Thursday, June 24, 2010

Making Sense of the Censo

The last couple of days we have been trying to get our censo. It is the last step before we actually get our cedula -- Ecuadorian citizenship. The Office of Immigration is right down the street from our condo complex so we actually make it part of our exercise program!

Today we thought we had all our ducks lined up, but as it turned out...we did not. We were missing a signature on one of our documents which required us to go downtown (el centro), obtain the signature and make copies. By the time we returned to the immigration office, it was closed! So tomorrow, we will start the process all over again.

None of this upsets us because we're "retired" and what else do we have to do? So tomorrow we will try it again and most likely we will get another person who will ask for something else that we don't have.

We look at it this way...we get to meet more people, learn more of the language and go out to dinner when we're done. I would love to give you a list of things you need for your censo, but it really wouldn't make sense because for sure the list would change (again!).

After our censo "ordeal" we celebrated by having ice cream at our favorite place -- "Tutto Freddo," walked around "El Centro" and then came back and worked out at the gym in our complex. They just installed two new saunas (one for Mark and one for me!). We hear that people lose at least 20 pounds the first month they are here, but I'm afraid to say I've gained five pounds! Despite all the walking we do (at least 3-5 miles a day), I have a fascination for the ice cream "helado" in Cuenca. I'm sorry, but it's so much better than in Italy...(much better).

Be sure to come to Cuenca with your sense of humor, lots of patience, and your appetite. You will definitely need all three.

Until next time...hasta luego!

Marco y Concetta

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Feliz Dia Del Padre

We have successfully survived our first important holiday without our boys!

Father's Day (Dia Del Padre) is celebrated in much the same way as it is in the States (with family!). To say it was easy (without family) would be lying, so I will tell the truth...the whole truth!

It definitely was not easy, but it was made easier by planning ahead. Knowing in advance that holidays -- both big and small -- would conjure up notions that somehow we were depriving our "children" of their parents, we were proactive in our solution.

Snuggled amongst six suitcases (mas/menos) were carefully chosen memorabilia that would ease the transition into our new life in Ecuador. For Father's Day, I saved the best of the best cards given by our sons to their father, a coffee mug with their picture, and a "tribute to Dad" written by our oldest son when he was just 14 years old.

Last night, I wrapped up all the cards, letters, and memorabilia and set them on the dining room table and closed the light. At 7:30 a.m., I awoke to my husband's loud sobbing. Oh no, I've really done it this time! I thought.

After about 20 minutes, my husband emerged from the bathroom with tear-stained cheeks and the hint of a smile. I sighed with relief and said, "Are you going to be okay?"

Mark wrapped his arms around me and whispered in my ear, "That was -- by far -- the best gift I have ever received."

Who knew that "leftover" cards could be so healing?

Thankfully, there's more where that came from (I have enough cards to survive all the holidays). Trust me, it was worth an extra suitcase. And if I were to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way. Those little scraps of paper, the handmade cards, and "yes" even their baby teeth will come in handy someday to soothe the separation anxiety we might feel.

We love Cuenca and will never regret our decision to move here, but we also know that there will be days -- like today -- (Dia Del Padre) when separation anxiety will be felt.

We called our boys, talked to our own Dads, and enjoyed a day of celebration, culminating in a dinner for two at one of Cuenca's finest hotels -- Oro Verde. It was an easy "walk" as we live right across the street from five-star dining. Most Cuecanos celebrate with family in the afternoon; however, we choose a quiet dinner for two in the evening (it took us that long to call everyone!).

We have survived our first major obstacle -- a holiday without family -- and look look forward to our second one tomorrow...the beginning of language school. I sure hope our teacher enjoys our Spanish with an Italian accent!

Until next time...we hope you have a great "Feliz Dia Del Padre"!

Connie and Mark

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Top Ten Things We Love About Cuenca

It's been ten days since we arrived in Cuenca and already we're in a rhythm of life which has allowed us to discover the top ten things we love most about this city. I affectionately call Cuenca the emerald of Ecuador. There is nothing not to like about this lovely city! For those of you thinking of making this move, here are ten of our favorite things (thus far):

#1 - Home with a view. I'm not sure what it is about waking up to see the Caja Mountains, a panoramic view of the city, and an ever-changing skyscape that automatically puts you in a good mood. Both Mark and I wake up with a smile on our face. Even when we're out shopping, we can't wait to get back to our condo, put our feet up, sip a cup of coffee and enjoy the view from our living room!

