Published on December 5th, 20162
(Another) Slice of Expat Life in Cuenca, Ecuador
Yep, I simply can’t help but share another magical day here atop this 8,000+ foot mountain in the Andes. I’ve lived here nearly 3 years now, and I’m not exaggerating: I honestly still walk down these cobbled streets with a great big ol’ smile on my face. THREE YEARS and still… each and every time I step outside my door here in El Centro, it’s like stepping into the middle of a wondrous, ever-changing CARNIVAL!
More than a year ago, I first shared “A Slice of Expat Life in Cuenca, Ecuador“ and it’s one of my most popular TravelnLass posts. And yet – as I turn each corner today, it seems there’s still ever something new. Even when I head out to do but a few simple chores, more often than not – I bump into some happy bit of serendipity – sometimes two or three or four in the same afternoon!
Such was my day last Thursday.
I didn’t even get started til 2:30 and my “plan” was simple: 1. check out a new gringo thrift store I’d read about (um yup, I am nothing if not a moth to a flame when it comes to zoning in on the Planet’s thrift shops), and 2. drop into my old cosmetic tienda (near where I used to live) to replace my empty blush compact. Just two errands to run, and as the thrift shop was said to close at 3pm, I hurried there first…
The weather was (as usual at this time of year), pleasantly crisp with cloudy skies, so I’d wisely tucked my folding paraguas (umbrella) into my bag. Indeed, it had already sprinkled a bit earlier in the day so the cobbled walks and streets were wet and a good bit slippery. Heading west down Sucre, I soon (4 blocks) reached sight of those breathtaking blue domes of the New Cathedral, and made my way diagonally through Parque Calderon (particularly lovely now with the vivid purple flowering jacaranda trees all a’bloom).
Arriving at the thrift shop proved a most extraordinary find. Not only was it filled with all manner of (gringa-sized!) clothing and (English!) books et al, but far more importantly – I learned that it’s completely non-profit – supporting the dedicated work of a single gringo: The Hogar de Esperanza foundation. Partnering with the Ecuadorian government IESS hospitals, the thrift shop is attached to a large complex with facilities to temporarily care for indigent HIV patients and their families. The Director gave me a full tour of the complex, and I assured him that I’d be back soon – with camera – to write a full blog post on the thrift shop and the outstanding work that he’s doing.
Moving on – I headed south on Tarqui in hopes of snagging my blusher but alas, I didn’t get very far at all. Just a few doors down from the thrift shop, I happened upon a tiny shop selling ribbons and beads and other tiny pretties and I simply had to stop in. You see, since returning from the Balkans, I’d been searching for just such a shop because…
Suffice in Ljubljana, Slovenia I happened to see a local girl wearing the most ADORABLE sunglasses – round frames, with tiny flowers glued to the edges of the lenses. Right then and there, I vowed to replicate the look with a pair of sunglasses of my own. And happily, I found just the round lenses to do the job – in Pamukkale, Turkey!
So I gleefully pawed through all the sweet bitty ribbon roses, tiny net butterflies and strings of sequins and bitsy pearls. I had the happiest time chatting with the owner, and she even had a glue gun for just $3! Clutching my bag of pretties, I promised that I’d return to show her my finished “gafas de sol” (sunglasses). Then I was off again on my quest for the blush.
But of course I couldn’t possibly pass by the white Santo Cenáculo church on the corner of Tarqui y Simon Bolivar where a lass is ever perched at her cart making freshly fried pillows of empanadas dusted with sugar, without… Suffice I bought 3 at 25¢ each and hurried on to my old cosmetic shop.
Though I’ve been to the the tiny shop several times over these 3 years, I never seem to remember just which street it’s on. As I used to live in this neighborhood, the only way I can ever find it, is by navigating from my old apartment on Estevez de Toral.
Thus munching my still warm empanadas, I continued down Tarqui to calle Sucre, turned right for a block, then another right past my old digs. I’d lived there happily for a year, but found that I never used the 2nd bedroom, so I opted to move to my present one bedroom place in an even better part of town (and $100 cheaper).
Ah but WAIT! Passing my old digs (walking north towards Simon Bolivar again) what do I spy but… OMG! a tiny new restaurant – could it be??? Named “THAI SPICY“! Having lived in Thailand just before I moved to Cuenca – needless to say, I simply HAD to stop in to see if they really had Thai food.
O.M.G. Do they EVER!!!
