Monday, July 26, 2010

These Days We're Grateful

In the morning on Thursday we walked downtown and hit several shoe stores shopping for shoes for Shelley. She found a couple of pair she likes for $50 but not any of the wonderful shoes she found before for $8. She bought 3 pairs of those $8 shoes and the last pair is wearing out as we speak. "For fifty bucks" she told Brian, "I can shop any day and get a pair." Thus, in the end, we didn't pick up any shoes for her. We had arranged to meet a new "blog person" at Raymipampa for lunch. We all got there at relatively the same time and sat down to enjoy potato soap, breaded fish & a shrimp crepe. Everybody seemed to enjoy their choice. Raymipampa was very busy and towards the end we could hardly hear each other talking. After we finished our meal and paid the bill we went to the park and chattered for a while longer in the relative peace of the outdoors. Our blog friend was having some trouble with his computer so Brian suggested he bring it over to our house in the late afternoon and Shelley would have a go at it. Shelley was somewhat taken aback and not sure she could help but went along with the situation anyway. In any case, we split up for a couple of hours and headed home. On the way, just because, Shelley managed to get herself a new blouse. Funny how that happened!

OK....here's one...somebody please explain spice cupboards. On the boat we had a fairly large hanging basket that we kept our spices in. Whatever spice we needed was invariably on the bottom of the basket, so we'd have to labouriously pull out all the spices and put them on the counter to find the one we wanted. Now...we're in an apartment with mucho many cupboards in the kitchen. Our spice cupboard is the lower half of a one door set-up. We have a plastic shelf in that cupboard to split it into 2 (sweet & savory). Now...whenever we want a spice, we have to labouriously pull out bottles & jars and put them on the counter until we find the one we want. Why do we suspect if our cupboard was twice the size the same thing would happen?

It was a glorious day on Friday. The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze in the air and we decided to take the bus to Parque Paraiso. Half way there, Brian commented that since the kids were out of school the park might be quite crowded. That was an understatement. There were hundreds and hundreds of kids from pre-schoolers to teens in various groups, some flying kites, some playing games standing in a circle, some playing soccer, others playing line games and still others partaking in sing-alongs. We were at first trepidatious about letting Fredi off her leash but after a bit did so and watched her gleefully running back in forth in the park. She was very polite and didn't bother anyone except a poodle dog also off the leash; they had a energetic play time together running around and tumbling after each other. We walked around the park and sat from time to time and watched the kids and Fredi play. It was a glorious morning. On the way home on the bus, Fredi fell asleep in Shelley's arms a completely tired out little blond girl dog.

On Saturday morning we did household chores, took Fredi for a walk, Brian talked with his friend Jan on Skype and Shelley managed to find more Christmas songs to download. (We eventually got up to 3 hours worth of music on 58 songs. We figure that's enough!) That evening we met friends at Tiestos which incidentally has now gotten so popular you should have a reservation for Friday or Saturday evening. We've been to Tiestos 3 or 4 times and every visit has been an experience! We had a wonderful time with good friends, much camaraderie & way too much excellent food (and maybe a little too much wine).

Sunday we went down to Parque Calderon and met up with several people. As it started to rain, we ducked into Tutto Freddo, the ice cream place, and had a cappuccino, 2 teas, agua con gas, a delicious looking chicken salad sandwich & an ice cream drink. Eventually, of course, we ventured onward to buy Brian's roast pig. Monday we went shopping and Shelley made a variation of Greek Salad (1 skin removed, cubed cucumber; 3 or 4 cubed tomatoes, half a can of pitless black olives; a layer of cubed feta cheese (usually), we used brie this time instead of feta because feta couldn't be found and it turned out just fine; Italian salad dressing).

