Sunday, October 27, 2013

WEATHER IN CUENCA - Some say "Rain, Rain, Go Away!!!"

Eternal Spring Weather in Cuenca - Really?

One major reason we left Eugene-Springfield, Oregon after living there 40 years was because we got tired of NINE long months of RAIN every year.  SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) was draining Bo, and it played a big part of our decision not to retire in Bluegene, Oregon.  We both love Oregon.  It's one of the most beautiful states in all of the USA.  It has the Majestic Pacific Oregon Coast, spectacular mountains and breathtaking waterfalls, and one of the most beautiful dry desert areas ever.  But, in the Willamette Valley, it RAINS and RAINS - way too much.  Also, it is one of the most deadly allergy season areas with high grass pollens, and many people cannot live there or they would die - seriously!  Some continue to stay there and are seasonally allergic and physically miserable.

So, weather was a big decision maker on where we would spend our glorious retirement age.  In our research, we kept reading about this "Eternal Spring" area of Ecuador - CUENCA!  We liked the idea of living where it was SPRING year-round.  Neither of us like HOT and HUMID, nor do we enjoy COLD and SNOWY.  We survived our comfortable Oregon life because of the mild winters and minimal snow and ice.  Yes, WEATHER is a big factor in most people's decisions as to where to spend their golden years.

I LOVE the weather in Cuenca!  So does Bo.  Now, here's a man who agonized in the long rainy season each year.  You would think the same would be happening in Cuenca, since it rains here A LOT!  But, what's a lot?  Compared to Eugene, Oregon, it hardly rains here.  Oh yes, it rains daily, and it thunders, and it rains HARD.  Yet, every day we wake up to beautiful majestic blue skies and the most amazing cloud formations.  Every day, we walk in Cuenca's perfect weather, for us anyway, and we don't have to deal with hot humid days, ice or snow, nor do we have to deal with mosquitoes or bugs.  Every day, we walk around with our umbrellas or raincoats knowing the rains will come, but we only have to use them intermittently.  We know that each afternoon the rain will stop and once again the blue skies will evidence themselves. 

If you move here from an extremely rainy mountainous area, as we did, this cooler high altitude climate and rain will not be a negative.  We are mountain people.  We love the green and being surrounded by the beauty of the mountain ranges.  We also love the rain because it clears the air and makes everything sparkle.  Living in a big city and knowing there is a lot of pollution from the city buses and cars makes us embrace the rain.  Again, the sun shines every day, it is warm and spring-like every day, and we know how to dress to embrace all four seasons from morning until evening.  This is why we chose to live in Cuenca, why it works for us, and why we LOVE THE WEATHER HERE! 

So, don't move to Cuenca if your blood is thin, you're moving here from a hot humid climate area that you love, or if you love mosquitoes and bugs and being near the sand and beach.  Move here if you love ETERNAL SPRING weather that sometimes has a cooler bite to it and where it RAINS and POURS every day.  Move here if you're not afraid of the daily weather surprises.  Move here if you can say, "I LOVE the WEATHER in Cuenca!"  If not, go some place else or you won't be happy.  Afterall, that's why you're leaving the place you're at, right?  'Cause ya wanna be happy.  Well, that's another posting, so don't get me started.  What's gonna make you HAPPY?  Because it isn't the weather, it isn't the place you live, it isn't the things you have or bring or accumulate, and it isn't living somewhere that has ETERNAL SPRING WEATHER.  Think about it!!!!!

Our majestic Cuenca Skies will change from morning until evening....

......and if you're out walking, ya better have your rain gear with you, 'cause once that blue isn't peaking through the clouds anymore......

.......it's best you're either inside a restaurant eating and staying dry, or cozy and warm inside your home!!! (yes, home sweet home!!)

The powerful rains will come SUDDENLY and HARD (a view from my office window)..........

.....and the skies will become gloriously and majestically beautiful and thunderous, yet below it will suddenly become dark and VERY VERY WET!!!!

The city streets will flood up with the powerful down pour and SUDDENLY no one will be walking around......

......except for this family who got caught in the down pour - without any rain gear nor one single umbrella!!!  What to do? STOP and open up the plastic sheet (wait, that is their rain gear!!!).....

