Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Plague of Locusts & Frogs

After grocery shopping on Monday, Sammy & Shelley went downtown to finish the last of Sammy's searches for souvenirs for friends & family back home. The entire trip was a resounding success in that she found everything to finish up her lists plus a penguin wall hanging for herself. We ate at Sankt Florian; the lunch special ($3) was potato soup, fresh squeezed pineapple juice, a pork chop with rice & salad and a home made banana pudding for dessert. At the end of all our shopping however, Shelley's feet were very sore & we almost caught a cab home but our bus came along just when we were talking about it. Meanwhile, back at home Fredi & Brian napped. Fredi is looking particularly bedraggled & is acting quite listless. Normally after she's had a play date with Coco she often will be very tired the next day. After spending 3 days with Coco it looks like it'll take several days for poor Fredi to find her feet again.

That evening, just as we were about to start cooking supper, it started to rain. Biblical rain, tropical rain, a plague of locusts & frogs rain. Sammy stood at the window in our front room, holding Fredi who was trembling because of the thunder & lightning, and watched the rain. This is someone from Vancouver. We're used to rain us Vancouverites, but this was more. Our television satellite signal would go off and then come on and our computer internet ceased to function. The rain smacked across our patio window and Shelley feared for her plants outside. The river rose up and over the boulder we consider our measuring device and then rose up and up over the stump at the end of the island, and then the rain turned to hail.

"Have we ever seen hail here before?" Brian asked.
"Nope" was Shelley's short reply.

We are so proud of ourselves! Our internet was not back on by the next morning and we phoned a couple of other friends who use ETAPA as well to ensure it wasn't a system wide failure. It wasn't; our friends' internet was working fine. We unplugged the modem and restarted our system several times but that didn't work either. Finally, Brian tried phoning. Previously, we've always gone down to the office because we weren't confident enough about our Spanish to deal with the problem over the phone. This time we did (!) the fellow down at ETAPA rebooted something and we have our internet once again! Several hours later, a friend phoned asking about our internet and we were able to give him advice on how to phone & who to contact down at ETAPA. We both felt we'd crossed some sort of threshold in that we were able to deal with this over the phone. Little things are sometimes the most joyful.

Sammy & Shelley hopped on the number 7 bus and took it to what people call the Bank Museum (Tomebamba Sala Arqueologica). Cost of admission is $3 for an adult. There are 3 different floors: the main floor showing mostly religious paintings but some scenery paintings & lots of paintings of officials from the past. The basement level has collections of coins, paper money & books and the upper floor has exhibitions of all the different cultures and areas in Ecuador. There are numerous life size mannequins dressed in the various costumes throughout the country and they are shown in life size scenes as well. Outside the Museum is a park which has a display of an Inca-ruin village, a bird zoo (aviary), several dioramas of areas of Ecuador and an Inca garden exhibition. We've been told that every tree in Ecuador is represented in this park. We also saw llamas, an eagle and shrunken heads. We left the house at 10 in the morning and were back at 12:45 so it's not a half an hour thing but we really enjoyed it and got a fair bit of exercise as well.

That evening we went out for dinner. Our host served us fresh trout, asparagus & tiny potatoes with a variation of cheese cake for dessert. We were a little worried we'd get caught in a deluge like what happened the day before, but although it did rain, it turned out to be regular rain and not a message from heaven.

Once again "bill day" was upon us and we took Sammy on our rounds and then explored a few souvenir shops & then ate lunch at Raymipampa down on the main square. The place was packed. As Shelley's feet were unable to endure any more tramping around, we went home where Brian & Fredi enjoyed their nap and Shelley & Sammy spent a quiet afternoon & evening chatting with each other, reading their books & just being quiet together.

Sammy figures it's been 13 years since we've spent this much time together. Shelley still puts her arm out across Sammy when they cross a busy street, Sammy still leaves half full glasses lying all over everywhere, we can all still laugh together and Fredi fell in love with Sammy (much to Shelley's chagrin). Brian & Sammy are off to Quito tomorrow and Shelley (as she types this) gets a small tear in her eye. Shelley's Mom died when she was just a teenager; she never had any experience dealing with a parent as an adult. There's a great deal of satisfaction in it being "good" ...you know... "good". There were a couple of rough spots but they were easily surmountable & just part of the tide of life. Good...you know...good!

