2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You're Missing All The Fun!

Well, we have really been hit with one hellava snow storm here in Chicago, and people wonder why I want to leave Chicago for Cuenca. Might the following photos I took today of our snow storm be the reason? (Clarke from “Clarke and Brenda—Next Stage”) inspired me with his earlier post about how much he missed Northern Hemisphere winters, not. So here is my story and my photos:

A neighbor’s house

A neighbor walking near the neighborhood. Look at the neighbor in relationship to those utility poles. Can you believe it?

Driving to get some food and supplies.
There’s just no place to put all the snow.

Shoveling out my car.

Others were not so lucky.

It’s beautiful, but so is being on the coast with
Bob and Roxanne.

Aw shucks folks. I’m just jiving with you.
These are actually photos in Russian Siberia.

There was actually only two feet of snow in Chicago. See below:

Actually there’s only about six inches of snow on the ground in Chicago.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Waiting for Cuenca

Hello everybody,

I know it's been awhile since I posted. Already it has been over three months since I returned from Ecuador. The reality is that except for a sporadic post on a friend or acquaintance's blog or an occasional email to a friend, life has been too hectic for me to do much blogging. I enjoyed recently spending a few days south of Baltimore with my eldest son, Marc. I celebrated with him, a few days early, his 26th birthday. Now, my younger son Chris has arrived for a two week leave before he returns to complete his second tour of duty in Iraq at the end of June/July of next year. His bride, Maria, flew in from Hawaii to be with Chris as well. They will then have the long stretch of not seeing each other again until next July.

I have spent months on an emotional roller-coaster of my own making as whether to return to Cuenca in March as I intended or to wait until next summer. In the end, all other considerations were discarded. I can't wait to return to Cuenca. I ache for Cuenca, and I will return in March. I have submitted my retirement, and will be officially retired as of January 14th. This next week I will contact Gabriela Espinosa in Quito and begin the process toward permanent residency. Between the impending holidays and then uprooting myself, the next few months promise to keep me busy. I now will get to experience that part of dislodging my old life for a new beginning, just as those of you who have gone to Cuenca before me have so vividly described in your own experiences.

In the meantime, while days sometimes pass before I get to read the blogs; I attempt to keep up with how friends and acquaintances are doing, and how they are adjusting to Cuenca. All of you are doing so many things and traveling all over the place, I'm afraid there won't be anyone left to travel with when I get there. All of you will have done it all. It's also weird watching the changes taking place with the expats, and not being a part of the change. Whether it's the new or rival expat meeting place to Zoes, new restaurants opening, El Presidente involved in macho psuedo-heroism, earth quakes rockin and rollin, or the many new expats who have arrived just since I left. The many new blogs that have appeared make it even more difficult to keep up with everybody. Yet I relish each new blog. To Posterdog, who edits the "South of Zero" blog, thanks so much for your service. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate your daily posts, which really help me to sort through the blogs. You provide a valuable service to the expat community.

Brian and Shelly, thanks so much for your blog and friendship, I enjoy reading your everyday musings and trust that you had a wonderful Canadian Thanksgiving.

Bob and Roxanne, always good to hear from you. Your Christmas for the kids on the coast sounds like it will be your best effort yet. Your renovation project is awesome, and it all looks as classy as your condo in Cuenca.

Rich and Nancy, sorry I haven't been in touch lately. However, I also know how much you go out of your way to help newbies like me get situated in Cuenca, and I forever will be grateful for your advise and incites even before I arrived. I look forward to seeing you both again.

Lourdes, it was about a week later that I learned about your hospitalization, and I found it ironic that you should experience this health problem so soon after you had emailed me about how you handled insurance when you are in the states. Yes, you were most fortunate that you were in Ecuador when your problem arose. I was most happy to see that you were soon out and about again in no time. Your recent involvement with the school in Turi is commendable. I know you will be a great asset to the school and the children.

Gil and Deborah,I am ecstatic that you have arrived in Ecuador. I look forward to reading all about you two getting settled in your new apartment, and hope the next four months fly by when I can join you again. Your apartment is magnificent, and I was awed by the beauty of that one solid wall of kitchen cabinets. Oh Gil, you've got to take me to my first experience with cuy.

Edd, I'm always learning from you, and as you know, I love your sense of humor. Congratulations on your weekly newspaper article. You and Cynthia, along with Lourdes, and Bob and Roxanne have truly inspired me to get very excited about having the opportunity to fashion the decor for my own place when I get back to Cuenca.

My amigo, Barry, keeps me in stitches with his emails. I hope, Barry, you're getting your networking problems resolved, and congratulations again on getting situated in your new diggs.

Lenny, this is the month that you and your wife arrive in Cuenca. Congratulations! Experience! Enjoy! I'll be looking forward to your blog, and if the two of you choose not to blog, then at least send me an email and let me know how you are doing.

Garth and Orilla, I trust you're still planning to relocate to Cuenca in the spring, and I will certainly look forward to seeing you both again as well.

For those of you who know Abbi (Abigail/Gail). She is home in Santa Barbara. She is still seriously contemplating moving to Cuenca, but will probably choose to live outside the city if she returns.

Yes, I very much miss you all including Freddi, and I hope the next four months will flash by until I can be back to Cuenca with all of you again, including the many new friends and acquaintances I will have the chance to meet as well.

I miss my walks and daily explorations, and I very much enjoyed Calvin Trillin's article in "Cuenca High Life." on "...a Travel Writer Revisits Cuenca to Take in the Charms of 'a Walking City'," (October 20, 2010). I would recommend the article to anyone who has yet to read it. See you all before long.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Beginnings Revisited

I published the following in my first post back on June 10th:

I discovered her by accident through a link on Yahoo, in which "International Living" listed Cuenca "Numeral Uno" among the ten best places for retirees to live. Of the ten cities listed, Cuenca most definitely caught my eye. Was it love at first site or just infatuation? As I researched this beautiful city, I fell more in love with her with each passing day. So now I begin a journey to find out if Cuenca is just a long-distance romance, or if for me, is she the real thing?

I am bewildered that I wrote the above only ten weeks ago. I feel as if I have lived a lifetime with all that has transpired in the last ten weeks. When I journeyed to Cuenca, it was to discover if she was as great and delightful as everyone indicated, or whether the perspectives presented by commercial outlets and even the bloggers were like most things in modern day life, little more than glorified marketing? It wasn't that I was looking for negative things or attempting to find excuses for justifying a no move option. I just could not believe anything in actuality could be that good. I'm still somewhat concern, because Cuenca was beyond what I could have imagined. Will I wake up one morning and discover that it was all just a deliriously delicious dream?

On the other hand, why look for problems were there are not any? What will be in life will be, and we all must follow our destinies before we can discover what they are. Cuenca is and appears to be my next chapter. You have probably read a number of the blogs if you are considering moving to Ecuador, and each will tell you the same thing. You must decide for yourself if it is the right move for you. You must know what it is you want out of life at this juncture, and to what degree Cuenca meets that criteria. I can only share with you why I have fallen in love with Cuenca. Maybe you will share many of the same experiences with similar responses, but you should visit at least for a month and maybe more than once to make that final decision.

One obvious attraction of living in Cuenca is the fact that the cost-of-living for most things is so inexpensive compared with living in the states. One could live decently on $15,000 to $20,000 a year. That kind of income won't allow for much in the way of extras and foreign vacations, but will certainly allow a more sustainable standard of living than comparatively in the United States. When I retire, assuming that the government can still honor its social security and pension payments, I will be able to live as well in Cuenca as I now live in the United States employed. I will be able to travel, enjoy nice meals in upper-scale restaurants as I choose, and I will still be able to save. No way would I be able to continue my currently employed lifestyle with the exorbitant costs of literally everything in Chicago.

