Saturday, February 26, 2011

101 Questions -- The Answers!

The next couple of weeks, I will be missing in action in order to get the finishing touches on the Kindle book on the questions that you have sent us over the past eight months.

I rated the questions on what is asked the most (and some of the funniest ones I had to put in there as well). As you know, there is no such thing as a "wrong" question, but the answers keep changing because Ecuadorian law keeps shifting (especially with regards to the "cedula"). In fact, our cedula card is already "outdated" even though the expiration date is 2022. You know you're old when you wonder if you'll expire before your cedula does! 

The reason why I'm writing a Kindle version is I'm able to go in at any time and change the answers as the law changes and that way it will always be up-to-date and informative.

It will also be our story, so -- of course -- the answers will have our perspective and the ensuing comedy and drama that happens whenever you have two opposite personalities experiencing the same culture!

The upcoming week is "Carnival," so it's a good time to stay indoors -- look out the window -- and watch the other folks get hit by water balloons. Although a uniquely festive and fun time in Cuenca, sometimes things get out of control with the water "guns."

If you have a burning question you need answered, now is the time to submit it at

Until next time...hasta luego!

This woman is smart...she's wearing her balloons!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paute and Nuevos Amigos!

Saturday morning we set out for Paute with our friends, Miguel and Carmen Loyola. I’ve been secretly “pouting” for months because I haven’t seen the gorgeous town of Paute that everyone keeps talking about. And, of course, to see the famous Hosteria Uphzud that somehow has totally slipped off our radar.
Miguel and Carmen are our "nuevos amigos,” as well as their son, Diego Loyola who currently lives in Slovakia. We meet on Facebook and exchanged a few e-mails and on Saturday we met “face to face.” The only request we had was that no English was allowed to be spoken throughout the entire day (and we managed to do just that).
Paute is about a 45-minute drive from Cuenca, but it felt more like 20 minutes. When you have so many beautiful sites and sounds grabbing for your attention, it all passes very quickly. And given the fact that we were chattering away “en espanol” also helped.
First stop was the Corvel Restaurant in Paute (this is a must). They are famous for many dishes including Camaron al Coco, Lomo del Diablo, and Locro Pauteno which is a potato soup that comes with its own wooden spoon as a souvenir. We were all eating healthy, so we ordered the breast of chicken (pollo light), which was presented beautifully (with dressing on the side). Little did we know, it was Carmen’s birthday, so the “helado” was on the house and we sang  Feliz Cumpleaños.”
Chef Patricio Cornel gave us a tour and a little history of the restaurant and the town of Paute. He was very accommodating and made us feel right at home in our private garden—complete with hummingbirds. I tried to catch those little critters on film—twice—but it never quite “materialized.”
With our stomachs full, we set out to see the heights and depths of Paute (Valley of Flowers and Fruits). San Valentin took away quite a few of the “flores” this season, but there was plenty of fruit being harvested. We walked across the suspension bridge over the Rio Paute and I resisted the urge to jump up and down. Actually,  it’s a fear of mine—suspension bridges—but my mantra was “don’t look down…don’t look down!”  After 169 meters I felt relieved to know I made it to the other side without falling through the cracks or being thrown overboard. But then I realized we had to go back the same way we came. Trust me, I was looking for a canoe at that point!
Our hosts, Miguel and Carmen, were great tour guides and shared a little of the history of the region as we traveled to Gualaceo via Hosteria Uzuhpud. Many of the expat events are held there—especially the Fourth of July celebration which we were unable to attend last year. There was a wedding going on, but the owners let us in to have a look around.look. This is truly an oasis and a great place for a private retreat.
After looking around (and walking off our lunch), we headed to Gualaceo (famous for its shoes). We stopped off at a “panaderia” for one of the local drinks—“Rosero.” It’s a non-alcoholic specialty drink made from ground corn, fruit and sweet spices, served with bread (great for "no carb" diets!). It’s a meal in itself and made me think that it was probably a good idea that we had “pollo light” for dinner.
With our tummies full and our pockets  “empty,” we headed back to Cuenca,  but not before taking in the beauty of the countryside and enjoying the company of our "nuevos amigos"!
Until next time…hasta luego!

The Corvel Restaurant - Patio Dining

Garden Area at Hosteria Uphzud
Patio Area - Hosteria Uphzud

Mark, Miguel and Carmen on the Paute Bridge

The Paute River

Valle de las Flores y Frutas - Paute

ADDENDUM:  I just got an e-mail from Ed and Cynthia Staton. Next week, there's a bus tour to some of the places we visited on Saturday.

