My 10 favorite things about Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador is International Living’s #1 Retirement Destination. After living here for almost a year, I’m better informed to tell you why (after being such a cranky gringa before). Plus it doesn’t hurt that today is a beautiful sunny day.

  1. Less workaholics. If in San Francisco, something important needs to get done, it’s burn the midnight oil. Or it is time for a fun fun Saturday pizza partay*. (Fine print disclaimer: pizza partay means do work on a Saturday, and we’ll feed you crappy pizza). In contrast, in Cuenca, most people I know go home to their family and say…mañana. Or if people are working long hours, they’re chillin w’ their 10 cousins, aunts, and uncles in the family-owned restaurant and get up whenever a customer wanders in.
  2. Fresh food. I’m not a huge fan of cuy (roast guinea pig) or the mounds of rice and mote, but to all the gringos who complain they can’t find cottage cheese in Cuenca, try finding fresh Cherimoya, Guayabana, Taxo, Babaco, Tomate de Arbol, Maracuya, etc…. in the US. The food is fertile and huge enormous fruit and veggies spring forth in abundance. And crack open a “huevo de campo” – a freerange chicken egg here and the yolk is bright orange, and enormous in comparison to the sickly “free-range” eggs I bought back home.
  3. Materialism is minimized by sheer lack of options. In San Francisco, professionals are in charge of creating beautiful window displays, organizing store’s merchandise just so, and perfuming the air and picking the music so that you are mesmerized handing over your paycheck. In Cuenca, sheer lack of options and lack of store design/merchandising make shopping and acquiring new doodads and clothes less of a focus. You can’t get Louis Vuitton and Dolce Gabbana here, period. There’s some nice stores here, but not as many, and not nearly as luxurious. You might, however, be approached by someone selling $10 Raybans. That’s not to say people aren’t classist or materialistic – they are – just not as much so as where I come from.
  4. Given enough time, you can walk anywhere. I walked to Turi one day when I didn’t have anything to do.  But mostly I find everything I need in El Centro, and I love walking from one side to the other by the river.
  5. It’s comparatively really cheap. Some of the gringo restaurants charge US prices (almost), and electronics and clothes are more expensive, but housing,  food and medical care and really affordable. Rent here costs about 1/10 of the equivalent for downtown San Francisco.
  6. Cultural Politeness & Community. I was handing out flyers for salsa a while ago, and I was really surprised that a good 80% of the people said “Gracias” to me when I interrupted their conversation and tried to sell them something. I always thought, at least in the US, people handing out sales flyers are treated with a dignity somewhere between telemarketers and termites. Also, you might notice that everyone knows everyone! And after living here for a year it is difficult to go out in El Centro without bumping into someone you know.
  7. Hiking and the Beach – Cajas National Park is a hop skip and a jump away for great hiking. The beach is a little on the cloudy side, but not far either. And getting to see an entirely different culture (Peru or Colombia) are completely accessible by bus…ok a long time by bus, but still accessible.
  8. Supply and Demand is in your favor. Cuenca is still developing, and there’s tons of services and activities which don’t exist – so it’s relatively easy to be the first to market with a new idea. Case in point, some guy was the first to make and sell bagels in Cuenca (not exactly a revolutionary idea but heck, he was the first to take the jump). I talked to a couple people about the possibility of starting Lindy Hop (swing dancing) in Cuenca. Does it exist? NOT AT ALL. In some ways, that sucks for me because I love to dance, but from the business perspective, a new market.
  9. Social services – education and medical care. It is refreshing to live in a country where the poor have access to medical care and an equal opportunity to advance and attend university (free, although you have to pass a difficult entrance exam).
  10. Hippies, arts & culture. They say Cuenca is cosmopolitan, but I have been surprised by the number of free arts & music events put on by the city (Cuenca’s symphony, the Festival of Music, several film festivals, the November Feriados…). At least 3 different bars have free movie nights. Just this weekend I went to the museum, listened to classical and gypsy jazz music, saw great abstract art, and drank wine and hor’d’ouvres….free! On the alternative side, I’ve found raging heavy metal concerts, a goth cultural center “El Prohibido” with a real coffin, pole dancing classes, fire-juggling classes, and San Pedro psychadelic cactus ceremonies.
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