Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fireworks, Frenzie & Fiesta

It's difficult to explain new comers.  Those excited and wide eyed about everything around them.  Busy buying furniture & a new life.  Busy discovering new restaurants & shops & places to go.  Busy organizing "new" events and telling friends & family about their discoveries.  Busy renovating old adobes or planning new apartments.  Busy meeting new friends & discovering ancient monuments. 

On the Road to Paute
The thing becomes everyday, normal, just a part of your life and then there's another adjustment.  The one where you slow down and it becomes your regular life.  What do you do beyond?  Some continue to travel, some integrate into their new society, teach or take on a business or develop routines that satisfy.  Some wait.  Some leave. 

The thing to remember is that life is dynamic not static.  Never think your move to Ecuador is an ending.  It must always remain a new beginning. 

It was time to take Fredi to the vet to get her nails clipped so we headed off to Remigio Crespo.  First we stopped at the spice store to see, if by chance, they had any oyster sauce without MSG.  We'd managed to find some in SuperMaxi awhile ago and bought several bottles but now that we're getting low SuperMaxi only has the kind with MSG.  The spice store only had the MSG kind as well.  We stopped at Fybeca to buy a young friend (under 5) a toy Shelley had spied in the window. "Look!" she told Brian.  "That's really cool!"  Then we finally headed down the street to the vet's office.  Our vet was in, happy to see Fredi, and we practiced English & Spanish on each other while Fredi got her nails clipped.  We also bought some Advantage because we'd used up the last package when we took our trip to the coast.  The fleas are relatively scarce in Cuenca but fleas & tics can easily be found at the beach.  (PS:-  A couple of days later we were walking down Simon Bolivar and spotted a grocery store flying an Ecuadorian and a Chinese flag.  We thought they might have oyster sauce without MSG and they did.  As well they had Chinese liquor, crockery & noodles.)

Most of Wednesday felt like it took place on the bus.  We met some friends at the bus station and then travelled to Paute to have lunch at Corvel.  The trip is really only about 45 minutes and the cost is $0.75.  After lunch we wandered around the town a bit but mostly walked to the bus station and caught a bus back to Cuenca.  In the morning when we started, Cuenca was quite cool and Paute seemed quite warm but by the time we arrived back in Cuenca it was warm there too.  It was actually a nice day, looking out the window at the new scenery and watching all the goings on at the side of the road.

Shelley's shoes were beginning to wear out and all her looking in the Chinese clothing & shoe stores resulted in nothing she liked.  Most of the fine Ecuadorian shoe stores supply high heels & pointed toes.  Thus, on Thursday, we headed off to Payless Shoes and paid close to Canadian prices for a perfectly fine pair of shoes that fit her.  We then walked down to the Post Office for our monthly check in.  There was nothing there.  It's an odd thing, this living with virtually no mail.  We then walked across town, down the long stairs to the river and caught a bus home.  We'd been invited out for dinner that evening with a couple we haven't seen for ages, so of course we needed to get home in a reasonable time for Brian to have a good nap.  He'd missed his nap entirely the day before and fell asleep in his chair (Shelley prodding him awake) all evening.  We ended up having an absolutely lovely evening, helped along by 2 vodka martinis!  We also met a delightful couple relatively new to Cuenca who instantly fell in love with Fredi.  Fredi sneaked cheese appetizer from the coffee table while we were eating dinner and our hosts were lovely and gracious about it!  The food was great (ask Fredi), the company was wonderful and we really enjoyed ourselves although as usual, Brian & Shelley couldn't decide whose turn it was to talk.

Children in Traditional Costumes Dressed up for the Founding of Cuenca

Over the next week there will be a myriad of events commemorating Cuenca's founding, including music and dance concerts, firework shows, jewelry, crafts and food fairs.   Brian is planning on seeing Cuenca's Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in the park Friday evening.  We've been told they shoot off real cannons!  As it's a bit too late for Shelley's comfort, she and Fredi will stay home and listen to the fireworks being shot off all over town.  Friday during the day, we trudged around paying our bills and then went to Parque Calderon to await the appointed time to meet a couple of friends across the street for lunch.  While waiting, some other friends came by and we chatted quite merrily for 15 minutes or so.  Finally the people we'd arranged to meet for lunch arrived and we settled into sandwiches as well as catching up on all the gossip.   It'd been awhile since we'd all been together so there was much to talk about.  The fact was, we were "forced" to order a beer each after lunch just to give us an excuse to keep on keeping up.   That evening, before Brian went out, there was a parade of  probably just about all the emergency vehicles in Cuenca going down Doce de Abril with sirens blaring.  Oblivious at first, we thought there must have been some terrible catastrophe before we realized it was just another display for Cuenca's birthday.  Still later on in the evening, after Brian had returned home, he reported the Symphony was great, the fireworks stupendous and that he'd bumped into several people we know.  By the way, the fireworks were set off right in the street in the heart of downtown Cuenca beside the Cathedral.  Imagine any main intersection in North America where they set off a stupendous fireworks display!  No doubt the Fire Marshall would shut it down immediately.  Here, there seems to be an almost gleeful disregard for such regulations.  It should be noted however, nothing untoward did happen because of the display.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Textures of Ecuador

