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Ecuador Expat Profile – Melita Vega, Cuenca Ecuador

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Expats in Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

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Ecuador Expat Profile – Melita Vega, Cuenca Ecuador

melita-vega-ecuador-expatThe Expat: Melita Vega

Name: Melita Vega

What is your blog url?

LinkedIn: Melita Vega
Twitter: @mevega

Where are your currently living?

Cuenca, Ecuador since August 2011, on and off since the 1990’s.

What’s Your Story?

I tend to call myself the “hybrid-expat” as I’ve spent significant periods of time in Canada and Ecuador, being uprooted and then uprooting myself several times throughout my entire life.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada to Ecuadorean immigrant parents until the age of 12, at which point my dad decided to move us all to Ecuador. After spending my teens and early 20’s in Cuenca, I moved back to Toronto with my Ecuadorean-born husband and son and spent another 10 years there before returning to settle in Cuenca again in 2011.

So while I’m not exactly a newcomer to Ecuador, I have experienced many of the same feelings of wonder, isolation and culture shock that other expats have, many times over.

When and where did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?

Coming to Ecuador for the first time at the age of 12 with no knowledge of Spanish or the city of Cuenca was definitely not my idea (the Cuenca of 20 years ago was VERY different from what it is today), but as the years passed I grew to love the city and had no plans whatsoever to leave.

However, after the Ecuadorean banking crisis in the late 1990’s, my husband and I decided to make the leap to Canada with only $500 in our pockets and a back up plan to return to Ecuador within a year if it didn’t work out.

Flash-forward 10 years later, with a growing teenager in the house, it became important to us to teach our son about his Ecuadorean roots and be closer to family, so we uprooted ourselves once again and made the tricky transition into the way of life in Cuenca. We’ve been back” for two years now and the plan is to stay put. (but as I’ve learned over the years, never say never).

How’s your Spanish?

Spanish is technically my second language, as I didn’t speak a word of it when I first moved to Cuenca (despite the fact that my parents only spoke Spanish in the house when I was a child). I did find that the age of 12 was a good time to pick it up as I don’t have a noticeable accent in either language.

I do think it’s important to be able to have at least a moderate understanding of the local language of the country to where one is planning to build a new life, otherwise, the potential for misunderstandings and frustration just grows exponentially. I know many fellow Ecuadorians who were part of the mass wave of emigration to the States in the late 1990’s (my own parents were part of the wave in the 1970’s) and experienced considerable frustrations that were compounded by the fact that they didn’t understand English.

How do you make your living?

I’m a communications consultant and I currently work as a public servant.

Being away from Cuenca for over a decade means I wasn’t around to experience all the spikes in prices and changes in the city landscape (the city got its very first mall in the early 2000’s). After the first few trips to the local supermarket, I was shocked to see my monthly grocery bill was the same as it was in Canada, which, as I later came to learn, is to be expected if you want to maintain the same standard of living you had before. The cost of imported, packaged goods and local dairy at the supermarket still shocks me, but I view it as a necessary evil as I don’t want to deprive my 16-year old son of his favorite comfort foods like Fruit Loops, Pringles, and Mac ‘n Cheese. That said, the reasonable cost of fruit and flowers always makes me smile!

Being a city gal, the cost of purchasing a home was also another shock. Coming from Toronto, where condos are billed as a cheaper alternative (I use this term lightly) to a house in the city, I found it odd that a 1400 sq. ft. condo, depending on the location, can cost more than a two-story house of the same size in Cuenca.

What do you love about Ecuador?

Having been away for such a long time, it’s truly amazing to see just how much has changed for the better in Cuenca. I do think some of that is due to the massive influx of tourism and foreigners making Cuenca their home. New roads have been paved, parks have been revitalized, diverse restaurants (with good prices) have cropped up everywhere and people seem to be truly taking advantage of all the city has to offer.

Being a design and home decor nut, I’m also impressed with the quality of architecture and construction these days, compared to 20 years ago. It’s truly is possible to have your dream home. Being a smaller city, the selection of home decor and furniture stores is rather scant compared to the larger cities of Quito or Guayaquil, but one of the great things about Cuenca is that just about anything is fixable. I had my breakfast bar stools reupholstered and shortened for less than $200 total. No one here would even think of dumping a couch or a fridge on the side of the road here, which translates into a less wasteful lifestyle.

While it’s true the city isn’t as safe as it once was, I think the same can be said of many cities, large or small, around the world. As a woman, I do miss being able to walk around alone at night like I used to in Toronto, which is something I can’t really do here unless I’ve got company. However, I do think people simply need to employ common sense when getting around and be aware of their surroundings. Thieves prey on distracted people, or those they perceive to be “easy targets”, so it pays to be alert.