Just recently we passed our (wheels down in Quito) 2 year anniversary in Ecuador. The flurry of the first few months here is a distant memory, we've adjusted to just about anything that took adjustment, Shelley's homesickness seems to have abated, we've made and lost friends, made more friends, our hearts have been stolen by a tiny shih tzu puppy, we've coped with visitors & holes in our ceiling & uneven sidewalks, we've gone on vacation & returned to Canada & suffered loss & ill health. Simply put, we've lived our lives here for 2 years now and have managed to survive and have come to call Ecuador home. Will we stay forever? Who knows? Forever is such a long time, but we're happy & content where we are now and pleased with our decision. Our lives may seem routine but we're always discovering new things and continue to take delight in the old. We're not bored, tense or frenzied, we're content, pleased & relaxed...for the most part. Both of us, both Brian & Shelley, continue to be more than just a bit amazed we managed to find this place in our lives. You never know for sure and that's a blessing & a curse but it's the way life is. These days we're grateful and look forward to new experiences, new friends & all things good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

13 Songs

Knowing this sounds ridiculous considering we're retired, we decided to take Saturday as a down day. We took Fredi for her mid-day walk and dropped into Jo Mar for some salmon burgers & oysters but other than that pottered around the house, reading, watching TV, talking with the kids et al on Skype and generally being unproductive. It was a lovely day.

Six couples showed up at the park on Sunday and we all had a wonderful gab fest, learning new things and catching up with each other. Later, we of course, dropped in at the public market and bought tomatoes & roast pig. We ended up walking both down town and home again as they were having yet another race on Doce de Abril and our bus wasn't running. This time the race seemed to be a runner combined with another person on a bike?

Fredi & Shelley are lying on the couch watching TV. Well...Shelley is watching TV and Fredi's lying on her back snoozing. They're both covered by a blanket and their heads are sticking out. Shelley goes to give Fredi a kiss on her little furry face and Fredi squirms like a small child to avoid the kiss. Shelley turned to Brian and says: "You know what's funny? Fredi doesn't like to have her face licked."

Brian laughed and replied: "It's ironic that's for sure."

Guess what we did on Monday? We shopped and Shelley made a baguette appetizer and a lemon surprise as we were having company on Tuesday. After shopping and putting together 2 fussy dishes, Shelley blew the wind out of her cheeks while slamming her body onto the couch.

"Tired?" asked Brian in what Shelley figured wasn't a sympathetic enough voice.

She gave him a look and didn't deign to answer.

We ventured to a stationery store on Tuesday and bought some pens. Again, like scotch tape, pens are an item you can buy just about anywhere in North America; at the grocery store, at a corner store, at the 7-11, in a hardware store, in the drug store, etc. etc. Here we make a special point of going to the stationery store and picking up a stock of several. Earlier in the morning Brian had put together his Lowe Family Beef stew in the slow cooker. That evening we had 5 people over for dinner. Four of them were relatively new to Ecuador and we had a wonderful evening talking about our various adventures not to mention some minor individual philosophy.

Out the door at 10 in the morning on Wednesday, we caught the bus down to the CB Carolina bookstore to trade in our 10 books. Carol was there for a change and she and Brian had a good gab fest catching up on all the news while Shelley perused the bookshelves picking out books suitable for the both of us. It was another glorious day and we're wondering if winter is now over?

Last Christmas we missed the traditional Christmas music we grew up with along with snow & sleet & rain & cold weather & tension & hyper salesmanship on the TV etc. etc. Now...some of those things we can live quite nicely without (thank you very much) but the Christmas music thing is becoming a bit of a challenge. We spent time last year, haunting the various CD places that offered plenty of music but not the kind we're familiar with. We went to a Christmas concert put on by Cuenca's symphony and they offered both Spanish/Ecuador Christmas music and North American/English/German songs so we know Silent Night & Jingle Bells et al are not completely unknown in South America, however...we couldn't find any CD's. Just recently, we went on line to look for the Time Life Christmas collection which we had foolishly given to the children before we came to Ecuador. Amazon will only deliver within the United States (we wonder how we managed to get the collection in the first place living in Canada?) and don't offer a download option. We also went on line looking for those elusive songs as a free download. They couldn't be found. Now we understand and agree with the rights of people to make money from their songs. Bing Crosby's Estate should continue to profit their 1 cent from White Christmas however, this doesn't help us in our quest. We did manage to download some familiar songs by unfamiliar artists, some of which are wonderful and some of which Brian vetoed with very little argument from Shelley (bad...bad...bad). This process took Shelley something like 2 1/2 hours and she ended up with 13 songs. How many songs does one play in an evening? In any case, the whole point of this paragraph is to say that some things you'll always miss when you leave your home Country. Others you'll find substitutes for and others will fade away. With diligent searching and more haunting of the CD stores when Christmas comes upon us, we may be able to satisfy our Christmas songs longing. Right now we're 13 songs on our way.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Food, More Food and Yet...More Food

