Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections on Ecuador

Hello everyone. We are now back in California after a 4 week stay in Ecuador including stays in Quito, Cotachachi, and Cuenca. Had a nice trip back home after a scare in Quito when I got called to the airline (COPA) boarding desk because about 10 passengers' suitcases were randomly picked by Interpol for inspection. This about 30 minutes before takeoff! All ended well when they decided I wasn't a terrorist, after all.

We are now seriously considering retiring in Ecuador. Here are some reflections I have had since my return:

  • I will never drive in Ecuador. I will probably sell both my cars here and take a taxi or bus down there. You can go anywhere in the city for a $2 taxi ride or a $.25 bus ride. Even then, it is wise to be intoxicated before hiring a taxi because even being a passenger is not for the faint-hearted. One taxi driver we hired side-swiped another as we were going to the airport. On the freeway,some drivers share a lane with wide buses while passing on narrow curves and steep hills.
  • You order bottled water "sin gas" or "con gas." This does not refer to your desire for intestinal discomfort, but to your choice of  or not
  • In Cuenca you can live very well on less than $3000 a month including rent. This includes having a maid, eating out, and enjoying life.Here is a one of the high-rise buildings called Palermo where many gringos live. You can rent a 1200 square foot apartmnt here for about $400-$500 a month and a furnished apartment up to 1500-1700 square feet for maybe $700. This often also includes utilities.


Here is a typical  view from the apartments:

If you are staying in Cuenca, stay at a hostel (bed and breakfast) called Casa Ordonez run by Alberto, his mother and two sisters who are presently in the United States.His staff is excellent. They are dedicated, incredibly helpful, and efficient.

    Alberto is a one-man support system and a strong advocate of Ex-pats moving to Ecuador. He has dual citizenship, was in the U.S. Navy, and knows Americans and their needs well. Their hostel has been in the family for years.No matter what you need - tours-medicine-haircut-American expat meetings-activities- restaurants-apartments-establishing residence-attorneys-Alberto is very willing to help. He is an incredible support and speaks English flawlessly.

    • The expats in Cuenca are extremely friendly and encouraging to move there. Some expats hang together while others believe they should integrate more into the general community. The experience is being with like-minded people who share many common interests. On our last night there, Alberto threw a little party and all had a great time. Joseph wowed us with his piano playing.......

    • While we are highly motivated to make the move, it is complicated to unwind things back home in Orange County. We will be meeting with a Realtor tomorrow to see what our house is worth these days. I have talked with my business partner about possible buy-outs, etc. Then there is the question of what to do with all our furniture, how do we handle medical care, etc. Will be sharing all this information in future blogs as we continue our adventure.......

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Our Day in Yungilla Valley

    Yungilla Valley is a gorgeous stretch of land about 60 miles south of Cuenca, off the Pan American highway. We had met two other couples at our hostel (the Casa Ordonez) and all six of us decided to hire a driver, Fabian, for a day trip to Yungilla Valley. Fabian spoke excellent English which made the trip all that much more  enjoyable. One of the couples with us was from Phoenix, here on a stopover from a Peru visit. The other couple was from Florida and were visiting with the thought in mind of buying and renovating property here. Meeting and connecting with fellow American travelers was a real if unexpected bonus of our Cuenca stay.

    As we made our way toward the Yungilla Valley, our altitude dropped from about 8500 feet to, I think, about 6500 feet. It became noticeably warmer as we descended.The scenery was breathtaking:

    Our ultimate goal was to view beautiful waterfalls near a town called Santa Elizabeth. To get there, we went through numerous other villages or towns such as Giron. Here are some pictures of the villages taken from our car:

     Finally, we made it to the waterfalls:

    After a lunch of "trucha" (trout) and "papas fritos" (french fries) in a local restaurant, we headed home with our new friends. Just to give you a flavor of the type of people who come here, Tom (left) is an entrepreneur/businessman from Florida looking for an investment/business here. Bob (right) is a retired airline pilot/sculptor, professional traveler who has been to over 80 countries with his lovely wife. 

