Finding the Perfect Work/Life Balance in Ecuador

When Cynthia Connell visited Cuenca on vacation three years ago, she had no idea that it would become her next home.

At the time, she was exhausted from the stress of the American way of life and was ready for a change. While there, she saw an opportunity to live a less stressful life in a perfect-weather mountain city and just over a year later she returned to live there full time.

Now Cynthia enjoys her morning “commute,” walking to work at an Inter-American studies school where she teaches English. “With the favorable weather in Cuenca (temperatures rarely exceed beyond the 70s F in the highs and the 50s F in the lows) there’s no excuse not to walk just about everywhere,” Cynthia explains.

Recently, the city built a walking and cycling path on the tree-lined Paseo Tres de Noviembre—a long street that hugs the Tomebamba River for miles. Pedestrian bridges intersect the area allowing for walkers or bikers to enjoy the beauty of nature and the old colonial district with its historical homes overlooking the “bluffs.”

Like many expats in Cuenca, Cynthia enjoys healthy cooking with the fresh and abundant fruits and vegetables of Ecuador. She buys her groceries at the local mercado on Alfonso Moreno and Augusta Cueva. “I like to buy white pineapple, pitahaya (dragon fruit), avocados, Swiss chard, and coconuts,” says Cynthia. “I usually leave with two full bags and spend just five to 10 dollars per visit.”

Colonial Cuenca offers a variety of free cultural activities like the symphonic orchestra, art exhibits, and museums—the most popular of which is Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca’s largest museum and home to a collection of Amazonian shrunken heads. On Saturday evenings Cynthia likes to kick back at the Jazz Society Café, where musicians from all over the Americas, even Cuba, come together to put on a show.

Cynthia supplements her teaching income with some extra online teaching work. “With both endeavors, I’m able to support myself completely without probing into savings,” says Cynthia. With the extra money that she makes online, Cynthia is able to enjoy the little luxuries that make living in Cuenca so pleasurable—like dining out at one of the many international restaurants.

Cynthia’s favorite is El Colgado, a vegetarian, Ecuadorian-fusion restaurant overlooking the Tomebamba River in the Barranco District. Here a tasty and filling meal of roasted red peppers, avocados, sweet tomatoes, and cucumbers served with coconut mayonnaise and French fries, costs $5.50 (including drinks).

On her days off, Cynthia takes local day trips to the nearby towns, such as the picturesque Gualaceo with its riverfront park and carefully crafted leather goods—shoes, purses, and jackets—that can be bought for bargain-basement prices. Just 12 minutes down the road from Gualaceo is the town of Chordeleg, where silver jewelry is sold by the ounce. Both towns can be reached by bus in less than an hour from Cuenca for $1.20 (roundtrip).

In Cuenca, Cynthia has found the perfect work/life balance that provides exciting new experiences and an opportunity for personal growth. “I believe that everything happens for a reason,” says Cynthia. “I’m truly thankful I made the move when I did.”

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