Once again, all the pictures on this blog were taken by Sammy. If you want to see an album of her pictures during her stay in Ecuador, see here.

We spent the morning lazing around chatting with each other. We eventually all managed to get dressed and take Fredi for a short walk. Brian & Sammy headed off for the airport at 1:30 in the afternoon. They're going to overnight in Quito and Sammy's flight leaves Quito to Houston at 7:25 the next morning. She's got a 9 hour lay-over in Houston, so she's hoping she'll be able to catch the shuttle (she read about on line) to the aquarium there. We had a wonderful visit! Next time hopefully both Sammy & her husband will be able to make the trip down. Now...between Christmas & operations & Sammy's visit & a trip to the coast, we've had a very busy last few months. We're looking forward to just being quiet for awhile and enjoying our Ecuador.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

At the Beach with Camp Director Uncle Bob

We were up bright and early (5 am) Thursday morning to catch our van going to Guayaquil. The bus left at 7 am. It was mostly an uneventful trip; there was some fog in the mountains and some construction but nothing too delaying or frightening. Our driver was great! He didn't put fear in our throat even once. We arrived in Guyaquil at 10:15. The van put us out about 5 blocks from the bus terminal so we had to catch a cab there. We asked the van driver how much we should pay for a cab to the terminal and he told us $1.50. The first cab driver that arrived asked for $5 and when we said "No, uno cincuenta" he growled at us, slammed his door and roared off. The second cab driver asked for $2 and we got in. Upon arriving at the Mall adjoining the bus terminal Brian immediately went off to book our tickets to Manglaralto (where Bob & Rox live) and Sammy & Shelley waited in the cool air conditioned Mall for his return. The next express bus was due to leave at 1:00 pm so we trotted off to the McDonalds in the Mall for a McFiesta Burger.

Fortunately we were able to get seats right in the front of the bus and the trip took 3 hours. Shelley & Sammy sat together and Brian sat with a young man (18) who was off to visit his sister in Olon. Brian & he chatted the entire time. The young fellow had recently applied to go to the University of British Columbia so was very interested that we were originally from Vancouver and wanted to practice his English which was excellent. He'd also applied to a University in Spain and had been accepted but really wanted to go to UBC if possible. At the end of the trip, we wished him "buena suerte" & thanked him for his help in getting the bus driver to let us off where we were to meet Bob at the south end of Manglaralto.

Brian had phoned Bob when we were about half an hour out from their place and Bob had advised us that unfortunately he'd left the key turned in their vehicle and thus their battery was dead so he met us on the road just a block away from where they live. We happily walked the rest of the way, glad to be exercising again & at the end of our journey.

Upon arriving at their "estate" we settled in, had an absolutely wonderful meal of chicken with bacon & cheese, a fresh fruit salad & roasted potatoes. We spent the evening watching Coco & Fredi renew their friendship, admired their sea view, listened to the breakers throwing themselves at the beach & gloried in the fabulous sunset. Now that Fredi & Coco are both a little bit more mature, their play was somewhat less frenetic but they are still obviously the best of pals & really enjoy each other's company. The humans enjoyed each other's company too!

After living in Cuenca, the heat & humidity of the coast was a bit of a shock but we managed to sleep well and spent a leisurely morning the next day catching up with each other. Sammy was however, bitten by 49 bugs. We had a breakfast of Ecuadorian buns & jam & coffee, all the while watching the ocean & listening to the pounding waves. Sammy finally said that being on the Coast was more "foreign" and we all kept a look out for iguanas for her.

Breakfast over, we hopped in Uncle Bob & Rox's car (their battery having been recharged at the local station the night before by their "help") and took a ride around the countryside taking in the sights. We saw the Escuela De la Mar, a school built in the shape of an Ark but unfortunately on a cliff that was now eroding to the point where the whole thing was in danger of tumbling into the ocean several hundred feet below. We went to a wonderful park where we saw the bones of a whale set up in skeleton form and a set of signs pointing to all the major cities of the world. We drove through the Machalilla National Park and had our pictures taken with leaves the size of elephant ears and finally ended up in Puerto Lopez where we had lunch at a spanking clean hotel with a very charming inner court yard.

