Chapter 1 – 3 Months to 1 Year:
Culture Surprise: I wouldn’t say we had “shock” but we had lots of surprises when we first got here. Like men peeing right in front of you, or three people riding on a motorcycle, or pedestrians not having the right of way, or huge cow pies on the sidewalks, and many sickly, stray dogs roaming the streets; drunks sleeping it off in nice Cuenca areas; tall cement walls surrounding homes, topped off with electric wiring; noisy music, parties, and firecrackers whenever; and guards standing outside businesses with sawed off shot guns; etc, etc. Surprise, surprise.
Doing Errands: When we went out we’d kid with each other saying, “I wonder how many things on our “to do” list we’re going to get done today? A good day was getting a least one thing done, a REALLY good day was accomplishing two things on our list, and an amazing day was completing three errands. Why? Well mostly because of schedule differences with the local business community, or because of circumstances changing on that day, or people not showing up, or just because things are done VERY different here. You’ll see when you get here...lol
Processing Paperwork: It’s funny how when it is all over you stand back and laugh about it, but when you are going through it, it somehow is not that funny.
Just to give you a hint of what processing paperwork is like here: how many times can you hand over the same paperwork for five people in a given month? How about four times, will that work for you? Instead of telling you all on the same day that “This needs changed, we need this document for that person, and this sentence needs to read clearer and this needs translated…"; they will only tell you one thing your paperwork needs and then the next time you go in, they’ll let you know one more thing, and well, by this time days, weeks, even months have passed...and there is new immigration laws, and you need one more piece of paperwork from the states… In a hurry does not compute in Latin Land so, do not be in a hurry... I guess you'll see when you get here...lol
For the first year or so, the newness of everything about living abroad kept us in a euphoric type existence. “What’s the hurry anyway”? And that’s the attitude you have to have if you move here. Everything gets done eventually anyway, just not USA PRONTO, PRONTO!
Chapter one was good for us and it was a good learning experience. It was a fun and exciting time as we did all of the local festivals, events and foods, except for cuy; we simply have not had any curiosity about eating pets. We gobbled down lots of fattening and unhealthy but delicious pastries from the many bakeries; we have gotten to know many Ecuadorians on a personal level, learned Spanish, and have got acquainted with the public transportation, local businesses, the weather and local culture and customs, providing us with the familiarity we needed to make a more profound decision to stay or not to stay. As you know, here we are.
Chapter 2 – One to Two Years
After a year or two, you begin to notice more than just the surprising cultural things but some things that could make you want to leave, or stay in this place they call best retirement country in the world.
Here's something to think about: it’s funny because the environment hasn’t changed, the smog levels have not changed, the efficiency has not changed too much, the drivers and traffic has not changed BUT YOUR PERCEPTION about these things has changed!!
Before, you didn’t care or didn’t notice, but in chapter two some of these things might start to annoy you, especially if you start getting sick, or get robbed too many times, get ran over by a car, or haven’t learned the language, etc, etc…you may wonder, “Why am I here?” This is only for some people, mind you, because not everybody is the same. We’re still here because we have accepted what is.
You may have to get out a piece of paper and write down the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad to put everything into perspective. Understand “nowhere on earth is paradise”. I realize that may sound really cliché but there is so much truth in this statement that it must be said again.
Personal Safety: Here’s another funny one that happened to us in our second chapter of living in Cuenca. After almost two years of living in Cuenca was the only time we were ever pick-pocketed in our entire lives. Who gets pick-pocketed in the USA? Yes, it can and does happen in certain areas of the U.S, such as heavily populated airports or train stations, concerts and touristy destinations, but the likelihood of it actually happening in comparison to Ecuador is almost zilch. In fact, plan on getting pick-pocketed in Ecuador unless you take the necessary precautions not to.
We wrote numerous articles explaining to our readers “how not to get pick pocketed” but we still got pick pocketed because of our carelessness; we broke our own safety guidelines that we wrote about! Can you believe it? You can read about it here.
Most people who get pick-pocketed or purse snatched, are still in chapter one phase of their moving abroad experience; meaning they just do not exhibit the awareness they need to have in developing countries. It is not just about crime either. It’s not uncommon to be taken advantage of in other areas of our life and that is why you not only just need “eye awareness” but “trust awareness” and “understanding awareness” and finally “knowledge awareness” about how things work in a foreign land because they all sum up to discernment and diligence. Without them you are a naïve duck in a pond full of piranhas.
The second chapter of our lives in Cuenca was the time when we learned to speak Spanish pretty well, we knew what to expect in most interactions and situations with the local folks, we knew how to get to anywhere we needed to go, we knew where we liked to eat, what bus to take anywhere we needed to go, and simply understanding the basics of how life works in Ecuador. It all must still be great because after two years we stayed. One thing though, we have learned to avoid the real smoggy streets as much as possible, for now.
Chapter 3 – Four Years Plus
We’re living in this chapter right now and we have settled in and feel that Cuenca is our home. Cuenca has one drawback that we have not been able to adapt, however, and that’s the smog; everything else is small potatoes compared to this one downside about living in Cuenca. In fact, most things about living in Cuenca are wonderful aspects of life you wouldn’t have or get in the U.S. We have so much to reminisce about that is great in Cuenca, but we'll save it for another day.
When Frank and I went to Panama recently, after about 3-days we realized all over again what we love about Cuenca are the things that originally led us to Cuenca, Ecuador in the first place! Actually in our hearts we knew it all along, but sometimes for it to “sink in” you have to leave it for a bit, or in our case, travel somewhere else to see the things we might “take for granted”. Panama does not have the abundance of fresh, healthy foods at reasonable prices. Grocery store shopping in Panama is just like shopping at Safeway in the U.S – no, make that the highest priced stores in the u.s. and we left that four years ago. No thanks!
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