Monday, June 29, 2009

Appointments & Outings

Quarter to twelve ~ they were cutting it close ~ but Direct TV actually came when they said they'd come! We're very pleased! Turns out our decoder box was worn out. The young man actually made the machine do what it was doing when it was frapping out and then gave us a new box. We repeat: We're very pleased! We do however, have to reprogram the entire thing again. Fortunately, there are instructions in both English & Spanish.

What with everything that's happening and Brian's impending trip back to Canada, we're under a bit of stress. Shelley was irrationally angry that Brian let the remote control go back to the Direct TV people with our rechargeable batteries in it. Instead of apologizing for his mistake, Brian insisted on defending himself: "I didn't even think about it!" Shelley felt that was simply an obvious statement and not something to mitigate the situation.

We took Fredi out for a walk and got some exercise ourselves & talked about Brian's impending trip & Shelley's feeling and things began to seem a whole lot better. Upon arriving back home, Brian set out to figure out which channels we wanted in our "favourites" and then called Shelley in so they could program the TV together. The formatting with the new box is somewhat different, so we have to get used to that. In the end we managed to get everything the way we liked. Brian & Fredi went off for their nap (rather late) & Shelley lay on the couch breathing deeply and read her book.

Just for a change, the Gringo night was being held at the Akelarre Cafe on General Torres instead of at Zoe's. Zoe's will continue to host most of the Gringo nights, but from time to time the organizer of Gringo night will negotiate an evening somewhere else. Shelley had ham stuffed trout & Brian had lomo fino; both of which were absolutely wonderful! A complimentary glass of wine came with each full meal and the evening was so buoyant you could hardly hear the person next to you talking. We got to meet a couple of new people and met up with some old friends, so the evening was quite successful. Fredi, as usual, was a doll; only making her presence known in the most peripheral way, when they were serving an extraordinary amount of cheese products (several people had fried goat cheese as an appetizer).

One the things that you see in the ExPat community from time to time is an "ExPat Leaving" fire sale, so to speak. Furniture, appliances, accessories, computers & gadgets can all be purchased at a huge discount. We were lucky enough to get ourselves a scanner this way for $25. We don't have a fax machine and from time to time documents do have to be forwarded to Canada. This entailed us going downtown to one of the many stores that provide this service and paying the minimal amount they required. Not a huge inconvenience but now that we have a scanner we can eliminate the middle man. We're sure we'll find other uses for it as well. In any case, for $25 how could we lose? We did however, have to buy a cord to link the scanner to our computer. This was missing for some reason. We stopped in at our neighbour stationery store and picked up a cord, 2 workbooks for our Spanish lessons & a notebook for our grocery lists and ended up paying a total freight of $4.45. Shelley got into her usual computer frenzy when we hooked everything up and Brian did the prudent thing and made himself scarce. After a couple of false starts, everything worked out fine and we now have a working scanner!

Sunday was our usual routine; down to the main square to watch the group in the gazebo & then over to the people's market to pick up our fresh fruit for the week. We've got our Sunday market day down pat these days too. There are particular ladies that have to give Fredi a kiss & others that know we want our avocados a bit hard to be ripe for the next week. We stopped at Hudson as well and bought Shelley yet another new hat. She's reminded of her Father's comment when her Mother advised him they were going out shopping to guy her a new dress.

"What?! Doesn't she already have one?"

We're still dealing with a fair bit of anxiety regarding Brian's brother & his health, Brian's impending trip & Shelley staying behind to keep the home fire burning. There's nothing to be done; the tickets are purchased, the reservations made and now all we can do it wait until the time is here. Waiting is always hard and we're not sure that any of us were designed to do it well.

Fredi's been learning how to "lie down" the last couple of weeks. We've got her to the point where she'll do it on her own once every 10 times or so. We get very excited when this happens! Most of the time, she looks around and if dogs could whistle she'd be whistling. All we have to do is gently touch her on her shoulder and she'll flop over, but a hard wire connection isn't there yet. We know we're close, so it's just a matter of time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Details, Details, Details

Well, we invited 4 of our single friends over for one of our Tuesday dinners; one was going to be out of the country, one was otherwise engaged on a regular Tuesday evening thing and one phoned up at the time they were supposed to arrive and advised they had a migraine headache and couldn't come. The friend that did arrive was appreciative of all the attention we were able to lavish & we talked about the election in Iran, putting ads in the paper to find a significant other, cooking at high altitude, real estate ventures in Ecuador and elsewhere and news radio. It was a pleasant evening and we ended up with lots of leftovers to freeze for quick suppers. Shelley has decided, however, never to eat smoked muscles again; they don't seem to agree with her.

