On Becoming an Expat

The expat (expatriate) life is incredulous, filled with new wonders, experiences, cultures, and diverse people. I’m an advocate for slow travel, taking the time to get to experience these wonders. As with life anywhere, slow travel has its challenges, however.

Recently, I was asked to share my experiences of slow travel with an editor. Let me share them here with you.

*What is your favorite part of expatriate life?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I love how the expat life has allowed me to open a new world of people, places, and things. I have found all people – locals and expats – to be both different and the same. The culture and language may be different, but all people have hopes and dreams and seek the best in life. The world is both big and small. I love the new experiences, having no agenda, and finding surprises each new day.

*What has been the hardest part?

I found getting to a new country and settling into the consequences of the move have been the hardest part of making the change. Initially, there was the paperwork, the disposition of belongings, and finally the traveling. I had to deal with airports and their QR codes, late plane arrivals, and overnights with time changes. Upon arrival, multiple problems had to be solved: getting a Visa, new phone numbers, new banks, and finding a place to live. With my last two moves, this has stretched into three months each time. All I could do was live one day at a time and attack each problem head on.

*What’s your sense of ‘home’?

Home to me is where I put down roots, even temporarily. A home will provide me with safety and comfort. It will provide me with resources, opportunities, and resolutions. Home is not a place of things but a concept to be enjoyed.

*What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?

I have found to keep an open mind and not buck the ideas and values of the people I see and meet have been the most helpful tool to fitting in. I try always to remember I am a guest in my new country, and I hope I will be welcomed. Realizing I can make a major transition is comfort enough.

*Where would you want to move to eventually?

Eventually, I will go where life leads me and leave no regrets behind. I am made up of where I’ve been, and I expect to change as I experience new challenges. My path is not predetermined. I will look for a favorable climate, a low cost of living, clean water, and a stable government. I have no handle on eventualities. I will take one thing at a time as it comes.

*What advice would you give to first-time expats?

Get your ducks in a row. Do your research, even if it takes a few years to learn everything you can about a new place. Compare countries and cities. Learn about the culture; learn the language; and come to know places as if you had been there for years. With this background, you will have a much smoother transition.

*Share anything else about your expat life you’d like us to hear

Months ago, if you had told me I would be living in a yurt at 5260’ feet up a tropical mountainside among coffee trees, I would have asked if you were insane. Later, if you had told me I’d be living with people from many different countries, I would have confessed this to be ideal. I have liked my comforts, a cabin in the woods with a nice kitchen, and friends nearby. I thought, there’s no way I would have given up all these things to live like a foreigner in some other part of the world. But, you guessed it. It all came true.

You, too, can accept change as it comes. Keep your chin up, put one foot in front of the other foot, stay calm, and be patient. Everything will work itself out in time, and you will have a glorious life ahead of you.

Fact: Cuenca is sometimes called Gringolandia for its 10,000 resident ex-pats
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Never Say Good-bye

One of the worst things about being a traveling nomad is saying Good-bye. If you have spent anytime in a place, you have undoubtedly made friends and become comfortable there; you have come to call it home. But if you spend a week or even a month, you may not have this problem.

J.M. Barrie, as Peter Pan, said, “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” How can you forget if you’ve had a positive experience where you’ve been? You won’t forget. You are what you’ve been. Your history goes with you. I think the RVers have a good attitude about leaving. They never say good-bye; they say, “See you down the road”.

In my own experience, I grieve for those I’ve left behind. This is probably due to the fact I haven’t forgotten them. I have taken them with me. Life is an accumulation of our past relationships. You come to realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t find it hard. Winnie-the-Pooh said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

If you must say good-bye, there is some good to come from those words: you will discover a new hello. Saying farewell to close friends only means, when you meet again, the friendship is still there; it had only been put on hold for awhile.

I find myself reflecting on the musical Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice when the star sings, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina/The truth is I never left you”. Each of us will have bright days ahead. Instead of good-bye, you might say “’til we meet again”.

Fact: There’s never a right time to say good-bye. So don’t.
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The Blacksmiths of Cuenca

An entire street of blacksmith shops! Las Herrerias (the blacksmiths) and the Museum of Fire are an under-rated but fascinating neighborhood in the El Vergel sector of Cuenca. In the late 1800s, blacksmiths were a necessity to shape the iron needs of the community, from horseshoes to elaborate architecture.

This area was once on the outer boundaries of Cuenca, serving as a farmers’ market. Farmers arrived in horse-drawn wagons heaped with their meats and produce. While they were nearby selling their goods, the blacksmiths  kept busy shoeing the horses and fixing or creating ironworks.

This historic 3-block street was once home to more than 50 blacksmiths. The concentration of like businesses still exist today. Here in Cuenca, we have streets of computers, jewelry, automobile dealerships, and others up and down block(s). Although the majority of blacksmiths here are gone, their remnants remain. Look for elaborate crosses on the tops of buildings. A few proprietors still exist fabricating lamps, doorknobs, lanterns, chandeliers, and made-to-order objects. Other metalworkers and woodworkers have infiltrated into the area.

A large plaza exists at one end of the street, complete with small eateries and the ubiquitous church. The Plaza Del Herrero exists at the other end of the street where sits the Museo de los Artes del Fuego.(Museum of Fire) and an impressive stature of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metal, rising out of a volcano. The volcano is composed of multi-colored ceramic tiles, rocks, bricks and baked clay.

Many of the former blacksmith shops are today small Mexican or Ecuadorian restaurants. These little hole-in-the wall eateries serve tamales, humitas, empanadas, green tortillas, and fresh fruit juices. A meal can be had any time of day for $3-$4. Expect the street to be overly crowded with natives and tourists alike. This captivating street will leave you wanting to make a return visit.

Fact: Cuenca’s origins trace to 400 AD
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My Interview on

I’m pleased to announce that Awesomegang, a book site, selected me for an author interview. You can me at I hope you enjoy reading the interview. Thanks!

Fact: You’re never too old for new adventures
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The Cost of Food Shopping in Cuenca

You will save money when you grocery shop in Ecuador. Prices for local products are often substantially below those in North America. This is a result of the lower cost of living in Ecuador. The average monthly salary in Cuenca is $753.00 a month, with many earning $450.00 a month. Some items are subsidized by the government; others are  priced lower in order to accommodate the low average salary.

Alicia Erickson has researched food costs in six major Cuenca stores  in April 2022 ( Her figures below are based on one pound, except where noted.


Chicken     $1.25
Beef             $2.80
Pork            $2.00
Fish             $1.25
Shrimp      $3.00


Onions        $0.40
Tomatoes  $0.40
Apples         $0.73
Potatoes     $0.30
Pineapple  $1.00 (1)


Sugar          $0.45
Spaghetti $1.00
Flour           $0.47
Rice             $0.50
Beans         $0.80
Quinoa       $1.50


Box Wine    $5.00
Eggs (30)   $3.50
Milk (1L)    $0.70
W. Bread    $1.00 (loaf)
Honey         $1.00 (small jar)

Comparisons with the Mercados

Local Tiendas                28% higher
SuperMaxi                      61% higher
Other large stores       29%-55% higher

Last week at my Mercado, I bought a head of lettuce and a cauliflower, 3 green peppers, 3 white onions, 2 cucumbers, 1 humongous zucchini, 2 carrots for a total of $3.50!

Clearly, shopping in the mercados is the most cost-effective way to obtain groceries. Hence, their popularity. 

Fact: Unrefrigerated milk is sold in cartons on the shelf
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Food Shopping in Cuenca

The cost savings when purchasing food can be great when you know where to shop. As in cities of similar size, Cuenca is blest to have several options for shopping. These include the city markets (mercados), the chain stores, the local mom and pop shops (tiendas), and the street vendors.

There are five large mercados scattered around Cuenca. The largest of these i s the Feria Libre, an overwhelming market in size and number of products for sale. One of Cuenca’s popular tour operators gives us a tour of this market. He offers a commercial opening but continue watching to see the scope of this  popular market.


The other four mercados offer similar merchandise but on a smaller scale (see last week’s post at This is the mercado where I usually shop as it is the closest for me (a 25-minute walk).

Large local chain stores in Cuenca serve all the residents. One of the popular stores is the SuperMaxi, a large American-style grocery store popular with ex-pats. For five years, this chain has been building a MegaMaxi at a cost of 36 million dollars. It is due to open in 2023 and will be similar to a Walmart. Which brings us to another super store: Coral. This chain has six stores in Cuenca, from small to large; it is owned by Walmart. There are a few more large chain-type stores.

The local tiendas are the most numerous grocery outlets in the city. Many of these are too small to even enter. They have a counter across the doorway where you ask for what you want. The advantage of these tiendas is convenience for last minute shopping, and a place where you can purchase small quantities (such as a cup of flour). They are not to be overlooked.

