We Love To Work At Nothing All Day…

 

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People ask us all the time, “What do you do all day?  Our answer is, in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “We love to work at nothing all day!  Seriously, like most retired people we have spoken to, it seems like we lead a very busy, active, and satisfying life here in Ecuador.  Probably the best thing about it is, we feel like our lives are completely stress free. The only time we get stressed out at all is when we return to the States, because it seems like everybody is stressed out, impatient and always in a hurry.

We also rarely check our watches or calendar to see what time or even what day it is because time is so irrelevant to us.   If we want to get up and exercise at 7:00 AM, we do, but if we feel like doing it at 8:00, we do.  If we want to go to a store today, we go whenever we feel like going. If we decide to wait until manana, we do.  Basically, other than a doctor’s appointment we have very few activities in our lives that require us be somewhere at a set time.  It’s so refreshing and liberating not to be held captive by a clock or a calendar.

Since a lot of people have asked us what we do all day, we thought we would give you some ideas of how we spend our time.

Exercise:  Across the Tomebamba river from where we live is a well-kept park.  Every day at 7:00 AM and then again at 8:00 PM, we hear the sound of music calling people from the local barrio to come and participate in Zoomba class.  While the sound of music might aggravate some, we welcome it.   Cuenca is a vibrant and active community and we enjoy being a part of it.  Stacey compares it to being on vacation in Hawaii and listening to music for exercising activities on a beach.   There is no excuse for not going out for a walk/run in the community and we really enjoy it, and try to make it a daily practice.  Exercise is a big part of Ecuadorian life, and no doubt they are inspired by the exploits of local hometown hero and two-time Olympic medalist, Jefferson Perez. 

Relaxing on our Terrassa:  One of the zero stress activities we really enjoy is just sitting on our Terrassa sipping a cup of excellent Ecuadorian coffee and watching the world go by.  Or, if it’s the afternoon or early evening, the cup of coffee might be replaced by a glass of Chilean chardonnay.  We enjoy watching the fascinating Andean sky.  The clouds seem so close, you feel like you could reach out and touch them. We will also never tire watching the sunset over the El Cajas Mountains, and the constellations of the southern hemisphere in the night sky always fascinates us. 

Social Activities:  We have a lot of new friends, both Ecuadorian and gringos, and no shortage of social activities to attend.  It seems like there are always parties, holidays and other festivities we get invited to attend.  We also try to have a “Date Night” once a week and go out to one of our favorite restaurants.

Traveling:  We take two major trips back to the U.S. each year of two to three weeks duration to see the family and to restock any clothing or supplies we want to bring back with us.  We have also taken a few fabulous trips both within and outside of Ecuador while based here in Cuenca.  When we are not traveling, we enjoy spending time researching new places we would like to visit in the coming year, and that list is growing.

Shopping:   Since we don’t own a car, we often go shopping on foot. We know, that’s probably a strange concept for many in the States, but here it is quite common.  Depending on where we go, that might take a half hour or an hour or two.  Since time is irrelevant, we don’t mind how long it takes and enjoy walking because Cuenca is very walking friendly city. 

Keeping in Touch:  We try to stay in touch with our kids, grandkids and friends back in the US via Facetime, Skype or by phone.   Having Magic Jack is a real plus because if we want to talk to anyone in the U.S., we can simply pick up our phone and call them or vice versa.

Current Events:  We also stay up on current events in the U.S. and we do so via the Internet and social media, and we also have USA NOW TV (not to be confused with the USA Channel).  This service is offered to U. S. service members and citizens living outside the U.S.  All you have to do is sign up and you get seven channels for free, and you can also upgrade the service and pay for about 20 other channels if you want to, but we have no interest in any more TV.  Likewise, we also try to stay up on current events here in Cuenca.  One of our favorite methods is reading Cuenca High Life online, which translates news from local papers and republishes the news in English.  This is an excellent way to keep abreast of things going on here.  There are other online resources like Gringo Tree, Gringo Post and many other expat blogs and websites.

Work:  Since I’m still partially employed, I try to carve out a couple of hours a day, two-three days a week to get a few work tasks done.  What makes it a lot of fun is my work colleagues that I have worked with for years in the U.S., totally support our move to Ecuador.  So far that arrangement has worked beautifully.

Volunteer Opportunities:  There are no shortage of volunteer opportunities in Cuenca.  Last spring, we experienced a 7.8 Earthquake and people were in dire need of assistance especially on the coast.  We were leaving for the states a few days after that happened, so all we can do in that case was to make a donation to the relief effort.   We have also participated in other worthwhile fundraisers, and also volunteered to take Christmas gifts to the poor indigenous children who live in mountain villages outside of Cuenca.  In short, there are no shortage of volunteer opportunities here, and we plan to become even more involved in the future.

