Friday, November 30, 2012

Traditional Cuenca and Housing Options

We're written about this before, the old and new ways of Cuenca. 

It's still stunning to us that the old ways can peacefully co-exist right next door to the modern ways.  Seems to be no problem, but that's our outsider view.

Right next door to very new, modern buildings, there are pockets of the traditional life.  We hear the roosters and the cows.  We see the wonderful orchards and rows of veggies tended by the residents.  We see the candlelight in the evenings.  In these adobe houses, we've never seen any electricity, no power tools, no lights except for candlelight.  We're not sure if there is any plumbing.

We often wonder how these residents feel and think about  the modern buildings and traffic, butting up around their land. 

Cuenca has grown up all around these little pockets of tradition.  An Ecuadorian friend used to play  at the river, way out in the country.  All those fields are now new apt buildings.  His son, who also played at the river and was 'cured of an evil eye' by a shaman when he was a baby,  is now headed to medical school in the USA.  Things change.


We've gotten several questions from newcomers who are actively hunting for a place to live here in Cuenca.  All inquiries come from US Americans with US American expectations and requirements.  We are not experts on the topic, but we can share what we've learned and what we've heard from others.

Yes, you can exist here on $600/mo.  Many Cuencanos do live on this amount, even while raising their families.  The $600/mo figure is supposed to include, food, medical, entertainment, etc.  It is possible to live on that budget and may be easier if you own your home.  Finding acceptable-to-you homes to rent may take all of the $600 or more.  Yes, you will pay for those amenities you are needing, US style.  

(There are always exceptions and trade-offs which could impact your rent or purchase costs:  location, transportation options, services, etc. )

Most US Americans like 'modern' amenities.  Dishwasher and oven in the kitchen, running hot water,  inside toilets, new, working plumbing and electicity with back-up generator, security, internet, elevator, TV and cell phone access, views, good, clean water, lots of light...All those things that are common in the US. 
The topic of noise always comes up, too:  neighbors, nearby bars/nightlife, barking dogs, car and house alarms, construction.  Noise levels can change quickly.  Only you can decide how much and what kind of noise you want to deal with. 

Maybe you'll be more tolerant of the noise levels for the close-in location, maybe there is another trade-off that's worth the noise...


Here, you will find a wide variety of housing and prices, whether you choose to rent or buy.  Everything from old, ancient, dark adobes, maybe with mold and leaks and no appliances,  electricity or plumbing and  maybe dirt floors, all the way to very modern  houses/apts with lots of amenities, lots of light, maybe with a view and a porch or a garden, pet-friendly and close to everything...  and everything in between.

 Generally, the more modern and the more amenities, the more expensive.  The more centrally located, the more expensive.

As you hunt for your perfect place to live, do not make any assumptions (hard to do).  Don't assume that hot water faucet actually delivers hot or any water 24/7, or that computer on the table actually has online access, or that the toilet is functioning as you would like it to.  If appliances are included, do you care if they are working?  If so,  ask and check...don't assume.   Go to the source and double check, if it's important to you. 

Get everything in writing, including if the landlord, seller or builder will do repairs, painting or upgrades or if it's up to you and your wallet.  A couple friends were surprised when the roof leaked and the landlord had no plans to fix it.  Another couple was also surprised that their updates to the rental made the unit more valuable.  When the landlord saw what they had done, their rent went way up.  Always good to get a rental agreement and have it reviewed by knowledgable folks.  Good attorneys can help.  Double-check that the light fixtures and hot water heater and 'anything' connected to the walls and in the ground, including towel racks! and trees! and fences! light bulbs and light switches! kitchen granite and tiles! doors!  are included, don't assume.  Also, be sure the deposit information is spelled out, including how and when it will be returned. Are the gas tanks included?  Are all the old bills and taxes paid?  Is the landline included? Are your pets welcome?  Are systems and security maintained by the condo association?  Is a gardener included?  Only sign an agreement if you understand and agree with it -- get an English translation if needed.

If you're purchasing, do your homework, too.  Be clear what the builder/condo association/seller is responsible for, any additional costs and time frames.  Negotiate penalties for non-performance, get everything in writing.  Confirm that the person selling or renting to you has the authority to enter into a contract. Again, an attorney can help.  Work hard to minimize those surprises. 

Be careful, patient and be smart.  You'll find your perfect place!  If you move in and you find it's not perfect, look some more and move again.  Lots of choices.

 Many friends here have moved several times as neighbors, buildings and neighborhoods change (or they and their expectations have changed).  

Happy house hunting!


We took many pictures during a City Tour recently and another trip to the countryside.  We'll be posting more pictures later, so stay tuned.  Thanks for reading.  Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday Walk and a Clown Parade

Our readers will know we like to walk with the Watsons on Sundays.

