Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Readjusting To Life In Cuenca

After three weeks in the States, returning to Cuenca has been interesting. I loved, loved, loved being in America with the whole country being on the cusp of summer. Here we are on the cusp of what passes for winter, and the return from a land in bloom to a land where that's just not the season has been interesting.

Of course, the weather isn't the only difference between Cuenca and the States. One of my friends here asked me to do a comparison, so I spent a lot of my time in the States (since I had a lot of time in the car between North Carolina and Nebraska) reflecting on that. The differences jumped out from all sides, and not all of them bear repeating, but here are a few that have hit me going both ways.

  • The cheek kiss thing: When I got to the States, I was totally set to kiss everyone on the cheek because that is just the Ecuadorian way. It's kind of hard to shut off once you get in the habit. Now that I'm back, it's hard to turn back on. I once again feel like people are invading my space when they lean in for a kiss, but based on the weirdness that ensues when you try to shake hands with someone trying to kiss you, I'll need to get over that fast.

  • Punctuality: I had to get back in the groove of leaving for things on time in the States. Not so here in EC. Except for my classes, we're back in the land of approximates - around 2, sometime this evening. I kind of enjoyed the more scheduled life - I've apparently missed things that smack of routine. Cuenca's chaos is quaint, but not always conducive to getting things done.

  • Shopping variety: I'll be honest, I just about cried when I walked into the Trader Joe's in Lincoln, NE. It's not the biggest, it's not the best ... but it has so much variety that is flat out lacking here. You go to the supermarket and it's pretty much this or that, and having been to the supermarket three times in the last three days, it's frustrating. There may be six brands, but there aren't six kinds. In the US there is more variety of kinds of things to buy, both in the food aisles and on the shelves in retail stores. If I want to buy only modal cotton clothes in the States, I can do it. If I want to do that in EC, well, it's this shirt or that shirt, take it or leave it, plus 22% tax on imported clothes.

  • Height: In the US I'm average. Here I'm a giant, as being away and then back reminded me.

  • Pricing: You know, a lot of people go on and on about the cheapness of Cuenca, and so I was expecting more sticker shock being in the States. The biggest was the $65 taxi I took in Chicago - here taxi rides average $2, and the airport might be a $5-$10 ride in Quito for about an equal distance. Yet on the other hand there were a lot of elements in the States that were very affordable compared to Cuenca. Textiles of all kinds were very affordable in the States (no $5 for 6 pairs of Hanes socks here!) and a decent meal out at night was still $20+ per person just like it is here. Hotels in Cuenca are cheaper, and gas is cheaper because of the government subsidies. Yet in other areas of life it's not that different, and quality/selection + 12% Cuenca sales tax definitely are pricing factors to consider, too.
Anyway, I have to get back to adjusting - and unpacking! However, just wanted to share some of my thoughts as I make the (re)adjustment and settle back in to life in Cuenca.