The Ecuadorians call the group of people over 65 Tercera Edad (Third Age).  Presumably, there's childhood, then your practical and fun filled adulthood and then third age; the point in your life that you longed for during the "bad days" while working & dealing with children & accumulating assets & dispensing with debts & taking care of business & raising yourself & others above the mud.  There's a respect here in Ecuador, shown in perks & courtesies, for those in third age; shorter line-ups at banks & bill paying places, 1/2 price tickets for the movie theaters, water parks, airlines & buses, etc.   The perks don't extend to a comfortable retirement system (oh well).  Just the other day Brian witnessed an unprecedented line-up of cars, waiting patiently (this is the unprecedented part), while a young man escorted an ancient old woman across the road, tiny-stepping, arm clutching arm, two strangers making their way through the traffic.  You'll see young people help the oldsters bring bundles onto the bus and Shelley is always surprised when a teenager rises and gives her a seat.  "It must be my gray hair" she explains to Brian.  Those of us from North American & much of Europe have reached a stage where those in tercera edad are often still healthy and vigorous, and so we move to countries like Ecuador bringing our retirement dollars to help with an economy we'll take little from.  Often we'll see bent over crones & wizened old men, ancient displays of a life of physically hard work & a lack of protein and realize these people aren't much older than we are.  We were lucky.  So, here we are in the middle of something very old and something quite new.  Seems to us that the North American baby boomers have spent an awful lot of time in that in-between spot demarcating the old from the new.

It didn't take us long to get back into our Cuenca groove.  We'd arranged to meet 3 people at California Kitchen for dinner, so we simply took a walk around the neighbourhood for our day time outing.  We also stopped in at Jo.Mar and picked up some frozen sea food in memory of our trip to the coast.  Brian had his nap, Shelley caught up on e-mails and eventually we wandered downtown to meet our friends.  One of the people had to beg off, but another one showed up so things evened out.  We had a nice evening, chatting about our trip and catching up with each other. 

It turns out Saturday was a kind of chore day.  Shelley washed the floors in the morning and Brian put together some meat balls and gravy for our dinner that evening.  We took Fredi for a walk to the strip of grass near the river where she can free run and had her charging between the two of us, getting tons of exercise, when an acquaintance jogged by and stopped to catch up on the gossip.  We then headed up to SuKasa because Shelley wanted to buy a mini vase to capture the stones & broken sea shells she'd picked up on the beach during our holiday.  Brian & Fredi sat outside while Shelley went in and found just the right thing ($0.75).  Nearing our apartment on our return home, we ran into another couple we know and chatted about boats & sealing wax until everyone's feet got tired and we parted ways.  At home, Brian checked the slow cooker on his meat balls and Shelley put together a batch of Puppy Cookies as Fredi was almost out.  Now it was well past nap time, so Brian & Fredi went down and Shelley computered & read her book while baking batches of liver cookies. 

Not quite back to routine on Sunday, we did stop by the market and get roast pig for Brian & a tube of tomatoes for Shelley, but instead of going to the park, we ended up at a restaurant meeting 3 friends for lunch.  It turned into a joke-fest, with everyone telling their favourite jokes.  Afterward, we caught a cab home and Brian just barely got down to his nap on time.  Monday we did our shopping, took Fredi for a couple of walks, but mostly lazed around the apartment.  Coming home from the grocery store, some relatively new gringos living in our building offered to help us bring our bags up.  We demurred and explained to them the building had a shopping cart for just that purpose.  They were minorly thrilled (!) and requested we supply them with any other "building" hints we knew of.  We, of course, couldn't think of anything. 

