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Monday, April 30, 2012

3 Cuenca University Students Interview us for School Project

We're sitting in Park Calderon enjoying another beautiful day in Cuenca when three young students from Cuenca University asked if they could interview us for a school project. Apparently their English class wants to know all about the gringos relocating to Cuenca. 


                      

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cost of Living: Who Says You Have to go Frugal in Cuenca!


Well it looks like the good folks at International Living want you to know that you don't have to go frugal to live well abroad.

Ok, so you don't "have" to go frugal to have a better life abroad, including in Cuenca Ecuador. 

“When you think frugal you think old tires in the yard, bad neighborhood, and an old home needing repair, but this…this is nice, and for $250"!  Said an Ecuadorian real estate broker friend of ours when she came over to our home for dinner.  “You guys are doing a good job, more people should do what you're doing”. She says this even though she herself makes a living providing rentals to expats that go for two to four times the Ecuadorian rate. 

Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a moment: Let's say you live in a fairly decent apartment in Los Angeles, California for the normal for locals, average rental rate of $3000 a month.  Unknown to you is that a change is coming soon.

The mainstream Retirement Press is highlighting L.A. as a great place to retire for less.  The articles are aimed at expats in Hong Kong paying $16,000 (true price) a month in “desirable Hong Kong gringo neighborhoods”.

The promoters hook them up with agents in the city eager to make fat rental commissions off the expats. They're nice people and all, but they have no scruples about showing the expats $6000 to $8000 a month apartments because, well, they're such a bargain compared to Hong Kong, and, you know, the commissions are higher. And besides, there's lots of demand from expats from Hong Kong eager to save lots of money compared to what they're now paying in Hong Kong.

Soon enough your Los Angeles neighborhood is overtaken with "expats" from Hong Kong bragging about what a deal they've got on their $6-$8K a month “luxury apartment”. Unknown to them, the $3k apartments are just as nice. 

Next month, your landlord evicts you because he wants to rent to the "nice foreigners" who pay more. You are looking for a rental now and can't find anything unless it's twice what you were paying before.

In the meantime, the mainstream retirement press is having a field day writing articles in the mainstream news on the web about what a great place L.A. is to retire for less than in Hong Kong.  They highlight rental prices in the $6 to $8 thousand a month price in their articles showcasing them as “normal rentals”.  An obvious bargain, compared to Hong Kong, according to the slant in the articles.

The writers do not live in L.A. and neither are they retired there.  They do visit occasionally, just long enough to talk to the rental agents described above.
The rental and real estate agents love them, and the Hong Kong readers eat it up.

While this wonderful scenario is unfolding in your city, you hear a lone voice crying in the wilderness:  here ye, here ye, look ye, retire in L.A. Just like we have, be frugal and rent a nice apartment for $3,000 a month. 

The mainstream press in response snickers at the word “frugal” in their promotional advertisements, telling their followers to turn up their noses at those lower beings, because hey, you don't have to be like them, you don't HAVE TO go frugal.

Frugal is only for those lower beings, we are much better than that. 

In the meantime, the news gets out to the local L.A. Residents:  the Hong Kong foreigners are filthy rich, and not only that, they're dupes, why else, the locals reason within themselves, would the foreigners  pay two to three times as much for rent as they could?  They must be so rich they don't care.  Well then, since they're that rich and don't care, let's raise our prices too when ever they come around.  And that's exactly what happens.

One day, you and your friend go into a sewing shop asking for a skirt that should cost $20 dollars, and, because you just happen to outwardly have the same features and looks as those other foreigners you are quoted $180.  (statement based on a true story here in Cuenca).

You go home, shaking your head in amazement.  You sit down to relax with a cup of coffee and read the L.A. Real estate ads for fun.  To your amazement, you see ads for ¼ acre lots on the river for a million dollars.  These are aimed at the foreigners, because no local in his right mind even if he has the money, would ever pay such a ridiculous price.  Why, they could retire on that!

The river is not anything spectacular as these things go.  It's just a river, locals wash their laundry in it, and some defecate and urinate in it. Even the city dumps waste in it.

If those Hong Kongers would just step outside of their “superior gringo gulches” they would find that they can buy a whole house right on a huge deep water lake with sailing and water sports for the same price as that ¼ acre lot on the river in L.A. or sometimes less – right there, in their own country.  You know, there's a recession going on back home in Hong Kong. But is anyone paying attention?

Of Course not, how could they?  The mainstream retirement press would never highlight such things even if they knew them.  How would they ever be able to sell “the dream” to all those rich foreign dreamers.  You know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  Or is it?  Watch out because, if you hold your nose up too high, you might step in a pile of dog poop, or trip on a rock or a piece of metal while crossing that greener grass!  Especially here in Ecuador.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Teaching English in Ecuador

We came across a pretty good article all about teaching English in Ecuador and thought we'd pass it along to our readers. enjoy!

