Friday, December 27, 2013

CHRISTMAS IN ECUADOR - CUENCA Christmas Parade "Pase Del Nino" 2013


This was our second Christmas season in Cuenca, and the "Pase Del Nino" parade, which is always celebrated on December 24th, was just as I remembered it from last year - Joyful, fun, and filled with hours of talented musicians and creatively colorfully costumed people parading along in their floats or by foot and celebrating their Catholic religious belief in honor of the Christ child and His birth.  This huge annual procession is a picture of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem.  It is one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Ecuador, and there were many tourists from all over the world visiting the crowded streets to view this all-day celebration and parade, many enjoying it for the first time.

The parade began around 10 a.m. and the streets were lined with crowds of families, photographers, and many holiday visitors anticipating the procession.  Vendors walking up and down the crowded streets selling their wares, street food, beverages and ice cream.  It was one of the warmest days in Cuenca, and those in costumes were feeling the affects of this exceptionally hot and sunny day.  The skies couldn't have been more gorgeous, and the day couldn't have been more perfect weather-wise (for this photographer, that is).  Vendors selling umbrellas had a great day of sales from those who wanted protection from the bright burning sun rays.  Of course, I couldn't be happier with our weather here after living in rainy cloudy Eugene, Oregon for 40 years.  For me, bring on the rays.  I'm making up for all those years of cloudy skies.

Once again, I hope my photography will take you to this fabulous and fun day, and if you haven't been to Cuenca for Christmas, you must!  It's a holiday that is celebrated here with religious gusto and a true humility and reverence.  Yet, the music, dancing, singing, and colorful array of marching people and floats leaves one feeling happy and smiling all the day long.

Pictures Tell The Story!
It was a beautiful "blue sky" warm and sunny Christmas Eve day.....
.....and the streets were lined with crowds anticipating the celebration of Pase Del Nino.
Some were excited, some a bit bored!
Finally, the parade was here!
Umbrellas and "helado" kept the crowds cool and satisfied.

The floats were spectacular and bursting with color and adorned in flowers.......
......and an array of fruits and candies.
Talented musicans blared their instruments.....
....and beautiful dancers whirled through the streets.
Every group of dancers were adorned in beautiful hats and colorful traditional attire.
Their dancing passion caused the crowds to clap and chant, and photographers clicked away.
Street vendors pushed through the crowds with their wares.  Umbrella hats.....
......plastic blowup toys (gotta love the Nike shirt!!!).....
....and sugary cotton candy were popular with the crowds.
Even the dogs were overloaded with colorful bling and gadgets.
Families marching with their babies protected them from the hot Cuenca sun rays.
Colorful painted faces......
....and colorful religious banners made their way through the crowd-lined streets of Simon Bolivar.
So many beautiful people participated, from the aged....
....to the youthful.....

......to the beautiful babes!

Yes, photographing the children was the highlight of my Parade-day!
I LOVE Christmas in Cuenca!

Feliz Navidad!  Hope your Christmas was sunny, warm, and colorful too!

Friday, December 13, 2013


My SPECIAL friends just bought a condo in Cuenca.  Time for them to decorate!  So it was my decorating passion to accept my girlfriend's invitation to accompany her on her first trip to Artesa Warehouse to find their dinnerware.  I have not been there since my first Artesa shopping spree back in April when I bought dinnerware pieces for our unfurnished apartment.  I still remember that Friday morning, poking and picking through all the beautiful artistic colorful "segundos" - knowing I was getting a 50% to 60% discount.

Have you been there yet?  If you haven't, you should!  Just for the experience!  The warehouse is opened every Friday morning at 8 a.m.  Sometimes people (mostly ex-pats) will be lined up early and waiting for the doors to open.  We arrived at around 9:15 am and there were about 15 other people already hunkered over the piles of wares picking through the vast assortment of dinnerware, cups, saucers, vases, teapots, mugs, salt and pepper shakers, large artistic platters, artistically painted tiles, and so much more.  

