Enjoying a Culture-Rich Retirement in Cuenca, Ecuador

Name: Ellen Malloy
Ages: 54
From: Chicago, Illinois
Living in: Cuenca, Ecuador

Ellen Malloy’s tenure as a publicist for an opera company in Chicago placed her at the heart of cultural experiences that had her mingling with artists like Luciano Pavarotti or going to the Steppenwolf Theater. “My work was my social life,” she says. “Chicago is known for its ballet, opera, museums, and theaters. I came from institutional art, very professional, working with some of the finest artists around the world.”

When Ellen came to Ecuador, she wasn’t expecting to find anything like the skill and quality of her artistic experiences in Chicago. “I didn’t move here to enjoy the arts, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the quality and abundance of culture in Cuenca.”

As Ellen notes, “In Chicago, just to see one opera performance costs around $125. Here in Cuenca, I love that concerts are usually free. They want to make the arts available to anyone, not just those who can afford it.” She especially enjoys the variety of cultural experiences available in Cuenca.

“You have the same types of entertainment you have in a larger city, and just as good.”

Ellen came to Cuenca in August 2017, after traveling for two years looking at different places to live. She wanted a place that was not homogenized, a city that still maintained its native and historical culture, and preferably one untouched by North American influences. Cuenca fit that bill, a place where you could still engage in local traditions and explore the Spanish influence, and which didn’t have a Starbucks on every corner. It also helps that the city has cheap public transportation (a one-hour bus ride costs around $1.50) and that a grocery bag of fresh fruits and vegetables from a local market costs between $5 and $10.

Ellen rents an apartment across from the Yunacuay river for $550 a month and can walk to the Super-maxi, a U.S.-style supermarket, or the very affordable indigenous market, Feria Libre. Her building is quiet, with friendly 24/7 doormen. “It was important, being a single woman, to feel safe and be able to create my own community of support. The expats in Cuenca are fun and interesting. People here will look after you and show you the way.”

Cuenca checked lots of items on her list. “I put my life first here,” adds Ellen. “In the States, I couldn’t attain that. Now I indulge myself in everything. I have gone to the ballet. I have watched flamenco dancers. I am learning to paint at Vino and Van Gogh and idiomART studios.”

She regularly attends the free concerts put on by the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, which often hosts prominent Latin American musicians. Its performances appear in local expat blogs, with times and locations of the scheduled concerts. “It was as good as anything I’ve seen in the States,” Malloy comments.

Another indulgence has been exploring Inca traditions. “If we don’t keep native traditions alive, every place will look and be the same, and think of what we would lose. The colorful parades, the Festival of Lights on Santo Domingo Plaza, where more than 7,000 lanterns are lit, all the other holiday traditions… These are important in maintaining their way of life.”

Her talks with indigenous people have helped her understand the need to keep their traditions alive. “I sat with a weaver who makes religious ponchos and he told me why he uses the old-fashioned method of weaving, including wearing a back belt that straps him to his loom. He said, ‘Because this is my life and culture, it’s important to pass this down the generations. It is what my life stands for, it makes me feel fulfilled.’ The whole town buys his ponchos because it’s an important tradition that deserves to live on.”