We were excited to change climates from the sticky heat of Guayaquil to the temperate mountain air of Cuenca, but we were not prepared for how charmed we would be by the city itself—Cuenca reminded us of a famous old European city, except a quarter of the size and far less populated.
We were equally as excited about the people we would stay with, as we had been welcomed into the home of a group of Haitians who had been living, working and studying in Cuenca for the last couple of years. Jeffto picked us up from the bus station (even though Carlyle was the one who accepted us on Couchsurfing), and escorted us back to his large, comfortable house. Carlyle actually lived closer to the city center, but since the two were best friends, he spent much of his time at Jeffto’s house. Jeffto lived with 4 or 5 other Haitians (one guy and 3 or 4 girls), but offered us his room during our stay, and slept at his next door neighbor friends’ house.
The warmth of the people in the house was remarkable. We were never quite sure who lived in the house (and especially who slept where), but we felt extremely welcomed and part of their family. The first night Jeffto and some of the girls made a massive, creamy mostaccioli noodle casserole with cheese, onion, and ground beef. It was served with black beans, rice and smashed, fried plantains. Some of them absolutely flattened us with stories about the losses they suffered surviving the earthquake, while others had us laughing tears from the all jokes and banter. Jeffto and Carlyle were both especially hilarious together and we delighted in their company and cherished their humor.
We quickly learned that everything that the Haitians had, they shared with each other. All food, sleeping space, clothing and electronics simply belonged to the group. We took the opportunity to buy food for the house as often as possible (many of them only ate once a day), and on the second night we returned the favor and cooked them a States-style breakfast casserole. Over the next few days we became extremely close with our new family, especially Carlyle and Jeffto. We learned so much from Jeffto, who, besides speaking Creole, French, Spanish, English and German, taught us how to cherish the simple things in life. Carlyle and Jeffto were so remarkably unselfish and caring, simply being in their presence made us more patient and warm.
We spent our days touring the city, eating at vegetarian restaurants, relaxing in parks and squares, visiting churches, admiring the architecture, walking along the river, and sampling the tastes of local craft breweries such as La Compañia and Cervecería Far Out. We strongly preferred the latter, mostly because we became friends with the owner, who shared with us delicious free beer and incredible stories such as hitchhiking from Germany to India in the 70s. He also had an incredible collection of music–we’d go so far as to say, he had digital copies of the entire history of rock and roll. He actually sold his vinyl collection (after digitally recording them) to finance his move to Cuenca and purchase of his house and brewpub.
Despite the fact that the last Statesman who told the Haitians he could play soccer proved to be major flop, one evening Ryan was invited me to play soccer with them against a team compiled by a friend of theirs from Switzerland who owns a hostel. It was nearly impossible to distinguish where anyone was from, and when it came time to play, there were far too many players to make only two teams. After a great deal of conversation and disorganization, we broke into three teams and played one goal games with the winner staying on the field. To the Haitians surprise, Ryan scored the first goal in less than a minute, and a new team entered the field. Ryan was on a mission to prove that gringos from the States can play the beautiful game, and helped keep his team on the field for nearly five straight games.
We celebrated by accompanying the group to a friend’s birthday party. We walked the entire length of the city to the girl’s house where the party took place, and danced late into the morning, laughing the entire time. It was extremely difficult to leave Cuenca, and especially our new Haitian family, but we strongly consider returning for more than just vacationing.