Expat Violence in Ecuador

San Pedro de Vilcabamba Ecuador: Criminals targeting expats, tourists detained
Posted on December 30, 2015
cronica.com.ec reported. After several days of basic operations of intelligence, the staff of the anti-Criminal Brigade (BAC) of the judicial police identified and captured the members of an alleged criminal organization dedicated to the assault of foreign persons residing in the parishes Vilcabamba and San Pedro.
According to the complaints lodged by those affected, three or four subjects with firearms amedrentaban to tourists and foreign people living or visiting these populous sectors of the city, and using the force is substituting their belongings, in some cases using excessive violence.
After the respective research and, with the collaboration of the office of the prosecutor, the agents of the bac raided three homes in the parish Vilcabamba, and obtained the arrest of three suspects, about whom there is the respective ballot of detention with investigative purposes, for the crime of association Unlawful.

And this from yesterday in Vilcabamba:
Vilcabamba Ecuador: Expat shot during home invasion in gated community
Posted on February 25, 2016
February 23 at 2:29am
With a very heavy and shaky heart I share this latest tragic news. At 8;30 pm last night, Joshua’s rented house in the Hacienda San Joaquin was broken into by 5 masked thugs. He was alone, and found them in his basement where he exercises daily. They had a shotgun and metal bars for weapons… he got smacked in the head, but managed to get the metal bar from them… then they shot him in the arm (elbow very damaged) and fled the scene… without anything. Anasha and I were right next door, visiting Chris and Lily when we heard the gunshot… the loudest I ever heard. Josh was screaming, so we run and find him bleeding profusely. We rushed him to Vilcabamba hospital, but they could only clean the ugly wound a little and give some sedatives. So we took him to San Augustin, and they also were not prepared to help him. So we went to Isidro Yara public hospital. We stayed til 3am and made sure with translations and support. They will operate tomorrow morning early.
We are all shocked to the core… no words for our feelings. Josh is also “blown away” literally and metaphorically…
I wanted to post this so everyone knows the story “as it happened”… we don’t know who it was and why or anything. You can send your best energy and love to Josh and all of his dear friends. SOURCE: FACEBOOK

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Cuenca Parable: A Tale for Our Time

There is a parable once told about Mexico, the sunny land of smiling people, then of Costa Rica, with the sparkling beaches and lovely Ticas, then of Panama, with the verdant mountains and warm sunny ocean. It is a tale told previously in the south of France and in Tuscany in Italy. And now it is told about Cuenca, Ecuador:

Once upon a time there was a man who loved peace and beauty. He left home from time to time in search of special places where he could find peace in the sun, fish a bit, interact with nice people and enjoy beauty. One day, to his great delight, he discovered the place of his dreams, his paradise. A lovely winding creek ran through it, with deep pools filled with fish eager to be caught. The banks were carpeted with grass, warmed by the sun. The trees along the creek were full grown, dipping over the slow moving water, swaying languidly in the light breeze. A short walk away were several quaint houses, occupied by lovely, generous people. One of them set up a stand each day and sold a lunch which the man enjoyed enormously. The food was wonderful, very inexpensive and the family the most pleasant possible. This was, he decided, the world’s most perfect place.

Our seeker of beauty was so in love with his garden spot that he could not wait to tell everyone of his paradise. He told his friends, his colleagues at work, everyone at church, but even that was not enough. Around town he put up posters with a vivid description and map to his paradise. He even placed ads in the local newspaper.

For a short time all was well. When he returned to paradise he shared the lovely spot beside the creek with friends, then with people he did not know. Some of them were friendly enough and he was happy to make new friends, others were standoffish. Very quickly word spread and he could no longer enjoy quiet time by the creek or visit with the smiling lady who sold him lunch.

Soon he noticed the fish were gone. At about the same time he saw the grass by the bank was trampled, his favorite spot now dusty or muddy after a light shower. The noisy crowds were growing and many did not bother to take away their trash, scattering it everywhere. Paradise had become very unsightly.

He still went for lunch to the same lady but the price had gone up and it now cost as much to eat here as in the city. There were as well now several places selling to visitors, the food quality was low, the cost high. Some of them put up speakers and played loud music all day. There was no peace.

