On The Other Side: Our First Week in Cuenca

We are freaking in Ecuador.

I can’t believe we’re here!!

No regrets.

It’s feeling good, exciting, and just…fun.

We’ve spent the week just soaking up the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Cuenca, our new city.

We’ve said to each other more than once, “We’re going to have a really good life here.”


We took the red-eye straight to Guayaquil. It seemed we were the only Americans on the packed flight. Only 6 1/2 hours from NYC. Not bad at all. That non-stop flight is going to be our preferred way of getting here.

We did end up taking 8 suitcases. Ha. We were quite a sight, I’m afraid. But somehow it all went very, very smoothly. I don’t regret one thing we brought. It was SO great to arrive at this place and have a few of our own belongings. We followed the advice of other expats regarding what to bring and they were dead on. (Some of the main items: rain gear, walking shoes, hiking shoes, a stock of sunscreen, linens, pillows, Vitamix, pots and pans, vegetable juicer, kitchen utensils, knives, vitamins, hats, coconut oil, camping gear, spring weather clothing and jackets.)

We had a driver, Jorge, pick us up in a van to take us on the 3 1/2 hour drive to Cuenca. Jorge was my DREAM kind of driver –  nice and slow. He didn’t try any of that crazy passing business on mountain turns (which is very common here in South America). We’ll be using Jorge again and again.

We drove through the Andes and I’m telling you, they are so stunning it’s ridiculous!!! The 5 am sunrise glistening along the mountain passes didn’t hurt, either. This particular drive was the most gorgeous, green, and lush we’ve seen yet in Ecuador. It was like Maui meets the Swiss Alps. This photo out the car window does not do it justice.

We arrived in Cuenca and went straight away to a little furnished apartment we are renting. An Ecuadorian family we had met at church had this place available and so we went for it sight unseen, based on the recommendation of another American couple who used to live here. We had a welcoming party upon our arrival as two church families came to greet us. πŸ™‚ So very nice. The apartment is a two bedroom, two bath. It’s very quaint (similar to some two bedrooms in New York). It’s clean and in a safe/multi-gated area. AND, IT HAS A WASHER/DRYER & VERY HOT WATER! Yay. (Those are actually common around here in Cuenca, but still…what do we know? We’re new at this! πŸ™‚  There is also a very fruitful tomato vine out front, which I love. And, the owners live right next door. They are as lovely and as helpful as can be, which is actually a huge benefit of living here. We’re so glad we had this place to come to straight from the airport. We may not be in this particular apartment for the long term. But for now, we’ll make it a wonderful little home for us as we get to know this city.

This last week has felt like a complete adventure!

We’ve been exploring our neighborhood, going to the a-m-a-z-i-n-g vegetable markets, shopping for a few home items, getting to know the stray dogs in the neighborhood (we want to adopt them all), taking Spanish lessons, cooking from scratch, making green juice, going out for $2.50 almuerzos (lunches), walking a TON (which I’ve loooved), setting up our little home here, and working on getting Ecuadorian visas, internet, and a bank account. We also went to THE MOST AMAZING concert by a guitarist and an opera singer. Cuenca is the cultural center of Ecuador and they have tons and tons of music, symphony, ballet, art, theatre, and opera events…and most all of them are FREE. We’ll actually have a more cultured life here than we did in New York. πŸ™‚


We got this entire loot for $12!! (the huge bunches of greens were only 25 cents each. Each pile of similar produce was $1.)


On weekend nights our otherwise quiet neighborhood gets pretty lively out of no where. We often hear fireworks or music. Once we were awakened at 4:00 am by a full blown karaoke party going on. My oh my. I guess this is all apart of the South American adventure. πŸ™‚ At least our neighbors don’t have roosters!!!

Living here definitely comes with some adjustments, I should add. Our set up in Brooklyn was – well- flat out luxurious compared to here. For example, we won’t have a car here. I feel a little cramped in this apartment as the ceilings are much lower and there isn’t as much natural light or as many windows as I’d like. Our kitchen is itty bitty for doing the amount of cooking that we do. There is no dishwasher. And the furniture proportions here are not so comfortable as Ecuadorians are much, much shorter than most Americans. πŸ™‚ But then I think of all that and I feel like a spoiled brat. And I remind myself HOW LUCKY we are to be here and to have this experience and to have this little lovely home available to us. It’s funny how you can adjust to things. Last week at this time I was “adjusting” to these new home surroundings but now I’m feeling used to it. I’ve cleaned the place from top to bottom, which helped a bunch. I’m even excited to get a new shelf made for the kitchen so we can have a bit more storage space. And I’ve been tending to the plants out front.  πŸ™‚ I’m flat out making this place a home and it’s feeling really nice to be here. 

On another note, today we did some walking to explore some other neighborhoods. We found
some GORGEOUS homes. It made me excited to start looking at real estate…you know, for the future…just in case we decide we want to live in Cuenca a little more long-term. πŸ™‚ We’ll see. I’m really excited about the

P.S. We just got asked to be interviewed on an Ecuadorian radio show. Ha! Stay tuned, my friends. πŸ™‚
P.P.S. Wish us luck on getting internet set up here. We’ve been trying for a whole week, but each day they prefer to come “maΓ±ana.”  πŸ™‚ That’s the way of life here.  πŸ™‚

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  1. Kirsty April 7, 2014 at 11:31 am - Reply

    Brilliant news! Enjoy your new home. Wishing you many blessings

  2. Lindsey April 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Hooray! We took that same red eye from JFK to Guayanquil last month πŸ™‚ – only Americans on the plane!! xox

    • mara April 8, 2014 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      Oh cool!! So fun. Were you just visiting?