So, what makes this ceramic ware so special?  For me, it is absolutely one-of-a-kind beautiful ART.  As you know, I LOVE ART.  When I was furnishing my current apartment, I didn't want ordinary dinnerware.  I've always had bright colorful (remember, I'm not AFRAID of color) dishes and table settings.  I also have the motto, "ALL BEAUTIFUL THINGS GO TOGETHER."  So, this has set me free to NOT MATCH but to MIX AND MATCH.  I remember how much fun I had that morning picking various dinner plates that were completely different colors and patterns, as well as salad plates, bowls, mugs, and vases.  Every time we have friends over for dinner, I love placing a different non-matching setting for each special guest, and because all of it is beautiful, it goes together!  For me, matching is bondage!  Hey, it doesn't make it wrong for you, it just makes not matching it right for me!! 

My understanding is that this ceramic business was started in the 70's by two famous Cuencano artists - Eduardo Vega and Raymondu Crespo.  Apparently their sons took over the family business, and Vega's son started his studio in this area of Ecuador.  Thus, the famous name VEGA on these beautifully designed pieces.  You will see the VEGA dinnerware at some of the finer local restaurants in Cuenca such as Tiesto's, Nectar, and others.  The first time I saw this beautiful art was at Tiesto's, and I knew I had to have some for ME!  And, so I do!!

I'm a bargain shopper!  I love living frugally, and the hunt, the find, and the savings is how I enjoy decorating. So, having an artistic ceramic "segundos" warehouse right in Cuenca is a shopping gold-mine for me.  Back in the 70's, I took some community college pottery classes, so I have a real appreciation for this art medium.  I shudder at melmac and plastic dinnerware.  UGH!  I love breakable!!  Then you have to shop again and replace it - yea!!!  REMEMBER:  Though this is a seconds warehouse with amazing 50-60% discount flawed imperfect or chipped wares, you cannot see on some items that there is a chip or flaw.  Also, I read that you can cover up some of the chips with fingernail polish of that color.  Hey, whatever works to have this amazing art in my home.  
The business began about 40 years ago, started by two famous Cuenca artists, Raymundo Crespo and Eduardo Vega.
Their sons carried on the legacy, with Raymundo's son starting a studio in Loja and Eduardo's son starting one in Turi, just outside of and above Cuenca. They recently sold Artesa to the Eljuri family.
- See more at: http://www.captivatingcuenca.com/artesa-ceramics-cuenca.html#sthash.XgnZutjI.dpuf

The business began about 40 years ago, started by two famous Cuenca artists, Raymundo Crespo and Eduardo Vega.
Their sons carried on the legacy, with Raymundo's son starting a studio in Loja and Eduardo's son starting one in Turi, just outside of and above Cuenca. They recently sold Artesa to the Eljuri family.
- See more at: http://www.captivatingcuenca.com/artesa-ceramics-cuenca.html#sthash.XgnZutjI.dpuf

Today's Treasures from Artesa Warehouse (except the teapot - I broke the lid and needed a new one).  CAN YOU SEE THE FLAWS????  Not really!!


TOTAL:  $18.55  En serio (seriously) !!!!

Tiny flowerpot plates:  63 and 80 cents each

Flour pots: 62 cents each (I bought 4, they charged me for one)

Oil Jar: 3.10

Sugar bowl: 2.27

Creamer: 2.21

Large plates:  2.75 each

Vase:  Another no charge item!

I can't give you an accurate accounting, since they didn't charge me for certain items (God's Favor AGAIN).  Being the honest person that I am, I was unable to point it out.  Why?  Well, the process is a bit backwards, go figure!

1 - You pick your treasures in the warehouse then take them to the front packing table (be sure to ask for a box or tray so that you don't have to hand-lug dishes around as you pick through them.  I saw people with arm-loads of ceramics, carrying them while they still were perusing the piles - and one woman almost knocked over an entire area of ceramics with her backpack when she was turning around - yikes! How in the world.....?   I had a large tray that the woman at the packing table gave me, put it in a safe corner outside the narrow back seconds area with a paper on the tray that I wrote on saying, "Linda's stuff - please do not touch!"  Some (I said SOME) ex-pats are very GRABBY.  Every time I found a treasure, I walked it over to my tray.  Pretty clever, hey???

2 - The packing person will hand-write every item you are purchasing with a tiny pencil on a torn piece of paper (so antiquated).  After you are done selecting your treasures, you go to the packing area.  I once again received God's favor when the "joven" (young one) helping me smiled and said she wasn't charging me for a tea pot lid I had chosen.  I carefully reviewed the list with her to make sure the items matched what I had chosen (people make honest mistakes).  They matched!!