Assimilation: One of the things that is important to us is being able to assimilate into the Ecuadorian culture.  Doing so requires at least a basic understanding of the Spanish language.  We have taken some lessons, and continue to try and study a few times a week.  While our progress is slow, it is improving. We do not want to be one of those gringos who can only say, “No habla Espanol.” 

While we hardly ever watch our Satellite TV, we did sign-up for NFL game pass since we are both owners of a team in a Fantasy Football League, and it’s fun to be able to watch how our teams are doing.  As Stacey has said a number of times during football season, the only thing that stresses her out about life here is how her fantasy football team will perform on any given week.  I guess that pretty much sums it up.  If your biggest stress in life is fantasy football, you have a pretty good life!   We feel like moving to Cuenca, Ecuador was the best decision we ever made.  We are really enjoying life and feel like we are living an active, enriching, and fun-filled adventure.

Hasta la proxima vez,

Steve & Stacey

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Restaurants in Cuenca

 

 

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Enjoying a Chilean Chardonnay at El Mercado

 

There is no shortage of superb dining options in Cuenca, Ecuador.  In fact, if you want to go out to eat your only dilemma might just be which of the many excellent dining options you want to choose from on any given day.  The following are just a few of our personal favorites, and I should mention that you can look these restaurants up on the Internet or Facebook to find out more about their menus and prices.

El Jardin (Inside Hotel Victoria)

 

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At El Jardin Restaurant for lunch with brother Jerry and friend Noshy

 

 

 

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Brother Jerry sampling one of the delicious strawberry desserts

 

When we first arrived in Cuenca, we stayed at the Victoria Hotel and had breakfast and dinner almost every night at El Jardin located within the hotel.  The menu is rich with options and the staff are friendly and professional and strive to make your experience unique and memorable.  We enjoy chardonnay and were delighted to sample many excellent offerings from Chili and Argentina.  We have since gone back for an occasional lunch or dinner and have never been disappointed.

El Mercado

 

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Christmas Eve dinner at El Mercado with Noshy, Alfredo and Mateo

 

One of our two go-to restaurants in Cuenca is El Mercado.  Owner Roberto Mora has a real gem in this restaurant.  Excellent beef, chicken, pork and seafood entrees are available accompanied by a variety of vegetable options.  We have yet to be disappointed in anything we have tried, and we have tried just about everything on the menu.  They also have a wide selection of fine wine to go along with dinner, and their dessert options are off-the-charts.  They are also open for lunch and we highly recommend the hamburger and fries, which, in our opinion is the best in Cuenca.  Special kudos go to waiter, Angel and chef, Edwin.   If you haven’t been to El Mercado, but would like to go, we recommend going a little earlier and ask for a window table which offers incredible views of Cuenca.

Le Petit Jardin (French cuisine)

 

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Giovanni preparing another excellent dinner!

 

 

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Appetizers we enjoyed at Le Petit Jardin when Jerry was here included corn chowder, frog legs and steak tartare

 

 

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Following our appetizers, we each chose something different – chicken, beef and pork

 

Our other “go-to” restaurant is the hidden gem Le Petit Jardin featuring exquisite French cuisine. I say hidden because it’s a little tricky to get to, but if you make the effort, you will be rewarded by an outstanding dining experience.  Restaurant owner and master chef, Giovanni is simply an artist.  He worked in the restaurant business in Baltimore for 15 years, and he puts together a fabulous dining experience every time.  His beautiful wife, Marie Eliza and two amazing sons Alejandro and David truly make you feel like you are part of their family.  Their menu varies but is always posted on Facebook and when we look at it, our mouths water.  The food is always outstanding, but the presentation always rivals any that you find in any fine dining establishment in the U.S. It really is top notch and at very affordable prices too.

Mansion Alcazar 

 

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The interior lobby at Mansion Alcazar

 

 

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Stacey outside the restaurant at Mansion Alcazar

 

 

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Enjoying appetizers at Mansion Alcazar with our friends, Mike and Patty Grimm on St. Patrick’s Day

 

Another fine upscale restaurant is Mansion Alcazar.  We were invited to go to here with two friends of ours for St. Patrick’s Day.  After you walk through the door at Mansion Alcazar from the busy street outside you are immediately struck by how quiet it is inside versus the hustle and bustle of the noisy street you just left behind. The interior lobby is elegant and well appointed.   The “Mansion” is also a hotel with excellent rooms. They also hold periodic events there such as the Kentucky Derby and a Thanksgiving dinner to name a few.  The food and service are superb and it is definitely an experience worth your time.

La Enfrijolada (Mexican Fare)

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Enjoying our favorite lunch at La Enfrijolada – Filete de res a la tampiquena with a margarita!

