September 21, 2015

Why My Mom Couldn’t & Wouldn’t Live in Ecuador

Since starting our blog in 2011 we’ve been writing about “why” some folks just aren’t cut out for living in a developing country. Some people aren’t getting it. Almost everyone we have talked to lets us know it is our blog that helped sway their decision to move to Ecuador. Really? How can that be when we have been so upfront about everything? 

Some people who hear the message about Cuenca, Ecuador block the negative out or they tell themselves they can endure that aspect of Ecuador life; it is only natural to block things out, or tell ourselves little fibs to some extent; we all do it, especially when we think we want something really bad.  And a lot of armchair travelers appear to want Cuenca really bad.
 

That’s why I am telling you a little bit about my mom today; maybe you’ll see something you didn’t before.  Before we begin, we want to make it perfectly clear that just because some folks aren’t cut out for Ecuador or any developing country for that matter, does not make them any less of a person, a better person, or any more of an ugly American, or more of a good American than those people who simply love living in Ecuador.  Everyone is different.
 

In our coastal guide we say emphatically that if some people were to move to the Ecuador coast first, before seeing Cuenca, many of them would curl up into a ball and wither away; that may seem harsh but the reality is unless you are in Salinas standing on the Malecon, the coast is very undeveloped and impoverished and one reason why there are more home invasions of foreigners on the coast.
Ecuador coastal village
Most parts of the Ecuador coast are not built up; infrastructure is almost non-existent in some areas. Sure, some aspects of living in Ecuador are like going back to the 1950’s, but others are like going back to the 1870’s.
 

My mom wouldn’t like that. Does it make her a difficult person? What about all the gringos that have left Ecuador because they realized it wasn’t for them, does it make them difficult people? Not at all, hopefully they learned from their mistake; the mistake of thinking something was right for them when in fact it was not. It’s worth repeating:  “know thyself”.
 

Our intent is not to say anything mean about Ecuador; it’s just the way it is.  Why can’t people accept that and move on? I’ve even heard several different gringos say, “I decided on Cuenca because you can drink the water right out of the tap”.  That’s right, no place on the Ecuador coast can you drink the water straight from the tap unless you have a filter setup installed on the tap or a whole house filter. If that is the reason someone is swayed to move to Cuenca then there’s going to be a whole lot more reasons why they will choose Cuenca over the coast.
 

Cuenca has its inconveniences too. These kinds of inconveniences would really annoy my mother, such as having to listen for the honks of the gas truck driving past your home just to get your tanks refilled.  If you happen to be busy in the bathroom when he drives by, oops, guess you missed the gas guy for that day.  What can you do? Well, at this point you NEED to know some Spanish so you can call the gas guy and tell him to pleeeease come back to your house so you can exchange your gas tanks out.
 

These little inconveniences are ok to tolerate for a certain type of person but not my mother. Sure you can rent an apartment in Cuenca and maybe not have to put up with that particular inconvenience, but my mom isn’t ready for apartment living yet. She needs her yard and patio for entertaining guests and her active dog needs space. Simply put, she is not an apartment type of person. Apparently, a lot of folks moving to Ecuador aren't either and want houses with yards and space. Good luck with getting the big green space. More on that in a bit.
 

In the Home
 

And then there is waking up in the morning and your house is about 64 degrees and there is no thermostat to turn up the heat? Instead you have to light your gas heater or have electric heaters strategically positioned throughout the home. Another inconvenience my mom wouldn’t like. Did anyone mention fire hazard from portable gas heaters and carbon monoxide fumes that do seep out from these units. They can be dangerous and unhealthy, but what can you do about it? It’s life in Ecuador.
 

Yes, the homes in Cuenca can be downright chilly 6 months out of the year and most homes are not built with central heating like the homes in the u.s.
 

Another thing that my mom would not like, and a lot of expats do complain about is the water pressure and luke-warm  showers. Yes, sometimes you won’t even get a hot shower even though there is gas in the tank. The Ecuador calefon water heaters have their own little idiosyncrasies and if you don’t know what those are you will not like taking showers in Ecuador.  Especially in the chilly Andes.   
calefon - hot water "on demand" heater
In the city of Cuenca what you usually see are town homes and apartments and houses with small yards, if there is a grassy area.  If anyone likes to do any kind of gardening, or if you have a dog, you’ll want a bigger yard than the postage stamp yards they have in the city.
Typical green area - is that enough room for a German Shepherd or Retriever?
Guess you can walk your dog every day!
What can someone like my mom do, who needs to have the conveniences of U.S standards inside her home, and who has an energetic Labrador who needs to run and play, and a love for gardening and entertaining friends?
 

Well let's see, she can go out into the country and have a home built to her own tastes and comfort levels, install all the custom upgrades she wants to her own home that she is so used to having in the u.s.  But then she would have a large amount of u.s. funds invested, and she may not be able to get them back out intact if and when she would change her mind.
 

Living out in the country has its own risks and challenges and they are multiplied for those that don’t speak the language. You can put up tall cement walls so people can’t see in and install electric wire all the way around too, but what happens when the electricity goes out? What if the thieves cut your electricity off to your home? Who is going to know when you live out in the countryside of Ecuador? 

If you need a doctor, how do you reach one in time?  How do you spend hours in taxis and buses unless you also buy a car, one of those things that is not too cheap in Ecuador. Did we also mention, the number one cause of expat deaths in Ecuador is car accidents, driving and walking as a pedestrian? See the statistics for 2011 here.
 

Going Outside the Home into the Environment
 

At 77 years young my mom is not as agile as she used to be; she is slim and healthy for her age but I don’t think she would feel very comfortable trying to cross the street where there are no traffic lights, just cross walks. People get ran over all the time in these Latin American countries. What can you do? I guess you can take a taxi everywhere you go but that gets expensive. My mom wouldn’t like riding the bus, in fact, at her age she’d have a difficult time getting up on the bus…let alone riding it.
 

Oh, and tell mom that she can’t wear her diamond ring outside of her home in Ecuador; just that right there will stop her from coming here. She wouldn’t want to be in fear of getting robbed/mugged every time she went out the door. Mom shouldn’t come here.  I’ve never asked mom to move to Ecuador; I already know that Ecuador is a bad fit for my mom.
 

Grocery Shopping
 

Some people are not cut out for Mercado shopping. Sure, they like walking through the Mercado's for entertainment purposes (tourist attraction) but some folks would never shop there on a full time basis just to save some money, my mom included. I remember as a teenager my mom would pass up some great deals at a warehouse type grocery store in town because there wasn’t a box boy to take the groceries off the huge crate style shelves (Cosco Style Shopping) and put them in the trunk of her car.  Shopping there was an inconvenience to her. Seriously I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
 

Ecuador is not for everyone.  As much as we talk ourselves into being able to endure these seemingly small inconveniences, for some people they are just too much to bear over a long period of time.  Another thing: visiting Ecuador on a month to three month trip is not long enough to really know if you will like living here permanently.
 

We are not discouraging anyone from visiting Ecuador (except for my mom) or even moving here; on the contrary, please do come and check it out, but we are giving you a heads up that Ecuador or any developing country is not for a certain type of people, as much as we try and tell ourselves otherwise, we’re better off just keeping our feet where they are firmly planted. 

Have a wonderful day... and until we write again…

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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

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