3- While the packers are carefully (and I mean carefully) packing your treasures, you then go to another area where someone will enter your items into the computer.  That person then hands you back a computer print-out of your items and your original piece of penciled-written paper with your itemized treasures.  At this point, you still have no idea how much anything costs.

4 - You then go out the door and across the walkway into the "store" - where table displays of absolutely amazing artistic colorful dinnerware sets, and walls displaying breathtaking ceramic VEGA art are crying out, "BUY ME."  There is a woman at a computer who takes your print-out and penciled paper, asks you for your passport or cedula, and then proceeds to ask for your address and phone number.  She then begins to enter each item (AGAIN!!! - Wouldn't you think that the person who ALREADY entered your items in the warehouse connected to the store computer and she had that information in front of her?  NOT!!).  She now gives you your total (by now you have no idea what you chose and what's on the list).  So, make sure you are SURE about what you chose, 'cause it's already packed!  If you don't like the total, too bad.  Yeah, they can unpack everything and take out what you decided you don't want because you didn't like the total or didn't have enough money.  Come prepared, and keep it simple.  My friend had picked some items in the front of the back warehouse area, and it boosted her seconds amount from $75 to $130.  She was in a bit of shock, but being the gracious woman she is, she accepted the total and PAID IT!  The items in the front of the warehouse by the packing tables are the ORIGINAL prices with a 20% discount.  Be sure you know what you are purchasing and doing there!! 

5 - After you pay the "Store" cashier (CASH ONLY), you go back to the warehouse across the walkway and pick up your perfectly packed box or bag of treasures.  

When I arrived home, I was able to unpack and compare the penciled paper with the computerized paper to my chosen items.  I saw that the penciled paper had 14 items on it.  The computerized paper had 10 items on it.  So, I took the time to compare and figure out that I was not charged for the teapot lid (I already knew that from the packing girl who winked at me), and also for three of the flowerpots and a vase.  So, my total of $18.55 was a steal, truly.
I don't like the fact that I wasn't able to point this out, but when you go there you will see that the process is not amenable to pointing out errors.  They herd you along, and you pay what they figure for you.  I'm not interested in changing their process and making it better.  This is Ecuador, and they have their antiquated way that works for them.  I am happy with my items, what they decided to charge me, and my new artistic additions to my already beautiful apartment.  Again, if you haven't visited VEGA Warehouse and you love beautiful things, you must go!!!

PS - I am an "Earthy Color" woman.  The fish dish is going to be a beautiful gift for a special Cuencana friend who is having a birthday soon!!! Artesa Ceramics make great gifts!!!


The business began about 40 years ago, started by two famous Cuenca artists, Raymundo Crespo and Eduardo Vega. - See more at: http://www.captivatingcuenca.com/artesa-ceramics-cuenca.html#sthash.XgnZutjI.dpuf


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

COST OF LIVING IN ECUADOR - Our "cost of living" in Cuenca - ONE Year Later!!!

I've had a few people ask me to post an update of our yearly living expenses.  Well, Bo continues to do a daily log of every penny we spend, and the only months we missed were when we were back in the USofA on our two month "glory" trip!  I wish we had kept a log of those expenses, so I could really appreciate even more our affordable cost of living here in beautiful Cuenca.

There are many expenses we've had to incur due to the fact our current apartment #5 was unfurnished - and I mean unfurnished.  We had no closets in any of the bedrooms, no cabinets or storage in the kitchen (a typical Ecuadorian-style kitchen), and no storage in the teeny-tiny bathroom.  The wrap-around windows had no curtain rods or curtains, and there was absolutely NO FURNITURE in this little flat.  We came to Cuenca with 4 suitcases and 4 carry-ons, so moving into this #5 apartment was another easy "roll the suitcases down the streets of El Centro."

Our greatest expense since moving here in April has been on furnishings and home decor, but that expense had finally decreased to almost nothing as of last week.  Our place is now up to our standard of comfort, and we are enjoying the blessings of what we turned this unfurnished boring "white" apartment into.  If you don't have a vision, which I did, then you will never be able to take a $280 a month diamond in the rough and transform it frugally and with passion and expectation.  You will end up paying an exorbitant monthly rate just to have someone elses furnishings and decor.  Of course, you'll have to know that you plan on being here awhile, or doing the "furnish" thing will be a waste of money and time. Personally, we're glad we did now that we look at the after and remember the before.

