Becoming Cuenca

The English Speaking Newspaper in Cuenca

Dec 5, 2022

“The function of journalism is, primarily, to uncover vital new information in the public interest and to put that information in a context so that we can use it to improve the human condition.” ~Joshua Oppenheimer

The American-British film director is so right about the importance of journalism. This blog post is to not take any political sides nor to provide an opinion what television news network is best.

What I want to present is my work as a journalist in Cuenca, Ecuador. Right after Joanna and I arrived in Cuenca, I knew that I wanted to give back to my community. This city has given a newfound life. Cuencanos are a huge reason for my rejuvenation.

Being a journalist for four decades (Yes, that is me with hair in the photo above, shooting a men’s basketball game at North Carolina State University’s Reynolds Coliseum), I figured the best way to give back to my community was through my journalism and photos.

The pandemic slowed me down greatly, but I became the Asistente de Información Pública for the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. It is an unpaid position as my goal is to give back, not receive (i.e., money).

My photos are a big strength of mine. I started with a Kodak Brownie Flashmite 20 Camera when I was pre-teen. My next camera was my father’s old Argus C3 rangefinder camera. It was one of the most popular film cameras in history. I used that rock solid camera through college before ‘graduating’ to a Nikon.

Being the Senior Assignment Editor for a television station in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina market for 19 years helped me develop my research and writing skills. For numerous years, my co-workers exclaimed I was by far the best researcher and provider of information at the station.

As the television news business morphed from journalism into social media, I had ample opportunities to improve my writing skills. In my last years at the assignment desk, I was writing for the station’s website and Facebook page as well as for the producers.

The best way to channel these skills was writing and shooting for the English speaking online newspaper, CuencaHighLife. I befriended David Morrill. He worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, columnist, and book reviewer. David was also a public relations agency owner and university administrator before becoming the Editor of CuencaHighLife.

Because of the Covid pandemic, I was averaging about one article every four or five weeks. Health restrictions that were a lot more strict and much, much longer than what was imposed in the United States slowed me down. The restrictions alone did not restrict my reporting, but the fact many businesses were closed down or had shortened hours.

Things improved as Ecuador surged past the U.S. in the percentage of people vaccinated. By May 2022, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health said 91 percent of Cuenca was fully vaccinated. Because 99 percent of the people were wearing face masks out in public for two straight years, life returned to normal. Hospitals were only receiving one Covid case per week. And yours truly, vaccinated several times over, was ready to increase his output.

That began with my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life: A Rejuvenated Enthusiasm in Cuenca, Ecuador.” I decided to go the self-publish route to get the word out about Cuenca and what it takes to move and live here.

Wanting to publicize the book to help others, I approached David about writing more articles so my book could be mentioned at the end of the pieces I wrote. It was a small thing, but the more ways I could publicize my book that had no company pushing it was helpful.

The goal for me is to write a story per week. David has given me a lot of freedom in what I write. What originally started out as “The Artists of Cuenca,” has expanded to included organizations that help people to everyday life.

Most has been written about the talented artists in this city that supports and treasures the arts. That includes an article that I recently wrote about Christian Torres. The talented bass guitarist plays for the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of the jazz groups Esteban Encalada Quartet and Jazz de Barro.

Though the article centered around Christian, the focus of the article was the popularity of jazz in Cuenca. Jazz continues to be played and enjoyed around the world, but it has become, along with classical music, one of the least-popular genres in the United States.

Jazz radio stations have all but disappeared from the American airwaves. Clubs dedicated to jazz have closed up left and right in the U.S., but Cuenca is like a salmon going upstream.

Cuenca has embraced what most Americans have rejected. I noticed that there was a huge increase in jazz performances after things opened up. It has been a gradual thing, not noticed by many. But this journalist saw what was happening, so I approached Christian about doing an article about him and the world of jazz.

I had been meaning to do an article about Christian as I had photos of him with the symphony as well as with Jazz de Barro from the last two years. Incorporating those photos with what I shot at La Guarida’s Saturday morning brunch, I had my latest article to inform everyone about the great jazz scene in Cuenca.

This article became my 40th for CuencaHighLife. This milestone of sorts for me is a perfect time to pass along to you what I have written. Many are in a lot more detail than what is in my book and what I posted in my blog posts. Others supplement what is in my book about moving to and living in Cuenca.

Being a Type A, I have compiled a list of those newspaper articles for your enjoyment and to learn more about this great city at three degrees south. Because some of them are two years old, the information may be dated. A good example is my article about Venga. It is my understanding that the restaurant owner and chef is moving with his family to the United States in the near future.

Without further ado, here are my 40 articles:
































































There are so many stories in Cuenca still to do! As a former assignment editor, whose job was to find new and creative stories, I feel that this city of about 660,000 people has more stories to be told than the Raleigh-Durham television market with its 1,133,160 households. The average number of people per TV household has remained at around 2.5 since 1990, meaning there are over 2.8 million people in that North Carolina television market.

One story I need to tell are the hanging purple umbrellas at the bridge dedicated to victims of domestic abuse and violence. It is the bridge over El Río Tomebamba, near Parque de la Madre, connecting Paseo 3 de Noviembre to Av. 12 de Abril.

Different organizations use unique colors to highlight and market what they champion. Domestic violence uses purple while breast cancer uses pink. Livestrong cancer survivors wear yellow. The purple umbrellas are a strong symbol of the never-ending fight against abusive relationships.

Another story that needs to be done is Catalina Carrasco. A native of Cuenca, Catalina is following in her father’s footsteps. Joanna and I have seen Catalina grow since we first met her in early-2020. We commissioned her to paint a mural in our departamento, depicting our hometown.

Her love for art, that she calls her “guiding star,” has resulted in some stunning pieces of art. In April Catalina had the opening of her exhibition, “Alquimia Mística,” at idiomART. That is quite an accomplishment as idiomART is becoming the place for arts and culture in this city that has been called “The Arts Capital of Ecuador.”

Though I want to do these stories in the near future, I am open to story ideas! This blog is to be enlightening as well as entertaining. My articles for CuencaHighLife are to keep the expat community up to date and to help prospective newcomers get an idea of the riches of Cuenca.

Please go to my contact for any story ideas. If you do not seem them in print or on my blog, please know it takes a while to get stories set up, photos taken, and for it all to be posted online.

Your support for this blog is greatly appreciated. I am doing it for you. Seriously! There is no money exchanging hands for my posts.

As Albert Schweitzer, the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “Every person has to seek in his own way to make his own self more noble and to realize his own true worth. You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those who have need of a man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For, remember, you don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too.”

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.

You may want to sign up to be notified when I post new information and photos. By doing this, you will get the latest as soon as it goes online.

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.