Apparently, by mentioning Shelley's whimsical wish to perhaps move to India, we've taken a small straw poll.  Everyone is against it!  It's dirty, the crime is terrible, it's hot, it's the last country on anybody's list, etc. etc. etc.  We're not serious (at this time) about making the move, but would point out to all detractors, that this is exactly what was said to us when (a) we moved onto the boat and (b) we moved to Ecuador.  OK....they said other things when we moved onto the boat, but they were similar.  Both Brian & Shelley have had "itchy feet" all of their lives.  They've scratched them by multiple spouses, jobs & living locations.    At this point, we seem to have eliminated spouses & jobs from the equation.  "Good for you!" some say, but....  Ecuador is a wonderful country, the people are kind, the weather is kind and the cost-of-living is kind.  What more can you ask?  The thing is, just because one reaches Tercera Edad doesn't necessarily mean that one's wish to learn & progress is diminished.  Brian & Fredi reach out beseechingly (not to move right now) to Shelley and she does as she's always done:  taken care of business & family. 

You may wish to check out our FaceBook Album Textures of Ecuador that we've recently downloaded.  Ecuador abounds with textures and we certainly haven't captured them all, but we're on our way at this point.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Playa, Paella y Protesta

For the second Sunday in a row, we did not go down to Parque Calderon and Brian did not get roast pig.  Instead, we dropped by the hospital to visit a friend.  That's it (!) No more of our friends are allowed to get sick!  Upon arriving home, Fredi & Brian went for a walk and Shelley started packing as we planned on going to Salinas for a few days.  The last holiday we had we went to Vilcabamba with friends.  This time we just wanted to be alone, sit on the beach, soak up some sun and be quiet for a few days.  Hopefully, that's what we'll get. 

Up bright and early Monday morning, Brian took Fredi for a walk while Shelley made sandwiches and put together a package of welsh cakes to take on our road trip. We were on the bus and leaving the terminal by 7:10 a.m.  Just for interest sake, we arrived in Guayaquil  at 11:20, wandered around the mall there for a bit, caught the bus to Salinas and arrived in Salinas at 2:00 p.m.  The trip itself goes through several ecosystems.  You start on the streets of Cuenca and then progress to the suburbs.  Gradually the houses get fewer, the cows get thicker and you're into verdant grass, cultivated fields and pasture land.  After that you head up into the mountains and through Parque Nacional Cajas where the landscape turns into a duller green and the grass turns into scrub.  Up through the mountains you go gasping at the breathtaking drops and winding your way through thick fog (or low clouds) and finally you hit the summit (almost 2 miles up) and then down you go into mountain jungle.  After leaving the mountains you hit the coastal plains with mile after mile of banana plantations and rice fields and then you cross the bridge into Guayaquil.  It's such a shock to step off the hot bus (the temperature rose from 17 C early morning in Cuenca to 29 C by the time we hit Guayaquil) and go into a modern mall, air conditioned, bright airy and busy.  Back on another bus we went through the West Side of Guayaquil with mounds of garbage lining the road and unpainted hovels rising up into the hills.  Once you leave the city though, you're into dry forest (bosque seco) and then coastal desert.  Finally you reach the ocean and the beach (playa). 

Just Before Parque Nacional Cajas

Banana Plantation

City Bus Terminal Guayaquil

We checked into Coco's on the Malecon and paid for 3 nights accommodation ($109).  Fredi ran around sniffing the entire room making it hers and grumbling quietly under her breath.  We went out and had a beer to celebrate arriving and then returned to the room and had a well needed nap.  That evening we ate at Cevichelandia.  Brian had arroz con ostras (oysters & rice) and Shelley had breaded fish.  We walked the Malecon and right off the bat noticed the giant sand castle that they used to have there was missing.  We suppose during the high tides a few months ago it went back to the ocean. 

That evening when Brian took Fredi for her walk he came back to the room highly distraught!  "I feel so bad!" he exclaimed to Shelley.  He'd taken Fredi onto a small batch of scrub grass on the beach and she was loaded with burrs.  We had to borrow scissors from the Hostal in order to get them all out.  We had to cut her beautiful hair awfully close in a few places.  Shelley teased Fredi, now she looked like a poodle.


Up at 6 a.m. the next morning, Brian took Fredi for a walk down the hard beach near the water, far far away from scrub grass.  In the fresh morning air, with only a few people around, Fredi was able to free run and had an absolute ball.  Back at the room by 7 o'clock, he arranged to meet Shelley at a restaurant for coffee as soon as she could drag herself from the bed.  She promptly fell back asleep and ran to the restaurant arriving at 8.  Brian was all finished but indulgently waiting for her.  We hit the beach at 10, rented two chairs and an umbrella for $3 and spent the next 2 1/2 hours enjoying the sights and sounds. 

