"Por favor, su passporte," the agent behind the counter says.
"The only Spanish I know," the man says in English "is Hello and Thank you."
Cuenca has a growing population of retired expats, perhaps 7000 North Anericans and Europeans who enjoy the good weather, friendly community, stable government, and low cost of living. Fifteen years ago they'd have decamped to Mexico or Costa Rica.
Ironically they've sequestered themselves away in new brick towers with doormen, surrounded by gringos who also don't speak any Spanish.
Do they have any Ecuadorean friends? I wonder. This is the part that mystifies me the most as a traveler. Ecuadorians are muy amable.
Rents in Gringolandia (a name they've embraced for their upriver barrio) reportedly run $650 to $1000. A month, my guide says, astonished. A friend who lives here pays $200 for a nice 3 bedroom in the Centro Historico, more than she really has to. Like me, she once had a rent-controlled apartment in an expensive city. She is blissfully happy here.
I try to imagine living in this charming country. Maybe one day I wouldn't be gasping for air. My Spanglish has improved mightily.
With one week left, I have much more to see. But emails from friends and colleagues, including confirmation of funding for an exciting project, remind me there's no place like home.