A Little Bit Lost
It is no fun getting lost, even a little bit lost, in a new city. It happened to me the other day. After a morning and early afternoon of scripture study on the complicated Gospel of John with a group of ten or twelve parishioners, I was ready for some kind of break, so I decided to get some fresh air and some exercise. I hadn't yet walked the paths through the "lineal parks" that grace either side of the Yanuncay River, just a few blocks from my new apartment; it was an easy decision to head to the river and pick a path and just follow it until I'd walked as far as I wanted and then turn around and head home. And that is exactly what I did...mostly. I easily found my way to the river, crossed a busy street and found just the right path to follow towards the city's new Botanical Gardens. The sound of the rushing river, the scent of the tall eucalyptus trees, and the fresh air of a gorgeous Andean afternoon were just the tonic I needed to refresh myself and restore my spirit. Just beyond the Botanical Gardens, I decided it was time to turn around...about a mile and three-quarters out...by the time I got home, I'd have walked just over three miles, about right for my first time out in several weeks.
The walk back along the same river path was just fine, too. All was well in my world. I walked and walked and walked until I noticed I was in unfamiliar territory. Darn it, I had walked past the bridge that would take me up streetside and towards home! So I turned myself around and headed back from whence I had come. At the first bridge I came to, certain that it was my bridge to home, I clambered back up to street level, crossed it and found myself at a complicated traffic-roundabout (called a rondela here). I was pretty sure I was on the right course, and maybe a little cocky about my sense of navigational expertise, so off I went down one street branching off the rondela and continued walking along, cheery as I could be and certain I was heading homeward.
Strangely, I was not finding things familiar, but here many streets look pretty much the same, at least at first. The thought of having made an error didn't even occur to me. On I walked. "Hmm. This sure doesn't seem like touristy Cuenca anymore," I thought, but on I walked because the possibility of error on my part wasn't even a consideration. Finally, and a certainly way too late, I thought, just in case, I should check the Google map on my phone and see where I was. The little blue dot wasn't where I thought it should be; after all this walking, I should be closer to home than it shows. I'm not even on the right side of the river according to Google. That can't be; Google has to be wrong. And so on I walked. Then again, a map check. The blue dot was even further from home than it was a few minutes ago. It indicated that I was going southwest, when I should have been going northeast. The cityscape was turning more "light industrial" than the "light residential" it should be. Hmm. I checked Google again. I was now even further to the southwest and further from the Yanuncay River and still on the wrong side! I was confused by this point and stopped for a good, hard look at the map on my phone's screen. It was only then that it occurred to me that I might be wrong, and Google might be right. If so, then I had a long way home and I'd already walked four miles. I punched a few tabs to ask for directions home and a blue dotted line appeared leading me back to the original complicated rondela I had previously traversed and then across the Yanuncay River and zig-zagging back through a maze of streets finally to my place. It estimated about a half-hour to get home. So, finally admitting I had gotten myself "just a little bit lost" in Cuenca, I turned around and followed my way back to the still confusing rondela, and did my best to choose the correct street branching off of it. (And as a side note, may I say that crossing rondelas as a pedestrian is one of my least favorite things to do in this city; the traffic swings around them non-stop much of the time and the vehicles seldom indicate which direction they are intending to go as they peel off in multiple directions; pedestrians are not part of their equations. We are the least of their driving considerations.) This rondela was particularly scary and dangerous, but I made it around its various branches, crossed a bridge over the Yanuncay (again), and finally on the north side of the river, navigated myself through a couple of fully Ecuadorian neighborhoods before finding myself in familiar territory and on my way home, correctly this time. No big deal. Five and a third miles under my belt. Good exercise. Tired, but feeling okay overall. A little bit chagrined that I got so turned around, but also happy I had brought my phone with me. God bless the iPhone and Google.
There have to be lessons in this experience of being a little bit lost in Cuenca. I was never in danger, so that was good (or at least I don't think I was). What puzzles me first of all, is just how I got myself turned around, even to being on the wrong side of the river! I've studied the city map and my path through it and just can't figure out exactly where I made my mistakes. Even more, it baffles me that I even could have made such a massive error in urban navigational judgement. Me? I've walked from Belgium to Spain and through good sized cities in France...and successfully navigated myself through it all. What happened here? I don't know. Jeesh!
More importantly, I realize how easy it is to presume I am right and not even consider the possibility of error on my part. I mean, it did not even occur to me that I might be walking wrong for the longest time. I didn't even consider the possibility that Google's blue dot might be right and I might be wrong, even when that blue dot was staring me in the face. Evidence? No need for evidence! I know. I can't be wrong, (perhaps not unlike political opinionating these days).
On the good side, I no longer have any excuse for babying myself on the exercise front. I had a difficult fall and early winter health-wise: a long recovery from painful surgery in October, Covid in November, and Covid-related tachycardia in December; I have been only gradually getting back to some kind of normal in the physical conditioning department. Even a few weeks ago, two or three miles was exhausting for me. But now, look ma, I can walk over five miles and feel pretty good afterwards. That is great for my positive mental attitude, but it also means I have to get out there and get to work on rebuilding what I lost through the autumn and winter.
And I suppose the really good thing, the best thing, actually, about having gotten myself a little bit lost in Cuenca, is that I got to know some of this city up close and personal by having walked its streets and ambled through its neighborhoods in a way I likely would never have done by plan or intention. Nothing touristy here; just homes, and little businesses, and people going from here to there, but normal people, local people, this city's people, the ones who were here before we expats and tourists invaded the place. That was very good, indeed.
Maybe the experience of getting myself lost in Cuenca suggests advice I should give newcomers to the city: "Get lost...at least a little bit...and see what you see." (But don't forget your phone and Google Maps and maybe a couple bucks for a taxi home just in case!)