Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas on the Road

Our Christmas week started out with a children's parade right outside our windows. Dressed in their finery and strewing rose petals as they walked, the parade was led by a manger scene on a float. Many of the youngsters were dressed like Biblical characters from the nativity. This was a 8 o'clock in the morning!

Brian & Shelley went out grocery shopping while Jan stayed at home waiting for the workmen to fix the leak in the ceiling. On return, Brian & Jan went out to pick up some coffee and see Jan's travel agent while Shelley stayed at home waiting for the workmen to fix the leak in the ceiling. Finally, when we were all at home and both the boys were down for an afternoon nap the workmen arrived (around 3:00). They stayed until around 6:00 melting pipes & strewing ceiling tiles & cement chips everywhere. When Shelley first asked the English speaker workman if this would take care of the leak, his response was: "I don't know!?" and a shrug of his shoulders.

"At least he's honest" Shelley told Brian later on.

We've still got a 2 foot hole in the ceiling but it does seem the leak is gone. One bright spot was that our neighbour, who owns the apartment upstairs (which was the source of the problem), came down to see if everything was OK. Through discussing it with her, we finally had a pretty clear understanding of what the problem was. Somehow knowing is easier than a mystery leak.

That evening we went to a Christmas concert at Eglesia Corazon de Jesus, which is only a few blocks from our place. It was put on by the Orquesta Sin Fonica de Cuenca and they played everything from Irving Berlin's White Christmas to several pieces we had never heard before but which were obviously big favourites with Ecuadorians. The concert also featured a terrific tenor (Juan Carlos Cerna) and an outstanding soprano (Vanesa Freire). Ms. Freire wore her hair in pigtails and was about 4 1/2 feet tall but she had a voice 5 times bigger than she was! We sat with a couple of other ExPats who we just happened to run into there and when the orchestra played a medley of traditional North American and European carols we finally felt like it was really Christmas.

Bright & early the next morning (8 a.m.) we were out the door heading to the bus station for our trip to Loja and then on to Vilcabamba. We arrived in Vilcabamba at 4:30 and proceeded directly to our hostal (Jardin Escondido) where we were immediately escorted to our rooms, unpacked in like 5 seconds, and rushed down to have their wonderful (!) tortilla soup. The concrete road between Cuenca & Loja, which they were just starting last February/March when we last took this trip, was well on its way. There were certainly rough patches on the road but they'd made great progress. We wondered out loud how the progress would be going now that the price of crude oil was way down.

After supper our first night, we set the pace for the rest of our trip by taking a wander through town, sitting in the square people watching for awhile and then going to bed early and sleeping 12 hours! Somewhat groggy Christmas Eve morning, we headed down for a breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, Vilcabamba's hearty specialty bread, coffee & fresh squeezed juice. After breakfast we took another tour around town and discovered one of their major bridges had been washed out since last we'd been there.

We continued in our arduous undertakings by valiantly trying to get a picture of the hummingbirds who flocked to Jardin Escondido (without success) as well as the little yellow birds with the big voices (with success). Shelley went for a swim in the pool (very refreshing) and the boys, totally exhausted from our busy schedule, had a good long afternoon nap.

We're sorry to report that the only cappuccino place in Vilcabamba is no longer in business. The first thing we did upon arrival back at home in Cuenca was brew up a good cup of coffee. Every night we were alternatively awakened by chickens in panic, roosters crowing just because they can, dogs braying at the moon or doing their job barking at people walking past and motorcycles roaring up the street. We'd take turns turning on the light and reading for an hour and then going back to sleep.

We were lucky enough to catch a Santa event for the children of Vilcabamba. Santa (who'd lost an awful lot of weight) and his helper (a rather rotund clown) danced to salsa music and gave the children small presents.

The reason we'd decided to go to Vilcabamba for Christmas was that the winter manager of Jardin Escondido puts on a full meal deal Canadian Christmas dinner for all who are around. It was a lovely evening, where we stuffed ourselves on canap├ęs and bubbly wine & red wine & nut dressing, turkey, cranberry sauce (which the manager was very proud to have been able to find), gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, ice cream, chocolate sauce and strawberries. Jan ate 2 plates! Shelley's stomach hurt. Brian got happy as a result of being able to drink for the first time in several weeks.

One of the resident ExPats advised us that the Valley of Longevity rumour about Vilcabamba was a conspiracy designed by a real estate agent who has since been banished from Ecuador. Apparently the agent would talk the local people into adding 20 or so years to their age and: "The guy whose picture is on all the T-shirts, he's dead!" We don't know ~ just reporting what we heard.

Boxing day was spent strenuously sitting in the square admiring the local parrot & of course, eating. Shelley stepped on the scale upon arrival home and immediately instructed Brian: "Don't ask!"

Bussing home between Loja and San Lucas we took a different lower road (all dirt) along a river. When we'd taken that route in February/March we'd assumed it was because the upper road had been washed out, but now figured out that this particular bus serviced this lower road. It was a fascinating drive through rural Ecuador picking up and dropping indigenous people and their baskets of fruit & corn & what have you; very scenic and a part of Ecuador most folks don't get to see.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Strangers in a Strange Land

Anarchy continued to reign in our house until we all had a sit down and figured out guide lines. Jan was not to bad mouth our Mac and Shelley would continue to accommodate Jan's need to have his salad on a separate plate. Brian would carry on standing in the middle buffeted by varying loyalties and not complain about his stress levels.

That straightened out, we took Jan downtown to the 4 level artisan shop on Gran Colombia and to Laura's CasaMuseo on La Condamine. In between we stopped at the people's market and both the boys had a large plate of roast pig. Laura's is run by an ExPat Dutch fellow & his lovely Ecuadorian bride (they're both in their 70's). Jan & Jan had a wonderful time speaking Dutch to each other and trading stories. While we were there a tour of Canadians (the eastern side) came through and we all traded experiences for awhile.

We took Jan to ExPat night so he got a chance to mingle with the usual mix of long-term & short-term residents and visitors. Later on we went for pizza at Monday Blue and returned home suitably exhausted.

Up in the morning we were greeted by a plugged toilet so the boys went off Kywi (out near the airport) to find a plunger (what's that called in Spanish?). Brian had gone on line and printed off a picture of a plunger at Jan's suggestion and that seemed to do the trick. They came back home with an absolutely marvelous plunger complete with instructions in English (how difficult can operating a plunger be?) and the toilet is now gurgling happily as it should.

After his 3rd visit to the travel agency and his on-going arrangements for his trip to Peru, Jan proceeded to make his "world famous chicken wings" for a small Christmas party we were attending that evening. Shelley left the room during preparations and Brian was called in several times for consultations. At the party Jan was gratified everybody enjoyed his wings.

It truly was a wonderful evening; all these strangers in a strange land brought together in a warm lively home. At this particular gathering Canadians almost out numbered the Americans and we threatened to talk Canadian politics all night but, with typical Canadian reserve, we resisted. Our hosts were wonderful and made us feel like we were back home. The hit of the night were the homemade Nanaimo bars; a West Coast Canadian delicacy (see Planet Irony Recipes & Note: As Bird Eye Custard powder is not available in Ecuador our hostess, on the advice of her mother, used custard pudding mix).

The next day the boys bussed off to Gualaceo to see what there is to see while Shelley remained at home quietly basking in the sun on their balcony. The bus trip to Gualaceo was lovely; Jan commented on the beautiful scenery & countryside. For some inexplicable reason the bus stopped 4 blocks short of the depot while the driver had lunch. The boys didn't realize the depot was so close or they would have walked there. "So we sat on the bus like idiots and waited the 20 minutes" Jan said. "The bus driver returned and within 3 minutes we were at the bus depot where we disembarked."

A second short bus ride got the boys to Chordeleg which is famous throughout Ecuador for very fine filagree gold jewelry. All in all a highly successful trip; they arrived home exhausted and settled in to a great meal of left-over chicken cacciatore.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chaos, Dentists, Company & Miracle Whip

OMG! Chaos reigns as we all get in the kitchen to attempt a nice dinner. Shelley's theory of minimal dirty dishes clashes with Jan's tried and true method designed to sully every dish in the house.

"Are you going to wash the dishes?" Shelley squeaks.

"I'm stressed" Brian mumbles.

Despite the "cultural" differences dinner finally makes the table and all are satisfied.

"But who's washing the dishes?" Shelley inquires.
Brian did.

Later on we discussed the merits of Mac vs PC. This, it turns out, is like discussing religion or politics. No resolution was forthcoming. Shelley left the room to commiserate with her Mac and Jan remained satisfied with the superiority of PC's.

Brian went to the dentist to see how his abscessed tooth was doing and came home with the bad news that the periodontist feels it's going to have to be pulled. "I just spent $250 having a root canal done on that tooth!" Brian wailed. But apparently the abscess is just too deep and too extensive. He goes tomorrow to have it pulled and then the dentist and the periodontist will sit down with Brian and between the 3 of them decide what should happen next. Brian's down to 3 teeth. These are not enough to anchor his bottom plate. They're reluctant to pull his last 3 teeth but they are going to discuss this option together with putting in implants to act as an anchor.

We're aware this is getting to be a very old joke, but have we mentioned Shelley hates (!) Brian's teeth.

That night we put on a dinner for the Planet Irony reader that was currently in Cuenca. We had chicken catchatori (Brian's new specialty) and microwave cheese cake (Shelley's specialty). Shelley'd made microwave cheese cake any number of times while living on the boat, but had tried the recipe twice here in Cuenca and both times, despite halfing the cooking length the second time, it was over baked. This time she cooked it for five minutes, one minute at a time, resting one minute between sessions. It worked! We had lovely, light, yummy cheese cake. The four of us talked and ate and talked and ate some more and talked some more, and it was a very pleasant evening.

The next day Brian was off to the dentist to get his $250 root canal tooth pulled. Both the dentist and the periodontist urged Brian to try and save his remaining 3 teeth; something is needed to anchor his bottom plate. Apparently, the bottom gum is not as thick as the top gum and putting implants in, especially with someone who is already having infection problems, can cause even more infection. Another round of antibiotics was prescribed and the deep cleaning of his remaining teeth was again put off until the New Year. Brian however, is on a soft food diet for 7 days and can have no alcohol because of the antibiotics. We all, Brian, Jan & Shelley, counted 7 days on our fingers and came up with December 24th. There is salvation! Brian will be able to eat and be merry on Christmas day!

Jan & Shelley spent the rest of the day quietly reading, computering & watching TV as Brian slept the sleep of the happy pilled.

Back to the dentist the next day, just to make sure everything was going well, proved satisfactory. The infection was well under control, the healing process was going along as it should be. Jan & Shelley were sitting on the balcony eating breakfast when Brian came back from his appointment. Watching him walk down the street, Shelley commented to Jan: "He looks happy." Later on we decided he was happy because it'd be 2 weeks before he'd go see the dentist again!

Travelling on the city buses we went to Mall del Rio. Jan wanted cooking paper (to make his world famous chicken wings) and we had some gag gifts to buy for a party this weekend. Despite Jan's bad back, we still stopped and goggled at every little thing. A $7 shirt was purchased, the gag gifts were obtained & both the boys had a Burger King burger (just because) at the food fair. We of course forgot to buy eggs (Brian's been eating a lot of scrambled eggs) and neglected to look for Miracle Whip (our SuperMaxi didn't have any last time we shopped). How can a grocery store be out of Miracle Whip?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Dutchman Cometh

Without visits to the dentist looming over him (and his stomach feeling much better) Brian perked up considerably. We resumed our daily outings and Shelley's cabin fever disappeared. Still awaiting word from Vilcabamba, our Christmas plans remained up in the air except for the anticipation of our friend arriving from Holland.

"Jan must be going nuts by now. He's been working 80 hour weeks to get everything under control for his month's holiday."

Brian Skyped with Jan and got the final itinerary information. From wheels up in Amsterdam to wheels down in Cuenca at 9:00 a.m., it'd be 16 hours. Add to that 3 hours to get to the airport & mess around in the terminal in Amsterdam. Not one of those lucky ones who sleeps easily while travelling, we all figured Jan'd need a nap upon arrival.

The day before Jan was due to arrive we finally got the money the bank machine hadn't given us re-deposited back into our account. We're not sure at this point, but think it's been about 6 weeks. We'd almost mentally written the money off but were very pleased to see it back where it belonged in our account. Never, never, never again will we take money from the bank machine after hours!

