Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mish Mash

Up bright and early we met our young friend in downtown Cuenca to do battle with the sofa-bed shop. After standing on the street and coming up with a strategy, we all marched into Intense. There was some hand slapping on the table and several telephone calls (we suspect the woman in the shop didn't have the authority to negotiate) but in the end our sofa cama was delivered at noon at no extra charge to us.

"I feel somewhat redeemed" Brian said.
Shelley rolled her eyes.

At 3:00 p.m. our friend phoned and told us the patio furniture was on its way. "What happened yesterday?" Shelley asked. "Umm, oh" he said "they were busy?"

Sitting out on the balcony in our newly delivered chairs, listening to the river and looking at our view of the hills and the huge Ecuadorian sky Shelley said, "Now, this is why we came to Ecuador!"

Brian agreed.

"Now we need more plants for the patio" Shelley observed.

Brian smiled lazily and agreed again.

The next morning, still in her I'm-at-home-outfit-that-no-one-should-see-except-family (very colourful) Shelley answered a knock at the door to see her neighbour, her neighbour's husband, the building's security guard and another man in a suit all standing there. The woman could speak English and she explained haltingly that someone had broken into their apartment. They wanted the names of any "worker" that we had going through our apartment. Shelley explained about all the deliveries and then they advised whoever broke into their apartment had had a key. They felt it was someone who had worked in the building when it was being built.

Brian, in the shower, came scooting half way out into the hallway in his birthday suit, demanding to know what was going on. Quickly getting dressed he headed off downstairs to get the scoop. Apparently our neighbour noticed this morning some of her jewelry was missing, but the door to her apartment was still locked so it had to be someone with a key who had worked here during the construction of the building.

It was all very disturbing!

Later on, walking in downtown Cuenca, Shelley took a fantastic fall in the middle of the street, right in front of a bus. Brian and a young solider helped her up, and other than a scrape on her elbow and ankle and a pulled muscle she was fine. Ecuador is chock full of obstacles to carefree walking; broken sidewalks, little built-in humps in the middle of some roads, pot holes, construction everywhere. So, it's best to keep an eye out where you're walking! "I haven't taken a fall like that since I slid down the ramp at the marina in Gibsons" she commented to Brian. "I wanted to thank the solider but he disappeared." She spent the rest of the day wondering how big a bruise was going to develop on her hip. She may not be graceful but she sure can produce stunning bruises!

Meanwhile, Brian installed one of the two light fixtures we need. After an hour and a half of monkeying around, one was enough for today. Apartments not only do not come with fridge & stove, etc. they also do not come with bathroom mirrors or all of the light fixtures. This apparently is also common in Europe.

A lovely bruise did develop but Shelley was very pleased she didn't have to roll herself out of bed the next morning. We paid our utility bills & rent and bought 2 flowering plants for the patio. (We'll need a lot more to complement the space.) O'Bama & McCain have Brian somewhat hooked to the TV right now. We get CNN but it's an international format so it comes out of London & Hong Kong & New York. I don't think we'll see much Canadian content on it.

There's a big celebration in the downtown square for Jefferson Perez the Ecuadorian speed walker who's now won 2 Olympic medals. He's of an age where this Olympic will be his last but Ecuador is very proud of him! We're told, like everywhere else, Perez makes money from endorsements and that he has a lovely huge home here in Cuenca. He's from very humble beginnings so that inspires the people even more!

Friday evening had us entertaining the American couple we'd met at Ex-Pat night last week. They were appropriately enthusiastic about our apartment & its new furnishings and once again we had a lovely evening with them. We had dinner at El Jordan on Calle Larga. The menu had pretensions to being haute cuisine but the prices were reasonable (except for their wine list) and the food was quite tasty. They're going back to their place on the coast, so it'll be some time before we see them again.

"How come, when we're out with someone else, you always interrupt me when I'm talking?" Shelley asked of Brian.
"Like you don't do that to me!?" Brian retorted.
"That's different, you're bigger!" Shelley came back with an indisputable argument.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Consumer Problems & Weather

"You know" Shelley said "the problem with buying everything for your apartment all at once is that nothing is special. Normally, if you get say, a new bed, it's special for months."

Brian laughed.

We'd just checked our bank account and were somewhat aghast at the amount of money we'd spent in such a short time. Walking down the street we added it up. It added. Some nefarious thief hadn't taken it from us. We'd actually spent it all ourselves!

"Well" Shelley tried to reason "it's over now. We're done. We can live on our income now."
"We've still got to pay the lawyer" Brian reminded her.
"Yes, but I've got half of that money saved already."
"Oh you do! Good for you."

We still have to buy a vacuum cleaner & some mixing bowls & some light fixtures and believe it or not, some mirrors for the bathroom and, and, and....but the big stuff's done. We've contacted some Americans that told us about a wonderful Spanish teacher that'll come to our house. We've hoping they'll give us his contact information and we can start our Spanish lessons.

Brian was talking to his friend Jan on the phone the other day and Jan asked him when he was planning on retiring. We've been so busy since Brian retired in February we're beginning to wonder what is it we'll do to fill up our time now that our "Trip of a Lifetime" is done, and we've sold the boat, and we've refurnished our life.

"How about reading?" Shelley asked.
"Nothing to put in the blog then" Brian replied.
"Oh....that's a problem. We'll have to think about it."

