Lily Ann Fouts

LojAventura – Outdoor Adventure in Loja and Beyond

“We’ve been told there’s a waterfall up the Zamora Huayco river, but nobody ever goes up there. Do you want to go scout it out with us tomorrow morning?”

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Loja Packing List

What to Pack for a Trip to Loja, Ecuador

Are you planning an exploratory trip to Loja and wondering what to pack?

I’m a nerd when it comes to packing. I’ve honed my skills over the years from my own multiple trips across the globe, beginning early in life as a child fugitive.  I also have many good friends who are avid travelers, and we geek out on this topic.

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Buses in Loja, Ecuador

During our latest trip to Loja, I visited the transportation office and the tourism office, begging for a complete map of the Loja city bus system.

Although the buses run along established routes at regular intervals, no complete map seems to exist outside of an Android app called SITU Loja, but since I have an iPhone I wasn’t able to test it.

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Plaza San Sebastian

33 Things to Do in Loja, Ecuador

I’ve written a lot about Loja as a potential place to live. It’s the main focus of my book on Loja, and will continue to be a major focus in the second edition of the book. But what about the city and province of Loja as a destination for travelers? I’ve explored this theme in more depth in the second version of my book! (CLICK HERE to learn more if interested!)  In this post, I'll share 33 things to do in Loja--both the city and the province (and one thing outside the province, but close to Loja).

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Ecuadorian Residency Header

A Woman Pursues Ecuadorian Residency in Loja

When I found out we would be returning to Loja (unexpectedly, see 2016 Holiday Letter), I downloaded The Visa Chase and Other Fun Stories of Ecuador, by Diana Cevallos to my Kindle.  Diana is an expat from the United States who has been living in Ecuador since 2011 and in Loja since 2012.  She spent the first few years trying to obtain Ecuadorian residency visas for herself and her son.  I had interviewed Diana for my book, Live Like a Local in Loja. She has a wealth of knowledge about the city of Loja and culture of Ecuador. […]

2016 Holiday Letter

Dear Readers, Friends, and Loved Ones,

Happy Holidays from Loja, Ecuador!  When I wrote the first draft of this holiday letter, less than two weeks ago, I had no idea that a few days later I’d be on a flight to South America!   Let me back up to the beginning of the year and fill you in on how we got here. […]

2015 Holiday Letter

Dear Readers,

As I write this, we’re in the final days of 2015. How was your year? I know for many of my loved ones, 2015 brought a large share of challenges. Difficult and costly projects, lost loved ones, health problems, hearts broken… For others, it was a year of joy and new beginnings. Weddings, new love and friendships, exotic trips, goals met… For us, 2015 felt boring compared to previous years. For the first time in ages, we never set foot outside the country. Yet as I browse our photos from 2015 I realize that our life, while not as exotic as usual this year, was still far from boring. […]

2015 in Review

My 2015 started with a cold snap in Fort Collins, Colorado. Keith and I had just brought our motorhome to Colorado and we were still settling in, with the heaters all running full blast. The excitement of living in a great town and the prospect of soon finishing not one, but two books I’d had on the back burner for years filled me with hope for the new year. […]

Racial Issues in Loja

I’ve recently heard from a couple different African American readers of my book, one of whom asked me about racial issues in Ecuador. I’d like to share our correspondence so that others who have similar questions will have an answer. I hope it helps someone!

I’ve recently heard from a couple different African American readers of my book, one of whom asked me about racial issues in Ecuador. I’d like to share our correspondence so that others who have similar questions will have an answer. I hope it helps someone!

The response…

I honestly wasn’t too sure, so I wrote to a few of my contacts in Ecuador and asked about their observations. Two of the replies are from expats, and one is from a local. I received a mixed bag of answers, and here they are:

First reply (from an expat):

“I don’t think the discrimination here is half as bad as it is in the US. One of my local friends posts cute pictures of black children all the time on Facebook. In Loja there are a fair number of blacks and I have never seen anyone notice. Our friends have a black friend who is a professional of some sort. He is married to a Lojana. He is from the US East coast. So I say no problem. Ecuadorians are in general people of color. Either Spanish, native or mixed.”

Second reply (from a local):

“There are racists in Ecuador and most of the people of color live on the coast where it’s very hot, as you know… But there is a couple in love and I think in Loja it’s not too bad! But in the whole country I assume it’s kind of the same (the thing is that on the coast it can be a little dangerous). I really think that Loja will be a good place. I used to have some college classmates that were from the coast and they seem like it was not bad. I mean there will be racist people everywhere and I know it’s pretty sad… usually big cities are better because there is more diversity…I hope that can help a little.”

