Monday, January 31, 2011


While flying back from the States in late December Cynthia and I had a chat and agreed that we needed to slow down our social life in Cuenca in 2011. God knows we’ve been having an absolute blast, but we’re not kids anymore. Hell, we didn’t party like this when we were kids!


It’s Monday morning. I’m quietly sitting here enjoying a cup of coffee and thankful that, except for me going to the gym in a bit, we don’t have a single thing planned today. I’m particularly thankful for this quiet, eventless Monday because I can’t remember when one of our New Year’s resolutions has been abandoned so quickly and completely.

Part of that dialing back idea included going to bed and getting up earlier. We were shooting for 10:30 and 6:30.


Thursday night we had folks over and went to bed at 1:30. Got up at 11 (YIKES!) to a kitchen crammed full of dirty dishes (OOF!). Friday night we went to some friends’ home and once again hit the pillows at 1:30. Got up at 9 Saturday morning only because we had a couple coming to lunch at around noon. Squeezed in a quick nap, then went to a party that night until 12:30.

Got up at 9 yesterday to get ready for a group picnic in the afternoon. Had a lot of fun eating and drinking, took a nap in a eucalyptus forest at the park,

threw the Frisbee until we were pooped out, came home and stayed up until 12:30 last night watching Black Swan and two downloaded episodes of American Idol.


You know, things happen slower here in Latin America. Maybe we haven’t broken our resolution at all. Maybe it’s just unfolding at, shall we say, a more leisurely pace. Maybe we’ll go to bed early tonight and get February off to a proper start.

That’s a lot of maybe’s. This much I know----last week was so much fun!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking Before You Leap

I took the time to read through some of the online forums dedicated to Ecuador this weekend and noticed something interesting. On the one hand there were folks totally gung-ho about making the “big move;” others were quite timid and unsure, asking questions like, “Was there a lot of anguish in your decision to leave family & friends behind?.”

Relocation abroad is a major life-changing event, and it is appropriate that a great deal of research and questioning be done. You’re not moving across town or even to a new state; you’re not changing jobs—you are contemplating leaving behind most everything that you know and placing yourself in a culture, and perhaps a language, about which you have little understanding.

But while all the Googling of places to live and the information gleaned through chatrooms and forums is helpful, the main place you need to look for confirmation about the decision to become an expat is in your heart. Ask yourself why you are thinking about leaving. Be honest about your tolerance for change. Most importantly of all, ask yourself this:

Am I running away from something or towards something?

The implications of this simple question are immense. People sometimes think, “If I can just leave this place everything will be better.” The reality is, happiness is an inside job, and even moving to a foreign country isn’t going to help if you bring your same sorry self with you. Make sure whatever you think you need to get away from isn’t really an external manifestation of personal inadequacies that need attention.

Becoming an expat is an excellent opportunity for personal reinvention, and from my own experience I can share that coming here has allowed me to create an environment where I am pursuing lifelong dreams that probably weren’t going to be possible by remaining in the States. Knowing who you are--knowing what you want-- being willing to do what it takes to make it happen—these are the keys to your successful transition.

If I had to name one and only one characteristic of expats who seem to happily and successfully assimilate into this new lifestyle, total commitment tops the list. Being antsy and even overwhelmed is normal, as long as you decide you’ll keep smiling, enjoy the ride and have confidence you’ll eventually get your bearings. If you’re flat-out terrified the odds are strong that it ain’t gonna work out too well.

For couples it is imperative that both members of the relationship are on board. One excited spouse is not going to persuade the other that he or she is having a great time when in fact that person is miserable and wants to go home. Marriages can and do blow up in this scenario. Who knows, maybe such partnerships are on life support anyway and can’t withstand the intensity of so many changes. Just be aware of the danger of saying, “Come on, honey---give it a chance--this will be great!!“

People sometimes comment, “Hey, if it doesn’t work out, I can always go back.” If you’re the one saying that let me ask, does that sound like a solid commitment to you? Yeah, it’s true one can return, but living abroad for even a short time changes a person forever. The you that came isn’t going to be the same you that goes back and attempts to resume your old life. Plus there’s at least a chance your self-esteem won’t be at an all-time high after risking so much, after taking such a chance, and coming up empty.

