The “secret” Cuenca Park Surrounded By Sensational Restaurants (6) (1)

Why I Moved From Cuenca to Manta (And Then Returned to Cuenca)

Santa Ana In article

Since moving to Cuenca nearly ten years ago, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve lived in ten different homes. I spent less than six months in four of those homes, but that’s still a lot of moving! But my all-time, short-term rental experience was the three months that I recently spent in Manta.

I’ve since moved back to Cuenca, which is part of what I want to tell you about in this article. I also want to do a little compare-and-contrast between the two cities, which may help some of the rest of you make an informed decision (assuming you’re considering both as potential destinations).

Some may think that three months isn’t long enough to get a good feel for a new city, but I do have a vehicle and drove extensively all over Manta and the surrounding area, seeing and doing more than enough to form a solid opinion.

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So why did I move to Manta in the first place?

In June of 2022, I had a moderate case of COVID-19 that lasted about eight days. Then, a month later, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, but antibiotics cleared that up. Then, a few weeks later, I realized that I was gradually starting to feel worse and worse. I was experiencing all manner of bizarre and debilitating symptoms, but the worst of these were crippling fatigue, heart arrhythmia, and a bad case of “brain fog.”

These symptoms and others often left me unable to perform even the most basic of tasks. Just speaking in my language was a challenge, let alone trying to speak Spanish with my Ecuadorian family! After spending a lot of money on doctors’ visits, tests, imaging, etc. – and having almost every result come back “normal” – I was finally diagnosed with “Long COVID” – see my article on Long COVID here.

After my diagnosis, I did a lot of reading and research on the disease, and one article was based on a study done right here in Ecuador, concluding that people moving from a higher elevation to a lower one experienced significant relief from their symptoms. The article also stated that recovery from long COVID appeared to happen more quickly at lower elevations. That should have been my wake-up call to the fact that this study came to a very hasty conclusion about the “recovery” aspect, as this is a long-term disease! But I was feeling worse all the time, developing new and more serious symptoms, and I felt like I needed to take some sort of action if I was ever going to get any better.

So after nearly ten months of feeling like an extra on an episode of The Walking Dead, I decided to go down to Manta and spend a little time there. I immediately noticed that I had more energy, was able to think more clearly, and that many of my other symptoms had either disappeared or had lightened up considerably. About a month later, I went back down again and spent twelve days there, noting the same results. So after a lot of soul-searching and talking with the family, we finally decided that a move to Manta would be the smart thing for me to do. We had planned to stay there for at least a year, or maybe sooner if I felt well enough to move back to Cuenca. Bottom line, I was thinking that if I felt so bad that I had almost no quality of life, I should take advantage of something that makes me feel better – right?

What I didn’t realize is that our return to Cuenca would happen so quickly. And why so soon? It certainly wasn’t because I’d recovered from long COVID, but more because I realized that I just wasn’t happy in Manta. Cuenca had been my home for nearly ten years, and there I was, on the coast, finding expat life to be very different than it is here in Cuenca. I also quickly realized that waning physical health was only half of the equation; the other half was my mental and emotional well-being, which I hadn’t taken into account before the move. So what I’d like to do with this article is discuss some of the pluses and minuses of living in both cities, especially in case some of you readers are trying to decide between the two cities, or simply decide between living in the mountains or on the coast.

I readily admit that the experiences I’ll describe are my own, as is my perspective on the overall situation. I also admit to having my own bias when it comes to my preference for Cuenca, but I will attempt to be as objective as possible as I share my experiences with you.