  3. Kelsey April 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    This is lovely. Thanks for sharing! Cuenca looks beautiful.

  4. Noa / www.noablog.com April 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    A new follower and fellow b-schooler. Cannot wait to follow you on this amazing journey…. Sounds like things are going so well! What an adventure…. That I look forward to live vicariously through you πŸ™‚

    • mara April 8, 2014 at 10:00 pm - Reply

      Ah, thank you! And welcome to the blog. So happy to have you!

  5. Jessica April 7, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    So excited for you and Danny, Mara! This new South American adventure is going to be so amazing – I can't wait to hear more:)

  6. ingrid April 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    happy for you guys! your journey is so inspiring. keep on keeping on.

  7. kh April 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    I am so excited for you guys!

  8. Mairi April 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure. You are a real inspiration πŸ™‚

  9. annie April 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I lived in Cuenca as a missionary twenty years ago. Love these pictures! I hope you are being careful and boiling your water, and you probably shouldn't eat any raw fish or ceviche and pork is a no-no too. At least these were our rules back then to keep us healthy, I don't know if things have changed by now. Buena suerte!

    Also, I can so remember many all night parties with music blasting. I spent many many nights wishing for some earphones!

    • mara April 8, 2014 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      thanks, Annie! Actually, the water in Cuenca is surprisingly drinkable! (though it isn't in other parts of the country.) All the expats told us it was ok to drink here and we were scared at first but finally went for it – and we've been just fine. Also, we are avoiding raw fish just to be safe. I didn't know pork wasn't safe so that's good to know. And yes, we each have earphones next to our beds!! I've only used them once so far, but I'll keep them handy on the weekends, for sure. πŸ™‚

  10. gluttonforlife April 7, 2014 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Have a great time! And, when you get a sec, check out this blog about life in the Andes, which you may find informative/inspiring: http://judyblankenship.com xo

  11. Jim & Connie April 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    We are getting ready to move to Cuenca, hopefully by Christmas this year! We visited last year and loved it. It will be our new home. Anxious to hear about cost of bringing excess suitcases and need to find out how to get in touch with Jorge. jolliff71@yahoo.com

  12. M H April 7, 2014 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    OMG! Danny must have no fewer than 10 new salsa varieties already mastered! Beautiful! xo M

  13. Anonymous April 8, 2014 at 12:19 am - Reply

    So hipsters have now arrived in Ecuador…great.

  14. Anonymous April 8, 2014 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Congratulations! I'm eager to hear more about your new adventures!

  15. Aubrey April 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Your skin looks amazing, especially in the last photo – what makeup are you wearing if any? What's your skincare routine lately…thanks πŸ™‚

    • mara April 8, 2014 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      Wow – thank you. My skin was kind of suffering there for a bit as we had been living out of our home since Feb. 1 – traveling and camping out at a friends' home – until we came to Ecuador. I hadn't been doing my normal skincare routine or eating my normal foods during that time. Just in the short time we've been here, I've gone back to my using a generous amount of coconut oil on my face during my showers. It makes my skin so soft and it seems to be very healing for any dry patch or blemish. It makes my skin so soft. Also, I've been drinking more water here. Believe it or not – the water in Cuenca is very clean and drinkable (though not so in other parts of Ecuador). Also, we've been eating TONS of fruits and vegetables. That makes a huge difference. And, I've been taking my vitamins again. I take high doses of antioxidants, CoQ10, multi vitamins, 'greens' supplements, and fish oil. These are all anti-inflammatory and helpful for the auto immune issues I have. But I think they do wonders for my skin, as well. And, of course, the biggest deal for me is no dairy. Going off of dairy was the HUGEST game changer for my skin. It reduced pore size, made my skin color more consistent and less reddish in areas. I'm not wearing foundation these days, but I wear a cheek tint by 100% Pure and a lipstick (Cherry or Vixen) also by 100% pure.

  16. Lily April 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Looks beautiful! I will be in Cuenca for a few weeks in June visiting friends and I cannot wait! I have heard amazing things about the city and the people, glad to see you are enjoying it so far!

  17. Catherine Campion April 10, 2014 at 1:29 am - Reply

    Wheeee – more like-minded, inspirational humans moving to Ecuador! You two are beautiful and I cannot wait to meet you in person. I just purchased a small finca/orchard in Manglaralto, near the ocean. I will be hosting my first events there in one month, May 16-18. I invite you to come!
    I've subscribed to your blog. More about me and my adventure can be found on mine: http://terranovadecorazon.blogspot.com
    Infinite blessings, light and love to you!

  18. Whitney Tanner April 29, 2014 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Aghh! You have to eat all the Ceviche you can get your hands on! Everybody is stuck on Peruvian Ceviche, but I so prefer the Ecuadorian version. I was a missionary in Ecuador a few years ago and the best thing I did was eat all that gloriously dirty street food. Really though, go out early and get a bowl of Encebollado (it's a fish and onion soup), it sounds revolting and normally I hate fish but it is so wholly wonderful.

    My only regret is how long I waited to try everything! They have so many things that are absolutely wonderful…I'm being redundant.

    Ecuador is so incredibly underrated.

  19. Whitney Tanner April 29, 2014 at 5:29 am - Reply

    One more thing:

    It was difficult to get recipes for Ecuadorian food since most Ecuadorians cook everything by memory. This website, http://laylita.com/recipes/ecuadorian-recipes is the very best.

    Okay, one last thing.

    Try Morocho (sweet corn drink served warm) and Humitas (like a meatless tamale), more glorious street food.

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