Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tungurahua Still Smoking

After bragging about not having a cold for almost 2 years, Tuesday morning Brian woke up feeling some what snuffy and with a bit of a cough. We went about our day with no more symptoms and in the evening we went out to the Terrace Bar & Grill (Av. del Estadio 1-36 y Florencia Astudillo) with another couple. We've only been there once before, but both meals were stupendous and we really enjoyed ourselves. (They specialize in great steaks!) As it was a Tuesday the place was almost empty but the other time we went was a weekend and the place was packed. It was a lovely evening with interesting people and we really enjoyed ourselves.

Wednesday morning Brian woke up quite stuffed up, had minor laryngitis & asked Shelley for the vitamin C (you know it's bad when he does that). Shelley took Fredi out for her walk alone and Brian spent the day snuffing & napping & coughing but not feeling terribly terribly awful. It's a small cold and it's warm out. It's not like being sick in the damp & cold, shivering, red nosed & miserable. We broke out some of Brian's chicken soup from the freezer so tomorrow the age old recipe should "cure" him. Thursday was more of the same. The soup definitely did some good but Brian still wasn't up to snuff. He had to beg off going to a concert in the evening as his laryngitis wasn't any better. He felt run down but not too awfully sick. Friday was bill day and we bundled Brian and his scratchy throat up and did our rounds. Everything went well but he was quite ready to lie down and read for awhile when we got home. Fredi wanted to know why nap time was so early?

The big news was the Tungurahua volcano exploded on Friday, forcing the evacuation of at least seven villages and closing down the airport at Guayaquil. The last time Tungurahua erupted (February 2008) we happened to be in Riobamba. We woke up in the morning and the streets were covered in ash, you could see the volcano smoke billowing in the distance and people walked around the streets with masks over their noses & mouths. It was all quite exciting! A couple of weeks later we went to Banos and rode up into the hills on ATVs to the point where we got a pretty good view of Tungurahua still smoking. By happenstance we ran into a fellow up in the hills that was a volcano watcher. They apparently have several of these people stationed in little huts near the various volcanoes with a bit of equipment and some pretty good binoculars. Although our Spanish wasn't that good, Brian and his friend Jan actually spent quite some time talking to the fellow and looking at maps, etc. In Cuenca right now, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the occasional cloud scuds across and you'd never know there was a big commotion going on somewhere else in the country.

Regarding studying Spanish: When we first got to Cuenca we studied Spanish an hour and a half each day for almost a year. At that time, we decided we could have the weekends off and studied Spanish an hour a day, 5 days a week. Then we decided studying in the morning interfered with our shopping day, so we cut it down to 4 days a week for an hour each day. Then Brian got sick and we cut out studying all together. Then Brian got better but we decided not to resume studying until after our daughter had visited. After our daughter came and went, we just haven't gotten back to it. Thus, we studied Spanish for 19 months and are now taking a hiatus. Brian is much better at the language than Shelley is. He chats quite happily with taxi drivers, our security guard, our neighbours, people in the shops, etc. These days he'll even make a phone call to complain about our internet service (for example). Shelley's skills, despite studying along side Brian, aren't nearly as good. She still relies on a bright smile and pointing. (Don't underestimate what can be done with a bright smile and pointing!) Sooner or later we'll get back to our studying. Our pile of Spanish language study books sits in our computer room mocking us. We haven't given up; we're simply taking a vacation.

As we had been looking unsuccessfully for a small lamp for our spare bedroom for some time now, we decided to lock Fredi in the bedroom and take the #28 bus to SuperStock (Av. de las Americas S.N y Juan Larrea) on Saturday. We found a lamp right away, plus a couple of others things we had not intended to buy. We then stopped by Coral Centro and took a walk around but managed to resist buying anything. Our mega store shopping stamina has dwindled considerably and we wearily caught a bus home to an overjoyed Fredi.

On Sunday we did our usual: walked to the park, met some friends and chattered while sitting on a bench for awhile, got Brian's roast pig and caught the bus home. Sitting at the bus stop waiting along with us were 3 children between the ages of 4 and 10 (2 boys and a girl). They of course wanted to pet Fredi, know her name, whether she was male or female and where we were from. It's probably good for us to talk with children in that their language skills are closer to our own. Just before our bus came, we bought some home-made potato chips from them and waved goodbye. It was a lovely day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have We Mentioned?

