Becoming Cuenca

Sunsets and Special Weather

Oct 15, 2022

“Sunset is still my favorite color, and rainbow is second.” ~Mattie Stepanek

I have always had a love for sunsets.

You probably have too.

Maybe it is because my photographic eye wanting to capture that perfect sunset without using Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft’s Water Color & Art Effect.

This love definitely started with me shooting photos from Pier 55 in Seattle. From there, I could capture the Olympic Mountains and the glistening Puget Sound. One of my favorite photos was seagulls flying across the brilliant sunset as a ferry headed towards Bremerton.

It continues almost every day with Cuenca’s artwork in the sky. There is something reassuring about the sunsets in Cuenca. Maybe it is because we get those warm colors at the end of the day, after having rain in the afternoon. It could be that we are blessed with so many colorful sunsets. Or it could be a sign of what life means.

“The sky is that beautiful old parchment in which the sun and the moon keep their diary.” ~Alfred Kreymborg

That “parchment” the American poet is referring to is alive and blazing every week. Cuenca affords one many opportunities to capture a beautiful sunset with your camera.

The beauty of sunsets has inspired people and their creations for centuries, and I am just one of the latest. But even the best photographers will never capture the effect a beautiful sunset can have on one’s emotions.

“The clouds are on fire!”

That is what I said to Joanna and our friends the other day as I watched the sun set behind the Cajas mountains. The way the clouds were formed, it gave an eerie look. It was not a scary scene, but it had this surreal look as it looked like the clouds were going to rain fire upon the mountains.

If you looked at the neighborhood and all of the clouds, it appeared that cool purple ones were trying their best to extinguish the hot sunset. The huge difference in colors made for another fantastic Cuenca sunset.

The excellent Cuencano photographer, Cristóbal Jaramillo, saw the same sunset and tweeted his photo with, “Un espectáculo el atardecer de hoy en Cuenca.” (“A spectacular show of the sun in Cuenca.”)

I have told our friends in the United States that the sunsets here are amazing and abundant. Joanna and I have never seen so many stunning sunsets in one location. Our good American friend, who has been in Cuenca for over a decade, concurs. He has traveled all over the world and thinks Cuenca has more stunning sunsets than anywhere else. There is no doubt our hometown is always giving us a vibrant and eye-catching end to the day.

Nathan Phillips, also known as Sky Man, said, “If you are in a beautiful place where you can enjoy sunrise and sunset, then you are living like a lord.” The Omaha tribal elder must have been speaking about Cuenca as I truly feel like a king. It is truly an uplifting and exhilarating experience at three degrees south.

“Sunsets are proof that no matter what happens, every day can end beautifully.” ~Kristen Butler

Iglesia del Sagrario (commonly referred to as the Old Cathedral) is a great place to watch the end of the day beautifully. It was the main place of Spanish worship during the time of Spanish colonization in Cuenca. It was reserved for the people from Spain, while indigenous people had to stay outside or worship elsewhere. Today, the El Centro house of worship is the home for Museo de Arte Religioso.

Built from 1567, the Old Cathedral was perfectly accentuated against the late-afternoon sky. The Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho de Souza exclaimed, “Beautiful sunsets need cloudy skies.” Those clouds made the Old Cathedral pop for my photo. The warm rays of the sun added to the beauty of the historic part of this 455-year-old city.

The Old Cathedral has some interesting history. That includes the church selling tombs to citizens for a price of 25 or 30 Pesos or you could also own one of these tombs through services rendered to the church.

The name, Peso, was given to the 8-real silver coin introduced in 1497, minted at 8.375 pesos to a Castilian mark. It was minted in large quantities after the discovery of silver in Bolivia, Mexico, and Peru in the 16th century. The Peso immediately became a coin of worldwide importance in international trade between Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

If you ever make it to Cuenca, you will want to spend the entire day in El Centro. And I know you will want to be there for one of Cuenca’s beautiful and vibrant sunsets… and into the night.

“If you want to relax, watch the clouds pass by if you’re laying on the grass, or sit in front of the creek; just doing nothing and having those still moments is what really rejuvenates the body.” ~Miranda Kerr

Clouds in Cuenca are very special to me.

They are ever-changing, giving me a constant moving art show in the sky. Many expats in Cuenca feel the same way. I know this to be true with their Facebook posts and from what they have told me.

And why not?

As Marty Rubin said, “Clouds, they make a painting out of the sky.”

There is something about clouds, especially in Cuenca, Ecuador. They are an important part of life here as they bring us shade from the intense equatorial sun. Clouds are constantly replenishing the Cajas with the water we drink. Everything stays green as the clouds take care of our plants and trees.

“Clouds float in the same pattern only once.” ~Wayne Shorter

The jazz saxophonist and composer, Joanna and I are on the same sheet. We have been in Cuenca for 37 months and we have noticed that every day, like music, the clouds in Cuenca give us something new.