Here's the information (thanks to Ed and Cynthia): Hosteria Uzhupud is pleased to invite you to the “Tour de las Rosas.” Your day will begin with a guided tour of a Rose Farm where you will have the chance to appreciate the best roses in the world, learning how they are grown, processed and exported. After visiting the farm we´ll enjoy a delicious lunch together and have time to relax by the pool and explore the beautiful grounds at the Hosteria before returning to Cuenca by 4PM.

This program will take place next Wednesday March 2, 2011. The meeting point will be at Pizza Hut, located on Remigio Crespo and Federico Proaño at 8.30 AM, and the bus will depart at 9 AM sharp.

The cost per person including transportation and lunch is $ 32.00 (tax included).

Space is limited to 30 guests only. Please make your reservations by emailing:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I Wish I Had Brought to Cuenca

Over “almuerzo” on Sunday (after the Hat Factory) with a good friend of ours, Chelsey, we started talking about what we wish we had brought to Cuenca.

Chelsey blurted out, “Definitely, Airwalks and my tea kettle!”

“I second that motion,” I said, pounding my fist on the fragile table.

And then I went on to explain my lengthy list of “what if I could do it all over again.” Actually, I felt that I brought too many clothes (yes, you heard me correctly). I wear the same thing almost every day (a different version of black). I brought two Levi jeans, two black leather jackets, two sweaters, two pairs of dress slacks and a black dress. Oh and 3-1/2 pairs of shoes (one got lost while I tripped out of the big blue bus in Cuenca). And yet, it’s more than enough. If you have a nice leather jacket, you just add a scarf to it and you’re set. The more scarves you have…the better (they also help protect you from the diesel fumes).

I wear Sketchers and Mark wears Merrells, but whatever you do; don’t wear six-inch spiked heels. I still don’t know how these Ecuadorian women walk around in those “killer” shoes. I’m sure at a very young age they were taught the social graces of wearing shoes that will later cause them horrible bunions, but that they have to suffer to be beautiful!

Mark brought about the same amount of “stuff”: leather jacket, two pairs of Levis, and three pairs of shoes, two nice sweaters and some shirts. And still, we ended up storing most of it in a suitcase once we got to Cuenca. Oh, except I brought some “jogging” suits from the States (three of them) because I do so much walking around the river with Mocha, which has now become my new wardrobe.

Moving on from the wardrobe items (since this is one of the 101 questions I receive), I would have invested in some fine cookware (Cuisinart) and paid for the extra "poundage" that it may have required. I have one omelet Cuisinart pan that I use for everything. I have no baking pans (yet), six plates, six pieces of silverware and eight glasses. Hence, we go out to eat more than we eat in (and we have found that to be less expensive in our trial last month).

What else you might ask?

*Kindles. Did you notice I pluralized the word? We have ONE Kindle and we’re always fighting over it. We both like to read before we go to bed and we’re both reaching for the Kindle at the same time. Save yourself some trouble and buy TWO.

*Smart Wool Socks. I know you think I’m crazy, but they are worth every dollar. They come in all different thicknesses and I would have brought a suitcase of every variety they make. Your feet will thank you and you’ll hardly feel the cobblestones.

*Perfume. Recently one of my blog readers mentioned that he brought a suitcase of perfume that he bought at one of the discount stores in the States and sold it here for a profit. Now, I’m not going into business selling perfume, but I miss going to department stores and trying on “Happy” by Clinique. Yes, we have stores here that sell perfume, i.e., “La Fragrancia” but they scare me! I feel like I need to buy a bottle of something that I could have received FREE during bonus month at the Clinique counter. Oh by the way, you can find Clinique in odd places like the tienda across the street; they also sell bread and soda there as well.

*Bath and Body Products. I do miss that store, but I just found a little boutique “negocio” that carries a line of products that tickled my little heart "pink." Not that I’m going to pay $15.00 for a pump of Vanilla Bean hand soap , but it’s just nice to know it’s there if I need it. Stock up on the 75% sale in the States (January and July) if you feel that you can’t live without “Sea Island Cotton” lotion and body spray.

*Travel books. This is a bit of a sore subject. Twice…I repeat…twice we have managed to actually pack a Frommer’s Travel Guide of South America, Ecuador and the Galapagos, and at the last minute we were over the weight limit and “dumped” all of them –once at the hotel and the other time at the airport. There’s something about travel books that are heavy in weight, but don’t “Kindelize” that well. I like to use my highlighter, underline, and crimp pages which don’t work so well with Kindle.

