Published on February 13th, 201510
Cuenca, Ecuador: One Year Ago Today…
…I landed here at the tippy-top of a mountain in the Andes.
(and I might add, immediately gasped for breath)
Yep, gasped for a bit more oxygen due to the rarefied altitude (it took me fully 3 weeks to acclimatize, though likely mitigated by my 40+ hour marathon whiz from the other side of the globe – Vietnam – all with the jolly-good-fun of a head cold), but also…
I gasped for breath from the sheer BEAUTY of this lovely Andean town of terracotta rooftops and cobbled streets – all laced with four gurgling rivers, crumbling UNESCO World Heritage site architecture, and (speaking of “breath-taking”) soaring cathedrals at every turn.
Seriously, I do believe the word “picturesque” was invented solely to describe Cuenca, Ecuador.
What a difference – the Latin ambiance of Ecuador vs. the two years I previously lived in Asia. Like another planet really. The culture, the food – arguably OPPOSITE the Buddhas-everywhere and ubiquitous rice and noodles of Asia. Indeed, Latin “America” much more akin to my Western upbringing in the U.S.A. and nary a squat toilet to be found. Oh yeah, adapting to life in Ecuador – a veritable cake-walk compared to Asia.
And that’s not even counting the VASTLY easier lingua!
Still… Given that a good part of why I choose to live in foreign lands is precisely BECAUSE I welcome the myriad of big and little challenges such requires, I don’t like my adopted homes to be TOO easy to navigate. And happily, I’ve found that Ecuador has its own fair share of unique differences (some charming, some uh, not-so-much) to keep me perpetually fascinated and ever on-my-toes.
Thus after 365 sunrises here in Cuenca, it seems fitting to pause a moment and set down in digital “ink”, a handful of my 1st anniversary impressions/musings on life as an expat in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Question: Can one (equally/simultaneously) love more than one corner of the globe?
Answer: Apparently, yes. Indeed, much like loving each of your children equally, I’m certain that I can and do love my beloved Seattle, equally as much as I adore my beloved Dalat, Vietnam. And furthermore, I feel just as much happiness, contentment and love for everything here in Cuenca, Ecuador as I do Seattle and Vietnam.
And here’s but a handful of reasons why:
- first and foremost – the climate. The wonderfully t-e-m-p-e-r-a-t-e weather here at 8,000+ feet. I’ve experienced the full winter/summer spectrum now, and for me (a Seattle aficionado for good reason), the climate is PERFECT!
- the unique “toot-ta-toot-toot of the propane gas truck that plies my neighborhood daily (call me silly, but it just never fails to make me smile).
- That said, on the frowny-side, I must admit (though g-knows I learned to dance happily amid those 4 MILLION motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City), I’m not too crazy about the utter disregard for the humble “pedestrian” here in Cuenca. Clearly those afoot here do NOT – by any stretch of the imagination – have “the right of way”, and crossing the street is waaaaay more perilous here than even in Saigon.
- but back on the bright side… there’s a veritable DEARTH of insects here. I’m tellin’ ya – I’ve counted a total of *3* flies, 2 spiders and nary a single cockroach in my 365 days here in Cuenca (I can only imagine that’s because, they too struggle with catching their bitty breaths here, and thus prefer to hang-out closer to the beach).
- wheelbarrows chock full of plump red strawberries on every corner – manned by uncommonly attractive indigenous lasses (dressed in red velvet, ambitiously embroidered skirts, with pert panama hats set atop obsidian braids).
- 3 for $1 tamales, plucked steaming from a tin pot by a lone vendor predictably stationed in front of a lofty alabaster cathedral.
- 50¢ grilled bananas – perfectly charred and stuffed with crumbled “queso fresco” (the local cheese).
- (speaking of street-eats…) lest we forget the many delectable ceviches that abound (swoon!)
- one word: POTATOES. Seriously. ever so nice to be back in a land that knows how to leastwise mash a tater.
- a bakery on every blessed corner (though Ecuador COULD take a lesson in – moist NOT – cake making).
- Sure, Jarlsberg cheese remains elusive or extremely pricey at best, but I mean – you surely can’t complain when you can get a great big ol’ plateful of (heavenly-of-the-heavenlies) “hordando” for 3 bucks, yes?
- air-kissing the cheeks of locals, ever with a cheery “¿Cómo está?” (and they honestly DO want to know just “How are you?”).
- unmercifully butchering the local language – and grateful for the gentle corrections by the ever patient locals.
- Imagine if you dare… a land where one can buy w-o-o-l and (gasp!) c-o-t-t-o-n (as opposed to the omnipresent polyester of Asia). Even better – while Ecuadorians tend to be a smidge short, the lasses are at least TWICE the girth of their breathtakingly petite sisters in Asia, thus… hallelujah! I can actually find clothes in my size!
- colorful street-art festooned on the many “escaleras” (stairways) – all leading to…
- …did I mention that gurgling Tomebamba river?
I could go on ‘n on. Even after settling in now for a full year, I still marvel (and quite honestly, pinch myself) daily that this is my new home.
And while it feels great to have the bulk of my life half-way under control again (e.g. a great apartment in the heart of El Centro, dear neighbors and friends, a sweet little part-time teaching gig, my Spanish leastwise good enough to crack a joke or two – not to mention not having to fiddle with visa renewals every few months), each and every day continues to offer ever new (mostly) delights (and a few annoyances) BOTH of which I whole-heartedly EMBRACE as part ‘n parcel of WHY I choose to live in a foreign land.
In short – as a lass that’s expatted now in 5 different countries, I can tell you that living in a foreign land surely ain’t for the faint-hearted. Nonetheless, for me – hanging out here in Cuenca, Ecuador is pretty much B.L.I.S.S.