Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fourth Year Anniversary in Cuenca!

Arrival in Cuenca Four Years Ago

It's hard to believe, but it's been four years since we arrived in Cuenca (June 4, 2010). There are so many highlights it's difficult to list our favorite moments, but one thing we can say for sure--Ecuador is now home to us!

This week the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home includes the story of our journey to Cuenca (Finally Home) and I think that just about sums it up. Not that everything has been smooth sailing along the way! The first big hurdle was to get our residency visa (cedula) which only took three weeks, then on to language school and finding permanent housing.

In September 2013 we finally bought a condo which was a defining moment for us; it meant that we were settling down and making Cuenca home. We love our new place and it's perfect for us: two bedrooms, two baths and an open living room/kitchen area with a 360 view and it's not even a penthouse!

We actually had stopped looking for a place because everything was over 100K, but we found something for 68K which was right within our budget. The building is brand new, is handicapped accessible, has an elevator and 24-hour security which were musts for us, along with views of the city, Cajas, and Turi. There are two master bedrooms with private baths on opposite sides of the apartment which is unique. Most Ecuadorian homes have all the bedrooms in the same hallway. We're three blocks from the Yununcay River and three blocks to Mall del Rio so we have the best of both worlds. A block away we can catch five different bus lines so we don't feel the need for a car (yet!). We're still three years away from Social Security, so we're holding out for that.

I've taken up growing orchids!

We have lots of light with morning and afternoon sun. We chose the colors of the coast!

Sunsets are magical in Cuenca. 
Living Room with lots of light.

View from the kitchen window -- Tres Cupolas

Every turn there's another view!

Rainbows, Sunsets and Fireworks keep us running from window to window.

View out the shower window!

Friday and Saturday Nights -- Fireworks in all Directions!

We were fortunate in that the Coopera fiasco happened about the same time we were looking for a place and because some folks lost some or all their money, there were opportunities to jump in for housing. Those who lost everything had to back out on places that they had reserved. It worked to our advantage as the apartment we have was made available. In less than a year, our place now sells for 85K so we feel we made a good investment. Our Ecuadorian friends kept saying, "Why are you throwing your money away on rent when you could be investing it in land or property?" There are other reasons as well, which I'll explain in another post. But we're thankful we made the investment and we have no regrets whatsoever.

We purchased our place without a realtor and went through the contractor of our building which was a seamless process. Furnishing our place was easy as well as it's only 850 square feet. We found excellent deals on our appliances through friends and our most expensive purchase was a washer/dryer combination like we had in Italy which is my favorite appliance. In fact, I find reasons for doing laundry which has never happened before!

We're now working on our citizenship which is going slowly. We needed updated birth certificates (our originals are no longer valid). We finally have the form from vital statistics which we have to take to the US Consulate in Guyaquil to have validated. Then the certification and apostille process from the Secretary of State in California. We'll have a family member do that for us. All the other documents we have in order, but we're not in a big hurry. Ecuador is one of the few countries that allows for dual citizenship, so we're taking advantage of that. In another post I will go into the advantages of going for citizenship.

Some of the biggest changes we've seen in four years are: improved transportation in the way of the tranvia (electric train which is finally under construction); transportation police and video surveillance at intersections; the Arenal which is the bus terminal near the Ferie Libre which has cut down on the number of buses running through El Centro; new bridges, wider streets, and our favorite--bike lanes! Mark and I are now bikers and love our Saturday and Sunday rides down Avenida Solano and Doce de Abril.

My Panama Jack Bike which is quite a talking piece!

Tres de Noviembre Bike Trail

New restaurants seem to pop up daily and there's something for every palette. We now have a McDonald's (actually 2-1/2) which I never thought I'd see and seven Subway locations which are scattered through the city. No Starbucks yet, but I'm not ruling that out. For the most part change has been welcome, including the renovation of Parque de la Madre with the new planetarium.

We still have our favorites restaurants, but it's fun to try new places. Cuenca is definitely more metropolitan with an influx of Italians, French and Chinese (to name a few).

Our favorite place to dine is Mansion Alcazar

Mark is still teaching English as a Second Language at CEDEI and enjoys the structure of his week (as a former manager at UPS it's hard to let go of a time schedule). We have breaks every cycle and have summer vacation so we're able to do some traveling Our next vacation will be along the coast -- Los Frailes and Mandala in Puerto Lopez (our favorite place!).

Our favorite vacation spot -- Los Frailes

End of Year Pizza Party

Best of all, family is finally coming to visit! My mom who is in her 80's will be traveling here in September along with my sister. And our older son and his girlfriend will be here for Christmas. It's not cheap to travel to the States and after four years of us going back and forth, it's now their turn. Our last trip to Pennsylvania cost us $7,000, so if you're thinking about Ecuador as your retirement destination you need to include a travel fund for going back to the States!

Our budget is easier to calculate because we no longer pay for rent (which is a blessing!). Rent was the biggest chunk in our budget and now we're able to save that money each month. Food prices have increased, but since we adhere to a plant based diet we haven't felt the pinch. We eat out occasionally, but prefer to make meals at home. I've lost 15 pounds in the last two months just by eating fresh fruits and vegetables which are plentiful in Ecuador (pennies on the dollar). I'm now off all medication except one and my blood tests are all normal, so we'll be sticking to our new way of eating.

Veggies are cheap and plentiful in Ecuado

Although retirement in Ecuador has been an excellent choice for us, it's definitely not for everyone! On our four-year anniversary, we count our blessings. One of the biggest advantages has been affordable healthcare. The care is excellent and we are doubly covered with private and public insurance (IESS). We use both and have been extremely pleased with the quality of care.

Hospital del Rio 

Four years passes quickly and we're thankful that we can call Cuenca home!

Santo Domingo

Glorious Sunset from our Bedroom

Painted Skies

Flower in the Cajas

Home from the Air!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie & Mark 

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