Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Making new friends..................makes me smile.

I've made a lot of new friends since moving to Ecuador.   When one re-locates to a different part of the world, making friends is like discovering a new family you never knew you had.   Among the expats, I've learned to love the freaks as well as the normals.   After all, aren't we all freaks in some way or another?

"Lean on me, when your not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
for  it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on"

Mickie was my first friend in this country.   She has helped me
so much.   She continues with great advice even just this morning.

"'Cause I got friends in low places,
Where the Whiskey drowns,
And the Beer chases my blues away,
But I'll be okay,
Now, I'm not big on social graces,
Think I'll slip on down to the oasis, 
Oh I got friends,
In low places"

Charlitos is a local bar.   Where everybody knows your name.
It's a good place for all kinds of conversation.

"You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running', running, yeah, yeah,
to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will"

She's not an expat.  But my daughter, Robbin, helped me with the move.
She is always painfully truthful with me.   I'm so glad
the aliens gave her back to me after the teen years.
That makes her new.

"All these places had their moments
with lovers and friends
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all."

I used to carry a picture of a woman I knew named Judy
from back home who died suddenly from a heart attack to
remind me how suddenly life could leave us.  I have a
new Judy to remind me of how joyful life can be.

"Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Ooh, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,
with a little help from my friends"

I only know this guy through facebook.  Greg is planning to 
move back to Ecuador.   I can't wait to meet him.   He's so 
full of good advice.   He grew up here.  He also loves dogs!!

"And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You'll hear me call, as we ascend
Thank you for being a friend."

Greg and Rini as well as Venus are so full of love for everybody.
I'm lucky to know them and count them as friends.

"And when, when the night falls on you baby, you're feeling all alone,
You won't be on your own, I'll stand by you. I'll stand by you
I'll stand by you, won't let nobody hurt you. I'll stand by you
Take me in into your darkest hour and I'll never desert you
I'll stand by you."

Steve is American.   Alex is Ecuadorian.   They are so much in love.
And I love them both.

"My funny Valentine
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you're my favorite work of art."

Even Amber made a friend.   But someone needs to give him a sandwich.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cuenca...............makes me smile.

Before I became interested in Ecuador, I had never heard of Cuenca.  Imagine a half million people living in a gorgeous European style city in South America.  It seems like it would be something everyone should know about.   However, it is a big world out there and the world is full of beautiful places so it is hard to know all of them.

Hotel lobby on Calle Larga.  I think I'd like to stay there someday.

Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador situated at 2500 meters above sea level. That's around 8000 feet to Americans and 1.55342798 miles if you want to compare to the mile high city of Denver. A look in any history book and you will see that it was established on April 12, 1557, by the Spanish explorer Gil Ramirez Davalos. Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, who was Viceroy of Peru at the time, commissioned the founding and ordered it named after his home town of Cuenca, Spain.

Ninety-seven steps.  Yes, I counted them.

I do not believe that explanation goes far enough back as it is hard to establish a city that already existed.  According to archeological discoveries, the origins of the first inhabitants were nomadic tribes that go back to 8060 BC in the Cave of Chopsi which is located in the area and where writings were found on the walls.  They hunted with arrows and spears which have been found throughout much of the Andean valley.  Their presence was more stabilized by 5585 B.C. after which they started taking advantage of the mild climate and cultivating potatoes (spelled by an e....smiling), melloco (a root vegetable with edible leaves), chocho (a type of bean but do not dare look this word up in the urban dictionary), squash (you know you love it!) and quinoa (which is an amino acid-rich protein and can be a very important addition to a vegetarian diet).  They started domesticating cuy (guinea pigs), and camelids, such as alpacas and llamas.    It is interesting to know that agriculture started about the same time in Ancient Egypt.  Farming did not reach central and northern Europe for another half century primarily due to climate change.  They had their own global warming in those days.

Statue at an archeological site within Cuenca.  

Around 2000 B.C., the early inhabitants became much more highly organized and started delegating responsibilities both administratively and religiously.   They managed water and disease.  There was a succession of indigenous called Chaullambamba, Huancarcucho, Jubones, Pirincay, Monjas, Putushio, and Huayco.   Cuenca actually began as a settlement of commerce called Guapondeleg around 500 AD by the Canaris who were eventually defeated and absorbed into the Incan tribes in the 15th century, less than a half century before the arrival of the Spanish.  The Canaris had made great strides in astronomy and agriculture and the Incans retained these achievements but replaced their architecture with their own.   Eventually being renamed Tomebamba, the city may have been a candidate for the mythical city of gold the Spanish called El Dorado but it lay in ruins and was sparsely populated by the time they arrived there in the mid 16th century.

  Be still my heart!!  Tex-mex alive and well in Cuenca!!

