I felt better in Cuenca

Sometimes you have those days that shine like reflective pavements in a colourful city after the rain.

Starting out on a wander

The last week has been hard. I started travelling South America a lone girl and now I’m alone again. That old cliché that when you’re not looking for love it finds you? Well apparently it’s true. In London as a 30-something single girl, I sometimes wondered if I was giving off puffs of powder invisible to me, but to every boy my cloudy aura screamed “I WANT A HUSBAND AND THOUSANDS OF BABIES!” It was one of the reasons I went travelling: to stop thinking about being in love and to start living my life. It wasn’t that bad, I had loads of fun and flings in London, but it was time to leave.

Then in Colombia I met him. We travelled together for a floaty-light two months, but last week he returned to Australia for his brother’s wedding. In Quito his shadow stretched out from behind every whitewash wall, in Baños I tried to distract myself with adventure sports (biking and white water rafting – so much fun!), but in Cuenca my floating, lost being caught up with my body. I had my first feelings of hope, that the rest of my travels wouldn’t be irrevocably tainted by longing.

I’m not sure whether to thank the dreamy colonial town of Cuenca – its smiling inhabitants and colourful streets or the travellers I met in Cuenca, but I’m going primarily with the latter. When you’re travelling, the people make the place. Suddenly, for only 24 hours, a gang came together that had the perfect combination of humour, enthusiasm, openness and adventure. French Cecile threw around her smiles and arms like sunbeams drenching anyone near with infectious cheerfulness. German Kevin carefully listened to everything and when asked told fascinating stories about his year volunteering in Nicaragua. Michel made us all laugh with his (sometimes plain awful) humour and the Dutch couple Arthur and Nicky blessed us with their sweetness.

And when you meet a good group, good things happen. Our first night together we dined at Eucalyptus, a wonderful home from home restaurant. English Christopher, the owner and chef, gave us complimentary limoncella to finish our meal, despite having closed the restaurant. Then handed out skewers and marshmallows and we had a toasting session over the open fire. Blast from my childhood past!

Nicky, Arthur, Michel, Kevin, Noe, Cecile and me

The next day was simply pleasant. I started it with No Ceiling by Eddie Vedder, it’s on the Into The Wild soundtrack. Such a good film, such a good soundtrack. And so I began my day with a beautiful, inspiring song in my head, wrote down the Spanish translation of the lyrics, did a little Spanish study and felt good about myself. We wandered to a massive market for lunch with corridors of fruit and meat downstairs; rows of beans, veg and a food court upstairs. The others were supposed to leave in the morning and dragged themselves off after lunch.

Amazing faces hiding among the potatoes

Her grandmother let me take the photo with big smiles. I don’t like taking pics without permission, I feel awkward.

Then Kevin and I wandered the town. I felt at home in Cuenca and comfortable with Kevin, pleased with my work from the morning and more at peace within myself than I’d been since Bronson had left. And we laughed. I learnt that when you’ve a song stuck in your head, the Germans call it an ‘earworm’. And when you see those impossible and impossibly funny versions of reality acting themselves out in your head, that’s ‘head cinema’. I lit a candle for my mother in the New Cathedral of Cuenca. It was blue and smelt of strawberries. The sky was moody and after the showers, the air smelt of freshly wet tarmac on summer days.

We visited a secondhand bookshop called Carolina – wonderful name, I know 😉 and I was in my element delving into the shelves. Caroline set up the store many years back with 6,000 of her own books she brought over from the States. At first it was kind of a cover – it was the only way her husband would let her transport all the books over to Ecuador. And it hurt every time she sold one. But she kept reminding herself: she could always buy more, but travellers can’t. They are on the road and at that time there was no access to English books in Cuenca. And so she built up a little institution in this cobble-streeted, beautiful town. I bought To Kill A Mocking Bird and 3 modernist stories by Gertrude Stein which are going to totally confuse me, but will be educational in my quest to understand the Modernist period.

All these little memories added up to a turning point. They created a new peak to my confidence. Now I am in Lima with someone’s chocolate Labrador pup on my lap and about to have lunch with a new friend called Paulo (co-owner of this hostel with the BEST music – Kokopelli). Travelling’s never dull, even if you’re really missing someone. As we hear again and again, it’s about grabbing the present!

Get thinking!