 

Teaching English in Ecuador
By Newley Purnell

I spent a year teaching English in Ecuador. It was an incredibly rewarding experience. People often ask me how they, too, might land a gig teaching there. Here's what you need to know.

First and foremost, Ecuador's a great place to live. Ecuadorians are very welcoming and warm, and they're particularly passionate about their futbol and salsa dancing. In addition, the natural beauty of the country is astounding: Ecuador, which is the size of Colorado and straddles the equator (hence its name), is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. I went on a whale-watching expedition off the largely unspoiled coast; I camped and hiked in the central, mountainous sierra, which is rife with active volcanoes and rugged peaks; and I hiked through a part of the country's Amazon jungle.

Interesting geography and friendly people aside, costs in Ecuador are among the lowest in South America. If you arrive with some money saved up from home, it will go a long way. Then there are the benefits of learning Spanish—or perfecting your command of the language if you already speak it. Most Ecuadorians talk with a slow and clear accent, so the country's a popular destination for Spanish learners.

Finally, teaching English is just plain fun—you'll meet a lot of new people, learn about the local culture, and contribute something meaningful to the lives of your students.
Sound good? Okay, here's how to do it:

1. You should get a TEFL certificate. TEFL—or Teaching English as a Foreign Language—courses teach you tactics for educating non-native English speakers. Such classes are usually a month or two long, and can even be completed online. Be aware that they're expensive—anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, although online courses are much cheaper. (The alphabet soup of teaching-related acronyms can be confusing, but TEFL, TESOL, TESL, EFL, ESL, and CELTA are all very similar.) Don't make the mistake of assuming that since you can speak English, you automatically know how to teach it. Would you feel confident parting with your hard-earned money to learn a foreign language from someone who didn't have any teaching training?

Not only will a TEFL certificate prepare you for the classroom, but the best English schools in Ecuador require it. And they should, as it ensures that they're employing well-prepared teachers. Note that although you'll need such a certificate (or, occasionally, substantial teaching experience instead), you don't necessarily need an undergraduate degree. Many schools require the TEFL or teaching experience, and if you've got those, they may be willing to waive their normal undergraduate degree requirement. It's also possible to get a teaching job without TEFL training, but if you're serious about teaching—and want to be able to teach in other parts of the world, where the demand for qualifications is greater—you owe it to yourself to invest in some high-quality preparation.

One last word on the issue: if you have your undergraduate degree in education and are certified to teach in the U.S., you may be able to find work at an international school. These are truly enviable assignments: you'll make a salary similar to what you'd make at home, but the cost of living will be much lower. Plus, you'll likely enjoy an American academic calendar, with its traditional breaks, in addition to Ecuadorians holidays.

2. Teaching wages in Ecuador are modest, but so is the cost of living. On the low end of the pay scale, you can expect to make $3-$5 per hour in the classroom. That's a typical wage at a chain private English school, where you can get hired without a university degree or a TEFL certificate. At the higher end of the scale, teaching at a good English school (where you'll need a degree and TEFL training or commensurate experience), you might make between $5-$7 per hour. At my school, teachers were in the classroom about 16 hours a week, and we made about $5 per hour. After taxes, we took home roughly $300 per month.

If you're coming from North America, this isn't much money. But you can live modestly on between $250 and $400 a month in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil; you can get by on even less in the smaller towns. If you want to eat frequently in restaurants and travel on the weekends, you'll need about $500 a month. That means, then, that depending on your lifestyle, you'll need to teach more than the typical load or arrive with money in the bank. 

(Our note on the above cost of living: No date for this article; must be a few years old. The above cost of living seems quite low for Cuenca, so please bear in mind that those figures are probably more along the lines of $300 to $500 (one person) for Cuenca and living very modestly.)

Remember, though, that while you may not make a high hourly wage, your school can offer you other sizable benefits. For example, good schools may offer free Spanish classes. And they'll often help you find an apartment, assist you with travel arrangements, and, of course, process your work visa so you can reside in Ecuador legally. In a broader sense, though, don't forget that if you're lucky, your school will provide you with a sense of community. Your fellow teachers will become your new friends and social network.

3. Look for jobs in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. Teaching jobs are most plentiful in Ecuador's three largest cities, so look there first. Quito is the capital and is Ecuador's most international city; Guayaquil is the nation's largest urban center, a teeming port city where commerce is king; and Cuenca, where I lived, is Ecuador's most beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the foothills of the Andes. Jobs outside of these main cities are available but to a much more limited degree.