.......and they brilliantly cover up.......

.......and keep on truckin'!!!

Even those with umbrellas have to duck sometimes because the rains are so POWERFUL for some of the flimsy umbrellas out there!

Yes, sometimes a plastic sheet works a lot better than a flimsy umbrella to keep one dry - ya think????

This posting is not to discourage you about the weather here.  It's to bring you TRUTH so you don't come here expecting your version of Eternal Spring when you read all those rave (false) reviews about how perfect the weather is in Cuenca.  It's only as perfect as you allow it to be.  Nothing's perfect!!!  So, come here prepared for a little bit of EVERYTHING.  IF NOT, ya better go some place else 'cause there's already enough mumblers, grumblers and complainers moving and living here. Just saying......

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PACKING FOR CUENCA ECUADOR - WHAT SHOULD I BRING TO CUENCA?? - This is what we brought back and WHY!!!

We've been back in Cuenca 14 days, and it seems like we never left.  It was worth bringing in those six free 70 pound suitcases and four carry-ons between the two of us (and having to enjoy flying Business Class to do so!!).  Just a few things have made our apartment look, feel, and smell more like "our home" and we don't have to wear the same shoes and t-shirts week after week. 

I did get burned out shopping back in the states (believe it or not!!) - probably because I was trying so carefully not to be excessive in the things I brought back with us, and also I was back to watching our budget.  We had spent quite a bit of money on our two months USA trip - eating out, doing our one month cross-country motorcycle adventure, and just being on VACATION without worrying about a budget.  That's what vacations are supposed to be, right?  Well, I can honestly say, "WE VACATIONED!"  It was our splurge of a lifetime, and we have no regrets.  Yet, at some point, we knew we'd have to come back to reality and consider adjusting back to our simplified CUENCA lifestyle and mindset.

I promised somewhat of a list of where  I shopped and what came back with us in those carefully packed and stuffed "Business Class Free Check-In's," so here goes:

