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Saturday, April 5, 2014

RETIRING IN CUENCA - "So, what do you do with your days?"



New Cathedral (Catedral de la Immaculada) - called "New" although it was built in 1885!

"So, what do you do with your days......"  This is a recurrent question we are personally asked by those we meet who are contemplating a move away from their familiar comfortable and predictable lives in North America - those who are seriously thinking about or are already in the decision making process of becoming USA ex-pats.  Everyone whom we've met (and we meet MANY people just through this blog) is here for a different reason.  Yet, there is a commonality of reasons many of us share for having left the USA and everything and everyone we knew and loved (especially family) to relocate to Cuenca.

One major reason is Cost of Living!  I know some acquaintances who express bitterness because they feel as though their retirement dreams have been shattered, financially.  Others are here because they see the outcome of the USA politically, economically, and spiritually.  Then, there are those who have never had an attachment to their lives in the states, they have no clue what is truly going on in America, they are financially comfortable, they are adventurous and already have traveled the world, and they are now ready to settle in Cuenca, Ecuador because it's another country and area to experience.  Some come here because of their health issues.  They can no longer afford medical insurance for their retirement years and after much research, they have come to an area of the world that has excellent and affordable medical care.  One of our major reasons was the weather!  After 40 years living in the Willamette Valley rains, we wanted to retire in an area that was sunny and warm (not humid and hot) year round, and Cuenca weather was it for us.  Some come here and find it is too rainy and cold for them, but it all depends on what you're used to from the area you are leaving.  Then there are some who are running away - from their debts, from their past, from something - and they come here to escape and hide and start all over. I'm sure I've missed other reasons why some have or will flee from the USA, but remember - wherever you go, THERE YOU ARE! 

Once here, and because many ex-pats are new to retirement, some find it difficult to fill their time and to feel like they have a life here.  En Serio!!  Especially some men.  Bo never imagined he would be living in another country (though ex-patting was his idea way back in 2009 when I was perfectly content with my princess lifestyle in the USA). Then to step away from any chance of returning to Corporate America and to no longer have his fabulous income and career identity as a Financial Advisor - well, that's been a big adjustment and change in his life.  He was nowhere near what he thought would be his retirement age when we arrive here in early December 2012.  As for me, work has never been my passion nor my identity.  I've had a wonderful life of being home more than working thanks to my husband (which is why I didn't qualify for a pensioner's visa, by a mere $2 - though now my Social Security has been increased!), and because I'm an artistic, creative, and somewhat adventuresome woman, I've never been bored or unfulfilled by not working or having a career.

All this to say, my days are full here in Cuenca now that I'm truly retired.  Life is so full here that some days I want to turn off my phone, hibernate in my office, and not go anywhere or talk to anyone just to have some alone and down time - that's how rich my days are.  I've made WONDERFUL friends here, some ex-pats and many Cuencanos, and we both know how blessed we are in this area of our "Cuenca" life.  For us, the word FRIEND means more than for others.  I don't do Facebook (please don't hate me) and so I have no friends there (thank God).  Some people think that being "friended" is having friends (but watch out, because you can get "unfriended" just as quickly).  I find the Facebook "friend" thing beyond funny.  Many of them are cyber friends and people you'll never meet.  Others are people who are mostly curious about your life and accomplishments.  No real intimacy there!  Hey, if it works for you, great.  But not for me.  FRIEND - if you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand, you are blessed.  Because of the true friendships Bo and I have made here, we are truly blessed.  It's a big part of why our days are filled. 