Third reply (from an expat):

“The black Ecuadorians are centered around Esmeraldas (northern coast) due to a slave ship crashing there around the year 1553. David Sazaki has also written of black Ecuadorian communities in the mountains in the north of the country (small city somewhere up that way). Unfortunately, Ecuadorians in general are very racist. They worship white skin and light coloring (hair, eyes, etc.) and you’ll notice most of the advertising displays scantily clad European women who look very different from most Ecuadorian women (partly because they are so tall and thin—even the white Ecuadorian women have a different body type than the models used to sell things).

There are some black retirees who are doing fine in Cuenca, but like almost all the expats in Cuenca, they don’t spend their time with Ecuadorians. I do see black people in Loja every now and then, I think most come from the coast to live in Loja to work here. There is also a retired black North American couple living in Loja right now as missionaries. I had lunch with the wife and asked her what it was like being black here. She said it is the same as in the US, everyone assumes you are dishonest and are going to steal things, etc. When you walk into a store the staff follow you around suspiciously. She said it was this way her whole life in the States, so it isn’t any different here. But she also said that as soon as she opens her mouth they figure out she is not from the coast of Ecuador and some relax more after that because they assume if she is a gringa, she has money to spend.

I so wish that we could all move around the planet without having to worry about how people will label each other based on looks.

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Gringos don’t make friends with Ecuadorians anyway (some of the younger ones do but it rarely happens with the older retirees), and I imagine for a black person it would be even harder. In Vilcabamba it would be fine with the expats there; I suspect skin color would not matter to most of them. I recommend joining the giant Ecuador Expats Facebook page, and ask there about Ecuadorian communities in the mountains that have black people. David Sasaki could tell you where there are some, so he will likely answer if he sees your post.

Also, I want to add that not ALL Ecuadorians are racist, of course!! I know an Ecuadorian who went to grad school in Colombia and had a black housemate who came to be a close friend. After that he (the Ecuadorian) had a romantic relationship with a black woman. And other Ecuadorians have had life experiences that have taught them how stupid racism really is, so there are some who do not close their hearts based on skin color.”

Closing Thoughts…

Based on my own experience in Loja I think that regardless of the color of your skin, if you work to learn the language and the culture you will make some friends among the locals, though it sounds like it might take more effort.  My husband and I are very obviously Caucasian, so I can only speak from that personal experience.  I am curious to hear experiences from people of other races as they move or travel to Ecuador.  I know of another couple who read my book and are Asian, so I am curious to hear about their experience when they return from their upcoming trip, too.  If you have any thoughts to add, I (and likely many others) would love it if you could share in the comments below!

I so wish that we could all move around the planet without having to worry about how people will label each other based on looks. I recently saw a video about that which made me almost cry:

Cuenca in Photos (…and how it compares to Loja)

What makes Cuenca such a magnet for expats?

Although most of my Ecuador posts and my book are about Loja, where we lived in 2014, Cuenca is by far the more popular choice among expats. I think there are several good reasons for this. We spent nearly a week in Cuenca (though I was out of it with a nasty cold for a couple of those days) and really liked it.

In this post I’ll share some of the photos we took in Cuenca, and provide some commentary on my reactions to Cuenca and how I feel it compares to Loja.

We traveled to Cuenca via bus from Loja, which cost us $7.50 each. The mountain scenery between the two cities is well worth the winding ride of 200 kilometers. The bus station in Cuenca is almost across the street from the airport, and both are not far from the center of town. Loja’s airport, in contrast, is 45 minutes away from the city.

The first thing I noticed about Cuenca is its size—considerably larger than Loja. The sprawling city lives in a valley much wider than Loja’s valley, so the mountains are a lot farther away and it just feels a lot more urban. Loja is not that small—it has a population of around 200,000—but it does have a small town feel.

The first thing I noticed about Cuenca is its size—considerably larger than Loja.

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One of the first things we did when we arrived in Cuenca was to go find a vegetarian restaurant. While most of the traditional restaurants were happy to fix us up with vegetarian alternatives to their usual menu, one thing we missed in Loja was a good variety of eateries. There are some good places to eat, but not nearly as many as Cuenca!

What we found: A vegetarian restaurant (and health food shop) called Néctar.

Néctar, with a health food store on the first floor and a restaurant on the second floor.

The colorful atmosphere at Néctar.

The colorful atmosphere at Néctar.

For a reasonable $3.50 each we ate a vegetarian meal which included a soup, salad, main dish, drink and dessert. We saw a mix of locals and foreigners inside the restaurant.  (Incidentally, the equivalent restaurant/health food store in Loja is Alivinatu.)

The next day we took a bus tour on a double-decker bus. Everyone else on the bus was a Spanish speaker. They asked us if we spoke Spanish—apparently ready to give the tour in English, too, if needed—but when we assured them we were bilingual the tour proceeded all in Spanish. We received a good overview of the city and learned a little about its history, architecture, and various neighborhoods. It also gave us a good idea of what we could go back and explore in more depth later.

