Saturday, March 28, 2009

Of Mice and Men

The day after we returned from our holiday, Shelley was brushing Fredi and noticed a lump. She at first thought it was matted hair but on closer inspection decided it was some kind of burr. She worked the mass out and was surprised to see blood on one finger and a tic on the other. "Eeeek!" We had dosed Fredi with medication that was suppose to suppress fleas & tics but we guess this one was particularly hardy.

Later on in the day Brian asked why Fredi was rubbing her rear end. Once again, upon closer inspection, we got a big surprise. It looks like Fredi is in heat! We'd already talked about going to the Vet and insisting Fredi be spayed at 5 months rather than after her first heat. We'd talked to several people and looked on line and felt this was the best thing to do. However, Fredi may have fooled us. She won't even be 5 months old until April 8th, but we guess the stress of our holiday may have brought it on? In any case, insisting to our Vet that she do an operation she wasn't comfortable with until after Fredi's heat, has now perhaps become a moot point. That's that "best laid plans of mice & men thing" isn't it? We'll be taking her to the Vet soon and we'll see what she says.

Getting back into routine was a bit of a surprise. We had 10,456 (exaggeration) things to take care of on the computer front & our Spanish lesson didn't go as smoothly as usual. It's not possible we really forgot everything by taking 10 days off, is it? We ended up spending way more money than the usual amount when we went grocery shopping too. Brian pretended to have a heart attack at the cash register and the pretty girl behind the counter giggled pleasingly. We've noted that our grocery bill has gone up since they've implemented the 35% import duty tax but this trip was ridiculous.

We ended up taking Fredi to the Vet ($5 for the visit) because we wanted to know if in fact she'd gone into early heat. The Vet confirmed this is what was going on and advised that first heat at 4 1/2 months was unusual but not unheard of. Since we've now missed the opportunity to have her spayed before her first heat, the Vet is now suggesting we wait until she's about a year old. This is all very confusing to us since in North America they are quite adamant about doing it around 6 months (presumably before first heat). Our regular Vet had the day off, so we decided to defer any decision until next time Fredi needs a hair cut and then we'll discuss it with her at that time.

We went downtown to the Post Office to pick up the income tax papers Shelley's daughter had mailed to us on March 8th. It's been almost 3 weeks so we thought the papers should be here by now. They weren't. Shelley had steeled herself to spend the weekend computing so it was a minor irritation the package hadn't arrived yet. We've overpaid our taxes for 2008 so if we're late filing there'll be no penalty but at this point Shelley just wants to get it done and out of the way. There's strong contention that doing our income tax is right up there on the hate list with Brian's teeth (you have to had read past blogs to understand this sentence). We're definitely having a Mice & Men week.

By the way, we ran into the contractor for the building in the elevator the other day (he lives in the building) and mentioned to him that no one had come up to repair the hole in our kitchen ceiling as had been arranged. He looked properly surprised and said he'd call someone and then set up another appointment with us. This was, of course, now 3 days ago and so far we haven't heard anything.

There's a group of about a dozen kids with what looks like the equivalent of an Ecuadorian Scout leader on the little island in the middle of the river across from our apartment. They've got 3 small camp fires burning and they're roasting something (cuy?) and seem to be having a ball. We're constantly taking pictures through our front room window because there seems to be a fair amount of action that takes places right outside our apartment building. It's probably because of the island & there's also a good place to wash clothes.

When we lived on our boat it didn't take us long to discover there was a "3 year rule". You weren't officially a boat person until you had passed your third anniversary as a live-aboard. The first year was the honeymoon year, the next the disillusion year and the third year most people sold the boat. Once we'd passed our 3rd year on board, when we'd meet new boat people and they'd ask how long we'd been a live-aboard, the reception we'd receive would be much friendlier and we'd get better advice, etc. After we'd passed our 10th anniversary, we were obviously old hands and there was a modicum of respect handed to us by the community at that point. We've conjectured that there might be some of the same rules for ExPats. Very few of the people that attend ExPat night have done their 3 years and the few ExPats you meet who have passed that anniversary definitely exude a seniority vibe.

