August 26, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: It Can Be a Social Whirl

The Coopera restaurant in San Joaquin
August is almost over. Where the heck did the last four months go? Oh, yeah. We jumped continents.

For the "getting settled" part of our adventure, mostly it's going smoothly. We like our apartment; it's pretty and we each have our own office. However, I would change a few things, like the oven that doesn't really work and the tiny one-bowl sink. It would also be nice if the washing machine had hot-water wash, but that luxury is starting to appear only in the newest construction in Cuenca. And, I would like a freezer I didn't have to defrost. And the stove doesn't really simmer. So, I bought a single-burner hot plate for soups and sauces and a toaster oven for grilling and baking, which I am learning to navigate. It's all just a matter of working with what we have.

And since there is no central heating, and we are in winter, we will be scouting out a propane heater for the living/dining room. After we get that, we can actually think of hosting dinner parties and other get-togethers for the new friends we have made. Looking forward to that.

On the positive side, we have amazing Ecuadorian neighbors who have been so welcoming and generous in assisting us with getting settled (and helped me learn how to get the propane delivered — over the phone, in Spanish). Another good thing is that we are on the ground floor, so I don't have to navigate large amounts of stairs on a regular basis (my knees are loving this, and are actually improving). 

We are set back from one of the main drags, which makes getting a taxi a snap — no need to call for one as the most I have ever had to wait was ten minutes. As for traffic noise, we are urban types and actually miss the background of people and traffic if a place is too quiet. In addition, our apartment is close to the main university, so it is a lively student-oriented neighborhood (and the modern university performing arts center is only two blocks away).

We are also walking distance to Inca Bar, home of the best hamburgers in Cuenca and some decent live music. Friends Benjamin and Peter run the Wednesday night open-mike night — much better than we had expected. There are many talented musicians and singers in Cuenca, both Ecuadorian and Gringo.

The Social Whirl
This past week was incredibly busy on the social front. My friend Sharon has begun a Gluten Free group for those who are celiac or who just want to limit gluten-rich foods in their diets. Interesting group, and we have agreed to meet once a month to share resources and meet with local vendors who might be interested in carrying some wanted products.

The Coopera store next to the restaurant
Wednesday was a trip out to the Coopera in San Joaquin (just outside Cuenca). Coopera is a co-op of organic and sustainable farmers and ranchers. They have stores throughout our city and have a restaurant in San Joaquin that uses their products. The lunch was of a high quality; however, I have found a lot of Ecuadorian food to be a bit on the bland side. Nevertheless, the food was quite good. Plus, the focus on these Wednesday lunches is the opportunity for this group of women to get together and just get to know one another. My schedule won't allow me to attend every week, but I look forward to the times I can fit it in.

This brings me to a slightly off-topic moment. If you are reading this, are interested in being a part of the Ecuadorian experience, and are a single woman — do not hesitate to consider Cuenca as an option. There are many single women here, and they have formed a loosely knit and amazingly supportive community. 

They organize outings and events from lunches to craft groups (knitting, weaving, etc.), help one another find housing and medical care, and generally pull together in various ways. There are many married women who also participate in these events, too, as there doesn't seem to be the "we're married so we can't play with the single women" mentality seen in some communities.

I am in awe, though, of the single women, young and older, who have chosen this adventure. I know how much work it was for K. W. and me to get ourselves to Ecuador — both physically and psychologically — and have nothing but admiration for these women who bit the proverbial bullet and did it on their own. 

Back to the social life.

Leslie's lovely dining room
Thursday, I had lunch with my editor/writer friend Jen at a place called Chiplote (yup, that is the spelling), a decent Mexican-inspired restaurant in El Centro, after which I attended Leslie Breen's cooking class on Italian dishes inspired by Marcella Hazan. Leslie has a knack for choosing wonderful topics and recipes to share with her students. 

Plus, her home is a beautiful and inspiring environment in which to take class. Although it isn't a hands-on type of class, I always pick up interesting and useful tips and ideas for my own cooking. What is fun is that she limits the class to five or six students, so it's an opportunity to socialize as well as learn. And we get to eat the results and drink a bit of wine, too.

At Moliendo's for almuerzo
In fact, Garth and Orellia were our lunch date for Friday. I met Garth through one of Leslie's classes

We went to Moliendo's, a charming Colombian place. The almuerzo (set price lunch) was only $2.50 and included a terrific lentil soup, fresh-made juice, and a plate with a choice of grilled meat along with rice, pasta salad, and salad, plus a small, tasty banana for dessert. 

After leaving there, we strolled over to Gringo Central (aka Coffee Tree) for a coffee, after which we all headed for Rotary Plaza. This place is awesome! 

One of the many vendors at Rotary Plaza
Hand-crafted decorative items and purses/totes, handmade furniture (and if you should need an extra drawer in a dresser, you can order it), and beautiful baskets and handmade kitchen utensils. Our friends bought two basic, but nicely made, bookcases for $25 each. K. W. and I settled for a large basket for $3 for my office and some fresh apricots.

Looks like it will be a quiet weekend except for watching the NASCAR races. We might go check out the hummingbird statues on Sunday.

This week was a lot of fun, but next week will be more work and less social, I think. 

The Visa Saga Continues
We finally received back our passports with the appropriate visas inserted (marked Indefinida — so we are officially legal for the foreseeable future). Now we have to apply for our cedulas aka the official ID card. Until the end of July, this just took a few forms and a bit of money. However, while we were in the process of getting our visas, the rules seemed to have changed. 

Now the government is requiring a separate set of apostilled documents from the U.S  a cumbersome two-step process of acquiring certified copies of birth/marriage/whatever and then sending said copies to the appropriate Secretary of State office for the apostille (some Hague convention thing). I did bring extras of everything (years in legal taught me never trust the bureaucrats to tell you what you really need). Unfortunately, the Ecuadorian government ate my extra marriage certificate copies. And now we have to do this from here in Ecuador.

Luckily for me, my BFF Allison is perhaps the best person on the planet to help me get this done. So early this week, I will make up a packet with the letters of request and necessary checks, envelopes, and all that jazz, which I will DSL to her. Then she will pop these things in the mail to the appropriate agencies and then return the docs to us via the secure international shipping service we use down here called Club Correos.

Theoretically, the Ecuadorian government has the documents in their files. And theoretically, there should be a box checked on our computer file that we have already submitted the documents, which would make all this unnecessary. However, this is their country and we are guests. No point in arguing or whining about it.

Still Busy on the Work Front

My second article for Skirts and Scuffs went live on August 23. It is about how I actually became a NASCAR fan  and how my friend Jeff is directly responsible for this aberration. 

Joey Logano in the #20 Home
Depot Toyota (2009)
Also working on interviews questions and finalizing other interviews for California Literary Review. I also owe them a review on a wonderful book by Oksana Marafioti called American Gypsy: A Memoir. Plus, I'm behind on copyediting for K. W.'s Dark Seeker, one of his psychological horror novels. Maybe this week I should limit the social butterfly routine?

K. W. is working on Kim Oh 5 and other projects. For those who wanted to check out the Kim Oh thrillers, but prefer print books, they now are available in paperback from Amazon. Here is the first to get you started: Kim Oh 1: Real Dangerous Girl. 


  1. Geri, Lois here. Great to get the update on what you and KW are up to in Cuenca. Love your social whirl, love your comments on the community of women, love that you find ways to work around the little glitches (no hot water in the washer??? so sad!!!!). I'm happy for you, glad that we met before you left, and looking forward to seeing you later this year again!

  2. Hey, nice blog! Glad to hear what you have been up to.. as we only see you in passing. And I did not forget about your off the cuff invite to see your place.. :>) Get on the stick lady, I want to see your place!

  3. Lois -- We are so looking forward to seeing you again. And, Karen, check your DM in Facebook for your official invite. Amy -- I miss you every time I go into a mercado or try a different restaurant. Of all the people I know in the U.S., you are the one who would love the discovery the most.

  4. Geri,Looking forward to reading updates.:-)Annie

  5. Am enjoying your blog. I have a knee replaced, and significant arthritis in the other with plans to have it replace in a year or two--it is not as bad as the other one was and responds to other treatments. ...I can do stairs, but slowly! That is one of my concerns about a move. I guess I could bring one of those walker wheelie thingies. With the little basket area for my dog...

    1. Thanks, Melisse. Glad you like it. I'm way overdue for an update, though.

      Sounds like you are going through some serious stuff at your end. Hope it all resolves well. (People are having this kind of surgery down here with great success -- and less expense -- than in the US.)

      I have knee issues, too, but it is getting better. One thing that helps -- we have an apartment on the ground floor so the only time I have to do stairs is when the restaurant, bank, or notary office is one flight up. Doesn't happen so often that it is too bothersome. I guess the important thing is to get your living situation easy on the knees -- no 2-story houses, no second or third floor apartments, no condo buildings with only one elevator (they break) -- no matter how cute or how good a value it might seem. Not worth the potential harm to your knees.

      Also, as taxi fares are reasonable, I take a taxi to the area where I want to play, then use a cane to boogie around until I am tired. Then I stop for a coffee, walk some more, then take a taxi home. Easey-Peasey.

      Nothing is impossible if it's what you want to do.

  6. Love your blog, it's just a lovely, happy place to spend hours and hours reading!!

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