Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Friends & Broken Dreams

There was a notice that there would be indigenous dancing in the main square downtown from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm and then again in the evening from 8 pm until 11. In the course of doing a couple of chores, we stopped by the square around noon but it was obvious they were still setting up. We ventured our way home and decided we'd come by in the evening after stopping in at ExPat night at Zoe's. Best laid plans of mice & men time: we did manage to make it to ExPat night and enjoyed seeing all the people but didn't manage to make it to the square to see the dancing or fireworks.

Downtown on Saturday on our fruitless quest to get Brian a replacement head for his electric Philishave razor, we stopped in at La Victoria on Mariscal Lamar. Although La Victoria seems to have everything that plugs in, they did not have replacement heads. On our way there, we passed by a square where restaurants had set up various booths and were selling empanadas, cakes, tortillas, etc. Brian spied a booth selling chilean empanadas and bought himself 6 for lunches at home. We'll freeze some. We then wandered over to the main square where we were treated to a parade of school girls. Hundreds of them, some in their school uniforms, some in skimpy cheerleader type costumes playing xylophones or drums. There was a reviewing stand set up at the side of the road and dozens of nuns were seated, presumably watching their students with great pride. At the end of the parade, was a horse and carriage carrying 2 princesses.

A birthday, a chance to rally around, an opportunity to meet new people; we shared a cab ride up into the hills of Cuenca and partook of finger food & fried chicken & birthday cake and had a wonderful time watching a 4 year old lord it over Fredi. The people we'd gone to visit had suffered a real tragedy. They'd been the victims of a home invasion. Tied up, pepper sprayed continuously, scared, guns put to their heads, possessions ripped from their home, the party was a last goodbye to a dream broken. They hadn't lost faith with Ecuador (home invasions happen in the United States & Canada too) but their dream home vision was shattered and new plans were required. We sang happy birthday & talked of esoteric things and in the end tried only to provide comfort.

Still in our spring/or is it fall (?) malaise, we decided to get Brian a haircut and that would be our "exciting" outing. We started out with the intention of walking downtown and noticed a hair salon only a block away from where we live. Despite the sign on the door saying no pets, Brian asked and obtained permission for Fredi to wait while he had his hair cut. There were 2 delightful young women who giggled and chatted with Brian, making him feel gosh darn special, and cut his hair for the grand fee of $3. Shelley perused a gossip magazine written entirely in Spanish and found to her surprise it was much like perusing a gossip magazine written only in English. Fredi anxiously watched Brian, 20 feet away, but it may as well have been miles, until he was finished and licked him and was SO HAPPY to be in his arms again. We continued on a mild walk after the haircut for several blocks and got back to the apartment somewhat early for reading and quiet time.

That evening we had one of our "blog people" as a guest for dinner. He's been reading the blog almost from the very beginning. Originally from England, he's spent 30 years in Texas and we had a wonderful evening listening to each other's stories. At one point, Shelley asked him, sitting across from her on the couch, if there was anything he was allergic to. He then mentioned that he was a vegetarian. (We'd planned beef steak for the main course and pecan pie for dessert.) Going on, he described a condition whereby he couldn't eat nuts, tomato skins, etc. After much flustering and "I'm so sorry's" we fed him a feast of asparagus, mushrooms & zucchini with several croissant buns for dessert. Later on in the evening he admitted to never being able to abide pumpkin pie. Shelley hooted as she'd originally been planning squash pie for dessert before she settled on pecan pie. In the end, all was well and we had a delightful evening.

The next day was bill day and we set upon our rounds of paying electricity ($6.94), cold water ($4.35) and internet ($39.20). This entailed 2 different stops. We also paid rent ($300). In about a week, we'll pay maintenance for our apartment ($70) and hot water ($6.00) and gas ($6.00). We'd started out early, deciding Spanish lessons could be waived on bill day, and arrived home to find water all over the kitchen floor. We'd left a load of clothes in the dryer and thought perhaps somehow that was the source of the water leak but soon discovered that the drain pipe under the sink was loose. Shelley squeegeed out the water into a bucket and then Brian had a look at the situation. Remember: we've lived on a boat for 14 years or so, it's not unusual for us to come home and discover a disaster in the making. We were calm. Brian sized the whole situation up and advised Shelley "We don't need a plumber!" He fixed the piping and all was well. Fredi thought the whole situation was quite exciting and bounced around the kitchen until the floor was mopped dry!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Doggies & Demonstrations