Knowing that there were many indigenous groups who obviously battled for power throughout the centuries is important in the greater context of world dominance.   We know the Spanish came to the Americas and pushed the indigenous people out of their homes and decimated the population.   The battles have always been there.   Weapons just got much bigger and transportation got better.

 At a western style mall with another expat.   Younger, thinner, cuter...retired.  Did I mention smarter?

When you are dreaming of a trip to Italy with an emphasis on Florence but the funds just won't permit, may I suggest Cuenca instead?   I've been to both and they are both beautiful.   Both cities have a lot of history and beautiful cathedrals as well as the fabled cobble stone streets favored many centuries ago.  Indeed, a few weeks ago I was walking down a street in "old town" and I couldn't help but remember the narrow streets, the wrought iron balconies with brightly colored flower boxes, and street vendors in another place.

No, not in Florence.   Cuenca.  Yes, Cuenca.

There are four rivers in Cuenca.   One interesting point is that Cuenca means a basin made by confluence  of rivers which further means that Cuenca, Spain, must have had a similar geographical location.   It is surrounded by mountains and the rivers are called Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, which are part of the Amazon River watershed.   The average daily temperature is 58 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights are cool enough for a jacket or sweater.   My advice is don't bring one.   It will give you an excuse to buy one of the gorgeous Alpaca ponchos they have at the markets.   The last time I was there, I paid $18 for one in lavendar.  

White water raging through the middle of Cuenca in the guise of the Tomebamba.

Cuenca is located 4 hours north of Vilcabamba if you go by the van system from Hostel Izhcayluma which is only $15 on a one way basis and is limited to 5 passengers.   If taking a bus, it is generally around 7 to 8 hours at a final cost of around $9.   If you are walking, you will never get there.   The buses and deathmobiles will get you before you ever make it.

Misspellings can be funny....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Successfully becoming an ex-pat...................makes me smile

Being in a new country, especially one with a different language and slower culture, requires a lot of patience.  It helps to not take yourself too seriously in most instances and to remember that you are a guest in someone else's country.  Local customs may seem in the very least old-fashioned or stodgy and at the most, possibly cruel and completely unnecessary.  It is most important to remember not to judge people on what we don't understand.   All countries are at different stages in their history and they don't always line up with your own place of origin.  It is my own opinion that it is best to be kinder than we need to be.  

Working her craft in Otavalo.

I don't have a lot of experience at being an ex-pat so this might be a bit premature.   I may be writing another one in a year or two.  First I want to point out that expat does not mean ex-patriot.   It means expatriate and the definition is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person's upbringing.  It comes from the Greek "Exo" (outside) and Patrida (Fatherland, Country)  With this in mind, it does not mean someone dislikes their country of origin.   But don't be surprised if some do.   There are two kinds of ex-pats.   One kind is running away.   The other is running towards.   The latter tends to be much more fun.

He was very proud of his beautiful horse.

Altogether now and repeat this statement.   Do not let the words "THEY DON'T DO IT THAT WAY BACK HOME" spill out of your lips.  Bite your lip, your cheek, your tongue or put a raw chicken bone in your mouth to avoid it.   You aren't back home.   You aren't in Kansas anymore.   Or, in my case, you aren't in Texas anymore.   No one cares.   Don't do it.

Incan ruins in Cuenca

One thing I never thought of until recently was to check if your life insurance policy will pay if something happens in your adopted country or any country in which you may travel.   Many policies may provide limited or no coverage at all outside of your country of origin.   You may be in a deathmobile  in Ecuador, a ski lift in Switzerland, or trip off a pier in Aruba.   It is important to know.

There is an abundance of bakeries around here.

Many expats, upon moving to a new country will immediately seek out expatriate forums and try to find the nearest expat "hangout".   It is perfectly understandable to attempt to reach like minded individuals.  The problem is if you limit your social network to the expat community, you will also limit the quality of your experience of living overseas.   It can be intimidating in a country in which your know very little of the language but there is a solution.   Learn the language.   Don't try to replicate your life in your home country.  Try new foods.   Expatriating can be a very rich experience if you have an open mind.

Do you think they meant "Leggo"?

In a decision to move overseas, do your research from the type of weather to expect, the (reasonable) cost of living, whether you can buy or rent a home and public transportation.   Do not go by what a magazine says.   It is usually best to do independent study in several different sources.  Be especially honest with yourself about how you want to live in your new country.   But most of all, have a back up contingency plan if it doesn't work.  


If you have to have a certain brand of cosmetics or toothpaste, a certain size and style of jeans, it is better to think twice.  If you think all sidewalks or streets should be hole free and that you are not responsible for yourself if you fall in a hole or trip on the sidewalk, this is definitely not the place you need to be.   If you need a lot of outside stimuli and constant entertainment, it may be best to stay where you are most comfortable.   Some processed foods are available but you will have to pay for them since most of them are imported.  

