Summer Should Be Here Soon

OK, September isn’t over yet so I am fashionably late for my August newsletter. I know I keep saying it, but we seem to be as busy as ever and are constantly running out of hours in our day. We even mark two days a week as NO COMMITMENTS so we can spend time together.
It was a fun month. We started off by meeting several couples for drinks or lunch who had been participants at the International Living conference in Quito last month and who were in Cuenca doing an exploratory trip. We enjoy sharing our experiences with those who are interested in moving to Cuenca. As we talk about our lifestyle and what works for us, we have to point out to them that what works for us might not work for them. Still, they can certainly find what they are looking for, if not in Cuenca then somewhere in Ecuador. We also were able to have dinner with Naz, who does the “Postcards” for International Living (IL). The “Postcards” are daily blurbs written by expats from around the world. Mike even had one published. She is with IL’s home office located in Waterford, Ireland, and we hope to get there next year to see her and the IL operation.

We are both active with the Cuenca International Writers Conference. Mike is the chair of the committee and I am the secretary. One of the members has revamped the web site so we all had our pictures taken for the new site. Click HERE to see what the conference is all about.

We enjoy a social life like nothing we experienced back in the states. We have a circle of friends that span a wide range of ages as well as interests. But that is what makes it so amazing. Before, our circle of friends seemed to be those we worked with, neighbors or those in our groups, and we loved them all. We find the bonding element of those we meet here goes beyond that sort of grouping and seems to be one of a love of life and adventure. Here is one of our outings for lunch on the outskirts of Cuenca with a group of friends. You will notice Mike and are the “old farts” of the group as the ages here range from 52 to 75!

It amazes me how Cuenca seems to be a vortex for all kinds of art, including writing, photography, painting, music and theater. We both took a class on marketing for authors last month and this month we had a one-on-one to strategize a marketing plan. In that meeting we talked about moving Mike from being strictly in the Romance genre towards a combination of the Young Adult/Fantasy/Suspense/Romance genres. His writing is really evolving and his stories, although romantic and upbeat, now have more suspense and fantasy that appeals to both the young and old. This is the draft of the 1st book cover in Mike’s next series. I am sure there will be some changes on it before he publishes the first part of 2017.
Mike has been busy with volunteer work this month helping the Hearts of Gold Foundation with their strategic planning. He facilitated two half days of strategic planning sessions for their staff, with two more half days to come in September.

We finally got to the coast. Brian Gary, an expat here, plans adventures. We went on his “Jungle Boogie” trip in April and had a great time. When he decided to expand his trips to the coast with a “Beach Boogie” trip that included whale watching, we immediately signed up.

About 20 or so of us clambered onto the bus early on a cool and wet morning to be transported from Cuenca through the Cajas mountains, high in the Andes, to Montañita, our home on the coast for the next several days.

As we got into the Cajas, the sky cleared to a dazzling blue and we were presented with a rainbow. I am sure this was a promise for beautiful weather for the next several days. As we drove along, we got into the clouds, giving a very mystical feel.

 The rainbow is faint in the picture although brilliant viewed from the bus, it is still beautiful.

Coming out of the Cajas we drove through the flat land before heading through Guayaquil and past, what seemed like miles and miles of shipping containers.

The drive along the coast just outside of Guayaquil was more arid than I expected but became greener the further north we went. We even saw salt ponds and production on the way.

Montañita hasn’t changed much from its origins as a hippie beach destination in the 1960s. Now it has the reputation as a surfing hotspot and has been luring tourists and expats to its golden shores for decades.

This is the hotel we stayed in during our visit

A town that started with a handful of local fishermen and a few foreign hippies has evolved into a vast cultural melting pot of people from all nations and walks of life. Today Montañita attracts surfers from all around the world. It boasts strong, consistent waves that reach over 3 feet during the calmer summer months. During the late fall and winter, especially January through March, waves get as large as 6½ feet. The surfing in Montañita has earned a spot on the international surfing circuit, as well as a place in the town’s annual Carnival celebration. An international surfing competition is on the agenda of the February festivities.