Remembering a Typical Day: Up at 6 am, getting the kids up, fixing them breakfast & nagging them to get ready. Then off to day care and school, work, meetings, lunch, meetings, work. Picking up the kids. Off to the store to get something for supper. Cooking. Some minor cleaning; maybe a load of laundry. Rushing off to the community centre for the kids swim lessons. Bathing the kids, getting them to bed, having a bath yourself. An hour of TV. Suddenly it's 11 o'clock and other than riding on the bus and bath time you've had no time for yourself. Alternative: Up at 5 am, off to work, meetings, work, lunch, meetings, work. Working dinner. Off to more meetings and more work and more meetings. Watch the news. Shower. Crash into bed. It's midnight.

Have we mentioned we're enjoying retirement?

It was drippy out on Friday. We've had virtually no rain all week, so it was OK that it was drippy out. Nevertheless, we needed to get out for at least a Fredi-walk and a bit of fresh air for the 3 of us. We decided to go to the spice store and see if they had pecans. We'd tried twice before unsuccessfully but this time they in fact did provide. We got a medium as well as a small size package of chopped pecans for $7.50 total. The woman in the store did the international rubbing thumb and fingers together to indicate they were pricey when we asked for them. It was OK. We wanted them and don't use them all that often. We also asked about currants but they didn't have any. A customer in the store suggested SuperMaxi but we've looked there to no avail. When we told her this, she advised us we'd have to go to Guayaquil in that case to get them. We managed to make it home before it really started to rain and Shelley made pasta salad for a soiree we're planning on attending on Saturday.

It was a bit muddy outside on Saturday, so we took Fredi for a sidewalk walk around the neighbourhood, ran into a couple of friends and chatted for a bit, bought a box of wine to take to the soiree that evening and generally spent most of the day simply puttering around. The soiree was great! We talked to lots of people we know and a few people we didn't and generally all had a good time. There was tons of food!

What do we miss? Not too much, obviously, or we wouldn't still be here. Shelley misses her girls; the easy contact; being there for them. Brian misses prime rib; but we've been advised of a place where we might be able to get one, so eventually we'll try it out. We miss the sound of lanyards clanking on masts during a windy spell in the marina but our building provides a lovely wooing noise when the wind blows, so it's not too bad. Shelley misses the constant "newness" in products in the grocery store and elsewhere. Every time we'd shop in Canada there'd be something new to discover on the shelf; here it takes a little longer. We miss having the pedestrian right-of-way. That takes some getting used to. We don't miss the cold. We don't miss the crabby people in the city. We don't miss work. We don't miss the general feeling of stress or tension we lived with for so long that we didn't even know it was there, until it was gone. We miss Canada itself. Funny huh? We miss people talking about hockey instead of politics. (Note: Shelley is equally bored by both.) We don't miss the constant rain. We don't miss $3.75 bus rides or $30 taxi rides. Do we belong here yet; belong in Ecuador (?) like we did without thinking in Canada. Close. The people here are generally very accepting. No one gives us a second glance on the bus these days. We crowd in and jostle with the best of them. Everyone smiles at Fredi and we feel welcome. Is that us or them? Perspective changes over time and becomes relative. It's a day-by-day process. We continue on, happy with our decision. It's OK to miss a few things. We know this; we didn't run from, we journeyed to.

It was another great day on Sunday and we walked to the park, sat around for an hour and then got Brian's roast pig. Monday we went shopping and Brian took his hand at trying to make pie crust for a meat pie, using left-overs from beef stew. His pie crust turned out like Shelley's. Tasty but cobbled together (somewhat). Neither one of us seems to have the knack of rolling out crust. We tried putting it in the fridge for several hours this time before rolling it out. That helped, but the whole process is really an art. Maybe between the 2 of us, we'll eventually get it! Brian insists that this is his first time, so he didn't do all that bad. By the way...the meat pie was absolutely delicious.