Touring Cuenca's streets on a double-decker bus.

A door on one of Cuenca's many beautiful buildings.

Buildings of Cuenca.

Buildings of Cuenca.

Looking over the city from one of Cuenca's hillsides.

Looking into downtown Cuenca from the hills.

Mall del Rio--Cuenca's shopping mall.

Flower market in front of an old church.

Flowers.

Loja has a double-decker bus also, though we never took the tour while we were there—something I regret and plan to do next time we go down. Overall, the tourism industry in Cuenca is far more developed than in Loja…and there are more attractions, cultural events, and architectural wonders to see in Cuenca.  Cuenca is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Overall, the tourism industry in Cuenca is far more developed than in Loja

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Cuenca’s museums are also more likely to have English signs since they have a large English-speaking population and far more tourists. We visited several museums in Cuenca, including the Museum of Religious Art housed in the Old Cathedral.

The Old Cathedral of Cuenca.

Inside the Cathedral/Museum of Religious Art.

Another display at the Museum of Religious Art.

One evening we joined a couple hundred other people—mostly locals—in an auditorium to watch traditional Ecuadorian music and dance from various indigenous tribes. (Cost: $2.50 each, and well worth it.)

Traditional Ecuadorian Dances.

Traditional Ecuadorian Dances.

Traditional Ecuadorian Dances.

Toward the end, several audience members (including me) were brought on stage to dance.

Loja has a reputation for being the cultural capital of Ecuador, but because of its size there is always more going on in Cuenca. We saw announcements and advertisements for cultural events multiple times per week in Cuenca. For people who like to be out enjoying the art and culture scene on a very frequent basis, Cuenca has a lot to offer!

Another great museum in Cuenca is at the Banco Central del Ecuador, which in addition to nice displays inside, also sits next to the ancient ruins of Tomebamba. Near the ruins they have also made some beautiful gardens, and the complex also has an aviary with exotic birds and a few alpacas. Oh, and it’s all free!

Banco Central del Ecuador.

Ruins of Tomebamba.

Tunnel at the ruins.

Beautiful vegetable garden at the ruins.

Looking back at the ruins from the vegetable garden.

Trails and gardens at the ruins.

More trails and gardens.

Grazing alpacas.

Cuenca is simply a great city, with great architecture, colorful murals, beautiful parks, and a thriving cultural scene.

An artist touches up a mural in Cuenca.

Speaking of parks…parks are one of the first things I seek out in any city I’m traveling in. I enjoy green spaces, free activities, exercise and watching the locals play with their families and friends. Cuenca has great parks and urban trails, too. Keith and I followed a path along a river for a couple of hours, down one side and up the other. We ended up in a beautiful park with nice playgrounds, soccer fields, and walking trails through the woods.

Raised path in a park in Cuenca.

Path along the river in the city park.

Soccer teams playing in the park.

As I wrote in my book, for most expats, Cuenca actually makes more sense than Loja as a place to live. It’s easier to get to, there’s more to do, there are more medical facilities, and English is more widely spoken. I would even consider living in or near Cuenca myself, because there really is a lot to like about it.

What to do I not like about Cuenca? The one thing that bothered me was the friction I felt with the locals. Most people might not notice it, but after living in Loja and experiencing such warmth from my local neighbors and friends, in Cuenca I felt slightly resented.

I think it is probably due to the thousands of expats who have moved to Cuenca, and the negative experiences the locals have had with some of them. I know there are many expats who will not learn Spanish, which is the number one source of frustration for the locals.

Coffee Tree - a popular gringo hangout. Almost every customer we saw while we were there was a foreigner.

With my obvious gringa appearance, I have to work harder to develop relationships with the Cuencanos and show that I am not there to take advantage of them or treat them as inferior, as some other gringos may have done whether intending to or not. In Cuenca there were also times when I felt I was being charged higher prices simply because I was a foreigner. Happily, this rift between foreigners and locals is still mostly absent in Loja.

If I were to live in Cuenca, I would select a neighborhood well away from the large concentration of expats and work hard to forge friendships with my Cuencano neighbors. I believe it is still possible to live like a local in Cuenca if one is careful, but for the most part both the locals and the expats are likely to expect you to develop friendships in the expat community, and mingling with the locals will take more of an effort.

Mostly it comes down to a matter of personal preference. I like smaller cities. I like beautiful places that have not yet been spoiled by tourism and large expat communities. I like easy access to mountain hiking trails. I like to get to know the locals. And I like a good symphony or cultural performance a few times a month. Even though Loja does not have any huge tourist attractions and it’s not as exciting a city as Cuenca, it satisfies all of those needs for me. Besides, Cuenca is just a few hours up the road—making it a great weekend getaway.

So what kinds of things do you look for in a place to live? Share in the comments below!

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