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.

Monday, December 23, 2013


            AND THE HOPE FOR A                                        PROSPEROUS, HEALTHY, AND                          JOYOUS NEW YEAR
                                BLESSED WITH PEACE
                                    AND CONTENTMENT.

                                WITH LOVE AND SEASON'S GREETINGS,

                                           JIM MOLA



Friday, December 13, 2013


A very good friend of mine, Gil Castle just launched his new website, CitiesBeautiful.org, and would love to have you take a look. At CitiesBeautiful.org you will find free, interactive maps of hundreds of beautiful features of cities around the world.  Every feature has been categorized using a glossary of 15 civic beauty terms.  Gil developed the glossary by looking for common threads among the theories of beauty of aesthetic philosophers, architects, city planners, and related disciplines from the Ancient Greeks up to the present.
Since “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” the website also has a short psychometric questionnaire (somewhat like a Myers Briggs personality assessment test) with which you can discover your preferences among 15 classifications. You can then use your test results to prioritize the beautiful features of cities that you visit, both virtually at the website and in your future travels.

Gil will be doing statistical analyses of the responses to the psychometric questionnaire, as part of a book he is writing on the nature of civic beauty – so the more people who take the test, the better.  Thanks for checking it out.


Friday, November 22, 2013


I was recently approached by Erica Mills who is the managing editor of International Living’s Daily Postcards to share an article on what motivated me to relocate to Cuenca, Ecuador and what my life is like now.  To get a more in-depth view of my life in Cuenca be sure to check out the various blog posts in "Cuenca Perspectives by Jim".


International Living Postcards—your daily escape
Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013
Dear Reader,
Sometimes life has a way of taking you to where you need to be. That's what happened to James Mola. He clicked on an interesting headline on the Internet...one that put him on a search to find out everything.
But though it looked good on paper, could it ever live up to his idea of the ideal retirement?

The More I Got to Know Cuenca, the More I Fell in Love
By James Mola
It was Christmas vacation 2009. I turned on my computer and clicked on Yahoo where a headline caught my attention: "The Top 10 Places in the World to Retire."
I had never heard of the number one city listed, Cuenca, Ecuador. But as I perused the other nine cities, I found something wrong with each of them. They were too hot or too cold, or hot in the summer and cold in the winter, which was just what I wanted to leave behind in Chicago; or they were too far from the U.S.
I looked again at Cuenca, and, intrigued, decided to research why it was chosen as the number one city for retirement. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with it.
At the age of 63, retirement was on my mind. I didn't want to work until I was 70 to max out my Social Security and pension, but I wasn't sitting on large cash reserves. I found Cuenca offered me the opportunity to have the kind of lifestyle I had in Chicago on a salary—but on a retirement income.
I was blessed with good Social Security and a good pension—I could live nicely in Cuenca on one–third of my income, with money left over for travel and savings. Rentals were a fraction of what they would cost in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco. From a financial prospect, moving to Cuenca was a no–brainer.
Because Cuenca's a city, I knew I wouldn't have to sacrifice modern conveniences; Cuenca has thousands of family–owned stores and single–owned artisan factories, and numerous shopping malls.
I decided to visit from mid–July until mid–August in 2010. I found a nice furnished apartment, and attempted to live in Cuenca as I would if I lived there permanently.
I was already in love with the city before I arrived. I worried that Cuenca couldn't live up to the hype, and to what I had built up in my mind from my research. I needn't have worried. When the time came for me to leave, I didn't want to go.
I retired in January of 2011, and moved to Cuenca in March of 2011. I love the city now more than ever—so much so that I've been keeping a blog about it, "Cuenca Perspectives by Jim," to help other retirees learn more about it.
So, what do I love about Cuenca besides the lower cost of living?
I really like the very friendly, respectful, and helpful Cuencano people, who take a great deal of pride in their city. Cuenca is "tranquilo" (tranquil) and its people relaxed. The pace of life is not hectic.
I also love how Cuenca blends modernity and tradition. It's a city of professionals on one hand and various indigenous groups on the other, who earn their living by farming and agricultural marketing in the mercados, or by selling their produce from wheelbarrows as they make their way down the city streets of El Centro.
I live in a luxury high rise surrounded by modern upper–middle class homes, and just below me there are open lots where I can sit and watch the indigenous people—in traditional dress—bring their cows, sheep, and goats to pasture.
Traditional 16th century colonial structures are contrasted with new high rises and modern housing. The city is beautiful, from the UNESCO–sited historical section of El Centro, to the beauty along the three rivers that run through Cuenca, to the fact that the city is nestled in a basin surrounded by awe–inspiring mountains and low–lying cloud formations.
And, though it's a big city, it has a small town feel. Getting to know people is very easy. I love socializing, and get to meet new people all the time.
The weather is spring–like year round. I had my fill of freezing cold temperatures and snow and ice; and as I am older, I no longer relish hot or humid weather either.
The city has the cleanest drinking water in all of South America, and is rated among the best in the world as well.
The health care is very inexpensive by American standards. The quality of care is excellent and the time the doctors take with patients is rarely experienced in the States.
Of course, Cuenca, as with anywhere, is not for everybody. My best advice is, if you seriously consider Cuenca as a place to retire, visit for a month. Don't rush to buy when you arrive or before you arrive. Get to know the city, the neighborhoods, and the real estate market before you purchase. Take the time to make the decision that's right for you.
You might find you love Cuenca as much as I do.
Editor's note: Stunning colonial cities, like Cuenca and Quito...little mountain towns where the weather is spring–like year round...miles of Pacific Coast beaches and laid–back beach towns...and an incredibly affordable cost of living in all of those places...there's a very good reason why Ecuador is so popular with International Living readers.
That's why it's not surprising that seats at our only Ecuador event of the year, the Fast Track Ecuador Conference, are going so fast. (We officially opened this event for registrations just one week ago...and already 215 places have gone.) If you're interested in discovering more about what Ecuador has to offer you, don't wait and miss out. Ask for your seat today.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Today I am writing my 100th post.  My motivation for today's post at this time is the fact that I relied on my memory--very bad idea.  I thought my flight out of O' Hare in Chicago was at 12:15 pm.  No, it's at 2:00 p.m.  I don't think the consumption of an entire jar of unadulterated coconut oil each day would improve my short-term memory. So here I am killing time by writing a post.

