Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Up, Down and Sideways

(Note from Nancy, responding to some questions and comments we've received off-blog.)

We had to laugh the other day when some expats commented they were going to start a new blog...all the ugly, the downside, of Cuenca.  It was a light moment...' Ack!  Too many gringos are coming!  Someone, please, tell the folks that this isn't Paradise!  Maybe the crowds of new gringos will stay home!'

 As we say, it was all a funny moment, with a few barbs.  It was easy for some  to say there are now too many gringos...the gringo invasion!...since we're already here....

Most expat and traveling folks are cheerful and positive and hopeful and sometimes funny. 
Yes, it's true, Cuenca is mostly Paradise to some, including us, but there are the not-so-perfect moments.  Thankfully, those moments are few. 

In the beginning of the visit or move here, you could  experience more of the yucky, culture-shock side, as you learn and adjust.  Those frustrating moments of getting stuff done, finding stuff, getting lost all the time, learning your Spanish, finding new friends....or getting sick.  The waves of homesickness, and missing all good things US American, can be more painful than a poke in the eye... And, O Lordy, the noise of the City!   But, if you stay and adjust, those yucky moments will eventually pass, at least enough so you are not totally paralysed and constantly unhappy.  You will read on other blogs that most who stay here eventually just 'get with the program' and settle in just fine. 

 Loud whining and complaining in public will do no one any good.  We hear the loud complaints from mostly un-adjusted, new gringos in shops, markets, restaurants, parks...better to do your loud complaining in private, don't you think?  You can rant on your blog (readers can choose to read or not)  or through emails or Skype with your friends and family.  You can whine privately with your close friends.  Those who have been here awhile  have mostly adjusted to the more quiet, civilized way of life.  That public, ugly, in-your-face, loud, super US American-ness, seems so foreign to us now and we know that screaming in a worker's face will just raise everyone's blood pressure and get nothing good done.  We suspect Ecuadorians don't appreciate it either.

 Paradise can have a Downside, or even a 'Sideways' side.  As you adjust and get your bearings, you may even go Down, Up, Down, Up, then may even get dizzy going around and around, as you go through the range of emotions and perspectives!  Sometimes I still do, as I twirl through it all.

For instance: 

You're trying like the dickens to find the perfect place to live....AGAIN! 
Up:  Lots of choices! 
Down:  The place you really want to rent or buy is too expensive, or there are barking dogs next door, or you'd be on the bus route with too much diesel fumes...  or out in no-darn-where.
Sideways:  You adjust the budget, or negotiate a better price.  You get some earplugs, or keep looking.  Or you decide to try out the new place and move later (again!) if you need to.  You do your homework and learn the bus schedule, or plan to budget for longer taxi rides or consider buying a car.
Many newcomers move several times before they are happy.  It's easier to rent at first as you learn the neighborhoods.

Another example:
Down:  It's raining ...  again...
Up:  When it rains here, it means we have drought...and the rivers are full and the grass is green. If you have a garden, it also means you don't have to fight with the hose to water the plants.  It's sure nice to have this old City washed down nearly every afternoon.
Sideways:  Find your umbrella and go out anyway.  Or, get on those sweats, make some popcorn and watch a movie.  You can't change the weather!

Down:  The water in your apt suddenly goes off, with no warning.   For hours.
Up:  Well, maybe the folks are doing the maintenance on the system to keep the water clean. Maybe now is the time to practice your very best Spanish and ask the guards or the building office folks about it. 
Sideways:  Shoot, now is the time to just go out, all grubby,  with your dirty hair shoved up in a hat, and plan to shower, mop those dirty floors and catch up on laundry later.  Or, read all day or watch movies until the water comes back on.  Gives you a great excuse not to clean!  There's always tomorrow for those chores. 
(Note to us -- Remember to buy bottled water for the next time so you can at least brush your teeth and make a cup of tea and remember to take your dictionary when you go to speak with the guards.
And, never take running water for granted!  Even in a modern highrise.)

We've also heard more heated discussions on politics....US politics and Ecuadorian politics both.  Some topics are just plain divisive.  Many folks don't even go there as most are no win situations.

 We've heard these comments just in the last few weeks:

.'The US government is MAKING us move to a 3rd world country', (which is debatable, that 3rd world comment) . We've heard 'We BLAME the US politicians for breaking up our family, being sick, raising taxes, pushing jobs overseas, losing our 401K' name it, and the negative comments go on and on and on...
The US is our birth country, too, and I am saddened that so many US citizens find themselves in such unhappy conditions.  There are good reasons for it.  But, you don't have to feel and act like a victim.  You've got choices...

Remember, you can vote as a US citizen, even if you live in Ecuador. Try to vote the politicians out if you don't like the direction the US is going in...or vote with your feet, as many here have.  We agree that parts of the US are broken. But, we also believe no one is forcing you to visit or move here. There are perfectly other good places to go (or not). You may have more choices on how you'd like to live.  Do your research and find the  life-style and location that suits you.  We're grateful for having the opportunity to travel and move here, not everyone can. 

Our opinion about Ecuadorian/South American politics?  We're still learning. We do know that citizens here get involved, voice their opinions and protest loudly if they feel the politicians are not listening to them.  Voting here is mandatory for all citizens, with few exceptions.  The politicians seem to listen to the people and are voted out if they don't pay attention to what the people want.    As guests in this Country, we listen and learn and cheer the people on. Regardless of what you may have been told, Ecuador is an active democracy.  Its economy is a robust, free enterprise system. It's not perfect, but it's fascinating to watch.

The 2nd heated topic lately has been about local food.

Some new arrivals only want to eat food they are used to back in the States. There are KFC and Burger King here, but you'll pay more than for the typical food. Typical food is generally more healthy for you than US fast food. Local food plates usually come with fresh fruit juice and vegetables. The set lunch menu of the day is about $2-$3, a bargain for alot of food!  We tend to eat around the stuff we don't like (like the usual white rice served on each plate), and we still can't eat it all. 

You will pay more for those exported items, like Jif peanut butter, one of our favorites, too, when we can find it. Shop and ask might just find a good substitution made locally.
You can also try out the restaurants with more 'gourmet' food:  Italian, Greek, French, Cuban, Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican, Asado - Argentina style, Vegetarian, and the list goes on.  Lots of good choices. 

We weren't sure we liked the local food at first either. Before moving here, we just assumed the food in Ecuador was hot and spicy, not true.  Through trial and error,  we've found that some of the local food is quite good.  The produce is awesome!  We love the soups and the ice cream!

 If you'd like to know what you're eating and buying, learn some Restaurant Spanish and Shopping Spanish. Some of the first Spanish words I learned was 'chivo' and 'cuy'. (goat and guinea pig; I prefer to eat neither.) You can always check your dictionary before ordering so you're not surprised with mystery food. 

That 'hamburger' you order in the restaurants may not be what you're expecting...could be meatless, with lentils or grains or rice instead, or who knows.  But, the burger could be fabulous, like those at CA Kitchen or the Inca Lounge (being US expats, the owners really know how to build a burger-US style!). 

Just the other day, we heard some gringos 'horrified' that they had heard some folks eat horse meat here. Well, maybe they do. But, that doesn't mean you need to eat it! If you are unhappy with the prospects of eating 'pets' (including cuy), then you can choose not to buy and eat it. I pass on eating 'pets', but I don't expect everyone else to. Just pass on that ground 'beef' in the market if you don't want to eat horse, if the rumors upset you.  Labeling the meat as 'beef' may not be truthful, but we're not in the US anymore.    By the way, folks eat horses in France, too; it's not just a South American thing.

So -- enjoy those Up moments and minimize the Down ones.  Go 'Sideways' , or 'Go Long' as our friend Guy used to say.  

We think it's easier to be in Paradise if you do.


PS -- We've now lived in Cuenca for 800 days!  We're still loving it here!


  1. Great post, Nancy. I remember my first few weeks/months here and how you coaxed me through the culture shock. It hits folks in different ways but when one learns to "let go and go with the flow", life becomes much sweeter. Thanks for helping me across the rocky stream.



  2. Hola Brennie,
    You're right, we all adjust at a different pace and intensity.
    I do still have my 'twirling' days... So much easier to just go with the flow. Here's to 'sideways'!
    Hugs back, N

  3. Wonderful post-- life is so much
    more peaceful when we make adjustments gracefully/sideways!
    Most of us came here to experience Ecuador -- not to escape the USA -- and there is so much here to enjoy! Thanks for reminding us! Sherry and Hank

  4. We love the difference. We embrace it. There is of course a price to pay. There are some things that you can't help but miss. But for those of us that love it here, the tradeoff of what you get vs what you give up isn't even close. I saw the reference to JIF, and yeah that is probably ME. Mainly I bitch about it just to amuse myself. I miss my Harley more. But there is no contest between living here w/o the Harley or being back in Kansas with it.

  5. HOORAY! I knew I loved you for some reason! To the point and perfect. I look forward to our 365th day on July 1st! Viva Ecuador!

  6. Nancy,

    Great post. You hit the nail right on the head on all points. It is not enough to come to Ecuador just because the cost of living is less expensive. People who want all things "American" need to stay in the United States. By the way where can I buy that horse meat? I'll try Trigger or Silver any day over cuy.

  7. I'd like to thank everyone for their comments on and off-blog.

    Blogger has been having some problems and they are in the process of restoring your comments to this post.

    They say all should be back to normal 'soon'. Once the system is stabilized, we'll be posting more pictures. Stay tuned.


  8. I loved "up, down and sideways". My wife and I have lived all over the US and I spent 4 years in Germany. Even in the US you have the "up, down, and sideways" and it is an important part of the adventure. Food! I will try almost anything! I found blood loaf in Germany was delicious! Who would ever think of congealed blood cooked into a loaf, cut in slices and served as a sandwich would be good. So -- the up, down and sideways is the spice -- Bring it on!

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  10. Looks like Blogger has restored all of your comments. Thanks again for your patience and nice words.

    Jim, not sure where you can find horse hamberger, or even if the rumour is true.