We had our usual day on Monday, except more cooking. We shopped and then Shelley made Manicotti and after that was done, Brian cooked a complete chicken dinner. We TV dinnered up the chicken etc. and froze the manicotti in one person not on a diet and one person on a diet sizes. This should keep us going for a week or more. Shelley knew she was going to gain weight eating 3 meals a day while on holiday but she did it anyway - what the heck!

Travelling through the Andes mountains on the bus during our vacation, Shelley pondered to Brian that the Andes were older than the Rocky mountains because they're rounded on the peaks and not pointed (erosion). Brian thought the difference was probably to do with the Rockies being more northern and nothing grows above a certain height because of the cold, whereas the Andes where we are, are covered with growth. According to Wikipedia the Rockies were formed about 76 million years ago in the Cretaceous period whereas geology.com tells us the Andes were formed only 25 million years ago. Go figure! That put to bed Shelley's theory.

Back to the "old grind" we ventured downtown on Tuesday to go to the Post Office to mail some cards and pick up some roast pig for Brian as we'd been unable to do that on Sunday. The weather was beautiful, which we greatly appreciated after being in Vilcabamba. There have been a couple of giant thunder storms since we got back but always in the late afternoon. That evening we went to Bertuchis with some friends and enjoyed Italian food and good company. Three of us shared a vegetarian pizza and Brian had a seafood pasta. The other couple shared a combination brownie, ice cream and tiramisu dessert; it looked delicious! We caught up with each others news and all in all had a very good night.

Fredi had an appointment with the Vet on Wednesday for a booster of parasite medicine. Fredi says "Yuck!" We got her nails clipped at the same time and bought vitamins, flea & tic medicine & dog toothpaste. The entire bill including vet services & bought items was $20. We had made arrangements to meet some people at the Las Monjas Restaurant downtown for dinner, so spent the rest of the day talking with friends on Skype and reading. As it turned out, the time we had arranged to meet at the restaurant was half an hour before it was open (6:30). In the end we went to the Meditarraneo and once again enjoyed pasta & pizza and good company.

For those that have been reading the blog for a long time, you may remember that we've had a hole in our kitchen ceiling since we moved in. This hole was finally repaired several months ago but the finish work on it was never done. On Wednesday, out of the blue, the contractor for the building knocked on our door with a worker in tow and they proceeded to put a spackle on the repaired hole and promised that they'd show up at 9 or 10 in the morning the next day to do the final painting. Brian had his 6 month recall Doctor's appointment on Thursday, so he left the house at 9:30 with his fingers crossed that the worker would ultimately show up. Shelley & Fredi left the house at 10:30 for Fredi's morning walk. We've learned over time not to wait fruitlessly for too long. No more was heard from anyone. The work is ultimately getting done but we've been living in the apartment for 2 years now and still it's not quite finished. It's a system that takes some getting used to. It's almost worth a song: The Saga of the Kitchen Ceiling Hole. Would it be a folk song or country & western or blues?

Brian went back for the results of his blood tests on Friday and was pleased that his PSA was down even more than the last time. The Doctor told him that he was having spectacular results and was very pleased with his progress. At lunch time we met a friend at Raymipampa and caught up with each other and had a very pleasant couple of hours. All in all it's been a very nice week and we hardly miss our holiday mode at all.