OK - we made our absolutely last stock-up visit to SuperMaxi and Sukasa. We bought the last rug we'll need & a vacuum cleaner at Sukasa and $140 worth of groceries. Tomorrow is delivery day for a lot of stuff. We're getting our sofa bed & patio furniture & our rug & vacuum cleaner. Saturday we pick up the load of pictures (10) we dropped off previously at the framer and that afternoon we'll hang them all (cement and brick dust flying).

"What are we going to do now?" Shelley asked.
"I don't know about you" Brian quipped "but I'm going for a nap."

Things We Can't Find in Cuenca

- cast iron frying pan
- M & M chocolate flavoured lypsol
- Cheezies
- Nicorettes

"If I'm going to have to wear a cardigan 50% of the rest of my life, we're going to have to buy me some more. Two isn't enough!" Shelley demanded.

Apparently July & August are Cuenca's coldest months but even when we were here in February & March it was still a cardigan place. You can't wear a pull-over sweater (except in the evenings) because undoubtedly at some point during the day it'll get way too warm to be wearing it. On the other hand, if you go out in the morning, it's too cold not to have something. Shelley's normal costume is capri pants, a summer shirt (long or short sleeved) and a cardigan. The cardigan gets carried half the time. Even Brian got himself an Ecuadorian cardigan, llamas marching around the middle. (Note: Only tourists wear Panama Hats. We were advised of this by an Ecuadorian.)

"Do you think we should buy one of those electric heaters?" Brian asked.
"I've been OK. I've got my sweaters & my fleece jammie pants & my couch blanket. Let's wait and see." Shelley answered.
"Wait for what?" Brian wanted to know. "This is it. Winter's not coming. This is the worst it gets!"

Tuesday rolled around and as it was wet and cold outside, we decided to stay at home and wait for our deliveries from 3:00 p.m. on. Our rug & vacuum cleaner from Sukasa showed up on time and we were very pleased with both. Our sofa bed from Intense on Miguel y Sucre hadn't shown up by 5:30 so we phoned. From what we could understand, there were no apologies and it was not going to show up until next Tuesday. We phoned our young friend & he called them and apparently they told him that if we didn't like it, we could go get our money back and that no one wanted to deliver a sofa bed to a 3rd floor apartment anyway. We arranged to meet our friend at Intense tomorrow and we'll see what happens. Also our patio furniture from SuperStock didn't arrive at 4:00 p.m. (as written on our receipt) either. Our interpreter phoned SuperStock as well but they didn't answer the phone.

We've encountered the manana attitude in Ecuador before and we'll encounter it again but it does take some getting used to.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Home Stretch

Down to the people's market on Calle Larga we bought a chicken ($5), some broccoli & cauliflower ($1) and a bag of those tiny potatoes ($0.50) Shelley's been longing for.

"Have you ever eaten potatoes when they're that little. They're almost sweet!" she gushed. (Except they turned out not to taste like the tiny potatoes she ate as a child. Maybe it's the soil?)

We had 3 digital photos blown up to 8 x 10 and matted & framed for just under $40 and continued our quest to find some sort of sleeping arrangement for the 2nd bedroom. We'd like a small hide-a-bed or futon, but our quest to find one is proving somewhat difficult.

We asked our young friend what the proper terminology would be for the indigenous people and he got quite alarmed that we might call them Indians. "It would be like calling a black person the N word" he told us. "Indigenous is OK."

"Is it a dichotomy when you see an indigenous woman all dressed up in her costume, talking on a cell phone?" Shelley asked Brian.

Young boys (under 10) offer to polish your shoes in the town square, physically challenged people are placed on a corner with their hands out, teenage boys (their faces painted) juggle balls at a stop light: we seem to be able to resist, but an elderly indigenous women touches Shelley's arm every so slightly and she has to give them $0.50.

Continuing on our quest for a futon or hide-a-bed, we went downtown and stumbled into a store asking for a "sofa cama" and were directed across the street to a place that sells nothing but. After the usual amount of difficulty due to language, we purchased a lovely hide-a-bed and expect delivery next Tuesday. The sofa cama represents the last big purchase we need to make and as expected our costs stayed around $7000. We'd predicted $5000 originally but were unaware at that time that we'd have to purchase a fridge & stove and washer & dryer. The $7000 also includes plates, some art, plants, bedding, towels, pots & pans and silverware, etc. etc. So, we're pretty pleased. We're still buying rugs and art but that may continue for months and months until we spy just the right thing.

We've really been enjoying the breads of Ecuador. Every second street seems to have a bakery and we've taken to having a continental breakfast with a different kind of bun each morning; some are not to our North American taste, but most are delicious & wonderful & cheap! We'll come home with croissants & a loaf of designer bread and a few cheese buns with a bill for $2.25 and we compare that to what we'd pay at Granville Island in Vancouver and hold our sides and laugh & laugh.

Friday night took us to Ex-Pats night again and this time there were tables pushed together which greatly facilitates talking to your neighbour. We chatted with an American couple we'd met previously in our lawyer's office and a Canadian fellow & his wonderful dog. It should be noted that the dog has done more world travel than Brian & Shelley together. Again, they all advised us that it was possible to get an Ecuadorian bank account without your residency card. The Canadian fellow offered to go to the bank with us when we were ready. We all trooped off together to Monday Blue for what we think is the best pizza in town and really enjoyed their company.

