Bicycling in Cuenca, Ecuador is a different experience than bicycling in the United States.  While both have their risks and rewards, bicycling on the Cuenca city streets has far more hazards, number one being the drivers, if you’re riding on the roads.  

Drivers in Cuenca put themselves first over pedestrians and cyclists.  You have to stop for them, they won’t stop for you and when they have to, they wait to the very last minute, just before they hit you.  Then they honk at you, even in a crosswalk.  Ecuadorians are beautiful people, until they get into a car.  That being said, if you stick to the bike paths and stay alert, it’s a great place to ride your bike.

BIKE PATHS

 

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Ecuador world map

“Do you have indoor bathrooms in Ecuador?” This was a question that I was asked when I told someone we were moving to Ecuador.   And this person is not poorly educated.

That’s not the only odd comment we heard from people in the USA when Ecuador was mentioned.        

Here are a few good ones:

When Bonnie told one person that Ecuador was in South America she said, “oh, so its considered part of our country”.  It’s South, not North America.  She was thinking it was part of the US.  

From a person in another state when I was visiting:  “Isn’t that somewhere up by Russia?” I was hoping he was kidding, but I don’t think so.  

Others, like my dad, are pretty sure we are either going to be thrown in jail for something or killed by drug runners. This comes from watching too many movies.

Modern Ecuador house

So the answer is yes, Ecuador does have indoor bathrooms.   In our rental house in Cuenca, we have three, complete with flush toilets.  We also have indoor cooking facilities, a nice big kitchen, washers, and dryers.  Not everyone has all these amenities, but there are some pretty fancy houses down here.  

Ecuador is part of South America, the American continent that is farthest south.  Not the same continent as Mexico.  We are still Americans (South Americans) down here, just not North Americans. 

Ecuador kitchen
Modern Ecuador kitchen

The truth is, we live in a beautiful custom built house on a hillside, overlooking a beautiful mountain above and a large river below, that is one of two that flow through the city we live in.  The city, Cuenca, is a **UNESCO world heritage site**, and home to many people from all over the world.  It has a modern public transport system, bike paths, public bicycles, towering apartment complexes, large super markets, spas, car dealerships, great restaurants and all the other amenities of a modern city.

We don’t own a car here because the public transportation is very effective.  We walk, and take buses and taxis everywhere.  If we have to go somewhere far, we have specific drivers that we use who are very affordable.  It’s much cheaper than owning a car in the US.  Granted, there are limitations not having a car handy at all times, but the trade offs are worth it and you get used to it.  It’s kind of nice having someone else do all the driving!  

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Electric tram in Ecuador

If your looking for big box stores, there aren’t any familiar ones down here.  No Home Depots, Best Buys, Bed, Bath and Beyonds, etc.  There are local versions but they are not the overflowing adult candy stores like those in the US.  I do miss that sometimes, but not enough to long for them.  They are replaced by many small to medium size mom and pop stores.  Entrepreneurship is very prevalent here.  

The bottom line is, Cuenca, where we live in Ecuador is beautiful, safe, clean, and has everything we need.  We live an almost US city lifestyle, except it costs a lot less to do so.  And, the weather and sky is awesome.  Now if you will excuse me, I have to go use my indoor bathroom!

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Dog in CuencaStreet dogs are uncommon in downtown (El Centro) Cuenca but become more prevalent as you get into the outlying areas.  Still, there are not as many as we encountered in Cotacachi, Ecuador, until you get to the outer areas of Cuenca.  In our area of Cuenca, Rio Amarillo, it seems like everyone has a dog, either running loose on the street, or captive behind a fenced or gated yard.  

Rio Amarillo is a barrio about two miles west of El Centro.  There is a mix of really nice houses and some plain ones.  It’s a very mixed income neighborhood, but a very nice one.  There are lots of dogs here.

Many people in Cuenca seem to own dogs for one reason…property protection.   For a majority, they are not pets, companions, or “furry friends” here.  Some live on the street or sidewalk in front of businesses, some wander the street in front of their homes, and others are kept behind fenced in areas.  Yet others are staked or chained near the property they are there to protect.  The neighbor behind us has a dog on a two foot rope, with a doghouse, near their guinea pig pens.  Since there are stray cats in the area, we assume his sole purpose is to protect the guinea pigs from the cats.  The guinea pigs here are food for the household.  That dog has no freedom. 

It’s unusual to see an Ecuadorian walking a dog on a leash but we have seen a few.  When we walk ours down the streets, the street dogs and the ones behind the gates go berserk barking and growling.  When we take a walk without our dog, the other dogs don’t bother us. I’m guessing it’s a territorial thing.  

Many of the dogs we’ve encountered, both on the street and behind fences, look like they could use a bath.  I’ve heard that most people never bathe their dogs in their lives. Some of them are downright mean, while others try to look mean, but you know they are just posing.  I learned not to reach out to pet any of them, especially the raggedy poodles.  Dirty, mean little nippers they are – most that we’ve seen. Again, most of the dogs seem unbothered by us, unless we have our dog with us. 

