2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

People and Time, Oh How Sublime!

One of the many great things about Cuenca is that I never know how my day is going to go. Of course in the states when I was a teacher and an administrator, I never knew how my day was going to go either. However, this is retirement, a more insouciance time, when I am more in control of my time. Yet, getting together with friends, having someone call, meeting someone new, running into people I know while walking or eating in a restaurant, there is always an abundance of people in my life that can send each day on a trajectory I did not anticipate. It’s nice not to have a daily routine of the same old grind. It’s also nice to see my daily plans altered on a frequent basis by circumstances and by the people I meet throughout the day, by friends and new acquaintances who generally promise an interesting or exciting or adventurous time of conversation or activity.

Friday was one of those days that brought me into El Centro to have a late lunch/early dinner with a friend in a restaurant that was new to me “Indigo”, which has good food, nice atmosphere, and very reasonable prices. The evening was upon us and it was time to head to Gringo Night at Zoe’s. The crowd was relatively sparse. I hadn’t been in attendance in over a month. Some of the usual mainstays were there, as were newer couples I have met before who only recently moved to Cuenca.

As I made my rounds talking with people, I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with one gentleman I had met in Parke Cauderon one afternoon where we spent hours talking. Meeting him again at Zoe’s led me to some new acquaintances, a young Argentinean from Buenos Aires who hopes to remain in Cuenca, a Californian from San Francisco who will be returning in September for good. We had great time of conversing, joking, and bantering. Eventually we invited a Patti from Washington with us, who is often a mainstay at Carolina Bookstore, as we made our way to La Vina’s for an evening dinner and wine over some very fine traditional Italian fare.

The evening of conversation went from political to philosophical interspersed with occasional jokes and more friendly banter. In typical American fashion, our intellectual discussions jumped from one topic to another, without remaining on any one topic long enough for any depth. The evening was fun, the company enjoyable, the work experiences, the life experiences, and the sense of humor of such a diverse group only added to the enjoyment of the evening. Next time we only need to add some song to the wine and food.

The fun of Friday evening was followed with a day in the country with Ecuadorian friends who invited me to a pig grill. Mercifully, I was spared the slaughter of the pig, an eighteen month old, who met his demise about three hours before I arrived. Much of the day was watching Patricio, our host, butcher his first pig solo, as he hacked away at the various parts with a large knife that would cut right through the bone. Patricio seems like one of the nicest guys in the world you could ever meet, and yet when I saw him go to work with that blade in his hand, I wouldn’t want to meet his alter-ego. The legs and hooves sat in a nearby bucket. The pig’s head sat on the table, with his snout aimed upward, and his lips all puckered like he desired a kiss. (Sorry, folks, that I don’t have any photos for you. I still haven’t taken my camera out of its box, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.)

Different parts of the pig were cooked at different times. The skin was among the first served with corn and potatoes. Ecuadorians have a habit of heavily salting everything. The skin was also prepared in minute junks similar to pork rinds back home. Other parts were grilled. Some parts were boiled. Whenever a pig is slaughtered and prepared, all the women of the family gather together to do the preparations and cooking. I watched as the intestines were washed with water and lemon juice, and then stuffed with rice. One set was packed with a more salted variety of rice, while another set of intestines was packed with raisins and sugar for a sweeter variety, and then both sets were boiled. Then there was whatever part of the pig that was cut up into chunks and fried in a very large pan, which required that the chunks of meat be frequently stirred to balance the cooking of all the pieces and to be sure that the meat would not stick to the bottom of the pan. This dish was served, of course, with rice and potatoes. Meanwhile, other women were charcoal grilling long thin slices of pork on a grill. The family offered me a plate to take home with me, which I enjoyed the next day as well.

Short of the bones, just about every part of the pig would eventually be utilized. The pig’s head eventually met the chopping block as well. I didn’t watch to see what part or parts of the various dish preparations that part of the pig was mixed in with. I figured what I didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt me, or at least not adversely affect my appetite.

Throughout the whole experience, we were sitting in a half unfinished home which was being built as money allowed for further construction. Some of the relatives were in the states, and as money came home another step of construction could take place. There were children everywhere running around, playing, and enjoying themselves. I was mesmerized by a two year old, a nephew of Patricio’s. He had such a sense of curiosity, was into everything, and wanted to do whatever he saw the adults doing. He attempted to move a full-size wheel barrow that was loaded, and what energy, he never stayed in one place longer than a minute. It was enjoyable watching how the little fella was constantly exploring, and figuring out how things worked. Toward the end of the afternoon, his mother changed his diaper, and bundled him up and placed him on her back. I couldn’t even see his head. Either she suffocated him, or that bundle of energy was finally out cold, against the warmth of the garments and his mother’s body.

The beauty of it all is when on occasion any of the parents corrected the children, the children immediately fell into line. No shouting on the part of the parents, no unheeded warnings, no spankings, no time-outs. The children just immediately corrected their behavior and went about their play. The parental corrections usually came more of a nature to be careful and less risky. The children all played well together. The Ecuadorian children are truly a blessing to behold. Ecuadorian parents are doing something right that sure is missing in most homes in the states.