Coquita, Fredi's friend from the coast, was in town and we were invited over to the place she was staying for dinner. Arriving at their door and before knocking, Shelley removed Fredi's leash so that Fredi would be free immediately to greet Coco. This was a good thing because they were VERY VERY enthusiastic about seeing each other. They played rough & hard for the first 45 minutes and then began to take little breaks, panting madly, between their romps. Coco is a bit bigger than Fredi and her humans were concerned she might overpower Fredi but every time Coco stopped playing it only took about 10 seconds and Fredi was back at her, tempting her to new heights. The humans had covered their chairs and couches with blankets so neither of the animals could do any damage. Chasing each other up onto a love seat and then down & up onto a couch and then down & then up onto another love seat and then down & then tearing around into the kitchen & into the patio was 8 seconds of play. Towards the end of the evening they seemed to slow down just a bit and the next morning Brian commented that "Fredi seems a little stiff". We had to brush her hair quite thoroughly to remove doggy spit and when we took her for her daily walk the next day she was somewhat subdued. We'd say the puppies had a very good time! By the way, the humans had a good time too!

"You know if we were on the boat in Vancouver, we'd be into hunker-down mode this time of the year. We'd have had our summer vacation and had done all the work on the boat and be quite content to sit in the semi-dark and watch TV" Shelley commented to Brian. "Do you know what I mean?" she asked. "Do you think we're happy to be quiet these days out of habit?"

"Well" Brian answered "I spent 67 July and Augusts rushing around doing summer things and right about now I'd be appreciating the last days of summer because next Wednesday in Vancouver it'll start to rain and it'll keep on raining until next May. It'd take more than a year to get out of that rhythm, so 'yes' I do understand what you mean."

We spent the rest of the day just being quiet and enjoying it.

Armed with the model number of Brian's Philishave electric razor, we trooped downtown to the store that sold replacement blades and went through the process of asking for them again. This time we were advised they didn't have the set for Brian's particular model number. However, they did tell us that an order was in and we should come back in 2 weeks.

"That's good" Brian said "At least they've got an order in."

Shelley looked glum.

"What?!" Brian asked. "What?!"

"It's Ecuador" Shelley replied. "We heard that 'come back in 2 weeks' thing too many times. It's something they say when they don't know what's happening."

"Well" Brian said ever the Pollyanna "We'll just pop by whenever we're in the neighbourhood and eventually they'll have them."

A bunch of us decided to eat at a comida tipica restaurant for dinner where they serve open-grilled pork & chicken with boiled corn, beans & cheese. The restaurant had been highly recommended as one of the best of it's kind in Cuenca. While the company was great and we all had a good time, the meal was a bit plain for North American tastes. The meat, cut thinly, was dry and saltier than we're used to. The vegetables were fresh & good but nothing different than what one would cook at home. All in all, it was a restaurant that presented food to the Ecuadorian palate and like any local comfort food, it's fabulous if you're raised with it. At the end of the evening, we came home with Fredi while the rest of our friends ventured on in a quest for ice cream.

Fredi had been particularly good so we decided to take her to the new "free walk" place we'd discovered behind the bank/museum along Doce de Abril. We took the bus to the foot of the bank/museum's fence and walked along the river. Fredi free ran to her hearts content.

We've been told that in that park you can find every tree that grows in Ecuador. At one point we even saw a couple of llamas and possibly a baby. They were too far away, however, to get a really good picture.

Brian picked up a empanada at a tienda that advertised Chilean empanadas and later when he ate it he commented that "it was special! It was similar to a really good chicken pie. The pastry was light and fluffy and the filling was seasoned to perfection. It came accompanied with a salsa of fresh cut hot peppers. Mmmm Mmm Good!"

On our way to the path we noticed that the bus took a different route, completely by-passing the University along Doce de Abril. When we got to Solano on our way home, we saw students further down the street throwing projectiles at the Police. We crossed the bridge to the other side of the river and Brian asked a couple of school kids "Esta un demostracion para los estudiantes?"

The kid answered "Si".

Brian then asked "Esta seguro en este lago del Rio?"

The young man indicated that yes, indeed it was safe on this side of the river. Nevertheless we saw several young men with bricks in their pockets and picking up rocks and stones as they walked along.

All was well as we left the demonstration behind.

At one point we saw workers in the river, piling stones and wire mesh, it seemed like they were working to divert the river's flow.