First Impressions

Shopping

Mall del Pacifico
[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Initially, on those first couple of trips to Manta, I mostly liked what I saw. Mall del Pacifico in Manta is considerably larger than Cuenca’s Mall del Rio and has many more worthwhile shops. Manta also has a smaller mall called “Paseo Shopping,” which has a nice assortment of stores. And as the inhabitants of that area are generally larger and taller than mountain folk, I was able to find clothes that fit me there! Then there was Megamaxi in the mall, a MegaKywi across from the mall, plus a very large Coral on the other side of town. The parking garage in the mall even offered to wash and detail your vehicle while you were shopping, but that ranged from $8 to $12, depending on whether you wanted the inside cleaned too. All in all, I could find almost everything I needed while living there, but when I needed to do some work on my guitar, the music stores were very sparsely stocked, lacking many of the most basic items that guitarists need. Fortunately, one of the shops directed me to a luthier who did the work for me, charging me only ten dollars!  

One fun shopping area I found is called “Nuevo Tarqui,” which sprung up as the new chief outdoor marketplace after the old Mercado in Tarqui Parrish was destroyed in the 2016 earthquake. Half of Nuevo Tarqui is your standard concrete structure, separated into smaller cubicles and larger open areas. You’ll find all the standard items there, such as clothing, electronics, and lots of raw meat and produce. But the part I found fascinating was the side where everything is built out of containers! Even a grocery store and a bank! It reminds me a little bit of Cuenca’s Feria Libre, in the sense that you need a GPS to find your way in, and then back out again. I would consider it a “must-see” for anyone visiting Manta. 

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

One thing that took me a little by surprise is that there is no “el centro” in Manta. This city of over 260,000 people feels more like 15 or 20 smaller towns that were all cobbled together to form what we now know as Manta. Each little area has its commercial area, though there is a greater density of shopping options in the area centered around Calle 13, including the municipal mercado. Oh, and Calle 13 is intersected at one point by Avenida 13! This is because many of Manta’s streets are laid out on a grid, where calles run in one direction, and avenidas run perpendicular to the calles. That makes it a wee bit easier to navigate Manta, but overall, I found myself turned around and disoriented every time I tried to get somewhere without my GPS.

Food and Dining Out

Then there was the relatively cheap and plentiful (and fresh) seafood! I got on a calamari kick, and couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Then there were the langostinos in a small restaurant in Santa Marianita, about a 20-minute drive from Manta. Langostino is the meat of the “squat lobster,” and sort of tastes like small lobster tails. Delicious! In other parts, they’re referred to as “prawns.” Sadly, at the small restaurant that we went to, the elderly gentleman who owns and runs the place told us about the problem they were currently having with “vacunas.” The word vacuna means “vaccination,” but here in Ecuador, it has the secondary meaning of “the protection racket,” where you have to give money to certain shady characters to make sure your house or business doesn’t “accidentally” burn down in the middle of the night. He told us that the gangs are hitting up every business along the beaches, demanding protection money – or else! It’s a very sad and frustrating situation. It’s also a bit frightening, as my wife has a massage therapy practice that could have eventually been susceptible to this same threat. I can’t say that this was a huge factor in our decision to return to Cuenca, but it was a consideration.

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Then, because we lived very close to the university, there were so many restaurants within walking distance that it would have taken a year to sample them all. One particular “hueca” that we found was called La Parada, where you could get a decent burger and fries for $2, or a big lomo fino sandwich for fifty cents more. For those of you unfamiliar with the word hueca, it literally means “eatery,” but here in Ecuador, it takes on the additional meaning of being a very popular eatery with great prices. You’ll recognize such places by all of the people standing in line, waiting to place an order! So for fast food like this, the prices when compared to Cuenca were maybe five to ten percent higher, which was certainly doable for us.

My favorite place for an amazing breakfast was Dulce y Cremoso in the mall. For about $6.50, you could get more food than most people can eat in one sitting. This was also just slightly higher than an equivalent breakfast at, say, Sunrise Cafe in Cuenca. On my earlier scouting visit, I went to one of the expat brunches at the Donkey Den in Santa Marianita, but those have been discontinued until further notice. On the higher end of affordability, my family took me to a restaurant called “Las Velas” for my birthday. The food was great, but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

Overall, there were many, many restaurants in Manta, but not with the same diversity and assortment that we have in Cuenca. When I arrived in Cuenca nearly ten years ago, a “seco de pollo” or Chinese food were some of your only choices. Nowadays, Cuenca has restaurants that cater to all manner of dining preferences: Indian, Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, Korean, North American, and much more. I should mention that Santa Marianita has an Indian restaurant, but I never had the opportunity to try it. But overall for dining options and pricing, Cuenca takes the prize. Still, Manta has more than enough options to make it fun and interesting to dine out, and you certainly won’t go hungry there.

