Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ex Pats of Cuenca

Before we arrived in Ecuador, Omar had made contact with an individual (Monica Mac Naughton) who turned out to be a legitimate and gracious host in so many various ways, that I cannot truly describe what an asset she was to us. Her other half (Tom Mac Naughton) was a man after my own dreams and actually bought a Honda scooter to tool around with, the second or third day we were in town, on the spur of the moment. There are no better human beings on earth than these two individuals. They were most recently from Florida, before relocating to Cuenca a couple years back and are a wealth of knowledge in regards to Ecuador and any assistance you would need to relocate. True Americans (Or at least what we used to think of as True Americans and are sincere and forthright in their recommendations and information (Not always the case in Ecuador).

They had plans the first evening we were in Cuenca but (almost, but in a polite way) demanded we meet them for dinner on Sunday night at the Dorado restaurant (I hope I got the name correct). We accepted the invite and were eager to meet the couple.

Omar and I could not decide whether we should dress up or go casual. Given it was a nice restaurant and the fact that we hadn't met Monica and Tom, we thought we should wear nice shirts and slacks. When we met them at the restaurant we were slightly overdressed and I deduced that they were comfort driven and not concerned with image (obviously, if you know me I was attracted immediately to that characteristic),

We shared a fabulous meal and they discussed several "survival skills" necessary in Cuenca along with the do and don'ts of the indigenous people and central Cuenca interactions.  They suggested a Trout dish that was superior according to Omar, but I had to have the Paella and man was it delicious (including shrimp, fish, clams, A Langostina, octopus and other incredible and scrumptious seafood (The rice, sauce and peas were also excellent).

The next day we ran into Tom (In only 400,000 people what are the odds) at a shopping center. He volunteered to accompany us on a condo visit and give us their feedback and knowledge, as to the value of the residence and whether the area demanded the price point.

Tom and Monica are also looking for another condo, in addition to the unit they own currently, to provide additional rental income. So they had a dual purpose on their agenda. We all met at the condo and it was priced at $91,000 with tons of potential and great views, but the primary living space was just too small. In addition, there were other issues that Tom and Monica discussed that made it overpriced. The outdoor living space was great and there was a rooftop area that could have been done up, but together you are talking another $20,000 roughly.

Tom, Alberto, Monica and Omar

Omar descending from the rooftop deck

Mountain view from the Patio Deck

When we left this condo, Jose the owner, Tom, Monica, Omar and I all piled into his little Isuzu SUV and went up to a overlook (I believe it is called Turi)and it started raining and the pea size hail started falling. Very unusual. We passed Eduardo Vega's studios, where he actually creates his artwork and basic Ceramic work. I think under normal weather patterns you could walk down to a small park below and experience the view from a different perspective and vantage point.

We then went to Tom and Monica's condo to see what a different value would return. It was in a section of Cuenca named "Gringoland" and I am sure you can deduce the reason for the area name. Their Condo was breathtaking and was on the 5th floor, if my memory is correct. The reason we went initially was to get Coca Tea for my altitude sickness. They validated the authenticity of the product and had used it many times to help. I did not decline and took their entire inventory.

They have a gorgeous 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 story condo with more than ample living area and beautifully decorated with local artwork and a patio with an extreme outdoor kitchen area. Words cannot completely describe the shock and awe I received at the first glance. It was a condo I could reside in the rest of my life and I am sure Kim could. In addition Tom has a love for Hummingbirds and they are ever present on the patio. You literally have to duck as they fly through and around the patio's furnishings and support columns. It was fascinating.

Tom grows and obtains Orchids that are unavailable in my price range in the US. This one set him back $25, if I recall correctly. I didn't take a myriad of pictures, as I should have, but trust me it was an unbelievable condo.
Monica sent us a 2 page list of restaurants in the central area with specialties and descriptions of the fare at each place. They directed us to markets, shops and other sightseeing prospects. They are working hard to help Omar secure a condo in his price range and do this just because they are good people. They have stayed in contact with Omar and myself, since we left Ecuador.

The second couple we met through Tom and Monica was William and Valerie Lacy from Wisconsin. We met them the last night and had dinner with Tom, Monica, Will and Val. Prior to dinner we went to their condo (this time I took many pictures). They have a sixth floor condo that is in the central part of old Cuenca and is inhabited primarily by businesses (Dr and Dentists mostly I think). This was a building that when they acquired it had a roof falling through and walls caving in (More project than I have left in my body!) and decided they wanted the view. After all it is a penthouse with one of the best views in Cuenca. Lots of glass, fantastic decorations, up to date appliances, counters, etc and a collection of cedar cabinets that cost them probably one tenth of what they would have in the US.

Yours truly and Omar on the deck

A bookshelf in the Library with probably a good 4" to 6" shelves

Val in the Dining, Great Room
We left and ate at a wonderful Italian place and had our last meal in Cuenca. It was fantastic as all other meals had been in Cuenca. Will and Val talked about a favorite Helado (Ice Cream) place (The Mixx) near the San Blas cathedral, (can't remember if it is a Canadian or Scandinavian that runs and owns it--but the product is made fresh daily including the sugar cones. OMG!) that had the best ice cream in town. Of course we had to substantiate his verdict. He was correct and I had the cherry cheesecake I believe or something to do with cherries and it was excellent. We said our good byes and left our new found friends, headed for Salinas the next day.

I am sorry we didn't get to spend more time with Will and Val as they appear to be very genuine, caring Americans that want to help. That is the distinction between the ExPats in Cuenca and Salinas. In Cuenca they are sincere and approach you to sincerely aid in your dilemmas. In Salinas the majority of them just want to make a buck and will misdirect you, overcharge for less than desirable food and have no customer service to speak of. It is like night and day.

Funny (actually,not really) Alberto, Monica and Tom, Will and Val were all in agreement that I/we would not enjoy Salinas and would want to turn around and come back to Cuenca immediately upon arriving. Even Efrain a guide that we hired to help drive us around, show us the Incan ruins, show us property and comment on the areas, etc agreed on this principal. Not one even waivered a tiny bit. I knew I was going to be in a situation upon arriving in Salinas, but that comes later.

Cuenca is a place that I would definitely review and explore again to see if I could overcome the altitude. Who knows I might make it permanent! If you find you are headed to Cuenca, by all means make contact and I will be glad to furnish their info if they agree.

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