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Monday, February 15, 2016

So, What's Changed in the Past 5 Years???


Yep, on February 15th, 2011, I landed on the shores of Cuenca for the 2nd time.  The first time was my exploratory trip a mere 3 months prior.  The second time was 'THE MOVE'.

Let me tell you something.  This particular blog entry took me FOREVER!!  My idea was to present to you those changes I've seen (in Cuenca and Ecuador in general) in just those 5 short years.  That meant I had to dig back through hundreds (a thousand?) of photos.   And, where I could, find BOTH the old version and the new version where something had been improved in that timeframe so you can actually see the change.


I think you'll be impressed.

Between 1996 and 2007 (11 years), Ecuador had chewed up and spit out EIGHT (ocho) presidents!  Along came Rafael Correa who took the helm on January 15th, 2007 at the age of 44 (I knew there was something I liked about him....that's my birthday!).  It doesn't matter to me whether you like him or not, but the transformations that have occurred under his administration are hard to be upset about.  New schools, hospitals, roads, 911, bridges, airport, dams, tourism, etc etc etc have made a huge difference to Ecuador...a country the size of Colorado.  He knew roads and improved infrastructure were key to growth in commerce and tourism.  He knew medical facilities and better schools would help lift people out of poverty.  He put Ecuador on the map of tourism whereas next to noone knew diddly squat about it 5-10 years ago.  Compared to some other country I'm VERY familiar with, the government seems to get things DONE here.  Yeah, a lot of it was done because our exported oil was garnering a good chunk of change.  Yeah, they've borrowed from the Chinese.  So what...who hasn't (except me)?

Off the political soapbox for now.  Let's see them photos!!!  The following is what I've seen in just 5 years.

The new 911 headquarters in Cuenca (911 didn't exist before).

911/Traffic cameras overhead at intersections.

Bomberos (fire stations) received the lastest equipment.  

Bank of Bolivar went under during Ecuadors financial crisis in the late 1990's.  The building stood empty for nearly 15 years until Cuenca recently renovated it.

The previous mayor was an avid fan of bicycling.  He incorporated creating new bike paths into the redevelopment of primary streets.  When I first moved here, biking was not very prevalant.  Now, you see bikers everywhere.

This bridge connected a main highway to the neighborhood Misicata and Banos, just 2 miles down the road from my house.  Amazing, no railings, no nada.  In the exact spot, a new bridge was built.  Check out the next photo.

Known as the 'Broken Bridge' (distroyed by a raging river years ago) Cuenca has preserved it and recently restored it from a semi-dilapidated condition.

The church of Misicata recently got a facelift.

The Virgin Bronce also got a bit of a touch-up.

She looks kinda sad, no?

Now, she's perky.

The church (and convent) of Todo Santos also got a major renovation by the city of Cuenca.

A stretch of highway outside of Cuenca, leading to the town of Azogues was an undivided 4-lane highway in poor condition and heavily used.   Now, it's become a 6-lane divided highway.

A stretch of highway leading into the beach town of Crucita received widening and new lighting.  Other highways around Ecuador that have been widened or, in a few cases, created are:
  • Manta to Bahia
  • Banos to Riobamba (heavily damaged by a volcano eruption many years ago)
  • Quito to Otavalo
  • Quito to Papallacta
  • Machala to the Peruvian border
  • Naranjal to GYE
  • Puyo to Macas following the edge of the Amazon

In order to get from Bahia de Caraquez to the town of San Vicente, one used to have to drive many miles down the edge of an estuary, go around the end, then back up the other side.  A new bridge directly connects the two towns now.

In Cuenca, the first line of light-rail is under construction.  The 12 mile line will start at one end of Cuenca following a main arterial, then turn and slice through the middle of El Centro (old town/downtown), then out to the airport, and end at the industrial park where most of the manufacturing plants are located.  To preserve the aesthetics of old town, there will be no power poles like these you see in this photo.  Instead, the trains will get their power from a 3rd rail placed in the middle of the track.  Due to be up and running by the end of 2016.

All the 'cars' are here and waiting to run.  They were shipped to Ecuador, landing at the port of Guayaquil, and brought over the Cajas mountains (13,000 ft summit) and into Cuenca on flatbed trucks...front half on one truck, back half on another.

The main headquarters of the light-rail operations, maintenance, and garage facilities.

Along the autopista (equivilant of a freeway) there was no way to cross the 6-lane busy highway other than to make a run for it.  Now, pedestrian overpasses are being installed.

Sidewalks throughout Cuenca need (needed) work.  Cracks, holes, broken chunks, etc made it challenging to walk and look straight ahead.  You have to look down to watch where you're going!   If they existed in the USA, the country would have to file bankruptcy for all the lawsuits of twisted ankles (never mind the woman was wearing 5 inch stilletos!!)  So far, the city has completed 2 phases (sections of the city) where all the sidewalks have been replaced with tile.

In the cobblestone areas of the city, each stone was pried up by hand, then laid back down by hand when the project was complete.

Taking advantage of the invasive nature of renovating the sidewalks, the city installed vaults of conduit underneath.
Each and every one of these tiles was hand laid and mudded in by workers on their knees.

Voila!!!  Waffles anyone?

Throughout Cuenca, and the country in general, more and more streets are being converted from pot-hole-riddled dusty gravel/dirt surfaces to concrete.  And, while they're at it, installing new sidewalks.

In Cuenca, we have 4 rivers.  Each of them have walking paths that stretch for miles.  You'd think they would leave them to being just paths beaten by thousands of feet, but the city employed crews to lay down a foundation of gravel, then ram dirt (with those hydraulic thumping machine things) to make the surfaces solid and smooth.  Then, they lined the walkways with rock..by hand...one by one.

As part of Cuencas' Parque de la Madre renovation, the city built a new Planetarium theater.  So far, all shows have been free.

Cuencas 'Circo' park is an investment in youth.  It includes the big tent you see below, plus sport fields, basketball courts, exercise equipment, and a playground.  all for and inversion (investment) of 3 million dollars.

Cuencas' Parque de la Madre was a so-so park, until the city decided to renovate it.  They built an underground garage, the Planetarium, thinned out trees to make it safer, added running/walking paths, playground equipment, and a large open area for festivals and peformances.

The government is undertaking the construction of new dams to create hydroelectric power.  As such, these huge electrical towers are being erected to deliver electricity to needed areas of the country.

Yet another new bridge constructed in Cuenca to alleviate traffic congestion on nearby arterials.

In parks throughout Cuenca and other cities and towns throughout Ecuador, exercise equipment has been installed for use by the young and the not-so.  The government has been putting a high level of emphasis on health.  Along those lines, the government has staged health exhibits providing free bood pressure testing and mobile units disbursing information and testing for cancer.

The intersection of Ave Americas (a critical arterial wrapping around one side of Cuenca) and another arterial, Ordonez Lasso, often saw traffic backed up OL for half a mile because traffic had to yield to the AA traffic and...well...let's say it was like the odds of winning the Lotto to get through.   Answer:  The city built a tunnel under the roundabout and now traffic is moving again.  Cost?  $4 million.

Speaking of Ordonez Lasso, after you passed the expensive highrise condos area, the street turned into one of the worst pothole-ridden streets in Cuenca for the next 5 kms (3 miles).  The city is now converting the 2-lane street into a 4-lane concrete arterial with planters in the median.

The sign sez...."work of the citizen revolution'.  "Revolution" being the key word used by the Correa administration to emphasize the change by, and for, the people.

Just up the road from my house is a new school under construction, called 'Milenio' (Millenium).  Couldn't get a good photo of it, so the next photo depicts how it's supposed to turn out.

Sign sez....'The citizens revolution finances this work'.  The investment (cost/inversion) is a smidge over 5 million dollars.  I love the fact they go so far as to show cents!!!  Yep, it appears the Chinese are involved.

The old Quito airport was located in the heart of the city.  Doesn't look like much expansion capability there.

The new Quito airport is located about 13 miles from the center of Quito...in the middle of nowhere.

The old Quito airport was used as the site to host the Pope this past year.  See the old runway?

The old Quito airport is being converted into a park!!
Take THAT Central Park of NYC!!!

The fabulous smooth new highway (called Ruta Viva) which takes you to the new airport from Quito.  Smooooth sailing.
Amazing feat, the new highway.   A couple of substantial bridges had to be built as part of it.

