some thoughts about Cuenca, Ecuador


I was thinking about who decides to move to a foreign country for a retirement experience.  I cannot generalize but I sense it takes a special set of circumstances for a person or couple to decide to move to a new country to live out their retirement years.  For some people, this is a lifelong dream.  For others, the thought of being far away from the familiar and from children/grandchildren is horrifying.  So I thought I’d share a few thoughts about living in Cuenca, Ecuador:

The Cuencanos (as permanent residents of Cuenca are called):  What a delightful people they are! Generally quite physically attractive,confident, proud of their country and beautiful inside too. They are kind, generous, eager to be helpful.  Many are sort of innocent in that they are not jaded by steeping in too much materialism and a “me-me-me!” entitlement.  They are quick to offer help in finding things here, getting banking and utilities set up, explaining how to blend azucar (sugar) so that it dissolves in recipes more quickly, etc.  Many will open their homes and welcome newcomers into their family celebrations. Len and I have been incredibly fortunate to be, well, sort of adopted by two families where the matriarchs grew up as best friends. It is such an honor to be included.

The ex-pat community is quite helpful also. There are people here from all over the United States and from Canada, as well as other countries in lesser numbers.  There are about 2000 all-year-round ex-pats here and some who go back and forth throughout the year. The estimates of how many ex-pats vary wildly but this is my best guess after 14 months of observation. Ex-pats offer entertainments, answers and friendship to newcomers. And they speak your language and understand a similar sense of humor. Translating humorous things into another language often falls flat.  Idioms seem to be death to humor in a new language. And many understand the adventure, joy and isolation that leaving one’s country of origin presents. Isolation from familiar haunts and neighborhoods, from grandchildren, from familiar foods one cannot find here and from long time friends.  I have known ex-pats to keep track of someone new to be sure she/he is not isolating, to assure the newcomer is invited to things, to offer to shop or assist in locating items.  It is heart warming!

You can have quite an active social life in Cuenca.  For the first time in our lives, my husband Lenny and I have as much social life as we choose . We had very little social life when we were both working full time, caring for 5 pets and living in a suburb of Portland, OR. Our  friends were scattered far and wide around Portland so getting together was complex.  If we went to a friend’s for dinner or had people over, that was usually a 1-time-a-month thing.  Now it can happen weekly and is often spontaneous. Think about it: many ex-pats are retired and most live within 2 miles of each other so getting together or meeting for lunch or dinner is very easily arranged.

Many concerts, dance productions and cultural events are free in Ecuador, subsidized by the government.  Shocking but true.  Culture is supported by the government.  The arts are very valued, respected and cherished. It is a delight to go to a symphony that is free! And wonderful to live where the arts are seen as a treasure.

You can meet a friend for lunch and treat that person for about $5.00 total for 2 lunches.  Almuerzo (lunch) is the main meal for Cuencanos so it is rather large and is offered by lots of restaurants for $2.50 per person.  This includes a watered down tropical juice that is freshly made, the soup of the day,  a main course such as chicken, pork, fish or beef, a huge serving of rice or potatoes and a small salad or vegetables, along with a small postre (dessert) .  At this price, there are no individual choices unless you pay more and no “doggie bags”.  But you get a lot of basic food for an incredibly low price.

The food in Ecuador is bland but good.  The pork and chicken are out of this world delicious, perhaps because they have no hormones or additives.  Most meat is raised in natural settings resulting in a leaner product. A few herbs and seasonings are used and every restaurant has its own version of ahi, a sometimes-hot sauce made of tomato, peppers, onion, garlic and whatever else they decide will represent their place of business.  I cook at home a lot because I eat gluten free (no wheat/barley/rye).  I add herbs and seasonings as needed from a stash I brought with me from the US.  However, I have found many of the usual herbs and seasonings in the markets and grocery stores here. And there are tons of choices for ahi (hot sauce)on the grocery shelves or you can easily make your own.

Cannot pass up mentioning that the fruits are over the top terrific.  Papayas are usually 50 cents each, avocados 3 for $1, mango,  pitajaya (peet-uh-HIGH’-uh), guayaba, and other fruits new to us have become a morning smoothie hobby for my husband, to my delight.   Bananas, pineapple, mango, pears, limon (like key limes), plums and other basic fruits are all here and taste delicious. They have figs but dates are hard to find, as are dried or fresh cranberries. But Cadelaes “the spice store” on Remegio Crespo near Boyaca has nuts and dried fruits as well as a lot of spices and some imported goods, like fish sauce.

Prices seem to be creeping up.  Many of the blogs about life in Ecuador list prices that are outdated. We notice everyday life things are more expensive than stated previously, while still being much less expensive than goods are in the US and many other countries.  An example: a 3 bedroom 2 bath furnished apartment  in a nice neighborhood in a secure building listed for $550 may cost $700/month by the time you add in the condo fee and all utilities, including internet service. One can find less expensive housing and more expensive housing but this is probably closer to average for a furnished apartment.

