Officially, Ecuador gained its independence from Spain on August 10, 1809. That was the day the capital city of Quito became independent. But battles continued to be fought all over the country and Cuenca didn’t achieve freedom until several years later, on November 3, 1820.
It’s strange to many North Americans that the various major cities of Ecuador each celebrate their own independence days rather than the country as a whole, but that’s just the way it is. When you realize that Cuenca was not linked to Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil until the latter half of the twentieth century, the insular nature of independence celebrations starts to make sense.
The earliest cars to Cuenca were carried into this Andean city from the coast by hand, a journey of over 200 km (120 miles) with an elevation climb of over 2,500 meters (8,300 feet). The remarkable diorama and photo below document how grueling the task must have been.
So in Cuenca, November 3rd is one of the biggest holiday celebrations of the year. Except for the massive Christmas Eve Day Parade (watch for more on this in the end of December newsletter), nothing else comes close.
The celebrations transform our normally tranquil neighborhood into a bee hive of activity. The quiet, wide pedestrian ways that line both sides of the Tomebamba river become host to tents housing numerous vendors, mostly of artesanal crafts and food.
Lovely Parque de la Madre is one of the main concert locations. Every year about half a dozen folkloric concerts are held here. The arrival of the tents and mainstage, a few days ahead of the holiday, presage the crowds that soon follow.
The tents quickly become crowded with shoppers looking for great bargains from Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, and with people looking to sample the best of Cuenca’s restaurants.
Many local vendors of commercial clothing and housewares take advantage of the crowds to setup outside the official tents.
The vendors proudly display their art, everything from beadwork jewelry,
to intricate woodcarvings,
to vibrant tapestries,
to hand-painted ceramics and wooden trays.
There’s also plenty of room for the incorrectly-attributed Panama hats (they actually originate in Ecuador),
and the country’s justly-famous chocolate.
I was even able to talk Lee into posing with this enormous sculpture of a horse made entirely of welded horseshoes.
The entire thing’s enough to make one “dog-tired.”
It all ends with a folkloric concert on the last day, starting in the heat of the afternoon (those umbrellas are for protection against the intense Cuenca sun)
and finishing with a dazzling fireworks display around 1:00 a.m. (yes, those people *do* seem dangerously close to the sparklers; that’s Cuenca).
At the end of it all, we took a break at the Cafe del Museo on the terraza of the fabulous Museo Remigio Crespo Toral,
where we enjoyed delicious iced-coffees in the shade of the trees and umbrellas. It was just another wonderful, quiet (tranquilo), warm November day in Cuenca.
The world really is full of wonderful, interesting places with fascinating local customs and history. I invite you to share Cuenca’s story with all your friends.
Until next time – Paul.