couldn't visit a more nicely maintained area.   The area reminded me of the improvements being made in Cuenca, as well as the improvements that need to be made.  As I said in the previous post, we abruptly made this trip without any research, other than Ecuadorian friends who had told me that the Malecon was one area worth a visit in Guayaquil, and that as we found, was very safe.

A number of major projects are currently underway, or will soon be undertaken in Cuenca.  Such projects include the construction of the underpass on Avenidas de las Americas and Gran Columbia; the excavation along part of the Third of Noviembre, where as I understand it, many cables are being placed underground; construction of many new walkways and observation points have been built along the Rio Tomebama in the past year;  major renovations and rejuvenations of the open air San Francisco Market are to begin soon; the first leg of the electric bus line along Gran Columbia is to begin this year in El Centro, and eventually extend to other streets in El Centro to discourage auto traffic as well as replace the polluting combustible engine gas buses;  twelve miles of new sidewalk construction in El Centro is also scheduled for this year, and is sorely needed; and  Parke Madre will soon be excavated to make room for a 350 car underground garage, and an entirely new park with high quality grade running lanes for joggers will be constructed.  The destruction of this park will be sad to see, along with the loss of so many mature trees.  It will take fifteen to twenty years before the new park will have the beautiful shade trees that form a canopy over many sections of the current park, but in the long-run the park will give greater benefit to the people, and no doubt more parking spaces are needed.

All the delineated above projects cost money and as far as I know are fully funded.  Ironically, two things can be done to spruce up El Centro that would be very inexpensive compared to the above costly projects, and go a long way in improving the beauty of the historic district.  Many commercial buildings in El Centro, no matter what renovations may or may not be needed to their interiors, are sorely in need of fresh paint jobs and in some places fresh plaster to the exterior of the buildings as well.  One example of facades in need of fresh paint jobs, are the buildings that house the Ramipampa Restaurant and Tutu Freddos on Benigno Malo. Especially considering that these buildings are next to the New Cathedral, and within eye view of anyone walking or sitting in Parke Calderon.  One would think coordinated steps between property owners and city officials would work out a plan to spruce up the facades of many of these buildings.  Some buildings only need a fresh paint job at street level, and look fine further up.  While many structures have undergone extensive renovation and restored to their Spanish Renaissance magnificence,  Simple paint jobs to many other facades would certainly contribute to the beauty and freshness of El Centro.

The other problem continues to morph into monstrous proportions since last summer and that is the egregious tagging that has become pervasive like a lethal virus throughout the city.  I have had a number of tourists in recent weeks wonder how a city can be rated the number one city for retirement, or has been designated by UNESCO as an International Preservation Historical Site, and so little respect seems to be shown by the residents of a city with acts of cultural indifference to their heritage by all this pervasive tagging.  Fresh paint and curbing of the tagging problem are two simple things that can be addressed. Neither are cost exorbitant, and yet would go far to enhance the beauty and magnificence of the historic district.

Here's the link to Guayaquil:  Click on the slideshow link in the upper left-hand corner, and best to just quickly click on the forward arrow, so you can control the speed at which you wish to observe each slide.



  1. Hi Jim,

    I enjoy your posts.

    I wanted to comment on the graffiti issue. It happens everywhere in Ecuador, and it is not necessarily "tagging", as in gangs marking their turf. Often it is political, sometimes it is along the lines of "Joe loves Mary", and sometimes it is just silly.

    I felt like you did when I first started going to Ecuador, and I used to rail to my Ecuadorian friends about how much more people would like the country if they cleaned up the graffiti. But then I figured out that the graffiti wasn't going anywhere. It is part of the culture that is in by the roots. At some point I accepted the graffiti, or at least stopped noticing it when I walked around.

    If there "wasn't" a graffiti issue in Cuenca, and then there "was", I would guess that there "wasn't" an issue initially because somebody decided to paint over the graffiti temporarily, maybe for the benefit of all the new people that are moving to Ecuador.

