Our Smooth Transition to Cuenca

 

 

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Noshy and Alfredo

 

We have been extremely fortunate to have had an almost perfect and seamless transition from the U.S. to Cuenca, Ecuador.  When you prepare to move to another country you have an almost endless list of questions, concerns and unknowns that you have to figure out.

The first order of business for us was trying to obtain the Residency Visa’s and cedulas we needed to establish residency in Ecuador.  We, like many before us contacted one of the well-known companies that specialize in helping you navigate that process.  Fortunately for us they never responded to our second email request for more information.  I say fortunately because in the meantime, we read a superb book by Connie Pombo called, Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered (There is now a Second Edition).  It was the best book of relocating to Cuenca we had ever read.  In it, she highly recommended using the services of Noshy Pinos to help with visas and everything else.

Meeting and hiring Noshy to be our facilitator was the best decision we ever made. She has been a godsend to us.  She explained what documents we needed ahead of time so that we could begin gathering them and get them apostilled.  We would then send them to her electronically so that she could begin to translate them. We brought the original copies with us when we came to Cuenca, and within a few days of our arrival, she took us to the government office in Azogues to file our paperwork, and within a few weeks, we had our visas and cedulas in hand and were official residents of Ecuador.  The only headache we had with our paperwork was in the U.S. as the FBI rejected our fingerprints four times!

We have heard horror stories from people who have used one of the more well-known visa companies or even a private attorney to help them with the process. We have heard of paperwork not being filed timely, or being lost, etc.  When you work with Noshy, you are working with someone who knows the requirements and the system.  When we went to the government office, we had to take a seat while we waited to have our name called.  The person who went up before us had several of their documents questioned and some were rejected. So when our name was called, we were hoping that everything would be ok, and the person who waited on us inspected all of our documents thoroughly and one by one, she laid them on the table – meaning they had been accepted.  What a big relief it was for us.  Noshy had delivered for us exactly what she promised.

We also quickly found out that Noshy’s services were extensive and we have used her for establishing a bank account, ordering prescriptions, getting a cell phone and service, making doctors’ appointments, and the list is almost endless.  Oh, and she is a superb Spanish teacher as well!  When you are dealing with things as personal as your bank account and doctors, you want someone you can trust and who understands that your privacy is of utmost importance.

Her husband Alfredo is also part of the team and has been invaluable to us as well.  Besides being an all-purpose handyman – he can fix anything, we have also contracted with him as a driver.  For example, when the airport in Cuenca was closed, we contracted with him to take us to Guayaquil to catch a flight.  Getting to know both Noshy and Alfredo has certainly made our transition to Cuenca a smooth one.  They are now our two best friends in Ecuador and we are so happy that we made the connection with them.

For anyone who is thinking of relocating to Cuenca, it is without reservation or hesitation that we highly recommend the services of Noshy Pinos.  Her website is:  http://www.cuencaexpat.com/about.html

 

Christmas in Ecuador

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While this post is a little late in coming, we did want to share with you a few photos of our first Christmas in Ecuador.  Back in November, our dentist, Dr. Grace Ordonez held an event to gather toys for the children who are from the outlying villages.  That event, now in it’s 20th year, is called, “Juguetes Para Los Ninos” (Toys for the Children).  It was a well-attended event and they collected literally hundreds of toys.

 

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On Christmas morning, we, along with approximately twenty other volunteers left the Edificeo Terrazza in a caravan at 8:30 AM. Our first stop was the village of Soldados and we were welcomed by many beautiful children who were eager to get a Christmas gift. We then drove into the spectacular El Cajas Mountains to another village and distributed more gifts to the children there. It was a fantastic experience and was one of the most memorable Christmas’s we have ever had and was a wonderful way for us to spend our very first Christmas in Ecuador. Feliz Navidad!

