Surprising Loja - stuff research did not reveal

A different view of San Francisco Church, Photo by Nathaly Poma

This is a guest blog written by an expat who moved to Loja a little over 2-1/2 years ago...

When my wife and I decided to relocate to Ecuador all we knew was what we could discover on the internet, coupled with a few books written by other expats. The country offers many diverse living situations but I quickly narrowed down the choices to Loja. Facebook was also a good resource and several expats already settled in Loja kindly answered our questions and provided advice. Based on our research, we made the decision and moved here, sight unseen, without having visited previously.

We were immediately surprised by a number of things, and even to this day, we keep discovering surprises presented by a culture different from the one we grew up in (United States). Fortunately, nearly every surprise has been positive and pleasant.

"Cosmos" by Monica Sarmiento Castillo
For example, Loja is heavily promoted as the music capitol of Ecuador but we did not anticipate that statement would include world-class symphony orchestras. We also didn't think it would include other "Arts" besides music - especially visual arts (paintings, murals, graphics, fabrics, ceramics, etc.). Even the beautiful hand-crafted jewelry worn by indigenous women brings joy to the eyes.

Another joyful discovery is the demeanor of the people we now live among. It is more than just being friendly, but also there is a charming civility - even extended to strangers. Exchanging greetings on the sidewalks, deferring to elders and disabled and mothers on buses or in waiting lines, even the allowance of time to sit and linger over a meal without feeling rushed - all these little things, and more, are so very appreciated because they are sorely missing where we moved from.

Having come from a snowbelt area of New York, I truly love how Loja is adorned in blooming flowers year-round. Also surprising is the variety of flora - with everything from cactus to palm trees to evergreens - all inside the same valley area! It amazes me that I walk past a small banana plantation as I stroll to the theater, and that there are coffee farms inside the city limits (and they produce some of the best coffee in the world!). I feel so lucky to not have to shovel any more snow, but even luckier to live in this "Eden" of southern Ecuador.

Sunset in Loja Ecuador
Despite doing a lot of research, one thing that did not turn up was the beauty of Loja's mountains. Yes, I understood the city was in a valley but I had no clue that the vistas of hills, mountains, clouds, rainbows, sunrises and sunsets would all be so spectacular. I feel very fortunate for being able to witness the variety of micro-climates and moving weather systems from my windows.

Loja's farmer markets continue to offer up surprises with fruits and vegetables unknown, or too expensive, back in NY. I can get a fantastic and filling lunch for only a couple of dollars, and even things I thought I had to give up by moving here have, surprisingly, been found - such as great BBQ, pizzas, Italian and Mexican food offerings. So many of the dishes here are delightfully tasty that I'm surprised I've lost weight instead of gaining!

One thing we were cautioned about before moving here was that we absolutely had to learn Spanish because the locals do not know English. Well, surprisingly, more of them know enough that, coupled with my limited and poorly pronounced Spanish, I've usually been able to make do. However, I must also say that it has been a blessing to find Jonathan - he is our "official" bilingual interpreter when we need to conduct business that is beyond our language capabilities.

There is more, of course, I could say on this topic. Surprises like backyard chickens and cows still with horns, the lack of flying insects and windows without screens, all the many festivals and fireworks displays, little shops that specialize in only a few products, and so on. You get the point. No amount of online research or book reading can prepare a person for the actuality of Loja. For us, it has been great and my only regret is that we didn't move sooner.

Of course, Loja isn't for everyone, but I do think any person considering a move to the Andes should put a visit to here on their agenda. It just might surprise you, and charm you, into staying.

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