As Shelley's income tax finally came through, we headed off downtown to buy her a new blouse in celebration. "Hey!" you say. "Shelley got a new blouse also when Brian's income tax went through. Doesn't that man deserve a helicopter?"

And we let a profound silence settle around those words.

Afterward we went and had a cup of lime tea & then sat in the park for awhile listening to The Wabash College Men's Glee Club from Indiana do their thing. They're apparently on a tour of Ecuador from May 19th to June 2nd. They sounded lovely and the audience was very appreciative even though most of the songs were sung in English. They did, however, do the Ecuadorian National Anthem in Spanish to much clapping when it was finished.

Please note: all (except for the last one) of the pictures in this blog were taken from a temporary wall put up around a construction site.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grateful For the Time

In the comment section of our blog someone named Anonymous asked us what our annual expenses have been in Ecuador for the last two years. The following is a monthly breakdown. One would multiply this by 24 to get an estimate for 2 years. Rent $300, Maintenance $75, Groceries $400, Utilities & water $30, Transportation $10, TV $35, Internet $35, Telephone $10.

Everything else is a variable, really. We eat out about once a week for about $25 (wine & tip included). We take a holiday here in Ecuador every 4 months or so and this usually costs us around $300. Brian goes to the dentist every 3 months ($20) and Shelley every 6 months ($55). We give money to charities. We buy clothes from time to time but a custom made shirt for Brian costs around $25 and we spend about $50 a month on books. We spent $5000 on health care earlier this year but that was a bargain (if such a thing can be said about health care). A regular visit to a Doctor costs around $25. Concerts are often free in Cuenca and one of our main sources of entertainment is walking (we need the exercise). Videos are $1.50 to purchase. Brian's been taking cooking classes recently for $20 a class but don't forget this includes a meal.

Anonymous suggested that we were careful with our money but we don't really feel that way. We live the way we like to live and don't have to worry about money. That's one of the many reasons we chose to live in Ecuador. Please note: In order to get a indefinite pensioners' visa one must have an income of at least $800 U.S. net per month. Another way to get a visa is to put up a $25,000 bond or buy property here. As mentioned in our last blog, one should come for a holiday first to determine if Ecuador is the right place for "you". If your answer is "yes", you should check with a reputable Ecuadorian lawyer while here to find out the current regulations. Gringo night in Cuenca is a good source of information to find a decent lawyer or realtor.

At Parque Calderon on Sunday it was one of those perfect days. Although fairly hot, as we sat on a bench in the shade for over an hour, there was just the slightest of breezes cooling us off. Perfect. We watched the people saunter around the park, the kids getting their pictures taken on the stuffed horses, the giant Barney blowing bubbles in the wind and we fended off young boys wanting to polish our shoes. We listened to the Sound of Silence on pan flute played by 2 young men in North American Indian costumes (complete with head dress & fringed buckskin shirt) along with the shrieks of the comedy play coming from the gazebo. Brian got his roast pig and we sauntered home in the heat. If this is winter, we certainly can handle it.

The other day we got an email from a blog friend teasing us about calling Brian's Sunday treat "roast pig" instead of pork. Brian wrote back explaining that they roasted entire pigs, legs & head & even tail on a spit so it seemed more appropriate to call the meal roast pig. Not quite believing, our blog friend wrote back somewhat amazed and commented it must be a piglet. No, no it's not, it's an entire full size roast pig and you see them everywhere. On the side of the road in the country when you're travelling on a bus. In all the public markets, pulled apart, but with the head bravely sitting there advertising the product. You see them at every fair as well as cuy (guinea pig) being turned over hot coals. We've posted pictures of the roasting pigs from time to time and will do it again. It's a taste treat that tourists will often forgo being afraid of gastric distress, but Brian has it every week and from several different places and has never had any trouble. See here for the last pic we posted. This poor pig is pretty much picked over but note the pig's ear is almost the same size as the man's hand.