It is painful to see how badly many dogs are treated around here.   A dog can be a wonderful friend and companion if treated properly, and can and will still protect property if needed.  Some locals don’t see this.  They show little to no compassion for dogs and because the dogs are taught to be mean and aggressive, many are afraid of dogs. 

We have a loving, very friendly dog who likes to meet people.  When we walk her here, people avoid us out of fear they will be bitten.  Many are surprised and pleased that Star, our dog, is so loving and friendly.  Many Ecuadorians are amazed at how well trained and behaved she is.  At our hostel in Quito, the staff fell in love with her, and even all had their pictures taken with her before we left.  Star was a star to them.

As more gringos move in with their dogs and more locals see that there is another way to live with them, things should change for the better.  I acknowledge that the reason many dogs go uncared for is because it takes every penny for many locals to just feed their families, and pets need to be low on the priority list.  I also will note that many of the dogs on the street are very friendly and street smart.  Most dogs brought from the US would never survive the way these savvy dogs do, after years of cushy treatment.  

There is a reason for the way things are done in every culture and we acknowledge, that while we may not like the way some of these dogs are treated, this is the native culture and it is not our place to judge.  We will continue to treat our own dog and the friendly dogs we meet with love and compassion and maybe that example will be seen and followed by others.  

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La Petit JardinLast night, we had the pleasure of dining at one of the highest rated restaurants in Cuenca, Ecuador, La Petit Jardin, which happens to be in our neighborhood.  Our friends, hosts, and landlords, introduced us to this restaurant and are friends with the owners and chef.  We walked, almost a mile, uphill to the restaurant, through what many North Americans would consider a shady neighborhood, passing abandoned buildings, street dogs, and vacant lots.  Undeveloped areas like this are common in Ecuador, and not to be feared.  Eventually we turn onto a dirt road offering the same but with one beautiful huge house (casa) behind a fence.  One more turn onto another single lane dirt road, and we reach La Petit Jardin, situated in a beautiful house with gardens and a llama hanging out in the field nearby.  It is in the most unlikely location you would ever expect such a fine restaurant to be in, but it works.  

We arrive, the front door opens, and we are greeted by one of the owners.  The restaurant is empty and it looks like we are the first guests for the evening.  They only open Saturday and Sunday.  The rest of the week, the chef and owner, Giovanni, is shopping for ingredients for the next week, and spending time with his family.  Their residence is next door.

The Food

We are seated,  given our menus, which offer a limited but delectable looking selection of Entrees, Appetizers, and drinks.  After polishing off two appetizers, we order four different meals between us.  Trout, short ribs, a shrimp dish, and a chicken dish.  Wow!  They were all beautifully presented, and perfectly cooked.  I had the short ribs, which melted in my mouth.  Our friend Lucy had the trout and offered me a taste.  I think it was the best trout I have ever tasted.  I didn’t  try the chicken or shrimp but was told they were exquisite also.  We finished the meals with a bowl of ice cream, called helados here.  The ice cream was home made with local fruit.  DELICIOUS! La petit jardin

The Bill

Then, the big shock, the bill!  Four entrees, two appetizers, two Mojitas with Cuban Havana rum, one craft beer, and one desert.  $54.00.  We just had the most incredible dinner for four, for $54.00.  My jaw nearly dropped.  No where in the United States would you find a meal of this quality for that low of a price.  My kudos to Giovanni for being able to offer such a fine meal for so affordable a price.  That makes it easy to go out to a fine restaurant more often.  

We pay our bill, and say goodbye to Giovanni and his wife.  As we are leaving he says to me, “we are neighbors now, so we will see you again.”  He was exactly right, he will.  

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garage sale

We’re Moving To Ecuador!

The decision was made by both of us to move to Cuenca, Ecuador for a year or two as soon as we can get everything done that needs to be done before we can leave. And that is the problem.

flying into QuitoIt is no easy task to move to another country. We have an established life with a house, a dog, a cat, and lots of stuff accumulated over the years. Moving to another house or across country is hard enough, but it’s a heck of lot easier than moving to Ecuador. In country, you just take your stuff, put it in a truck, and move it to the next location. Not so much with an international move. Not only is it too expensive to ship our possessions to Ecuador, but we don’t want to have all of them there. The whole idea is to lighten our load and be nearly possessions-free. The free feeling that alone will give us may be worth all the effort.

We decided to rent out our house and sell most of its contents…furniture, tools, cookware, cars, kayaks, and a whole lot of other sh%*. This takes, as we are finding out, a lot of time and energy, not to mention the emotional toll of getting rid of personal treasures accumulated over a lifetime. The timing has to be right for renting the house, selling the cars, and making plane reservations; otherwise we may be stuck in limbo with no home or vehicles for a period of time.

