Saturday, May 27, 2017

Disasters that turn out well....makes me smile!

A lot of my friends don't even know I have written a blog.  It's down to every few years.  Let me know if that's a mistake.   Be kind.

Sometimes the very worst travel experiences can be hilarious.  Or not.  And sometimes you make marvelous friend when it's resolved.

I thought staying on a boat in Gibraltar would be amazing.  I sent an email informing the host I would be late checking in due to taking a 5 pm bus out of Granada.  That would get me into Algeciras at 10pm.  What I didn't count on is Gibraltar is a $35 taxi ride and it only went to the border of Gibraltar.  Taxis from Spain are not allowed in Gibraltar (UK) and vice versa.  I paid the taxi and he pointed to the aduana office and sent me on my way.  It was 11 pm.

The Aduana is customs as I know from living in Ecuador.  There's no one there.  There are machines telling me to place my passport on the glass.  It did not matter how I placed it, I had an error.  Mounting frustration.  I was tired and did not know which hurt feet or my knees since I had stumbled about for four hours at Alhambra before the five hour bus ride.  More on Alhambra later.

Enter Jim.  I thought this tall handsome Brit worked there and proceeded to air every grievance that happened that day and some previously.  If he had not stopped me, I might have gone back to my childhood.  No, he just lives here but offered to help.

He took me to the checkpoint.  They looked at my passport and asked if I had anything to declare.  I'm thinking "I declare this the worst day of my life" but stifled myself and squeaked  out "I have a bottle of Spanish extra virgin olive oil and a very small bottle of sweet wine."  I get eye rolls, my passport handed back and instructions to move on.

I had told Jim my knees really hurt.  He knew where the boat was but was hesitant.  He told me it was a 15 minute walk for him and maybe 25 for me.  I explained I once had a baby without anaesthesia and I can soldier on.  That set the mood and we had a lively conversation from that point.  We had fits of laughter all the way.

I would never have found the boat alone.  When we arrived at midnight, there was no one around. I was dripping in sweat.  The doors were open and I considered that an invitation.  I called around.  No answer.  Jim helped me by carrying my bag down the VERY steep stairs to sleeping quarters. All but one had keys in them.  I felt like Goldilocks of the Three Bears fame breaking into someone's place and choosing a bed to sleep in.  This one is too soft.  This one is too hard.  No, this one is juuuust right.

I waited for "Karen" to show up.  Her phone number was written on a board but I'm not sure how to make an international call on my phone and wanted to preserve my 2g of internet I bought in Madrid as I didn't know when I'd get more.  I waited until I fell asleep bathed in my own putrid sweat.

Before I fell asleep, I had to make a bathroom run.   Hmmm, no shower.  Signs stating urine only.  BUT!!!!  Karen, urine a lot of trouble in the morning.  Where do I do number 2 and where do I shower?  IS THE WATER ON THE BOAT POTABLE?

This morning I wake up my usual 4:30 but gratefully fell back asleep for three more hours.  Where the hell is Karen??  Is this a ghost ship?   I took a walk down the pier until I found someone awake and alert.  Do you know Karen with the boat Con Dios?  Yes.  Where is she?  "I think she's over there, maybe?"  Could you tell me where people poop and take showers around here?  I realize 7:30 am is awful early in the morning to face an angry, raving fuschia  haired old woman.  It was not my most shining moment.  I had no idea even how to flush the toilet.  They pointed in an easterly direction.  I said they needed to be much more specific because all I saw was boats and lots of them.  At the last of five piers was a building where I promptly headed after offering my gratitude.

As I was walking back to the boat, there was a blonde headed lady headed my direction.  "Are you Vickie?"  Damn straight, I am.  Where were you?  I don't know how to flush the toilet!  I had no idea where to shower!  I CAN'T EVEN POOP!! (aside to my is a bodily function, ya know).  Is the water potable on the boat?  She tried to calm me but I was having none of it.  "My phone number was written on the notice".  My phone had run out of minutes and I was unable to make any calls.