Close your eyes and you hear:  a nursing mother in the next set of beach chairs, cooing at her baby, vendors selling their products (swinging chairs, lamps, coconuts, ice cream, jewelry, tattoos, boat rides, lamp shades, carved wood boats & cars & trucks) a group of children playing down the beach, screaming & laughing, an airplane flying in circles overhead, and the ever present wave action, back and forth, back and forth. 

Then, of course, it was nap time.  For dinner that evening Brian had an extravagant Seafood Paella with shrimp & lobster & scallops & clams & mussels & fish & rice in a red sauce, all served in a searing hot iron skillet.  It was way too much for him to eat but incredibly delicious.  Shelley had (guess) breaded fish. 

More of the same on Wednesday, up early in the morning to take Fredi for a beach walk, breakfast, another walk up the Malecon, beach time (Brian went swimming) & lunch.  It was cloudy but warm the whole time we were there.  We've previously been to Salinas in February when its HOT (32+ C) so we quite enjoyed the temperature this time.  In fact, we never turned on the air conditioner in our room.  It was quiet on the beach with fewer vendors.  We had several naps and attributed our sleepiness to the change in altitude.  That evening we found a place that served burgers for dinner.  It was a nice change.

Up once again at 6 o'clock on Thursday, Fredi got her walk and then we caught our bus at 7.  Just outside Guayaquil there was a protest of some sort.  There were tires stacked 3 deep and flaming (!) all across the highway.  After a while, our bus driver made a couple of calls and then eventually advised us to walk until we saw bus # 6, well on the other side of the barricade, which would take us on to Guayaquil.  We walked past the burning tires and down the middle of the highway, looking at the lined up cars for about 1 k.  There we were, carrying our possessions, trudging in the hot sun and Shelley turned to Brian:  "I feel like a refugee" she told him.  He laughed.

We trooped onto our # 6 bus and headed into Guayaquil.  At the mall once again, we stopped at McDonalds and had a McFiesta burger and fries since we'd missed breakfast.  Shelley and Fredi, with our luggage, then settled down under an air conditioner, while Brian went in search of clothes big enough for him in the mall.  Mall noises:  the babble of Spanish thick in the background, the vendors from the bus kiosks shouting their destinations, salsa music and intense drumming, a young couple talking in Chinese (believe it or not) and a rooster crowing periodically.  Brian came up empty in the large clothes department. 

West Side of Guayaquil

Our trip between Guayaquil and Cuenca was longer going back as there were lots of delays for road construction.  We missed most of them on the first trip.  We wound our way past banana plantations and scrub grass, waited patiently at several places, passed a myriad of trucks & buses on blind corners in the fog, passed the breathtaking drops & llamas and finally hit the outskirts of Cuenca, pleased to be home but happy with our holiday. 

More pictures of Salinas can be found here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

All's Well with our World

On Monday when we went grocery shopping, we stopped at the Banco del Pacifico to try and get money.  This time the machine told us our card was unserviceable.  We then tried it at a Banco Austro machine and that machine gave us dollars.  On Tuesday, we had several chores to take care of so off we went downtown to visit yet another bank, Banco de Guayaquil.  We got the same message that our card was unserviceable.  Again we tried Banco Austro and got money.  Shelley's not happy.  She doesn't like being thousands of miles away from her "home" branch and wondering each day if we'll be able to get money.  No one we talk to seems to be having the same trouble and the card actually works some places, so we know it's not the magnetic strip that's worn out.  Brian's convinced it'll all go away and be just fine in time.  In any case, armed with a little cash we got our phone filled up and bought some flowers for a friend and then went to visit for an hour or so.  That afternoon, Brian went to the Doctor for his regular check-up to make sure everything is still OK after his operation.  He returned home in about an hour with a slip setting out all the tests he's suppose to get done the next day.

Brian bent down and gave Shelley a kiss.  She was still snuggled in bed.  He was off to the lab on Wednesday to get several tests done.  Shelley got up, had her computer time, did a load of laundry, watered the plants and swept the floors.  By that time Brian was back, so he held down the fort while Shelley & Fredi went out for a walk.  Arriving home Shelley found Brian on the computer talking to his friend Jan in Saudi.  Incidentally, while he was out Brian tried yet another Banco del Pacifico to see if our card would work and it did. we really don't know what to think.  We puttered around the house, Brian had a nap, Fredi was taken for yet another short walk and finally it was time for Brian to go back to the Doctor to get the results of his tests.  His results were good and he's now on a 4 month recall instead of 3 months.  All's well with our world. 