Needless to say, anyone who read my last post knows that the last seven weeks have not gone like anything that I had planned.  Such is life, but even in bereavement there can be joy and the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by family, relatives, and friends.  It was a pleasure to see people I have known for years, and former colleagues with whom I have worked at various times over the years.  My mother's funeral allowed for so much of the family to be together.   It was also the first time in a long time that both my sons and all of their cousins were together at the same time, and of course, having the four great-grandsons of my mother's all there as well was especially meaningful.  I have had a number of requests for photos of my grandson.  I will do what I can after I'm back in Cuenca, and have time to deal with the trepidation and time-consumption of transferring, downloading, editing, and posting photos.   I didn't take many photos on this trip, because then I feel like I have to do something with them, and unfortunately there were times when a group of us were together in a restaurant and I just didn't have my camera with me.

The weather in Chicago and as we traveled throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin could not have been more ideal.  September was definitely a summer month.  My first three days in Chicago were greeted with record setting ninety degree temperatures.  The remainder of the month made September a record month for warmth.  THANK GOD FOR GLOBAL WARMING!  October until now has also be unseasonably warm.  I'm skedaddling out of Chicago just as the the temperatures are finally falling into a more seasonable pattern for October.  Degrees in the 50's or even the 60's on a windy day are just too cold.  I have especially enjoyed the incredible amount of sunshine and clear skies over the entire seven weeks, and I am praying that Cuenca will be warming up and not too rainy.  I am looking forward to opening my condo windows wide, and enjoying the warm temperatures when I get home.

One thing I did want to mention as Cuenca is in the process of initiating the building of a cross-city transit system, which is based upon a European model that will be constructed by the French.  While visiting in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we rode the urban transit that traveled from the southern suburbs and Mall of America through the heart of the city and its commercial and financial sector and through the northern part of the city.  The light transit system cost $1.75 during non-rush hour times, and $2.25 during rush hours.  By North American standards the prices in my opinion were quite reasonable.  Senior citizens pay seventy-five cents during non-rush hours, and $2.25 during rush hours.  Everything is automated.  One buys a ticket from a machine, if one is not using a pass.  What I found interesting, is unlike the Chicago and New York City subways, there was no token or ticket insert to get by a gated barrier to approach the landings to board the trains.  No one collected our tickets while on the train, and there was no place to dispose of the ticket to leave the train landing after we arrived at our destinations.  The whole thing appeared to operate on an honor system.  We easily could have ridden for free.  Minnesotans must be more honest and honorable.  I can't see such a system work in Chicago.  Tickets were also good for two-and-a-half hours for transfers to the bus transit system as well.

Another great feature of the train transit system is its convenience for the handicap.  My sister-in-law was using a power chair.  She was able to smoothly enter the train, and remain in her chair right at the entrance of the train, with room for other riders to board and exit at each stop and still get around her and her power chair.  When we arrived at our destinations, my sister-in-law was able to just drive her power chair right out of the train onto a perfectly leveled landing.  Certain seats near the entrances were also set aside for the handicap.

Finally, what I found most impressive is that the light transit train coaches began operating in 2004.  The coaches were so absolutely clean, comfortable seats with sufficient leg room, and the interiors were in such excellent condition that they looked like they were brand new.  I can't imagine that I will be able to say the same of the new transit line in Cuenca when it is completed.  I would say with the city officials' indifference to the tagging and grafitti problem that has been rampant over the last two years in Cuenca, that within a week of inaugurating the new light rail system, the coach interiors will be quickly spray-painted and exhibit an ugly appearance.  I would love to be proven wrong, but I'm not counting on it.

In Minneapolis/St. Paul, with the University of Minnesota located in St. Paul, the light train transit transports approximately thirteen percent  of the public riding population.   Eighty-four percent of the public riding population depends on the bus transit system.  The metro heavy rail provides for the remainder of the public transportation. The current line of light train transit, therefore, by itself is not sufficient to replace most buses.

