Friday, May 13, 2016

Six Years in Cuenca, Ecuador!

Mark and I are approaching our six-year anniversary in Cuenca next month. It hardly seems possible, but in that amount of time we have grown to love this country and its people.

April 2016 - The Gardens of Mansion Alcazar
We were young retirees (age 55) when we first arrived and I wondered how we would fit in because everyone was sixty-five or older and now that we’re in our sixties, we feel right at home! Actually, the tide has changed and there are a lot of younger retirees in their 30’s and 40’s. Recently, we met a couple in their early 40’s and asked how they managed to retire so young and they said, “We decided not to have kids!”  There you have it – your ticket to early retirement.

In six years we’ve married both our sons, gained two lovely daughter-in-laws, and have a granddaughter who will turn a year old in August. We will be back in the States for that occasion and hope to make more trips to the States as we’re both about a year from receiving our Social Security. The last six years we've been living on Mark’s pension from UPS. Since we own our condo, the extra income from two Social Security checks, will help with traveling expenses back to the States to visit family.  We’ll still live on $1,317 a month, but our extra income through writing and teaching ESL will go to traveling as well.

The Pombo Family 
In many ways Cuenca has remained the same and in other ways it’s a different city. I’ll try to summarize some of the changes.

*A lot more gringos. We arrived with the “Class of 2010,” and gringo sightings were occasional and spotty. Now—especially in Gringolandia—you can’t help but run into “muchos gringos.” Norte Americanos are just part of the landscape. Depending on where you live in Cuenca, there will be greater concentrations.  Probably the largest population of gringos can be found by the Oro Verde Hotel, which is affectionately termed as Gringolandia.

Yanuncay River and Walking Trails
*More high rise condo buildings.  We were fortunate to buy our condo when prices were low and in a great section of the city (Primero de Mayo), which is close to the Yanuncay River and walking trails; three blocks to Mall del Sol, and a 35-minute walk to El Centro. We still don’t have a car and believe it or not, we consider it one of the best things about living in Cuenca. We walk, take a bus or taxi to wherever we need to go. We average about five to six miles of walking every day, which is how we stay in shape.

*Tranvia (electric train). Personally, I think the city would have been better served with a fleet of 400 new buses that were energy efficient and handicapped accessible rather than investing the time and money in the electric train that only serves a portion of the city, but it’s a little late for that. The train should be finished sometime in 2017 and we’ll probably ride it as a novelty, but that’s about it. Primero de Mayo and Avenida Solano where we live aren’t serviced by the tranvia.

*More International  Restaurants. It seems like there’s a new restaurant opening every week and just as many close. In El Centro (the historic part of the city), it’s a struggle to compete with so many restaurants and to maintain a profitable business with the rents continuing to rise. I’m happy to report we have some amazing new Italian restaurants, which make us happy little campers!  Along with the movement of Italian restaurants has come cheese – glorious cheese!  We lack for nothing in the cheese department now and with it comes olives and Italian bread.

Cheese -- Glorious Cheese!
*Food Prices Have Gone Up. If you eat like an Ecuadorian, you can keep your food bill to $30 a week.  That’s because we eat just fresh fruits and vegetables along with lentils, rice, and pasta. We don’t drink alcohol, so our grocery bill hasn’t changed. But with the economic down turn, imported items have gone up, along with alcohol and liquor, which is now being sold on Sundays. For the first time since 2010—when we arrived—alcohol will be available in stores and in restaurants on Sunday and will be reviewed every six months. All this is in an effort to increase sales and tourism. The fruits and vegetables in Ecuador are just short of amazing and the variety is astounding. We think it’s the best part of living here, except for the weather.  We have cherimoyas, guanabanas, uvillas, mangoes, pineapples, and dragon fruit in our fruit bowl right now. Probably the only one I could buy in the States might be a pineapple, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be ripe. We’re so spoiled in Ecuador!

*Transportation police. In 2010, the presence of police in their brown uniforms with fluorescent vests was about all we saw. Now, we have the transportation police on their bikes, on foot, on horseback, and at intersections directing traffic. We have traffic lanes and bike trails that are constantly monitored by police and we enjoy riding our bikes, which is something we wouldn’t have done six years ago. 