Some More Things we have yet to see in Ecuador:

• Cooking Cocoa
• Graham Crackers or Crumbs
• Cast Iron Frying Pans
• A Wok

Up bright and early to get our chores done, the phone rang and it was Jan advising he was sitting in the airport in Guayaquil. He'd arrived with 85 minutes to spare between flights but it had taken 55 minutes to get through customs. "It was like watching paint dry" he told Brian. He was relieved he was sitting in the waiting room awaiting his TAME flight.

When it was time to leave to pick Jan up, Brian came into the den to say goodbye to Shelley who was doing her morning ablutions on the computer. "You know our whole reality is going to change for the next 2 weeks, don't you?" he asked.

"I love you too" she replied.

Brian & Jan were back before Shelley had finished her chores. We gabbed for 2 or 3 hours and then both the guys had a nap. Then we gabbed some more. Then we went for a walk. Then we gabbed and ate supper and then we gabbed some more and finally we went to bed. By that time we'd straightened out most world affairs and were working on the cure for cancer.

Enthusing over the Sunday morning concerts in the main square downtown, we took Jan to the Park and sat around until they announced the act would not go on. "It's an Ecuador thing." By that time we'd run into several people we knew and after introductions all around, again we gabbed for awhile. As we're under obligation to take Jan on all the high tourist points, off we went to the main People's market downtown to look at fruits & vegetables. Next we ventured to Doce de Abril to wander through the high end artisan mini-mall and enjoyed an upscale cappuccino sitting in the open courtyard under an umberella. The weather was great until late afternoon when we'd set out for a bite to eat. Coming home after dinner we talked about taking a cab instead of the bus to avoid the rain, but a bus came by before a cab did.

Up earlier than usual the next day, we took Jan to SuperMaxi & Sukasa to get a bit of a taste of Ecuadorian shopping. He wore us both out. This was wonderful, that was terrible, why do they do it this way, why don't they do it that way, and on and on. Brian told Jan he was stressing him out and Jan smiled his sweetest smile and told us, "I'm having fun!"

What can you say?

We've been invited to a bit of a pre-Christmas do (potluck) and Jan volunteered to make his world famous chicken wings. All necessary ingredients were, of course, not available, so much time was spent seeking equivalencies. He also offered to make his gourmet spaghetti (have we mentioned that Jan & Brian have a life long competitive thing going?) so fresh ingredients were bought for that delicacy as well.

Arriving home 2 Ecuadorian workmen asked if they could come in and look at the ceiling problem that's been ongoing since we moved into the apartment. There's a leak in the kitchen ceiling whenever we have biblical rain. Their work today entailed cutting a 3 foot hole in the ceiling, making a disgusting mess throughout the kitchen, and peering up between floors seeking the leak. Shelley encouraged Brian & Jan to go out for awhile while the workmen peered and she cleaned up the revolting mess. After the workmen were gone & the mess was cleaned up, she put her feet up and had a good long sigh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm Dreaming Of

Armed with only her purse & camera, Shelley set out Saturday morning to meet with one of the people who read the blog and got in touch with us. Normally Brian would have gone with her on this minor adventure, but he was still suffering with stomach cramps and that desire not to be too far away from a toilet. We figure we've met close to a dozen people who have read the blog and eventually made it to Cuenca. A couple of them have moved here permanently, several are in the process of selling assets in order to make the move, others are still testing the waters trying to make up their minds between Ecuador and for example Mexico, and yet others were either down here just for a vacation or are hoping to make it back here within a year or so. Shelley had a lovely lunch with a lady from Florida and chatted about Ecuador & Cuenca & kids & husbands & food & politics & such. After lunch we walked to the CB Carolina Bookstore, past the ExPat restaurant & we gabbed with the nice people in the bookstore for awhile. Psychic twinges about poor Brian started to eat at the edges of Shelley's mind so she headed on home.

"I was just starting to get worried about you" Brian told her. "Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, yes I did."

Brian's stomach problems continued to keep us at home for several days. Shelley began to grow a bit stir crazy and discovered "StumbleUpon" on the net. Deep into cat jokes, political satire, art, stunning pictures & writing sites, she began to bother her daughter, son-in-law & others with all her new discoveries. "Just let me know if what I'm sending becomes too much" she wrote.

"I'm a better sufferer than you are" Shelley told Brian on day 4, having had just about enough.
"Yes, yes you are."

Eight e-mails to all and sundry later, Shelley turned to other avenues and discovered a friend from high school that she hasn't had contact with for over 30 years.


"I think I've only got 5 days worth of real sympathy in me" Shelley confessed to Brian "and between your teeth and the food poisoning it's pretty much all gone."

"You're being wonderful!" Brian told her.

As fortunes would have it, Brian's dental surgery forced him out of the house and away from the commode. He'd thought about canceling the appointment but reasoned if he didn't eat before hand he'd be OK, and afterward he'd only be able to eat soft comfort food anyway. Once again he took his happy pills but this time, because he had no food in his stomach, the effect was quite profound. Upon arriving at the dentist, he was advised that work could not take place because he'd abscessed in the area where he'd had the tooth pulled and the root canal.

The periodontist told him it was likely he'd had such a long reaction to the food poisoning because of the abscess; his immune system was compromised. He prescribed antibiotics and made another appointment for Brian in a week to check on him. They both agreed to put off the rest of the work until the new year so it didn't interfere with our friend visiting and Christmas. When the dental surgery is done, Brian'll have stitches in his mouth for 8 days and be restricted to soft food.

Walking home, Shelley's arm through Brian's to keep him from wide tracking, she told him she'd get him home and then she'd like to go down town. "Just to get out for a bit more!" Hand on his stomach, heavily medicated, Brian told her he wouldn't mind going downtown too. "I'm very mellow" he told her. Downtown we went; Shelley shopped for a shawl and we stopped so Brian could have a bowl of the local soup. Upon arriving home, Brian had yet another one of his marathon naps. (Will this dental session never end?)

We'd been planning on going to Vilcabamba to spend Christmas there as the French Canadian manager of Jardin Escondido puts on a traditional Canadian Christmas turkey feast. However, when we emailed to make reservations we were advised that the rates were almost double what we'd paid in February/March of 2008. We wrote back trying to figure out if it was Christmas rates or a mistake but in typical Ecuadorian fashion we received no reply. It seems in Ecuador if the answer to a question is not what the questioner probably wants to hear, then no answer is given. This has happened to us several times here. Our friend from Holland is due to arrive in 2 days. We were planning on spending several days in Cuenca showing him our new home town and then busing to Vilcabamba for the Christmas feast. Now we're rethinking our agenda.

