When we told local friends we were looking to rent a furnished apartment in El Centro, Cuenca's charming historic district, their response was, “Why would you want to move there? It's so noisy and dirty.” “Not to us,” we responded, “It's perfect.” We had quickly tired of the cold sterility of our Gringolandia apartment, where the only contact we ever had with our neighbors came on a 15-second elevator ride.
We wanted to live with the locals. We wanted an Ecuadorian apartment, in an Ecuadorian neighborhood.
As I've mentioned before, Cuenca is 500 years old, a blend of colonial Spanish architecture and Indigenous cultures. Its buildings and streets are old, really old. Actually, the cobbled streets are a big part of what gives the city its charm. We wanted to walk out of our apartment and be in the middle of all that.
Our apartment search
I started searching on the internet and googled “rent a furnished apartment in cuenca.” Just so you know, that doesn't work nearly as well as checking GringoTree,the Cuenca expat website. It might have been a fluke but we immediately found an ad that sounded ideal.
Our realtor explained that it would cost $450/month, including electricity, water and cable TV/internet. “The only thing is, there's no washing machine or dryer so you'll have to bring your laundry downstairs. The landlady will wash it for you.” Are you serious? Oh, yeah, we could certainly deal with that.
The biggest differences between an Ecuadorian apartment in Cuenca downtown and a place on the outskirts are the age and size of the apartments and the fact that apartments in El Centro require a propane tank for the water heater and cooking. Our first tank lasted almost 3 weeks before we had to get a refill, and the man who refilled it brought it up and connected it. What service! At $2.50 it can hardly be considered a hardship. Come to think of it, this is just part of the charm of being in another country.
Our furnished apartment in Cuenca's El Centro:
It's a small place, just two bedrooms, two baths, a living/dining area and a tiny kitchen. (See? There's not even enough room in the kitchen for the fridge!) But no matter; it's big enough for the two of us and there's a second bedroom for any guests who will (hopefully) visit.
It's also exciting to know we're saving at least $330 a month by living here.
The master bedroom
Thanks to a wall full of windows the master bedroom has lots of light. The bed's mattress is pretty comfortable, though I can't say the same for the pillows or the sheets. That's one of the bad things about living in Ecuador: Quality sheets are ridiculously expensive, and the cheaper ones are uncomfortable because they get those little pills (balls) all over them. So if you plan to move to Ecuador, buy your sheets before you come. Same thing with the towels, if you like them thick and fluffy.
We brought our own bedspread, sheets and pillows from the other place. I prefer my own bedding and this decor is really not to my taste anyway.
Ecuadorian bedrooms have no closets. Instead, one wall is lined with cabinets and lots of drawers. I think that's more than enough storage room for any couple. All our master bedroom lacks is a place to hang dresses and coats, which is no problem; there's space in the other bedroom.
Notice the cable running across the floor? It supplies the cable signal for the TVs in the two apartments on this floor. That silver thing is the signal splitter. There's a lot of goofy wiring going on in these buildings. An American electrician would have a coronary.
The second bedroom (aka “the guest room”)
Since no one is staying here at the moment we store our empty suitcases in the upper cabinets. The ones at eye level hold our hanging coats and my dresses.
This is not a gringo apartment
Oh, my goodness, the spirit in this apartment is so different from our previous apartment in Gringolandia! Unlike the guards in that lobby who barely acknowledged our passage, our Ecuadorian landlady always greets me with a smile and a kiss when I see her. “Holá, como va?” (I'm not saying that I would have liked to be kissed by all those guards. But you know what I mean.)
My heart melts every time I see Mathias, Veronica's little, adorable-but-shy 2-year-old, hide behind her and wave at me. I don't remember seeing any kids at the other place in Gringolandia. Ever.
And even though we're newcomers and foreigners we have been made to feel welcome. Veronica and her husband have invited us to use their home's huge outdoor fireplace at any time, either to warm up with (it's cold season now!) or to grill steaks on. She smiles when I bring her our laundry. And she's extremely helpful as we try to learn Spanish.
Twice a week a fruit truck trundles by, advertising “sweet oranges, 25/$2!” from its loudspeaker. Our street is on one woman's route, who calls out to folks hoping for a lucky break; she carries a roll of lottery tickets in her hands. A pickup truck arrives every Wednesday morning so we can have our containers refilled with milk fresh from the farm (60 cents per liter). And every three weeks we begin to listen for the insistent honk that tells us the propane truck is on its way. We will wave to him from our window and hope he sees us and stops.
Anywhere we go in the city, our early morning walks will accompanied by the fragrant aroma of freshly baked bread. We never tire of it
This is why we left the sterility of Gringolandia and got an apartment in Cuenca's El Centro. This is Ecuadorian life, and we are happy to be a part of it.