La Policia
*Four Points Sheraton.  For the first time, we’ll have a chain hotel in Cuenca. The ten-story hotel by Mall del Rio should be completed in a few months and will have a 120 rooms, conference center, pool, restaurant, and gym, so we’ll be like the other big cities—Quito and Guayaquil. Personally, we prefer the boutique hotels like Mansion Alcazar, but I’m sure it will be good for the tourism industry as travelers love to use their “points” and now Cuenca will be able to offer something for everyone.

Four Points Sheraton from Our Condo 
*Visitors from the States. I can still hardly believe it, but my sister and her husband came to visit us in March. Besides our older son who came to visit in 2010, this is the first family we’ve had in Ecuador. They stayed for three weeks and we had so much fun showing them around Cuenca. 

Family Visitors!
Thankfully, they left before the April 16th earthquake, but since they’re from California I’m sure it wouldn’t have rattled them too much. They said they’ll be back!

In the future (2017), Mark will probably just teach one or two classes and I’ll still be writing because that’s what I do, so I guess you can say we’ll be “retired.” It will just be nice not to have our life run in cycles like it does now.

One of the greatest perks of living in Cuenca is the health care. We've been 100% pleased with our care here and how wonderful to make an appointment online and show up at the doctor's office the next day – even specialists. 

We use a combination of IESS (the Social Security Hospital) and private doctors. We pay a total of $71 for both of us, which includes office visits, medication, hospitalization, surgery, labs, etc.  The IESS system is much like Kaiser in the States in that you have to go through a primary care physician first before seeing a specialist.

We always have the option of seeing a private physician for $25-$40 per visit and the follow-up is always free. I remember in the States having to wait five months just to see a dermatologist!  We're spoiled with the health care in Cuenca.

And I will have to mention the earthquake as that has also changed Ecuador. The last big one we felt was shortly after our arrival in 2010 and it was a 7.1 and six years later, the Pedernales earthquake that was 7.8. It’s been a month and it will take years for any sense of normalcy on the coast, so continue to keep our wonderful country in your prayers. When people ask how they can help, I always mention the Ecuadorian Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse Ministry

Until next time…hasta luego,

Connie & Mark

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 7.8 Magnitude Earthquake in Ecuador

Last Saturday, April 16, 2016, at 6:58 PM, Mark and I were sitting in our living room when we felt a "trembler"; we get them occasionally and never think twice about them. As California natives, we don't consider them noteworthy. But this one was different -- a lot different! The trembler got more intense and then shook hard as we watched the pictures fall  from the shelves and the lamps swing back and forth. The shaking continued for a good minute. We heard children crying in our building and watched as neighbors ran out of their condo complex. The swaying of our building was a "little" unnerving as we watched other buildings do the same thing with windows bulging. 

For quite some time afterward, I still felt like I was on a roller coaster and then I turned to Mark and said,  "Wherever the epicenter is; it's going to be horrific." The "trember" turned out to be a 7.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter in Pedernales.

7.8 Magnitude Earthquake -- April 16, 2016

Mark and I have always lived in earthquake-prone areas (California, Italy and now Ecuador). We knew about Ecuador's history of earthquakes,  but we figured it came with the territory. We've actually been in two big earthquakes since we've been here (2010 and 2016).

Ecuador is in the "Ring of Fire" which is a horseshoe-shaped ring stretching from Japan and moving around to Alaska, down the coast of Washington, Oregon, California, Mexico, Central American, and South America. 

Ring of Fire 

The April 16th earthquake was the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979. 
 For the complete list of the earthquakes in Ecuador, click here

There was only minor damage experienced in Cuenca from Saturday's earthquake, but on the coast it was a different story and we're only beginning to understand the true devastation as many of the roads along the coast have been damaged, making access to some areas further inland more difficult.

To date there are 577 dead with the most casualties felt in Manta and Pedernales; 5,733 injured and 163 missing. We have friends who have been to the hardest hit areas and they can only describe it as utter devastation. Pedernales doesn't even exist any longer.