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Around Cuenca

    We have spent most of the week in Cuenca to get a feel for what it would be like if we actually lived here. As I have mentioned before, Cuenca is a beautiful, historic city of about 400,000 people. Here are a few more  pictures around Central Park which is surrounded by churches and ornate government buildings.

    Many gringos as well as Ecuadorians hang out in this park. We even had a woman approach us from Santa Barbara, CA who, as it turns out, had a brother-in-law psychologist in Orange County whom I used to practice with. What are the odds of that happening?

    On Thursday night we went to the opera in Cuenca. called "El Elixir De Amor" (The elixir of love) produced by the faculty of Arts of the University of Cuenca in its tenth anniversary. Very nice opera at his opera house:

    The opera house itself was not exactly the Orange County Performance Art Center, but the play itself was wonderful, and we got excellent seats for $10 each (top price  tickets).

    Friday night was "gringo night" at a local restaurant called Zoe's. Two hours of networking while having a cocktail or two.People there were in various stages of transition to life in Ecuador. One couple had just bought a house here today. Other couples have been here for years. Some were just looking, like us. Everyone we talked to seemed to love it here and would not want to live again in the United States.

    People' s motives for coming here were varied, but the most common theme was to live better on less money as they retire. Some came down here essentially broke. Some seem fearful that the US economy will collapse and want to be prepared. Others have been very successful and just want a change in life style and scenery. Some are fully retired. Others are "retired" but then start small business here like real estate, or computer repair, or handyman work. I had anticipated having to give up my psychology clinical practice when I moved here, but locals encouraged me to consider setting up a practice in Cuenca to help ex-pats. Not sure what the laws are here to practice psychology: will have to put that on my "to do" list to find out.

    Some people rent for a while and others buy property almost instantly. Some bring their furniture and belongings, while others sell everything back home and buy new stuff here. You can ship everything here in 20 or 40 foot containers for $5,000- $12,000, depending on lots of variables. Most people sell their cars in the United States and don't need to buy new ones here because of excellent public transportation, walking (most people lose weight here because of all the extra walking), and the extensive taxi system.

    Shopping? We decided to check out a large store-complex called super-maxi.It has a grocery store plus other stores like a California mall.

    Prices were not as cheap was we had anticipated. Vegetables and local produced products were very much cheaper, but many American foods (which had to be imported) were actually more expensive than at Cosco's in the US. Locals tell us that groceries are much cheaper at other places, but it was nice to be in an American-style supermarket.

    The weather here is pretty much as advertised. Spring-like. It has rained at least a little almost every day, but then the sun often comes out. We typically dress in layers so we are prepared for most anything.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Our Day Trip to Ingapirca

    Pam and I had a wonderful day trip today to Ingapirca which is the largest pre-Columbian architectural complex in Ecudaor. We hired Miguel, a driver , to take us there. Took 2 1/2 hours to get there from Cuenca using both the Pan American highway and many other, sometimes partially paved and bumpy roads. But the scenery was gorgeous with the verdant Andes in the background, breathtaking valleys, and gradually building mist and dropping temperatures as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains.


    We passed many indigenous people as we drove through numerous small villages sometimes dodging cows, pigs, and sheep, as well as pot-holes  in the road. Good thing Miguel was an experienced driver and had a 4-wheel drive vehicle. His English was excellent and he was very willing to share perceptions about Ecuador and comparisons between his home country and the United States where his family currently resides (in New York City).

    Finally we arrived at Ingapirca which means "the wall of the Inca". The Incas arrived here around 1470. Before then, the indigenous Canari people had inhabited the area. It is believed that both the Canari and the Incas used Ingapirca as a religious site. According to guide books, it was common for the Incas to build religious palaces over the ruins of a conquered culture

    When the Incas conquered the area, they ordered all Canari men to move to Cusco. In the meantime, Inca men took up residence with Canari women, to subtly impose Inca beliefs on the local culture.