If you aren’t a surfer or hippie then you will want to make your visits to Montañita during the week. We’ve been told that it becomes a raucous party town on the weekends. Us old folks visited Monday thru Thursday.

The highlight of the trip was an excursion to Puerto Lopez for whale watching. Humpback whales make their yearly stop along the coast of Ecuador between June and September to mate, give birth, and entertain humans fascinated by their everyday behavior. I only saw one whale breaching and wasn’t fast enough with my camera so will have to keep that as a vivid memory until the next time.

The malecón (walkway along the beach) in Puerto Lopez is now being fixed up with new brick and cobblestone and plants along the edges. Maybe we will go back next August or September to see the whales and enjoy a stroll along the beach on the finished malecón.

The next day we visited Agua Blanca, a private community within the Machalilla National Park just outside of Puerto Lopez. It hosts remains of one of the most ancient civilizations in South America, the Monteño, along with trails and a sulfur lagoon.

We visited the small but interesting museum where many of the items have been simply picked up and contributed to the museum while others come from a few of the partially excavated dig sites near the village. Many of the ancient treasures that have been found came from the Monteño people who lived in the area between 800 and 1532 AD.

After visiting the museum, our guide took us through a short nature trail with a couple of river crossings to the sulfur lagoon. We didn’t bring bathing suits so we just watched the locals enjoying the lagoon. Mud is routinely collected from the bottom of this pool so guests can apply their own facial mud masks and we saw many, young and old alike, applying the mud to their face and even their arms and legs.

 Don’t you love the scarecrow!

Did you know there is a culinary school here in Cuenca? Most people who live in Cuenca have probably walked right past the San Isidro Instituto Superior without noticing it, I know we did. Below is from an article Mike wrote for the Cuenca Expats Magazine.

“The brainchild of Francisco Encalada, San Isidro has quickly gained a reputation for turning out some of the best and most innovative chefs found anywhere, not just in Cuenca. While traveling throughout the United States and Europe, Francisco noticed that in many places top chefs were acknowledged as stars in their own right. Such was not the case in Ecuador and many other Latin countries where chefs received little recognition, prestige or formal training. He studied how and where many well known chefs were trained and decided Cuenca offered a perfect setting to create the Ecuadorian equivalent of such famous schools as Le Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Francisco is not a chef. His background is in economics and business administration. He was, however, astute enough to recognize a need and develop a solution to meet that need. It took four years of paperwork before San Isidro Instituto Superior received full governmental approval to open its doors in 2009 as a culinary institute, the equivalent of a college for cooking.

Students attend classes four or five hours a day, five days a week, for two and a half years. In addition to their classroom education, students are required to gain work experience in the field.

Since San Isidro opened its doors, 104 students have graduated from the two and a half year program with a certificate as a technologist in gastronomical and culinary arts. Another 320 students are currently undertaking studies at the institute. San Isidro employs 22 teachers and brings in guest lecturers from the USA, France and Mexico to enhance the learning experience for students. Since its inception the institute has been recognized nationally and internationally for its excellent training and has received prestigious awards including the Culinary Cup in Guayaquil, Culinary Cup of the Americas, Culture Alive (Peru), Roots of Ecuador Culinary Cup, and Culinary Cup La Fiesta in Cuenca.”

In conjunction with San Isidro Culinary Institute, Cuenca Expats Magazine now sponsors a ¾ day cooking class each month where you can learn tips for cooking in the high altitude of Cuenca and how to use local ingredients. Our month ended by attending one of the classes. This month had nothing to do with cooking, focusing instead on learning how to make many delicious alcoholic drinks. Can’t you just see our happy group after tasting all the drinks?

Oh, and did I mention we got to sample the drinks. Here is Mike, good to the very last drop!!
I took lots of pictures on our “Beach Boogie” trip, so if you want to see all of them, click HERE.

As always, our life here in Cuenca is full, busy and happy and we love sharing it with you.

Until next time,


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