It was a wonderful day despite the cold and rain, and I have already been invited to Patricio’s fourteen year old nephew, Gabriel's confirmation next month. I’ve got to get that camera ready. Patricio’s mother-in-law was the only woman wearing the traditional indigenous dress. She was a warm and inviting lady. My only regret is that I speak so little Spanish.

The last three days have been rainy, cold, cloudy, and damp. I miss the Equatorial sun; but even on a cloudy, rainy day, I look from the expanse of my condo windows and enjoy the beauty of Cuenca and the mountains. Tomorrow will be a people day, come rain or come shine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Life Easier in Cuenca Updated 4/09/2015

For those of you who are seriously considering a move to Cuenca in the year ahead or recently have arrived in Cuenca, as I mentioned in my previous post of May 13th, "Transversing Through the Maze of Finances, Furniture and Appliance Purchases in Cuenca"; knowing honest, trustworthy, bilinqual Cuencanos is a must if you are to successfully navigate through the thicket of government paperwork, banking and utility transactions, and major consumer purchases if you yourself are not fluent in Spanish.

I have had the honor of working closely with a number of Cuencanos, who have been a major assistance to me and/or to other expat friends of mine.

The following is a list you may wish to make reference to when you arrive in Cuenca. This is by no means an exhaustive list of Cuencanos who can prove helpful. However, these are people that from my experience and that of other expats I can highly recommend:

Maribel Crespo (Telf: 2 880 438) (Cel: 0984847855) is a gracious lady and a true professional, who found for me my rental condo at the Palermo. She spent a great deal of time with me, and brought me back to see the condo again when I wanted to refresh my memory a few days later as to whether or not this was in fact the condo of my choice, and how I might imagine furniture layout as well. Maribel setup an appointment and provided translation between myself and the son-in-law of the condo owner, and arranged all the negotiations, copies of the association governance in English and the lease signings, as well as arranged the monthly rental payment with the appropriate bank. She provided transportation, and did a thorough job of responding to all my questions related to the Palermo. What I particularly appreciated from Maribel was the fact that she did not steer me toward properties that did not match the criteria I had set out for her in what I was seeking. I very much enjoyed working with her, and appreciated that she was not pushy in attempting to foist a sale or rental on me.

Maribel also has experience in helping in the purchase of property and businesses, serves as a financial consultant, and can be helpful with the assessment of property value.

July Munoz is a seamstress and clothing designer. For expats who find Ecuadorian sizes are often not adaptable to gringo body frames, July is the young lady to contact. July designs shirts, blouses, robes, skirts, dresses, and slacks. July also does alterations. July does not work from clothing patterns. July takes your measurements and works from those measurements. You may bring to July a drawing of the design you desire, or a photo or copy from a magazine or catalog, or a similar clothing item you wished to have made and July will work from the design representation you provide. You purchase the fabric after July informs you as to how much fabric you will need, deliver the fabric to July, and she then creates your garment.  I have seen clothing July has made, and they are beautifully tailored to your body.  July made me a bath robe, as well as polo shirts.  I was very satisfied with all of her work.  If you prefer, July will also make house calls for your measurements and discussions of what styles, fabrics, and amount of material you will need.

July Munoz can be contacted at 0939 042 554.  July does not speak English. If that is a problem for you, then have a Spanish-speaking friend or acquaintance make the initial contact for you, and to be on-hand to translate for you when Julie takes the measurements. 

Fabian Bojorque (0991 078 135) (sonialv@etapaonline.net.ec) is another very trusted soul, who can be hired as a driver for trips out of the city, like to Inca Purca, or to Quayaquil, or to Quito. He is bilingual and lived for a time in the United States. Fabian is also available for assisting you in the purchase of appliances and mattresses, and works with dealers where he can get you some good prices. Fabian also provides the service and help for catering a party or large dinner.  Fabian is another one of those gentlemen, whose trust in your integrity can be helpful in difficult situations. Fabian also makes for an interesting and fun travel guide, while he chauffeurs you to your destination.

Jhony Parra, also has a chauffeur's license, he has lived in the United States, speaks English, and drives a white Toyota Cambry for customers looking for roomy and comfortable rides for out-of-town trips as oppose to yellow cab rentals.  Generally, Jhony is stationed outside the Oro Verde Hotel on Ordonez-Lasso across from Edificio Palermo for those seeking intra-city taxi rides.  Jhony Parra can be contacted at 288-9537 or his cellular number is 0980 270 494.

Johny Solis of Solmueble  designed and handcrafted all of my furniture, except for the living room set.  He does not do sofas and recliners. 

My dining room set with buffet, all my bedroom sets, the elaborately beautiful T.V. cabinet, my office desk, and the lamp stand in the living room were all crafted by Johny Solis.  I could not have been more satisfied with the the quality and the workmanship.  The name of the business is SOLMUEBLE; and now in 2015, Johnny has in recent years expanded his studio .  Computerized designs can also be submitted to Johnny, and he will let you know if he can accommodate your desires.  Johny does traditional, modern, and contemporary designs.

