Expatn A rare English bookstore in Cuenca, Ecuador

Published on January 30th, 2017


Tales from the Expat Carnival: Bookstore Edition

I swear… nearly three years.  Three YEARS now, and still…   Still, most every.blessed.day. it’s s.o.m.e.t.h.i.n.g.  Some stray bit of serendipity as I ply the cobbled streets of this…  This amazing CARNIVAL that I now call “home”.

And so it is that I have yet another zany little tale to tell here – the latest in a seemingly never ending stream of daily delights (and um, “challenges” – read on) here in Cuenca, Ecuador.

It began as the usual.  Just another day of blue skies and sunshine here atop this Andean mountain.  And by afternoon, I was off for a stroll to one of the bazillion “almuerzo” cubbies that dapple the streets of my beloved El Centro – to meet up with my Canadian chum for lunch before we both headed to our thrice-weekly Spanish class (to bewilder a few brain cells with the confounding nuances of conjugating preterite tense verbs – can you spell i-r-r-e-g-u-l-a-r?)

At first we tried a restaurant (the Ajirma Cafe) where we’d recently had THIS yummerishish dessert ($3 – the slice large enough that we split it and still we could barely finish each our share).

Chocolate Tres Leches cake, Cuenca, Ecuador

Uber-moist Chocolate Tres Leches cake – this, but HALF of a $3 slice!

As my friend had also recommended the restaurant’s exceptionally tasty $3 almuerzo, we’d originally planned on enjoying lunch there, but… alas, by 1:30 they’d already sold out of the daily fixed-price almuerzo dish.

Skipping but a few doorways down the street though – we found another almuerzo cubby with a full meal including tamarind juice, creamy chicken soup, a main course of shrimp ‘n veggies, a dab of “ensalada” and a handful of “papas fritas”.  Plus.. for dessert? Two beautiful fresh “fresas” swimming in sweet strawberry syrup.  All this for just $2.50.

A delicious shrimp "almuerzo" ($2.50 fixed price lunch), Cuenca, Ecuador

Which brings us to post-Spanish class adventures.

We left class at 4 pm – our heads swimming in an ocean of preterite nonsense (like: “-zar = z-c”, “-gar = g-gu” and “-guar = güe”). My chum headed her way across the river, and I turned east towards home (but 6 blocks) down calle Presidente Córdova.

And then I saw it:

Could it be? A rare sighting of an English bookstore in Cuenca, Ecuador

Lo and behold! A rare sighting of an English bookstore!

Needless to say, Englsih books aren’t exactly plentiful here in Cuenca, so spying this sign caught my attention.  And though my beloved Kindle is chock full of fine reads, I must say – there’s something about the smell of old, yellowed PAPER, the turning of the page…

Thus across the street I skipped, and entered the hallowed (albeit somewhat dank and daunting) halls of “Biblos Mauricio”.

Libros Español y Ingles - ENGLISH books for sale!


Dubios stairway to the bookstore... Dubios stairway to the bookstore...

Much like a a mystery novel set in the back-alleys of Sherlock’s foggy London, I gingerly made my way up the creaking stairs – to this luscious sight:

A welcome site for any North American expat to behold!

An entire room full of all manner of books in ENGLISH!

And suddenly, the bookshop owner appeared – rather dapper in a suit and tie, no less!

The blookshop owner, quite dapper in a suit and tie, no less!

Granted, most all the English books were printed nearly a half-century ago, still… suffice it’s nice to know I have my pick of paper books ranging from “The Green Berets” (circa 1965) to “A Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animal, Plants and Ecosystems of the New World Tropics”, to… “How to Survive the Loss of a Love”.

But actually, stumbling upon the bookstore is only a small part of this peculiar tale.  Before I left, I also scanned the disheveled towers of Spanish books – albeit those stashed amid the shelves of the “JUVENIL” section (i.e. Spanish books for “niños”). Remarkably, I found a twin set of (Juvenil Ilustrada) “Los Miserables” by Victor Hugo – and grabbed them both (at a buck apiece) as a study aide for my Canadian friend and I to read and discuss – in Spanish of course!