There are three zones in Ecuador:"The coast is Zone I  for earthquakes; Zone II is the Quito area in the northern Andes, which has many semi-active volcanoes; Cuenca, in the southern Andes, is in Zone III, and has not had a major earthquake in 500 years; and the Amazonias (Oriente), in eastern Ecuador is the least susceptible area to earthquakes."  No one can predict natural disasters, but if you live in Zone I and II, then you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. You have to decide if the view of the Pacific Ocean every day is going to make your life more stressful or more enjoyable. 

Ecuadorian Coastline 

We love the Ecuadorian Coast and vacation there every chance we get and we've often talked about buying a place on the coast -- like Salinas, but Saturday's earthquake pretty much sealed the deal for us. We're staying in Cuenca until God calls us home. 

After Saturday's earthquake many have asked us if we're moving back to the States and I understand their concern, but we don't scare that easily and most of our lives have been spent in earthquake-prone areas. Ecuador's earthquake has destroyed the coast and it will be years before it will be rebuilt, but the Ecuadorian people are resourceful and resilient and I know that with proper planning the new coastline will be safer and stronger. Even as recovery efforts are still ongoing, engineers are planning the next phase. We know that the structures that withstood the earthquake were made from bamboo and wood--not stone or cement. We've seen some of the plans suggested and it makes perfect sense that in the future the structures should be flexible--not rigid. 

The outpouring of support for Ecuador has been so heartwarming and the relief efforts have been nothing short of miraculous. It hasn't even been a week since the quake hit and the outpouring of support from around the world has been so encouraging. There are donation drop-off stations all over town and caravans of trucks and airplanes bring in supplies daily to the hardest hit areas, but so much more needs to be done as we're only beginning to understand the long road ahead of us.

The poorest of the poor are giving what they have to help their neighbors on the coast and this earthquake has already stretched this country that has already been knocked down by the lowering of oil prices -- Ecuador's major export. But we're like a reed bending to the force of the wind and soon we will stand tall and stronger than before.

If you would like to help with the relief efforts, there are so many organizations that are available -- from the Samaritan's Purse Ministry by Franklin Graham to Cruz Roja (Red Cross) of Ecuador --where you can make a donation. No gift is too small. 

In the meantime, if you're planning  a trip to Ecuador, don't cancel it. The coast was ravaged by this earthquake, but there are still the southern beach towns like Salinas (the little Miami of Ecuador) that was kept out of harm's way; Quito is open and ready for business; Cuenca was spared any damage; and, of course, the Galapagos Islands were completely spared. One of Ecuador's greatest sources of income is the tourism industry and want you to experience this beautiful country and its warmhearted people they way we have.
We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your love, care and concern for Ecuador and for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. 

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Connie and Mark 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What to See While You're in Cuenca!

My sister and her husband visited us for three weeks and I thought it would be a great time to introduce Question #27 from the book, Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered   --  Second Edition

We also spent three days in Guayaquil, where we visited the Botanical Gardens, Parque Historico, Malecon 2000, Samborondon, and Plaza Lagos, which was my personal favorite. 

I'll save our time in Guayaquil for another post as the majority of our time was spent in Cuenca. Stay tuned...

Question: Can you suggest some things to do while we’re in Cuenca? 

Answer: El Centro is a great place to start your visit. Parque Calderon, in the heart of the historic district, is where you can enjoy a splendid view of the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) with its pink marble pillars. On certain holidays, you can even go up to the lookout towers. Across the park from the Nueva Catedral (New Cathedral), you will find the Iglesia del Sagrario (Old Cathedral). It was built in 1557 and currently serves as a museum, housing works from colonial and contemporary artists. Occasionally, the Cuenca Symphony performs there. It is a favorite music venue because of the excellent acoustics.

Nueva Catedral

For $2.00 you can go up to the terrace of the Nueva Catedral for the best view of the city.
The staircase winds up many flights, which reminded me of the
For $2.00 you can visit the Old Cathedral, which is more like a museum filled
with artifacts and murals, including life-sized sculptures of the disciples. 

