Sunday, September 30, 2012

Choosing a Safe Neighborhood When Moving to Cuenca Ecuador

How do you go about choosing your neighborhood when you move to a foreign country, especially when you do not know that much about the new city you are moving into?
 

Many people when they first move to Cuenca, and are temporarily staying in a hostel or hotel, ask the expats where the good neighborhoods are and the response is always the same, "why in the gringo neighborhoods, of course".  

This response is relative, subjective, bias, and opinionated. In fact the interactive crime map for Cuenca shows that most of the violent crimes in Cuenca are very near where all the gringos live. So how then can this area, locals refer to as gringolandia, be a better neighborhood than some other neighborhood in Cuenca? 


Actually the best areas in Cuenca are not anywhere near the expat condo buildings and they are Ecuadorian neighborhoods where almost no gringos live. But the expats will not tell you this. Instead they steer you towards the more expensive rental area where you will be gringo gouged for your rental while living in a, what one expat called it, "sterile environment".

 

Cuenca Ecuador: 22 homicides to date in 2012  

 

Look for yourself: click here to see the crime areas of Cuenca. Scroll down and look on the map. You can make it bigger by clicking on the "plus sign" on the left. You can move the map around with your mouse and you can also click on the little pins to find out more about the crime. Get yourself comfortable with the map because we're going to be talking about crime in Cuenca using this map as reference.  


Look North West on the map. Notice the five or six murders in the same area, just a short distance away from Las Americas and Grand Columbia. This is where many of the gringos refer to as a "good neighborhood". In fact the six murders happened just a few short blocks from Supermaxi (expat store) on Avenida las Americas. 


Cuenca does in fact have gang related activity and it is near the brothel / drug areas of Cuenca very near the Supermaxi store up on Avenida las Americas. However, according to the interactive crime map the violent crimes victims all have Latin American names, telling us they are not targeting expats but are most likely drug related crimes. Even so, you surely would be living right next door and you are pretty darn close to where numerous murders have been committed. 


Most cities of considerable size will have a bad area where crime is more prevalent and where you don't want to be walking around alone during the night, or even during the day. It is understandable you would want to stay out of the bad neighborhoods. This is why we're here to show you the Cuenca neighborhood map of where all the violent crimes for 2012 occurred and you then can make your own judgment through your own observations. 


Looking at the map we see that about 6 of the 22 violent crimes occurred right off of Avenida las Americas and close to Ordenez Lasso / Grand Columbia area. This is where all of the gringo condos are located!! And if you notice further west, one of the murders happened right off of Ordenez Lasso where many of the expats say is a good neighborhood. The rest of the murders are pretty well scattered throughout the city of Cuenca with one or two south, one in the north, several downtown, and a few in the further east. But no where else in Cuenca is there 6 crimes all in the same area. 


So why so many violent crimes in this one area? We have been told by a local real estate agent that this area is where the gangs are located, drugs, prostitution, etc, etc. 


UPDATE November 2014 - Just a few days after we posted this article in Sept. 2012, there was news reporting that they were going to remove the brothel and expunge the gangs from the area described above to a different area of Cuenca; it was never done and they both remain in the same area and going strong. We have searched high and low for a new 2014 map of the crime ridden areas of Cuenca and they have NOT posted anything new...for obvious reasons that would hurt the tourist market.


When expats say the good neighborhoods in Cuenca are in the gringo neighborhoods they are basing that assumption on nothing but speculation and bias opinion. Obviously they have not seen the crime ridden areas of Cuenca on a map and they obviously do not know that there are gangs in that area as well.  

Well, here it is.
 

We know of several really nice Ecuadorian neighborhoods, with beautiful homes in Cuenca that are nowhere near the above mentioned area. In fact, they are clear over on the other side of town! Don't be fooled or mislead by what people say on forums and blogs because most of the time it is based on conjecture and bias. This is how people become misinformed and then later regret something they did based on that conjecture. 


UPDATE NOVEMBER 2014: the condos on Ordenez Lasso are no more gringo gulches than any other neighborhoods in Cuenca. Gringos live all over the city now, and that is a good thing because they are dispersed proportionately throughout the Cuenca city. So far, as of date we do not know of any neighborhoods (subdivisions that house just gringos, like in Mexico. 
 

It's not the neighborhood which keeps us safe, its how we behave and what we do that keeps us safe!
 

We live in an Ecuadorian neighborhood (we're the only gringos) and it is quiet and safe, never had any issues and we are glad we live here!

The point is, don't rely on what others have to say, especially something that you really need to judge for yourself; look at the map and decide on your own where you would like to live. Go walk around in some of the neighborhoods you are interested in, during the day and night to see if it seems like a peaceful and quiet area that you would like to live in.


The beauty of Cuenca is it's all good, (except for where the gangs and drugs are)...and not just the area where all the gringos happen to live.


