Monday, September 29, 2008

More Americans & A New Ecuadorian Constitution

After almost 2 weeks of foul weather it's turned nice again. In fact it's so nice you don't even have to pack a sweater with you when you go out in the morning! For the first time since we've been in Cuenca, Shelley was able to put on one of her summery dresses and not get chilled.

"It's better, I think" Shelley mused to Brian "than being some place where it's always the same temperature. This way you don't get bored."

Brian agreed.

Some last words on the transit buses: Although there are designated bus stops, you can usually flag a bus down just about anywhere by raising your arm to a little over hip level and waggling your fingers just a bit. Brian always lets Shelley on first as the buses often take off before you've got both feet fully in. You have to hang on tight at all times as the buses lurch and stop but beware the dust on the higher hand rails; as most Ecuadorians are quite short, these rails don't get used all that often. There are red buttons near the back door which you can press to get the bus to stop. The doors will swing open well before the bus comes to a full stop and one has to leap out as quickly as possible as it'll take off as soon as it can. Some buses will accept vendors selling anything from CDs to ice cream but a lot have signs now disallowing them. They all belch black diesel exhaust and you'll often see Ecuadorian women downtown with a scarf wrapped over their nose and mouth to keep out the pollution. There's almost always a driver and a conductor (who collects the fares). Sometimes the conductor will want the fare as soon as you walk through the door and sometimes they'll collect it as you're leaving the bus, as well as anytime in between. While there is drama in the cacophony of languages on a Vancouver bus, the computerized fare box & full stop before the doors open can't compare to the adventure in every trip on a Cuenca bus.

We seem to have had a social butterfly week. Brian, who was at one time a radio announcer and seems to be hardwired to be a force in the community, takes it all in stride much better than Shelley.

"It's 'cause I was almost an only child." Shelley tries to explain to Brian.

"Almost an only child?"

We had a couple of beers with a couple from Colorado. They're trying to work through a toss up between Mexico and Ecuador as a retirement destination but were worried, as most of us are, about the recent financial crisis boiling over in the USA. A gentleman from Florida/New York bought us dinner and we reciprocated by inviting him over one afternoon.

"Should I pull my ear like Carol Burnett used to do when I think you're being too gregarious?" Shelley asked Brian.

"What do you mean too gregarious?"

We spent the evening with a couple from Ohio and a couple from Texas/Romania.

"I've talked with more people from the USA during the last 2 months than I have during my entire lifetime" Shelley explained to them.

"They're wonderful, warm, interesting and nice people" she told Brian later, "but they're different than Canadians aren't they?"


We've talked about the American election and 9/11, financial planning and child raising, art and travelling, politics and religion, Google and computers, orphans, food and our misfortune with the mirrors at our apartment. Shelley's pointed out several times that Canada is having a Federal Election too, and essentially the reaction each time was a polite: "Who cares?" Gun control and marijuana, oil and water, trade, forestry, China and Europe have all been touched upon during our cross culture conversations.

Brian remarked to our new found friends that while we have met any number of Americans in Ecuador there haven't been any Republicans. Everybody seems to be for Obama. We have been assured that there's at least one Republican in Ecuador, but he's in his 80's and is quite cranky about the whole thing. We were cautioned not to discuss politics with him should we meet.

Sunday, September 28th was the day Ecuadorians voted on their new Constitution. Every school had a parade of vendors outside to cater to the voters as well as a much larger than usual Policia presence making sure things were orderly. The school across the river from where we live was blocked off to traffic, so people had to walk in. There's been lots of signage and flag waving and booklets being handed out over the course of the last few weeks and everything we've seen has urged the people to vote "si".

We caught a # 8 bus which took us past the Terminal Terrestre to just the beginning of the airport. Then we walked North for a block where there was a huge Home Depot type hardware store called Kywi and a very large SuperMaxi. We were thrilled to find the hardware store which was just like at home. We've been trying to find a hummingbird feeder (it took us a week just to figure out how to ask for one) and an outdoor lounge chair and thought this might just be the place. It wasn't, but still it's good to know it's there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

To Be or Not To Be

"Oh stop it! Stop it. Stop it!" Brian heard Shelley berating the ficus plant once again.

"I'd never been able to grow one in Canada and I always thought it was because of the cold Canadian drafts, but they do the same thing here" she whined.

"Leave the poor thing alone" Brian said "You're scaring it. No wonder it's spitting leaves."

Every morning when we get up there are 5 or 8 leaves lying on the ground. Research on the internet tells us that ficus plants will do this when moved but it's been several weeks now and the poor thing's starting to get bare. Before we moved onto the boat Shelley had something like 170 plants in our home. Most of these were given away to one friend; a small forest rode away from the townhouse in the back of a pickup. Ivy would grow on the boat and for awhile we had a Douglas fir in a pot on the back deck, but Brian's grousing about it spoiling the lines of the boat put an end to that. A small succulent plant grew in the hot wheelhouse and some herbs in the back deck window but that was about it. Having the opportunity to grow plants again had Shelley in a frenzy for awhile, but she's settled down now.