We ended up walking all the way home because the buses weren't travelling along Doce de Abril due to the demonstration. Despite being somewhat peaked, we arrived home a bit exhilarated from our walk.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

...And the Creek Don't Rise

We'd heard that because of the El Nino, Cuenca would likely have drought conditions this season. The river outside our window is the lowest we've ever seen it. In many places the rocks rise so high it would now be quite easy to venture over to the small island. Another couple told us they'd heard that there might be rotating power outages because of the lack of water. These haven't happened yet and it may just be a rumour but it certainly is dry right now. We ran into a Cuencano who had spent some time in New York and had a smattering of English and we all practiced our second language on each other. Talking about the weather in Cuenca, New York & Vancouver was a large part of our conversation. His perception was that it was cold in Cuenca at night. To us it's cool but never even gets close to our definition of cold even during the "rainy" season of July & August. In any case, it's warm & dry & absolutely wonderful these days ~ except for the possible threat of drought of course.

In an effort to get a new pair of pants for Brian, we hopped on the #7 bus headed West and went to the Mall del Rio. Shelley & Fredi settled in on the grassy patch near the river & Shelley read her book while Fredi spent most of her time trying to persuade Shelley to play. Brian wandered the Mall fruitlessly asking if they had any pants mas grande for a hombre gordo. To accompaniment of many giggles he finally did chance upon a Lee store that had exactly one pair of pants that fit him. He of course bought them. They're a jean style but a buff colour and of a light weight cotton so pretty perfect for Ecuador. Meanwhile, after much persuading Fredi managed to get Shelley to play. After about 10 minutes of frantic batting back and forth Shelley grabbed Fredi and held her in her tightly in her arms in an effort to calm Fredi down. Fredi panted and looked out at the traffic in doggy joy and the people driving by all smiled at that little dog's delight.

That afternoon we had one of Cuenca's spectacular thunder & lightning storms. Unfortunately, although it rained it didn't rain that much. The river is hardly up at all. The next morning Shelley woke up with diarrhea, nausea, clamminess & lethargy. Having either food poisoning or the flu, we spent the next 24 hours watching TV, reading in bed and sleeping. (Brian, of course, took Fredi out for her walks.)

Being the nice guy that he is, Brian did Shelley's sweeping while she was laid out on the couch. Bending over the broom (in that freak way that can sometimes happen) gave Brian a back ache which kept him wincing for several days.

Early that same afternoon we had a good tropical rain and the river rose just a little bit.

Day 2 of Shelley's flu had her feeling much better but she still wasn't up to doing much. We took Fredi for a free walk to her second most favourite place in the whole world, came home & then were both quite content to read & watch TV & spend the rest of the day being quiet.

Saturday dawned wet. Not wet enough to make the river rise in any perceptible way, but wet enough to make us wonder if we'd venture out. We dawdled in our morning routine and by the time we were ready to leave the house the wet had left the ground and it had warmed up. Once out however, the black clouds in the sky made us wonder if we'd be taking a taxi home. Shelley was feeling much better and Brian's back was OK as long as he didn't have to bend to pick up the dog or rise from a chair.

We were on 2 missions: to pick up our monthly coffee allotment and to find replacement blades for Brian's Philishave electric shaver.

"I don't know Brian?" Shelley tried to get him attuned to the possibility of failure regarding the blades. "You know it's Ecuador."

As it turned out, the first shop we ventured into had shavers but not replacement blades. The fellow in the store pointed across the street and told us to go there. That store had various replacement blades but we (of course) didn't know the model number of Brian's shaver. We got a card from the store (so we'd find it again) and advised we'd return.

We picked up 5 pounds of coffee ($12.50) and wandered down to the People's Market and bought a huge bag of baby potatoes for $1.00 and then with our various burdens, tromped down the stairs to Doce De Abril and caught the #7 bus home. No sense straining ourselves too much on our first real day out after being in seclusion.

There were 2 clowns putting on a performance in the main square downtown on Sunday. If our Spanish was better we probably would have enjoyed it more. There was quite a crowd watching and ripples of laughter were pushed from the crowd from time to time. We met a couple of friends in the park and took some pictures and sat in the shade and reviewed our week with each other. Later we parted company and picked up a cantaloupe & Brian's roast pig lunch at the market. It's been a pretty quiet week for us and that was just fine. Fredi got her walks and you know when you're appreciating your quiet time that means you really needed it.