So conduct proper due diligence, externally and internally. Do the right thing for the right reasons. Know who you are and what you want. After all that if you’re certain relocation abroad is the right decision, even if the details are a bit fuzzy, go for it. Should you be hesitant for any reason, listen to that still, small voice inside and consider waiting. This lifestyle is not for everybody; in fact it’s not the best choice for most folks. Be sure it’s right for you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Kid in Town

Shortly before we left for the States back in November I received a surprise email inviting me to appear on a local radio station. The show’s host had seen an article in the newspaper here about the Tuesday night Gringos & Friends I helped organize and thought an interview with me would be interesting to her listeners.

I told her upfront my limited Spanish wasn’t up to the task, and that we needed to postpone until our return to Cuenca. So this past Sunday morning, with my bilingual neighbor in tow, the interview finally took place.

Most of the questions were about my personal experiences here, but she threw one at me asking, “Do gringos feel that the citizens of Cuenca are treating them fairly?” I responded that I am just one man and could not speak for the whole gringo community.

That is the way I have always attempted to conduct myself since our arrival last May. We got off the plane in Cuenca just like every other expat, totally excited and confused about starting a new life here. Long-time followers of this blog know I started it back in Las Vegas during our preparation to relocate and have continued to chronicle our misadventures as strangers in a strange land.

I am honored and gratified that many of you have found my writing style to be both informative and entertaining, and that readership has grown beyond belief. A blog about Cuenca, Ecuador being read by tons of folks all over the world?? Who knew???

And locally, because of the exposure and popularity of my blog, I’ve been blessed to receive invitations from La Tarde and Cuenca High Life to write columns for their publications. Neither was solicited, just like the radio interview, but for a journalism major to finally receive a little recognition 39 years after receiving his diploma, por que no??

So does all this activity make Edd Staton, with eight months in town, the self-appointed resident “gringo expert” in Cuenca? Absolutely not! It’s true I get a lot of emails from readers requesting information, and I help all I can. I believe people write to me not because they think I know everything but because through this blog they know I’m not “selling” anything and trust me to give them honest feedback.

Let me apologize to any of you residents here or readers who mistakenly assume I have set myself up as some sort of Cuenca guru. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This blog is called “eddsaid” for a reason—the thoughts contained herein are mine alone and not intended to speak for anyone else.

And none of the blessings that have happened over these past months—the popularity of my blog, the writing opportunities, the radio show-- were in any way orchestrated as part of some “master plan.” Like I said earlier, we got off the plane, and things have just------happened.

For that no apology is forthcoming. I am totally thankful for the incredible opportunities that have come my way, and I look forward to experiencing many more as our life in Cuenca continues to unfold and reveal itself.

If you’re wondering why this blog post was written you will unfortunately have to continue to wonder.

If you know, you know.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Music to my Ears

On our initial visit to Cuenca a year and a half ago we were pleased to learn that the city boasted its own symphony. This wasn't really on the radar of things to look for as we weighed our relocation options, but whether or not you are a fan of classical music it is undeniable that such cultural offerings are a plus to any municipality.

We even got to see the symphony perform a free outdoor concert during our stay. Sadly, they weren't very good. I'll never forget that part of the program was a tribute to Michael Jackson (while he was still alive). Let's just say that "Thriller" wasn't too thrilling. But there was so much pride in the faces of the attendees and, hey, at least we had an orchestra, even if they sounded more like an average high school band.

Since we moved here we've seen the symphony perform perhaps 4-5 times. We found out the concerts are always free, and strolling into town, having dinner, and enjoying live music is a fine way to spend an occasional evening. We've been pleased to discern an undeniable improvement in the quality of performance since that first exposure as well.

And last night it all came together. The maestro was almost manically animated as he steered the musicians through a diverse program that ranged from a Strauss polks to Glenn Miller ("In the Mood") to a Pasodoble. Then three talented singers, a baritone, soprano, and tenor, took turns belting out selections from Mozart's Don Giovanni, finishing the evening with all three plus the orchestra hitting Verdi's La Traviata out of the ballpark. The audience erupted with a long and boisterous standing ovation that was well deserved.

Enough about culture. Let's talk about food. Specifically, pizza. First an aside. My son-in-law correctly pointed out the irony of my wanting to shed those 15 US pounds while at the same time waxing effusively about discovering crunchy Cheetos here. I acknowledge the contradiction and admit that while the first 10 were easily and quickly dispersed, the final 5 are attempting to establish a permanent beachhead and clinging to my body with every ounce (pardon the pun) of strength they possess. I'm also a big enough man (yikes, another pun!) to confess to restocking the pantry with more Cheetos after my trip to the Supermaxi this week. Ah, the mind is willing but the flesh is weak-----------.