This Sunday we began the walk on Av Solano near the Ital-Deli and headed to downtown.
Some pics along Solano.  We walked on the left hand side of the street...much better sidewalks than the other side.

A furniture studio.

Flower shop.

Sleeping doggie.

Sidewalk repairs on R. Crespo.

More construction along Solano.

German antique shop.

The lovely high school at Av Solano and almost 12 de Abril.

Crossing 12 Abril, a volunteer fire truck.

The river that Sunday.

The dreaded stairs up to Calle Larga...we always take it slow and easy.

On the way to Calle Larga from the stairs.

Calle Larga is quiet on a Sunday morning.

Some friends like this hair salon...we turned left...

Passed this Sunday-quiet side street.

Headed to the Square.

 The beginnings of the Parade, in celebration of International Clowns' Day!

Another fun Sunday with the Watsons.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's a New Dawn, It's a New Day

As we go toward our 4th year here in Ecuador, we've been looking back on our lives in South America...

We always have to smile when new arrivals ask us if we 'really like Cuenca'. Our regular readers will already know the answer is a BIG YES! Si, Si!! Our vibrant, beautiful Cuenca suits us just fine.

We find ourselves humming this  'Feelin' Good' song often -- the first link below is the original by Nina Simone.  The 2nd version is by another huge talent, Carly Rose.  We like them both.

You can read all you want about Ecuador, but you really got to visit in person to really experience it. 
A one-day or even a week or a month's shot doesn't even tap the surface.  If you stay longer, you could fall in love.  Or, you could hate it.  But, only you can decide.

Come with your eyes wide open.  There are alot of differences between being a traveler/tourist and resident.  There are always frustrations with getting used to a different culture, different language/s, different ways of doing things. 

No question, it can be a hard adjustment for newcomers.  When we first arrived, there were a lot less services and products and our Spanish was pretty much horrible.  We were exhausted just getting here!  Our health wasn't the best, we were way too chubby, we suffered from the high altitude, we got lost all the time. 

Our story of our 'early days' will be different from your 'early days'. That's because Cuenca is a different place now and you will also have different points of reference than we did 3+ years ago.  Now there are so many more choices, including nice places to live.  Be sure to read current experiences on other blogs and forums and update info if it's a topic that's important to you.  Things change on a dime here... weather, residency requirements and processes, where to find something, internet and TV options, how to bring your pets and other treasures in...

We did have some hard early days...  You know, the kind of day that you just want to end quickly!...  full of little frustrations, that while each event was not particularly bad, the culmination of bad moments in a day just sent us to bed early with a good book!  Enough! 

But, we always know the dawn will bring a new day with new beginnings.  We get to start over each morning.

We also have those perfect days, where everything goes right, that you don't want to end...the vendors that did everything according to plan, fresh, hot rolls right out of a *working* !oven (and you find the 'good' butter in the freezer!), the perfect dinner and company, the hottest water and best water pressure, the happy llamas and parrots, doggies and sheep in the neighborhood, the rose that blooms right before your eyes, the internet connections that are like grease-lightening, the bluest of skies...

Those little magical moments have kept us going... the knock-your-socks-off sunrises and sunsets here in the Andes, the unexpected kindnesses of strangers, the little, sweet smiling children with their request to hold your hand and sing a song for you...just makes your heart melt.

Many who come to Cuenca will have those frustrating, no-good days.  You can't find a taxi in the rain, can't find something you need, can't seem to get anything done, can't find a good cup of coffee, standing in line for hours, can't sleep because of the noise or some new worry, a new allergy that makes your nose run non-stop, an unhappy baby that cries for hours...
But, it's not because you're in Ecuador,  all those frustrations can happen anywhere. 

Looking back at our first days here, what a difference!  Now, we're mostly comfortable, speaking more of the language to navigate around, finding most stuff we still miss and think we still need (or finding good alternatives).   Today's Cuenca is definitely a different place than the Cuenca we found when we first arrived.  The City has changed alot!  Lots more services, more good restaurants, more road and building construction, different laws, more traffic, more noise, more people...both more gringos and Ecuadorians returning home.  More scams and more crime, too.

Just remember as you get your bearings...  Cuenca is not paradise. Yes, you will still find folks with the manners of a pig.  You  could find unhappy detractors, too.  But, also remember that the Cuenca area is almost a half million people!  You will find like-minded folks at the expat gatherings around town (see forums and other blogs for schedules and locations), you will have lots of choices for friends.  Also, remember...Ecuador is not the USA, both good and bad. 

Wishing everyone the best as they embark on their 'new dawn, new day, new life'!