A developer had read one of his posters and come to paradise. He threw up several apartment buildings which blocked the view. He recruited newcomers to advertise for him and convince visitors to buy. People came from all over to live in paradise full time or for a few months every year. Their cars blocked the streets, horns blared with their anger. The few quaint houses had become an unsightly village. The seeker of beauty saw ads everywhere telling people to move to paradise, telling them that if they bought property now they could make a killing. There were bars and souvenir shops everywhere. The once friendly people now only wanted money. Nothing was the same.

Finally, the seeker of beauty stopped visiting paradise. From time to time he resumed his search and in the long drives to the few such spots that still existed he wondered what went wrong with the world’s most perfect place.

A parable, for those who will see.

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One more reason to call Cuenca home

A few weeks ago a friend invited three couples to join him and his Ecuadorian girlfriend for dinner. He’d just moved back into Cuenca after spending several lonely months living in the countryside. The meal was wonderful. His Lebanese dishes were impeccable and his girlfriend outdid herself with her traditional Ecuadorian food.

Towards the end of the evening, as we were having coffee, someone suggested we count how many languages were represented at the table. The ground rules were that you had to be fluent for the language to count. The number came to 12. That’s right, 12 languages were spoke by those eight of us at that table.

I commented at the time that this was an example of the quality of life you can expect in Cuenca, Ecuador. We come here and stay for many reasons but I suspect one that no one considers are the fascinating expats you meet and come to know. Those willing to leave their own country and start anew in the final decade[s] of life are adventurers with no end of great life stories.

It just served to remind me that there is one more reason why I call Cuenca home.

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Huffington Post lies about Cuenca, Ecuador

The latest article about moving to Ecuador seems to epitomize everything wrong in such reporting so I’m going to step through the misrepresentations. Let us begin with the title, “Why You Should Retire to Sunny Ecuador.” First, the article is not about Ecuador but about Cuenca, and there is absolutely nothing sunny about Cuenca. We don’t see the sky for days at a time and when we do it is far more often than not a patch of blue here and there. This is a cloudy city and though my travel in the rest of the country is limited it has always been cloudy in Quito and along the coast as well when I was there. Perhaps they have sunny months but I’ve not been there when they do.

Next consider this whopper, “There is a lively and vibrant restaurant scene and loads of cafes, galleries, and bars. At its heart, Cuenca is a college town with 6 universities including the beautiful University of Cuenca campus in the center of town. And, bonus…. a lot of people in Cuenca speak English.” There is no “lively and vibrant restaurant scene.” Cuenca roles up its sidewalks at eight. There are some nice upscale restaurants true but there is nothing that would reasonably pass for a “scene.” And at heart, Cuenca is definitely not a college town, not even close. The University of Cuenca is not in the center of the town but away from the center and it is not a source of intellectual life here. There are a number of universities but the same can be said for other cities in Ecuador. They have virtually no impact on life here. And to say that “a lot of people in Cuenca speak English” is an outright, unabashed lie. Perhaps the single most identified reason so many who spent tens of thousands to move here return to North America is the fact that almost no one speaks English.

I won’t blame the writer for quoting the new figure of 8,000 expats living here but I would still like to see the methodology the university used. My belief is the number remains fixed at 4,000 and may be falling.

I also won’t dispute what the expat realtor said as he’s got that right, but keep in mind that his company sells real estate. It’s in his economic interest for people to move here. This is nearly always the case in articles like this, the writers talk to those who make themselves available because they want to hype Cuenca.

Nearly everything the writer says about healthcare is wrong. It is true that there is a healthcare system here for the indigent but it is about what you’d expect. Long waits, nobody speaking English, average to mediocre care. Getting private healthcare insurance if you are over 65 is nearly impossible and what few policies exist are very, very limited. This leaves the national healthcare system, IESS, to which I belong. The government has just expanded it dramatically even though the hospitals and doctors are complaining they weren’t being paid before the expansion. Then, to try and balance its budget, the government has stopped paying its 40% contribution. You can imagine what that’s going to mean. For expats the reality is that you will buy good healthcare out-of-pocket and while it will be cheaper than in the U.S. it won’t be $100 a year, not even close. What a joke. A friend had a stroke and so far has paid more than $20,000 for care.

She got real estate prices and taxes right, and it is true you can buy really lovely, modern property here. What the writer didn’t tell you is that the quality of construction is substandard. Housing is not properly vented and mold is a serious problem in even the most modern buildings after a few short years. She also didn’t tell you that housing has fallen 30% or more in the last two years and that expats who bought before that are upside down in their apartments and houses. She also didn’t mention that real estate is notoriously difficult to sell or that when you export your money back to the U.S., with or without a profit, you pay a 5% tax on it. Almost everyone down here rents.

