Welcome to our website ! Our vision is to inspire & promote international understanding through education and cultural exchange between South America - Ecuador and the rest of the world. To help people rediscover life with purpose, integrity and compassion, benefit from our experiences, and acquire knowledge for living in harmony in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world. To share our "life changing adventure experiences" with family and friends worldwide. We have consolidated a wealth of the best resources on Ecuador, along with travel journals and photos. Our hope is that you will find this a valuable, user friendly resource network, which enriches your life, enables you to learn, challenges your thinking, and empowers you to discover and undertake your own new experiences and adventures.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cuenca Mercados

April 22nd  is International Earth Day !  Did you know that "Pachamama" literally translates to Mother Earth ?  But to the indigenous people here in the Andes, it means deeper & meaningful connections with the universe, earth, sky, and time. 


Mercados in Cuenca are bustling, vibrant, bountiful, centres of economic activity - a profound experience to awaken all your senses.  Indoor and outdoor scattered throughout the city offering a wide range of goods and services. 

New to Cuenca we are fascinated with the number of fresh market options available for mother earth's bounty. The volumes (literally tons), and the diverse range of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fresh meat & seafood, grains, nuts, spices and other services available at the local markets.  Over 12,500 licensed vendors, and many more unlicensed vendors, operate throughout the city in the markets listed below. Not being able to find a practical reference list we have prepared a list of these markets, their location / addresses,  and their unique offerings or specialties.

We hope it is of value and will endeavor to keep this list current, and updated. We would appreciate any additions, or pearls of wisdom from those who have more experience in  Cuenca.    


Feria Libre or El Arenal   -  west central on Las Americas y Remigio Crespo Toral

Open every day from 7:00 a:m to 6:00 p:m, this is Cuenca's largest and busiest market. Sprawling over several city blocks are covered arenas, specific purpose sheds, indoor stalls, and outdoor stalls. 


Not for the feint of heart, it can be overwhelming, and very easy to get lost for the first time visitor. People from surrounding farms & villages visit on Wednesday & Saturdays, creating an even busier atmosphere, and larger market sprawling over five hectares.   


As the Azuay province's primary wholesale agricultural marketplace, with well over 6,000 vendors it is a fascinating experience - colourful, and  busy. This market has flowers, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, variety of eggs, grains, nuts, spices, aisles of vendors selling roasted pig, cuy (guinea pig), fresh chicken, ducks, or geese,  several areas for fresh meats, several sections for fresh seafood.


Outdoors is a live animal area with geese, ducks, chickens. roosters, turkeys,  guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, budgies, cockatiels, goats, pigs, cows, and a variety of other live animals.  An enormous indoor maze of compact tiendas has dry goods, clothing, shoes, outerwear, underware, linens, Ecuadorian handicrafts, tools, cellphones, electronics, household items, cookware,  staple groceries, toys, plasticware,  hardware, wood products, music cds, watches, souvenirs and much more !  
Services include restaurants serving typical local food, and food and beverage vendors, duplicating keys, appliance repair, barber shops, and banks.

The market is located at El Arenal, one of two major transfer stations where most local bus routes converge. 

Mercado 3 de Noviembre     -  central historic district on Mariscal Lamar y Colonell Guillermo Talbot

Open daily from 10:00 a:m - 8:00 p:m except Sundays. This is Cuenca's oldest market specializing in the commercial sale & distribution of grains and dried corn & beans.


 Remodeled in 2004 it is two floors and one of our favourite.  An industrial metal structure featuring natural light, open air spaces & balconies - reminding us of the popular Robson Street Market in Vancouver, B.C.  


For some reason it is not very popular and currently has 132 vendor stalls occupied out of  223 available stalls (only 60 % occupied ) .  In addition to its open style, there is more labeling and pricing than other markets.   The attraction for us is it is not as busy, and vendors have additional time to explain and answer our numerous questions.  

This market has fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, nuts, spices, dried beans & corn, meat, poultry, seafood, basic groceries, traditional food, coffees, ice cream and fresh juice bar. 


It has an interesting ecological vendor making and selling recycled tires made into a variety of decorative planters, and hanging flower pots.

One of the city's largest & best ferreteria's for selection and price is Ferreteria Vasquez Brito right across the street.

Mercado 9 de Octubre        -  northeast historic center district on Mariscal Lamar y Mariano Cueva

Operating daily from 8:00 a:m  this market is one of the oldest, a three floor traditional mercado was refurbished in 2009 to be modern, clean and spacious.  It has a very high sales volume. Located in an area once considered unsafe, dirty, and plagued with social problems of poverty and prostitution it has now been cleaned up and presents a new public face.

A fantastic selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, variety of herbs, crafts, and clothes. 