The river's still low. When we set out on our day today we passed a Mom & Dad & 3 small children crossing the stones to the island. It's a small thing but nevertheless it brings a thrill as evidenced by the smiles on the kids faces. We'll have to wait and see what the weather brings but we're hoping the river will rise soon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Home and Native Land

Shelley's been trying to get a picture of the Inca Warrior in the traffic circle behind the bank/museum since we've been here. We go past it on the bus quite often but it doesn't allow the time to take a snap. We decided we'd take a bus down to the traffic circle, get our picture and then walk back as far as we liked for our daily exercise. Perhaps we should have chosen another time of the day as the sun cast shadows on the statue but we did manage to get a couple of pictures. Walking home, we discovered yet another place where Fredi can have a free run without worry of her darting into traffic or bothering other people. Down along the fence line at the end of the museum park is quite a stretch right against the river. We'll remember that spot and take Fredi there from time to time (she does LOVE her free walks). On the way home we stopped in at the Millennium Mall and sat outside in the shade and had a cappuccino at the place right on the corner of the Mall. It is arguably one of the best cappuccino's in Cuenca but pricy ($1.50). We also stopped at the park near the Mall and got a picture of a Mother & her children statue.

That evening a friend of ours (who has recently moved into the neighbourhood) came by so that we could show him the bus route downtown. We were on our way to ExPat night at Zoe's. We were the first to arrive and settled ourselves in to a nice table waiting for more to come. Eventually the room filled up and got quite crowded. Once again it was difficult to hear people talking across the table because of all the background noise. Many of our friends had also decided to attend and the room rang with stories and laughter. Fredi did the rounds giving anyone who asked a lovely puppy lick and whole thing put a good feeling topper on our week. We came home fairly early and were quite content to watch TV and then hop into bed (again fairly early) for a bit of a read and a good sleep.

In our quest for the brand of gum we've been chewing for the last year but cannot find anymore, we hopped on a bus and went out to Coral. It was a mad house! There were Moms & Dads surrounded by hordes of children. The Dad's had 3 page lists in one hand and were herding kids with the other hand, while speaking rather hysterically with the Moms over the heads of the children. The Moms were pulling a sort of cart provided by the store full of jeans & notebooks & pencils and often as not in the other arm held a tiny baby. Shelley went in the store for about 10 minutes while Brian sat outside with Fredi. She exited the store rather disheveled and tried to tell Brian what it was like inside. Intrepidly, he ignored her words and entered the melee. Shelley & Fredi remained outside and enjoyed the sun while Fredi tried to accost every man who left the store with a baseball hat on.

"That's not your Poppa" Shelley would tell Fredi as she wiggled and strained to get at the man with the baseball hat (that's Fredi wiggling ~ not Shelley). Some of these men were quite short and some were quite wide. Their only common feature was the baseball cap but apparently Fredi felt any man with a cap on had the potential of being Brian.

Twenty minutes later Brian emerged from the store and Fredi made several people smile in her pure joy at seeing her Poppa once again.

"It's a mad house in there!" Brian told Shelley, eyes glazed.

"Did you get any gum?" Shelley asked knowing the answer was "no" as he carried no bag in his hands.

Sunday (as per usual) took us downtown to the main square and then to the people's market to buy some fruit. There wasn't any entertainment in the gazebo, so we sat on a bench, next to the road, and watched the to-ing and fro-ing of the populace. Sure enough, along came some friends and we went for a coffee and chatted for 45 minutes or so. Shelley endured just the mildest of teasing (as our friends were U.S. Americans) about the last blog posting and Canadian reserve.

"It's just that the U.S. American's are so friendly" she tried to explain.

"When I was up in Canada" one of our friends replied "Everyone was friendly and kind."

"Oh yes" Shelley exclaimed and Brian jumped in...."But you wouldn't find a waitress in Canada that'd ask you 'OK hon, what can I get for you'all?'"

We all laughed.

After coffee we went our separate ways and we picked up 10 tomatoes, 2 papaya & a couple of plantains for $4.50 at the market. We've never tried frying plantains ourselves before, although we ate them a lot when we were visiting on the coast. Another of our U.S. American friends explained the procedure to cook plantains the other day, so we thought we'd give it a try ourselves.

While ironing his synthetic fabric cargo pants Brian managed to melt a 3 inch hole in one leg (oops), so we were on our way downtown on a quest for a replacement.

"I'm going through another one of my home-sick phases" Shelley told Brian as they were walking.

"Oh" he said "What do you miss?"

"I miss the seawall down near Granville Island. I miss Tim Horton's Ice Caps. I miss the dark coziness of the boat. I miss going into the grocery store and finding a new product. I miss the clank of halyards when it's a bit windy. I miss Canada!" Shelley wailed a bit at the end of her list more in humour than anything else.