For more information on how to live well on a local Ecuadorian level see the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide on this blog.

Friday, September 28, 2012

DIY Furniture Building: We Built Rustic Dining Table and Chairs

The boys built us another rustic dining table. This one is round and seats six people comfortably. The first table we built for the dining room I am now using as a sewing table, which was very much needed anyway. To go along with our new round table are six chairs. I'm in the process of sewing cushion covers for the chairs; they are not shown in the video.To see more furniture that we have built, click here.

             

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taking Bus to Guayaquil from Salinas

Traveling by bus around Ecuador is easy, inexpensive and actually fun. The transportation system is wonderful. The buses are comfortable and leave major cities every 7 to 10 minutes. This video shows our bus trip from Salinas to Guayaquil, which is our first leg of the trip back to Cuenca. From the bus terminal in Guayaquil you simply buy another bus fare to Cuenca.

         

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

5 Places to Visit in and around Cuenca Ecuador

Cajas National Parque – Cajas Park is a great place to go walking, hiking, fishing, dining, souvenir shopping, and simply enjoying the magnificent beauty of the mountains. Cajas is about an hour from Cuenca.  We hiked up to one of the many lakes within the mountains; the hike was invigorating and makes for a splendid day trip. There are several different trails to choose from.

Cajas is chillier than Cuenca by about ten or more degrees so bring appropriate attire. Also we recommend having a tour guide or a local Ecuadorian to take you that knows the hiking trails. It is easy to get lost. We had a Ecuadorian friend take us that knows the area. Here’s the video of our hike to Cajas.


ChordelegSilver haven of the Andes Mountains. This is a quaint little town and is little over an hour from Cuenca by bus. Jewelry shops line the cute historical center, and in the middle of town is a beautiful little park much like Park Calderon but only half the size. The people are very friendly in Chordeleg, however there have been reports of a few gold scammers that have ripped off some tourists who bought gold from them. Be sure you know what you are buying. Here is the news story about this. 



Gaualaceo – Gualaceo is about an hour from Cuenca by bus. It is a small city that boasts all the amenities you can get in Cuenca. There is a small mall with several retail clothing and shoe stores. Speaking of shoe, on the weekends a local told us that you can buy shoes in the city center area for like half off because they make a lot of the shoes they sell. Gualaceo has lots of restaurants, little stores, a post office, and numerous mom and mom type shops. The park square in the center of town is beautiful.  For those who like the small town feel, Gualaceo is about the perfect size.


Paraiso ParqueParaiso Park is located in Cuenca. This park is huge with walking trails, duck ponds, several playgrounds, picnicking, and paddle boat rides. There is plenty of room for the smaller children to run around, play ball, and enjoy the big outdoors. This park is clean and very well manicured; bring a blanket and lay it out on the green grass and enjoy a day at Paraiso Park.


Mall Del Rio Mall del Rio is a great place to enjoy the day when it is rainy and wet outside, which is often the case in the summertime in Cuenca. Mall Del Rio is a nice-sized mall with a huge food court. You won’t go hungry with all the different varieties of foods to choose from. Right outside the mall there are go-carts for the kids to ride and inside the mall, besides all of the shopping there is a movie theater that boasts four or five different movies every day!  Some will have English subtitles.


There is always a lot more to do in and around Cuenca that we did not list here.  These activities are just a few of the things that we have done and have enjoyed on family outings. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cuenca Ecuador After the Honeymoon: A Day in the Life!

Some things we take for granted in North America, that are not available or don’t work as well here in Ecuador.

Let’s start with the POST OFFICE.  In North America, I can mail things in a flat rate box, fill it up to 70lbs, and only pay a flat rate of less than $15 bucks, and for a small box, only $5.  Not only that, but it will get there within two or three days, max.

 
I can also mail jewelry, gold, silver, coins, and bullion.  I can also ship flat rate internationally at very reasonable rates, such as $20 to $40.  On top of that, the flat rate boxes, which come in three or four different sizes and shapes, are free.   I cannot do or get any of those things here in Ecuador.


A couple of months ago a guy said he was going to mail me some “blackstrap molasses” from Quito to Cuenca on a "trade" we had agreed on.   He went through the Ecuador post office.  I tried to discourage him, but he became annoyed so I backed off.  I never received the package. 


I cannot ship gold or silver, bullion or jewelry, or coins through the mail here in Cuenca Ecuador.  I went to the DHL office yesterday, and not only can I not ship those things, but for a light package with just documents, they want $50 to $60 dollars, and if I want to ship some kind of small item I was quoted $120 dollars. 
 