Traditional foods are available on the third floor. This market's known specialty is practicing Shaman healing rituals and medicinal herbs and plants.  

Mercado 10 de Agosto         -  central historic district on Calle Largo y General Torres

Operating daily from 7:00 a:m  this traditional 90 year old mercado is one of Cuenca's major and most popular markets. It's facelift makes it the only market in Cuenca with an elevator and escalator. Housing 630 vendors it also provides free parking. Providing an environment and real Cuencan life experience this market has fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, nuts, spices, dried beans, meat, poultry, seafood, basic groceries, clothing, wicker items, traditional foods, ice cream smoothie juice bar, and medicinal herbs & plants. 


Mercado 27 de Febrero          -  southern area  on Avenida 10 de Agosto y Adolfo Torres

Operating daily from 9:00 a:m  One of the newer farmer's type markets primarily with  fresh fruits and vegetables.

Mercado 12 de Abril                  -  eastern area  on Viracochabamba y General Eloy Alfaro

Operating daily from 8:00 a:m to 4:00 p:m  This 32 year old enclosed market is a centre of supplies for the area with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, dried fruits & nuts, spices, meat, poultry, seafood, basic groceries, and traditional foods (wonderful cerdo hornado & ceviches) clothing, footware, toys. With free parking, this market is said to have great prices. 


Nearby this mercado is a CADALES (which is Casa de Las Especias - House of Spices)

Plaza de San Francisco Market        - central historic district on Padre Aguirre y Presidente Cordova

Open daily 8 am - 5 pm an outdoor block of clothing, shoes, cookware, kitchen utensils, wicker, ceramics, ironworks. and plastic trinkets.  Most noted for its religious paraphernalia and the Otavalen weavings, sweaters, scarves, blankets, panchos, skirts, dresses, and beautiful hand embroidered blouses and shirts. 

CEMUART - Casa de la Mujer Artesanal - central historic district on General Torres y Presidente Cordova

Opening daily at 9:00 am - operating through to 6:30 pm Monday to Friday;  5:00 p:m  Saturday;  1:00 p:m Sunday A more formal collection of 100 artesans in an indoor area on the western side of Plaza de San Francisco.  You will find stained glass, paintings, ceramics, embroidered clothing, wooden carvings, weaving, handmade musical instruments, unique gifts, jewelry, typical Ecuadorian crafts, and much more. 

Plaza Rotary (Mercado de Atesanias Rotary) - Plaza Sangurima on Gaspar Sangurima  y Vargas Machuca.

Operating daily from 8:00 a:m  also known as Plaza Civica. One of our favourite artesan markets for practical household items, wooden furniture, wicker, iron works, bar-b-ques, tinsmiths, clay pottery, and a wide assortment of artesan crafts.   

Flower Market (Plaza de las Flores)  - central historic district on Calle Mariscal Sucre y Padre Aguirie

Open daily in El Carman Square for a rich and colourful selection of flower arrangements, roses, and a wide variety of local plants and flowers. 


Plaza Santa Ana              - located at the corner of Benigno Malo y Mariscal Lamar

Artesan stalls with a variety of jewelry, and small handicrafts.

Craft Market                 - located at the corner of Sangurima y Matura

Open daily from 8 am - 5 pm.  Basketry, ceramics, ironworks, kitchen utensils and bright plastic animals.

La Esquina de Las Artes      - El Barranco on Av. 12 de Abril y Agustin Cueva.

Open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7:30 pm and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.  A commercial centre for promoting the arts with distinguished artesans showcasing ceramics, glass,  wood crafts, textiles, embroidery, jewelry, and more. On Saturdays from 5 pm to 6 pm, enjoy live music and folkloric dances.

Sombrero  Market                  -  Plaza Maria Auxillafora  on La Condemine y Tarqui

On Thursday mornings a great opportunity to purchase a hand woven hat from craftsmen in the area.


Organic Farmer's Markets

Open on Saturdays 6 am until noon but you can expect many things to be gone very early.  A few of the vendors are also there on Wednesdays.

1.)  Entrepreneurs  Fair             -  Patios Prefecture of Azuay

Cuenca's newest organic farmers market where 200 stalls offer vegetables, fruits, grains, bread, herbs, plants, clothes, crafts, and other offerings direct from the producers and craftsmen. Support your local entrepreneurs and save money with competitive prices.  Now open on Sunday mornings as well. 

2.)   This market is located near El Tiempo which is on Av. Lola.

3.)   On the corner of Las Americas y Avenida Mexico where the annual carnival is located.  Vendors selling honey can be found here. 

4.)   San Joaquin Coopera Farmer's Market  -  about two miles along the Cajas autopista.