1 - I did one 4-hour shopping spree at IKEA! If you don't live near an IKEA, or if you've never been shopping in one, well what can I say?  It was a shopping adrenalin rush and the perfect place for me to find the best household bargains. Actually, it was where I purchased most of our NEEDS.  These included: King Comforter and Duvet, Ikea towels (wish I had gotten one more set), a quality steel knife sharpener, Paper Shade Lamps and Halogen Desk lamps (several - and IKEA sells them already packaged - and they are so inexpensive and lightweight), miscellaneous much-needed kitchen wares, shower curtains, bath mats, and on and on.  Too many miscellanous items to list.  I spent under $500, and it was worth every penny for all I ended up with - quality needs that will make our apartment life more comfortable.  IKEA truly ROCKS!!!!
2 - YANKEE CANDLES AND PIER ONE/BED, BATH, BEYOND SCENTS - How I missed our home smelling like Pier 1 Imports!  I'm a Yankee Candle addict  and now my apartment smells like Pumpkin Apple, , Vanilla Carmel Latte, and Peach Spice.  YUM! (I'm yet to smell a delicious candle in the stores here and they are a bit expensive).
3 - iHOME- Somehow my Bose speakers back home are missing - boo hoo.  So, I agonized over what to buy that would be practical and not take up lots of room.  After several expensive stereo speaker purchases and returns, I ended up buying a small iHome that was on sale for $50.  Talk about compromising - but I'm okay (noticed I said okay) with this.  I'd much rather have my Bose Stereo.  However, this works.  I can charge my iPod while I play my music library, and I also can charge  my iPhone and play music.  I may end up mail ordering another set of speakers (Bose, of course).  We'll see!
4 - iPHONE - Finally, I have my groovy phone.  I've wanted an iPhone with wifi service for a loooong time - and I wasn't coming back to Cuenca without one.  I settled for a G4 because it's all I need (see, that "want" thing is not overcoming me!!) and I was able to find a brand new unlocked iPhone for $220.  Forget about getting one even close to that price in Cuenca!  I'm Happy!  I have to pay attention that I'm not another victim of phone theft.  We're not living here in fear, but we are always paying attention, as much as possible - not letting anyone rub up against us and get in our space - especially on the buses.
4 - iPAD - We hope to do more traveling, and this will take less room instead of dragging along a laptop.  After Bo's PC smashed when we tipped our bike, he has now taken over one of my MacBook Pros, so we can share the iPad as he learns to be an Apple guy.
5 - CLOTHES - Several of the suitcases were packed with clothes - mostly mine.  Ahhhh, to be  back in Cuenca and have shoes, jackets, pretty things, my jewelry, and an actual wardrobe to choose from.  Bo also broke down and bought new clothes (he hates shopping more than anyone I know!!) and also four pair of quality shoes.  He walks for miles and miles every day, and he thinks he's not going to have to buy shoes for two years - Ha!  Comfortable shoes are IMPORTANT if you live here and plan to walk.  As for me, I'm a shoeaholic.  That's one addiction I will never give up.  Yet, here I have probably 1/5 of the shoes I had when I was a working woman back home.  Yet, I'm happy!  I have more than the four pair of shoes I've been wearing for the last 10 months.  Oh, the little things that I so appreciate.  I'm also a used-clothes bargain hunter addict.  So, my wardrobe cost less then $200, and I have TONS of clothes - and I'm having fun wearing them too. Quality clothes in Cuenca will cost you.  I'm too cheap to pay for new clothes, especially at the price they want for the clothes I would buy.  I'm sooooo happy with my St. Vinnie clothes/wardrobe.
6 - COSMETICS AND HAIR PRODUCTS - Two of my dearest girlfriends are in the beauty field - so I was able to bring back quality products - some for wholesale prices and some for FREE.  I love FREE.  The beauty products Bo and I now have will last us a loooong loooong time (thank you Kay and Patty).  Though Cuenca has lots of beauty supply tiendas, I haven't found the quality of products I'm used to, and Cuenca's cosmetic prices are way up there for anything quality.  If not for my "beauty consultant" girlfriends and the sweet deals we got through them, we would not have gone this route.  We've been getting our shampoos and cosmetic products from iHerb, and that works for us too.
7 - PANS - Bo and I LOVE to cook!  Bo's taken over the kitchen, so he does most of the meals (I now have dish pan hands since I'm the cleanup crew).  We bought an inexpensive $80 set of basic stainless steel cookware when we first arrived here.  After much thought, I decided to only add a large EcoGreen-Non-Stick Fry Pan and a small wok to our cookware.  They were lightweight, inexpensive, and ALL WE NEED!  It's a great contrast to the kitchen cookware we had back in Oregon - A quality stainless steel or cast iron pot or pan of every size, weight, and function.  Not anymore.  Less is more!!!
8 - COFFEE GRINDER, PORCELAIN MELITA FILTERS, BREVILLE ELECTRIC WATER POT - What luxury to be able to heat water instantly for my tea.  What delicious fresh coffee we can make now with our coffee bean grinder.  I love one-cup at a time coffee!  Oh, and if I find myself not timing it right for hot water when washing dishes, I can heat up the Breville quickly and voila!! No greasy dishes!!!  Yes, it's the little things.......
9 - PHOTOS, FRAMES, MATS - For me, this is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things I was missing - my special family photos.  Being a photographer (it's my  passion), I absolutely adore having beautifully framed photography around our home.  So, now I will, once again!  Back home, I did all my own printing, matting, and framing, and our walls displayed like a photography exhibit.  Also, I had lots of beautifully framed family portraits gracing our shelves and walls.  It will be on a much smaller scale here, but soon our apartment will feel more like home because I brought back a small box of memorable pictures.  I also went to Michael's Art Store and chose some large colorful mats and frames that packed nicely.  Fun, fun, fun! Yes, there are amazing framing shops here that are unbelievably affordable for anyone who wants their art or photos framed.  I've used them and will continue to do so.  It's just that I personally enjoy the pleasure of doing it myself - taking the art of photography from beginning to end.
10 - COCONUT OIL - This was one luxury food item I was hauling here, no matter how much they weighed!  To buy Organic, Unrefined, Cold Pressed, Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil in Cuenca is very very expensive, when you can even find it.  Yes, they sell it here, but I haven't seen any label that addresses all of these things in the processing.  Costco had an amazing deal on 54 fl. oz PURE coconut oil for $15 each.  We packed and brought quite a few of those back.  Bo and I cook with it, put it in our tea or coffee, and I do oil pulling (google it!!) in the mornings and also use it as my face and body cream.  If you read about and learn the benefits of daily ingesting coconut oil and oil pulling , you'll see why it was important for me to bring these heavy jars back.  A tiny jar here of coconut oil is $55.  Yikes!!  When I run out of these, I'll go back to ordering my Nutiva Coconut Oil product from iHerb, which is still a lot less per jar and guaranteed PURE.