You may have read that in South America instant coffee is a treat to many.  In smaller places, if you don't want instant, you should first make sure that they have brewed coffee.  Nescafe seems to have a strong hold on Ecuador.  The Nescafe cappuccinos are actually pretty good though (!) all things considered.  (Or have we been too long away from Starbucks?)  In some places there's a kind of coffee syrup that you get and then mix with hot milk.  We have no idea what they do to make the syrup.  In any case, nothing special planned for the morning of Thursday, we took a walk down Remigio Crespo and sat outside the La Europa and had a Nescafe cappuccino while watching the world go by.  Brian had a cooking class (Hot & Spicy) that afternoon so we got back in plenty of time for him to have an early nap.  When Brian got home after the class, he said that he really enjoyed the food because he really likes spicy food.  The hit of the evening for him was Jamaican Jerk Chicken.  There was also a soup dish called Harira to which you add a very spicy pesto type concoction that is blistering hot to the taste.  There was also a dish from Peru called Papas a la Huancaina, which is basically potatoes with a cheesy hot sauce.  The class was touted as Hot & Spicy and met all expectations.  Ecuadorian food tends to be bland by North American standards, so these recipes provided a very nice counterpoint.  As usual, wine was consumed, the company shared experiences and Fredi came out of her skin when Brian got home.

The phone rang bright and early Friday morning.  Our plans for Friday were unavoidably cancelled.  Oh well.  We phoned up some friends and suggested we meet for lunch.  The place we were going to eat at was about a 40 minute walk from home, so we left with lots of time to spare and wound our leisurely way there.  Unfortunately, the restaurant we'd picked wasn't open until the late afternoon.  We walked up the street to Pizza Hut and 4 of us had sandwiches while Shelley had something called a Spring Roll which was really a crepe wrapped around chicken & ham.  Looks like we're having one of those Mice & Men days. 

It was time to go to the Rotary market as Shelley wanted a fairly big basket for a project she's working on.  We got the bus a bit early and walked around a little bit lost until finally we stumbled on the market.  The Rotary market was certainly the place to buy a basket.  Several shops were selling anything from a laundry basket to an Easter basket.  We got a good deal on a fairly large basket, sat around the square in the market and watched the people go by, wandered a bit more down the streets checking out shops we don't normally see and then caught a bus home.  Our internet has been down since the early morning.  It's now early afternoon.  Often it will go down on Saturday and/or Sunday but it usually isn't off for more than an hour or so.  We've grown quite dependent on the internet and feel its loss.  (Note:  It finally came back around 2 o'clock in the afternoon.)  We are meeting a friend at our favourite pasta restaurant for dinner this evening.  Our friend is just back from Canada and we have a lot of catching up to do.  As expected, we had a good gab fest and fun was had by all.

For those of you wondering, we just got the definitive information on what you have to go through when you renew your passport.  This is to get the permanent visa re-stamped into your new passport:

  • There are two documents that you will need to send along with your two passports and the money.  One is called the Movimiento Migratorio, a record of the dates of your entrances and exits in Quito and Guayaquil.  You can get that for $5 at the migration office in Cuenca.  You will need the old passport and a copy of it, too.  The other thing you need depends on what kind of visas you have.  You need to prove that your financial situation has not changed; i.e., if you had social security when you got the visas, you must prove that you still get it.  Some are done by direct deposit each month in a U.S. or Canadian bank, and the lawyer said to simply print that off the computer screen. Gabriela Espinosa in Quito charges $80 plus the government fee of $20. You also need simple copies of your censo and cédula.  To sum it up, you need the immigration form, proof of continued monthly income, old and new passports, copies of the censo and cédula, and payment. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Canadian Thanksgiving in Ecuador

Everything is a bit topsy turvy for us this week.  Thursday, we put together 10 books and went down to the CB Carolina Bookstore to trade in same and find out from Lee what was happening with the Marcelo Lucero Mural to be dedicated in Gualaceo this weekend.  Marcelo Lucero was murdered in New York in a racially motivated hate crime two years ago. Students from his Long Island high school created a Peace Mural in his memory.  It's been a long haul for many people getting the Mural into the country, getting the various duties & charges against it paid and actually getting the materials ready for the whole thing to be mounted.  We traded in our books and picked out 10 more and Brian & Lee discussed the agenda for Saturday and the dedication of the Mural.  Afterward, we stopped in at Bananas next to the bookstore and Brian picked up one of their absolutely wonderful (!) turkey  sandwiches to take home and eat for lunch.  That evening we went out to a Birthday Bash at the California Kitchen.  There was a lovely diverse group of people and 3 dogs.  Everyone (including the dogs) was well behaved and had a good time!  Brian had a double bacon cheese burger.  When it arrived, we couldn't decide if he was suppose to eat it or climb it!  The food was great, the company was gracious & interesting and we had a very good time.

