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 email@example.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.