We have several flowering plants on the balcony as well as a couple of succulents and a small cactus garden. Inside is our weeping ficus, an elephant's foot plant, a baby palm, a couple of ferns and some more cactus. It's not overwhelming like the townhouse, just green touches here and there. Brian's a little worried Shelley won't stop but she assures him she's no longer into the work of hundreds of plants.

"That ficus better buck up though, or it's going outside!"
"Quiet, it'll hear you."

We've progressed far enough into our Spanish lessons to find out (to our dismay) that there are actually two forms of the verb "to be" (ser & estar). Estar is used when something is transitional like your location, mood or weight. At this point we're not sure if hair colour is ser or estar and once Shelley started to really think about it she brought up sex change operations and a whole bunch of other things that only confused us even more. This new knowledge has disturbed Brian, not fitting into his conception of the world (to be or not to be). It's been fairly bad weather now for almost 2 weeks, rainy and cold. The occasional morning sun will fool us into thinking we're living at the equator, but by afternoon it's dismal again. So, we're attributing our minor depression at having to learn a jillion new words on the weather and not our laziness or encroaching old age.

Longing for a North American type burger we took a #7 bus, which we picked up at the corner of Solano & Doce de Abril down the stairs from Calle Larga, to the Mall Del Rio. This is not a frivolous drop in as, unless it's a day it's on special, a Whopper Junior costs $4.45 here. The Mall Del Rio is a large modern mall, echoing in it's lack of business, but it does have a Burger King in it's food court.

A couple of weeks ago, we'd asked at Muebles & Complementos (the place where we got our bed and our living room suite) how much it would cost to get a small complimentary table made up for the blank space in our hallway. We talked about height and width and detail work and that perhaps we'd like a couple of small drawers at the bottom. In any case, we were told they'd give us a phone call that afternoon and provide a quote as to how much it would cost to build. That call never came and we didn't pursue it any further. The idea was to look around town and maybe sooner or later the perfect little table would stand in our path. We actually twice admired a cupboard affair by one of the Vegas (a well known artisan family in town) and were only procrastinating until after our pension pay day (maybe). The short of it is, we got a telephone call saying our table was ready. Brian cautioned them we hadn't agreed on a price and if we didn't like the table, we didn't feel obligated (very much) to take it. Fortunately, we did like the table, it was half the price of the Vega cupboard and they threw in a nice cloth runner just because.

We're now pretty much completely stocked up and we have spent our dedicated budget for furnishings and decorations, so the whole thing co-ordinated itself rather nicely. On the way home from viewing our hallway table, Shelley spied a vase, quirky in that it was painted to somewhat look like a chicken. She fell in love and argued with herself and Brian about it.

"It'd look perfect on the new table. Please tell me I'm not being wanton."

Tripping down the side walk, new chicken vase carefully wrapped in a foam material and heavily taped, Shelley once again fell to the ground, the unmistakable sound of breaking porcelain accompanying her "Oh No!"

"I know it's irrational but I'm mad at you" she told Brian.
"You're right, it's irrational. What'd I do?! Accidents happen. Don't feel bad."
"You could have stopped me from buying it. You could have caught me when I fell. You could have carried the package."

Shelley mumbled under her breath, enumerating her irrational thoughts as they walked down the street until Brian stopped her and gave her a big hug, "Oh, OK, I forgive you" she said.

Brian looked bemused.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To Frame or not to Frame

As Shelley had put together about 1/4 of the pictures on her floor, wall, ceiling collage project and ended up not liking the way it was turning out, we headed downtown to get 54 pictures of Cuenca doors developed (total cost $12.23, time commitment 15 minutes). Brian, who had thought the doors would be better for the project in the first place, very wisely kept his tongue when she told him this was what she now wanted to do. She watched his face closely and he didn't even twitch. There was much whispering and hilarity at the store where we got the pictures developed. While we can't say for sure they were laughing at the crazy gringos, it does seem likely. "First pictures of floors and walls, now doors?!"

"Remember when you'd take in your roll of film in and it'd be 2 weeks before you'd get it back?" Shelley asked Brian.

Our reading supply was starting to dwindle so we made a special effort to go to cb Carolina Bookstore at Hermano Miguel 4-46 y Calle Larga where they have a stupendous collection of second hand books in English. If you trade in your books for credit, they'll give you $2 per book. The couple who runs the store have been in Cuenca for four years and are happy to chat about their experiences and listen to yours. The location they'd been in previously had had a fire and they still had several books with water damage that they were selling for $2 apiece. We bought 5.