You can see his handicraft in photos of furniture in my condo:


Transportation will be needed, since their business establishment is on the outskirts of Cuenca. The address is Cruce del Carmen via Sinincay KM 4 junto al PAI # 15. The business or factory is on the right side of the road. One has to watch very carefully once one enters the vicinity for SOLMUEBLE, which if I remember correctly is located on a curve.  Locating Solmueble is the difficult part.  One definitely needs someone who can find the location.  Having an interpreter with you definitely will be helpful, or call Johny beforehand to procure directions, although when I visited last year there was a young woman, I believe it was his wife, who spoke more English than Johny does.  If you can find his business, it will more than be worth it for the quality, workmanship, and cost factor compared to what is charged in most of the furniture stores in Cuenca.  Telephone numbers are 0998 367 063, or 2877 298.

I hope the above list of talented people will prove useful to expats and visitors who may need to employ anyone of them for their particular services being offered. They have been such a trustworthy and excellent group of people with whom to work, that I only ask that if you hire any of these fine, hardworking people that you treat them with the same level of integrity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

To Cuy or Not to Cuy: That is the Question

Today was a work day for me. I have quite a few things to get done with finances and other matters that particularly required computer time. As a result I was intending to fly solo today. However, some Ecuadorian amigos surprised me today with a stop-by and a trip out into the country for dinner.

We stopped at one of the roadside restaurants where the pig, chicken, and cuy were grilling. I really didn't want to eat the cuy, and it wasn't because when you see them alive in the markets it's because they look like cute little furry pets. However, after the grotesque photos of the cuy loaded with cocaine recently reported in "Hola Ecuador", the last thing I wanted was to eat cuy. Usually I'll try anything once, but it was too much to see these guys being literally grilled. When they are grilling their faces look horrid and it’s like they are gritting their teeth, and filled with rage. If I were a movie writer, I’d write a film screenplay entitled, “The Attack of the Cuys”. I expected at any minute, these no longer furry, pet-like creatures would become animate and scream out, “Look what you’ve done to us”, and take their revenge by lunging off the grill with those horrific teeth ripping out my jugular.

Once I stopped letting my imagination run wild, I agreed to try the cuy if it was served to me without the head and feet. The waitress brought the cuy broken into pieces. My friends ate the feet. The head was dearly departed, and I ate what was safely presented Norte Americano meat, which is meat that is unrecognizable from any actual animal form. The cuy wasn’t bad. Not much meat on it, and I had to pick it up with my fingers and basically eat off what I could from the bones. The skin was quite crispy. I took a poll, and all three of my Ecuadorian friends voted for cuy as their favorite meat, not to mention the one couple’s very beautiful three-year old daughter who appeared to out eat all of us. I myself enjoyed the pork more--succulent, more flavorful, meatier, and the skin was not as crisp as on the cuy but to me tastier.

After an enjoyable dinner, and what was for me a new experience; we headed back to town on a bus, and for me it was back to work. I can’t wait until friends and relatives come from the states. I already have their cuy reservations made. I’m going to have so much fun!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Transversing Through the Maze of Finances, Furniture and Appliance Purchases in Cuenca

Once one has sold and dispensed with everything one once owned, once one has arrived in a new country to live, once one has found new living accommodations and signed a lease; then begins the process of refurnishing everything all over again. The furniture, appliances, and décor items can be fun to seek out and choose. Buying new is a good deal more enjoyable than trying to sell everything at the beginning of one's moving adventure as one departs from home. Replacing all the kitchen utensils, etc is just for me something to get through and get settled. While on my return to Cuenca, I increasingly paid attention to furniture stores and what had become the latest fashion styles, I found shopping like so many things in Cuenca to be an uniquely Cuencano experience. Here are some suggestions:

First, get to know the expat community and their bilingual liaisons:

Let me begin by informing anyone who seriously intends a move to Ecuador to really get to know the expat community both before you arrive through reading the blogs and through interaction of emails for enhancement and/or clarification of information. Once you arrive, be observant of who the expat community recommends to you as possible Ecuadorian bi-lingual liaisons between the expat community and the Ecuadorian financiers and merchants with whom you will need to deal. Most expats when they arrive in Cuenca, no matter what smattering of Spanish they may think they mastered, are in no position to do serious negotiation and logistical forays on their own. It’s one thing to bargain for a dozen mangos, but it’s something all together different to open a bank account, setup utilities, make oneself understood, and in return understand the Spanish-only speaking clerks whether for the shopping of linens, or the negotiation and financing of furniture and appliance prices.

It is not sufficient just for you to have a bilingual liaison, most importantly, does your liaison have contacts who can procure for you the best deals, so you are not just paying the “Gringo prices” or even in many cases the prices Cuencanos may be paying themselves in upper-scale stores? Keep in mind also that if the liaison is recommended by a number of expats, you will be dealing with someone who has developed a level of trust from past use and experiences within the expat community.

Second, I want to share with you what a “wonderful” ten days I am having with the financial world.

I went to the bank with my bilingual speaker, who has had a great deal of experience helping expats open bank accounts. I have yet to receive my sedula, but “no problem” my interpreter says: “I have never had a problem in the past, even as late as a week ago, I get an expat without a sedula an account.” Ah, but all good things must come to an end, and I get to be the first casualty.

