Cuenca, Ecuador: What Your Research Won’t Tell You

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Much has been written in International Living by me and others about the tangible benefits of living in Cuenca, Ecuador—the low cost of living, the temperate climate, the lovely colonial architecture, excellent medical care, and cultural amenities plus modern conveniences.

So perhaps you already know that on a budget of around $1,800 per month, my wife Cynthia and I live in a beautiful two-story penthouse apartment with expansive views of the city.

Or that we may spontaneously decide to catch a $2 taxi to enjoy a free symphony performance, then stroll home in the cool evening air.

Maybe you’ve read how I can call any of our doctors on their personal cell phones to make a $25 appointment to see them today—no waiting around.

Or that a healthier lifestyle is easy to have here with fresh, inexpensive produce readily available at markets throughout the city and good, filling lunches abounding from as little as $2.

They’re all wonderful aspects of living in Cuenca, for sure. But there are some other intangible, but equally compelling, aspects of life in this beautiful city that your research won’t turn up—things that reveal themselves slowly as you adjust to a new culture and settle in to your adventure abroad.

If you’re leaving behind a hectic lifestyle filled with the constant pressure of appointments and deadlines…one where you’re always in a hurry to finish what’s in front of you so you can hurriedly move on to the “next thing”…the pace of life here will surprise you.

When you arrive, things are still stressful…for a short time at least. After all, you’re in a new city in a foreign country where the locals speak a different language. You need to learn your way around…apply for a visa…form relationships.

But after clearing those initial hurdles, it begins to feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You can breathe again—you can finally relax. You can’t remember when (or if) you have ever experienced such peace.

And you can get back to what’s really important. In my previous life I never gave myself permission for much of a social life because I had neither the time nor the energy. But in Cuenca, I have made so many wonderful friendships in the last three years that I feel like I have a “second family” here. I’m blessed to associate these days with folks with whom I share common interests and that I truly care about.

It’s all because I now have the time to move past cocktail party patter like, “So what do you do?” …and really get to know people over leisurely two-hour lunches and casual get-togethers.

But the biggest surprise of living in Cuenca has been the discovery of the basic goodness of the Ecuadorians. Our hosts are kind, humble, and generous. Smiling taxi drivers help unload groceries from their trunk. The lady at the dry cleaners waves every time I walk past. Merchants patiently listen and try to understand as you mangle the language.

So yes, the tangible benefits of living here are great…but it’s the intangibles that really make the difference.

Stress is no longer a part of your vocabulary. You have time to do what you want to do…when you want to do it. Deep relationships are an integral part of your life instead of an afterthought. And you find yourself immersed in a culture that readily supports your new, easier lifestyle.

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