Brian was making grumbling noises about his nap, so we returned to "Wistful Vista" (Brian's name for Bob & Rox's home on the ocean. This is a reference to Fibber McGee & Molly) We all got to rest for awhile before we headed out that evening for Montanita to eat supper at the Casa Blanca (Bob & Rox's favourite restaurant). Following dinner we once again sat on their balcony, taking in the roaring of the ocean, chattering & just enjoying their magnificent view.

Next morning after another breakfast of rolls & jam, Uncle Bob decided it was time for the gang to go for a swim. Brian & Sammy & Rox all got on their bathing suits & took out their boogie boards & played in the surf while Shelley & Bob took pictures and tried to keep relatively dry. We had a lunch of chicken salad (absolutely enormous!) and then left Rox babysitting the 2 puppies and drove to Montanita so Sammy could explore some of the shopping there. After that we took a drive on the Olon Beach and admired some of the luxury homes, mostly owned by old money from Guayaquil. We also stopped and got some pics of the surfers riding the waves and did a little bit of beach combing. Shelley picked up a shell cluster from the beach as a souvenir.

Once again, poor Brian was late going down for his nap. When it finally did happen, Fredi found it too hot to sleep on the bed with him and actually chose to nap under a table in our room on the cool of the floor.

For dinner we had home made potato salad & fried hotdogs. Doesn't sound like much (?) Well as a matter of fact it was like a gourmet meal! Once again we settled down on their patio, watched the sun set and chatted with each other and then tried to bed down in the heat fairly early.

Our bus left for Guayaquil at 9:45 so we were all up and at 'em by 8 o'clock in the morning. Hot rolls & jam again fortified us for our trip, with a bag-full to go. Bob drove us to the bus station at Olon in order to get ahead of the surfer mob which piles aboard at Montanita. The entire trip from Olon to Cuenca took about 8 hours with a 45 minute lay over in Guayaquil for a bite to eat. We travelled through a 6 lane highway system, into banana fields, rice paddies & avocado groves; up and through thick green jungle like foliage until we reached Cajas National Park which is a highland desert. We managed to see several llama herds in the Park and Sammy actually was a little bit interested. "There were chickens!" she pipes up.

Bob & Rox are extremely gracious and did everything they could to ensure that we got the most out of our visit. Uncle Bob did act like a bit of an exuberant camp counsellor from time to time but in the end we got all the appropriate pictures and saw all the highlights of the area. Thanks Bob & Rox!

All the pictures on this blog were once again taken by Sammy. A link to pictures from this trip and previous trips to the Montanita area can be found here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Staying Dry

The only hitch Sammy went through on her flights here was that her Houston to Quito leg was delayed one hour. Brian did manage to get curry powder in Quito, as well as chili flakes and some Italian seasoning. Sammy brought all the requested goodies from Canada and we spent an hour when she first arrived at the apartment showing off the bounty we'd accumulated for each other. It's been a rough few days for Sammy; she had spent the previous week not getting more than 4 hours sleep a night and was up from 5 a.m. Friday until midnight Saturday with just little cat naps on the plane. Thus, after having a shower we spent the afternoon drinking coffee, sitting on the patio and chatting quietly, getting caught up with each other and just being glad we were together. In the late afternoon we took a walk downtown. Sammy got sprayed across her shoulders by a giant water gun from a car and we saw several young people brandishing water balloons but managed to stay off their radar. A lot of shops are normally quiet on Sunday but this Sunday most everything was closed down. The place we had thought we'd eat at wasn't open, so we ended up having pizza at Nice Cream. It was fine. We got home about 6 o'clock and chatted and watched TV and Sammy ended up falling asleep on the couch at around 7:30.