After our test run: getting 3 digital pictures blown up & framed, we then had 7 more blown up and made arrangements to get them framed along with a copy of the line drawings from our ex-boat Dowager (we miss her) and her original registration papers. The couple at the framing place was almost overwhelmed by our instructions (Tower of Babel communication) but kept their good humour, as we kept ours. We should be able to pick the whole lot up in a week.

We did pick up our original 3 pictures plus a wonderful wall hanging from La Tienda on Benigno Malo and then spent an hour or so deciding where to drill holes in our apartment and hang our various acquisitions.

It seems like the blog lately has been a litany of things we've bought, but we're getting close to being fully stocked and can hardly believe we've only been in the country for 32 days at the time of this writing. We've managed to get an awful lot done!

It's hard to describe the majority of stores in Ecuador. In Canada there's space - in Ecuador there's stuff everywhere! One store might sell small appliances, TV's, large appliances and motorcycles. Another store sells stereo equipment, small appliances, pots & pans & coffee pots. They seem to have streets that specialize. One street might be packed with shops that sell sewing material while another street is almost all children's clothing and yet another furniture stores. Just about every street seems to have a shop selling DVDs and an internet shop and if not a bakery at least a store selling some baked goods. A big department type store, Coral Centro, sells crutches right in front of negligees. Wherever you go there's a cacophony of goods and when you first come here it's very overwhelming. We're getting used to it now and kind of like the energy of it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dryer & Internet Blues

Downtown once again, this time looking for a drill so that we could hang our pictures on our cement walls, pantomiming and using pigeon Spanish, our Sales Clerk got a light-bulb-going-off look on his face, riffled through a bunch of magazines and came up with a catalogue of hand guns. "No, no, no" we quickly said shaking our heads and hands. We finally got through to him and he directed us to a different store, first writing out "electric drill" in Spanish on a piece of paper for us. By the time we'd purchased our drill & a set of bits & screws & an extension cord we had a crowd of 6 or 8 people around us, all greatly amused by our predicament.

Our next undertaking was to try and get a huge photograph we had of Vancouver's False Creek Harbour mounted, and once again our language skills made a 5 minute project turn into half an hour. Finally, on Cordova Street we found the right place and after much pantomiming & pointing & extreme patience by the proprietor, we succeeded in getting across our desires.

Rushing back to the apartment for a 2:00 p.m. meeting with the fellow who sold us our dryer, we all stood around it and shook our heads at the hum it produced without any action. We were told a technician would come by and if it couldn't be fixed easily, a new dryer would be traded for the broken one within 3 days.

The next morning, instead of a technician coming by, the guy who sold us the dryer came and picked it up and took it away. Later on we got a phone call letting us know an actual Whirlpool technician would be by at eight in the morning to install a new dryer. This was apparently going to cost us an additional $8.

"It's only $8" Brian said "but it sticks in my craw".

The internet guy also came by and tried to explain the internet situation to us. His English was as good as our Spanish (but he had a lovely smile), so we finally ended up giving our young friend a telephone call and the long and short of it is we won't be getting internet until the end of September. They have to string the building (or something like that). Our other option was to go with a phone modem but it's not as high a speed, you must sign an 18 month contract and it costs more. We decided we'd wait until mid-October and if they hadn't finished stringing the lines by then, we'd bite the bullet and go with Option B.

There's an internet place about 4 blocks away from where we live, so it won't be too onerous to keep up with e-mail and download the blog once in awhile. However, Shelley misses keeping in touch with the kids on a daily basis through Facebook and for some reason we have a tendency to have hissy fits with each other when doing internet together at an internet place. (The pressure?) We've agreed to have Shelley go alone to check e-mails and download the blog. We do the blog together on our computer at home and then take it on a memory stick to the internet place.

Yet another trip to SuperMaxi and another $80 worth of groceries finally got us to a point where we have a bit of a stock of food in the apartment plus a variety of spices and condiments. We're getting the feeling we're close to the end of the settling-in part. It's unfortunate that the dryer & internet proved to be difficult.

Ecuador seems to be a country with built in energy conservation. Whether that's because it's a poor country and it's cheaper or that it's a growing economy and they're just starting out in conservation mode, we don't know. All the hallway lights in our building and all the buildings we looked at when looking for an apartment are on motion detectors. Their paper towels only come in something that's about half the size of the paper towels we're used to. Many, many homes, especially outside the city, have cisterns for collecting rainwater. Just about all the light bulbs you see are energy conservation bulbs, and the list goes on and on.

Brian had a bad moment today. He has been compiling pictures taken from our apartment window. There's an enormous variety of activity going on outside the window. So he has been in the habit of glancing out the window frequently for photo opportunities. He mentioned to Shelley, "Oh look, there's kids! There's 3 kids and 3 dogs playing on the island." A short time later he came to the window in response to a bit of commotion outside and saw the 3 kids all hugging each other; one of the 2 dogs had been run over and killed by a car right in front of our building. We did not take pictures. It was upsetting and Brian remarked to Shelley "What is our total count of dead animals on the roadside?" When we visited in the spring, we had counted several cows, 1 horse, a pig and handful of dogs dead at the side of the road when we were travelling. This was our first such experience since returning.