Now you can make your way over to the flower market, which is located at Sucre and Padre Aguirre next to the New Cathedral and the Carmen de la Asunción Monastery (founded in 1682). The flower market is still one of my favorite places in El Centro. And the church, Iglesia Carmen de la Asunción (Santuario Mariano) is one of the most impressive churches in Cuenca and features Baroque and Renaissance architecture.
Since it was the week of  Palm Sunday, there were lots of palms
to choose from that were woven by hand with flowers mixed in. 
Palm weaving near the Nueva Catedral

We celebrated Easter and my sister's birthday at Mansion Alcazar on
Simon Bolivar.

La Pergola -- Mansion Alcazar

Take a stroll down Calle Larga (the longest street in the city) and enjoy some of the best restaurants and hotels in Cuenca. Off the main street, you will find the Barranco district—the cliff overlooking the River Tomebamba where 120 of the oldest structures in the city are located. At night, the lights and bridges make it a spectacular photo spot.

Calle Larga

Other areas to visit are:

Mirador de Turi. The double-decker tour buses leave from Parque Calderon next to the Old Cathedral and take you through the city up to Turi where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Day and night tours are available.
The church of Turi (which means brother in Quichua) was built in 1930. You can approach the viewpoint via the Turi steps, which are always an option to bring you to the top; plan on a few stops, though, as the steps are steep. While in Turi, you can visit the lovely restaurant and souvenir shop.
Turi is also the home of Eduardo Vega, the world-renowned ceramicist, who not only has residence there, but also his work studio. Cost to visit the studio is free (minus the souvenirs you'll want to buy). 

It's more fun to take the yellow or red tour bus up to Turi, but if you want to save $5.00
you can take one of the blue buses for 25-cents that says "Turi" or "Tres Puentes."
My sister and her hubby at the Mirador de Turi.

Iglesia de Turi

Eduardo Vega's Studio on the road to the Mirador. It's a great place to buy souvenirs.

Eduardo Vega was kind enough to pose for a picture with us. 

Pumapungo Museum: Pumapungo is an archaeological museum located in Cuenca’s historic district at Calle Larga and Huayna Capac Streets, next to the Banco Central. The museum is spectacular and even has a collection of shrunken heads. The Temple of the Sun and the Convent of the Sun Virgins, which were all part of one of the most important and beautiful cities of the ancient Incan Empire, are located just outside the museum.

Entrance to the Pumapungo Museum 
Pumapungo Runins 

Pumapungo Ruins and Garden 

Following a trail down a flight of stairs, you’ll reach a bird sanctuary and park where you can enjoy some of Ecuador’s most exotic birds.

Look-out Tower 

Some of the exotic birds at the Pumapungo Park

The Belgium Waffle Guys were closed the day we went. They are open Thursday - Sunday.
By now, you might need a break and a snack. Enjoy a waffle from the Belgian Waffle Guys, who have a restaurant in the park.
Other notable museums are the Aboriginal Cultural Museum (Calle Larga and Mariano Cueva), the Monasterio de las Conceptas (Juan Jaramillo and Presidente Cordova), and the Museum of Modern Art (Mariscal Sucre and Colonel Talbot). When visiting the art museum, take time for lunch at San Sebas Café in the plaza.
Aguas Termales de Baños (the town with the thermal baths). No trip to Cuenca is complete without a trip to Baños and the thermal baths. Hostels and spas offer volcanic mud and vaporized massage services. Located fifteen minutes outside of Cuenca, these hot springs rise from a geological fault named Loma de los Hervideros. Our favorite is Piedra de Agua, which has a lovely restaurant, three pools, mud baths, underground caves, and spa services in a tranquil setting. On Tuesdays, Piedra de Agua features an international visitor’s special—two-for-one—which includes all the spa amenities, including the mud baths, underground pools, and saunas. With the special, the price is only $16 per person.
Other notable favorites are NovaAqua (the newest “pool” on the block) and Hosteria Duran, which has turco baths, a hostel, and a restaurant.
Amaru Zoo. If you’re traveling with children, you have to visit Amaru, which is on the Cuenca-Azogues Highway (Km 10). It’s a bio park built along the mountainside and has cultural activities for kids, along with flower and amphibian reserves. Allow at least two hours.
Chordeleg, Gualaceo, and Paute. For day trips, you have to visit Gualaceo where leather goods are made: shoes, purses, and jackets. On the way into Gualaceo, there’s also the Orchid Factory (as I call it)— Ecuagenera,  where you can see hundreds of different varieties of orchids in all stages of development. Also, if you would like to spend the night in Gualaceo, we highly recommend Hosteria Santa Barbara, which is a palm-tree lined oasis and resort facility.
Chordeleg is known for its silver and gold jewelry, which you pay for by the ounce. If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home, this is the place to pick them up.
Paute is a great place to have a picnic lunch along the river. The weather there is warmer than in Cuenca, and the view is amazing. In fact, many expats relocate from Cuenca to Paute to live in the country and escape city life.
Longer day trips include. Ingapirca, Cajas National Park (up to 15,000 feet) with lunch at the Dos Chorreras Lodge (awesome fresh trout), Giron Waterfalls, and Yunguilla Valley. One of our favorite places to stay is Jardin del Valle in Yunguilla, which is relaxing and exotic; the lovely Bambu Restaurant is nearby.

