Monday, 26 May 2014

May in Cuenca

As May comes to a close, it's time for us to say "good-bye for now" to Cuenca. We've really enjoyed our stay here.

This month we participated in the Azuay Theatre Company's first ever performance. All three of our shows were sold out, including standing room only. It was great fun to be on the stage again. And of course the friends you make while doing a show are friends forever.  Here are a few photos of friends at our little after party:
This is Christine, the director of Ambivalent, co-producer and co-founder of ACT.
Kris & Hugh Loomims
Kris, Laura and Hugh
This is Regina, our first Cuenca contact thanks to friends we met in Thailand.
We went on an doubledecker bus tour of the city and discovered some new places.
Our tour bus followed these giggling girls for a little while.
This is our condo building, Casa San Sabastian, and our friend Rich in the doorway.
This is one of the most expensive houses in El Centro. It overlooks the river.
The museum ... fantastic and FREE!
The view from Turi overlooking our beautiful little city in the mountains. 

Our tour bus.
Lunch is ready!
Another beautiful building on our street. 
We found a band that plays some good ol Rock & Roll and listened to them twice. The lead singer/keyboard player, Brian Gary, also plays solo and we managed to listen to him twice as well. Brian toured and played for Eddie Money for 8 years. How cool is that?! Click here to see his website.
We also found a duo called The Musical Nomads and really enjoyed their music. Click here to see their facebook page.

We've been to yoga class - and when I say we, I mean it. Mike went to yoga ... more than once. More than me actually! Our friend, Kris Loomis, is a wonderful instructor with classes 4 days a week in two different locations.

We discovered Almuerzo! (lunch) You can get it anywhere in the city but there is a little place just around the corner from us called Soup's On Restaurant that we go to all the time. For $2.50 each you get a glass of freshly squeezed juice, popcorn, a bowl of homemade soup of the day, a plate of rice, meat and salad AND dessert. Now that's a deal!

We've both completely warn out our running shoes with all the exercise we've gotten by walking/jogging along the river and working out in the park. We walk to 95% of the places we want to go here. Our rented condo is so central to everything there isn't much need to take the bus or a taxi. (although we have taken both with no problems at all. The bus only costs a quarter!)

This is the park that we work out in 3 days a week, Parque de la Madre.
We took the spiral staircase to the roof of the Cathedral for another panoramic view of Cuenca.


And then we went inside for on more look around this enormous structure in the center of town.


I was honoured to be asked to take engagement photos for a couple we met while doing the play, Mike & Tamara, and on Saturday we had a successful 90 minute photo session in the park. You can find a few more samples of the engagement session on the Imagine Photography facebook page.

Tamara and Mike

Yesterday, we went to the ZOO with our friends Pat and Tim. It starts high up in the mountain side and continues up and up and up. It was more like a day hike with 39 animal exhibits to look at along the way. I really enjoyed it and of course took my camera along.
If I haven't already bored you with so many photos in this post, there are about 60 more of the zoo. Here's the link!   (I've lowered the size of the photos so they will load faster, adjust the little 100 in the bottom right hand corner to 75 for optimum viewing)

Mike, Sarah, Pat & Tim in front of the Macaw's at the Zoo.

Tuesday is our last official day in Cuenca. It's time to pack up and go home. We've been away for 9 months and we miss our girls. We have a new nephew who is now 5 months old and I can't wait to meet him!

Adios Cuenca ... (por ahora)

Monday, 28 April 2014

Cuenca, our first month ...

A portion of the beautiful mosaic tile along the stairs to the river.
Welcome to Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca, a city of approximately 400,000 inhabitants located 8000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains of northern Ecuador. It is a Spanish colonial city and its el centro (downtown) district has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Cuenca (pronounced coo-ENK-ah) boasts beautiful buildings (especially churches), pristine parks, a myriad of great restaurants, a lively arts scene and four rivers (cuatro rios). The Ecuadorian government is a great supporter of the arts and therefore entrance to most of the museums and concerts is free.

