Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A few things you'll need - the nitty gritty

If you are moving to Cuenca, here are a few things you might not think of that would be good to pack if you are bringing a container.  A BIG box of paper towels and Kleenex-type tissue. Paper products here are so expensive that it takes a big chunk of budget to buy any.  Of course, it is good for the environment not to use paper products do you pat the chicken dry before cooking it without a paper towel?

By the way, toilet paper is no problem so don't pack that.

Go to a dollar store if you are in the US and stock up on gallon and quart size plastic bags.  Again, not good for the environment but sometimes one really needs a plastic bag.  In our house, we are cleaning and reusing when possible the ones we brought because they are so expensive here (and for the environment). We'd rather spend our money on things we like than plastic bags. Same for packing some "tupperware" type stuff that is microwave safe.  They have it here but it is another item on the "How much?" list.

Bring some rags.  Old towels and t-shirts to use for cleaning.  If you hire a cleaning person here, you will still need rags. Also a couple of old comfy shirts for lounging around - we brought only our nicer stuff and miss having some old knock-around clothes to kick back in.  FashionFlash: People do not wear capris in Cuenca, unless you are a tourist, from somewhere other than South America.  For one reason, it is usually too cool in the evenings to wear capris.  For another, well, gee, I'm not sure why.  When it is "hot'' here, ie 75-80 f degrees, which locals call "mucho calor" very hot, people wear light weight slacks and shirts.  No capris.  And NO ONE seems to wear shorts in Cuenca, unless you are a foreign tourist.

If you are a Women's size 12 or larger, plan to bring any and all clothes you will need for quite awhile.  There are really cute clothes here but most are size 10 and smaller. Ecuadorian women are very small, in general.

  Also, do not expect to easily find the cute, cheap flip flops here.  Touristas, again. However, if you are looking for cute women's heels or boots, this place is NIRVANA.  Soooo many cute shoes in little shops all over the city.  Really fashionable and REALLY sexy shoes! With high high high heels! And I have to say, I have never seen women anywhere walk so well in high heels.  Seriously!  While carrying heavy boxes, going down stairs with a toddler on a hip, cleaning a floor, rushing along cobblestone streets with broken sidewalks, running up steps at an angle.  Women wear high heels in Ecuador and look FABULOUS!

Definitely bring bath rugs, towels, kitchen towels, sheets, tablecloths and napkins.  Many of these seem to be, thin, rough, very poor quality with high price tags compared to Bed, Bath and Beyond or prices.  Worth stocking up on your favorites.

Bring a few office supplies: rubber bands are hard to come by here, paper clips, pens you like, colored markers/highlighters.  There are tons of notebooks in various sizes and they are very cheap.  Printer paper is not a problem and there are lots of copy shops if you do not have your own printer. An extra printer cartridge or 3 is a good idea, again due to price.

Basically, anything Ecuador has to import is quite expensive.  Small electronics, small kitchen appliances, computers, washing machines, electric blanket or mattress warmer.  Someone told me she saw a Kitchen-aid mixer (which is pretty top of the line) priced at $900!  Check Amazon pricing - the EC price is about 4 times more.

However, do not forget: food in restaurants is generally an amazingly low price. $2.50 buys you a delicious soup, rice, fish, a small salad and fresh strawberries and a fruit drink. Fresh fruits and vegetables are very low priced in the markets. Many grocery items are priced at very reasonable levels. Sugar is cheap. Flour is cheap.

Housing is generally about 1/3 the cost of the area I lived in, Portland, OR. Hiring someone to make curtains or to clean your home - very reasonable.Water, gas and electric are all amazingly low prices for utilities.  Internet and cable/satellite are not cheap but each are under $100/mo depending on service you select.

I have not found TUMS here yet.  Might want to stock up if that is something you need from time to time. Same goes for Blistex.  You can buy Chapstick but I have not seen any Blistex. OTC things like Aleve or Tylenol is available here but does not seem cheaper than Costco prices.

Back to the container, if you are allowed to pack some food item in tin or something like that, consider this mystery:  there is a Nestle plant in Guayaquil cranking out tons of products (chocolate drinks, powder for making chocolate drinks for kids, coffee additives, etc) but they do not sell chocolate chips as we know them anywhere I can find in Ecuador.  Now of course, Ecuador sells many other types of chocolates, some of them with excellent flavor.  But if you love chocolate chip cookies, bring a lot of Nestle's Toll House semi-sweet dark chocolate chips or whatever your fav brand happens to be. 

DVDs can be purchased in any of many little shops for $1.50.  Copyright law enforcement seems to be  non-existent so illegal copies are the norm.  If you want to buy a DVD at full price, honoring the copyright, it will be hard to locate where to do this! And yes you can get the DVD in English and the original version.  It will not have the extras like interviews with the director, etc, but the price is very tempting and makes a lot of movies you were only semi-interested in seem more appealing.

Now, if you are like me, you wonder why all the gates and fences. And big dogs.  Why is that when the reported crime rate is not unusually high?  It has to be more than just the Spanish Colonial tradition which is certainly part of it. I am told home invasions and theft are two main concerns.  So yes, there are gates for security, there are hot wires or jagged glass at the tops of some walls. There are many barking dogs.  But it feels safe to my husband who walks every day for miles around this city.  Again, remember smart awareness of what is around you, as discussed a few days ago.

Electric fence along top of wall between properties.
I left my binoculars with a friend at the last minute due to weight issues with suitcases.  Wow, I wish I had brought them.  I'll get them my first trip back to visit but it would be so nice to have them now. There are so many vistas to admire.  And there are tiny hummingbirds too fast to see without binocs.

There are great bargains here and many convenient, wonderful surprises, like papayas and creamy avocados for 20 cents each.  Of course the things I wish I had included are all slanted toward my interests and taste but I hope these ideas can be helpful to someone thinking of moving here.  If you are packing a container, pack a few things that are hard to find or expensive compared to the US.

Best of luck!


  1. When we were in Ecuador on vacation I looked for Tums in quite a few pharmacies. I even pronounced it Tooms like they do here in Mexico, I spelled it, wrote it and said it. There were other kinds of anti-acids but no Tums type with calcium carbonate.The stuff they did have was very expensive. I heard that Costco is coming to Cuenca, that is where I buy Tums in Mérida.


  2. Such a great and true article.

  3. They do have Gas-X and you buy it by the pill, like most of the drugs.