My sister and her husband loved Cuenca so much -- they'll be back! 

Waterfalls going over the Cajas

Dos Chorreras (Two Waterfalls) 

Roadside company!

Dos Chorreras Lodge

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Connie & Mark 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Getting Your Stuff to Ecuador

Coming out next month is the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less. In it is my story "Fire Drills" about how we whittled  down thirty-five years of marriage into six suitcases. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fun. In fact, I'd rather forget about that part of the journey because it also coincided with selling our house, marrying our younger son, and doing "fire drills."

To be honest, going through photo albums was the most difficult part because I was a Creative Memories person and I recorded every moment of our boys' lives. I'm not going to share the entire story as the book comes out on April 19th , but I will say that getting rid of our stuff gave us a new lease on life and I wouldn't do it any differently.  

We've made many trips back to the States to visit family, but I've resisted the urge of going down to the basement of our younger son's home and flipping through the photo albums because I know I'll be tempted to put a few in my suitcase.

Getting your stuff to Ecuador is different for everyone. We know folks who have come with a whole container of stuff and then end up selling everything once they get here because they've decided to update their apartment with a new look. Some bring a pallet with treasured possessions that they're not able to part with quite yet. Others make several trips to Ecuador through the years and each time drop off suitcases with friends until they're ready to make the big move for good. And then there's us and many others who come with suitcases in varying numbers. 

Here's an excerpt out of the book Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered (Second Edition) about suitcases and the friends/neighbors way to go: 

     *Suitcases. This is when you swing in the direction of selling, storing, and giving away everything and arrive with your “four” suitcases (depending on the airline). We flew American Airlines, and we were allowed four suitcases, not weighing more than 50 pounds, and two carry-ons. If you fly business or first class, you will receive a larger luggage allowance. However, depending on the time of year you fly, there may be restrictions on how many carry-ons you can bring on the plane. Personally, I go on the lighter side with carry-ons in case of a full flight, as those may be relegated to the cargo hold.

     If you go over the weight limit on your checked luggage, the airline will assess an additional fee. This varies by carrier. To avoid these fees, we used every usable space. You can’t believe how much stuff you can fit into a size 11 shoe (my husband’s size). Some couples even practice packing and repacking.

     *Friends and neighbors. This option is becoming more and more popular. If you’re planning a visit to Cuenca before your actual move, consider dropping off a suitcase (or two) with friends to keep for you until your return. Some folks use their frequent flyer miles and invite family and friends down. In exchange, these visitors bring some of their hosts’ belongings in a spare suitcase. There is no tax or duty on luggage, so it’s probably the cheapest way to get things to Cuenca. 

On a personal note, we did the container thing when we moved to Italy and vowed never to do that again because if you ever decide to return to the States you have to ship the container back. Not that it's stopped anyone because we know a lot of expats who ship a container down to Ecuador and ship it back when they leave. We had already been through that whole ordeal and decided not to repeat history.

In the end, it's a personal decision; there is no right or wrong way of getting rid of your stuff or "bringing it with you." Whatever you decide, it will always make a good story!