At 8 in the morning a dryer guy came by with a new dryer. He left it in the kitchen still in the box and told us that the technician would be by around 10 o'clock. At quarter to 11 we phoned our translator and asked him to see if he could find out what was happening and at noon the technician showed up. He unboxed the new dryer and immediately Brian noticed that there was a large scratch on the hood. The technician, of course, spoke no English but we managed to discern that if we had any troubles with this dryer we were to call Whirlpool direct (not the Vendor). Brian asked about the scratch and the gist of it was that that was something we had to take up with the Vendor. The technician charged us $10, not the $8 we'd previously been told!

Shelley reminded Brian about the American couple we'd met last time we were in our lawyer's waiting room. They had told us a long involved story to do with a dryer and the end of the story was that 6 months later they still didn't have one. Fortunately, they were living in the country and could hang dry their clothes.

"I think Ecuador's got a mad on for dryers" Shelley quipped to Brian.

Brian spent the afternoon looking up words and practicing Spanish. He intends to try and deal with this on his own. We'll see.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Window to Ecuador

"Listen, Brian, Listen" Shelley said as she shuffled across the apartment floor, her slippers making a clip clop noise. "That's a noise we haven't heard for 13 years. I guess the boat wasn't hollow enough." Life on the boat was small and cozy and even though we went to some effort to get the smallest apartment we viewed, it's still huge compared to our living arrangements before. "I'll lose weight from the exercise of just walking from the bedroom to the front room" Shelley told Brian.

Another day was spent in waiting. The gas man was supposed to arrive at noon. Our friend came over at 12:30 p.m. with a Porta internet lady and we discussed their packages if in fact it turned out we could not hook into Grupo TVCable. At 1 p.m. a phone call was made to the gas man and we were told they hadn't arrived because of a "solder" problem.

"Welcome to Ecuador" our young friend advised us.

Firming up yet another arrival time for the gas man, we went to the Mercado Feria Libre el Arenal (People's Market) 15 minutes walk down the street and wandered through the maze of meat, clothes, fruits & vegetables, chickens, dogs, a live turkey and bunnies until we finally happened upon a place selling terra cotta pots. We bought a large pot for the elephant foot plant we'd purchased a couple of days ago, along with a colander, 2 wooden spoons & fruit for breakfast.

The gas man arrived at 4:00 p.m., cut out the offending pipe with cement stuck in it and soldered in a new one. Soon as he left, Shelley started a load of clothes to test out the whole system and Brian walked over to the local liquor store and bought a bottle of wine. We, of course, do not have wine glasses yet, but having overcome our hurdle with the gas man & can opener debacle felt a bottle of wine in celebration would go nicely with Brian's special spaghetti.

We, of course, did not have a cork screw.

When we came to Ecuador during our holiday in February and March, we came to the conclusion that shop openings were random; according to the whim of the shop owner. We have now discovered that a good many of the shops will close for 2 hours between noon and 3:00 p.m. Lunch is a big thing with Ecuadorians. A family will go to a great deal of effort to gather and have a large lunch together. Having forgotten this, we set off to purchase the last big item we were looking for: a futon for the spare bedroom. The shop was closed when we got there and looking through the window we could see they no longer had the futon we'd scoped out a couple of weeks before.

Oh well.

We took a cab downtown and had a coffee and bought a few cactus & succulent plants and headed home so Brian could have a nap. We'd spent the morning at SuperMaxi & Sukasa again, purchasing a microwave & a carving knife & wine glasses & a cork screw & place mats for the table & groceries & setting ourselves up with a SuperMaxi bonus card. We'll have to do some sleuthing to find a futon as we've only seen the one so far, but we're more or less satisfied we're down to the lesser details.

Got up Sunday morning with that lazy, happy, sunny Sunday feeling, ate breakfast, changed the sheets and put on a load of laundry before we went out. The washer worked wonderfully (we are very pleased) but the dryer only hummed; the basket didn't turn at all. This being only our second load, it was rather a disappointment. The first load dried fine and there were no clunks or smell of smoke to indicate it wouldn't do the same thing the next time we turned it on. We spent some time trouble shooting and then gave up and hung our sheets around the apartment.

Our young friend was amazed that we hadn't yet been to Mirador de Turi, so we grabbed a cab and went up the hillside to see the view, enjoy the beautiful day and try and put behind us our dryer disappointment. The view was spectacular but once you've soaked that up there's not much else to do. They have an artisan market and cafeteria but there was nothing there you couldn't see anywhere else and outside that building were several teenage boys listening to Spanish rap loud enough that the music carried everywhere you would want to walk to up there.

On the way home we stopped at what the signage said was an Italian Deli. Brian's been trying to find spicy sausage to put in his spaghetti. They could not provide. We did, however, pick up a lovely wooden fish plaque (by Ernesto Jaramillo) at a small upscale artisan market called Artes de la Tierra. There were several things there that were very nice and reasonably priced so we promised the Senorita that we'd be back. They featured the beautiful ceramic work of Eduardo Vega. He is considered Ecuador's top ceramicist and is apparently well known in art circles around the world. Last time we were here we saw an exhibition of his work at a major museum downtown and were very taken with his work. We did spring for a mug ($12) but passed (for now) on a vase for $110.