On Monday, as per our usual, we went shopping at SuperMaxi. This may sound unexciting for a visitor but just about everyone is interested in what a grocery store carries. Brian is going to show Sammy how to make his "semi-world-famous (well in our house)" beef stew, so he took her to the meat counter and showed her which cuts of beef to buy. Believe it or not, Sammy picked up a container of that hard dish soap (sapolia) to take back as a semi-gag gift for one of her friends. Since shopping seemed to be our theme for the day after we returned home, Sammy & Shelley set off for the Mall del Rio. As it's carnival time, there were no buses so we took a cab ($2.50 from our place). Shelley had wanted Sammy to see one of Ecuador's modern malls so that she'd form a correct impression of the country right from the get go. We ate at Burger King and enjoyed that but a mall's a mall & prices there were relatively North American equivalent. After trudging around looking at most of the shops, we took another cab downtown & went to the Nice Cream for tea & cappuccino. Downtown was quiet. Most of the stores & restaurants were still closed. We encountered several marauding groups of teenagers and got slightly wet one time until a balloon was thrown at us and didn't pop. We then had our own ammunition and were safe after that. We walked home from downtown and upon arrival Shelley had a bath, soaking her aching feet & Sammy Skyped her husband. Fredi was very happy to see us (especially Sammy; the little unloyal puppy hussy).

The next day we walked downtown once again, hopeful that something would be open. As it turned out, the Barranco Panama Hat Museum on Calle Larga 10-41 was open and Sammy bought her husband a genuine panama hat & a straw purse for herself. Incidentally, we met a young fellow from Victoria, B.C. who was at the Panama Hat Museum setting up a website for them (small world). In the near future, anyone in the world will be able to buy a panama hat from the Barranco Hat Museum in Cuenca.

There were a few more shops with their shutters up but largely downtown was dead. Once again, we carefully sidestepped water bombers, getting only slightly damp and eventually stopped in the middle of town. We had ice cream and then caught a cab home. After lunch, when Brian & Fredi went down for their naps, Sammy & Shelley took a walk through the neighbourhood. We'd been invited out for dinner that evening at a friend's place and thus spent a couple of hours at home relaxing in the afternoon before going out. Our evening out was wonderful. The hostess served salt tenderized beef with broccoli salad, lemon roasted potatoes & a home made sponge cake with strawberries & whipped cream. As always at their place, the meal was fantastic. We'd never been to their new home before and were delighted by the extra special touches throughout their lovely hobbitesque adobe house.

Off we went on Wednesday to the Feria Libre Market. Sammy said it reminded her of the outdoor market in Richmond, B.C. which has a very strong mainland Chinese influence. Brian & Shelley both groaned as it seems there is nothing in Ecuador that startles or hugely impresses her. This is not to say she's not having a good time, she is, but perhaps it's easier for young people to assimilate (?) or Sammy just is very hard to impress. In the morning before we left, Brian taught her the basics in making his beef stew and after we came back from the market, he continued to show her the various steps. Sammy's told Brian she can't duplicate his recipes until she's actually seen him prepare it from start to finish so she especially asked he make this while she was here.

All the pictures on this blog were taken by Sammy. We've tried to get her to take pictures of the meat hanging in the markets, and a whole roast pig and raw & cooked cuy but she refuses. "I'll take the pictures I want to take" she tells us.

Sammy & Shelley tried (for the 2nd time) to go to the Modern Art Museum but it was closed yet again. Before it was closed due to carnival, this time the closure may have had something to do with siesta. In any case, disappointed once again, we walked downtown. We looked inside the fabulous court house building, stopped for tea & bought souvenirs for Sammy's friends & relatives back home. After wandering around for several hours we caught a blue bus home just so Sammy could have the "bus" experience. She said just before we boarded, "I guess I'd better hang on, huh?!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

With Glowing Hearts

Whenever we've gone to the coast before we've always taken a regular bus but this time, with our daughter coming with us, and with a fairly tight turn around schedule, we decided to try one of the vans we'd heard about. We phoned a friend and then took a walk to the offices of Operazuaytur on Thursday and prepaid for our tickets. The regular bus to Guayaquil is about $6 and the van is $12. You are allowed one piece of small luggage and as we are taking something to our friends on the coast, we paid for one additional piece of luggage ($6). Brian is over 65 so his $12 fare was reduced to $6. There are 3 rows of seats in the van, with 2 seats in the front, 3 in the middle and 3 in the back, plus a very small storage place behind the last set of seats. The van leaves at 7 in the morning and apparently takes 3 hours to get to Guayaquil. We'll probably take the bus back to Cuenca but thought we'd try this out. You can be sure that if anything untoward happens, we'll report it!