The Beaches

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

I’ve spent a fair bit of time at various beaches along the coast, but never in Manta until my first scouting visit in April. The main beach that runs along the malecón is called Playa Murcielago (Bat Beach). And it’s called that because there are bats there in the evening! There are apparently bats all over Manta, or at least closer to the coast itself. My first sunset at Playa Murcielago was spectacular, and really sorta won me over – for a while. But this particular beach has harder, packed-down sand, and lots of small rocks, and depending on whose data you read, the ocean water there is not the cleanest in that general area. The good news is that Manta is right on the Ruta del Spondylus, and there are several nicer, cleaner beaches within a short drive of Manta. The skyline behind and to the south of the beach features dozens of high-rise condo buildings, which is where many of Manta’s expats live. It seems to me that more expats own their properties in Manta than in Cuenca, though I have no data to back that up.  

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

A little farther down from the main beach in Manta is the fish market and the boatyard, the latter of which I found fascinating. They were mostly repairing and retrofitting older boats to get them back out on the water, but some were simply wrecks, left there for spare parts, or simply to rot. One was a temporary home for a Venezuelan family until someone set it on fire. Between the boat yards and Playa Murcielago, the beach was extremely dirty, covered with trash and dead sea animals that had washed ashore. The proximity of that mess made me very reluctant to swim on any of Manta’s beaches.

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Fortunately, just a short drive away is Playa Santa Marianita, which is much cleaner, has larger waves for surfers and seems to be a Mecca for kitesurfers. This beach has a long string of good and reasonably priced restaurants and is the home to several expats who live in the gated community there. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the restaurants and other businesses there are being pressured by the local gangs to pay protection money, so visiting these areas is a bittersweet experience. 

Santa Ana In article
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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Another favorite beach I found there was San Lorenzo. It has some impressive rock formations, a few of which you can only visit when the tide is at its lowest, and then only for a short time. I took this next photo from inside a shallow cave in that same area. But be careful! There are also big rock formations along the part of the beach where most people swim, but you can’t see them when the tide is up! And I have the scars to prove it! But San Lorenzo has some great surfing waves, more kitesurfers, and a whole lot of natural beauty.

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

But what can you do at the beach? Well, you can swim, you can eat, or you can work on your tan… but then what? In the past, I’d always enjoyed going to the beach, but only for three to five days at a time, then I was ready to go home. For some reason, I thought that being based in a larger city like Manta would mitigate the boredom that I usually develop after a short time at the beach – but things didn’t quite work out that way.

Traffic and Transportation

As Manta has roughly half the population of Cuenca, I expected there to be significant traffic, but not as overwhelming as Cuenca’s can be at times. And I was correct in that assumption. But while the number of vehicles is less dense, they make up for it by having no real idea of how to drive! At least in Cuenca, drivers mostly stay in their lanes, or flip on a turn signal when changing lanes. In Manta, cars drove down the middle of the road, straddling the lanes, or would randomly float from one lane to the other, then back again. I don’t remember ever seeing someone use their turn signals, and, like Cuenca, “STOP” signs were treated as merely a suggestion.

In fact, in the more urban parts of town, you had to be careful, because drivers would blow through those intersections without ever looking to see who’s coming. The motorcyclists were more out of control than they are in Cuenca, and the city buses were equally obnoxious to Cuenca’s. Taxis don’t have meters there, and they usually cost a little more than they do in Cuenca. If you don’t negotiate the price in advance, you may end up paying a lot more than you would in Cuenca. But Cuenca’s traffic is far more congested, and you end up waiting a lot longer in heavy traffic. At least it’s not crazy to the extent that driving in Guayaquil is crazy, so I’d give Cuenca and Manta a roughly even score in terms of the hassles involved in driving in either city.