Until next time, 

Connie and Mark

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Best Time to Book Tickets to Ecuador

Question: What is the best time to book tickets to Ecuador? 

Answer: According to recent studies, the best time to book a flight is 50 to 100 days before your scheduled flight. The best day to purchase tickets is on a Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. EST. If you can book your flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday, returning the following Tuesday or Wednesday, you also can save some money. If you use all three methods, you can save hundreds of dollars.
There are some exceptions, but flying Tuesday to Tuesday or Wednesday to Wednesday are the best days of the week for a good deal on airfare. If you have less time, Thursday to Sunday will also get you good rates.
Keep your dates flexible when booking; most airlines let you see the cheapest days of the week on a calendar grid. You can also get emails alerts notifying you when the rates go down; many times you’ll notice the dates fluctuating within a month. The websites and are two that will alert you to changes in fare prices.

If you want to compare rates of different airlines or want to travel to your destination all in one day, check out It searches hundreds of sites in seconds and also gives you a calendar grid where you can check out the cheapest fares for each day of the month.
If you don’t book your flight on your first visit to a website, be sure to clear your “cookies” from your computer or use another computer when you return to the site to book your flight. Believe it or not, it makes a difference, as these travel websites use tracking software and record your searches. The best rates usually appear on your first search and go up with each subsequent visit. For more tips on saving money on flights, check out the tips on FareCompare

We have a special preference for Avianca Airlines and normally our round trip tickets are $500 per person from Guayaquil to New York. They have excellent staff, comfortable leather seats, wonderful food and beverage service, and warming towels -- even in economy. It's the little things that keep us coming back.

TAME, the national airline of Ecuador, has flights from Guayaquil to New York (non-stop), but they are more expensive and have limited dates. 

We usually book with CheapTickets or CheapOAir, but this coming August we booked with Avianca through Vayama. They were offering the cheapest rates at the time, so we'll let you know if there are any glitches.

Feel free to comment on any ways you have used to save on airfare to and from Ecuador.

Until next time...hasta luego!  

Connie & Mark


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Cuenca?

Tres Cupolas

Every week, I'll post a question from the second edition of the book 101 Questions Answered. After five years of living here, some of the questions are vastly different and others are amazingly the same, like Question #1.

Question #1: Why retire in Cuenca and not one of the other top retirement destinations in the world?

Answer:  Cuenca was not really our top retirement destination; Italy was our first choice. But on $1,317 a month with my husband’s pension from UPS, we knew that our quality of life wouldn’t be that great. We had lived in Italy for six years in the 1980s. It was expensive back then, and the health care system wasn’t anything to write home about.
     When we looked at other countries in the running, like Panama, Mexico, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Spain, Malta, Colombia, Portugal, Thailand, and Uruguay, we realized they were too far, too hot, too cold, or too expensive. Cuenca kept rising to the top and still remains in first place.
     The things that drew us to Cuenca are the same things that keep us here:

     *Cost of living. Although items have gone up in price over the past five years, you can still find a $1.50 almuerzo (but $2.50 is about average). The things that will cause you to go bankrupt in the States aren’t even a possibility here, namely health care. Utilities are ridiculously low—almost a joke—and there’s no need for heating or air conditioning. Public transportation is great (a 25-cent bus ride or a $2.00 taxi fare will get you where you need to go). Fruits and vegetables are inexpensive. All this allows us to live comfortably without the fear of a medical crisis using up the rest of our hard-earned savings.

     *Spring-like temperatures. As mentioned, Cuenca enjoys a mild climate—there’s no need for air conditioning, and heating costs are minimal. The only place I know in the U.S. that has pleasant temperatures all year long is San Luis Obispo, California (hovering around 68˚F to 70˚F). Cuenca enjoys what is called a subtropical highlands climate, which basically means that lush green tropical plants flourish without the heat and humidity of the coast. Because of Cuenca’s altitude—8,300 feet—and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon, with the equator in the middle, the climate remains relatively temperate with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. Yes, we have rain and hail sometimes, but no snow or ice, and no oppressive heat or humidity.