Warm weather, artificial Christmas trees everywhere, blown up snowmen & poinsettia plants big enough to climb; whatever we do for Christmas it'll be different than what we're used to.

PS:- Shortly after publishing this blog we got an email from the manager of Jardin Escondido saying he'd check with the owner and get back to us. I guess we'll find out what our Christmas plans are in due course.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

And on and on...

Walking down the street Shelley had yet another tumble. Sitting on the sidewalk with bystanders asking Brian if she was alright, she dove into her purse looking for the camera.

"Get up Shelley!" Brian commanded somewhat embarrassed by her staying on the sidewalk.
"I could have landed on my purse in 32 different places. I could have not even landed on my purse! I felt the camera. I want to make sure the camera is OK."

It wasn't.

"What is it with Ecuador?" Brian asked. "We been together what now, 13 years (?) and you broke your finger that one time but you've fallen like 3 or 5 times since we've been here."

Shelley pointed down at the crumbling sidewalk. "I'm a look around person. I'm not used to having to watch my feet when I walk" she explained.

We bought yet another camera. Brian pointed out that if we were developing film it'd cost us about the same per year as what we're currently spending on cameras. Shelley didn't think much of that justification; she preferred to feel bad about breaking the camera and having to spend the money.

She was also (she admits irrationally) somewhat testy with Brian for the next couple of hours.
Brian was quiet.

And on and on.... Back to the dentist for Brian, this time to a periodontist to have his teeth cleaned. The periodontist and Brian discussed options and finally decided to try (as usual) to keep the few remaining teeth he has. This will entail Brian returning to the periodontist and have the gums around his teeth sliced so the dentist can deep clean below the gum level, then having stitches put in where the gums were sliced and returning several days later to have the stitches removed. Doesn't this sound like just the perfect procedure for someone who is deathly afraid of dentists? We figure we're now up to about $500 - $600 to have everything done whereas in Canada it would likely be over $2000. At this point for poor Brian it's not much consolation but Shelley finds solace in it at least.

Working at the computer Shelley looked up when Brian entered the room she was in a couple of hours after leaving the dentist. "I guess I shouldn't have eaten that sandwich while my mouth was still frozen" Brian told her.

He'd bitten the inside of his mouth and it was swollen and bleeding. "You poor thing!" Shelley commiserated.

That evening we finally went to Zoe's on Calle Borrero for dinner accompanied by another Canadian couple. We all commented it was nice to sit with a North American and not have to talk about the U.S. election. We did, however, speak to the overthrow :-) of the Canadian government. Expat night had been moved to Zoe's for one occasion but we hadn't attended that evening. Several people have remarked to us about Zoe so we were curious. We spent 4 hours there and at one point the chef (who is from Cuba) came out of the kitchen to talk to us. Brian tried to tell him in his pigeon Spanish about how one of our Prime Ministers (Pierre Trudeau) was friends with Castro. The chef seemed to know all about it. Brian had a lobster dish with an exquisite sauce and Shelley had a wonderful chicken salad. (She's still trying to lose that recently quit smoking weight.) Dinner ended up costing the 2 of us $35 (including tip) and we also had a couple of glasses of wine and a cappuccino each. Wonderful company, a superb meal; it was a good night.

That night, however, was relatively awful for both Brian and Shelley. Shelley blamed it on the cappuccino they'd had too late as she didn't get to sleep until after 2:00 a.m. Brian was up at 4:00 a.m. wide awake and had a thick cup of coffee that set him off with stomach pains and hot flashes etc. When Shelley got up the next morning around 8, Brian lay back down on the bed cross-wize quietly moaning and reiterating his woes. He curled up under a blanket and proceeded to doze the morning away (unheard of for Brian who's usually up and about by at least 6:30). Lonely by noon, Shelley forced Brian from the bed. We spent the day being very quiet and sensitive to our stomaches. Just one of those things?

Once again, like with Brian's teeth, we received several comments on the blog "Do Over". Rather than incite further rioting, we didn't publishing any of these comments, but thank all of you for your input and some of you for your sympathy & good wishes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It used to be that "bill day" meant sitting down with a calculator & a cheque book & a bunch of envelopes and stamps and spending an hour or so juggling money and then mailing the bills off. Later on, bill day more or less disappeared, as chunks of money automatically came out of our account when bills were due. Now bill day lands on the last day of the month for us when we get up and do our ablutions and study Spanish and then head out into the world armed with copies of old bills. First we stop at the ETAPA place near where we live and pay our electricity and cold water bill, then we either walk downtown or hop a bus and go to the other ETAPA place where we pay our internet bill. We don't know why we have to go to 2 different ETAPA places; we just do. Then it's off to our landlord's bank where we deposit our rent money. A few days later we pay for our apartment's maintenance bill and our gas & hot water. No one sends us reminders to pay these bills. We just do it, as do the other residents of Ecuador. There's a mild satisfaction in the whole procedure that was missing when money just dripped into and out of our bank account with no real action taken by us. After we pay our very reasonable bills, we generally have a cappuccino somewhere and once again congratulate ourselves for being where we are.

Oh Happy Day! We've been searching for a hummingbird feeder for months. It took us 2 weeks just to figure out what to ask for: Alimentador o Dispensador para colibri. We've gone, on the advice of friends, to hardware stores and pet shops. We've had several people tell us their friends had hummingbird feeders and they'd find out where they were purchased and let us know. They never did. We've travelled far and wide searching and had no success...until today. Out near the airport there's a hardware store called Kiwi & a large SuperMaxi & another hardware store called Mega Hierro. We'd been to Kiwi searching but the time we'd gone there Mega Hierro was closed. Today it was open and joy oh joy, they not only had hummingbird feeders they had about 6 or 8 different kinds. We chose the traditional Canadian made, glass & fake flowers at the bottom, feeder. "It's tried and true" Brian told Shelley. "I've used them since the 60's. Finding a good hummingbird feeder after all this time is almost as good as getting cable or internet!" he said.

Shelley told him she was happy for him and rolled her eyes just a bit.

