Bright red trams rattling happily past 16th-Century colonial buildings. Expats and locals rubbing shoulders at markets and cafés. Refreshing, spring-like weather that can be counted on year-round.
It’s good to be back in Cuenca, this Ecuadorian mountain town that I called home for over 10 years.
From the time my wife Cynthia and I arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador in 2010 until we decided to depart in March of last year, our beautiful colonial hometown has changed so much.
In a good way.
The fleet of old buses belching clouds of noxious fumes was totally replaced. A long-delayed tram line finally began operation. Meters in taxis eliminated the hassle of negotiating every fare.
Food choices in the supermarket were at first, being kind, limited. We remember the excitement when rotisserie chickens first appeared.
Now the shelves are stocked with microgreens, Greek yogurt, artisanal beer, wasabi, and even dryer sheets!
Except for a handful of unremarkable pizza joints and Italian eateries, dining choices were limited to hole-in-the-wall places serving cheap Ecuadorian almuerzos (fixed menu lunches) or high-end hotel restaurants.
Over the years, we were thrilled to patronize an astonishing number of new establishments serving delicious and creative food for, compared to the States, extremely reasonable prices.
The expat community exploded from perhaps 500 to over 5,000. That influx of new foreign residents brought increased opportunities for enrichment and camaraderie.
From our initial weekly “Gringo Happy Hour” at a local bar, groups formed at a dizzying rate for fly-fishing, bird-watching, hiking, New Age philosophy, cooking, knitting, bridge, and pickleball.
Coming Home Again
Like I said, it’s good to be back.
It was in March of 2021 that our wanderlust kicked in and our itchy feet compelled us to set out into the world on a new adventure.
So, much as we loved Cuenca, we gave up our penthouse apartment, stored all our furnishings, and headed off on a new journey traveling full time.
Fast forward to now. A recently completed two-and-a-half-month adventure in Europe left us exhausted.
Where could we go to renew our energy? We had experienced so much that was new and different. Now we needed to be some place just the opposite.
A location that was effortless. Familiar. Simple.
There was only one answer: Cuenca.
As we got off the plane, we wondered two things: what had changed, and how would we feel being back after such a long absence?
It took only moments to notice one difference since our departure. The number of luggage carousels in the terminal had doubled.
From one to two.
Peering out the windows of the taxi on the way to our rental apartment, it seemed like we had never left. Everything looked exactly as we remembered.
In the weeks since then, we’ve noticed that change indeed comes slowly to this part of the world. Sure, there are even more new restaurants. A mid-rise building or two has gone up in our old neighborhood.
But by and large, the Cuenca we left is the same as the one we returned to.
The biggest surprise we never anticipated is how happy we are about that.
All the improvements over the years have for sure made life more enjoyable, but they’re really icing on the cake. The core qualities of what continues to make Cuenca a top expat destination are what’s most important.
Our Cuenca Life
You see, we originally discovered Cuenca through IL, and chose to move here because it fulfilled every requirement we were looking for in a new home abroad.
Having been wiped out financially by the Great Recession of 2008, we were definitely looking for a lower cost of living. We found it in Cuenca. Runaway inflation may be an issue in the U.S., but it doesn’t seem to have made its way here.
Our taxi fare from the airport was exactly what we expected. Nutritious almuerzos are still less than $4. Prices in the grocery store may have inched up for some items, but who’s complaining if a head of broccoli is 80 cents instead of 75?
We recently experienced firsthand the affordable healthcare that was also on our Wish List years ago. At dinner the veneer on one of Cynthia’s front teeth unexpectedly broke off. Yikes!
We reached out to our dentist on Facebook for help. Within minutes he responded, and by the end of the next afternoon, Cynthia’s smile was as good as new. Cost: $350 (porcelain veneers average $1500 in the States).
Temperate weather. Walkability. Cultural activities plus modern conveniences. Proximity to our stateside family. Kind and humble locals. They’re all still here too.
It’s like we’re seeing an old friend through new eyes. We couldn’t wait to leave Cuenca for our European adventure, and now we’re so pleased to be back.
It’s good to be home.
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