Let me back up a few steps. We left Auckland, New Zealand at 11:45 p.m. on the 29th of March and, after airport layovers in Los Angles, Panama City, and Quito, we arrived in Cuenca some 40 hours later. Flying across the international date line allowed us to live Saturday, March 29th twice, making me feel somewhat like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

We rented a condo for April and May only a few blocks from Cuenca's el centro. Our landlords, Tom and Jaudon, picked us up at the airport and helped us get settled nicely into our temporary home, even treating us to a wonderful meal at Roux, one of the many fine restaurants in Cuenca. The city has seen a significant rise in the number of expats from both America and Canada because of the low cost of living, the year-round spring temperatures as well as Cuenca's reputation as being a safe and welcoming city. Not to suggest that there is no crime here (one of our friends had her earrings ripped right out of her ears on a busy street in the middle of the day just 15 minutes before we met her for the first time) but I don't suppose a crime-free city exists anywhere.

I mentioned that Cuenca is 8000 feet above sea level and altitude sickness was our first visitor here. Pounding headaches and gasping for air were the norm for the first several days before we became somewhat acclimatized. Even now, a month later, we are still not used to the thin air though.
Our only trip outside of Cuenca so far has been a trip to Guyaquil, the country's largest city at approximately 3 million people. We accompanied Tom and Jaudon on the drive through the Cajas mountain range and after twisting and turning for 3 hours through the mountain roads we arrived at Guayaquil where it was 8000 feet lower and 15 degrees Celsius hotter. I am sure that the city has many positive features but all we had heard before the trip was about how dangerous a city it was. Anyway, after lunch at a hotel we went into a nearby park which is famous for its iguanas (see pictures) and enjoyed the spectacle. 
As we did in Thailand, we have once again become involved in a local community theatre group here in Cuenca. This one is brand new and the first performance is next weekend, a series of one act plays. Sarah has a role in a play called Ambivalent in which she plays a woman trying to calm a group of people who fear that their plane may crash. I am using my technical skills in the area of stage managing and lighting. Que Dios now ayude! (God help us)

Cost of living and climate are two of the factors which are coaxing foreigners, especially retirees on a fixed income, to Cuenca. A single person could easily live a nice lifestyle on $1000 a month, including rent and health insurance. Apparently the minimum wage here is $83 per week so prices obviously have to be quite low for most to even survive. Take a cab anywhere in the city for $3 maximum. Buses cost 25 cents. Last night we went to a nice restaurant for a nightcap and spent $6 on two beers and a glass of wine. As for climate, because of its location in the mountains, every day in the year feels like a nice spring day. However, we did arrive in what's considered their rainy season so there are more clouds than we've become used to. But after the heat and humidity of Thailand, this climate feels like heaven. For those who like the superhot temperatures, your spot would be just a few hours away on Ecuador's west coast in a place such as Salinas.

Until next time ........... 

Our street, Simon Boulivar, is the main parade route.
Every weekend ...
... is a celebration!
Our first coffee shop - Magnolia.
The stairs with the mosaic tile.
Part of the path along the river ...
... that I jog along a few times a week.
Sans Sabastian Church, ...
... park and delicious eatery.
This building is kitty corner to us. Great Italian food!
Our building courtyard.
The courtyard from our condo/loft door. 
The amazing cathedral. 
Always something happening in ...
... Parque Calderon
All ages enjoy the park.
Looking up at the Cathedral 
The Cathedral main entrance.
Selling candles for church goers.
The flower market near the Cathedral.
Beautiful displays.
Entertainment in one of the park cafes. 
How to take your kid to work.
Can we take your photo? "NO"
Local artisans selling their wares. 
Our view for lunch in Guayaquil. 
A Guayaquil cathedral. 
The main entrance.
Iguana park - pigeon for lunch?