This is a Google map of our neighborhood. The arrow marks the location of our apartment. Our apartment is just a couple of houses off the main street, Av. Primero de Mayo, on Lope de Vega. The streets marked in red show the route of the #7 bus that we use regularly. We just have to walk a short distance to the bus stop on Isabela la Catolica.
Walking West along Primero de Mayo
On the first of our trips through our neighborhood we will be walking to the left (westward) along Av Primero de Mayo that parallels the banks of the Yanuncay River. Our journey will take us as far as Avenue de Las Americas at the left edge of the map where the bus line makes a sharp turn to the north.
At the corner of Lope de Vega and Primero de Mayo there is a small convenience store with outdoor tables for having a drink or a snack. The second photo shows a view of the establishments along this block of Primero de Mayo. There is another convenience store and a large woodworking shop that appears to build furniture. There are thickness planers, shapers, bandsaws and other large pieces of woodworking equipment.
There is a park between Primero de Mayo and the Yanuncay River. There are several sets of playground equipment for kids to play on. There is not the same concern for protecting children from all possible dangers that there is in North America. Several of the playgrounds had zip-lines for the children to use. The Yanuncay River is the second largest of the four rivers that flow through Cuenca. It is a rapidly flowing streams with a fairly steep gradient. The current is too swift and there are too many boulders in the stream-bed for the river to be navigable.
There are several multi-story apartment buildings along Primero de Mayo with more under construction. Most of the existing structures have apartments for rent. There are also several small gated communities with from four to ten residences surrounding a central courtyard. On one corner there is a pre-school that is based on the ideas of Pestalozzi.
As the well-maintained walking path along the river approaches Ave Loja, Primero de Mayo veers away from the river and there are houses between the road and the path along the river. As we approach the Av Loja bridge, the path climbs steeply and we have to dodge the traffic to continue along the path. There are several quite nice houses along this section of Primero de Mayo. Although here is a large vacant lot being used as a garden. There are a surprising number of these vacant lots scattered throughout the built-up sections of the city. It would seem that these would be ideal for in-fill housing.
Here a new home is under construction on one of the previously vacant lots. Note that most buildings are constructed like this. The main floor is a concrete slab. Reinforced concrete posts are poured about 8 feet apart along the exterior walls and the interior supporting walls. Then a concrete slab is poured to form the ceiling of the main floor and the floor for the second level. You can tell that this building will be taller because of the reinforcing rod extending up from the top of the posts holding up the second floor. The walls are then completed by laying concrete blocks between the exterior posts. The walls are finished with a layer of plaster over the concrete blocks. Note that other than the air spaces in the concrete blocks, there is no insulation used in constructing a house here. As we walked along we encountered several of these maintenance personnel trimming the grass along the riverbank. As we neared Avenida de Las Americas we saw what appears to be an English country cottage. It appears that a British expat was missing his homeland.
There is a very large apartment complex under construction at the corner of Primero de Mayo and Av de Las Americas. With so much new construction going on in the city, I have the feeling that the developers are over building and before long there will be a glut of homes and apartments on the market and real estate prices will drop. The second photo shows a #7 bus that has turned onto Av de Las Americas and is crossing the river heading towards the market and downtown. The day we hiked this route there was a fisherman trying his luck with a net in the river. This concludes the exploration of our neighborhood in this direction.
Walking East along Primero de Mayo
In the first photo we are looking East along Primero de Mayo from the intersection with Lope de Vega. The tall chimney with smoke coming from it is a restaurant that features chicken. They probably roast up to a hundred chickens at a time on rapidly rotating rotisseries. Since Primero de Mayo is a busy street many of the homes use the first floor as a business such as this shop selling elaborate costumes for festivals and other celebrations. In the center of the first block is this unfinished building. Apparently the builder ran out of money part way through the construction process.
The next street east of Lope de Vega is not a public street. It leads to a small gated community of six homes. One of the residents has just driven out and so the gate is still partially open. The next two photos are of one the houses in the next block. This is quite an up-scale neighborhood and many of the houses have elaborate ornamentation.
The first photo is of the next publicly accessible street east of Lope de Vega along Primero de Mayo. The second photo shows another of the elaborate entrances to homes in this neighborhood. The final photo shows the bridge that carries the heavy traffic from Doce de Octubre over the Yanuncay River.
We have not explored much further East than Doce de Octubre. However, the river trail continues and passes behind this elaborately landscaped complex of buildings that faces Primero de Mayo. This concludes our exploration in this direction.
Walking South along Lope de Vega
In this walk we will walk south along Lope de Vega until we reach The main, four lane divided street Isabela la Catolica. We will turn East and pass the bus stops where we catch our #7 bus and then explore the area around the big traffic circle there Isabela la Catolica meets Doce de Octubre.
This is looking south along Lope de Vega. Our next-door-neighbor has a very large impressive house and yard behind that tall fence. The entrance door is elaborately carved.
Unlike many dwellings where the building takes up essentially the entire lot, our neighbor has a large yard around his house. It is nicely landscaped with flowers and fruit trees. This is one of the plum trees in front of his house. In the large side yard the citrus tree and palm indicate that this is a very moderate climate. The next house up the street is also impressive with a neatly tiled courtyard with lovely rose bushes.
This is obviously an up-scale neighborhood, but there are no zoning laws, so directly across the street from these high-end homes is a vacant lot and the compound of a mechanic who specializes in the repair of Volkswagons. There is also a very small dwelling set well back on a lot that appears to be filled with junk.