OH!...by the way...AeroGal phoned and changed 5 of the 6 flight times in our saga to get Brian to Quito to pick up our daughter and return her there at the end of her holiday. Now, this happened with AeroGal on our trip to the Galapagos as well. None of the flight time changes were too onerous or inconvenient this time (for the Galapagos trip we had to leave a day earlier than planned and overnight in Guayaquil), it's just that now it's happened twice in a row. We chose AeroGal because frankly their snacks are better and their staff more personable but this changing of flight times is annoying. We'll try them at least one more time(we really do like their snacks) in the future and then perhaps rethink going back to TAME.

Friday took us to the Sankt Florian Restaurant for lunch where we met up with a friend of a friend and his friends. (Confused [?] You know: Our friend tells us their friend is going to be in Ecuador: "Be sure to get together" and their friend brings friends.) We had the lunch special which was potato soup, mushroom spaghetti, fresh fruit juice & a heated slice of pineapple for dessert ($3). It was all very good and it was nice talking to new people about their impressions of Ecuador & their plans for the future. Once again however, we got back late for Brian & Fredi's nap. This simply cannot continue.

As it worked out, taking into account the time differences, our daughter and Brian left the ground at relatively the same time on Saturday. We'd heard there were problems with the Dallas airport (snow ~ can you believe it?) and were a tad worried as Sammy was going to land in Houston. We text(ed) her but all was well. Brian planned on spending his day in Quito looking for things that we are unable to find in Cuenca, such as chili powder & maybe even some decent European type sausages. He later wrote (on a frustrating [for him} Spanish keyboard) that he could not find chili power. We had encountered a Swiss deli when in Quito the first time and he was going to try and find it again. Shelley played scrabble on the computer, watched TV, read, took Fredi for a couple of walks & generally patiently waited. (Fredi wasn't so patient; she spent her time longing for the alpha male to return.)

There's a pile of junk, on the river bank outside our window, covered up by a tarp. It's a pack sack, some clothes, more of this and that. It's been there for 2 days now. (Eventually the "men in green" take away such garbage.) Shelley just got up from her seat at the computer and looked out the window. Brian had commented the day before that it looked like a pile of stuff that had been stolen and then abandoned. There's a young fellow sorting through the bounty. He's looked into the pack sack and inspecting everything that's there. After awhile, he closed up the tarp and took away a couple of things. The tarp is a nice touch. It keeps everything dry. We wonder....

One of the reasons our daughter is able to come for her visit is the 2010 Winter Olympics. Can you imagine (?) the Winter Olympics causes someone to come to Ecuador, South America. Her office closed down for the 2 weeks the Olympics was to be held in Vancouver, Canada and thus Sammy had the time to come see us. We've been keeping in touch with the Olympics as much as we can and praying for snow for them. There's not much coverage on the television we get but WWW provides details via various sources. It's a surprise to us how "patriotic" we feel (with glowing hearts) about the whole thing. (Canadians are noted for being polite & dull & stalwart but hardly ever patriotic.) The mere description in the on-line Vancouver Sun Newspaper of the opening ceremonies had us tearing up. Had we been located in Vancouver we'd be complaining about the constant media chatter & the inconvenience of all the tourists. There's nothing like distance to give a form of perspective; right or wrong.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do We Need Help?

It's almost 10 o'clock Sunday night. It's been raining quite heavily off and on all day and the river is very high. Watching out our front window Brian said out loud "Huh!" and Shelley, in the kitchen, asked him what was going on. Apparently there was a youngish couple down by the river and he was fishing with a net.

"Fishing with a net when the river's roaring like that?" Shelley asked.

In any case, the young man caught 2 fish! Out in the dark, it's raining, the river's high & rushing & black and now a young couple has a very tasty supper or breakfast coming up. Huh!

From time to time the conversation amongst a group of expats will touch on the hierarchy class system in Ecuador. It appears that the old time Spanish families rank at the top and the pecking order descends through many layers with the descendants of former slaves sitting at the bottom. The country's Indigenous people make up most of the middle. There is also a very large emerging middle class of Indigenous/Spanish mix who seem to make up the ranks of the bureaucracy and professions.