 

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Cuenca, Ecuador – One Year Later

 

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The Tomebamba River as seen from our Terrace

 

One year ago this month we made our first exploratory trip to Cuenca.  We immediately fell in love with everything this country has to offer, and when we moved here permanently in February of this year it became obvious to us that this was the best decision we have ever made.  We love it here and have not regretted our decision for one minute.

Our previous article, “Cuenca, Ecuador…Our First Six Months (July 24, 2016) chronicled some of the things we did during that period of time.  This article will offer our overall impressions of the country through our eyes.  It is not intended to be all-encompassing, but to provide the reader with our personal thoughts.

The Climate:  One of the things we love the most about this country and our location in it, is the climate.  It is very moderate and as some say, it can even include four seasons in a single day.  While our friends and family are dealing with low temperatures, snow, and freezing rain back in the states, we are enjoying summer here in Cuenca.  Today for example is another picture perfect day here.  At noon, the temperature was 71 while the nighttime low last night was 51.   Out on our terraza (terrace) where we spend a lot time, we generally wear shorts and a light shirt.  The afternoon sun can be intense, so we have to remember to apply sun screen liberally, and when the sun goes behind a cloud and a breeze kicks up, it can be a little chilly so we usually have a fleece handy to put on when needed.  The evenings are cool, but not cold, and we love to have a glass of vino out on our terraza and watch the incredible Andean sky.   The sky is fascinating to us here in the Andes at 8,300 feet of elevation.  The clouds tend to move quickly and so it can be sunny one minute and 15 minutes later a cloud layer will appear overhead.  It might sprinkle or rain a little harder, but again, before you know it the sky can be clear again.  We are also fascinated by the night sky and the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.  There are also very few bugs, flies or other nuisances to bother us. We do see some, but hardly any, and it’s probably because the elevation doesn’t agree with them.

 

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Sunrise over the El Cajas Mountains from our Condo

 

The People:  This is very high on our list of things we love about Ecuador.  We have met and become friends with many of our Ecuadorian neighbors here in Cuenca.  They are a warm, friendly and very generous people and have accepted us like family and welcomed us into their homes.  The school children all wear uniforms and it’s so refreshing to see how nicely they dress.  Another thing we have noticed is the important emphasis on families.  Family is such an important part of the Ecuadorian culture, and most of all, we just love the beautiful Ecuadorian children.  It seems like they are always playing or running through the park usually with a big smile on their faces.  We are also looking forward to visiting some mountain villages near Cuenca on Christmas day.

The Culture:  The culture of Ecuador is one of the very attractive reasons why we looked at Cuenca in the first place.  Evidence of the rich history of the Incan Empire is all around us.  The ancient cathedrals, the cobblestone streets, and the presence of indigenous people everywhere fascinate us.  The local customs, holidays and other traditions are of great interest to us as well.  If you are interested in art, pottery or other handmade crafts, you can find them all around you.

 

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An example of local weaving we have in our casa

 

Cost of Living:   For some expats who live here, this is their # 1 reason for coming here.  For us, the cost of living wasn’t even in our Top 3, but it is without a doubt a nice benefit for us.  The fact that Ecuador is on the U.S. dollar makes things very easy for us.  We don’t have to try and figure out a conversion rate from the dollar to another currency, so that has helped our transition here.  (Note:  We will offer an upcoming article that will focus solely on the cost of living from our perspective)

Cleanliness:  The city of Cuenca is remarkably clean.  They literally have armies of city workers in powder blue uniforms who are cleaning the streets and parks continuously.  No doubt, the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site provides incentive to keep Cuenca clean and their pride in that designation is obvious to us.

Safety:  This issue was very important to us and we are happy to report that over our first year here, we have always felt very safe.  There doesn’t appear to be a lot of crime, and the key, as it is everywhere, is to just use common sense.

Housing:  For us, it was important to find a “casa” that was (a) in a good location, (b) offered nice amenities and furniture, and (c) was in a safe and secure building, and (d) had a view of the Tomebamba River.  Housing options are abundant and you can find either a furnished or unfurnished apartment or condo to fit any budget.  We found a great 2,000 square foot condo on the river that offers stunning views of the El Cajas Mountains and is in a great location.

