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Expat Advice: Dream vs. Reality of Expat Life in Cuenca, Ecuador

Submitted by richalich

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What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Cuenca

Describe how you "dreamed" expat life would be before you moved overseas. Please provide as much detail as possible.

I was focused on things like how life would be less complex, such as how food would be locally grown and available without traveling 2,000 miles. I anticipated a culture in which family and religion were center stage and people were less worrisome, less overwhelmed by the pace of life and still interested in tradition and its role in culture, not as multiculturalists but as active participants, as people actually at that place in their development.

How has your expat experience met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?

There are many good things about living here.

In general, the pace of life is delightful, people are friendly and the climate is agreeable. I relax so much more and after 6 months or so, I could viscerally feel the stress leaving my body. We live a very good life for about 1/3 the cost of what life was costing us in Washington State. The cost of living will depend on how you chose to live. There are no set rules. If you want to live large, you can spend as much as you want. There is a burgeoning middle class. The city is constantly involved in infrastructure improvements. Very impressive. New and refurbished parks, paths, roads. The current mayor and his administration are progressive and have a lot to be proud of with their achievements. Returning Cuencanos dumped almost $750 million into the local economy in 2010 alone, probably more in 2011 as more and more repatriate fleeing the sputtering economies of Spain and the U.S.. There are many ways to be involved. I am taking courses in Italian at the University. There in an active and increasingly organized expat community. It is easy to meet people and the variety of different venues, classes, groups is increasing on a weekly basis.

You are literally a half hour from the town center to Cajas National Park with its extraordinary beauty.

How has your expat experience NOT met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?

There are some differences that have been admittedly challenging for me. I did not totally get that with less complexity also come less complex moral and ethical codes, less gravitas placed on laws and enforcement and therefore the tendency to do what you can get away with. Half -truths and often larger forms of deception can be met with a shrug of the shoulders. Many expats I have met seemed to be giddy about 'no rules', living in a culture less restricted by laws, rules and regulations. This is relieving to a point, but overall I still prefer a place where rule of law has more gravitas than I have found at present in Ecuador. Of course, this will be found in any developing country and the Govt. is doing a decent job of feeling its way through this. It is all new for everyone and takes time and patience to implement. It is how nations develop, generally, going from less to more complex. I have also noted that with less complexity comes less complex thinking. The broader implications of one's actions are often not seen or adequately thought out. Impulse tends to be followed.. It can often appear like 'everyone for him/her self', which in circumspect is appropriate in a culture that is still centered on the self or the clan. This is just where Ecuador is in the overall gestalt of nations. This is especially seen in driving, where it is a free-for-all and only a very small (but growing) percentage of people know what the laws are. When I hit the road, I have come to expect absolutely anything and have found the best method is to slow down, hang back and let people do what they will. There is little fear of penalty or enforcement, as up until recently a few dollars would take care of anything and $50 got you a driver's license. I had to laugh last week when I saw an elder gent in his old truck blowing his horn persistently demanding that a police cruiser get out of his way! Lastly, I am used to cultural diversity and although the culture may seem exotic at first, it is not extremely diverse. Cuenca, prior to the recent arrival of international expats, had not been much of a melting pot. It was even difficult to access by roads until the 1970's. For many, this is not an issue, but having lived in and in the shadow of NYC for many years, I miss it.

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Comments about this Report

guest
Jun 18, 2012 11:33

Your comments on how life in Ecuador has not met your expectations provides a very thoughtful analysis of traits commonly found throughout Latin America. I live in Mexico, and the comments you make generally here as well. Some expats put a very negative spin on these issues, but I found your take very fair. On the flip side of the coin, Mexicans typically consider Americans and Canadians lacking in spontaneity because we do tend to spend more time considering repercussions rather than just acting on our feelings. Not always, of course, but in general.

guest
Jun 18, 2012 17:24

I lived in Cuenca recently, and agree with most of what you wrote. One does have a tendency upon an initial visit, to "..be giddy about 'no rules', living in a culture less restricted by laws" I experienced those same feelings, but as time went by and there were more petty thefts going on, I too did long for the rule of law that does not seem to exist in Cuenca at present. One must always be vigilant of ones surroundings, not flashing jewelry of any kind, not being out late at night alone, but not so as to be paranoid. That would ruin your experience in this beautiful town with its beautiful people. My experience in Cuenca was too short, and it took me almost a month after arriving back in the States, to get over the malaise that set in. Once that was over with, I think I appreciated my Country more than I did before I left. I didn't think that would happen. There were so many locals and expats I met, that were so good to me....I do miss them very much. I made friends with people from all over the world, and those memories will last me my lifetime.

guest
Jul 2, 2012 12:30

You forgot to mention the petty theft that happens in Cuenca. In the many months I was there, at least 6 friends of mine were robbed, including myself. Some were robbed at knifepoint, some not. One should not have any jewelry showing or as certain as God made little gree apples, you will be a victim. Also, Gringos are getting a bad rap for overpaying. In my opinion. it is not so much the Gringos fault, as it is the locals that overcharge. The markets are good examples of that. An exception was someone I knew that was paying about twice the monthly rental for a tiny apartment in El Centro. His TV rarely worked and his WiFi only marginally. His landlady completely ignorned the problems. Now that is plain stupid on his part. I am not mentioning the above to be mean or to diss the people or the city, but am just telling you like it was while I was there. Overall, I truly loved my time there: the beauty of the city and surronding areas, the laid back nature of everyday living, the low cost of living, the variety of fresh fruits and vegtables, the list goes on and on. I'm even considering coming back and getting my permanent residency, very soon. .

guest
Mar 20, 2013 00:51

Ummmm call me! I used to live in Quito (my family lived there for 3 years). And we vstiied Cuenca. It is soooooooooo charming. My parents have been there a million times and probably would have some fabulous recommendations. It's been a while since I've been back (a long while), but I have great memories of Ecuador. We loved living there as a family. I'm excited to hear more about your upcoming adventures.PS: While in South America, you really need to get down to Argentina and stop in Central America on your way home. My parents now live in Guatemala. They'd show you all around (not even kidding!). I'm excited for you!!!xoxo

guest
Sep 26, 2013 19:35

Yes, lives up to our dreams. Our only disappointment was our landlady, who did not pay assn. fees for four months, un-beknown to us when we first rented, till our hot water was shut off!! Deposited money to her bank, n she never paid the electric. Now the new renter got stuck w/ three months electric. He had his electric shut off. She is a horrible greedy Buddist from Peru. She probably stole the condo from her ex-husband. We moved to a great happy place, here in Cuenca.

kehlw00
Aug 9, 2014 14:31

Your report made a note of an active expat community. Is there any forum or "meetup" group to join in order to reach out/meet expats in Cuenca? We will be visiting there in January and would love to have some conversations with those that are either living in Ecuador or seasonally visiting there.

sporto505
Mar 14, 2015 13:02

I like it. Makes me want to see more. thanks.

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