Our First Year in Review

What's been happening over the last 12 months? We thought it would be interesting to our readers to update some of our Cover Stories, to see what has happened during our first year of publishing.

Our first Cover Story featured Maite Duran, founder, and president of Gringo Visas. This company handles more resident visas for expats than anyone else does. We visited Maite in her new, spacious office on the second floor of the prestigious River Side building, next to Home Vega on Ordoñez Lasso. Since she appeared in our first issue, many positive things have happened to Gringo Visas. Maite has added two new attorneys to keep up with all the Immigration changes, including new rules about dependents and a change of location of the immigration office to Azogues (Maite mentioned that to keep up with the rapidly changing immigration rules and regulations she has a staff member visit Immigration every day.) Gringo Visas has added a service in Gringo Visas' Connecticut office to handle documents from all 50 states that require an Apostille in one convenient location, saving clients both time and money. Gringo Visas also has a growing worldwide reputation in serving clients from Europe and China. Maite is writing a book about relocating to Ecuador and notes that Gringo Visas presently has four new videos on the main types of residency visas, as well.
Just downstairs from Gringo Visas’ office in the same beautiful River Side building, we caught up with Ignacio Valdivieso. Ignacio is best known as the owner of both Fox Gym and his Salon and Spa but has just opened a fully equipped optical center — Centroptico by Fox Gym. Thus, under one roof you can get all your beauty needs met! Fox Gym Center is the largest and best-equipped gym in Cuenca (with over 100 pieces of equipment.) Fox Gym also offers both short and long-term discounts to expats, so please check it out. Also, the gym has hired a physical therapist (Fisio Fox) whose services are available by appointment to gym members. The Salon and Spa continue to build gringo clientele—both men and women. One gringa we know swears by Ignacio and will not go anywhere else to have her blond hair done. Now, you can even get a massage at the Salon and Spa. Most expats need yearly eye exams and Centroptico is just the place, being conveniently located in the heart of “Gringolandia.” Ignacio is happy to report that the Ordoñez Lasso construction in front of his places of business has been completed and now it’s easier than before to drop in. Ignacio also wants to give a special “shout-out” to all the Cuenca Expats Magazine readers who have remained loyal throughout the construction hard times.

Natasha Verkley has the distinction of being the only gringa to be pictured on the cover of Cuenca Expats Magazine. Hearts of Gold started in Cuenca as an idea, a simple desire to give back. Five years later Hearts of Gold has grown into a nationally recognized Foundation with multiple full-time program partners. One focus of its mission is to teach grassroots organizations how to help themselves. This focus ensures that the critical services they deliver to their communities can continue and flourish.

It has been another busy year for Hearts of Gold since appearing on the cover, relates Natasha. Since its founding, Hearts of Gold has increased its program outreach by 698%. It has touched the lives of more than 3,550 children and families in Ecuador. The Foundation has also contributed over 26,600 nutritional lunches to the children of El Arenal, reducing malnutrition by 40%. Natasha mentioned they were also able to distribute over $15,000 in immediate disaster relief aid in response to the April earthquake. Natasha is happy to report it is through this community's belief in the power of giving back and building the capacity of grassroots organizations that these amazing impacts are possible.
Natasha asks everyone in the expat community to help us to continue "empowering communities from within" by attending the Hearts of Gold 5th Annual Christmas Gala happening on Dec. 1st at Quinta Lucrecia. Cuenca Expats Magazine is a proud supporter of this charity and encourages all of its readers to attend this event.

We next visited with Ramiro Muñoz, general manager of Gran Colombia Suites. Cuenca Expats Magazine's Managing Partner, Ed Lindquist, lived at this luxurious extended stay facility for 3-months after arriving in Cuenca. Ed cannot say enough good things about Gran Colombia Suites, its rooms, El Centro location, and best of all the outstanding staff. If Ed had not brought a container of household goods, he said he would still be living there. Ramiro says that Ed's experience is not unusual. Many guests stay year after year and become long-term friends. Ramiro has opened the lobby area to some local fundraising events. With its stunning design, it makes an impressive background for any function. The cover photograph and others of the anniversary party attendees was taken in the lobby of Gran Colombia Suites. While many hotels and hostels have suffered during the Tranvia construction, Ramiro reports good continuing occupancy figures for its 15 suites. When the Tranvia is up and running Ramiro adds, Gran Colombia Suites is perfectly positioned with easy access to both the east and west Tranvia rails. Moreover, being only a block or so from Parque Caldron, the location is central to many things and with Cuenca's rise as a tourist destination, the future looks very bright indeed.