These are some of the main things that were important to us to bring back from the USA and worth hauling back to Cuenca.

What I decided NOT TO BRING (next trip, maybe!!):

1 - 24" MAC SCREEN - I miss having this large awesome Mac screen as part of my computer setup because it is fabulous when editing my photography.  It also makes a great TV screen for watching movies.  I agonized over this, but it seemed sooooo big and heavy once I pulled it out of storage, I ended up deciding against it.  My 15" laptop screen will have to suffice for now.
2 - TV - Many of our expat friends have purchased and checked in a TV from the states.  Another big decision for us, and here's why we did not go this route:  We do not watch that much TV!  Life here is full, and we find ourselves spending most of our time out and about - just walking - taking long long walks for miles and miles as we explore the city, or spending quality time visiting with friends, dining out with friends,  taking some of the many classes offered, hopping buses to see other areas of Cuenca and Ecuador, even just for day trips, helping expats blog friends that newly arrive by showing them around the city, and on and on.  When we have our down time where we stay home (seems rare sometimes), we read, cook, relax, decorate our apartment, and sometimes we'll just download a NETFLIX movie just to unwind.  Our life here may seem boring to some, but for us it has become richer and fuller.  So, NO TV yet.  We are now set up with a VPN Router which enables us to watch USA TV, and when the time is right, we'll find a small TV for the times we do want to watch it.  Our computers will do.
3 - HERBS and SPICES and FOODS - Bo and I cook!  We eat most of our meals in, not out.  We also mostly eat Paleo - meat, vegetables, and fruit and no processed packaged foods.  If we want any specialty spices or herbs that we cannot find here, we order them from iHerb.  We don't crave peanut butter and all those things I read about that expats write about on the forums causing them withdrawal symptoms because they can't find it here.  Our eating is healthy, simple, and we shop at the open market(s) near us.  Yes, we're alive, we don't have food poisoning, and we love having access to everything we need for our cooking needs 1/2 block from where we live.
4 - SEWING MACHINE AND SUPPLIES - Again, much thought went into this.  I miss my Pfaff machine and my serger.  I had every color thread and piece of sewing equipment and supplies to sew and create beautiful things.  Well, here they sell everything I will want and need when I decide to set up a sewing station.  It just wasn't worth the weight, space, and hassle to bring what I had.  I can just buy it here, and a simple straight stitch machine will suffice.  That may come later.  Right now, I don't have time to sew!
5 - BO'S TOOLS - Oh, how I miss having Bo's tools here.  He could build me anything I needed or wanted - just from a photo.  He did give it great thought, and since we weren't doing a container or pallet, there wasn't a practical or easy way to haul his heavy tools here.  So, we didn't!  Yes, they sell tools here, and they are very expensive for quality.  That mindset that says, "I already own that..." can prevent us from buying what we need here.  Because we still have things in our storage area on our property back home, we do already have that.  But, not here where we need it!  So, we're making do without, or we go and have someone cut us the wood sizes, and Bo is able to put the furniture or shelving together himself.  Our friend continues to lend us his electric drill, and just yesterday, Bo broke down and bought a square.  Woohoo!  How we are still learning to make do.

Well, that's about it for "What we brought back to Cuenca and why!!"  I purchased a corner "desk" work station two days ago - inexpensive and not real wood - but it works.  It's functional, and if and when the time comes to leave here, it will have served its purpose.  If we stay here forever, it will still serve its purpose.  Simple, inexpensive, and functional.  That's my new mindset when I go out to shop and buy.  To have the freedom of less so we can TRAVEL and GO is how we're living now. 

