After luxuriating in Banos, we decided to travel south to Cuenca Ecuador to study Spanish and to experience why many Gringos (non-Ecuadorians) have been calling this town “the retirement haven” of Ecuador. Any of you that have watched Househunters International will probably recognize Cuenca. In our minds, it is the exact opposite of Quito. Quito is very historic yet we found it to be crowded, dirty and not very beautiful. Cuenca, on the other hand, is surrounded by beautiful green mountains and it is clean and tranquil.
Cuenca is an older city (the Spanish settled it in 1557) and has about 500,000 residents, yet it feels very small. In 2009, Cuenca was voted the most attractive place to retire and there are now about 4,000 Gringos retired here. The allure is cost of living and moderate climate. They have a really well supported expat community with several weekly meetups where you can meet other Americans, Canadians, and Europeans that have settled here.
On our first night, we learned of a Gringo meetup at restaurant “DiBacco Bar“. Lynn and I went and met about 20 Gringos that have retired here. Since then, we have seen them all over town. We went to a local Gringo hangout (called the Inca Lounge) to watch American football last Sunday and we saw many of the same people we had met at DiBacco Bar.
Cuenca is cost-effective. For example, we went to an Italian bistro and ordered 2 pizzas (about 10 inches each), a salad and 2 very large beers and paid a total of $12. Most people rent apartments for $300 to $500 per month. We are renting an apartment for 3 weeks complete with a flat screen TV, washer and dryer and kitchen for only $43 per night. Many people say they live on $1,200 to $2,000 per month comfortably here.
The climate is pretty much the same all year around because it is situated close to the equator. It averages about 50 degrees as a low and 72 degrees each day as a high. That is a pretty big swing in temperature, so most people wear a light jacket every day.
Since we have been here, it has been hot and sunny in the mornings and cloudy most afternoons. There is almost no humidity due to it’s 7,500 feet altitude. I am told there are 2 seasons, rainy and dry — we are just entering the rainy season now, which is why it is cloudy in the afternoons. For me, I prefer having 4 seasons and I enjoy the hot summer days and crisp winter days we enjoy in Florida.
Lynn and I have taken some Spanish classes in the past (Lynn more than me) so we wanted to expand our Spanish knowledge. We have decided to spend almost 4 weeks in Cuenca and attend daily Spanish classes 4 hours per day. We are now 1.5 weeks into the classes and I have to say we have increased our conversational abilities already.
When you are visiting a country where few people speak English, you really have to adapt and hold conversations in their native tongue. Otherwise you will not be able to hail a taxi, get a hotel room or order meals. I am surprised at how well we have adapted with the little Spanish we know, but it has forced us to do it which has been great.
Some of the phrases that have gotten us by are:
- “hola” (hello)
- “cuanta cuesta” (how much does it cost)
- “la cuenta por favor” (please bring the bill)
- “buenos dia / buenas tarde / buenas noche” (good morning, good afternoon, good evening).
Caves of Chobshi
Last Saturday, we took a tour of the caves of Chobshi. This is about 2 hours east of Cuenca and is very interesting. Dating back to 8050 BC, the early inhabitants of this town were nomads that moved from place to place looking for food and animals to hunt. They lived in caves and made ceramics (plates, vases, etc.). They also make weapons for hunting and protection from invaders (spears, axes, tools, and arrow heads). In Chobshi, the caves are still intact from that time period and they have excavated many ceramics and tools from the site.
To see a slide show of pictures we took in Chobhi click here.
Later (around 1500 AD), the Incas took over this area and you can see the ruins left behind. The ruins were where the Incas lived, worked and held court.
In 1557, the Spanish conquered the Incas and replaced most of the Inca buildings with colonial Spanish buildings, which are now present. They are built with Adobe (bricks made from mud, manure and straw). The indigenous people still build their homes this way. When we were in Chobshi, we saw many people making adobe bricks and living as they have for many generations.
On our way home from Chobshi, we stopped by a family that specializes in hand-made guitars. These guitars are really impressive and have lots of details with great workmanship. I really wanted to purchase a guitar for my dad and my brother, but I knew there was no way we could continue our travels while lugging 2 guitars around. The cost was very reasonable (ranging from $150 to $250 each). Shipping goods from Ecuador is a bit suspect (they may or may not make it to the intended recipient) so I was afraid to purchase and ship them.
We are planning a lot more tours while we are visiting Cuenca so we will share some of those over the new few weeks. After leaving Cuenca, we will visit Machu Picchu, then hang out in the Bahamas for about 3 weeks.