In the spirit of making this blog and website, as interesting, interactive, and utilitarian as is reasonable, given our staff of 1.5, we have now added a Video feature to our site. These videos are from our various journeys over the years and are meant to add another layer to our journey of discovery.
The Video tab is located in the menu bar above or click the word video. All videos are categorized by country, where applicable.
I hope you enjoy them and I look forward to your comments.
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
- Did she say Ecuador, where is Ecuador?
- I think it’s in Latin America somewhere.
- Why would anyone want to live there- aren’t they all running to come here?
- 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.
Our trip to Cuenca reminded me of a couple of rules to live by:
- 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);
- Always travel with an open mind and open heart; and
- 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
On our first day in Cuenca, the famous Cuencano lunches for under $2 seemed like an elusive prize. We walked around, looked at restaurant menus and generally found prices to be higher than those advertised as bargains on other blogs and forums, especially for seafood and chicken.
Then, we eventually realized our mistake…we were looking in the wrong places. Almuerzo, as lunch is called, ranges in price from $1.25 in stalls in the local markets (mercados) t0 about $3.00 (per person) in some of the nicer hotels downtown.
Lunch typically includes an appetizer (popcorn not nachos), soup, fruit juice, the main meal, and a very light dessert. While Ecuadorian fare does not compare to the richness of Mexican or Indian food, it is good, simple and perfect for most American palates. No spicy, hot chilis here!
And yes, once you know where not to look, almuerzo menus can be found everywhere.
Looking over the posts from the last two weeks, I feel as if I have neglected to discuss the most important part of our journey to Cuenca; that is, how we found the people. I tend to be a rather goal oriented individual and too easily get lost in the “nuts and bolts” of providing functional and practical information. However, the essence of why I travel, why I like some places more that others, why I, at core, do the things I do, has more to do with intangible and wholly subjective, feelings; rather than, practicality. In fact, those that know me well would say I will usually do the opposite of what is practical.
The challenge with every journey I venture, is communicating to others the great joys and highs to be had by going forth into the unknown and finding laughter, warmth and kindred spirits.
The people of Cuenca were fun, welcoming and full of laughter, cups of coffee and cocoa. People were helpful, mellow, and relaxed. And the small stature of the majority of the people made me feel like a runway model in 2 inch heels. Sweet!
Ecuadorians were not as curious as Indians, or as gregarious as the Senegalese. Instead they are even keeled, soft-spoken and really not that different from home, except:
- language, of course;
- Cuencanos are very family oriented and prioritize spouses and children;
- they take their Catholicism very seriously; and
- they do not mind being stuck in a perpetual autumn.