I’m a big fan of jigsaw puzzles. I always loved when my dad pulled out the new Thanksgiving and Christmas puzzles. I still like to tease my mom by loudly tapping on each piece I place to announce my achievement to the group (she insists she never does this, but we all know the truth!). Neighborhoods in Cuenca are like a big jigsaw puzzle, except nothing fits where I expect it to. This machine shop? It’s going to go right next to this row of houses! This apartment building? Let’s stick it right in front of this farm. And we all know that a restaurant should connect to our living room.
I guess this pattern is only unfamiliar to those of us who grew up in the suburbs. Where houses are all bunched up together, with stores and restaurants in their own part of town. In Cuenca it’s rare to see an area that only contains residential buildings. There are a few gated communities that I’ve seen, but those seem to be the rarity. Most areas are a blend of residential and business.
The most popular sight is probably the “tienda” or store on the bottom floor of the house with the living area above. The small ones often have a grated window at the front with a doorbell. If you want something, you ring the bell, the owner gets up from whatever they happen to be doing in their house, and comes to the window. You tell them what you want and they get it for you.
Also common are tiny restaurants attached to homes, sometimes with only 2 or 3 tables inside. Many have large grated stovetops right along the sidewalk crowded with pots of vegetables or rice and strips of roasting meat. In one area near our house, whole roasted pigs (or “chanchos”) line the street on their roasting spits.
On the block where we live, there are 2 small tiendas, a brickyard, a construction yard, a lumber yard, an auto repair shop, an upholstery shop, and a hair salon. Immediately behind our house there is a small farm, complete with cows and chickens. I usually wake up to the bawling of cows and clucking of chickens, and fall asleep to the sound of barking dogs. The days are filled with their own sounds, typically a combination of grinding metal and whirring saws; with the occasional cow or chicken joining in.
Even though this puzzle is completely foreign to me, I really like the personality of the city. It’s a constant visual feast. And, since we travel solely on foot or bus, the mix of residential and business means that most everything we need is located somewhere nearby. I look forward to discovering more shops and restaurants just around the next corner.