Not only Thai Spring Rolls (Rollitos de Primavera) but PHAD THAI! Suffice I ordered the latter for take out, and while I waited for it – I had a most delightful time teaching the (Ecuadorian, not the least bit Thai) owner’s two daughters (age 4 and 8 years) a bit of English. I didn’t taste the Phad Thai until I got home that evening, but… Let.Me.Tell.You. This stuff is FANTASTIC! Enough for 2 meals for just $6, with a gob of hot spices and ground peanuts – even fresh bean sprouts! Seriously, I have GOT to get to the bottom of this – how can a Cuencano family make such authentically delish Thai food?
Ah but meanwhile – a more pressing question remained… will I EVER get to that cosmetic shop for the blush?
Now clutching both the ribbons/glue gun packet and the phad thai (the empanadas were long gone by then – deliciously nibbled and happily in my tummy), I continued on… to the corner at Simon Bolivar, right a block, then (on sheer instinct) left at the next corner onto Juan Montevalo. And there… YESSS! There’s my little cosmetic shop!
It was bustling with customers as usual, but the owner remembered me (it must have been at least a year since I’d been in there). I showed her my empty dry blush compact and mimed brushing my cheeks. She swiftly replied” “bluhhh-sh” (go figure) and handed me a plastic tub brimming with a wide variety of blush containers. As you can see from the pic above, I chose a 2-blush color compact with bitty mirror and brush – and politely inquired “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (How much?)
Note: a blush like this sold at the stores in the Cuenca malls and SuperMaxis would easily run $9 – $17. Clearly it pays to shop at the tiny El Centro tiendas (and coincidentally support the little mom ‘n pop shops in one’s own neighborhood).
Ah but there were still a few more treats in store…
Heading home now – east on Simon Bolivar (my favorite calle to stroll down) I noticed LOTS of commotion at Areldi (an upscale jeans place) with “50% de descuento” signs plastered on every window. The place was *crawling* with Ecuadorians. Carefully picking my way through the bustle below, I headed upstairs and swiftly spotted a nice jeans vest. $34 – bought it for $17 – sweet!
Now loaded down with beads/glue gun + jeans jacket + large Styrofoam bowl of phad thai – I crossed back south again to calle Sucre and continued east in the shadow of those amazing blue domes, past the flower market and Parque Calderon. Three blocks more, I popped into the California bakery for a quick cheek-touch and “¿Cómo estás?” with my good friend Ivan, the panadería owner. I asked after his family, his beloved dog Max, and mentioned I saw his facebook “like” on a post about the Eagle’s “Hotel California”. We both agreed: great tune!
Less then two blocks from home now I figured I had juuuust enough time before dinner to stop in the Internet cafe around the corner from my apartment.
The owner also sells Claro phone minutes as well as makes copies and “plásticos”. As I somehow lost the spare copy of my cedula, I had him make 2 color copies (front and back) of my original cedula. The lad spent nearly 30 minutes getting the color juuussst right, plus trimming and encasing them in plastic. Cost for both: $3.
Oh, and all the while he fiddled with the cedula copies – we yammered about my Balkan trip (no they speak German, not English in Alemania, etc.) and… I ended up having my first ever POLITICAL conversation IN SPANISH!
We talked about the U.S. election of course (you know – about that unmentionable clown who spends his time on Twitter – um ‘cuz you know, he’s got nothing better to do – and who will no doubt systematically mutilate many of the constitutional rights we’ve all held dear for 200+ years in my native land over the next 4 years), but also of Fidel Castro’s recent death.
I also asked about the presidential election here in Ecuador come February. Interestingly, Ecuador limits the presidential campaign period to just 7 weeks total (this year, from 3 January to the election on 19 February)! Um, I dare say, a lesson in prudence (you know, vs. turning the U.S.’ national political dialogue into a year-long contest for the highest entertainment time-slot ratings – not to mention encouraging the inevitable polarization that such protracted campaigning of U.S. candidates produces). Ah but I digress…
In any case – yet another chance to practice my Spanish.
And with that – just another block south and I was once again at my front door. Inside my dear bitty apartment, my sweet gata “Dulce” greeted me warmly, and by then it was just after 6pm – time to dig into that Phad Thai – YESSS!
|The thing is – what I like best about living here in Ecuador is that all the traipsing I did (on FOOT!) in this single afternoon…
Had I done similar (i.e. a few errands, a bit of shopping) in my native land: 1. It would have been via being encased in a 4,000 pound pile of steel (i.e. my Toyota). 2. All accomplished pretty much at a single shopping mall via cold and rushed visits to a Target, a Taco Bell, and an Office Depot, with… 3. Precious little (if any) convo with sales clerks (much less shop *owners*) along the way.
In short, in the U.S. the entire affair would have been most sterile and isolating – rather than a full afternoon of warm personal chats (even in my stumbling Spanish) with my Ecuadorian neighbors.
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