Some see this hierarchy system more strongly than others. We've heard comments about being shunned by both high Spanish & low Indigenous but have never actually encountered this ourselves. We have noticed Senoras hogging the aisles at SuperMaxi but we've noticed this in Vancouver too. We have also observed a complete lack of concern for pedestrians and were actually at one time told this was part of the hierarchy system, in that if you were a pedestrian you obviously didn't own a car and thus were on the lower scale of life in the country. This may or may not be true, but we choose to see it as a lack of driver training rather than a country wide systematic prejudice. (PS:- Ecuador has recently implemented a very stringent licensing program; this however will take years to filter down.)

In Ecuador (like Canada) a small percentage owns the greatest share of the wealth. This is not a new or isolated phenomenon. There are always going to be people who take offence when no offence was intended as well as people who set themselves above others and offend with impunity. There is nothing that can be encapsulated in a couple of paragraphs, a story, a book, a lifetime that will change the determined prejudices of some. We say bueno to all open to receive it and it comes back to us from those willing to share and with that we are content.

A friend in the States asked us to look at a piece of property and send pictures, so off we went Tuesday downtown to accommodate. After we'd taken several pictures, we headed to the post office to see if we had any mail and to pay for our PO Box for the next year ($23.50; Note: Our PO Box in Canada cost > $90 for a year.) Having accomplished our agenda for the day, we headed for the park just to sit in the sun and see what there was to see for awhile. It wasn't long before an acquaintance passed by and we chatted for 15 minutes or so. Heading off to the bus we bumped into some friends and stood on a street corner and talked about that and this until we had it all sorted out and then climbed down the stairs and across the river to catch the number 7 bus home. As it was, we were behind schedule and Brian & Fredi were forced to go down late for their nap.

As we were planning on eating out with a few friends at Tiesto's Wednesday evening, we spent the day puttering & pottering. Tiesto's was, as always, an experience. We met a new soul & chittered with our friends & ate good food & enjoyed the great service. If there is such a thing as Ecuadorian gourmet comida tipica, Tiesto's is the place to get it. Best to go with a group if you can but they do serve individual meals as well as their dinners for 4.

A few weeks ago Shelley had spotted an electric sandwich maker ($35) at the appliance store near our place and it's existence had haunted her ever since. A few days ago, she got up from the couch, told Brian she'd be back in a less than half an hour and walked out to the store and bought it. (Fredi couldn't figure out what was going on.) It makes absolutely wondrous panini type sandwiches. On the boat you see, with so little room and even less counter space, we were unable to have any appliances except a microwave. Now we have a microwave, a blender, a slow cooker and our recently purchased sandwich maker. We've been eyeing electric cappuccino makers with a foamer at SuKasa lately but haven't yet taken the plunge. We have a perfectly fine Italian espresso stove top coffee maker that we used on the boat for many years & brought from Canada with us. There's nothing breakable about it, it only needs it's gasket changed about once every 2 years and it makes a perfectly good cup of coffee. People actually comment: "This is a great cup of coffee!" After years of living on the boat and having to be very careful about our purchases & somewhat prideful about our small "foodprint", the room we now have seems to be going to our heads. Helicopters, cappuccino machines, panini makers, slow cookers, blenders, microwaves ~ what could be next (?!) Do we need help?

Brian says hopefully, "What helicopter?"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Can Dogs Get High Cholesterol?

We'd been invited out Tuesday evening for dinner at a friend's place. Fredi got her feet washed, Brian ironed a clean shirt, Shelley put on perfume and off we went. We had humus & toast as a pre-nibbly, an avocado & shrimp appetizer, coq au vin was the main course & an absolutely to die for chocolate dessert with fresh fruit topped off the meal. Needless to say, we ate far too much, enjoyed the company immensely and had a very pleasant evening talking about our adventures in Ecuador & our plans for the future.

The next day was dentist day (oh boy!) Brian's on a 3 month recall as it's very important he keeps the few teeth he has left and Shelley goes every 6 months to get her teeth cleaned. As it was, we both had an appointment. The dentist gave us a thumbs up regarding our teeth and we were both quite happy to have the event behind us for several months again.