 

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An interior view of our condo

 

Food:  Another important item for most people is having excellent food options.  (We will offer future articles on both restaurants and supermarkets).  So, it is suffice to say that we are not disappointed with the quality of those options we have.

Health Care:  We are also very happy with both the quality and cost of health care.  Most of the doctors here are US trained, are bi-lingual and very professional.  We couldn’t be happier with our health care options.

When we talk amongst ourselves and try to identify things that we don’t like about Cuenca, there really are very few things that bother us at all, and none to the point that we couldn’t deal with them.   But, in an effort at full disclosure, we will list a few things here that we have heard that have bothered some people to the point of moving back to the US or wherever they came here from.

Diesel Bus Fumes/Construction Projects:    There is no doubt that the many diesel busses used in Cuenca for public transportation contribute to a diesel fume problem. At the same time, city officials know this and have embarked on a large scale light rail project called the Tranvia.  It is not due to be completed until sometime in 2017/18, so in the meantime, many of the city streets are being torn up to accommodate the light rail system.  The fumes, combined with the dust and inconvenience that construction projects tend to bring have bothered some people to the point of wanting to leave Cuenca.  We look at it like what we are witnessing is progress, and if we are inconvenienced a little, we are ok with it.

Manana Approach:  There is no doubt that life is a little slower here in Cuenca, and in general, things don’t tend to happen quickly.  For example, you might have to wait in a line to complete a transaction longer than in the US.  Or, you might go to a store at noon and find out the shop keeper is closed from 12:00 to 1:30 so he or she can go have almuerzo (lunch) with their family.  These things don’t bother us at all, but for some people, they just can’t handle not getting instant gratification, and instead, might have to wait.

Inability to Assimilate:  Some people just can’t handle the fact that Cuenca is not a carbon copy of the U.S.  They get aggravated when they go to the store and can’t find their favorite food item. They have no interest in assimilating into the culture of Ecuador, and they make no attempt whatsoever to speak Spanish even though this is a Spanish speaking country.

Travel Issues:  Traveling to and from Cuenca is not easy.  We come from the Pacific Northwest, so for us, we have to fly from Cuenca to the capital Quito, and from there to Houston and then on to Seattle.  It can take us roughly 24-26 hours to make the trip, so there is usually an overnight accommodation and it’s just simply a long trip.  Traveling to the eastern U.S. can be faster, but is still nonetheless taxing.  Throw in the fact that most of the expats here have family including kids and grandkids that they would like to see more often, is another reason why some expats return home to the US or the country of their origin.

In summary, we often say to each other every day that we love our life here.  We can’t imagine living anywhere else, and the issues listed above that affect some people don’t bother us.  Our advice is, if you are thinking about relocating to another country, do yourself a favor and take an exploratory trip first.  Make a list of those things that are important to you, and go and find out for yourself if moving somewhere else is right for you.

Steve & Stacey

Cuenca, Ecuador

Our Adventure to Easter Island

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The moai statues at Ahu Tongariki

While our blog is about Ecuador, one of the major advantages of living here is the relatively close proximity of many interesting things to see and do as well as other South American countries to visit.  As our 18th anniversary approached, we started talking about what we wanted to do for our anniversary, and we quickly settled on one of our major bucket list items – the mysterious Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, and the official Spanish name is Isla de Pascua.  While Easter Island is not exactly close to our home in Cuenca, we decided that we wanted to make the long trip there while we were in good health.   We also decided to break up the travel days to make it a less taxing trip.

Easter Island is about 64 square miles in size, and is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on earth – over 2,000 miles west of Chile and 3,000 miles east of Tahiti.  It is also the furthest east of the Polynesian Triangle which includes Hawaii to the Northwest, New Zealand to the Southwest, and Samoa and Tahiti are among other island groups represented in or near the triangle.  Easter Island belongs to the country of Chile, and is in the region of Valparaiso, and the province of Isla de Pascua.  Easter Island is famous for its 887 monumental statues, called moai that were created by the early Rapa Nui people.  In 1995, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park.

