We rode in silence along the city’s Northern ridge. Our hands lightly clasped, but our eyes stayed fixed on the city, our stillness a permission allowing each other the space to savor our last few moments in our own way. For two months, we had been drinking Cuenca in. Our glasses had been all but emptied. We swirled the last lingering drops and took a final swig.
The charm and beauty of Cuenca, Ecuador isn’t only in its Old World architecture and UNESCO-tier cathedrals and churches. The city teems with layers upon layers of artistic expression.
Ecuadorians’ adoration of fairs and festivals is only surpassed by their devotion to Catholicism. Subscribing to the Catholic credo that there ain’t no party like a Jesús birthday party, these passions intersect in a three-month celebration around the Christmas holiday that exceeds the birthday week excesses of the most self-indulgent sorority girl. Cuenca is the heart of these festivities, upstaging the larger cities of Quito and Guayaquil to draw people from all across the Andes.
The park was formed specifically to protect the area around the New River Gorge Crossing, and stretches for over 50 miles along the banks of the river from the Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest State Park. Conservation of ecology, history and wildlife all play a major role in the park’s mission.
For them, we were the ones out of place, two gringos staring at a marred wall. Cuenca’s dichotomy of modern and classical, of conservative and rebellious, so unexpected to us, was an an all too mundane part of life for its citizens. Their love for the city had settled and grown comfortable, the recollection of its charms reserved for special occasions. But we were barely acquainted with this place, learning its quirks and becoming ever more intrigued by each discovery into its complicated nature.
Being that Arches is one of the more well-known parks in the world, a great deal of work and consideration has gone into protecting the delicate desert ecosystem as well as the deceptively fragile rock formations throughout the park. There is a large focus on education and hiking trails as well.
Exhibits outlined Ecuador’s rich and varied cultural makeup, displaying the traditions and garb of the various ethnicities that comprise the country. The detailed skirts and peaked hats of the native women were explained, giving us new-found respect for the artistry and tenacity of the native traditions. It was a stark contrast to our experiences in the American Southwest, where the narrative is generally one of decimation and dissolution and traditions forever lost to the ether. Tribal masks were reminiscent of the artist Basquiat, famous for injecting African themes into his evocative graffiti-inspired style, forging a strange link between three continents with those same threads of universality waiting to be found in the museums of the world.
I can understand why people don’t switch careers. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to have gleaned some intelligence through experiential education. There’s comfort in knowing how to impress a boss, navigate a client meeting, change the printer cartridge. Eventually, you’re able to find flow in a stack of TPS reports.