Friday, October 28, 2011

Busy in Retirement

When we decided to move to Cuenca, one of the main reasons was so Susan and I could both retire full-time, and enjoy just being together with less stress. After three months we have gradually found little things to do, which are adding up to making us a very busy couple.

We started out teaching English to Evelina, Joacquim, and Juan Jose after being in Cuenca for a two weeks to give us something to do a few hours a day. This lasted until school started in September, and recently resumed two evenings a week after the families asked us to resume classes.

Susan was an Air Force Medic, and instructor for thirteen years, and saw a volunteer opportunity to work at a cancer hospital once a week. So now, Susan, along with several other expats volunteer there time once a week to assist nurses at FASEC, which is a cancer ward for under-privileged patients who are from out of town, or are without any family in the area. They make bandages, speak with patients, and help in any way possible to make the lives of the patients better.

Cuenca Flats ( is a property management company which originally was developed to help our landlady and friend Martha lease the other apartments in our building. It has now grown to include nine apartments, a commercial office space, and a country home we are listing soon for $200,000. I thought I would design a little website, and be the gringo go-between to get the word out, but now we have two Ecuadorian clients, and one expat client, and more inquiries for apartments than we have apartments to lease. We are in the process of uploading three new apartments, and beginning the possible renovation of another apartment ourselves. Also, we have made several friends in our building, and are trying to do our best to help newcomers with their transition to living in Cuenca.

Our good friend Trish purchased a cafe called Moca Cafe Bar ( on Gran Colombia earlier this year, and has been a very hands-off owner. She asked Susan and I to help her come up with some ideas to grow the business, and after a few meetings we decided to expand the hours to include mornings beginning November 1st. The last few days Susan, Trish, and I have been developing a new menu, looking for new vendors, purchasing new equipment, and developing a website and Facebook page to promote the cafe. Last night Susan and I waited on customers, and learned the menu, and how to make different things. Beginning next week we will be opening Moca from 8:00am - 12:00pm, Monday - Friday to see if we can entice new customers to give us a try for coffee and breakfast during the week. It is an upscale cafe, complete with Wi Fi, music, and is a nice romantic setting for coffee, dessert, or a nightcap without having to go to El Centro. Last Wednesday was our first Happy Hour (Wednesdays 4:00pm-10:00pm), and we invited our friends and neighbors to join us, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Moca will give us an opportunity to practice our Spanish on a daily basis, so our goal is to be semi-fluent on our one-year anniversary (July 12, 2012) of arriving in Cuenca.

So, we came here to retire, and spend time relaxing, and enjoying our time together. BUT, as you can see, even in retirement, Susan and I still seem to get ourselves involved in plenty of things to keep us busy. Susan keeps saying that at 37 she is too young to retire, but at the wise old age of 52, I believe you are never too young to retire. So, we will enjoy working together for a change, and see if we can expand our network of friends, and our understanding of our new country. Life is good.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mandatory event

Saturday, Nick had a mandatory meeting for Santana called a "Maratón". It was at la Pista Atlética Jefferson Pérez at 8 am, yes at 8 in the morning on a Saturday. Nick caught the bus around 7:15 and our friend Trish came by with her driver Manny to pick us up. It was a great day for this event but none of us knew what to expect.

They had all the children walk out to the field in their respective grades with matching shirts and signs representing their grade. They even had a torch that they used to light a simulated Olympic torch.I was a little shocked at what some of the girls were allowed to wear. This is a sporting event and they were wearing shirts made to come of the shoulder and no they weren't wearing sports bras, at least not all of them. Am I a prude?

I believe this event was to raise money for another school, Escuela Fiscal Ulises Chacón which was also in attendance. In the states we would have never seen an event like this on a saturday. I was so happy to see Nick with kids from his class and they were smiling. It was surprising to see almost all the kids smiling even though it was early on a Saturday morning. There were kids selling cookies, cakes, drinks and hot dogs.

It seemed that most of the kids participated in the event. You should have seen the little 5 year olds running on the track it was adorable. They grouped a lot of the grades together and ran certain distances per group. Nicks grade level ran two laps on a 1/4 mile track. He started strong and then ended slow but he still beat a bunch of the boys. He said it was hard to breath that his throat was dry. The next group had to run on the track and then they went outside of the track and ran around the stadium.