We began our adventure on October 2nd, when our good friends, Noshy and Alfredo drove us from Cuenca to Guayaquil.  We stayed that night at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil which is a fabulous five star hotel that had everything you could ask for in a hotel.  The next day, we flew from Guayaquil to Santiago, Chile, a distance of 2,236 air miles and was approximately a 5 hour flight.   We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Santiago Airport for two nights, and while there we had a fabulous dinner at the Ox Restaurant to celebrate our anniversary.

Two things of note for those who might be interested in visiting Chile.  First, they are on the Chilean Peso, which was about 640 pesos per US dollar at the time of our visit.  Second, they are on a different electrical system than the US and Ecuador, so plan accordingly and make sure the hotel either has adapters for your electronics, or bring them with you, or else your electronic devices may run out of power!

On the morning of October 5th, we flew from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island, a distance of 2,332 miles, and the flight took about 5 ½ hours.  We arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon and were greeted at the airport by the smiling Alex, and we didn’t know it at the time, but he would be one of our expert guides while we were on Rapa Nui.

For the four nights and five days we stayed there, we had chosen the resort, Explora to stay during our visit.  https://www.explora.com/ .  Explora was founded in 1993, and has resorts in the Sacred Valley in Peru, Atacama and Patagonia, Chile, as well as Rapa Nui.  It is without question one of the finest resorts/hotels we have ever stayed in.   We chose Explora for several reasons.  It was all-inclusive – and it truly was, in that they included everything from a great room, food, alcohol, and it also included all of the tours you wanted to go on with an exceptional team of guides led by Lewis, the team leader.  The entire staff from the General Manager, Francisco to the wait staff were simply superb. The guides would meet each day in an open office setting with maps, and work with each customer to customize what they wanted to do that day.  Whether it was a half day hike, or a full day adventure, their primary goal was to please the customers, and their dedication to customer service was second to none.

On our first full-day on the island, we took a long morning hike to the largest of three craters on the island, Rano Kau, which was incredible and offered sweeping views of the crater and the three islets nearby.  Our guides were the young Frenchman Alex whom we had met the day before, and Pepe, who was a local Rapa Nui native.  These two guides were simply amazing, and had a great grasp of island history.  In the afternoon, we took a trip to the Rano Raraku quarry, where all of the monument construction took place.   There are approximately 400 of the islands 887 moai statutes located here, and to walk through the quarry was an amazing experience and we also saw the only kneeling moai that can be found on the island located here as well.

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Our two superb guides, Alex and Pepe
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Rano Kau, the largest crater on Rapa Nui
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A view of the islets from Rano Kau
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The Rano Raaku quarry
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An unfinished moai at the Rano Raraku quarry
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The kneeling moai at the Rano Raraku quarry

On day two, we took another long hike to Terevaka, which is the highest point on the island where you are offered a spectacular 360 degree view of the island and the ocean that surrounds it.  In the afternoon, we visited Ahu Tongariki and its fifteen moai statues.  The word, “Ahu” means platform, and there are many “Ahu’s” on the island, but this is probably the most amazing one of all.  Incidentally, the moai statues were built to honor important people who had passed away.  We then took a trip to Anakena beach and saw the seven moai statues at Ahu Nau-Nau on a beautiful afternoon day, and as an interesting side note, our guide, Pepe showed us a moai of the clan he descended rom on Ahu Ature Huke.