This same bank would not allow me to open a savings account primarily because I of all things didn’t have a sedula. The next bank allowed me to deposit a hundred dollars, and when that cleared my bank in the states, then I could deposit more and withdraw from my new savings account as well once any later checks cleared. The check cleared, but then when I wanted to deposit more checks, suddenly we were informed that the headquarters in Guayaquil would not approve further deposits. I mean who ever heard of a bank refusing a deposit? It’s not like it was laundered money. It seems banks are only in the business of wanting to deposit money given to them by the government, since they won’t have to pay that back.

A day or two later my liaison spoke with different higher ups in the first bank, and magically I was able to open a savings account. I wrote the check to place the amount in my new savings account, and now the Ecuadorian bank has been informed that the check was being returned. At this point, the Ecuadorian bank had no idea why the check had been rejected, and had to wait until they receive the check back for an answer.

I notified my bank in the states. My American bank informed me that they never received the check. Th bank's customer service representative said that either the odds were for some reason unbeknown to them a delay or rejection of my check by the FEDS(everybody’s friend, especially if your name is Goldman-Sachs or Jamie Diamond); or the check may have inadvertently been sent to the wrong bank, and it was being returned. We shall see, but this has been going on for over a week now, and will drag into next week as well. While it has been time consuming, I am so glad I am retired. The time available to me makes it easier just to go with the flow. Eventually everything will work out, and I have been blessed with some wonderful Ecuadorian friends who have been of great financial help to me while all of my financial travails are worked out.

The important point from this episode is that if I had entered this bank alone, I would have had no idea what was taking place, and surprisingly in a city the size of Cuenca, not one bilingual worker was on staff, although I discovered later that bilingual speakers are available at most main bank headquarters. More importantly, it was not enough for me simply to negotiate business through a bilingual speaker, but to have a bilingual speaker with contacts and some influence. Ecuadorian society probably more so than even in today’s United States still is and has had a long historical culture of networking and negotiating favors, better prices, etc. based upon who you know.

Third, now what you ladies especially have been in waiting, the selection and buying of furniture:

What I find interesting in Ecuador is that I can see a furniture set for sale on the display floor, but if I prefer it in a different fabric, color, wood-trim tone or style, or even size dimension changes, it can generally be ordered as desired. I may have to wait a month before the custom-designed furniture will be ready, but I generally don’t have to take it or leave it based upon what is available in the store showroom. Usually prices are not tagged on the furniture. The customer has to ask a clerk the price of the interested item, and the clerk pulls out a hand-held calculator, tabulates some numbers, and magically conjures a price. Because the city is full of furniture and appliance stores, in some cases literally blocks of them adjoining one another, the competition allows the customer in most cases the opportunity to negotiate a reduced price.

I bring to your attention one furniture store in particular, because I don’t know if this is unique to this store or would happen in a number of furniture stores in Cuenca. I could not make up my mind about the fabrics that would go with my accent wall and floor tile in the living room. I also wanted two of the living room chairs reduced in width from 44 to 38 inches, which the owners said they could do without distorting the design of the chairs.

The lady and her husband who owned the store informed me that their daughter would soon be arriving. They would have their daughter take me to her home to see the two chairs in a home setting, as well as see another set that I had already rejected as a choice in the showroom. The daughter who spoke English and her older sister took me out to the younger daughter’s home, which was very large and exceptionally beautiful. After showing me the chairs, the two ladies drove me to my condo at the Palermo. They brought the fabric pieces I was considering, and they began to measure and lay tape on the floor exactly where I wanted the furniture pieces to go. What a difference to see the fabrics along the accent wall and in alignment with the floor colors, than trying to choose what might match back at the store just from memory. The taping also helped me to realize that even when the two living room chairs were reduced in width, they were still too big for the space. I decided to go with the other two chair designs I had originally rejected. They were smaller chairs, and I decided the two chairs may add more class by not being the exact same design as the love seat.

Can you imagine such service in the United States, especially without paying a fortune just to have someone come out to the client’s house? Can you imagine the dealers inviting the customer to their home to see the furniture of interest in a different context? Can you imagine a family in the states sending their daughters out with a male stranger?

My furniture will be made to specifications. I know because of the assistance and time of these two women, I made the right choices, and I will be happy with those choices. I knew from the moment I entered the store and met the owners that they were a couple with grace and class as where their daughters, but I never could have imagined the high level of quality service I would receive. The business is named “Luriq”, and is located at Luis Codero 10-38 y Gran Columbia.

Norte Americanos also have a liking for recliners, which are very rare in Cuenca. Cardeca is the name of a furniture store located south of Parke Madre at Alfonso Cordero s/n y Florencia Astudillo, which is also a designer high-end store, which carries a selection of recliners. The owners only had three or four recliners on hand, which may be the largest selection of recliners you will find in any one furniture store in Cuenca. I bought a very nice one, which was the least expensive recliner available. The other recliners included vibration speeds, heating, and other gizmos that doubled the price from the one I bought. However, in the one I chose I had to take as is. I assume it was to be a discontinued model. I was concern that the beige coloring may be too light for the T.V. room, but after it arrived, it wasn’t as light as I thought, and it blended just fine with the room colors.