*More sentimental items. Somehow in all the craziness that happened in the last three weeks before we left, a certain box of all my momentos from our boys got sent to the “incinerator” instead of being packed in my suitcase. I cried on the plane and for the first week we were here. I did manage to salvage a few items (to get us past Father’s Day), but my Mother’s Day cards (except for a couple) are all gone. Most of the other items in your life are replaceable, but not those.

*Duvet Comforter Sets. We brought one which took up an entire suitcase and on Mark’s last trip he brought three more. Yes, you can buy them here, but not at $29.99 at Ross or Marshalls. We have two thin and two thicker ones which are wonderful, along with an extra thick mattress pad (x2). We are comfortable all year long in our condo, but after ten days of rain (yes, it will do that in July/August), it’s nice to cuddle up with your comforter.

*Bring your pet! We left our “Bianca” (snowshoe cat, part Siamese and Burmese) in the States with good friends, but then we said, “We’re never going to own a pet again!” It was horrible saying “goodbye” and yet what did we do? We adopted a Shih-Tzu puppy after we arrived in Cuenca. I won’t go into that story, but it’s like trying to replace a child; you can’t do it! Although Mocha has now become our surrogate “son” and we can’t imagine our life without him, it would have been a lot easier on our emotions to have put “Bianca” in our suitcase!

*Underwear. How could I forget the most important thing? Let me say this; you can buy whatever you want here, but it may not be what you’re used to. Whether you’re a Victoria Secret girl or a Jockey guy, I’m sure if you look hard and long enough, you can find what you want. But wouldn’t it be easier to just bring your favorite “undies” with you! You’ll thank me later (trust me!).

*Swimsuits. Oh yes, I almost forgot…I brought three of the same design and color, and while you’re at it….bring the beach towels and the cover-ups too. I got my swimsuits for $14.00 at Marshalls and I love them. I got plush beach towels (I adore them), and two bathing suit cover-ups, which I wouldn’t trade the world for. The sizes are smaller here and I have a hard time buying a size 10 when I’m really a size 6, so if you have a problem with “size,” then you might want to bring “three” of everything from the States. Oh, did I mention the sizes run smaller here as well and if you’re especially tall, you might be disappointed in the selection.

This is by no means a complete list, but remember…we only brought four suitcases. There are two ways to do it: bring a container or crate or just “pare down your life” because as we all know, we can’t take it with us. We look at it this way: we did our children a huge favor. They won’t have to go through the misery that we did sorting through 35 years of marriage; they just get to collect the money!

Oh, yes, that’s the other thing. I wish I would have brought... more money!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

La Viña and San Valentin

“I’m leaving with or without you,” Mark said, and then our phone connection got cut off.

I had never seen Cuenca, Ecuador; I wouldn’t have a chance to visit, but Mark had made up his mind for both of us. It was settled. In most cases, that would spell “disaster.” But in the next three months we would marry a son, sell everything we owned, pack up life in four suitcases and leave for Cuenca, Ecuador---our new retirement destination. You can read the entire story in Guideposts Books -- “A New Direction.”

Here it is almost a year later and tonight we celebrated “el dia de San Valentin” (a little early!) at the restaurant that Mark took me to the night we arrived in Cuenca (tired, jet-lagged, and barely able to stand). It was Mark’s surprise for me (we always celebrate Valentine’s Day a couple of days early!). We hadn’t been back to La Viña since June 4, 2010.

Tonight, over raviolis and vegetable lasagna, we talked about the things that had changed in a year! It’s mind boggling when you stop to take it all in, but it all seems so natural to us now. More and more Americans are flocking to Cuenca; I can’t go outside for a walk without running into at least four or five Americans. They’re everywhere! Tonight on a walk with Mocha a “gentleman” handed me his business card and said he’s starting up his internet marketing business here. It seems that Cuenca is the meca -- not only for retirees -- but for entrepreneurs as well (young people in their early 30’s). I gracefully took his card and continued on my walk.

During dinner at LaViña there were five American couples, two French, one Ecuadorian and one Asian couple. It was a nice meeting of the worlds on "Valentine’s Day." What seemed a little “strange” at first all seems perfectly normal now: hailing a taxi, walking the cobblestone streets, carrying an umbrella (because you just never know when it’s going to rain), and planting my feet firmly before taking a picture instead of walking and talking at the same time.

