I wish that as soon as I had stepped off the plane in Cuenca, Ecuador, that someone would have handed me a PDF of things I should know immediately. I was discussing this with my friends at lunch when they started espousing their thoughts…
Enjoying a locally-grown coffee on my sunny terrace in Cuenca, Ecuador, with my husband Ken and our little rescue dog, Sally, I’m wondering what my family and friends are up to in England. I’m smiling because the dream of living in South America finally came true, almost 15 years after the seed was planted.
It’s typical of me that I’d end up on the wrong side of security while trying to break out of a museum. I had the perfect place in Cuenca to interview expats. The only problem was getting away from it. While I loved the grassy lawns and wooden boardwalks of the Remigió Crespo museum café, leaving it meant descending to the Tomebamba River walk, heading upriver for a block, and then ascending a lengthy set of steps to the street above. It was a bit of a hike.
My wife, Sharon, had heard about a restaurant in Loja, Ecuador, that was a must-try. This happens from time to time. To be fair, it doesn’t always turn out badly. So off we go in the back of a cab to a less than savory part of town to get a taste of the food in this part of the world. I am a bit wary, but game. I have been on a number of these expeditions before and have, for the most part, not regretted it.
I live like a queen. I live off my social security, on $1,800 a month. That budget includes having a maid and gardener and going out to lunch or dinner once a week. I don’t need A/C or heat. When it’s hot, I open a window. When it’s cool, I shut the window. If there’s an extra cold night, I light up my fireplace and drink a glass of wine while warming my feet. I buy three tanks of propane for $2.50 each to fire up my stove, water heater, and dryer which lasts me around a month. So, I save around $290 a month on electricity alone compared to what I spent back in the U.S.
Since I’ve retired in Cuenca, Ecuador, it takes someone with a cow prod to get me out of bed before 9 a.m. But something that will get me up early is one of Fredy Ordonez’s hikes through the countryside of Ecuador. Today we’re hiking through the hillsides of Huacarrumi to Uzhupud, small villages which promise beautiful views of the valleys and the rivers near the town of Paute.
Black and white Friesian cattle munch placidly on thick grass. They’re scattered, remarkably evenly, across a 40-mile plain rolling to the abrupt black slopes of volcanic peaks. I’m on a bus in Ecuador, and I mention the cows as a nod to my colleagues in the International Living editorial department. Last year, when I returned to the office after a trip to Thailand, someone asked me what the highlight of my trip was.
Peaks recede to the horizon in all directions. Some are topped by clusters of village buildings, but more often the mountaintops are unadorned green angles fading into a bluish haze. Roads are few, and those that there are snake tortuously up and down steep switchbacks.
Cuenca expat and photographer Jane Hiltbrand was captivated by the colorful Art Nouveau style façade, as well as its mysterious man on the balcony, and did more than just wonder. She went inside the China House and started photographing the polychrome brass designs on the ceilings and walls and climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor, where the mystery unraveled.
During the six years I’ve spent living in Ecuador, one of the key trends I’ve noticed is the rise in the number of digital nomads from North America and Europe. Some of these remote workers relocated when their careers migrated online. Others arrived here in retirement and built new incomes in blogging, freelance writing, photography, or one of dozens of other online professions.