Photo Credit: Neil Mailer

Living in Cuenca? Retirees Say It’s Like The 1950s

A common question many future expats have about a possible living abroad situation is:” What is it like to live there?” Of course this question can be answered in a variety of different ways. You could focus on the cost of living,  the quality of life, or perhaps what its like living within a new and different culture.   Today’s writer describes Cuenca from the perspective of a time warp. Join Dan Austin as he explains why he feels that living in Cuenca is like living in the 1950’s.

I’ve heard it said many, many times over the 4+ years I’ve lived here that living in Cuenca, Ecuador, is like living in the 1950s.


Those who grew up in or before the very early 60s have actually experienced two VERY different worlds in one lifetime.  What used to be the standards of society for many, many decades has been virtually obliterated since then.  It’s a shame people born in and after the 70s never got to see the light of what it was like to live “back then”. Their standard, their baseline, is NOW, from which all will be measured in their future.  For example, their baseline starts with “never talk to strangers”, whereas that mentality never existed in the baseline of those raised in the 50s.

Okay, before your eyes roll back in your head (too late?), let me share some examples.  The following is a list of observations compiled from my own experience as well as countless comments I have heard from fellow expats.  In this list about Cuenca are the characteristics that mirror what it was like when we were growing up in the 1950s.

Cuenca: Kids walk home from school alone or with friends

Back home today: No way in hell

Cuenca: You can talk to strangers

Back home today: NEVER talk to strangers

Cuenca: There are zip-lines in public playgrounds for kids and young adults to ride

Back home today: Couldn’t possibly exist

Continuing on…

    [color-box color=”gray”]

  • Ecuador is not at war, nor has been in a long time. Ahem.
  • When you see a doctor, there’s no need for an appointment.
  • We don’t have terrorists out to get us.
  • We have the good ol’ fashioned mom & pop shops.
  • At the gas stations, the gas is pumped for you.
  • Complete strangers say hello to you on the street.
  • There’s no Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, or Healthy Choice type of complete frozen meals to nuke in the microwave.
  • Are you sitting down? The family even EATS TOGETHER.
  • We’re not a litigious society here.
  • People embrace hard work.
  • Other than big-box stores, most businesses are closed on Sundays.
  • Homes are simple.
  • There’s very little drug presence here.
  • Seldom seen are drunks, bums, homeless camped out under a bridge or other sheltered area, or panhandlers with outstretched hands.
  • Along the same line, you can bet 99.99999% of the time you will not find a person holding a cardboard sign informing you they are a veteran of a particular war and, therefore, you should give them money.
  • Being PC (Politically Correct) is not a part of our mindset.
  • Want to rent an apartment?  The lease is one or two pages.
  • Big-box grocery stores have employees bring your groceries to your car (or taxi) and load them up.
  • Schools are fun: a place to learn, make friends, go to dances.
  • We’re not a gun-toting society.
  • The government seems to do things for the people versus corporations and the rich.
  • Kids don’t need X-box or other high tech gadgets to be entertained.
  • Materialism.  It’s not about McMansions.
  • Younger people respect, even admire, their elders.
  • Along the same line, they LOVE to play with their younger/older brothers, and sisters, and cousins, and neighbors, and aunts, and uncles and their grandparents.
  • We make things.
  • Love a segue. We also FIX things.
  • Most people here are not in a hurry.
  • Outsourcing jobs. Oi vey.  Need I go there?  Jobs are HERE,  like they were then, not THERE.
  • [/color-box]

This isn’t about criticizing or saying “we’re better than they are”.  It’s just recognizing that Cuenca seems to have those certain aspects of life we used to enjoy when we were (much) younger… and missing many elements of today’s society back home. It’s one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the lifestyle of Cuenca.


11 Responses

  1. Dan, I loved your article. Fun, informative and, in my opinion, true and relevant. I enjoying reading your posts. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Hola Dano! Thanks for your post. I was born in the 50’s, so I don’t remember too much. But I have an idea of how it was by reading articles such as yours. Just as the 50’s in the states disappeared, unfortunately so is that feeling here in Ecuador. My perspective comes from living in the “campo” here in Ecuador which is a different experience from living in the city, just as it is in the states. In the “good ole days” I would almost never pass an Ecuadorian without being greeted, especially a younger person, which as you point out, have respect for their elders. Now a days I exchange greetings maybe 50% of the time with strangers passing by. Now, there is a big drug presence. You just might not see it. You can see a doctor without an appointment if you’re willing to wait in line for several hours. Drunks and panhandlers have always been here, although less than before, which is one area of improvement. Trust me, the youth here in Ecuador do totally depend on technology for entertainment. They all have cell phones, internet, face book pages, etc. Materialism is a BIG part of Ecuadorian society. They just don’t have much to work with. But Ecuadorians, like most people all over the world, are very materialistic. So, just like we saw the 50’s disappear in the states, Ecuadorian society is changing right before our eyes, and all us older folk can do is try to adapt.