After 16 months here, let's see how I spend most of my days:
1 - Reading and studying my Bible - my faith draws me to daily quiet times of prayer and spending time in the Word to know and hear from my Heavenly Father.
2 - Decorating and keeping my tiny Ecuadorian flat organized and clean - Bo and I have lived in our El Centro apartment for ONE YEAR as of April 1st - can I hear a drum roll!  Yes, we're the couple that moved 5 times in less than 4 months when we first arrived.  When we finally got this "white empty shell" of an unfurnished place, it took months of creative decorating and frugal purchases to transform and make it our simplified home.  Now, we love it!  We don't have a "maid."  I'm the maid - because I have LOTS OF FREE TIME!  Besides, no one would be able to clean it like I do since I'm quite anal, compulsive, organized, and a neat freak.  I enjoy taking care of our little city rental.  Interior decorating is such a passion of mine, but now that this place is completely decorated, I dream of another place to take from white walls to COLOR and artistic BEAUTY!  Ummmm...... Would we move AGAIN?????
3 - Shopping - Daily, some of our time is spent going to our Mercado and buying our produce and meats - fresh and in small quantities.  Market food doesn't last long here because it's not chemically doused nor refrigerated (no, they DON'T refrigerate their meats), so daily shopping for FRESH is good!  We love going out our door and in just 1/2 a block we're in "vendedora-landia."  Everything we need is within our neighborhood square (even our wine supplier).  We absolutely love the convenience of our living and shopping location.  Our special vendors know us, and we love them and love supporting them with our daily purchases.  We receive lots of "yappa" and loving favor - and that always makes me smile and warms my heart.  
4 - Cooking -  Daily, Bo spends more time in the kitchen than I do.  HE LOVES TO CREATE AND COOK!  I also love to cook but not to be in the kitchen every day and for hours.  So, I'm thankful for a husband who not only loves to cook but one who is health conscious, and his creations are to die for (ask anyone who has eaten at our home)!  Because of this, we don't eat out every day and most meals like some ex-pats prefer to.  Shopping and cooking, the way we do it, takes thoughtful planning and precious well-spent time in our day.  When we do eat out, it's a wonderful treat and experience.
5 - Photography - I have more photos of Ecuador and Cuenca than one could ever imagine.  The first year here, my camera went every where with me, and I was constantly photographing the people, the city, and every place we explored.  Though I still love doing this, I'm more selective now when I decide to take my camera (how many times can one photograph the flower market, city parks, etc. - though I still manage to do so because of the beauty).  Now, I am spending more time at my computer organizing the best of the best, and editing and preparing my 5-star photography for......?  I don't know.  I sometimes think of doing a gallery display or making a coffee table book, or making postcards, or.......  Or nothing!  Just enjoying them for me!  I'm jubilada and I really don't want to work!  I LOVE photography and every area of shooting, editing, and creating.  It's one of my greatest of passions.
6 - Spanish Classes - This is now top-priority in both our days.  You'd think after living here for 15 months, we'd be speaking Spanish perfectly!  NOT!  Though many ex-pats here think I do (and compared to some, I do), I HONESTLY DON'T!  I certainly have gotten much more fluent and my vocabulary is greater from when we first arrived, but it's time for me to study the grammar context which is critical now for my own personal understanding and my desire to speak accurately and fluently as the locals do.  I'm going to the next level with commitment and determination.  Taking four hours a week and studying daily is yet another commitment of time in each day.  Bo has signed up for 6 hours a week, every other day - so I'm praying he will learn quickly, building on what he already knows (thank you mom for always speaking to your Bosito in Spanish) - and this will lessen his frustration in not being able to communicate like he would like to.  I see Bo studying daily, and that makes me smile!  We have been blessed with an amazing precious teacher whom we both appreciate!  Thank you Rosa for this recommendation to us.  Our new instructor is gifted and passionate and knows how to teach!