Shelley's currently reading a book called "ExPat", edited by Christina Henry de Tessan which is a collection of essays written by women ExPats in various parts of the world. The book was lent to her by a fellow Canadian ExPat and she finds herself welling up from time to time while reading the various stories. There seems to be a thread throughout the collection that ExPats ultimately feel like an outsider. "Life in a foreign country is a dance of submission and resistance. Self-knowledge comes in small repeated shocks as you find yourself giving in easily, with a struggle, or not at all." This is not to say there aren't a multitude of reasons offsetting the negative. Certainly we missed our kids and there are petty annoyances but perhaps living on a boat taught us about coping with being outsiders, even within our birth country. We still have our counter going and it tells us we've now been in Ecuador 247+ days. Being around so many Americans has certainly taught us a finer appreciation of our Canadian heritage. In any case, we'll have to see how our attitudes adjust and how attitudes change towards us as we creep towards 1,095 days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Puppy Pajama Party

Before heading home to Cuenca, we ventured up the coast to Montanita to stay with some friends of ours for a couple of days. They have a puppy too and Coco and Fredi are the best of pals. They invited us into their lovely home (Brian calls it Happy Acres) and showed us around Montanita & the surrounding area. Unfortunately, they too felt compelled to stuff us full of food so Shelley's plan to get rid of a couple of pounds while away from the fridge didn't work.

Montanita is like a movie set. There's a central area in town that's full of thatched roof buildings & surf shops. Bikini babes & six pack abs waltz down the street advertising carefree youth. Our hosts tried hard to get us to understand that come the weekend like Salinas, the population doubles and doubles again. But whereas Salinas is a "family" resort, Montanita is all about youth!

Vancouver, though on the ocean, has no surf because Vancouver Island is in the way. Salinas has no surf because it's in a cove. However, Montanita is famous in the surfing set & they are drawn to the place in droves. The surfing culture pervades the small town.

On our of our drives around the area we were shown a Catholic school designed to look like Noah's Arc perched on top of an incredibly high sandstone cliff that is slowly being eroded away by the relentless energy of the wind & waves. Already parts of the building itself have fallen off and the whole thing looks like it could slide into the sea at any moment. Brian has discovered that he has a new found fear of hights and refused to get out of the car to look over the cliff down to the ocean. Shelley refrained from calling him a scardy cat.

Back in our host's home (truly a small piece of paradise) they pointed out their resident iguanas & their parrot Louise. Coco & Fredi played 'till they dropped & ocean surf accompanied every minute of the day.

Brian had never been swimming in the ocean where there was surf and so was encouraged by all to try it out. Our friends brought out their brand new boogie board (still in the wrapper) and Brian good-naturedly posed for pictures. Shelley immediately christened him Moon Doggy! He trooped valiantly down to the ocean and even though intimidated by the huge curling waves, the intrepid 68 year old first time surfer tackled Mother Nature head on. He had a blast!

We were very impressed with how well our friends have integrated with the local very small-town community. They are wonderful good will ambasadors and every body in the area seems to recognize them and wave as they drive past.

Our last evening our friends whipped up a delectable Dutch Indonesian Curry Shrimp dish. It was a great way to wrap up a wonderful couple of days with our new good friends and put the perfect cap on our vacation at the Coast.

That evening we sat on their balcony, sipping wine, listening to the ocean and regaling each other with tales from past lives & future dreams.

We must mention that we saw the famous green flash (!) at sunset. This is not a common occurance and apparently seldom is it as vivid as the experience we had. Our friends said it was the strongest green flash that they have seen so far. For those not in the know, the green flash is a phenomenon that happens at sunset in warmer climes. It was a true thrill.

If you want to see more pictures of our trip to Montanita, check out our FaceBook pictures at:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sand in our Bed

Up at 5:30 in the morning (Brian's usual time), Shelley was not amused. It's dark outside, the coffee hit her stomach in a weird way & even Fredi was confused as to why she was walking around. We managed to get to the bus station by 7 a.m. and got on the 7:50 bus for Salinas. We could have taken the 7:10 bus but our preferred seats (3 & 4) were not available; we opted to wait.

As usual the bus provided a weird selection of music comprised of 70's tunes (a profusion of the word "boogy" in the lyrics) and salsa music. We also got a movie & the conductor himself (rather than an off-the-street-vendor) sold soft drinks & sandwiches. The cost was $8 for Shelley & $4 for Brian to Guyaquil (4 hours) & $4.50 for the both of us from Guyaquil to Salinas (2 1/2 hours). Fredi was the darling of the bus & spent most of the trip with her nose poked out the window.