I flew to the room and started packing my things.  I didn't know where I was going but I didn't want to stay there.  She came in quietly and said "Look, since your here, you may as well see Gibraltar.  Let me make you a cup of coffee."  Coffee?  Did you mention coffee?

While drinking coffee together, I learned she was a single mom of a 14 year old girl and 17 year old boy much as I was once upon a time.  She didn't even live on the boat but on one three slips down.  She said she was up until 2 am and had missed the whole Goldilocks action.  The more we talked the more we had in common.  She had moved to Gibraltar 20 years ago with the husband who had recently left her for another woman.  She owned a laundry service in the center of town.  In short, she was just another woman keeping her head above water.  Just as I struggled to do years ago.  She had very nice children that I met after my Barbary monkey trek.

We connected on Facebook and promised to keep in touch.  I like her.  A lot.  The hilarious part?  Maybe some day.

I'm really not Goldilocks.  Fuschialocks is more like it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three years.......and I'm still smiling!!

Three years ago today, I left the US to start over.   I like to say it was the first day of the rest of my life.  Vilcabamba was my first home for 14 months.   Afterwards, I lived in a small town outside of Cuenca called Paute for 15 months.   I was housesitting for a friend for 90 days while she left for the US to work and had the intention to move to Cuenca.   Sometimes things don't go as planned and I wound up staying in that very lovely town for another year.

On the first of June this past year, I moved to Cuenca.   Each place has given me so many wonderful experiences.   Vilcabamba is beautiful.   Paute was amazing in the way the locals accepted me into their fold with the patience to listen to my Tarzan spanish and eventually feeling comfortable enough to correct me.

I felt I would be "selling out" to move to Cuenca as I wanted to have a decidedly Ecuadorian experience.   Cuenca turned out to be a much larger Paute with tienda owners and neighbors who would call me by name in my Ecuadorian neighborhood.

I want to celebrate by adding some of my favorite photos from the past few years.   I could add more but everyone has to have a limit!    This has been my life here in Ecuador for three years today.   I hope you enjoy!
My first official residence in Vilcabamba

My first encounter with roadside roasted pig.
This isn't the REAL equator.   The real one was a short distance away.  I have a photo, too, but my daughter is much prettier.

Waterfall within view of the hotel in Banos.
Fun time was had by my daughter and me when we rented a dune buggy in Banos to view the waterfalls!
Otavalo market.   This is the largest in South America.

Incan ruins in Cuenca.
Bear and Amber seemingly saying goodbye to their old life.
Burning effigies in Paute.
Inside of the "new" cathedral in Cuenca which took 100 years to build.
Dancer at the Paseo del Ninos Christmas Eve 2013
Horseback riding through the rainforest
The mystical Cajas.

A beach so big a little dog seems miniscule.
Great friends!
Accidentally ran into this amazing and small hostal right on the beach.  $15 a night.
Blue-footed boobies!  Found on Isla La Plata!

Friday, October 18, 2013

SSSSSSSSSSSSS......................makes me smile!

Once again, I've let this blog go.   It's not like nothing ever happens.  Why, just last night.....

I had a very full day yesterday.   I left my home close to 11 a.m. to have a heart to heart talk with a friend making a tough decision.   Then I raced across town on the wrong bus to meet a friend at the mall to see the movie, Gravity.   I wound up having to pay a taxi to get me there as I was late already, the bus was going nowhere near where I needed to be and it was starting to rain.

The movie was amazing!  I wasn't sure I would like it since I had heard there was little dialogue in it, but I was pleased.

After the movie was over, my friend and I got in a cab to go visit another friend who has a broken leg. After leaving, I walked down the hill with another visitor to the main street to get a ride on a bus to go home.   That is when the fun began.

I have a choice of 3 different buses on Gran Colombia.   I can catch #16 going a different direction from where I am headed, which I learned the hard way.   If it is going my direction, it makes 2 hard lefts and goes out to the netherlands of Cuenca.   I saw #16 race by as I was saying my goodbyes to the other visitor  so I went across the street to wait for either #13 or #50.

Before either #13 or #50 comes on my side, I see yet another #16 coming on the other side.   I would be dead about 15 different ways if I tried to hurry across the street so I decided I should stay put.   How many #8 and #1 buses can a city have?   Out where I live every other bus is #13.   Why none now?   Oh, wait!  Here comes one!   And because of all the traffic backed up curbside, he swings in the middle of the road and races on by.   Kind of like this.

As I was waiting for another #13 or #50 and had been standing there around 20 minutes in the dark, I noticed how the cab drivers were trolling the bus stops.   I'm afraid gringas just don't have that "tranquilo" in their DNA that the Ecuadorianas do.  They would slither by and honk their horn lightly to let everyone know of their presence.   Some would catch your gaze and wriggle their eyebrows.  "Choose me!"

I began to know how Eve felt in the Garden of Eden.   I kept thinking I could be home by the time I actually catch a bus.   I thought of it and it must have shown because I continued to get the light honks and I swear some of the cabbies looked like they might be the same ones that had driven around before.   Maybe they were waiting me out. Maybe they were holding the #13 and #50 hostage down the road to get more passengers and business.  $3.00 versus $.25 for the bus.   Let me see.   No, not tempted yet.

Another #13 came whizzing by and this time he was in the correct lane.   He didn't even touch his brakes.   I am getting delirious and I do think I'm hearing SSSSSSSSSSS come from the taxis.   Those serpents, again.   Eve was only tempted by one.   I have 100s of taxis driving slowly by with a wink and a nod.   Since it is after dark they may even charge me $4.   It's not going to happen.

After 45 minutes and no sightings of #50 and multiple sightings of bus #16 on the other side, a bus #13 finally came to a stop to pick up riders at my stop.  This is the longest I have had to wait for a bus since moving to Cuenca.  

After arriving at my destination and walking across the street from the bus stop, I get one more hit.  A light tap of the horn.   And I swear I heard a SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Changes ....................make me smile

Cuenca at night.  Not my picture but good enough to steal.
I have put a deposit on a house in Cuenca and will be moving the first day of June.   I do love the small town of Paute but believe it is time to move on.  It is my desire to make myself a little more useful to the world and Cuenca offers a lot more volunteer opportunities.

It is a bittersweet decision.   I have made a lot of Ecuadorian friends in Paute.   It has been a great launching pad to explore other small towns nearby.   Gualaceo specializes in shoe stores, both ready made and made to order.   Chordeleg has a plethora of silver and gold jewelry and is a very quick place to go to find unique Ecuadorian souvenirs.  Azogues is, well, Azogues!   It is what you could call a true suburb to Cuenca much more so than any of the other towns mentioned due to its close proximity.   There are so few westerners in town, someone stopped their car for my friend and me and wanted to know if we were lost and if they could help us!   In Paute, the friends I have told about this move have already started with the dread look on their face and the finger across the throat as in a slash to tell me about the thieves in the big city.   It does make me sad when I realize that I have become a part of this community and have learned enough spanish that I can actually join in on a joke, especially if the joke is on me.

Lots of small towns in the countryside

My landlady in Cuenca seems to be an Ecuadorian twin.   She is the same age and single (widowed), has children in their 30s and treats her dog like a baby instead of an animal.   She seems to have really been taken in with my own dogs but we will see how long that lasts after she hears Bear's ear shattering sharp barks a few times!   As of this moment, she calls both of them "wa-wa" which is apparently a term of endearment for small or young dogs among the Ecuadorians.   The first day I met her and her sister, she was going through her notepad to find something to write on and I clearly saw my own phone number written down and the world "gringa" written under it.   I pointed to it and she seemed embarrassed.  Then I started giggling and she and her sister joined in.   For a few minutes, the laughter was so hearty it was hard for any of us to breathe.   It may have been those few moments that we had our first bonding.