5.)   Mercado Miraflores located at Parque Miraflores
6.)   Gran Sol Coopera Farmer's Market has multiple locations.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Comparison of Coastal & Sierra living in Ecuador

 After six months now in Cuenca it is appropriate to comment on our observations of the major differences between  living in a small coastal village and the major urban cultural centre of Cuenca.


Recognize that our  experiences in Cuenca are relatively short at this time and may refine with the passing of time. Other's living experiences may differ, and certainly no two areas are alike.  Our life at the coast in Bahia de Caraquez was  a wonderful chapter in our life's adventure.  

The obvious differences between sea level and the altitude of 8,400 ft the weather is somewhat cooler with more precipitation, creating a lush green environment with different vegetation.  While the air is thinner ( 25 % less oxygen )  it seems much cleaner and easier to breathe, even given the large population of an urban centre.


 The rich black fertile volcanic soil is excellent for all tropical plants, fruits and vegetables.   The coast is arid and desert like with extremely poor clay like soil.  We learned a lot about many different cacti.  There we struggled to maintain a hobby farm with flower gardens,  fruit trees, and animals  with the lack of water and poor soil.  The soil here in Cuenca  is like the English Fairy Tale " Jack and the Beanstalk "  where any seed sprouts and grows instantaneously.  Cuenca has significantly more annual hours of sunshine than Bahia which is very often overcast and grey.  Mid day temperatures are mid-twenties Celsius with it cooling off in the evening into the teens.  Bahia's temperatures were consistent in the mid to high twenties throughout  the entire day and night  with a high level of humidity and salt brine in the air.  The warm waters of the Pacific Ocean or the Chone River Estuary were available for swimming or water sports.

The high altitude provides a " bug free " living environment.  This is one thing we will not miss about the coast where we personally learned about more snakes & insects than we could ever imagine and their annual life cycles.  A word of caution the more brilliantly colored the insect or snake is, the more dangerous or toxic the poison ie higher level of caution !  

It is no secret that maintenance and upkeep for homes, vehicles, or anything is significantly higher on the coast.  

Cost of living in Bahia de Caraquez is well known as one of the highest in Ecuador with Cuenca being significantly less expensive.   Bahia's new shopping mall may well have enhanced their access to consumer goods somewhat but it still cannot compare with the many alternatives available in a larger centre. 

 The coastal fishermen have a very laid back approach to life, and are known as " lazy " by their more industrious indigenous neighbours in the Sierra.  At first this was an endearing quality coming from a " driven North American " environment, but watching things erode,  inaction, and the constant party atmosphere becomes wearing and more difficult to accept over time.  

An endless variety of restaurants with diverse ethnic cuisines available in Cuenca. 

 With a new light rapid transit system, high speed internet, modern educational institutions, University's participation in community administration, modern manufacturing facilities, and strong tourism in  Cuenca it no longer feels like you are deprived of basic amenities in a developing country.
Health care services are modern and readily available in Cuenca. 
While this is improving slowly, access to a higher quality of education at all levels is available in Cuenca.  The educational year in the Sierra is similar to North America's September to June while the coastal school year is from April to January with February & March as vacation.

Cultural and entertainment options, activities are plentiful in Cuenca while  limited events were available in Bahia.  Cuenca has preserved a rich heritage of historic buildings and churches,  while Bahia's history is  poorly documented, and historic buildings neglected.   Bahia de Caraquez was once the major port in Ecuador, and seems to be in decline - perhaps in part to forces of Mother Nature, or corrupt governance - resulting in the sleepy vacation resort village of today.      

Traveling & Discovery has always been important to us, and we were finding that without access to an airport in Bahia the extra two days required to get to and from an airport in Guayaquil or Quito and  the logistics of overnight accommodation was becoming a strain. Currently we are 15 minutes from the airport in Cuenca in a condominium where we can simply lock the door and go !   In addition Cuenca is only several hours from the Amazon, the mighty Pacific Ocean, and many of Ecuador's most popular attractions - many new exploration adventures for us. 

More subtle differences include :

Interesting enough community involvement - while there are opportunities available we and one other couple were the only expats to engage, and volunteer in the local community.   In Cuenca many expats have availed themselves of the opportunities available to engage with the community.

Cooking & baking at high altitude is more complicated and requires adaption of many recipes and experience. 

Bahia is a sleepy coastal village that's population literally exploded during  holidays and vacations.  People from the Sierra vacationing on the coast.  Cuenca ( in the Sierra )  is a thriving modern urban metropolis that becomes a " ghost town " during holidays and vacations.  The difference is absolutely remarkable, and these extremes would not be seen in any North American city !   