The choice of shopping outlets is yours. You may choose for convenience, price, or location. Like many Ecuadorians, you may also need to shop at several of these in order to find all the products you want. Shopping in Cuenca is an adventure. Next week, I will discuss the costs and comparisons  of shopping for groceries.

Fact: Ecuadorians juice some fruits instead of eating them
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Herb, Hornado, or Haircut

Do you need a fish head, a wooden spoon, an exotic herb, a hornado, or a haircut? In Cuenca, you need to head to 10 Agosto Mercado in the El Centro, an authentic Cuenca market, where you will these items and many more than you can imagine. You must experience the sights and smells of this colorful market. Although it is open 7 days a week, it is best to go on a weekday when it is running full tilt.

When you approach the Mercado, you will find many vendors in front with their goods spread out before them or in a wheelbarrow. Wend your way through them and up a few steps and you are in the entry way of this large mercado. Ahead is a partial wall to block the elements from coming into this covered market.

You will first see piles of food stuffs along either side of the walls. Here you will find stalls of organic items in large baskets. Suddenly, you find yourself in a large courtyard-type space. Ahead is a decorated elevator with escalators on either side. Below one of these escalators stand indigenous women beating their clients with sage leaves as a purification rite.

Moving forward from the courtyard-type space are rows of meats, fruits, beans, and vegetables. Ride the escalator up to the second floor and these rows are duplicated. In addition, you will find multiple products for sale on individual tables: bags of various nuts, fruit drinks, more herbs; there are also Chinese imported products, wooden spoons and other wooden utensils, and even a couple of vendors offering a haircut for $2.50. Not to be outdone by the food products are rows containing clothing, shoes, and hats.

The prepared food smells will draw you back toward the escalators. Along either balcony side are individual food vendors offering you an inexpensive meal of typical Ecuadorian fare with tables opposite for your use. At the end of these food rows in a larger eating area are more food choices. Here you will find the hornado, a whole roasted pig served with boiled local corn kernels, mashed potato balls glazed with homemade sauce, and fresh salad mix. The pulled pork meal will melt in your mouth. This $4.00 meal can be topped with a glass of coconut milk or a fruit drink for another $1.00.

The 10 Agosto Mercado has been around since 1954. A trip to El Centro would not be complete without visiting this amazing “grocery store”.

Fact: Ecuador has some 40 large and colorful native mercados
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Fly Me to the Moon

Want to go to the moon? Don’t have the time for a long trip? Well, the trip gets shortened if you leave from Ecuador. Yes, Mount Chimborazo in Central Ecuador is closer to the moon than Mount Everest which sits between Tibet and Nepal. If you say ,“No way!” you’d be wrong.

Mount Chimborazo

The facts are Mount Chimborazo is 20,000+ feet while Mount Everest is 29,000+ feet, so Mount Everest wins while Ecuador loses. Not so fast. The world is not a perfect sphere. Below the equator there is a bulge around the middle of the earth running through Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, and Indonesia. If you were to stand on this bulge, you would be about 13 miles closer to the moon than if you were standing at either the North or South Pole.

A number of mountains jut up along this bulge: Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, and a bunch of lesser known mountains in South America. This bulge is not a perfect bulge, as bulges go. It just so happens Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo is plunked down on a high point on the bulge, making it actually closer to the moon than Mount Everest. The calculations were done by now deceased Dr. Joseph Senne, former univesity professor and civil engineer. His measurements have been authenticated by the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Mount Chimborazo is a stratovolcano, defined as cone-shaped with steep sides. On a clear day, it can be seen 90 miles away. Despite its claim to fame, it is not the tallest mountain in Ecuador. There are also many taller mountains in the region of Argentina/Chili and even in Ecuador itself. However, Mount Chimborazo is the closest to outer space due to its location on the bulge.

Mount Everest –

Mountains, such as Everest and Mauna Kea in Hawaii, are some of the tallest mounts in the world, but they sit further from the equator and consequently in a lower stratosphere. Think Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska. It’s quite far from the equator. So, Mount Chimborazo wins hands down for being the earth’s closest mountain to the moon.

Are you ready for your flight to the moon? Come see us in Ecuador and we’ll give you a send off.

