Friday, November 29, 2013

Loja, Vilcabamba and Zamora, Ecuador


Road trip to Loja

Had a great two night three day trip to Loja which is just a three hour drive south of Cuenca. We took Ellite shuttle service rather than a bus, they leave every hour. It was just $12 each and just seven people in the van, somehow being the tallest and biggest guy on the van I ended up in the middle of the third row of seats! It was a tight fit but considering the rough ride over windy mountain roads I did not get bounced around to much. It is great that all the roads in Ecuador are new and in good shape.

Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador founded by the Spaniards in 1548 declaring its independence in 1820. The city is located in a valley at 6758 feet elevation (2060m) the average temperature  is around 70 degrees (22c)  and has a population of 200,000 people. It was the first city in Ecuador to get electricity in 1890 provided by a hydroelectric-dam.

 The gate to the city

Being Bryan is the marketing manager at the San Juan Hotel in Cuenca he got us a great discount on two rooms at the Howard Johnson Hotel. Normal rate is $123.00 per night and we got two rooms for $50 per night. The Hotel is located on a hillside overlooking the city and was complete with gym, steam room, pool and Jacuzzi. Also provided a fantastic buffet breakfast at not extra cost!

 Hotel entrance

 Front desk

Lobby Bar

View of Loja from my room

Pool and Jacuzzi

The Turco steam room - I managed to use this three times during our stay as well as the Jacuzzi. Wish I had one here in Cuenca!

My room

After we got settled in our rooms we decided to hire a taxi to take us to Vilcabamba which was just a 45-minute drive south of Loja. It was $10 an hour and took us three hours all together. I was more than happy to pay it rather than finding our way to the bus station and dealing with all that. The taxi driver also took us through a couple of small villages and gave us a tour of Vilcabamba.

Vilcabamba was the playground for the Inca royalty - also known for the longevity of its residents due to minerals in the water and a tranquil lifestyle. Our taxi driver did stop at the residents of a 100 year old man who is the oldest know man in the village, but he was not home.

Vilcabamba is about 5000 feet elevation (1500m) with an average temperature between 65 and 82 degrees (18-28c) Coffee is a main product as well as fruits and vegetables. All of the Loja region is know for its pork production. I had some great BBQ ribs!

   Although the Vilcabambans did not enjoy greater longevity than the rest of the world, researchers noted that the Vilcabamban lifestyle, which included hard work in a high altitude combined with a low-calorie, low-animal-fat diet, did seem to keep the villagers healthy and vigorous in their old age.

Foreigners and other tourists are increasingly buying property to build homes. Tourists have created problems for the locals, including rising prices as well as increasing drug and alcohol use. Some locals say that the peace and simplicity of their lives, to which they attributed their longevity, has been lost. The massive influx of western processed food is evident in nearly every local 'tienda', and people are visibly more obese than those seen in photos from only a few decades ago.

However, other locals report appreciation for the foreigners and tourist who also bring jobs and improvements to the area.

Restaurants and stores around the main village square

A couple of friendly locals inviting us for a beer

Main square and church

Beautiful cathedral in Malacatos

Back in Loja we decided to tour the center of town and ran across a very old Cathedral across from the place where we ate. I could not find any information on-line about it but when I was taking pictures a priest stopped and told us it was built in 1660 and is not in use at this time, hopefully they will restore it.

Our great BBQ restaurant across from the hotel was closed so we ate at this chicken place in El Centro - grilled flattened chicken, rice and fries!

I would have loved to see the inside!

After dinner we headed to the Main square

Monument to Manuel Carrión Pinzano, a founder in 1853 of the Federalism movement in Loja.

The Church of Santo Domingo was built in 1557; the entire edifice was once in the Gothic style, but after an earthquake in 1867 only the twin spires remained standing. The church was refurbished in the colonial style, but the spires were left as a reminder of the former facade. The church was painted and decorated by notable Lojano Fray Enrique Mideros.

The next morning we enjoyed a great buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Zamora in the Amazons! 

We walked down the street from the hotel and stopped a couple of taxis before we found one that was willing to take us to Zamora, we agreed on $10 a hour and heading out for the Amazons. Again a windy mountain road ride, but the roads were all new concrete and of course the lush mountains with their hillside farms and houses is common all over Ecuador.