#2 - Abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. We have been to the open markets (mercados), Supermaxi (American-like grocery store), and the Coop. By far, the best prices, selection, freshness, and availability of food has been the Coop which is located within walking distance to our home. We can literally live on $12.71 a week on groceries. I prepare fritatas with at least seven varieties of vegetables, fruit salad, pasta, chicken, rice and beans (not all at one time -- of course). The only thing the Coop lacks is plastic wrap, cleaning supplies, and paper products, which we can easily pick up at the mercado. We only use Supermaxi in emergencies. The prices are much higher than the States on many items. Rule of thumb: Shop the bottom shelf first and the periphery of the store!.
#3 - Friendliness of the people. This was totally unexpected. We are foreigners, gringos, Americans -- whatever you want to call us -- but we are not Ecuadorian. So when we appeared lost one afternoon, a young woman and her mother asked if they could help us. About 20 minutes later, we had exchanged phone numbers and they had invited us over for dinner. Not only was she genuine and sincere, she offered to take us where we needed to go. I would like to say that was an exception, but it's the rule. This didn't happen to us once, but many times during our ten days in Cuenca.

#4 - Eternal springtime. Coming from Pennsylvania (the state of harsh winters and humid summers), I'm pleased to report that Cuenca has lived up to its reputation. Mind you, this is the "winter" season in Cuenca, but it's simply amazing. We only have two days of this kind of perfect weather in Pennsylvania (one day in May and one day in October). There were several days of rain this past week, but it was sporadic. Most days the sun comes out in the morning, giving way to fluffy white clouds and brilliant blue skies, and then clouds roll back in toward the evening. The temperature is perfect human weather (mid-60's). I wear a leather jacket only because I don't want to appear American. Remember: Ecuadorians think this is winter, not flip-flop weather. Oh, and be sure to carry a fold-up umbrella with you (the moment you don't; it will rain!).
#5 - Cleanliness of the city. I had read on other blogs how clean the city was, but I wasn't convinced until we arrived. You will see a variety of cleaning folks around town all performing a special function. Their uniforms are different colors (orange, green, and blue), but they all take pride in keeping Cuenca free of debris. There are signs posted around town to remind you to keep the city clean. And if that wasn't enough, at night the street cleaners come along and water down the sidewalks and streets to make it squeaky clean. That isn't to say there isn't occasional garbage littering the streets, but it's the exception and not the rule.

#6 - Ease of transportation. We do not own a car (nor do we want to). Having driven in Sicily six years was enough entertainment for us! Most days we take a taxi if it is a long hike or if we feel adventuresome, we take the bus. One day we took the right bus but got off at the wrong stop, so we rode it to the end of the "trail." At that point, we were politely asked by the driver to get off (which we did). The bus driver then drove to the other side of the street where he told us to wait and then picked us up again after paying another 25 cents. When you're retired, you're never in a big hurry to get anywhere, so it wasn't a big deal. We just enjoyed the scenery. But we laughed all the way home about the experience: get off, cross the street, and get back on the same bus!

#7 - Availability and affordability of medical care. This was a delightful shock! Mark and I wanted to be established with a doctor right away because of our medical conditions. So we made an appointment with an English-speaking medical doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital. We brought our medical records along with us, which he reviewed in detail, taking notes and asking questions. He spent over an hour with us and asked us to return for our physicals next month. He told us to give our medical records to his secretary so she could make copies of them, so he could review them thoroughly for our next visit. Having worked in the medical field for 20 years, I was in total shock -- not only the amount of time spent with us, but the price. Our total visit came to $25 (for both of us).
#8 - Food, food, food. Every restaurant we have been to has been a delight. We have not had one disappointment -- not one! One of the best Italian meals we ever had was here in Cuenca (Il Vino). There is something for everyone here, including the Kookaburra Cafe which is a great place to meet up with expats and enjoy great conversation and outrageously good food. The prices will astound you and I'm still getting used to it. At some of the "mom and pop" style restaurants (for approximately $2.30), you can enjoy a five-course meal consisting of rice, tamales, chicken, salad, bread, drink, and possibly dessert (which may be extra). The portions are huge and we often take the other half home and eat off of it for the next two days. One of the biggest surprises has been the gelato. Ecuadorians love their ice cream and I can see why. One of our favorite places is Frutilados Cafe and Heladeria. You won't be disappointed. We prefer Fruitilados in the historic district (Bolivar y L. Cordero). It has a lovely courtyard (not to be missed!)