At one point on the trip we were stopped for construction and the huge diversity of Ecuador was demonstrated once again when the driver of the car in front of us & his passengers got out to stretch their legs. The driver was decked out in a complete hip/hop outfit; baggy pants, wide/flat brimmed baseball type hat and black & white checkered coat. His passengers however (3 women), were all in the traditional costumes typical of the coast (black sheathed skirts, black vest, white blouse, heavy necklaces).

Tired after our trip, we checked into our hostal ($25 a night if we stay 7 days), changed, took a long walk on the beach and went over to the Cevicheria mini-village where Brian had fried rice with oysters & Shelley had a huge plate of pan fried fish - delicious! The cost was $8 for both of us.

Our real challenge was to find grass for Fredi to do her business on (lots of sand; little grass). That evening when Brian took Fredi out for her last walk of the day, Shelley asked him on his return, ¨What took so long?¨

"Every pretty girl on the beach now knows Fredi´s name", he replied.

The next morning we got up to our typical holiday routine: long walk in the early morning before it got too hot, breakfast at the bar down the street (fruit, bread, eggs & coffee; $4 for the both of us), under an umbrella in 2 lounge chairs for several hours of reading ($3 for umbrella & chairs - all day), a nap, another walk, dinner, watching the locals play soccer on the beach, etc.

Our bed is covered in sand. Between our feet & Fredi's mustach we're carrying in at least 1/2 a bucket a day. Our knees are bright pink & Brian is a vivid pink all over. Shelley tried to get sun screen on him yesterday but he macho'd out. There'll be no argument about it today however. Fredi's just a tad nervous about all the dogs wandering around town. We've never heard that low rumbling growl out of her so much as we have in Salinas. She's making sure no strange dog bothers us!

Awakened at 4:30 this morning, Brian finally looked out the window at the third set of disturbances to see what there was to see. It was the Ecuadorian Navy (!) jogging down the street, shouting cadence & generally making quite the spectacle of themselves. Funny; Fredi has been quite nervous about everything new and waking us on a regular basis for the last couple of days, but she's finally settled in and the Navy didn't bother her at all. She's discovered sleeping on the floor is much cooler than sleeping in the bed with us and she's even resigned herself to doing her business on the concrete. The grass that's here has burrs in it that stick in her hair & she doesn't like the process of removing them one little bit.

We're off on a sight seeing self-tour today. We're both so pink we figured a day away from the beach wouldn't hurt at all. We ended up in a place recommended by some friends of ours called the Hosteria Farallon Dillon in Ballenita. The cab ride from Salinas cost $5 each way but we got a cars eye view of the area. It's a wonderful, charming Hostal with separate small cabins instead of rooms for $48 for a couple. There's a maritime museum attached to it. We were given a personal tour through the museum & the delightful man who gave the tour explained the history of the place in that an American adventurer had started it shortly after discovering a sunken sailing ship off the coast.

So far Shelley has managed to buy a pair of capri pants, a white dress, 2 key chains and sundry other items basically from her chair on the beach. "Except for having to shake your head ´No´ every 5 minutes, I quite like the vendors on the beach" Shelley commented to Brian.

Brian grunted.

Concerned about Fredi overheating, we brought a water sprayer with us and while we're on the beach pretty much keep Fredi misted. We noticed yesterday that her hair has bleached out and she now has a wonderful beach dog look about her. It's pretty conclusive however, that Fredi is not a water dog. We've taken her into the ocean twice so far and she'll tolerate it but won't step one inch into the water without being carried. She looks just like a chihuahua when her hair is plastered to her sides. She's a real trooper though with the beach & the heat & the sand & the strange room etc. as she's now completely settled into our new routine.

The sleepy little seaside town of Salinas expands, as do most seaside towns, on the weekend. The cars pour in from Guayaquil. The restaurants where you were the only customer are now full. Various companies descend, hawking their products, complete with bikini babes wearing the company logo. The number of umbrellas & chairs on the beach doubles and then doubles again. Taking Fredi out for her 6:00 a.m. walk Brian spies several parties that haven't ended from the night before. Still, there are very few non-Ecuadorians: a crazed gringo babbling Dutch to himself carrying his bundles down the street, another group of clean-cut European young women & us. We're really enjoying our time at the beach but are starting to miss our own bed, our regular routines.