Meanwhile I see sellers on Ebay from India quoting only $35 dollars to ship from India all the way to North America, using the very same DHL company.  Figure that one out?  Not today

I also stopped at the post office and asked for a postal shipping envelope, and they, err… said they didn’t have any.  Ok, so maybe you won’t be mailing anything and it will not matter.  Let’s move on…
 

HARDWARE STORES: The days of going to a big chain hardware store like Lowe’s and Home Depot are over.  I have to go run around town to at least 2,3 or 4 different stores to get what I need, and frequently I still don’t get it because they’re “out”, or they just don’t carry it.   We’ve written about a recent trip to hardware stores here…and well, If that was all it wouldn’t matter much. 

What does matter is that frequently the quality of the  goods is, at best, questionable.  I’ve gone through four light bulbs in two weeks, on one or two fixtures…$1.75-$2.00 each. Going from memory, we’ve thrown out at least two dozen small appliances within a little over a year, including lamps that fall apart, and lamps you can’t put back together after trying to fix them.  I’m very happy with my home made lamp covers I made for less than one dollar each. (Self sufficiency trumps again!) I’ve started making my own lamps, believe that?  It’s true.  They cost me just as much, but will probably last a lifetime.  They’re not as ginger bready though, but I’m working on that.

On that same note, the cost of items is at least twice that in North America.  If you want something that lasts it may even cost three times as much or more.  We’re basically held hostage to this pricing mechanism because there’s no used market to speak of.  Something us frugal folk really take for granted up north.


Speaking of Chain Stores, wait till you run around town trying to find a specialty item, like say, blackstrap molasses.  Up north, I just go to a health store, which is quite easy to find, not only that, every health store I’ve been to up north stocks it.  But here in Cuenca Ecuador, it has taken me over a year, yes that long, to find blackstrap molasses. 


Do you really want to know how many stores I had to try and ask for blackstrap molasses? There is a LOT of health stores in Cuenca Ecuador.  Not to mention that none of them even knew what blackstrap molasses was, which means they couldn’t point me to where I could get them.  I’ve been drinking it every morning for over twenty years, but here in the “best retirement city in the world” I’ve had to go without it for 14 months.  Some people would have left the country over that.  It looks like engaging in “hope” does have its advantages…I finally found it.


The lack of industrialization has many advantages, but convenience is not one of them.  I once saw posted on a forum where to get “sea salt”.  Well, we kept going there two to three times a week to get our sea salt, and they were always “out”.  These stores are so small, that even this so called small expat community can clean out the shelves on a store so small that it has nothing to compare it to up north.  Let’s just say they average 400 to 500 total square feet.  I never got my sea salt because I got tired of walking over there and being told they were out.  So don’t ask where I found the molasses, I’m not going to tell you.


OFFICE SUPPLY: Been looking for “index cards” for weeks now, nowhere to be found.  I have one larger “papeleria” (office supply) to go check, they might have them there.  I asked a young gal behind the counter at one of these papeleria’s, that let on she spoke English, “How do you say, index cards” in Spanish?  She said, “There isn’t a Spanish word for them!”  Oh, well that explains it. Wonders of wonder, will I ever cease to be amazed in this best retirement city in the world? 


I told my son to make his own (index cards), (self sufficient thinking works well here) but he insists on having the index cards.  He keeps telling me to “keep looking”. ..Persistence may pay off once again.
 

Used to love going to SAM’S CLUB.  Use to rummage through all the different kinds of cheeses, especially Parmesan cheese.  I can’t live without that.  I used to tell my sons, “as long as I can get Parmesan Cheese and Olive Oil” I can be happy anywhere.  I can get it here, but we no longer buy parmesan cheese at SuperMaxi.   The last few batches I couldn’t even tell there was any cheese at all on my pasta.  It had no flavor. 

Those folks at the cheese making place must be “forgetting” to age it even a month or two, they must be selling it like hot cakes, seeing that there is nowhere else to get it, at least, not a well known obvious place…


…and the olive oil?  It used to cost me $16.50 for a gallon in South Carolina. Are you ready for this? It costs me $43 dollars for the same gallon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Cuenca.  To be fair, I think it’s fresher. But olive oil doesn’t spoil anyway.  And for $27 extra dollars, I could look the other way…

… the other day, I’m talking to my mom on the long distance phone and telling her about all the wonderful things about this “best retirement city in the world” of Cuenca Ecuador.  But she keeps asking me, “Yes, but are you happy there”?  I keep telling her the same thing, “Mom, I was happy before I came here”.  That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it…

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Taste of Salinas Beach Ecuador

This is a hodge-podge of video and photos taken of the Salinas coastline, going all the way North to the end. Some of the beach is sandy, some is pebbly, some rocky, and there is even a small section of beach that has black sand!

               

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Salinas Beach at Night

We were just walking along the Salinas beach at night and thought I'd make a little video. As you can see in the video, even though it is high season, many of the condominiums remain vacant.  Although the beaches have been absolutely packed with Ecuadorians.