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A view atop Terevaka, the highest point on the island.  Alex and Pepe are in front followed by a fellow traveler, Will Williams on our left, and another guide, Gonsalo on our right
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The seven moai statutes at Ahu Nau-Nau on Anakena Beach
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Pepe in front of the Ahu Ature-Huke

The best guess as to when the island was first inhabited has been narrowed down to between 800 – 1200 CE.  The moai statues seem to have been built around 1250 – 1500.  When the first European ship arrived to Easter Island in 1722, all statues that were reported on were still standing, but by the time Captain James Cook had arrived in 1774, he noted that several moai were lying face down. The most common theory is that the statues were overthrown in tribal warfare to humiliate the enemy. An argument for this is the fact that most statues were fallen forward with the face into the earth.

The end of the moai period gave way to the Birdman (Tangata manu) culture.  The purpose of the birdman contest was to obtain the first egg of the season from the offshore islet Motu Nui. Contestants descended the sheer cliffs of Orongo and swam to Motu Nui where they awaited the coming of the birds. Having procured an egg, the contestant swam back and presented it (it had to be unbroken) to his clan leader, who was then declared island chief for that year.

On day three we took a boat ride over to the three islets, and the water was a magnificent sapphire blue.  We got to see Motu Nui close up and you could just imagine watching the annual birdman competition, and the distance from land to Motu Nui is approximately a mile, so the participating athletes would have to have been in great shape to make the swim.  We relaxed our last night at Explora, and just enjoyed the surroundings.

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Our boat ride out to the islets.  Notice the sapphire blue waters.
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Relaxing at the Explora with a glass of Chilean wine

On October 9th, we went in town to do a little shopping and in the afternoon we flew the 2,332 miles back from Easter Island to Santiago, Chile and stayed another night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Santiago.   The next afternoon we flew from Santiago back to Guayaquil and stayed another night at the Hilton Colon – which was really busy as it was the day after Guayaquil Independence day.  We flew back to Cuenca on October 11th – the final 80 miles of our long 9,216 mile journey.

Visiting Easter Island was the best vacation we have ever taken.  It was amazing and perfect in every way.   Breaking up the trip like we did proved to be a good strategy as we were never too tired from travel.  Our time on the island was four days which allowed us to see just about everything there is to see on the island. But, if we had to do it all over again, we would probably opt to stay five days, but that is probably the only change we would make.  The hotels we stayed at before, during and after our trip were perfect for us too.  We really enjoyed the people of Chile and to our new Rapa Nui friends, we say “Māuru-uru!”

 

 

 

Day Trip to Gualaceo and Chordeleg

Recently, our good friends, Noshy and Alfredo invited us to go on a field trip to the nearby towns of Gualaceo and Chordeleg.  We jumped at the chance because we are fascinated by all that this country has to offer. Before we left Cuenca, we went to one of their favorite Ecuadorian restaurants in the Quinta Chica barrio (neighborhood). The restaurant was called Picanteria, and featured some great garlic chicken. The food was delicious!

 

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The garlic chicken roasting

 

After lunch we continued our drive and Alfredo pulled in to a small, unassuming business with a sign that said, La Casa de La Makana.  Unbeknownst to us, this would be the highlight of the trip as we were able to meet the famous artisan, Jose Jimenez and his wife, Anna Maria.  When I say famous, he has made things for the Pope, actress, Selma Hayek, Queen Sophia of Spain and the President of Ecuador among others.  While he is very well known, he is a very unassuming person, who just takes a lot of pride in what he does.  Jose gave us a tour of his facility and demonstrated how he operates the loom, and also makes his own dye, which he uses to weave the beautiful shawls, scarves and sweaters he sells.  It was a fascinating visit, and needless to say, we picked up several goodies on this stop.

 

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Jose Jimenez winding thread with agave fiber in preparation to dye

 

 

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Jose is demonstrating how he makes his dyes

 

 

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Jose weaving on his loom

 

 

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Steve and Stacey modeling Jose’s scarves

 

 After we got back in the car and traveled a bit further, Alfredo stopped at a place called Ecuagenera, which is business that sells some incredibly beautiful orchids.  Ecuador is the world’s third leading exporter of cut flowers (9% of the global share), with 73% of those flowers being roses. As you can imagine, with a very favorable year-round climate, there is a seemingly endless supply of fresh flowers everywhere.  The orchids we saw that day were simply beautiful!

