Thursday, 10 January 2008

Cobbled streets and tiled roofs

Relatively free from the constraints of Quito and Guayaquil, Cuenca has all the colonial charm without the pollution, barrio slums and frenetic pace of commercial development. As you walk the cobbled streets of the city the first thing that strikes you is the beauty of the buildings. Colour washed walls with architectural mouldings and small balconies overlook the streets. The red clay tiles of the roofs give texture and vibrancy to the cityscape, punctuated with the tiled cupolas of the numerous whitewashed churches. The main cathedral on the Plaza Calderon is a relatively recent addition in the c.19th and demonstrates the ambition of the time. The walls are made from red brick and soar above the surrounding buildings. The domes of the cupolas are tiled in azure blue, topped with ornate ironwork crucifixes.

The relaxed charm of the city is all pervading. The shops demonstrate the relative wealth of the inhabitants as they tout their electronic goods, quad bikes and mobile phones. The native Cuencans seem to be more fashion conscious than other cities and the restaurants and bars are certainly more stylish. The juxtaposition between Cuenca and a small town like Latacunga is stark; both represent the country but from very different angles.

As we make our way to Guayaquil today and then on to Lima tomorrow I have been reflecting on our time in Ecuador. The main theme that I keep returning to is diversity. Ecologically, demographically and ethnographically diverse this country has so much to offer. High mountains, desolate paramo, abundant jungle and sweeping beaches all in South America's second smallest country. I think that we have done justice to Ecuador over the last few weeks, but I leave with the niggling regret of having missed the jungle. However, you have to leave something to come back for.

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