            

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jugando Fútbol con Amigos en Cuenca

Ecuadorians love futbol! In this video playing futbol is our friends and neighbors and their extended family and our son Brandon. Us older generation sat on the sidelines enjoying the game. 

                 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Millenium Plaza Shopping Mall in Cuenca

There are three malls in Cuenca. Millenium Plaza is the smallest of the three but it still boasts a huge food court and several retail shops and a movie theater! Here's some of the names you may recognize that are in the Millenium Plaza mall. Hallmark, Papa Johns, and KFC. At KFC they serve white rice with your chicken.

                     

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Spicy Pickled Eggplant Recipe


This Italian eggplant dish is excellent with a slice of french bread and a chunk of Provolone or Parmesan cheese. We love eggplant prepared this way, and so I thought I'd share the recipe with our readers. It is very easy to make. It is great to have some in the refrigerator for snack time.  If you like eggplant then you got to try this because it is delicious! The written recipe is below the video.


                  

Spicy Pickled Eggplant 

Ingredients 

6 med eggplants sliced thinly 
1 hot red pepper, chopped 
10 cloves of garlic, chopped 
1 bunch of parsely, chopped 
1 red hot pepper, chopped
2 tsps sea salt 
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
Optional: 1 tbs Cayenne 
2 jars 

Preparation 

Peel and slice eggplants and layer in colander, salting each layer. 

Cover with a plate and place something heavy on top of the plate. This helps to release the bitter juices of the eggplant. 

After one hour, chop the eggplant and boil for 5 minutes in 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water. 

Drain and place eggplant in a bowl with the chopped parsely, red pepper, and garlic.

Add the salt and extra virgin olive oil and mix well. 

For those who like it really spicy, add more cayenne to your liking. 

Place eggplant mixture into jars and cover the eggplant with more olive oil so no eggplant is exposed. 

Place the jars in the refrigerator to marinate. After one month the eggplant will be ready to eat! Enjoy! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Travelers Should Stay Vigilant in the Quito and Guayaquil Airports

Are you traveling to Cuenca? It is time to be more aware of your surroundings in the airports. It has been reported that there were 102 robberies from January to August 2012 in the Quito airport of people’s luggage and carry-ons. Why so many thefts? Well, people are not keeping a close eye on their bags.

When you fly into Ecuador you will usually land either in the Guayaquil airport or the Quito airport.We landed in the Guayaquil airport, which we were told by a local Ecuadorian who lives in Guayaquil, and who was flying with us, to NEVER take your eyes off your luggage while in the airport. In fact she was very helpful and gave us tips on how to stay safe while in the Guayaquil airport.

We brought into Ecuador with us 10 suitcases plus our carry-ons and as you know it can be stressful getting your entire luggage off the conveyer belt; there are big crowds and lots of people. Luckily we were four people (me and my three sons) so two people stayed with the luggage at all times while two of us grabbed the luggage off the conveyor belt as it came off the plane.

Once we had all our luggage off the conveyor and on the cart we were also instructed by the very kind and helpful Ecuadorian woman to not wander out of the airport with all of the luggage. She went on to tell me there are fake taxis that will steal your luggage and or harm you personally.  She told me that she would hail us a cab.

This is when I told her that Frank had already arranged a van to pick us up and the driver would be waiting for us outside of the baggage area, holding a sign with our names on it. Even though I told her it was prearranged she thoroughly checked out the van driver to make sure it was legit company before she gave me the ok for the boys and I to put our luggage in the back of the van.  She was questioning the driver in very quick Spanish. It was apparent by the way the young Ecuadorian looked she was giving him a mini-interrogation. She was so helpful!

Here is the full article about these latest airport thefts. The news article is translated into English. Unfortunately the translation does not always translate correctly but I think you’ll get the gist of the news article.
 

                                  Quito Ecuador Airport:
102 reported robberies of individuals Jan. through Aug. 2012


They needed just two minutes to take the suitcase. The passenger's departure left the national arrival at the airport Mariscal Sucre. He went to the bathroom, but when he returned and did not see the small briefcase. Lost a laptop.

The details yesterday told an agent that monitors the outside of the airport and the passenger recalled that he saw three men running with bag. The man alerted police. The soldiers followed him and the suspects threw the computer before taking the avenue of the press. They got into a vehicle and fled.

Yesterday, on his Twitter account, footballer Antonio Valencia claimed for the loss of his camera. The social network said the device was gone when he checked his bag before his flight departed for England. The footballer published the image of his empty bag. "Someone is taking with bag and everything," he said. "This unworthy," he wrote later. Inside the terminal, there are six filters that performs police at the airport. These controls are, for example, to prevent drug trafficking.

Yesterday, the Public Company Metropolitan Airport Services, responsible for the internal security of the Mariscal Sucre, did not comment. But the airport's Twitter account announced the start of the investigation. "We are in contact with representatives of A. Valencia and are conducting all investigations of rigor ". KLM, the company I traveled Valencia, told this newspaper that also began investigations and will decide after completing the process.