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

One thing you should be aware of when driving through Manta is that Google Maps will take you down dirt roads, down alleys, up very steep hills, and through some very dodgy-looking parts of Manta while en route to your destination. You’ll think that Maps has messed up and is taking you on a wild goose chase, but 98 percent of the time it all worked out. It was disconcerting at times, but eventually, it started to feel normal. And the spread-out and fractured nature of the cityscape there almost requires that you use Maps for several months (or longer) until you learn your way around. 

Manta’s Terminal Terrestre is huge, with a grocery store, at least one pharmacy, and dozens of other small businesses inside. It’s also way over on the other side of Manta from where I lived, which was a real hassle because we had a lot of my wife’s family members come to visit us while we were there. One big plus for expats in Manta is that the airport there is now an international airport. So even though there aren’t many international routes there yet, that’s still going to be a huge convenience factor down the road. I’ve heard talk of Cuenca’s airport going international, but I’ve not heard any status on that in some time. For now, you either have to fly to Quito or get a ride to Guayaquil from Cuenca to catch an international flight.

Just one note, if you plan on driving yourself to Manta from Cuenca: The odds of you getting stopped and shaken down by the transit cops are about 70 percent. There’s one location on the other side of a peaje (toll booth) about 90 – 100 km before you get to Manta, and they seem to be set up there all the time. So far, I’ve been pulled over twice there and had to pay the shakedown fee twice. But be aware that you are legally permitted to video any government employee while they’re performing their job, so I’d recommend having your cell phone ready to record the interaction if you’re pulled over. That might intimidate the officer from soliciting a bribe, but if you have any defects that could be considered “hazardous” on the road, then you could end up getting an expensive citation, or possibly towed away. Another strategy is feigning that you don’t know any Spanish, which will often end up in a frustrated transit cop, waving you to continue. But any and every strategy you come up with can lead to unexpected consequences, so I would rather not recommend one approach over another. Getting shaken down by traffic cops (especially down in that area) is a fact of life, so all you can do is plan and hope you can get out of the situation for no more than a $20 bill. 

Rental Prices

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

I was told ahead of time to expect housing to cost a lot more in Manta. What I found out was that that’s only true if you plan on living in an ocean-facing condo that’s situated along the beach, either in the high-rises or in one of the gated communities. Other rental prices were roughly the same as Cuenca’s, assuming you didn’t mind having to drive to the beach or spend 20 minutes walking there. I had a nice three-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood for $550 per month, plus electricity. We had a pool to share with the other occupants, plus air conditioning in the bedrooms. Before I took this place, I’d seen other homes that were a bit too small, but they were brand new and had rents of $550 and $350. But Manta is spread out, and a few of these places were nearly halfway to Portoviejo. 

Safety and Security

During my two initial visits to Manta, I never felt particularly unsafe while walking the streets from my hotel to the mall. Later, after my move, I still never felt like I was at risk for trouble when walking outside, even at night. Of course, I stayed on the “main drags” most of the time, and I always kept my head on a swivel, but I never personally experienced anything threatening while there. In that regard, it felt much like Cuenca does right now: Crime is up in both cities, and we all need to keep our wits about us, regardless of which city you’re in. I’ll get deeper into this topic shortly.

The Results of My First Impressions

Well, I had enough of a favorable impression regarding Manta to pick up and physically move myself and my family there. Manta is a very different city than Cuenca, but it seemed to have enough going for it to make a decent home during my convalescence from long COVID. As a result, we packed up, sold off a lot of things we no longer needed, and found a reasonable mover to take us to Manta. But things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would, so now I’d like to go over the reasons I decided to move back to Cuenca so quickly after arriving in Manta.