#9 - Pace of life. There is no sense of urgency in Cuenca (except for the occasional wild driver!). There is a rhythm of life which we haven't experienced since living in Sicily. The morning is spent working, followed by lunch (almuerzo) and then from 12:30 to 3:30 things start to slow down -- during the "siesta" -- and then by 6:30 (darkness prevails), and it's time to have dinner and relax. Mark and I run our errands in the morning, followed by our big meal of the day, a nap or time of language study in the afternoon, followed by a light dinner. We're in bed by 9:30 p.m. Who would have thought? We actually feel retired! There is no way we could have this quality of life at this price in the States. And I want to add, we are not wealthy Americans. My husband's pension is modest (we will not receive our social security for another seven years at age 62), but yet we have five-star living at one-star prices.

#10 - Americans. I was hesitatnt to add this one, but our experience has been so wonderful we had to include it. Every American we have run into has been so helpful and kind that we have to pinch ourselves. We share our experiences, gather information, and learn from each other. On Saturday, I was having a manicure/pedicure at the grand opening of a new spa, when I heard a familiar voice! Diane was getting her nails done as well. She looked vaguely familiar, but her voice was so recognizable. After conversing, I found out that Diane was the one in the HGTV special (House Hunters International) with her husband, Juan Moreno. It was -- in part -- because of their experience shared in the program that we decided to make the move to Cuenca. On Sunday, Juan and Diane took us with them to view the Ecuadorian countryside. We spent the day enjoying a great meal, shopping and meeting a lot of Juan's family on our way to Chordeleg. It was a perfect day!

These are just a few of our favorite things about Cuenca. Overall, living in Ecuador has exceeded our expectations. We haven't found a negative yet, which is surprising in itself. The only real negative is not being able to share it with our family and friends. Mark surprised me on our first night in Cuenca with some photos in frames that he had "snuggled" into his suitcase. There were several family pictures, memorabilia from Italy, and the music box that my oldest son gave me on Mother's Day when he was 14 years old. I have to admit that more than a few tears betrayed me at that moment!

Oh, I forgot to mention the lanuage "barrier." It has not been much of a problem as we speak fluent Italian and so we just add new Spanish words as we learn them. But we do plan to attend language school at Nexus to soften the edges a bit (mas/menos). I do believe we have an advantage in that area, but even if you don't speak Spanish you will find that there are many Cuencanos who are ready to help you!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Marco y Concetta

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Casa Dulce Casa

I'm not sure what it is, but as soon as LAN Airlines touched ground in Cuenca, we felt at home! Everything went so smoothly we wondered if we had done something "wrong."
We expected delays, lost luggage, and language barriers, but instead everything fell right into place.

To our delight, two dozen roses were waiting for us in our condo and the sunset from our balcony was simply amazing. Mark swept me off my feet and took me via taxi to "El Vino" -- an Italian restaurant. Eugenio, the owner, conversed with us in Italian which smoothed over any language barriers that we might have felt. We speak Italian (mostly) and mix in some Spanish words as we learn them. Eventually, I guess we'll switch over to all Spanish at one point, but I'm not ready to let my Italian disappear completely.

During dinner at "El Vino" we heard English and then the word, "Amish." I turned around and said, "We're from Lancaster County." There were gasps, oohs and ahhs, and finally we realized that the group of students sitting next to us were from Franklin and Marshall College (right in our own backyard!). They were delightful and one of the students announced, "My parents are thinking of retiring in Cuenca!" It was such an amazing introduction to a foreign culture (another confirmation that we are exactly where we are supposed to be).