We have survived the “crisis six-month period” as it is called; not all couples make it that far. In fact, in the book Culture Shock it's the most crucial period. Unfortunately this weekend there are some couples that won't be celebrating Valentine's Day: one or the other has decided that Cuenca isn’t for them and they are packing up and leaving for the States.

It’s not just about love, it’s about the ability to adapt to a new language and culture and -- frankly -- some folks cannot. Fortunately, we had the experience when we were in our 20’s and 30’ which made language and cultural learning more of a joy than a “pain.”

So we toast to our new life in Ecuador with flowers, wine, and dinner at La Viña – being able to speak both Italian and Spanish—(what a gift!). 

And tonight we walked along the river and counted our blessings (again!). It’s not even Valentine’s Day, but we are thankful for all of God’s blessings in our lives—both big and small.

Con Mucho Amor,

Connie and Mark

A Saturday Night Wedding!

Front Entrance of La Viña

Vegetable Lasagna
La Viña from the street

La Viña -- side room

Buon Appetito!

Monday, February 7, 2011

101 Questions

As many of you know, I’m writing a book which will be available on Kindle soon: Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered. The thought came to me that I was answering the same questions over and over again; I don’t mind – really, but wouldn’t it be nice to have them all in one place?

It has been predicted that in the next five years 20,000 Americans will arrive in Cuenca (hence, all the construction going on), and by the way, that’s a lot of "questions."

A year ago this month when Mark visited Cuenca, I asked him an important question: “Honey, are there a lot of Americans in Cuenca?”

“No, I’ve only seen a few,” he responded.

A year to the day, there are more than a few Americans in Cuenca; in fact, I’m careful which direction I walk Mocha in the morning because my 20 minutes turns into a two-hour walk. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid Americans, it’s just that there are so many of them asking the same 101 questions.

It’s interesting that everyone goes through the same cross-cultural reactions as noted in the book we had to read 30 years ago: Culture Shock by Myron Loss. It’s a classic and it’s still in print. In fact, it was required reading for our cross-cultural training class before we left for Italy. It’s one of the few books that I brought with me and I’ve read it several “hundred” times—each time gaining something new.

I don’t have all the answers to everyone’s questions, but I can offer some suggestions. Sometimes, I actually cry when I read e-mails asking me personal questions about what they should do with their dog (bring him or leave him) or what about their family pictures and treasured heirlooms, and what about the “baby teeth”? I sympathize because yesterday I came across an envelope with the words, “Don’t throw away!”

Inside were notes that my dad carried in his pocket written on scraps of paper, old receipts, and on 3x5 cards. Some were Bible verses, others were words of wisdom from famous authors, and others were sound advice that a father would give his daughter. I remember the day that I asked him for those notes in his pen protector pocket all tattered and grease stained. My dad— with tears in his eyes—said, “Sure, you can keep them; they’re yours!”

Really, I just wanted to make copies and give them back to him because I could tell they were as much a part of him as they have become a part of me. I treasure those scraps of paper; they are a symbol of a dad’s love for his daughter.

No, they don’t have all the answers written on them (I wish they did!), but somehow a part of him will always be with me. In fact, I would have traded all four suitcases for that one envelope!

So when folks ask me what to bring and what to give away, I’m careful with my response. Your heart will guide you and on a rainy day (like today!), you’ll be glad you have at least a few “answers” to your questions.

Con un abrazo muy fuerte,

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cajas Mountains Here We Come!

Cuenca is surrounded by the Cajas Mountains (El Cajas), as in the Andes Mountains, up to an elevation of 16,000 feet.

Because Cuenca is located in a basin and the mountains surround us on all sides—north, east, south, and west—we certainly don’t feel their immensity until we start “climbing.”

I’m often tempted to refer to them as “those hills over yonder” because we’re located at about 8,600 feet (mas/menos depending if you live in a penthouse or not!). You almost start to take them for granted. That is until you start going on some day trips. Only then do you realize you're actually being transported to another world.

There are signs posted throughout the park alerting you to the dangers of altitude sickness and to take it slowly, but some folks have not heeded those warnings and have ended up not feeling so well or worse yet; they have ended up in the hospital. Actually, altitude sickness has nothing to do with “being in shape”; it’s a pre-genetic disposition.

Thankfully, Mark and I fall into the category where the altitude doesn’t affect us that much. We drink mate de coca tea, drink plenty of fluids and take rest steps as we walk.