7 - Spanish-English Classes - On top of our weekly "paid" Spanish lessons, Bo and I have one evening a week where several Cuencanos come to our home to learn English and help us with our Spanish.  It is an evening we both look forward to because these "jovens" are adorable and truly want to learn.  The blessing in giving is what we're receiving.  They are respectful and easy-to-be-with young men whom we enjoy having over and spending a few hours with.  There are so many locals who say they want to learn English - but saying and doing are two different things.  As long as they keep coming, we'll be here for them!
8 - Girlfriend times - I have been blessed to meet some very special sister-girlfriends here.  We try to spend one day a week together with lunches, shopping, and sharing intimately.  I am not a woman who likes to have a lot of acquaintances - but I love to have one, two, or three dear and special sister-girlfriends who I truly call FRIENDS.  My Father has heard my prayers and blessed me with more than I could ever have asked or hoped for here in Cuenca.  Not only do we share the same faith, but we share the same passions - eating and shopping!  It doesn't get much better than this.......  Thank you mi ÑAÑAS for blessing my days, for making me smile and laugh, and for being true friends - friends whom I can be myself with, friends that I can trust and confide in and know you will be honest with me and pray for me, friends whom I respect and who respect me, and friends with a likeness of mind, heart, and spirit. You know who you are, and I love you dearly. 
9 - Bo times - I've met many women here who are single and spending their retirement years without a husband. One of my girlfriend's who is retired here has never been married and still dreams of that special someone to share her days and life with.  It's never too late!  As for me, I'm thankful that I have someone dear to my heart to come home to, someone special and interesting to spend my days with, and a strong man to love me, care for me, and protect me.  Many hours in my day are spent walking the streets of Cuenca with my husband and exploring this quaint, rustic, historic town - whether it's taking care of our errands or just enjoying the culture and beauty together.  Every day we run into someone we know, or we discover new hidden shops and meet new vendors and locals who embrace us and add to the joy of our day.  Sometimes we just sit in one of the parks to watch the world go by!  Whatever it is, an important part of my day is to share time with Bo!
10 - Activity Times - Cuenca is a cultural city of fabulous Arts and Entertainment!  Weekly, there are art exhibits, museums, concerts, parades, celebrations, races, and more!  One never has to be bored or living in a rut here because there is ALWAYS something to do.  I've heard a couple people lately tell me they feel bored now that they are retired.  Whew!  Well, get a "Cuenca" life!  I can't imagine being bored here.  The beauty of this artistic, holistic, and athletic area is that most of the "happenings" here are FREE!  Some are not, but even they are very affordable. There are no excuses why one would be bored here.  From French to raw foods cooking classes, to art galleries, workout facilities, and spa-mineral baths in Baños, to 25 cent (12 cent) bus rides to local towns, and on and on - please don't tell me you're bored!  There are enough tour groups, group activities, and daily local entertainment for one to fill their fleeting hours.  So, like I said, "It's your time to get a life."
11 - Travel Times - There's a lot of Cuenca and Ecuador we have yet to see.  We may spend an entire day riding a bus to the end and exploring a nearby parish of Cuenca.  Or, we may go overnight to another city or town in Ecuador.  That is going to take a lot of our time in the near future.  We've already had some wonderful exploratory adventures in the 15 months we've lived here.  However, for now, our weeks are full with Spanish classes, friendships, and just being settled in and living here.  Finally - we're settled in!!  We're looking forward to our next adventure out of area!  I wonder where we'll go???
12 - Bible Study times - Once a week, Bo and I spend an entire day in a home fellowship with other like-minded truth-seekers we've met here in Cuenca.  We share our faith, pray together, have a fabulous potluck meal together, and spend the entire day with a few special people we consider family.  It's a day we look forward to every week to share our relationship (not "religion") with our Father in heaven.  I look forward to meeting more believers living or moving here who will one day be a part of our home fellowship.