Yesterday, police officers in the field revealed that the airport operates four criminal groups allegedly involved in robbing people. Researchers know this method as 'descuideros'. That is, the strangers take advantage of times when users leave their belongings for minutes and take them.

The number 2 subcircuit Police, which patrols the outside of the airport, is on file at least 15 photographs of alleged members of one of the largest illegal organizations operating in the sector. The police estimate that one of these networks make up at least 30 people. The three remaining bands would consist of three or four
people.

How do they operate? The suspects come with suits, ties, glasses or confused and briefcases loaded with passengers.

These data are part of an official investigation. There are cases in which even has network of 30 branches. A support group subtracted objects, others give alert ('ringers') and the rest managed to escape vehicles. From January to August this year, the airport sector there have been 102 robberies people.

In surrounding neighborhoods like La Concepcion, Baker, La Luz and Florida totaling 160 reports of theft. These data are recorded in the Metropolitan Public Safety Observatory. A Tribune Quito Consumer complaints have not reached baggage theft.

Last year we received only one case involving loss of belongings at airports. The subcircuit Police registered a complaint number 2 monthly for theft of luggage at the airport. Agents say that drive the offense down since there are more controls. For the sector 35 police community are intended. Two more are of the Judicial Police and four of the Tourist Police.

Two years ago, the military reported the case of a tourist strangers whom he stole USD 15 000 he carried in a suitcase. Officers have identified that the time between 06:00 and 6:30 is more vulnerable for tourists, usually move to Galapagos. Arrive 50 to 60 people. "Many foreigners trust and leave their things thrown away thinking that nothing will happen," says Petty Officer of the Tourism Police, Luis Pulupa. He says that most burglaries occur by the 'neglect' of passengers when they go to the bathroom or get distracted while eating.

The Community Policing Unit operating in the place receives complaints, but those affected can also go to the Prosecutor or PJ. Avoid crimes Place small metal padlocks on luggage locks so no one open. Keep keys in a safe place (briefcase or handbag). While in the airport, not apart from his luggage. Stay all the time with their luggage until they are admitted to the controls of the airline.

If you bring expensive foreign objects such as jewelery, clothes or electronics, have custody of the Police. When taking a taxi outside the airport, check that the vehicle is orange plates with black numbers. Agents recommend not to use informal public transport services. It sometimes happens that travelers carry luggage alike and can be confused with it. Therefore it is recommended to include a distinctive (tying a ribbon) to avoid errors.


http://www.elcomercio.com/seguridad/redes-roban-exteriores-aeropuerto-Quito-aeropuerto_Mariscal_Sucre_0_773922811.html

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cuenca Ecuador… A Day in the Life at the Cuenca Hardware Store

All I want to do is get a bolt, a nut and a washer.  The nice guy at the hardware section of Coral Centro (Cuenca's Wal-Mart) tells me he can do the nut and bolt, but no washers.  How about next week? I ask him.  Nope.  Not next week either.  Ok, no washers at Coral Centro.  Not anytime soon anyway.

The largest hardware store in Cuenca (that I know of) is called Kywi and is equivalent to the larger sized Ace Hardware in the US; you know, the one with the sporting goods section and the gun section? This Ace Hardware store here has neither, by the way.  


Anyway, so I think Kywi hardware store must have the washers.  I go there the next day.   I go get the washers, I start putting them in the bag.  I notice there are two sizes in the same bin, and one of them doesn’t fit my nut and bolt.  So I separate all the ones that don’t fit, and take all the rest out of the bin.  I get about 63 washers and that empties out the bin.  No more washers left.  I figure I better get them while I can.  Because next week they’ll be out, and then I won’t have any when I need them.  And you know, this store is all the way across the other side of town.  That’s a forty five minute bus ride one way.  Between the nuts, bolts, and washers, the afternoon is gone.

I know, there are small hardware stores spread out throughout town.  They’re equivalent to, err…hm…I don’t know what they’re equivalent to.  Ok, here’s a thought that comes to mind.  You watch any westerns?  When the bad guy walks into the hardware store and there’s just a counter with some stuff hanging on the wall.  That’s the thought that comes to mind.  I’ve even seen something similar in the backwoods small towns in the South.  Very small.  Like way out in the country, small.   Sometimes you can just ask one of them and they’ll have what you need.  Like when I finally got tired of buying bit drivers.


For the non-do-it-yourself folks reading this, that’s the thingie you put into a electric drill so you can push a screw into wood.  Anyway, every three or four screws the thing breaks. I’m going to Coral Centro every week to buy three or four of them at once. And drill bits too.  They snap every week.  It could be this Eucalyptus wood is so hard it just puts too much pressure on these bits.  So I go to the cowboy hardware store, and ask for a bit.  He tells me he’s got a super hard one, “made in America” this one, “it won’t break” it’s not Chinese made.  He says… Well, that sounds good.  But it costs twice as much?  That much? So he lowers the price twenty cents. Ok, I’ll take it.  And, true to his word, it does last longer.  About a week longer.  It’s a wash.