Please note: Once again we're showcasing insect pictures taken by our friend Holly.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vilcabamba or Bust

As Shelley was continuing to feel snuffly, Brian and Fredi ventured downtown on Sunday without her and picked up Brian's roast pig. This was the first time Brian was actually holding Fredi when he bought his pork. The woman who normally sells pork to Brian was enchanted by Fredi and gave her 2 large pieces to snack on. Later on in the afternoon we attended a pizza party celebration of the U.S.'s 4th of July. It was a wonderful afternoon with camaraderie, good natured ribbing, lots of stories and yummy food.

We've been planning a holiday for what seems like months now. First we were going to go out to the coast and next we thought we'd visit the big Banos. We finally centred our thoughts on Vilcabamba and then couldn't manage to get there. With 5 different blog people arriving in Cuenca during June, we thought it would be churlish of us to leave then. Eventually we booked a room at the Izhcayluma Hostal for July 7th through 10th and then Shelley got her cold. She's been babying herself trying to get over the darned thing and it just keeps keeping on. We're planning the trip with another couple and again it seems churlish to cancel due to sniffles. We bought something called Dayflu and Nyflu (ask at a pharmacy counter) for the trip and hopefully Shelley will be drugged up enough to enjoy herself. Brian did our Monday chores with Fredi in tow but left Shelley behind. Upon arriving back home, Fredi was given a bath and dried off and then given a flea treatment. Cuenca has virtually no fleas (expect a couple of weeks here and there) but when we leave Cuenca we always make sure that Fredi has had a flea & tick treatment.

Previously when we've been to Vilcabamba we've always stayed at Jardin Escondido because unlike Izhcayluma which is a couple of miles out of town; Jardin Escondido is right smack dab in the middle of Vilcabamba. We chose Izhcayluma this time however, because they have some separate cabins and we thought Fredi might enjoy this more. Tuesday we ventured downtown and got haircuts. There's nothing like a good hair cut just before an adventure. Shelley printed out her packing lists for us and Fredi and we packed 2 small back packs to take with us plus Shelley's travel purse. Vilcabamba is a few degrees warmer than Cuenca and we're kind of hoping it'll prove true for our trip.

Bright and early we got up Wednesday morning, ate a snack and ventured to the bus stop where we had arranged to meet the other couple (Barbara & Howard). We wanted to leave town somewhere around 8 o'clock in the morning but as it turned out our bus didn't leave until 9. We arrived in Loja at 3:15 and almost immediately caught the bus to Vilcabamba. As always, the countryside out the bus window was vast and beautiful. Our cabana at Izhcayluma had a queen size bed and it's own balcony complete with hammock and picnic table. That evening we ate at Izhcayluma. Most dishes are around $5.00 and a veggie burger was $2.50. They have a big menu including Bavarian & Italian. Fredi was quite suspicious of everything and low growled the whole evening. Shelley slipped off from everyone at 7 pm and went to the room to rest and read. Fredi came with her and proceeded to stalk the room until Brian showed up.

Fredi woke Brian up at 7 am the next morning whereupon Brian announced he'd caught Shelley's cold. Breakfast is included in the room price at Izhcayluma and was tea, coffee, sliced pineapple, watermelon, ham, 3 kinds of bread and eggs. We did our first walk downtown and it took us about an hour to walk the close to 2 Km downhill excursion. We always tell people that the main entertainment is to sit in the middle of the park downtown and watch other people in the park and that's exactly what we did. Shelley checked out a few stores looking for "hippy pants" but didn't find any and then we went to a restaurant for some water & beer. We were going to go to Jardin Escondido for lunch and have their famous tortilla soup but the owner was concerned her 2 large german shepherd type dogs would be aggressive to Fredi. We wandered around a bit more and found a restaurant that served home made soup and sandwiches and then we caught a truck cab (mixto) back to Izhcayluma. Everyone went down for a nap and read for a couple of hours before dinner. Once again dinner was at the Izhcayluma restaurant. We'd like to recommend their pizza (!) Shelley says it may be the best she's had in Ecuador.