Okay, enough of my pontificating.  You wanted an update of our yearly budget, so I will give you a monthly average and you can extrapolate that to one year.

Longoods' Monthly Budget for Two:

Produce: $52  - We buy fresh delicious produce daily at the 10 de Augusto Mercado.
Meat:$ 73 - We LOVE meat, and we try to eat Paleo, mostly.
Groceries: $78 - This includes all staples for cooking our meals.
TOTAL MONTHLY FOOD EXPENSE: $203 - We used to spend well over $700 a month for our monthly groceries in Oregon)

Household: $30 - paper products, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc - I've become a true minimalist here, so I don't keep a lot of extra products on hand.  When I run out, I walk out my door and everything I need is within a block or two.

Rent: $280 - Oh, how we love our low monthly rental cost.  We've been told we are paying too much by Ecuadorians, but we are thankful for this apartment, its location, and for us the rate works perfectly.                            
Electric: $10 - This is an average.  Sometimes it's $1 less, sometimes $1 to $2 more.
Propane: $3  - We have two tanks, so we never run out.  Each tank is $2.50  plus a 50 cent tip for the one who hauls it up our 4 flights of stairs.       
Internet: $28 - Yes, it's High-Speed and works fabulously.
Phone: $50 - This includes internet for our iPhones - Claro is our provider choice and works fabulously.
Dining/Entertainment: $250 - We find ourselves eating out more and we also include any travel in this category.
Medical: $100 - Though we don't spend anywhere near this amount monthly, we allow for it since we are self-insured and do not plan to get insurance for now.       

Transportation: $50 - We don't spend anywhere near this amount since we rarely take a cab, mostly walk or ride the city buses.  Yet, we plan to travel more out of area and allow extra for long-distance buses or van costs.
Miscellaneous - gifts, ministry giving, laundry, wine, home decor, clothes, etc.:
$ 240 - another flexible amount we set aside monthly for those extra expenses that come up regularly.


Again, we no longer have major furniture/remodel expenses.
We no longer have professional/Visa fees (Thank God).

This may seem like a very very frugal budget, but neither of us is lacking anything here, and all our needs are being met.  We aren't counting our pennies or consciously trying not to spend when it comes to our daily necessities.  I am not going to list our furniture/decor expenses, because that will vary from person to person according to one's personal budget and desires.  Our furnishing/decor choices were done frugally because we still don't know what our long-term plan will be, and also because we don't need the luxuries others must have.  I would suggest to anyone coming with only their suitcases and who plan to furnish an apartment or home frugally but comfortably to allow $4,000 to $8,000 for everything you might need (and even want).  This all depends on the person's personal style and wallet.  Some may spend more, way more - some may spend less.  This is just a realistic range to give you an idea of what to expect.

Last week, I hit the jackpot when I went to a garage sale three days before the posted "sale" date.  I was the first one there, and I scored big time!  The movers had classy quality STUFF, and I was able to find everything I didn't have, and more. The deals I got would be considered unheard of in Cuenca, because most people don't give away their STUFF here.  Plus, I don't like being in the midst of frantic grabbers.  It has that "Black Friday" style of shopping which I have never experienced, nor will I ever.  I have been to only one garage sale here which was in El Centro, and I HATED IT!  All the grabbys were there GRABBING!  This recent sale was so cool.  I took my time looking around and touching things, enjoyed talking to the sellers, and made offers that received a "Yes" without the greed.  They wanted to sell, I wanted to buy - so it was a win-win situation for both parties.  It was a good time and a good memory for me.

Now, it's time to cool it - the spending, I mean.  I'm having fun doing some at-home projects, enjoying that comfort-of-home feeling again, and I'm ready to kick back and STOP!  I'm thankful for a husband who feeds my passion, never says, "You don't NEED that...." and trusts my frugal spending, my creative taste, and my artistic decorating gift.  He's a one-of-a-kind guy, and he's all mine.  Besides, we have the exact same taste and style, so it makes my choices a piece of cake!