SuperMaxi has been having a promotion for the last few months whereby you collect red & blue stickers (depending on how much you spend on your groceries and/or on purchasing specific products) and place them on this paper grid. How far along the grid you manage to get will allow you to purchase 2-for-1 airplane tickets to a regional destination in Ecuador or to accumulate airmile points. As of course, all the instructions are in Spanish, we've been trying to figure out the details and have been discussing it with several other English speaking SuperMaxi customers as to how the whole thing works. We finally found an English speaking clerk at our SuperMaxi and thought we had got the complete low-down on the situation, but it turns out our understanding was wrong. We had headed off to the AeroGal office to redeem our 2-for-1 tickets and they advised us we had to make the redemption at SuperMaxi. It's our understanding if we purchase the 2-for-1 ticket now then it's good for up to a year. We'll try again at SuperMaxi and see what happens. We have until July 5th to make the redemption; this we do know.

One can't underestimate the amount of stress that ensues when you try to do complicated procedures in a language that you are not totally comfortable with.

We set off to Supermaxi and redeemed the coupons for tickets to Galapagos. It turns out there are 2 options:

1. You can claim all of the Airmiles (we think there are a total of 6000 on the coupon sheet) by going to AeroGal.

2. You can claim one of the 2-for-1 ticket deals. There are several on the sheet. One gives you a flight in the country, another is labelled "regional" and is apparently good for a flight to Colombia or the Galapagos and the third (if you have completely filled your sheet up) is good for a trip to Miami.

However, if you claim one of the 2-for-1 ticket deals, you forfeit the Airmiles.

If you decide to go with the second option, you go to the service counter at SuperMaxi and tell them that you want the AeroGal tarjeta for the trip you choose. They will then program in 2 cards, a card for you and a card for the second person. Then you take the cards to one of the check-out counters and you pay for the trip. In our case, the fare for the 2 of us from Guayaquil to the Galapagos was going to be $290 return. Brian claimed the seniors' discount, so it turned out to cost $245 for the both of us. So, in essence we paid $245 and now we have prepaid AeroGal cards. All we have to do is get in touch with AeroGal one week before the trip (within a year).

After struggling with SuperMaxi & getting our discount cards in our hot little hands, we then hopped in a cab and were off to Direct TV. We've been having trouble with our satellite TV in that some of the stations come in only intermittently.

"You know they're going to tell us they'll send someone out tomorrow" Shelley said to Brian "...and then we'll wait around all day tomorrow and no one will show up".

We decided to make sure we got the direct telephone number of the person we were dealing with so that at least we'd have a name to call when the inevitable happened.

Sure enough, we have an appointment for between 10 a.m. and noon tomorrow. We'll see what happens.

Upon arriving home, there was an e-mail from our investment broker wanting us to phone and give details he couldn't receive via internet. Shelley phoned and at least we could talk to him in English. After the call, we both were exhausted and Shelley had one of her weird headaches.

There was nothing for it but that Brian & Fredi had to have a nap and Shelley went to Twitter.

NOTE: We're rather proud of ourselves that we can now deal with complicated matters in Spanish by ourselves. It's not easy but we struggle along and we're always very appreciative of the patience shown to us by the Ecuadorians. Our major problem these days it we still don't have the skills and/or confidence to deal with a complicated issue in Spanish over the phone. Apparently we required hand gestures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You Know It Ain't Easy

Saturday we had to get our morning chores done bright & early as we'd promised the people at the CB Carolina Book Store we'd be there before 10 a.m. so that some students could video tape us as they conducted an interview. It was Shelley's Birthday, so Brian washed the floor while she did her morning ablutions. Arriving at the store Shelley volunteered to be the first interviewee and after a couple of false starts they asked her various questions to do with Ecuador's food compared to Canada's food. She advised them that Canada was a country of immigrants and therefore there were lots of different kinds of foods that were considered typical. Pressured she said turkey at Christmas was likely the most universal. Brian's interview questions were on the "friendliness" of the two countries; which did he consider to be more friendly? Tough call...