Obviously the initial light rail transit in Cuenca will be a beginning to reducing some of the buses in El  Centro, and recent attempts to re-route some buses out of El Centro is a step in the right direction as well.  However, the entire complex of inter-connected light rail transit will take approximately ten to twelve years to complete, so it will be awhile before buses are dramatically reduced as the main source of public transportation in Cuenca.  In the meantime, I don't have an answer as to if additional public transportation buses are purchased for use in the city, why the companies are not required by the municipal government to buy buses that meet certain pollution standards, which can be another way of contributing to the reduction of the number one polluter in the city, the carbon emissions from public buses.

Monday, September 30, 2013


This has been an unsettling year for me as I settle into Cuenca.  I seem to have been simultaneously bombarded by an incredibly larger than normal time-consuming share of problems with bureaucracy that have truly tested my patience and continue to demand a high level of perseverance.  Not to mention a major computer hacking at the same time as everything else was happening, which took a month to resolve all the problems.  There is a thin line between perseverance and stubbornness.  Possibly because of circumstances and probably by my own way of approaching things in life, perseverance for better or worse has been a hallmark of my existence.   

This year has also taught me that you would not want me to be your investment adviser, and some minor health problems have also added to the aggravation, not to mention family concerns back in the states as well.  

Spanish had proven much more difficult to learn than I first thought it would be, and I have thirteen years of college and university training, not to mention an almost entire career in academia at the secondary and university level.  I have learned greater tolerance for expats who lose interest in learning Spanish once they approach the irregular verbs, and decide to settle just for business street Spanish.  I am learning Spanish, but not as quickly as I thought I would, and will continue to persevere, and hope eventually to at least become competent in the use of the language if not fluent.  

My goal was to write a novel this year.  However, that effort hardly saw a launching.  I found that along with trying to learn Spanish and write a novel, I was beginning to feel like I was back into endless hours of school again, whether studying or creating curriculum and lesson plans.  My mind became too absorbed with the themes, plots, and character developments of my proposed novel with which I was obsessed, until I was living my life in my mind.  I also am not the type to ego-trip over the claim I had a book published.  If I wrote an e-book, I would want a compensation of a few thousand dollars for the effort.  I realize with the democratization of publishing today, I didn't have any pipe dream that I would make a six figure income from the book, and that my chance of even modicum financial success was as likely as becoming a NBA player.  

My biggest dilemma now that I have fulfilled my dream of moving to Cuenca and have gotten settled in after two-and-a-half years is what do I do next with my life?  I enjoy socializing with friends more than anything; to touch bases with many people here in Cuenca, to spend hours conversing over a meal with close friends, and to be a part of the families of some of my Ecuadorian friends as well.  These human relationships have for the most part been my greatest joy and satisfaction. I have had some friends and relatives here in the states amazed when I tell them how easy it is to meet people and how rare in a city of half a million I don't by happenstance meet someone I know as I make my way about Cuenca.

This year I have not ventured out of Cuenca, except for a couple of side trips to Giron to visit a friend of mine there.  Traveling back to the states in early September was the first time I had been home since Thanksgiving period of last year.  When I made my plans, my brother and his wife, Carla, and I planned to spend a week and a half with my mother in the Chicago area, take a road-trip to visit the relatives on my mom's side of the family, and then spend another two weeks with mom before heading on another road-trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and New Orleans from where I would return to Guayaquil.  Once my flight plans had been arranged in my two later Skype conversations with my mother, I could tell her health was deteriorating, and my family warned me that mom would not look the same as she did when I last saw her.  She was quite fragile, when I arrived home.  We decided to follow-through with the road trip visiting relatives in Iowa and Wisconsin, and I knew my remaining time in the states would be spent with mom, and not on another road trip.

Unfortunately, as we were returning as still on the road last Sunday evening, my brother, Ron, called to inform us that mom had fallen on Wednesday evening, and fractured some of her ribs.  She had not punctured a lung.  Everything from the tests indicated mom was fine and she was released.  On Sunday mom fell again.  When my brother called as the three of us were in our final hour of travel returning home, mom was doing fine.  The doctor was going to keep mom in the hospital overnight just for observation.  At three in the morning, the nurses checked on her and they said she was awake, lucid, and even joked with them.  Half an hour later, there was a change in her status and she was moved to the ICU.  By evening she was no longer with us, and test indicated she had suffered some old small strokes that could have been days, weeks, even months old.  It helped to explain to us why she had more difficulty walking and seemed increasingly disoriented the last few weeks.  The doctors believed that mom had most likely suffered some additional strokes to the brain during the middle of the night which resulted in her movement to the ICU.

It was a beautiful week.  The weather and sunshine could not have been more ideal, which from the day mom passed until her funeral that Saturday allowed many of her out-of-state relatives to attend.  Everything was ideal, went like clock-work, and moved in a harmonious way.  The staff at Munster Community Hospital was so attentive and empathetic.  I thank all of you who sent condolences and/or traveled long distances to pay your respects to our many memories of our mother, and to be of consolation to us.  I also thank those of you who attended her ninetieth birthday party last year.  She was slipping then when I saw her a week before the surprise party, and she had little appetite.  The party by being surrounded by so many friends and relatives completely rejuvenated her and no doubt kept her going for another fourteen months before she began to slip away again.