I hope this helps those who asked for our "one year later" Cuenca budget, those who stumble on this post, and those who have no idea what it costs to live in this amazing and affordable city.  Prices have been going up, so they say - but we still find it to be the best cost-of-living place for us personally. I compared our current budget to the one I posted back in February, and we are spending a bit less since we changed from a "furnished" apartment budget to our current "unfurnished" apartment budget.  So, that makes me smile.  Though we have spend a few grand on furnishings and decor, we are finished with that expense, will continue to pay our low monthly rent, and we can sell our STUFF should we decide to move on from Cuenca because its OUR STUFF!!!  Plus, I'M HAPPY!  Like Bo always says, "HAPPY WIFE, HAPPY LIFE."  He's one smart esposo.     

Not only is Cuenca the best cost-of-living place for us today, but we LOVE our Spring-like weather here.  Recently, it got down to -9 degrees in Eugene-Springfield, Oregon.  Our renters sent us pictures of our Oregon home in their recent Winter Wonderland snow fall.

Our Renters' PROOF that it is -9 Degrees at our home in Eugene-Springfield.  CRAZY!!!

A peak at our house through the snow-covered Filbert Orchard.         

The only time the skies are clear and blue is when it snows.  Other than that, it is raining for 8 months, pretty much continually.  A side view of our beautiful Oregon home.

Yes, it's a beautiful site to behold - but I'd rather be in spring-like weather year round.  Sometimes I miss my unique and classy home, but I'm truly enjoying our frugal affordable minimalist lifestyle here in Cuenca one year later!

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Beautiful Spring-Warm Cuenca - Magnificent sunny blue skies and fragrant colorful tropical flowers blooming in December!

 Ahhhh, December 5th one year ago!  I still remember that day.  We arrived in Cuenca via Van from Guayaquil.  We hauled 8 suitcases up the stairs of our temporary condo in the heart of the Historic District.  It was 5:00 pm.  An hour later we were at La Vina Restaurant, one block away, toasting to our "new beginning!"  I cried (yeah, I'm a big cry baby - so?????)   Getting ready to leave the USA (it took 3 long months of planning, purging, and packing) was no small feat - but we did it!

Now, one year later - I reflect back and remember it all!  How on earth did we accomplish what seems now like an impossible task?  Of course, I don't think I could ever do it again, nor do I want to.  Yet, if we have to, we will!!  For now, we're so settled in - incredibly so!  The thought of going back to the USA to live makes me cringe.  This has become home and I love our simplified lifestyle.  It's taken a year to say this - but there, I said it.  THIS IS NOW HOME!

