Come to Cuenca for an Action-Packed Retirement

Family and friends in my hometown, Seattle, often ask me, “What do you do all day?”

With maids and laundry services, expats here in Cuenca, Ecuador, have lots of extra time to spend indulging ourselves.

One woman I know weaves, paints, and plays bridge once a week. Twice a month others meet to lunch and play Mexican Train dominoes. One couple sings in acoustically-perfect cathedrals with a Cuenca choral group.

You’ll find classes for creative writing, art, holistic health, photography, cooking, yoga, pilates, and native herbal plant identification. A monthly newcomer’s luncheon provides a chance for newly arrived expats to share information and network with those of us who have been here longer.

In the evenings, you can enjoy performances by the Jazz Society of Ecuador and the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. Expat keyboard player Brian Gary and his band Rubber Biscuit play different venues with music from the 70s and 80s

“There’s so much to do,” says my friend Linda, “I could be out every night.”

Once a week a group of about 15 retirees, both men and women, cuencanos (Cuenca locals) and “gringos,” meet to play at the Cuenca Tennis and Golf Club. “It’s fun and afterwards there is good-natured ribbing over lunch,” says one member, Paul. With Cuenca’s year-round temperate weather, Paul and his friends can play golf just about any day of the year.

Want to move to the Andes but like to swim? Academia Duran sports center and the University of Cuenca have public swimming pools. The Perez Coliseo sports complex has an Olympic-sized pool.

Expats do volunteer work with Hearts of Gold, Ecuador Cares, and Projecto Saman, an earthquake-relief project organized by disaster-relief professional Sara Coppler. Many also take Spanish classes and there are several Spanish conversation clubs.

Some ambitious expats start businesses, like Grits Catering and Gourmecito (gourmet food delivery) and restaurants like San Sebas and the Vegetable Bar.

In their kitchen Bernie and Nancy started out making a few canned foods. Two years later they have Bernan’s Home Canned Foods. “It’s grown into more than just a hobby now,” says Bernie. Dill and bread and butter pickles, sauerkraut, picante sauce, and biscuit and cornbread mixes are favorites.

There are Sunday worship services in English, a chess club, Art Walk in October, an annual film festival, and an annual international writer’s conference.

And of course, there’s always a celebration of a friend’s birthday or a national holiday.

Carnival, the ultimate fiesta, happens every February or March. The Easter celebration of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is noted for religious processions and May 1 is Ecuador’s Labor Day, with processions to honor workers.

Cuencanos celebrate the Battle of Pichincha (Ecuador’s victory for independence from Spain) on May 24 and Corpus Christi (featuring every sweet you could possibly make with sugar) shortly after.

While North Americans celebrate Halloween, cuencanos celebrate the Day of the Dead with family picnics in Cuenca’s cemetery. November 3 is Cuenca’s biggest annual celebration: Cuenca Independence Day. The colorful, not-to-be-missed Christmas parade of Paseo Del Niño takes place on December 24. New Year’s Eve is marked by burning effigies in the streets along with fireworks.

No matter your game, hobby, interest, or pastime, you can indulge it when you retire in Cuenca.

And soon you, too, will be asking yourself, “I’m supposed to be retired. How did I get so busy?”

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