Seven Years In Ecuador

Seven Years In Ecuador

It was 7 years ago that a Boeing 767 touched down smoothly in Guayaquil, Ecuador at 5:30 am. My BIG South American adventure had begun. My wife Sharon and I were moving to Cuenca, Ecuador with our 16-year-old cat.  We were supposed to be greeted by a prearranged driver who never showed up. I was left to negotiate a taxi to drive us the roughly 4 hours through the Cajas, part of the Andes Mountains, to the historic city and world heritage site of Cuenca. My beginning Spanish was quite inadequate.  This was our first time riding through the mountains to Cuenca. As I found out during the ride it was the drivers’s first time too.  He took outrageous risks on blind corners, balanced on the edge of a cliff with big trucks rushing toward us through rain and fog. Both Sharon and I kissed the sidewalk when we broke all speed records to arrive in Cuenca with all our worldly possessions in 4 big suitcases and an exhausted kitty.

First, I want to thank the people of Ecuador for making these past 7 years a wonderful life experience.  Specifically, the folks of Cuenca are welcoming to foreigners and have aided us as we obtained legal residency and adapted to their country. For example, we moved into a lovely rental house on a rainy July night that first year. There is neither built-in heat nor air-conditioning in homes here where it is rumored to be “eternal Spring”. The night we moved into the our new home, the temperature was 44 degrees F. Our new landlords observed that we were shivering, wrapped tight against the chill and not used to the weather high in the Andes. They rushed home and brought back a gas heater to loan us while we shopped for our own.

Although I lived in Oregon for 21 years prior to moving to Ecuador, I’m, a native  New Yorker with a Type A mindset.  I learned to slow down. Today, I would describe Cuenca in one word: the Spanish term “tranquilo” or “calm”.  In Ecuador as elsewhere in the Latin world “mañana” could be “tomorrow” but often means “some undesignated time soon”.

The population of metropolitan Cuenca is 600,000. I have seen geometric changes in 7 years. To my reckoning Cuenca was a culinary wasteland according to most US tastes. Now you can find cuisines from all over the world.  The Internet used to be very expensive, unreliable and painfully slow. Now, one can have 50 meg fiber optic right to your home. The aging bus system is super cheap to ride and you rarely wait more than 10 minutes for a bus.  If you are over 65 you qualify as a “tecera edad” “a senior citizen” to ride for half fare. You also may be given preference if there is a long line at the bank.

The other day a taxi driver was asking me if I ever eat cuy – guinea pig which is a delicacy in Ecuador. I told him that cuy was a “mascota” or “pet” to every school child in the US. However,  “mi encanta” “I love” the wonderful organic fruits and vegetables you can buy all year long in Cuenca. My favorites are pitahaya, cherimoya, and papayas. In peak season you can buy 4 papayas for a dollar if you can communicate in Spanish at the local “ferias” or “markets”.

My Spanish has grown from “Caveman” status to “functional conversationalist”  I do best if I speak mostly in the present tense and limit the interaction to my approved list of 300 verbs. Then I am “todo bien” or “completely fine”.

The expat community has grown from 800 in 2011 to well over 5000 now. This community of foreign-born citizens of the world is one of the reasons Sharon and I thrive in Cuenca. Before we retired, we rarely entertained.  Weekdays were comprised of work while week ends were filled with care of home and pets. Now, we each have hobbies and know people who share similar tastes. Cuenca ex-pats offer events every day of the week, from ancient Andean cooking to playing mahjong. Young foreign couples with children are moving to Cuenca in greater numbers. I meet newcomers who are working online while taking advantage of the lower cost of living in Cuenca. Still, the bulk of the expat community is made up mostly of people aged 55-85. These folks have time to explore interests as never before.

One should never get bored in Cuenca. New hiking trails parallel the major rivers winding through the city,  free Zumba classes are offered in local parks 6 days a week, and there is fast, reliable Internet. A strong community of writers of all genres thrives here. In fact, Cuenca hosts the Third International Writer’s Conference May 28 – June 1.

In addition to finding a poker game every day of the week, there is duplicate bridge club as well as an active thespian group. If you are a hiker, you will be in Nirvana. with shivering ghost forests populated by unusual birds.

Three years ago, I wrote my monthly living costs on my blog. It developed into a polemic on the local Facebook groups.  There were individuals who said, “ I can live $500 a month less”. They are probably right. The cost of living has everything to do with your lifestyle.  Still, no one can argue that rent, utilities and organic fruits and vegetables are cheaper than the U.S.

