Ecuador

The Four Rivers of Cuenca

The beautiful colonial city of Cuenca has been our base while in Ecuador this fall. As one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Trust cities, it has lived up to its reputation as a truly charming, enjoyable, and livable city.

When traveling, I naturally look for and gravitate to the rivers and other watercourses that are imbedded in the landscape and culture. This has been easy in Cuenca, as the dominant physical features are the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca. The full name of the City is Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca. The four rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Cañari culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas, a beautiful Andean National Park above 12,000’ we have hiked around several times. The rivers all meet in Cuenca and then flow into the Amazon River watershed, which ultimately flows into the Atlantic Ocean through Brazil.

Our apartment in Cuenca is next to and overlooks the Rio Tomebamba, the largest of these rivers. This has served as a wonderful vantage to appreciate the river. Like any city, the rivers play a vital role, serving as the precious water supply, they tie the city together by a major walkway along the river that we have enjoyed nearly every day, many of the local indigenous people still wash their clothes along the river, and you see people fly-fishing along the river. Cuenca is one of the few cities we have visited in Latin America where you can safely drink the tap water.

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Recognizing the central role that the rivers serve in Cuenca, one of the famous local ceramicists, Eduardo Vega, has prepared numerous large ceramic murals tied to Cuenca and its rivers. We visited his studio at Turi, and we have sought out to see his large murals. The public space in the offices of the Azuay Province (essentially the state around Cuenca) has a mural–En Guapondelég— that captures the importance of the four rivers in Cuenca and, in the indelible style of the artist, weaves the history of this area together (Guapondelég was the Cañari seat of power pre-Incan) and brings the city to life around its rivers.  Here, the Inca dancer, through rhythmic movements, form the City of Cuenca guarded by four rivers.

He also has an inspiring mural across the river from our apartment at the entrance to the University of Cuenca—El Arbor de la Vida (Tree of Life) that pulls water from a fountain to support life in Cuenca.

Finally, he prepared a mural for Cuenca’s Office of Drinking Water: Los Manantiales (The Springs) that uses springs as the symbol of life.

Posted by David Guy

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