I could mention some other businesses that provided great prices, but once again in these stores negotiating the best prices requires the use of a liaison with whom the businesses have developed a relationship. Special deals are provided when certain liaison persons bring expats to these businesses. The liaison person may simply get whatever hourly rate you agree to, or they may get additional favors from the business when they make a purchase, or possibly some financial kickback from the sale as well. Don’t begrudge them these kickbacks. You are still getting a good deal. A good liaison can take you to places of business for fabrics, linens, and mattresses that generally only deal directly with retailers or large businesses like hotels.

Finally, as you walk the streets of Cuenca you will see small shops/industries everywhere, where for example, furniture is being made by hand. In fact, these are usually the places the furniture you see in many of the stores is being made. If you see something you like, or have a picture or photo of a designer’s model that appeals to you; you can take these photos to one of these craftsmen and negotiate a price much lower than what you may pay in the retail furniture stores. You may have to do some searching to find an artisan’s work that impresses you, or one that is willing to make the kind of design you have in mind, but it can and is done all the time. Once again, the right liaison can know the most quality craftsmen with which to refer you and negotiate for you the best price.

I have all my appliances and mattresses, as well as a couple of pieces of furniture from two different stores. Everything was delivered within twenty-four hours of purchase. The bulk of my furniture will not be delivered for approximately a month, since the pieces are being made by hand to my specifications.

In my next post, I will share with you the people who have been the most helpful in assisting me through the maze of real-estate, bank accounts, and procurement of furniture, appliances, etc.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Palermo; The Third Stage of Transition

As I said in my last post, despite my roller-coaster ride down a flight of stairs, I had way too much on my agenda to accomplish to take time to rest. My second phase of my return to Cuenca, which involved living in an El Centro studio apartment ended after two weeks as I finally decided upon a more permanent residency. I moved to the Palermo, which is a new building, and also the tallest in the city at seventeen stories. I definitely decided that living in the heart of the city was not for me, as much as I enjoy the area.

As an aside, If anybody in Cuenca can explain one thing to me I will be most appreciative. Why on earth at approximately 4:30 in the morning does music come from what I am almost absolutely sure are the loud speakers in Parke Calderon? The music is beautiful, varies from day-to-day, plays for about ten minutes, and then goes silent. Of course by this time, not only have I been awakened, but also the rooster has been awakened and keeps his cock-a-do-da-dooing up for the next hour. I just really would like to know the answer to the purpose of this early morning concert series from Parke Calderon?!?

What was I looking for in living accommodations? What did I gain, and what did I sacrifice in what I ideally desired as I moved to the Palermo?

The gains were great. I have a 1,700 square foot apartment on the seventh floor with a narrow balcony and large scenic windows that face the city with the mountains as a beautiful backdrop. The condo has three bedrooms, living, dining, and kitchen area. It includes three bathrooms and a maid’s quarters, as well as a separate, spacious laundry room. The condo comes with all the amenities that are common in much of the new construction in Cuenca: expansive inset ceiling lighting, artistically-done ceiling architecture, all porcelina floors, except for all hardwood floors in the three bedrooms. The cabinets in the bedrooms are all hardwood as well, and make the need for closets and dressers obsolete. The master bedroom is huge with its own extensive cabinet area that serves like a walk-in closet and leads to the master bathroom. All three bathrooms are elegant with ceramic floors and ceramic walls that extend all the way to the ceiling. The fixtures are deluxe, and all the two baths and the one shower come with glass enclosed doors. The kitchen is large, and a cook’s dream, which quite frankly is way bigger than a guy with a microwave and a crock-pot needs. I have storage space here that I could not fill in a hundred years. Once again, the kitchen is outfitted with beautifully grained hardwood cabinets, and granite counter tops throughout. My rental also comes with a bodega (storage space in the garage area for my apartment) and two parking spaces. Since a large number of Americans live in the complex and do not own cars, the two garage levels are anything but overcrowded.

Many buildings even among newer construction in Cuenca often come with propane gas tanks for cooking, which need to be replaced monthly. The Palermo has central gas, which eliminates what is basically a minor inconvenience. The Palermo is also located in a part of the city where for whatever reason the toilet paper can be flushed and not placed in a separate container as is very common throughout Cuenca. The water heats quickly and gushes from the shower heads, which provides showers like I haven’t experienced in years except in quality hotels.

I am located within walking distance of Supermaxi, a supermarket within an enclosed min-mall complex of over a dozen upscale stores, which include Sukasa, which is a larger store that comes closest to an American-style department store in Cuenca, and which may be described more on the level of Macy’s in quality of goods but nowhere near as large.

I am also within walking distance of Coopera, a large organic produce and meat store of very high quality food and quite reasonable prices. One has the advantage of Whole Food's quality without the expensive prices that go with it.