"Los Miserables" books in Spanish

Furthermore, this little bookstore adventure proceeded to grow more curious still…

So while I’m pawing through the juvenile Spanish books, a nice-looking 40-something Ecuadorian man approaches me with the most EARNEST look on his face.  He speaks no English, but after a bit of to and fro, I manage to gather that – for some unknown reason – he wants me to translate for him on a telephone call to his gringa friend.  Her name is “Jill” he says (note: I’ve prudently tweaked names here to protect the privacy of those involved), and he proceeds to dial her number on his cheapo little (non-“smart”) cell phone.  Jill answers, and I inform her that she doesn’t know me from Adam (note: no name-tweak on that one, though I could have said “Eve”), but… …”I’m presently in a bookstore in El Centro and a gentleman here named ‘Juan’ is anxious for me to translate something between the two of you.”  Turns out – while she apparently hired “Juan” to build her a stained-glass something or other, apparently she speaks not a word of Spanish, and now tells me that he’s late with the delivery and she hasn’t heard from him in weeks.

In short, I’d clearly now stumbled into a somewhat delicate tangle between them.  I explained to the gringa, that for $10 she could have easily hired a professional bilingual translator to communicate with the man she’d hired and learn what the holdup was with the project.  And though I assured her that Juan seemed extremely eager to talk with her (verily beseeching the aide a total stranger – moi, a gringa that at least spoke a smattering of Spanish), and thus whatever the delay/problem, he seemed most earnest to communicate with her.  But she was having none of it.  Sadly, like many of the gringos here, this lass waxed excessively agitated, and apparently had already jumped to the US of A solution to any and all disagreements:  she’d already contacted a lawyer about the matter.


Eager to extricate myself from a potentially messy situation between a foreigner and (imho, an extremely earnest) Ecuadorian, I replied to Jill:  “Fine, if your local attorney is bilingual – he can simply telephone Juan and hopefully settle the matter peacefully.  After hanging up, I then gently explained to Juan that Jill’s bilingual “abogado” would be telephoning him soon.  In turn, he thanked me profusely, and gave me a hug.

Bottom-line? You just never know what-all you’ll stumble upon here at the Carnival.


Tales from the Expat Carnival: Bookstore Edition

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

4 Responses to Tales from the Expat Carnival: Bookstore Edition

  1. We took some Portuguese language lessons last year and then suspended them when we started planning some travels. It’s been easy to procrastinate as English is widely spoken throughout the Algarve. Richard is now in the process of setting up lessons for himself, I have online lessons ready and waiting and … I’m still procrastinating! Hanging my head … !
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba: An Architectural AllegoryMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      No need to hang your head my dear – g-knows it’s so very easy to procrastinate, as I too am not nearly as proficient as I’d hoped I’d be after 3 years here. I’ve dabbled quite a bit (had a private tutor for about a year, plus DuoLingo, tried a class, stray language exchanges, etc, and – most important, I deliberately live in the heart of El Centro, keep my Gringo activities to a minimum, and take every opportunity to interact with my Cuencano neighbors/community in Spanish.

      Still… I’m ashamed that I’m only at a mid-Intermediate level (at best, barely past the “present-tense-only” flavor) after all these years. Thus – I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there’s simply no two-ways about it: learning a foreign language takes LOTS.OF.W-O-R-K! i.e. I can’t just dabble in it. Like it or not, I’ve got to knuckle-down and spend a good amount of time each and every day.

      I should probably write a blog post on my efforts (and failures), but suffice that I’ve recently started to buckle down – found a good class 3 days/week, plus do a language exchange with a local Ecuadorian English teacher the other 2 days, plus reading (albeit children’s Spanish books as noted above), etc. And…

      The increased effort actually seems to be WORKING! Still… a looong way to go.

  2. Always so fun to read your stories and this was a hoot! We got called upon a couple of times to translate (with our less than kindergarten Spanish) when we were in Central and South America and it was always a drama – done more with charades than language. It would be very difficult on the phone! Hope you stocked up on some good books – happy reading!
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba: An Architectural AllegoryMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Agreed Anita, trying to understand and spit out a foreign language over the phone is especially tough, but in this case I didn’t have that challenge. It was a fellow GRINGA on the phone, so that part was easy. But yes – I too have done plenty of miming/charades in countries (like Myanmar, Turkey, etc.) in my travels, and it’s worked surprisingly well.

      Btw, so how are you two doing with Portuguese? I understand it’s a mix of French and Spanish? Are you taking any classes? Doing Duolingo? Also… my new bff of language learning sites: Quizlet – you can make your own flashcards and then play games with you own most tricky words.

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