 

We both love Mexican food, and we recently stumbled upon an excellent Mexican restaurant called La Enfrijolada, billed as “Authentic Sazon Mexicana.”  We have tried several entrees on the menu, and have never been disappointed.   Owner Leonardo has a real winner in this restaurant. It’s a little more expensive than other Mexican restaurants in town, but to us, it’s well worth the price.  Note:  The salsa is so good, we always order some to go.

Fabiano’s Pizzeria

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Another popular restaurant in Cuenca is Fabiano’s Pizzeria.  They not only offer excellent pizza but a wide range of other Italian entrees as well.  If you are on a budget this place is also very affordable.  For example, four of us went to dinner there recently, and the couple we were with ordered a small meat-lovers pizza to take home to their son and the entire bill was around $36.00 including drinks.

Café de Nucallacta

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Stacey’s favorite is the chicken quesadilla

 

 

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Steve’s favorite, the steak tacos

 

Café de Nucallacta is a very small café in El Centro.  Owner “Rumy,” hostess Gabriela and chef Jonathon always welcome you with a smile.  They offer both a breakfast and lunch menu.  When we stop by for lunch, Stacey loves the chicken quesadilla and I prefer the steak tacos.   But, one of the main reasons we stop into Nucallacta is the coffee.  We always buy a few bags of Ecuadorian coffee that we take home with us because it is the best coffee we have found in Cuenca.  Oh, did I mention they always have a very tempting array of desserts and pastries as well.

One thing that really surprised us, was the fact that the long arm of the American fast food industry has found its way to Cuenca, Ecuador.  We were surprised to see McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos and even a Subway located here.  In all honesty, we are not consumers of fast food, so we have only been in one of these places and that’s because we invited two of our Ecuadorian friends out to dinner and gave them the choice of where to go.  Their choice?  Pizza Hut!  So, your options include fast food to fine dining and everything in between.

In summary, there are many outstanding restaurants in Cuenca serving almost any type of food you are looking for and at prices to fit any budget.  The ones we shared with you above are restaurants we have visited frequently and can personally recommend but there are still many others waiting for us to discover.

Bon Appetite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grocery Shopping in Cuenca

 

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Margarita is one of many street vendors in Cuenca.  She is often accompanied by her beautiful granddaughter, Sophie.

 

We get asked from time to time what the food options are like in Cuenca.  So, we thought we would offer two articles on our observations of both grocery shopping and local restaurants, so grocery shopping is up first.  This article will not be long as we have included a number of photos so you can actually see what we’re talking about.  Sometimes as they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

When it comes to shopping for groceries in Cuenca there are wide variety of options to choose from.  There are a number of Supermaxi grocery stores throughout Cuenca.  Coral is the Ecuadorian version of a Walmart or Target where you can shop for a wide variety of other goods and pick up groceries as well.   Fiere Libre is the largest open air market in the city.  There are also organic markets, and literally hundreds of individual street vendors selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables. You will also see neighborhood tiendas everywhere which are small and carry a limited number of items but are still worth perusing to see what they carry in your local neighborhood store.

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You might even find a few recognizable items at Supermaxi like Campbell’s Soup

 

Supermaxi:  Is our go-to supermarket.   As the photos show, it’s very modern and offers all kinds of meat, vegetables, fruit and a wide assortment of can goods and other products.  It was actually surprising to us how much the inside of a Supermaxi resembled any supermarket you might find in the U.S.

 

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Inside one of the many aisles at Fiere Libre

 

Fiere Libre:  Fiere Libre is the largest of open air market in Cuenca.  It’s simply huge and offers a wide range of fruits, vegetables and meats, and even has a large section of clothing and other goods as well. Local restaurants and even supermarkets purchase some of their food from Fiere Libre.  There are many other markets and even some organic markets throughout Cuenca, so, thanks in large part to a 365-day growing season, fresh food is both abundant and available here.  A trip to Fiere Libre is a must – if for nothing else just to see the sheer volume of activity and what is offered locally.  Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to go if you want to see just how many people frequent this mercado.

Individual Vendors:  Individual street vendors like Margarita shown above, can be found throughout Cuenca.  They offer a fine assortment of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

There are two other places that we like to visit from time to time when grocery shopping.  One is the Carolina Smokehouse.  We always buy our bacon, sausage and bacon bits here, and the quality is superb.  In our opinion, Carolina Smokehouse has the best bacon in Cuenca.  Another place that we go to regularly is Ital Deli.  Here they have a great assortment of meat, and we usually buy ribs, chicken and beef here as well.   We should mention that all of the beef is locally raised and grass fed as opposed to grain fed that you would likely find in the states, but the quality is excellent.

Overall, our impressions are that there is no shortage of excellent food in Cuenca and we have been very pleased with our options.  Regardless of your individual diet, you should be able to find almost anything you are looking for, and at very reasonable prices.

 

 

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!”