If you're interested in more photos from Salinas, checkout our FaceBook pictures at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flying Puppies & Too Much Food!

One thing Ecuador is teaching us, quite like the boat also taught us, is to be self-reliant about many things. Brian recently made up a batch of home made Italian sausage meat for pizza. We have looked high and low and have found some almost spicy sausages but nothing like what can be bought in the stores in Canada, the U.S. & Europe. Shelley's made her own chili pepper flakes and one of our readers sent a recipe for Miracle Whip that we're going to try out in due course. These are small things and we shouldn't be misunderstood; we're not complaining. The trade off is endless fresh fruit, queso fresco cheese & (albeit killer) wonderful buns!

Our daughter sent us an email advising she'd forwarded all our Canadian tax papers. The package she mailed cost $35 in postage (can you believe it?). It seems to take about 2 weeks for anything mailed, so we have some leeway before we actually have to get down and start calculating. Canada apparently has a tax treaty with Ecuador so that after we file our last Canadian resident income tax return, then Canada starts deducting 15% of our Canadian Income after $12,000 as non-residents. How exactly this works, however, we're not sure. We may have to pay the 15% and then file returns requesting a refund. It's all very confusing and we've been asking around but can find no Canadian who can give us their experience and advice. Just the thought of the packaging wending its way to us has given Shelley a bit of an anxiety attack. Who likes dealing with the income tax department? Brian has told Shelley in no uncertain terms that he's not willing to think about it or talk to her about it until the package arrives. Although on the surface this may seem reasonable, Shelley's mind doesn't always do what Brian's telling it to.

Fredi is a foolish little puppy! We were out for a walk along the river and Fredi took it into her head to exuberantly jump over a retaining wall, falling at least 20 feet (no exaggeration) onto a tiny bit of sandy shore next to the river. Anywhere else where these retaining walls are, she would have fallen either onto a sloped grassy bank or straight into the river. Shelley immediately called to her and we were relieved to see her frantically trolling the tiny beach looking for a way up (i.e. she wasn't hurt). With Shelley going down one side of the steep bank and Brian the other, we went to the rescue. Brian was able to get to Fredi first and handed her up to Shelley. After climbing through tree debris and up the bank again, Brian proceeded to give a stern lecture about the dangers of jumping over a retaining wall. "Are you talking to me or Fredi?" Shelley asked.

We sat down on the grass for awhile to let Brian's heart go back into a normal rhythm. Brian made Shelley feel along Fredi's ribs & legs to make sure she wasn't hiding any injury. She was fine. Continuing on our walk, we noticed that Fredi now gave the retaining walls a wide berth. "If either one of us would have fallen that distance, we'd have hurt ourselves for sure" Shelley pointed out to Brian. "Shih Tzu must be like cats; 9 lives!"

It was off to the veterinarian for Fredi's next shot. Once again, Fredi was very brave. It hurt A LOT because she had to have 2 shots this time (!) but she settled immediately after and didn't seem to hold a grudge. We discussed getting Fredi spayed and were advised if at all possible to wait until Fredi has had her first heat. We're getting conflicting advice regarding this and upon searching the web were pretty much told to get her done before her first heat. Now we're confused. We'll take the web advice to the vet and see what she says again; we still have a month or so before timing gets critical.

Lunch at the Mediterrane, dinner at Eucalyptus & lunch again at La Parillada made for a delightful if somewhat "stuffed" week. At the Mediterrane our Ecuadorian/American blog friend hosted us and once again we had a delightful time talking about the differences between North & South America (viva la diferencia!), cooking at high altitudes & food in general. We met several friends at Eucalyptus and Shelley took a survey to find out if everyone was satisfied with their meal. Shelley had chicken with peanut sauce & a spicy cabbage salad. It was wonderful! Three people had Pad Thai and a couple of people had sushi. Everyone surveyed was very happy with their meal & we talked about politics, dogs & the good life in Ecuador. La Parillada has an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet lunch so we thought it would be fun if a bunch of us went together to try it out. It ended up 17 of us attended and we ate charcoal grilled meats (a bit dry & salty), the local potato soup (wonderful!), various salads & a light coffee whip/cream dessert (Shelley had 2!). The bill came to a total of $228 and most of us had a beer (or 2). We talked about politics, dogs & the good life in Ecuador (does this sound familiar) and a convivial time was had by all.