Since we were in the neighbourhood we dropped into ExPat night once again and this time met a lady from Colorado, a man from San Francisco and a couple from South Carolina plus a few of the people we'd met before. We only stayed for one drink because the weather was absolutely awful (cold, raining with a thunder and lightning storm) and Shelley only had to put her icy little hands on Brian's cheek for him to get the idea we should head out. We'd been planning on attending a free concert downtown but vetoed the idea due to the conditions. The couple from Florida asked to be reassured several times that the weather in Cuenca wasn't always like this. Now that we're old hands at the Cuenca weather thing, we assured them "next month" it would be much better.

The next morning dawned bright, beautiful & warm and we ate our breakfast out on the balcony. (Who can tell?)

A large piece of cardboard covered with Cuenca doors in hand, we headed downtown to our nemesis framer willing to give him one more chance to redeem himself before we sought another. On the way, we stopped again at the Carolina Bookstore and displayed our project. The owners were appropriately impressed. "You could sell those!" During the course of our conversation we mentioned we were taking the project to a place where we'd been disappointed in the past. It was determined this was the framer they also used and they asked what the problem was.

"Oh, you know" Brian told them. "They tell you to pick it up on Saturday and when you go there it's not ready."

They smiled and gently scoffed at us. "That's normal!"

After visiting the framer and enduring the multiple interruptions and general confusion of getting across what we wanted, we decided to take another bus ride to its terminus. We hopped on the # 14 bus headed south east and immediately felt perhaps we'd made a mistake as the bus was packed, standing room only. "Oh look! A chicken" Shelley pointed out to Brian. Carefully wrapped in a bag with only it's head out, the chicken seemed quite content and not at all bothered by the general hub bub. Brian gave Shelley his wallet to put in her travel purse (designed to be very hard to pick pocket - we've learned our lesson) and we squeezed in with the populace and slowly were pushed to the middle of the bus until we got a seat. We were on the bus a total of 2 hours and ended up at a barrio (neighbourhood) called El Valle. Very country, with a narrow dirt road that the bus driver's conductor had to jump out and wave him over humps from time to time, we enjoyed the scenery which included all manner of beasts (horses, cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, a ram, dogs). At one point we had to pay an extra nickel (a surcharge for going past a certain point?) and at the turn-around we had to pay the fare over again ($0.25). For a total of $1.10 for both of us, it was, as Brian told the bus driver when we disembarked, "a bueno diversion".

We're now out of excuses and have decided that we have to get serious about learning Spanish. Brian seems to have a much greater grasp and ability to pick up the language than Shelley does, but Brian has a much greater grasp of French than Shelley also. Every Canadian school child takes French for at least 4 or 5 years. Fifty years later, Brian can still rattle off a sentence or two in French, whereas Shelley is lucky to be able to count up to 10. We're studying Spanish an hour a day, every day for the next little while. Thirty to forty minutes into the hour, we're both exhausted and checking the time. Hopefully it'll get easier. In our first lesson we've mastered (well Brian has) the present tense of the verb "to be" (ser).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brian Likes the View

For cleavage perhaps the best place in Ecuador is Guayaquil, although we haven't been in to the Northern Coast but Cuenca seems to excel in the skin tight blue jeans and high heels with pointed toes department. The women are graceful in their heels, not clopping along as some do, but seemly comfortable, elegant and light footed. They start young so they've had years to perfect the dance. At any sort of event the gringos seem almost shabby in their comfortable, very casual clothes. Ecuadorian men regularly wear suits and the women are elegant in pant suits and light sweater sets. Shelley's a little worried about buying clothes when the need arises as most of the stores seem to cater to women years younger and the alternative is dressy casual. We're also concerned about pants or jeans for Brian. He's 6'2" and not many Ecuadorians are that height. One can always get clothes custom made for a very reasonable price but we'll check out bigger shops in Guayaquil or Quito before we go that route, although Brian's eyeing a custom made leather jacket.

The weather's been bleak the last four days, raining most of the day and cold. There seems to be a huge controversy over when the weather is best in Cuenca. One lady said that in each of the 6 months she's lived here, she's been told the weather gets better "next month". Normally, each day brings you sunny patches where you feel the heat of the equator sun, but we seem to be going through a rough patch. We were previously assured that the winds die down in September and it gets warmer but at this point we're wondering which September they were talking about. This is not to say we're unhappy with our decision to settle in Cuenca. To live somewhere where you require neither air conditioning nor a central heating system is a wonder! We only have to tell native "cuencanos" (yes; small c) that we come from Canada and they seem to understand why we don't complain. It may be however, that like many unfamiliar with Canada, they think we all live near polar bears in igloos.

Shelley got her hair cut the other day. We carefully looked up the Spanish words for "short here, longer there" and armed with our dictionary went to the salon she'd visited during our vacation. During the course of the hair cut the stylist told another customer we were Americans and Shelley quickly set her to right saying, "No Americana! Canadiense!" She did it with such feeling that the hairdresser laughed and laughed and patted her on the shoulder. Brian in the interim got into a conversation with a German Expat who's been in Ecuador since the 80's. He owns one of the many ice cream palaces in Cuenca and lamented that when he'd first opened the place he'd had to carry the money away in sacks. These days with 18 other similar establishment having opened in the downtown area, "It makes a good living but not like before".