On Monday, Shelley had a doctor's appointment so we did our weekly shopping on Tuesday instead. Poor Fredi had to suffer all by herself for a couple of hours 2 days in a row. Wednesday, Brian ran a few chores by himself (Poor Fredi suffered without Brian). On Thursday we headed downtown to the Post Office and also into the San Blas church neighbourhood as we haven't been there for almost a year. They were doing construction on the street, taking up paving stones and digging a ditch for a new sewer system. This encompassed 4 or 5 blocks of Simon Bolivar. We sat in the shade of a tree in the square in front of the church and watched the workers & enjoyed the pleasant breeze. Watching the world go by has become just about our favourite pastime.

Let's talk about the river outside our window. We've shown several pictures of people washing their clothes in the river but it has a life much bigger than that. Right now there's a couple cleaning window screens in the river. There's a small pick-up truck parked beside them and they've come down to do a good job on their window screens. Often we'll see people fishing in the river, with a net and less often with a rod. If the river is way down and one tributary around the small island is empty, we know there'll be power rationing. If the river is way up and pushing over the grass and the stump at the end of the island, it's been raining biblical rain. We note that about once a year the rat population on the river bank has a brief explosion, although you almost never see them in the day time. Children play in the river, we've seen people washing themselves in the river, from time to time a carcass will float down from the hills.

We lived on the ocean for many years (which qualifies us as serious water people) and perhaps don't miss it as much as one would expect, partly because we have this river roaring past our apartment. At night, if the mind is whirling, one only has to make a point of listening to the river and all becomes calm. People walk their dogs along side the river. Lovers find a quiet moment under the trees near the river. We often see families picnicking along the river. Turn off the TV, stop talking, and there's the river. Omnipresent. We left the ocean and one day we'll leave "the river" but we're grateful for the time we will have had with both.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's all Somewhat Decadent

Off we went downtown on Tuesday to take care of a chore for a friend. Half way there is the Modern Art Museum, and as it's been some time since we popped in, we did.

Shelley had brought the pennies with her and a black handed youngster along with his business partner at Parque Calderon were very pleased to get them. We both noted they left the park soon after we handed them the pennies. We conjectured they felt they did well enough that day so they were off to spend their new found fortune. We're not sure the young boys who do the shoe polishing perform it out of total abject poverty. Their hands may be black from polish but their own clothes aren't tattered (albeit shoe polish stained in places) & the soles of their shoes are OK. Generally they seem clean & fairly tidy. It may have a lot to do with industry; like a paper route in Canada or the U.S. Do kids still do paper routes or is that too dangerous these days? In any case, we also stopped off at the market and Brian picked up the roast pig he missed on Sunday due to the rain. In the end, we were unable to perform the chore for our friend so it's hard to say if the day was successful or not.

We've been awaiting a credit card up for renewal & Shelley's income tax to be processed. When both have been taken care of, we're planning a holiday. The whole thing is driving Shelley mad. It's one thing to deal with these matters in your home country; you don't even think about it, they just eventually happen. It's another matter entirely when you're thousands of miles away, waiting not so patiently for things to go the way they should. There's that nagging worry that something may go awry and you'll have to deal with the problem from another continent. There's nothing to be done but wait, but Shelley (in particular) finds this difficult. Brian reassures her, points out the worst that could happen (which is not that bad, all things considered) and pats her on the hand from time to time. Shelley's not thrilled with the hand patting but appreciates the rest.

Feria Libre was on our schedule for Wednesday as Shelley wanted two things: more small cactus plants and a cheap purse. We walked on the outside of the market (which we don't normally do) to get to the plant place and noted several gentlemen borrachos lying on the street. We couldn't figure out exactly why this area would encourage that, nevertheless it was a fact. We got 3 cactus for $4 and a purse that'll last about 6 months (which is all Shelley really wants) for $12. We caught a cab home as 3 cactus in a bag is somewhat awkward and spent the rest of the afternoon napping, reading, computering & watching TV. It's all somewhat decadent.

Later on, Brian went with friends to the Concierto de la Orquesta Sinfonica de Cuenca in the Teatro Sucre. As the concert didn't start until 8 pm, Shelley wasn't interested in going, but urged Brian to go and enjoy himself. Fredi was somewhat anxious when Brian started to get ready to go out and Shelley didn't. Fredi's worst fears came to pass when Brian eventually left without her. As it turned out, the concert was cancelled and Brian arrived home an hour before he was expected. They'd gone to a restaurant and had milkshakes and set right the problems of the world.