Oh, I forgot to add that I bought one of those small spot light light bulbs at the Coral the other day, and as soon as I took it home, the wind blew the box off the table and it fell to the floor and busted before I even got a chance to use it.  So when I was at the Kywi I asked the clerk for one of those light bulbs, and they didn’t have any. Remember, this is the largest hardware store in town.  I didn’t want to go back to the Coral again, so, I decided to wait till the next day or two.  I send my son to get the bulb two days later.  He comes home, I put it in, and uh oh, it doesn’t work. 


You’re supposed to test all the bulbs, I tell him. They always test all the bulbs when I go there.  And I let them.  Because I don’t want to get home and the bulb doesn’t work.  It’s only been three days and I’ve got the nuts, bolts and washers.  And I finally got the bulb replaced.  Three days?  Yes, because, I actually have other things to do besides run around all day fetching hardware.  Ahh, the old Home Depot days are gone.  But, I don’t want to think about that because after all is said and done, I got what I needed, and I’m still in Paradise. 


If you're coming to paradise anytime soon and you want to make the move less stressful, more fulfilling and less expensive then don't forget to check out the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gualaceo: Eating Almuerzo and Taking Bus Back to Cuenca

Gualaceo has numerous restaurants, shoe and clothing shops, small grocery marts, hostels, out door markets, mercados, and a nice mall. The nice thing about it is, it is only 20 miles from Cuenca! We'll be doing more research into the cost of rents and real estate for those people who might be interested in this wonderful little city.  By the way, the countryside of Gualaceo is beautiful and picturesque as you'll see in this video as we head back home to Cuenca.

                    

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gualaceo Mall and Town Square

This is more photos and video of the charming city of Gualaceo Ecuador. We'll definitely go back and check out more about this city that is situated just 20 miles east of Cuenca!


            

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gualaceo Ecuador: A City 20 Miles East of Cuenca

Gualaceo is a nice, clean, and quaint little city. They have garbage sweepers here just like they do in Cuenca. It was very clean with lots of restaurants and little shops. We were amazed at this neat little city outside of Cuenca. In fact, it reminded us a lot of Cuenca. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains just like Cuenca! You can get anything in Gualaceo that you can in Cuenca. This video is of our bus ride to Gualaceo.


                  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bargaining with the Beach Vendors in Salinas

Always negotiate when in Ecuador.  In this video Frank is negotiating with a beach vendor. Remember, Ecuadorians expect you to bargain with them, so don't be shy when they come around with their wares, or if in Cuenca when they are selling their produce and wares on the streets. Negotiate with them and try and get the price you think something is worth. Everywhere in Ecuador are numerous vendors that sell the same items. For example: Homemade scarves are sold every where and are really nice here. There may be 15 vendors in one area selling scarves. If you think one vendor is too high, move on and go to the next seller. Sooner or later you'll get the price you want.


            

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Fallacy of Real Estate Purchasing Power and the Fickleness of Cheap Edens

Several months ago we wrote about the fearful expat that castigated us for blogging about living in Cuenca. When we explained that we weren’t spoiling our own pond because we write about how we actually live, that is, blending into the community, being part of the Ecuadorian neighborhood, living like locals, etc. and showing others how to do the same, his response was that it doesn’t matter because the expats won’t listen to all that.

He echoed his sentiment that the expats would just come here and overpay and eventually ruin the place. We shrugged it off as to his way of seeing things, and to date we have been consistent with the outflow of useful information, eventually publishing an electronic facilitator, the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide to save people money and help them see another way of doing things.

And that’s what brings me to this purchasing power nonsense. I got a newsletter last week from a well respected, well followed international consultant that said that the international bench mark for, ready for this?—“quality” construction worldwide is , in his opinion $100 dollars per foot of new construction. And so it goes that if Europe is way above that, it’s expensive, and since Ecuador is below that, it’s cheap.

I don’t have a problem with that comparison. It’s just that, when he said, “quality” construction, it sounded as if he was saying that if you’re not paying the $100 per foot, you’re not getting quality. Hopefully that’s not what was meant, but it seems to me that the way the foreigners are handling things, it appears they actually believe that, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Sad to say, many people promote $100 dollars a foot or more in Ecuador, as if that’s the new standard. What is not known or understood is that you can get high “quality” construction here for way below that. And that’s the high end. If teak hardwoods and marble tiles are not “quality” then I must live under a rock.

