Visiting Cuenca was on our list because it’s a whole different atmosphere. We wanted to visit a few different areas in Ecuador, if possible, to get a better feel for the variety of experiences possible. Cuenca is a popular destination for expats from various countries because it’s a more international city with two symphony orchestras, plenty of art, museums and cafes, and residents from all countries. It has a greater quantity of desirable features, such as hiking trails, parks, hot springs nearby. On the negative side, it has urban features such as traffic jams, smog, and noise. Our pal from the Ft. Lauderdale airport, “Papa” Ron Cropper, wrote to say: “I absolutely love Cuenca. It is the cleanest city that I have ever been in. There is lots to do here. It’s a shoppers paradise and plenty of parks. The people are fantastic. The weather is also fantastic.” I hear it’s nearly as peaceful as Cotacachi. Gary and I were personally interested to go see it, in case we decide to retire in Ecuador. Alas, that trip will have to wait for another time.
Not visiting Cuenca had its upside. With the extra time available, we considered visiting a tiny mountain village called Mindo, that sits in a cloud forest. Mindo is more of an area than a town. It has butterfly gardens, hummingbirds, parks, waterfalls, and best of all, a chocolate factory! That trip was $350 per person, all inclusive, for 3 days. (van, hotel, restaurants, tour guide) Alas, too much for us.
Not visiting Mindo had its upside. With the extra time STILL available, I realized I could just take it easy. One afternoon I took a book to the town square – San Francisco square – and sat on a bench, reading. My favorite street dog, Princessa, trotted over, so I spent awhile petting her. A little indigenous girl with a boxer dog was shyly smiling at me. I struck up a mostly-Spanish conversation about dogs, and she brightened up. Her younger brother joined us. We sat on a bench together, chatting and laughing for hours. The indigenous women who manned the market booths around the edge of the square were keeping watch to make sure the children were safe.
Another day, Gary and I took our laptop and art supplies to San Francisco square. He sat in a cafe, emailing. I sketched a palm tree, at a leisurely pace. Sometimes I napped, sometimes meditated to feel the volcanos’ presences, sometimes did healing sessions on myself. I’ve done two healing sessions here for local expats. That’s my dream retirement lifestyle!
During this extra downtime, we met people from India, Japan, Australia, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and a delightful Jehovah’s Witness couple from Chicago. We went to an art gallery opening, took Spanish lessons with a Quechua woman named Katty, and developed budding new friendships with Ecuadorians.
We have felt comfortable living here. I’d love to join the garden project, the street-dog-care program, the project to help needy Quechua children, or other worthy projects. This shows me that it is indeed reasonable to consider retiring here. The difficulties to contend with are: limited varieties of organic foods and herbs, lack of fast internet in some places, extreme poverty among some locals, hungry street dogs, old buildings, burglaries, no Amazon deliveries without big surcharges, earthquakes, and the exhaustion that comes from straining to communicate in a new language. Today Gary and I learned conjugations in Spanish, and our brains are still worn out from trying to figure that out! We intend to continue studying Spanish once we return to the US.
Some days I’m eager to return to my familiar life. Other days I thrill at the thought of leaving the rat race and living this peaceful, affordable existence among friendly, beautiful people. Cotacachi would be a warm and relaxing place to retire at the foot of two sacred mountains. On the other hand, even with the higher cost of living and more traffic, we might choose Cuenca.