And one of the most significant subtle differences is crime.  The coastal court system is corrupt and despite the best efforts of the federal government to implement change, it has not been successful. Due to this lack of punishment or justice,  criminal activity is significantly higher.  Actually almost without fail when Cuencanos learn we lived on the coast for six years they exclaim " how did you manage to survive amongst all the thieves ."   We experienced several significant robberies,  know of dozens of friends home invasions,  and were " swindled " out of thousands of dollars in dealings with four different expat families during our time on the coast.  Justice was not achieved in a single one of these situations.  Now having said that, we left behind, and miss, many good local families that were friends.  They remain very frustrated with the effect crime is having on their community, tourism, and themselves.  

A new study shows Ecuador expats in rural areas are more vulnerable to crime. "Conspicuousness" is one reason why.

A graduate school research project indicates that expats living in small towns and rural areas are more vulnerable to serious crime than those living in cities.

The research, by University of Edinburgh doctoral student Kelly Fowler, focuses on expats in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama and Spain.

"What we are finding is that foreigners living in cities, among the local population, are far less conspicuous than those living in the countryside and are less vulnerable to crime. This is true in Ecuador as well as in other major expat destinations." Fowler says. "City expats suffer far fewer cases of crimes such as home invasions, kidnappings, physical attacks and household break-ins."

In Ecuador, Fowler's work looked at crime against expats in Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, Quito as well as several small coastal communities. She was assisted in the project by former criminology professor and part-time Cuenca expat Martin Simmons.

Fowler and Simmons interviewed more than 100 Ecuador expats, most of them from the U.S., Canada and the UK. "One thing we found was that a surprising number of crimes against expats go unreported and this is true in Ecuador as well as other countries." She reports that out of six serious crimes against foreigners she studied in Vilcabamba, only three were reported. In the Cotacachi area, it was two of five and in five coastal areas, it was six of 12.

"Victims tell us that they don't report crimes because the perpetrators tell them they will take revenge if they do," Fowler says.

Fowler and Simmons also say that some of the non-reporting is due to the fact that expats don't want to attract attention to the themselves. "In some cases, the expat victims are involved in illegal activities themselves or are in violation of their visas," Simmons says. "Sometimes, the bad guys are aware of this and know the victims will not make a report. It's like crimes among drug dealers."

One of the more surprising findings of Fowler's research is the involvement of other expats in crimes. "We went into the project thinking that almost all the perpetrators would be locals but found that other foreigners were often involved," she says. "In cases that were not reported, victims often suspected other foreigners of being part of the plot."

Simmons says that expats in small communities often make themselves vulnerable to crime for two major reasons.

"First, they are highly visible, which means that they make themselves targets. In Cotacachi and Vilcabamba, it's hard to miss the big 'look-at-me' gringo houses perched on the hills around town," he says. "If you live in a community of mostly poor people and make a point of advertising your wealth, you make yourself vulnerable."

"Second, we found that many expats in small communities make very little effort to get to know the locals. They prefer to be segregated with other expats and many of them told us they have no intention of learning Spanish," Simmons says. "Expats we talked to in Quito and Cuenca make more of an effort to become involved in the community."

Although Fowler has not completed her research, she says that, so far, she is "amazed" at the the discrepancy in serious crime against expats in the country in contrast to that in cities. "There are about 4,000 foreign residents in Cuenca but there have been only two reported home invasions involving foreigners in the past five years," she says. "By contrast, in Vilcabamba, with only 300 foreign residents, we found three reported cases. Statistically, that's a huge difference."

Fowler's research shows that the most dangerous area in Ecuador for expats is the coast. "This isn't a surprise since the coast has the highest crime rate in general," she says. "Manta, Esmeraldas and Guayaquil have the highest crime rates in Ecuador."

If there is good news about living in the country, Fowler says, it's that petty crime is far less common than than in cities. "Small crime against foreigners, like pick-pocketing and theft of bags and other belongings on the street, is higher in the cities but it is in line with crime against tourists in general."

Fowler said that the overall crime picture in Ecuador is better than in the other countries she is studying and that the trend is positive. "Compared with Spain, Panama and Costa Rica, expats in Ecuador suffer fewer crimes. Crime is increasing in Spain and Panama and is holding steady in Costa Rica, but it is dropping in Ecuador," she says. She and Simmons credit the decline to government spending on crime prevention, including the hiring of more police, the installation of surveillance cameras in urban areas and a new nationwide 911 monitoring program.

Simmons says that no matter where expats live, they can control their vulnerability.  "The bottom line is that we are all responsible for our level of vulnerability," he says. "Be smart. Be safe."

This article's findings  are consistent and reaffirms  our observations, writing, and experiences here in both a small coastal community in  Ecuador, and Cuenca.

As always we welcome your  experiences, thoughts and observations. 

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador