Last Friday afternoon, as I feasted on a gooey piece of apple strudel, I watched as throngs of children armed with large water guns hoisted foam at passers-by. Cafe Austria—a well-liked expat hangout—serves as my office of sorts, where I can write and still enjoy the Cuenca culture as it passes by the open window.
It was the first day of Carnival festivities in my adopted hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador. The water wars are a long-held tradition marking the beginning of mayhem, non-stop parades, and street parties which will end today, on Ash Wednesday.
I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. I have a great husband, four dogs, one cat, a beautiful family, and lots of friends. But if I had one thing to do over in my life, it would be to have started this journey to Cuenca sooner.
One of the things I love about this city is its celebrations. I live on the main drag that runs through a trendy neighborhood called Remigio Crespo near downtown, so the weekend parades go right past my bedroom window in the morning.
Looking out the window at this time of year, I have to wonder how many girls dressed like angels riding on horsebacks are there in this city?
My house, with windows front and back, gives me a bi-lateral view of the festivities…and it’s not so bad during the rest of the year either. The front side faces downtown where I can view party central. There are postcard-perfect views of the three mosaic, light-blue domes of the New Cathedral, which fronts Parque Calderon—the starting point of many parades.
The back side of my house faces a natural paradise with the Yununcay River (one of four cascading into the city) providing fishing and overnight camping areas, a 13-mile nature trail for scenic walks into El Centro, the city’s historic district, or two nearby mercados where I can buy organic vegetables and fruits and shrimp the size of a two-year old’s hand. There’s even a frog sanctuary. And of course, the Andes mountains looming on the horizon.
During the nights of Carnival, there are fiestas with salsa music and fireworks. Sundays are reserved for parades where women wear the colorful traditional clothing representing their Ecuadorian tribes and little boys wear sombreros and paint handlebar mustaches on their upper lips. I can see the whole thing from my home but many prefer to enjoy the festivities from the rows of modern, trendy restaurants and bars which line the major thoroughfares.
Carnival and Cuenca will forever be linked in my mind. It was during Carnival that I moved to Cuenca three years ago. That year, for Lent, I gave up the unhealthy lifestyle I’d been living and took up fun stuff—like shooting water at kids during Carnival and visiting the frogs at the sanctuary.
Looking to fund trips back home, I decided to revive my once abandoned writing career and I now work remotely for a publication out of Dallas. I earn enough money to live comfortably and I bank around half of my Social Security every month. I like to think of myself as semi-retired. I work…but I still have enough free time to eat decadent desserts and enjoy the parades.
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