    My wife, who is Ecuadorian, tells the story of somebody who had painted over all of the graffiti on the wall outside their house, only to find "¡Qué linda pared!" (What a beautiful wall!) spraypainted over the fresh paint the next morning.

    Reading the graffiti might also be a good chance to practice your Spanish. One of my all-time favorite slogans was spraypainted on a wall in Quito, expressing venom towards the bus drivers who were then on strike and tying up traffic all over the city. I don't even want to translate the slogan here--it was that bad, but it was very funny, and everybody who saw it got a chuckle out of it.

    Anyway, in the end I side with you, it would be nice to see the historical districts free of graffiti, just don't get your hopes up too much.

  2. I'm not getting my hopes up too much on this issue, Doug. When I returned to Cuenca in March of last year to begin my full-time life here, I had commented in a previous post on how fortunate we were in Cuenca to find it almost graffiti-free compared to Quito where I had spent a few days before arriving back in Cuenca. The graffiti in Cuenca really didn't become a serious problem until last summer vacation. It was in July and August that it began to appear all over town, and it only continues to get worse. Therefore, I must disagree with you, that this tagging is some kind of South American culturally-rooted expression.

    At the time I addressed this issue in another post. It was the first I heard the term "tagging" and that it was differentiated from graffiti. I believe graffiti artists, and I see some really good work in town, should first need to have the permission of the city government to paint on government-owned buildings, and the permission of private owners before these artists can paint anything on private walls and property. The tagging is just plain destructive, and defacing, and done by idiots who are unable to produce anything that requires talent. The problem is even more disgusting, when some of these young people do some seriously fine graffiti art only to have it desecrated by no talent "jerk offs", who spray paint over it or tag some nonsense on the painting.

    I was a graduate student at New York University in the late 70's, when crime and violence where out of control in the Big Apple, and graffiti (tagging--gang-related or not) was everywhere. The interior of the subways were extensively covered in mindless spray paint just so these punks could show that they could get away with it.

    After I left New York City, the city elected a mayor by the name of Rudolph Giuliani. The mayor stopped viewing the perpetrators as victims of bad social environments or justified in expression anti-establishment views (which often lacked any content--just the act of desecration was treated as a political statement), had the subway cars pulled off immediately and cleaned of any graffiti/tagging, and inaugurated controls on access to spray paints. Where there is a will by city and civic leaders there is a way. If a city the size of New York City could bring this problem under control, then little Cuenca should be able to do the same.

    Thanks for taking the time to write your response. I'll treat your comment that the tagging is a way I can practice my Spanish as meant to be facetious. It sounded like just the kind of response one would have expected from the New York politicians in control of the city before Giuliani's arrival.

  3. Hi Jim,

    The Spanish word for what you're talking about is "grafiti", the same as our word, with one less f. I guess there could be a division between street art and people who just spraypaint dumb things on the walls, but the same word is used in Spanish. If anything, it would not be used to describe street art, but is always used to describe the kind of spraypainted slogans that you're talking about. My own experience with the words "tag" and "tagging" comes from gangs marking their turf. You know, those symbols that kind of look like letters on the back of street signs and so on. But I'll think of tagging the way that you say it too!

    I was poking around on the Internet, and I saw a piece dated from June of last year in El Comercio, where the mayor of Quito came to an agreement with "graffiti artists", or taggers as you call them, not to deface historic buildings. The city said that they would provide a space for graffiti artists to put up their work. I'm not in Ecuador right now (we're going back in June), so I have no way of knowing how that has worked out. Maybe that would be something to pursue in Cuenca.