So now the hummingbird feeder is mounted just outside our den window. Brian swears that the nectar level has gone down half an inch just in the last day, however, we haven't seen any hummingbirds yet. Brian's friend Jan in Holland said the hummingbirds will definitely find it. He's usually right about such things.

As we do almost every week, we went to the main square downtown on Sunday to see what the 11:00 o'clock entertainment would be. We often sit on a tiny ledge, 4 inches high, just to the side and in front of the bandstand and listen and watch through the crowd. Usually we don't have to stand up as there are gaps through the standing crowd and most people are sitting around the park. Today, however, once the entertainment started dozens of people crowded up to the bandstand and stood listening and watching appreciatively. Brian and Shelley continued to sit on their little ledge and listened to the girl singers belt out their songs. After awhile, Brian got curious and stood up. His mouth agape Shelley began to notice he'd been standing for quite awhile.

"You should get a look at this" Brian told Shelley.

Up she got, creaky knees and all and looked out over the crowd to see 5 girl singers in brilliant blue skin tight costumes cut out at the waist and in the back.

"Ahhhhhh" she said.

Root canal day finally came, although the appointment wasn't until 4 in the afternoon. We kept Brian busy grocery shopping and helping to make a giant vat of Christmas Antipasto (see recipe in Recipe section). Shelley, who most would agree should not be allowed to handle sharp instruments, cut into the middle of one of her fingernails, chopped another's edge off and cut the tip of her computer/mouse finger. When she started to bleed copiously, Brian took over the chopping while Shelley attended to her wounds.

Three thirty finally rolled around. In the taxi going to the specialist, Shelley tried to jolly Brian who was sure his happy pills weren't working any more.

"Of course they are!" she told him, giant smile on her face. "You're in the taxi, you're going to the dentist, you're not shaking uncontrollably. You're just fine!"

"Am not!"

Sitting in the waiting room, Shelley heard no loud moans or screams. Ninety minutes later Brian emerged looking about 10 years older and holding the side of his face, but it was finally done. "Did you hear me?" Brian asked.

"Not a peep."

Coming Up: Getting teeth cleaned, filling the root canal & replacing the extracted tooth.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Do Over

Hopping on a #19 bus headed east, we rode it to the small suburb village of San Joachin. We disembarked in the village and took a couple of pictures of the ubiquitous church and wandered around the dusty streets feeling quite foreign. Apparently, out of our "hood" (Cuenca), we are still tourists. Shelley asked Brian if he thought there'd be any cappuccino in San Joachin and in reply he simply shot her one of those looks. Getting back onto the #19 we thought we'd take it all the way to the end of the line the other way, but got off downtown and had that cappuccino instead.

On one of our neighbourhood walks we dropped into a place on Calle Mariscal Lamar behind the new apartment buildings called Taller de Alfareria Encalada Galeria where they've been doing clay work for generations. We, of course, asked if they had any fish plaques, but unfortunately they didn't. They generously gave us a tour through their home/factory where members of the family were busy building clay pots, etc. and their various wares were displayed throughout their beautiful home. By the time we'd trucked up to Av. de las Americas Shelley was ready for a cappuccino, so we dropped into Punto's for a 60 cent java and left with $20 worth of Christmas cake, rolled pork roast, peas, gravy & a mango chutney. We obviously can't be trusted. They had a wonderful looking buffet there ranging in price from $1.98 to $7 and we got hungry watching the plates being piled with goodies. All in all, we got enough food for 4 or more meals, so we didn't do too badly.

It's been a pretty bad couple of weeks for us. One of the children disowned us, repeated every past transgression in an e-mail and let us know how selfish we were to move to Ecuador. Another one got on the band wagon and gave us a blast as well. As all the children are full grown adults now and as we have yes, permanently moved to Ecuador, neither of us felt there was a lot within our control regarding the matter. However, that doesn't stop the aching feelings. We got Brian all happied up and took him to the specialist to finish his root canal, only to be told the specialist had decided to take the day off and the appointment would be rescheduled. (An Ecuador thing.) Having spent 2 days working up to the appointment and a sleepless night, the relief you'd think might be there for a cancelled appointment, wasn't. top it all'd gone back to being rainy for awhile. Suited our mood.

As it turned out, the root canal specialist had been in a motorcycle accident and had broken his shoulder. (We weren't the only ones having a bad week.) The rest of Brian's work would have to wait 7 days or so for healing. We're not sure how the specialist can be ready in a week, but we've been assured he will be. Instead, Brian went to the regular dentist to have his rotten tooth pulled. Shelley ventured to SuperMaxi to buy the fixings for chicken soup figuring Brian wouldn't be up to chewing food for a day or 2 and arrived back in the dentist's office just in time to hear Brian say, "So that's it?!"

The dentist advised after the root canal work was finished, he'd send Brian to yet another specialist, this time in periodontics because his remaining teeth were so sensitive and needed a deep clean. Brian was concerned about being without his bottom plate for a week or so while the new false tooth was fitted to it, but was told that procedure would take only about 2 hours.

Walking home Brian demonstrated to Shelley how he held his hands together in a white grip while the tooth was being pulled and counted 1,2,3,4,5 days until he had to have more work done. "It's just going to go on and on" he whined to Shelley.

"It always goes on and on with your teeth" Shelley answered. "Have I mentioned I hate your teeth?"

Six weeks ago we'd opened up a bank account with a bank in Cuenca. We deposited some cash and wrote a cheque on our Canadian account for another lump sum. We monitored our Canadian account over the internet to see when the lump sum was deducted. After six weeks it never was so we ventured to the local bank again. The young man that dealt with us had some limited English and we of course have our limited Spanish. We'd been charged $20.64 in service fees since we'd opened the account and had so far not used it at all. Turns out there was a $5 fee to get our banking card, and another $5.64 fee charged every six months for services and another $10 fee because the cheque we'd written wasn't valid.

"Not valid?!" Shelley questioned with some heat.

Shelley had written the cheque on their joint account to Brian and signed it. Brian, however, had not endorsed the back as it was a straight deposit and this isn't required for a straight deposit in Canada. It is, however, required in Ecuador.

"What about the $10 service charge?" we asked.

We were assured this would be refunded (we'll see) and Brian endorsed the cheque and we tried depositing it again.