If you notice Planet Irony becoming somewhat erratic in the next few posts, please be advised WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF NICORETTES! We brought with us 4 boxes which has lasted us 8+ weeks. We thoroughly discussed weaning ourselves when we got down to the last box and both of us heartily agreed that didn't seem like any fun whatsoever. We now have 2 sheets of Nicorettes left and are happily chewing our way to our Nicorette-less life. Brian says he's overjoyed they're almost gone as the way Shelley chews gum annoys the heck out of him. Shelley's looking forward to a unaddicted life style. Since we can't find Nicorettes in Ecuador we have desultorily discussed perhaps looking for patches but so far we haven't. We'll see what happens when the crunch comes! A nice couple who reads our blog offered to bring us Nicorettes when they visit Cuenca in October. We thanked them for their thoughtfulness but declined. Aren't you all proud of us!?

Shelley, always one to find a project when none exists, is now dragging Brian around Cuenca taking pictures of floors, walls and ceilings. "I'm going to paste them all like a collage on a big piece of cardboard and then get it framed" she excitedly explains to Brian. "It'll look neat and fill in that spot on the wall in the apartment just in front of the door."

"Why not use the pictures of doors you're taking?" Brian asks.

"Oh you silly" Shelley scoffs "that wouldn't work."

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Athens of Ecuador

La Bienal Internacional de Cuenca invita a Ud(s) a la apertura de la muestra de la artista rumana Liza Wheeler en la que se realizara la donacion del Mosaico "El Primer Paso", para el Hogar Infatil Tadeo Torres, el miercoles 10 de septiembre de 2008 a partir de las 11h00.

Up bright an early, we ventured downtown to look at the fabulous mosaics of Liza Gafitanu Wheeler and actually got an opportunity to talk to the artist and her husband (who works on the mosaics with her). They were fascinating people and told us "they'd never met a Canadian they didn't like". She's originally from Romania and he's from Texas. She'd done a mosaic and donated it and the show was to honour that act. They explained to us that a smaller piece takes about 3 months to complete and the larger ones 6 months. The work involved is intense and they told us it was only possible to keep up concentration for about 2 hours before they needed a break. We asked them how they ended up in Cuenca and they told us that Cuenca was the art centre of Ecuador: "It's the Athens of Ecuador." You can check out their work on their website at

Going to the exhibit was the best thing we could have done after our Mirror Mirror fiasco. Leaving it we felt lighthearted and good about Ecuador and Cuenca again. We also had an opportunity to talk to a few of the people we'd previously met at ExPat night. We wandered downtown Cuenca and had a cappuccino and congratulated ourselves on the good fortune of ending up here.

Having decided we need to expand our horizons a bit in regard to our new City, we hopped on one of our regular buses (#28) going in the opposite direction than we usually take it, and rode around on it's route for 2 hours. We ended up way past the Terminal Terrestre and the airport right at the edge of no buildings at the end of town, where we had to get off the bus because the driver was going to lunch. Incidentally, he spoke pretty good English! There was a number 28 just getting ready to leave at the same turn-around and we hopped on it and did the return trip. It seems to do a figure 8 through downtown twice and out past the airport and the army base the one way, and beyond Coral Central and SuperStock the other. It was a pretty interesting way to spend 2 hours and we're planning on doing it with several other buses. There is apparently no bus route map for the City. We were told at the tourist bureau they were planning on issuing one, but to not hold our breath waiting for it's publication.

As Brian's watch was loosing about 10 minutes a day and despite the fact that we now live in Ecuador (time has less meaning), we decided to venture out and get him a new one. We once again encountered the phenomena: any other time you're walking down the street you can see a watch outlet every 4 stores except when you're specifically looking for one. This phenomena seems to work with internet outlets as well. In any case, we finally discovered a few but could not find a watch with an expansion bracelet. After looking in at least 5 places, we finally settled for a regular buckle watch for $15. This is not a wonderful Ecuador deal as Brian's last watch cost us $12 at MetroTown in Burnaby.

Stopping off at Cafe Lojano (El Tostador) at Sucre 10-20 y Padre Aguirre we bought a couple of pounds of coffee. We've been buying our coffee at SuperMaxi but kept meaning to try the coffee here. It was $2.30 a pound (cheaper than SuperMaxi) and absolutely wonderful! The woman who works in the tiny shop is very friendly, asked us where we were from, was very patient with our poor Spanish and we'll definitely go back.

