Thursday, January 15, 2015

Our First Cuenca Apartment

Barbara's photo - Furniture rearranged now.
Cultural differences are apparent the minute you reach the airport here. The luggage was unloaded within minutes of our landing in Cuenca. We were out of the airport hailing a taxi 15 minutes after we left the plane. LAN Ecuador gets my vote for excellent service. This is not our first time with them and we will certainly not hesitate to use them whenever possible in the future. 

We grabbed a taxi to take us to the apartment we are home exchanging with, but the traffic was horrendous. The middle of the major road is being dug up for a new light rail tram system that should be completed next year. It took us longer than the 15-minute ride we were told to expect, making it more like a 25-minute journey. I kept my eye on the meter, knowing that Cuenca government has clamped down on taxis forcing them to use meters. When we arrived at the apartment, the meter showed our fare. $2.07! Yup, go back now and reread the time it took to get from the airport to the apartment and then look again at the fare. Shocker!

Sitting in the middle of the block, the apartment complex is four stories high, well maintained on the outside. Once you walk through large wooden doors, the next obstacle is huge metal gate. Malena, the building owner, buzzed us in; she came down to greet us. Inside the building, it is quickly obvious this building receives tender loving care. Beautifully tiled in light shades of brown, the staircases (no elevator) are airy. Each floor opens to the roof covered in glass admitting all the sunlight that is available at any given time. 

Our apartment is beyond our expectations, even after seeing photos. A tremendous living room/dining room combination has an extra-large flat screen television. Adjoining it is a narrow, but efficient balcony. Beyond the entry is a smallish, but well-organized kitchen. The stove is about 1 ½ the size of ours in Budapest and the refrigerator is like Goliath to our diminutive David. There are so many blinking lights on the door; we would need a degree to figure them all out. 

Two complete bathrooms will obstruct our ability to claim one is holding up the shower for the other. There are three bedrooms, but Barbara and her husband, our exchange partners, use one as an office. Barbara is a painter with some of her gorgeous work adorning various walls.

On the dining room table, we found a vase with roses and daisies, a bottle of Chilean wine, and a box of chocolates. Malena said Barbara left these for us. 

Malena and her ex-pat partner John, from Sacramento, gave us a full overview of where to get what in the city. Much of it was in and out; we were suffering from exhaustion from sleepless nights. They are most gracious and wonderful resources. Malena owns the entire building. From what she told Ron while I was speaking with John was that it took two years to remodel the building before she started renting the apartments. She really did an incredible job. However, modern inside the apartment, the border where the wall meets the ceiling and the ceiling itself has architectural touches that add class and style. No upkeep artificial wood floors throughout other than the tiled kitchen and bathroom floors, make it a breeze for cleaning. We have a housekeeper on Fridays, so we do not need to bother. 

On the next floor up, the entire space is a rooftop terrace. Under a protected area is a US imported washing machine and dryer for all tenants to us. A grill for cooking is part of a co-op of which our exchange is part of and dozens of chairs to sit and watch the world go by. The views are spectacular.

They told us there was a male couple living on the first floor, also ex-pats, from Georgia. When they said the names, it rang a bell. I had tried doing a home exchange with a male couple here in Cuenca, but they were not interested in Budapest in winter. Being the world really is small, as it happens; these guys live on the first floor of the same building. Malena and John said they would connect us. 

We did a three-hour walk around the city re-familiarizing ourselves with different markers we remembered from out last visit two years ago. The lack of sleep and changes in altitude sent us back to the apartment earlier than we usually would return. I had tried getting connected to the Internet via the Wi-Fi in the apartment, but could not get it accept the password Barbara left for me. Malena rescued me latter in the afternoon. She knew Barbara well enough to figure out the correct password. Even with all full bars of a connection, the Internet is still slow. 

One of our markets
Dinner was simple. We bought five avocados for $1 and three mangoes for $2. I think we were overcharged on the mangoes, but… At another stand, we found some incredible semi-hard white cheese and bought a half pound for $1.50. 

Tomorrow, the guys invited us to join them for lunch. They are meeting a lesbian friend. They educated us to the fact that Ecuador had rewritten their constitution two years ago giving all varieties of domestic partnerships equality under the law. Being that they are from Georgia, they went to New York to get married; they are getting their domestic partnership certificate here in Ecuador. They have been here for one year. In order to qualify for permanent residency, they are not allowed to leave the country for more than 90 days a year. Back in 2001, this was the same for us in Hungary, but it lasted for three years. 

More on Cuenca later. 

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