Monday, May 13, 2013

Cuenca, Ecuador: Preconceptions, Misconceptions and New Viewpoints

As it turns out, many of our preconceptions (based upon reading online and books), turned out to be misconceptions (at least for us). Here are our current feelings about Cuenca, Ecuador.
  1. Noise, pollution and traffic
    For us thus far, the noise level has been tolerable. But this is entirely based upon where we are staying. There are many places noisier as well as quieter. The pollution hasn't been an issue unless caught in a trail of black diesel exhaust from a bus. The good news is that they are working on converting to propane powered buses in the next few years. There is also a light rail being built and a percentage of El Centro will become pedestrian malls. Traffic? No worse than any city and surprisingly not as chaotic as we thought it would be.
  2. Conservative dress
    I think we were a little mislead on this one. While business professionals wear conservative dress, we also see a lot of casual dress on all ages (locals and expats). Bright colors abound and not just on the indigenous people. The one item we only see on the young are imprinted t-shirts. Surprisingly I've only seen skirts on professional business women and the indigenous women/girls. It is true that you don't see a lot of shorts. The exception are a few (very few) expats, bicyclists (a growing group), University students (of all nationalities) and tourists (yes, we can easily spot most of them). Anyway, for the most part business casual plus jeans is all that is needed.
  3. Bad Coffee
    Every thing we read led us to believe that we weren't going to be able to find good coffee here. After trying two restaurants, we came to the conclusion that these folks must like weak coffee because the coffee we had was nice and strong (the way we like it). We haven't had a bad cup yet and recently found out about a shop where we can get the beans ourselves (the grocery store stuff isn't really up to par).
  4. Weather
    We both have really enjoyed the weather and the fact that it changes rapidly throughout the day has been fun, surprisingly. I do remember the first few days that were very gray and I wished for a little more sun. Well, I got it...we had five days in a row of sunny days without rain. Lifted my spirits and the rest of our stay has been wonderful.
  5. Stray Dogs
    Unfortunately this is an issue but it's a cultural one. Dogs aren't pets as we are used to them being. They are utilitarian if they have owners - they are alarms. We noticed a lot of behavioral differences in the street dogs as compared to our beloved pets in the US. Many owners let their dogs roam so just because they are on the street, doesn't mean they don't have a home. We rarely saw a skinny or sick looking dog but know that they haven't been vaccinated and do carry disease. It's sad to us but it's a way of life here. There are organizations doing rescue and spay but they are privately run and no telling how long they will having the funding needed to continue. There is one other downside - dog poop everywhere. Sigh...
  6. Finding our way around
    This was a bigger challenge than anticipated, mainly due to the Spanish names. By week three another expat (thank you, Mike L.) introduced us to citymaps2go. Works on both iPhone and Android and the free version allows the download of two maps. NO internet required once it's downloaded. LOVE IT!
  7. Language Barrier
    This, needless to say, has been our biggest issue. We have learned several key phrases and we appreciate every local who has helped us learn more (the maids here at Apartmentos Otorongo, the waiter at Magnolia Caffe and others). Another thank you to Mike L. for introducing us to the app, Jibbigo. Also good for both platforms and doesn't require the Internet. My iPhone has an old OS so I couldn't download either app but Stu put both on his iPhone 4S and they have been a HUGE help. Wish we had them earlier....
  8. Safety/Security
    One foreign gentleman said he couldn't stay here and live in a cage. We don't look at it that way but we can see how he interpreted the culture and surroundings. If you think traditional Spanish architecture, the house was built with an inside courtyard and all the rooms looked inward. Whether for safety/security in those days or not, the culture has continued. All buildings are well protected with walls, electric alarms, barbed wire or broken glass at the top of the walls, etc. Dogs are the secondary alarm system. From the exterior a house or apartment building may look less than reliable but inside is a different story. Being built in this fashion not only makes it safer but it provides a barrier against the street noise in many areas. We have grown very accustomed to seeing people reach inside a fence to unlock a padlock, search multiple keys to unlock a heavy door or buzz so the resident can come down to let you in.
  9. Graffiti vs Street Murals
    No misconceptions here - graffiti is alive and well in Cuenca. The sad thing is that a lot of the graffiti is painted on top of some very interesting murals. The good thing is that the town has instituted a program to change this. We are hopeful that it will help.
  10. Street/Road Condition & Pedestrians (Walking)
    We had seen photos of the sidewalks with metal sticking up, potholes and obstructions so we were prepared. We had been warned that streets might not be up to par and we've seen those as well as dirt roads. We'd been warned that pedestrians are targets and don't have the right of way. We have managed it all, gotten very good at crossing streets (even the ones without crossing lights as well as the ones with traffic coming from multiple directions), haven't fallen, have walked huge stairs (up and down) and still are amazed at the women here who gracefully navigate all this in stiletto heels. Phew! I do have to mention one last thing about walking. There are those times when you run into the smell of stale urine. Regardless of laws, some men/boys just can't wait and use various corners. No worse than a truck stop/rest area in the US though. Hasn't slowed our walking at all - we've been averaging 3-6 hours a day of meandering around El Centro.
What we've come to love about Ecuador...
  1. The People
    They are always willing to help, always willing to share a smile, hard workers with a love of live. Of course it's like anywhere else, there is always that ONE...but in general all our experiences have been wonderful. We look forward to learning more conversational Spanish so we can better chat with the locals.
  2. The Greenery
    The wonderful climate is responsible for the wealth of growing plants, bushes, trees and crops. There is something blooming all the time and the nighttime smells are amazing. In addition there is the added bonus of the hummingbirds that are much larger than we are used to in the US. That means they fly slower and they actually perch on branches. A great treat to see, even in the darkening light at dusk.
  3. The Climate
    While there isn't much change from day to day, you can experience several seasons in one day. It is normally cool in the morning, warming as the sun arises, at some point it usually rains a bit, then it cools again in the evening. Oh, and thanks to the constantly moving clouds, the view is always different. [avg nights are in the 40-50 range, avg days are in the 60-70 range, but at this altitude it always feels warmer in the sun] Homes typically do not have heat or air conditioning as neither is needed most of the time. Some folks have little space heaters for the extra cool am/pm time. Another bonus of the climate and altitude is the lack of flying insects. There are no screens on the windows, you just open and enjoy the fresh air.
  4. The Fresh Fruits & Vegetables
    What can we say but OH MY!!! Eating good food, inexpensively, without a lot of additives. How can that not be good.
  5. The Lack of Stress
    Regardless of the traffic and city bustle, it's hard to let yourself get stressed here. We both noticed it, the mañana attitude. It will get done, maybe not today, but that's okay!
  6. The Little Shops  & Markets
    No matter what you need, there is someplace to get it. We're talking the day to day things, not the big ones like major appliances (you can get them, too, just be prepared to pay - dearly for American or well known brands). The mercados (open markets) are where you can get the best deals on food as well as other goods and there are several. It's so fun to be within walking distance of your daily grocery shopping.
  7. The Artisans
    Panama hats, embroidered blouses and shawls, wonderful Alpaca sweaters, handmade sterling silver jewelry, carvings, painting, and so much more!
  8. The Family
    It's all about the family and we love that, watching the interactions, how they interrelate and how they take others into their family, la familia.
  9. The Country
    Ecuador is a small country, compared to the US, about the size of Nevada. But it is very diverse and we so look forward to traveling to other parts and visiting. The rain forest, the coast, the ruins, the rural towns with artisan specialties. And then there is the rest of South America!
So what are our plans? To return to Ecuador before the end of 2013 and make it our home for the next 5-6 years. Watch for updates as we start the process of telling our family, going through our belongings to determine what comes with us and purchasing a few new things we need to bring.

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