So, what makes it home after one year, you ask?
1 - We have settled into an apartment, at last! - Finally, after 5 moves in less then 5 months (read the blog!) - and it's beautifully, comfortably, inexpensively furnished and bursting with color.  This has made it home.  When we were renting those uncomfortable sparsely furnished temporary "white wall" boring places, my passion to decorate was stifled, and I never felt it was home.  Though we are renting, this is ours - at least everything we've bought and placed inside is ours.  We can move stuff around, splash more colorful paint on the walls (our trusting landlord is okay with that!!) drill holes in the concrete walls (what a mess - thank God for spackle), and add or take away and move things around.  An interior decorator's delight (that would be me!!).  Yes, this makes it home.
2 - Special friendships - When we decided to have a one-year celebration with our truly special friends here, we couldn't believe how everyone we invited wanted to join us and celebrate with us (one couple couldn't stay, but they showed up anyway just to hug us and congratulate us - that's a class act and meant so much to me!!).  The evening was so memorable!  What heart connections, what lovely people - everyone sharing their journey here - some newly arrived, some here only a few months, others we've known from the beginning.  I cried (yeah, yeah - I told you I'm a cry baby!!).  I've learned that we won't always connect with everyone we meet here.  Some acquaintances will be just that - people we've met, shared some time with, but both parties have moved on because we didn't have that heart-connection.  That's okay.  It doesn't make it a bad thing or wrong!  Our motto is, "If it doesn't flow, let it go!"  By flow, I mean, it doesn't take work and so much effort to try and connect.  Some people have the "I" disease.  Have you met them?  They just want to bloviate and rattle on about themselves and their lives and never ask about you.  When you finally are able to get a word in, they are unbelievably ready to talk right over you and never heard what you said.  Oh, how long a simple hour with the "I" people can be - as you begin to shut down and barely can listen to them, hoping they will eventually stop talking and come up for air.  They don't and they won't!  Some people have no joy.  They just like to complain and mumble and grumble.  Or they have a big black cloud that follows them where ever they go.  I don't want to be under or anywhere near that cloud.  And being around joyless people makes me feel so heavyhearted.  Some people are rude and crude.  I'm not a prude, but I don't like listening to potty mouths and the "F" word every other sentence.  It's disrespectful, tasteless, and doesn't endear me to those men or women.    Some people are KNOW-IT-ALLS!  No matter what you say or share, they have all the answers  (the "Ah, no.......that's not true" or "that's not how it is...."  and on and on.  They are not teachable, could care less what you believe or know, and they want to blah blah blah all about what they know.  I shut down completely in these situations, not wanting to share with them now or ever.  There's no way to go in a conversation with know-it-alls. How I love sharing my heart with people who are interesting to learn from and interested in learning from me.   Then there are the people who love to talk negatively about Ecuador and the Ecuadorian people.  "These people......."   "This place......"  Hey, first of all, I'm of Spanish descent, and I take rude criticisms of the Spanish culture personally.  Secondly, I LOVE, absolutely LOVE Ecuador and its beautiful people, some of whom are very dear friends of ours.  We have the same challenges and frustrations adjusting here as everyone else, but we don't trash the Ecuadorians.  I remember an evening with an ex-pat married to an Ecuadorian who continued to trash the Ecuadorians with his wife sitting right next to him.  I finally had to squash his conversation (he didn't care for me much after that).  Never got together with him again!  So, our one-year circle of special friends are people who are loving, tender-hearted, interesting to talk WITH (the conversation flows with mutual interest in each other) and people who are joyful, respectful and thankful in all things. It doesn't mean we don't share our challenges and differences concerning Ecuador and the Ecuadorians, but we do it in truth and love and with grace.  We now continue to look forward to more special friendships as we enter year #2.
3 - Being "Jubilado" - Yes, after one year of being retired, I can honestly say it suits me well.  I think Bo's getting used to not having his corporate profession and being retired also.  I LOVE my freedom.  I LOVE having my days to do as I please.  I LOVE having all the time in the world to pursue the things I want to do that bring me joy and passion.  Sometimes just sitting around in my sweats and doing nothing is all I want to do - AND I CAN!  Yet, we find our days FULL, and we are NEVER bored here or feel like we are in a rut.  When that begins to happen, it will be time to rethink our lives here and make plans to move on.  For now, this is such a fabulous city to be "Jubilado" in.
4 - Speaking Spanish - A big part of feeling at home for me is speaking a language that has escaped me for 40 years.  When I left home at 18, I lost so much of my Spanish language and fluency.  Being raised in New York with a Puerto Rican family, I was fluent and bi-lingual because I heard my parents and relatives speaking Spanish all the time - and as children we spoke Spanish to our relatives who were not bilingual.  It's so easy to lose it if you don't use it.  So, living in a Spanish culture feels like home - hearing and speaking my language again brings me incredible joy.  I want to become 100% fluent again.  It's coming - after one year here of speaking Spanish daily, in spite of my mistakes, my tongue getting twisted, and giving the Ecuadorians a few chuckles (it's that masculine/feminine thing that really messes me up - Oh, and the verb tenses)! I am determined to continue to speak until one day, I master my language again.  There are many Ecuadorians here who know English - rather they understand it, but they don't speak it.  They lost it because they didn't use it after living in the USA for years and finally returning here.  Our landlord lived in the USA for 20 years, but he does not speak English.  His wife is pretty fluent.  She said he never wanted to learn. His wish came true!  Humility and a desire to learn is what it will take to master this beautiful language.  I'm thankful for what I can speak.  It's opened the door to so many beautiful Ecuadorian relationships, and we now have Ecuadorian "family" here.  This has made Cuenca HOME one year later.
5 - Familiarity with the City - No matter where you move to, it takes time to get to know the area and the people.  Bo and I have moved a lot in our 23 years together.  The most difficult part for me during each move has been not having my close friendships and feeling lost in a strange land.  Yet with time, I have always learned the area and made new and long-lasting friendships.  Moving to another country is even more difficult because of the language barrier and the culture shock.  Well, one year later we both feel at home here.  Bo is learning Spanish (finally stepping out and speaking through his mistakes and persevering), we both are familiar with our neighborhood and have special places we like to shop, eat at , and frequent, and we have FRIENDS whom we can visit and who visit us.  So, this has made our personal world here "home."  I recently read some feedback about places to live in Cuenca, and places not to live.  Living near the mercados was listed as a dangerous place to live - "don't live near any mercado."  I laugh!!  Bo and I live 1/2 block from the 10 de Agosto Mercado, and we are continually warned, "Tenga cuidado - es Peligroso!" (Be careful.  It's dangerous!!).  Hey, we got robbed back in Oregon for over $20,000 worth of our possessions in mid-afternoon, the same year we decided to move to Ecuador!  It's dangerous in any city or town all over the world.  Yes, we are cautious, we don't walk around looking like victims, and we don't flaunt anything to attract "un ladron!"  Yet, it could still happen.  We can become victims of crime here too.  So, please, spare me.  We love the familiarity of being near the mercado, having the vendors embrace us and smile and reach out to us when we walk by.  We love the hustle and bustle of our city block and the noise and the vibrancy of activity in the day.  We love the location of our home in this beautiful historic city.  Yes, this apartment #5 has become home!

