(Update 2013) We have learned to only go shopping at the Mercado early in the day (between 8am and 10am) to avoid drunks and petty thievery. It has so far worked out well.
And we eat in the typical Ecuadorian style restaurants. We have made friends with some wonderful Ecuadorians and Peruvians that live here. We’re happy we moved here and have no regrets whatsoever.
UPDATE: August 2012 - One Year in Cuenca. About Feria Libre. Yes, we have experienced a disconcerting time when shopping there in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. A drunk (young guy) kept following us for about 15 minutes. I saw that he had 2 friends with him on the sidelines...we tried to dodge him but he knows Feria Libre better than we do. Finally, Frank turned around and told the man to quit following us and he put up his arms as if to fight with Frank....we just walked away and left the Mercado as quickly as possible that day. We still shop at Feria Libre once a week. Anyway. our recommendations for Feria Libre are posted in an article on this blog, but the two most important things we advise is: go in the mornings and during week days.
Update May 2013: We keep our observations of Cuenca and it's people updated as you will see with annotations of new changes or additions.
Cuenca Ecuador People
•The Indigenous women carry their babies in a wool blanket made into a hammock on their back (it is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen) Some of them carry them on the front too.
•Ecuadorian women do not smoke. (seriously, I have not seen a woman in Cuenca smoke yet).
UPDATE August 2012: Lived here a year now and I've seen maybe three women smoking.
•Ecuadorian men rarely smoke - Update August 2012...some men do smoke.
*It's rare to see beards on Ecuadorian men. Once in awhile you will see one with a goatee, however its still very rare. Someone said they have a difficult time growing facial hair.
•No baggy jeans on the men or women (they like their jeans to fit kind of tight, especially the women)
UPDATE: January 2014- Yes, the women wear tight jeans in Ecuador but this does not mean she is loose or looking for attention. It is the cultural dress for women to wear tight jeans and sometimes when going out to pair that with a pair of high heels. It is the style for Ecuador and is engraved within the culture...it is nothing more, so please do yourself a favor and do not read into it.
The other piece of clothing you will find the women wear often here is the leotards or tights. Normally we're used to seeing these worn by ballet dancers under their tutu's or you might find women wearing those to gymnastic class. Here they wear them out on the street as every day clothing. We had one gringo ask us if they forgot to put a dress on over it, and at first it seems like they are not fully dressed, but here again it does not mean anything other than, they are very cheap ($6 to $9). It is what's available to them at this time in Ecuador and is only what some Ecuadorians can afford to buy. Clothing is expensive here.
•Women here are very feminine –they like to dress up and be girly but rarely will you see them wearing a dress
•99% of the women have long hair, which is usually tied back in a pony tail
•99% of the men have short hair, which many like to style with gel
•Rarely do men or women wear shorts
•Women rarely wear clothes that show their cleavage (husbands and boyfriends would not go for that here. It is a much more conservative culture)
•All bus drivers are male
***June 2012 update*** There is a woman bus driver in Cuenca! And she drove the bus pretty good; she was not as jerky with the stick shift as some of the men bus drivers are. LOL.
•All Taxi drivers are male
***Update*** When we were in Salinas we got in a taxi with a female driver. But still have not seen a female taxi driver in Cuenca.
•There are more young married and pregnant women here than anywhere else we have ever been. (they marry young here and start families, which is important to them)
•The People, men and women alike are very laid back and not in a rush (it’s the manana attitude). If this type lifestyle frustrates you then it is advisable to not move to any Latin American culture
•Coastal people and the Andes people do not get along we are told. (We experienced this firsthand one day where the two were bickering and arguing)
•If you ask for directions and even if they don’t know where it is they will give you directions. (It’s best to get a 2nd and even 3rd opinion on a address)
•Ecuadorians don’t want to tell you “no” they can’t do something for you, or “no’ they don’t know where something is
•They always say the formal greeting of “Buenas Dias”, “Buenos Tardes” or Buenos Noches depending on the time of day. They rarely greet you with hola.
Update 2013 - We have noticed if you walk into an establishment and forget to say Buenas Dias or whatever time of day it is they will think you are rude and you may not get a very good welcome in return. Just saying.
•Family’s are very close here and walk hand in hand or arm in arm down the street together
•It seems that about 80% of the population has a family run mom and pop type business; they work out of the first floor, and the living quarters are on the 2nd and 3rd floors, some sell the produce they farm, while the rest work in banking, service, and government jobs.
