Tag Archives: Living in Cuenca

Takin’ Care of Business . . . Everyday

Or “No Time to Write!”

I’m referring to the business of life, of course, because our loyal readers know that we are retired.  Four and a half months have slipped by in a heartbeat with busy days, travel, church and music activities and a few life events as well.  I’m going to try to catch you up on the past few months and post some pictures of our travels within Ecuador as well as trip #2 to Spain.  As always, I ask you to pardon the length of time it has been since our last post.

Let’s start with the Life Events.  After being renters in a large condominium complex for 15 months, we bought a furnished house about 2 kms away.  Although we weren’t really looking to buy, this home caught our attention and within six weeks, we were home owners again.  Our “villa” is on a small gated street called “Urbanización Terra Verde” in what would be called townhouse condominiums in the US.  We continue to be close to the various services we frequent as well as three different bus lines but we are set back from any busy streets so it is much quieter than our apartment was.  This was a good move!

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Two major events occurred in our lives almost simultaneously.  My worst nightmare of “what could go wrong” while living in a different hemisphere than the rest of your loved ones came to pass when I needed to make a rather hasty trip to Seattle, Washington to help our son Bryan who was having several major health issues all at once.  I am glad to report that Bryan is much improved and now I know I can survive this kind of crisis!  However, I need to publically thank dear friends Kurt and Teresa Lutterman, Don and Kyp Bisagna, and our daughter Kathleen and her fiancé Chaz, who all helped get things under control before and while I was in Western Washington.  Good friends and family are how we can do this thing called life.

On April 16, a devastating earthquake shook Ecuador’s north coast.  I was in Washington at the time but Glenn experienced the intense and prolonged shaking here in our mountain city of Cuenca.  No significant damage was experienced here but many communities suffered catastrophic destruction, death, injuries and loss.  It will take Ecuador many years of rebuilding to recover from this.  As often happens in disastrous circumstances, the citizens come together to give aid in whatever way possible.  This has been true for Ecuador as well.  Please keep the recovery of our adopted country in your thoughts and prayers.

earthquake 1 earthquake 2

Even without new houses, emergency trips and earthquakes, we keep pretty busy with our “retired” life.  Let me tell you about three major activities of this new year.

Cuenca Christian Church, the body of believers that we worship and serve with here in Cuenca, moved to a new location in late December of last year.  We had been progressing toward a fully bilingual church for several months and our congregation (Cuencanos and Expats) had been increasing steadily and we needed new space.  Glenn and I are the primary musicians for worship and we spend a lot of time searching out songs in English and Spanish and learning to sing both.  Glenn also is responsible for keeping accurate contact information of the ever increasing church family as well as maintaining the church’s website.  Mother’s Day brought our largest crowd ever (74) as we enjoyed worship together, a special children’s program, and a Mother’s Day lunch with typical Ecuadorian foods including roast pig (roasted in the church yard!)

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Since last November, I have had the incredible opportunity to produce four house concerts in the homes of some of my friends.  Each concert has featured wonderful musicians from Cuenca and Quito and the audiences have been enthusiastic and generous.  This is an activity I plan to continue and expand, to the point of giving it a name:  Colibrí Conciertos (Hummingbird Concerts).

Daniel Brito
Sandra Echiverri
Daniel Brito, Eddie Jumbo, Carlos Andrade
Daniel Brito, Bernarda Holguin
Diego Carneiro Oliveira Pic 1
Diego Carneiro Oliveira
























Since the day of our arrival to live in Cuenca in October 2014, we have been a part of the Cuenca International Chorale.  This spring was no different as we prepared for our biggest musical endeavor to date:


Both Glenn and I had challenging and fun solos in the Broadway portion of the program.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any links to provide in this post.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310Wimage

Traveling is one of the main reasons we retired and moved to Cuenca more than 19 months ago.  We have enjoyed some beautiful places in the Andes Mountains to the north and south of Cuenca.