Her observations about getting around are generally right but, again, there is much she leaves out. Take this, “With so much of Cuenca being walkable it doesn’t make sense to get a car…” Now it happens that I agree. I can afford a car but elect not to have one. Traffic is just awful. But to say that Cuenca is “walkable” is laughable. The sidewalks here are dangerous. Slips and falls are common. Knee and hip surgery among expats is almost too common to comment on. Crossing streets is treacherous and exhaust from diesel buses and trucks makes breathing very difficult.

Food in Cuenca is not “excellent.” It is acceptable and healthy but no one raves about their dining experiences here. I happen to enjoy Ecuadorian food but I assure you that among expats I am in the minority. And yes, food is inexpensive, but not if you go to the better restaurants where you will pay prices very close to what you’ll pay in North American.

It is true that few people come to visit you here. It is not true that getting to the U.S. is easy. It is expensive and time consuming. True, Quito to Miami is a snap but how many of us are going to Miami? And you have to first get to Quito which is at the other end of the country. I know expats who travel back several times a year but they are the decided minority. Most of us rarely go back.

Our writer concludes with some accurate observations about living here. Cuenca is used by some as a base to see the rest of South America and I take no issue with that. But what is never reported in these articles is that the return rate for expats retiring here [remember the name of the article] is 90% within four years. This after people have spent tens of thousands in moving here and setting up their household, believing they’d spend the rest of the lives here.

I just wish so many of these travel writers didn’t think it was their job to pitch an adventure. Cuenca has its virtues which is why I live here, but there are many downsides as well and they deserve equal billing.

Posted in Cuenca, Huffington Post, living abroad | 9 Comments

The Chore of Learning Spanish

In mulling over a topic these last weeks I considered several and set them aside for now. Then a moment of insight struck. Funny how that happens. The impetus was a dinner Mrs. AB and I attended last month. It was a farewell event for a couple living in our building. They’ve given up on Cuenca and were about to move to Lake Chapala, Mexico. To my surprise they told me that two couples from across the street were going with them plus a widow. Seven retirees leaving Cuenca and all moving to the same place in Mexico. The reasons for the move were not unexpected [cold weather, overcast skies, concern for Ecuador’s financial stability, isolation] but slowly a dominating cause emerged.

This couple [I can’t speak for the other five] were sick of not knowing Spanish and weary of the effort to learn it.

Failure to speak Spanish is a major reason so many give up here. This is not a bilingual community and if you cannot speak Spanish you will be isolated. That’s just the fact. I know I’m tired of studying it. I started out with three lessons a week, cut it to two and now study once a week. I’ve taken two breaks of a couple months each to give myself a rest. My Spanish has improved dramatically and though I’m unable to engage in a meaningful social conversation I can now manage all the myriad interactions living here involves. But… I still need a native Spanish speaker to deal with significant issues and struggle to actually understand a newspaper article even when I know nearly all the words.

It is weary to be a student at this point in life. As I write, in front of me is a workbook just like those I used in school as boy. When I finish I’ll give it an hour working on my irregular verbs – again. I’m retired. I want to walk along the river, play golf, do something I enjoy, not study. Yet to fit in, to really participate in life here I must study Spanish.

Yes, I know, it’s an adventure, a new experience and we should welcome learning another language [in my case my fourth], but the truth is it takes effort, and the unspoken question for those moving here is: at this point in your life is that really what you want to do with your remaining time?

Tomorrow friends are coming over. One will bring his Ecuadorian girlfriend who speaks no English. What should be a pleasant casual social event will be difficult for me as a result. I like her very much and I will work hard at conversing with her. Today I will study social phrases I can use. She’s also just lost her mother so I’ll find some appropriate words to say and learn them. It’s not my idea of good time.

And that is a microcosm of life here; it takes effort, effort most retirees either won’t make or give up making. I believe it is a THE major reason why so many give up and move.

As for my friends moving to Mexico [despite the recent murders of expats where they are moving], they told me what they loved about Lake Chapala was that so many more expats lived there and that they’d never have to speak another word of Spanish again.

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T.I.E. [This is Ecuador]

Last week we had a pretty typical day for a retired couple taking care of business in Cuenca. Though I always tell newcomers never set out to do more than one thing a day I sometimes break the rule. The logic behind the advice is that doing even one thing in a day can be much more time consuming and frustrating than in North America, not to say that the likelihood of failure is pretty high.

