Buenos tardes mis amigos, espero que todos estan biens. Good afternoon my friends, I hope all of you are well.
I begin this first post from Cuenca in Spanish because of an observation that has quickly become very clear – the Cuenca experience will be different based on one’s ability to communicate in Spanish. This is not to say that it will be worse or better, just considerable different. Therefore, for each day of our journey here, I anticipate posting two commentaries:
- In the land of Spanish – will reflect the people we meet and the experiences we encounter primarily because of my ability to communicate in Spanish. For full disclosure, I am not a fluent speaker or even an advanced intermediate speaker. I am more of a “street” speaker. I learned Spanish on the streets of my neighborhood, growing up in Los Angeles, so I know enough to understand and to be understood, at least most of the time.
- In the land of English – will reflect the same as above but with the community of English speakers in Cuenca…of which there are many. Primarily from the United States and Canada, this community includes the people resident in our hotel/apartment complex, fellow tourists (like us), and others who we communicate with primarily based on our shared language (to be explained in detail in the English post)
From reading many of the blogs and seeing videos, I was under the impression that because of the number of English speaking expats, retirees and tourists in Cuenca, there would be many in the local community that speak English. WRONG!!! If you visit locations that are heavily frequented by the expat/retiree population, then okay English will do. But, reality check….this is Ecuador, where Spanish is THE language. It is a country surrounded by other Spanish speaking countries and it is on a continent with only four non-Spanish speaking countries (all of which occur south and southeast of Venezuela). So while not essential for having a great time and getting to know the city, I think it is unfair to assume the average person will understand you when you do not speak their language and you do not make an effort to. I am just pointing out the obvious, so please do not shoot the messenger.
Arriving in Cuenca today made me happy to be living in the Midwest of the US and to suffer sub-zero temperature… because Cuenca is not a warm (climate) place. If you are looking for a warm, sunny, tropical setting to relax in, Cuenca is not it. In addition, if you reside south of the Mason-Dixon line and are used to southern Californian weather…..well on a day like today, Cuenca will be down-right cold. Just to make the point, I am currently wearing socks and sitting under a wool blanket and I came from Wisconsin.
Do you have a 6 hour transit in a country with no visa (pre approved entry) requirement? JACKPOT – Then let’s play the “Fill in that time and still get back in time for your flight” game.
City – Panama City, Panama,
- Base Cost – $50-56 (the fixed rate to get from the airport to town and back is $28 each way). I previously posted that there may departure taxes not included in your airfare that you might have to pay but I was wrong. It won’t cost you a thing to leave the airport.
- Perks – Private Driver/Tour Guide with a sweet air-conditioned ride, get an insider’s/local view of what’s important in the city
- Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Get stuck in traffic and take pictures, then have fresh seafood at a local spot (langastinos, filleted fish with side salad and fried plantines)
- Then head back to the airport.
To follow-up on my previous posts regarding our trip, I wanted to share that the actual costs have been thus far. All costs are based on a single adult fare.
- Midwest, USA to Quito, Ecuador on Copa Airlines (Roundtrip) – $523
- Quito, Ecuador to Cuenca, Ecuador on AeroGal (Roundtrip) – $100
- Sheraton Hotel – Quito, Ecuador (1 night) – $125
- Hotel Apartamentos Otorongo – Cuenca, Ecuador (6 nights) – $290
- Taxi Ride from Airport to Hotel (estimated) – $3
Had we stayed at the Hostal Hogar Cuencano the price (6 nights) would have been $122 for a private room with an en suite bathroom, for two people.
A week at Disney World will definitely cost you more…even without the kids.
As we set off for our trip to Ecuador, I wanted to share some of the preparation that has gone into this trip (which for the record, is very little).
If you have read some of the previous blogs, you may know that 14 days ago, I not only had no interest in travelling to Ecuador, but I had no interest in South American in general (except for maybe specific places in Brazil such as Olinda, Curitiba, and Salvadore). The decision to take this trip was a relatively spontaneous choice but it has proven to be a good one thus far.
Who Do We Know in Ecuador?
Short answer – No one. Which is way the internet is such a beautiful thing. By researching and reading blogs, looking at YouTube videos, and being a little proactive, I have made contact with a the bloggers that I found most interesting and who currently reside in Cuenca, Ecuador. They have all been friendly and welcoming and I look forward to meeting them once we are in Cuenca.
Where Will We Stay?
Short answer – Hotel. Again the beauty of the internet is that all the information you need to get started is right at your fingertips. On TripAdvisor and Hostelworld I got reviews of hotels and hostels and then I thought I about what I needed and wanted to accomplish and went from there. We made an initial reservation at Hostal Hogar Cuencano because it had great reviews and the price was right ($20 per night for a double bed and en suite bathroom for 2 people), but I have a thing about being able to cook my own food (even if I don’t actually cook). So we moved our reservation to Hotel Apartementos Otorongo, which has apartments for long and short-term stays.
We do need to stay in Quito overnight so I chose the Sheraton Hotel in Quito. It’s a bit more expensive then I would normally want but, they have an airport shuttle and travelling with a child, I wanted the overnight stay to be as seamless as possible.
How Will We Get There?
Short Answer – Airplane. I typically use Vayama.com to scope out my flight plans since they are great with international flights. Then I work with the airlines directly because they usually give me a better rate. So we are travelling on Copa Airlines with a stop over in Panama. To get from Quito to Cuenca I chose to fly on AeroGal since (1) I get motion sickness, and (2) I don’t want to spend precious time on a bus. Finally from the airport to hotel – a $3 taxi. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Next stop – Ecuador, South America.
Six weeks ago one of my sisters mentioned she and her partner were considering a second home in Ecuador and my first response was, “Why?”. Two weeks ago another sister suggested that we take a family vacation to Central or South American and my response was, “I’m not interested”. So why then is Ecuador suddenly on my must see list?
Well, ten days ago, my grand plan to move to a “relatively stable” West African country (Nigeria) came to a screeching halt, when that country started to manifest significant signs of instability; i.e, massive protests, elimination of fuel subsidies, the doubling and tripling of food and transportation costs and a sharp upswing in ethnic and religious violence. So my immediate plans dashed (at least in the short-term) and eager to seek a plan B, I decided to google “cheapest places to retire in the world”. Yes at the ripe young age of 37, I am ready to enjoy semi-retirement (for at least 4 months of the year). I came across this article on MSN Money and #2 on the list was Cuenca, Ecuador.
Now, let me preface this by saying, I am all about seeking opportunities where you find them and frugal living. So when I saw Ecuador described as “super-affordable”, I though it deserved another look. And here I am, 10 days later, about to leave for Cuenca, Ecuador in 5 days to explore its possibilities. Based on the information I’ve found out here on the web, let me lay out why I am taking this step:
- You can rent a beautiful and large house or apartment for $250 [click here to check it out] (at the moment I have no interest in purchasing real estate so $250 is attractive to me)
- The weather is like Wisconsin in the spring…which is beautiful coming out of a 15-20 degree winter. But if you are from Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, etc. it may be a little chilly for you.
- I love historical and particularly colonial architecture and Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the preservation of its colonial structures, of which there are many.
- Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency, so no currency fluctuation concerns
- It reminds me of Europe without the Euro and less pretentious people…yeah.
- The roundtrip ticket for me and my daughter was less than $1,000 (single adult fare ticket to Chennai, India was $1,200) and 7 day hotel stay is $125 (not per night, but for the whole 7 days)
Of course the best answer to “Why Ecuador” is, “Why not!”