Why I Came Back Home to Cuenca

Again, I want to point out that returning to Cuenca was always part of the plan. We just didn’t know how long it would take, so we were going to see how my long COVID progressed, then go from there. There were even moments when we thought we might be able to live there indefinitely, but the general plan was to stay there for at least a year – but plans can change when things go sideways.  

Not Exactly a Warm Welcome

First, let’s talk “ambience.” Less than a month before moving to Manta, four policemen were shot and killed in a funeral home, and sixteen more people were shot and injured during the same attack. This was an act of revenge for something that had transpired earlier between the police and some gang members. Then, less than a month after arriving in Manta to live, someone assassinated the mayor, Augustin Intriago, who was much beloved by the people of Manta. He was young, smart, ostensibly honest, and had done a lot to improve life and living in the city. I’d never met or knew the man personally, but I’d heard so much good about him that I grieved right along with the rest of the local population.

Truth Concept Arrangement Crime Scene

Then about a month before we moved back to Cuenca, a Belgian man who came to Manta to meet some “woman” he’d been chatting with online, was met and taken by kidnappers. The police did manage to track him down and find him, and to quote the local news sources, they managed to get to him “before the kidnappers had had the chance to cut off any of his fingers.” This was some random dude, but it’s fairly obvious that the kidnapping was planned. That made me wonder about my and my family’s safety in this city, where some really bad things seemed to be hitting the news outlets every week or so.

Meanwhile, at my “pet-friendly” apartment, I was taking my dog, Sisko, downstairs to do his business. The moment he got to the bottom of the stairs, the owner’s dog grabbed Sisko by the throat and refused to let go. Four of us tried to pry them apart, hitting the other dog with broomsticks, throwing water at him, etc., but he just wouldn’t let go. I could see the life draining out of Sisko’s eyes after about three to four minutes of this, and I was almost certain he was all but gone. Then, finally, the other dog got tired and let go of Sisko, who had major wounds all around his neck and shoulders.

We rushed him to the vet, where he needed stitches and various other treatments. We were all in a state of shock, and at least two of us were suffering from our own dog-bites that we received while trying to separate the two. My wife and daughter and I are still dealing with varying degrees of PTSD after that experience. There were two additional follow-ups with the vet, plus Sisko’s convalescence time, and we’d paid out roughly $200 in vet’s bills. You would think that the owner would have offered to pay for the veterinarian’s fees, but she did not. (We did manage to recoup those fees when we moved out). 

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

But this put a real strain on our relationship with the owner (who lived downstairs), and even though we’d worked things out regarding the dogs’ potty schedules, she didn’t always observe or respect the agreement we’d come to. In short, things would never be the same with her, and that cast a very long shadow over our time in Manta.

Dueling Climates

I’ve always thought of the climate in Cuenca as “springtime in the Rockies.” You can have a nice warm day, a chilly day, or a combination of the two. It can change from minute to minute, or from hour to hour. Dressing in layers is a must, as is carrying an extra jacket and an umbrella in your backpack. The average daytime temperature in Cuenca is in the mid-to-high 60s, and nighttime can be downright frigid at times.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t like being cold, but at least when I am, I can put on another sweater or fire up the gas heater. I have an electric mattress pad and a thick goose-down comforter, so my bed is warm and comfy, too. But we’re currently approaching the warmest time of the year in Cuenca, and I still need a jacket some days when I’m outside, and certainly in the evenings. I’ve even used our space heaters a few times since we’ve returned.

One of the most shocking things about being back in Cuenca is the cold toilet seats – a real eye-opener!! And then there’s rain: For the three months I was in Manta, we only had one significant rainstorm, and that ended quickly. And from what I was hearing from friends and family in Cuenca, it was raining quite a bit there for a while. But I grew up in a state with four seasons, and spring and autumn were always my favorite times of the year. I’m a “flannel” kinda guy: shirts, sheets, etc. I feel better and generally do better in cooler climates, though I know that that sentiment isn’t shared by everyone. 

