Unexpected Friends

You never know when

The evening in Cuenca was much like any other – mild temperatures in the low 60s with partly cloudy skies only allowing a few stars to peer through. People drifted along the narrow sidewalks following the old, cobblestoned streets. A man wearing a dapper suit was, oddly, carrying a chicken. Except carrying isn’t exactly the right word. Cradling, like a very young child, is more apt. Horns were honking in the distance as the faint acrid smell of car exhaust mixed with the deliciously sweet aroma of fresh baked bread wafting from the numerous panaderias.

Our destination for the night was Republica Sur. A restaurant, bar and local music venue all in one. Rhonda, Julian, and I settled into a cozy table in the lovely outdoor courtyard. The propane-generated flame warmed our backs as the chilly evening cooled the air around us. Several trees sprung up randomly throughout the patio. Each was subtly lit with string lights to set a festive mood. The exterior wall leading back to the band stage was painted with a large mural depicting a scene from the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Other buildings rose to the other three sides, fully enclosing the courtyard in a wonderful environment. On one wall a TV broadcast a live World Cup soccer match. And although no band was on stage tonight, music played from speakers at a volume loud enough to hear, but not so loud as to make yelling necessary.

We ordered a round of nachos for the table, Cuba libres for the adults, and a Coke for Julian. Cold drinks and hot nachos made for a happy group. About an hour into our stay we heard a pop followed by silence as the music stopped and the TV went blank. Within a couple minutes a few employees began looking around trying to figure out what happened. Soon after, the music restarted and the TV was once again showing soccer. The blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker had been found and life was good. But alas, moments later we heard the same pop along with the same loss of power as earlier. This time a man appeared who was not dressed like the rest of the employees. We hypothesized that he was a manager or the owner. Puzzled by the problem, he looked around the courtyard.

Having some electrical experience, I approached the man and offered my help. He gladly accepted, and I went into troubleshooting mode. The two popping sounds had seemingly come from behind a small row of bushes so I began my search there. I soon discovered a wire that had worn through, allowing the hot wire to touch the ground wire. Like a nightmare scenario surgeon to a nurse, I requested electrical tape and a knife, and less than five minutes later music played and the Ecuadorean locals were engrossed by soccer. The patient was alive!

The owner, Gustavo, expressed his gratitude by joining us for drinks and two hours of exciting conversation. We discovered in him a kindred soul in a passion for travel and adventure. In his 40 years, he had moved from his hometown of Valencia, Spain to England, San Diego, and finally Cuenca. We envied his travels around Europe while he envied our travels around the Caribbean. Stories were shared, laughs were had, drinks were drunk. We shared with him our desire to bicycle across South America partly expecting the look of confused disdain common to people when we share our goal. To our pleasant surprise he was excited by the idea. Only later did we discover his Facebook profile picture was of him on a bicycle, high in the Andes mountains.

Republica Sur began the evening as a well-reviewed restaurant on Google, nearby to our AirBnB. It ended the evening with a one-of-a-kind story on how to make a lifelong friend on another continent. 5 stars!

Part 2!