So we set out to accomplish three tasks, two at one location, the other just down the street. Silly us. We have a post office box. You pay for it annually in January, allegedly. So last month we went to the post office prepared to pay and were informed that our box couldn’t be paid until February. No explanation, just the instruction to come back in a month. Two weeks later we received a notice in the box that we needed to pay our rent before the end of January – or else. So back we went. We were informed we should ignore the notice and come back in February. This gets us to yesterday which is, you will note, in February. Today we were informed to come back in March. That’s right. Pay for the year in March. No explanation, just someone telling us something different. T.I.E. This is Ecuador so why get upset.

Next we went to the bank. Unlike the overwhelming majority of expats here I’ve decided not to trust the banks. Their failure rate is really high and the government keeps talking about how much it hates using the dollar plus the oil price has collapsed. Better safe than sorry so last week we visited our bank to inform them that we would be withdrawing some money. Yes, you have to do that here. We were told to come back today. Arriving fresh from the post office I spoke to our helpful contact lady who confirmed the money was available for us. She even called the head cashier to make sure. [People, we are not talking about a big amount here.] So down we went. After fifteen minutes we were informed the money wouldn’t be available until tomorrow and that we should talk to the helpful lady we’d just come from. I explained we’d just talked to her. We were told to talk to her again so back we went. Yes, the money ought to be available tomorrow. Just come back. T.I.E. This is Ecuador so why get upset.

Downstairs we went to the nice young lady who helped us last week. [Are you picking up on the pattern here? Everything takes multiple visits.] Last week our problem was that we’d been locked out of the bank’s website. She’d told us that this was happening a lot lately. She quickly arranged for us to receive a temporary password by email. I’d received it but the website refused to accept it so back we went today. She told us the rules had been changed [this happens almost weekly, everywhere] and she must now involve her supervisor. The four of us worked without success on the bank’s computer for ten minutes at which point the supervisor gave up. The nice young lady told us she was getting off work at six and would come by our apartment and work on the problem from our home computer. That’s right. On a Friday night and she’s a lovely young woman who I’m sure has something else better to do with her time. T.I.E. This is Ecuador so why get upset the bank can’t fix its website access when the nice young lady is coming over to fix it here?

Three tasks, three strikeouts. That’s about par for the course. You need the patience of Job to live in Cuenca, really. And every time you don’t think you can stand it another day, a nice young lady goes out of her way to help you on her own time. T.I.E.

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Living happily in Cuenca, Ecuador

So many expats go back to the U.S. or Canada after two or three years that I was talking to a friend the other day about what elements it takes to retire here successfully. We came up with five and here they are:

One – You need a happy marriage. The fact is that you will likely spend more time with your spouse here than you ever have in your life. Just getting along won’t be enough, you have to actually like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Two – You must learn Spanish. No, you don’t have to become fluent but you better become at least conversant. Few here speak English and those you encounter day to day are likely to speak none at all. Without Spanish you don’t go out as much, you associate only with other expats and you tend to eat in the same few restaurants. It very quickly becomes boring.

Three – You have to enjoy overcast weather. It is not eternal spring in Cuenca, it is eternal fall. You see sunlight far, far less often then you live under clouds. The weather is rarely warm, it is rather eternally cool. Look critically at photos. Almost everyone is wearing a jacket. And since housing generally lacks heating of any kind your apartment can get quite cool, even cold in July and August especially.

Four – You must have a high tolerance for inefficiency and deception. Yes, sad to say, expats get lied to a lot, and things are rarely done correctly the first, even the second time. It goes with the culture but it drives lots of expats batty.

Five – You need to enjoy staying home a lot. Cuenca is a bit dazzling at first but after a year or so you’ve done it all and seen it all several times. The fact is the city rolls up its sidewalks pretty early and the kind of activities expats take for granted up north don’t exist down here. It is no wonder that many Cuencanos think all expats are drunks; so many sit around and drink all day as they have nothing else to do.

There are likely more elements to successfully living in Cuenca, but they’ll just be variations of these five. Whether the figure is 60% return to the north within two years, or 80% within three or four, the fact is that most expats who move here for good end up going back home with a lot less than they had when they came here. The decision to relocate must be carefully made and you must understand that many who blog about Cuenca or respond to your questioning emails have a financial interest in wanting you to move here. This is a quiet place with a distinct, foreign culture and only a few of those who consider the move can live here happily.

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