Mom at ninety-one, was tired, and she was more than ready to go.  She would not have been more pleased with how the week unfolded, and the entire atmosphere of the week was one of sweetness and tranquility.  God also granted her wish, for she feared nothing more than to be placed in a nursing home.  My father died on December 15,1996,  Not a day has gone by that he has not entered my mind, and not a day will go be that my mother will also be a part of my memories and counsel.

Fate and destiny brought me to Cuenca.  Fate and destiny brought me home at a time when I could spend some final days with my mother; at a time when my dad's nephew wanted to give us all a gift of having all the surviving members of my dad's family gathered for an official portrait while his mother of ninety-five years was still alive and well, and fortunately my mother was able to be a part of that photo and our family afternoon together.   Fate and destiny allowed for us to visit with my mother's family members who have always meant a great deal to us.  I meant one cousin in Dubuque, Iowa who I had not seen since my maternal grandfather's funeral in 1967.  Little did any of us on our road trip and my cousin, Cindy, in particular, know after all that time that had passed since we had last seen each other, that we would be together again less than two weeks later.

We have had the beauty of being part of an extraordinary family, we had the opportunity to share so many memories, and we had the opportunity to be there for one another.  What a history the Weber family of nine children and their parents make.  This generation of the Great Depression and World War II.  Now only one brother and one sister survive.  One generation passes away, and another takes its place as all four great grandsons were on hand at the funeral, Leo's grandsons, Joshua and Toby, and I myself got to meet my currently one-and-only grandchild, Jack, who was born this past April.  I held him for the first time on the same day that my mother died.  The circle of life continues.  Mom had the opportunity to see and hold them all, even Bryce her latest great-granson who is two months old.

As for me, I will return to Cuenca in late October sometime.  I may now plan some long-range traveling for next year.  I've always wanted to spend some quality time in Italy.  Life, however, has always taught me repeatedly that man makes plans and the gods just laugh.  So despite whatever plans I make, I will attempt to learn all over again in the very marrow of my bones and not just as an intellectual proposition "to go with the flow."  I don't know when I am laying a Yankee guilt trip on myself that I have got to be doing something meaningful and productive even at my age, and when I just need to learn that the time spent savoring each moment of life, living life with kindness, genuinely loving those who matter for they will be in our lives for such a short time, and giving a sincere hug to those which costs me nothing, may very well be all that I need to expect of myself.  I shall see as I leave my supposed dilemma to the ebbs and flow of life.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I published a post sometime ago on the Tagging and Graffiti problem in Cuenca, which has become so endemic that it cancels out most of the beautification efforts in Cuenca.  What is sadder than for tourists and passerbys to see attractive new pathways along Avenida Third of Noviembre by the Rio Tomebama already scarred with senseless tagging.  Unfortunately, city officials do not care to address this problem in any meaningful way, and the Cuencanos I have spoken with just shrug their shoulders like what's the big deal.  I didn't think that such apathy and indifference on the part of the city and its citizens was a cultural value in Cuenca, because the problem hardly existed until August of 2011 when it became endemic.  Why suddenly at that time, such degrading behavior began to spread, I can not explain.  It just began to happen.

Some gringos point out that Rome is infamous for its tagging and graffiti and it hasn't hurt their tourist industry.  Well, first I know this sounds very Un-American, but aesthetics is an important part of life that should not be based simply on whether or not the marring of a city affects the financial bottom-line.  Second, Cuenca is not Rome.  Cuenca has many attractive fifteenth century colonial structures of Renaissance architecture with an El Centro that still maintains a fairly Old World feel to it.  However, Cuenca is no Rome with Vatican City, St. Peter's Bascilica, the Colleseum, fountains and monuments that dwarf anything Cuenca has to offer, and a church history and an empire history that transcends 2,000 years and can more than compensate for its dirty and shabby appearance marred in graffiti and tagging in many parts of the Eternal City.  To date, the problem has only gotten worse in Cuenca to the point where new tagging is being spray painted over old tagging due to a lack of open spaces on some walls immersed in mindless spray painting, and the problem is being left unaddressed.  Because the problem has been allowed to go unabated in El Centro, it has begun to spread into other areas as well, which include the outer walls of some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city.

Why pay public workers to soap, scrub, and hose down the plazas and pick up trash everyday, and then neutralize their fine efforts with the lower levels of almost every building in El Centro covered in mindless tagging?  Why rebuild and paint the facades of buildings only to have the lower levels disfigured by individuals bereft of any talent and creativity to do anything positive?  Yes, I apologize for applying logic to an illogical world.

Secondly, I published a later post http://cuencaperspectivesbyjim.blogspot.com/2013/05/

A-proposal for the Majestic-Beautification of  Cuenca based upon beautification efforts in China that could easily be applied to Cuenca where flowers and plants are readily available and inexpensive, in a climate where such plants could for the most part survive and be on display the year round.  I have been told by some gringos, of course, that the idea would go nowhere, because no one would push for something in which they can't figure out a way to make a buck from it.  I at this point don't believe most Cuencanos think like most gringos, but these kinds of projects become initiated by those in leadership positions, and these may be the type of Cuencanos who won't support a project that won't result in votes or extra money in their pockets.  I hope I am wrong, and in one economic sense, such a project would certainly make Cuenca even more attractive to tourists and to both foreigners and Ecuadorians as a place to visit and to live.