Feria Libre is also within walking distance of the Palermo, and it is the largest indigenous open-air market in Cuenca. Wednesday is the biggest day each week with the largest amount of vendors. The market is mammoth! The produce, meats, fish, live animals, as well as every kind of clothing, jewelry, and electronic items imaginable are on display. All involve haggling over prices. While there will be the “gringo prices”; if you are not intimidated, the competition is fierce among so many vendors selling the same or similar items. Finding bargains are not difficult. Produce and meats are easier to haggle and get a better price if you’re patient, than the willingness of vendors to come down much on other consumer products.  Fiera Libre has food court area of every variety of Ecuadorian foods and juices. The food court is an excellent place to order the pork right off the whole cooked pigs displayed before you, and to sample the sizzling, crackling skin of the pig which is cooked with a blow torch. The pork is succulent and sumptuous, and the cooked skin is delicious as well. All of the meals come with some variety of potatoes, rice, and plantain and cost a mere $2.00 to $5.00. Seafood meals usually being the higher-end priced meals.

Along with these aforementioned conveniences, I live less than a block from the Rio Tamabamba, which is one of four rivers which flows through Cuenca. The river affords a beautiful walk area along the green park-like setting that runs the length of the river through the city. It’s a serene area, and I am impressed by whomever had the foresight to plan these beautiful green-ways, which so help to enhance the integration of the city with nature both from within and from without as Cuenca is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains.

So what compromises have I made with the vision of what the ideal place and location would be if I had the total freedom to choose my ideal?  First, I am further from El Centro and its heart, Parque Calderon, than I prefer. When living at Cuadra Dos I was within a twenty to twenty-five minute walk to Parque Calderon. Now it takes me twice as long to arrive on foot to Parque Calderon from my new location. Buses at twenty-five cents a ride or taxis at $2.00 a ride are bountiful along Calle Ordonez- Lasso, the street on which Palermo is located. Therefore, convenience to Parque Calderon is not lacking, and I can exit a bus or taxi wherever I want in order to maintain my level of walking three to eight miles a day.

Although the following statement is an exaggeration,it demonstrates a point. The Palermo by Cuencano standards is like living in the Trump Towers. I have learned not to tell taxi drivers to take me to the Palermo, unless we have to enter the underground garage when I have a large number of packages with me that need to be unloaded. As soon as they hear Palermo, they want to up the cost of the taxi ride.

There is more of a feeling of living in the suburbs in the Palermo. The housing in the area is generally upper scale, and does leave me with a psychology of being somewhat removed from the more mixed classes of people found in El Centro, as well as missing the endless neighborhood tiendas (stores) that exist along the way on my walks to Parque Calderon. Yet even at the Palermo, I see cows and sheep pasturing below outside my window. There are family compounds of five or six upscale homes all within the same close proximity to one another. The dogs, like in my previous Cuadra Dos neighborhood rule the nights. I am certain that when friends and relatives come to visit from the states, they will not experience a full night of uninterrupted sleep unless it comes from total exhaustion. I have long acclimated myself to the almost endless barking of the dogs. I can now either sleep through their midnight serenades, or roll over and go back to sleep. In fact, I sometimes find the whole vocal concert funny, and can’t help but lie in bed laughing. I relish with great anticipation the day of the full moon this month. I’m sure it will be a crescendo of a howlarious evening. Heck, the dogs have been rehearsing all month for it.

I would have preferred a larger balcony or terrace, but at least I have a balcony with sliding doors. The architects played to the aesthetics of the appearance of the exterior of the building, and chose to make small semi-circular balconies where maybe one sitting person and a small table can be accommodated. Yet large decks could have been made running the length of the living room, and two exterior bedrooms like I had at my rental at Cuadra Dos. I certainly have more space than I need, but finding rental condos and houses with less than three or four bedrooms is difficult, particularly rentals with modern amenities. I also wanted extra bedroom space for friends and family when they visit from the states.

After touring homes that were way out on the edge of the city with sporadic bus schedules and few taxis, the distance to El Centro from the Palermo did not seem so bad. There is also a strong South American tradition of enclosing property with high walls, while gringos want to see and enjoy the wide open vistas. As one expat told me, his Ecuadorian neighbor wanted to know what the big deal was with viewing the mountains, “they’ve always been there”. I rejected another condo that offered three terraces and was located on a river, because the terrace walls were so high, I couldn’t see anything when I sat down. It was like sitting in a prison cell without the ceiling. Meanwhile, two young Ecuadorian ladies told me they wanted to visit the states, because they would like to experience the change in seasons, “It’s always the same the year-round in Cuenca”, they said. Well, the climate may always be the same in Cuenca, but believe me the daily weather is changing about every two minutes. Nevertheless, it’s all a question of personal perspective, and the belief that things are generally greener someplace else. (I’ll also bet that if those two young ladies had the opportunity to experience northern winters and summers for one year, they will gladly return to the monotony of uniform seasons year after year in Cuenca.)

My monthly rental fee is $500.00 which is more on the higher side for an unfurnished apartment in Cuenca. I also pay $47.00 a month association fee. The fee includes twenty-four hour security, a workout gym, dry and steam saunas, and garbage disposal. The fee also includes a theatre with a large flat screen, and yes, literally thirty theatre seats in three rows that anybody can use to watch a D.V.D. or one of the endless fotbal (soccer) games, over which deeply impassioned Ecuadorian males get deliriously excited. Utilities for water, electric, and gas are so low that when included with my rent and association fees should be about $600.00 per month. Even my fees for Internet WIFI connection and Satellite television totals $45.00 less than what I paid in the United States, and I get premiere movie channels like Cinemax which were not included in my package back in the states.