After doing our duty to the students, we chatted with a couple of people in the store for awhile and then wandered a bit until noon when we went to the Sankt Florian for one of their lunch specials. The prices have gone up a bit and thus we got juice, a tuna stuffed tomato, a roulade (a flat piece of meat [beef] stuffed and served as a roll), rice & fresh boiled vegetables plus a small peach melba for dessert for $3.80.

The news regarding Brian's brother is not good and consequently Brian will be taking off for Canada within the next 3 weeks or so. He'll spend only a week there, but it's important to him that he see his brother. Shelley & Fredi will remain behind to keep our Ecuador home fires burning. We're currently compiling a small list of items to buy that we can't seem to get here; a Remembrant Whitening Pen (although white teeth seems to be a huge rage in North America, we haven't seen any whitening products either at the grocery stores or in the drug stores here), m&m's Lip Smacker Milk Chocolate Candy Gloss (Shelley's got a small addiction) and crystal underarm deodorant. Keen's dry mustard would have been on the list but we whined about it in this blog so many times, numerous people have been good enough to supply us with a stock that should last about 5 years. By the way, our local SuperMaxi got in a stock of Miracle Whip and we bought a multitude. We have noted however, that there's an expiry date on them so don't want to buy dozens. This is too bad because undoubtedly they'll run out again.

As a trip to Canada was imminent, we went down to the indigenous market near the main square and picked up a few things for the family. We tried to stop at the coffee place, but it was closed on Sunday. We'll go back another day and pick up a few bags of coffee beans as well. We sat in the square and listened to the group in the gazebo, which was much better than the last couple of Sunday bands. While enjoying the music, a Mom and her 2 daughters came up and admired Fredi, petting and praising her so much even we got a bit embarrassed. While we were downtown we also stopped at the produce market and picked up 5 oranges, a papaya, 7 kiwi, 3 tomatoes & 14 of those baby bananas for $4.65.

The people at the CB Carolina bookstore recommended the Ayax Travel Agency on Calle Larga as a good place to go, so Brian trucked on down there to get his tickets for Canada. Shelley & Fredi went to the post office to mail a letter and then arranged to meet Brian in the main square. Two hours later, having mailed her letter, bumped into a couple of people & chatted for awhile, wandered off for a cappuccino and had Fredi admired several times, they trudged back to the Travel Agency to see what was going on. Brian was just finishing up.

The process took over two hours because Brian tried to make travel arrangements so that he would not have to over-night in Quito. This would have required flying Cuenca to Quito to Bogota to L.A. and ending in up Vancouver all on the same day. It turned out it was possible to do this but United Airlines does not give seniors discounts. The savings getting a seniors discount was well over $500, so it was on to Plan B. Unfortunately Plan B means that Brian will fly from Cuenca to Quito and then over-night in Quito. He'll then catch a Continental flight from Quito to Houston with a 5 hour lay-over in Houston and then on to Vancouver. The good thing is he'll arrive fairly early in the evening. On his return flight, it's Vancouver to Houston, a 2 hour lay over, then on to Quito, arriving late at night. Again there's an overnight in Quito and then a mid-day flight home to Cuenca the next day. The travel agent required a $50 cash payment and the balance by MasterCard. It took almost an hour just to clear the transaction with MasterCard. We understand that MasterCard is trying to protect our interests but it was frustrating nevertheless.

So, finally we left the travel agency. Shelley spent 10 minutes or so railing at Brian to a much bemused expression on his face. "How come it's always you who knows what's happening and me that's wandering around wondering what's going on?!" she shrilly asked him.

Brian, knowing that discretion is the better part of valour, kept quiet until she'd calmed down a bit. We then spent our last $22.50 in cash and we bought some coffee for home and presents for people in Canada (2 bags of beans & 7 ground).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nothin' Special but All's Fine

More Spanish: to have ~ (1) haber: I have already seen that film. Ya he visto esa pelicula. (2) tener: I have a terrible cold. Tengo un resfiado horrible. (3) tomar: I'll have a coffee. Tomare un cafe.

A friend of ours, reading the blog, sent us an e-mail saying the Payless shoe stores in Ecuador were going to close due to the new 35% tax imposed on imports. Thinking "crap, we've just found a place to get Brian shoes and they're closing", we trudged off downtown to purchase yet another pair of shoes for Brian in "just in case" mode. We asked the lady in the store if she knew about the closure and she was quite adamant they were not closing. Now...she may simply not yet be in the loop...and we recognize that. Upon arriving back home we Googled the whole thing and came up with a press release that Google displayed as: "increased costs to comply with new regulations and taxes in Ecuador", however, when we clicked on the link, the article never came up although we let our computer grind away at it for about half an hour. Looking back at our friend's e-mail, we noted that he'd actually talked to the owners of the store in Cuenca. Plans change, however. In any case, we suppose we'll find out soon enough and Brian now has enough shoes to keep him going for at least a year.