Shelley asked Barbara & Howard is they could stand 2 more days of this virtual nothingness and they both agreed they could.

The valley Vilcabamba is in is absolutely beautiful. There are flowers & fruit & corn growing everywhere and every compass point provides a great picture. The weather is also warmer than Cuenca so what with Cuenca's rain & coolish weather lately, we really enjoyed the sun. It's warm but not too hot there. One of the things that strikes you first when you arrive at Izhcayluma is the awesome quiet. Even though Cuenca isn't that large, it still has it's share of traffic noise and the white noise that accompanies any city. The big noises we heard at Vilcabamba were donkey's braying and roosters crowing. Also Brian & Howard noted that the sky was crystal clear at night and the stars felt so close, you could reach out and touch them.

After a breakfast of fruit salad, eggs, crepes & coffee we again walked to town. This time we discovered muscles unknown to us previously. Walking downhill for close to 2 Km exercises your calf muscles and the large muscle that one sits on. We walk every day in Cuenca and are convinced it was the down hill slope that brought these new muscles into play. Upon arriving in town we engaged a Mixto for 2 hours to take us up to the Hacienda San Joachin complex and provide us with a mini tour of the valley. The complex was stunning but quite a distance away from Vilcabamba. Our mini tour took us through some of the back roads in the Valley and into the back side of Podocarpus Park. Later, Brian, Howard & Barbara ate at Jardin Escondido while Shelley & Fredi had another bowl of home made soup, continued to seek "hippy pants" and checked up on our emails. Back to our rooms at 2 o'clock for a late nap, we met at 5:30 again to take a cab to Craig's Bookstore for an Italian meal. While the food wasn't Four Star, there was plenty of it and of a quality you wouldn't expect in an Ecuadorian backwater. Craig died in a tragic accident several years ago and his wife has remarried an ExPat potter from the United States. He regaled us with various stories and invited us to a Gallery Opening the next day.

We all agreed on Saturday that walking downhill was definitely exercising muscles not normally used. While we all looked to each other for an excuse not to do the walk, none of us was going to be the first to give in so... we all undertook the mighty walk once again. We arrived in the village, having made our best time ever and sat in the park deciding what to do next. Unfortunately, Barbara took a spill on an uneven sidewalk and bruised several parts of her body and scraped skin off several other parts. Not wanting to walk her around any more, we caught a cab to Izhcayluma and had a lunch of pizza & burgers. The gallery showing that evening provided 10 minutes worth of entertainment with the usual crowd you seem to see at most Gallery Openings. (How do they know?) Back at Izhcayluma the ladies had a German dish of oven baked potatoes, vegetables and cheese while he boys had stroganoff and a chicken dish. Knowing we were returning the next day we had a bit of a party.

Up bright and early Sunday morning, we all ate breakfast together and then Brian & Shelley caught the bus home. Barbara & Howard had arranged to take a cab back to help alleviate some of the pressure on Barbara's knees due to her fall. The bus ride back was largely uneventful except we caught all of our transfers one right after the other. Our week's holiday from retirement living met all our expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with our friends. They were truly great company!

If you'd like to see more pictures of Vilcabamba (To, At & Around) click here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Step Right Up for a 2 Cent Tour

Our friend Holly semi-specializes in taking pictures of insects. When we asked her if we could share some of these pictures on our blog, she graciously consented. Unable to pick out just 5, we will showcase Holly's pictures on a couple of other blogs in the future as well.

There seems to be some difficulty for us getting a hang of this year's "winter". It's been raining a lot more and cooler from time to time and then a day or a couple of hours of heat will bombard us and we get all confused. We seem to feel last winter was warmer, but memory is a faulty thing and it's easy to forget the rainy days when you have, to all intent and purpose, endless days of sunshine coming at you. Don't get us wrong, we don't mind the change in weather. It was one of our concerns when we first came here, that being so used to "seasons", we'd miss them. Here we get seasons but not so severe. It makes a nice change for awhile and you always know the sunshine is just around the corner.