As for tips for other expats considering moving to Cuenca, I would definitely recommend paying a visit first to make sure this pace of life is for them, as things here roll at their own pace compared to larger cities. And definitely keep checking websites and blogs like these, which I think are extremely helpful.

melita-vega-cuenca-ecuador

Check out: 15 Ecuador expat stories.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

12 comments… add one
  • Julius Janits Mar 10, 2017, 12:54 pm

    Hello Melita,
    I am writing from Montreal, Qc.. Had traveled to Ecuador several years prior and found the the country amazing in terms of the natural setting, the cities and people. Visited Guayaquil which was quite nice, Cuenca and Quito, and then of course the volcano corridor surrounding Quito. A true wonder. What was not too pleasant was the smoke and pollution in Quito area from fires set to burn waste and some traffic. The altitude takes some time acclimatize to. What you hint on is the quick changes taking place, and was curious how the growing influx of expats is changing the landscape overall, socially and in terms of westernization of the culture.
    I am thinking of relocating in the near term – I am not too far retirement. Curious if you could perhaps give pointers on two areas of concern, with you being a citizen in both countries and had gone through the maze: what job opportunity exist for those relocating in hospitality sector example, or to teach English, or work as a liaison say to a local company to expand exports, and 2, what is the process and requirements in terms of legal documents to successfully relocate the Ecuador.
    Thanks in advance for your attention and wishing you and family all the best.
    Julius

  • Paul Acee Sep 29, 2014, 10:00 pm

    I’ll be in Cuenca, Ecuador next week to retire!

    I can hardly wait, I’ll be applying for a 9-1 Pensioners Visa.

    Your blog has been an inspiration. Thank you!

    Paul

  • Stewart Oct 14, 2013, 5:30 pm

    Melita,

    Saludos. Glad to have another expat in Cuenca. I visited this past weekend, but I didnt see many gringos (please excuse my keyboard syntax). There were about 3 at the hotel and a few here and there, but very similar to Quito.
    Cuenca has a lot less traffic which is good.

    Maybe next visit going to the “Far Out” german bar there will be a good amount of gringos to feel a little bit like back in the States.

    Best regards.

  • Ann Oct 11, 2013, 10:11 am

    I always enjoy this newsletter and today I especially liked your article. Very interesting and informative. I particularly liked the part about buying groceries. We have been here for almost four months and I think I am finally learning how to shop!

    • Melita Vega Oct 11, 2013, 11:31 pm

      Ain’t that the truth! It’s all about trial and error and going with the flow. For example, I do all my errands on Wednesdays, as this is when the local supermarket offers 20% off fruits, veggies and flowers. I do my grocery shopping at 1 p.m. when there are no linups and plenty of parking spots. Plus – there’s a car wash across the street that charges only $5 for a wash and vacuum. So, in 30 minutes flat, I’ve got all our groceries and a nice clean car to take them home. And…I just found out the dry cleaners around the corner of the same supermarket offers a three for the price of two deal on suits on Wednesdays, which is handy since my husband wears a suit every day. Gotta love Wednesdays!

  • Ralph Sabean Oct 11, 2013, 9:26 am

    I miss all the beauty of the mountains and streams of Ecuador. I miss walking with my grandson and rarely my grand daughter would come along as well but we always brought her a treat anyway . My son Matthew ,& lady Jill, and the grandkids Makayla & Jaymin are on my mind a lot these days. I do hate the idea of spending another winter in Nova Scotia and with my bad ankles shoveling snow might just be too much for me this time. I now have a lawn tractor and if I had a snow blower to hook to it even a standalone one. I have an electric one but it lasted less than a snow storm. It got bound up with heavy snow a stopped and would not restart even after leaving it for a day and making sure nothing was clogged in the gear mechanics. I tried to take it apart to see if there was a cut out device to protect it when the snow was too heavy for it. That’s another reason I would love to return to Los bonito pais del Ecuador. Mi familia está allí, así que tengo que estar allí. Well only a quarter of them is there but they live where it stays warm all year and that is my cup of tea. Buenas Dias, Mis amigos en Ecuador y Familia. Hola a Brian, Dena y Drew. Take care and we hope to see you next year if not sooner.

  • Mike Oct 11, 2013, 8:16 am

    Melita,

    I also enjoyed your story very inspirational. My family and I are also planning on moving to Ecuador very soon on the coast Bahia perhaps we will see you one day in Ecuador. I have been planning for a very long time as well. Best of luck and regards to your family.

    • Melita Vega Oct 11, 2013, 11:05 pm

      Bahía has always been beautiful, and it’s a favourite spot of ours. We had a chance to go back there last year for the first time in 13 years and saw (much to my delight) that a new mini mall was under construction, complete with movie theatres and a supermarket chain with great prices and selections of food that we don’t have here in Cuenca. All the best with your move!

  • Vincent A Salgado Oct 11, 2013, 8:14 am

    Melita:
    Great story! I especially appreciated your observation that the city (and country) has changed dramatically for the better. But as is true in other cities, you must remain alert. Your bio is similar to my own. My parents moved to the US in the early 50s. I was born and raised in Washington, DC although we traveled to Ecuador frequently and moved there during my high school years. Now I live in DC and greatly enjoy regular visits with my family in Quito and Guayaquil. In fact, I am attending a wedding in GYE later this month. The country appears to finally being on a path to prosperity. Hopefully, the government will continue to its progressive policies towards helping the poor as well as infrastructure development.

  • Jon Oct 10, 2013, 12:27 pm

    Melita,

    Really enjoyed your post. Probably my favorite expat bio to date. Good length and loaded with usable details for someone like me. My family and I can’t wait to get to Cuenca. 5 years in the planning we arrive in 6 months!

    • Melita Vega Oct 11, 2013, 11:18 pm

      Thanks very much for the kind words, Jon. All the best with the move. You’re in for an adventure!

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