Thirteen of us met at the Otabe on 2-33 Avenue Remigio Crespo and had a wonderful Japanese Restaurant experience. The cook is Ecuadorian but has all the moves and entertained us royally chopping & flipping vegetables & meat. There's a large area in the middle of the restaurant with four grills with seating in a circle around them for about 16, plus side tables for overflow customers and another smaller grill area off to the side. Shelley had grilled noodles & vegetables and Brian had a full meal deal for $12 which included steak, salmon, mushrooms, sauteed bean sprouts & a grilled fruit dessert with ice cream on top. We ended up sitting beside a couple we've never met before from the mid-west of the United States. They're here in Cuenca for 2 months scouting the place out for their up-coming retirement in a year. We talked about culture shock & the wonderful people and weather here, our respective puppies (they have 2 Pekinese), the health system in the U.S. vs Canada vs Ecuador, our respective children, past careers & learning Spanish.

One of our friends mocked us for trying to see the Corpus Christi fireworks from our front room window. The night we went to the Japanese Restaurant was the last night for those fireworks. Apparently one had to venture down to the main square when it was dark to see the action. See their blog: http://watsontravels.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html We explained it wasn't going to happen as we had to hurry home to catch the last season of ER just now showing in Ecuador; everyone has their own priorities we told them. We're not sure they agreed with us. ;-)

Having nothing pressing on our agenda, we hopped on the #2 bus (the first bus to come along) and took another one of our serendipity tours. We rode to the end of the line one way, which took us into the hills behind Feria Libre and admired various sheep & corn crops. We then rode back for the entire length of the line past the Centennial Mall, past the grounds of the Museo Banco Central (about the half-way point) to its other terminus at Totorococha. We got off the bus in Totorococha at a small park where every dog in the neighbourhood came over to inspect Fredi. It was all very civilized. The Barrio Totorococha is a very clean, well kept neighbourhood & it seemed a pleasant place to live. After about a 15 minute wait, the next bus came along and we rode home. The entire journey took us just over 2 hours and cost 50 cents each.

While we usually set off East from our place and head downtown and often go South/West to Feria Libri on our walks, we decided to shake things up and head West along the River and see what was new since the last time we walked that way. There's a small Co-op just opened, just West of the Avenida de las Americas and the Security Man outside graciously consented to watch Fredi while we went inside to inspect their meat & produce. We'd been told the prices were very good and they are. Shelley was quite enamored by the various squashes they had on display, advising Brian she could make a nice pumpkin-like pie out of squash. Picking Fredi up and entertaining the Security Guard royally with Fredi's overjoyed reaction to our returning from the store, we continued up the street by the side of the river. Crossing over a bridge and walking a few blocks we headed back until we got to the circle near SuperMaxi on Avenida de las Americas. There we stopped at the plant store across the street from SuperMaxi and picked up a giant plastic pot that Shelley carried home. She's going to grow a tomato plant in it. Tomatoes are plentiful, cheap & delicious here but there's nothing like fresh-picking a vine ripened tomato and eating it like an apple.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Feast or Famine

We went downtown because it was Corpus Christi and we supposed there would be something going on because of it. We arrived just in time to miss a procession of uniformed school children but everywhere we went there were vendors selling sweets & pastries. Shelley got a dozen of her favourite chocolate covered coconut balls & we bought some strange candy (shaped like lizards & puffins) to send to the kids back in Canada. There are supposed to be fantastic fireworks tonight and we'll see if we can see any from our front room window. It's almost always fireworks season in Ecuador as they pop them off for weddings & christenings, etc.

We've been casually dropping into shoe stores since we arrived last July to see if we could get a pair of shoes large enough for Brian. We'd just about given up and had essentially decided we'd have to buy him 4 or 5 pairs every time we made it back to Canada, but then we noticed the shoes on the rather large feet of a friend of ours and asked him where he got them. "At the Payless downtown" he answered without any idea as to how excited it might make us. While we were downtown seeing the candy of Corpus Christi we dropped into the Payless and lo & behold they had several pairs in Brian's size and many of them were on sale. We got him a pair of what Brian calls "boat shoes" for $35! All in all, our venture downtown was quite the success.

The night of Corpus Christi it rained so much that the water rose in the river over 3 1/2 feet as evidenced by the grass laying down along the bank the next morning. As a consequence the fabulous fireworks we half thought we might see from our front room window was not to be. We did however, get some fabulous lightning!

On our walkabout the next day we ran into the lady who apparently owns the building the Austro Restaurant is in (a favourite of many ExPats because it carries English language newspapers). She too has ShihTzu's, one of which has had back problems for the last 4 years. She was fascinated by Fredi's carry pack and was over joyed when we told her we got it in Cuenca. She was rushing off as soon as she left us to go to the Pet/Vet store where we bought it. They've been carrying their poor dog for several years now and the pack would be just the thing for it. She chastised us gently for cutting Fredi's hair, telling us ShihTzu are supposed to have long flowing hair. Her English was excellent despite having lived her whole life in Ecuador and she told us it was easy for her, perhaps because her Mother was German.

We'd wandered down Doce De Abril thinking there might be something set up because of Corpus Christi, but there wasn't. We did see a group of 8 young adults dancing in a troop to the beat of 3 drummers in the Parque de la Madre and that was rather neat. We climbed up the stairs (resting half way up) and dropped into the CB Carolina Bookstore. When we told her our tale of seeking Corpus Christi events Carol told us the story about all the candy & sweets: There was a time when the landed gentry Spanish would not let the indigenous people attend services at the old cathedral downtown. They were there of course, the indigenous people, as drivers & grooms of the gentry's horses waiting outside the cathedral. As it was custom that people did not eat before attending Mass, the drivers & grooms & their wives & families started to set up booths to tempt the gentry with sweets & pastries after Mass was over. Over the years, it became associated with Corpus Christi and thus all the candy stalls downtown. Corpus Christi itself is apparently a Catholic overlay on the solstice.

Sunday, June 14th, was another election day in Ecuador. This makes for the 3rd election they've had for various reasons since we've been in the country. They close down all liquor distribution for 72 hours prior to an election and on election day there are always lots of people in the streets. We wandered downtown and listened to the gazebo band for awhile and then went to the public market and bought strawberries & plums for our breakfasts. They don't grow plums in Ecuador (needs seasons) so they're quite expensive here but they're still cheaper at the public market than at SuperMaxi. On the way home from our walk, Brian commented what an absolutely glorious day it was. There was a gentle breeze, the sun was shining but it wasn't too hot, the sky was clear and everybody you passed seemed to have a holiday air about them.

After weeks or perhaps months of chasing Fredi around, groping into her throat and removing wads of Kleenex with a sharp "No, no, no!", three sets of judicious slaps on her rump (much more noise than pain) have now cured her of her obsession. We didn't hurt her, she forgave us the violence instantly but at least now we don't have to worry about her swallowing kleenex and gumming up her works. She now passes wads of Kleenex on the sidewalk with only a longing look. We're sorry we had to resort to spanking her but are happy we don't have to have long discussions about her bowel movements and the consumption of Kleenex anymore. We're now in the process of trying to teach the command, "Lie Down!" We're to the point where she tips over quite easily if we push her but still haven't reached the point where she lies down on her own. She's does get quite nervous, sitting and shuffling her front feet looking in every direction except us, knowing she's supposed to do something but is either unwilling or unable to process the command as yet. We are very happy with her response to the command "Aqui!" and as long as she suspects we have treats in our pocket she comes instantly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

PS, PPS & PPPS

We had some bad news about Brian's brother and it sent us into a tail spin about what we should do. When you're only a couple of miles or half a Province apart, it's much easier to decide to pack up and go for a visit. When you're a continent apart, the decisions get harder. People often ask us about the down sides of living as an ExPat; leaving friends, family & a familiar community and choosing to live basically as an outsider. In many ways it's a free-ing experience but in others it makes resolution difficult. Shelley continues to go through ups & downs with a kind of home sickness. Some of the children are difficult about our decision to relocate; others are happy for us and give support. Probably our major pet peeve about Ecuador at this point is the driving manners. Horns being honked & a complete disregard for pedestrians continues to make Brian mumble under his breath. In the end, it's a balancing thing; a list of pros and cons. Our pro list to be in Ecuador continues to be the longest by far.

Sunday took us on our regular run downtown to see what was playing at the gazebo in the main square. The group there was late starting (over 30 minutes) and were absolutely terrible. Both the vocals & the instrumental guitar made you wince. While we were giving the group a fair chance, a small family took a shine to Fredi and asked permission for her to sit on a teenager's lap while she had her picture taken by her boyfriend/brother. They were very grateful and showed us the picture. Fredi was as gracious as she could be. Having given up on the group, we ran into a friend of ours as we were leaving and went off to have a cappuccino together. Our friend was in "glow" having just finalized the purchase of an apartment. It'll be several weeks before move in day however, as the present owners will take 30 days to move out and then there'll be some renovations done. Nevertheless, we were very pleased for our friend. We talked about being so far away from family, the bit of a crime spree going on near the river in Cuenca (muggings) & the best way to go about getting a hair cut when your Spanish is minimal.

Monday we had another day with intermittent internet. Regular readers may remember we'd gone downtown to our provider some weeks ago and set up an appointment to have our modem checked as their on-line diagnostic seemed to indicate it was faulty. Not unusual in Ecuador but no one ever showed up to check our modem. Our internet magically came back so we didn't pursue the problem any further; this may be their diabolical plan. Some friends of ours had a similar problem: no internet, call company, make appointment, no one comes for appointment, etc. but their internet never came back on its own and they use a different company than we do as their provider. At this point, we're waiting until at least tomorrow to see if it magically comes on-line again and if not we'll have to go to ETAPA and try and make another appointment. It's a good thing we're retired, if we were working with this kind of service it would be extremely frustrating. You know, taking time off work for the appointment to no avail because no one ever showed up. (PS:- Had internet back by 2 p.m. that afternoon & much faster than it has been lately.)

We took Fredi back to the Vet to have her stitches removed. It turned out she did have 3 small stitches as well as the glue stuff they use. Immediately Fredi was placed on the examining table she began to tremble so there's certainly some memory there. Brian suggested that he hold her for the stitch removal and the Vet agreed. Fredi was calm and very good, held in Brian's arms while the Vet fussed a bit to remove the stitches. We've purchased a special pet electrical razor so we can cut Fredi's hair ourselves. Shelley's going to test drive the whole thing later on today. She plans on starting on Fredi's underside until she can get used to it. Poor Fredi (!) but at least now she won't have to go back to the Vet until she's due for her one year old shots. (PS again:- Although we sheared massive quantities of hair from Fredi, she ended up not looking that much different. We now have Fredi fluff floating all over the apartment. We'll tackle her yet another day once we've all settled down from the initial experience.)

Shelley's hay fever has been acting up quite a bit lately. Although she usually tries to get by without medication, the face rubbing & dripping nose finally got to her. We got 16 antihistamines at the drug store for $4. One pill will keep her relatively sniff free for about 8 hours. They've just cut the lawn near the river which had grown to about a foot high so Shelley's thinking that getting rid of all those dandelions and clover might go a long way to improving her hay fever. Everybody keep their fingers crossed for her! (3rd PS:- Cutting the lawn outside our building seems to have done the trick; Shelley's hay fever ceased being in over drive by the next day.)

We had a couple over for dinner and Brian made his slow cooker chicken cacciatore while Shelley whipped up her Mom's lemon meringue pie. Fredi was cute, the guests were highly entertaining & we spent a couple hours talking about our feelings on Ecuador, how we met our respective spouses, food in general, health now that we're all getting a little older and prides & prejudices at home and abroad. We both commiserated on our respective internet problems and congratulated each other on making it to this wonderful retirement. As the day before our evening with our friends was filled with frustration & angst, spending a few hours in pleasant company was greatly appreciated.

Brian went back to the dentist to have him check his teeth after all the work that he had done. The dentist said everything looks great and it cost us $220 to have his plate re-lined. He dropped off the plate at 8:30 in the morning and picked it up at 12:30 p.m. so the service certainly was wonderful as well. Now that he's back on track, he just needs to get his teeth cleaned every 3 months to ensure he keeps them. Having only 3 teeth left now makes dental hygiene a priority. Too bad he didn't feel that way 30 years ago!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This and That

Some friends of ours invited us over for dinner and served us Ecuadorian lamb & German cheese cake. What a wonderful planet we live on! We played UpWords; a game much like Scrabble except you can build words up as well as horizontally & vertically. Shelley tried to spell hockey without the "e" making a spectacular score 3 ways, but she was stopped in her tracks. Upon explaining it was the kind of hockey played on grass, she was merely stared at. We got into a true competition but the house champion won (as should be). We talked about shopping in Ecuador & world travel; they'll be off on a trip to China soon and we're hoping to go to the Galapagos this fall. Fredi (as usual) was a little darling. The meal was excellent; served with sliced potatoes & asparagus. We left feeling stuffed & content.

As a treat for Fredi, now that she was completely back on her feet, we took her to her most favourite place in Cuenca; Parque Paraiso. It's a large park where (despite the lone "dogs on leash" sign off in one corner) she can run free & really enjoy herself. We walked along the river and saw the usual couples smooching off in the shade near some bushes. We clambered through the bridge system over the swamp and took some pictures of the lush forest. We crossed over to the lagoon and were fascinated by the geese & ducks who were equally fascinated by us until they realized we had no food for them. We tramped across the field and made friends with a group of pre-schoolers eating their lunch on the lawn. Fredi was particularly interested in the lunch part and we had to apologize for her, but they all asked her name and repeated "Fredi" back to us with some enthusiasm. Two sets of chicken bones were discovered in the park and her training to come at "Aqui!" broke down completely until the bones were crushed and swallowed. After roaring around he park, manically running to and fro & after inspecting just about every tree and large rock, we rode the bus home. Fredi fell asleep in her carry bag. We'd say the treat day was a success!

We're not sure if it's because of Catholic reasons (confirmation etc.) or it's a Spanish cultural thing, but all around Cuenca & other larger cities are shops filled with what Shelley calls Cinderella dresses for young girls. They're made out of the fanciest cloths with ribbons & sequins & lace & silks adorning and draping and flouncing. Often you'll see a young girl between 6 and 12 escorted down the street by her proud family wearing one of these Cinderella dresses. These are not to be mixed up with the wonderful costumes the young girls wear during the Christmas parades. Those are traditional Spanish costumes and not the same as these Cinderella dresses. Having had 2 daughters, Shelley images how thrilled they would have been at a certain age to be dressed in such a display. As the women get older, the shops change their focus and provide night club suitable dresses in great abundance. Last year at Christmas Shelley was looking for the ubiquitous little black dress but everywhere she looked provided sequined, low necked, spaghetti strapped dresses suitable only for someone who weighs under 110 pounds. There are also the shops that provide the traditional dress for the indigenous ladies. These tend to specialize in whatever dress is traditional for each region. None of which, of course, ended up providing Shelley with that little black dress...oh well!

One of the nicest things about being retired is that you have the time to do little things for yourself that you'd never dream of doing when you were in the thick of raising kids & working. We go off once a month or so to a special store that sells only coffee. They grind the beans in front of you and coming home on the bus you can just about see the people around you sniffing & appreciating the wonderful coffee aroma. The other day, we trotted off to the only store in Cuenca that seems to sell the granola cereal we like the best. It's a small thing but in the frenzy of work and kids, you'd never take the time; you'd buy any old granola at the grocery store where you did your big shop. While we were there we picked up 6 bags of granola, so we've got crunching ahead of us for quite some time now ($1.25 each). We also bought a pair of suspenders ($3) for Brian's pants. When we left the market, Brian asked Shelley how much she thought suspenders would cost in Canada. "Twenty bucks?" Shelley conjectured.

The next day Shelley wanted to have a "no spending money" day. "It's good for us!" So we planned a round-about walk to the Feria Libre market to look at the puppies & duckies. It was also the test run for Brian's new suspenders. They worked great! We ran across a laundromat that assured us they had huge washers off site that could take care of our queen size thick bed spread. There's no way it can go in our regular washing machine and Shelley's been half thinking of washing it in the bathtub and drying on the table on our balcony. "It's either that or take it down to the river" she told Brian. After we left the laundromat, Shelley thought out loud to Brian that the "huge machines" off site they were talking about were probably the river anyway.

In Vancouver Canada, the news is that the weather is really hot. It's funny hearing about the hot spell in Vancouver when it's winter here in Cuenca. Shelley was telling her daughter the other day that she actually had to wear a light coat when she went for a walk. Her daughter was not the least bit impressed by the so-called wicked weather. Speaking as someone who had just emerged from a Vancouver winter, her daughter chided "Oh Mom! Have you worn socks yet?"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Penguins are Expensive!