The next day, Brian advised:  "I don't want to go out!  I just want to sit around and do nothing.  I want a down day."  We discussed whether he shouldn't have had that last glass of wine the night before and decided it wasn't that but the gargantuan amount of burger he'd eaten.  "I was afraid to move in bed last night I was so full."  As it turned out however, Brian ended up taking a trip to Mount Sinai to see if a friend was booked in.  The friend had called us the day before asking us to recommend a Doctor and had advised they would let us know how things turned out.  We heard nothing.  We tried phoning but the phone instantly went to Spanish.  We tried emailing with no success.  So we figured a quick bus trip to the hospital to check their sign-in board wouldn't hurt...and then we'd know.  Shortly after Brian left of course, Shelley got an email from our friend.  Not in the hospital but afflicted with a horrible stomach ailment and on 4 different medications & a restricted diet.  Our friend was laying low.  We feel really bad; that really sucks!  After an hour's outing, Brian off on his fruitless bus ride & Shelley taking Fredi for a walk, we spent the rest of the day laying low ourselves. 

Bright & early Saturday morning Brian got up and set off to the bus station for his trip to Gualaceo for the dedication of the Marcelo Lucero mural.  Shelley & Fredi, of course went for a walk, but spent most of the day making pecan pie & Christmas fruit cake.  The pecan pie was for Canadian Thanksgiving on Sunday and the Christmas fruit cake was for mellowing to be unveiled during the month of December after much coddling and pouring on of old Spanish sherry.  Fredi kept a pretty tight vigil in the kitchen just in case something good to eat ended up on the floor.  There was flour & candied fruit & nuts & dishes & pots & mixers spread throughout the kitchen and it probably was a very good thing Shelley did this while Brian was out of the house.   Brian arrived home around 2 o'clock in the afternoon and reported that the dedication event went very well.  He got to meet the family of the young man and said that the whole experience was very emotional and touching.  It was televised and speakers included the Mayor of Gualaceo, the young man's sister & mother, and representing the gringo community, Lee from the Carolina bookstore.  Lee was accompanied by the teacher from New York City whose students created the mural.  It was made clear during the speeches that Canadians as well as U.S. Americans had contributed to the memorial.  Brian & a friend had almuerzo in Gualaceo before catching the bus home.  He told Shelley that he found the trip to be very rewarding and was happy that he was able to go.

Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday was a cooking day for us.  We tried, for the first time last Christmas  one of those turkey roasting bags and were amazed & pleased at how fast it cooked the turkey and how moist the turkey turned out, so of course we used one again for Thanksgiving.   Brian had cut up the nice bread we'd purchased and dried it out in the oven the night before, so at 9:49 in the morning he was busy making stuffing.  We'd invited our guests over for 3 o'clock and intended to eat at around 4.  That way, one has all evening to digest.  Fredi got her walk and a bath.  Brian got his nap.  The company arrived and fun was had by all.  It's the big holidays where you miss your kids the most.  Back in Canada one daughter cooked a turkey and sent pictures of their festive table and another daughter had 2 turkey dinners in a row, one bar-b-qued.  All the U.S. Americans around us found it a slight oddity, our Canadian Thanksgiving, but we enjoyed the day.

As usual, Monday we went shopping but there was no cooking in the house that day as we had plenty of leftovers from the day before.  Out of curiosity, Shelley looked up Thanksgiving on the web specifically with regards to the differences of Canada vs the U.S.  Wikipedia supplied the following information:  The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.  Frobisher's Thanksgiving was not for harvest but homecoming; his safe return from the search for the Northwest Passage.  In 1578 he held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journey.  The traditional origin point for Thanksgiving in the United States is the celebration that occurred at Plymouth Planation in 1621.  Apparently Australia, Grenada and the Netherlands also have a Thanksgiving day.  In Australia May 29th is dedicated to saying "thanks" to current and former Australian troops for serving. Funny, we call that Remembrance Day in Canada and we believe in the States they call it Veterans Day.  We wonder if the Australians eat too much on their Thanksgiving day? 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two Steps Back

It was time for another Magical Mystery Tour on Saturday so we caught a #12 bus headed East and eventually, through quite a meandering ride, ended up in the small town of Banos.  We didn't go to the hot springs but wandered around the main square, took a mini-tour of the beautiful church that's there and Brian had lunch (chicken leg, rice, vegetables, potatoes, agua con gas).  We walked up a set of stairs to a lookout and got a fantastic view of Cuenca down in the valley.  On the way home the bus ended up downtown.  We weren't sure how far out it would go in the opposite direction before it turned around and took us near our home, so we got off and caught another bus whose route we were familiar with.  Total cost of several hours entertainment for 2 plus one lunch: $3.10.  

