Published on October 12th, 20149
6 Month Update on Life in Cuenca (Part 1)
(well o.k. – make that now nearly 8 months!)
I admit it – I’ve been somewhat negligent in my duties of keeping you all up to date on what’s happening here in my new home on a wholly new continent. What can I say? Perpetually moving lock, stock ‘n barrel (though the “barrel” consists of little more than a backpack and a carry-on size rollie) takes a bit of maintenance. Moving from Buddha-land and insufferable 6-toned gibberish (Vietnam) – or worse, utterly cryptic squiggles (Thailand) to… Jesus-land and happily familiar (though sadly rusty) Spanish (which at least has the good sense to enunciate all its vowels and consonants – well o.k. but for “h” and occasionally “g”) uh, takes a bit of doing. So let’s just say “I’ve been a tad, busy – and let it go at that, o.k.?
But you’re right – it’s been more than 7 months now here in Cuenca, and – though I’ve managed to plop more than a dozen stray Ecuador posts here (on my first glimpse of Carnival here in South America, along with my decadent spa visit for my birthday, the Inti Raymi Inca Sun Festival for the solstice, oh and lest we forget the 1st Annual Cuenca Easter Egg Hunt) – still… I’ve got LOTS more to share, and it’s high-time I spilled a few beans about how I’ve been adjusting to life here at the tippy-top of this (not so) “g-forsaken mountain top in the Andes“.
With that in mind, I started pecking… and pecking… and pecking. Nearly 5,000 words of pecking! So very much to share on my experiences here these past many months, even just the highlights swiftly became a tome! Thus, in deference to your tender collective eyeballs (not to mention, your limited digital attention span), 😉 I’ve elected to split the many tales into two parts. This week you’ll get Part 1, while next week I’ll post another 2+ thousand (!) words about “The Gringo Scene” here in Cuenca, along with my Spanish progress, Misc. stray tidbits on the culture, etc. here, and – most excitingly, a sneak-peek of TravelnLass’ NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE!
So let’s get started already, shall we? First, a little background on this new land I now call “home”:
Snapshot of Ecuador
Governed as a representative democratic republic* (the current President is a University of Illinois grad), Ecuador is bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Roughly the size of Colorado, this tiny sovereign nation has snow-capped Andes mountains, Amazon rain forests and sun-soaked Pacific beaches. Not to mention (more than 500 miles offshore) – those legendary Galápagos Islands.
*Little known fact: Rich in flora and fauna, as per the 2008 constitution, Ecuador is the first country in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature.
And here on this Andean mountain-top, Cuenca (pop. 500,00 – gringos? less than 1%) looms roughly 8,000 feet above sea level in southern Ecuador, about 4 hrs. by (dizzyingly windy) road to Guayaquil on the coast. And just where exactly has the TravelnLass chosen to drop anchor? Why I’ve settled into the very heart of “El Centro”, Cuenca’s historic center – filled with cobbled streets, exquisitely domed cathedrals and terra-cotta tiled rooftops tucked into a mountain valley resplendent with four gurgling rivers running around it.
In short, I’m living in a freekin’ Unesco World Heritage site, and half the time I feel like I’m living in Italy!
And speaking of those picturesque gurgling rivers… my own digs lie but 3 blocks from the grassy banks of the Rio Tomebamba (uh, see how I snuck that smidge of “Rio” Spanish in to give you a true feel of what it’s like to live here?) 😉
Which brings us to…
Like many who move here, there’s so many lovely (and cheap!) digs to be had – both within El Centro, and further afield in “Gringolandia”* – I’ve done a bit of moving about. Indeed, I’ve now gone through no less than THREE abodes here in El Centro, but I do believe I’ve now found the perfect place to call “home”.
This is not to say my first two places weren’t more than satisfactory…
*“Gringolandia” (that’s actually what it’s called!) Though not my personal cuppa tea (i.e. I don’t choose to live in foreign lands, only to surround myself with a cheaper version of the U.S.), but if you want to replicate the suburbs of your native Western land – with sterile, brick monoliths complete with manned reception, paved cul de sacs and a gym? It’s here. And at $550 for a 2 BR / 2 bath furnished place (albeit quite possibly with a view of the brick wall of the tower next door), it’s certainly tempting.
On the other hand, some of us prefer the magic of living amid the (noisy, oh my yes, I’ll give you that) cobbled streets of El Centro, in the heart of the Cuenca community. Seriously. With the din of no fewer than 4 MILLION motorbikes when I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, by contrast – the persistent rumble of traffic and pirated CD tiendas blaring annoyingly peppy Latin tunes here in El Centro seems much akin to a lullaby to me. And I just love that I can step outside my door and be utterly enveloped in the hub-bub of day-to-day life of the locals as they go about their work.
OMG The TravelnLass Has a PET!!!
It’s true. I still can’t quite believe that this die-hard nomad has broken down and gotten herself a KITTEN! Not just any ol’ cat, but the sweeeetest little “gatita” in verily all of Latin America. So sweetly adorable in fact – I named her: “Dulce” (Spanish for… why “sweet” of course!)
B- b- b- but Dyanne, you say – what on earth are you going to do with a cat when you want to skip off to… say Boliva, or Peru, or…? Does this mean you’ve hung up your backpack permanently?