We finally got around to going to the Museo Municipal De Arte Moderno and we highly recommend it. It's a warren of rooms with modern art from many artists in Ecuador and elsewhere. It's free and it's fascinating both inside and out. At the square right beside the museum there was an outdoor venue of young artists singing and dancing their hearts out. We sat down on a bench in the park and really enjoyed ourselves for a few tunes. Later on, we walked up to the top of the Av. de las Americas and along that major street for awhile, past the Catholic College so Shelley could get a picture of its spire and then down Luis Cordero to the middle of town where after basically 3 hours of wandering we felt we deserved a piece of cheese cake and a cappuccino. On our walking days, we're trying to set out in a different direction from our apartment in order to discover our neighbourhood. If you're in a car, you don't stumble upon that perfect little artisan shop or tiny cafe like you do if you're walking and let's face it, we need the exercise.

At the Tourist Bureau in the square in the middle of town you can pick up a Cultural Agenda for each month. It's in Spanish but at this point we can usually cobble our way through things. On Sunday we went to: Musica, arte y tradicion>>Presentacion del Duo Renacer in the gazebo in the middle of town. It was put on by the City of Cuenca and the Association of Professional Artists of Azuay (the Province that Cuenca is in) and was lively, entertaining and the guitar playing was astonishing. We really enjoyed ourselves. We picked up the agenda because we want to see the Cuenca Symphony. At the tourist center we inquired where we could buy a seasons pass, only to be told it's free! Concerts are usually held in the old cathedral in the square.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Our young friend finally phoned us back about our bathroom mirror problem around 9:30 that night. We explained the whole thing to him and asked if he'd call the Administrator of the building to see if she would recommend someone to come in and rectify the situation. He promised he would first thing in the morning.

The next morning Brian noticed the Administrator in the hallway talking to a neighbour about a recent theft in the building (yet another sad story). He prepared himself by looking several things up in the dictionary and then went into the hallway to talk to her. (Shelley hid.) The Administrator was properly anguished over our travails and said she'd be happy to recommend someone to our translator when he gave her a call. A couple of hours later our friend phoned to advise that a workman would be over at 3:00 p.m.

We went for a long walk and tried to get some lightheartedness back.
We almost succeeded.

At 3:15 we both had the "this is Ecuador" conversation yet again. Shelley reminded Brian that in Canada if you called the cable guy all they would promise was to be at your home a certain day. "At least here, there's an hour you can start getting anxious at" she said trying to Pollyanna her way out of their mood.

At 3:30 the workman arrived and we quickly established he had no English skills whatsoever. Brian followed him around, his trusty dictionary in hand, and they seemed to communicate quite well. (Shelley hid.) The workman advised it would cost $18 to correct the situation in the bathroom and Brian offered him $30 if he'd also hang the mirror in the other bathroom. The workman was glad to comply.

After much pounding and chipping and looking up words in the dictionary, the job was done. Shelley commenced cleaning up in the one bathroom as they started on the next. Before she'd finished mopping the floor the second bathroom was done and there was much thanking and gracias-ing going on. It was all Shelley could do not to give the young man a hug. Their problems were solved.

The workman gave us his job telephone number and indicated should there be any problems not to hesitate to give him a call. We saw him to the door and Shelley went back to mopping out the first bathroom. "There'll be no problems" Shelley heard Brian tell the workman in English as he saw him down the hall and closed the door. He walked to the bathroom where Shelley was mopping and asked if she was almost done. "I'll have to clean up the other bathroom too!" she exclaimed to him and he quickly left the room to go inspect the handiwork.

"Oh no!" she heard him exclaim, not for the first time in the last couple of days, and watched him tear past the bathroom where she was mopping and open the front door of the apartment where the workman was standing with his fist up getting ready to knock on the door.

Despite careful measuring in the second bathroom, the workman had managed to hit the cold water pipe there as well. Water was gracefully arching out making a fine mess in the concrete dust not yet cleaned up. Brian tore to the hallway to shut down the water and Shelley shook her head and resumed cleaning.

Brian and the workman chatted amiably each in their own language while he chipped and sawed and did what he had to do to repair the leak. It turns out the pipes aren't copper but PVC. After waiting for the glue to dry, once again the workman told Brian it was OK to turn the water on and this time he gave us his home telephone number in case anything went wrong. Shelley (muttering to herself) started work, cleaning up the 2nd bathroom which was much worse as the cement dust and tile chunks were mixed with the water that had gushed from the wall. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Brian asked with trepidation in his voice.

"Just stick around and I'll let you know."

At 6:44 we sat down to the write this blog.

Sometime later, Shelley was in the bathroom alone and shouted "Oh no!" Brian came rushing in expecting to see water cascading out of the wall. "What is it?" he asked.

For the first time in 13 years, as the boat had only face mirrors, Shelley could see her whole body. Brian told her she was "silly", that she was as beautiful as the day they'd met. Shelley knew he was lying but gracefully accepted the compliment anyways.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Oh, No!

"I can't watch. It's too scary" Shelley told Brian as she slunk off to another room. We'd picked up our bathroom mirrors at the store and Brian was about to install them. Cringing in the front room Shelley listened to the sound of the drill digging into the cement. She was worried about the mirrors dropping and breaking, Brian was worried about cracking one of the tiles when we drove the hole. Both of them should have been worried about something else.