Yes, your new life in Cuenca can be viewed and expressed in one of two ways:  Seeing the glass half full or half empty!  Ask yourself honestly:
- Am I busy being fearful and worrying about the future or enjoying each day NOW - living in the moment and seeing my blessings?
- Am I making choices towards a life of adventure and freedom or staying where I am and living a stagnant dead-end nowhere life?
- Am I living my dreams and checking off my "BUCKET LIST?"  Do I even have dreams and a bucket list???????  OR, am I living in the paralysis of FEAR and continually making excuses why I CAN'T!!
- Is my BUSY LIST keeping me from time to do what is truly most important and meaningful each day?
- Am I living in and expressing my passions and touching other lives with my God-given gifts and talents.....
- .......OR, am I continually WISHING and HOPING I coulda, woulda, shoulda - and making excuses why I can'ta!!!!!

I say, "BLOOM WHERE YOU'RE PLANTED" - I mean REALLY BLOOM and you will embrace Cuenca, it's beautiful people, culture, and lifestyle, and your life will take on a new meaning that will touch lives and make hearts soar.  Think about it!!

The longer I'm here, THE MORE I LOVE CUENCA!!!
Con Amor,
Linda

HOW ABOUT AN UPDATE OF:  The Ugliest Shell of a Kitchen.......

Remember?  No color, no cabinets, no appliances, and that UGLY useless aluminum window!

Every day, I'm thankful for the ability to have a decorator's eye and vision and that I was able to accomplish this frugally and tastefully!  It's just like I envisioned!

Let's take a closer look - Is this ugly and bare, or what?  What I liked about this apartment was that it was clean and had lots of warm wood throughout!  More than clean and wood, I LOVED that it was under $300 a month.  I looked and I thought, "I can do this!"

Hey, it's even classier now!  This picture was taken before I added colorful ARTESA plates, hanging greenery, and more - but you get the picture!  Beautiful cabinets (paid for by our landlord - horray!), a new stove with oven (paid for by us), and a side cabinet that we had made and paid for, to fill the hole.  Ya like it???

BEFORE (talk about boring and blinding - I don't do white)......

....AFTER!  Another cabinet we paid for!  Hey, most landlords would not have put in all the other cabinets.  This one is removable for when - I mean if - we move again!!  I love my little kitchen!!  it still needs some over-the-cabinet greenery and baskets, and a few more touches - stay tuned!!

I'm so glad Juan trusted Bo and me when Bo asked him to get that UGLY window out!  Oh, and that hideous stove hood also had to go!!  Sometimes I can't believe we even tackled this place and did so much!  After all, it is a rental - but it's our home for now and worth every penny we've spent to make it ours.  Besides, not many places this nice rent for $280 a month.

Now I keep plants or fun art along that wood shelf.  I also rag-rolled a rojo color over the mustardy painted hallway, and now it's warmer and delicious to look at!

So, cook away esposo mio.  The kitchen is all yours!  See, I told you Bo likes to cook.  This is one of his simple creations, and it is healthy, colorful, and delicious. 

City living gardening is a bit different than when I lived on an acre of land surrounded by a 20 acre filbert orchard.  I still have a green thumb, love having plants, and now our terrace is abundant with lots of flower boxes filled with colorful geraniums and trailers and fragrant herbs.


I like this simplified life - less work and stress but still surrounded by beauty!  

My plants have grown twice the size since I photographed these.  I think they like their new home!

Yes, I admit - sometimes I long for and miss my country home in Oregon - especially sitting outside on my wrap-around porch and basking in the country silence.....

......but home is where the heart is - and CUENCA and it's people have truly captured my heart!!

I think Cuenca's captured Bo's heart too - ya think??



Thursday, April 3, 2014

RIDING THE BUSES IN CUENCA - Come on! Ride the bus to Sinincay......

You never know who or what will be waiting at the Parada de Bus in Cuenca! 

 

There are some "extranjeros" who have never (en serio) hopped one of Cuenca's city buses.  They always take a taxi!  Oh, but you're missing out.  Bo and I usually use the bus transportation when it's too far to walk - and we prefer the buses because they cost 25 cents one-way (12 cents if you're 65!).  Taxis are $1.50 to $2.00 depending on where you're traveling within the city limits.  After living in Ecuador for 16 months, we know that saving $1 to $2 goes a long way here.  That could buy us three days worth of produce or a breakfast at the mercado.  We always purpose to live frugally and to be wise with our "plata" here.  It may sound petty to some, but for us it works!   


