Six weeks in Cuenca Ecuador and I am still feeling unsettled. I struggle to find a routine. I miss my friends and family. I think there is so much more to learn: the language, the neighborhoods, the traditions, even the fruits and vegetables are strange. I feel overwhelmed whenever I stop to think about it.
Yet, it is not a bad place. The weather, even the bad weather, is not so bad. This is winter, even the locals were complaining about the rain and the cold but for now the rain seems to have ceased and the cold (50 to 60 degrees) is tolerable. I am very glad I purchased a light weight parka while in the states, (love, love, love REI).
So, inquiring minds want to know, what is the daily routine of a recently retired couple who have finally paused for a breath, after wearing out their passports traveling the world.
Steve has taken to the leisure life like the proverbial duck. He wakes slowly in the morning, walks along the river to the gym, where he works out and chats it up with the other expat men, and one Ecuadorian, all challenging the years by lifting weights in this small gym. Most of his morning is taken up with the routine of the gym. If there are hours left before lunch, he follows American politics on Facebook. (Groan)
Myself, every other week I get up and set out to walk the 15 minutes to my Spanish Language class where I study, one-on-one with a Spanish language teacher for 4 hours straight. It is exhausting. But I am making good progress.
In the afternoons we find a new, restaurant for lunch. Our choices are either American sandwiches or pizza (boring) or Ecuadorian “almuerzo” which is usually a large bowl of soup, and a main course of a thin chop or a small piece of fish, rice, and plantain. So far the food is underwhelming. It is simple and healthy but not exciting. I much preferred eating in Spain or South Africa.
Afternoons I study Spanish or do the admin/planning work necessary to secure some kind of agreed upon future for Steve and I. It is not easy being homeless and footloose. Steve practices his guitar and studies Spanish on line with Rosetta Stone.
Every day, before I leave for class, I check two of the on-line English language publications available here.
One Cuenca Highlife is an on-line news magazine with articles by expats, usually about being an expat, and brief synopsis of local news translated into English. There are also announcements of social activities and classified ads.
The other publication is the Gringo Post, is a bulletin board of items for sale, questions about expat issues, announcement and recommendations for service providers.
These two publication are my guides to all things: where to find a dentist, what to do on Friday night, how much to pay for an apartment, what restaurants to try, where to find other Gringos and how to secure a visa.
Weekends in Cuenca
Almost every Friday night there is a free symphony concert in the Pumapungo Museum theater a 15-minute walk down the road. On Saturday nights, there is a gathering of expats at Joe’s Secret Garden.
Joe, a Virginia native, and his son serve dinner in their home to 100 expats, seating is at group tables and there is a social hour in the garden before dinner is served. We’ve been three times and found our dinner companions to be generally interesting and helpful. We’ve met a retired conductor from Toronto, woman who climbed Kilimanjaro for her 80 birthday. (“You just have to go slow”) and a couple who, like us, came here from a long term overseas assignment. They were in China.
Other generalization and observations about the many, perhaps as many as 5000, expats here are:
There is a surprising number of courageous single women who just sold everything and came to Cuenca sight unseen to start all over again.
Most of the men here have grey beards, it makes them hard to tell apart.
Many of the expats here lavish an immense amount of affection on their pets. Ecuadorians do not pamper their pets. They certainly don’t take them into a restaurant, lay down a special blanket and water bowl under the table and, when the dog grows restless, take it into their lap at the table, in the restaurant! The Ecuadorians were gob smacked. I was embarrassed for my sub-culture of North American old people.
I have my theories as to why people come here: divorce, financial ruin, family conflict, and for some, a sense of adventure, but I have found that it is too personal of a question to ask someone what exactly brought them to Ecuador. So my theories are untested. I remain curious and will continue to ferret out the story. It will just take a little longer.
So six weeks in, Steve is loving his routine of working out, playing guitar, listening to live music in clubs and concert halls all within walking distance. We even walk at night without fear. The streets are always crowded.
I, typical of my personality, have reserved judgement until I hear a few more personal stories and get past the “We love it here.” initial getting-to-know-you conversations. But I don’t dislike it. It is beautiful and, compared to Johannesburg, peaceful.
We plan to sign a lease today for an apartment, buy a few pieces of furniture and stay here for at least a year, probably two, for visa reasons. After that, who knows.