Parque Calderon where Humming Birds are Everywhere

     We have two “seasons”: dry (June through December) and rainy (January through May). Our coldest month is August, and our warmest months are November, December, and January. My least favorite month is April, which is called aguas mil (a thousand waters), when we average 4.29 inches of rain during the month. If you’re looking for tropical and hot, Cuenca will disappoint you!

     *Affordable health care. This has been the greatest part of living in Cuenca. As a cancer survivor, I’ve experienced how devastating a medical crisis can be and how it can wipe out your savings. We pay $145 per month for IESS, Ecuador’s medical Social Security system, which covers everything (no co-pays). We also have our private doctors—out of the system—with visits ranging from $25 to $40 and follow-up visits are free.
Laboratory Clinic

     Dental care is highly affordable as well. A dental cleaning and x-rays are $45, and fillings run about $35. My husband has had four root canals with implants and crowns, and they’ve never cost more than $500. Cosmetic surgery is also affordable. I can’t comment on the price tag as I haven’t gone under the knife, but many of the doctors who practice here have received their training in the States. Medical care is highly personal in Cuenca; you’re not just a number. It’s normal for physicians to spend forty-five minutes to an hour with you.

     *Even more reasons. Another thing that keeps us here is Cuenca’s colonial charm. El Centro (the historic center) occupies approximately 12 blocks by 20 blocks and contains a variety of restaurants, Spanish colonial buildings, and adobe houses alongside elegant hotels, cafes, and bakeries. I still marvel at the cobblestone streets, terracotta rooftops, and colonial period architecture, including the churches and cathedrals. From our condo, we enjoy a view of the Cuenca skyline with the blue domes of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (New Cathedral)—absolutely breathtaking at sunrise or sunset. I never tire of our city view and the Andes Mountains.
     Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador, so tourists from around the world descend upon Cuenca every year. In addition, because of the many Spanish-language schools, there are people who come just to study the language—usually you’ll see them wearing flip-flops and shorts and carrying backpacks. Many events like concerts and symphonies are free. And the restaurants continue to grow in size and diversity. Outdoor cafes are also becoming more popular and you can find them throughout the city. My favorite place is still Parque Calderon—the center of the city—with the Nueva Catedral (New Cathedral) on one side with its pink
marble columns and the Catedral Vieja-Iglesia del Sagrario (Old Cathedral) on the other side (where the tour buses line up).
    As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s always something going on and buildings being preserved and transformed. But the diversity of the culture is what makes living in Cuenca so interesting. Alongside the indigenous women with their colorful velvet skirts, you’ll see conservatively dressed Cuencanos wearing European-styled suits. The contrast is fascinating. The Spaniards ruled Cuenca for 500 years, and we can thank them for the colonial period architecture, which is so prevalent in the city.
Santo Domingo Iglesia

Cuenca Symphony

     Lastly, the expat community is one of the largest and most well established anywhere in the world. When we first arrived, there were only a handful of expats. Today, we can’t walk around the block without seeing a Norte Americano. When we moved into our condo building, we were the only Americans. Now, we’re one of three in our building. With the expat population booming, there are a variety of volunteer opportunities, support groups, art and language groups, and two English-language magazines for expats.
     Personally, we love the diversity—not only culturally—but in the land with the Galapagos, the coastal regions, and the Amazon. We find our way to the coast (four hours away) by bus at least three times a year, and the Galapagos is only one and a half hours from Guayaquil by plane. We have yet to get to the Amazon, but it’s on our bucket list. In five years, we’ve grown to love this unique city and its people. And we have just as many Ecuadorian friends as we do American, which we count as one of our greatest blessings. This means we have finally integrated and have been accepted. We also volunteer and give back as much as we can.

     We live comfortably on $1,317 a month because we own our condo, so rent is not a consideration. One of our greatest luxuries is not having a car; we use public transportation, walk, or take a taxi. We also wanted to live somewhere where plane tickets to fly back to the States weren’t outrageously expensive. We fly to JFK on Avianca Airlines from Guayaquil (round trip) for $500 per person, which is less expensive than flying East Coast to West Coast in the States. 

Independence  Day Celebrations Nov. 3-5, 2015

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Connie & Mark 

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