4. Other Ideas to Consider: Here's a grab-bag of miscellaneous items that are worth thinking about:
  • As opposed to teaching in other parts of the world, English teachers in Ecuador are often not required to sign contracts. (The notable exception is teachers at international schools, who usually commit to 2-year stints.) Private English schools may ask for a verbal 6-month or year-long commitment, but contracts are rarely formalized.
  • Don't expect to get paid for preparing lesson plans, which might take up to an hour per class. You likely won't get compensated for such prep time.
  • As in all of Latin America, machismo is a reality in Ecuador, and women considering teaching there must be aware of this fact. Non-Latino women—especially those with light-colored hair—are often subject to cat calls and leering. Be aware that Ecuador is a patriarchal society.
  • If you exercise common sense, Ecuador is a safe place to live. Like with any developing country, petty crime is a problem. When traveling by bus, keep an eye on your bags; don't walk alone down unsafe streets at night. And while medical services are cheap and usually good (at least in the bigger cities), you should take out an emergency healthcare policy to protect yourself in the unlikely event of a serious injury.
  • Enjoy your autonomy in the classroom. Ecuadorian school systems are based on the Western educational model, where teachers have authority over their classrooms and are mostly free to teach as they please. This isn't the case in Asia, where local administrators often take a much more active roll in planning classes.
  • Be a professional; take pride in your work. Teaching English, thankfully, involves working in a casual environment. That's a real benefit. But take your job seriously and remember that you're being paid to provide a service.
Most of all, have fun!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sweet Granadilla Fruit Native to Ecuador

The Ganadilla fruit, native to South America is sweet tasting with little crunchy edible seeds. It is a passion fruit, cousin to the Maracuya but sweeter. We liked it a lot.

                       

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

5 Restaurants Under $5 Bucks in Cuenca

This video shows some of the restaurants that we have eaten at. The most expensive was the pizza and Calzone at Tutto Freddo's where each was priced close to $5. Everything else in the video was $3 and  under.
                        

Monday, April 23, 2012

FREE Symphony in Cuenca!

If you like going to free concerts and you like classical music and other live musical entertainment then you'll like Cuencas cultural events. The tourist office in El Centro, across from Park Calderon will have the schedules of live musical events going on in Cuenca.  These events are free and we recommend you arrive 45 minutes early so you'll get a seat. We arrived a half hour early and there was no seating left!


                            

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dog and a Sheep Ruff-Housing

Have you ever seen a dog and a sheep rough housing? Well, now you have. Not sure if the sheep was playing too or if he was actually just butting heads with the dalmatian dog.  Wish I could have gotten a closer video. It was fun to watch.


                     

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Articles like This One on Yahoo Finance Is Why We Should Be Responsible Expatter’s

We were sent this article today from two different people, so we're guessing it would seem we are destined to write about it. Perhaps the senders would like for us to put in our two cents about it, after all we live here and know pretty much if what the writer speaks about is actually true or not.

The Article is titled Best Place to Retire on a Budget and it was on Yahoo finance yesterday. And guess where the best place to retire on a budget is? Well it’s not Panama. Here’s the full article. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/best-place-retire-overseas-budget-163750049.html  Read the article then come back to the blog and read what we have to say.

You know we could easily dissect this article to pieces but let's not do that just yet. Instead we have to take this hyperbole on in a different way. Cuenca is just getting too much publicity and when something gets too much publicity it becomes not that great anymore; look at Panama and Costa Rica, both countries have been totally lost in the hype and publicity.

This means those people who are relocating to Cuenca need to be responsible expatter’s. It’s up to you to keep Cuenca affordable, don’t you think? People are not going to stop hyping up Cuenca because it is what’s trending right now.

So, at this point, you’re probably wondering what a responsible expatter is. So let’s talk about this a little bit. Bear in mind, we are not talking about tourists on vacation, but those who actually move to Cuenca to live. There is a BIG difference between the two.

A Responsible Expatter Never Compares Ecuador to Other Countries

A responsible Expatter is someone who does not accept over-inflated, over-priced gringo rents just because they are cheaper than North American or European rents. The more gringos that go around saying how cheap rents are, the more the prices will i-n-f-l-a-t-e like a bubble.

The number one thing to remember is to NOT compare Ecuador’s rental prices to the United States for the very fact that Jane Doe in the US makes about Five times as much as Carlos Doe from Ecuador. If the average Ecuadorian monthly stipend is $350 to $500 dollars a month, that means they can barely afford to rent at $200.Thank goodness food and utilities are both inexpensive because the average family would be unable to survive in their own country!

Now Let’s Do Some Dissecting

The rents are not cheap here. The $400 a month furnished apartment referred to in the article is just a tiny studio or small one bedroom tourist trap. There is not very many of them. We’ve seen these little hovels; they are centrally located and clean but who would live in such a tiny tourist trap for keeps? Most people do this for a very short period, i.e. tourism.


So why is it being called "retirement"?  To the Ecuadorians that have to live here
on $400 a month tell them to their face that the rents are cheap here and see what they have to say about it. The typical North American or European that reads these articles is going to get off the plane, go to a hotel, and call a rental agent. Then they will get shown a $700.to $900 furnished house or condo. There goes your "low" budget. Is affordable cost of living your priority? You could do better in Hutchinson, read that article here:
 

The fixed price lunch of $1 is not alive here in Cuenca—not sure what restaurant they are referring to. We have seen $1.50 almuerzo but even that is far and few between anymore. Most north Americans and Europeans would not call four ounces of white rice, fat on a bone, and a bowl of soup "lunch", even if you could find it.