    Ingapirca is a mix of Canari and Inca Influences.

    The highlight of the site is El Adoratoria/Castillo, an elliptical structure believed to be a temple in the sun:

    The scenery is stunning around this site with llama and sheep grazing on the hills. A deep feeling of serenity overtakes many who see it:

    We even learned how the Incas kept a calendar by using holes in rocks and filtering rays of sunlight: Amazing:

    Back in the car and heading home, we reflected on the amazing architects and builders the Incas were. It is still unclear to me exactly what happened to the Incas. Maybe we'll learn more as we visit more places.

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Our Trip To The Orchid Factory

    Several days ago, we hired a driver, Miguel, to take Pam and I plus one other couple we met (Don and Elizabeth from Chicago) to a town north of Cuenca called Gualaceo. Before I tell you about the orchids, a word about Miguel, a 31 year old Ecuadorian who lives on farm with cows. He lived in New York City as a chauffeur where he earned enough money to return home to purchase is farm. His wife and  two teenage children remain in New York.Because of his time in New York, his English was good enough for us to communicate, combined with our limited espanol.

    On to the orchid factory, called Ecuagenera. ( We learned that the orchid family, one of the most populous of all plant families is of great importance to Ecuador. It is believed that there are more than 4000 species of orchids in Ecuador, ranking this country as one of the most richly populated areas of the world.

    This is our guide, Michelle:


    This is the first step of a seven-year process. Seedlings are placed in sealed bottles and stored at a specific temperature.

     One of the final results is the beautiful monkey-face orchid. Incredible! Following is another variety which are endless.


    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Exploring Cuenca and Meeting ExPats

    This week has been one of making friends, exploring Cuenca and and trying to imagine ourselves perhaps retired down here from the USA. Many people here are in the same process. Exactly how many people have already made the decision - expats  - is somewhat of a mystery. A recent blog which seemed credible puts the number of expats at from 800-900. Other people say the actually number is more like 2500 or so. Regardless, everyone we talk to who moved here says they love it and mad the right decision. (I guess the ones who didn't like it probably went home).

    Take the George Evans family from San Diego. They own a gringo restaurant called California Kitchen in Cuenca. Whole family moved down and opened their "ethnic" restaurant. "We just sold 45 years of stuff back in the states and moved here in May," says George with a big smile on his face.

    People who move here do so for different reasons. Some just want a new adventure in life. Others are disillusioned with the US or are afraid of the poor economic conditions and don't have confidence the USA will recover from its current problems. Others want to retire with enough money to enjoy life, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do back home. That is a major motivator for Pam and I. At 67, I could certainly continue my nice life style in Southern California, but unfortunately, I would have to keep working to do so. Here I could live on 1/4 the money that would be required back home.

    The cost of living here is pretty much what the other blogs have indicated. You can rent a nice unfurnished apartment (condo) in Cuenca for about $200- $500 per month. Add Utilities and furnishings and you maybe are talking $450- $700 per month. You can buy these same places for anywhere from $59000 to $160,000 depending on location. We are torn between renting and buying but we are leaning toward renting until we get our feet on the ground. I think that the economy of Ecuador is growing at 9% a year, so people tell us that purchasing is a very good investment. Not sure what the inflation rate is.

    Food is inexpensive and free of toxins and chemicals. Transportation by bus or cab is also very reasonable. For 25cents you can take a bus anywhere in Cuenca. Taxis are only about $1.50 or $2 for a ride anywhere in the city.
    If we move here, we would sell both our cars in the U.S. and probably not buy another one.

    Cuenca is a very beautiful city rich in history and tradition. We took a bus tour several days ago ($5 for a 2-hour tour). Here are some scenes I shot atop a double-deck bus:

    There are so many beautiful scenes framed by the Andes mountains and clear, blue sky. More later.

    In our next blog entry I will take you on an incredible orchid tour called Ecuagenera.