I could go on and on about what makes Cuenca home, but these are some of the major reasons that one year later we are truly experiencing a life we enjoy here.  It's a big world out there, and there are so many places to travel to and explore.  For now, we are focusing on Ecuador and hope to travel out of Cuenca and explore more of this colorful, humble, and beautiful country.

If you were a part of our one-year celebration, I want to thank you dear and special friends for joining us for the evening and toasting us and sharing your hearts with us and with each other.  We look forward to more special times together!  Through our current special friends, we will meet other like-minded and like-hearted friends and enlarge the friendship circle of support and encouragement, and laughter and inspiration.  For those of you fairly new here who have shared with us some of your struggles and challenges (apartment struggles, visa process nightmares, initial culture shock and the language frustrations, personal loss and heartache since arriving here, etc), know that you too will be celebrating "one year later!"  I hope we can be a part of your celebration and toast to your many victories, and that this beautiful city will finally feel like home to you too.  Thank you for making our life here so special.  It truly is the special people we meet along the way that make any place HOME!

We celebrated our one-year anniversary at Fabiano's (Presidente Cordova 4-84 y Mariano Cueva - Delicious food and caring owners)!  An entire room was reserved for our circle of special friends, and a memorable fun evening was shared by all.

Bo and I took anchovies to Fabiano (who makes the best pizza in Cuenca), and he made us our special "White Pizza" - AND we ate the whole thing!  Yeah, we're both from New York, and we don't do Pineapples!

We enjoyed listening to each of our friends share their story about what brought them to Cuenca and how they met Bo and me.  It was inspiring, encouraging, and a very intimate time together.

TIRAMISU - Fabiano's delicious dessert sweetened the evening even more!

One year later, we continue to enjoy living one block from our beautiful Tomebamba River.  It's been snowing and freezing cold in rainy Eugene, Oregon.  Another reason why I love calling Cuenca HOME!!!  Don't miss those long dreary winters.

Sharon (Shah-rone) - She is my beautiful, precious, adorable little gift here.  I love her with all my heart and she makes living here one of my greatest joys.  Every time Sharon and her mom come to dine and hang out with us, we have very special hours with La Sharon.  To know her is to love her!  The Ecuadorian children are beautiful beyond words - and to have Sharon as part of my life is truly a gift from God. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR - We headed South to the Valley of Longevity....

A view from the dining room at the Hosteria Izhcayluma.  What a magical retreat to experience!

