There was no “hail the conquering heroes” coming from the mouths of the Incas when Spanish settler Gil Ramirez Davalos and his conquistador cohorts invaded what is now Cuenca in the early 1550s. Some say that Tometamba—the name the Incas had given to their settlement —may have been the mythical city of El Dorado (the city of gold).
But that’s not what the invaders found.
Determined to find gold somewhere, the Spanish settlers moved in and established residency— officially founding Santa Ana de Los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca (Cuenca, for short) on April 12, 1557.
Fast forward to April 2016 to contemporary Cuenca. My new city that I’m discovering is a city of great contrasts. Home to 400,000 or so people from Spanish descent, indigenous tribes as well as a growing number of expats.
Walk down any street and you’ll see hip teenagers in designer jeans snapping selfies with
their iPhones. Indigenous men and women in traditional dress and hats move alongside— women carrying baskets flowers on their backs and sacks of potatoes in their hands. As if they had time for a selfie.
In El Centro, the city retains its colonial air— with narrow, cobblestone streets and picturesque colonial and republican style buildings. Tile roofs, flower boxes on iron-scrolled balconies, and giant palm trees are everywhere. Outside the center of town, high rise condos pop up offering all the Norte Americano amenities.
Women sell homemade humitas on the street while Papa John’s and Pizza Hut make home deliveries. On crowded calles, brand new Chevy trucks allow for wheelbarrows laden with fruits and vegetables.
It’s rich. Very rich. Maybe this is El Dorado after all.