Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Groundhog Month

I’m cleaner these days than I’ve been in years. And my skin is wonderfully hydrated. Why? Because I find myself lingering for excessive amounts of time in the shower, the only warm escape from the constant chill in our apartment.

Cuenca is touted as the “land of eternal spring,” and I’ve written about this very subject for International Living. But July and August are the winter months here, and for the second July in a row the weather has been continuously and aggravatingly dismal.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not overcoat-wearing cold. However, we have no central heating and air conditioning (a blessing when it’s time to pay the utility bills each month). So when the sun refuses to shine day after day our place never gets a chance to warm up and retain a bit of warmth.

The temperature inside our home has pretty much fluctuated only between the low 60’s and high 50’s all month. As you’re reading this while enduring the sweltering summer heat you may be thinking, “That sounds pretty darned good to me!”

Trust me, it’s not.

Every day we wake up, throw open the curtain---and look out at the same gray overcast skies. We check the thermometer on Cynthia’s nightstand.

57 degrees. Oof---.

I get up, put on a heavy fleece bathrobe, and make coffee. Then I often crawl back under the covers for a while. After that long shower I dress quicker than a fireman being called to fight a blaze. On the worst evenings I roam around the house with the bathrobe over my clothes—and I’ve been known to don a toboggan cap as well.

We have a small electric space heater that I dragged around from room to room last July. But since my friend pointed out that the little beast eats as much power as 25 60 watt bulbs I’ve been a bit more judicious this year about firing it up.

As I’ve gotten older I have new-found appreciation of retirees who opt for the warmer climate of Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. My kids have nicknamed me “The Reptile” because of my increasing intolerance of weather extremes.

In my defense, people who live at altitude (Cuenca sits 8400 feet above sea level) develop thinner blood with more red blood cells to better oxygenate their bodies. So we experience temperature variations more severely than our coastal counterparts.

I’m not sharing all this information as a “bitch session.” It’s important for folks contemplating relocation here to know the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Presently it is a bit ugly.

I am not alone being uncomfortable with the current chilliness. Numerous expats have found Cuenca’s weather too cold and moved to lower altitudes.

In doing so they trade a cooler climate for the increased humidity and, worse, bugs that go hand in hand with warmer temps. Growing up in the South I’ve had more than my share of both, so the greater good for me is to pull on a sweatshirt and put up with this short dismal period.

And hope each morning when I open the curtain for the bright, warm sunshine that will eventually return.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Your Research Won't Tell You

A lot of my writing these days is devoted to articles for International Living. For those of you interested in the possibility of living abroad I encourage you to sign up for daily Postcards delivered free to your email inbox. To do so just go to to do so.

I think you'll enjoy this one I wrote that was just published today:


Much has been written in International Living by me and others about the tangible benefits of living in Cuenca, Ecuador—the low cost of living, the temperate climate, the lovely colonial architecture, excellent medical care, and cultural amenities plus modern conveniences.

So perhaps you already know that on a budget of around $1,800 per month, my wife Cynthia and I live in a beautiful two-story penthouse apartment with expansive views of the city.

Or that we may spontaneously decide to catch a $2 taxi to enjoy a free symphony performance, then stroll home in the cool evening air.

Maybe you’ve read how I can call any of our doctors on their personal cell phones to make a $25 appointment to see them today—no waiting around.

Or that a healthier lifestyle is easy to have here with fresh, inexpensive produce readily available at markets throughout the city and good, filling lunches abounding from as little as $2.

They’re all wonderful aspects of living in Cuenca, for sure. But there are some other intangible, but equally compelling, aspects of life in this beautiful city that your research won’t turn up—things that reveal themselves slowly as you adjust to a new culture and settle in to your adventure abroad.

If you’re leaving behind a hectic lifestyle filled with the constant pressure of appointments and deadlines…one where you’re always in a hurry to finish what’s in front of you so you can hurriedly move on to the “next thing”…the pace of life here will surprise you.

When you arrive, things are still stressful…for a short time at least. After all, you’re in a new city in a foreign country where the locals speak a different language. You need to learn your way around…apply for a visa…form relationships.

But after clearing those initial hurdles, it begins to feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You can breathe again—you can finally relax. You can’t remember when (or if) you have ever experienced such peace.

And you can get back to what’s really important. In my previous life I never gave myself permission for much of a social life because I had neither the time nor the energy. But in Cuenca, I have made so many wonderful friendships in the last three years that I feel like I have a “second family” here. I’m blessed to associate these days with folks with whom I share common interests and that I truly care about.

It’s all because I now have the time to move past cocktail party patter like, “So what do you do?” …and really get to know people over leisurely two-hour lunches and casual get-togethers.

But the biggest surprise of living in Cuenca has been the discovery of the basic goodness of the Ecuadorians. Our hosts are kind, humble, and generous. Smiling taxi drivers help unload groceries from their trunk. The lady at the dry cleaners waves every time I walk past. Merchants patiently listen and try to understand as you mangle the language.

So yes, the tangible benefits of living here are great…but it’s the intangibles that really make the difference.

Stress is no longer a part of your vocabulary. You have time to do what you want to do…when you want to do it. Deep relationships are an integral part of your life instead of an afterthought. And you find yourself immersed in a culture that readily supports your new, easier lifestyle.