The morning routine out of the way, we walked around paying our bills and eventually ended up downtown where we had arranged to meet a "blog couple" for lunch. They were in town for 8 days scoping things out and arranging an apartment for their return later on this year. We met and ate at the Raymipampa Restaurant then took a "2 cent tour" around town: to the coffee place, to the 10th of August market, down the stairs and across the river and then caught a bus for that Cuenca bus experience. They're lovely people and only had good things to say about Ecuador and Cuenca in particular. They'll be coming back with their own little dog Nick and we all hope Fredi & Nick will become the best of pals.

In something less than 8 months, Brian is going to turn 70. OMG! (As our children would say!) We're prepping for that. We're discussing the event and setting up the situation in our own minds to better cope with it when it happens. Someone famous said, "If I'd known I'd live this long I would have taken better care of myself." We quit smoking over 2 years ago now and apparently have been lucky; Brian has minor chronic bronchitis; Shelley seems OK. We walk every day (Fredi helps) and other than roast pig, eat relatively healthy. One never thinks when they're 13, or 33 or even 42 of eventually reaching 70. There are milestones: 13, 20, 30, 40, 50... and then who cares? The government in most countries gives you money somewhere in your 60's (thank you very much). We're counting on our sense of adventure to continue. Keep on learning; keep on keeping on. (This moment has been brought to you by the Baby Boomer Generation.)

Needing a day off, Brian took Fredi for her mid-morning walk while Shelley stayed home. Brian was attending yet another cooking class in the afternoon (this time Mediterranean) and Shelley's plan was to hide most of the day except for Fredi's early evening walk. Shelley nurtured the plants out on the balcony (watered them, picked out weeds & cut a few back), spent a couple of hours on the computer, read her book and watched a movie. It was a lovely day for her. As usual Brian bounced through the door after his cooking class enthusiastically greeted by Fredi and reported that once again class was a big success. This time the cuisine was generally Mediterranean, featuring dishes from Turkey, France and Morocco. Brian said the big hit was a ravioli with home made pasta filled with lamb and a wonderful sauce, a traditional Turkish dish.

Canada Day (July 1st) dawned bright and sunny and we started the day with a minor disagreement. Some friends had given us maple leaf decorations and Brian wanted to hang them all day and take multiple pictures. Shelley felt that would be unpolitical and thought we should hang them briefly for the picture session and then take them down.

Brian stamped his rather large definitely undelicate foot and exclaimed, "How come we always do what you want!"
Shelley laughed.

Because we were out of hummingbird food, we hopped on a bus to the Mega Hierro True Value Hardware store near the airport to pick up some. We know...we know...you can make hummingbird food from water & sugar & red food dye for an eighth of the price. Nevertheless, we buy the packages because we have this niggling feeling the hummingbirds like it better. Coming back, our bus was diverted and we ended up in a traffic jam and instead of a 25 minute bus ride, it turned into an hour and a half. That evening Shelley suffered, having contracted a cold that decided to come on full force. Several Tylenol, Vitamin C & a decongestant later, she began to feel somewhat better. [Interesting Fredi Fact: Fredi, for the very first time since we've had her, stayed with Shelley the entire evening. We're not sure if she was comforting Shelley because of her cold or mad at Brian because he'd gone out the day before.]

Shelley continued to be quite snuffly on Friday & Saturday, so Brian went out and did the chores and took Fredi on her walk and Shelley stayed home and blew her nose. It's such a luxury to be able to take care of a cold, rather than marching forward like a good soldier going to work, plodding through the chores & generally fighting the whole sick thing. We'd previously arranged to have dinner with a couple Saturday evening at the Terrace, so a Tylenol & a decongestant later, we set out enthusiastically for yet another wonderful meal at this restaurant. As usual the food was great. Everyone except Shelley had filet mignon. Shelley had one of their cheese burger which she simply can't resist. As our friends had just spent 6 weeks in the States, we had a lot of catching up to do. The company was great and we had a lovely evening.