Stories from the Amazon

  • Paso del Nino parade dancers
    A group of women dance in the Paso del Nino parade in Cuenca, Ecuador.

    This Fork in the Road is a Bit Familiar

    My plans to head toward another Achuar village in the Amazon Rainforest had to be postponed. The pace of life over the last few months had caught up with me. I was exhausted and felt sick. It was going to take more than aspirin and a good night’s sleep to catch up on rest.

    Heading into the rain forest is challenging enough without being sick on top of it. The next village visit would have to wait. There’s too much to accomplish and operating on half batteries wasn’t going to get it done.

    So, I decided to push back the next trip into the rain forest for a month. Keeping my promises with the Achuar is important. This is how I have built their trust over time.

    Instead, I would be with friends waiting in southern Ecuador in the city of Cuenca. A perfect place to rest and spend some of the holidays.

    I found Cuenca to be a charming place when I visited two years ago. In the center of the old town within the town square is a beautiful cathedral; it was one of my places of refuge when I needed a break.

    The cathedral in Cuenca Ecuador.

    Cuenca also has a large expat population. It has turned into one of the hotspots for North Americans to retire. With a limited budget, they can have a decent lifestyle that wouldn’t be possible in the United States.

    During my wanderings, I found a couple from Minnesota who moved to Cuenca and opened a coffee shop called the Wind Horse. Inside I found Midwest conversations, cinnamon rolls and apple pie – the perfect antidote for my moment of holiday homesickness.

    On Christmas Eve, one of the largest parades in Ecuador happens in Cuenca. It is called the Pase Del Nino (parade of the child) that celebrates the birth of Jesus. This parade happens all over Ecuador, but the one in Cuenca is the largest. People from small southern villages all over the country come to view and participate in the parade.

    The Pase Del Nino parade consists of marching bands, dancers and ornately dressed children riding beautifully dressed horses. The foundation of the parade has a religious celebration of Christmas, but it has morphed over the years so anyone is welcome to participate.

    smiling girl
    A young girl smiles as she rides in the Paso del nino parade in Cuenca, Ecuador.

    young girl
    A young girl looks at the crowd as she rides in the Paso del Nino parade in Cuenca, Ecuador.

    One thing I found interesting was the lack of anything commercial. It was just people celebrating their holiday beliefs.

    It is something not to be missed for anyone in the area. Given the parade lasts six hours, it’s hard to miss it.

    A couple of days later I strolled through the old city to visit the local market. This is one way to observe the lives of ordinary people who call this place home.

    The air was filled with the aromas of fresh and raw foods. The market consists of open stalls, where people sell food, dry goods and just about whatever else is needed for daily living. The local markets also have food stalls where the locals eat. Whenever possible, I join them.

    Everyone shares a table at the restaurant, so it becomes a communal dining experience. Of course, I look and sound different from everyone at the table. So I pulled out my photos of Nebraska and shared my world as best I could; we laughed and enjoyed a moment together.

    As I approached a familiar area of the market, the owner of one of the food stalls flashed a big smile.

    “Hola, amigo. Welcome back. How long has it been since you were here?”

    Marco, the owner, had remembered my visit from two years ago. I had stopped at his food stall several times to eat fresh fish.

    “I have a special fish for you. Please sit down,” Marco said.

    Exploring new places has its magic, but it is also special when I can return and celebrate life with those who have previously crossed my path.

    an old friend
    A food stall owner remembers my visit from 2 years ago in Cuenca, Ecuador.

    Fremont Tribune

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