Tena, Ecuador: Six-month Impressions

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been in Ecuador for six months!

Talking about how time flies feels cliche; it’s simultaneously so overused but so true. On the one hand, it feels like we’ve been here for a while. We’ve settled into our apartment and gotten into a daily routine. On the other hand, where the hell did six months go?! And on Shane’s hand (…’cause I ran out of hands), I think, “We’re running out of time!” Two years here are going to FLY, and I have a lot of travel plans!

…I guess Shane has a lot of data to collect too, but, ya know, I have my priorities, and he has his. 😆

Anyway, impressions of Ecuador! That was the purpose of this blog, so here we go.

Let’s start with the most shocking one.

The bureaucracy is WORSE THAN GERMANY.

That’s right. I said it.

You may remember that when we moved to Germany, it took for-freaking-ever to get our residence permits. So long, actually, that Shane couldn’t start working for close to four months.

Luckily, the ability to work here isn’t a problem since his salary comes from Germany. However, our ability to stay in the country longer than the six-month tourist visa allows IS a problem. I’ve got a whole post about this, but I had been waiting to post it until things were resolved. This only happened literally last week. So, if you’re into reading about the real-life struggles of moving abroad, it’s a post to look forward to! 🙄

The main problem? The rules aren’t clear. Look, we are those overly-prepared people when it comes to this kind of thing, but you have to know what you actually need! It really trips my trigger, so I’ll just leave it at that. 😆 The second problem? Our Spanish isn’t that good yet, and people’s patience with bad Spanish is hit or miss. We were lucky to have Lucie to translate.

Oh, and FYI. Notaries are the kings of this country. Any official document needs to be notarized, but you’re at the total discretion of the notary. This process for various documents has taken 10 minutes to 3 hours. So, ya know. Go prepared and bring a snack.

Necesitamos hablar Español.

We immediately assumed that Spanish would be necessary, unlike in the Netherlands or Germany. Honestly, this isn’t a bad thing. We spent six years in the Netherlands and should have spoken better Dutch than we did, but we weren’t forced.

After six months of living in Ecuador, my Spanish is better than my Dutch or German was after the equivalent amount of time. I know that Shane would say the same thing.

We’re both improving, but we are also having two different learning experiences! Shane is getting that “thrown in the deep end” kind of deal through his work interactions. The guy that delivers their plants even told him that his Spanish had improved! On the other hand, since I’m working from home, I started online Spanish classes with Lingoda. Occasionally, they have “Sprint” promotions. So, I committed to taking 15 1-hour classes per month for two months. If I complete them all, I get half of my money back. I’ve already decided the refund will go towards more lessons because I’ve really enjoyed this method and can tell I’ve improved!

So, maybe the next time we need to deal with the notary, they will be a little more willing to work with us.

The food es más o menos.

It’s alright.

Now, I can only speak for the Tena region because the food seems to vary if you’re on the coast, in the mountains, or in the jungle.

I say the food is alright because it’s kind of boring. We’ve certainly got some favorites (ceviche, anyone?!). Still, outside of those handfuls of things, there aren’t a lot of options in Tena. For example, I really enjoy $2.50 almuerzo (lunch), but it’s all variations on the same–soup, tea or juice, a small piece of meat, a small salad, a huge portion of rice, and usually a side of beans, lentils, or potatoes. It’s delicious, but every restaurant serves something similar.

Typical almuerzo.

Our food options for cooking at home are also more limited here, so we’ve had to completely rethink what meals we prepare. We’ve found that we are missing at least one ingredient for nearly all our go-to meals in Europe. We actually have a decent selection of vegetables, but their availability is hit or miss. So, meal planning is doable but more challenging.

But, as I said. We’ve found a few favorite Ecuadorian dishes and a couple of repeat-worthy restaurants in Tena. So, the food es más o menos.

Nevertheless, we really enjoy Tena.

Tena feels like a city in the jungle.

I mean, you can see a volcano from our roof!

It’s more impressive in person.

The city itself has a lot of cement…but! you don’t have to go far to be fully immersed. Ikiam University, where Shane works, is a prime example. It’s only 8 km outside of the city but is surrounded by jungle.

Ikiam University

Speaking of the city, everything is LOUDDD.

The gas and trash trucks play music*, the shops blast reggaeton from massive speakers on the sidewalk**, and people CAN NOT resist a microphone and a speaker. On the sidewalk, in the bed of a truck, in front of a restaurant. It can be a lot***. 😆

* I personally love it, but it’s still loud.

** Again, I don’t hate it, but it’s still loud.

*** Perhaps it becomes more enjoyable as my Spanish improves.


Tena feels like our new normal.

When we arrived 6 months ago, I didn’t anticipate feeling this way. We didn’t have expectations other than we knew it would be very different from Europe and the US. However, when we first arrived, I remember feeling overwhelmed by all the newness: the language, the cultural differences, even just learning how the shops worked. Every day was a new learning experience.

For example, how do you get off the bus when there’s no stop button? Yell “gracias!!” when you want the driver to stop, of course!

Lucie looking for our drop-off spot, waiting to yell “gracias!”

We also didn’t anticipate how much it rains here. Sounds ridiculous, I know, given that we’re in the rainforest, but when you envision Ecuador, do you think of heavy rain every day? We didn’t. 🤷‍♀️

It’s funny, though, how with time, things just become normal. Six months ago, I didn’t anticipate being OK with literally chopping the head and feet off a chicken to make dinner. I also didn’t anticipate finding it strange to flush your toilet paper (now, it goes in the “baño bin”). And, I certainly didn’t anticipate being on a WhatsApp texting basis with the couple that runs the laundry service. Hell, I didn’t expect to have a laundry service! Shane never thought he’d be crushing spiders with his bare hands to save the butterflies, but here we (well, ‘he’ in that specific example) are!

Wash, dry, and fold with pick-up and delivery included for $1.50 per kilo. It’s the best!

But, for us, that’s the beautiful part of living abroad. Tena has been our biggest “challenge” to date, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hasta luego,



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