Saraguro is two and half hours south of Cuenca on the Pan American Highway.  The people of the area wear distinctive black clothing (skirts for the women, calf-length pants for the men) single braided hair, beautiful collar-like beaded necklace, and very hard black and white hats.  The area is agricultural despite the very steep mountain sides and the production of quality woven products is a significant part of the economy.

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You can find more pictures from our trip to Saraguro by clicking on the Page entitled “Saraguro” at the top of this blog post.

A little further on down the road toward Peru, is the little town of Vilcabamba.  It is located in a valley that is sometimes called “The Valley of Longevity” because of the higher than average number of people who live to be very, very old.  We enjoyed a couple of nights in the beautiful Hostería Izhcayluma with our friends Greg and Brenda.  We ate, hiked, got massages, played games and relaxed in the hammocks on our verandas.

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The rest of the Vilcabamba photos may be seen on the page entitled (you guessed it!) “Vilcabamba”.  Check it out.

And you can head north on the Pan American Highway, too!  That’s what we did when we traveled to Alausí where the famous Devil’s Nose Train is located.  El Nariz del Diablo is famous for three “true” switchbacks in order to manage the very steep grade from Alausí to Silambe.  It is a true engineering feat.

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And dozens more pictures can be found on the “Devil’s Nose Train” page.

Some of you may remember that in February of 2015, Glenn and I traveled to Spain to participate in an English language program called Diverbo.  We posted about it in two different posts:  “The Rain in Spain. . .” and “Diverbo Pueblo Inglés”.  This year we did the same sort of thing but with a company called Vaughan Systems.  The idea is the same:  native English speakers enjoy free room and board at a 4 star hotel in Spain while spending many hours each day talking and listening in English to help Spaniards improve their English.  Check out http://www.grupovaughan.com/vaughantown if this sounds like something you would be interested in.  We loved it and plan to participate again next year.

Prior to attending VaughanTown, we visited Tenerife, Canary Islands and Barcelona.  What beautiful places!  It was quite cold in Tenerife but we enjoyed our time with our great friends Elisa and Paco.  The island has 25 micro climates and we visited most of them.  Here is just a smattering of the pictures from Tenerife.

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Barcelona is an amazing city and we had sparkling sunny but cool days there, which is perfect in our book for walking and sightseeing.  The highlight of Barcelona for us was La Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí.  We were fortunate to be renting an apartment just a block from this incredible structure.  We understand that the cathedral will be completed in June of 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.  I plan to go back!

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I would really like to upload all my pictures from Spain but I’m running out of WordPress memory!  Instead, I will leave you with just a few more pictures from Ecuador.  The first four are from a quick trip we took into the Cajas National Park just miles from Cuenca.  It may only be a few miles away but it seems like a different world.  Our friend Hugo was our guide this cold day!

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The picture above was taken with a couple of my “Comadres” during Carnaval – the crazy festival before the beginning of Lent.  In Cuenca it is celebrated with lots of fireworks, water, and foam.  Carly Barly and Kathy and I had just finished participating in a major foam fight with a bunch of our fellow Cuencanos.  We were all smiles and laughter until our eyes started stinging from the foam!  Still, it was a great evening.

In less than one week, we leave for the US for a three week trip.  We will visit Glenn’s mom in Boston for a few days and then head up to Alaska for our daughter’s wedding.  We can hardly wait!  Maybe we will see some of you while we are in Anchorage.

What we have learned:  Cuenca is still the greatest place to live!

What we need to learn:  One shouldn’t let five months go by between blog posts!


Burn, Baby, Burn

or “New Year’s Eve in Cuenca”

The post Christmas lull did not last long here in Cuenca.  Although the Pase del Niño parades continue, immediately after Christmas, Cuencanos turn their minds and preparations to the next big celebration:  Año Viejo (Old Year) or New Year’s Eve to the northern folk.  Vendors set up booths and rotate their stock from Christmas cards, decorations, and sweets to fireworks, yellow and red underwear, grapes, masks and Año Viejo dummies, also called monigotes.  All of Ecuador celebrates  Año Viejo but rumor has it Cuenca has developed the practice into a pyrotechnic, incendiary, cacophonous art form.

Hundreds of bodies and masks to mix and match your perfect monigote!
Hundreds of bodies and masks to mix and match your perfect monigote!
Recognize anyone?
Recognize anyone?







Tradition has it that burning masked papier mâché dummies depicting famous, infamous or anonymous characters on New Year’s Eve gives good luck to the one burned in effigy.  But it is also a way for the ones doing the burning to symbolically leave behind the regrets, bad relationships, and mistakes of the past year as one looks forward to the new.

We found these guys everywhere!  This one was in the Coral department store being constructed by employees.
We found these guys everywhere! This one was in the Coral department store being constructed by employees.

Whatever. . .it’s fire, explosions, and noise and Ecuadorians love those things!  Monigotes are filled with highly flammable materials such as paper, straw or hay, cardboard, manure (eeewww!) and sometimes fireworks.  Whole neighborhoods get together to shoot off fireworks, play music and dance and of course, burn their monigotes.  Extra luck to a participant is possible if s/he jumps over the burning effigy three times.  We think it would be lucky if said participant does not have an imbedded firecracker go off mid-jump!

Let’s go get marshmallows!
Never mind! Let’s get the fire extinguisher.






Here’s a short video clip of our neighbors jumping over their burning monigote:     Effigy Burning New Year’s Eve – Cuenca, Ecuador

As it was past midnight and a little cool, we enjoyed the monigote burning in our neighborhood from the comfort of our bedroom window.  Our bedroom view encompasses 180 degrees and we are up on the 4th floor, so watching the largest fireworks display we’d ever seen  was quite pleasant.  A question was posed in The GringoPost, an expat online newsletter, about whether there would be any public displays of fireworks on New Year’s Eve.  One response was “You’re joking, right?”  Another was “There is NO part of Cuenca that will NOT have fireworks going off on New Year’s Eve!”  And we will attest that is true.
















The wearing of yellow and red underwear on New Year’s Eve is a tradition meant to bring love in the new year.  Since we both have the loves of our lives already, we forewent the buying and wearing of these special garments.







Eating twelve grapes at midnight, one at each of the 12 clock chimes, is also supposed to bring good luck.  We were too busy gawking and taking pictures of the fireworks and monigotes to pay attention to the time.  So a few minutes after midnight, we nibbled on our twelve grapes.  It would have been our luck to choke on one of those twelve grapes by eating them so fast during the first 12 seconds of the new year.

12 grapesThe festivities in our neighborhood died down around 1 am but we’re sure the partying went on long after that in other parts of the city.  We walked to our friends’ apartment midafternoon on New Year’s Day and it was like a ghost town.  All we saw were a few cars, a single taxi, and the charred remains of a few Año Viejos.

No regrets here.

Many other expat bloggers have posted much better pictures and different perspectives of their Año Viejo celebrations so we would like to refer you to their sites if you would like more information.

BobnRox in Ecuador       http://bobnrox.squarespace.com/journal/

Oregon to Ecuador – Longoods’ Journey living in Cuenca Ecuador  http://boandlindainecuador.blogspot.com/

Rambling On  http://lance-kathy.blogspot.com/

Cuenca International Choir
Cuenca International Chorale

Now for the bonus section of our blog.  If you recall, we performed in the debut concert of the Cuenca International Chorale in the Old Cathedral of Cuenca back on December 22.  For those of you who want to hear and see any of the music we performed, we have the Vimeo link (excerpts of all the songs in the concert)   https://vimeo.com/115463314

and Youtube links to all the songs in their entirety.

And We Sing Gloria. <http://youtu.be/pXwl3IhWcdE>
Angels We Have Heard On High. <http://youtu.be/Mfn0shGHqXY>
Break Forth’ O Beauteous Heavenly Light. <http://youtu.be/7djtAOhhhzQ>
In The Bleak Midwinter. <http://youtu.be/y4IssZK7ONI>
Cherry Tree Carol. <http://youtu.be/ORPiXvU2OPQ>
Riu Riu Chiu. <http://youtu.be/nTMEOpzz8Gk>
Fum Fum Fum. <http://youtu.be/Rihxqe59700>
Gaudete. <http://youtu.be/a1NVOni61Jg>
Personet Hodie. <http://youtu.be/eH9Yb2KqBeE>
Pat-a-Pan. <http://youtu.be/BcpSMx4HfoI>
Silent Night (Long version shortened by 2/3) <http://youtu.be/f5TpD4n2Dxl>
Joy to the World. <http://youtu.be/MsjKEp1v4ZQ>
Silent Night (Ensemble). <http://youtu.be/pEhE9abveho>
The Coventry Carol. <http://youtu.be/Fvdos9Td3tE>
The First Noel. <http://youtu.be/0xEisMz2avA>

If you don’t plan to watch all the videos, we totally understand.  But you might want to check out Riu Riu Chiu (Glenn’s big solo all in Spanish) and Cherry Tree Carol and Gaudete (songs in which Mara had solos).

We have some travel plans to announce:  Los Ganos de Cuenca are traveling to Spain in February.  We are going to spend a week at a resort near the university town of Salamanca helping Spaniards improve their English.  Room and Board is free for the English speakers as our payment for spending 12 or more hours a day in conversation!  Airfare is on our dime.   We will do some sightseeing on our own for a few days afterward.  Some folks we have told this news to were curious about the program so we have two websites to share of the two companies (that we know of) who conduct these kinds of programs.map of Spain

Pueblo Ingles (the program we are attending):  www.diverbo.com     Diverbo has programs in several locations in Spain and in Germany.

VaughanTown  just has programs in Spain but they were the first company to do this kind of thing.  http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com

Next time, we’ll get some of the pictures posted from our road trips to Chordeleg, Sig Sig, San Bartoleme, and the Yungilla Valley unless something super exciting happens to pre-empt that.  You never know – we do live in Ecuador after all!

What we’ve learned:  Unregulated fireworks can be fun!

What we need to learn:  How to eat grapes very quickly.

Two Holidays in One Four Day Weekend

Or “All Souls Day Meets Cuenca Independence Day”

While our US friends were “celebrating” Halloween and the end of Daylight Savings Time (except Arizona), Cuencanos were in the middle of a four day Fiesta (Oct. 31-Nov. 3).  As a rule, Ecuadorians don’t need much incentive to organize a parade, shoot off fireworks, display arts and crafts, or amplify concerts from any number of city parks and plazas.  So extending a two day holiday into four days so that you can have these expressions of celebration even longer makes sense!

El Dia de Difurtos is similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead (or All Souls Day on Nov. 1) and is celebrated on Nov. 2. Families take picnics and food offerings and gather in the cemeteries where the graves of their dearly departed are located and have a family reunion of sorts.  The next day, Nov. 3, the celebrations take a turn from the familial to the patriotic as the anniversary of Cuenca’s independence from Spain is celebrated.  Friday and Saturday (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1) are just bonus days!

We heard that there were over 300 events scheduled during the four day weekend. In addition to the parades, fireworks, concerts, arts and crafts, there were numerous races, exhibitions, sporting events, competitions and activities for children.  Traditional food and artisan’s booths were in abundance as were traffic and crowds.  We took in only a few activities on Saturday and Monday.

We met up with our friends Kathy and Lance in El Centro and enjoyed watching the School Children Parade (our name for it!) As far as we could tell, most, if not all schools in Cuenca had students representing their various institutions with bands, dancers and drum corps.  Parades put people in a good mood, we think, because even though the streets were crowded with onlookers, everybody was very considerate and made room for spectators and photographers to get a good view.  Here are some pictures from this parade.













School Pride
School Pride
Dig their weaponry!
Dig their weaponry!


Two traditional foods that are only served during this time of the year are Guagua de Pan and Colada Morada. We enjoyed both on this day.  Guagua is the Quechua word for baby and is pronounced “wa-wa”.  The sweet bread is formed into the shape of an armless and legless baby and decorated with icing.  Colada Morada is a thick, purplish, warm drink made of various fruits (naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries) sweetened with cane sugar (panela) and thickened with black corn flour.  Guagua de Pan and Colada Morada are both offered and consumed at the cemeteries during All Saints Day.

Guagua de Pan (pronounced "wa-wa") ready to be bought and eaten.
Guagua de Pan (pronounced “wa-wa”) ready to be bought and eaten.
This little baby was awfully good!
This little baby was awfully good!







Run, run fast as you can - you can't catch me I'm the Guagua de Pan!
Run, run fast as you can – you can’t catch me I’m the Guagua de Pan!


Colada Morada - Mmmm!
Colada Morada – Mmmm!







On Monday, the 194th anniversary of Cuenca’s Independence from Spain, we had two parades to choose from.  We opted for the “Morlaquia” parade over the very popular military parade.  We heard the military parade was HUGE and wondered what would have happened if there had been a military emergency at the same time.  Reports have it that there could have been every single tank, jeep, soldier, gun, and all other type of military apparatus of all the Ecuadorian branches of the military in this parade!  There were also several fly-overs by air force fighter jets all during the weekend.  We didn’t even know there was an Ecuadorian Air Force!

Anyway, back to what we experienced. The Morlaquia parade featured the people (mostly women) from the neighborhoods and surrounding villages of Cuenca.  At the conclusion of the parade, there was the Cholita Cuencana contest.  Our research into Chola Cuencana resulted in a very vague, and hopefully not too inaccurate understanding of this custom.  Chola Cuencana is an archetypical woman of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage who embodies all the positive attributes of both cultures.  The parade that we attended featured women and girls of all ages from all over the Azuay province.  Participants were walking, dancing, or riding on “floats” and exhibiting each neighborhoods’ traditional clothing, dances, crops, livestock, handmade goods and other economical contributions of the women of these regions.  It appeared that each regional group had a young woman, often accompanied by her father, who was an entrant in the “Cholita Cuencana” pageant.

Further research into the Chola identity reveals that there is quite a little struggle between the older more traditional women who desire their offspring to continue to exhibit the Chola traditional clothing, economics and behavior and the younger, more modern women who are resisting this somewhat archaic model. Sounds a lot like the US in the 60’s and 70’s and the Women’s Lib movement.  At any rate, for festival days and the accompanying parades, it would seem like the Chola is alive and well.  Here are a few images from the Morlaquia parade.


Exhibits and contests of various artistic genres was prevalent. Mile after mile (it would seem) of white tents lined major avenues of the city, filled with the products of thousands of artisans not only from Cuenca and Ecuador, but the neighboring countries of Peru, Chile, and Colombia as well.  We did not purchase any of the amazing variety of crafts but enjoyed looking while trying to stay protected from the intense equatorial midday sun!

Row upon row of vendors' white tents.
Row upon row of vendors’ white tents.


More tents across the Rio Tomebomba
More tents across the Rio Tomebomba







Classical Guitar Booth
Classical Guitar Booth
Classical Guitar Artisan
Classical Guitar Artisan

Hopefully, this post gives you a tiny taste of what a festival weekend in Cuenca is like. As we said, we participated in a very small fraction of what was going on.  In the very near future, we have the celebrations of Christmas, New Year, Mardi Gras and more.  We have to pace ourselves!

Next post will be about some of our everyday experiences and we hope to give you an idea of some similarities and differences of living in Ecuador compared to the US. You might be surprised in what you read!  Stay tuned.

Here’s what we’ve learned: We should NEVER go to Coral department store on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s like shopping on the day after Thanksgiving AND the first weekend after PFD distribution* combined.

Here’s what we need to learn: How to go about our routines and errands without being out in the midday sun or getting caught in a late afternoon thunderstorm.

*Alaskans know what I’m talking about. The rest of our readers:  Google Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.