Anyway, we've found the pizza in Cuenca to be pretty terrible. The custom here is to load the pie up with dried oregano to the point that my throat starting closing up the first time I tried it. One little artisanal place has recently opened that's good, but if you ask most Cuencanos who makes the best pizza they'll quickly say "Pizza Hut."

We took the kids to the "Hut" some when they were growing up but we've never been big fans. And we've judiciously avoided our three American franchises--Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King--the whole time we've been here. It just seems sad that the best of anything the city has to offer would come from one of those establishments.

Well, Cynthia came home yesterday with an announcement that can only be described as a "game changer." The music to my ears? Padre Juan is coming to town!! Yep, Papa John's is opening a sit-down restaurant in Milennium (not misspelled, trust me) Plaza just a 10 minute walk from our home. Now that's a pizza TeamStaton can sink its collective teeth into! Our son ordered so much of it in college the employees knew his voice and what he was ordering as soon as they answered the phone.

So there it is again--those pesky compromises we are compelled to make as we journey through life. On the one hand I don't want this lovely city to be overrun with American fast food joints; look at what that trend has done to the American waistline (wasteline?). Then for Papa John's, see, I make an exception. But that's it! No more!

Except it sure would be great to have Popeye's here---------.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's the Little Things----------

I think we would all agree that relocating to a foreign country is BIG. After that happens, in the process of getting settled other BIG things must happen, like finding a place to live, getting your visa, and learning how to get around town. Next come medium things--maybe adjusting to cooking a high altitudes, getting a recommendation for a good dentist, or finding a good gym.

But after awhile it's the little things you discover and learn that can just make your day. In that light today has been exceptional. Every time we go to the SuperMaxi, our grocery store, I scour the meat counter searching for any new cut of pork or, especially, beef that looks remotely like anything I'm familiar with. Now I don't want this to sound overly extreme. We have ground beef, pork tenderloin, and usually pork chops, but a lot of what's underneath that shrink wrap just looks like random hunks of whatever with a Spanish name.

A couple of times I've seen T-bone steaks, and once I even bought a couple of them. The beef tends to be very lean here (grass fed & not jacked up with hormones & antibiotics), so they got a full 2 days of a soy/ginger marinade before grilling. That night Cynthia and I dined on grilled, marinated shoe leather. Bummer.

So we were in the store this morning, I was doing my meat patrol thing, and I spotted--was it possible?--let me look again--yes, I believe for the first time I saw what could only be a chuck roast. Of course the label didn't say "chuck roast;" no, it says lomo de aguja, which Google Translate appropriately defines as "needleback." I swear.

Nonetheless, I scooped that bad boy up and decided it's worth a $2.99 chance because I do love a good needleback with potatoes, onions, and carrots. I'll let you know how it turns out.

But wait---there's more! The SuperMaxi (sorry, but that sounds so much like a feminine hygiene product, doesn't it?) carries a lot of chips but only Ruffles and regular Lay's as far as ones you've ever heard of. Well, I was with friends at another grocery last week and saw a big Lay's variety bag with those little individual lunch sizes. I didn't recognize several of the choices but I did see Cheetos and that was enough for me.

I tore into those Cheetos as soon as we got home but, damn it, they turned out to be the original puffy kind. The ones that when you're through it seems like you've got more of them on your permanently stained fingertips than in your stomach. Ah, the high's and low's of expat life (sigh).

So I've been soldiering through the rest of the bags with mixed success--regular chips, Ruffles, Doritos, one I dumped that were like Fruity Pebbles or something (for lunch?--puh-leeze). Today after we returned from the store I grabbed one called Cheese Tris to go with my ham sandwich, ripped it open, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but----crunchy Cheetos!! Wow! Unbelievable! Needless to say I had a great meal!

I know all this doesn't sound like much--chuck roast--crunchy Cheetos. In fact I feel a little silly now even writing this. But I enjoy trying to help you understand what this expat life is about, and little discoveries like this of things that make our lives a little more normal and familiar really do mean a lot when so much is so different.

I wonder if Cheese Tris come in the large size?? That would rock!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Paradise Found

Yesterday we had a picnic at Paradise Park with our good friends Peter and Karen. The huge park is a fabulous amenity just a short walk from our home that is much loved and used by Cuencanos, especially on the weekends, but somewhat unknown to gringos.