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Now, in Manta, when I felt unbearably hot, I could only remove so much clothing! To be fair, Manta doesn’t feel nearly as hot as, say, Guayaquil and some of the other coastal towns do on a hot, sunny, summer day. This is due to something known as the Humboldt Current, which cools and dries the air in the Manta area, and along other spots along the western coast of South America. This makes it cooler than it should be for its location, and it also reduces the amount of rain those areas usually get. But I still found Manta uncomfortably hot during the day, with daytime temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s, and an average humidity level of around 78 percent.

We did have a small shared swimming pool out back, and that came in very handy on those days when the heat felt like it was going to swallow us alive. My alternative to the pool was to stay inside and use the air conditioning in our bedrooms because the main living area was not air-conditioned. A fan helped, but it wasn’t quite enough.

Interestingly enough, Cuenca has an average humidity approaching 70%, but the cooler temperatures make it less noticeable – until the sun comes out, or until the clouds cover it up! This makes it feel either colder or hotter than the ambient temperature, so this is worth keeping in mind. Many people think that our elevation in Cuenca equals a “dry” climate, but that’s simply not the case. 

Cooling Fan

Actually, in Manta, our dehumidifier gave us more relief than the fan, and it was able to pull about three gallons of water out of the air every day. But the dehumidifier and the AC resulted in electricity bills of up to $175 for one month, so comfort came at a cost. On the plus side, nighttime in Manta was magic; there was usually a nice breeze off the Pacific, and the temperatures would drop to around 70 F. But my main form of exercise is walking, and waiting until evening to walk just wasn’t practical, nor was trying to get out and walk in the hot sun. This made me feel trapped inside, and I only went out when I had to go somewhere, or when I wanted to jump in the pool.

Then we had to take the El Niño and La Niña effects into consideration. Climate experts are predicting that these phenomena are going to result in soaring coastal temperatures, plus heavy rains and flooding along the coast, and up to about 1,000 meters in elevation. At the same time, the Sierra region is expected to experience serious drought conditions, which appear to be already upon us. Between both regions, the weather and the economic conditions in both regions are predicted to experience varying degrees of suffering as a result of El Niño. 

My conclusion regarding Manta’s climate is that it’s just too hot for me during the day, while the evenings are typically perfect. And while Cuenca can get chilly at times, I can cope with that type of climate much more easily. I know of expats who love the climate in Manta, but I’m just not one of them. The El Niño effect is supposed to be especially severe this time around, so to continue living at near-sea-level was turning out to have genuine risk factors that I hadn’t considered before moving there. Anyone reading this should pay attention to the progress of El Niño before considering a move to Manta, or anywhere on the coast in the near future.

The Local Expat Culture

I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this comment, but there isn’t much of a cultural scene for expats in Manta. They do get together occasionally to dine in large groups, or go to English-language movies together. Some hang out on the beach a lot, and some sit on their terraces, watching for whales to jump up out of the ocean. A lot of them play golf in Montecristi. From what I understand, it’s a great place to live if you love to golf. But I don’t play golf.

In Cuenca, we have all manner of expat activities we can participate in. Music, art, theater, language classes, pool tournaments, cribbage club, trivia contests, karaoke, and so much more. We would all die exhausted and broke if we tried to participate in every expat-oriented event that Cuenca has to offer. Manta, however, offers almost none of that. And the only expat music that I’m aware of is the fabulous Bob Read, a caucasian of a certain age who can sing reggae every bit as well as Bob Marley himself! I practiced with them a bit and was planning to do a show with him and his band, One Race, but by the time that that was all coming together, I was sinking deeply into a pit of depression, with deep feelings of isolation and loss caused by my grieving and longing for my former life in Cuenca. So there may be more to the expat culture there than I was able to uncover, but I never found it. It seemed like most expats in Manta stick to themselves, or hang out with the same folks regularly. That’s not a judgment, but rather just an observation. Dust in the Wind!

Dust in the Wind!