So why move to Ecuador? One supposes there are as many reasons as there are people who do it. Adventure, politics, weather, economics, health, life style, family and the list goes on, as well as a combination of all, several or a couple of these reasons. For all the reasons there are to do it, there are just as many not to. No one can justify for another, one way or the other. Our suggestion is to try it out for 2 to 6 months. You can get a 3 month visitor entrance just on your passport and a 6 month holiday visa with a little bit of work. When we came down initially we found that our only real cost was the plane fare. Staying in hostels & eating out was easily covered by our usual day-to-day expenses back in Canada. If, while you're down here, you decide you'd like to make the move, then we suggest you contact a lawyer in Ecuador for preliminary information on getting a permanent visa. Then go back and think on it a bit. Many come for only a couple of years and then go back "home". Whatever your decision, you will have had a fabulous holiday!

Friends had invited us over for brunch Thursday morning, so it was nice starting our day outside of our regular routine. There were eggs & bacon & fabulous multi-grain toast & exotic jams & juice & great coffee. There was some discussion about the indigenous people blockading the roads in protest over water rights. As a consequence, on our way home Shelley picked up two large packages of toilet paper. If the roads are blockaded you can still get lots of fresh food, but the packaged stuff that comes in from Guayaquil & Quito gets scarce. As it happens, there was still plenty of toilet paper in the store and probably nothing to worry about. Still, Shelley feels better safe than sorry. The last time there were blockades, some of the shelves in the grocery store were rather depleted for a couple of weeks but it really wasn't that much of a hassle.

Our credit card went through renewal and then we had to go down to DirectTV to advise them of the new expiry date. We chose to pay our DirectTV bill by credit card because we signed up with them before we got our cedulas and thus didn't have a chequing account. We took a cab to their offices near the Stadium and Shelley sat out in the sun with Fredi while Brian went inside to give them the new information. This apparently took no time at all, but Brian decided as long as he was in the office he would look into possibly expanding our package. This seemed to take forever (at least in Fredi time). In the end we didn't upgrade our package but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. The day was glorious and very hot. Coming back from our chore we chose to walk a great deal of the way home and we mused on spring just starting in Canada and the hot weather here. We were over-dressed as it's been cooler and rainy for awhile but today certainly wasn't.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Ecuador Moment (or Two)

Brian was so excited about making "country" pate, as he learned in his French cooking class, that on Thursday we had to go downtown and search around for a hand meat grinder. First things first: how to ask for one? "La máquina con la que para moler carne." Got us what we were looking for. Secondly: to find a shop downtown that has such a beast. We started out in the saddle and horse harness area in the 10th of August market. Guess what? No meat grinders there. We wonder what we were thinking? We then stopped in at 3 shops that sold pots & pans & tupperware & such (getting closer) and they kept directing us on to other shops and eventually we found what we were looking for. Cost $19. Now Shelley can hardly wait to see Brian's creations. Not only does he want to make country pate but he's been waxing poetic about sausage. We'll see.

On the bus the other day, a tiny indigenous woman (4 foot 2 inches tall at most, in a traditional costume, gold surrounding more than a few of her teeth, huge smile on her face) became enamoured with Fredi. We were in the back standing area of the bus, the tiny woman with a huge bundle and Shelley carrying Fredi. Shelley was crushed in a corner, surrounded by more bundles on the floor, with her back to the bus wall. The woman was standing in front of her, facing her. Brian was behind several more bundles and the woman.

"¿Cómo se llama?" asked the woman.
"Se llama Fredi" Shelley answered back and then chaos ensued.

The wonderfully whimsical woman chatted happily to Shelley, quite animated, quite free. Shelley tried to slow her down by explained in her halting Spanish that her language skills had a bit to be desired. This did nothing to deter the gnome talking & gesturing quite rapidly to her on the bus, all the while with a huge grin on her face.

Shelley looked up at Brian beseechingly, his skills are somewhat better than hers and he gave her phrases to shoot back at the wonderful old woman petting Fredi & chattering away with Shelley. This went on for several minutes until our stop.