Not only that, but from a traveler’s perspective, who says Europe is high and Ecuador is cheap? Some people simply believe that you get what you pay for. And I’m not referring to construction, but joy de vivre, ambience, etc. Ecuador, from a traveler’s perspective, is certainly not Europe. Not even close. It’s not necessarily worse, nor better, it’s just different. So that’s my beef with the purchasing power parity comparison.

You may have heard this before, that if a hamburger costs $7 dollars in Europe and that same hamburger costs $4 dollars in Costa Rica, you’ve got yourself a real live cheaper place to live. The next thing that happens is that this fact is heavily advertised, so that people move from far ends of the earth to come eat that cheaper hamburger, and within a span of just a few years that Costa Rican hamburger now sells for 7-8 or even 9 dollars.

After some time, people start seeing things about Costa Rica they didn’t see back when that hamburger was $4 dollars, and they start looking for that $4 dollar hamburger once again. This time they hear that purchasing power parity says, Mexico is cheaper. The same thing happens over and over and now it’s Ecuador’s turn.

What they don’t tell you is that you’ll be eating that $4 dollar hamburger in a noisier, smoggier environment.

We’ve had several expats, who live in other Latin American countries, write in asking us about Cuenca because they don’t like some things about the Latin American country they are in now. So, if you do not like it in the Latin American country you are in now, it’s likely you will eventually or sooner find negative and positives about the city you move to and you have to accept that. Cuenca is not going to be any different.

Will You Like Cuenca More than Where You Are Now?

Some of the people writing in are looking for a cheaper lifestyle, while others want cooler weather, and some folks just want to move to Cuenca because the novelty has worn off where they are at.

Do you remember back in the 80’s and 90’s how they were hyping up Costa Rica and Mexico, and then in the late 90’s to date, Panama? Well, now its Ecuador’s turn. That’s all that is. When you read these tales of how cheap so and so country is, just replace that country name with another one; all these articles are pretty much the same—publicity gimmicks. That’s all it is.

The biggest drawback to this is when a certain place gets packaged up with a big red bow, like Cuenca is now, it eventually becomes too expensive, and then it’s just another place to go…Cuenca is getting like that now. We’ll be reporting more about this on the Discover Cuenca blog, so stay tuned.

Is It Cheaper to Live in Cuenca?

Some people move from one Latin American country to another just because they hear it is cheaper to live. We know of one couple here who are barely making it here on $1,500 a month. Cuenca’s cost of living can be cheap if you know where to shop, rent, and eat. But if you bring your North American standard of living with you, it is not cheaper! It’s higher!

No place is going to be perfect and that includes Cuenca Ecuador. We also doubt that you will find Cuenca too much cheaper than any other Latin American country. Even in Panama you can still buy five acres and a house for $120k out in the country. Unfortunately Cuenca’s real-estate market is inching up there, at least within the city. To find the deals you need to go out about 30 minutes from Cuenca.

Should You Visit Cuenca? By All Means, Come and Visit!

Yes, come and see if you like Cuenca. But do not uproot yourself and whole family from Mexico or Costa Rica and move to Ecuador because of all the good things you hear about it on the blogs and travel magazines. It’s just Ecuador's turn right now. You just wait, in a few years, when all the hype dies down and cost of living has skyrocketed to where most people can't afford it, the big glossy magazines and big name news media will buy up some property and hype it up as the newest retirement haven.

The fact is, the novelty of a city will eventually wear off no matter where you decide to live. We have to make our own happiness and contentment in life and we do that by learning to adjust to those things that we find negative or annoying.

No place is perfect like the magazines like to say. The best way to find out if a city is for you is to live there for a year and totally immerse yourselves into the local community. Yes, you’ll find negatives, but so what, work with them and be happy.

The DIY Cuenca landing Guide will help you get a feel for Cuenca first before coming; it will help you find a hostel or apartment rental, plus it will show you where to shop, eat, and find bargains, and how to blend in and feel secure during your visit. It will take you along the local trails of Cuenca Ecuador and you may decide it’s not for you after all...

or-- decide you are not going to wait any longer to jump into your new life in Cuenca Ecuador and move here next week.

For those that are serious about their move and are disenchanted and surprised to see how much more it costs here than they’ve been told, we will be rolling out a new service to assist them in finding a long term rental along the lines of what we discuss on our blog.

Coming soon! See you then!!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pan de Yuca Recipe from Cuenca Ecuador

Seeing this vegetable for the first time can be quite intimidating. The first time I saw it I thought, "uh, what is that, it probably doesn't taste good. How do you cook it and what does it taste like?"
We lived here a year before I actually cooked with it myself.  And actually there are several Ecuadorian dishes made with yuca, and "pan de yuca" is one of them.

Most "pan de yuca" is made with queso fresco (fresh cheese) but I have found that in place of the cheese you can use yuca and you can't even tell the difference. The only real difference is my version is healthier because the rolls have less fat without the cheese, which means you can indulge by putting butter and honey on them when they are hot out of the oven! Or, you can simply eat more of them.

