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THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF CELEBRATION

Ernesto, our host’s brother, had left us with the casual warning after retrieving us from the airport. Now just five days later we were dismissing his advice in order to partake in the festivities of Cuenca’s Independence Day. Cuenca, named for the hometown of Spanish explorer Gil Ramírez Dávalos, was founded in 1557. However, it was not until November 3, 1820 that it would declare its independence from Spain, joining Guayaquil and Quito as one of the capitals of Ecuador’s three provinces. Despite the date exclusively commemorating the independence of Cuenca, as Ecuador’s third largest city, it is a holiday that is celebrated throughout the country.

THE OTHER AMERICA

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.

PACKING WITHOUT REGRETS

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.