Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Cost of Paradise 2014

After four years, things have changed in our "cost of paradise" budget!

We've made a few alternations. And gone are the days when you can live comfortably on $600 a month, although we know several single people who live on that amount and do just fine. And you can still find rents for $300; in fact, I saw one on Craigslist the other day for $280 that was two bedrooms, one bath with granite counter tops and modern kitchen, but it was only 538 square feet. We live in 800 square feet and it's perfect for us: 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and every room with a view. That works for us!

However, I still get sticker shock at Supermaxi -- in the make-up aisle -- when I see Maybelline mascara for $16.00. Ouch! I guess we can't put a price tag on beauty -- right?  I just make sure I stock up on all those "necessary" items on our trips back to the States.

Thankfully, we're vegetarians, we don't drink, don't smoke, and have no other vices so we're fortunate in that regard.

Our shopping list looks basically the same almost every week. The fruit and veggies change, depending on what's in season. We juice a lot, so we keep everything fresh and sometimes we'll make 2-3 trips a week to Coral, Supermaxi or the mercado to get what we need.

Broccoli                                      .54
Pulpa de Pina (pineapple pulp) 1.68
Cauliflower                               1.03
Mora (Blackberries)                 1.12
Avocadoes (3 large)                   .83
Tomatoes (6 large)                     .81
Onions   (4 large)                       .78
Cucumbers   (3)                         .53
Pre-pizza                                  1.27
Bouquet of flowers                  1.29
Dental floss                             2.94 (x2)

As you can see the most expensive thing on the "menu" is dental floss; it's by Oral B and imported. I have no idea how much dental floss costs in the States, but something tells me it might be cheaper.

If you shop on Wednesdays at Supermaxi you can get a discount of 20% on produce and flowers, so that's usually when we shop, along with the rest of Cuenca!

I know, we're NOT your typical expat couple in that we don't drink alcohol, but we can drink all the "jugo" (juice) we want. We enjoy eating healthy and our blood pressure thanks us (and so does the rest of our body).

Our new budget is about the same with a few exceptions; we don't pay rent!

Rent                                  0
Alicuota  (condo fees)   $45
Water & Gas            $9
Electric                           $25
ETAPA phone                 $4
ETAPA Internet             $39            
Groceries                      $330
Medical/IESS               $142
Transportation                $50
Savings                         $160
Life Ins.                          $94
Rx's                                 $50
Misc.                               $50
Entertainment                 $50
Cell                                   $5
Doctor                             $50
Charity                          $152

Total                            $1,210

Our allotted budget is $1,317.17, so we are below budget. We cancelled Direct TV and switched to Apple TV. Initial investment was $150, but we love it (no commercials). We actually spend less than we did four years ago, but that's because we own our home. All the rest that we make goes into savings -- including our teaching and writing income. We use the extras to go on vacation to the States once a year and take a few vacations within Ecuador. This year we went to the coast twice and enjoyed a few overnight trips. We don't have private medical insurance because we have found it to be a waste of money and only use IESS. Our medical insurance is a little more expensive because we're considered professionals (teachers). Normally it should be $70 with the dependent paying $11.

We don't have an iPhone with a data plan (just a flip phone -- like Gibs on NCIS) and we use Skype or FaceTime to connect with family and friends. We don't own a car as we live 3 blocks to the main shopping mall (Mall del Rio) and 20 minutes to El Centro. We walk a lot, take the bus and hail an occasional taxi.

Life is simple -- just how we like it!

Jardin del Valle
For others, this budget would NOT work -- not at all. I would say that $1,500 - $2,000 per month would bring you into the category of the majority as 70 percent of expats rent and eat out more often. When Mark and I dine out we never spend more than $12-15 (total) unless it's a special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary. We always split entrees. One thing I didn't include in the budget is our Spanish Intensives which is $80 a month, but it's not part of our regular budget.

I exercise at the park around the corner where they have resistance training equipment, dance therapy at 8:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, and swim at Hosteria Duran once a week for $3.10. We ride our bikes on the weekends and use that time to explore the city.

My $3.10 pool at Hosteria Duran on a busy day!
We are still considered young retirees (59) and won't receive Social Security for another three years, but life has taught us -- "never rely on the future." If we do receive it, we'll triple our income and look forward to more travel. But in the meantime, we're enjoying life and saving too!

The best part: We savor each day to the fullest. I love my writing world and look forward to some more stories coming out this year, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power of Forgiveness, and Mark enjoys teaching at CEDEI.  Mark always wanted girls and this cycle he has 16 of them!

Life is still good in paradise!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Little Italy in Cuenca

It's no secret that I love Italy!

We spent six years of our life there and our oldest son was born in Italy and--of course--I married an Italian. That explains part of my passion for Italy and the other is the food.

Ristorante Salumeria Vecchia Modena
There are some great Italian restaurants in Cuenca, but none as authentic as Ristorante Salumeria Vecchia Modena! Chef Massimo takes Italian cuisine to a whole new level. He makes his own pasta, bread, sauces and sausage.

Last Saturday we stopped by for lunch and were warmly greeted--Italian style (kisses on both sides of the cheek). And then we were asked what menu we would like to see (Italian, Spanish or English). I picked Italian and Mark picked the Spanish one. As is our custom, we ordered one entree and split it which was more than enough for us. But our ricotta and spinach filled tortelloni was so wonderful, I found myself wanting more -- but we had to save room for dessert.