Brian hardened. "We're not going to be one of those 2 year people, are we?" he asked.

"Oh Brian! You've got to let me be homesick from time to time. I love Ecuador. It's wonderful here! The weather is perfect and we enjoy a terrific lifestyle but you have to let me be homesick from time to time."

Brian softened. "It's the familiarity" he said. "Everything is just a little bit more difficult here because of the language and the culture. Everything we do requires that we work at it a bit more."

"It's not even that" Shelley tried to explain. "I just miss Canada, my home and native land."

Incidentally, we went to 4 stores and then headed to Hudson where we usually can find pants for Brian. No luck today however. Brian asked the young man helping us where "gordo" (fat) people shopped in Cuenca (Brian's not fat, he's just a big guy!). The young man replied "Guayaquil".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Of Food, And of Food, And of Food

A friend phoned in the morning asking us to do a computer/printer favour for him. We were happy to oblige and chatted with him for 20 minutes when he came over to pick up his paper. Brian was busy putting together his chicken cacciatore recipe as we'd invited 2 couples over for dinner that evening. It bubbles away in our slow cooker all day and ends up being a savory meal without much last minute preparation. Unfortunately, due to family problems, one of the couples gave us a call and had to beg off coming. We were sorry to hear about their problems but grateful they gave us several hours notice. We've been having some problems this way. We assured them we'd get together in the near future when things had settled down for them and wished them well with their difficulties.

Cacciatore bubbling away, we took Fredi for a walk in our neighbourhood and did some fruitless searching for the gum we like. We've been chewing Trident XtraCare green gum for the last year in substitution for the Nicorette gum we chewed when we first quite smoking. Unfortunately, we seem to have chewed our way through the entire stock in Cuenca. They stopped carrying it at the SuperMaxi where we shop and we've visited multiple stores trying to stock up on it but to no avail. We've considered the fact that being addicted to a certain kind of gum is probably oh.... somewhat silly however, the thought of quitting the gum or switching to another brand has us in a bit of a tizzy. Shelley's been trying other gums and leaving the last of the Trident green for Brian but the situation is getting critical. Sin duda (without doubt) we'll live through this crisis too but you have to allow us our moment of angst.

That evening we had a lovely visit with a couple fairly new to Ecuador. They are just moving into their first apartment and are in the buying furniture & appliances stage. We shared stories about deliveries gone amiss & apartment hunting in Cuenca. Brian's cacciatore was a hit and Shelley's microwave cheese cake astounded all. Fredi was particularly happy because our visitors have a special fondness for shih tzus and she was admired and petted all evening.

The next day we were going to a friend's place for "Texas Burgers" in the evening so once again we only ventured for a walk in our neighbourhood. Shelley persuaded Brian (kicking, screaming & whining) to walk up the long hill to the Av. de las Americas and then down the street and eventually back to our neighbourhood where we stopped at a flower place to pick up 2 bunches of carnations for our evening visit. Shelley had had a dream as child to always have flowers in her home one day and succeeded when she had a garden of her own years ago. Coming to Ecuador where cut flowers are so very cheap, she thought once again her childhood dream would come to fruition. However, she hadn't counted on her "later years laziness". We had cut flowers in our home for about 4 months when we first came here but the practice petered out as Shelley got tired of the constant maintenance it required. C'est la vive! (Do they have a similar expression in Spanish?)

That evening the Texas burgers were wonderful! We did however, get into some U.S. philosophy vs Canadian philosophy. We've encountered so many more U.S. Americans down here than we have in our entire lives, sometimes it's like we've not only placed ourselves into an Ecuadorian environment but also a U.S. American one. The U.S. Americans we have met here have all been wonderful people (!) warm, giving and friendly. The Canadian reserve we've lived with all our lives is not a general part of their psyche. This is not a bad thing but it is different. We talked about our attitudes towards the petty thievery in Ecuador and perhaps, as Canadians, we are naive but we continue to be a product of where we were born and raised no matter where else in the world we travel. From time to time differences arise and for that we actually should be grateful. It would be a sad sad world if we were all the same. Fredi, the only true Ecuadorian in the bunch, had a ball and even managed to get a cheese product and the evening truly was a delight.