When we returned home, one of the tenants in our condo complex greeted us in English and said he was from "Coatsville, PA"...right down the road from where we lived in Lancaster. It's a small world.

We have been delighted and amazed at the generosity of the Cuecanos; they are warm and friendly, helpful with directions, and are fast becoming our friends. One thing that has amazed us is the non-presence of flies (just bees). The weather is simply amazing and the few sprinkles of rain showers during the day are simply a prelude to rainbows in the sky.

Today was our busiest day ever since we arrived on Saturday. We had to pick up our passports at the airport (TAME),get color copies made of our passports (at a speciality store), go up one block and have our documents notarized, find a "stationary" store to buy an envelope, take a taxi back to the airport, and send our documents via courier (TAME) to our lawyer in Quito. Hopefully, that will be it and we will receive our censo and cedulla within 21 days. I am guardedly optimistic that all will go smoothly, but I know from our Sicilian experience with said documents that it's NEVER over until it's over.

Afterwards, we went shopping at Supermaxi and Sukasa, then to pay our rent downtown, and back home again to fix "supper" which consisted of fresh pineapple, bananas and tiramisu. (not all that nutritious, but oh so good!).

The day wasn't complete without a bus ride (50 cents). We made a few blunders, including trying to put the 50-cent piece in the wrong slot. And then I saw a photo op and quickly switched seats. Bad move (on my part) switching seats while the bus is moving!

This evening right before sunset there was a rainbow that formed as Mark handed me a bouquet of roses. I'm not sure how he sneaked them in, but he kept his rose for every day of my life while we live in Cuenca (he's covered for at least the next two weeks!).

"Casa dulce casa" is not just a phrase, it expresses exactly how we feel about our new home in Cuenca, Ecuador!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Concetta y Marco

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Our Way to Cuenca

Hubby is rushing me along, so I will be brief (ha!).

We leave for the airport in one hour and will arrive in Cuenca this afternoon! We've enjoyed our time in Quito and met with our attorney Gabriela Espinosa to finalize our permanent resident visas. We feel at home already and can hardly wait to get to our condo.

Hasta pronto!

Concetta y Marco

Thursday, June 3, 2010

If It Was Easy Everyone Would be Doing It!

I'm sitting in the Miami airport waiting for our connection to Columbia and then on to Ecuador.

The last ten days have been filled with joy-filled and stressful moments. I don't suggest anyone try to attempt a transcontinental move at the same time as their son's wedding. We spent the last week closing on our house, moving to a hotel, housing groomsmen, returning rental cars, settling financial affairs, hosting out-of-town guests for the wedding, and packing! No wonder I posted the sticky note on my computer "If it was easy everyone would be doing it!"

The wedding was beautiful, even though we mixed up the times (don't listen to the groom!), and showed up a little late for family pictures. I'll have to do some photo shop editing when we arrive in Cuenca. We had so much going on at the same time, I couldn't take it all in.

But today we are on our way after our oldest son drove us to the Baltimore-Washington Airport with a few more suitcases than we had intended to bring. Funny how those little scraps of paper start to add up. So at the last moment we were juggling things around in suitcases to meet the weight limit.

Our last supper in America was delightful. We dined at "The Acqua Restaurant" near Aloft Hotel. It was absolutely decadent and we toasted to our new life. We made a sacred promise to one another after Mark heard me whimper again about missing wedding pictures. He gave me that look and said, "From this day forward, we are moving ahead and we're not going to bring up the past again."

I shook my head sideways and then up and down, struggling with the magnitude of the "vow" I was about to take and said, "Okay, I promise."

That was yesterday and I feel better already. This move has been the most difficult thing I have ever done and at the same time...the easiest! Only those who have made the journey can truly understand. I know our family members are still a bit perplexed and still have questions, but hopefully as we settle in and start having them down to visit they will no longer have doubts.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing an understatement. But then again, I'm glad they are not! We're keeping Cuenca a little bit of a "secret" for a while longer.

Hasta pronto!

Marco y Concetta
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