Roadside water fall

Zamora is a small town of 12000 people and of course much warmer at 900 feet elevation and know for it's gold mining. Human habitation dates back to 4500 BCE. The Spaniards found their way to Zamora in 1548  

El Centro Zamora

Zamora Cathedral Main town square

Hillside clock Zamora

New recreation center with a large swimming pool

Zamora is the gateway to the amazons, the highway to the amazon river is paved now and a 360 km drive. I would like to drive it someday. There are many beautiful places to see in Ecuador and I will eventually see it all. A trip to the amazon jungle will be another exciting adventure probably better done in our winter months July-Sept.!

Taxi ride back up to Loja (6000 feet) about a 50-minute drive

Back at the hotel for another Jacuzzi and steam bath and a relaxing night

After another great buffet breakfast we headed for the shuttle office and on the way they called and offered us an earlier departure which turned out to be 3 people in a car! Much better than the van ride down.

Another scenic ride through the Andes back to Cuenca in just three hours

Until next time hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

Gary Sisk

Buy New



Monday, August 5, 2013

Ecuador in the future may not be one of the most affordable places to retire

Ecuador has subsidized gasoline since 2006 freezing the price at $1.48 a gallon, but by 2016 this may change and a gallon of gas could cost whatever the international market calls for

President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that the government will end subsidies for LP gas by 2016, when new hydro electric projects go online. He said that consumers will be encouraged to replace gas hot water heaters, stoves, clothes dryers and other gas appliances with electric models.

“This will save the country hundreds of millions of dollars and reduce pollution at the same time,” Correa said in his weekly television broadcast. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Correa said he hoped to end all fuel subsidies by the end of his second term in office in 2017. "We will be like the rest of the world with energy costs being determined by the market," he said.

He also said that plans are also being developed to eliminate the subsidy for gasoline with details to be announced soon. According to Correa, the LP gas and gasoline subsidies cost the government $3.8 billion annually, with $700 million of that covering LP gas. “We can build 1,000 new schools with that money and have more left over to invest in other public services.”

With the current gas subsidy, the government says, consumers pay only about 8% of the international market rate. The subsidized cost for a 15-kilogram domestic gas tank refill is $1.60, not counting delivery charges. The same refill costs $24.25 in the U.S., $25.87 in Colombia and $19.68 in Peru. The huge price differential has led to a thriving gas black market across Ecuador’s borders with Colombia and Peru, which has sometime disrupted supplies at home.

Correa has long maintained that the subsidy benefited much of the population that doesn’t need it. “Why should the government pay for people in Quito and Cuenca to heat their swimming pools?” he asked.

Correa said that eight new and expanded hydro electric plants will provide more than enough electricty for the country’s needs, and still leave a surplus to be sold to Colombia and Peru. Among the plants under construction are Coca-Codo Sinclair in Napo, Toachi-Pilatón in Santo Domingo, and Delsintanisagua in Morona Santiago. Two Paute generation plants east of Cuenca, which currently supply almost half of the country’s electricity, are being being expanded.

The government is already in talks with domestic makers of gas burning appliances about switching production to electric models. Appliance factories, including Indurama in Cuenca, say they will phase out gas models as the date for the elimination of the gas subsidy approaches.

The government says that consumers will pay the market rate for electriciy but that the government will cover the first 60 kilowatts of household usage per month. A typical three bedroom, two bath home in Ecuador currently uses about 250 kilowatts a month, according to the census office.

Correa said that there will be no prohibition on those who want to continue using gas. “This will be their choice. They will just be paying the same prices that people in the rest of the world pay,” he said.

The government has been in contact with the National Federation of LPG Distributors, the trade association of gas distributors. A spokesman for the association says that the elimination of the subsidy will mean at least 50% fewer jobs. The government says it will work with distributors to find new employment for those affected.

Talks are underway at several government agencies regarding the elimination of subsidies for gasoline, which currently costs 30% to 40% of the international market rate. The government said that some subsidy will continue for private vehicles based on a quota system, but this would be a temporary arrangement. Gasoline subsidies for public transportation vehicles would continue.

Electricity in Ecuador is very reasonable at this time with the average bill being $30 a month.

Propane. being used for gas stove, gas water heater and gas dryer the average monthly bill runs around $3.60. 

If Ecuador changes to all electric appliances the cost could be higher than using gas appliances but less considering the cost that gas goes up to.

Purchasing a car here is much higher than the states and with a higher cost of gas it could get expensive to drive here. 

Photo caption: Correa addressing a crowd during his Saturday television

Ecuador real estate market is cooling off; in Cuenca, gringos move to rentals; historic district opportunities

Posted By Admin | Published: October 15, 2013 00:06
Ecuador’s hot real estate market is cooling down.

Following more than six years of eight percent annual appreciation nationwide and double-digit appreciation in some markets, including Cuenca, real estate developers and agents say they are seeing a slowdown in both the rate of appreciation as well as number of sales.

Although most real estate experts don’t see a bubble similar to the one that burst in the U.S. in 2008, they say they are seeing a market top.

“We are beginning to see an oversupply of housing for middle- and upper-middle-class buyers,” says Roberto Vega, general manager of Smart Research in Quito. Vega describes middle- and upper-middle-class housing as that costing more than $80,000. “We are seeing this in the more active markets, such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, although there are other markets where there is still a shortage of housing and good demand.”

A Crowded Market, Declining Sales
Jaime Rumbea, director of the Ecuador Real Estate Association, says that there is a record number of properties for sale in most areas of the country and properties are taking longer to sell. “Eventually, this will stabilize prices and could even bring them down in some cases.” Rumbea also reports that the overall number of sales is declining nationwide and says this is a classic sign of a market top.

Real estate agents in Cuenca agree, and say that many properties on the market today could sit for a year or two before selling. 

Ramiro Gonzalez, director of Banco del Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social, or BIESS, which provides more than half of the mortgage money to the country’s reasl estate buyers, believes that speculators in the larger markets are partly responsible for driving up prices. “I worry that they are killing the hen that laid the golden egg,” he said, adding, “It’s not just speculators who are responsible, however. Many home buyers have become victims of the mentality that prices will always go up and that real estate is a very lucrative investment.”

Many, including Rumbea, point out that BIESS has played a major role in driving the market. BIESS was established to use social security funds to finance housing, particularly for lower income families, and has financed tens of thousands of home purchases since 2009. 

Vega says that price increases in the last six years are not simply the result of speculation and expectations of long-term profit. “There has been an enormous run-up in the costs of materials, especially since 2006. Such things as concrete and steel have gone up almost 150% and this is a major factor in prices. Labor is also much more expensive.”

Another factor pointing to a market top is the reduction in mortgage money available. “In 2010 and 2011, the number of mortgages written by commercial banks was increased by 10% and 12% a year. In 2012 the increase was only 2% and it’s possible that we will see a decline in 2013.” He also predicts that BIESS will reduce the number of loans it is making.

The Cuenca Market
Although there are as many as 30 large condominium projects in various stages of construction in Cuenca, the number is down from 40 or 45 in 2011. The Cuenca Chamber of Construction reports that fewer building permits were issued in 2012 and it expects the number to decline further for 2013.

Both builders and real estate agents report a decline in the number of sales to Ecuadorians living or returning from overseas, particularly from the U.S. and Spain. “This group has been
 the real force behind condominium sales in Cuenca,” says real estate agent Juan Rodriguez. “Now we are seeing fewer sales and I think the trend will continue.” Rodriquez says that in 2010 and 2011, as much of 35% of all sales in Cuenca were to this group and those sales today have dropped by 30% to 40%.  Rodriguez says that is difficult to figure an accurate number of purchases by Ecuadorians living overseas because many of them are made by family members living in Cuenca.

Rodriguez says that sales to North American expats have also dropped. “In 2010, we estimated that 1.5% of sales were to extranjeros but the number is probably less than 1% today.” He says that foreign buyers were not a factor in rising prices and they won’t be one if prices level out. “A friend from the U.S. tells me that gringos have an attitude that ‘it’s all about us’ and that they think they have a big impact on everything in Cuenca, especially real estate prices. I’m glad they feel self-important but they don’t have the impact they think they do.”

Gringos Shift to Rentals
One of the most dramatic changes in the gringo market is the shift away from buying real estate to renting.

Rodriguez believes that the growth in rentals for expats is due to two factors. “First, since Cuenca is considered a place for foreigners to retire, many of the people moving here are older and they’re not interested in buying. Second, I think many foreigners come here for the low cost of living and a lot of them cannot afford to buy.”

The increase in the numbe
r of Cuenca rental units available to foreigners has been dramatic. “Four years ago, I managed eight or nine apartments for foreigners and two or three of them were usually vacant," says Graciela Quinde, manager of Rentals Cuenca, which specializes in renting to North Americans and Europeans. "Now, I have almost 50 and I'm fully booked much of the time."

Quinde's units are mostly furnished, short-term rentals with all utilities included in the rent. "I rent to people who are here to study, teach or to check out Cuenca as a place to live," she says. "They need a turn-key situation where everything is provided and most of them understand they will pay more than for a regular rental. What we rent would be called holiday or vacation rentals in the U.S." She adds: “We also provide full management services which is important because many of our clients are not fluent in Spanish.”

Monthly rentals for turn-key units range from $400 to $1,500 a month, with the average coming in at about $850.

Quinde says that unfurnished rentals with one- or two-year leases make more sense for people planning to stay in Cuenca for longer periods. "You can find nice unfurnished rentals for $300 and $400 a month. If you do the legwork, there are some real deals out there," she says. 
New Opportunities in Cuenca
Rodriguez sees a bright spot in the Cuenca market. “There are some great opportunities in the historic district and buyers are starting to take advantage of them. When the new train starts operating and when they rehab more par
ks and plazas and reduce bus traffic, I think prices will go up considerably. In five or ten years, El Centro will be transformed.”

He adds that several impressive projects are already being planned in the historic district. “An investor from Hawaii is renovating a building on Sucre, two blocks from Parque Calderon, and plans to build high-end rentals. These will be five-star apartments, built around a high-end coffee and wine bar, something that doesn’t exist in Cuenca now.”

In another case, a Cuencano who has lived in the U.S. for most of his life is beginning a rehab project on a large Calle Larga property. “He plans to have shops, rental apartments and a bar for the older crowd,” says Rodriguez. “I’ve seen the plans and I’m impressed.”

 Why No Bubble?
The experts seem to agree that Ecuador’s real estate market will not suffer the same fate as the U.S. market in 2008 and 2009. “There are several reasons why,” says Vega. “We have never had mortgages here with 0% or 5% down payments. The standard down payment is 30% down and even more in some cases. Another factor is that most property owners own their property outright. This means you don’t have as many people desperate to sell.” 

There are other factors as well. Rumbea says that real estate prices in Ecuador were flat for years following the banking crisis of 1999 and 2000. “In some markets, prices actually went down. So what we have seen since 2007or 2008 is the market playing catch-up.”

Rumbea adds: “Overall, I’m optimistic but I am also realistic. The appreciation will go down and it will take longer to sell properties but ultimately this will be good for the market.”
Photo captions: Although there is still plenty of condo construction going on in Cuenca, the pace is slackening; Rentals have become a hot market; Improvements to the historic disrict, including the new light rail system, could make the area a good investment.

Ecuador's plan to freeze oil production in the Amazon failed due to the lack of International funds

By Jim Wyss

Waving away a cloud of gnats, biologist Phyllis “Lissy” Coley scours the Amazonian underbrush for inga shrubs, whose young leaves are loaded with powerful toxins and chemicals that might be useful in medical research.

Coley and her team from the University of Utah have spent almost two years in the Amazon of Guyana, Peru and Brazil researching the plant — but this patch of Ecuador was delivering surprises. In a single week, Coley’s team found 60 species of inga, 40 of which were unknown to them — and likely unknown to science. They also found a carnivorous caterpillar. While flesh-eating caterpillars exist in Asia, they’ve never been recorded in the New World.

The mysteries of this forest, which scientists like Coley are still discovering, could be at risk after this South American nation quietly began considering pulling the plug on one of the most innovative and ambitious conservation plans ever attempted.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was designed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched, in perpetuity, beneath Yasuní National Park — rioting with unknown species and tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In exchange, the government asked the world to cover just half of the crude’s $7.2 billion market price.