Thirdly, Presidente Correa recently announced that the gas and oil subsidies, which have allowed Ecuadorians to use home fuel and to drive private vehicles well below market world prices will end in two short years.  I hope that public transportation like buses and taxis will be exempted, and their subsidies will continue.  Major increases in the cost of public transportation would be very  prohibitive for many Cuecanos, the majority of whom depend upon public transportation.

At the same time, the impact on the sale of private transportation most likely will result in fewer car sales, which would entail fewer autos on the roads, or at least a major slow down in any growth of autos on Ecuadorian highways.  This slow-down would be especially welcomed as a way to lighten if not end the increasingly insane clogging of arteries in Cuenca as autos attempt to get in and out of the city during certain times of the day.  Not to mention the traffic congestion caused during the numerous festivals held throughout the year.  Streets in Cuenca, particularly in El Centro were not made for modern day traffic and can not be widened.  There are times when I literally get out of a taxi and walk the three or four blocks in El Centro to my destination, because I can walk it faster than the taxi can get me there.

When Cuencanos find that they will suddenly have to pay possibly three times what they now pay for gasoline, assuming current oil market prices hold.  Much of the congestion problem may be solved overnight.  Electric buses would also be a move in the right direction, although to date city officials to my knowledge show no interest in the purchase and use of electric or hybrid buses.  On the other hand, the European style of light rail traffic presently being initiated in Cuenca is also in the long-run going to make a major improvement in the reduction of traffic congestion.  However, that light rail system of interlocking transits throughout the city is expected to take at least ten years to complete.  In the meantime, as more buses are currently being re-routed out of El Centro and if fewer autos find their way onto the streets of Cuenca, especially in El Centro;  Cuenca does offer the year round climate that could make mopeds and bicycles an appropriate and inexpensive way for many people to get around the city, reducing traffic congestion, noise, and carbon pollution.

Needless to say, who better to offer a technological breakthrough that could be applied to Cuenca than the Japanese.  The following short video and it use of robotics, underground storage, retrieval, and security of bicycles is a Japanese marvel that is sure to spread to many parts of the world.  Why can't Cuenca be among the early leaders in the implementation of such a project?  It makes more sense than encouraging more cars to drive into El Centro by building more public garages.  The construction of more public garages is counter-intuitive to the purpose for building the light transit rail systems, as is the replacement of  buses in El Centro only to accommodate more congestion with more cars.

I encourage you to watch the following video.  It will amaze you.


comment section further below

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


The following article was published on Cuenca Highlife, which is an online publication featuring articles on an almost daily basis dealing with Cuenca, Cuencano culture, and Ecuadorian politics when it impacts the lives of people living in Cuenca.  The publication is of high quality, published in English, and is a great resource for gringos who live in Cuenca and for those who consider visiting or moving to Cuenca.  

One of today's articles is an excellent piece written by Gerard Alvarez, which provides insights in particular to those living abroad who are considering moving to Cuenca or its surrounding area in Azuay province.  Here is the link for Cuenca Highlights, if you would like to bookmark it:


