As part of the Ecuador experience, the program hosts provide apartments for all the participants. We will live in these apartments for the month we are here. If we wish, we can use the cooking facilities to make meals or we may choose to eat at the many restaurants in Cuenca (and restaurant prices are so low here that dining out is a very attractive option).
Most of the program apartments are in the heart of the historic part of Cuenca, in centuries-old buildings that have been refurbished to meet American expectations. Many of these apartments are quite small, and are described as studio apartments – one room with a separate, private bath room.
Here are some views of a studio apartment that is assigned to another couple:
Of course, there is a benefit to being downtown. This is the view from their apartment:
The real advantages to the downtown apartments is that the walk to school is a mere 5 minutes or so (one building is about 4 blocks from the Spanish School). In addition, the apartments are near many fine restaurants. Some participants do walk a bit further, maybe up to 10 minutes.
But not Two Who Trek. We are the only ones who are not in the downtown area. Kent and Christine Zimmerman, the program hosts, needed more apartments to meet increased participant demands. As a result, they rented our apartment which, when we first arrived, was a 45 minute walk to school. (As we have become more acclimated to the higher altitude, we’ve reduced that walk to 30 to 35 minutes.) One day we asked why they had rented it. They answered it was the only apartment available! The demand for apartments in Cuenca, at least near the historic city center, is very strong currently.
However, we are definitely not complaining! We are in “New Cuenca”, where the buildings are of recent construction. Our apartment is really a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condominium in the San Isidor Condominium building.
The condo is fairly new and probably measures about 1600 square feet. It is typical of the apartment buildings being constructed today. Our apartment features high-end items such as a stainless steel refrigerator and 6 burner stove, granite countertops , and tile on the wall of the bathrooms, as well as full tile floors. While it does not have a dishwasher, it does have a regular size washer and dryer which made Sherri very happy when she saw it!
Here are some views of our apartment, which rents for about $900 per month.
Strangely enough, the apartment has neither heating or air conditioning. The temperatures in Cuenca are so constant throughout the year that neither is needed. So far, the temperature inside has been just fine. The windows are large, single pane affairs that howl during strong winds.
There are advantages to living away from the rest of the group. First, the exercise has been great! We feel healthier already. But if it is raining, we can catch a taxi into town, for a fare of $2.00 usually.
Second, we have a different living experience. We are in a building with many Ecuadorian residents, so we have daily contact with local folks. We also must work with Spanish more, as there is no one around to translate for us.
Third, we have a major supermarket about two blocks from us. No such grocery store can be found downtown, although there are great fruit and vegetable markets available there. We often buy fresh items at those markets as we walk back home from school.
Fourth, the area is safe. We are just a stone’s throw from the University of Cuenca, which has good security. A major hospital is about five blocks away.
Finally, different dining opportunities are here. Because there is no zoning or urban planning, businesses and restaurants pop up in residential areas. You go around the corner and there’s a restaurant right next to a house. We have two top-rated restaurants within three blocks from the house, plus a couple of ice cream stores a block away.
We are greatly enjoying our fine apartment and thought about staying here longer. But the condo sold about a week ago, so the program won’t be able to use it after we move out. But we will certainly enjoy it while we are here! Especially these views – we have a great view of the historic part of Cuenca!