Things I Will Miss and NOT Miss about Cuenca

My 3-month stay in Cuenca, Ecuador, is quickly coming to an end, and now is a good time to talk about the things I´m going to miss and NOT miss about being here:

NOT MISS – Teaching English to chicos/teens.  (See my previous blog article).

NOT MISS – Credit card cash advance fees of 5%, thus you´ll pay $30 in fees to get a $600 cash advance.

NOT MISS – Rain, rain, and more rain.  It has rained at least 50% of the days I´ve been here, and some days all day.  There has not been one completely sunny day the entire time, for there are always clouds lurking on top of the nearby mountains ready to roll in at a moment´s notice.  I´m sure I´ll have no problem giving away my 3 umbrellas.

NOT MISS – Hanging my clothes to dry.  My apartment has a washing machine but no dryer, which I thought was odd at first, but come to find out is the norm here.
NOT MISS – People standing in my way on the sidewalk, or cutting in front of me while I am walking.  I talked about this in one my previous blog articles, it´s not something I should be judgmental about but instead should accept as part of the culture.  However, I brought expectations here, and as a result, hardly a day went by that I didn´t get irritated with someone over their sidewalk etiquette.  Perhaps a bigger problem I had was thinking, “While in France, do as the French do,” so I began compromising my own values in an attempt to fit in … or perhaps as recompense for perceived slights.  Thus, with regard to the old lady walking down the sidewalk carrying several bags – to heck with you, walk around me!  Or to the disabled person in a wheelchair – to heck with you, too, I got here first so just hold your wheels!  And to the young mother nursing her newborn – get out of my way lady!  I exaggerate, but this entire issue how best to navigate the sidewalks has definitely been harder for me to overcome than I anticipated.  Fortunately, after 3 months of conditioning my attitude has improved significantly.

NOT MISS – 50 cent pieces.  Everyone hates them here, including me.  You may not know this but Ecuador converted their currency to the U.S. dollar a little over 10 years ago during a severe economic crisis.  (Coins remain a mixture of U.S. coins and the old Ecuadorian coins in denominations of $1, 50 cent, 25 cent, 10 cent, 5 cent, and 1 cent).  It sure makes it easy to travel here … you pay for everything in U.S. dollars, thus you don´t have to do a currency exchange in your head every time you buy something.  Want to know where all those golden Sacagawea U.S. dollar coins are being used?  Here in Ecuador, they love them here.  In contrast, everyone hates 50 cent pieces here.  I think it is because it costs 25 cents to ride the bus, far and away the most common form of transportation here, and the bus drivers will not make change.  Thus, and this may sound strange, but it becomes a game of hot potato everywhere you go here, sellers try to dump their 50 cent pieces on buyers, and buyers try to dump their 50 cent pieces on sellers.  One vendor tried to refuse my payment with a 50 cent piece, asking whether I had any other coins to pay with.  And when I have asked a vendor not to give me a 50 cent piece in change, they have been a little irritated.  Strange game of hot potato, isn´t it?

NOT MISS – Being apart from my wife and puppies and life in the U.S.

NOT MISS – Gringo prices.  There is a widespread practice here of charging us North Americans, us Gringos, higher prices for stuff than the local folks are charged.  Not everyone does it, but many do.  For example, I have paid $2.50 for virtually the same pad of paper that I later bought at a similar store for only 70 cents.  As a result, when I have just the slightest suspicion that someone has charged me an inflated gringo price, I never return.

NOT MISS – Panaderias.  These are the bakeries that are located in just about every block and that sell fresh baked bread and pastries.  You can pack on some extra pounds here if you are not careful.
Okay, enough about all the things I won´t miss about Ecuador, it´s time to talk about the things I´ll miss.

MISS – Panaderias.  Yes, you read that correctly … leaving the panaderias is going to be bittersweet for me, something I´ll both miss and NOT miss.  There´s nothing like walking down the block and suddenly having your nose infused with the smell of dough rising in the oven, and then having the opportunity to sink your teeth into a still-warm, chewy, roll of doughy goodness.

MISS – Almuerzos.  These are the $2.50 lunch deals that are all over town.  For that price, which includes the tip, you´ll get a bowl of soup followed by the lunch of the day (often rice, veggies, and a meat), accompanied by a bowl of popcorn and a glass of fresh juice, and topped off by a dessert.

MISS – The Catholic Cathedral.  It sits just outside my window, and I get to look at it´s architectural glory every day.  Indeed, as I write this blog article, all I have to do is lift my eyes to take in the Cathedral.  It spans half a block wide by a full block long, and you can spot it from virtually every vantage point in this entire city.  But as spectacular as it looks from the outside, it is even more spectacular on the inside.  The Catholic Church has always believed that church buildings should inspire adherents to reflect on the awesomeness of God, and being inside this Cathedral is definitely awe-inspiring.

MISS – Spanish speakers everywhere.  For someone such as myself who is working toward becoming fluent in Spanish, there´s no substitute for immersion in the language.

MISS – My Spanish tutor.  I don´t think I´ll ever find in the U.S. a Spanish tutor who is happy to be paid $8 an hour to give me one-on-one instruction.  Not only that, her undergraduate and graduate studies included a specialization in the teaching of Spanish to foreigners.  Moreover, her English is exceptionally good, and thus she can use her English to help us Gringos get unstuck during the process of learning Spanish.  As a result, I suggested that she offer her tutoring services via Skype, so if you are reading this message and are interested, let me know and I can connect you with Maria.

MISS – 25 cent bus rides.  The bus system is extensive here, and you can go from end to end, and to all points in between, for a mere quarter.

MISS $15 doctor visits.  It´s not like I enjoy going to the doctor, but in Ecuador it is normal for doctors to spend 15-30 minutes in consultation with you for as little as $15 dollars.  In contrast, last year my wife and I had some flexible spending money to burn before the end of the year, so I visited a few doctors just to make sure all of my parts were still functioning normally.  One SOB doctor spent all of about 1 minute and 37 seconds with me before he rushed back to the nurse´s station to continue his conversation with the nurses … and for that, our insurance company was probably billed $100.  The U.S. healthcare system, for all its technological advances, has become something of a sham … where you can spend a lot of money for very impersonal care.  You´ll not find that in Ecuador.

MISS – Fruit packs.  In Ecuador fresh fruit is plentiful, including many types I had never heard of before coming here.  It is recommended that you thoroughly clean fruit here since the bacteria in the water is different from what North Americans are accustomed to, and indeed some travel advisors suggest that you not eat any fresh fruit that includes the skin (i.e., strawberries, peaches, cherries, etc.).  Nonetheless, I found in the freezer section of the grocery store these big fruit packs that are called “pulpa de fruta” and that are 100% fruit.  They only cost $1.75, and you can get them in mango, strawberry, mora, naranjilla, maracuya, peach, orange, pineapple, coconut, and many other flavors.  These fruit packs make great smoothies.

MISS – Ecuadorian chocolate.  In Ecuador they produce some of the finest chocolate in the world.  Granted, you can buy Ecuadorian chocolate in the U.S., but you´ll be paying the U.S. price that includes shipping costs.  In contrast, while you are in Ecuador you can pay the Ecuadorian price for chocolate that is from cacao beans that are grown and processed in Ecuador.  Kind of like, “fresh from the farmer´s field.”  And speaking of Ecuadorian chocolate, I think I have a bar (or bars) in the other room, so I think it´s time to stop writing and go have me a nibble (or nibbles).