Last week Mark went on two trips to the Cajas—one as part of a fishing expedition and the other as a cyclist with Jim Miller.

I have to admit that the fishing didn’t bother me, but the biking really gave me a scare. Almost three years ago, Mark was in a devastating biking accident that shattered his hip and femur. The orthopedic surgeon suggested that Mark never bike again. He has rods, pins, screws and nails in his leg holding “Humpty “Dumpty” together again. But as with all traumatic events, time is a great healer. And it’s time to say, “Cajas Mountains Here We Come!”

There’s a beauty in the Cajas that can’t be found anywhere else. Because it’s a cloud forest the vegetation, flora and fauna are diverse. Once you get beyond the tree level, it’s almost reminiscent of sagebrush and dessert, but with grass and lakes (over 230 of them). When you enter into the National State Park, you are given a map, a booklet containing all the different types of birds, flowers, and lakes to be enjoyed. The admission fee is $1.50 with residency status (this has recently changed); before it was more expensive.

The weather in the Cajas can change drastically (typical of cloud forests), so it’s important to wear warm waterproof clothing in layers, sun block, bring a thermos of water, rich calorie food like chocolate, binoculars (for bird watching), a compass, and comfortable waterproof shoes. If you plan to spend the night in the park (there are designated areas for camping) and you will need to bring a cook stove as fires are not permitted in the park.

If you don’t have a car, buses leave from the main bus terminal every hour for $1.50 or $2.00 round trip. And if you wish to travel beyond Lake Toreadora and Lake Llaviucu and your group consists of eight persons or more, you must hire a naturalistic guide qualified by the CNP (Cajas National Park). If you’re traveling in a group of seven or less, you must notify the park ranger regarding the route you are taking and have a compass or GPS, and a CNP map.

There are also overnight accommodations at Lake Llaviucu which can be arranged in advance at the cost of $2.00 for Ecuadorian citizens and $4.00 for non-residents. There is a charming lodge that is privately owned in accordance with CNP regulations, but reservations must be made in advance by e-mailing:

The best time of the year to visit the “El Cajas” is during the months of July through January, although the park is open year round.

We’re thankful for this beautiful treasure in our “backyard” and for the ability to visit often—Cajas here we come!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

Llama Country

Lake Toreadora

You got me?!?

Tres Cruces -- The Continental Divide

Purdee Flowers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

La Piastra!

The results are in – La Piastra Pizza is the best in Cuenca!

In the running for best pizza was Chicago Pizza, Mimi’s Pizza, La Fornace, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and several others, but hands down, La Piastra won!

Pizza is hard to judge because let’s face it; we all have our preferences: thick crust, thin crust, more cheese, less sauce (you name it!). When we lived in Italy, we loved thick Sicilian pizza until we tasted “Pizza by the Metro” in Naples. It remained in first place, until we tasted the almost pastry-like crust of Florentine pizza. Every region had a different way of making their “pie.” We never really made up our minds while we were there for six years.

But it’s not always just about the pizza dough and the sauce, it’s about “customer service.” Last week, we had lunch at La Piastra and I was a bit skeptical at first. That is until we met the owner, Pablo Morejon! He made us feel right at home and let us divide the pizza according to our pleasure. I like a lot of peppers on mine (Mark does not), so he did a 50/50 pizza—half for Mark and half for me.

The crust was perfect (not too thick and not too thin). The sauce was tasty, the cheese was just the right portion and best of all, Pablo aims to please.

We loved the red and white checkered tablecloths, the home-like atmosphere, colorful decorations and the fact that everything was immaculate -- all of which spoke to our "heart."

La Piastra has “gusto y sabor” and they offer “servicio a domicilio” – home delivery. And best of all, the price is right. We ordered a “mediana” pizza with all the trimmings and drinks and we still had lots of change left over from our $20.

We also found out that our friends, Pat and Mike, are in the condo building next door, which we had no idea about until after we heard from them via e-mail. I’m sure we’ll be visiting them a lot more often and going out for pizza again and again.

La Piastra is located at RemigioTameriz 3-15 y Agustin Cueva.
Phone (land line): 288-1446. Cell: 083010970. Hours of Service: Tuesday through Saturday 12h30 -22h00.

If you’re in the mood for a great pizza, you can’t go wrong with La Piastra. Tell 'em Mark, Connie, Pat and Miguel sent you!

Buon Appetito!

Connie and Mark


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