Menu outside the restaurant
Salumeria Vecchia Modena is warm and inviting and reminds me of all that I love about Italy (warmth and hospitality). We got to practice our Italian which was so much fun. It was my worst fear coming to Cuenca (knowing I would lose my Italian), but it's nice to know I can practice it to my heart's content at Vecchia Modena.

While we were waiting for our bruschetta, we were served appetizers compliments of the chef. The bread was served warm with meats, cheeses, and relishes. Mark and I visited Modena a few times while we lived in Italy and it all came flooding back (Northern Italian cooking at its best).

Tortelloni (Ricotta & Spinach)
And then came the bruschetta semplice (fresh tomatoes with herbs, garlic and drizzled with olive oil). I had to wonder if Chef Massimo had his own secret "pomodori" garden in his backyard because I have yet to find red ripe tomatoes that delicious in Cuenca. We were actually full by the time our tortelloni arrived. There's nothing like fresh pasta and I haven't had anything that delicious since our landlady, Nina, in Italy made fresh tortelloni for me after I gave birth to our firstborn--Jeremy--and that was 33 years ago!

If that wasn't enough, we shared "pie de manzana" that tasted like my mom's apple pie and was served warm (to perfection). Massimo also carries a selection of imported Italian wines and other delicacies to make your dining experience complete.

You can also enjoy Massimo's finest recipes at home as he has a take-out menu that includes his famous sausage, pasta, sauces, pesto and bread. Just to let you know, if you're invited to dinner at the Pombos it won't my Italian cooking. Thanks to Chef Massimo, I'm hanging up my apron!

Ristorante Salumeria Vecchia Modena is located on Juan Jaramillo 8-21 y Luis Cordero. You can call for reservations at: 07-282-5105. They're open Monday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Also, be sure to check out their Facebook page for more information and pictures.

Entrance to Salumeria Vecchia Modena
Grazie, Massimo, per un pranzo delizioso!

Chef Massimo


Connie & Mark 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Puerto Lopez Revisited

It's no secret that we love the coast, but we live in the Andes! So any chance we get, we head to the coast -- Puerto Lopez.  We made one last escape at the beginning of September before Mark started teaching again at CEDEI and we're so glad we did.

We stayed at the Mandala Hosteria and enjoyed spectacular views from our suite. Just listening to the ocean waves, relaxing in a hammock with a good book or combing the beach for shells made us feel like we were in a different country. Maja and Aurelio (the owners of the Mandala) make sure that all their guests have the best possible experience and our last visit was no exception!

One of our favorite side trips is Los Frailes (about 20 minutes north of Puerto Lopez). We used to travel by mototaxi, but now a taxi will take you and pick you up for $15. We arranged for (ida y vuelta), which means the driver drops you off and you arrange for a time to be picked up. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., so I suggest arriving early. Unlike four years ago--when there was just the beach and nothing else--there are now shower and bathroom facilities, beach umbrellas to rent for the day, a gift shop and ice cream and drinks for sale. Los Frailes is one of the most pristine beaches we've ever been to and definitely one of the most beautiful.

We've been fortunate in that every time we've visited the beach there has been glorious sun (so be sure to slather on the suntan lotion) and wear a hat. When you get out of the water, be sure to apply your SPF generously because you can end up with a nasty sunburn like I did (on the back of my legs).

Since it was "Labor Day Weekend" at Los Frailes, we decided to explore the other side (La Tortuguita and La Prieta). A short 20-minute walk will bring you up to the Mirador which gives you an unobstructed view of the Ecuadorian coastline. But before you get to the Mirador, there is an unmarked path that will lead you to La Tortuguita (Little Turtle) and La Prieta. We had both beaches to ourselves for the day, so we have endearingly named it "Playa Pombo."

At low tide, you can actually walk to the rock (La Tortuguita) and enjoy views that are unparalleled. We timed it just right and were able to explore the rock and swim in the water. Be careful in this area as the current is swift and there is an undertow that will grab you, so be sure it is low tide and don't think you can mess with Mother Nature. It may look calm, but it carries a powerful punch.

If you follow the path beyond La Tortuguita, you'll arrive at another beach (La Prieta) which is one of my favorites. At low tide you can find a treasure trove of shells and shallow water that allows you to enjoy swimming and snorkeling at its best. The sand is black, in other areas pink, and also white. We had the beach to ourselves once again until a group from a tour bus arrived, so we made a quick exit.

The same area can be reached by taking the path at the entrance of the park which takes about 45 minutes or you can take the path marked "La Fragata" once you're at Los Frailes. And definitely not to be missed is the lookout tower (El Mirador), which is a fabulous spot to take pictures and soak up the views. If you arrive early at the park, you'll also get to experience a variety of birds including the Blue Footed Booby.

We bought an underwater camera which has been one of our best investments, especially if you're going to spend a lot of time in the sun, sand and water. We purchased it for our trip to the Galapagos and haven't regretted it. Sand in your camera lens is something you don't want, so to protect your equipment be sure to get a beach friendly camera. We purchased an inexpensive Fuji which takes excellent pictures.

Since we've been back, I've been doing a lot of writing and finally revising Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered. I've got a few other e-books up my sleeve which I'll share with you later. Also, I just got news that I'm a finalist for Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness which will be released December 16, 2014 so you can be looking for that.

We're back in our school routine and enjoying life in Cuenca along with taking Spanish intensives once a week. After four years of living in Cuenca, we still can't imagine living anywhere else--except maybe Italy!
Venice, Italy

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie & Mark

Chicken Soup for the Soul:Say Goodbye to Stress contains Connie's story on "Just Breathe" their arrival to Cuenca.

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