Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Seven Year Itch?

The three most frequently asked questions I receive are, in order:

Why Ecuador/Cuenca?

What do you do all day?

Do you think you'll live in Cuenca forever?

Cynthia and I arrived here seven years ago last month, and I think I've done a pretty good job through this blog of answering the first two. Regarding the third one, my standard answer has always been, "I don't really think in absolute terms like 'forever.' But based on my life history (this being the fourth city of residence in the last 20 years), I'd say probably not."

It's been interesting to observe the dynamics of our expat population in Cuenca over the years. We were part of the initial wave of foreigners who arrived in 2010, and for the first few years the flow of expats defied the laws of nature--the tide always came in and never went out. I still remember vividly the shock when one of our first couple friends returned to the States after only about six months. They're leaving already?!? It was unthinkable.

We later learned that the average lifespan of an expat is 2-3 years before going back or moving on. And that is exactly what has happened here. Sure, new folks continue to show up, but their numbers are offset by others who are leaving. Every week in online publications there are posts for moving sales from people we never even got to meet.

There's no way to get an accurate count on Cuenca's expat population anymore. The immigration office knows exactly how many residency visas have been issued, but it is impossible to determine the number who are still here. Gosh, thinking back to the early days I realize that almost everyone we met from the "Class of 2010" is gone.

It also dawns on me that we've lived in this apartment longer than any other dwelling of our soon-to-be 46 years of marriage except the house in Atlanta we built and raised our children in. We were lucky to find it and all of the furniture we shipped fits perfectly, so why move?

Well, two reasons have slowly crept into our consciousness. As you know we travel internationally a lot, and dealing with the scheduling hassle of getting to Guayaquil or, usually, Quito with minimal layover and/or overnight stays has become increasing annoying. Since we plan to travel even more in the next 10-15 years it would be so much more convenient to live in a city with an international airport nearby.

Second, those four flights of steps in our building (plus another flight inside our apartment) weren't that big a deal seven years ago. As we continue to age and often go up and down them multiple times a day, let's just say the thought of having an elevator has crossed our minds. Particularly on grocery shopping day.

Does this mean we're out of here? No, not at all. But it does mean that as opposed to buying a car, which has never been considered, an occasional conversation about the subject now comes up. And I have to admit it's kind of fun to contemplate new possibilities. What besides an airport would be important to us in a new place? What features in a dwelling would we really like to have? Where else in the country, continent, or even world might be a great fit?

We've found this new topic of conversation so stimulating that we've even fantasized about the next "next"--what life could look like for us beyond the years of active travel. What kind of environment would we be looking for? What would we be doing?

Whether or not the details of any of these chats manifest is irrelevant. Something we've known intellectually for a long time has now become an essential aspect of our existence and a key element in all the blessings that have come our way since we stepped off the plane in Cuenca seven years ago.

Rather than obsess about minutia, we focus on a strong, solid general intention and then pay attention in the present moment to everything coming our way that supports that intention--a person--an article--a conversation. At first it took courage to not "be in control." Now we get out of our own way and simply let life unfold. The results have been so much better on every level.

As seasoned expats and travelers we have no trepidation about adjusting to life elsewhere. Since there's no sense of urgency about any of this, enjoyable flights of imagination over a glass of wine will continue. If and when the time feels right, perhaps we'll be motivated to take action.

One way or the other, our life continues to be an excellent expat adventure.








Thursday, June 8, 2017

Happenings in the 'Hood

We returned last night from a month-plus in the States to, as usual, an empty refrigerator and pantry. So my first order of business this morning was a visit to the Supermaxi to replenish our supplies.

I actually enjoy grocery shopping, which in this case is a big plus since there was so much shopping to do. And I love wandering through the neighborhood on my way to the store to report back to Cynthia all the changes since we left. This time I'd like to fill you in as well, followed by a few comments about my discoveries:

The food business next door has been renovating their rear outdoor space for ages. My best guess is a restaurant will be part of the operation eventually. We returned to two half-finished roof tile installations (a job that would take two focused guys one day to do).

The eyesore ladies clothing store up the street is now a bakery. Looking through the window it appears they offer the exact same products as a zillion other bakeries in town. (Sigh)

A pizza place under construction when we left has now opened, bringing the total to three within a few minutes walk.

There has been rapid progress on a new condo building nearby. This is reported solely because of the word "rapid."

Conversely, a condo building that's been under construction forever has still not opened. The pyramids were finished faster.

The fourth incarnation of a tiny doomed restaurant space is closed. You can't turn enough tables for it to work, but people keep trying----.

A cute coffee shop we never made it to has also closed (oops, correction. It has moved a block to a higher traffic area. We're not too late!).

A restaurant took down their sign about two years ago and we thought it had closed, but mysteriously they still seemed to have customers. Well, the sign has been re-installed so I guess they are officially open again.

A home converted into an attractive hostal near nothing-that-visitors-would-stay-overnight-for seems to be closed.

The chocolate shop next door that never had a customer has also closed.

I poked my head into the food court area at Milenium Plaza and noted the following (Disclosure: we don't go there very often so these changes could have occurred earlier than a month ago):

Sweet & Sexy, a children's clothing store (does the name raise eyebrows for you as well?) has expanded into women's clothing and moved to a larger space.

In its former location is yet another women's shoe store. How many can this population possibly support?

There is a new food purveyor called Captain Morgan's that serves absolutely nothing associated with its rum namesake.

Another new place is called Chips London. Fish & chips comprises a total of one thing on the entire menu, and it's not even the featured selection.

Venturing on, another coffee shop has opened near the Supermaxi. And, amazingly, set to open is a huge German-style beer hall right across the street from the grocery store.

Now this may seem to you like a lot of churn in just one month. Honestly, the players change but what I've reported is quite typical in our neighborhood. I've watched countless businesses come and go over the past seven years, which has led me to the following observations:

1) New businesses seem to be vastly under-capitalized. People invest everything they have just to get the doors open and cross their fingers.

2) Fundamental marketing principles are unknown. Owners invite their friends and relatives to the "grand opening" hoping the word will spread. If it does (which rarely happens) they succeed. If not the space is vacant within 3-6 months.

The coffee shop and artisan beer explosion has been totally unexpected. When we arrived in 2010 the preferred coffee was Nescafe--in a country that grows some of the finest coffee on the planet. And the beer choices were our two local options--Pilsener and Club. With these new trends plus the opening of both a food truck park and container park (a grouping of converted shipping containers serving a variety of cuisines) shortly before we left in May, Cuenca is almost becoming hip!

It's great to be back home. We look forward to reconnecting with our wonderful life here.