Outside our windows it seems like we get a microcosm of Ecuadorian life. As Shelley is typing this, Brian is in our hallway, chattering to her, camera in hand, taking a picture of a family having a picnic on the bank of the Tomebamba, their pet bunny happily hopping around them. It's a voyeurism of a sort, but we're harmless and enchanted. Goatherds watching their charges, young men fishing in the River, an older woman picking herbs; it's not a Canadian view. We regularly spy people relieving themselves in the grove, there's a man that brings his German Shepherd and trains him on the lawn, Cuenca street cleaners in their green uniforms slowly walk by keeping the City clean and even when people are absent the river flows timelessly on its course.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Be Careful what you Wish For

We're getting close to the end of the chaos with hook-up day. We had arranged to have the blinds installed, clothes dryer guy come back to fix the vent connection, electrician to come by to install an outside light that needed doing, a cable guy & internet guy to come by to hook us up to Direct TV & look into internet and also delivery of the recliner we had purchased the other day. A gas guy was supposed to come by to check the gas connection to the clothes dryer (it's not working). Almost all arrived at regular intervals and set about their work ably directed by our young friend. The recliner delivery was supposed to be at 10:30 am. They arrived at 5:00 pm. The gas guy never showed up at all! The internet guy sent us a text message saying he'd come the next day, whereupon our friend phoned the internet provider (Grupo TVCable) and demanded they send an alternate, which they did.

After the hoards had left we sat dumfounded once again that so much swirling Spanish had happened around us. Shelley swept and washed cement dust (no wood frame in most new building) from the blind installation and then we set off on the bus downtown for a bite to eat. It was dark when we headed home. We stood at what we thought was the right bus stop until we started seeing the same buses coming a second time. Asking a young lady standing near by if the Number 14 stopped here, she indicated in halting English and us in even more halting Spanish that she wasn't sure but that her husband was meeting her to take her home. After discussion it turned out that we live in the same neighbourhood. She graciously insisted that they drop us off at our place.

"What a wonderful country this is!" Shelley exclaimed to Brian after we'd been dropped off.

"We'd do the same for a tourist in Canada under the same circumstances, wouldn't we?" Brian asked. "People like to be nice."

Shelley's been having bouts of homesickness, the last one resulting from lack of e-mail for several days between leaving Macondo and getting set up in the new apartment. Nothing serious and different things trigger it: a yowling cat on the bus made her wonder about how FloCat is doing, not having e-mail on Jaci's Birthday hurt. This is not unnatural and is to be expected but running into such friendly people sure helps to alleviate these bouts.

We received an e-mail from a contact through Ecuador Forums telling us that a residency card was not required to get a bank account, but that you had to establish your residency with the Bank by producing utility bills and a couple of letters of reference. Once our internet is up and running, we'll check with our lawyer & a couple more financial institutions. We've been getting e-mails from people reading the Blog and caution all (as our lawyer cautioned us): laws & regulations are changing rapidly in Ecuador right now and all procedures should be double checked. Also several people have inquired how to get in touch with our young friend. If you e-mail us at close to the time you are in Ecuador, we will happily supply you with his e-mail address. We have checked with him and he is quite willing to assist others the same way he's helped us. Note: If you put a comment on the blog, we can publish the comment, but cannot respond to it.

The gas man finally came the next day and checked out the lines to our dryer. During construction, concrete got stuck in the line. This can be fixed and will be done. The contractor for the building came over with the gas man and assured us 2 cable systems were in the apartment and it should be no trouble to have internet and TV. In anticipation of getting internet in a couple of days we set off downtown to buy a small desk for our second bedroom.

While downtown we set up a PO Box. There is no home delivery in Ecuador. In discussion with our young friend, he told us his family doesn't even have a PO Box. The concept of living without mail is so foreign to us it took quite a bit of talking to convince us it can be done. "People pay their utility bills on time" he explained to us "or they get cut off. It's simple."

It's good we're getting to the end of the major settling in. It'll take weeks and months to get just the right pictures on the wall and all the little things that make a house a home, but that can only be done by wandering and discovering. We're getting tired. Even Brian's getting sick of constant shopping. After the internet goes in, we're paying our young friend a bonus amount and though he's assured us he'll be available for details, we won't need him on a constant basis anymore.

"I want to go to a nice Park and lie in the sun and read my book" Shelley tells Brian. "Soon" Brian says, "Soon".

The old saying goes "Be careful what you wish for" and the adage proved itself when the gas guy came by at 10:00 a.m. and chipped away cement for an hour and then told Brian (he thought) he'd be back in an hour. We finally phoned our friend at 4:00 p.m. and asked him to call and find out what was happening. Apparently the gas guy had told Brian he'd be back at noon the next day. We've got to settle in and start our Spanish lessons!

"I know I've been whining for a day off" Shelley told Brian "but I didn't mean to spend it wondering what was going on all day. I meant to go to a Park!"

We also got bad news regarding hook-up to internet. Apparently the Company we'd signed on for had taken our money but had failed to mention they didn't have the appropriate gear set up for this building. They're coming by in a few days to survey the situation and if they don't feel it's worth while stringing the lines (or whatever they have to do), they'll refund us our money. At that point we'll be reduced to some sort of telephone internet (not as good as cable).

Lastly, Brian set out to make our first home cooked meal in Ecuador (his spaghetti special) and realized it couldn't be done as we hadn't yet purchased a can opener for the tomato sauce. A day fraught with disappointment, Shelley got cranky. "I don't like Ecuador anymore! I miss the boat. I miss internet. I miss the kids" she lamented.

