Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cuenca's Independence Day: Part 3

On Sunday morning we woke up, exhausted and hungover, but headed out for some breakfast. I'd promised to take everyone to the best coffee shop in Cuenca, Cafe Lojana, but the shop was closed because it was Sunday and Day of the Dead, a double whammey. The cafe is one of the only places in the city, maybe country, that doesn't use Nescafe, but rather actual coffee beans from Loja. There's no option besides black coffee, but it's only 70 cents.

After grabbing some food at a hostel we walked around the center, snapping photos and looking at the architecture. Coming around the grid streets towards the central park, we stumbled upon a parade of the barrios that was just passing through. Every barrio, or neighborhood in the city had selected a queen and was driving her by on floats in a very 1950s-esque parade.

Once the parade had gone through the center we passed by an outdoor concert in the park and walked down towards a practically empty square. It was starting to rain the kind of rain that would last all day long, and we were in no rush to do anything. Becky had a cough so we eventually found a pharmacy outside the center. Two armed guards were outside with M-16s as they were doing a money drop, and the girls felt a bit uneasy.

That's something that you just get used to seeing here. It's normal for guards to flaunt their weapons, because they want potential theives to know that they're ready. In the United States, a cop never draws his weapon unless absolutely necessary, and you're assured that they're well certified to have the weapon. Here, however, seemingly anyone with a "Guard" shirt can walk around with a loaded weapon. There's little confidence on my part on how well trained they are with it.

Walking around later, we went down to Parque de la Madre where we shared some traditional food for Day of the Dead and festivals. Colada and guaguas (pronounced wah-wahs) are sweet bread and fruit juice that you eat together. Guagua is a Quechua word for baby, and the bread is in the shape of a baby. We crowded around the colada in the middle of the park and dipped our guaguas into the colada as the rain fell down on us, but we were perfectly content.

We decided to find the Panama Hat museum on Calle Larga shortly afterwards because Russell wanted to buy himself one. If you were to buy a Panama Hat made in Cuenca in the United States or in Europe it could cost in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, but at the museum it ranged from $15-18. For this reason, tons of tourists buy the official hats here in Cuenca. But that was still too rich for us poor volunteers.

We tried on several hats, and we realized that I actually look pretty good in a Panama Hat when I tip it to the side. If I could find one for $5 I might consider buying one, but otherwise it's just not worth it. The name Panama Hat is actually a misnomer. The majority of workers on the Panama Canal came from Ecuador and brought their hats with them. The Americans working on the canal saw the hats and liked them, so they took them back with them and dubbed them the Panama Hat.

For years the local economy was doing fine selling these handmade hats, but in recent years cheaper production in Asia has caused the market to crash a bit. For this reason, it's getting harder and harder to find a good hat in the city.

After the museum we got some lunch at an incredibly inefficient chicken restaurant, where it took 25 minutes to get a bottle of water, but a quarter of a chicken came out in 2. It was nearing 3 o'clock and a big soccer game between Barcelona (Guayaquil) and Liga (Quito) was coming on, so we headed over to a bar to watch the game and have a drink.

I was crashing badly at this point and was in desperate need of a nap, but didn't want to waste the time we were spending together. At the bar I was dozing in between the game, and though it was a standard, quasi-boring soccer game for a while, it got interesting as Barcelona scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute.

Our plan after the game was to cook dinner at the house, but we made a mistake in ordering a couple of coffees, which for some reason took over 40 minutes to get to us. With all of the stores closed, we headed back to my house and ordered some pizza, and we prepared to just take it easy and play some cards, drink a few beers, and talk throughout the night. It was a good way to relax and take it easy after the three nights of hard partying, and it was fun to be with the friends we hadn't seen in a month.

By the end of the night we were all exhausted, but wanted to wake up early to get in one last event together for the weekend. The military parade with President Correa at 10 a.m.

Continued in Part 4...

Above: Many hats at the Panama Hat museum, one of the churches in the center of Cuenca, cholas (indigenous women) walking into a pharmacy, one of the barrio queens on a float

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