We’ll also be taking the dog and cat. They are much-loved family members. The logistics for getting them there is challenging. They need a full series of vaccines and shots from a USDA certified vet. They need special kennels to travel in. Arrangements have to be made with the airlines to accommodate pets. The cat will probably go on board, under the seat, the dog with check-in luggage. I can’t wait to see our smart dog’s reaction when she’s stuck in a kennel, gliding on a conveyor belt into a hole in the wall as we slowly disappear from her sight. I can hear her yelps of protest already!

And then there’s the required visa paperwork which includes: FBI reports, state police reports, marriage license, birth certificates, and more all needing to be apostilled by different agencies in different states. Then, they all have to be translated into Spanish, perfectly. Ecuador is a Hague convention country, and has lots of hoops to jump through for a temporary residence visa. My understanding is that getting a US visa is a lot harder. Glad I’m not going that direction!

It’s December and we have been at this for about 3 months now. So far, even though we’ve sold a lot of stuff, bought a kennel for the dog to travel in, and received our apostilled FBI reports back, there is still tons to do.

One of the hardest things about this is keeping our heads in the game and keeping the momentum going. We live in a beautiful place, great town, super friends, and lots of amenities. Still, we want to have this adventure in our senior years. It’s hard to leave what we have. But when we look at what is ahead of us – freedom, simplicity, learning new things, trying new foods, and visiting new places – we get motivated. Ecuador is beautiful and friendly to foreigners. We have friends there too. Life will be simpler, less expensive, more challenging in some ways, less in others.

We have decided to hire a facilitator to help us with this whole process. It’s an expense but since talking with her we already feel so much better. She will handle translating all our documents into Spanish, and getting them notarized in Ecuador. She will help us with the pets, booking the tickets, arranging for transport and arrival in Quito. What a relief!

We figure we have about three more months before we get on the plane. We’re preparing the animals by sending them mental pictures of what’s going to happen. I hope it works and makes their trip easier. We are making sure to book a direct, nonstop flight to Quito to ease the pain. From there we will take one more short flight to Cuenca. We’ll spend a couple of days in Quito and get our cedula (identification card) before heading to Cuenca.

Moving to Ecuador is not easy, especially with pets, but we are really looking forward to the adventure and the change. Good times are ahead in South America. We can feel it!

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My 3 weeks spent scouting Cuenca, Ecuador was enough to give me a feel for the city and enough information was gathered to make some major decisions about living there.  In 3 weeks time, I walked close to 200 miles within a 2-mile radius of where we were staying in our AirBnB.

Continue reading “Scouting Cuenca Ecuador”

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We spent part of the 4th of July taking a car tour of Cuenca neighborhoods with Jeff.  Jeff is an expat married to an Ecuadorian woman.  He has been in Cuenca for about 4.5 years, speaks decent Spanish, and unlike many gringos, has a van, and drives. 

We were joined by Stephen, from Atlanta, who was also down here on an exploratory tour to determine if he and his wife want to live here. 

cuenca map

We started the tour by driving to the top of a mountain to a lookout point with an overview of the neighborhoods.  From there we had a spectacular view of all of Cuenca.  Jeff pointed out the different areas and the good and bad points of each one.  We drove back down and started our neighborhood tour.

 

There are eight main neighborhoods that we toured in Cuenca and here’s what I remember.

Continue reading “Cuenca Neighborhoods”

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We walked out the door to our quaint little basement AirBnB apartment to a sunny day and gorgeous blue skies, to one of the main streets of Cuenca, Ecuador,  Remigio Crespo.  From the crisp, clean air of the apartment, we waded into a cloud of fumes, from diesel buses, two-cycle motorcycles, and cars.  We were enveloped in the smoke, fumes, and the noise of traffic.

Continue reading “Cuenca’s Dirty Little Secret”

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asheville

After being home for a month and a half, we still have many memories of Ecuador and our trip there and back.  Our thoughts after Ecuador keep evolving as we live our lives back home, visiting with friends, going through our normal routines, and watching the happenings here and around the world.  It’s good to be home…. but…. here are my afterthoughts.

   Continue reading “Thoughts After Ecuador”

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Small towns in Ecuador each have their own unique specialties.  Meaning, they focus on one craft and become a destination for that particular craft.  We are staying in a town famous for it leather work, but there are other towns nearby and elsewhere in Ecuador that specialize in woodworking, weaving, pottery, guitar making, and more. 

Cotacachi – Leathergoods

The most popular street in Cotacachi is Leather Street.  That’s not the official name, it’s what it generally referred to because of all the leather shops lining the street.   These shops are filled with leather jackets, vests, purses, pants, and assorted accessories, all, to my knowledge, made in Ecuador.  The quality of these products is outstanding.  You can buy a leather jacket in just about any color you can imagine.  You can find leather shoes that are locally made.  You can even watch them being made.  It’s refreshing to see shoes made this way, and not imported from China.

Continue reading “Unique Ecuador Town Specialties”

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