"You're not serious?" asked Brian, a worried look on his face.

Shelley smiled and explained she did miss the boat, miss the kids & miss internet but mostly she was just hungry and cranky after a long day of waiting. "Let's go eat"...and we did.

We bought a can opener while we were out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Opening Doors to Ecuador

Another exhausting day with our young Ecuadorian friend charging around town getting us to get things done. We had the fridge, stove, washer, dryer, bed, bedding, side tables and entertainment unit delivered, unboxed, hooked up, assembled, etc. The bedroom is complete (except for pictures) and we are very pleased. The furniture is incredibly beautiful and easily met our expectations. After the boat it makes us feel like royalty!

Left to our own devices for 2 hours, we walked up to SuperMaxi and picked up some cleaning supplies and then came back to the apartment and rested on our beautiful bed until our young friend picked us up to go get an estimate on blinds for the apartment. Blinds in Ecuador are expensive just like blinds in Canada are! We were going to go for a beautiful bamboo blinds but it turned out to be four times more expensive than standard blinds and with the amount of money we've been spending, we couldn't bring ourselves to pay four times the price.

With Brian & Shelley whining about being old and tired, our young friend then whisked us to Direct TV, which is a satellite TV provider. Apparently they had a special deal and we got installation for half price and a reduced monthly premium. Installation is on Tuesday along with the blinds. We're hoping to move in within 2 to 4 days.

A real treat (!) was dropping into a restaurant (cranky, hungry & tired) that we had visited very briefly our last trip to Ecuador and Shelley had a salad (to die for) while Brian had a pizza that was an unexpected thrill. It's a funky little place that reminded Shelley of Duncan or maybe Nelson, all the walls covered with an assortment of pictures, mementoes, plastic shoes, and other bric-a-brac. It's on the corner of Calle Larga and Cordero but we didn't catch the name.

Incidentally, our young friend said he'd be happy to help other people in the same situation we are in; new to Cuenca, non-Spanish speaking, no car. He seems to be really enjoying himself.

A little bit less exhausting day followed (primarily because we didn't have our young friend herding us everywhere), we searched for a couch and dining room table at several places and ended up buying from the place we got our bed from. A sectional couch, a lovely solid wood table and 4 chairs were delivered later that afternoon. We also got a bench seat for the entrance of the apartment. We lay on our new bed waiting for the delivery with Brian popping up every 10 minutes to walk around the apartment and admire.

After delivery we taxied downtown ($1.50), ate a quick supper and shot off at the last minute to buy a surround sound CD/DVD player. The store was just closing as we got there but they were happy to stay open a half an hour more to make a solid sale.

The next day we moved into our apartment. A truck taxi (camionetta) was called to move all our luggage and we unpacked everything we'd brought from Canada & purchased so far in Ecuador. Brian spent an hour setting up the TV and new surround sound system we'd purchased. (It sounds terrific!) After that we rushed off to Sukasa and SuperMaxi to buy breakfast food and a dish set. Then we rushed off to Super Stock to buy an ironing board, sheets, a kettle, bathroom rugs, more pillows, towels, reading lamps for the bedroom, etc. etc. etc. Then we sat on our new couch and added up the money we'd spent so far. Then we sat dumfounded for awhile. Then we went for supper. Then we watched movies.

Shelley started whining again about having a day off but it won't happen for at least 2 more days.

We slept to sound of rushing water as the Rio Tomebamba is only just across across the Street. Brian said, "It sounds like the Burrard Bridge, only louder." It'd rained the day before and the river was rushing even more than usual. There was comfort in finding things that evoked memories of Vancouver in this new home of ours. When we slept on the boat, Brian often observed that the traffic on the Bridge sounded like Chatterbox Falls.

We awoke early and had Ecuadorian buns & cheese & coffee & fruit for breakfast and then once again rushed downtown to buy carpets before our young friend was due to arrive to take us for our first big grocery shop. The carpet buying proved to be somewhat contentious as, according to Brian, Shelley was being really pig headed & according to Shelley, Brian was being a spoiled brat. So, like adults, we compromised and did it Shelley's way.

At the grocery store, we signed up for a discount card. Searching for the fundamentals was quite difficult due to our lack of familiarity with Spanish terms. Also, finding sugar is hard if you're looking for a BC Sugar bag. Brian and our young friend spent a considerable amount of time trying to sort out the spice selection, while Shelley happily went her own way picking up cleaning supplies, the best ketchup she could find (we did mention Ecuadorian ketchup is like runny red stuff with corn starch - there ain't no Heinz in Ecuador) and some truly delicious breakfast buns.

Back at the apartment we put away a full cart of groceries ($200) and had a nice cuppa tea with our friend who drew pictures of the bus routes we could take to get from the apartment to town and back.

Later, left to our own devices, we ventured downtown on the bus to grab a bite to eat and hopefully to pick up a pair of scissors. Shelley was aghast when the 2 vendors at the people's market asked $2 for a pair of scissors and we eventually found a pair for 30 cents that will do the job just fine. Then, walking to the restaurant we passed through the big open air market and the plant/flower vendors and Shelley fell in love with a couple of large plants. After dinner we hailed a taxi and with a small forest drove through town back to the apartment.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

We Have a Home!