Cuenca and Azuay Province popular with Ecuadorians returning from the U.S. to build their dream homes Posted By Admin | Published: August 13, 2013 02:55
By Gerard Alvarez
Patricio Matute is building his dream house in the Ecuadorian Andean mountains near Cuenca, thanks in part to the 10 years he spent working at a boat canvas factory in Ronkonkoma, New York. The two-story, Swiss-chalet-style house will have a swimming pool, a soccer field and an outdoor kitchen sheltered by a red tile roof. A trout stream runs in front of the property.
Matute's home, 20 miles east of Cuenca, isn't even the most impressive one that immigrants on Long Island are building in the area. Some look like small hotels, rising four stories high next to the mud houses their neighbors inhabit. Dozens of the big homes dot the Andean mountainsides outside of Gualaceo, a town of 10,000 people.
Millions of immigrants from Ecuador and throughout Latin America have headed to the United States and Europe in the last few decades in search of the storied American dream. But for many, the dream will be realized only when they return home to the houses they build with money earned in the United States.
The area around Cuenca, including Gualaceo, is the most popular region for returning Ecuadorians, according to real estate experts. "Cuenca has always been magical for Ecuadorians," says Marco Lopez, a real estate consultant in Quito. "Even those who are from other parts of the country want to live in Cuenca. This holds true for Ecuadorians living overseas too." Lopez says that 30% to 40% of real estate sales in Azuay Province are to returning Ecuadorians. "They keep the market very healthy." 
Lopez adds that there's a misconception that North American and European expats are a major driver of the local market. "They buy property but are really marginal in the overall picture. Of course, the gringos like to think they are having a major impact in the market but they really aren't."
The more luxurious homes feature large tinted windows, upper-floor balconies and grand entrances flanked by pillars. Many are half-finished and empty, waiting for their owners up north to earn enough to complete them. Often, it takes years.
While not all the homes are mansions, they are still far better than what the average Ecuadorean can afford.
The money the immigrants send home also helps their families survive, paying for food, clothes and schooling in a country where many workers earn about $200 a month. Natives of Gualaceo send home an estimated $80 million a year, said Murillo, who is assisting Lucero's family.
Many of the migrants go to the United States illegally because visas are difficult to obtain.
Murillo said it is common for the estimated 1.5 million Ecuadorean immigrants in the United States, including thousands on Long Island, to eventually return home to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
"Everybody wants to go back to their roots, to their families," he said.
One reason is that their lives in places such as Patchogue often can be dreary and summed up by one word: work. Commonly they will hold two full-time jobs, starting work as early as 7 a.m. and finishing at midnight or later.
"You work like a burro, but you return like a king," said Matute, 30. "You have your mansion waiting for you."
He said his house will cost about $120,000, including the property. He still has to work in Ecuador to pay for it, and holds a few jobs including selling bottled gas. He expects it to be complete in November.
Beyond their new houses, the immigrants return because they miss their country, their culture, their family and friends. Back home, they feel, their lives are richer.
Juan Pablo Jadan had a job as a waiter at upscale restaurants such as Louis XVI in Patchogue and Tellers in Islip. But he recently returned to Gualaceo after 20 years.
"I got very tired of the United States," Jadan, 38, said in Spanish. "Something in my heart told me to come home."
He said many of his friends had been on Long Island when their elderly parents died in Ecuador, and he didn't want that to happen to him.
Murillo noted that not everything is perfect when the immigrants return to Ecuador. Many find their savings quickly evaporate, and work opportunities are sparse.
Some end up returning to the United States, Murillo said. "It's a cycle."
"The United States is like a maximum-security prison," Jadan said. He said many Latinos feel isolated in the United States because of discrimination. "Here in my country, we are in paradise."
Photo caption: A home built by returning Ecuadorians in Challuabamba, near Cuenca.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I actually arose very early for me at about 8:00 a.m., so I could view Cuenca's Ten Kilometer Race on May 14th, particularly with thousands of runners making their way down the narrow avenues of Cuenca, and running in the high altitude of 8,500 feet.  My Ecuatoriano amigo encouraged me to come out and see the race.  I brought my camera, hoping to catch a shot or two of him somewhere along the racing paths.  Needless to say, I never spotted mi amigo once in the mob scene of racers.  However, he did swear he not only was there participating in the run, but also completed the race as well.

As mi amigo got into shape for the race, he ran the ten kilometers one night.  The next night I went with him on the promise that we would walk the ten kilometers.  We accomplished the walk in about three hours late at night around midnight.  Walking through mi amigo's neighborhood areas was a challenge, not from fear of any humans.  I discovered what all those dogs do that sleep all day sprawled on the sidewalks and don't bother anyone.  They are in packs at night.  Four times we were surrounded by dogs who barked and growled.  I had my pepper spray ready, as we walked very slowly through each pack we encountered.  As close as the dogs got to us within inches, not once did any of them try to attack or bite us.  Neither did we  make any quick moves.  Once we were out of their territory, the dogs backed off and left us alone.

The photos of the race can be viewed here as a slide show or you can control the view of each photo.  Either way, you need to click on the first photo for enlargement of all the photos.  Almost all of the enlarged photos contain a commentary about the race and where the racers are running in Cuenca.  You'll see some nice views of the city as well as its colonial architecture.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Cuenca in many respects is a beautiful city, and the various posts and photos since the summer of 2010 on this blog site have  highlighted some of these features.  Recently, a friend here in Cuenca, Jack Johansen, sent me an email that I found quite captivating.  I have not seen anything like this since I was in Mumbai, India in the 1970's, and even then nowhere to the extent shown in these slides. 

The slides are of a beautiful meshing of art with plant and flower life.  I couldn't help but think in a city like Cuenca which has so many lovely squares, fabulous parks like Parque Madre and Parque Pariso, not to mention the spectacular greenways along the Rio Tomebama and the Rio Yaracuy; that this use of plant life with wire-mesh arranged in interesting art forms would find a perfect complement to the attractive settings in Cuenca.

Cuenca and Ecuador have a biodiversity of flowers and plant life,  which allow for a wide array of such an enhancement of the overall beauty of the city.  Flowers and plants are also very inexpensive in Cuenca, which should make such art forms financially feasible as well.  Another plus for such a project(s) in Cuenca is the fact that our springlike weather the year round allows for these art forms to transcend simple display during one or two seasons.  


How might these art forms be used?  Some of the city and church squares could use more greenery to dilute the concrete appearance.  One such example would be the Santo Domingo Plaza on Gran Columbia.  Some art form examples in the slide presentation would be ideal for such a location.  Possibilities might even exist in the corners of Parque Calderon.  Parque Paraiso would be a perfect site for a large garden of such displays, not to mention locations scattered along the greenways of the Rio Tomebama and the Rio Yaracuy.  This post is just a suggestion to city officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and whoever is responsible for the beautification of Cuenca, both for the enjoyment of its people as well as for the tourists to the city.  It would certainly require the cooperation of the horticulturalists and the artists and student-artists of the city.