•Women when they dress up prefer to wear slacks or jeans with high heels or boots rather than a dress
•8 out of 10 women do not use purses (I’ve seen back packs and satchels mostly, if they carry any kind of a bag
•Ecuadorians love shoes
•Ecuadorians are friendly and helpful
•Public intoxication is not illegal here so there are drunk people lying in the streets on the sidewalks, and in the parks (don’t look a drunk in the eye or he will beg you for money and follow you all over the place)
(Update May 2013) Since the advent of over 100 new police units in force the public drunkenness has settled down somewhat.
•Some men pee in public (There are several public restrooms throughout Cuenca because we use them ourselves) UPDATE August 2012: We've seen several indigenous women peeing right out in public. Their skirt Shields them when they squat.
•Working Ecuadorian people are mostly honest, which is most Ecuadorians. (We’ve witnessed this twice ourselves) Once Frank accidentally gave an indigenous produce seller too much money and she gave us back, and once I dropped a dollar piece on the bus (I didn’t realize it fell out of my pocket when I grabbed the a piece of paper and it rolled three seats back and they gave it back to me.
Update 2013: always be careful whom you can trust; not all Ecuadorians keep their word or are trustworthy or ethical.
•We have never yet experienced any petty theft of our personal items (we’re very careful and diligent though and we always use the buddy system. You’re less apt to be mugged or taken advantage of when there are two of you. We recommend women to not walk anywhere alone.
UPDATE 2012: In July 2012 a Cuenca expat woman was stabbed on a popular walking trail at 10:am while she was walking or jogging along the path. She went to the hospital and had to have more than 10 stitches.
Update March 2013: Frank got pick-pocketed on the bus from a man who dressed and looked just like everyone else--he was obviously a professional. See our article about how Frank finally got pick-pocketed.
•Violent crime is rare in Cuenca
•They say petty crime is on the rise and is a problem (see our post about
how not to be a target of crime in Cuenca)
UPDATE Jan 2014: Now the talk of the town is that petty crime is down in Cuenca...however, we really have no way to confirm this.
•Banks and big service businesses like ETAPA Internet all have manned guards with sawed off shot guns standing watch. Take off your hat and lift up your sunglasses or you will not be allowed in the bank.
•When you go grocery shopping you must take off your back pack and satchels and give them to a person who holds them for you. (they give you a number and when you are done shopping, give them your number and you can have your bag back) Some establishments allow you to put your own pack in a locker and you have the key.
•Cuenca is quite artsy (there are lots of artisans here such as painters, potters, craftsmen, craftswomen, musical, dance, blanket making, sewing, basketry, etc.
* A traditional Ecuadorian food is called Cuye or better known as Guinea pig
*Eggs are not refrigerated and do not need to be refrigerated.
*Some of the milk does not spoil, even when it is not refrigerated for several days!
*They love chicken here and the chicken is the best tasting chicken we have ever had, no kidding! The eggs also are very good
*Burger King and KFC is the two fast foods here.
Update November 2013- There are now two new McDonald's, one is located in the El Vegel area across from the Madre Parque and the other one is in the Mall Del Rio.
*Ecuadorians will respect you more if you bargain with them
*Wearing holey jeans is not trendy here in Cuenca; it is rarely seen
Update: March 2013...we've been here almost 2 years now and there are more holey jeans now, but it still a minority of people. There are also more and more baggy pants on the younger males.
Update: JAN 2014: holey and baggy jeans are beginning to be more trendy here. We're seeing this awful clothing selling in retail shops. To us, it looks like they just went dumpster diving for clothing.
*Ecuadorians do not wear bright, flashy, stripes, flowery, or colorful clothing. They stick to the darker solid, neutral colors of browns, greys, blacks, and blues, with the exception of the Indigenous population who, if they are in traditional costume do wear colorful skirts and blouses.
Update Jan 2014: The clothing styles are changing...
*They love sports, especially soccer (futboll)
*Lots of young people go to the many Internet cafe's and use the computer (it costs 60 cents and hour)They love Facebook and YouTube.
•Ecuadorians are not very open-minded to home schooling as other Latin American countries are, such as Chile. It is not illegal to home school in Ecuador but there are more hoops to go through with the Ministry of Education...tests...paperwork....and more paperwork from your home country.
Many Ecuadorians feel that you need to have a university degree to live comfortably and be financially stable in life. Some feel that if you are not college educated you are not very intelligent or perhaps will have a hard time "getting a good job".
That's what it is all about here, "getting a job", which is what a university degree teaches. Forget about being a self-made learner, gaining new ideas, and being industrious in whatever a person decides to pursue. In Ecuador you need to go to the University so you can "get a job" and be somebody! Chile is exactly the opposite when it comes to home education. Hopefully, Ecuador will break out of the 1950's too,.
At the time of this writing Ecuadorians have a free or almost free education system for its citizens, which is probably why they have not opened their mind to alternative methods of schooling, learning, and growth.