A little over a year ago I started a Gringo Night on Tuesdays at Di Bacco, an Italian restaurant in the historic district. Cynthia and I were riding the bus downtown one day and it was time to eat lunch. I noticed this place out the window that we had never seen before so we decided to get off at the next stop and dine there. Our meal was delicious and reasonably priced, but we couldn't help but notice that the place was practically deserted.
As usual I started chatting up the proprietor, Lauro, and he shared with us that the restaurant had been open for awhile and was struggling to gain a foothold. Out of nowhere I blurted, "What would you think about having a Gringo Night here to attract more expats?." Trust me, it's not like this idea had been percolating around in my overactive brain. I was at least as surprised by the spontaneous suggestion as Lauro was.
He agreed to give it a try. I invited a group of people for a quiet dinner there to hash out the plan. They invited friends who invited friends, and about 40 folks showed up. Yikes! The kitchen was overwhelmed and quite frankly the evening was a disaster, but the experience demonstrated there was a pent up demand for something.
I regrouped with just a couple of buddies over drinks. Since there was another Gringo Night in town on Fridays we decided this one should be on Tuesday. The first night was planned and promoted, and probably close to 100 people showed up. From then on the event has become a permanent part of the social landscape in Cuenca.
Even though I originated this idea I never thought of it as “mine.” Cynthia and I invited people and showed up religiously for awhile to help get things going, but except for our fitness we don’t enjoy doing much of anything on a set schedule (maybe that’s why I’ve never joined a bowling league), so over time our attendance has been erratic.
A visit last week was an eye opener to say the least. The bar area was busy, and the once-empty dining room was packed—so much so that some folks had even migrated upstairs to dine. As I stood looking out at the room I realized that although I recognized a few faces I didn’t really know a single person sitting at the tables. A year ago I knew everyone there because I had invited them. Now I felt like a virtual stranger at an event I had created.
Some of our very best friends are native Cuencanos and gringos who have lived here a long time, but in sheer numbers the vast majority of our acquaintances are folks who moved to Cuenca around the same time we did. We were all rookies anxious to meet people and share experiences getting settled in our new hometown, thus we naturally gravitated towards each other.
And apparently so it goes. I’m guessing most of those folks I didn’t recognize at Di Bacco are newbies similarly forming relationships with other recent arrivals—sharing stories about their misadventures, asking who did you use for this, where can you find that.
This whole expat experience reveals itself gradually over time. It appears I and my “group” have officially become the sophomore class of gringos. We’ve made friends and successfully integrated into the fabric of daily life. Now it’s time to welcome the new freshman class to town. Cynthia and I always look forward to meeting new people and providing assistance and guidance through the adjustment period. We never forget how lost we sometimes felt in the beginning and how much help we needed.
I hope all of you new folks enjoy your life here in Cuenca as much as we do, and that you always appreciate what a wonderful city you have chosen.