Shelley picked up Fredi's paw & waved it at the woman and said "ciao" (Which is Italian for hello/goodbye but somehow works in Ecuador too). The tiny woman twinkled at her with her gold filled smile and Shelley followed Brian off the bus. We turned around to wave goodbye and the fairy like creature was waving too.

An Ecuador moment.

Much to his chagrin, Brian had his quarterly dentist/cleaning appointment (3 teeth; $20) on Friday. Shelley & Fredi walked with him up to the dentist's office and then left him on his own and continued on their walk. It's been raining off and on pretty steady the last few days so the path was muddy in a few places. Fredi romped & generally had a gleeful time. Shelley had brought puppy treats with her so when it came time to go back on the leash there were no problems. Without the treats she's been known to run manically around us & back & forth, taunting with her freedom. This time though, Fredi in fact inserted her own head in the chain collar in a fit of co-operation (all of course a dastardly plot to get another puppy treat). We then walked through the tall grass in order to clean Fredi's tummy & feet off and it actually did a pretty good job. Brian came back from his appointment and reported he was a "good boy" at the dentist & is free once again for another 3 months.

Due to Brian doing a rather thorough "cull" job, we headed off to the CB Carolina Bookstore on Saturday, a couple of weeks earlier than usual. It had been raining all morning, so of course Fredi's feet & underside got quite damp but Carol still wanted to say hello and we all had a lovely chat together. We had arranged to meet a friend at the Terrace Bar & Grill that evening but our friend begged off at the last minute and Brian ended up going to the neighbourhood (Calle de Batan 5-27 E Imbabura) pizza place. This time he requested tomato sauce and we were somewhat surprised when he got it home and there was none. The pizza was very good nevertheless. We spent the evening watching movies & eating pizza & generally having a good time anyway.

Mother's Day was on Sunday. Shelley heard from her children & all was well with the world. We'd planned on going down to the park & give away all the pennies we saved for the year to one of the boy children who polish shoes. We've turned this into a kind of tradition. Don't exactly know how much money the pennies add up to but they seem eager to get it. In any case, it was raining out and we'd just given Fredi a bath the day before, so we shrank from going outside. We'll give the pennies away next week and Brian will have to live without his roast pig for a couple of days until we can get there to pick some up.

Monday we went shopping & Brian made chorizo sausage without the casings for his chicken soup that he's planning on making on Tuesday. (Note: The chorizo recipe although flavourful, turned out to be not as spicy hot as he had hoped. Brian "kicked it up a notch" by adding more cayenne pepper & chili powder.) With these cooking classes he's taking, he's become much more enthusiastic about trying to recreate some of the things we miss (food-wise) from Canada.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mere Dots in History

Of course we went shopping on Monday & Shelley made potato salad just because. Brian & Fredi went to the park and Fredi ran manic circles around the other dogs who came over to see what she was all about. Brian talked on Skype with his friend in Holland and they caught up with each other. In between a friend dropped over to give us a CD he'd copied. We'd figured out how to extend supper for him, but he had already made a dinner date. Shelley read & computered & read some more & watched TV and all in all it was a pleasant quiet day.

There was another cooking class scheduled for Brian on Tuesday afternoon/evening. This time French. Once again Fredi stuck to Shelley like glue while Brian was out; watching her in her bath, lying on her during TV time, sitting next to her during computer time, etc. Her loyalty would be greatly appreciated if Shelley didn't know she'd be deserted as soon as Brian stepped through the door.

Upon arrival home, Brian was quite excited about having learned some new culinary niceties. He was particularly pleased that he had learned a couple of basic sauces, and also reported that the evening was as much a social occasion as a cooking class. The instructor's boyfriend is from an old-time Cuenca high-class Spanish family and he regaled the company with tales of his youth, being shipped off to the United States by his father and making a success of his life in the U.S. Brian arrived home slightly tipsy because of the camaraderie, good fellowship and perhaps one dollop too much of vino tinto. He was quite excited about the cheese soufflé and a rustic chicken & veal pate.

