Join us today for Part 2 of Ed O’Connor’s article Why I Left The USA: My Journey To Cuenca Ecuador. If you haven’t read Part 1 of why Ed decided retiring to Cuenca was the right choice you can do so here. Ed writes a monthly column for his hometown newspaper in Middletown, PA – The Press & Journal.
Retiring to Cuenca
Cuenca, is really an interesting and beautiful place. It is an old city that was founded in 1557. Four rivers traverse the city. There are many small neighborhood parks with well-manicured linear parks that border the rivers. There are also bicycle/walking paths with some parks having the heavy duty outdoor version of indoor exercise equipment that one would find in health clubs. One can bike/walk from one side of the city to the other side on the river paths.
Cuenca lies one degree from the equator hence one would assume that it would be very hot. Not so. The city is at an altitude of 8300 feet above sea level so the weather is wonderful. [pullquote]I equate the climate to late summer, early fall in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that being in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed. [/pullquote] Summer temperatures (Fahrenheit) are in the 70’s during the day and 60‘s at night. In winter the temps run about ten degrees less. We have no heating or air conditioning in our apartment.
Because of the altitude the air is thinner which affects about 25 per cent of tourists and new residents in a negative way. The main symptoms are light headedness and tiring quickly, but one soon becomes acclimated to the altitude. Fortunately I never experienced the problem, but my wife, Olga, did for about the first 10 days. The altitude’s big plus is insects – there are very few. In Pennsylvania we had to bath in insect repellent when walking by the river unless we wanted to be a black fly and mosquito buffet. We walk by the rivers here and… no bugs.
Small Town Charm With Lots To Do
Having grown up in small town America I never liked cities and always felt uneasy in them. In fact on a visit to New York City I experienced my only panic attack and had to go to Central Park so I could breathe. So when deciding to live in a city of 550,000 I had serious trepidation. My fears of retiring to Cuenca vanquished our first day here. The city has a small town feel and I feel totally comfortable walking the streets day or night.
Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador and there is much to do and see. There is a plethora of museums, art galleries and historical sites to explore, making retiring to Cuenca a fun adventure. The largest museum, theatre and also Inca ruins are a ten minute walk from our apartment. There is the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, the youth symphony orchestra and the youth orchestra whose performances are free. Cuenca has four universities and we volunteer at one, The University of Cuenca, to aid students in speaking English. There are 52 cathedrals in the city, the oldest one was built in 1567. Most are magnificent architectural masterpieces.
A new state-of-the-art planetarium recently opened and was designed to look like the planet Saturn complete with rings. Holidays and parades abound. One of the longest parades in the world is the Christmas Parade, (Paseo del Nino Parade), on December 24. It starts at 9:00am and continues until 5:00pm. Approximately 50,000 people participate and about 200,000 view the parade.
Retiring to Cuenca Pro’s & Con’s
The Cuencanas are very happy, friendly and laid back. Their attitude seems to be that they work to live, not live to work. The crime rate is very low. Unemployment is low. Thousands of Ecuadorians that left Ecuador to work in the United States for years are now returning to Ecuador – mainly to Cuenca.
There is much construction and renovation throughout the city. A new $230 million dollar light rail system is being built and is to be completed in 2017.
Our new city of residence is not perfect. Yes, there are problems we have encountered. There are things we do not like or find annoying. The biggest difficulty is definitely the language.
The national language is Spanish……period. When phoning it is not, “press one for English, two for Spanish, three for Polish, four for Swahili, five for Vietnamese, six for Icelandic, et cetera, et cetera.”
Olga and I have been studying Spanish and want to learn to converse in the native tongue. Spanish will be Olga’s fifth language! Learning Spanish is not easy for me. When we first arrived I knew two Spanish words “cerveza and “baño” – “beer” and “bathroom”.
My vocabulary has expanded a bit since then…
Getting our permanent visas was a difficult process. It took us six months. The immigration office kept changing the rules and requirements. What was correct yesterday was not correct today. It was an extremely frustrating experience that required much patience. Apparently bureaucrats are the same everywhere – a pain just south of my back. I understand the visa process is easier now…
Car alarms are the bane of tranquility. Most cars have them – and the alarms all sound the same. There could be a 2016 Ferrari or a 1985 Yugo and one would not know from which the sound was emanating. How someone can sit in his car while listening to an ear piercing alarm as if it was elevator music beats me.
Car horns! When the traffic light turns green the drivers lay on their horns. How a driver ten cars back blowing his car horn is going to affect the driver at the light is a mystery to me.
Car turn signals are another story – they are rarely used. The wiring on cars here should be reversed. The turn signals should activate when the horn is used and vice versa.
Traffic lights and stop signs seem to be a suggestion – pedestrians beware!
There are many street dogs and one must be alert when walking not to step in doggie exhaust.
Graffiti! Now I understand why few Ecuadorians have checking accounts – it is difficult to sign a check with a spray can.
Despite these annoyances I would still rather live here than the USA.
Stay tuned this Sunday for the final instalment of Ed O Connor’s journey to retiring in Cuenca Ecuador. If you are thinking about retiring to Cuenca what are you looking forward to most? Let us know in the comments below.