A New Kind of Blog

There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shopping in Cuenca

Everyone moving to Ecuador faces the same question. “What should we bring?” There is no way to know ahead of time what you might need that can or cannot be purchased here or what item will be much more expensive than in the US. We made a huge mistake selling many of our valued possessions before we came yet we shipped a 40’ container with our best items. Furniture can be hand made by many shops that only need a photo of the piece you want and the fabric you wish to cover it with. There are a number of small computer stores where you can buy Toshiba laptops, generic desktops and most accessories. Electronic stores are all over town but have a limited selection. For instance TV’s are LG, Samsung, Sony and some off brands. Clothing is another story. There are many small women’s clothing stores with very upscale merchandise but there will only be a selection of one or two of each item so size becomes an issue. If you see something that you like and it fits, buy it now as it will not be there next week. Girls children’s clothes are quite easy to find but there is little available for boys. Many Expatriates with children have clothing brought here when friends visit from the US. But there are many extremely interesting stores. Panama hats are made here not in Panama and the stores are fascinating. There is a copper shop on a long hill up into town where two men sit in an old stone doorway and pound copper with hammers into pots, pans and all sorts of interesting stuff. A little further up, in another hole in the wall, there is a one man barber shop, filled with people waiting as the barber shaves Indians faces with a long straight razor. There must be 150 wide stone steps up the hill to town. Most of the locals stride right up but we take a couple of breaks on the way pretending to look out over the town at the view as we catch our breath. Remember, Cuenca is at about 8000 feet above sea level. Once in the old part of town, there are no really big stores except for the huge Indian mercados filled with fruits, vegetables, meat and live animals.

But everywhere, up and down the streets, there are room size store fronts usually with an eclectic mix of things for sale. One store will sell mattresses, the next handmade furniture, the next might be a minimarket, the next a DVD store selling pirated DVD’s for $1.50 each, the next a woman cooking rice and chicken in a big pot and serving it at two tables in plastic bowls with a spoon. Then the next block will be a repeat of the same type of stores. On and on it goes for block after block interspersed with these Mom and Pop stores which is how most people here make their living. We have one huge mall called Mall Del Rio that has almost everything you could ask for including a large Wallmart-like store called Coral and a movie complex. By the way, almost all movies on TV are in English with Spanish subtitles. If you have Direct TV at home as we do, and if the program happens to be in Spanish there is a little yellow button on the remote that switches the spoken language from Spanish to English.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The City of Cuenca

It is one of the most charming cities you will ever encounter. From the air, the view is of mile after mile of red roofs and four raging mountain rivers running through the heart of the city. Much of Cuenca has retained its old Spanish colonial look with cobblestone streets lined with eucalyptus and palm trees plus buildings that are a photographer’s dream. Never have I seen flowering trees, hedges, bushes and wild shrubs like here. On our block in Cuenca the sides of the street are lined with large trees. The trees have very few leaves but are covered with thousands of purple flowers. They seem to bloom continuously. In place of stone walls many homes have grown impenetrable hedges up to ten feet high that are filled with tiny yellow or red flowers. In the fields and on uninhabited hills, a tough wild bush grows with Forsythia-like yellow flowers that make the hills come alive. On and on it goes. Everywhere you look there are blooming trees or flowers that grow all year long, only lessening during dry spells and increasing during the rains.
The streets and sidewalks are spotlessly clean as teams of green uniformed men and women daily pick up every speck of trash.

Approximately 90% of the roses sold as cut flowers in the US flower shops come from Ecuador. They are grown in the lower valleys around Cuenca and along the narrow valleys between Quito and Otivalo. Many other cut flowers are grown here but it is the wonderful roses that are the most famous. We buy 12-18 long stem roses at our local Supremaxi for just over $2. At the flower markets and the Mercados they are even less expensive. Ecuador is a Catholic country and as such, Cuenca has 53 churches many dating back to the Spanish colonial days. If you are a church tourist, you will not be disappointed. Even though Cuenca has approximately 500,000 people and is the third largest city in Ecuador, it has a small town feel. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t meet at least two or three people I know. Try that in a city of this size in the US. Traffic is a big problem in the city as thousands of busses, taxis, and cars argue over right of way along the many one way streets.
Today, I was at our house in the country which is 15 minutes outside Cuenca via the Autopista. It is an area that is even warmer and drier than Cuenca, a suburb called Challuabamba. The house is for sale but we love to go out there to enjoy the quiet and peaceful countryside. Sitting on the terrace, I was struck once again by the industriousness of the Indigenous Indian people who have so little but make the best of everything. A family of Indians had recently plowed a field next to our house and were planting corn by hand. There were five of them, three women and two men between 25 and 60 years of age. All but the youngest woman wore traditional Indian clothing, velvet skirts and embroidered blouses. The men wore regular attire. All were barefoot and wore hats to protect their heads from the intense sunlight. Two of the men and two of the women were bent over digging with hoes attached to short handles no more than four feet long. The fifth woman broadcast the precious corn seeds into the furrows. It will take them many days to hoe and plant row after row in order to complete sowing seeds on nearly two acres of land. It is a laborious job that would take an American farmer with his tractor and other equipment only hours to complete. At noon, they stopped hoeing and planting and sat down in the dirt to eat rice from plastic bowls. Laughing and talking, they put their tired bodies to rest for a few minutes of a long day.