It's been two months since we returned to Cuenca and it's been exciting to see all the changes. And I have to say, when you're away for a long period of time Spanish comes back in full force. It's as if we never left!
After we received a $16,000 bill from 1-1/2 hours in the ER while we were in the States, we hopped on the next plane back home to Cuenca. Unfortunately, even with the medical insurance policy we took out, it barely covered anything. So one of the first things we did upon returning to Cuenca was to sign up for another insurance policy -- Confiamed.The $98 we spend per month-- for both of us -- includes: 100% hospitalization for Santa Ines, 80% for other hospitals; prescriptions, outpatient services, life insurance, travel insurance and burial insurance. Try to find something even close to that in the States. We were paying $622 a month and that was for catastrophic only.
There were a "few" things that changed in Cuenca as well:
(1) Mucho más gringos! In February of 2010 when my husband made his first exploratory trip to Cuenca I asked him if there were a lot of gringos in Cuenca. He mentioned that he saw a few, but that was it! I realize that gringos (expats) only make up about 2-4 percent of the population, but they are mostly concentrated in "el centro." We now live on the other side of town -- Primero de Mayo -- where we rarely see any Americans. Today we met friends at Coffee Tree on Calle Larga and I felt like I was in America with all the English speaking folks. What a contrast to what it was just a few short years ago. I guess all the promoting of Cuenca has worked!
(2) Places to Eat. Some of the older establishments like Zoe's are now for rent, but many more restaurants have taken its place. It seems like every week another place opens its doors, only with gringo pricing! We have visited some of our old favorites along with some of the newer places like Oliveto (Italian) on Calle Larga and Windhorse Cafe (Calle Larga and Hermano Miguel) which is a great place to meet and greet. Other popular places are Bananas (where Kookaburra used to be) and San Sebas Cafe which is perfect hangout all during the week.
(3) Higher Prices. When it's difficult to find a cup of coffee for a $1.00, we just laugh. It's all relative. I just remind myself that 1-1/2 hours in the ER is 16K (U.S.) so what's the big deal about $1.25 for a cup of java. Liquor and wine are now being taxed 30 percent, but you can still find great deals at Coral. A bottle of wine there is still $4.25 which is cheaper than the boxed wine -- Clos. Since Mark and I don't drink alcohol we definitely save money compared to our drinking friends who complain almost constantly about the prices. If you imbibe, be prepared to pay the price. Housing prices are also going up, but the Ecuadorians are the ones raising the prices so it's what you're willing to pay. It's still cheaper to rent a house ($250-$300) than a condo, but security is an issue for some. We have looked at some brand new 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartments for $300 unfurnished and some furnished for $400, so don't let anyone gringo gouge you! We love our new neighborhood along Primero de Mayo along the Yununcay River; it has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths with a balcony. We get morning and afternoon sun which makes our home a constant 68-70 degrees. Our friends who live in places that don't have the morning sun, usually need electrical heaters during the day or night. The other nice perk is a 7-minute walk to Mall del Rio. I find reasons to go there about twice a day!
(4) More police presence (everywhere) and the new transit police which have sharp looking uniforms. Most of the police are centered in "el centro," along the rivers and near the parks. Parque de la Madre with its underground parking garage was "under construction" when we left for the States in July, but now it's open and awaiting the unveiling of the planetarium. Video web cams at intersections are now being put in which will crack down on speeding and aggressive driving.
(5) Cuenca keeps making the news! Publications continue to write articles on the benefits of retiring abroad, including Cuenca. NBC with Ann Curry did a special series on the Amazon with the oil drilling going on there. ABC's Primetime with John Quinones was here last month interviewing expats, and -- of course -- International House Hunters continues to target Cuenca as a hotspot. When we were first exploring Cuenca in 2009 there were a few blogs and tidbits of information on the internet, but today resources abound. It seems like every week there's a new e-book written about this colorful city.
One of the things that has changed drastically since we left is the ease of getting your residency visa at the Ministerio de Exteriores (Zone 6). It's now possible to go through the process without the services of a lawyer and since the "censo" is no longer needed, folks have been able to get their residency visas in a month (or less). The English speaking staff in the office is one of the greatest perks and without the extra red tape of the censo, some are getting their cédula in as little as two months!
It sure is great to be back home!
Until next time...hasta luego!
Connie and Mark