I have always wanted to spend my senior years living in a place where I could walk, bike, or take functional public transportation to my destinations so I would not have to own a vehicle. And now, I’ve finally found that place…Cuenca, Ecuador.
Cuenca is a very progressive city that is working to improve to the walkability and bike-ability of the the city.They’re doing this by creating more pedestrian friendly walking areas, more bike paths, an electric tram (tranvia), and improving the local bus system with new buses. And, they have an excellent city bike program called Bicipùblica Cuenca.
While there are some places like this in the U.S., they aren’t nearly as affordable as Cuenca is.The cost of living here is about 1/3 of most places in the U.S. and, it’s a beautiful city.
For our anniversary, I decided to book an overnight stay at a boutique hotel in downtown Cuenca. The hotel is located across from one of our favorite parks, San Sebastian. Parque San Sebastian is surrounded by some of our favorite hangouts, including the Azul de la Plaza Hotel. This hotel is located directly across from the park. I chose it because it has a special room set up for special occasions, like anniversaries. This room is located on the 4th floor and has a double sized spa tub right in the room. It also has a magnificent view of the famous cathedral domes in El Centro and they are all lit up in glowing blue light at night.
Our life in Ecuador is nothing like our life was in the United States. Here, we don’t own a car or the house we live in. Because we are retired, we don’t go to work everyday. We spend our days milling around our beautiful house or gardens, or visiting the downtown area. We still do some work, especially Bonnie, to bring in some extra income, but we work online now. I am building a website and doing some stock trading. We get around by walking, or taking a bus or taxi. Public transportation is excellent in the Cuenca, where we live. We spend a lot of our time socializing and shopping, mostly for fresh and fruits found at the many mercados in the city.
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.
Recently we had two appointments downtown, with many hours of down time between. We decided to ride the double decker tour bus to turn the down time into an adventure.
First, I needed to locate a public rest room. The one we found was a great example of ways that Cuenca keeps people employed. A woman had the job of sitting at a desk outside the restrooms. She held the toilet paper hostage, until customers paid their 20 cents. For 20 cents you get a pre-cut and folded allotment of toilet paper. I guessed that the fees paid for its maintenance and for the salary of the attendant. Maintenance is necessary, because in Latin America, the plumbing is not able to handle toilet paper at all. Wastebaskets are provided for the paper. That feature took some getting used to, on our first trip here.
Our two hour bus tour cost $8 per person, and included a cup of a traditional Ecaudorian drink made up of guanabana fruit juice, sugar and other delicious ingredients. A dollop of rum was optional. As we waited for the previous group to disembark the bus, we enjoyed people- watching. The giggling uniformed school children being patiently herded down from the top deck clearly loved their field trip. Probably 8 years old, the boys and girls laughed together and pranced down the bus aisle in high spirits, stopping every 30 seconds to linger and admire some feature of the bus. One teacher smilingly tugged at their sweaters and backpacks to urge them to keep moving along. Their sense of fun got my own mood bubbling with joy.
In our first two weeks here, we napped twice a day! The altitude (8500′ at our house) was hard on our bodies. Then we went down to one nap per day, then every other day. Now we don’t nap much unless we really exert ourselves. Gary bought a great quality bike from a guy who was heading back to the US. It’s a hybrid road-offroad bike, so he can take it anywhere. When he rides it way down the mountain along the river trail, and then back up the mountain to our house, its nap time. I’m impressed that his lungs are able to manage the altitude and the uphill exertion! I still get winded when I walk up the steep terraced hillside from our veggie garden to the house. Progress: I can now walk from the bus stop up the unbelievably steep curving sidewalk through our hilltop neighborhood, often without resting. I love seeing that improvement.
With the decision finalized, the project of moving internationally took on a different flavor. The number of details to be arranged was overwhelming. Everything must be done at once, in this phase.
We realized that impeccable organization would be the only way to survive. We set up file folders for different aspects of the planning process, and put to- do lists within the folders. Gary made lists on his computer. I had stacks of legal pads, each with notes on a different topic.
The main work of the moment was to begin application for temporary residence visas. After having read about how expensive visa lawyers are, we decided to do all the work ourselves. That silly decision didn’t stand long!
What did it take for us to begin making this a reality?