Scouting out one of the walks Shelley wants to take her daughter on when she arrives, we set out on Thursday from home and walked down Doce de Abril to the Millennium Mall. Taking this walk we passed the University of Cuenca with it's marvelous Vega mural, the wonderful artisans' mall just beyond the University & the Medical Museum. All along the walk is magnificent old architecture (el Barranco) perched on the hill on the town side of the river. Every so often there's a different kind of bridge crossing over the river and almost all of them are quite photogenic. At the Millennium Mall, the Cafe & Compañía provides what could arguably be considered one of the best cappuccinos in Cuenca. We sat and enjoyed our coffee, watched people walking by and chatted about this and that.

For a special treat on Brian's birthday, we walked downtown to the Kookaburra Cafe and combined several things off their breakfast menu to make a wonderful brunch. The place was hopping ~ all Gringos ~ and even though we've only been there once before, the proprietor remembered Brian's name. That morning he'd talked to his friend John in Holland on Skype and received a number of birthday greetings from friends and the kids. Shelley had made him a birthday card (which is all we do for each other these days) and placed it on top of the computer so that he'd see it first thing in the morning before she got up. The day was warm & sunny and Shelley teased him, pretending to think he was actually 2 years younger than his now 69.

"You just don't want me to be almost 70 because then that'd make you old" Brian told her.

Shelley laughed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing but continued to tease him throughout the day. "You'll always be 67 to me!"

The river was up quite a bit and the roadway was wet when we woke up Saturday morning. It had rained a little in Cuenca and obviously quite a bit in the hills. As we had been invited to a dinner party that evening, we only took Fredi for a short walk in the wetness outside and then gave her little feet a bit of a wash when we got home. That evening we packed a towel in Shelley's bag to wipe Fredi's feet with and set off for our dinner engagement. It continued to rain, sometimes just drizzling, sometimes biblical, all evening. We had a wonderful dinner with absolutely delightful people. For appetizers there was bruschetta that was so tasty it was tough not to eat too many before our meal. Dinner presented us with marinated chicken, asparagus & a kind of scalloped potato, plus a stupendous salad with strawberries topping it & a home made dressing. A scrumptious carrot cake rounded out the meal and for the 2nd time this week we ate far too much. Good company, good food, a warm interior and rain outside; a cozy, comfortable, charming evening.

Downtown in the main square on Sunday once again there were dancers. They announced next Sunday would be the last occasion for what has been an indigenous dance festival lasting several weeks. Their costumes are always dramatic and quite often they'll hoot and holler while they move around. Sometimes there seems to be someone "calling" the movements like they do for square dancing. In any case, we quite enjoy it and every Sunday there's something new for us to see. While we were downtown this time we ran into 3 different childrens' parades; the consistent motif this week seemed to be horses.

These days, Shelley & Fredi sit on a bench at the 10th of August market while Brian goes upstairs to get his roast pig. Every time she's there one or two Fredi admirers come by and a stilted conversation about Fredi & Cuenca always ensues. Brian's been going to different roast pig ladies lately and has hit on one that consistently gives him a bit more pig than the others and knows he likes a fair bit of crackling for Fredi. Fredi knows when we've got crackling in the house; ever vigilant in the kitchen until it's all gone. Can dogs get high cholesterol?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Saga Continues

The end of the month was upon us once again and on Friday we did our rounds paying our gas, electricity, rent & internet bills. Our electricity bill was a bit higher this month; $7 more than usual. The young woman tried to explain to Brian what was going on but "no entiendo". There's a vague recollection that this happened last year as well. We could pull out the bills but...that seems like work...doesn't it. Perhaps a once a year adjustment? Shelley commented to Brian, "Even if our electricity bill was 14 dollars a month, I'd still think it was a deal!" Brian agreed.

After we'd finished we stopped in at the Nice Cream restaurant near the main square and had ourselves some lime tea with the usual complimentary cookies. It was quite warm out and it was nice sitting, calm & cool, watching the people walk by and all the gabble in the restaurant. Several months ago we had a conversation with a German fellow who apparently opened up the first ice cream palace in Cuenca; this was many years ago. He said at that time he had to take the money home in sacks! These days, with competition everywhere, it's a good living but the time of sacks of cash thrown over his shoulder are over.