Coming to our place the Stephenson’s had one of those bus misadventures we all occasionally experience here, arriving flustered and a little later than planned. So before setting out for our adventure we enjoyed a few rounds of Mimosas that helped restore the proper level of conviviality.

The weather in Cuenca has been a bit dicey lately. It’s the rainy season and some type of precipitation is almost a daily occurrence; in fact it has been raining non-stop so far today. Plus we’ve often been getting hit with some pretty strong winds mid-afternoon. We, however, were blessed with an absolutely perfectly calm day of comfortable temps and sunshine.

Karen had prepared phenomenal smoked chicken sandwiches, and the Staton's contributed a pasta salad and brownies. All the conventional picnic tables seemed to be occupied when we arrived but we had no trouble improvising a spot to enjoy our meal.

After lunch Cynthia and I laid down on mats under a shady tree for our daily siesta. The grass was thick and cool and we were serenaded by the sounds of rushing rivers on both sides. You see, Paradise Park is a large triangle of land that lies between the Tomebamba and Yanuncay rivers, and at the apex they come together to form one larger river.

Peter and Karen aren’t “nap people” so they went off to explore the suspension bridges that weave through dense forests where the rivers converge.

When they returned we chatted and drank wine, then we explored the rest of the park. A lot of the trees, like the one behind Cynthia and Karen here, are ancient.

Everywhere families were playing games and enjoying themselves; young lovers cuddled and smooched. There is a large pond in the middle where on the weekends folks can cruise around in 10 paddle boats free of charge.

The geese seem to enjoy this activity as much as the people do.

We finished our day with some vigorous Frisbee throwing on one of the soccer fields at the park’s entrance. Fascinated locals had fun watching four middle-aged gringos run around and act like children. You know what? We were pretty damned good!

After a leisurely stroll back home we said our goodbyes and the Stephenson’s climbed into a cab (no more bus shenanigans today!). We all agreed that we seem to have found our personal paradise here in South America, and that this afternoon at Paradise Park—the weather, the beautiful setting, the food, the camaraderie-- was the perfect representation of our new life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Physical Fatness

No, there’s no typo in the title. It’s confession time, brothers and sisters. During my recent odyssey to the United States I gained a whopping 15 pounds. Further, this crime has the distinction of being both premeditated and one of passion, terms which are mutually exclusive in courts of law.

So, yes, I thought long and hard about all the goodies I would consume while abroad and, yes, I enjoyed their consumption immensely. Popeye’s spicy fried chicken—Blimpie’s “Best” subs—juicy bacon cheeseburgers—7 layer dip—steaks on the grill. The list is considerably longer but I’m sure you get the picture. Oh, and copious amounts of wine and beer were obviously necessary to wash all these meals down.

I’m one of those weirdo’s who weighs himself every day. On this trip I didn’t even bother getting on the scales until it was time to go home. When you’re constantly eating like a death row inmate devouring his last meal what’s the point? I knew what I was doing. Still, I must admit I was a bit shocked when I witnessed a number I hadn’t looked down at in a l—o—n—g time.

It’s amazing what a mere 5 weeks of over-consumption and minimal exercise can do to one’s body. Yet I couldn’t help but think that what seemed like debauchery to me isn’t that far removed from the average daily adult American lifestyle. The only thing missing was the 4-5 hours of TV watching. It's really not very hard to understand why the US has such an obesity epidemic.

But here’s something I found interesting. Even though I enjoyed myself, it turns out that for the most part the anticipation of eating stuff I thought I’d missed far exceeded the pleasure of actual consumption. The mind plays tricks on us that way, doesn’t it? So often in life things don’t turn out as bad as we fear or as good as we imagine. But that Tex/Mex burrito lunch was damn good!

Now I’m back home and 6 pounds are gone after 6 days. The rest of it will be history in a couple of weeks. How? Eat healthy-- eat less-- drink less alcohol-- exercise regularly. What a concept! I think I’m on to something!

On future trips this excessive behavior will not be repeated. I’ve gotten it out of my system, if you’ll pardon the digestive reference. In fact, I’ve returned to Cuenca with a greater appreciation of the healthy lifestyle we enjoy here, and in 2011 I’m excited to quite possibly elevate my overall fitness to the highest level I’ve ever experienced.

Por que no?