    For now, adios, hasta luego.
    Tony and Pam

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    JULY 4 in Cuenca

    We arrived in beautiful Cuenca, in the southern Andes, yesterday. It is a quaint, historic, enchanting college town of about 400,000. There are many ex-pats here who have retired here from many parts of the United States. Amazingly we met many of them today in a special July 4th celebration Hat at a local resort in a city about one-hour from here by bus called Paute. There were probably 50 expats in our group, all of which strongly encoiraged us to move here.

    The resort was called Hosteria Uzhupud. Here is what it looked like:

    We had a lovely luncheon, followed by jazz, After networking for several hours we were treated to a very nice July 4th fireworks display. Who would have thought that we'd be celebrating an American holiday in such traditional fashion in a south-American country?

    During our conversations with the expats we learned much about living here. I asked if you could live comfortably on $3000 a month. Most of them laughed and said that for $3000 per month you could live like a king. Many live on much less than that. We learned the ins and outs of moving here and living here as well as the pitfalls to avoid.Several told us of renting beautiful apartments or condos for maybe $450 or $500 a month. We learned that you can buy a gorgeous 2000 ft condo with panoramic views of the Andes and the city for about $115,00 that would be absolutely top of the line in everything.

    Food here is also very inexpensive and is free of pesticides and additives. Chicken and cattle are free-range. Pam and went to a top-notch French restaurant last nigh called the 4 Rivers. A meal of chateaubriane was listed on the menu at $8.00. We had two wonderful entrees, salad, a glass of wine, and a desert. Total bill was $31 which included tip and state tax. And this was an upscale French restaurant. If you know where to go, you can easily get lunch for maybe $2 each and maybe dinner for $6, $8 or $10 each.

    Tomorrow we start more exploration of this historic city with cobblestone streets and  unique and varied architecture.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Life in Cotacachi

    Nestled in the northern Andes mountains is Cotacachi, a very interesting little town of about 10,000 people with approximately 90-100 being expat Americans, 5 or 6 of which we have already met. Language is not as much of a problem as we feared because we know enough Spanish, enough of them know enough English, and with hand gestures and sign language we get by just fine, thank you.

    Our entrance into town was very scary, however. Seems like we got there exactly when crowds were escaping violence from one group of street dancers toward another.

    The policia were controlling the crowds with teargas as as we were pulling our luggage down this street to our hotel.We made it safely, but it was not the welcome we expected! The next day however we observed it from our balcony and it was a lot more fun to watch everything.

    Seems that there are hundreds of villages around here who celebrate once a year for about 10 days in Cotacachi each wearing unique costumes associated with their village or tribe. Some of the costumes are very elaborate. They are all competing with each other and dancing to the Gods, as has been tradition since the Incas conquered the indigenous people here. Unfortunately, some ot the tribes come to town and actively try to kill members of the other tribes while they are dancing. They win favor with their Gods if they spill blood which brings them a fruitful harvest. Sort of reminds me of LA gangs, each with their own colors and goals of killing members of other gangs. Some things never change!

    Other than the tribal killing thing, the street festival is fascinating. Street vendors all over. We had some talipia from one of them  this afternoon that was absolutely fantastic: fresh and flavorful.  The locals are very friendly and helpful. The weather has been beautiful, springlike temperatures with highs about 68 and lows about 50 at night.

    Food is ridiculously cheap here. Pam bought a lemon this morning for 10 cents that would have cost at least 60 to 80 cents back home. Her tab on her talipia lunch was $3. We bought Pam lipstick for $1 that would have cost $8-$12.We traveled to another local city called Otavalo that has the biggest open air market in South America. There Pam bought a beautiful turquoise and sterling silver bracelet for $24 that would have cost maybe $60 in LA. By the way, taxi ride there (about 20 miles) was $5; we could have ridden the bus there for $.50.

    That's it for today.....stay tuned for more Tony and Pam adventures.