Why have Sharon and I remained in Cuenca for 7 years while some expats have left? First of all, I don’t think of leaving Cuenca to return to your country of origin as a failure. It may require a mindset of not letting the difficulty of Spanish or the government bureaucracy bog you down.  Sharon and I call these moments T.I.E – This Is Ecuador.  Spanish is the official language. It is our responsibility as newcomers to learn enough of the language to interact with the local community. One T.I.E moment that at times tries my patience is that banks often ask you to sign documents in a way that perfectly matches the penmanship on your ID card. You know, like a forger would need to do?  But now, when I am asked, as often happens, to rewrite my signature my blood pressure remains almost normal.

We will shortly be retuning to the U.S. for our annual family reunion. I will enjoy Peet’s Coffee, purchasing cheaper high tech devices, great Thai and hugging each grandchild .  I will especially enjoy communicating without translating in my head. But at the end of 3 weeks I will be very content to return to the tranquility and pace of life that is retirement in Cuenca, Ecuador.

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Loaves And Fishes Inauguration Party

Join Kelbert Bortone and me at La Guarida Friday May 18th from 5:00 – 8:00 pm for the Inauguration of Loaves And Fishes our new online ordering system.

Never be disappointed again about running out of quality bread, cakes, seafood, lamb and duck again. It will be as simple as going to our website and arranging next day delivery or pickup at convenient locations in Cuenca.

Come join us for the party, see the website in action an sample the best of loaves and fishes.  La Guarida is located at Mariscal Lamar y Luis Pauta

Manhattan Day In Cuenca

This Friday, March 9th, come help us celebrate!

It is a joyful food celebration of Manhattan, New York and it is taking place in a 100-year-old building where you can order a Manhattan while listening to recordings by Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York. Enjoy your drink with a toasted bialy,  smoked salmon, a sour pickle, and a slice of cheddar cheese.  For dessert, there is…you guessed it, New York cheesecake and chocolate of course. 

Come help us celebrate Manhattan Day In Cuenca, March 9th from 3:00 to 6:00 pm at La Guarida( Mariscal Lamar y Luis Pauta)

The following vendors will be there:

  • Artesana Bakery – Bialys, Challah, Sourdough Bread
  • Productos Terranova – Smoked Salmon, Scallops, Shrimp
  • Leshamer    Israeli Products – Sour Pickles
  • King Smokehouse – Bacon, Spareribs
  • Amadeo Chocolates-
  • Double D Delights – Cheesecakes, Bagels, Black & Whites
  • Cecilia Aged Cheeses

Raffles for free products from the 7 vendors and the ultimate trivia question for a Salmon Dinner for 2

A Taste Of France In Cuenca

This past week I had the gastronomic pleasure of eating at Le Triskell, creperie, francaise, located at Eduardo Crespo Mala and Gran Colombia. They are open everyday except Monday.

I had their breakfast special for $6

Coffee or tea + juice
-French Omelet with bacon or vegetables
-French toast
-Butter and marmalade
-Fresh fruits

The food was presented beautifully, the owners came out to check on the service and quality of food.  Run, don’t walk to this great find in Cuenca.

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Amcry Swiss Restaurant

Full disclosure.  I help the owners of Amcry with their videos and web site. But, even if I didn’t I would recommend a trip to the Restaurant.  It’s the only place in Cuenca, Ecuador where you can eat authentic Swiss Food. The owners (Judy and Beda) are exceptional hosts and the service and food are exceptional.

There are over 20 new menu items including several new cocktails. Tell them you saw this post on their web site and receive a free glass of wine with your dinner or lunch. 

 

Amcry Swiss Restaurant

Spaghetti Al Pesto Grandmother's Swiss Toast

Free WiFi In Cuenca

I transferred this post from the defunct Cuenca Daily News Blog.   Please feel free to email me at graygeek@gmail.com with your suggestion.  Only include places that are free.  I’ll start and update this list as I receive your emails. I’m also going to make a map.

  • Banana’s Cafe – Calle Larga y Benigno Malo
  • California Kitchen – Luis Cordero y Honorato Vasquez
  • Coffee Tree – Calle Larga y Borrero
  • Windhorse Cafe – Calle Larga y Hermano Miquel
  • Cafe Austria – Juan Jaramillo y Benigno Malo
  • Don Colon – Mariano Cueva 9-42 y Simon Bolivar
  • Inca Lounge – Avenida Tres de Noviembre y El Puente Centenario
  • San Sebas Cafe – 1-94 San Sebastian y Mariscal Sucre
  • Milenium Plaza, third floor, above Banco Pichincha
  • ItalDeli on Alfonso Moreno Mora (2nd floor).
  • Food court Mall del Rio
  • Free Etapa connection at the corner of Padre Aguire y Gran Columbia
  • Moca Cafe Bar on Gran Colombia y Manzaneros
  • Jaleria – 3 de Noviembre y Bahada Todo Santos
  • Food Court Monay Shopping Center
  • Goda Restaurant in Hotel El Dorado
  • Nectar – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Néctar
  • Cilantro Restaurant – Juan Jaramillo y Benigno Malo