After the event was over, we all crammed into Manuel's car, with me sitting on Steve's lap like we were in high school, but we all made it home safely. Overall, it was a good experience, and it was nice to see so many smiling faces on an early Saturday morning.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pets Cuenca

As I was awoken this morning around 4:45 by the loud sounds of a very small dog, I started to think about the differences in pets here versus in the USA, at least where we last lived in Decatur, Georgia. Our last neighborhood we lived in had any kind of oridinace you could think of, noise, smell, pets and so many more. When we moved there we brought 2 of our 4 dogs Ed and Capri. I knew Capri would be able to handle a smaller hame and yard since we were downsizing and she is a beagle. We couldn't find Ed a new home so we had to take him with us. Ed is a big dog, he is a tree walker coon hound.

Where we lived before Decatur, in middle Georgia, the dogs had lots of yard to enjoy and the neighbors didn't seem to complain about them barking, we even asked a few of them and they said "no problem". Taking them to a city was a little different, and we didn't know that dogs weren't allowed to bark for more 10 minutes, or you could get cited. Unfortunately, we moved to squirel haven. Every where you'd look there were squirels and for a hound and a beagle, well lets just say it was hard to control them. After a few months I learned some new commands that helped get them back to the house when they wouldn't stop the barking.

Now we are here in Cuenca and we left Ed and Capri back in the states with family. Ed is with my brother Allen and Dad. Capri is with our daughters in an apartment. We miss them very much, but there are benefits to not having pets anymore. We can go out and not worry about being there to take care of them. Feeling guilty when we are out past their dinner time.

Before moving to Cuenca we had read on some blogs and Yahoo groups about dogs that were being poisoned. That was so sad. Maybe it's because they don't have a system in place to deal with noisy dogs. No animal control and they can't talk to each other here either.

When we first arrived here in Cuenca I saw dogs roaming around the streets without owners and it wasn't like in the US where they just run out in the street with the possiblity of getting hit. No these dogs in Cuenca know how to cross the streets. They will start at one side and stop in the middle where the island is and then look to make sure it is safe to continue crossing the street. It is great. Our landlady told me that she will let her dog out of the yard and remind it to look both ways and be safe and then dog comes home. You can walk down the side walks and dogs will walk right past you, they don't care about what you're doing or what you have in your bags they are just going some where with a purpose it seems.

Back to the little dog this morning. I wanted to open the window and yell out to tell it to shut it up, but I am pretty sure it speaks spanish LOL, and I may have upset it more and it could have barked even longer. I thought about going to talk to the owners later in the morning and then I remembered what my friend said that it's not worth it because then they owners may not be responsive to you telling them how to take care of their dog and then they will know where you live and may treat you worse. I just want to be neighborly and tell them to shut their dogs up. Hopefully nonone is thinking of poisoning them.

In the states you could call animal control, but here the animals are in control. Still it seems a dogs life here is much more laid back than in the states, and just maybe the dogs are smarter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Three Months in Cuenca

We have been in Cuenca just over three months now, and we are starting to feel more like residents than tourists. Going to Coral, Supermaxi, and the bakery have become routine, and even crossing busy streets have become less of an adventure. Last week Susan, Nick, and I got our Censo's, because our 12-IX visa was completed several weeks ago in Quito. Our Pensioner Visa application was submitted by our lawyer, and we anticipate getting our resident Censo, and Cedula before Christmas.

I developed a Cuenca budget before we left Atlanta based on the information I had gathered from blogs, forums, and websites, and after three months there have been some changes. Below is our budget based on our first three months in Cuenca.

Rent: $700 - We have a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment, very comfortably furnished with everything we need, and great views out the front and rear of the apartment. Our rent includes electric, water, cable, high-speed internet, and condo fee. The apartment is 1,600 square feet, open floor plan, laundry room with a full size washer and dryer, large kitchen, and real wood floors. We could of found an apartment for less money, but we love the location, our landlord, building manager, furnishings, and have made friends with the other people in the building. We may never move again!

Food: $300 - We shop for fruits and vegetables once a week ($10) at the large outdoor market (Fiere Libre) which is a twenty minute walk from our apartment, and visit Supermaxi, or Coral for the rest of our food, and household items. We are a vegetarian household, meaning we do not buy meat, fish, or poultry, so this helps keep our food costs down.

Household: $40 - Cleaning products, hygiene products, and miscellaneous stuff for the apartment.

Transportation: $25 - Each month we put $5 each on our two bus passes, and average around $15 for taxis. We generally walk to El Centro, Supermaxi, and Feire Libre, and they all within a 20 minute walk from our apartment. After dark we take taxis exclusively, and if we have too much to carry we take a taxi home after shopping.

