Tag Archives: Ecuador Cuenca

Anyone Up for A Trip?

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What happens when the Black Gringa (me) takes off from writing for a few days?  Well, I wake up, planning to have a completely normal day, and then buy a ticket to Cuba!  It is a trip  I have been contemplating for about 20 years and today for some unknown reason, I decided to write it off my “bucket list”.

So, in six days, I’m off again to another Spanish-speaking country with my travel buddy.  Now to present something ironic, I actually thought about having my little one spend the week with grandma in Los Angeles or her aunt and uncle in Washington DC, but the roundtrip tickets there (including unaccompanied minor fees $460 at the cheapest) were more than the roundtrip ticket to Varadero, Cuba ($335). So for one week, Cuba will be our classroom as we learn about Columbus (not discovering the “New” world, Spanish colonization, the slave trade and the Cuban Revolution. We will also be working on Spanish language, map skills and self-sufficiency. Homeschool for the 3rd grader, gotta love it!

Like the random, spontaneous traveler I am:

  • I have no idea what we are going to do (besides roam randomly, hang out, and do some of our usual school work)
  • Accommodations are yet to be determined
  • Transportation is yet to be determined (besides the flight)
  • And, I have 5 days to figure it out

Fun times.   The first thing I have discovered is that outside of a lower airfare, it is significantly more expensive to be a tourist in Cuba than in Ecuador.  There is no comparison.  In Cuenca, excluding our apartment, I spent less than $100 over the course of a week.  That is pretty hard to beat, especially looking at some of the posts on getting around Cuba.

While I look forward to our upcoming adventure, I am already missing the  budget friendliness of Cuenca.  That said, I plan to salsa my way to Cuban bliss, then return to start packing up for our Ecuadorian move. Yeah!

There’s never a dull moment in the Black Gringa household.  That’s how we roll!

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Step 1 – On Moving to Cuenca

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Where do I begin?  I mean literally, where do I begin to unravel the litany of things that I need to accomplish to make this move?  If I over analyze, over think, over strategize, it begins to get complex, quickly.  Schools, homes, cars (or not), things in my apartment here, things for my apartment there, visas, adjustment period, culture shock, and other “stuff”.

Just listing these things down makes me anxious….then I realize, who am I kidding!  The only things that really matter are the plane tickets.  The beauty of a ticket is it automatically streamlines and simplifies everything.  You get a specific date when your place “here” needs to be empty, you get 2 suitcases to back your stuff in, and really…what more do you need?

  1. I am renting, not buying, so if my friends are not able to help me find an apartment before I get there, I will surely and quickly find an apartment once I arrive. Check
  2. We are getting there in the summer, so school will be on vacation.  And I made the decision to homeschool for the of this school year.  So for now we have got school down to a science (literally, plus Latin, Spanish, math, grammar, history and geography). Check.
  3. With bus rides for a quarter and taxis between $1.50 and $2.00, who needs a car!  Definitely not me. Check.
  4. I am selling, giving away, donating, or putting in storage, everything in my apartment here and I am getting everything new for the apartment there (I’m really zen about home furnishings anyway). Check.
  5. We will extend the term of our tourist visa for 6 months before we leave the US and I will figure out the rest while I am chillin’ in a relaxed pose in Ecuador. Check.
  6. Adjustment period?  Culture shock?  Seriously, it is Cuenca, Ecuador not Timbuktu, Mali.  Visit the Latino neighborhoods and businesses in your town, imagine it significantly cleaner (because Cuenca is cleaner than the vast majority of American cities) and in a valley surrounded by mountains.  Adjustment finished.  Check.
  7. There is no other “stuff”.  And if there is, it will be taken care of at some point, while in my relaxed Ecuadorian pose. (There is the issue of closing down my business, that but requires a whole post of its own.)

So the biggest step is to purchase our tickets and I already told my oldest daughter we are making two stops immediately after her high school graduation in June,

  • Grandma’s house – to drop off all of her boarding school stuff; and
  • JFK airport, to catch our flight to Quito.

And like the awesome daughter she is, she is right on board (pun intended).

Step 1 – Decide the specific date we are leaving and buy airline tickets.

Ecuador – Permanent or Temporary Move

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I took a hiatus from writing specifically about Cuenca, Ecuador because I have been mulling over whether our family trip this summer will be a permanent versus a temporary move.  I have always been a “just do it” kind of gal, and I find the leap before you think approach to life very invigorating.  So why am I becoming more hesitant as the weeks roll past?

Because being on vacation is like being drunk at a party – your normal walls and insecurities come down, your hair is loose (be it yours or store-bought) and your soul is free and open.  Then you return home and after a few weeks of the normal routine, that vacation feel starts to wear-off.   That said, the best quick-fix solution I have come up with for reminding me why I am considering making this trip a more permanent move, is a visit to any McDonald’s between the hours of 8:30-10:00 am.

Is it the incredibly gross “beef” products they sell?  No. Is it the $1  any size coffee? No.  It’s all of the older, retired Americans who have made McDonald’s the new hotspot.  Yes people, if you are in your 70s and 80s and looking for a vibrant social scene of your peers….McDonald’s is the spot!!

This is both an interesting and distressing fact, depending on where the McDonald’s is located.  If in the wealthier suburbs, then you see groups playing cards, bingo, and being rather jolly. However, if in an urban or lower social economic center,  well then the scene is just depressing.