When we first got together, Brian & Shelley, having each failed more than once in a relationship, set up a few rules to help us through our darkest days. When we lived on the boat, we always showered together. The shower was tiny and the water came from a tank, so it presented an opportunity to have genuine togetherness & also saved water. The ultimate rule was, no matter what, no matter how tired, no matter how cranky, we'd cozy & cuddle in bed at the end of the day and talk about...well...whatever came to mind.

These days that one cuddle-time has grown to three. Brian has his bath every morning and after his bath he likes to lie on the bed and dry off. He calls out "I'm done" to Shelley and she comes and lays with him and we talk about what happened when we were 5 years old, and the difference between trees in Ecuador & Canada, and whether Fredi (who always comes and cozies too) needs a brush or not and other not-so-important stuff. Later in the day, towards the end of Brian's nap, Shelley puts on a pot of coffee and goes and lies down with him to gently wake him up. Sometimes Fredi & Brian are already playing "blanket". A complicated game that involves throwing the blanket over Fredi and her finding her way out. Sometimes they're still fast asleep and Shelley wraps herself around them both and by the time the coffee is brewed the grogginess has faded away.

Lastly, there's night time. Shelley usually goes to bed an hour or so before Brian. She & Fredi read (well...Shelley reads & Fredi naps) until Brian has watched the news or the movie he's interested in, or channel flipped until he's felt ready for the end of the day himself. Brian then crawls into bed and groans. That good groan. That thankful to be lying prone and have reached the end of the day without disaster groan. Shelley & Fredi creep into the crook of his arm, head on his shoulder & stomach & we all lie quiet for a time, thinking our own quiet thoughts or simply slowing down.

We all, Shelley, Brian & even Fredi; have other times. Other times of intimacy. All these times are very precious to us. They provide a special kind of peace which eases harsh memories and lingering regrets and they become mere dots in history.

Friends invited us over for dinner Wednesday evening, so we spent the day doing much of nothing and headed over to their place for 5 o'clock. We mistakenly buzzed the apartment of some relatively new folks we've met and they confusedly let us into the building. Upon arriving at their door we explained the mix-up and they graciously showed us their new apartment. It was absolutely wonderful! Finally at our correct destination, we were served meat balls & spaghetti with a side dish of fruit. There was wine & good conversation & garlic bread & more fruit & ice cream for dessert. It was a lovely evening and we quite enjoyed ourselves.

Friends are a funny thing. You make them, you nurture the relationship, you get into arguments or disagreements and for some this makes the friendship stronger and for others you discover there really was no reciprocal relationship there in the first place. Shelley recently had a friend de-friend her on FaceBook.

"Are you upset" Brian asked her?

Her answer was "No, more like sad".

Shelley had quipped less than 10 words at this person and knew the next morning she'd be defriended and wasn't surprised. We're talking about an almost 40 year relationship. Perhaps FaceBook is the way to determine these things. It's bloodless, bold & cold; you know exactly where you stand. With a click of a button you've been de-friended. It's much better than a slow withering on the vine thing, not quite ever knowing where you stand.

At a time like this, with all the new friends we've been making in Ecuador, one wonders which, if any or all, will stand the test of time. We have a strong feeling that the shared ex-pat experience nurtures friendships more quickly. In any event, we're enjoying ourselves and wish all well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It Could Be Me

Two years ago last February we gave up smoking. The last cigarette we both had was on the boat before we went off to the airport for our initial trip to Ecuador. Because everything was different & strange & exciting it was fairly easy to quit. Of course there are moments and believe it or not, those moments continue to pop up even now, some 2 years later. Shelley was getting ready to go out, brushing her hair, etc. and knew she'd be ready about 5 minutes before it was time to go.

"Remember that cigarette you used to have after you were ready to go out but before it was time?" she asked Brian.

There are absolutely no real regrets for either one of us regarding quitting. One wishes there wasn't the the almost inevitable weight gain but having a cold last 3 days instead of 3 weeks with a vicious cough is a marvelous thing. We've been told for some that occasional longing for a smoke never goes away completely. Doesn't happen too often but these days it always takes us by surprise.