Cell Phones: $12 - Two prepaid Claro phones ($6 each), and we have yet to use all our minutes. We really love this, because in Atlanta we had 4 cell phones (2 Droids), and spent $160 a month!

Entertainment: $75 - This includes eating out (usually ice cream), DVDs ($1.50 each), and shopping trips to Artesia (ceramic shop), and the Flower Market.

Gas: $6.75 - Two gas cylinders a month for hot water (we all love hot showers!), and one cylinder for cooking and the clothes dryer.

Medical: $22 - Prescription drugs for Susan and myself without using any health insurance benefits. We have medical insurance (retired military), but we have no need to use it here in Ecuador.

Private School (Nick): $231 - Nick is in the 9th grade at Santana ( an IB certified private Spanish speaking school for grades 1-13 (K-12 in USA). Tuition is $200 a month, and bus transportation to and from school is $31 a month.

Spanish Tutor (Nick): $144 - A tutor comes to our apartment Monday-Thursday after school for 1.5 hours each day, and charges us $6 an hour. Attending a school which is taught is Spanish is tough, and having a tutor is a necessity for the first year to make sure he fully assimilates.

After School Activities (Nick): $55 - Futbol (soccer) is three times a week after school, and they provide lunch between the end of school, and the start of practice.

Total Monthly Expenses: $1,610.75

The first big expense many expats don't have is the expense of a teenager in school, and these expenses account for $430 of our overall budget. We haven't made an effort to keep our costs down, so we are happy with our budget so far. We are still able to save a considerable amount of our income each month, and are looking forward to venturing out of Cuenca to explore more of the surrounding area. When I look back on the budget I developed before we arrived, the only expenses I didn't expect was the cost of Nick's school, and activities. Our apartment is more than I budgeted, but it is worth every penny we pay each month. We are very happy in Cuenca, and we wouldn't do anything different so far. Life is good.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A little of this and little of that...

Life has been going by very fast these last few weeks.

I volunteered for FASEC (the Foundation for the Service of the Illness of Cancer) on 21 Sept. It was nice . Myself and another expat named Ed were the first expats to volunteer. We had a great translator, Josh. He is an 18 year old expat who is bilingual. We got to spend time with a few patients before we were done. The coordinator Keith can be contacted at . He has conducted training for expats to volunteer at FASEC and offers us 2 hour shifts.

On 28 Sept we went to the Ninth grade parent meeting at Santana, I was very worried about being able to understand the speakers. Instantly we were approached by a few parents that were bilingual. I was so relieved. They introduced themselves and let us know that they were here for us if we needed help to understand the speakers. After the meeting was finsihed we had even more parents introduce themselves. We were so happy. In the states you can go to these things and never meet anyone.

Santana School
We went home after the school meeting to meet up with our new friends Barry, Maxine, and Eva, Brian and Coriana. We decided to go on a day trip to Gualaceo to Ecuagenera, the orchid farm.

We took the local bus for 25 cents to the bus depot and there caught a nice bus with comfy seats to Gualaceo. We paid 10 cents at the depot and 60 cents per person on the bus. The ride was about a 45 minute ride, and the bus dropped us off right in front of the orchid farm. The tour fee was $3 per person, which include a tour guide. There were so many beautiful orchids is was great. The tour guide only spoke Spanish, but our friend Eva translated for us. He showed us the different stages the orchids go through. For the first year to two years the grow inside a bottle where they are sealed off from everything, in the next stage they are taken out of the bottles and planted in big trays, after this they are able to start to grow bigger and mature. It was amazing!

1st Stage

2nd Stage

Tour Guide

Eva and Coriana
On Saturday, 1 Oct, I went to The Color Purple Event with Trish and Eva and meet some new friends Denise and Kaitlin. Denise is actually the mother of Josh the translator from FASEC and Kaitlin is his 22 year old sister. Kaitlin is a very talented young lady. She is finishing her college degree online, while giving singing lessons and providing bible school classes to teens 13-18.

This was the first Color Purple Event to raise money for SOLCA's pediatric unit. SOLCA is a cancer hospital her in Cuenca. We had tomato soup, bread and salad. They gave away some door prizes while they had speakers tell us about SOLCA.

On Sunday, 2 Oct, Eva and I went to Kookaburra for an essential oil presentation it was nice. They also showed us Raindrop therapy which looked so relaxing we meet a local lady that provides this therapy here in Cuenca.

On Monday, 3 Oct, I went with Trish to look at some homes in case she has to move from her penthouse due to the her pet situation.

That's all for now...