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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Driving in Cuenca

Though we own a car and are quite comfortable driving now, it took some time to get used to all the idiosyncrasies of maneuvering through the city. Interestingly, a number of our friends, who originally didn’t have a car, have recently purchased one, mainly for trips out of town. We have found that the streets and roads are in good shape compared to other South American cities. The potholes are usually filled quickly after they appear.  If you are a driver, you will find that the gas stations are manned with a half dozen eager attendants. There is no such thing as self service in Ecuador and the attention is quick and efficient. Gas is presently $1.48 for Extra and has been for at least a year or more, a low price compared to America and Europe and is primarily due to the nationalized petroleum cartel. You will also enjoy not having to pay that painful fifty cents for air to fill your tires as you do in the US. Air and water are free at all gas stations. In the Centro of Cuenca, SOAT, an arm of the city government that oversees licensing and ticketing, has agents roaming each street who will sell you up to an hour’s parking permit for a dollar which allows you to park in allowable spots on the street. If you cannot find a SOAT person after you park on the street, you can purchase a permit at almost any store near your parked car. You merely write in the time and date on the permit and put it on the dashboard for the roaming SOAT agent to see. Until we learned this system, we parked and, of course, got a ticket. It took two days of asking and driving around to suggested places before we found a rather obscure location where we could pay our $10 parking fine only to find out later that we were ripped off. It was not the correct place to pay. We recently found out that you can pay parking tickets at the caja at the motor vehicle compound just off Solanno near the main Banco Pichincha. There are very few painted lane markings on Cuenca’s streets and roads and it probably wouldn’t make any difference if there were as drivers often pay no attention to staying in a particular lane and weave in and out at will. It is a little disconcerting to see cars parked along a two way street facing in both directions on both sides of the street. Apparently  this is not a parking offense. However, the city is making a commendable effort to crack down on violations but this appears to be an almost insurmountable task. Almost everyone walks everywhere in the city or takes a taxi for $2 or less so a car really isn’t necessary. Here is a photo of our tiny 4 passenger taxis. 
We have always had a car and it was an addiction too hard to break. We feel that driving into the vehicle crowded Centro is not a problem once you are used to it. There are Parquedero’s or parking lots on almost every block where you can park your car for about 60 cents an hour. They give you a greater sense of safety for your car and anything left inside compared to leaving it on the street. Car radios sold in Ecuador have a pop off control panel that you would be wise to remove and take with you when you leave the car on the street.  Having a car in Cuenca is a personal choice but we enjoy using it to drive up into the mountains and to visit the fascinating small towns and their market places. And, it is amazing how much we end up hauling around.  One way or the other, we find ways or excuses to justify owning a car. 

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