Brian & Fredi discussed it, and decided they both could forgo their afternoon nap, so we took a day trip on the buses to Paute to ostensibly eat at the Corvel Restaurant. We hopped on the #7 bus on Doce de Abril and it took us to the Terminal Terrestre where we met up with 3 other couples at the Pio Pio. After a quick coffee and catch-up we all trooped through the ten cent turnstile to the bus stalls. Our Paute bus was already sitting there so we hopped on and got a group of seats at the back of the bus pretty much together. Ten minutes later we left. (Note: The trip costs $0.75 one way.) Paute is in the same general direction as Gualaceo except just before you get to Gualaceo you cross a bridge and drive another few miles to Paute. We believe that they are both on the Rio Bolo. Along the way are the typical Ecuadorian hills, farmers in fields & cows grazing but also farm after farm growing flowers in greenhouses and outside. Apparently they also grow a lot of tomatoes. As Paute is lower in elevation from Cuenca, the temperature gradually rose and there was probably 3 or 4 degrees difference & the vegetation became more sub-tropical.

Upon arrival we wandered the streets until we got to the Corvel Restaurant. The Restaurant was fairly crowded but there was still room for our party of 8 on the outside balcony. We had decided to go to this restaurant because of it's reputation and it easily matched our expectations. It was a wonderful meal that can honestly be described as a dining experience. Our total bill for the meal, a drink and dessert came to $20 per couple, which allowed for a generous tip. After the restaurant, we ventured to the main square and had a closer look at the town's church. Our guess was that the church was probably built around the 1950's or so. We went inside and discovered a couple of young fellows (that we later learned were 15 & 13) who were being taught how to ring the church bells. We got into quite an extended conversation with them along with their instructor. They seemed very pleased that we were taking the time to speak with them in our stumbling Spanish and indicated that while "gringos" often come to town to go to the restaurant, they don't seem to talk with the locals that much. All in all it was a wonderful day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Philosophically it Doesn't Come Easy

After 1 trip to AeroGal that lasted a couple of hours and 4 trips to the travel agent that each lasted about 30 - 40 minutes, we have finally made our arrangements for our trip to the Galapagos in the fall. We could have arranged the trip in such a way that we were busy every minute but did not find that particularly attractive. As it is, we have a couple of inter-island travel days and 1 day that we'll visit a volcano and some offshore reefs. The rest of our time is basically our own; this is the kind of holiday we like! Now all we have to do is wait until it's time to go.

A friend of ours is due back in Cuenca after being in the States for 3 months and we planned on going to the Gringo night to welcome him "home" so, for our afternoon outing we just went for a walk in our neighbourhood. Down along the Rio Tomebamba where Fredi can have a bit of a free walk, up and along Avenida de Las Americas and then down a side street towards Gran Colombia. We ended up in a coffee shop on the ground floor of Edificio La Cuadra and had a lovely cappuccino where the staff was extraordinarily pleasant. Then we stopped in at the frozen fish store also on the ground floor of Edificio La Cuadra; it's called Jo.Mar. Brian picked up some frozen oysters (he was quite excited) and we also got some shrimp patties for deluxe shrimp burgers. The oysters were $3.50 a pound & the shrimp patties cost $3.30 for a package of 5. The place is clean, has every kind of fish you'd think possible and it's all been flash frozen.

Gringo night was typical. We met some friends and chatted and more people came and we met some new people and chatted and more people came and we met some more new people and then it got so loud you couldn't hear people talking from across the table. At that point we had some interesting conversations with the people right next to us and wandered the room a bit and said hello to some more people we knew and others we had recently met. Brian had a hamburger and Shelley had a grilled ham sandwich and they both were very good but after a couple of hours Shelley got tired. We then spent the next half hour extricating ourselves from the room. Friday night outside in Cuenca proved busy and we had to walk several blocks before we spied a free taxi. We ended up getting home in time to watch a movie on TV and all in all it was a pretty good Friday night.

Saturday we had scheduled a dinner with some friends and so once again didn't want to do much during our day outing. We wandered to the Feria Libre market and bought some tomatoes & a baby watermelon and took Fredi for a free walk to her second favourite place in the whole world. Our evening dinner was wonderful! There were 2 other couples besides ourselves, plus the host couple and a dinner of lasagna that Shelley will attest was probably better than her own. We laughed and teased each other and at one point all dredged up our individual memories of our very first concert. There was Haagen-Dazs ice cream in real parfait glasses with chocolate sauce, whipped cream & a cherry on top for dessert and it ended a perfect evening in a perfect way. (PS:- The night picture of the mountains in this blog is from our friend's apartment window.)

"Do you realize we have 6 social obligations in 8 days?" Shelley whined to Brian. "We're starting to get wound up again!"