Yes, in two weeks, we've settled back into our tiny Ecuadorian flat in the heart of El Centro, and it's coming along.  We are more comfortable and settled the longer we're here, and continually getting used to that SIMPLIFIED LIFESTYLE.  Do I miss my USA STUFF?  Yes.  But I'm not suffering or miserable.  I'm happy here with less, and it's a process that continues to get easier and easier.  I'm thankful for the trip back home to Oregon and the USA and the carefully thought out decisions we made in what to bring back with us and how to do it.  It was what worked best for us.  Now we're relaxing and enjoying our Cuenca life once again - living here one day at a time!

We love being back - surrounded by mountains, majestic skies, and historic buildings and cobbled walkways.....

Upon our return, I loved visiting and hugging one of our favorite vendors, Anita!  She truly missed us.  I buy all my weekly bouquets from her, and she makes me the most amazing array of colorful flowers for just $2 to $3.  If you don't know Anita, you must!  She's precious..... (photo of me and Anita taken by Jvonna)

One of the things I love most about our city are the beautiful colorful flowers.....

I always have fresh flowers in my apartment because they are so affordable here!!

Ahhhh, and the majestic churches and historic buildings.....

Every corner, every block has the most beautiful historic architecture.....

.....and the colorful cobbled brick streets and sidewalks add to the flavor of this historic town.

Old and weathered walls and rooftops......

Colorful walls, windows and doorways......

Fabulous Iced Creamy Frappuccinos (made with love at Cafe Nuccallacta)......

Working people, city people......

Beautiful colorful childen playing in the streets.....

Parque Calderon - a place to sit and relax and enjoy the city people walking by....

Cuenca, a city full of people that love desserts, ice cream, and lots of sweets......

An artist sketches his work on this historic corner by a shoe repair store.  Grafitti on the walls is a regular thing in this city.

As we walk through our neighborhood streets each day.....

......and we stop to rest along the way......

.......I always smile and say to myself, "What's not to love about Cuenca?????"


Thursday, October 3, 2013

HOW TO BRING STUFF BACK TO CUENCA - WE'RE BACK IN CUENCA, AT LAST, and this is how we brought our STUFF back.........

It all seems so surreal now - being back in the USA for exactly two months, and all we did during that time.  Especially the cross-country motorcycle journey.  By the time we arrived in Florida after a month of riding, we were ready to get off the bike, permanently.  Someone asked me today if we camped along the way.  Yeah, right!  I'm a "Four Seasons" or "Ritz Carlton" kind-a-camper.  Those ritzy days are over - but because of Bo's corporate traveling points, we stayed in some very comfortable and much appreciated Hampton Inns throughout our journey - that is when we weren't staying with friends and family.  Yes, we're both glad we did it!  We're even more thankful for precious days spent with family and friends along the way.  A once-in-a-lifetime dream came true before we're both too broken physically to straddle across a bike for hours or to hop on and off one several times a day.  For now, we still got it going on!!!

Two weeks in Florida with dear family and friends went quickly.  Probably because every day I was shopping - checking off my list - carefully figuring out what to take and what not to take.  We already had FedEx'd five suitcases from Oregon to Florida (they wouldn't fit on the bike!),  and we also knew we could check in up to 10 suitcases on American Airlines if we flew Business Class back to Ecuador.  We really thought this through while we were still back in Cuenca.  Should we ship a pallet or two, or just do the suitcase route?  We both agreed that doing a container or pallet(s) was not a wise decision financially.  We did contact a couple of shippers and knew if we went the pallet route, we'd be out at least $3,500 for just one pallet.  WOW! I could buy A LOT OF STUFF with $3,500 dollars.  No way!  We came here to simplify and have less STUFF, and I had to keep reminding myself that this was our journey in life now.

So, my shopping would be done thoughtfully, as economically as possible, and mostly focused on NEEDS not WANTS.  I say "my shopping" 'cause Bo ain't a shopper.  He's a buyer and a minimalist.  He did tell me before we left that I could get whatever I "needed" to make me more comfortable and happy in our little Cuenca apartment, and I knew I had the option of up to 10 suitcases with AA Business Class - woohoo!!  Again, my list was mostly practical, but I did have a few luxuries on there.  If not for my dear friend, Patty, daily taking me all over Largo and Tampa to fulfill my shopping list (oh, how she loved helping me spend my money), I would have quit way before the list was completed.  When I would get "shopping weary" she would say, "Get what you NEED and you'll be glad you did when you get back to your Cuenca HOME."  She was right!