    I will say that my wife, who is Ecuadorian, agrees with my opinion that the graffiti is cultural in Ecuador. She marvels at the assertiveness of Americans, and thinks that maybe the graffiti is a way for normally reticent Ecuadorians to express themselves. With that said, you are right, there is more in some places and less in others. A lot of this is political,parties putting out slogans and so on, and you may find that if you have a center of political activity, let's say a left-leaning university, with the right professors, that there is a lot of graffiti in the immediate area. And there may well be less in Cuenca, as you point out. But current events, as you describe them in your post, don't seem to be bearing that out...

    I do think that it is possible for the Ecuadorian mindset about graffiti, or tagging, to change. However, I don't think it is a small undertaking. It would need to be a large campaign, something along the lines of the "Give a hoot, don't pollute" or "Smokey the Bear" (which turned out to be misguided) campaigns in the United States, with lots of mass media involvement, teachers bringing up a new generation with those ideas, etc. And that can happen! But I don't think that much change will occur because people are annoyed with the graffiti, or make an example of a graffiti artist or tagger or two.

    Good for you, though. I didn't mean to discourage you, because my sentiments were (and still are, to some extent) the same as yours. It really is a shame that such beautiful buildings are not respected by the people who are most intimate with them. But, well, that's how things are in Ecuador. My wife says that if people want to live in Ecuador, then they have to accept the whole package. I'm not sure about that, either, because we all have a right to shape our world around us a little bit. But there is some truth to what she says.

    Best regards,


  4. Hi Jim,

    Even though my last comment was l-o-n-g, I want to make one small addendum.

    Most Ecuadorians probably share your opinion, and mine, that the graffiti and tagging is an eyesore. So when I say that the graffiti is cultural, I don't mean to imply that most Ecuadorians approve of it. They probably don't. Most Ecuadorians would probably be glad to get rid of graffiti, especially in historic areas.

    I mean cultural in the sense that hazing on American college campuses is part of American culture, even though we don't like it.

    So I'm sure many of your neighbors in Cuenca share your opinion about graffiti.

    Here's hoping that you can all work together to have clean walls in the near future,


  5. BOB,

    A friend told me that spray paint cans are not suppose to be sold in Cuenca to anyone under the age of eighteen, but businesses will sell them anyway. First, I don't know if the above statement has any veracity to it. Second, assuming the statement is true, why would anyone think young people in their late teens and twenties are not just as likely if not more so to be the culprits who do much of the spray painting?

    I think the municipal government should forbade any business from selling spray paint at all, and have some stiff fines if violated. The city could open up a couple of municipal stores were spray paint cans could be purchased only by legitimate business users like auto body shop owners for example. These businesses would register with the city, and the city government would have an accounting of who, when, and the amount of cans that are being purchased. Even what cans are being purchased. Such a law would be right up the alley of the Ecuadorian love for bureaucracy and its cornucopia of paper work. I'll bet such action on the part of the municipal officials would eliminate 80% to 90% of the tagging and unapproved graffiti in the city. Look me up in June, and we can continue our discussion, and I can take you and your wife for a walk along the river and in one three block area alone find enough vandalism to the walls that people no longer make an attempt to fresh paint the walls, and then don't bother to re-plaster them either in a losing cause, which only compounds the problem.

    I suppose nothing will be done until government and business leaders actually see it hurting the tourist trade. I hate to sound so cynical, and so Norte Americano where nothing is done in the states until it will either enhance financial accruement or prevent further damage to the bottom line. I have a higher opinion of Cuecanos, that they have not yet reached the point where like the primary value system of most Norte Americanos nothing has value unless it can be measured in monetary terms. Hopefully, just simple pride in this city, and the self-respect of the cities people will be motivation enough to address this problem.

  6. Jim,

    Thank you for a beautiful comment. It is clear that you really love Cuenca, and only want to see the best for the city.

    I think your ideas are good ones, and I think that if you make a case for your point of view with your friends in Cuenca, then it can be a starting point for change. It might not be easy, but it is a fight worth fighting. The architecture in these historic districts is worth protecting and beautifying.

    Flor and I will look you up when we are in Cuenca.