Depressing, because it is so clear that so many there simply crave human connection. Another person to hear their voice and know that they exist.  They sit and complain about the family members who no longer care about them, the friends who are awaiting open heart surgery, the medications they take, their aches and pain, their past glories, and the latest in local politics. It is depressing because their communion with the world happens for the few hours they are within the overly fried, mass-produced confines of Micky D’s.  Then it is back to home.

Now…granted, I am under forty, so bingo at Micky D’s is a way off…but it reminds me of how wonderful it is to live in a place where age is considered a privilege and not a purgatory, where friends and neighbors are family and your life is filled with the sight and sounds of young people (if you so choose). It reminds me that there are so many beautiful places and people to experience in this world and I am very blessed to have the opportunity to explore it.

So, we are looking forward to making Ecuador our home for a while and really learning about the country, its history, and its people.  We are looking forward to getting really good with our Spanish, growing our base of wonderful friends, and continuing to live a life rich in adventure, communion, love and laughter.

Yup, this a permanent move for us…well, about at permanent as we get.

Why “Ecuador” Elicits Blank Stares

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Now that I am back home and in the midst of the best winter season ever, aka no blizzard-like conditions, I have a constant urge to talk about the Ecuador experience and how Cuenca has become a quasi-Mecca for North American retirees seeking a temperate place to repose.

The conversation usually starts off on the subject of retirement, the expected costs and the plans to save. Then the discussion veers off when I mention semi-retirement in Ecuador.  “Ecuador?!” The face that I was having a relatively engaging conversation with, is now reflecting a blank stare and I can sense my conversation partner is processing the word to make sure they properly interpreted what I just said. “Yes, I am seriously considering a move to E-cu-a-dor.”

Transformation from Blank Stare to Cynicism

  1. Did she say Ecuador, where is Ecuador?
  2. I think it’s in Latin America somewhere.
  3. Why would anyone want to live there- aren’t they all running to come here?
  4. I need to check the CIA country page, to confirm she knows what she’s talking about.

Now the conversation moves to the Google search app on the phone (and yes, this really happened). Here we have it, a perfectly good conversation gone awry, toward the abyss that is the CIA plot (The World Factbook) to scare all Americans (US citizens only) away from all the really interesting places in the world.  I, however,  am fearless and shall not let the “Factbook” deter my conversational partner from the would-be joys of living south of the Texas border…for I am, “The Black Gringa” (enter, the  imaginary reverberating echo of my name).

If you are planning a trip or move to Ecuador and you share this with friends or random strangers, you too may have an experience similar to the one described. Do not be deterred. What the “Factbook” does not tell them :

  • Many urban Ecuadorians live a relatively cosmopolitan life with exposure not only to the Americas but Europe as well;
  • Low per capita GDP ($8,300) and a US-dollar based economy, mean significantly more purchasing power for you;
  • Ecuador’s urban centers have most, if not all, the comforts of home (okay, no Wal-Mart, Costco, or Goodwill) and depending on your budget, you could have it all.
  • The ecological diversity of the country, makes it a wonderful place for those with a restless soul who need a little bit of everything (cooler mountain climes, hot sunny beaches, tropical rainforest) in close proximity.

I then launch into my schpiel about the cost of living and the price of lunch and a taxi in Cuenca, and that usually peeks their interest and curiosity enough to get them to learn a little bit more about Ecuador.  My job is done.

The Black Gringa

Growing the expat community, one blank stare at a time.

The Verdict – Cuenca, Ecuador

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Our trip to Cuenca reminded me of a couple of rules to live by:

  1. Always decide for yourself what a place is like, because one person’s Shangi-la may be another person’s Detroit (no offence if that’s your town);
  2. Always travel with an open mind and open heart; and
  3. Always be open to making new friends.

For some, being in Ecuador is about as exotic a place as they can imagine living and everything seems foreign.  For us, it was basically just like home except in Spanish.  Now to be fair, our reference points for “different” are Senegal, China, India, etc., so comparatively, Cuenca is pretty 1st rate and was more like travelling to western Europe than an “exotic” destination point.

For the most part, everything we currently do at home can be done in Cuenca. Again, Cuenca is a 1st rate – 2nd tier city and for a family with young kids, it has most of the amenities you want except for ice skating rinks, McDonalds, and little league baseball (though I may be wrong on that one). Good private schools around the world will beat any US public school and many US private schools 6 out of 10 times, so a good school combined with a Spanish tutor (for my soon to be 4th grader) should meet and hopefully exceed, my expectations.

Based on the above, Cuenca was not an especially impressive city for us in terms of the man-made cityscape, but this is not to say it is not a beautiful city.  It is a nice, peaceful, livable, walkable, temperate, enjoyable place to be.  What impressed us were:

  • The beauty of the mountains and hills that surround the city;
  • The people we met.   Cuencanos (expats and locals) were very nice and welcoming. We started our week not knowing anyone and having some online blogger contacts.  We ended the week having made friendships that I belive will last a lifetime.
  • The extremely low cost of living well; and
  • The abundance and variety of food, extracurricular activities and artistic event options.

So, for now I can say that we will be returning soon, to spend at least 2 months in Cuenca and we will see if we use the other half of our return tickets.

Relax and Follow the Paths Where They May Lead