Comfortable year round climate? Yeah if you come from Alaska, Canada, or Minnesota the 62 to 65 degree houses might just be comfortable. But if you’re coming from Texas, California, Florida, or South Carolina, think again, it can get downright cold in Cuenca. The seasons don’t change much; there’s two seasons here, a rainy season and a less rainy season; expect 30’s to 40’s for the low and the highs in the 60’s and sometimes 70ish during the day, in the local winter season. Inside your home or condo it will be a constant 62 to 65 degrees, unless, you want to budget for extra electric heating costs. A lot extra.

As of this writing, taxis are NOT $1.50 anymore unless you’re only going a mile or so. Expect to pay $2.50 to $4, or more, for a four to five mile taxi ride. From when we first landed here to today we have witnessed and noticed the gringo inflation already happening with the taxis and some of the fixed food prices. 



UPDATE JULY 2014 - All TAXIS in Cuenca must have meters now. Do not get into a taxi without a meter or you will be gringoed. Most cab fares are now at what they should be!  Be careful some of the drivers are rigging their meters and some drivers start the taxi fare at $1 when it supposed to be like $0.47 cents.

Keep in mind that the locals say that Cuenca is the MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN ECUADOR. Does anyone wonder why that is? Do you really think it's because of the orchestra? How many times can you go to the orchestra in one week? Two? Three? And then what? Wanna go to a play? Do you understand Spanish? Hmm.

Don’t misunderstand, we’re not trying to deter anyone from coming to Cuenca but we are trying to let you know what Cuenca is really like today. We live here; we know what is going on today through our living experiences. These articles never change they keep hyping the same things about Cuenca and they keep talking about the same prices for rents and other services as if it was 2009. Prices have changed over the course of two years and unless we become responsible expatter’s they will continue to grow out of proportion in a very small amount of time. Is that what you want? We don’t think it is.

We feel with responsible expatting it will keep prices in Cuenca at a more even keel rather than growing into an inflation bubble, which has happened within the last couple of years in Cuenca, not other parts of Ecuador. Would you consider yourself to be a responsible expatter? If yes, then what are you waiting for, Cuenca welcomes you with open arms. 


For more GREAT information on how to be a responsible expatter and really live on a more local budget than don't miss our DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cuenca Ecuador Insect We've Never Seen Before

Still not sure what this creature is. We see them smashed on the sidewalks often, so they are common in Cuenca. This one got into our house. They look like a cross between a scorpion and a grasshopper. Are those little pinchers on the back?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DIY: Build Your Own Rustic Couch!

If you're a do-it-yourselfer you can build your own furniture too.  In this video trailer (not the full tutorial) Brandon is sharing some of the steps of how to build your own rustic pine couch. The neat thing about building your own furniture from pine wood is it is sturdy so it lasts a long time--it can take the wear and tear too. Click here for the 17 easy step video tutorial.

And, you can replace the cushions whenever you like or make your own, which is what I am doing now with the help of a wonderful seamstress who is teaching me how to sew. (The video on 'how to make your own couch cushions' will be coming soon!)

                 
                

 Click here for the17 easy steps video tutorial on 'how to build your own rustic pine couch'.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Festivals and Arts of Cuenca

There is almost always something going on in downtown Cuenca from festivals and celebrations to live music and lots of traditional foods.

       

Sunday, April 15, 2012

10 Great Reasons to Visit Ecuador Before You Move Here


This mostly pertains to first time travelers, and clearly those that have never before been out of North America. Those with a bit more experience can skip this article.

Ecuador’s terrain has it all; mountains, desert, forest, coasts, and beautiful countryside. No matter what your preference is, somewhere in Ecuador you can take a vacation and enjoy the rugged beauty. You may be able to find even more reasons of your own to visit Ecuador.

Here Are 10 Great Reasons to Visit Ecuador:

1. To see if Ecuador is a place you would like to live permanently. If for no other reason, than to give it a one to three month checking out to see if Ecuador is a place you would like to live. Checking out an area first is a good idea before making a major move.

2. To Experience the Culture. It is very interesting and fun to understand how other cultures do things and live. Part of the euphoria of your vacation is in the people and enjoying what they have to offer in the way of food, entertainment, clothing, and in the way they live. Its ok reading about it, but experiencing it first hand is awesome. The best way to do this, especially if you are thinking of moving here permanently is to dive right into to the local way of doing things.

3. To See If You Can Get Through the Culture Shock. Because this is South America everything is done differently here. People behave differently, they eat differently, they build their homes differently, and they have mannerisms that are different. Some things of a culture are things that some people cannot accept. When you are on vacation hopefully you will come to know what those things are; if you don’t like something about a culture while on vacation, it will truly be something you will not be able to withstand once you live here.