Our young friend took us to look at 4 apartments. All were nice in their own way but we looked at one that was just spectacular. It's in a brand new building and has never been occupied; 2 bedrooms, approximately 1200 square feet, hardwood floors, a lot of built-ins, good size balcony off the living room, smaller balcony off the master bedroom and huge picture window overlooking the river; very quiet and absolutely first class. We should be able to get into it with a 1 year lease for just over $400. This about the best Cuenca has to offer for the size of apartment we're looking for. There are high-end suites available for $300 plus $40 to $60 in condo maintenance fees. This one is $320 plus $90 maintenance fee. The high fee is because it's a brand new building and all services (cleaning & security, etc) are contracted out at the present time. They expect to go in-house within the next few months which will reduce the maintenance fee down to about $50 or $60. At the end of the day we would be paying about $40 a month extra to get the best in town. What the heck - 'eh?! We expect to hear back from the owner either tonight or tomorrow morning.

If that one doesn't work out, for a total of $325 we found a very quiet unit with a fantastic outdoor patio. The bedrooms are somewhat small but it's still a lovely place and we would probably end up taking it.

We cannot express how appreciative we are of the help our new young friend is giving us. We're of course paying him, but he's offered to help us get bank accounts, good cuts of meat, set up our utilities and is very modest when we try to talk money with him. We don't think he understands the hugh value that he represents to us. In order to find the apartment he drove around Cuenca looking for suitable looking apartment buildings and then knocked on doors to get the telephone number of the administrator. Apparently, the better buildings hardly ever advertise in the newspaper, relying instead on word of mouth and real estate connections.

We ended up getting the apartment we wanted and met with the owners. They are very nice. He is an older gentlemen who is a Doctor of Philosophy who taught in Chicago and is currently emeritus at the local University. She is an artist. We are not allowed to have a bank account here until we have our residency card so we'll be paying everything in cash for the next 3 months. It means frequent trips to the ATM. We're going to talk to our lawyer to see if she can help us arrange to get a bank account because it would be so much easier. We could then do electronic bill payment, etc. The ATM only allows us to withdraw $500 a day even though we have a larger daily limit.

Tomorrow we sign the final papers and pick up the key and then we get into serious furniture shopping. At this point it looks like we can get a maid to come in once a week for 6 - 8 hours for a complete top to bottom cleaning for $10. It's hard to get someone to come in for only 2 or 3 hours, which is what we really need (they have scheduling problems that way). So, we'll load her up with laundry, ironing, window cleaning etc. Shelley says, "It'll be the cleanest place we've ever lived in!"

Another hard day had us finalizing the paperwork on the apartment and buying furniture and appliances. Our "working day" commenced at 9:00 am and didn't end until 6:30 pm. Again our young Ecuadorian friend was invaluable. We bought a bed & top line mattress ("The best in all of Ecuador, Senor!"), 2 side tables, a foot cabinet for the end of the bed, an entertainment unit, a coffee table & 2 end tables for $1,700. Trudging along, we bought a fridge & stove and Whirlpool washer & dryer for $1,800.

Tomorrow it's all going to be delivered, assembled, hooked up, attached, etc. Plus, curtain/blind people are coming to measure 2 windows in the apartment that do not have coverings. The gas stove people and the curtain people were very concerned that our young friend would be there tomorrow to speak Spanish with them.

We must be having fun but we're too tired to be sure.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Window Shopping & Apartment Hunting

Searching through Cuenca for feather pillows, we finally asked at the Tourist Bureau in the town square (Parque Calderon). They directed us to 2 places: Super Stock and Sukasa. Super Stock provided. The pillows were compressed to about 1/2 inch wide and we were skeptical they would fluff up but at $10 apiece we felt it was worth the chance. They also had quality pots & pans; a five piece set costing around $100. Sukasa has feather pillows but they were all in the $40 range, pre fluffed. They also have dinnerware sets that we thought might be OK. We checked through the Centro Mall near Sukasa for dinnerware as well. Upon arrival at our Hostel the pillows fluffed quite satisfactorily. Brian had a brief moment of ecstasy.

The ex-pat Friday night get together was a disappointment. Shelley ordered a salad for $3.50 and got what could only be described as a designer salad: a bit of lettuce, 4 slices of tomato, a chunk of cheese and an almost transparent thin slice of ham. Most of the people attending were tourists and thus could not provide any meaningful information. One table however, did advise on how to get mail in Ecuador; you need a PO Box. A delightful Brazilian lady married to a US fellow was very helpful but we left with a lot less than we thought we would and were forced to stop at an ice cream parlor for an Oreo sundae.

We've connected with a young fellow here at Macondo who speaks Spanish and will give us a hand looking for an apartment, settling up a bank account, getting internet when the time comes, etc. The lady we used a couple of days ago to look for apartments went on vacation for 3 weeks. We have identified the area we want to live in. If you Google Earth Cuenca, there is a cluster of new highrise apartment buildings in the triangle bounded by Avenida de los Americas y Gran Colombia. We know we can get what we're looking for, for close to $300. The surprise though is that none of the rental units here provide a stove & fridge and buildings do not have a laundromat downstairs as in North America. So we'll have to buy a fridge & stove and washer & dryer. Add another $2,000 or so to the furnishing bill.

We were also astonished at the high cost of internet. To get high speed internet you have to pay about $85 per month! We may connect with a building that has a house wifi system. We'll see.