Soon, it will be our ONE YEAR anniversary living in the Historic City of Cuenca.   Being "jubilado" and living in a breathtaking South American country continues to give us the feeling that we're on this perpetual vacation.  So leaving Cuenca for a few days to have a supposedly mini-vacation seemed almost absurd, since life here is already a vacation.  Yes, I know, we still have our "ground-hog-day" daily routine things we do, like shopping, cooking, cleaning, doctor appointments, classes, blah, blah, blah.  Only, it's different now.  Oh, so different!  We have no schedule!  We go to bed when we want and wake up when we want (Oh, how nice it is not to hear an irritating alarm clock go off in the "way too early" morning hours!!).  Our days are FREE until we make a plan!  We shop daily at our open markets, and that is so much more appealing than going into a traditional grocery store (unless we need a specific unavailable market item).  Cleaning our cozy tiny apartment takes little time (love not having the daily upkeep of a huge house and high-maintenance acreage).  Cooking is fun and never a chore - since Bo does most of it because he enjoys it so much.  Eating out is so inexpensive, so if we don't want to cook, we "restaurant" it!!  We're still both pretty healthy, so we only spend time at routine dental and medical checkups here.  Classes - yeah, that would mostly be Bo who is taking Spanish lessons.  I haven't been back to my knitting class since we returned from our USA trip.  I'm realizing that learning to knit is probably not for me!!  I also don't like having to be committed to classes or any scheduled appointment on a regular basis.  Being retired allows both of us to be FREE from a set schedule (which is why I decided to quit teaching English here on a set weekly schedule).

Some of our best of times have been enjoying special people we've connected with in Cuenca this past year, and we continue to meet new and interesting people daily just walking around town, sitting at Parque Calderon, having coffee at Cafe Nucallacta, going to art events, or introductions through our regular acquaintances and special friends.  Not a day goes by that we don't run into someone we know.  We enjoy having free time to stop and chat and catch up without having to be somewhere.  Our days and weeks seem to always be booked with "people time" or daily Cuenca activities in this artistic and happening city.  Lately, we've been freeing up our crazy busy schedule so we can begin to travel more and explore areas outside of Cuenca.  

Vilcabamba had been on our list for awhile as a place to visit, and we finally made the long journey, via private van, with several of our Bible fellowship friends.  This trip had a significant purpose - to get acquainted with a specific Ecuadorian bible fellowship group living there. Now we have an even greater reason to visit Vilcabamba.  This Ecuadorian church family truly embraced us and invited us to come back again SOON!

Yes, we had a fabulous three days away from the city exploring this peaceful and small "earth muffin" community that has the feel of a USA west coast hippie town. It's a place where many ex-pats have decided to settle for the warmer climate and solitude this area of Ecuador seems to offer them. 

A view of the town of Vilcabamba from our "Hosteria"

Ahhhh, the beauty of the southern Andes and it's amazing plants and foliage!

The dining room of Hosteria Izhcayluma where we had amazing "desayuno" - fresh fruit, eggs, wholesome breads, juices, coffee, and granola.  Every morning was a banquet feast!

VILCABAMBA is about 30 miles from Loja, Ecuador.  Year round temperatures are spring-like and range from 65 to 85 degrees.

Our three days and two nights at the Hotel Izhcayluma was a vacation retreat.  We had our own private cabin and the rooms were quiet, comfortable, and artistically appointed. Our bill at this elegant resort came to $84 for our two nights and two meals (breakfast was included in the daily room rate).  In the USA, this would have been over $200 a night. 

The views from our private terrace were breathtaking, to say the least!

The grounds were tropical, magical, and a photographer's delight!

The tropical plants were magnificent in color, type, fragrance, and beauty.

Chess anyone???  What creative grounds to walk around and explore!

The Vilcabamba "Juice Factory" was packed with lounging gringos this hot and sunny morning.

Church at the Vilcabamba square

Parque Central where the locals find time to relax

Vendors are always available to sell their handcrafted wares

While many sport umbrellas back in wintery and rainy Bluegene, Oregon, here umbrellas help protect the locals and gringos from the amazing Ecuador sunshine. 

Ahhhhh, more breathtaking cloud formations amidst the brilliant blue skies

I fell in love with Vilcabamba because it is quiet, quaint, and truly out of the ordinary!

Year-round tropical-type plants adorn the terraces

The Mandango mountain- considered a sacred place

After an exceptionally warm afternoon exploring the town of Vilcabamba, we walked along magical paths surrounded by incredible gardens and vegetation at our hotel retreat.

This soothing waterfall pond was a perfect place to sit and mediate upon the beauty of God's perfect creation, the peacefulness of this magnificent retreat and our three-day escape from the daily hustle-bustle of city life.

As for me, I think Vilcabamba is a wonderful place to visit and explore, but Cuenca is truly my most fabulous city - and it is always good to return home again!