A Cuenca Evening

Enjoying a spring night of solo travel

I walk down the street, cute cotton skirt flipping up a bit in the wind. The breeze feels good on my legs, exposed to the elements for the first time in months, it makes me feel happy to be alive! As I walk down the avenue, the old colonial building lining the streets seem to be even even brighter shades of pastel than usual. It’s probably the fresh air and the fact that my face is upturned to the sun! The brightness is burning the old winter blues away from my mind.

Ahead of me is the flower market. A weekly ritual I am happy to return to, now that it’s warm again. The bright floral colors splashing down the block, each booth covered in roses, hibiscus, and other flowers I don’t know the names of, falling over in their pots, reaching their tendrils out to me, hoping to become the centerpiece on my table. I pick two different pink flowers, and even though I ask the Señora their name, I immediately forget, but it doesn’t matter. I hand her my 4$ and wish her Buenas Noches, we both smile enjoying this lovely spring evening.

After the flower market, I wander along the park paths. The old men are back, adorned in sweaters and bowler hats, they sit with newspapers at their side, a convenient excuse sit on benches in the sun, gossip, and enjoy the passersby. Old Alberto is back after the winter cold and rain had kept him inside. He greets me again, as if no time has passed, “Gringa! Bella! Como estas!?” I smile at him and sashay just a little, my skirt flaring in the breeze. It makes me just as happy to flirt with him as it makes him happy to flirt with me. His nearly toothless grin and the giggle he sends my way warms my heart! I’m glad he is back for another spring!

image by author

My eyes go to the cathedral at the far end of the park. The sun sets at the same time here near the equator, no matter the season, and the walls are already aglow in sherberty oranges and pinks. I walk past the Doña selling candles and give her .50$ to light one for me, and I smile at the baby on her back, patiently observing the world around him. I think he’s grown bigger since I saw him last week. I take a deep breath and enjoy the sounds of the busy street before I walk under the arch and into the interior courtyard.

Not many people know about the restaurants back here, tucked under the watchful eye of the cathedral dome. I always feel as if I am making a special connection to the city when I sneak back here, climb to the second floor where the locals go, and grab my favorite bistro table along the wrought iron gabled balcony. Maria Julia brings me a menu and a glass of my favorite malbec, though we both know by now I don’t need the menu. I always peruse the 2-page spread of amazing options anyway, just in case I change my mind and want to try something new. I don’t.

I sip my wine and look around. Maria Julia takes her time, we are in Ecuador everyone takes their time, and I have grown accustomed to the pace. If I was in a bigger city, or back when I lived in the US, the pace here would drive me crazy, but now, years of living abroad has taught me to be ok with delays, to relish small quiet moments in cathedra courtyards with an amazing glass of wine. The years of waiting for my food, or a waiter, or in line while the abuelas or moms-to0-be got preferred positions has softened my edges, made me not only more patient, but I think it’s helped me to be a better person too. Regardless, there is no rush tonight.

Maria Julia comes back with a candle and a carafe of the delicious ruby red liquid I am enjoying. She puts the carafe down and lights a candle on my table. The sun has quickly fallen down behind the Andean peak surrounding the city, and the twinkling of candlelight is a welcome part of the ambience, and one of the many reasons I enjoy coming here. “Tu orden normal?” I nod my head in agreement and shrug my shoulders, and we both laugh. I love having a place that is so “mine” the people here know me, and when my usual charcuterie plate of fancy cheeses and delicious Argentinian salami’s arrives, there is an extra piece of Doña Luci’s bread and homemade butter besides the olives they cure themselves on their farm out in the countryside.

There are times when I eat alone, I immerse myself in a book, always available on my phone, my books are my constant companions. But tonight, one of the first warm nights in a while, I am enjoying the quiet din of other diners, the sounds of the busy kitchen working efficiently to bring us the delicious food, the birds settling into their nests for the night, quietly chattering amongst themselves. There is a cool breeze, it’s not summer yet, and the wind chimes across the courtyard tinkle gently. It’s the perfect night to enjoy all of the ambience around me.

As I gorge myself on basil infused gouda, goat cheese spread, homemade olives and three types of salami with varying degrees of spiciness, I sip my wine and relish in the flavor combinations. I love a good charcuterie tray and I am so glad I found this secret little haven where I can enjoy this treat every week. This has become my weekly date night, with myself. I dress up cute, by myself flowers, and treat myself to a nice dinner. It feels good to take care of myself this way.

My boyfriend is in Colombia and even though we’re polyamorous and both often enjoy the company of others, this trip feels different. I haven’t opened Tinder even once. This trip has been about renewing my own energy, finding my alone pace again. I love him, but I had been missing the me I am when I am adventuring by myself. The me I enjoy when I am exploring new cities and finding my next favorite places. I am wandering far and wide, planning day trips into the mountains to visit Inca pasts and amazing artisan villages listening to the old ones tell how things have changed. I am free to be me!

There is no worrying about what we will have for dinner, I can find my own time and pace to eat (and lord I love to explore new food and eat, and here I am eating well!) I don’t have to worry about how we will spend the evening because I am alone and can do anything I want. I fall into a lovely rhythm here in Cuenca, working, then exploring. Once a week I take myself to the flower market and here for a selfie date, and twice a week I go to the farm market, where I ask ladies dressed in traditional mountain garb what I can make with this new vegetable or fruit and I get a plate of the most amazing roasted pig from the lady who calls everyone sweetie and always adds an extra piece of crispy skin to my meal!

I love who I am when I am alone and on an adventure and Cuenca is a city that has made me feel alive with renewed energy for the nomad life I cherish.

World traveler, memoir writer, lover of all things relationship- especially non-traditional! www.elbyrnewriter.com Follow me on Twitter: @ELByrne1

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