"Oh no! Oh no!" she heard Brian wail.

Shelley scurried into the bathroom to see a pencil size stream of water cascading from the wall. Brian tore out into the building hallway to shut off the water while Shelley played little dutch boy with her index finger.

We put in a call to our young friend. We needed him to phone the administrator of the building and explain what had gone on and arrange to get a repairman in to fix the piping as well as install the mirrors. They'll have to remove at least 2 of the bathroom tiles to get at the pipes. Our young friend was, of course, not available and did not answer his phone.

"Will we have to retile the whole bathroom?" Shelley anxiously asked Brian.

"Oh no" he assured her "these tiles are common."

Shelley cleaned up the bathroom, mopping water from the doors & the walls & the floor & the cupboard, anxiously waiting for the phone to ring, wanting desperately to start to take care of the problem N-O-W!

Inaction forced on them, having had no phone call back from their Spanish speaking friend by the time business hours were over, Brian filled up a bucket with hot water to flush one of the toilets and Shelley made supper. "At least we can wash the dishes" Shelley tried to find good in the bad. "Are you mad at me?" Brian asked.

"Oh no."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yin & Yang

After having the camera stolen and having to buy a new one, it somehow put the brakes on Shelley's desire to spend money. We're pretty much stocked up anyways, with wants rather than needs coming up in the spending department, so it all co-ordinated. "It just took the heart out of me for awhile" Shelley explained to Brian. "I want to live on our budget and see how much we really spend each month; get an idea of how much we'll be able to save." The idea is to save enough each year to be able to take a fabulous holiday (to Holland to see Jan, to Canada to see the kids, to Galapagos to see the penguins). We'd talked about taking a small holiday to the coast or Vilcabamba but she even put a kibosh on that. "I just want to be for awhile, get used to the place, live day to day." Brian was curious but ultimately agreed.

It has been suggested to us that Ecuador is not a country of true poverty because food is plentiful and easy to grow. There are 3 major People's Markets in Cuenca where you can buy anything from clothes to kitchen utensils to puppies and all of them have a huge fruits & vegetable market. We can usually buy enough fruit to feed us breakfast for a week for about $3.50. We've been told it's OK to buy chicken at the People's Market because Ecuadorians eat so much chicken "It'll be fresh" but were cautioned to get our beef at SuperMaxi or one of the upscale meat markets. Buns and bread can be purchased just about anywhere (bakeries abound) and we can get enough flaky buns for the 2 of us for breakfast for a week for about $2.85.

"Don't think that all the indigenous people are poor" we were told. "They've usually got 1 or 2 members of their family working in the United States and sending back money. Some of them live in huge houses (!) on the outskirts of town." You do see more people on the street with infirmities than you see in Canada; legs missing, blind people, withered arms. This may be because they don't have a good welfare system like they do in Canada; we don't know.

Cuenca is noted to be a city with less thievery than Guayaquil or Quito. We did spend almost 2 months here before we had an incident. In Vancouver, several years ago, we had our car stolen. It happens everywhere. The women who stole our camera were not indigenous and were not poorly dressed. They had bags with fruit from the market that they indignantly opened to show us. There is some "all gringos are rich" attitude and therefore sinless prey. We are fairly careful not to flaunt by wearing jewelry and such things. We've come to this country because our retirement income will stretch farther (among other reasons). We will not be a burden on any economic systems within Ecuador and can only help by spending our dollars but we're sadly more aware now and will take even better care.


Friday night took us to ExPat night yet again. We met a journalist that sells real estate, a lady from France/Africa and another woman from Vermont. "How come everybody we meet here has just arrived or only been in Cuenca a few months?" Brian asked. We discussed the weather: "If I'm going to live on the equator, I want to be some place warmer" one woman commented. Dressing for Cuenca: "I've bought 3 sweaters from the market near the church in the middle of town, one for evening, a light one for afternoons and a medium one for mornings. That does the trick!" Shelley advised. Lawyers: "Hire a lawyer from Quito not Cuenca. They get the job done much faster" we were told. We also talked about herbal medicine, the pros and cons of taking altitude pills, the radio business and were given a card to see a display of mosaics done by a local artist (Liza Wheeler).

Since we've been back in Ecuador Shelley's been taking pictures of doors. Ecuadorians seem to have a high door pride and fabulous carved wooden doors and intricate metals door abound. All the door pictures (about 40), except for a few placed on the blog, were lost with the camera. Sunday we set out to downtown Cuenca specifically to try and recreate some of the pictures. When we finally get internet at home again, the door pictures will be placed in an album in Facebook. We had a good day and got about 20 door pictures and ended up in a part of Cuenca we'd never been before. Wandering down the street 3 teenage boys came up to us and begged for money. Brian said "no" and one of the boys yelled at us. Simultaneously we both shouted back "NO!" The teenager looked for shocked for a minute, then laughed out loud and waved his 2 friend away. We watched them swagger down the street for awhile and noticed that a security guard had come out of one of the buildings wondering what was going on. "I was scared there for a second" Shelley commented to Brian.

