Our homestay house, as well as the apartment we are renting, is just a block from the Rio Tomebamba, and a few blocks from the Parque Paraiso. There is a trail that runs along the river, and every morning it is filled with Cuencanos out for a run or a walk. Over at Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park) there is a running track, as well as 3 outdoor aerobics, tai chi, and step classes, complete with a sound system and a teacher with a microphone wired into the speakers, which blast out salsa music. Classes are $0.25, and on a recent morning there were probably about 100 people participating. It’s sort of like an Ecuadorian Greenlake. According to a neighbor Debby was talking to, the riverside parks were an initiative of a mayor a couple of terms ago, and since then, Cuencanos have been exercising like crazy. (Although someone I met today disputes this, and says that Cuencanos have been exercising for at least 30 years) All along the river, and along the other major river in town, the Yanuncay, there are trails and parks with nice playground equipment.
I’ve been running along the river every few days, and after my run I stop off to visit Cesar, who mixes up a hot brew (“emoliente”) made up of juice scraped from an aloe leaf, some sort of hot mixture of fresh fruit juices, about 6 different colorful juices shaken from bottles, and topped off with 3 drops of uña de gato (cat’s toe nail- whatever that is?!). He stirs it all up in a metal cup, and then mixes it further by pouring it back and forth between the cup and the glass, until the cola colored stream reaches about two feet in length. A glass costs $0.50, and he always has customers. The kids are disgusted by the texture of aloe for a drink and it does take some getting used to – it’s a bit viscous.
Cesar is Peruvian, and he says this type of drink is very common in Peru, that people make it in their houses, and it is available anytime of day on the streets. He says there used to be many more vendors of emoliente, at one time there was even a business that ran a few carts, but business has dropped off, and all of the emoliente vendors now in Cuneca are sole proprietors, each making the drink a little differently, each with their own clientele. He goes back to Peru once a month to gather ingredients. Although he can buy them in local markets, they cost about three times as much in Ecuador, and he would have to charge about $1.00 a glass to cover his costs. He starts his day around 4:00 am, mixing up the ingredients, and is out selling by 5:30 am. He usually stops selling around 10:00.
Cuenca has a number of large coliseums, where classes in a wide variety of sports are offered at a minimal or non-existent cost. A sort of national hero is Jefferson Perez, who won an Olympic gold medal in “marcha” or speed walking.