The park was wonderful on Sunday as usual and we ran into 3 people and chatted before we set off to the market.  On the way to the park  we encountered a religious parade, several men in blue robes carrying a large statue of the Virgin of San Miguel on a platform, with people from the congregation in front & behind holding up pictures of the Saint and chanting.  There were probably 40 - 60 people in the parade and the traffic, without benefit (it seemed) of police direction, just avoided it.  Ah ha!  This is how you get pedestrian right-of-way. 

Canadian Thanksgiving is the weekend of October 9-11 and as we plan on buying a turkey, giving it time to thaw and cooking it for several people on Sunday, we did not go shopping on Monday.  Our plan is to get the turkey and accessories on Wednesday, thus giving it a reasonable 4 days to thaw.  Instead, on Monday we needed to go to the bank and also pay our internet bill, plus do a favour for a friend currently out of country.  (We know everyone who reads this blog will be shocked.  "They didn't shop on Monday!" you'll mumble to yourself.  "What's the world coming to?"  ---We're afraid you'll just have to cope.)  Taking care of business was easier said than done.  First we went to our usual bank to withdraw some money from the machine.  Three times we tried and 3 times no money was spit out at us, instead the machines just whirred and gurgled and otherwise did nothing.  On the third try we were told however, that we were over on our transactions for the day.  "Oh Great!"    We then trudged home to see if any money had come out of our account.  Fortunately, none had.  That at least was a relief.  Having no idea what was going on, we decided to defer getting cash until the next day.  (We're not sure we had any other choice.) Brian then headed out on his own to hopefully and finally pay our internet bill.  Later, back at home, he announced his success and then we awaited a phone call to finish up our chores for the day.   The call came in at 2:46 in the afternoon.  Fortunately, Brian was just waking up from his nap and he was able to take care of business for our friends.  Now...all we need is to be able to take money out of a bank machine tomorrow! 

All Pictures:  Banos (near Cuenca)
 Well, we went back to the bank on Tuesday and tried the machine once again.  Once again, nothing happened except the machine eventually asked us if we needed more time.  We happened to notice another gringo seemed to be having the same problem, so he & Brian went into the bank and asked an English speaking teller what was going on.  She had no idea.  Upon arriving home, we checked the internet to see if there was any comment on Cirrus being down or ATM's on strike in South America or something....but the net was silent.  The other fellow had contacted his bank in the United States the day before and had been advised there was nothing wrong with his card so we knew it wasn't just Canada and wasn't just us.  Shelley sent a couple of e-mails out inquiring of other people if they were having the same problem and at this point, we have our fingers crossed that things will be back to normal tomorrow. 

It was with a fluttery heart that we headed off on Wednesday to go to the bank and then on to do our shopping.  Standing at the banking machine, having punched in all the right numbers, it seemed an eon went by....and came out of the machine!  Glorious, green, beautiful, money.  We have no idea what went wrong.  Other than the fellow we met at the bank yesterday, no one we knew had tried to get money.  We were only thankful that today it worked. 

Off we scampered to do our shopping for Canadian Thanksgiving.  We bought a turkey.  They didn't have any brussels sprouts; oh well.  (This is not to say they don't have brussels sprouts in Ecuador; they do.  Just not the day we want them.)  We bought carrots & turnips to be mashed together with butter & brown sugar.  We also got onion & bread for the homemade stuffing & potatoes to be mashed with sour cream & butter.  (Not a diet meal this.)  We were forced to buy a substitute for sour cream (the store didn't have any) and broccoli as a substitute for brussels sprouts.  We plan to make pecan pie but already have all the fixings for that.  We've been asked with curiosity by several U.S. Americans what the Canadian Thanksgiving meal was like.  This is ours; exactly the same as our Christmas meal, except for Christmas we have rum cake instead of pecan pie.  If you're of Italian descent, it may be lasagna; Ukrainian - perogies, etc.  Between Brian and Shelley, there's English, Scottish, American Indian, Welsh & Norwegian.  The above was our compromise between dried fish, pickled pigs feet, bannock & haggis.  Oh...we also have buns (of course) and a baked sweet potato.  In Ecuador the sweet potatoes are purple, so that should be colourful. 