While many of these photo slides are of an Oriental motif, a little imagination of the part of our artists could easily give the art forms a more South American flavor.  I encourage you as you watch these slides to click on the enlargement symbol in the lower right hand corner, so you can enjoy the luscious and magnificent beauty of these eye popping photos that bring a sense of beauty to the soul as well.  After viewing, let your imaginations roam as to where such similar sites would complement the beauty of Cuenca, as we transform it into the most aesthetically beautiful city in South America.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


We don't need nor do we want a McDonald's or any other fast food franchises here in Cuenca.  We don't need nor do we want a pervasive invasion by American fast food corporations here in Ecuador.  We don't need nor do we want more junk food on the market, when we are living in one of the most, if not the most healthy food countries in the world.  Ecuadorians don't need to fill their arteries with faux fried and deep-fried foods filled with all kinds of chemicals and preservatives.  Ecuadorians are already growing heavier from the changes in their diet.  Just walk into Supermaxi or Coral and in the last two years that I have lived here, more aisle space is given over to candies, cookies, and especially chips and snack foods of all kinds. 

El Presidente and his congress placed high taxes on alcohol.  President Correa reasoned that a high consumption of alcohol by Ecuadorians was a serious health hazard, therefore, the high taxes were justified.  Here are some suggestions to the government both of Ecuador and of the city of Cuenca; because fast foods, processed foods, and junk foods are also a very serious hazard to Ecuadorian and expat’s health as well.   

First, keep the foreign fast food franchises out of the country.  Second, if the government won't do that, then don't allow exemptions from the 35% import tax, even if these foreign businesses are operating local franchises in Ecuador. Third, at a minimum, limit all fast food foreign franchises to the malls.  Do not allow them to grow into the neighborhoods.  Fourth, another suggested alternative would be to place high taxes on junk foods and fast foods, and in turn not exempt them from the 12 ½% I.V.A. tax as well.  Fifth, through education, instill within  the Ecuadorian people a strong national pride of the natural resources of wealth for which they have been truly blessed and their need to protect these resources.  Educate the people to just how serious to their health junk food is before it takes hold as a national cancer of ingrained habits. Fifth, too many young people in Ecuador smoke.  Smoking has seen dramatic drops over the years in the United States, because of the increased taxes that make smoking very expensive.  Why hasn’t the Ecuadorian government increased the taxes on smoking, as they have on alcohol?

The fast food franchises also become a threat to the small Ecuadorian owners as well.  Ecuador is one of the few countries that currently has a genuine free enterprise system, which certainly will not be found in today's United States. Economically speaking, the Ecuadorian individual family-owned chicken restaurants and the locally owned chicken franchises, for example, of healthy rotisseire chicken don't need the unfair competition of international conglomerates like Kentucky Fried Chicken, with its deep fried, crud-laden chicken that may be tasty, but screams body abuse with every bite.  There are many good places in Cuenca where excellent hamburgers can be purchased, the best hamburgers are not found in fast food franchises, and the same holds true in the United States as well.

Cuenca is changing too rapidly into another American entity.  Many of us gringos came here to experience a different culture, a different mind-set, and different ways of doing things, even if at times we find those differences to be challenging and frustrating.   If there are expats in Cuenca, who can't wait to see Cuenca become another boring American clone, where across the continent no matter where you visit the uniformity of life is stifling; if you are missing the fast food franchises, the malls, and the endless strip malls, then you need to go back permanently to the states to live, where you can enjoy the conformity of life as you knew it.  It won't matter if you live in Baltimore, Chicago, or San Francisco or any of their suburbs; it will all be the same and you will be contented.
If El Presidente and his national congress, and the city officials of Cuenca really care about the health of Cuencanos, they would say NO to these franchise invasions.  With a little ingenuity and a little less corruption by the money these corporations can use to buy into a foreign market these franchises wouldn't see the light of day in Ecuador.  An alternative way of providing for good health alternatives,  jobs, and more tax revenue in Ecuador can be found.  Why should an alternative way be easy to find, because politicians never have a problem finding ways to raise new revenues.  Some suggestions for consideration are listed above.

Hopefully, Ecuador can be a developing country that learns from the egregious mistakes of developed countries like the United States, and follow a saner path in the operation of its economy and in the provision of the well-being of its people.  Lung cancer, emphysema, obesity, adult on-set diabetes, coronary problems, and food-related allergy problems can also be prevented before they become the major problems they are in the states, and reduced as well in Ecuador from their current levels.  Can the government and the Ecuadorian people make the right choices, or will they like sheeple mindlessly do whatever comes out of Western commercialism no matter how detrimental to the well-being of the Ecuadorian people and therefore the country as well?  