Just beside the two impressive homes stands what appears to be a large office building. However, the sign identifies it as a church, the Christian Center of Cuenca (Yanuncay Annex). They hold services on Sunday mornings and small meetings and rehearsals of musical groups on a few evenings during the week. Immediately beside the church is an unpaved street running east. This street provides the only access to numerous dwellings. I’m not sure why the street is unpaved because all the other streets in the area are paved. Probably some obscure political reason.
This is the view further south along Lope de Vega. Immediately south of the unpaved street there is a large vacant lot surrounded by a tall fence. At some point there was a dwelling here but at present it is used as a garden space. Further up the street there are more up-scale homes.
When you reach the intersection with Isabela la Catolica, there is a large, new apartment block on one side of the street. On the other side of Lope de Vega there is a run-down house with a large yard. Part of the yard is used as a garden while the remainder is used as a chicken run. This is the source of my early morning wake-up calls.
Here we are looking East along Isabela la Catolica. This is a major 4-lane divided street. Here Nan is waiting for a #7 bus at the bus stop. The Cuenca city buses are not fancy but they are reasonably comfortable. The fare is only 25 cents and the buses run frequently – about every 5 minutes. After a while we got tired of having to search for change every time we rode the bus and bought a bus pass. A pass costs $1.75 and you can charge it up with as much money as you’d like. When you get on the bus you just tap the card against a reader and it deducts the fare from the amount on the card.
This large open space is the traffic circle where Isabela la Catolica meets Doce de Octubre. If we walk a short distance south along Doce de Octubre we come to a hardware store (ferretería) and a bakery (panadería).
Although Doce de Octubre is a busy street which attracts commercial development there are still some vacant lots such as this once being used as a vegetable garden. Because of the heavy traffic, those buildings that are solely private residences tend to wall themselves off to try to maintain a semblance of privacy. Many of the buildings combine a business, such as this Pizza Express outlet, on the first floor with residental space above.
Just beside the Pizza Express is this shop that rents movies (peliculas) on DVD’s. Internet connections in Cuenca are not stable enough that streaming video from Netflicks or Hulu provides much competition yet. There are numerous restaurants around the traffic circle area. This one sports a sign indicating that they accept MasterCard and Visa. Ecuador has a cash based economy and most merchants will not accept credit cards. Those that do tend to have inflated prices and will offer a 10 to 15% discount if you pay cash. As we move around the circle we come to the bridge that crosses the Yanuncay River. Note the merchant who has set up a stall on the median.
The first photo shows the median merchant selling a newspaper to a passing motorist. Note that the motorist is NOT stopped at a red light. He has cleared the intersection and was heading over the bridge and is now blocking traffic as he buys a newspaper. The second photo shows the Farmacia San Diego where I had the prescriptions my dentist gave me filled. The pharmacist charged me $32.50 for the prescriptions but when I got home Nancy noticed that the receipt in the bag was for $22.50. I asked my dentist whether the extra $10 I had paid was a filling fee but he told me that I had been ripped off by the pharmacist and should not have paid anything more than the receipt. When I asked the pharmacist about it, he claimed I only paid what the receipt showed. As a result, I would advise people to avoid Farmacia San Diego located at Isabela la Catolica 3-61 Y Av. 12 de Octubre. Nearby is a small used car lot. Cars tend to be very expensive in Ecuador because of high import duties and a prohibition on importing used vehicles. Although the cars are expensive their owners do not take good care of their vehicles (check fluid levels, change oil regularly, etc.) so the cars wear out quite quickly and you need to be very careful when buying a used vehicle.
There are two small markets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables around the traffic circle. However, we tend to go to one of the large markets such as Feira Libre or to one of the supermercados (Coral or SuperMaxi) to do our food shopping. As we complete our journey around the circle we come back to Isabela la Catolica where we see several large, stately homes. The streets of Cuenca are kept relatively free of litter by street sweapers such as these.
If we go south of Isobela la Catolica along Lope de Vega we see more highrise apartments under construction. We saw this trailer outfitted as a mobile food vendor. Since it is shaped like a whale, it probably serves fish and chips. Even in this densely populated up-scale neighborhood there are vacant lots that are being used to raise vegetables and chickens.
These are “tree tomatoes” or tamarillos ripening on the — tree. Tree tomatoes are distant relatives of potatoes and tomatoes. The plant is a small, half-woody, fast-growing, brittle tree; shallow-rooted; reaching 10 to 18 ft in height. The fruits can be eaten raw or sliced and added to soups or stews. Commercially they are made into juice. Although regular tomatoes are grown and eaten in Ecuador, Ecuadorians can not conceive of them being made into juice. Real tomato juice comes from tree tomatoes!
This is a new, up-scale neighborhood and is composed of rows of modern row houses with little space around each house. However, there are central green spaces and playgrounds for the kids.
The developer of this community has created a good mix of densely packed residences and community green space. There are a few low-key businesses in the community. For example, this individual repairs computers. Outside the “development area” the homes have been constructed by various builders and so there are greater differences between the homes on a block. Los Andes is a large private K-12 school located in this area.
It was recess when we walked by and the children were playing in the playground. When they discovered some friendly Gringos by the fence one of the teachers and her class came over to practice their English. The teacher had a multi-grade classroom with students in grades 2, 3 and 4. This is a large school with several buildings containing classrooms and a large playground.
As we walked towards home we passed a small gated community of nice, modern homes. The occasional small business, such as this local beauty parlor, did not detract from the overall time of the neighborhood. However, the total lack of zoning means that you may find your neighbor opening and running an auto body shop like this right next door!
This concludes our walk through our neighborhood. I hope we’ve given you some idea of what a rather nice, up-scale Ecuadorian neighborhood is like in Cuenca. Most of the people who live here are native Ecuadorians although a number of expats are starting to move into this area.