Some of you are wondering about retiring to Ecuador, yourselves. You’ve asked about what it took to make this decision and how we made the choices and how specifically the move came about. So I’m posting an amended compilation of some of the blog posts that I wrote for a travel company as we went along. Now you can benefit from our experience! ——————————————————————
PHASE 1 – Considering The Idea of Retiring in Ecuador
In the second month after our return from Ecuador, Gary and I started talking seriously with each other and with a few friends about the pros and cons of leaving our beloved home country and having an adventure in a place where we would be perpetual foreigners. (Retired, debt-free, relaxed foreigners.) Do we really want to live in South America for several years? The idea is thrilling to both of us! After decades of hard work, we love the idea of having an adventure that’s totally different! We love the U.S. but we want to see more of the world too.
In the evening of April 6, 2019, we arrived at our new home in Cuenca, Ecuador. Traveling for 9 solid days had sapped all our strength and enthusiasm. Relief flooded our beings as we stepped onto the grass of our Ecuadorian house’s lawn. Home at last! This house had been posted on Facebook, so we had never seen it in person. it was far bigger and prettier than it seemed online. It had a big yard with flowers, fruit trees and veggie garden. The whole lot was perched on a steep hillside, overlooking the city and a range of mountains. The animals sniffed and explored every inch of the place. It felt like an oasis we could replenish within.
The view of the sunrise from our hilltop house was stunning! It was the first time of many many many future times that we photographed the sunrise over the landscape. Mountains filled our living room’s wall of windows. El Cajas is the wilderness park covering the mountains. Morning mists gave way to dramatic cloud sculptures that gradually thinned, leaving us with a sky of deep blue.
The owners were away for a vacation. They had invited us to stay in the house when we arrived, and we would all share the house for a week when they returned from their trip. It was good to have a couple days to rest and unwind from the arduous journey. When they returned, it went beautifully. We’d never met before, yet a nice friendship quickly developed. We discovered much in common. They took us to their Buddhist meditation gathering, and showed us hiking spots and the best mercados. Apparently we had slid right into the place where we were meant to be.
Our first week was spent largely resting, with the animals always at our sides. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, our bodies required a lot of adjusting. The dog and cat too. At first we napped twice every day. Any exertion required an immediate nap. We knew to drink a lot more water than usual. Still, it was a few weeks before we could get by on just one nap per day.
Our wondrous, helpful facilitator, Tina, helped us complete the process of getting our cédulas. This required three more days of cab rides and visits to multiple offices. First we took the papers we got in Quito to an office in Cuenca. They told us we had to go to another office in the town of Azogues, which was a 45 minute drive away. We hired a recommended local driver, Nestor, and were so glad we did. He was knowledgeable, familiar with both cities and was a safe driver. He spoke English very well, so he was a big help with translating. In Azogues, we waited and waited and met with people who told us to walk to their bank and deposit $10 into their account and return with the receipt. There were a few hitches in the process, so we had to return the next day with Nestor. Thankfully, he was available to drive us again. When that was complete, he drove us back to Cuenca to another office. After much waiting, we had our photos taken at last received our cédulas! By that time Gary and I, Tina and Nestor were all starving and drained.
In the course of doing all of this, we caught the usual stomach bugs. Our digestive systems are not accustomed to the microorganisms that live in the water here. It’s best to avoid local food and water for a little while, while our systems adjust. Gary and I spent the next two weeks struggling with digestive distress off and on. We brought with us a powerful herbal tincture for digestion, which helped. We explored the city and explored the countryside near our rural house during the next weeks. But our digestive troubles necessitated short excursions.
Thus passed our first month: in a whirlwind of activity and illness, punctuated by naps and long hours spent wandering in the heavenly beautiful garden to ground ourselves into our new locale.
The moment we’d been aiming towards for a year finally arrived. Clusters of city lights emerged from the darkness as our plane sank lower, skimming over the nighttime Andes mountains towards our new home in Ecuador.Our airline changed our flight from a daytime one to a much later flight. We had to accept a midnight arrival. As the plane touched down, I could hear Star, our Australian Shepherd dog, begin howling in the baggage compartment, right beneath our feet. Our cat Maya was surely huddling wide-eyed in her kennel next to Star’s, letting the howling speak for her.