The Best of Living and Retiring in Ecuador
This is the place where I get to share all the favorite things I love about Ecuador. As a writer, I gain inspiration from the people I meet, the delightful sidewalk cafes where I sip cappuccino, and the festivals where we celebrate the joy of all things Ecuadorian.
Nueva Catedral (new Cathedral) in Cuenca - First Stop
It has and always will be my favorite place in Cuenca -- the Nueva Catedral and Tutto Freddo Heladeria (on the corner). It's where we first went for ice cream and the place I go when I'm in El Centro to meet people, to read a book, to people watch, to take pictures, and to live, breathe and enjoy Cuenca.
If you're new to Cuenca, it should be the first place you visit as well. There are some great restaurants all around the area -- north, east, south and west. But the best part is to stand back and view the three blue domes (tres cupolas) from across the street.
Enjoy exploring the best of Cuenca!
Until next time...hasta luego!
Connie and Mark
|Posted by Connie Pombo on May 18, 2013 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
Once again Cuenca, Ecuador makes it in the news with ABC Primetime with Dianne Sawyer. John Quinones reports that more and more Americans are finding affordable retirement abroad, including Cuenca, Ecuador. Click here to see the report!
|Posted by Connie Pombo on February 27, 2012 at 1:40 PM||comments (1)|
I've been on a sabbatical from writing and it was time well spent.
Dad Pombo passed away on Sunday, February 12th -- just hours before my plane arrived. Mark had flown out to San Francisco a week ahead of me to spend time with his dad during his final days, which was such a blessing. When I arrived last Sunday, no words were needed. Mark handed me a single red rose at the airport and I knew. Mom and Dad Pombo are now "home" together!
I remember the first time I stepped through the door to meet Mark's huge Sicilian family! I was overwhelmed with the loud talking, waving of hands, and Sicilian gesturing. I thought they were all mad at each other, so I retreated to one of the bedrooms and sobbed. One by one, each of the family members came in and asked me what was wrong. How could I tell them it was them? Dad Pombo made it all better by entering the room with a twinkle in his eye and a broad smile. "Don't worry," he said with a chuckle, "you'll get used to it!" He kissed me on the cheek and welcomed me into the family! Two years later, Mark and I were married.
It's a strange feeling to know that we will never be able to go back home again, but the memories we have made there will always be with us.
Many of you who have lost a parent (or both) have sent us such comforting words and a wealth of wisdom. I've tried to respond to each e-mail personally, but I'm sure I've missed some so please know that your thoughts were so helpful during such a difficult time.
In many ways, retiring overseas was like a "mini-death," in that we have already put in order our final days (living trust, advanced care directive, and the distribution of our belongings). I'm always amazed--shocked really--how many folks in their 80's who haven't done this. Since we came to Cuenca with four suitcases, our earthly belongings have already been taken care of. The only thing that is important to us is photo albums which our boys have access to in Pennsylvania. Our insurance agent (and friend) in the States will take care of all the monetary assets and in the event of our simultaneous deaths, we have someone designated here in Ecuador to carry out our desires.
In the midst of our grief, we enjoyed some quality time with our kids who flew out for the funeral. We spent a day at the Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, just 20 minutes from Mark's home. It was one of Dad Pombo's favorite places and I can see why. When it's high tide the surfers are out and at low tide (when we visited), the tide pools are a perfect opportunity to explore marine life.
Returning back home will never be the same, but it's the memories that will sustain us!
Until next time...hasta luego,
|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 30, 2012 at 10:40 AM||comments (0)|
Many of you have been through this, so you can relate to care giving from a distance. Mark's dad fractured his hip, had two heart attacks, and now has viral pneumonia (all within a month). Dad Pombo has been in and out of the hospital too many times to mention. And then on Saturday, while we were both teaching at CEDEI we received 15 messages, including one on Facebook that said, "Call HOME now!"
Unfortunately, since we had our cell phones off (a policy of the school), we didn't receive any of the messages until we got home in the afternoon. Mark's dad was rushed to the hospital with viral pneumonia and a blood pressure of 43/34. The family rallied, we checked out flights, and we were in panic mode. This has been going on for the last month; we sleep with one hand on our suitcase and the other on the phone.
Yesterday evening when Mark's sister called and said that Dad Pombo was stabilized we let out a sigh of relief. We actually took a five-hour nap before we went to bed! We were emotionally exhausted. Thankfully, we have siblings in the States who are there, but we're involved from a distance in the care giving. We knew this day was coming with both sets of parents, but it doesn't make it any easier when you're actually going through it.
As baby boomers, we're often caught in the sandwich generation -- taking care of our parents while still raising our own kids. Thankfully, our boys are in their 20's and 30's and are self-sufficient, so our main focus is on our parents right now.
If you're going through care giving from a distance and have some words of wisdom, I would love to hear from you.
Until next time...hasta luego!
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|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 26, 2012 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
Today I had an overwhelming urge for Italy!
Blame it on Wikipedia being on strike, writer's block or just reminiscing, but I pulled out all of our pictures of Sicily and thought, What are we doing in Cuenca? We should be in Calitri, Italy!
It's not every day that I feel this way, but I have to tell you that today was one of those days! I think it was all the lesson planning I had to do for teaching (we're "conversing" about Italy), combined with my walk around the neighborhood where every new high rise has an Italian name: Capri, Amalfi and La Roma. Oh, and let's not forget the "Palermo" building, which just happens to be the capital of Sicily!
We've been here for 1-1/2 years and I still don't have an emotional connection with the language the way I did with Italian. I loved rolling my rrrrrr's and saying "gelato" with gusto. Italians just have this zest for life that's contagious, including all the hand motions that go with every word. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was pregnant (x2) with my babies in the land of pasta and pesto. I have no idea what it is, but I just don't get that same fuzzy feeling with español.
So tomorrow I'll show up for Spanish Class and pretend that none of this ever happened!
|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 20, 2012 at 8:15 PM||comments (0)|
This weekend we met a delightful Ecuadorian couple who just returned to Cuenca after five years of being in the States. They said, "What happened? We hardly know our own city!"
I had to chuckle because I feel that way too sometimes. I think they were referring to the redondel which is the center of construction "paradise" right now and all the various condo complexes that keep sprouting up all over the city.
Most folks seem to think that all the new condos are due to the gringos in town. Not true. Most of the condos are occupied by Ecuadorians -- either returning from the States -- or living abroad and investing in their own country. One of the expats -- who recently moved into a new condo complex -- told me he's renting from an Ecuadorian couple and he pays $500 for a two bedroom two bath apartment. I think that's about the going rate these days. Renting a place unfurnished seems to be the way to go until supply and demand level out.
When I tell folks what we pay for rent, they gasp and say, "How did you find that?" Actually $185-$200 per month is what Ecuadorians normally pay. Although yesterday I was at the home of one of our Ecuadorian friends and she has a two-story penthouse and pays $250. It's a lovely place and has a great view of the city. The rental prices are definitely inflated and that's because more gringos are renting (than buying) and willing to pay more. Until the supply and demand ratios even out, I think you'll continue to see rental prices go up.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Michael Berger of Cuenca's Best Properties and he shared with me his thoughts and wrote a great article on the subject which I suggest you read if you're planning a move to Cuenca.
In the meantime, we're back to school as students of Spanish (Intermediate/Advanced Level) and we're both teaching this semester. Our condo is starting to look like a schoolroom with all our supplies, books and lesson plans floating around. This cycle I have the Advanced Conversational English Club and let me tell you...they keep me on my toes! I think our brain cells have quadrupled since we moved to Cuenca. If learning a new language helps to delay dementia, I think we just might have some protection in that regard.
While construction goes on in Cuenca, we have another form of "construction" happening in the States. Mark's dad fell and fractured his hip and then had a heart attack. He's now in the ICU and we've been care giving from a distance. Many nights we have fallen asleep with one hand on the phone and the other on our suitcase. Mark's dad is 85 years old and was living independently until he broke his hip. Mark's sisters are visiting him every day in the hospital and they keep in contact with us daily.
We know that many of you have been through this, but we're treading uncharted waters at this time. My parents are in their 80's, so we enjoy each day with them through e-mail, Skype or Magic Jack. The other day I talked to my dad for an hour! He said, "You kids did the right thing retiring in Cuenca because things sure are a mess here in the U.S." Bless his heart; I never thought I'd hear him say that.
With so many things changing on the home front and Cuenca emerging into a new city, it reminds me that few things ever remain the same. That's why they call it life!
|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM||comments (0)|
I love my "job" as a writer; it's never dull!
Personally, the writing world has brought me into contact with folks I would have never met otherwise and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with others who want to get published.
In the States, I would speak at writer's conferences on how to get published in a Chicken Soup book, which is one of the credits you want on your writing resume. The vetting process is rigid and each story must receive 10 across the board by a selected group of 40 readers before it makes it to the final 101 stories. Sometimes, depending on the compilation, they may receive up to 10,000 submissions. I enjoy writing Chicken Soup stories and "yes" there is a formula which I have willing shared with those who are interested.
Once in a while someone will tell me a "story" and I'll blurt out, "That would make a great Chicken Soup story!" Last year, one of the expats asked if I would read her submission and critique it, so I did. When she sent me the final edit, I told her to leave it alone and don't touch it. If you mess with a story too much and edit it more than three times, it loses its soulful flavor and it ends up less than "salty"! So she took my advice and left it alone and "yes" it got accepted into a Chicken Soup book. I always rejoice with a writer when they get their first publishing credit; it makes my heart sing!
But there are other things in the writing world that I don't care for that much and last week was one of those "things." I got a phone call from the same expat and she blurted out, "We're writing a book like yours!"
"Really?" I said, "which one?"
"Oh, we downloaded your Kindle book, but we decided to call ours 'Thriving in Cuenca,''" she added. "Can you tell us how to upload it to Kindle?
This is when the writer in me becomes absolutely speechless!
Okay, so there's nothing new under the sun and usually if a book is popular, there will be similar books cropping up -- that's the writing world. If you can't get used to it then you shouldn't be a writer. Normally, this incident would have gone unnoticed, but this person called me her friend. For an entire year, I have liberally given her information about the writing world and then the ultimate betrayal.
"Some people come in your life as blessings, others come in your life as lessons!"
Some have called Cuenca the "Wild, Wild West" -- anything goes! In some respects it's true; there are few rules and regulations, including no copyright laws. Some folks have started new careers, rediscovered old passions, and others have continued to do what they've done in the States with much success.
The only suggestion(s) I have for those who are interested in the writing world: be sure of your calling, read and memorize the writer's creed, and most importantly -- be honest with your readers!
Until next time...hasta luego!
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|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 10, 2012 at 10:15 PM||comments (0)|
Yesterday, Mocha and I took our weekly walk to El Centro and stopped at "El Cafetal de Loja" so I could rest and Mocha could sniff around. It's my absolute favorite place in Cuenca to have a "cafecito." The inner courtyard is peaceful and they treat you like royalty.
"Siga no mas!" said the owner (several times) until I reached the table with a single white rose frosted in pink.
After five minutes, my "Cafe Americano" was ready and served with a small pitcher of warm milk (total cost: $1.00).
It was sheer perfection!
Mocha sat by my feet and murmured, "Okay, I better make myself comfortable because I think we're going to be here for a while!"
Yep, Mocha can read my mind, so he laid down on the cobblestones and took a nap. Good thing because there was a conversation brewing at the next table that made my ears perk up. Evidently this guy from New York was taking a tour of the city with his guide.
The newcomer in town wanted to know the top three of everything in Cuenca: best places to eat, best bars in town, etc. Unfortunately, I only had one scrap of paper the size of a gum wrapper and my pen kept "sputtering." I did introduce myself and welcomed the new person to Cuenca, before I ran home as fast as I could so none of the information would spill out of my head!
Some of the stuff I already knew, but the gist of what the new guy in town had to say held my interest a little longer: "So you're telling me that I could probably live more cheaply in the States than in Cuenca?"
"Yes!" the guide said emphatically. "In some parts of the U.S. you probably could live on your pension, but you would miss all this beauty," he added with a smile.
Okay, now I'm going to share my side of the story "over coffee." Yes, it is true that you probably could live in the States (in some parts) more cheaply than Cuenca, but it all depends on your lifestyle.
We came to Cuenca for the medical as our medical insurance in the States would have eaten us alive with its $1,500 monthly premium and its $20,000 deductible (not to mention mortgage, cars, and the heating bill in Pennsylvania).
In Cuenca, although we live on less than most, we're still able to save approximately 20 percent of our income and we never feel deprived. In fact, this is the only time in our lives that we have two other sources of income that we use solely for savings and investment. Try to do that in the States?!? Although we came down here for the affordable health care, we ended up with a lot more in the way of quality of life.We live along the Tomebamba River, we walk everywhere and we don't need a snow shovel!
However, we do have a Plan B. What if we had to go back to the States, where would we live and how could we make it? I know it sounds impractical, but we picked Paso Robles, California (27 miles inland from San Luis Obispo). It's close enough to the ocean without the high cost of living in a coastal town. Not exactly Los Frailes, but it just might work.
We found a two bedroom, one bath apartment with a pool and all the amenities for $450 a month. It's on "El Camino" next to WalMart, Starbucks, and a large shopping center. No need for transportation because they have an excellent bus system and we can walk everywhere in town. By the way, they're emerging as the new Napa Valley with wineries galore. We figured out that we could probably live on the same amount or less and would even qualify for some health care programs (that's a really big "if" because California is bankrupt!).
Why California? Our entire family lives in either Northern or Southern California. Both of our parents are in their 80's and Mark's dad who is 85, just fell and fractured his hip. He will be in a long-term care facility as he recovers. But we've had "Plan B" in place for a while just in case something like this were to happen. In July 2012 we will be able to leave Ecuador for a period of 18 months as we will have passed the all important two-year mark in our cédula process. Don't worry, we're not going anywhere (yet), but at least we have a plan in place in case of an emergency!
Mocha Mondays are important: it gives me time to see Cuenca like a tourist, meet and greet new folks in town and reflect on our life. In August we will be vacationing in San Luis Obispo with our kids, so we'll be able to report back on our findings. And we'll get to show our kids where we spent our honeymoon (Cavalier Inn, Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle).
One thing that living in a foreign country gives you is a different perspective. You find out how simple life can be and that you don't need all that "stuff" that you thought was so important. I don't even use a cell phone anymore!
Until next time...hasta luego!
|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 7, 2012 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
In Ecuador, January 6th is "El dia de los Reyes" (The Day of Kings), which commemorates the arrival of the Magi to confirm Jesus as the son of God. It's also a time of gift giving!
Today, we celebrated "epiphany" with TWO boxes arriving from the U.S., and one of those was from our kids in Cleveland with gifts more precious than gold!
When you live in a foreign country and celebrate Christmas without family, you learn to put your emotions on hold and say, "It's okay, we'll get through this!" But in reality, you're saying, "No, I want to be with my kids on Christmas Day!"
Last year, we flew home for the holidays and this year we stayed in Cuenca (our first Christmas in Ecuador). I'll be honest with you; it wasn't easy and I won't even pretend that it was (keep that in mind all of you wannabe "Expatorians."
Mark and I received a note from our security guard explaining that the "Three Wise Men" had left a gift at the post office. So this morning after we had breakfast at the Coffee Tree with some new folks in town, we headed to the post office.
And what to our wondering eyes should appear...a huge box from Cleveland, Ohio weighing well over ten pounds and costing $40 to send to Ecuador (sending packages to the land of enchantment isn't cheap!).
Mark strapped the package on his back, just like Santa Claus, and we took the #3 bus back home. All the while, I was trying to figure out a way to open it with my bare hands. Good thing I didn't try because it was sealed tighter than Fort Knox with duct tape surrounding it (even customs didn't try!).
When we got back to our apartment, the security guard handed us another package (Mark's web cam that he ordered through Club Correos).
We were thinking that we almost had the Three Kings beat! We just needed one more gift. Instead, as we ripped through the red and green tissue paper, we found TEN gifts (or more!). I stopped counting after a while because I was too overcome with tears.
In the midst of all my emotion, I realized I was still just a mom who missed her kids (terribly!). I hugged my Christmas stocking and let Mocha sniff at his treats before I snatched Mark's slippers and claimed them as my own!
While I dabbed away tears and ate Ferrero Rocher bon-bons, I re-read Jon and Kim's card with the red-button snowflake and thought, What great kids we raised and what a wonderful wife our son, Jon, married.
I knew one day we would have a daughter and today, the "THREE KINGS" reminded us of just how fortunate we truly are -- blessed beyond measure -- to be thought of in such a special way.
So tonight, we'll light a candle, plug in the Christmas tree lights (one more time) and bask in the warmness of our kids' love.
Until next time...hasta luego!
Connie and Mark
|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 4, 2012 at 9:50 AM||comments (0)|
One of our favorite places to eat is Coffee Tree (open 24 hours!). Today we enjoyed breakfast (desayuno continental): your choice of coffee, “jugo” (juice), four slices of whole wheat toast, and eggs (prepared the way you like it) for a total of $2.87. Here’s the kicker! If you order the juice alone it’s $2.50, so you might as well have breakfast on the "side"!
It’s a fun place to eat because we always see someone we know or meet someone new. Today we enjoyed both. A “venture capitalist” was talking with his colleagues and he mentioned he never invests in real estate, stocks, bonds, silver or gold. Mark and I looked at each other in amazement and blurted out, “What else is there?”
Mark and I decided we would stick with what we know and let the professionals do what they do best. Anyway, it was an interesting breakfast conversation.
For now, Mark will continue to teach and I’ll keep writing. It’s time to update the book, Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered. I’m working on the second edition which will be out in April 2012 with a lot of updates and new information.What started out as a helpful guide to newcomers has ended up being a great way to meet new folks when they come into town. This is one of those weeks and we’re excited for the opportunity to share our journey with others (in person).
Anyone who is a writer knows that we write because it feeds our soul, not our pocketbook, but I have to say that this little Kindle book has shocked me. When you consider that the average U.S. book sells less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime, it’s definitely a cause for celebration when a book sells more than 5,000 copies (only 25,000 books have sold more than that). And, of course, there are always books that sell beyond anyone’s expectations: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is one of them!
This week Living and Retiring in Cuenca surprised me with 1,500 copies being sold since it was published in April 2011. Certainly not a best seller, but it wasn’t intended for that purpose. So this is a personal thank you to all who have purchased it and recommended it to others. As I update the 2012 version, I’m including a list of new businesses and resources. So if you have a business in Cuenca, just drop me an e-mail through my "contact button."
Today I realized that it’s time to make our list for the States when we return in August. If I had to do it over again, I would have definitely packed more Totes umbrellas, rain gear (especially rain boots in sassy styles and colors), raincoats and less summer stuff. And that Nike jogging suit in black and hot pink that I left behind, I’m still regretting it. Oh, and I would have brought a gallon of Clinique Moisture Surge with me! A note about umbrellas: you need some just for the sun (in pastels preferably) and sturdy ones for the rain--the kind that don't fold up on you in the wind.
As far as gadgets, I would have definitely packed the rechargeable batteries and a battery recharger (what was I thinking?). And computers...I would definitely rethink my decision to bring my Dell laptop in pearlized pink. Dell parts are difficult to find in Ecuador, so you may want to rethink your computer choices. Apple, Mac, Toshiba, HP or Vaio are available here and so are the parts. Personally, I think pink is better suited for flowers than computers anyway. But thanks to Amazon and Club Correo, I’m still in business!
If you need to find a new route to the Coffee Tree, the guides are out that include a revision of the bus routes until the "redondel" is completed (in about a year).
Until next time...see you at the Coffee Tree!
Connie, Mark and Mocha
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|Posted by Connie Pombo on January 2, 2012 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Last night promised to be filled with fireworks and we weren't disappointed. Until 3:00 a.m., we watched the sky light up in every direction with "bombs bursting in air." The Hotel Oro Verde next door, put on the biggest and brightest display so we moved ourselves down into the parking lot to be right underneath a canopy of light.
This morning we woke up to yet another parade blaring the music "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" and more fireworks. Ecuador sure knows how to throw a party! Oh, and last night we saw some dummies being burned with a vengeance! We celebrated by going out to dinner with friends, walked to "el centro" where everything was closed except for a few burning dummies, and walked all the way back home because no taxis could be found.
This morning, Mark faxed me an excel spreadsheet with our 2012 budget (it's the UPS management in him). I'm pleased to say that we're still keeping it simple--no changes. Except now we have three streams of continual income through Mark's teaching at CEDEI, online teaching, and my writing. We decided since we're living perfectly fine on our present income from last year, we're going to save and invest the rest.
The one thing we didn't think about when we moved to Ecuador was the cost of trips home (to the States), but we only do that once a year (August) and we plan ahead. We bought round-trip tickets to San Francisco going out of Guayaquil for $550 per person. We use Cheap Tickets exclusively and we've found that they do indeed have the cheapest tickets.
There's one thing I should add about working in Ecuador because a lot of folks ask us this question as well. If you do plan on teaching at one of the language schools and you have your residency (cédula), they will deduct Social Security and your medical (IESS). For us it has turned into a blessing: Mark will receive another pension check in ten years and we get free medical and language lessons. He also gets the month of August and December paid for without teaching. Although the check may look smaller (monthly), it ends up being about the same. Language lessons alone would cost us about $400 a month, so you can see it's a "win-win" situation. Although we do have a private medical insurance policy there is a $10,000 cap on each admission. In case of something catastrophic, we would just transfer over to the IESS hospital.
Having your residency can work for or against you if you decide to be employed in Ecuador, so it's something you may want to think through. You can get around it by having an intercultural visa like many of the English teachers have, but it comes with some pitfalls as well. Just remember: Not all that is gold...glitters!
We sleep really well at night: no debt, no credit cards, no car payments, no mortgage--just the simple life! We do feel like millionaires in that regard!
There you have it, the state of our financial affairs for 2012. An uncomplicated life -- doing what we love to do every day -- is just about as good as it gets.
Like my dad always told me, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Have a Blessed New Year!
Rent & Aliquota