    1. Lorenzo – excellent post. Not only is Ecuador (and everywhere else on this planet) changing, it is changing FAST. Whereas countries such as USA and Europe drove change by their creative work ethic, many other countries such as Ecuador can bypass the all the formative phases and just directly buy into the matured technologies. So, while those of us born and raised in USA many years ago have sort of ‘evolved’ with all the phases of emerging technologies, people here in EC just leapfrog into it. The culture shock is dramatic, and “the old ways” will disintegrate rapidly, IMO.
      Here’s to hoping that this phase of radical change is just that – a ‘phase’ that must be experienced and a more mature and loving reality emerges from it…

  3. All sounds great, but as a woman, going back to the 50s would mean a huge roll back in my rights and opportunities. How does that play out for women in Cuenca?

    1. Thank you, Sherry! While I completely respect the author’s viewpoint, the 1950s weren’t rosy for everyone. I think everyone tends to idealize the era in which they grew up. I was born in the late 70s and although there are surely aspects of American culture that aren’t ideal, I’m delighted with the technology and advances that have developed over the past few decades. I imagine people in the 1950s were reminiscing about the halcyon days of the turn of the century too. 🙂

    2. Sherry – I just finished watching a number of videos about the Muslim refugee situation in much of Europe.
      Wow. Talk about the potential of “a huge rollback in my rights and opportunities (as a woman)”!

  4. A minor point. You said “Ecuador is not at war, nor has been in a long time. Ahem.” But Ecuador and Peru were at war in 1995 at the cost of about 30 Ecuadorans and 50 Peruvians. So I guess you could have said Ecuador is not at war and has not been for 21 years.

  5. Wow! such fun listening to you guys talking about the ‘old times’… I grew up in depression and saw the people living along the rail road yards between towns in card board huts… were called ‘hobos’ or ‘tramps’, mom would give them a fried egg sandwich when they’d come to the door and they’d sit on the back steps and eat their sandwich while telling us kids fascinating stories. We played base ball, tag and kick- the-can in the streets cause there were no cars in the streets, no one had money to buy gas even if they were lucky enough to have a car… They just got the car out for Easter Sunday, then put it back in the barn. Went to work in a steel mill at age 14 in northern Ohio, when I got out of the service at the end of WWII there were still attendants pumping gas at gas stations. Lived in southern Mexico in the late 50’s, was probably similar to what you experience in the mountains in Ecuador now a days, even in big city like Oaxaca… everyone greeted everyone on the streets. very happy place. Ciao!

  6. Thanks so much for your insight. My husband and I have observed the same. Although there is a presence of drugs it certainly is not at the level we experienced in the States. I can probably count on one hand the number of homeless people I have seen. More homeless were observed in our hometown of 7,000 than I have seen here and we live in El Centro. Youe article does speak well of society as a whole. Of course, no place is perfect, but Ecuador does have lots to offer and that is why we are here.

  7. I am seriously considering moving to Cuenca, Ecuador………………………… I am a 75 yr .old single male and have been blessed with very good health……………………….I enjoy walking a couple of miles two or three days a week………… children are grown and it is time for me to relocate,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, could take a year or so,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I guess I’ll just have to follow up on my plans……………

    1. I spent a month in Ecuador during the ringing in of the new millenium. Just prior I invested in rental properties and then we had the increases and bust so I’ve been anchored in one spot longer than expected. A Cuenca relocation is on my bucket list. Like you, it’s time to relocate, and yes, mine will probably take a year or so (I’m comforted I’m not the only one). I guess we just might bump into each other some time in the future.

Leave a Reply

You may also like

Related Posts

Stay updated & Win

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

And go into the draw to win a YapaTree Card. New winner every month. 

Subscribe Form Sidebar