When we came for our holiday previously, we both suffered from diarrhea several times during our 2 months here. Since returning neither one of us has had a bout. We think this is because during our holiday we drank fresh squeezed fruit juice just about every day. In the better establishments they use bottled water to supplement the juice but some places obviously use tap water. Since returning and getting our apartment, we've been making our own juice using bottle water. We've recently, however, started to brush our teeth using tap water as we've been told this is the beginning of the process to get used to the water. So far so good!

Another advantage to being in an apartment rather than on the boat is the cooking facilities. The boat had an ornery diesel stove and we supplemented that with a one burner hot plate and a microwave. We've gotten into the habit over the years of cooking a large meal and and then eating it for 2 or 3 days. This habit continues to do us in good stead but having 4 burners and an oven that doesn't belch diesel smoke when you light it is a wonder! Even Shelley, never noted for her love of cooking, has made lasagna and stuffed cannelloni. "It's so easy when you've got the room."

Shelley continues to have bouts of homesickness. People ask her if she misses Vancouver and her reply is always "No, it's the kids." Her children are both grown, living on their own, and quite self sufficient so she never dreamed being so far away from them would be so hard. We're hoping when we get internet at home at the end of September that it'll ease the problem. "The little rats, all they ever did was ask for money or make me feel guilty" she jokingly muses. "Perhaps I'm missing the guilt?"

Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting our Goat!

We tried mailing out several post cards, leaving them at a mail box at an artisan's shop, but 6 weeks later no one has acknowledged receipt. Recently we've mailed off a letter to one of the kids sending it directly from the post office. This is an experiment to see if this technique works better.

After 13 years on a boat, living in a 2 bedroom apartment opens up vistas to us that were heretofore denied. We have the true luxury of having a bath from time to time. When we first moved onto the boat, we'd borrow a bath from one of the kids or a friend on occasion, but having to face someone with how wonderful their bathtub was took quite a bit of the fun out of it. After awhile we stopped borrowing and lived with our tiny shower. Lying in a hot tub of water, not rushed, not having to face an audience when you're done is marvelous! Shelley's not enamored with the amount of housekeeping required compared to the boat, but if you add sanding and painting to the boat's maintenance, the housekeeping graph for the apartment goes way down. We still have the option of getting a housekeeper but haven't looked into that yet. Having room to keep your clothes in and walls to hang pictures on and several kitchen cupboards for storage and small kitchen appliances is a treat, but we both miss the close ambience of the boat; that tight, dark, cozy, calm.

Our days have now taken on something of a routine: Brian gets up and has a cup of coffee and watches TV while Shelley snoozes. When Shelley gets up, we both have a leisurely cup of coffee and then a shower and then our breakfast of Ecuadorian buns, Ecuadorian cheese, mora (blackberry) jam and fresh fruit. Around 10:30 or 11:00 we set off on our daily chore: doing internet, picking up food, going to the Post Office, searching for that elusive detail for the apartment, etc. Back at the apartment around 1:00 or 2:00, Brian has his nap and Shelley reads in the sun (if it's out). Then it's time to think about supper. After the frenzy of the last 6 months, it feels good!

There are no Ecuadorian wines that we've found. We were surprised that wine is about the same price as in Canada and we were told, when we asked about it, that it's because it's all imported; Ecuador has no real seasons and grapes require seasons. Most of the wine we've been getting is from Chile. Apparently in certain areas of Chile they do have seasons. They sell eating grapes, at a very reasonable price, in the People's Markets though(?)

It'd been almost 6 weeks since we talked to our lawyer and we gave her a call. We were told that our papers were still in Quito and it was a matter of them getting to the top of the pile. "Call back in 2 weeks; there's no panic" we were advised. We'd asked the lawyer if there was any reason why we shouldn't get set up here and spent vast amounts of money and she assured us it was OK. It'll feel better, however, when we get our residency papers.

We got a notice from SuperMaxi that a certain amount of money from our grocery shopping is tax deductible. As all of our income will be coming from Canada, we won't be paying taxes here (15% in Canada - they have a tax treaty with Ecuador) but we were curious and got the following information: staple food, rent and education is all deductible from taxes in Ecuador. "Way to go!" we thought.

Walking through a crowded People's Market, two women aggressively bumped into Brian and Shelley shouted ahead to him: "Check your wallet!" A few minutes later the same two women bumped into Brian again. He was concentrating on his wallet but seconds later noticed the camera on his belt was missing. He immediately turned around and grabbed the women, who were only a few feet away. They acted very indignant and opened their shopping bags while a security guard looked on impassively. There was nothing else we felt we could do. A man standing a few feet away said in English, "Be careful!" We walked away with that sick feeling you get when you are violated, came home, vented in the blog and then went out to buy a new camera.