Maybe there is too much optimism in this clarion call.  Maybe people the world over are too conditioned by the onslaught of advertising to hedonism and greed as they become increasingly affluent to make anything but bad choices.  Ecuador is one of the few places left in the world where their crown treasure of rich earth and uncontaminated food still reign.  Where a people who have not yet completely chosen to go down a road of crass materialism and narcissistic values, and without the sacrifice of the best in their traditional values and the best of who they are still have a chance to follow a better path.  Ideally,  Ecuadorians can still create an Ecuadorian definition of the “good life”, that synthesizes the best of traditional Ecuadorian values with those contemporary values which don’t suck the life and identity out  of the Ecuadorians, just to become another clone of their Norte Americano neighbors.  McDonald's is a symptom of sheeple making bad choices.  What the United States and the American character have become is sad.  For Ecuador to follow the same path is madness and insanity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Thursday evening, April 11th, the concert at the Teatro Sucre in Cuenca took place, which introduced Walter Abril's new album entitled "Sarah, with the Music of Emotion".  The fact that the CD is dedicated to Sarah, his fiancee, made his songs most poignant.  Walter wrote all the songs on his new CD, and they were all performed live by him.  The concert that evening began with a brief video biography of photos of Walter's singing career, including newspaper headlines as Cuenca's favorite son as a young singer.  Walter has performed in many night clubs throughout the Caribbean and South America.  His recent recording has been playing on radio stations in Cuenca, as well as various restaurant venues.  Just last week Walter and his niece, Johanna Quinde Abril, recorded in Quito, which was presented on television throughout Ecuador the next day.

Johanna Quinde Abril is a university student studying music and considered her performance Thursday evening to be the launch of her music career under her performance name of Abryl.  She sings with a great deal of depth and emotion, and sang two songs from her evening's repertoire in English, one of which included the heart-wrenching song from "Titanic", "My Heart Will Go On".

The Fame group of Jose Antonio Romero and Veronica Padron, who won the South American Dance-Sports competition provided exciting performances in beautiful costumes.  Also performing in the evening's concert were Amy Riveros Abril and Emilia Luna Montalvan, whose ballet-stylized dance movements were synchronized with Walter's songs as he sang.  Also in synchronization with Walter's vocals were the dance movements of Danny Jimenesez, Joshua Riveros Abril, and David Ortega.

Some of Walter's most enthusiastic

Sunday, March 31, 2013


One of the most beautiful things about living in the Palermo is its nearness of one block from the Rio Tomebama.  The walkways along the river, the beautiful park settings, the joggers as they make their way along the paths, the families who do their laundry in the river, the people who enjoy their day of relaxation, the young lovers walking hand in hand while occasionally stealing a kiss from one another, the amusements for the children--all make for a day of awesome tranquility.

The Tomebama is one of four rivers that flow through Cuenca, and is a very narrow river.   Many in the states would laugh at the idea of even calling it a river.  In fact, when we have dry spells, the river becomes shallow and would more accurately be referred to as a brook.  However, it would be a big mistake to underestimate this river.  When the rains pour, and the river fills as water makes its way down from the Cajas, the mighty roar of the Tomebama is one of magnificence.  The river is of little use for swimming, canoeing, or river raftingThe waters are far too treacherous and tumultuous for such activities, as the raging waters cascade eastward from the Cajas over the numerous rocks that cause the sound of endless rapids,  I can not help but experience a spiritual oneness with what I imagine as the sounds of thousands of indigenous drums beating out the crescendo of hundreds of generations of traditions that continue in the blood, pride, and spirit of their contemporary offspring.

The photos today present the beauty along the river, the ferociousness of the waters when the river is high, the people washing their clothes and belongings along the banks of the river, the wonderful equipment in the playground area that adults often use as much as the children.  Those who can not afford health club memberships can get a work out on some of the equipment that makes me wonder why I have never seen parks around Chicago make use of the same concept of wellness and well-being.  Where there are people in this very enterprising city of Cuenca, there will be food vendors as well.

I took these photos on the Sunday afternoon of March 17th as I made my way to the Coopera; where I purchase my organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, quinua and whatever type of grain one would want, as well as milk, and meats.   I count my blessings everyday that I have an opportunity to live in a city nestled in a basin of the Cajas where we are replenished continuously with fresh water, and where we are the only city not only in Ecuador but in South America known for having the safest drinking water.  Even Norte Americanos can drink directly from the tap in Cuenca.  The soil in Ecuador is amongst the richest in the world.  One can only hope that this sliver of paradise can be preserved, without destruction by international corporations and corrupt politicians.

All but one or two of the last photos were taken when I was on my way to the Coopera.  I was in the store about twenty minutes.  I was amazed upon my walk back from the Coopera that the number of people in the playground area of the park had doubled.  Mules are often on site on the weekends as children can be provided with rides, but unfortunately for my photo shoot there were none today.  Generally, the soccer/volleyball area you see in the photos normally have young and middle age men playing one game or another on the weekend afternoons with dozens of people seated and enjoying the games. 

In the background, are the recently built highrises that speak to the affluence of the area.  Although the west side of Cuenca is often referred to as "Gringolandia",  a large majority of the people in the area are Ecuadorians (Ecuatorianos), and there are just as many gringos living on the south side of town, as well as in El Centro. In fact, recently I am meeting increasing numbers of Gringos living or moving into the Monay Mall area on the northeastern side of town as well. 

I am sorry I can not provide you with the roaring sounds of the Rio Tomebama, but I do hope you enjoy a view of one small part of Cuenca that provides beauty and tranquility.  You can click on any photo for a larger view: