I had to do it, I had to follow the bread crumb trail to Cuenca Ecuador to see why International Living and others haver called it a best place in the world to retire, last week and maybe this week also. I decided to do the trip by bus from Guayaquil Ecuador, I was told the trip was about four hours. About two hours to get out of Guayaquil and through an agricultural valley until turning to ascend the endless slow, mountainous road up 2,500 meters to Cuenca. The road is under construction, has shear drops, landslides, traffic and few places to stop. Not a drive or even a ride would enlist to repeat. The bus fare was $8, there was no air conditioning. Going up the hill the bus was filled, coming back the next day it was empty. Maybe no one leaves Cuenca?
Upon arrival I saw a large city, over 400,000 metro, sitting in a high mountain valley. Cuenca is not to be compared to Boquete Panama, it is an entirely different experience. An old urban core, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Caso Viejo Panama surrounded by unsightly urban sprawl.
Cuenca is under contruction, hoping and desiring an influx of new immigrants. The economy appears to need them. Ecuador depends on oil sales and remittences, income from Ecuadorians who leave the country to work and send money home. The world economy has cut that revenue, it has cut oil revenue, it has cut tourism revenue and the pain is spreading.
With a lot of help from my friend Patricia, she selected Cuenca over Boquete, I found a wonderful Hostel for the night. There was no comparing this hostel to Hospedaje Caso Veijo, this was Hostel Casa del Rio was spacious, it was clean, it had hot water and it was empty. I was the only guest.
Obviously in one day in Cuenca I cannot provide anything but first impressions and once I was ensconced in the old quarter I had only one first impression; Antigua Guatemala. This city had the character and flavor and yet according to anecdotal reports is a safe place day or night. It is still not suffering from Gringo inflation or bingo. Prices are very low compared to Panama on most everything. I was never once gouged for being a non local.
If you like big cities, like Spanish colonial charm and like weather a bit colder than Boquete then Cuenca is on first blush an interesting place to explore. I was hard pressed to find a traditional restaurant for dinner, lunch is the main meal in Ecuador so nothing exciting until the next day on food.
It was interesting to wake a seven in the morning and find I had to roust the innkeeper to open the door and let me out. Cuneca starts late. At 7 am I could not find an open place for breakfast or even a cup of coffee, just newspaper sales booths.
With a lot of help from Patricia I discovered the culinary treasure of Cuenca, the municipal market. The nicest I have seen, perhaps ever. A new building laden with everything, Ecuador. We stayed about an hour but I could have moved in for a week.
Fruits and vegetables fresh and abundant including many I could not identify.
Smiling faces at the meat counter and above it all traditional food, lots of it. Including these two Guinea Pigs trying for my attention.
Sadly I had neither the time or appetite for them on this trip. Perhaps next time because I do think Cuenca is worth another visit.
Tomorrow I will be back in Panama City at a conference on offshore retirement, a competitor to International Living. I will be happy to report my observations here after some processing.
There was one interesting observation I saw in Cuenca. The few English Speakers I did meet there seemed to have one common thread that you will not find in Boquete. They were lost in a cultural sea, a sea of being a virtually unnoticed minority in an ocean of local culture. The Anglophone community there is scattered and does not havea cultural theme of it’s own. To me after three years in Boquete that might seem exciting but to enjoy that you either need to enjoy solitude in an urban environment or be fluent in Spanish and slide into the culture.
Here is one thought to consider based upon my experiences and observations for three years without ever having had the benefit of a sales pitch on off shore retirement. If you decide to make a major move to another culture for retirement remember this; you are making the move. That translates to this, regardless of where you are, you need to discover happiness and satisfaction in you, not your environment. This type of transition is difficult for anyone. The difficult is compounded when you are also transitioning your life from work to retirement. My observation is many if not most people fail and return to their point of origin within one year.