Everybody we talk to in Ecuador says the same thing. One could easily have a social commitment every day of the week here. Maybe it's the fact that we're mostly retired; when you're working you seem to be more content to just sit in front of the TV after a long day. Maybe it's just the dynamics of strangers in a strange land. Whatever it is, we have to watch ourselves from time to time that the whole thing doesn't get out of hand.

"We'll have to give ourselves another non-social week soon" Shelley continued to nag at Brian.

Brian seemed to remain somewhat oblivious to the whole thing.

Sunday in the main square downtown they had entertainment again. It was a fellow with an accordion and a drum machine playing music reminiscent of zydeco. We think we remember seeing him at another event a few months ago. In any case, he's not bad and we sat in the sun and listened for 30 minutes or so. The park was crowded and there were government type stand-alone display signs dotted throughout the park celebrating 200 years of independence. In addition, there were 4 or 6 white faced clowns wandering around entertaining people. There's quite a famous clown troupe coming to Cuenca soon and we supposed they were advance advertising for their shows. We stopped in at the People's market and picked up Brian's regular Sunday roast pig lunch and chatted with the ladies who are fond of Fredi. We walked home along the river and noted an unusual number of rats! Fortunately, Fredi didn't see most of them but they're huge and healthy and sleek looking. Don't know if they were out because the sun was shining, or it's a "that time of year" thing or the population just happens to be growing. We left each other alone (the rats & us) and that was fine with all concerned.

Well...school's back in session for Cuenca. For one thing, the demented school master woke Shelley up this morning ranting & playing rousing marching music. She's missed this alarm clock for the last 2 months but it's back again, so all's well with the world. For another, there are school children wandering the streets in their uniforms and traffic was much heavier in the morning than has been usual the last few weeks.

We were somewhat amused when we read somewhere there was going to be a crack down on jay walking in Cuenca. In order for us to get to our SuperMaxi store we have to cross over 3 lanes of traffic, stand on a grass meridian and wait again for the next break and then cross over another 3 lanes. If there's a cross walk (not to mention a traffic light) anywhere within 10 blocks we don't know about it. In any case, because of the increased traffic (presumably because school started) it took us forever to get across this morning. We did eventually (our hearts in our hands as usual) and congratulated ourselves for making it without causing any major ruckus. In Canada where pedestrians really do have "the right of way" there's not as much adventure in crossing streets. In Cuenca where this "right" is presumably unknown, one skips out of the way as the cars bear directly down without slowing (but honking for sure). We're used to it now. We hardly ever even grumble these days (!) and Brian has even learned to scamper (sort of; philosophically it doesn't come easy to him).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Of Treasures, Trips & Tribulations

Although we've been to Turi and have seen the fabulous view from the hill, we've never been to the Vega showroom & factory there. So, for our Saturday outing, we decided to make that our destination. For our exercise, we walked to Selano to ostensibly catch a bus to Turi, but once we got there we were advised the next bus was in one hour. We grabbed a cab and for $2 rode up to the top of the hill. The showroom is wonderful, full of amazing and beautiful ceramics and one room has a special display with a looped CD telling the history of Vega's ceramics in Cuenca. Just outside the front door is a table with discounted items (50% - 80%!). We couldn't resist: we bought a large (what Shelley calls) Eye Vase that looks absolutely fabulous in our front room. They packaged the vase up in such a way we probably could have mailed it to Canada. After we took a couple of pictures of the tremendous view & of the church at Turi, we caught a cab all the way home for $2.50 this time.

We've mentioned this before but cabs in Cuenca (and most of Ecuador) don't have meters. One must negotiate the price of the ride with the driver before getting settled in the cab. The best thing to do is ask a 3rd party how much a cab from from here to there should cost. Most rides in Cuenca cost $1.50 although we usually give the driver $2 (50 cent tip). (During carnivals days, however, the regular price goes up to $2.) If you're going out to the suburbs or country a bit, the ride goes up to $2, $2.50 or $3. We've never paid more than $3 for any cab ride we've taken in Cuenca. However, we've had guests that ended up paying $5 because they didn't have any change or were obviously tourists and they hadn't negotiated the cost of the ride from the beginning. Most Ecuadorians do not tip. We were confused as to whether we should tip or not at the beginning and then decided because we tipped in Canada, we'd tip here ~ it's up to you.