Grass for the "wa-wa"!

The house has three bedrooms on the second floor along with two full baths and one social bathroom on the ground level with a living and dining room with a kitchen and an attic on the third floor.   It was offered fully furnished but it was decided she would remove one bedroom furniture and all the furniture on the ground level except for the refrigerator and stove.   The refrigerator is electronic with an ice maker and cold water in the door.   There is a modern shopping center within walking distance.

Monay shopping center

A huge bonus of living in Cuenca is the water is the best in South America.   I have been drinking bottled water and boiling water for drinking since I have been in Ecuador so it will be great to be able to wash produce off in the sink before cooking.   I will still need to wash with antibacterial anything eaten raw as should anybody in any country.

Fresco on the walls of the San Francisco church.
The neighborhood is upscale Ecuadorian.   There is a very strict guard at the front who was reluctant to let me in unless I knew the house number and the name of my landlord.   Inside the house, there is an alarm system and beside the house there is a lot of grass for playing ball with Bear.   Across the highway, there is a hillside where my landlady takes her own dog walking through trails as she pointed out.   It is on the outskirts of Cuenca but across the street from a major hospital so there is plenty of public transportation from that area.   I have become so spoiled in Paute because I never had to walk more than a couple of blocks in any direction to get anything I needed unless I had to go to Cuenca.

No, this isn't the house but I had to put one on here.
This one was as good as the one I have.  :)

Now I do hope finding a moving truck will be as smooth as finding this fantastic house!  When I am able, I will be posting pictures of the REAL house.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Conversations with strangers ... makes me smile!

I was seated on the plane with a young graduate student from Tennessee who told me of being raised by her single military mom. She made the comment that when 9/11 struck she was only a child of 11. The events were so far away, young Belinda thought it could never affect her life. It wasn't long before her mother was deployed leaving her in the care of her grandmother and, in the process, changing her life forever.

As I found my bus stop at Miami international and settled in for an hour wait, a young Bolivian man happened by to catch the same bus. He told me he was really tired after sleeping overnight in the airport when he missed the bus the night prior. Until 2009, his family had lived in La Paz as his step father was working for the American embassy. This apparently provided a streamlined move to the US and he seems to love his life here. His English was flawless. I had to laugh when he told me about his step father and mother asking him what he thought of having a baby brother or sister. "Can't you just get a dog?".

After boarding the bus, I detected a distinct accent from three ladies in the seats ahead of me. As it turns out, they were from Argentina. I very excitedly asked them about Buenos Aires as it is finding it's way on my new bucket list. They were not fans of the city nor the president who is the first elected female leader in that country, citing runaway inflation, crime and smoke spewing buses.

Everyone has a story. Airport stories are more interesting than most. Carlos is pictured below.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hitchhiking in Ecuador..........makes me smile!

I had a lovely evening in Cuenca.   I first met with two couples at 6:30 p.m. at a restaurant called El Tiestos which was eight blocks from a singles event I was scheduled to attend at 7:00 p.m.  The conversation and people were so delightful I did not leave until almost 8:00 p.m.   The singles event was at Cafe Eucalyptus where I met even more interesting people so I  left there around 9:15 p.m. in a cab to the bus station feeling elated over new acquaintances.   This being a weekend, I boarded the bus to Macas as buses which terminate in Paute do not run that late.   The bus to Macas skirts through Paute and I have done that several times in the past.

The trip from Cuenca to Paute takes around an hour and fifteen minutes.   I read for around twenty minutes and felt a little tired so I leaned the seat back ignoring the protesting thumps from behind.   I was tired, damn it, and my seat mate was doing the same and I'm old so I felt entitled.   I did feel quite drowsy so I dozed off in what I thought was a bit of twilight sleep.