4. To Experience the Local Way of Living. The problem with a one to three month vacation is you know that you’re going home on your return flight tickets. Vacationers don’t really dive right into the culture because they are on vacation. So if Ecuador is a place you would like to check out for a possible permanent move it is our recommendation to experience it locally and that way you will know for sure if it is a place you would like to live full time.

As an example of experiencing it locally is this: the first time we traveled to Mexico we never stepped foot outside of the resort we we’re staying in; there was no need to. It was a packaged deal where food and lodging was all inclusive and most everyone spoke English. It was a beautiful resort with everything imaginable to keep one busy. We left Mexico after ten days thinking how really neat, clean and beautiful Mexico is.

Well, the second time we traveled to Mexico we rented a jeep and drove to a city called Colima and we saw the real Mexico. You know, the Mexico you always hear about but never see because you’re on vacation. No one spoke English; there were drunks on the sidewalks, people panhandling us left and right, guards on every corner with sawed off shot guns, children roaming the streets in their underwear and shacks that looked like they we’re going to cave in any minute, and scary looking dogs following us; so this is what Mexico is like for many of the local people?

Now it may not be quite that bad here in Cuenca but in some parts of the less developed areas of the coast it might be. We did notice that less people spoke English on the coast, and there were actual wooden/bamboo shacks that looked like if you blew on them they would cave in.

For an example: In Bahia de Caraquez there were beautiful homes and condominiums, then you walk just outside of the town about 7 or 8 blocks and up on a hill there is nothing but wooden/bamboo shacks with tin roofs. You wonder, “Am I in the same city”? This is too much of a disparity which can cause problems with the gringos that live in the area and is the biggest reason for petty thievery and violence toward gringos in certain areas of Ecuador.

Here in Cuenca all the homes are made of cement and there is no starving children roaming the streets because the government of Ecuador steps in and gives them shelter and food in many of the children’s homes scattered throughout Ecuador. On the other hand, in Guayaquil there is more poverty than here in Cuenca; we have been told that they will kill you for your watch, so they say.  Lots of terrible things have happened to visiting gringos in Guayaquil, usually they're not being careful.

5. To Taste the Flavor of the Chicken, Fresh Produce, and Ice cream!  We’re very serious here. If you like the flavors of fresh food, we have to admit the chicken is the best we’ve ever had, the produce is the freshest and best tasting we have eaten and the ice cream here in Cuenca, well here again, there is no comparison to any other ice cream we’ve ever had!

6. To Experience Eating a $1.50 to $3.00 almuerzo in Cuenca from one of the restaurants we list in our Free Cuenca Restaurant Guide. Be sure to tell the wait staff you are there for the almuerzo and they will begin preparing it on the spot.

7. To Experience the Beauty of the Andes Mountains: Looking out of our living room window we have a beautiful view of the mountains and on a clear day it is so wonderful to look at. In Cuenca, no matter where you live you will almost have a mountain view unless there is a tall building (condo) obstructing your view. The Andes Mountains surround Cuenca. How would we describe the Andes Mountains of Cuenca Ecuador in three words?  Pure, gorgeous, glacier.

8To See the Beauty of the Coastal Areas: Each town on the coast has their own unique aspect about it that makes it different. It is totally not true the motto, “if you’ve seen one coast in Ecuador you’ve seen them all”. Ecuador has white sandy beaches, areas with wide expansive sandy beaches and beaches with smaller sandy beaches but with rugged coasts that are lined with jagged hills where habitat thrive. If you prefer living by a beach then you have to experience several different areas of the coast while on your visit. Everyone is different; some prefer the central coast line of Ecuador while others go for the less populated areas of the Northern coast line of Ecuador. 

9. Seeing the Historic / Colonial District of Cuenca: “Awesome” is all we can say. If you’re coming from Europe it won’t be so awesome because a lot of Europe is old and colonial, but if you’re coming from modern North America, the colonial section of Cuenca or Quito will amaze you. Some of the gorgeous buildings still amaze us! We’ve lived here going on 11-months now but sometimes we still act like tourists when we go to the city center (el centro) of Cuenca. LOL

10. To Experience the friendliness and helpfulness of the Ecuadorian people. Ninety nine percent of Ecuadorians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. They try to be helpful, even if they may not know the answer. But there are some (very few 1%) Ecuadorians that do not like gringos. They will spat near your feet to let you know they don’t like you. While on vacation you probably will not experience the 1% but if you live here for any amount of time, you might.

Our Experience: the other day we were walking down the side walk on Gran Columbia ( 7 people) to go out to lunch and a young (mid 30’s) man, who is a stranger to us, spat near our feet and sneered at us then picked up a huge rock to throw at us. We just minded our own business, of course. We never said a word and continued on our walk. This was on a spot that is blocked off because of the road work near Avenida las Americas, so that there is no vehicular or pedestrian traffic.  We were wondering though, if it had it been night time and just one of us walking down the road, would he have been more aggressive and violent? Something to think about anyway.