Here is my recipe. Of course you can substitute 2 cups of white cheese in place of the yuca. These rolls are supposed to come out with a slight elasticity in the middle (this is the yuca) which makes these delightful rolls even more enjoyable to eat.  Let us know if you would like to see more recipes, using traditional foods on this blog.

                 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Walking on the North Beach of Salinas

We're walking along the beach and talking about the fact that it has been almost 6-hours without power on our first day in Salinas Ecuador. It's not a a complaint but we're merely talking about how amazing it is to see all of these grand condominium buildings lining this stretch of Ecuadorian coast and there's no power. If the condo units you see in the video have a generator it is either not on, or it is a really quiet generator. As we were walking along the beach we could hear which condo units had generators on and it was only a few. Good thing it is not summer in Salinas because many people would have been complaining about the heat without AC.


                  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Salinas Ecuador Blackout!

Yes, the electricity went out in Salinas Ecuador, and for several hours. Luckily for the restaurants they still serve customers because they cook with gas. A few of the condo complexes had backup generators but most did not. The power was out for about 6-1/2 hours.

               

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cuenca Ecuador Winter Weather

For those of you who care about Cuenca weather, you might care about this. Cuenca’s weather, oddly enough is nicer and sunnier in the wintertime. The only difference is, it is about 5 to 10 degrees cooler at night but come eleven o-clock in the morning most of the days are warm and absolutely beautiful. 

UPDATE: (Winter - August 2014) The first statement above is not true anymore. LOL. We've experienced a lot of rain and chilly, windy weather this July and August of 2014. I'm using all of our heaters in the house and it is still cold! This has been an unusually cold winter this year. I think the best way to tell people about the weather in Cuenca is to say, IT IS UNPREDICTABLE! 
We’ve commented before about how there are more cloudy days in Cuenca than sunny, but in the winter, we feel it is a toss-up. It seems we’ve had just as many sunny days as cloudy days this winter. Winter in Ecuador begins in June and ends in October or November. Summer begins Nov/Dec and ends in April/May, or there a-bouts.
It takes some getting used to because it is so much nicer here in the winter compared to summer that you think it is summer, but it is actually winter. Did you get that? LOL ...PLEASE READ the update above.
Summer in Ecuador is rainy season, and boy does it rain! It rains and it rains and then it pours. This is great for gardening and having lush green grass and flora in your yard, but you most likely will get caught up in a rain storm if you walk around a lot like we do. Take an umbrella with you.
Winter in Cuenca coincides with the dry season—we haven’t had much rain lately (2012 and 2013). If you are a gardener you may have to water your plants the old fashioned way, otherwise your garden may dry out. It rained today, the first time in a couple of weeks. This winter seems to be much dryer than last year in Cuenca. Of course, when there are no clouds, you get…sunshine…so dry season = many sunny days in Cuenca.
In the summer it rains almost every day and it is cloudy on most days. We’ve enjoyed the sunny days this winter, but the gardener in the house is ready for some rain. Just thought you might want to know this bit of information about the weather patterns in Cuenca Ecuador.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Cuenca Try Yuca Instead of Potatoes: How Many Ways Can You Use Yuca?



Remember the commercial about the mom who looks in her pantry and realizes she is out of potatoes?  So, what does she do? She cooks “Stove Top Stuffing” instead? Well, here in Cuenca, if you are out of potatoes, you can cook yuca instead.

Yuca is readily available and priced better than potatoes and is starchy with the same texture as potatoes. Yuca can be replaced with potatoes in many recipes. 

Yuca is to the Ecuadorians, as potatoes might be to the North Americans. Yuca is prepared in a variety of ways here in the Andes Mountains and we just recently learned about it because it is one of the odd looking vegetables that we’ve never seen before.  

 


Yuca, also known as cassava in some parts of Latin America is an Ecuadorian staple food. Here in the Andes they add chopped yuca to soups, stews and encebollado (fish soup) soup. 





 


Another Ecuadorian specialty, which we have recently been making in our home, is “pan de yuca”.   







 


This wonderful bread is actually made with yuca flour but I have a variation of it, which uses the actual yuca cooked and then mashed up with the yuca flour. Makes the bread (rolls) more hearty and dense.






Pan de yuca are really good when they're hot right out of the oven with butter and honey. Yummy!











Another simple dish using yuca is to boil chopped up yuca for about 45 minutes then sauté in a little bit of olive oil and garlic for about five minutes, season with salt and pepper. Makes a great side dish to other veggies or a meat dish. 

We also use yuca when make one of our favorite homemade pasta dishes called gnocchi, which is just little Italian dumplings. I replace the potatoes with yuca and they are delicious!


Warning: Yuca / cassava is poisonous if not cooked. cook thoroughly by boiling for about 45 minutes to an hour. Video with my recipe for "pan de yuca" coming soon!