If you rent an unfurnished apartment in Cuenca, it will come without appliances so you will pay less for the rental but need to provide your own refrigerator, stove, micro, etc. Sometimes “unfurnished” means no mirrors in the bathrooms and no light fixtures – bare hanging bulbs.  But don’t be totally scared off by this because you can find large kitchen appliances at fairly reasonable prices.  Light fixtures also can be found in a wide range of prices.  But do not move here expecting to find a really fantastic furnished rental for $200 in a convenient, quiet neighborhood – those are very rare.  And a recent observation: it seems they have over-built so apartment/rentalss are plentiful.  You will find many choices whereas just 18 mo ago, finding several apartments to chose from was very difficult. If you are interested in buying, there are many more options now than 18 mo ago also.

Cuenca is not for everyone.  Like any foreign country, it requires that you learn a new culture, welcome new experiences with altered expectations, learn or re-learn Espanol, seek creative ways to adapt to living in a new environment for your retirement, if that is a new status as it is for many who come here.

But if these things are on your list of “must dos” before you die, then Cuenca, Ecuador could be a wonderful destination. It is not paradise but it has enough of the qualities I wanted in my retirement to keep me here: tranquility, friendly people, safe streets, moderate weather year round, flowers blooming every month of the year, places to explore and new favorite haunts to discover.

Personally,  I love the weather here – never really too hot, never ice cold. The altitude of 8300 ft does not bother me much.  I delight in the people I’ve met. I know crime can happen anywhere in the world but feel safe here with a few precautions  – like don’t flash a big diamond ring around, don’t pull out your IPad on a bus full of people living below the poverty level, don’t walk along an unlit river path at midnight.  Pretty common sense things.  My husband and I have fallen in love with Cuenca and recommend people check it out if your dream is to retire in a foreign country.

One reason I wrote this post is that people considering moving here are often hungry for information about what it is like to make such a major leap.  It is not a good fit for some people who try it out but for me personally…I love it.  Mi gusta Cuenca!!!

Now about quilting.  Here is my lovely sewing studio half packed and thoroughly messy.

Here is another quilt top I have nearly completed.  Just 3 borders and then its ready to quilt and bind.

The Melon Block Quilt

And the next shot of a quilt top may be the first quilt I sell.  I made it for a baby girl and have the joyful knowledge now that my daughter is expecting a baby boy.  The baby boy quilt will be my next quilt project after I have moved into a lovely rental house with a little larger “sewing studio”.

Baby/toddler quilt

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope you are having a lovely day and come back to visit this site soon.  You can become a follower – then you will receive an email when I make a new post.  My posts will be more frequent  from today forward.



10 responses »

  1. Pingback: Morning Update – Wednesday, July 18, 2012 « South of Zero

  2. Thanks Sharon – great info! We’ll be moving to Cuenca in less than 2 weeks and hope to get to meet you and see some of your quilts!

    • Please! I’d love to meet you Gloria. I’m just moving myself to another part of Cuenca. But I hope to be settled by the time you arrive. Someday that seems chilly, lets meet at Cafe Austria for hot chocolate. Best wishes with final details and your flight. Sharon

    • I brought several packaged different sizes of quilt batting with me. Recently I had 2 sent to me via Correos, the “mailing club” that costs very little to join for the privilege of
      getting things shipped, like from Amazon or equilter or a friend/dtr in law. However Correos just doubled their prices from about $5/pound to $10.35 or similar for the first pound, 7.35 for 2nd pound, etc up to limit of8.8 pounds. This means a five pound gift box from a relative would cost you over $60 to be shipped from the Florida warehouse where things are inspected. It really makes it hard to get things here that we cannot find. Airlines are charging a very high premium for extra baggage – $200 per extra bag was what one friend paid in May. I searched several material shops for batting and found none. The best solution I can think of wold be, if someone were shipping in a container, to rent a little space and purchase several battings for yourself. One cannot buy, ship in and then resell anything. But you could bring in enough for yourself for a couple of years.

  3. Sharon, I really enjoyed your Cuenca piece. Holly and I (John) meet you and Len at California Kitchen on Morning this Month. We had double decker bus tickets and had to run, but we both appreciated your helpful information and genuine caring for us and the good advice too. I have very few regrets about our first Cuenca trip, but one of them is not spending more time with you.

    John T.

      • Hi Sharon, good to hear from you. This trip (our first) was all we needed to make up our minds about retiring in Cuenca. We felt at home in your city and the people (both expats and locals) are the main reason we are coming back to stay. Thank you so very much for your part in this decision.

        John T.

      • Hi John, you write very well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You and Holly have made a big step already. It is wonderful to read of your enthusiasm. One big thing I notice here is that this city does not run on fear as some places in the US are experiencing, sadly. Your plans sound great. Glad to have contributed a small drop to your big life decision. Sharon

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