We'd written to our Bank in Canada, told them we were in Ecuador and asked them the easiest way to transfer money to a bank account here. They wrote us back suggesting we drop into our nearest Canadian branch to arrange an electronic transfer.

"Are they stupid or do they expect that there's a branch of our bank just down the street in Cuenca?" Shelley asked of Brian.

Oh well...tomorrow is expat night...maybe we can go there and create some chaos. Frankly we're glad the week's almost over.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mr. Happy Tooth

Unexpectedly, we received several emails regarding Brian's travails at the dentist. They all wished him the best and gave him encouraging words but they all apologized because they thought his problem was so funny. (Shelley thinks it's funny too. Brian would think it's funny except he's too scared.) He sweated and sighed for 2 days thinking he would not be able to get any medication but the dentist finally phoned and said he had a prescription ready for him. Armed with his happy pills, Brian now felt he might be able to get through his root canal.

With all his teeth troubles you'd think that Brian would have had a root canal in the past, but he hasn't. When he first told Shelley he needed a root canal he couldn't help but notice that she paled on his behalf. When he asked her why, she merely mumbled and demurred. Silly Brian then went to the computer and looked up the whole procedure on the internet. It would seem that, with the problem he has with dentists, ignorance might be better, but apparently not.

We'd emailed our daughter because she works at a dentist's office and asked her how much an uninsured root canal would cost in Canada. Not taking into account x-rays or freezing, the bottom line cost would be at least $700; for all the procedures close to $2000. Did we mention that Brian's dentist in Canada almost refused to work on him anymore because he flinched at every move made. The dentist told him he felt so bad operating on him he wasn't sure he could continue to do so, and then he hit upon the idea of medication. When we thought perhaps we wouldn't be able to get a prescription for Brian, we'd discussed pouring a tumbler of vodka into him but the idea didn't sit that well.

We picked up the prescription and once again Brian headed to the internet to see what kind of medication he'd been given. Surprisingly, it was mostly used for anxiety or panic attacks. There was a caution because the medication could be highly addictive and another caution for people over age 60. When Shelley pointed these 2 cautions out to Brian he was unconcerned.

"Of course it's highly addictive, you don't worry about anything" he told her. "I'm only going to take it for the days I have to go to the dentist. Don't worry. You worry too much!" he scoffed at her.

Shelley rolled her eyes and went to go read her book.

After a terrible night's sleep, we both rolled out of bed quite early. Brian paced the front room until it was time to take his happy pills. Shelley valiantly tried to ignore him but from time to time would stop his frenzied movement and give him a pat or a hug. Finally it was time to go and we hailed a taxi and started off to the specialist.

"I've got a stress headache" Shelley told Brian in the cab.
"Funny, I've just started to calm down", Brian replied as the pill started to kick in.

Upon arrival at the specialist's office we only had to wait about 5 minutes and they took Brian into the operating room. They left the door slightly ajar so Shelley could peek in from time to time. She was prepared to go rushing in to save him if she had to, but no long moans or shrieks of horror emitted from the room, just the calm voice of the Doctor asking in Spanish how Brian was and Brian's mumbled reply, "OK".

Later, riding in the taxi home Brian told Shelley there was one moment when he jumped in the chair when the Doctor hit a nerve, "But he was good" he explained. "He stopped right away and sprayed something on the tooth that dulled the pain and made sure I was OK before he started again".

Brian's got another visit to the specialist and several visits to the regular dentist coming up. He's gone through the tough part though, even though he doesn't know it. In the cab, riding home, Shelley had patted him on the shoulder and commented "Piece of Cake" and he got angry at her for a second for diminishing his accomplishment.

"OK, I'll ignore you then!"

"Oh don't ignore me! That's worse."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fear & Loathing in Ecuador

"Not last night, but the night before you were talking in your sleep and you were talking Spanish" Brian informed Shelley.

Shelley wanted to know what she was saying, but Brian couldn't remember. We don't know if it's good or bad that Spanish has infiltrated our sleep but suspect it's just all part of the process. They say when you start thinking in the new language, then you know you have really mastered it. Do they say anything about dreaming in it?

We ate at a sea food restaurant on Crespo more or less in the neighbourhood where we live. Shelley had a breaded filet (which she really enjoyed) and Brian had roasted oysters. The thought, given the description, was that he'd get several oysters and maybe some rice and salad with it, but what he got was the "biggest oyster in the world"; at least 5 inches across, roasted in it's enormous shell. Nothing accompanied it. Given the price ($6), Brian was disappointed. He said it would make a good appetizer but wasn't a full meal deal. The texture, perhaps because it was so large, also threw him off, in that it was more like scallops or abalone. We usually only eat out once or twice a week and we're trying to find restaurants to "wow" Brian's friend Jan with when he visits at Christmas. As Jan likes seafood and the restaurant was within walking distance for us, we'd hoped it'd fit the ticket. It didn't.

We met a bunch of people at the new East Indian restaurant on Calle Larga for Sunday brunch. The prices were middling ($3 - $4) for a entree and although very tasty the spices were tamped down for Ecuadorian palates. Seven of us ate our fill and the total bill was $30, which included a $6 tip. You can get your meals with either rice or nan bread and both the rice and nan portions are huge! They also provided a free appetizer of a fried vegetable pancake creation together with 3 dipping sauces. Yummy. The place must be catching on because there was a good crowd, yet the owner was very anxious to accommodate us and put together several tables to fit our party.


Up bright and early Monday morning, Brian sat around anxiously until it was time to take his happy pills to go get his root canal. We took a cab to the specialist which was out near the airport. The cabby tried to tell us the fare was $5; we gave him $3 and it probably would have been OK to give him $2. We had arrived early as Brian was apprehensive and wanted to leave, so we stood on the corner for awhile and scoped out buses for our return trip.

At the specialist's office Brian was asked for his passport and we discovered the dentist's English was not that great. We ended up phoning the first dentist to get an thorough explanation of what was going on. As the swelling was not yet completely down in his mouth, it wasn't the right time to do the root canal. In addition, the tooth next to it was no good and would have to be pulled. An appointment was made with the specialist for Friday to get the root canal done and we were advised it would cost about $250. After the root canal work we will return to the first dentist. He will put a permanent filling into the root canal tooth, pull the bad tooth and clean the remaining teeth. His original costs for consultation, cleaning & filling re the root canal was $80, so now we can expect additional costs for pulling the bad tooth. It appears the entire project, including drugs & ex-rays will cost in the neighbourhood of $400.'s another one; Brian's bottom denture will have to have a tooth added to it. So...$500? Oh well. Has Shelley mentioned she hates Brian's teeth? (Better here in Ecuador, mind you, than back in Canada with no dental coverage!)

Brian was wide tracking when we left the specialist's office but we managed to get on a # 28 which took us to directly to the first dentist's office. We dropped in there just to get a better understanding of what was going on and to check on Brian's request for happy pills. The dentist had done some research and gave Brian a new prescription. Continuing to wide track, Shelley led Brian to the drug store where we were informed the Dentist didn't have the authority to prescribe those particular drugs. The druggist had phoned the dentist and told us "the dentist would get a friend to help us". (All this in pigeon Spanish & English combined.)

"Maybe you could try and do the appointment without drugs?" Shelley asked Brian.

Brian's eyes went very round with horror, "Yes" he said "And I could get my fingernails pulled out as well".

Having put Brian through enough for one day, Shelley walked him home where he had a long, long nap and we determined we'd phone the dentist the next day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Heart of a Lion

There's a soul that's been setting off fireworks at 6:30 in the morning for the last week or so. Shelley wakes up and listens to them popping in the distance and then generally goes back to sleep. Brian, if he's had a rough night and is still asleep, wakes up and gets up. Otherwise, he listens in wonderment drinking his coffee.

"Whoever is doing that is waking up hundreds of people" Brian expresses in amazement. "Sure I can understand if you're having a wedding and blowing them off late into the night, but whoever is doing this is getting up early in the morning."

We goggle in wonderment and go about our business.

There's construction going on at the road across the river outside our front room window. They're digging the road up and it looks like they're putting in new water mains (perhaps sewer?) They worked on the road just down the street for several weeks and now they're on the road right across from our building. At lunch time the workers often have an impromptu soccer game and we've caught a couple of them fishing on their breaks.

For several days the school across the street is taking advantage of the blocked off road and there's a marching band with multiple drummers and a few horn players beating and blowing away entertaining the workers and us. The rest of the school children march around their yard and down the road waving flags while accompanying music blares from a loud speaker.

Did we mention Ecuador was vibrant?


When Brian was a child he was traumatized by a Dentist. The consequence was, he then spent 50 years not taking proper care of his teeth. The further consequence was, he eventually had to have all but a few of his teeth pulled. The upshot to that was, he ended up in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. The pills they gave him to control the swelling when they pulled his teeth caused the ulcer. Shelley came home from work one day to find blood all over the head in the boat and no Brian. Shortly after arriving home his work phoned her and advised he'd fainted and been taken to the hospital. At the hospital they gave him 4 bags of blood and the dentist ended up doing a scholarly paper on him. Brian's teeth have cost us thousands and thousands of dollars.

Two days ago Brian called Shelley into the bathroom, pulled back his gum and asked, "Does it look red or swollen to you?"

"I hate your teeth!" Shelley complained.

We phoned around and found an English speaking dentist and Brian has an appointment with him at noon. Brian brought with him one happy pill prescribed by our dentist back in Canada. Brian's stomach tightens up and he flinches even when the dentist has only a mirror in his mouth. Our last dentist threatened to quit on him because he made him feel so bad. He compromised and started drugging Brian before visits. Brian needs to be drugged even to get his teeth cleaned and Shelley always goes with him to hold his hand. Afraid to take his happy pill because he thinks the dentist will initially prescribe antibiotics to get the swelling down, he brings it with him - just in case.

Walking to the dentist, as it's not too far away from where we live, Shelley pulled Brian by the hand the last couple of blocks. The dentist was on time and advised Brian he'd need a root canal to be done by another specialist. He prescribed antibiotics & pain killers. He told Brian the nerves in the tooth were dead and that he wouldn't need the anti-anxiety pills he'd been using in Canada. Brian explained that "yes(!)" he would need the happy pills and it didn't take much to make the dentist understand. We went off to the pharmacy armed with 3 prescriptions but were told the anti-anxiety pills were unavailable in Ecuador. Trooping back to the dentist, he said he'd talk to some friends of his and find out what an equivalent would be and that we could pick up the new prescription later.

We had been told that the dentist "was a very nice man" and finally walking home Brian blew out a big cleansing breath and heartily agreed. As Brian needs a very nice man for his dentist it all seemed rather fortuitous.

Now, all we have to do is get through the specialist's appointment and another appointment with the regular dentist to clean his teeth & fill the cavity from the root canal. Total cost including drugs will be approximately $200 (maybe less; we are unsure of the specialist's fee).

PS:- In many other ways Brian has the heart of a lion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Estamos Aprendiendo

"Have you noticed that every time we go to ExPat night it rains like the dickens and we come home soaked to the skin?" Shelley asked Brian.

"My pants are soaked! Can you believe this rain?" Brian answered absent mindedly.

"Do you think it's a sign?"

"What sign?"

PS:- ExPat night was going to be held at Zoe but when we arrived there a volunteer was stationed to direct people back to La Parola. There's loyalty, politics & it's probably an Ecuador thing too. Nevertheless, back to La Parola it was and is.

Down at the main square on Sunday we saw the Elite Band. Trained in North American ways to the 3 minute song, we both commented on the endurance salsa, with the tunes lasting 12 to 18 minutes. The energy is amazing! We sat in the sun listening until we got light headed and then moved to the shade for awhile. As a pick-me-up we went for something to drink. Shelley had an iced cappuccino as she's been missing her Ice Caps. It was wasn't a Tim Horton's; more like a milk shake. It was good but she told Brian to never let her buy another one ever again.

There's graffiti here but it's seems to be less than what's in Vancouver. It's our understanding Vancouver is pretty good graffiti wise, so we guess Cuenca is great. However, something we did notice during our vacation here last February/March and since we've been back: they graffiti the large succulent plants. Permanently carved into the large cactus and succulent leaves you'll often see Juan & Maria are an item and political slogans and such things.

We're starting to notice we're loosing our tourist eyes. Things that may have disturbed us (guns on hips) or was very conspicuous (unfinished buildings) are now merely part of the landscape. The cracked & crumbling sidewalks are just part of the way things are and even the indigenous people in their different costumes doesn't rubber neck us any more. There's a sign in most banks that we've been trying to subtly get a picture of but haven't managed yet. You know: a picture of a soft drink in a cup, in a circle with a line through it - no drinks, no baseball caps, no cameras, no handguns. Shelley continues to be somewhat conspicuous with her grey/white hair. Do the people of South American dye their hair more or are they just genetically lucky and don't go grey as often?