Lying in bed Shelley whined to Brian that she needed a day off. "We've been going steady since we got here and for a solid month before that. We need a day off!" So, other than going out for an hour's walk we just goofed off all one day. Felt good. We'd been renting DVD's from the Hostel for $1 a movie but discovered we could buy them for $1.50. We went to bed early and watched 2 DVD's on the computer.

The next day it was back to apartment hunting. We looked at 2 apartments with our new young friend, both in the $300 range but neither exactly what we are looking for. We left him with more detailed instructions as to what we wanted and sat in the sun in the main square park for awhile watching the children play and taking pictures of flowers. It's been several years since either of us have had to go through the stresses of looking for a place to live and Shelley in particular seems to find the whole process quite exhausting. "We've got oodles of time" she whined again to Brian. "Why are we rushing around like mad men?"

So far at Macondo we've met an English couple who immigrated to Australia, a Switzerland couple, a Korean lady who now lives in New York and her French friend, a lady from Chicago and several other Americans. Everyone is eager to share their stories and adventures in Ecuador. Everyone agrees Cuenca is one of the best places in South America. Everybody remarks on how inexpensive things are and understand right away when we tell them that is one of the reasons we have moved here.

Another trip to the lawyer to sign another sheaf of papers went well. We asked about the Doctor's certificate and whether it was still required and got an enigmatic answer that the more documentation you could provide, the better off you were. For us, the point was moot since we'd bought and paid for the certificates before finding out that they may not be required, so we just let the inquiry drop.

Brian is still eager to window shop for future household possessions, Shelley is tired of window shopping. "We'll be shopping for real in short order as soon as we get an apartment!" she explained to Brian. We compromised. Brian went for a nap. Shelley went on the computer.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Unlocking Ecuador

Up and at 'em fairly early as we had to go to the Doctor for the HIV and HEP B tests. We arrived at 10:00 am as agreed. At 10:15 a nurse advised us he was running late. There were 5 sets of people waiting for him by then. He arrived at 10:30 and we got into see him just before 11:00. He seems like a very nice guy and he has agreed to be our permanent Doctor. He said that you don't normally make an appointment in Ecuador, you just show up and it's first come first served. He whisked us down the hall to the lab and introduced us to the lab people and they took the blood in quick time (Brian didn't cry) and we'll have the results first thing the next day.

We received an e-mail from a gal shortly after we got home from the Doctor and she says that the health certificate is not required any more. We asked her if this was for the Pensioners' Visa or the Tourist Visa and she said "unbelievable but no residence visa require the health certificate anymore". We're going to talk to our lawyer about it next Monday because we just paid $25 each for the consultation with the Doctor and $25 each for the blood test. The lawyer did warn us that the laws are changing so rapidly it's hard to keep up.

It was still fairly early (before noon) when we finished with the Doctor so we decided we would go to the major mall in Cuenca to check out furniture and bedding. We were not very successful but we did go into one store in the mall that had an absolutely lovely living room grouping that was about $500 more than we have seen so far. They also had recliners (which are very scarce in Ecuador). We were not able to find decent pillows anywhere and now have been told by a couple of folks that it's very difficult to find a nice down filled pillow in Cuenca. We did see them at the big mall in Quito, so maybe at some point in the future we'll travel 6 hours on the bus to Quito to pick up some down pillows :-) Meanwhile, we haven't totally given up hope and we'll keep hunting.

Also we popped into a book store where you can trade English paperback novels and the lady there was a great resource and gave us a couple of names of folks who might assist us in finding an apartment and getting set up with cable, internet, etc. On Friday we'll be going to expat night and should get some more information there as well.

Incidentally, a cab driver told us that July and August are Cuenca's coldest months. We were overjoyed to get that information.

We went out with a real estate lady and saw 3 apartments. One was a duplex, 3 bedrooms, 2 living rooms and maid's quarters for $300 per month! It even had a little back yard but it was just TOO BIG. Brian was disappointed Shelley didn't want it but she just kept telling him she didn't want to live somewhere where everything echoed. Thirteen years on the boat has taught her to appreciate small spaces. Then we looked at a furnished 2 bedroom for $700 but we want to have our own furniture, so then we looked at an unfurnished 2 bedroom for $300 and it was just right (except it didn't have a balcony). The real estate lady was disappointed we didn't take an apartment right off the bat but we told her there wasn't any hurry and we were glad to see that there were apartments in the price range we had heard about and we could afford to wait until we saw just the right one. Guess you could say we're doing a Goldilocks and trying things until it's just right.

Cuenca and all the Ecuador we've seen so far is a vibrant, noisy place. There's music playing at restaurants and blaring out of stalls in markets and people going to and fro in cars and buses and walking. We've come from a large city but perhaps the Canadian reserve subdues everything. The Ecuadorians have a tendency to lump us in with the Americans. It takes some effort to explain Canadians aren't the same. Shelley will list a few points on her fingers and the listener will usually smile or laugh and nod their head "Yes, Canadians are different". When Shelley wears her Canada ball cap walking down the street we can hear murmurs of "Canadiense" behind us. It's noticed. There's big Canadian mining here and some resentment as they'll be despoiling the Amazon Basin but the money it'll bring in is too tempting to turn down.

We don't have a lock on Ecuador and probably won't have even after we've lived here for several years, but we're sure enjoying it.

PS:- Brian's caught Shelley's cold.