Unfortunately, the new Quito airport opened BEFORE the new highway.  So, travelers had to take an old route via surface streets through towns, down a narrow canyon on a two-lane road, cross this narrow bridge, and back up the other side.  Some reported it took 2 hours to get to the new airport, though it was only 13 miles!!!

The new bridge on the new highway to the new airport.  Notice the little pip-squeek bridge (from the photo before this)...off to the left.

Leading into Guayaquil, you must cross two bridges.  When I first came here, there was only the one side with 4 lanes, 2 in each direction.  CLOG!!!   Then, they built an additional bridge parallel to it.  Now there's 4 lanes going out and 5 lanes coming in!!

Just across the water from downtown Guayaquil is an island called 'Santay'.  It's a wildlife sanctuary.  Until recently,it was not easy to reach.  The government built a pedestrian/bicycle bridge to provide easier access to tourists and the like to admire true nature.
I've driven from Cuenca to Quito many times.  But, in the first few years, it was a pain in the butt because traffic was very heavy from Ambato all the way into Quito....a hundred some odd miles.  Part of that route involved driving smack dab through the heart of two towns...Latacunga and Salcedo.   In Salcedo, trucks, busses, and cars, all had to wind through narrow streets to get to the other side and back onto the highway, and even that was only 2 lanes until you got to Quito.  Passing was nearly impossible..   A massive project, of multiple phases was enacted.  From Quito to Latacunga, the highway was widened to 6 lanes.  From Latacunga to just outside of Ambato, a completely new 6-lane bypass highway was constructed allowing you to now whiz right by both of those towns.
Along many highways are large cuts of high embankment.  But, when the original highways were constructed, there wasn't much attention (if any at all) given to stabilizing the embankments.  The result was constant sloughing and mini-slides.  Most of those areas have now been scraped smooth, drainage installed, and netting placed over the surface to capture falling rock.   A lot was done by machinery, but just as much was done by men dangling on the surfaces, manually scraping with picks and shovels.

The town of Salcedo.  Can you imagine freight trucks, busses, and cars making their way through this?

In Cuenca, an old pedestrian bridge over the river Tomebamba, leading up into old town, was replaced with this newbie.  Notice the trash can in the lower part of the photo.  Recently, the city of Cuenca added 300 more of these guys throughout the city to minimize the impact of garbage.

This is the town of Puerto Lopez.  It's known as the launching point for whale-watching tours as well as an excursion to an island fondly known as the 'Poor Mans Galapagos' island.  In this photo, do you see a pier or marina?

Well, look no more.  As part of the government's campaign to develop tourism, a new pier/marina was built to accommodate all the tour boats.  In the past, the boats used to back up to the sandy beach, load up, then be pushed into the surf by a group of people.

And there's more, such as:
  • Throughout the country, big cities and tiny villages alike, all the traffic signal lights were changed to LED instead of regular lightbulbs.  When I first moved here, it was amazing how many traffic signals were blown out.  Now...next to never.
  • In Cuenca, every Sunday morning the city provides bicycles to use for FREE between 8am and 1pm.
  • Many towns and small villages throughout Ecuador that once had dirt streets and broken concrete sidewalks, have had their streets and sidewalks 'paved' with bricks.
  • Signage has never been Ecuadors forte.  Good luck finding your way around.  Every time I take a trip, I notice signs that weren't there before...pointing 'this way' to a particular site.   Unfortunately, I've seen some idiotic signs installed.  Like, down the road from my house is a sign pointing to San Joaquin 'that-a-way'...but....you're IN SAN JOAQUIN!!!!!!
  • The government has a program where they will pay for a students education in another country if they agree to return to Ecuador and use the skills they learned.  I don't know all the terms but, hey...free education?  I've met several young people studying in Australia, Europe, USA, etc to become doctors, aeronautic engineers, civil engineers, and architects.
Of course, there's a lot more I haven't documented simply because I didn't know about them or didn't have photos to show.  So, bite me if I overlooked something!!!   teeeeheeee

These are the changes I've seen in the past 5 years I've lived here.  Makes me wonder what the next 5 will reveal?  Things are a bit up in the air right now because oil prices have dropped dramatically and income EC once enjoyed is shriveling up.  Future not-already-funded projects have been placed on hold.  And, next year comes the Presidential election which means Correa will no longer be at the helm.

Stay tuned until 2021!!!


There.  Ya happy now Rick, Brian, Edie, and Patrice????

About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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