 

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Our hosts for the trip, Noshy and Alfredo inside Ecuagenera

 

Our next stop was the quaint little town of Chordeleg – famous for its jewelry.  There are literally dozens of small shops where you can actually watch jewelers making a wide variety of jewelry with intricate designs and all crafted by hand.  The level of detail in some of these pieces is astounding, and the prices are also very affordable.  You could literally spend an entire day in Chordeleg wandering through the shops there.

 

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Entering the town of Chordeleg, notice the signature designs hanging from the light posts

 

 

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An interesting church in Chordeleg, notice the Crusader above the entrance

 

 We have been very fortunate to be able to take day trips like this into some of the lesser known cities and towns of Ecuador that most people will never be able to visit.  We thank our friends for making this trip possible. It was another fun adventure. 

 

 

 

Cuenca, Ecuador…Our First Six Months

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Pululahua is a doormat volcano with over 300 inhabitants living in the caldera

 

When July 2016 came to a close, we reflected back on our first six months in Cuenca, Ecuador.  It seems like it has been a whirlwind, and the time really has flown by.  So, how have we spent our time?  Here are a few of the things that have kept us busy.

  • Apartment Hunting:  When we arrived in Cuenca for good on February 1, our first mission was to find an apartment.  We knew there was plenty of inventory and so we weren’t really worried about finding a place, and as fate would have it, we found our first apartment on the Tomebamba River next to Pumapungo Archeological Park.  We moved in on Super Bowl Sunday and watched the game in Spanish! J  It was a perfect “starter home” for us.  It was a 3-bedroom/ 3 bath apartment, with a large terrace, and it suited our needs initially.  It was also close to the City Center, and various restaurants and parks that we had already become accustomed too.  We stayed there for three months, but found another, even more impressive condo further west but still along the beautiful Tomebamba River.  We really enjoy this place, and it has a very large wrap-around terrace that we seem to spend most of our time on and has amazing views of the Cajas Mountains as well.  We signed a one-year lease, so we think we might be in this place for a while.
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The beautiful Tomebamba River, with the El Cajas Mountains from our terrace

 

  • Holidays:  We have already celebrated a number of holidays (both U.S. and Ecuador) in our first six months here.
  • In February, we experienced Carnival. Carnival is one of the major festivals celebrated all over Ecuador, and features many Ecuadorian traditions and celebrations. Besides the celebration, there is also a little mischief.  We were warned to be on the lookout for water balloons and harmless foam sprayed at us.  For the record, while we were standing outside our hotel, Stacey felt water dripping on her, and she looked up to see Hugo from our hotel with a big grin on his face because he knew he had gotten her wet!  We thought, if this is the worst thing that happens to us in Ecuador, we can live with that!
  • In March, we visited the amazing boutique hotel, Mansion Alcazar with our good friends, Mike & Patty Grimm to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  The place is really beautiful, warm and inviting and is a combination 5 star hotel and restaurant.  We are looking forward to going back there sometime soon to have dinner.
  • April 12, 2016:    At 12:55 AM on April 12th, we woke up startled by a massive fireworks display!  They had already had a fireworks display earlier in the week, but this one took us by surprise.  The fireworks were to commemorate the 459th birthday of the founding of Cuenca by Spain in 1557.  During the weekend, there were dozens of booths from all over South America selling all kinds of goods, and we spent a few dollars on gifts for our grandchildren!
  • May 24th:  This day is significant in Ecuadorian history as the Battle of Pichincha happened on this date in 1822.  The battle was actually fought on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano which is right next to the city of Quito and at an elevation of approximately 9,000 feet above sea level.
  • Corpus Cristi (60 days after Easter):  The main location for the event was the city’s beautiful Parque Calderon, and there we found tens of thousands of people and over one hundred vendors selling mounds of candy and pastries. We have never seen more calories in any one place! There were also bands, native Cuencano dancers, and nightly fireworks – the centerpiece of which is the lighting of 30-40 foot bamboo towers called castles that are rigged with fireworks, and once lit, are amazing to watch.
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Celebrating Corpus Cristi in the Parque Calderon in Cuenca