Know that American Airlines allows each "Business Class" traveler the first three check-ins up to 70 pounds FREE.  The next two would have been $150 each up to only 50 pounds.  That would have meant $600 for both of us if we had gone over the six suitcases for free limit.  WE DIDN'T!  I'm pretty proud of myself for keeping the shopping spree as simple and minimal as possible.  Oh, I could have bought a lot more STUFF, but what I got was just right for us.  Plus, I was being money conscious.  On Monday, 9/30, we hauled those six fat bags that weighed 70 pounds each to the airport, and once again we found God's favor waiting for us.  Our checker, Calvin, never weighed the bags (he probably didn't want to lift them onto the scale), and he was so cheerful, helpful and kind to us.  Six bulging bags were checked all the way to Guayaquil so we never had to deal with those huge and heavy "suitcases from hell" again until we arrived in Ecuador.

Finally, we were seated in Business Class on the way to Miami, then Business Class to Guayaquil.  I never want to fly economy again.  What a wonderfully relaxing and comfortable flight to Guayaquil.  Food and drinks, cozy blankets and pillows, wide cushy seats, plenty of leg room, and more - and all for only $150 more each above the Economy rate.  So, why didn't we book our flight all the way to Cuenca?  I heard that Quito would have never allowed those bags on without charges, if at all.  When we got to Guayaquil that evening, all our luggage was waiting for us.  We stayed at the Hotel Jeshua who had a driver waiting for us at the airport.  His $20 fee was well worth it.  Remember, we also had 4 carry-ons - two large back packs each, and two carry-on suitcases (and those were abundantly packed!).  After a fairly restful evening, OperAzuayTur Van Service picked us up on time Tuesday morning at 9:30 AM, and by 1:00 PM we arrived outside our apartment in El Centro with ALL our STUFF.  Ahhhhh, it was so good to be HOME.  We paid our driver $90, and he unloaded our heavy bags into the hallway.

I know I always mention God's favor in my life - but that's because He's always taking care of us.  When we were in the van, turning the corner a block from our apartment, I suddenly saw two of our dear ex-pat friends walking near the market. I yelled out their names, ".......we're back!!!"  They smiled and waved and walked that block to our apartment to greet and hug us - and then to help us carry those crazy heavy bags up four flights of stairs.  Now, those are true friends.  Who does that?  We thought we were going to have to take the rest of the afternoon pulling each bag one step at a time (Bo has a fragile back) - but our dear friends insisted (really, I'm not making this up) on helping us.  Thank you, thank you!  We couldn't have done this two month journey without all the help and favor we encountered along the way.  Then, our flight back to Ecuador was smooth sailing and still the best was yet to come.  Walking into our warm and colorful apartment!!  It was definitely HOME!  After living on the road for two months like gypsies out of our suitcases or bike bags, we were glad to be back in Cuenca ready to settle into our nest.

So, what did we bring back?  What did I so carefully select to shove into those six huge bulging "free" bags and four solidly packed carry-ons?  Why did I decide on certain things and not others? 

Stay turned for a posting on "What We Brought Back to Cuenca - AND WHY!!! 

 BEAUTIFUL CUENCA - We're so happy to be back and to call this home (for now!) 

One thing I missed most about being home was our daily lifestyle of exercise.  We walk miles and miles here in Cuenca, and we also climb the stairs along the river for our cardio.  Oh, and Bo takes YOGA - "seriamente"!!!  How did we eat while back in the states? Like a condemned man!  We both put on unhealthy pounds eating the USA way.  Too many hamburgers and fries AND too much cheesecake (how we love the CHEESECAKE FACTORY).  Ahhhh, to go to the market produce shopping first thing when we returned was one of the highlights of being back for both of us.  I'm thankful we didn't have to bring in the heavy Vitamix and Omega Juicer this trip, and it was here waiting for us to get back into our HEALTH.

Every morning I make a different juice - sometimes it's green, sometimes it's red.  This one is a carrot-beet-ginger combo.  A toast to being back and to our Cuenca HEALTH!  Yes, it's good to be Home!!!!