And then there's the gut wrenching panic attacks that come on unexpectedly when once again the realization hits you that you've left your home land and cut ties with all that is familiar. Although her children are grown, Shelley is haunted from time to time being so far away from them. Although our apartment is wonderful and our neighbourhood very accommodating, Brian still spends hours pouring over boat pictures on the internet. We tell Ecuadorians that Canada is a country of immigrants. In Vancouver, riding on the bus, it's not unusual to hear 3 or 4 different languages. Shelley is 3rd generation Canadian, Brian 4th or 5th, but we both had a soft spot for 1st generations, helpful with the language, understanding of the cultural shock. It took coming here to really understand a large part of what they were feeling; happy to be in their wonderful new country but often missing the old.

Technical Details: At the end of each blog segment, there is a link to comments. If you choose to make a comment, it is emailed to us for approval regarding posting to the blog or not. If we can (you leave your e-mail or blog address), we'll get back to you personally with answers to your questions. If not, we'll answer your questions in the same comment section. Sometimes a comment is just a comment and we'll publish it alone. We may chose, as we've done once before, to take the comment out of the comment section and speak to it right in the blog. We respect your right to privacy when you do make a comment, however, philosophically we do not attach a high level of credibility to anonymous comments. Your comments are appreciated!

Even more Spanish: There are 3 main types of verbs, -ir, -ar & -er. The ending of these verbs have different forms: e.g. -ir verb Escribir (to write). I write, yo escribo; you (informal) write, tu escribes; you (formal) or he/she writes, used/el/ella escribe; we write, nosotros/as escribimos; you all or they write, ustedes/ellos/ellas escriben. Alas, not all verbs follow a regular pattern. Those that don't are called irregular verbs. There are 2 main types of irregular verbs. First there are the so-called stem-changing verbs. The verbs take the same endings as the regular verbs but the root (or stem) changes slightly. Stem-changing verbs are divided again into 3 more groups: e>ie, 0>ue and e>i. Then there are irregular verbs where the first person singular is the only irregularity. All the "yo" (I) forms have a "g" in the middle. e.g. Hacer (to do) - yo hago (I do).

Every time we talk to an Ecuadorian and tell them Spanish is hard for us to learn, they laugh and scoff us. We usually then go on to modify the whole thing and explain it's harder when you're old like we are. Again, they laugh and scoff us. We continue with our lessons. We are getting better. One of the biggest problems we're having now is that whoever we're talking to can't believe we're talking Spanish and therefore can't hear us. We'll repeat our phrase over and over again until they "get" it and repeat it back to us all amazed. Then we all have a good laugh.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Presidents, Butterflies, Churches & More

Because we're watching international CNN we saw a lot more of the U.S. election than we do when we're in Vancouver watching Canadian news. Still, it does go on and on. (We've mentioned previously that Canada called an election & voted all within 6 weeks.) We're pleased it's finally over and wish the new U.S. President well. It seems to us that he has set a stage for some real change. We hope he has the skill, determination and co-operation to actually pull it off. The "old ways" are very entrenched but there does seem to be a solid appetite for change.

It's been raining for 4 days off and on and other than our daily walk, we've been hunkering down. The sun finally shone today. We've been sitting out on the balcony, Shelley's pants rolled up over her knees, discussing what we'll do for the next couple of days. There are 2 concerts tonight, one at the Parque Calderon, a group called "Swing" and another at the Teatro Sucre an hour later (both free) that we thought we'd check out. ExPat night has changed from La Parola to Zoe, located on 7-61 Borrero at Mariscal Sucre. A lot of the ExPat's felt La Parola didn't appreciate us (the service was slow, they'd close down without notice) so apparently a deal's been struck with the owner of Zoe in that there'll be special prices for drinks etc. We don't go to the ExPat night every week, feeling it's better to integrate into the community at large, but it is nice to go once in awhile and basically "talk English".

With a beautiful afternoon looming ahead of us and nothing particularly planned, we decided to take another one of our terminus bus rides. This time we hopped on a # 27 on Doce de Abril, which took us through downtown and then up the hill to Avenida de las Americas. Eventually we got to a small barrio called Sinincay where there was an absolutely fabulous church that Shelley could not get a picture of due to the bumpy ride. She did, however, get some lovely pictures of small pieces of it! In any case, at the terminus a young man with high school English advised us this was the end of the line and with great concern asked us where we were trying to go. Brian explained we were simply on an excursion. The young man seemed to think that was somewhat odd. The round trip took us a couple of hours and as usual we were the only North Americans on the bus. Talking about our ride later, we decided that one day we'll go back to Sinincay to take pictures of the church. There appeared to be a lot of buildings attached, so we think it's probably a monastery; we'll look into that.

Well...we traipsed downtown and were there about 7:15 p.m. expecting to see "Swing" in full swing. They weren't. There was much talking on cell phones and we waited patiently in the park until it was time to go to the next venue at the Teatro Sucre, which is located in the heritage justice building. The Cuenca Lawyers' Society put on a terrific program "Concierto de Homenaje", which consisted of some wonderful (!) singers and musicians performing "high society" with a latin flavour. It was a packed house with standing room only for late comers. The crowd loved the show, clapping along with many songs, and the encore brought the house down. There's doesn't seem to be a compunction to turn cells phone off, however, and Shelley's occasional appreciative whooping drew startled glances. It was a great evening and we really enjoyed ourselves; well worth staying up past our bedtime!


He'd been asking her for weeks, but she's been putting him off with one excuse after another. They'd actually been discussing it for years and had agreed they'd do "it" when Brian retired. The time had finally come. She was nervous; he had deep fear. "How about doing it now?" he asked, a towel wrapped around his waist as he'd just come out from the shower.

"No, we'll wait until you're dry" she answered.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure."

It took half an hour. She had to take a break during the middle of it to take care of nervous bowel syndrome. He got mad at her at one point when she went too far. She pouted and told him he could have gotten someone else to do it. They made up.

While certainly not a stunning razor cut professional look, at least his hair was short & tidy.