Published on February 13th, 2015


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).

Heavenly hornado

  • 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!
  • SteetArtCuenca
  • 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.

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

10 Responses to Cuenca, Ecuador: One Year Ago Today…

  1. Love your sheer enthusiasm for Cuenca and (almost!) all things Ecuadoran. There are so many amazing places in this world and reading your posts makes me resolve to return to Ecuador just to visit Cuenca.
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Kunuku Homes of CuracaoMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Truly sorry we missed a rendezvous here Anita, whilst you were in Ecuador. Cuenca is truly is a remarkable place. But who knows? One of these days our nomadic paths may cross yet, in some random corner of the globe! 😉

  2. Tim McMahon says:

    Loved this post! I too love Ecuador and although I’ve never been to Vietnam I enjoyed Thailand. One question, you said, “not having to fiddle with visa renewals every few months”. How did you arrange that? Last I heard you could only stay 6 months unless you apply for permanent residency… unless you got a work Visa? If so how did you arrange it?
    Tim McMahon kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Do You Have What it Takes to Retire in Ecuador?My Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Good question Tim – and the answer is yep, I bit bullet and nabbed a permanent resident visa. No small chore (not to mention a tidy bundle of rubles) mainly ‘cuz I had to hire a facilitator as I came to Ecuador directly from Vietnam and didn’t want to go to the trouble of heading back to the States to gather the paperwork). But having permanent residency is worth it. You can read a bit more about my experience in Part 1 of my 6 month Cuenca update:

  3. James says:

    What a blessed life you’ve carved out for yourself there, Dyanne! South America is on my wish list of places to go!
    James kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Nima Chandler’s Bangkok – A Mapmaker’s Guide to the City of AngelsMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes James, my move here to South America has turned out to suit me well. But there’s much I miss about Vietnam. Still… wait til you hear about my visit to the Galapagos – you definitely need to come see those!

  4. Joanne says:

    Happy Anniversary! It’s been fun going on your journey with you!

  5. Loved your article!! My husband and I are in Cuenca until March 15. This is our 3d visit and we are on a 6 month visa this trip. We are seriously considering a full-time residency here. I feel the same about Cuenca as you seem to be!! I look forward to reading more of your posts. I must admit that I have been very lax in posting to my blog lately; seriously lazy!!

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Annette. So you’re in Cuenca now – enjoying the Carnival festivities no doubt, yes? And yep, g-knows keeping up with these blogs can sometimes be a struggle (evidence: I still haven’t posted my pics of Borneo, nor Myanmar, nor my most recent trip to the Galapagos). But I love to share my many adventures, and hear from folks like you – so stay tuned!

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