At one point, I awoke to feel the bus stopped and noticed the bus driver slipping off to an open tienda to buy snacks and drinks and wondered what town we were in.   As we started again, I noticed some familiar architecture of apartments that rounded the corner and felt we were getting close.  Then, I saw lights off in a distance that seemed much too far downhill.   I had never noticed anything like that on any previous trip so I got up to ask the driver how far it was to Paute.   They told me we had passed Paute around eight kilometers back.   PANIC!   They instructed me to come forward and sit on a seat in the front.

We drove an incredibly long time through darkness.   They assured me there would be a bus coming back to Cuenca and stopped in a small town called Sevilla de Oro.  They showed me where the bus bench was and I was to wait there for only about thirty minutes.  I should have no problems.   It was 11:50 p.m.

Pictures or it didn't happen!
As I waited in my pink party dress and blonde curly hair, I could not have looked more out of place.   I did not have a good view of what was coming around the corner so any time I heard a loud motor, I would jump up from my seat to make sure they saw me.   It was never a bus although several passed going the other direction.   Several trucks passed going my way.  I entertained myself watching a few dogs scavenge through the trash and even calling out STOP at one time.   What was I thinking?   I wasn't even supposed to be there!  Let them scavenge!  

Lonely dark streets!
After sitting on the park bench for about an hour and a half, I started preparing myself for the remote likelihood of being robbed and tucked my money, credit cards and ipod touch into my bra and had a fleeting thought that might bring even more attention to me.   A few people drove into town, gave me a quick glance, and proceeded on to what I hoped were their residences.   I had an additional problem.   Nature was calling.   Don't ask.

My park bench of over an hour
Around 1:30 p.m., I heard yet another heavy vehicle coming around the corner and jumped up once more.   It was another truck but I was losing hope so I waved and he blinked his lights.   He came to a stop and I ran to the passenger door.   He already had it opened and I asked "¿A dónde vas?".   He said he was going to Azogues which meant he would be passing right through Paute.   On the lovely word "Venga", I climbed up into the truck.   We exchanged some small talk which was difficult as he spoke no English and my Spanish is spotty at best.   He pointed to the back of the cab where there was a bed.   My heart stopped until I saw that he was wanting me to get a blanket if I was cold.  After close to an hour, we had arrived to a familiar setting and I was home at last.   At 2:30 a.m.  On my facebook post, people are calling me courageous and brave.   Not so.   Desperation was more the word!   No more setting seats back in recline on a bus.  

My hero!

No, if you will excuse me, I need to take a nap!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Eve in Paute.....makes me smile...and sleepy!!

Jumping the fire for good luck!

I'll be honest.   I'm tired.   I had very little to drink and that was confined to a couple of shots passed out along our walks through town.   I know how cane alcohol tastes now!   The evening started out with a fantastic dinner at Jani's house, including turkey and gravy, sweet potatoes as well as mashed, pea salad, and assorted vegetables.   As if that was not enough, out came the apple pie and ice cream.  There was not enough room for very much alcohol after that was over.

I'd just like to let the pictures tell the stories.  James, Susan, Jani and I had a fantastic time.   What a zest for life the Ecuadorians have!!   Have a wonderful New Year to everyone!!   Keep focused and stay positive!  Life is NOT a dress rehearsal!!

Boy and sister showing off
their guy.
Soooo, wazzup?

This was either a policeman or
If I knew more about Ecuador, I could
tell you who this is.  

The motorcycle gang!

Need a boob job?   I can get you
one.   Cheap.

It looked like a telling
of the indigenous history of
This is the Ecuadorian assembly.   Notice the donkey?   Some months
ago, there was a group trying to get him on the ballot.  

President Correa!

There was some heavy rock coming from here!

There were lots of fireworks!!

Cute little boy.  Unfortunately a little later, when his
grandfather was helping him across the fire, both went
down in a face plant on the concrete.   I certainly hope
all is well.

Firecrackers tossed at the church.

The gangs all here!  Including somebody picked up along the way!

Goodbye to my "esposo" of a few days and
all my negative feelings of 2012