Two of our favorite people were next on our list, Paul Wilches and Nathaly Consuegra of Relocation Services of Ecuador. In business for seven years, this company has reliably moved more household goods for North American expats than anyone else has. In talking with Paul and Nathaly, they remind us that the decision of whether or not to bring your furniture, fixtures, and other personal items when relocating to Ecuador is a personal choice. Some expats feel comfortable with selling everything back home and coming with just suitcases. We know one gringo who did the math and found out comparable appliances here in Ecuador cost at least twice as much as back in the States, and some items much more. So, for the price of buying those appliances here in Ecuador, he was able to afford a container and bring not only all of his appliances but also everything else he owned. Nathaly pointed out that sometimes a decision to bring your belongings from home is purely emotional. One gringa said that it might sound shallow, but she loves her stuff. Every piece of furniture has a story, and she just could not live anywhere without those memories. So, she brought almost everything (including a grand piano) to Ecuador in a 40-foot container. Relocating to another country is full of important decisions, and one of the most important is what to do with all your valuables from back home when you move. Getting expert advice is vital. Paul and Nathaly are ready and willing to answer all your questions, and they can do so proficiently, in English.

We were able to catch a few minutes with Dr. Pablo Salamea, who has to be the busiest medical doctor we know of in all of Cuenca. Besides his full schedule as a leading plastic surgeon, he is probably best known among the expat community for his volunteer help as the Medical Director behind Helping Kids in Ecuador (HKIE). This organization made up of expat contributors and Ecuadorian medical professionals, has just helped its 144th child. Dr. Pablo was gracious in his comments about the support from the readers of Cuenca Expats Magazine. He wanted us to know that thanks to the readers of the magazine and other contributors, it has been possible this past year to provide surgeries to those who cannot afford it. A traveling medical team has been able to serve not only the beach community of Olon but also to travel to smaller communities throughout Azuay, including Gualaceo, Azogues, and other communities, providing medical care without any cost. You can see why Dr. Pablo has been honored to receive so many humanitarian awards. With all his volunteer work, it's easy to forget that Dr. Pablo is a first class plastic surgeon with his own very busy private practice. So, if you are interested in shaving a few years off your appearance or correcting a physical problem, contact Dr. Pablo for an initial consultation at Hospital Del Rio.

After taking a traditional vacation in August, Anima is now open again with a new menu. Brothers Sebastian and Xavier Martinez invited us to a "focus group" a few weeks ago to try their new culinary offerings. Talk about a "wow" factor! Once again, Anima proves to be the trendsetter in Cuenca's gastronomy landscape. For those who have visited, you know that the presentation of the dishes is part of the enjoyment of your meal. Once served, no one is disappointed with the quality of the food. Every dish is meticulously prepared and the taste extraordinary. If you are looking for a dining experience that is superb, Anima is the perfect destination. The brothers have close ties with San Isidro Instituto Superior, so that was our next stop.

In a campus setting next to Banco Pichincha on Avenida Solano is the largest and best-known culinary school in Cuenca. You'll find its graduates, including the owners of Anima, in new restaurants throughout the city. Owner and founder Francisco Encalada and his team run a first class operation. The gastronomy curriculum is a three-year program. Cuenca Expats Magazine is honored to partner with the Institute in presenting monthly cooking classes just for the readers of the magazine. Classes are limited in size, so everyone receives "hands on" personal training. If you are interested in attending these classes, please send your contact information to events@expatsmags.com. Also, don't forget that the Institute's students prepare and serve delicious pastries and hot coffee for sale at San Isidro Bakery & Coffee outlets in Mall del Rio and Millenium Plaza. If you are a food lover, mark your calendar for the South Destination Latitude 0 Gastronomic Festival, October 2-5, 2016. It’s free, the location will be along the River to the Broken Bridge. There will be over 50 restaurants from around the world, with a special food court to taste all the dishes.

Dr. Fabian Polo of Orthodontics Clinic was our final stop. Dr. Fabian offers comprehensive state-of-the-art dentistry services in a single location. We know a number of his expat patients who have elected cosmetic dentistry as adults and are very satisfied with the results. Other expats who might need to correct chewing or breathing problems but have put off these costly procedures in the States have found the good news is dental work that would have cost thousands of dollars in the States is much more affordable here. Plus, as Dr. Fabian points out, you will get the same or better quality dental care you would have received back home. To help expats on fixed incomes, the Clinic offers monthly payment plans. So, whether you just need a check-up and cleaning, or need more extensive procedures, you don't have to schedule appointments all over town. You can get all your dental needs met at one location, Orthodontics Clinic.

It has been a good year for these Cuenca businesses!