If you've been reading the blog for awhile you know that we both quit smoking February 1, 2008. That means we've passed our first anniversary (pat on the back for us) but it also means we've both gained a couple of pounds that weren't there previously. While neither one of us is tipping into a bad BMI, the clothes are just a tad tighter & the scale just a tad squeaky. Eating massive meals out 3 times a week will not do this any good!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

There's a Hole in my Ceiling, Dear Liza, Dear Liza

Promptly at 3 o'clock, the building contractor and one of his workmen came by to examine our hole. They advised they'd be back at 9 a.m. the next day to fix it. We explained we had a lunch date and would have to leave by 11 a.m. at the latest. We were assured that this would be no problem. They'd get the hole fixed before 11 and then they'd come back at 5 p.m. and do the painting; which should then take about 30 minutes.

We continue to wait.

The next morning, we did our ablutions early and quickly, ate breakfast & tentatively started our Spanish lesson thinking we'd be interrupted. Nine o'clock came and went, we finished our Spanish and Brian turned to Shelley, "They're not coming are they?"

"Maybe they'll come at 5:00" she replied optimistically.

Off we went to the Sankt Florian to enjoy yet another one of their lunch specials with a woman who had contacted us through the blog. She's a native Ecuadorian, who left the country at age 8 and ended up in the United States when she was 11. Beautiful, well educated, charming; she was trying to decide whether to stay in the States or move back to Ecuador for retirement. We talked about the attitude towards women in a latin country vs Canada & the U.S. We also talked about living with a more obvious poverty here in Ecuador and the benefits of avoiding northern winters. It was a fascinating & thoroughly entertaining couple of hours. Our guest spent some thoughtful time conjecturing how her life might have turned out had she remained in Ecuador. We may have waxed a bit poetic about the life paths followed & left, but in the end all of us seemed pretty satisfied with the way things were working out.

On the way home on the bus Brian told Shelley, "Well if they didn't show up at 9, there's no reason for them to come at 5." He was of course talking about the "hole guy".

"So what do we do?" Shelley asked. "Wait awhile until we run into the building developer again?"

Brian mumbled something Shelley didn't need to understand. It's nice, don't you think (?) that we're catching on to this whole Latin time thing.

We ended up going to ExPat night 2 weeks in a row. (Something we usually try not to do.) Friends of ours from the Coast were up and they wanted us to meet relatives that were just coming to Cuenca. We met our new blog friend there as well and ended up sitting at a table with yet another couple from the States & a lady from Canada. Both Brian & Shelley took a circuit of the room but there were so many people attending this time, we gave up doing a good job of it. We never did have an opportunity to really talk to our friend's relatives. Another time. As usual the food at Zoe's was good and we spent $22 on 3 beers, 2 meals & 2 bubbly waters.

Fredi insisted we go to the Parque Paraiso and have a good romp. While there we ran into 3 medium sized dogs & had a wonderful (!) time. The Parque Paraiso should be called the kissing park, as every time we go there we run into young couples spooning. There was some sort of bicycle event just starting as we got there and a couple of hundred bikers getting ready to do something. We walked around the Park and had a few rest periods and the bikers were long gone when we returned.

There's a dead rat on the road outside our apartment that has slowly been getting flatter & flatter. A few more days and it won't be recognizable as a rat. Shelley has this growing collection of pictures of dead animals. When we first came to Ecuador we noticed on our numerous bus rides, several dead dogs & a horse lying at the side of the roads. Probably because Canada has a much tighter animal control, you don't see bodies near as often there. She has pictures of dogs & pigs & pigeons & flat rats, on the road, floating in the river & lying in alleys. What exactly she's going to do with these pictures, she doesn't know. It doesn't seem right to put them on the blog or push them onto our Facebook pages; not good for the kiddies. Nevertheless, she keeps taking them with a kind of morbid fascination. We don't think it's too unhealthy?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's a Latin Thing?

