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.
Cuenca’s position in the foothills makes it a city of layers. We climbed a long stairwell, past graffiti, and cafes, to the Plazoleta Cruz del Vado. The charming plaza is circled by museums, shops, multi-level houses, and craftsmen’s studios. A prominent statue depicts Ecuador’s version of a greasy pole contest and a large cross sits sheltered in a gazebo of sorts, providing protection to travelers. However, its real draw is a balcony offering panoramic views of the new city and the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains behind it. Our plans for staying in Cuenca were undetermined. We gazed out onto the red tile rooftops and allowed the city to make a case for itself.
The old man sneered disapprovingly. He spit the words, “This is ridiculous,” at me, kneeling on the floor, then claimed his boarding pass and stalked off. I’m a good packer. I’ve taken a nine-week road trip with just a large duffel bag. Gone away for long weekends armed with only what fit into my purse. So you can imagine my mortification as I desperately attempted to lose 12 pounds in the middle of the San Diego airport.