The last few days have been damp and coolish. We'd thought the Cuenca winter was over but apparently we'd just had a week and a half of respite. This is not to say it's miserable out. Compared to Vancouver it certainly isn't, but you do need a sweater when you're walking around and in the evenings watching TV you need a light blanket or vest. In any case, on our Sunday walk downtown Fredi got quite damp from her toes to her undercarriage. When we put her in her carry case (because she wasn't moving around and keeping herself warm and because Shih Tzu's have such a high body temperature) she started to shiver quite a bit. Of course, this made everyone who saw her feel instantly sorry and solicitous of her.

Fredi didn't mind.

They still don't have any Sunday entertainment in the gazebo in the main square but it was not a good day for sitting around in the park in any case.

Tuesday took us to the travel agent once again, trying to put together the last details of our Galapagos trip. We were unable to finalize anything but now it looks like we'll go directly to Isabela Island and spend 3 days there and then backtrack to Santa Cruz Island and spend 2 days. The travel agent tells us that there's more to do on Isabela Island. We assured her we were easy to please: "A couple or 3 hours in the morning and then we'll head back to our room for a nap and then out for supper; we're easy to please." The whole thing would have been much simpler to put together if the travel agent could have taken care of everything (of course) but the half-price AeroGal/SuperMaxi tickets is what put the confusion into the whole thing. In any case, we're expecting an e-mail from the travel agent with our new itinerary and then Wednesday or Thursday we'll pay for the whole kit & caboodle.

After spending 35 minutes with the agent we stopped at the CB Carolina Bookstore and picked up our usual allotment of 10 books (Note: If you buy 10 books or more you get a discount). Carol & Brian chatted while Shelley perused the books and Fredi (in her joyful Fredi way) cruised the store smelling absolutely everything. We ran into some friends at the store, which was fortuitous as we wanted to invite them to one of our Tuesday Dinners. They told us a tale of woe about almost leasing an apartment and finally getting a different one. We advised them "that's one of the 'charms' of Ecuador" and were pleased they had ultimately settled in a good place.

On the boat we had limited power. When at sea, we had light-bulbs & the refrigerator & the boat's start-up power & radio etc. that worked from batteries. By grace of a special device called an inverter, the stereo also worked. We had a diesel stove that kept the boat toasty warm and cooked our dinners plus a bar-b-que that in a pinch could cook coffee (not to mention steaks etc.) In addition we had a propane device that would cook Chinese wonderfully (very hot) and boil up some water for a cup of tea when the stove wasn't on. When at the dock, we also had hair dryers, electric heaters & hot water. We had hot water at sea but we had to run the boat for a couple of hours to get it (the engine heated it up).

When at the dock, however, we had to be careful about which devices we were using as the power was limited. We could have 2 devices on at one time: e.g. the hot water tank could be heating up and we could plug in an electric kettle. We could have the electric heat on and our hot plate. It was the hot water tank that invariably got us into trouble. We'd have a shower and the hot water tank would be heating up and we'd decide to have a cup of tea forgetting we also had the electric heater on. This would pop the breaker and we'd have to phone the Marina office in order to get a security guard or office staff down to the float to unlock the electrical box and flick the switch.

"I'm sorry" we'd start out. "We've popped the breaker once again." Trying to pre-apologize to the poor security guard having to trudge out of his way, through the wet Vancouver weather, in the dark, down to the the middle of our dock, which was almost as far as you could get from the warmth of the office.

All of the above paragraphs re electrical power are to explain that we're used to outages. We've lived for many many years having popped breakers waiting for power to return.

Wednesday morning, Shelley got up and walked into the computer room ready to do her farming on Farmville. Brian was still at the computer, the Apple "wait" signal was going round and round and he explained he was waiting for his e-mail to send off. Shelley watched for awhile and then noticed they were no longer connected to their WiFi. After trying several times to connect, Brian then noticed we had no power. Just prior to watching the Apple wait signal, Shelley had put on a load of laundry and plugged in the vacuum cleaner preparatory to vacuuming the floor. We stepped out into the hallway and noted that the building's generator was running. We had a washing machine half full of water, a dead vacuum cleaner lying on the floor & an e-mail that wasn't going anywhere (not to mention pumpkins dying on the vine because Shelley couldn't Farmville).

We forget how often power went out in a regular building in Vancouver Canada; it's been too many years. We probably had to call (in minor shame) the security guard to flick the power switch once a month in the winter on the boat (maybe once every 3 weeks). The power in Ecuador goes out about once a month. We're not complaining (particularly) ~ just noting.

In any case the power did come back, Shelley did manage to save her pumpkins, we did manage to get our laundry done and all was well.