Wednesday, December 18, 2013

15 Things You Need to Know About Cuenca and Guayaquil

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people are moving from the US and Canada to Ecuador each year. Good for them. Perhaps you are one of them. Good for you. Magazines, websites, travel channels, and financial advisors focusing on retirees seem to be having a love affair with Ecuador.

As well they should. But if you are thinking about relocating to South America, here's 15 things to take into consideration:

1. Ecuador is not the southern edition of the United States. It's not even North America. It is a foreign country with it's own language, customs, and traditions. When you arrive, you will be a visitor. A guest.

We Americans have become accustomed to the idea that every place is just like the US, and if it's not, it ought to be. Not so. I had someone just this week say they were planning on moving to Ecuador from Texas. I asked them if they had considered moving to New Mexico and they, with a straight face, said, "I wouldn't ever move to New Mexico. Too many poor people and too many Mexicans. It's amazing how few people there speak English." But they are planning to move to Ecuador? If they are trying to get away from Mexicans, that will probably work. As for the rest of it...

2. If you want warm, move to Guayaquil. If you want (very) rainy and cool, move to Cuenca. Quito, I can't comment on, having not yet visited there.

3. Cuenca has some of the most beautiful cut flowers in the world. A great daily routine would be visiting the flower ladies in city central each day and keeping a little heaven in a vase on your dining room table.

4. Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. The people are very tolerant of those trying to learn Spanish. Take lessons. If someone visited your house and expected you to learn their language so you could have the privilege of conversing with them, you'd be a little put off. If you don't want to speak Spanish, why are you moving to a Spanish speaking country?

5. Yes, the American dollar is the official currency of Ecuador. However, there is a shortage of small bills and one dollar coins. If you bring big bills ($20s and $50s) you will probably have a very difficult time getting them broken. We stood for almost an hour at a grocery store one day waiting for them to round up enough change to break our $20 for a five or six dollar purchase.

6. If your Spanish is questionable, write down your address on a card and keep it in your wallet. That way you can show it to the cabbie and he will know where to let you out. Even if your Spanish is fair to good, the stress and strain of moving to a new continent, the tiredness you will feel your first few weeks, and the general excitment of it all, may cause you to suddenly blank out on your address. (Not that I'd know about that from first hand experience or anything...) Further, you need to know more than your house number. You MUST know the nearest intersection to your house. That's how people find things. Even experienced cabbies want intersections instead of house numbers.

7. Speaking of cards, if you are one of those who relies heavily on 3X5 and 4X6 cards to make notes and keep yourself organized, you better bring some with you. These little jewels are unheard of in any of the stores we visited. (How in the world do the students study without 3X5 cards???)

8. Cuenca and Guayaquil have a maginificent array of tropical plants and flowers. Keep your camera with you at all times.

9. Once you are settled in, get out and explore! There are very resonably priced day trips from Cuenca and Guayaquil to some of the most amazing places on earth. Go see them. You have traveled too far to sit at home. Go see the Cajas, Ingapirka, etc., etc., etc.

10. If you love to fish, you will love this area. The trout are everywhere and they are an envasive species, killing out the native fish. Hence, the local fish and wildlife people would love for you to take home as many as you can eat and then come back tomorrow for more.

11. You will be in for a shock the first time you walk into a grocery store. The eggs and milk aren't refrigerated. My daughter the animal science major informs me this is no big deal. It will take some getting used to. (More on this in another blog.)

12. Speaking of shocks, we couldn't find any canned soup in all of Cuenca. People make it from scratch. If you are looking for an easy dinner with a can of Campbells or Progresso on a chilly Cuenca evening, good luck.

13. Fortunately, the markets sell an amazing array of vegetables, so plan ahead and make your soup from scratch.

14. Most of the houses in Cuenca don't come with heaters. If you are cold natured, you will need to pack plenty of layered clothing and plan on buying space heaters when you arrive. On a related note, the stoves and ovens work on gas, but not the way you're thinking. They use bottles of propane and you have to buy it from a guy who comes by every few weeks. Go with it. It works for them. It will work for you.

15. Cuenca and Guayaquil were ancient cities before the US of A was even thought about. Take the time to learn the history of these amazing places.

Bonus: My novel, The Ecuadorian Deception, is set in Cuenca and Guayaquil. I wrote it with you in mind. You can enjoy a first-rate story (if I do say so myself) while learning more about this area. If you've ever read Nevada Barr's murder mysteries set in national parks or the mysteries of Sue Henry (in which her alter ego travels around America in a Minnie Winnie and solves crimes), you know what we're doing here.

 Other things people need to know?

Questions you have about Cuenca or Guayaquil?

I'd love to hear from you.

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