Yes, we're moving AGAIN! We finally decided to make a more long-term commitment to living in Cuenca, so we've rented an unfurnished apartment in the hub of El Centro, and we're ready to buy "muebles." Who in the world moves five times in 4 months? We do! Actually, we've been looking and looking for a place we both felt would be fun to paint, decorate, furnish, and make more our home. We both miss our fabulous now-rented home in Oregon. We don't miss the size (over 2,200 sf) and all the work it took to maintain a renovated 100 year old house on an acre of land. We've missed our home - the vibrant colors of our painted walls, the artistic fun pieces we've collected over the years, the coziness we created there, and the comfortable furniture we loved to sink into.
Since being here, we've rented four different apartments, none of which we have felt cozy and at home in. This last apartment has been adequate in meeting our daily needs furniture and furnishing-wise, but it's just not home. I'm not sure any place will ever be as wonderful to me as our Oregon home of so many years, but Bo and I know that we can bloom where we're planted and create a home any place if we can splash colorful paint on the walls and find unique and simple artsy decor. So, this next chapter of our journey in Cuenca has begun!
Because we knew the exact location we wanted to relocate to (El Centro's Historic District), and because we had a firm grasp on what our budget was for a rental (under $500 all inclusive), it became challenging to find exactly what we were looking for. Also, our desire was to live in an Ecuadorian edificio (building). We had a few acquaintances and new friends helping us look. A call here, an e-mail there and we'd go check out every lead, even if we knew it might be too far from the El Centro Historic District area. Apartment hunting sometimes proved to be tiresome and discouraging, but it was good to see what was out there and to learn the reality of how much things are renting for today (a lot more than some people think who are coming here). We now knew after much searching that adhering to our "musts" would limit our rental choices.
This past weekend, we had some friends who have lived in a perfect location of the Historic District for the past two years call us with another lead, which we went to look at immediately. They left the next day for the states for two months and said to us, "Maybe we'll be neighbors when we come back!" thinking we might decide to rent this lead. Bo and I seriously thought about renting it but Bo reminded me and we both agreed, "Unless we have that "WOW" experience, let's stay right where we're at!" We went back the next day to look at this particular rental again and as we were walking towards it, one block away, Bo looked up (he's always looking!) and saw an empty apartment on the third level of a corner edificio with lots of wrap-around windows overlooking the city. It had no "Se Arrienda Departamento" sign on it. I said to Bo, "I don't think that's a rental." Bo's persistence caused me to inquired at a business below, and we were directed to go inquire next door. Sure enough, there was a sign on a door along a side street, and before we knew it we were upstairs, inside, and looking out over the city.
Without a vision or the gift of decorating, we wouldn't be able to see the potential of this small but perfect place for us. However, after years and years of making our Oregon home what it is today, we knew, together, we could take this older humble, small, and cozy city apartment and make it ours. My concern for Bo was the city noise. It's on a main cross street where taxis and buses pass by. Bo's concern was for me. It has only one bathroom and it's very tiny (and Bo's very big). We stood together outside on the wrap-around terrace looking at the city lights, and we both knew it was the one. After negotiating with the kind Ecuadorian owners, we accepted, they accepted, and on a handshake (who does this anymore?), we sealed the deal. They never asked us for a cleaning deposit. They never asked us to sign a lease. They never questioned our integrity, nor we theirs. It was a sweet moment.
Their previous renter had lived in this apartment 20 years (he became ill and had to move out to be with family), and the owners wanted longer-term renters there. We were the ones, apparently. Since that "sweet deal" evening, we've paid our April rent (a monthly rental amount we never imagined we'd find or be able to negotiate), we've given our notice at our current apartment (#4), and we're now in the fun and overwhelming process of buying wonderful paint colors (it's all white in there now - not for long!), hiring our painter (he begins painting Saturday - woo hoo!), buying our stove and refrigerator (we found some very adequate and inexpensive ones), and looking for our bed (that's tomorrow). I am having a desk custom made, and tomorrow a seamstress is coming to measure and give us a bid for the huge wrap-around windows that need sheer privacy curtains so we can look out and they can't look in (figure that one out!). We can see inside our neighbor's apartments across the street and wave to them. Their curtains are sheets over the windows. Whatever works!!!!
Because we arrived in Cuenca with only our clothes and electronics, we have nothing to contribute to an unfurnished place. Imagine, starting all over (exactly what we're doing), like when we were in our 20's and setting up our first household. We will go exploring once again tomorrow, looking at a mattress and bed frame, finding the best places for bathroom and kitchen furnishings, and taking our time day-by-day to make our little apartment a lovely cozy nest. Many would look at this apartment and wonder what we might have seen in it. Few will appreciate what we do see in it. Some might not be able to negotiate four flights of stairs (we like the exercise while we can still climb) nor like the city traffic, bus fumes, and people noise. What's important is that we both LOVE it and have a sense of becoming more planted in Cuenca's Historic District and making this city our home.
