“Bye, Honey. I’m off!” I shouted into our apartment.
“Have a good time, Dear, and stay dry!” Belinda replied from the kitchen.
I walked on Avenida Diez de Agosto, a normally busy street with grass-filled medians, which commemorates the day when Ecuador’s first cry of independence from Spain was heard in 1809. Carnaval vacationers had emptied the city, giving a ghost-like feel to this urban artery. I saw no blue buses nor passengers at blue-signed bus stops. The indigenous women who roast brown-crusted pigs had disappeared. The quiet allowed me to hear bird calls from stunted trees.
I gazed at El Cajas National Park, in the direction I walked to meet with Cuenca Character theater mates at the director’s home. Clouds hovered over the mountain top like scattered pillows floating in air. Prepared for a sudden onslaught I had my rain jacket in a backpack which held paint supplies to create the stage banner for our “Death in Them Thar Hills.”
I relished in the sense of familiarity of the South American city. Cuenca held fewer surprises after two and a half years residence. I watched out for rowdy Carnaval excess. Friends and strangers alike are subjected to white foam spray and water attacks. Where wet pavement or strings of white foam covered my way, I checked for miscreants lurking behind high masonry walls and in gated driveways. Even adults become kids over Carnaval, joining neighborhood raids with the children.
Cuenca has many homeless dogs seeking handouts. Street-smart and sometimes aggressive, they avoid vehicular traffic. When confronted by a snarling mutt, I retreat into Diez de Agosto’s median covered with flowers, shrubs and trees. The street’s blacktop provides a broad moot to avoid teeth-bared challenges. Maybe the vacation mood had induced a calm. Some dozed on the sidewalk against masonry walls.
Yellow taxis passed; their drivers tooted the horn to solicit my fare. I luxuriated in the fresh morning air while I vigorously pounded the pavement. Over my forty minute stroll, only one city bus worked its route, on broad Avenida Las Americas which connects commercial centers along a southwest to northeast trajectory.
Halfway into my walk, I passed my former carpentry workshop which I shared with fellow gringos in 2014. This garage space outfitted with power tools helped me to make furniture for our unfurnished rental. I acquired knowledge of local lumber species and where to purchase material for making chairs and tables. “You’re not in Home Depot anymore, Dorothy.”
The overcast sky opened into a downpour. A couple of blocks south of the shop Rio Yanuncay drained distant mountain hillsides. After a few minutes it intensified. I stopped under a tree to ward off the rain and dug into the backpack for my rain coat. Across the street, under an abandoned railway bridge, a couple huddled in the brick and cement tunnel while I tugged at the Velcro tabs of my hood.
At a quickened pace I turned right onto Calle Canton Gualaceo and sought cover along high walls protecting two-story homes.
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