Published on August 4th, 201517
A Slice of Expat Life in Cuenca, Ecuador
Life has settled down considerably for me here in Cuenca. Unlike my 2+ years in Asia, I’m not so inclined to skip off every few weeks to yet another new land – Cambodia, Laos, Sumatra, Mongolia, Nepal, Australia, Myanmar, younameit. It’s not that my travelin’ days are over – far from it. But I must say, I am quite content here amid these cobbled streets in the Andes. I’m of course ever keeping a keen eye out for airfares to Cuba, and Peru and Columbia remain ever on my radar. But for now, I’m truly loving just living an ordinary life – with lesson plans to scribble, errands to run, and a litter box to tidy each day
Not exactly exciting stuff.
Nonetheless, I thought I’d share a slim slice of life as an expat in Cuenca. Just an ordinary Saturday of chores and errands. So come take a stroll with me. Walk a mile (or two) in my Tevas around Cuenca…
It’s been nearly 4 years now since I’ve owned or even sat behind the steering wheel of one of those car contraptions. And I must say, I don’t miss it at all. In my native land of course, one pretty much has to own a car because public transport in most places is scarce and/or all but useless. Not so in the rest of the world – all over Asia, and here in Latin America, there’s always lots of alternatives (xe-oms in Vietnam, songthaews in Thailand, rickshaws in Nepal, etc.) And here in Cuenca? 25¢ buses or $1.50 taxis will get you to most any corner of the city. And inexpensive long-range buses run regularly to most every place in Ecuador
But what I like best about living here in the very heart of El Centro is that it’s such a WALKABLE city. I can pretty much walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. And my new apartment is so conveniently located – everything I need is pretty much within 4 blocks in any direction. Thus, to begin our Saturday stroll – first a quick skip along that beautiful gurgling Rio Tomebamba. Just a few blocks away, a walk there never ceases to remind me of how lucky I am to live in this wondrous corner of the World. Ah but then, it was on to…
Chores, chores, chores
Just like anybody else, we expats have chores to do each day, and living here in Ecuador is no different. Thus for my first trudge, I head 4 blocks east to my nearest Coral store (recently expanded, it’s akin – albeit a poor cousin – to a “Target” back in Seattle) to return a large soup pot that I thought I needed. My apartment comes furnished with all manner of cooking pots and utensils, but I thought I needed a larger pot for soup – I didn’t. While there, I also grabbed a bag of milk (yes, milk comes bagged or boxed here, and ever un-refrigerated), along with a bag of granola and… as a rare treat – and big ol’ bag of Lime Tortilla chips – yesssss!
From there it was on to my alternate Supermercado (one learns early here that – with no rhyme nor reason to it – some things can only be had at one shop or another), where I picked up a packet of salami, along with some precious “queso javierino” (cheddar cheese).
And on sudden impulse, I decided to make a batch of homemade “tacos” (a special Mexican recipe I learned from a lovely Guadalajara lass who used to sell them in a tiny doorway here in El Centro). So I also picked up the needed fresh makings: green peppers, queso mozarella, fresh mushrooms and a tiny packet of “crema de leche” (fresh cream). The proper “Doñarepa Maiz Extrafina” I already have at home, along with the magical tortilla press that makes the job easy-peasy.
Show me the money
Retracing my steps down Calle Sucre, I pass my home street and walk 2 blocks west now, to grab some cash from the ATM at Banco del Austro. Incidentally, I opened a local account there both to deposit my teaching checks, as well as auto-debit the $75 I pay monthly for my Ecuador health insurance (100% coverage for dental and vision, as well as all medical). And recently I realized how handy my Austro debit card will be – when I head to Cuba. Clearly my U.S. cards will be useless there, but my Ecuadorian bank card should work in most any Cuban ATM.
Drugs and a new acquaintance
Walking another 3 blocks west past the ever-picturesque Parque Calderon, I stop in at a “Fybeca” pharmacy for some band-aids and a supply of antihistamines (as I’m allergic to bee stings, I like to keep a supply on hand – especially when traveling). While waiting at the counter to pay, I overheard another gringa lass doing her level best to communicate in Spanish. Indeed, the stumbling accent of a novice Spanish gringo is hard to mistake, and in this case I was especially drawn to her chatter because she seemed to be speaking at about my own (lower-intermediate at best?) level of Español.
When she’d finished her transaction, I applauded her performance by telling her “Your Spanish is much better than mine!”. Turns out she and her husband have lived here now for 2 years, and she is presently considering taking an intensive $300 Spanish course (5 hrs. per day, for 6 straight days). We chatted about that, plus compared notes on each our favorite learning method (she: Pimsleur; me: initially private tutor plus Duolingo but now mostly just regularly chatting with Ecuadorians every day). Personally, I’d not be keen on the $300 six-day intensive (with 30 in a class) as my brain can only take in so much new vocab and grammar in a day, and I’d likely o.d. after just 2 days of the course. But I do think lately I’ve reached some sort of “plateau” in my Spanish acquisition, so I may try Pimsleur in addition to daily immersion.
Uh, how do you say “eyelash curler” in Spanish?
Next stop – 1 block west and a half-block north to my favorite little cosmetic tienda. There I can get mascara (often up to $18 a pop at the aforementioned Fybeca or Supermaxi) for as little as $2.50. I was also looking for some under-eye concealer, as well as an eyelash curler and I freely admit, I hadn’t a clue what the latter two words were in Spanish. Nonetheless, with the help of the kindly owner and another (Ecuadorian) customer along with a bit of miming – I was able to pick up all three beauty items for $7.
Pretties for m’lady
Ah but enough chores – now it was time for my main quest of the day – a pedicure at my favorite shop near San Sebastian park. Actually both a manicure and a pedicure (as the mani is just $1 more). Imagine, a French manicure, along with a pedicure that includes a creamy sand-scrub and soothing foot massage with cucumber cream – for 8 bucks! The lass that does it lived in the States for 8 years and speaks excellent English. But – as mentioned above, I insisted that we converse solely in Spanish throughout my pampered visit.
More Spanish chit-chat and a bite to eat
As it was well past lunch time, I next opted to stop in to say “Hola!” to the Ecuadorian lad that runs my favorite pernil pork sandwich café ($1.50 each with a side of the most divine salsa). And today – an added treat: the owner’s wife, made a luscious cheesecake drizzled with “mora” (blackberry) sauce ($1 per slice). I also learned that the couple (who presently have two daughters) are expecting their third child in 2 months – a BOY!
The Flower Market
And finally, my last stop before heading home, I paused at Cuenca’s central “Flower Market” across from the new cathedral (chosen as the #1 best flower market in the world by National Geographic). I’d been wanting to spruce up the flower boxes set within the filigreed wrought-iron grills outside my windows, so I bought a small bag of mulch from one indigenous lass, and a set of pink geraniums from her neighbor. When I asked “Cuánto cuesta?” (How much?) for the first geranium plant, her reply was “tres dólares”. “How much for two?” asks I. And she replies “cinco dólares”. I counter with “cuatro cincuenta” ($4.50) and she happily agrees.
Quite a busy day…
Clearly not the stuff of jet-setter travel thrills, but hey – it’s called “slow travel” for a reason. And I’m perfectly content just now to enjoy the simple pleasures of an ordinary life – albeit arguably, in a most extraordinary corner of the globe.
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