Brian's friend John (currently in Holland) recently spent 5 weeks in Peru. We were scheduled to meet John in Peru at a seaside resort but a pesky operation got in our way. The pictures on this blog are some of John's pictures from his holiday; the things we missed. Aren't they spectacular?

All Friday evening we were without water. There had been a notice in our elevator that they were going to clean the cisterns Friday morning. Friday morning, sure enough the water was off but by noon the water was back on, albeit a little dirty. Later on we saw workmen with giant hoses squirting water from the building into the street. We wondered what that was all about? Later on still, the water went off again. Around 11:30 pm the water came back on, gushing in the toilets & through the pipes, waking us up and making quite the racket. They seem to "clean the cisterns" about once every 4 to 6 months. We have no idea exactly what they're doing.

We thought we'd try the walk to Feria Libre on Saturday to pick up a pound of chicken livers as Fredi was just about out of her doggie treats. The recipe Shelley uses is a combination of a couple of recipes she found on the net. You can substitute baby food meat for the pulverized chicken livers but then you would probably have to add some more liquid. In any case, as noted on the recipe, Shelley tells people Fredi will "wash the dishes" for one of these cookies. Brian made the walk both up and back from Feria Libre and we were quite pleased with him! Fredi vigilantly kept track of the chicken livers from the time they were bought until the time the cookies were put into the freezer.

Being from Vancouver, rain doesn't stop us from doing much, so even though it was sprinkling a little bit, we took off for our usual Sunday walk downtown. We thought we wouldn't see our friends in the park, but we did! They've taken to eating breakfast at a new place each Sunday and then stopping at the park afterwards. There were dancers (this is the 3rd or 4th weekend in a row) doing their thing with canned music & we chatted with our friends for awhile, filled out a tourist survey (even though we told them we lived in Cuenca) and took pictures of the dancers. On our way home we stopped at the market and Brian picked up roast pig. For $2 he gets enough for 4 or 5 sandwiches. It was a particular treat this time because it's been several weeks since the last time.

Shopping, chores, figuring out our budget for 2010, emails to the kids, Fredi walks, reading, TV, Lexulous (like Scrabble) on Facebook, Twitter, cooking, talking to a friend on Skype, naps, etc. took up our Monday. It's all very mundane but it's our mundane and we aren't the least bit bored or wishing for something else. We are getting quite excited about our daughter coming in less than 2 weeks now! She went out shopping last weekend and picked up most of the things on our "we can't find them in Ecuador list" like: a teeth whitening product, chicken bouillon without MSG, what we call "Gentlemen's leisure pants" big enough for Brian, Patak (an Indian curry paste), chai tea, hollandaise sauce mix (you know in a packet), etc. We've said this before but we're really looking forward to seeing Ecuador through the eyes of a newcomer again. After being here for 18+ months, it has really become home to us.

Brian went out to the airport on Tuesday (to the AeroGal offices) to reconfirm his tickets for the trip to Quito to pick up our daughter. One of the tickets had been corrected by hand and he wanted a re-print. They gave him one with no problem and we sort of wondered why they just didn't do that in the first place (oh well). In the mean time, Shelley took Fredi for her walk and puttered around the apartment. Brian was gone the best part of 2 hours and towards the end Shelley began to wonder what was keeping him. It turned out the AeroGal office was busy, the bus was interminably slow and he'd stopped off at a store near the airport that sells working model helicopters.

Brian has been campaigning for a helicopter since we've lived on the boat. Shelley kept asking him where he'd keep it on the boat and his quick reply was that he'd build a hanger on the back deck. As our back deck was pretty small, Shelley knew her argument was safe. Wandering one of Cuenca's malls one day, we came across a kiosk that was selling remote control helicopters. The model he was attracted to sells for about $300. If you want one that could conceivably attack small villages, they are considerably more. Now...we've got more room these days, a balcony and an extra bedroom, but we've pretty much managed to use up the space we've been alloted. Brian had bargained (with himself) that once he was through his operation and on the mend, then he'd get a helicopter. Shelley cleverly never agreed to this; mostly she'd open her eyes wide, turn around and find something else to do. We're expecting a refund on our income taxes this year again. Last year we got a pretty hefty one. We usually like to spend this money on something frivolous. Now Brian's idea of frivolous vs just plain stupid and Shelley's notion don't always agree. The saga continues.