I would add that the clouds in Cuenca are totally different from what they get at the coast. Every compass direction provides you with different colors and textures. Holes in the clouds spotlight the nearby hills and mountains. It is always a light show with our green mountains.

And the clouds are never at the same altitude. The clouds can be really low at times (which sounds silly as we are at 8,400 feet / 2,560 meters above sea level). The photo above was taken in my neighborhood, La Isla. A huge portion of Radio Hill was enveloped in the clouds, recreating what one would see in the Pacific Northwest.

“If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour.”

This is what they say in North Carolina. I realize it is not unique to just the Tar Heel State as I have heard my mother and her family say the same thing about the weather in St. Louis. Friends from other parts of the U.S. have used the same refrain.

As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I like to tell people that we have Seattle-like weather. A West Coast friend of mine, who lives in Cuenca, calls it “Mini Seattle-like.” We say this as it is cloudy in Cuenca quite a bit with less rain.

But!

The weather can change on a dime. And it can be different from one block to another. Seriously. Joanna and I can be walking in the rain but can see that the next block over is dry with the sun shining down upon it. Ask a Cuencano if this is true, and they will affirm it with a laugh.

Cuencanos will tell you that every day is hard to predict. They have a term for their weather: “Sol de Aguas.” The literal translation is “Sun of Waters.” This term is only known to Cuencanos as Ecuadorians in other parts of the country will give you a confused look if you use it. For the natives of Cuenca, “Sol de Aguas” means that every day could have lots of sun with rain added in. Or there could be lots of rain with some sun thrown in. “That is Cuenca,” many of them will say.

What makes people compare Cuenca to Seattle is that it is possible to have rain on any given day. Carrying an umbrella with you is a “must” as you never know when it will rain. It is nice and warm, and all of sudden that cold air comes rushing out of the mountains, followed by rain.

I still remember an American expat, who has lived here for quite a while, exclaim to me one day, “I think it is going to rain!”  I laughed, and replied, “Gutsy call!”  He howled at my reply. My friend knows that many afternoons involve rain, even if it is only for a few minutes.

What draws many expats to Cuenca is its weather. The term, “spring-like weather” is bandied about as if this is some sort of meteorological term. Many have come down to Cuenca and have complained that it is too cold. Why? They come from hot climates or from areas that do not get cold. “Spring-like” means something completely different for someone from Miami compared to someone from Portland, Maine. And for someone who hails from North Carolina, they will most likely find Cuenca to be truly “spring-like.”

I honestly believe Cuenca’s weather is as close as you will come to “Perfect Weather.” This is subjective as snow lovers will hate it here. Snow is a rarity in Cuenca as the lowest recorded temperature is 29°F / -2°C. For snow lovers, they would have to go to the nearby Cajas, and even at the higher elevations, snow does not last long due to it being so close to the equator.

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” ~John Ruskin

Wanting true four-season weather? That does not happen in Cuenca. Being just three degrees south of the equator and so high up, Cuenca’s weather is fairly consistent. The differences in the extremes are rather small.

The warm season lasts for about four months, from mid-January to early-May. The average high temperature at this time of year is around 68°F / 20°C. Temperatures at night consistently dip to about 50°F / 10°C. Because Cuenca is in the southern hemisphere (barely), the cool season lasts for basically three months, from mid-June to early-September.  The average daily high temperature at that time of year hovers around 60°F / 16°C. The coldest day of the year is usually in mid-August, with an average low of 44°F / 7°C.

Another way to look at the yearly temperatures is that there is about an eight-degree difference in the highest monthly averages. The lowest temperatures have a smaller difference. I am not a meteorologist, but I would say there are not a lot of places in the world with such little variance in the temperatures.

Despite every day possibly being a wet one, there is a wet season in Cuenca. The wetter season lasts four months, from mid-January to mid-May. In 2021, the wet season was longer and wetter than normal due to La Niña. The weather phenomenon typically brings drier and cooler weather, but not that year.

Gabriel Contreras of Instituto Nacional Meteorologia e Hidrologia told the English-language news site, CuencaHighLife, “What we usually expect from La Niña are cooler temperatures and reduced rainfall. The cooler temperatures are easy to predict because of the strong trade winds coming off the colder water of the central Pacific. On the other hand, rainfall is more difficult to predict since the trades interact with air currents from the Amazon and interior regions of South America when they come onshore.”

The bottom line is that when you go outside, bring an umbrella and some sort of outerwear. You may need that umbrella sometime during your walk, and you may have to add a layer to keep warm. Of course, you will most likely be shedding that outerwear and putting away the umbrella as the sun returns and heats you up quickly. Welcome to Cuenca.

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

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Salud, mi amigos.

Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.