 

As you can see, in just six short months, we have been able to witness quite a few interesting and amazing celebrations in Ecuador.  Oh, and our good friends, Mike and Patty also invited us over to their home to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four – both the National Semifinals on Saturday and the Finals on Monday night too!

  • Our Residency Visa:  We had to make two trips to the government office in Azogues (about 40 miles away) to complete our Residency Visa paperwork, but it was finally completed in March.  Thanks to our facilitator, Noshy Pinos, we were well prepared.  Once we completed our Residency Visa, Noshy also guided us through the hoops of securing a Cedula (National ID Card).  We are still citizens of the U.S., but we are also now official residents of Ecuador.
  • A Visit to Paute: Our good friend, Angel, invited us to visit his hometown of Paute, another drive of about 40 miles from Cuenca.  It was a great opportunity to see the countryside littered with cattle and nurseries on hillsides that were nearly vertical!  How cattle could graze on such steep hillsides is beyond us, but it was amazing to see.  We also visited his wife, children and parents in a local Mercado (market).  One of the things that struck me was just how much taller we were than everyone else.  It was a fun day, and another chance to see how local Ecuadorian’s live.
  • Natural Disasters:   On February 27, 2016, Tungurahua, a volcano near the city of Ambato emitted lava and a column of ash four miles high.  The volcano is quite a ways away from us so there was no danger here, yet it was another reminder of the force of Mother Nature.  And then on April 16th, at about 8:00 PM our time, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit the coast of Ecuador.  We were in a restaurant at the time and felt every bit of it.  We learned later that we were approximately 400 miles from the epicenter, and realized then the devastation it caused for the people on the coast.  What a tragedy for the Ecuadorian people and our heart went out to them.
  • Our Trip Home:  Before we left for Ecuador, we already knew we had a trip planned to go back to the States at the end of April-early May.  It turned out to be a perfect time to return home as we picked up a number of things that are hard to get here – like good sheets, towels, etc.  Since we had lived here for a few months, we were also able to stock up on clothes that we knew we needed – more short sleeves, and good walking shoes!   We also had another opportunity to see family and friends and we had a great time, but after three weeks, we were anxious to return home and get settled in to our new condo.
  • Our Trip to Quito:  Our good friends, Mike and Patty Grimm (http://grimmsecuadortraveltales.blogspot.com/) told us about a 4-day trip they took to Quito that, as soon as we heard about it, we knew we wanted to do it sooner rather than later.  So, we went to a great travel agency, Expediciones Apullacta Ecuador, and arranged a duplicate trip.  Our trip included:

Day One:   We stopped on our way to Mindo and looked into the caldera of an inhabited volcano, Pululahua where 300+ people actually live.   We also visited a waterfall and an Orchid Reserve, and then a Butterfly Farm, and finished the day off by visiting a Chocolate Factory.  The entire day was a lot of fun!

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At a butterfly farm in Mindo

 

Day Two: We visited Mitad del Mundo (Center of the World) according to several scientists. Then we visited the true Equatorial Line predicted by the Indigenous people, and later verified by GPS (248 meters away). It was a wonderful day and it was also the Summer Solstice. Our tour guide Wilson Rosales was terrific.   We continued on to El Panecillo (the Virgin de Quito) and then to the Presidential Palace on the Plaza de Independencia.  We finished the day off by visiting a few of the beautiful and historic churches of Quito: Compania de Jesus, San Francisco Church, and the Basilica del Voto Nacional. They were all magnificent!