Fredi was invited over for a doggy play date, so off we went for crullers & coffee while the "girls" sniffed each other out. The other dog was somewhat larger & a couple of months older than Fredi, so there was some concern that she might over dominate our little girl. The concern was unfounded. Tumbled a couple of times, Fredi continued to come back for more fun, her tail wagging valiantly in joy the whole time. All of us felt that the play date was quite successful. For more (!) see our friend's blog. "Bill day" took us away from the fun as we set out on our circuit but we managed to get everything paid for before siesta. Quite a morning for Fredi, she was more than willing to take her nap later on in the afternoon. We've promised to show up at ExPat night as well, so it's going to be one of those "busy" days Shelley fruitlessly whines about from time to time.

ExPat night turned out to be a lot of fun. Several of us pushed tables together and had a meal which we're sure made Zoe's happy. Quite a few were eating at Zoe's for the first time and everyone gave the food an excellent review. It occurred to us that after 7 months of living in Ecuador we have developed some wonderful friendships and always look forward to getting together with them. This ExPat night was almost all resident ExPats; very often visitors to Ecuador outnumber permanent visa folks. There's a little girl whose Mom works at Zoe's who has become totally infatuated with Fredi. In the 3 hours we were there, she had Fredi cuddled on her lap for at least 2 of them. Fredi liked it too! There is a consensus amongst the ExPats that their decisions to move to Ecuador were correct. We're pretty much unanimously agreed that it's a great place to be! Did we mention it snowed in Vancouver again yesterday?

Off we went to Coral Centro to get yet another table for the patio so Shelley could fill it up with even more plants. Brian sighed. Fredi & Brian ended up sitting on the benches outside Coral Centro as Fredi was banned from the store. There was a steady succession of 10 year old girls who fawned over Fredi to keep them occupied while Shelley wandered the store looking for Miracle Whip (fruitlessly).

In the evening we had an absolutely magnificent dinner at a friend's place with 2 other couples. It was Canada night once again where the Canucks dominated the room. One gentleman, born in Ecuador, emigrated to Canada when he was 8 and has only just recently returned. We had a very open and candid exchange with him about the differences in cultural attitudes which was really insightful for us. Again, the 2 puppies fed on each other's energy until after 4 hours they both basically collapsed on the spot. It's very neat that the two get along so well! The next morning Fredi slept in and was very content to laze around the house all morning nursing her little puppy enthusiasm hangover.

When we moved into our apartment last August, there was a one foot square hole in the ceiling in the kitchen where, when it rained a lot, it would leak from time to time. The leak was small & we lived with it without much bother. Come Christmas time, the leak started to gush more water. Apparently the people above us hadn't been occupying their apartment and then they came for Christmas and started using their sink. The sink drain was tied into their balcony rainwater drain. Anyway, workmen came and enlarged the space to a 3 foot square and fixed the leak but the black hole has been sitting there every since. Today the builder of the apartment came, examined the hole and advised he would have workmen come on 2 separate days to fix the hole and repaint the ceiling and the wall. We've been advised that this 7 month saga is not unusual in Ecuador. It's not that we've really been bothered by the (w)hole thing it's just that we're Canadians and don't always understand the rhythm of these circumstances. One wonders if it will ever really be fixed, or delivered, or installed, or whatever....and then one day when you least expect, it is.

Brian's been cooking again all day; coq au vin. Shelley made cream cheese brownies (see Recipes) last night & it was absolutely necessary we test them out. They were f-i-n-e. We're having company for dinner. We invited a Canadian friend at the last minute because one of the people we'd originally invited had to fly back to the States unexpectedly for a family emergency. Our hearts are with them and trust in the end everything will be OK.

Coquita & Fredi romped themselves almost comatose. They have become the very best buddies. Our friends complained last time they got together they had to give Coquita a bath because she was covered in dog drool. This is a sure sign that the girls like each other. Dinner was wonderful, our company delightful & the conversation stimulating; teenagers, politics & fast cars dominated. Shelley however, must remember to not combine rich food with more than one glass of wine.

The appointment for the "hole man" was at 9:00 a.m. Nine o'clock sharp we got a knock on the door and were advised the appointment would be rescheduled to 3:00 that afternoon. We await.