Friday, April 20, 2012

Nearing 1 year in Cuenca, EC

         In my son's back yard in January, 2012  San Diego, CA

I am finding that it is as I near the one year mark of living in Cuenca, it is harder to think of new things to write about moving to Cuenca. Let's see how I do today.

I feel the transition has been a very good one. My husband and I are fortunate to have had only a few bumps and even fewer surprises.

I feel safe and settled here.  Not speaking Espanol well is still a problem but I will continue to take lessons and practice...eventually I will do more than barely get by with "caveman" Espanol.  Cuencanos are kind about it - if you just try to speak their language and they know you are working to learn, they are very forgiving of your primitive butchery of verb conjugation.

The biggest challenge of living in Ecuador besides not speaking the language well, is living 4700 miles or so away from my children and grandchildren, friends and family of origin.  We will visit them once or twice a year which is about as often as we were seeing the California grandchildren but way less than we were seeing my daughter's family of 3 and my Portland-area friends. Daughter lives 90 min from Portland so we got to take care of their son one week-end every month or two.  People who move to a foreign country really cut themselves off from daily contact and the intimacy that comes with that as children are growing. Skype helps tremendously but it cannot allow an actual hug.

But there is not much to do about that painful reality except hope that they will decide to visit us at some point, adding connected time to that of our visits back to the states.  There will be a time when the grandchildren may decide to visit us on their own but right now, they are 3, 6 and 9 years old so that time is quite a way off. An exciting bit of news is that our daughter is expecting her second child around election day in November.  So I will be blessed with 4 grandchildren - what an incredible joy!

More positives: There are many things I love about living here. The weather is a definite plus.  It is not ever really hot or humid.  It is often sunny for several hours mid day before rains begin for a couple of hours.  It often clears up in time to go for a walk after dinner.  Nights get quite chilly at this high Andean altitude but it never freezes or snows.  All of the seasons are similar, within a few degrees change. The sun rises and sets within 30 min or so of 6 am and 6 pm year around.  We are edging toward winter now but listen up Michigan and Minnesota, it is not the winter you know and hate.  It is moderate here.  Not balmy like a beach climate but moderate like being high in the mountains near the equator.

People do not wear capris here.  I do not know why.  Some people wear shorts but the majority of people dress in jeans or slacks and shirts, adding a sweater or coat as needed. Dressing in layers becomes a way of life.

 Many of the indigenous people wear the traditional clothing of their group (we would perhaps say "tribe" in the US but that is not used commonly here).

Some generalizations which are just that: generalizations.  The Ecuadorian people are, by and large, very handsome people. There are many different looks with a noticeable trend toward being quite good-looking. Gorgeous hair, big eyes, friendly faces and a hard work ethic all contribute to this.  Both men and women tend to be under 5'5" tall.  Being overweight is not common in Cuenca.  Among the poor, malnutrition or poor availability of "healthy foods"  is often the cause of a very stocky build.  But among the rest of the Cuencanos, being overweight is quite rare.  Many Cuencanos age beautifully, looking younger than their years.  However, there is also a lot of apparently inexpensive plastic surgery available so it is difficult to tell how much that effects the natural age look of the population.

Moving on:
There are virtually no bugs in Cuenca.  The occasional fly buzzes around but no mosquitoes, few spiders, and I have not seen a single cockroach - hooray!   Things like this make life here easy and pleasant.

There are dogs EVERYWHERE in Ecuador, Cuenca is no exception.  There is virtually no neutering of animals so dogs trot by wherever you are.  But they usually do not beg or come up for human attention as in the US.  They are busy searching for food and exploring the world.  The ones who are alive, are street-smart and have learned how to cross busy streets without getting hit by a vehicle, how to forage for food, how to avoid dog fights to stay alive. It is a different dog culture.

Then, of course, there are many pet dogs being walked by owners in parks and along the streets.  People LOVE their dogs here, just like in the US.

On the other hand, I have only seen 2 cats outside in this city. People who have cats must keep them inside because the streets seem not to be cat-friendly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the multitude of loose dogs have something to do with that.
We brought Feisty, our cat, with us.  She stays indoors.  She will be 17 years old on May 1st!
Different people move here for different reasons and find things they enjoy here. Some move on to Thailand or Brazil or another exotic place.  There is a gypsy quality to some ex-pats who explore the world, living in one country at a time for a few weeks and then heading for other adventures in other lands.  Other ex-pats move here to settle and set up a solid foundation for the remainder of their years, living out their days/years in Ecuador.  There is room here for the many individual differences ex-pats bring.

During our year here, it has become more difficult to obtain residency in Ecuador.  I do not know why but it seems that the government is requiring more stringent things of those wanting to move here.  An example is that now it is required to have a police report.  Last May, when I arrived, this was not a requirement.  Not a big deal but one more thing a person has to get done correctly.  My advice: hire a good attorney early and send all of your documents to your attorney before you get on a plane.  That minimizes your chance of having petty errors foul up your attempt to get residency.

My husband and I decided to rent a home once our apartment lease is up and a few updating repairs are done on the home.  we think it will be a good next step in our adventure in Ecuador.  We have loved our apartment but look forward to a little outdoor garden and a bit more roomy space.
A couple of months ago, I took my very first art class EVER from Gary Myers ( in El Centro.  I began with charcoal drawing which morphed into painting as I continue with classes.  I am really having a wonderful time.  The art is for me and brings me a wonderful sense of satisfaction and pleasure.  We are fortunate to have Gary Myers teaching in Cuenca.  He moved here from Santa Fe, New Mexico in the US.  He is a well-known artist there, where he influenced countless young artists and students, as well as being admired for his own rich practice. 

Contact him by email New classes begin frequently.

Last summer, I set out to write a blog chronicling my first year in Ecuador - the anniversary date of my arrival in Cuenca is coming up in May.  Initially, I hoped the blog would help friends and family keep in touch with us.  Very soon it became apparent the bulk of my readers are people who are also interested in moving here. That is terrific!

  Thank you for reading my blog over the months.  As May 1 approaches, I am planning to conclude my blog writing so that I may focus time and energy on the mystery novel I have partially completed.

I will post one more time around May 1.
I am very touched by your interest and wish you well with your plans, whatever they may be.

Have a terrific week end.
I hope you face the new week with joy and expectation.
Stay positive.


  1. I visited Cuenca last year for almost 4 weeks a month after you and Lenny arrived. I have followed your blog ever since with great interest.
    You served as an inspiration and guide to me during the nine months it took to settle my affairs in NC and come back to Cuenca to apply for residency. Thank you!

    Anne Sangine

  2. Hi Anne - wonderful to meet you last week. I am very humbled by your words and others who have personally thanked me for my blog. I plan to continue a different blog, but it will be focused on things like quilting in Cuenca, finding foods you love in Cuenca, etc. Not such a regular journal of the experiences of being an ex-pat. Thank you to you Anne and to all of my readers. One more post coming up soon. Best regards, Sharon