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Expat Life

An expat’s notes from Cuenca: An earthquake, drought, and a pain in the foot

By Dave Nelson

On Thursday morning I was awakened with a jolt at 5:07 a.m. by an earthquake. It was very sharp and short, with the bed shaking for about five seconds. It was centered about 40 miles northwest of Cuenca, 5.4 magnitude, but very deep, causing no major damage.chl david nelson logo

I am very happy to live in Cuenca, an area where that is the maximum severity to be expected from an earthquake. Off the coast, in the northernmost part of the country, there was an earthquake about a century ago with a magnitude of nine, one of the most destructive in recorded world history.

The Ecuadorian Andes have been in a drought for a couple of months with the attendant out-of-control forest and grass fires, many of them set by the indigenous as part of an ancient ritual to bring rain to their parched crops. The rivers were flowing at 10% of normal, practically no rain fell, we were asked to conserve water and it was getting worrisome. There have been droughts in the recent past severe enough to bring rationing where sections of the city would take turns having no water.

Beginning last week, we had some light, intermittent rain and the Tomebamaba River, next to my apartment, was running higher. Then, starting Wednesday it began to rain relatively steadily, which continued on Thursday. The river began to rise and by nine on Thursday night it was running fast and nearly as high as I have ever seen it, with the noise of the water punctuated with the clunk-clunk of rocks being rolled downriver by the force of the water. It got me out of the apartment onto the bridge and then to walk around a bit, watching and hearing in wonderment, drawn in by this impressive manifestation of nature.

Low water, then high, on the Rio Tomebamba.
Low water, then high, on the Rio Tomebamba.

I have reduced my water usage but with the rain and high water has come a feeling of relief— I don’t have to be careful with water any more. Then, the realization that one rainstorm does not end a drought brought me back to reality and prompted me to wait until the people who know tell me that the drought is over.

But that may be awhile with El Niño on the way. It could be strongest ever in Ecuador and Peru and typically that means a drought in the Andes while the coast is submerged in torrential rains, high water and the attendant mudslides.

At 6 a.m. on a Monday morning about a month ago, I was awakened with three aerial bomb blasts. At 7 and then 8, a repeat. Then, for the rest of the week the same pattern occurred every morning and after that . . . silence. As always, other than knowing there are small celebrations, usually church related, going on all the time, I wondered what this particular one is about.

I woke up on Monday morning two weeks ago with severe pain in my left foot, just barely able to hobble around. Called my doctor who said to come in at 12:30. The diagnosis was an inflamed tendon; prescription: three injections. I paid $30 for the visit and took a taxi to a hospital ER close to me, then had to go to their pharmacy to buy the medication (the only two they had), which came with a syringe to inject it, hobbled back to the ER, and got the injection. Next day, I went to the Military Hospital ER, just down the block from me, and they charged me 50 cents to do the injection. I had the third injection the following day.

My foot is pretty much recovered after what has been a long two weeks but, in looking back, it has been more like a nuisance than a big deal.

So, it is great to be able to live in Cuenca, even during painful, ground-shaking, drought-ridden and now rainy times. I can honestly say “muy bien”, very well, if anyone asks how I’m doing.


  • james Novak

    Because of the economic crisis, many imported items have disappeared. This process started about three years ago with high taxes on imported items. Since I travel three times a year to the states, I have been able to compensate for this shortages. However, the Shortages are intensifying.As I am 70, I have begun to worry not about the price of health care,(although the price has doubled plus on many items) but about the availability of cutting edge drugs and medical devices, the types which help one avoid surgeries. One of my ex pat son’s needed a surgery which required a special stainless steel pin. His surgery was in a IESS hospital in Quito, a very good hospital. The hospital did not have it so he along with his doctor had to scour Quito to find the surgical pin which cost $1000 and was not covered by IESS(more than the surgery under IESS). A friend was using a common urinary suppository, which went from 20 cents to 69 cents. These medical devices and drugs do not seem to be exempt from the still import taxes. Al of this worries me!