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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Easter season seems like a distant memory as time-travel moves the universe at an accelerating pace.  First, I immersed myself in a whirl-wind week of social activity, and then I have been busy preparing for my return to the states for a month, beginning May 6th and returning to Cuenca on June 9th.  I’ve also taken time trying to organize a great deal of paper work I’ve accumulated since arriving in Cuenca back in March of 2011, along with all the other sundry things of life that takes up ones day-to-day activities.  As a result, I haven’t posted as much, and my last post started out as a personal email in which I couldn’t stop writing, and finally decided to make the email a post.  However, there was an event during Holy Week that I attended, and did not find the time to share, and although it is out of place chronologically with my other posts,  I very much would like to share it with you today.

I was quite surprised without any prompting from me at the dozens of readers who recently read my post from last year entitled, http://cuencaperspectivesbyjim.blogspot.com/2011/04/passion-of-christ.html.  Last year I lived for two weeks in the heart of El Centro, and was overwhelmed by the numbers of people, church services, processions and activities that took place in Cuenca during Holy Week, which began with Palm Sunday and ended with Easter Sunday.  On Good Friday, I had even made the traditional visit to seven churches that so many Cuecano Catholic devotees fulfill on that day of the year.

This year I was looking for a new spiritual experience for Holy Week.  A Seder Dinner was advertised in “Gringo Tree”.  I had not attended a Seder since the 1980’s.  I thought that would be a nice, intimate way of memorializing the Holy Week.  Credit for the organization of the Seder went to Claudia Coplan, and the Seder was held in Emanuela Levin’s home in the Palermo.  The Seder meal is done in remembrance of the Passover, which was the Jewish celebration each year of the freedom of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.  The Passover is a reminder according to Biblical teaching of the final plague against the Egyptians as the Angel of the Lord passed over the slaying of the first-borns of the household, where the blood of the lamb had been brushed over the door posts of the homes whose occupants obeyed the injunction of the Lord.

Now the surprise was that I had no idea this was a Jewish Seder.  The advertisement in “Gringo Tree” just said “Seder”.  I assumed wrongly that Seder was a term used by Christians in commemoration of the Lord’s Supper.  Remember, Jesus and his twelve apostles were Jews, and kept the Jewish law and holy days.  What Christians call the “Last Supper”, was basically Jesus and the apostles celebrating Passover.  I assumed that Jews simply called the holy day Passover.  So after I arrived, it became clear that the Seder was intended as a Jewish event.  However, I was welcomed and treated with respect.  There was also a lady of Irish-Catholic background in attendance whose spouse was Jewish, a young Ecuadorian male with a very pretty little daughter, whose attractive wife was Jewish, and a gentleman who was half-Jewish.
We went through the ritual of the Seder, which was very much like the Christian Seders, I had attended decades ago.  The primary difference in Christian Seders is the addition of some prayers that tie the Passover to the Christian heritage and Jesus Christ.  Also, some Christian evangelical groups will substitute grape juice in place of the wine.  We all took turns praying and reading from the book that was provided, which I will have more to share with you at the end of this post.

Deke Castleman’s mother had baked matza bread, and it arrived just in time for the Seder.  The bread was delicious, and I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a connection there between that matza bread and Deke’s love of Pizza and its crust.  Matza bread is the unleavened bread, for when the time came for the Hebrews to pick up and leave Egypt, in the rush of departure there was no time to allow the bread to rise.  Matza bread was also on hand at our dinner from Israel itself; but in a taste-test, Deke’s mother’s matza had it beat by a mile.  After the rituals were performed and the readings were completed, we shared a dinner together beyond the items that were used in the ritual Seder.  The evening was very meaningful for me, not only as a student of history, world cultures, and religious studies; but also on a spiritual level as well.  This is a Seder I will remember for a very long time.

I don’t know what beliefs were brought to the dinner by the Jews in attendance.  Obviously, there were no Hassidic Jews in attendance, and probably no one who might be identified as an Orthodox Jew.  These attendees appeared to be more of a liberal persuasion where their Judaism was freed from the highly ritualistic practice, for example, of various dishes having to be used and washed for various items, and someone had commented how when they were children the elders were involved in prolonged readings and prayer sessions that did not apply to this abridged edition of Seder.  This appeared to be a faith practiced without the many legalisms of traditional Judaism.  Among those in attendance, some may have attended out of deep faith; and others may have attended to simply share memories of childhood rituals and religious beliefs that may not have any significant impact on their lives today; or they may have attended simply to be part of the Jewish community in Cuenca, and to share a solidarity with their brethren over all that the Jewish people had to endure over the many past centuries, and continue to endure in the world today.  

I had the opportunity to make some new acquaintances, and hopefully some new friendships as well.  In fact, I knew three of the people in attendance from other social engagements prior to the Seder.  The Jewish people in attendance were by no means all the Jews in Cuenca.  With time, we will probably discover a significant growth in a vibrant Jewish community in Cuenca.

Below is a text that better explains the Seder, and is taken from Wikipedia:

The Passover Seder (Hebrew: סֵדֶר [ˈsedeʁ], "order, arrangement"; Yiddish: Seyder) is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is conducted on the evenings of the 14th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, and on the 15th by traditionally observant Jews living outside Israel. This corresponds to late March or April in the Gregorian calendar.
The Seder is a ritual performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family, involving a retelling of the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slaveryin ancient Egypt. This story is in the Book of Exodus (Shemot) in the Hebrew Bible. The Seder itself is based on the Biblical verse commanding Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt: "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) Traditionally, families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, an ancient work derived from the Mishnah (Pesahim 10).[1][2] The Haggadah contains the narrative of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud, and special Passover songs.
Seder customs include drinking four cups of wine, eating matza, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.[3] The Seder is performed in much the same way by Jews all over the world.
Below is a link that describes in detail the Seder Dinner and the symbolism of each of the foods used in the Seder, along with some beautiful illustrations:

Since I first posted this post, Claudia Coplan graciously sent me a couple of photos from our Seder Dinner evening, and I am sharing them with you below:

Once again, the link immediately above the photos helps to explain the symbolism of each of the items you see in the photos.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Today's blog post started out as a personal email, but as I kept writing, I decided it would be my latest blog post:

Hi Lois,

Yes Chris and Bettye Petersen are great neighbors here at the Palermo.  We've been having a good time and always seem to have something to talk about, and I have introduced them to several of my friends over various lunches and dinners.  

Yesterday, started out very warm and extraordinarily sunny. The clouds over the eastern mountain range were so white and fluffy.  There wasn't a dark spot to be found anywhere in the sky enveloping Cuenca.  Of course, Lois, when you live here for a while you will learn quickly that such mornings are illusionary, and if the weather change is not what you wanted, you may even feel disillusioned.  When the three of us left for our adventure of the day at 1:00 p.m., the sky almost on cue had changed to an overcast. It happened so rapidly, that there truly is much truth to the statement, "That if you don't like the weather in Cuenca, don't worry it will change in ten minutes."  I rationalized to Chris and Bettye that the overcast would be advantageous to us, rather than spending an afternoon of walking under the hot sun, but we all knew what was most likely to be the outcome of this overcast. 

Yesterday, was a true test of a budding friendship.  I walked their and my behinds all over Cuenca, in search of the art fair.  We would have had an easier time trying to find Carmen Sandiego. There are two major art fairs annually in Cuenca. We found the first part, which is mainly crafts that quite frankly you can find anywhere in Cuenca, and it was located where it normally is on both sides of the river near Cuenca University.  By the time we arrived to this part of the fair, of course it was raining and drizzling, which would continue for about an hour.

Also in that location is Esquina Arts a complex of about twenty art shops, and which as I later would learn, turned out to be the sponsor and heart of the festival.  I then took Chris and Bettye down to Parque Madre, which, is totally boarded up, will be demolished, and replaced with a 350 underground auto garage, with a new park over the garage, and high quality running lanes for joggers and runners as well.

So all the past painting exhibitions that were along the sidewalks of the park were not on exhibit. What new location did they move the exhibits to, I wondered?  One young lady I asked said San Blas Square, and a middle-age lady said Parque Calderon.  We walked into El Centro from the river to an area between the two squares.  From what we could see, there appeared to be booths down by San Blas Square so we walked down there, and it was more of the handicraft stuff we saw earlier. Chris and Bettye did get to see the interior of San Blas Church, and a wedding ceremony was taking place at the time. They also saw the location for one of the vegetarian restaurants, which are of interest to them in Cuenca.  I also showed them the Canadian family-owned ice cream parlor on the square.  Many believe its ice cream is better than Tutto Freddo's.  I also noticed that Tutto Freddo's moved from a larger location on the square to a smaller location even closer to its rival ice cream shop.  Either way, both offer great ice cream.  A large stage was also setup on the square with all the sound equipment, which indicated some loud rock, South American style music was going to be the evening entertainment.  I also heard that Parque Paraiso would be featuring band concerts that evening as well.

We didn't have ice cream.  We just used the ice cream shop's banos, and walked back down Simon Bolivar toward Parque Calderon.  As we walked, we were accompanied by a band playing from an open van as it made its way down the street. It is always interesting, when these traditional type of bands play in the city, all the men wear suits while performing.

The band was accompanied by vintage autos from the 30's through the 70's, and there were even more vintage autos on display on Benigo Malo along Parke Calderon.  It was 4:00 in the afternoon.  I talked to the always friendly owner in the Ramipampa Restaurant, and he showed me the Art Festival ad in the newspaper. It was then that I came to the realization that possibly because of all the construction work along Parque Madre; and along the street on the opposite side of the river where major road construction is also taking place, and which had also been used in past painting exhibitions that can run for blocks; the whole fair was just scaled back this spring.  

Bettye wanted to eat at a nice restaurant, so I suggested Mangiare Bene, a fusion Italian-Ecuadorian restaurant, which in my opinion, is one of the very best eateries in the city, and it would be in the direction of our walking back to the Palermo.  As we arrived, the restaurant was closed, which I feared, since Ecuadorians usually don't eat supper until 7:00 p.m. or later, and the restaurant would not open until 6:00 p.m. for those early gringo diners.

Ultimately, it was decided by the three of us to make our way over to the Mediterraneo Restaurant, a very fine traditional Italian restaurant. The owner who is also the chef is from Milan, Italy, but the restaurant was almost one mile from our current location.   No one voted to take a taxi, so we walked.  I also figured that if the Mediterraneo was closed, there was about a half dozen other fine restaurants in the area.  As we approached the general area I couldn't find the Mediterraneo.  I left all my address books at home, because I didn't think I would need them and I wanted to lighten my bag load.  Chris was beginning to look irritated with me, not that I couldn't blame him.  We had easily walked six miles. We walked over to Zoe's, but they were closed.  We went across the street to the Indigo restaurant which is inexpensive and serves reasonably good food and sandwiches. Bettye came up with a great suggestion that we have a cocktail at Indigo's, and by six we could walk over to Las Monjas when it opened for dinner. Well, we had two cocktails a piece, and we all agreed they were quite good and very reasonably priced at Indigo's.  

By 6:20 p.m., we made our way down to Las Monjas, another one of the finest cuisine restaurants in the city.  The atmosphere, service, and food are all first class.  We started our dinner off with chocolate martinis, which were superb to say the least. They would also become Bettye and my dessert as well.  It was early by Ecuadorian standards for dining, and only one other family was in the restaurant during our time there.

This was my second visit to Las Monjas, I had visited there over a month ago when my brother and sister-in-law where visiting from the states, we all loved the restaurant then, but there were few patrons.  I would think such an outstanding dining experience would find this restaurant over-flowing with customers.  All three of us had seafood dinners, and the chef did an excellent job of preparation and presentation.  After dinner as we departed the restaurant, the better part of discretion required that we take a taxi home and not try to hoof it.  

Chris and Bettye received a better feel for the overall layout of the city, and where various places were located in relationship to others, whether they wanted the lesson or not.  I learned not to trust that the way things were done in previous events would necessarily be done the same way again.  We never found the art fair we sought out, and we never found Carmen Sadiego either.  In the end, the drinks and dinner made the day, and were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of all that walking, searching, and experiencing the unexpected.  

So Lois, we look forward to the time you come to join us on another visit to Cuenca, and when you come to permanently settle here.  Thanks for your friendship, and for introducing me to Chris and Bettye.

Monday, April 2, 2012


While my brother, Leo and his wife, Carla were visiting in Cuenca, they especially requested to visit the Hosteria Dos Chorreras Restaurant and Inn not far from the entrance to the Cajas National Park.  Their request had been based on an earlier post I had written of this spectacular restaurant of exceptional architectural achievement and landscaping.  If you would like to see the original post and  photos of Dos Chorreras just click on the link below, click on slideshow, and click on the forward arrow, so you can control the speed of viewing each slide:


On this trip our friend and driver had one of his friends, Manuel, take us to the restaurant.  On the way, however, Manuel took us on a side trip as we neared the restaurant area to show us the church grounds and church where he, his wife, and two daughters attend Saturday evening mass.  The grounds were attractive, and are known by the name, Capilla y Jardin (Chapel and Garden).  There were various religious icons on display.  Manuel was very proud of his church.  As we walked about the grounds, we viewed some outside wall displays that included plaques and letters of thanks and appreciation to God for those in the parish who had successfully made it to the United States to live and work.  I thought these prayers of appreciation may be unique to this particular church, but I  since have spoken to another friend who was aware of the same custom practiced at another church in Cuenca, so it may be a more common practice than we thought.  You may view the church grounds on the link below, and follow the same modus operendi as in the previous link.


My purpose for posting again about the beautiful architectural gem, Hosteria Dos Chorrereas was the fact that I thought I had seen all of the rooms in the building from my trip there in November.  However, it didn't take long to discover not only some additional dining rooms, but a bar as well on a lower level.  Last time I also was able to get shots of the interior of some of the cabin rooms, which are housed separately from the main restaurant.  I hoped to show them to my brother and sister-in-law, but the draperies were closed to all of the cabin rooms.  This time, however, I was able to view some of the hotel rooms in the restaurant-inn complex, and those pictures are included.

When Jose Cortez and I visited in November we practically had the entire restaurant to ourselves.  This time, a seminar was being held in one of the upper dining areas, and a bus-load of tourists were on hand as well.  The beautiful gift shop was doing a humming business.  My sister-in-law has some sensational photos of the gift shop.  However, since my brother is as brain-dead as me when it comes to electronics, they haven't figured out how to transfer their photos to me so I can use some of them in these posts.  Nonetheless, there were some photos of the gift shop in the original post above.

What I am especially pleased to report to you is that when Jose and I had dinner in November at Chorrereas, we were not very happy with the meal other than our main entrees.  We shared are disappointment with the manager.  I don't know if other concerns about the meals were expressed as well by other patrons.  I do know that it really felt good to find that management acted on our suggestions.  The manager was sincere when he said they welcomed our comments, and appreciated feedback from their patrons.  He wasn't handing us some public relations b.s. of what he thought we wanted to hear.  The management actually acted on our suggestions!

We had a very good meal.  Not only the entree of trout, which was fine before, but also the sopa de papas was immensely improved.  The broth was now thick and not insipid, and it now included alvocado and a slice of hard boiled egg.  The side dishes were quite good, and the dessert was not only delicious, but came in a larger portion.  The menu is great, because it provides the diner with all the food items in Spanish and their English translation.

So not only do you have a place to visit or spend a night or two of relaxation in natural and architectural splendor, but you also can enjoy a high quality and filling seafood dinner at a reasonable price.  You're welcome to enjoy the additions to the Chorrereas' slide album below, and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate that such a jewel of a place is right in our own backyard of Cuenca.  (Click on the first larger photo and that will allow you to go into slide show mode, and you will find the forward arrow way over to the right: