Two Faces of Travel: Aggravation – and – Anticipation

Selling fruit from  a wheelbarrow.

One day in the market I told a woman she had a lovely smile and asked if she would allow me to take her picture, but she said no. Intimidated! I’ve lost my nerve so now many of my photos are taken surreptitiously from behind.

I love all the different colors of school uniforms

I admire all the different colors of school uniforms, but take the photos from behind.


This young man gave me shy smile.

This week I paid for a few hours of Spanish language tutoring and I really enjoyed the conversation. It was a great time to voice my frustrations, ask my questions and learn. We talked about the art of bargaining at the market, the accents of coastal Ecuadorians vs Cuencanos and Quitenos, and indigenous groups and how to identify them by their clothing, hair styles and hats.


Kids are easier to talk to.

The confusion we’ve had communicating has been frustrating yet I’ve been told by people here that I speak Spanish very well and with a great accent, so what is the problem? I think some of them see my light skin and hair, recognize I am a gringo, and therefore don’t listen! It’s happened several times. I’ve asked a waiter about the “buy one, get one half price” breakfast promotion, “Which breakfast is eligible for this?” “Any of them” was his reply, but when it came time to pay the bill and I asked about the discount he said that promotion was on Tuesdays only. I said, “Sir, remember how I asked you about the promotion when we placed our order? Why didn’t you tell me that then?” His reply – “I didn’t understand you.” Another time at the market I asked how much were the fruit smoothies. The reply was .50 so I ordered two, but they came to $1.50 so I asked why? “Grande” she said and another helpful patron confirmed it by screeching “Large” in English as if I couldn’t understand the word “grande”when what I really wanted to know was why there was no mention of two sizes when I asked how much and ordered. Frustrating! Maddening! Aggravating! Yes! But I realize I need practice in the listening part of conversation.

Taking a rest in Parque Calderón.

Taking a rest in Parque Calderón.

I learned how to identify this Otovaleño from the Cholita Cuencana.  She wears her hair in one braid, a different style of hat and a straight skirt.

I learned how to identify this Otovaleño from the Cholita Cuencana. She wears her hair in one braid, a different style of hat and a straight skirt.

The short, full, brightly colored skirt of the Chola Cuencana is called a 'poll era'.

The short, full, brightly colored skirt of the Chola Cuencana is called a ‘pollera’.

Children don't mind having their photo taken.

Children don’t mind having their photo taken.

This young Shuar man from the Amazon says he wants to be a Tour Guide.

This young Shuar man from the Amazon says he wants to be a Tour Guide.

They say the Cuencanos are friendly. Unfortunately we haven’t had much opportunity to really talk with any except to greet our doormen, shop at the Mercado Central, or place an order at a restaurant. When passing folks on the street we look up to find them looking right at us and when we smile, they smile, and greet us. Many children stare. But one woman waggled her finger and said “No!” because I asked to purchase some potatoes she was frying on her sidewalk stand. She pointed to the meat she was also cooking indicating they go together, but I said I only wanted the potatoes. Confused!

Monday we traveled by bus to Gualaceo, a town lower in elevation and therefore, warmer. On the bus a very friendly man kept talking to us and our lack of understanding didn’t discourage him at all. I could understand some. He said his father had been a US citizen working in the oil industry. He talked of silver mining and evangelizing, but when he said he wanted to take us in his car to show us around and meet his sister, we thanked him and hurried away! Was it opportunity lost or self-preservation? We’ll never know!

Tuesday evening we went to an interesting presentation from one who taught English to the Shuar tribe in the Amazon. We stayed for pizza afterward and visited with US expats, both old and young, living here.

Thursday we both had dental cleanings with an English speaking dentist that came highly recommended by the expats living here. We paid $30 each – double what the Ecuadorians pay, but cheaper than home!

Today we visited our third different English speaking congregation in this city where we met a retired couple from Hermiston, Oregon and had lunch with them.

Our time in Cuenca is coming to an end. Instead of feeling like we know this place I feel there is more yet to explore, learn and comprehend. There are certainly many untried restaurants left to explore!

I know my Spanish skills will improve.  I expect exciting opportunities will arise.  We will continue to meet people.  The sun will come out again.  There’s still Vilcabamba, Loja, Cotacachi, Popayan, Cali, the Colombia coffee growing region and more on the itinerary.  Anticipation! image

4 responses to “Two Faces of Travel: Aggravation – and – Anticipation

  1. Merrill I am loving your adventures and all you are teaching us about your daily life in the culture. Both aggravations and anticipations!
    Also looks like Steve is fitting in nicely.
    Take care and stay safe.


  2. Thanks Debbie! I wish everyone could experience the joys and the frustrations of travel and learning of cultures. They say it keeps us young! I’m really trying to remember the concept that “our” way is not the only – or best – way.


  3. Interesting! It is true that one has to never forget in most other cultures from us west coast Americans, we are viewed as wealthy even tho we think we are not.. But learning widely varied cultures and its people around the world – and the accepted interaction for that culture – is worth every effort you are making. Then we can happily be Gods Hand extended and our hard work is not in vain. Keep up the good work, enjoy the journey! Love reading about it!


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