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Manta was very dry while I was there, and every bit of terrain that wasn’t covered with a building was parched and dry and, to be blunt, “ugly.” In fact, except for the areas around the mall, the malecón, and several of the nicer neighborhoods, much of Manta is unpleasant to the eye. Partly because of all the sand in the soil, and partly because it was so dry, we had a constant battle with thick, gritty dust that would accumulate on everything we owned. If we wanted to keep the apartment clean, that meant significant dusting every single day, and that gets old after a while.

That Smell!

Sometimes you’d pick it up during the day, but I seem to remember it most in the evenings – that rotten smell in the air. It wasn’t every evening, but on at least half of them, we had to deal with a strong, foul odor that was like a mix of raw sewage and dead fish. You sorta get used to it after a while, but never completely. I’ve had some expats tell me that they’ve never smelled this, so I guess it varies depending on where you live. 

Traffic Tickets

I didn’t realize it while I was down there on one of my scouting visits, but I managed to get a speeding ticket for doing 71 km/h in a 70 km/h zone. Then, right after moving there, I got another one – the same speed in the same zone! I was very scrupulous about following the speed limits there, but they don’t actually post the speed limit in very many places. In fact, they typically posted the limit precisely where the radar-based cameras are, so you probably wouldn’t know that you’re speeding until it’s too late to slow down. After chatting with folks in the local Manta expats group on Facebook, the consensus is that all the radar cams in Manta are rigged to snag as many people as possible, and also that they’re not calibrated correctly. I don’t know if any of that’s true, but the whole setup seems designed to legally pick our pockets. But for those of you who drive in Ecuador and don’t know this, you can typically find an attorney to contest your ticket, and it almost always gets thrown out – which is what I did with the second one. For the first one, I didn’t even know it existed until I returned to Cuenca.

Crickets, Mosquitoes and Ants – Oh My!

Crickets loved my kitchen. They especially loved going behind heavy appliances and chirping all night long. But the real nemesis (or so it seemed) were the hundreds of red, nearly microscopic ants. They appeared on the kitchen counter every time we tried to cook or make a cup of tea. We tried sprays and other deterrents, but they refused to be deterred. Eventually, we just sort of let them do their thing. (I’m fairly certain I ingested more than a few of these tiny monsters along the way.) 

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Then there were the mosquitos. My wife and girls hated them because they were constantly being bit. Me? Mosquitos hate me. They avoid me. In all my time in Manta, I can only remember one time when I was bit. Just once! It may have been more than that, but that’s the only one I know of. So imagine my surprise when I woke up with chills, a high fever, and a splitting headache, and later found out that I’d contracted dengue fever! You only get that from mosquitos, so I must have gotten really lucky the night that one skeeter bit me!

But I was very ill for the next eight days, with a high fever that was constantly going up and down, and I also had one of the worst headaches I’d ever had, along with body aches and pains. It was about the sickest I’ve ever felt, and I was only allowed to take paracetamol for the pain. I couldn’t take anything that would thin my blood, because dengue causes a significant drop in your blood platelets, and it would have been really easy to bleed out if I thinned my blood any further.

Fortunately, I had what the doctor referred to as the “classic” strain of dengue, and most people recover from it without incident. But there are three other strains, and one of them is often deadly. So for that reason, my wife would no longer allow us to leave the living room and terrace doors open – she didn’t want any more mosquitos to get in. That made the apartment more of an oven than it already was. On the bright side, it was also the final straw that triggered our decision to move back to Cuenca. 

On another bright side, I went to the IESS hospital in Manta when I got the dengue, and I have to say that it’s vastly better than the Cuenca IESS hospital. For one, they didn’t look for an excuse to kick me out of the ER before I even found out what was wrong with me. Then, as soon as they took my temperature, they immediately sent me to a special area to receive fluids – a lot of fluids! Six hours’ worth of fluids! But they also came to the area where I was getting fluids and took blood. Then someone came with a wheelchair to take me for an x-ray. If you’ve never been in the Cuenca IESS hospital, you wouldn’t know how regally they treated me in the Manta, by comparison! In Cuenca, I would have had to find my way to the lab, then to x-ray, and then back again, waiting for the results to take them back to the ER doctor. But they took good care of me in Manta, and I consider that a huge plus.

