We've now been in here in Cuenca, Ecuador for over two weeks. Time to talk about some people we've met that you'd never ever meet back in the States back home.
We're in a vacation condo that gets American tourists, but also those from other countries, too, including Latin America and Australia. The owner, Stuart White, is a lovely fellow who gets along with all kinds of people in the midst of running his vacation rentals here, and I've since found out has a following from those who have been renting from him in the past. You can learn a lot by listening to others in the courtyard patio area between our second story loft condo and the door to the street, Honorato Vasquez.
One of these is an Aussie retired couple from Down Under (Sydney suburbs and Adelaide suburbs) who have their Cedulas, or Resident Visas, now. They received theirs in February after living here on the up to 180 day Visa since late November 2013. Her approach on getting their Cedulas was to go to the Immigration office pretty much every day, and to keep asking questions 'til everything got done. They decided to use the $25,000 CD Visa route, where you state you have that much money to come to Ecuador, rather than the pensionado route, which we will be taking (stating you get a regular pension from in our case Social Security). One drawback to their getting their Cedulas was they had to go to Miami, Florida in the US to get a notarized or otherwise apostilled document stating that this much money was in the account. An extra expense in terms of airline tickets purchased for sure, but they ended up getting their Cedulas in the end! Their take is that the clerks in that office - who speak English pretty well, though with an accent in some cases - can be like DMV clerks in California. You need to smile, not ask too many questions, and let them have rule over what they do. It is, after all, their country which we voluntarily came to. Good point, that. Believe it or not they - who still speak very little Spanish - are the only Australian expats they know of. Brave pioneering souls indeed! Spanish is virtually unheard of and not taught in the Land of Oz, so I'm giving them great credit for choosing to come to Ecuador to live out their retirement years.
I've since learned from a rather unique guy, Oscar, best friend to the owner - Eduardo - of the authentic Mexican restaurant across the street, that only recently has the Ecuadorian government in Quito, the capital, let some limited autonomy take place into the running of the Immigration office in Cuenca. They can now make some of their own decisions about circumstances that come their way, where before they were bound by Quito's way of doing things by the book. The Cuenca Immigration office also gets very busy - apparently moreso than even Quito according to Oscar - and has been beleaguered by quite a few extranjeros - gringos - seeking assistance with getting their Cedulas or otherwise extending their visas. It used to be that there was a line of people outside the office, with no seating available or planning to allow the applicant to get an appointment later in the day. Nowadays the Immigration office in Cuenca has 37 plastic chairs in rows for waiting, and appointments are set by the clerks so there is a more calm, orderly operation to the place.
Oh. . . why Oscar is so unique. . . he is born and raised in Cuenca, but because his dad is an American
citizen, he also spent 17 (nonconsecutive) years in northern New Jersey, within Manhattan commuting distance. When he came to the US, he knew not one word of English. Within one month of English language immersion he was speaking conversational English. Today he is fluent in both Spanish and English. You'd think a guy like that would be involved in trade or the diplomatic realm of an Embassy, but Oscar has a real love of the arts, especially music. He is in a band that plays heavier style rock and roll. We did an off the cuff a capella rendition of Jim Morrison of the Doors' "Light My Fire," and he truly enjoyed my eidetic memory of the lyrics and the tenor voice God has also blessed me with. Yes, there's karaoke bars here in Cuenca for that sort of thing, too! More about Oscar in a future post.
Another is a Cuban citizen we met at the Immigration office. Not sure for how long she and her daughter are here in Ecuador for, but the fact we found out she was from Cuba was a first for us. I chatted in Spanish with her for a bit - thank you, God for this ability - and also did a John F. Kennedy voice impression that she really enjoyed. Cubans are people too, and Jesus died and rose for them just like anyone else we know. Talking to Oscar about this Cuban lady Carmen, he believes her to be a political refugee seeking political asylum here in Ecuador. He says that's the only reason why Cubans come here to live permanently.
We also met while on tour a very nice young lady who lives in Guayaquil, about four to five hours driving distance from Cuenca near the Pacific coast. Andrea, along with her fiancée, "George," work in the IT tech industry in Ecuador - she's in marketing - and her family was on the tour bus with us on a tour of Cuenca ($5 and very much recommended. . . be sure to take the top deck of the open roof double decker bus!). Neat and close, loving Roman Catholic family. her English was very good, and she wants more practice with it. We exchanged emails and have stayed in touch especially because of an uncle that has really been suffering from stomach cancer. According to Andrea, he is an Evangelical believer in Christ, married and at the end of his life with much pain from the Cancer. . . to the point of asking the Lord to spare him the pain and take him home to be with Jesus. We prayed for him on the bus that Saturday before Easter, and she really appreciated the prayer. The Ecuadorian people are so open to prayer and thoughtful acts of love. In this way the Gospel and salvation for the people here may go forward. So very encouraging to see.
I discussed Guayaquil with Oscar a bit, and he asked me if I knew the hour the locals there got off the streets due to crime, etc. I guessed 8:00 PM or so. Oscar said it was earlier. . . 6:00 PM daily. My research was right. . . Guayaquil is a more unsafe city overall than any other large city in Ecuador. If you do go out onto the streets there, it's wise to do so with a local who knows the lay of the land and will keep you safe that way.
Taxi drivers: generally very good, but there are those who are not as helpful as others. One spoke perfect English, and as it turned out had spent a lot of time in Worcester, Massachusetts. Really excellent driver who knew his streets and language. One spoke only Spanish, but really knew his streets in a time saving fashion and made excellent conversation throughout.. Good thing my Spanish is up to par. One tried to help us to go to the correct Immigration office, but dropped us off at what proved to be the wrong one. Great effort, but lack of knowledge about what would be helpful to us as Cedula seekers. There went $2 extra bucks for taxi expense. . . (sigh) One or two have told us they didn't know where we wanted to go regarding some rather well known places in Cuenca. . . Mall del Rio south of El Centro and Hotel Oro Verde west of El Centro, which is a class act where a night's stay for two is $158 (rack rate). We saw a really nice third floor 2 bedroom 2 bath condo near there renting for $370 plus $72 condo association fee, utilities not included. Just checking things out. . . not signing any papers yet. Too early for that just yet. Interesting how every cab driver seems to know where Iglesia Verbo is. . . it happens to be on two major cross streets, so it's rather easy to find if you drive here as a local. They seem to have an excellent reputation all around Cuenca. . . no bad reports about the church at all. Heartening to hear. We need to get to know those folks more.