Damn them, to make us feel this way. Damn them!

During our search downtown for a new camera, Shelley noticed she'd lost her electronic Spanish/English translator. We don't think this was stolen, we believe it fell out of her pocket. It's the second time it's done that. Cameras were surprisingly expensive, ranging from $140 to $800 with most in the $400-$500 range. It's obvious the regular people in Ecuador do not take pictures as $500 would represent a couple of months wages. We settled on a Canon as that's what we had before, but for the cost it's not as good as our previous one (which was a gift). We've noticed that electronics cost more in Ecuador. All in all, it was not a good day. It started to rain pretty heavily when we were downtown and we decided to go home and brood.

Over that intense sick feeling by the time morning came, we both had a bad night replaying the incident over and over in our minds and cursing the thieves. "It's that, it's not going to happen to me thing" Shelley commented to Brian over coffee. We'd received warnings about being extra careful if someone bumped into you and should have twigged to what was happening faster. "We should have insisted the security guard do a search" Brian moaned. "It's just so foreign to us. We're too polite."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Prince Carlos

Not without a struggle, did we pick up our 11 pictures at the framers. The "worker" was not there and they could not find one of the pictures. Two of the pictures didn't have a hanger on them and when they went to fix that problem, they broke the glass in one of the frames. The large picture of False Creek Harbour we had had mounted, was flipped up a little on one of the corners and this they glued immediately. Several desperate telephone calls later we were advised that the "worker" was on his way in.

We went for a coffee.

On our return, we were told (at this point they began to speak a little English to us) that the "worker" was here and we heard a flurry of tap, tap, tapping in the upstairs workroom. Triumphantly, the "worker" came down the stairs with our broken glass fixed and the missing picture in his hands. We were all very happy! Anxiously, the owner offered us 5 tiny water paintings of Ecuador. On the way out, Shelley asked Brian if they'd come back to get the tiny water paintings framed.

Brian's replied, "No way!"

At home again there was a flurry of drilling, washing of floors to remove cement dust, and general chaos. Shelley bumped into one of the newly hung pictures and broke the corner of the frame. The False Creek picture deposited black paint from the mounting all over the wall. Our secretary's chair, pushed aside to make room to hang one set of pictures, made another series of black marks all over another wall. We thought the drill was broken at one point, but it only turned out that the brand new extension cord we'd purchased was defective.

All in all, we've had enough of framing and hanging pictures for awhile.

So far we haven't had any luck with beef in Ecuador. Brian tried filet mignon for $4.50 at a couple of restaurants (bad idea) and someone suggested we buy the long piece of meat that sort of looks like tongue at SuperMaxi. "It's the best part of the beef" we were assured. It's not. We were told before that they don't teach butchering here like they do in the States and Canada. They just cut the meat any old which way and call it whatever they feel like. We have been assured that if you go to a real good restaurant and pay North American prices you can get a good cut of meat, but we haven't done that. Some one else told us they butcher cows for beef as well. Cows are not tender. We're supposing cows means something different than beef cattle. In any case, we have half a long piece of meat that we'll cut up into cubes and stew. That'll teach it!

Back at SuperMaxi we found another long piece of meat that sort of looks like tongue for $19.00. This must be what our informant was talking about. We didn't purchase it this time (we have a whole bunch of stew meat we have to eat) but we will try this in due course.

We spent a couple of hours busing around Cuenca looking for a slow cooker (cocina lenta) and finally found one at SuperStock. It's enormous! We can feed ourselves for a week if we get this thing topped up. Something we still haven't been able to find is a Chinese Wok. We saw an electric one but they never get hot enough. Brian's a bit excited about cooking Chinese because we have a gas stove and it's really the only way to Wok cook and get it hot enough. The problem will be getting Chinese sauces and spices. There are numerous Chifa's (Chinese Restaurants) around Cuenca so there must be a place to get ingredients unless they order them direct from China.

Coming from Vancouver where there's so much diversity, it sure is different being the minority here. We'll catch some of the elder indigenous women subtly staring and Shelley'll give 'em a big smile and they always shyly smile back. There's a few Asian people but so far we haven't seen any East Indians. We're almost always the only North Americans riding the bus. The other North Americans we meet always subtly probe trying to find out how poor we are because we don't have a car and don't have any intention of getting one. If we got around Vancouver just fine without a car, getting around here with the wonderful bus service they have is a piece of cake.

Our young friend and his girlfriend came over for dinner and we served them Brian's special spaghetti. The spaghetti we've had here so far doesn't have a tomato sauce and almost nothing is as spicy as Brian makes it. We talked about the differences between Canada and Ecuador. At one point they asked about Prince Charles but said Prince Carlos and there was a moment or two of confusion. They dutifully admired the new everything in the apartment and brought us a pansy as a house warming gift. It was a pleasant evening and we were teased that when dinner was reciprocated that we'd be served cuy (guinea pig).