Arriving home, Shelley put away the groceries and made pesto (we just like it...on just about...everything) while Brian took Fredi for a walk and later he tried to get in touch with someone in Canada.  The phone call just wouldn't go through.  It's been a frustrating couple of days that way, with several spanners thrown into the works, but we are trying to get back on track and looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, October 1, 2010


All Pictures of Parque Paraiso in Cuenca
It was time for Shelley to go back for her one month recall visit after her dental surgery.  She'd been brushing & flossing & using special mouthwash & had purchased that little twirly tool to clean between gapped teeth.  Her gums had stopped bleeding when she brushed them as she'd taken the advice of her dentist and when they bled brushed longer.  It's counter intuitive but it worked!  In any case, the periodontist told her her teeth & gums looked very good and that he was quite pleased.  She has to go back every 3 months for a year to get her teeth cleaned and then should be able to go back on a 6 month recall again after that.  Dental coverage is not part of the great Canadian medical system.  Working people often have coverage through their employer, but into retirement this ends.  We got an email from a friend of ours in Canada the other day and he talked about having to get extensive dental work done and joked about re-mortgaging his home.  Between the two of us, we've had so much dental work done in the last 2 years it really would have been onerous in Canada;  thank you Ecuador!

It's Wednesday in the late afternoon.  Brian's on the computer.  Shelley's lying on the couch, her feet up on the back, reading.  Fredi's on the floor below Shelley, chewing on a chewy.  The lightning cracks & the thunder booms just about at the same time.  It's all quite spectacular.  Fredi looks up.  Shelley looks up.  Brian shouts from the bedroom.  There's biblical rain for about 20 minutes.  Then it's all over.    An hour later, the sky is blue & clear, the sun is shining and it's gorgeous out.

The end of the month brought our bill day on Thursday and we had also arranged to meet a friend for lunch.  We managed to pay our water & electricity but when we tried to pay our internet the building was closed.  Next we wandered down to our bank and found the front door locked up and people were being let in one at a time.  We managed to get in and got our business done but while we were in there they stopped allowing anyone else access.  We were a bit early to meet our friend, so we wandered to the park to sit on a bench and wait for awhile.  There was a large demonstration going on with a couple of hundred people waving flags just across the street from the park.  We often see demonstrations at this location and didn't think too much about it.  On our way there, however, we noticed that most of the businesses had locked themselves up tight.  While we were sitting, several soldiers wandered through the park and stopped just this side of the demonstration; not involving themselves but keeping an eye.  People were standing in door ways peeking out at the demonstrators and excitedly talking to one another.  We sat in the park oblivious and listened to speakers speaking in Spanish and wondered what was going on.  When it was time to meet our friend we walked to the restaurant where they had a television and apparently there were protests all over Ecuador in that the President had recently cut back on some of the Police's benefits.  We watched the President of Ecuador on TV, at one point pulling his tie out & ripping his shirt open in defiance, trying to get his point across.  We suppose the businesses were closed because there were no Police available in case of trouble.  Either that or they were worried about riots.   It was hard to catch a taxi (not too many were on the street) but we did and we made it home just fine.  Later on, we found out when the President tore his shirt open he was daring someone to shoot him.  Apparently he was gassed & held hostage for a few hours.  Ecuador eventually declared a State of Emergency.  Meanwhile, Brian & Shelley walked around with their heads in the sky, annoyed because they couldn't pay their internet bill. 

Our evening was peaceful and Friday dawned quietly.  The news advised us that 2 people had been killed in Quito & something like 80 injured in riots.  Banks & government offices & schools were closed by decree (so we still couldn't pay our internet bill) but when we went for a walk in our  neighbourhood everything seemed tranquil.  We fielded several inquiries about our safety from family & friends out of country and thought perhaps the international news coverage made the whole thing seem just a tad more spectacular than it was.  We saw 3 motorcycle cops on patrol when we were on our walk so assume most if not all of the Police are back on duty.  The head cop for Ecuador resigned and there are promises that other heads will roll.  Apparently a couple of stores were gutted in Guayaquil but Cuenca seemed to handle the whole thing with a certain cautious yet resigned aplomb. 

Yesterday our Ecuadorian neighbour scoffed at us when Brian said it was an exciting day.  "It's nothing" he told us and politely hid his laugh at the easily alarmed gringos.  Yesterday the President of the country was baring his chest & then was held captive for a few hours and today it's business as usual.  There's a routine here like anywhere.  Shelley's hay-fever starts to get bad and the green suited men with the weed wackers are sure to show up within a couple of days.  Yesterday we wandered the town annoyed a Country's business was interfering with our own routine.  Today, like most of it's citizens, we're enjoying the sun, content with our lot and wondering what all the fuss was about.  Now if we could only get that stupid internet bill paid.