Buying our appliances was another sweet experience. We shop on an almost daily basis at the mercado (which will now be only one block away from us), and yesterday we stopped by to say hello to one of our favorite vendors. Her husband was there visiting her whom we met for the first time. We told her we were moving and asked her if she knew of a place we could buy "Muebles." Before we knew it, her husband stopped what he was doing and walked us several blocks away to an appliance store that he felt was one of the better and more reasonable places to shop. He introduced us, stayed with us the entire time, and helped us negotiate our deal. It was another sweet moment and memory for us. We are constantly being taken care of by our Ecuadorian friends here. When our place is furnished and ready, we will have this sweet and loving couple over for dinner. When I told her this, she smiled and lit up!
I won't be posting any photos of our new place until I've taken our before (tomorrow) and after (who knows when that will be) photos of our place and the decorating process. For now, I wanted to post this so our family, friends, and readers would know why I may not be posting for a couple of weeks. We'll be busy! Since Monday, when we sealed our sweet deal, we haven't stopped. The days fly by and there's much to do. We're both walking hand-in-hand through this new and exciting part of our adventure. The best part for both of us is having a smaller and more humble place to nest in, living in the exact location we wanted, renting from an Ecuadorian family in an all-Ecuadorian building, and paying an absolutely phenomenally low rent that makes us both smile.
So, if your looking for your new home in Cuenca, remember:
1 - LOCATION IS EVERYTHING! Know the exact location you want to live, and then begin looking in that area every day.
2 - LOOK UP! (like Bo did) and you may see an empty place. Don't do like I did and doubt that it could even be a rental.
3 - INQUIRE! Had Bo not insisted that I go inside that business and inquire, we would have missed it.
4 - DON'T WAIT!! If you see something, ACT ON IT NOW!! Our landlord told us that the very next day a woman stopped in to look at the apartment and he informed her she was a day late. Bo's perseverance paid off!!!
5 - DON'T SETTLE!! Persevere and don't settle for something just to move (we did that when we first arrived and it cost us!!). If you settle, you'll miss out on that "WOW" experience and miss out on something better. In the end, it pays to wait!
6 - ASK FOR FREE HELP IN SPANISH!! If you can't speak Spanish, ask a bi-lingual friend who can make that call and help you communicate and negotiate (I've been helping our neighbors, and gladly from my heart). We should be there for each other and not seeing dollar signs for doing someone a service.
7 - HAVE A VISION! Don't look at what the rental is but at what it can become. Be willing to make improvements out of your own pocket if it means making it special. The renters in our Oregon home tell us, "We believe in leaving a rental better than when we received it!" This is what we will do as we make our own special improvements to make this place our home.
8 - KNOW YOUR BUDGET! And stick with it! Don't waste time looking at places that are more than you can comfortably afford. In the end, you'll be glad you stuck with your budget.
9 - NEGOTIATE! Don't settle on the original asking price. You'll be surprised at what deals you may be able to make. If you don't ask, you won't know. Be willing to walk away if it isn't a fair and affordable monthly.
10 - TALK TO PEOPLE! There's something out there for each of us. You just have to keep looking and talking to people. Put it out there to whomever you know and also to whom you don't know!!! I've even asked in stores in the area. Someone always knows someone. Many of these families and store owners are related too. I remember when we first moved here and I saw a sign in Tutto Freddo's. It was a brother of the owner who had a house rental. He came and picked us up and took us to his rental. It was too far, but what a nice visit and ride we had. He took us around the city and gave us a free tour. We were new here, so we appreciated his time and kindness.
11 - DON'T USE AN AGENCY - Because Bo and I didn't go through Craigslist, an agency, or a hired facilitator, we are now going to be paying a rent strictly between us and the owners - a win-win situation for both of us. This rental was made known only from a sign on a door. There are many rental signs out there. I know. One day we called and looked at four apartments in El Centro just from signs in windows.
12 - BE PATIENT! Before you know it, you'll find that place. It may not be perfect, but if you weigh the pros and cons and you can live with the cons, then go for it if it's in the location you want, the price is phenomenal, and you have that "WOW" encounter. Our big con was there was only one tiny bathroom. We can live with this! The greatest of the pros was the location, all the windows, and the amazing rental price. Everything else is an added bonus like not having to pay a deposit, not having to sign a lease, and being able to pay month-to-month. Oh, and NO barking dogs around!!! Our landlord is having the place cleaned spotless including all those windows, he's telling us to paint and make it our home, and he and his wife and family are more kind and loving Ecuadorian people we now know in Cuenca.
We're thrilled!! We did it! We found exactly what we wanted (3 bedrooms too!) for a price way below what we ever expected to pay for an El Centro rental, and we couldn't be more pleased.
More to come...........