In the evening on Wednesday we went out to a suburb of Cuenca and had dinner at a friend's place along with another friend. The day had been spent mostly puttering around, so it was lovely to go for the long taxi ride, see some scenery we don't normally see and enjoy the company of folks we really like. Thursday morning we took a bus down to the CB Caroline Bookstore & traded in our 10 books and picked up 10 more. As usual we ran into several people and chatted and got to catch up with Carol as well. Doctor's orders: Carol is spending less time at the front desk these days so it was nice to see her! She and Fredi have a "special" relationship & always enjoy their time together. Brian had an East Indian cooking class in the afternoon from 3 'til 6 so we caught the bus home from the bookstore and had a quick lunch so Brian could go down for an early nap.

Later on, Shelley & Fredi stayed home and discussed politics, world peace, global warming & whether or not Leo (Fredi's lion toy) should be disciplined. We generally had a nice few hours. Meanwhile, Brian trundled off to his cooking class to learn more about East Indian cuisine. These classes have been talked about in other blogs but this was the first one either of us had been part of.

Brian arrived home very enthusiastic about the experience. Basically, the instructor Leslie ( ) prepared 4 different traditional Indian dishes. Brian remarked that although he's not terribly fond of cilantro, 3 of the dishes contained this herb, but the blend of spices were such that they weren't overwhelmed by the cilantro. There was a chicken dish, a veal dish, a curry dish with hard boiled eggs and a chick pea dish. There was much discussion about how and where to obtain the myriad of spices required and the group amongst themselves were able to identify sources for just about everything. The cooking class is also a social occasion and everybody sits down and eats the food prepared by Leslie. So a couple of glasses of wine (brought by the students) and good company and a great taste experience made it all quite wonderful!

On our bill day, Friday, Brian was outraged because the combined bill for cold water & electricity was $21. After much huffing & puffing we figured out the water was high because of our leaking toilets and probably the electricity was high because of the new TV. It has a standby feature so it never really gets turned off. It's amazing how soon you can adapt to lower prices. Spending between $150 & $300 on heat & electricity in Canada is not unusual. Canada's water is free (one of the few countries that provides that) but heating in the winter & lighting through the dark months makes Canada one of the highest consumers of oil per capita. On the boat we paid a set fee of $30 per month for electricity at the dock and this topped up the boat's battery & kept the heaters running in the winter. The real scary part was filling up the 200 gallon tank with diesel. Last time we did it, it cost $800. Consumption depended on how often we used the diesel stove and how much travelling we did. We usually topped up the tank once a year in the fall to reduce condensation.

On Saturday we did chores, walking half-way downtown to pick up a 3 ring binder & some tomatoes. It was hot outside and we were glad to get home and out of the sun. Later on that evening we had our second biblical rain in a row. Heavy, hard, pounding rain for half an hour or so and then a steady downpour for several hours after that. The river quickly filled and splashed up the bank and over the end of the small island outside our window. We managed to walk Fredi between real downpours but her little feet still got wet & dirty. Sunday there was yet another running marathon and we followed it most of the way downtown. We found out this was the largest event of its kind here and now in its 48th year. Half way there, a friend spotted us and we went up to their apartment and watched the runners for awhile and had a cup of coffee before we continued out way to the Park. There we spotted some stilt dancers and later of course, Brian picked up roast pig.

While we were visiting our friends and watching the marathon from their window, we got into a small discussion as to when we'd go back to where we came from. Some return often, with family obligations & business affairs, some only once in awhile with weddings & babies & funerals & life's milestones. Some want never to go back. All of it's OK; we've each of us our own agenda. Shelley's homesickness seems to have abated. It's been months now since she's been struck by an attack but who knows? Like quitting cigarettes, it may creep up from time to time when least expected. That's not the point. The point is, here we are in the last quarter of our lives. Enjoying new adventures & coping with life's curve balls.

When we were downtown we passed an elderly indigenous woman, no shoes on her feet, resting. Her hands in her pockets, not moving. Not begging. We walked past and Brian reached into his pocket and pulled out his change. He knows Shelley likes to provide to the elderly & the crippled. Shelley picked out a fifty cent piece and walked back to give it to the woman. Her hand darted out of her pocket in the blink of an eye. Shelley dropped the fifty cent piece in her palm, nodded to her (she nodded back) and walked away.

"It could be me", Shelley tells those who ask.