Sometimes we "ride the bus" to the end of its route, just to sight-see and to  figure out the bus system.  We're yet to find an accurate bus guide because a couple months ago, the city officials completely changed the entire city bus route.  Until they are finished changing things (hummmm?  Whatever that means...) we've had to figure it out for ourselves.  We have a friend here who should be the bus go-to guy for Cuenca.  He's got it down!

One warm sunny day (though it's been cooler and rainy these days, we always see blue skies and sunshine) Bo and I decided to ride BUS 20 to the end of its route.  We ended up in Sinincay, a small province-village in Cuenca, with an altitude of around 8,600.  The people are kind and hard-working and their main work is brick-making.  They are also farmers and true to their customs and traditions.  For 25 cents, we had a full day of exploring this quaint area, meeting friendly people who embraced our presence, and walking for miles along the back roads of this beautiful town overlooking the city of Cuenca.

Whenever Bo and I appear in these areas, we are always asked, "Are you lost?"  This is because the locals in these smaller villages are not used to seeing extranjeros walking around.  Speaking the language of the locals always opens up the door for wonderful conversation, sharing our lives, and making new friends who always say, "Come back and visit us anytime."  It was a fabulous day and another special memory of our simple and peaceful life in beautiful Cuenca.

PICTURES TELL THE STORY!!

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

I know dogs love my Bo - but now I've added cows to that adoration fan club! I think about how ordinary and predictable our life had become back in the states.  Now, we have some pretty funny and sweet encounters every day in Cuenca!

We walked along the streets of Sinincay, for miles and miles........


......and it became more and more rural as we walked farther away from the parada de bus.

We passed by several brick-making sites....

......where stacks and stacks of brick lined the roadway.

Wood piles were carefully stacked for the brick-making ovens.

The scenery along the way was breathtaking!

Different ovens and brick-making operations continued to appeared along the way.

We questioned what an ice cream vendor was doing out in such an isolated and rural area......and then children suddenly appeared to make their purchases!


After we bought our "helados," we visited with these three ADORABLES for over an hour.  They enjoyed sharing all about themselves and asking us a million questions.  We laughed and laughed together, and they melted our hearts.


We said goodbye to the three adorables and continued down the road - where we came upon a busy little tiendita called "Tienda De La Hora."

Across the road, a local was moving her cows to a new feeding area.

There were abundant producing gardens.....


......rustic houses....

....and colorful flowers along the way.

Let's not forget the hard-working indigenous locals we encountered, like this precious woman who was hauling a very heavy sack and walking down the road.  When we asked her how far it was to the bus stop for our return home, she said, "Not far - just around the corner."  As she scurried along, I looked at Bo and said, "You don't really believe her?  Not far?  Here's a woman hauling a load you and I could never carry and she said, 'not far.'"  We both laughed and realized it was going to be quite a distance to our return destination.


As the evening began to approach, we decided to head to the small town square and hop a bus the rest of the way home (can you believe we originally thought about walking home???). 



The bus came quickly, and we were back in El Centro in less than 15 minutes.  The lighting over the mountains was brilliant, and our day of walking and meeting the locals in Sinincay was a perfect way to spend our day!

So, the next time you find yourselves wondering how to spend your day - HOP A CITY BUS and ride it to the end.  Then get off and walk around!  Smile, take in the amazing scenery, and meet the town's residents.  Have a meal at one of the local restaurants.  Take pictures of the majestic area.  Then, when it's time, HOP A CITY BUS and ride it home.  It will be a great day of exercise, meeting new and interesting locals, and having a Cuenca city bus adventureCome on!  Ride the bus!!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yanapuma Spanish School in Cuenca - We celebrated TAITA CARNAVAL together!

