What should you bring to Cuenca?

I’ve been corresponding with a friend who is moving to Cuenca in less than three weeks; he is dragging three suitcases behind him.   I too arrived here “Bedouin-style”, carrying what I considered to be only the essential items certain to be of use and irreplaceable. Now that I am in my eighteenth month, I can look back on how well I planned my getaway, knowing what’s needed and what one can do without.

There are some things that I should have ejected soon after my arrival – like those shoes that are just a little too large. I bought them because they looked sturdy and stylish, and they will be great for someone who wears a men’s size 14.  Me, I wear a size 13. What was I thinking?  And, then there was my favorite shawl collar cardigan sweater that I left behind – I’d had it for 25 years. I miss it still.

Cookware is the single set of items I am happiest to have and feel it is essential for you to pack with you. The familiar heft of a pot, a knife sharpened just so, and a handful of gadgets collected over many years are of great comfort. Cooking new foods in a new land is much more fun when the tools you are using are tuned to your particular style and ‘feel.’  My antique wooden spoon from Africa and my custom-made knife from Japan are used with the same reverence that I have for the places where they were made, and the day I brought each home to add to my collection.

I packed a few art pieces to remind me of a time and place now far away in my daily considerations and imagination.  I would do so again. I look upon them fondly…

I was wisely advised to bring two cell phones and two laptops – thankfully, I complied. I’ve needed them all. I also brought with me two sets of prescription glasses.

Clothing seems to be the most common issue. I have yet to find a single shirt, pair of pants, socks, skivvies, or athletic wear that fit a man over six feet tall.  I don’t even bother to look for shoes in a store anymore. I’m told you must have them made for you by a local cobbler.

How cool is that? People make stuff here.

I wear a beret or Fedora on sunny days due to the intensity of UV rays. Rather than an unnecessary and too hot raincoat, I wear a Gore-Tex vest. My umbrella is stashed in the waterproof messenger bag that I carry nearly everywhere.

One friend brought with her an ankle-length white trench coat made of fine wool. It hangs in the hallway closet directly above the collection of exceptional quality, leather sole, stiletto heel shoes, standing at attention and gathering dust.  She knows she will never wear them. She keeps them none the less.

Again, a good hat repels the rain, offers shade from the sun, and shades your eyes in an environment where awareness is critical.

Two words: sensible shoes.

No surprise here: Cuenca holds captive entire wardrobes of Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, and Air Jordans that will never see the light of day, and for that, we can all be thankful.

My takeaway, after chatting with several gringos who moved here simply with what they could carry, is that they all share a recognition that what was once thought of as essential can become an accessory no longer of import – and that what was once considered the smallest trifle can take on a new importance, and that this understanding folds over into everyday life.  It does not matter that you wear the same sweater again and again.  What matters is usefulness.

This includes us as well as our clothes.

There is one item I consider essential to bring with you when you move or come for an extended visit to Cuenca. If you read that someone needs a small piece from North America and you have room, offer to help – without charge. We do not have to monetize everything, including simple kindness. Besides, this act will allow you to meet someone living in your new home and will often include lunch in a nice restaurant.  You will perform your first task dedicated to community service, and you may well even make a friend. I did.

Of course, you will leave a lot of baggage behind, a cause for unrelenting joy.

As the miles stretch below you, know that your most precious possession is your own true self and that your faith, whatever it is, can be shared here with folks who will embrace you. Bring an open mind, you will be a stranger in a strange land and will need to learn the language, customs, and ways of life in a culture far older and more deeply entrenched than where you were before you arrived here.

Pack a boatload of patience, containers of understanding, and lifeboats of love. You will need all three often, they will all serve you well.

Oh, one more thing, if you need a pair of size 14 shoes that are sturdy and stylish, there is no reason to pack them down here. I have them waiting for you already.