Monday is generally our shopping day. We lock poor Fredi in the bedroom (used to be the bathroom but she's a "grown up puppy" now) and trudge off to the store to spend more money than Brian wants to and less than Shelley wants to. We hustle around the store, dodging Spanish matrons that take up the entire aisle and eventually pay for our purchases using our SuperMaxi card for the discount. A box boy will bag everything up and help us hail a taxi to take us home. We're told Ecuadorians don't tip the box boy but we do.

We're old hands these days and the Spanish on the packaging doesn't faze us anymore. We know what we want. Upon arriving home, Brian leaves the taxi driver and numerous bags under Shelley's guidance and runs off to the basement for the apartment building's grocery cart. Shelley helps the driver haul bags from the trunk of the car and instructs him where to leave them on the sidewalk. Generally the driver wants to take the bags right to the door and Shelley usually has to be somewhat hard saying, "No! No! Aqui!" before they'll bend to her will (no sense doing more work than is required). We always give our grocery taxi driver a nice tip and when we encounter them again they're always quite pleased to give us a ride home.

Shelley sorts the groceries on the sidewalk into hard (won't be crushed) first; and soft (OMG! you flattened the bread again) last. Brian arrives with the apartment's grocery cart and we load everything up. Upon entering the apartment the first thing we do is let poor Fredi out of the bedroom. Fredi is SO HAPPY (!!!!!!!) to see us that she's out of her skin. We imagine she believes we'll never return, locking her into oblivion, having forgotten about her forever. She moans & whines & wiggles & carries on until she settles down enough for Shelley to give her the weekly chew bone treat. Then comes conflict; to eat the treat or continue LOVING the big ones.

After we unpack the groceries, we then take Fredi for a free-walk to her second favourite place in the whole wide world. We generally take treats with us and use this time as a training exercise.

Returning home, Shelley then cooks and cuts up fruit for the next couple of hours while Fredi & Brian have their nap. Old habits are hard to break and we got into the habit of doing a lot of prep work on the boat once a week. This was because we had a diesel stove that was extremely ornery to get started and once you got it started it was best to cook until you dropped. Our gas stove here is wonderful, but the convenience of prepping a week's worth of breakfasts and a couple of suppers ahead of time, is alluring. Shelley continues the habit.

Her back sore and only 30 minutes to go until it it's time to wake up Brian & Fredi, Shelley generally writes on the blog, Twitters & Stumbles away her free time. On a really good day, when pre-cooking hasn't been required, she gets to read too!

Thus, we wile away our days...

It occurred to Shelley that most, if not all of the pictures we've been putting on the blog show Cuenca and Ecuador in their best light. Most of Ecuador is stunningly beautiful. Maybe because we're so high up in the mountains, but it really does seem like the sky is closer & bigger & certainly overwhelming. In any case, we thought it would be OK to remind people that there are crumbling sidewalks & construction sites & deteriorating buildings. When you first come, particularly in Quito, the shabbiness & poverty is very evident. After you're here for awhile, you just don't see it that way any more. In talking with an Ecuadorian who lived in the States for 30 years, we conjectured that in a lot of cases perhaps it's a cultural thing; in Canada and the U.S. one paints their house every year or three; in Ecuador one paints their house when it really needs painting. There are parts that are worse & parts that are better. Certainly in Vancouver Canada there are parts of the Hastings Street area that remind us, it's not just Ecuador that has shabby areas, it's everywhere.

We went to a travel agency to see about a trip to the Galapagos in the fall. We had been told that September/October was off season and therefore the least expensive time to go, but this time they advised November. You can go on boat cruises throughout the Islands but it is very expensive and not as big a thrill for us (having lived on a boat for many years). It turned out that to see penguins was going to cost us $800 more than not to see penguins. This made a decision somewhat difficult because penguins are something of a family tradition. One of Shelley's girls has been collecting penguins since she was a toddler. However, $800 seemed like a lot! We have the travel agency putting together several packages for us to look at and then we'll decide. Likely we'll stay on either one or two islands for 4 nights and 5 days. We'll get a discount because we're permanent residents and another discount for Brian because he's over 65, but it's still quite expensive. Nevertheless, we'll try and make the trip because it seems wrong to live in Ecuador and not see the Galapagos. Penguins however, may get left on the wayside.