Students from Yanapuma Spanish School Dance and Celebrate Taita Carnaval 2014

Recently, Bo and I decided to sign up for Spanish classes again.  There are many Spanish conversational groups meeting around Cuenca, but we both agreed it was time to take more personalized and individual classes to go to the next level.  I wanted private lessons, and Bo decided on a smaller group class.  We chose Yanapuma Spanish School  (http://www.yanapumaspanish.org/) because of their excellent reputation and also all their profits support and promote the sustainable development in indigenous and marginalized communities.  Their teachers are carefully screened and trained before being released to teach students.  They have individual and group classes, and also cultural excursions.  Though the school is only a few months in Cuenca (7 years in Quito), it is growing rapidly.  We were pleased they could accommodate us into their almost full schedule.

Right after signing up, we received an invitation for all students of Yanapuma to attend the 7th annual Festival of the Kushi Waira Taita Carnaval Celebration put on by The Cultural Tourist Centre Kushi Waira of the parish of Tarqui.  We accepted, and on a rainy Saturday morning, we boarded a tour bus with 15 other students ready to experience this special day of history, music, dancing, eating and celebrating with this beautiful and humble indigenous people of Ecuador.  It was a great group of students who celebrated with gusto and embraced this amazing culture.  We were honored to be a part of this community celebration and educational experience.

The Cañaris (in Kichwa - Kanari) were the ancient inhabitants of the provinces of Azuay.  Today, they live in their customs and traditions, embracing nature with an utmost respect to mother earth (Pachamama).  They celebrate their festival at URCU AYA, the spirit of the mountain, and honor the fertility of the land, planting, and harvest.  The Kushi Waira celebrate yearly for the purpose of revitalizing the reality of their customs and traditions.

  PICTURES TELL THE STORY!

  It was a day of Andean music, laughter, darling children, festive attire, and JOY!

We were served breakfast with the typical food of the TAITA CARNAVAL.

Our lead host educates us on the different hand-carved instruments and gives us a demo.

There would be a drawing at the end of the festival for 4 of the flutes.  Yup, Bo won a hand-carved flute!!

It's time to take a walk......

.....and higher and higher we climb......


........away from the community below, up to the sacred place of Jatun Urcu.

Walking sticks were helpful for this steep, wet, muddy trail!


The community hosts carried drinks in large pots strapped to their backs for the celebration.




A magical forest trail.....


......with exotic medicinal plants......


......all labeled with their healing properties......


....graced the path......and we walked and walked.....

.....and finally reached our destination where musical instruments, song, and dance continued and......

.....hot spicy beverages.....

......were poured and served to the visitors. 

(We were served the traditional Canelazo drink and La Chicha de Jora (a rice drink with alcohol)

The ceremony to the PACHAMAMA is explained, as well as the customs and traditions of this unique community.  


More music and dancing.....

.....as this community honors their yearly celebration together.


Powdered faces are a part of this CARNAVAL tradition.

A colorful harvest wreath leads the music and dance procession.

Such a look of contentment on this festive indigenous community member.

Everyone was attentive as the history of Pachamama was explained.

Children filled with joy and splashed with powder.

Beautiful!


It was time to return to the cultural center.....

.....where huge pots of celebration food were being carefully prepared for the guests.

There was enough food for twice the crowd.

The dancing and music continued....


..... and even the roosters celebrated!


Children twirled to the music.......

.....and the band played on!


It was time for the community meal.

Choclo, potatoes.....

.....chicken and pork.....

......rice and bowls of Aji - oh my!!!

We sat together in community and feasted and feasted and.....

.....feasted some more!  The "Ollas encantadas" were served before us with love, and we ate with gusto and gratitude. 

Bo and I had never experienced a community meal like this before, and the entire experience (including being powdered) was a wonderful memorable time for both of us. 

 If you go to their website at http://www.kushiwaira.com/ you will be able to learn more about this humble community in Tarqui and what they have to offer visitors.

The End!