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At the equator – predicted by indigenous people and verified by GPS

 

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The Basilica del Voto Nacional

 

 

Day Three:  We visited Cotopaxi National Park. It is the tallest active volcano on earth at over 19,000 feet. We were only able to go to 13,000 feet due to restrictions (it last erupted in August). We did take a long hike around a lagoon at 13,000 feet and then left the park and had lunch at a Hacienda that was over 300 years old. The small church in the Hacienda was 430 years old.

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Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano on the planet

 

Day Four: We took a ride on the Teleferiqo up the Pichincha Volcano to get the best view of the city. We then hiked up to 13,776 feet to top off our visit. We were surprised to find a little church on top of this great mountain! Thank you to our magnificent guide, Wilson Rosales! Hasta Luego!  We would highly recommend this trip!

  • Spanish Lessons:  We also began Spanish lessons, with our facilitator and teacher extraordinaire, Noshy Pinos.   She really is a fabulous teacher, and while it will take some time for us to become proficient at Spanish, we are trying.

So, these are just a few of the things we have done over our first six months.  Ironically, the question we have been asked the most is, “So, what do you do all day?”  Besides the above, which has kept us quite busy, we have just been really enjoying life.  One thing that is also very true is, because we walk just about everywhere, even going to the store takes more time than when we were in the States when we could just hop into the car and be to the store and back in short order.  So, things take more time for us to do, but being retired, we are no longer in a hurry.  Plus, we enjoy walking, and if the weather is bad we can always hop into a cab.  All in all, it has been a very enjoyable first six months.   We appreciate this new country, our new friends and we are looking forward to the adventures to come!

 

 

 

Pumapungo – The Ruins Next Door

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The Pumapungo Museum

 

One of the reasons why we decided to retire and move here was the close proximity of all of the rich historical and cultural things there was to see and do in this part of the world.  We are interested in visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, Puma Punku in Bolivia, Easter Island off of Chili, and of course, the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. What we didn’t realize was just how much incredible history there was right in our midst.

Cuenca has a fascinating history.  The Cañari Indians, who were inhabits of this area for 1,000 years called the city Guapondeleg, which loosely translated means “an area as large as heaven.”   When the Incans arrived, they built a city they called Tomebamba, and it is said to have rivaled the Incan capital of Cuzco in present day Peru.  However, the glory of Tomebamba was short-lived due to an internal civil war, and when the Spanish arrived, unfortunately, little of the magnificent Incan city of Tomebamba remained.  They founded a new city in 1557 called Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca, appropriately named after the four rivers that are a dominant part of the city’s geography. It is said that at the time, the Spanish Viceroy in Peru wanted the city to be named after his birthplace in Spain, which was Cuenca.

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Incan ruins behind the Pumapungo Museum

 

For two retirees who love history and culture there is simply nothing better than to be able to wake up each day and realize that you now live in a place that was once home to the Incan Empire. The evidence of their existence here is literally right next door from our first apartment in Cuenca at the Pumapungo Archeological Parque.  Even the road next to the park is called Huayna-Capac, who is said to have been born here, was the third Sapa Inca of the Incan Empire, sixth of the Hanan dynasty, and eleventh of the Incan civilization. A large statute of him is located outside the park.

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Replica of an Incan garden

 

The ruins are located behind the superb Museo Pumapungo, which itself is located in Cuenca’s Banco Central complex.  The museum is one of the finest in all of Ecuador, and there are numerous displays of the rich and colorful cultural history of the country.  The exhibits are spread over three floors, and you can’t miss the shrunken head collection from the Amazon!

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A view from down below looking up at the ruins

 

There is a lot to see at the park including a collection of exotic birds and animals.  The archeological site consists of a series of low foundation walls of several of the Incan’s most important religious installations, including the Temple of the Sun, and the residence of the Virgins of the Sun.  There is also a canal, garden and a remodeled Incan home reminiscent of the period.

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Huayna Capac statue – an Incan ruler born in the Incan city of Tomebamba now known as Cuenca