Environmental groups praised the plan as a novel way to slash greenhouse gases. In 2010, the United Nations threw its support behind the project, setting up a trust fund to receive and manage donations. There were hopes that crowd-sourcing conservation might be a model for other developing nations.

But six years after its launch, those goals are proving elusive. The plan has raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it’s seeking. Ecuador’s government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for an additional $220 million — some of it in non-cash cooperation. The United Nations trust fund has just $9.8 million in the bank.

The shortfall is driving speculation that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude in the ITT oil block (short for Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), which it says holds 20 percent of the nation’s reserves.

“We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere,” President Rafael Correa told a crowd in April. “But if the international community doesn’t help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”

Correa and his cabinet held a meeting about the fate of the project in June and are expecting to meet again in coming weeks. Officials say drilling the ITT is on the table.

In the balance is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. The ITT block is among the most isolated areas of Yasuní National Park, a 2.4 million-acre U.N. biosphere reserve, which holds about one-third of all of the Amazon’s amphibian species, even though it represents just a small fraction of the total area. In any given two-and-a-half acre plot of the Yasuní — roughly the size of a soccer pitch — there are more species of trees than in the United States and Canada combined.

“As a biologist, nothing makes me more awestruck than to work in an incredibly diverse and pristine area where every day you discover something that you couldn’t even imagine or anticipate,” Coley said.

Even so, she understands the financial pressure Ecuador is facing.

“You can’t expect countries just to save rainforest because they’re amazing places and we would, as humans, like to keep them around,” she said. “Given the potential to make oil money from here, I think it’s a remarkably generous offer to say to the rest of the world ‘Can you contribute and we won’t develop this area.’ ”

Ecuador needs the money. One of the poorest nations in South America, oil represents more than half of its export earnings and is the country’s top source of revenue.

Keeping oil underground is like “a very poor family trying to protect the family jewels, in the meantime most of the people are starving to death,” said David Romo, one of the directors of the University of San Francisco de Quito’s Tiputini Biodiversity Station, which borders the park and where Coley was doing her research. “So how do you do the trade-off here? The initiative gives us an option for that.”

Ivonne Baki is the former Ecuadorean ambassador to the United States, a one-time presidential candidate who speaks six languages. Now, she’s traveling the world on behalf of the government, marshaling resources for the project.

While the initiative has seen a groundswell of popular support, she admits the financing has been disappointing. The government is considering “Plan B,” which includes tapping the oil in the ITT block in a “conscientious” way. But keeping the oil underground is still the administration’s priority, she said.

“We believe in conserving and we have done it before,” she said. Twenty-five percent of Ecuador’s territory is in a national park or protected area, including the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. By contrast, 12 percent of the United States is under protection, according to the World Database on Protected Areas.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative is “an environmental service we are providing to the world, not just Ecuador,” Baki said.

But the world seems deaf to the plea. While countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and Luxembourg have supported the effort, the United States — Ecuador’s largest oil buyer and which has a long and troubled history of polluting the Amazon — has not contributed to the effort. Neither have gas guzzling nations like China, Japan or India.

Baki speculated that crude-consuming nations fear the model might be replicated and push fuel prices higher.

But critics say the country also has a credibility issue. The socialist-leaning Correa administration has broken pledges in the past, defaulting on the national debt in 2008, and unilaterally forcing oil companies to renegotiate their contracts.

And while the country touts the initiative, it’s already exploring for oil in Yasuní National Park and has begun building a road in oil block 31, adjacent to the ITT area. It’s also building a massive new refinery that’s designed to process more oil than the country is currently producing.

“It might seem like the government is operating in bad faith,” said Ivonne Yánez, one of the founders of the Acción Ecológica environmental group. “On one hand, they seem to be pushing Plan B, which is to extract the petroleum, and on the other hand there is Plan A that Ms. Baki is promoting.”

Yánez said the government’s mixed messages are likely hurting international support for the initiative.

But Baki said powerful business interests are also undermining the project. In particular, oil companies don’t like its implications.

“They don’t want to accept that oil contaminates,” she said. “They say they have the best technologies and that the technology works. We saw what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with British Petroleum.”

Ecuador doesn’t have to look as far afield as the 2010 Gulf oil spill for cautionary tales. Beginning in the 1960s, Texaco and the state-run oil company began punching into the Amazon looking for crude. Critics accuse the company of using obsolete technology and pumping millions of gallons of wastewater into open pits and rivers.

Last year, an Ecuador appellate court ordered Texaco’s successor Chevron to pay $18 billion to clean up the mess and reward local communities. The company is fighting the judgment and is suing Ecuador’s legal team on racketeering charges.

But even cutting-edge oil exploration can have unintended consequences. In 1993, Maxus Ecuador built a 112-mile road that cuts through the northern boundary of Yasuní National Park. Only 19-feet wide, it was designed to disappear in a decade after the crude it targeted ran dry. The company also guarded the route to keep colonizers from moving in.

Twenty years later, the crude is still flowing and the road has the marks of permanence. A handful of Huaorani and Quichua communities have sprung up along the gravel route. Most of the proto-villages are just a few wooden shacks, but others have cinderblock schools and concrete volleyball courts.

For the last two decades, Terry Erwin, one of the world’s top entomologists who works at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, has been studying the environmental impact of the road. While the construction has had virtually no effect on the insects that he monitors, the same is not true for larger creatures. When Erwin began studying the area, the forests alongside were home to five monkey species.

“By the end of three years, there were no monkeys left,” he said. “Everything was out of there — gone.”

The Huaorani, who have ancestral rights to the land, had eradicated all the game animals for about one mile on either side of it, he said.

Some of the species are making a comeback, Erwin said, but that is largely because of changing Huaorani lifestyles — they are giving up their nomadic hunting ways for more permanent agriculture.

In theory, there are ways to responsibly extract oil from the ITT, Erwin said, “but even with the best ideas possible to start out with, if you let a person in there it’s gone.”

In some ways, the Yasuní-ITT project is already a success. Yánez, with Acción Ecológica, said that before the initiative was launched few in Ecuador were aware of the area. Now polls show that more than 80 percent of Ecuadoreans don’t want the country to exploit the oil in the ITT, even if the international funds don’t materialize. If Correa lifts the drilling ban, he’s likely to face a public backlash, she said.

One of the risks of tapping the ITT is that no one is sure what it holds. Researchers recently discovered a fungus near the area with intriguing commercial potential: it consumes plastic. Erwin says 85 percent of all the insects his team collects are unknown to science.

Damaging the forest before it gives up its secrets is analogous to the burning of the legendary library of Alexandria, Egypt in 600 B.C., said Romo with the university research station.

“There are so many wonders and so much information that Yasuní is holding that will be beneficial to humans,” he said. “We just don’t know it because we haven’t had the chance to explore it.”

Credit: By Jim Wyss, the Miami Herald,; photo captions: scenes from Yasuni

I am passing these articles on to my readers because many of you may not subscribe to Cuenca High Life - which is a great daily publication for information on Cuenca and Ecuador. To read Cuenca High Life just click on the link above on the left.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Cuenca, Ecuador condo finally furnished!

I have been living in Cuenca, Ecuador for six years now, still in the same condo.

Many of my readers have been asking for more information on rentals here and more information on my condo, so here are more photos. I finally found paintings and pictures I liked and have reached my house plant limit.

When I moved here six years ago there were about 2000 gringos living here, I just read that the number on North Americans living in Cuenca is now around 7000! Unfortunately being rents here are much lower than most parts of North America many newcomers agree to pay whatever rent they are first quoted instead of bargaining! This tends to raise the rents on all of us expats living here which can be a burden on some of us living on low incomes. So newcomers, why pay $500 when you can get it for $350! It is amazing how many new condo's are going up around town and rents do seem to be creeping up! But the law has not changed stating rents should be 3% of appraised property value.

Also keep in mind that the minimum wage in Ecuador is $1.90 an hour, many Ecuadorian families have to share housing to be able to afford the rent.

Living at 8400 feet with 20% less oxygen to breath can affect people with heart trouble or respiratory problems. I myself have asthma and still after six years have to stop on my walks to catch my breath. Although I don't seem to have to stop for as long of periods as I did when I arrived here I am afraid this is not going to change while I live in Cuenca.
Another thing about living in Cuenca is that it is a city of 550,000 people with lots of cars and diesel buses, the quality of gas here purchased from the US has a lot to be desired. When the new refinery in Manta is completed gas quality should improve and when the new electric tram being built here is finished it will eliminate diesel buses from El Centro which will help with the air quality. The city will be checking diesel bus emissions and will put buses not up to standard in the mechanic shop. Buses here are subsidized by the government which I understand runs about $800 per bus per week.
70% of the population in Cuenca rely on buses for their transportation at 25c a ride or if you are over 65, just 12.5c! Cost to ride the new trams will be around 40c.

I have found although I live on the 11th floor and face the river not the main street that the inside of my condo gets covered with black soot from car emissions as well as a daily dose of dust. I probably could afford a maid to clean the place but with so much time on my hands I tell myself its good for me to do it. Basically with going to the gym three times per week, shopping a couple times per week and walking the river three times a week plus cleaning the condo once a week is pretty much all the exercise I get. Going out for dinner with friends a few times a month really is not that much work! Ha!

   My building Pinar 4 is 13 stories high and is 14 years old

We do have 24-hour security guards who have to open the gate for you, we do not have keys to the gate. We also have underground parking for one car and a storage unit. I do have a remote for the garage gate which comes in handy for parking my new car!

Building entrance


My condo entrance on the right, I do have a corner unit facing El Centro and the Rio Tomebamba. Also there is a girls school and a soccer field on the right.

Living room

Took a year but now have a TV in the living room. I use city cable here, which cost $62 a month for three receivers for three TV's. I get several English stations, one international news station in English, plus HBO and Cinemax. Direct TV is also available here which would be about $86 for the same stations. I chose city cable for the cheaper price but also because the condo is wired for it. With Direct TV they would have to run wires from the dish to every TV.

Dining area

 I really enjoy the view from my computer desk over looking the river from both sliding doors.  The sound of the river especially after its rains tends to help with a good nights sleep.

The kitchen is small but I have learned how to prepare meals in a very small area. I cut up many vegetables and fruits using a dinner plate on the small counter top area on the left.

Art work is not cheap here and after looking for over a year I finally settled for some art work imported from China! Still not so inexpensive here, but I did 
resist  hanging Ecuadorian weaving's and pictures of local Indians. I did go with a modern look to match the furniture.

Its nice to have a laundry room. I tend to wash often  because of the air quality here, also at least one shower a day is very necessary.

We have had a couple of days of rain which you can see by the high river water

Guest bathroom

Bryan's bedroom

My bedroom

Master bathroom

Great view looking toward El Centro from my room. The air here is usually pretty dry and with asthma I found myself coughing at night. so I now use a humidifier and it seems to solve that problem.

I have been very happy living here for the last six years although it would be nice to have a bigger kitchen.

My rent just went up to $300 from $280 a month but I got it on a two year lease, besides the rent there is usually a security fee which is $54 a month. The larger the condo the higher it is. Besides that there is water $16 a month, gas $3.50 and we do have gas dryers, gas hot water and stoves here, high speed internet $40, electricity $40 and then the cable $62. Total cost per month: $500

Some groceries here are higher than the US, like canned goods and imported items. Paper goods and cleaning products are high, a small bottle of Listerine is $5. Meats, fruits and vegetables are much cheaper.

The new building across the street is completed now, last time I checked a 2 bedroom on the 9th floor was selling for $170,000. I am sure it is higher now. I have been seeing rents for furnished apartments here for $900! This building has four floors of commercial space and a indoor pool on the roof.

I had an opportunity to go into a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment next door to me with a large kitchen and maid's courtiers with bath. The building is 14 years old, it was a 6th floor apartment with river view for $330 a month. So there are still some bargains to be had here even though it seems asking prices are starting around $350 to $700 and up per month now, but many more furnished places. Hopefully with all the new condo construction there will be more supply than demand and rents will stay down.

The other building going up across the street is going up fast I understand it would will be two 12 story buildings and is government financed and will be available to working people paying into social security for a starting price of $45,000 with $5000 down and payments for 15 years. Expat property purchases are down here by 50% because of raising costs.

Hopefully my next blog will be on another road trip! Until then anyone that might be interested in retiring in Cuenca might find some useful information in my book on kindle: Why Ecuador for me!

                 Until next time everyone enjoy life as much as possible!