The TL? Hang up her backpack? Don’t be silly. Not only is my apartment fully furnished (right down to the forks and spoons) so that I can fly-the-coop at a moment’s notice, but – cats are easy to take care of, and easier still to get a cat sitter to come in whilst I skip off for a few weeks to see the salt flats of Bolivia, or that crumbling Inca empire called Machu Picchu.
And meanwhile, it’s ever so nice to have a soft, furry little creature (who goes adorably NUTS when tossed a simple bread-wrapper tie for heaven’s sake!) I’d forgotten how nice it can be to have a pet.
My ***PERMANENT*** VISA!
Seriously. This is MONUMENTAL. A HUGE accomplishment. Though rest assured, no small struggle nor petite bundle of cash. Indeed, my only regret is that I deliberately tossed away a boatload of the latter (cash), in hopes of avoiding the former (struggle) – and failed.
The truth is – though I’ve grown quite adept at navigating my way through all manner of convoluted and nonsensical visa regs throughout the world (successfully turning a 90 day Vietnam tourist visa into a near 2 year stay, albeit less successfully with the nutso regs of The Land Of Smiles), my cursory research on snagging a permanent resident visa in Ecuador in my usual DIY fashion, strongly suggested – uh, it might well prove a long and dicey process. Especially given that I’d need documents notarized and apostilled by various ‘n sundry gubberment cubicles in the U.S. while I… alas am already tucked in here in Ecuador.
One of those vital documents was a Criminal Background Check (CBC) which I’d already obtained once before from the FBI prior to my exodus from the U.S. to Vietnam (indeed, signed by none other than Hillary Rodham herself back when she was Secretary of State). But alas, that CBC was of course (after 2+ years) expired. So I’d need a new one to prove I’d not murdered anybody nor smuggled drugs out of the jungles of Borneo whilst skipping around Asia. Indeed, rather ironic given that the new CBC would only prove I’d not committed any crimes – in the U.S. recently – when of course I’d not even stepped foot there for over 2 years.
Ah but all that drivel aside, suffice that for once in my life, I determined that a DIY permanent resident visa for Ecuador was not the way to go. Far better to speed up the process and let a professional handle the acky details. Thus, I queried a trio of such visa facilitators here in Ecuador via email, and… the first one that I interviewed convinced me that she could – not only handle all the U.S. paperwork, but (more importantly to me) she could do it swiftly (e.g. “We can probably do it in less than 30 days and you won’t even need to extend your 90 day tourist visa.”. Kewl! Super! That’s GREAT! She also happened to be the most expensive of the trio (by about 100%) But hey – I’d already decided I’d toss money at the problem, and… Wow! Really? No need for an extension, you say? You can get all the paperwork done in but little more than 30 days? Sign me up. I want some of that ice cream!
To bad the ice cream turned out to be a tad melted, and more than a bit bitter. Oh she (eventually) got me the visa all right. But for near $2,000, it still took nearly 4 MONTHS (and of course I had to get an extension on my 90 day tourist visa after all, while we waited, and waited…and waited…)
I’m tempted to peck the details of a sadly derailed CBC (that cost us an entire month and could have been avoided had my facilitator been the least bit on top of things) plus constant anxiety and exasperating communication disconnect at ever turn. But suffice – I’m not about to risk charges of defamation in a country that will send you to jail for less. So best we leave names and details to private convos.
Besides… water under the bridge and all that. No sense weeping over spilled (sour?) milk. Bottom-line: I have my Permanent Resident visa now, along with my Cedula (which I easily snagged by myself for little more than $9 – vs. the $100 my facilitator charges), and never have to fiddle with such in Ecuador again.
There ARE a few restrictions though (i.e. I can only be out of Ecuador for 90 days cumulative in each of the first 2 years), but that’s not a huge hardship as I’m happy with but a whiz to those luscious Galapagos (which of course are IN Ecuador) plus a few weeks for Machu Picchu, maybe a skip up to Columbia to check it out, a month in Boliva and/or Argentina… Shoot, 3 months each year, I can explore just about as much as I like without upsetting the 1st 2-year visa applecart. And after that – my Ecuador visa is golden, even if I’m traipsing elsewhere for up to 18 months!
While I’ve missed being in the classroom these past many months, I’ve been dragging my feet about teaching EFL here in Latin America ‘cuz… well, I’m spoiled. I mean, $22/hour in Vietnam is hard to match (and the cost of living there, is lower than it is here), so it’s tough to earn 2/3 less – for doing the exact same job. Still… it’s not really about the money for me, as I can live quite nicely on my small pension plus an occasional bit of website tinker on the side. It’s the commitment IN EXCHANGE for so little that bothers me. Just tough for me to tie myself down to even a 6 month contract in exchange for so little.
So I’ve been dragging my feet – for nearly 8 months now.
Just recently, I was wandering around a neighborhood food festival and (literally) bumped into the Director of CEDEI (the largest and best private English school in Cuenca) by accident. Long story short? I mentioned I had a CELTA and had taught EFL in Vietnam, and… next thing I knew I was sitting in the Academic Manager’s office and she offered me a position starting the end of October. Likely just a class or two (as that’s all I want) plus perhaps a bit of private tutoring (apparently they have a waiting list). I’m impressed with CEDEI’s programs (they’ve been in Cuenca for 22 years), along with the facilities and teacher resources. I think it will be nice to have a bit of a focus, to be plugged into the local community, and I look forward to being in the EFL classroom again. So I’ll soon be happily scribbling lesson plans, and drumming a bit of English into the heads of Ecuadorians (instead of Vietnamese) this time. Stay tuned…