Rent, association fee, and utilities in Cuenca are equivalent to what I was paying for just rent back home for a one bedroom, 750 sq. ft. apartment, with none of the amenities I have delineated in today’s post. A friend of mine from Manhattan said a place like mine would rent somewhere between $7,000 and $12,000 per month in Manhattan. Friends of mine from San Francisco, who were living in one of its more desirable neighborhoods, said they were paying $3,500 per month for a space one-third the size of their now 1,900 square foot apartment for which they now pay $500.00. Remember, the condo rental includes two garage parking spaces, which generally are purchased in cities like Chicago for $10,000 to $50,000 each, depending upon the pedigree of the building tenants.

Of course, in Cuenca, we do have to buy our own appliances for our unfurnished apartments. If we move, we take our appliances with us. However, once one factors in the cost of appliances and furnishings; after two to four years, which depends on how high-end you go with your furnishings, you have paid the equivalent of a furnished apartment in Cuenca. The rental differential from that point onwards is yours to spend or invest as you see fit.

Once again, everybody has different needs and different desires. My advice to you if you choose to move to Cuenca is get to know the neighborhoods, decide what your ideal would be, and then begin to ascertain what are your priorities. Finally, you need to decide what can be sacrificed or compromised from your ideal and in alignment with your budget. Don’t be impulsive, and decide to buy or to sign a long-term lease without spending quality and quantity time in Cuenca. Don’t simply come as a tourist. If you have any serious inclination of moving to Cuenca, experience Cuenca as if it were a place like home, where you would do your everyday living. Most of us are not wealthy. Without the proper research and planning, if it doesn’t work out for you, moving to Cuenca can turn into a very financially costly nightmare.

 The telephone number at the Palermo is 0774073267.  Senor Estuardo Rubio is the building administrator.  Senor Rubio is normally in his office until 4:00 p.m. during the week.  His English is limited.  One of the three security guards will answer at the security desk, whenever Senior Rubio is not present, or they will transfer you to Senior Rubio's office phone when he is present.  Once again, two of the three guards speak no English, and one speaks only a little.  To those who are English speakers only, it is best to have a Spanish speaking friend to contact the Palermo for you.  Unless you only need to give the name of a tenant/owner and apartment/condo number. 

If you wish to see an condos available for sale or apartments available for rent in the Palermo, contact Pepe Ajorgudo at joardudo@gmail.com.  Pepe is the contact person for most sales and rentals in the Palermo.  Pepe lived in the United States.  He speaks both English and Spanish, and he also lives in the Palermo.  With approximately 165 units in the Palermo, there are always a few units for sale or for rent.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Medical Care and Life's Surprises

The last two weeks have been hectic to say the least. Just as clearing away one’s home and belongings in the states can be time-consuming and pressure-packed,finding a more permanent place to live and to furnish can be another busy period after one arrives in Cuenca. At first, I had the comfort of returning to Cuadra Dos, which was fully-furnished and in a neighborhood with which I was familiar from my visit of last summer. This made the first month basically a vacation month of making new friends, getting reacquainted with friends from last summer; and getting reoriented to the layout of the city, the street locations, the locations of new and familiar haunts, and walking neighborhoods I had yet to visit as I searched for an apartment.

Moving into the studio apartment in El Centro became the second phase of resettlement, as a temporary way station until I found a more permanent home. My two weeks of living in El Centro was spent getting oriented to living amidst numerous churches and monasteries, especially during all the pageantry of Holy Week. Luckily, my studio faced the monastery gardens, which was the more quiet side of the building from the street noise.

Normally, I would take the elevator up to the fourth floor to my studio, and walk down the stairs when descending. Another example of how Cuenca reminds me of the 1950’s was just about to be experienced. As I began my ambitious stride down the stairs ready to begin another exciting day in Cuenca, my feet suddenly took off from under me just like when one loses his balance on ice. I traveled down the stairs on my back side with my rump taking the brunt of the fall, but with my back striking one edge of the step in particular. Luckily, I believed the worse moment of impact was above my kidneys and below my shoulder blade, as such I assumed my ribs were protected.

What contributed to this calamity? Was it my own clumsiness? Actually, a worker was down on the next flight waxing or polishing the wooden, parquet-like stairs. First, I did not see him as he was on his hands and knees as he worked. Second, there were no signs placed at the top of the stairs warning of the slippery condition of the stairwell. Obviously, since no one is scheduled to work at night, the only “appropriate” thing to do is wax the steps during working hours while people are using the stairways. Third, if Ecuador was the United States circa 2011, the owners would have had one hell’uva law suit on their hands for failing to put up those plastic “beware of slippery stairs” signs, or better yet, “slippery stairs, use elevator only". The U.S. attorneys have not transformed Ecuadorians into a litigious society yet. Here the attitude is one of self-responsibility. I should have been careful, and while people came to my aid, as one lady added, “You should hold the railing when using the steps.”

At any rate, I was a little sore, and assumed I would be sorer come manana. Otherwise, I figured it would just take time for the soreness to dissipate. I went about my business for the next few days, but by Saturday I was in a great deal of pain in of all places, my left side. Now I was concerned that maybe I did fracture or at least had a hair-line fracture to one of my ribs. I decided, not being a great lover of pain, it was time to see a doctor. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of doctor availability, since it was a Saturday and the day before Easter. I went to the Mt. Sinai Hospital emergency room. A physician who spoke English was found, and he was later followed for whatever reason by another physician who took over from him who also spoke English. My waiting time was short, and would have been quicker if I did not need an English-speaking doctor. The nurses spoke little English, but we managed to make ourselves understood to one another, and they were very conscientious to my needs. An x-ray was taken, and as I had thought there was no bone damage, just some meshed, mash of muscle tissue that would take two to four weeks to heal. To relieve the intense pain, I was given a shot, followed by another shot which the doctor explained was a shot specifically for the local area of pain. I was also given patches to wear daily over my side that provided time-released, pain-relief medication throughout the day; and I received a prescription for Celebrex, another pain killer. Even though medication can dull pain, pain still has a way of wearing one down. However, I had way too much to do to just sit around and relax for a few days, and now after ten days it’s as if I never suffered an injury.

Many of you who read the blogs regularly will not find the following information as anything new, since it has been reported repeatedly by expats who have needed medical attention in the past; but for those of you who don’t read other blogs on Cuenca or Ecuador the following should prove quite informative:

Medical care in Cuenca is generally excellent. The doctors will take time with you in a way that generally does not happen in the United States assembly-line production of patient care. The modern facilities at Mt. Sinai were very good, and on par with the best hospitals in the United States. Mt. Sinai Hospital is not an exception to the rule as some kind of show-case hospital. There are many quality hospitals in Cuenca. When I first called my primary care physician that Saturday, I had left him a message. When he failed to return my call, that is when I decided to go to the emergency room. The next day on Easter my doctor called me to apologize for being out of town on Saturday, and not being available for me, and he wanted to know how I was doing. Physicians in Ecuador are known for making house calls as well when necessary. For those of you old enough to remember--Marcus Welby is alive and well, and living in Ecuador.

The cost for both of the physicians who treated me in the emergency room along with the x-ray, two shots, the patches, and the Celebrex was just under $150.00. What does it cost just to step into an emergency room in a United States hospital? I had a follow-up visit with the emergency room doctor at his office a week later. There was no charge.

The following article appeared in "Cuenca High Life", and provides an excellent account of medical costs in Cuenca:

Medical tourism industry sees Ecuador and Cuenca as a hot market; say costs are among the lowest in the world

Posted By Admin | Published: April 15, 2011 11:37

Although the low cost of health care in Cuenca has long been a draw for foreigners relocating to the city, it is beginning to catch the interest of international medical tourism companies.

Alex McClellan, a former U.S. hospital administrator, says he expects to see increasing numbers of foreigners take advantage of Ecuador´s low medical costs. And, he adds, Cuenca is poised to capture much of the market. McClellan, who has worked in the medical tourism industry in Mexico, Inida, China and Malaysia, says he is forming a Quito-based company and plans to center much of his service in Cuenca. “We have brought our first clients to the city and have been very impressed with the results.”

According to Ecuador´s Investment Corporation (INVECE), costs for major medical procedures generally run just 7% to 10% of those in the U.S. and many European countries. McClellan adds that medical care in Ecuador is substantially cheaper than that in better-known medical tourism destinations, mostly in Asia and Central America, often by as much as 50%.

INVECE director Xavier Patiño has compiled a cost comparison list of medical procedures in the U.S. and Ecuador, including:

A heart bypass: $130,000 in the U.S. vs. $10,000 in Cuenca. A heart valve replacement: $160,000 vs. $15,000. Repair of a cerebral aneurysm: $200,000 vs. $10,000. Insertion of a heart pacemaker: $150,000 vs. $10,000. Hip or knee replacement: $43,000 to $51,000 vs. $8,000 in Cuenca.
Patiño says that it is not just foreigners coming to Ecuador for medical care. “We see many Ecuadorians who live in the U.S. come home for services.”

Xavier Crespo, a Cuenca native working as a financial advisor in Miami brings his family home twice a year for medical check-up and dental work. “The savings more than pay for the trip and we get to spend time with our family.” He adds: “From personal experience I can say the care is actually better here than in the U.S. The doctors are able to spend much more time with paitients and don´t have to rely on all the tests that doctors are required to perform there.”

Dentistry is another area where patients see a large price differential. Cuenca dentist Nelly Sacoto says she has seen a rapid increase in the number of foreigners coming to her practice for care. She points out that she can install a porcelain crown for $200 while the procedure costs $2,000 in the U.S.. “Because many dentists in Cuenca have training in the Europe and the U.S., foreign patients have a higher degree of confidence in the local dentistry.”

Another Cuenca dentist, Marcelo Guillén, says he is seeing many foreign elderly patients. “There seem to be more and more retirees moving to the city and many of them are pleased with the dentistry here, especially in the area of aesthetic reconstruction. For them, it is very economical in Cuenca.”

McClellan, who says he has established relationships with two Cuenca hospitals and more than a dozen medical specialists, cautions that there is much more to good medical care than cheap prices. “It is important to work with an organization that has a solid track record in medical tourism. For potential patients, it is definitely a buyer-beware situation.”