On the dark side, I recently read a report that dengue is on the rise in Manabí, with more cases in the preceding three months than in the entire previous year. So if you plan on moving to or visiting Manta, plan on using a lot of mosquito repellant!


The Water

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Unlike Cuenca, Manta’s city water is not fit for drinking. I even had to stop using it to brush my teeth because my toothbrush started to smell and taste vaguely like cow manure. And assuming you drink your fair share of water, you’d better plan on hauling a lot of water bottles from Megamaxi to your home regularly. They do have the larger 5-gallon bottles down there, but it took us a while to find a vendor who sold water that tasted good/normal. However, we still couldn’t use our ceramic water dispenser, because those darned little red ants managed to squeeze in and swim around in it. So plan on buying an air-tight water dispenser, unless you don’t mind a little extra protein in your glass. 

The Architecture and Landscape

Once again, apart from the mall, the malecón, and the high-rises along the beach, Manta is not, in my opinion, an attractive city – not by any stretch of the imagination. There were lots of interesting things to take photos of, but very little that I’d consider attractive. I found some older colonial-style buildings, but most were in very bad shape and appeared to be too run-down to use for anything.

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Then there was the landscape, which was dry, parched, littered with trash, and just smelled bad. The trees are not sculptured like they are in Cuenca. The streets are not swept like they are in Cuenca. There doesn’t appear to be any mandate to preserve older, historical architecture like they have in Cuenca. In short, it wasn’t Cuenca! I mean, that’s a very obvious conclusion, but the part that I didn’t consider before moving down there was just how much I love Cuenca, and how good it always feels to get back here after traveling elsewhere in Ecuador.

As I’m writing this for YapaTree, there’s no real need to add contrasting shots to counter the ones above, showing the beauty of Cuenca, or the way they trim every tree as if it were a treasured and ancient bonsai – but here’s one photo anyway. How can you not love this city?

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[Image: Jeff Schinsky]

Wrapping up

Simply put, I needed more than Manta had to offer me. I needed what I had back in Cuenca, and what I had temporarily thrown away for a chance at feeling a little better with my long COVID symptoms.

Ironically, after about three weeks there, I acclimated to the elevation, and most of my symptoms returned with a vengeance. I did have a bit more energy there, and a bit less brain fog, but I just wasn’t happy. And as I mentioned earlier, I was getting more and more depressed and having feelings of deep isolation. Plus, anyone who knows me, knows that I need to stay busy. If I don’t have anything special to do, I’ll find something. I need a project to be working on, or I need to be playing music with other like-minded folks. So after three months in Manta, I finally realized that everyone and everything that made me love Ecuador was back in Cuenca, so moving back home suddenly became our top priority – especially after the dengue! And if the El Niño predictions of heavy rains and flooding come true, there will be a lot more mosquitos and probably a lot more dengue in the coming months.

So now I’m back in Cuenca, loving life again. I’m also dealing with slightly worsened long-COVID symptoms, but I’m back with the friends and activities that I missed so much. The only thing I miss about Manta is being able to wear shorts and flip-flops all the time. Oh, and the calamari and langostino! And the warmer toilet seats. And the fabulous sunsets. But we have great sunsets in Cuenca, too. 

Hopefully, I’ve given you a fair assessment of life in Manta, but then again I am biased toward Cuenca. You may not have known much about Manta, and you may be considering a move there yourself, perhaps to escape the cool climate of the Andes, or maybe for health reasons. And if you are, I’ll tell you right now that Manta is not a hellhole. Manta has a lot going for it, and many expats love living there. It didn’t float my boat, but we’re all entitled to seek out an environment in which we’ll thrive and survive. And for me, that meant coming back to Cuenca on an ASAP basis. 

Let’s just say that I’m happy to be home again.

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