Fact: Chimborazo’s last known eruption is believed to have occurred around 550 A.D.
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Monday Chat

It snuck up on me. How could I have overlooked this? A minor blip in my life is, as of two weeks ago, I completed one year of writing this blog, and I never missed a week. It has been both a challenge and fun.

Over the 52 weeks, I completed 63 posts. I doubled up for a short while with my US posts in order to get us to Panamá. I also wrote a few Monday Chats. Currently, I have 57 followers, which is a miniscule number compared to most other blogs. I continue to try to increase my number of followers, but I’m up against one million other blogs in the world.

As of today (Friday 10/14), I have had 2,133 visitors to my site from the US and 605 from Panamá. In addition, I have had 301 visitors from 36 other countries. I am  pleased to have reached 3,039 people but disheartened as I have managed to secure only 57 followers.

I have turned to social media to try to get more exposure. At the moment, I appear on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium and other occasional locations. My posts also include a tiny URL at the bottom for you to share with others. I recently created a website ( which features the books I’ve written. My attempt with this is to promote some cross-fertilization.

Still, I’m not giving up. I will continue to write a weekly post. With the wane of Covid, I hope to add more traveling to my life. As long as I can afford to do so, I will search for more stories to share with you.

I wish to express my thanks to each of you for having stuck with me for the last year. This blog would be of no value without you.

Latin American Cuisine Doesn’t Get the Credit it Deserves

Reprinted with permission from Cuenca Highlife, Sep 27, 2022 [edited]

By Carrie Dennett

Back in August, I wrote about how I wouldn’t promote the Mediterranean diet like I used to. One reason is that the heavy emphasis on this way of eating – although delicious and nutritious – rejects other traditional ways of eating, also. It’s delicious and nutritious, but it hasn’t benefited from being highlighted by research. Take Latin American cuisine, for example.

Like the Mediterranean [diet], “Latin America” ​​is not a monolith. It is quite diverse, consisting of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America – countries influenced by Spanish or Portuguese colonization that began centuries ago.

While there are common threads, the cuisines in this part of the world can be strongly regional, reflecting the blending of influences from the … natives, their colonizers, and enslaved Africans. In her stunning book, “The South American Table,” food writer, cookbook, and culinary historian Maria Baez-Kejak describes South American cuisine as “a unique cuisine that I believe has no equal in the world.”

From Cuenca Highlife, 9/27/2022

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a common non-Hispanic misconception that Latin American cuisine is less than healthy — too high in carbs and fat, and too low in vegetables. Ironically, because I’ve also seen diet/wellness culture … cherry pick some traditional Latin American foods like “superfoods” – avocado, chia seeds, quinoa, coconut milk, cashews, and oat milk – while demonizing other traditional foods, like corn, white rice, and potatoes. No matter that corn is a whole grain, potatoes contain a lot of nutrients, and a cup of brown rice contains only one gram more fiber than white rice.

It is easy to get an idea of ​​a culture’s cuisine from what we see on restaurant menus (including fast food menus), although this usually does not reflect what people from that culture eat and cook at home on an average day. For example, soups (sopas) and stews (caldos) are important in Latin American cuisine, but most Latin American restaurants do not feature them.

In the United States, we are often used to meals that contain separate sources of protein and vegetables, such as grilled chicken with broccoli. With Latin American foods, mixed dishes are more common, and vegetables are used as a basis for flavor and as a garnish, so it may not be clear how many vegetables you’re eating.

Beans, soups, and stews can be cooked with sofrito – most versions start with onions and/or garlic, then other ingredients like tomatoes and bell peppers are added – then topped with fresh sauce or raw vegetable garnishes, such as shredded cabbage, radish, carrots, or onions. Sauces, another important ingredient in Latin American cooking, are often also made from aromatic vegetables. There may also be a serving of pickled, fermented, or grilled vegetables on the side.

When I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, nearly 14 years ago, I had a little whim when quite a few restaurant menus had salads like what I ordered at home. But the grilled vegetables were plentiful. (As I learned from Maricel E. Presilla’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, “Gran Cocina Latina,” there are Latin American salads — they’re not just the leafy green combinations you’re used to.)

From Cuenca Highlife, 9/27/2022

When I visited Ecuador a decade later, I was much cooler about the food.

We can learn a lot from Latin American food, including how to use vegetables as flavor and how to incorporate more beans – a great source of protein, fiber and other nutrients. Like every food culture, Latin American food culture is nutritious and delicious, and it’s worth celebrating.

Fact:  Ecuadorian food is as diverse as its landscape. 
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