There is a lot to see and do in Ecuador; don't expect to be bored. On the blog, the button at the top called “What is Cuenca Like” will surely give you much more detail about what Cuenca Ecuador is like, especially if you veer off the beaten path and go local.

Another thing, make your plans and itinerary in such a way so that you can see as much of the different Ecuadorian terrains as possible while you are here. Enjoy your visit and by all means go local too!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Web Cam -- El Centro of Cuenca Ecuador

We're sitting in Parque Calderon enjoying the sunshine. The bench we're sitting on faces the sidewalk and the street. Lots of people out as usual in Cuenca city center... thought I'd make a video of the happenings in downtown Cuenca. It's Friday  April 14, 2012.

           

Friday, April 13, 2012

Odd-Looking "Achotillo" Fruit Grows in Ecuador

This odd looking fruit is not native to South America but to different parts of Asia. The "achotillo" fruit does grow here however, in the more tropical areas of Ecuador. And you can buy about 10 or 20 of these weird fruits for $1 here in Cuenca depending on how good of a negotiator you are. Brandon likes them.

                     

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Should You Bring Your (Elderly) Parents with You to Cuenca

Below is a short letter sent to us by one of our readers that we would like to share with you. (The purple font are links that will take you to that blog post or article.)
Dear Frank and Angie: I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to put this DIY book together. This has been the most useful guide I have come across. I also like the spirit you have brought to living in Cuenca, and I hope I can follow in your footsteps in avoiding the ghetto. I always think the folks who resist joining the local culture were probably the most vocal complainers about Hispanic immigrants coming to the US not learning English etc.

I had been planning on shipping a bunch of stuff down to Ecuador, but after reading your blog post on giving up your possessions,
I don't think shipping is the right way to go. So that's going to be a radical change of plan. I actually feel quite liberated at the thought of not having to deal with all that hassle.
And here’s the Good Part of his letter…
My reason for moving to Ecuador is so that I can take care of my Mom (90 yrs old). She lives in England and I'm in the US, so for a bunch of reasons Ecuador has turned out to be a good compromise. My Mom is enthusiastic, which impresses me no end. I can only hope I'm half as adventurous if I get to be that age.
*****
Yes, we agree your mom sure does have an adventurous spirit, and that’s great and could easily be one of the reasons she has reached the age she has. We find it commendable on your part that you are putting your mother’s well being above your own; we are not advocates of nursing home care centers; we have actually seen them and have heard horror stories that would make your skin crawl.
The good news is, here in Ecuador most families take care of their elderly parents—there are VERY few nursing homes here at this time. Ecuador is a family oriented culture, and it doesn’t stop when the children get married and leave home, if they leave home. Here they have big houses and it is not uncommon to have three generations living in one big tri-level home. The elderly are very much respected here by the younger people, and we believe your mother’s adventure here will be one she will truly love and enjoy; her spirit will shine upon the locals as well.
It can be disheartening trying to tell your elderly parents that you’re going to retire/relocate to a South American city they probably never even heard of before. To most folks, when they hear South America, they think of another planet far, far away.
If their health permits the traveling aspect of the move, and if they are willing to relocate, we think it is a great idea to bring your elderly parents to Cuenca with you because they’ll be with you, if for no other reason.
Ecuador’s health care system is excellent. Many of the doctors speak English because they studied for their doctorate in North America or Europe (UK). The hospitals and clinics are sparkling clean and beautiful with great services, we’ve been told by several expats that have had the unfortunate occasion to visit the Mount Sanai Hospital here in Cuenca that everything was superb.
The dental office our family goes to is great! We will not go anywhere else. The service is good, the staff is wonderful and the service is great, plus the dental work is affordable! We have recommended this dentist to our friends who now also use the same dentist. I recently had 2 teeth pulled and two fillings and it cost under $60! Medications are also affordable here. We have a whole chapter devoted to dentists in the DIY Cuenca Landing guide with photos and prices of procedures. (Sorry, we can’t give everything away! LOL)
Citizens of Ecuador have free to low cost health care, just like they do in some of Europe and Canada.
On another note, unfortunately, Ecuador is not geared to having very good conditions for those in wheel chairs or having other physical impediments that makes walking difficult. Although there are a few people, young and old in wheel chairs here, they do have a difficult time getting around on the sidewalks, crosswalks, and into establishments.
However on a positive note, just the other day we witnessed a fellow in a wheel chair that was being pushed by maybe a relative over a very large sidewalk. So, the family comes to the rescue again. Bravo.
Another example that all is not lost just because institutional, centralized systems have not taken over to assist people.
This is why we caution people that are used to being reliant on institutions. Ecuadorian culture may appear to be lacking, but in reality, it is very rich. So go ahead, bring your mom, (or mom and dad) you'll fit right in...
To end this post we leave you with a great article that we have posted before on this blog about the health care system here in Cuenca. After reading this article you might decide to bring your parents with you too, or they may just want to move to Ecuador on their own! 
You’ll too be amazed and happy to know that many procedures are actually affordable, and the service and care is great! And this is why we think that you might think it a good idea to bring your elderly parents with you to Ecuador so you can give them better care at a more affordable price.
Anyone who has been following our blog for while knows, we are advocates for eating healthy, exercising, and keeping stress levels down to a bare minimum (another reason why we moved to Cuenca LOL). So if that is your motto too, then we know that the clean healthy food, clean air (away from el centro) and the less stressful lifestyle, and this family based culture will be good for both you and your parents. So come on down and be the next expats that relocate to beautiful Cuenca!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Having Fun with the Children at the Children's Home in Cuenca

                    

Last Saturday we brought some drawing paper, colored pencils and modeling clay to the children's home and it sure brought out their creative spirit. All the children are so smart and talented--its amazing how loving and affectionate they are. We have become attached to each and every one of the children over the last ten months.


The girls love to rough house, play ball, tag and other rough and tumble sports but they also like to do girly things such as braid my hair (see picture below) and sometimes they like to put makeup on my face and create neat designs with fingernail polish on my fingernails. As an added bonus they also pull out my grey hairs!!


The boys on the other hand are rambunctious and full of energy and they always want to rough house with Frank and our sons. It has been such a joy sharing our lives with these beautiful children.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Food Poisoning in Cuenca Ecuador – Is It Safe Eating Out?

I have one question for you guys since you are extremely familiar with the country. How safe is it to eat from the street vendors? It looks like delicious food; however, many websites say it is dangerous. If you have any other suggestions for us, I'm all ears!
How Safe Is It Eating From Street Vendors?
We actually made a video of the family eating from a street vendor in Cuenca. Here’s the link to this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_Xxwycce3I
It’s usually not a good idea to start eating from street vendors simply because you really do not know how long the food may have been sitting out in the open; or if the food preparation is sanitary; etc.
We do not make it a habit to eat from vendors on the street, but in very rare occasions, if certain criteria are met, it should not be a problem. There are three important things you should notice and be aware of before eating from a street vendor. Notice in the video all of the three criteria we talk about below have been met; in that case it is generally safe eating from vendors.
1. She peels the fruit –can’t go wrong there
2. She is wearing gloves or using a napkin to touch the food – this is good
3. She puts the food on a hot grill --perfect
If all of the criteria are met then it would be safe to it from a street vendor. Below are some examples of when it is NOT safe to eat from street vendors, even in North America!
1. She pulls the meat (hamburger, hot dog, chicken) out from under the cart, somewhere, but from where? Is the container it came from clean? How long has the meat been sitting? Was it sitting in ice or in a cooler? Can flies land on the food and do the degusting thing they do?
2. She is touching the food with her hands – how does she clean her hands from a small little cart? What has she done or touched BEFORE touching your food.
3. The food does not get cooked on a hot grill – the food is sitting in warmers already prepared – NOT safe – we do not recommend!!
Is It Safe Eating Out in Restaurants in Cuenca?
The question is, is it safe eating out in any restaurant anywhere in the world? Every time you eat outside your own kitchen environment and have a meal prepared and cooked for you you’re taking a risk of getting sick from food poisoning. Even in North America where they have restaurant kitchen inspections, people still get food poisoning.
The fact of the matter is more people become sick with food poisoning when eating in a tourist trap restaurant than from the local restaurants! What is a tourist trap restaurant? It is a restaurant where you will pay North American prices, or almost N.A Prices. The food may or may not be good; you will not see any locals eating there. They are the restaurants that are referred to you by other expats that have eaten there. These expats are usually "visiting". They don't live here year round in most cases. They would not refer you to a “local” restaurant because they don't eat in a local run restaurant.
People do not realize that a kitchen is a kitchen and unsanitary restaurant practices do go on and happen even in the most famous of expat restaurants. Case in point, someone got VERY ill from eating in a popular expat restaurant right here in Cuenca and they posted this on the restaurant reviews online! We also talk about this in our FREE ebook on 10 Good restaurants in Cuenca.
People when they come to a new place have this “follow the other expat” mentality. Instead of using intelligent judgement to find “ a good place to eat” they ask the expats community, which will always refer you to the gringo restaurants rather than the Ecuadorian ones. Not saying there aren't any good ones, but we believe the risk is higher or, at the very least, not getting any value for your money.
Point is, most of the people eating in the gringo restaurant are leaving, so it follows that when they get sick, and the food is not prepared in sanitary conditions—they’re only tourists and likely will never come back—they can’t do anything about getting sick like make a local complaint, tell all their local family and friends or anything like that; they’re leaving. Do you get it?
But in the local restaurants it is only local people eating in there and it is busy. If the restaurant wants to keep its customers (the local community) it had better make sure the food is prepared properly from start to finish; if they don’t, they will lose their bread and butter, local business.
The best Cuenca restaurants to eat in our going to be busy local eateries and the chances of becoming sick are very, very slim, just because of those two guidelines; BUSY – LOCAL.
There are a lot of Ecuadorian restaurants in Cuenca to choose from, and our FREE restaurant guide talks about 10 good restaurants for almuerzo for $3 or less in Cuenca. We still patronize most of these Ecuadorian restaurants and have never gotten sick, not even slightly ill.
We have NEVER yet eaten in an expat, North American run restaurant in Cuenca and probably never will just because the value is NOT there. Just remember that when eating from street vendors it takes due diligence; survey the cart, the food and the handler, use your un-common sense and you will know if it is safe or not. And eating from restaurants in Cuenca? Busy –Local –Let’s Eat!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Living in Cuenca for One Year -- Has the Novelty Worn Off?


We just read recently on two different forums how 85% of expats that move to either Costa Rica or Ecuador end up leaving and moving back to where they came from. We knew there was some of this going on but did not think it to be quite that many people that actually move back home. Not sure where they got their statistics either; someone replied to the post asking if the statistics were verifiable and they did not respond.
We do not take things being said off the cuff as very reliable so we’re not endorsing the 85% that end up moving back to where they came from. We do know that people, when they don't do their research and just come here, those are the ones who end up leaving.
Reasons Why People Move Back Home
The poster went on to explain that the novelty of a new place wears off thereby making you feel stuck in a third world country. The reasons given were having unreliable electricity, internet, water supply and the problem of being seen as an ATM machine (rich gringo), learning a new language and coping with corruption, and in that order.
How Do the Reasons For Leaving Fit into Cuenca?
While all of these concerns may be something one must put up with when living in a third world country, unfortunately for those that buy into the hype, most of these concerns are well founded. Cuenca is a little bit more developed than some parts of Costa Rica and Coastal Ecuador, so it scores a little bit better, but still has issues.
The electricity in Cuenca, in the 11 months we have lived here, has only gone out one time that was noticeable, and it was only for a few hours! The electricity goes out in North America from time to time, so this is really not a problem. In Cuenca the showers, stoves and even refrigerators run on propane, so, no problem.
The water supply here in Cuenca is excellent; we have been drinking the tap water for 11 months and feel great. Cuenca’s water system has been named the cleanest in South America for three consecutive years in a row. So to sum up electricity and water, both are good to excellent in Cuenca. The water does get cut off on an average of a few hours a month, however, that’s an average. On one of those occasions, the water was cut off from morning until the next morning!  Apparently, this was not to the entire city however, because of some construction going on in a particular neighborhood.
It’s true, most Ecuadorians think that ALL North Americans are rich and this has led the bad apples to target ALL supposedly rich gringos. We’re trying to end this way of thinking by showing how we live our lives as an example and this blog. Frank is not shy to tell them right off the bat we are not tourists and we are not rich gringos; most of the time we get the Ecuadorian price; we’re just like the Ecuadorians, in that we couldn’t afford to live here  either if we didn’t get the Ecuadorian price.
Our long-time readers know that we do not live any different than the Ecuadorians! If someone is monetarily well off or if someone has a need to flaunt what they have, why come to a developing country? Is it wise to play rich man in the middle of those at a lower monetary level?  You will be targeted and you will get robbed.
The bottom line is we wouldn’t leave Ecuador because of this, we’re just going to live our lives and let them see through how we live that we are not targetable as being rich, so don’t even try. It’s not a reason to leave the country; it’s a reason to teach/show them that they are wrong in their assumption.
Yes, you do need to learn the language if you want to be able to live here without being always a target or a tourist. Lots of times we’ll walk into a place and Frank will start speaking Spanish and it surprises them; it’s like, “Oh, ok they live here, or they respect this country enough to learn the language”. The locals will respect you more if you show them that at least you are trying to learn Spanish; and you will get a better deal on everything!
Amazingly, there are North Americans here that think the Ecuadorians need to learn English for them! Uh!! This is a bit backwards, don’t ya think?
Corruption within government is not something new; anyone who has done their due diligent research should know that they have an disorganized system that needs some reworking, and there are some bad apples in government, but it should not deter someone from moving to this beautiful country and it should not be a reason for leaving either.
Internet: Out of all the reasons listed above of why expats leave Costa Rica and or Ecuador unreliable Internet is the only real concern for us, and we’re sure it is too for those people who draw their livelihood through their skills on the Internet.
We’ve gotten used to the slower and unreliable Internet service and it really is not as much of a frustration anymore. When we first moved here after having excellent, fast, connection in North America it was a shock to have slow Internet that cut out three or four times during the day, but we have learned to adjust to this aspect of life in Cuenca Ecuador.
The Novelty of Cuenca
Any where you go that is new will be exciting and fun at first, and if you move to a new land expecting North America but cheaper, without really doing any research, you will end up feeling ….adjusted…hehe…