Yummy street food!!

Central and South America are areas that are considered developing countries and with good reason.   It is not the United States or any other place in the developed world.   If you believe you can adopt a live and let live attitude and enjoy the local culture, including language, it could be the best adventure of your life.

 Biggest rooster I ever did see!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Things about Ecuador that make you go "hmmmmm" - Una Parte.......make me smile.

Hog Roastings
On Saturdays in small villages as you drive through the Andes, it is quite common to see multiple Hogs hanging by the snout and head or to see one on a spit being turned and cooked.  The roasts are called hornado.  The word for pig or hog is chancho.   It is also a derogatory word and if it is aimed at you, best to be laying off the hornado.    There is apparently no health department in Ecuador that finds a food source next to the highway that is for sale to the public to be a problem.   I haven't heard of massive illnesses or deaths attributed to this practice either.   If I ever get the courage to try this, I'll probably have a side of diesel fumes and dust with my chancho.  

Cuy is a delicacy in Ecuador.   It is a large guinea pig and is for special occasions.  My kids had pet guinea pigs growing up and, while it wasn't my favorite of the myriad caged animals they had, I really don't think I could bring myself to eat one without thinking of that little soft furry ball with the wiggly nose.  I have heard it is much like duck which I have tried.   Duck was not a good experience for me as it is a little sweet and greasy.   I'm not sure there are enough margaritas in this country to make me try something that is normally served head and all after being barbecued on a spit or deep fried.   Minus the cute wiggly little nose.

Baby Slinging
This is one of the sweetest practices.   I've seen it in small villages and in larger cities.   Mostly done by the indigenous, special blankets are carried over the mothers back with the baby in a sling.   Babies always seem to be quite happy in these positions and, with a simple change in the fold of the blanket, the baby can lie down in a cozy little nap or sit upright to peek over their mother's shoulder.  It really seems to be quite fun for them.

Sidewalk tripping.
On several occasions, I have come close to being "sidewalk kill" (as opposed to roadkill).  There are so many amazing things to stare at above street levels sometimes you forget to look down.   And looking down is very necessary with pieces of rebar sticking out, uneven cobblestone streets, inexplicable holes in the streets or sidewalks and just plain wear and tear.

Doctor's house calls.
My actual experience was a "hotel call".   A few weeks ago, on a visit to Cuenca, I became very ill on the second day there.   After four hours of what I think Montezuma's revenge may feel like, I peered out of my room to talk to the hotel clerk.   I told him of my illness and asked if he had a heating pad.   He was alarmed and said he had none of what I was requesting but he could call a doctor.   I was askance.  A doctor would come to me?   Is that even legal?  Nevertheless, a doctor showed up about 25 minutes later with a shot for nausea and the dear hotel clerk interpreted for the two of us.   Cost?  $30.   Medication came about an hour later for $20.   I was amazed and grateful.   I wasn't exactly up for photography during his visit so I'm including a picture of what I think of when I think of a caring physician.   At least he played one on TV.   And if you don't recognize him, you are definitely not a baby boomer.

Two equators.
This story started in the 1700s when the first geodesic expedition took place.   It was the goal of the French Geodesic Mission to find and mark the equator.   The equator passes through 14 countries but some of the countries were a bit uninviting and definitely a hassle to the French such as Uganda and Somalia.  In South America, they turned to a nice Spanish controlled territory, later to becme Ecuador where a nice colonial city, Quito, was already built nearby.  The King of Spain okayed their venture to find the equator with the caviat that they take along a couple of Spanish scientists to share in the glory.  Through a lot of measuring of the curvature of the earth and walking around and using some kind of voodoo math, they decided on the spot of the equator and called it Mitad del Mundo which means Middle of the World in Spanish.    There are a lot of signs on this spot for photo ops labelled 0'0'0'.   There is a big painted line on the ground to represent the equator complete with compass markings.   The only trouble is it is not actually on the equator.   The French guys were good, especially for their times, but they were actually 250 meters off.  

Located on the actual equator is the International Nan museum.  Besides sitting on the actual equator, the museum has hands on exhibits  regarding indigenous Ecuadorian life.   There are experiments to try such as walking the equator line with your eyes closed which will make you feel like you are falling.   Balancing an egg on a nail is easy since gravity is straight down.   I didn't actually get to do the actual equator because I was unaware of it at the time.   I will be there in September and the museum seems like a really cool, nerdy thing to do.   I'm wondering if straight down gravity affects my weight.  I'm afraid to find out.  My picture of the "fake" but well-visited equator spot is an unabashed brag and opportunity to show people how beautiful my daughter is.