The weather in Cuenca is also an attraction. As I've grown older, I no longer enjoy hot weather, particularly hot and humid weather. Muggy weather is not just uncomfortable, but it tires me out as well. Cuenca is spring-like with a narrow band of weather variations the year round. There are days or hours where the sun shines and it can feel like it's in the 80's without the humidity. Let the sun hide behind some clouds, and the temperature can feel ten or fifteen degrees cooler. In the coldest months of the year, temperatures can easily get down to single digits in the Chicago area, with moderate amounts of snow throughout the winter months, and with average daytime temperatures often in the 20's to 40's range. In Cuenca the daytime temperature highs are rarely below fifty degrees and when they slip into the 30's at night during their coldest periods, for Cuencanos that's cold. Having visited San Francisco and Monterey in the summer months, I never liked their weather. San Francisco frequently had fog that rolled in the mornings and the evenings. Fog quickly became tiresome, and treacherous for driving. Both cities with comparable weather to Cuenca, have two disadvantages that Cuenca does not have. Not being near the Equator, the warmth of the sun does not compensate for their cooler climates. Since both California cities are on the coast, there is a greater wind chill factor to consider, with which Cuenca does not have to contend. The result, Cuenca enjoys milder weather. Along with that mild weather comes the absolute delight of no pesky flies or mosquitoes. I frequently ate meals on the balcony, and did not need to concern myself with closing the sliding doors behind me. The inside becomes an extension of the outside on most days, where I am not isolated by heating and air conditioning.

Nothing is perfect. I found while I was visiting Cuenca more cloudiness and cooler nights than I would have preferred. However, I had to remind myself that these cloudy conditions in late July early August are the equivalent to Chicago's January weather. Not such a bad trade-off after all. Cuencano homes do not have central air, which definitely is not needed. Cuencano homes also have no central heating systems, which for most of the year are not needed either. However, there are some days when temperatures can get quite cold, particularly in the evening. I would recommend to anyone moving to Cuenca to get a highly energy efficient heater that can warm up 1,000 sq ft of living space quite quickly. I have no idea if such heaters are available in Cuenca. However, you can purchase them for about $400 in the states and you will have to pay an import tax of 35%, but in my opinion, it would be a wise investment. If you particularly should choose to live in older housing stock, the homes will be quite drafty and on the colder side. I have family members who have an electric heater called "Eden Pure", which they find to be excellent. "Eden Pure" (1-800-588-5615)is a quartz infrared portable heater, which heats evenly from ceiling to floor, does not dry the air, no fumes, and will not harm children or pets. (This is not a commercial, and no family members are associated with "Eden Pure". It's just an example of what's out there to do your heating job efficiently and at low cost.) I also am the type of person who does not like to wear layers of clothes when I am home, so an efficient heater that runs on a few cents a day in the states is a real plus to my way of thinking. During the night in Cuenca, I was always warm and toasty under the covers, but in the evening and if you are an early morning riser the right heater can take the edge off the cold air.

Today was a beautiful day in Chicago. The temperatures were in the mid-80's and with our dry spell, the humidity was not a factor. I looked up at the absolutely clear blue sky, and it reminded me of something else I miss about Cuenca. The sky for me in Cuenca always had a sense of presence in my day. It was as if I were in a large athletic arena and I was encapsulated within this sky dome surrounded by mountains, where often its programing of spectacular cloud formations and lighting effects would play out on the stage above me. Here in Chicago the sky looks so distant.

I am also looking forward to getting back to my newly made friends and acquaintances, which is another real plus about Cuenca. There are just enough expats scattered throughout Cuenca to have contacts with people from the states, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Those who choose to seek out contacts have ample opportunities to make acquaintances and friendships through activities like Friday night at Zoe's, introductions in Parque Calderon, gatherings at the English language bookstore, The Carolinas, etc. These expats are very giving of themselves and their time, and are a great resource for smooth transitions to a new city and adjustments in understanding the local culture. Yet the numbers of expats while these numbers will certainly grow are very small in relationship to the total population of Cuenca. Therefore, the expats are not threatening at this point to abrupt changes to Cuencano culture, or to reinforcing the easy choice of exclusively "hanging out with others like ourselves" syndrome that characterizes some expat communities in other countries, or ghettoizing ourselves in one neighborhood in the city. What I found most promising about the current expats with whom I have met and heard about is the fact that they generally are very well educated, most have been world travelers of one kind or another, and they have a great deal of stimulating thoughts and experiences to share. They not only bring an enhanced cosmopolitan touch to Cuenca, but also contribute to the Ecuadorian economy and social well-being; whether as consumers that support local retailers and services, or as entrepreneurs of new businesses, or as teachers in the universities, or as tutors to families in English, or as volunteers for many of the social needs of Cuencanos, or as initiators and planners for a Christmas party and needed gifts for kids on the coast. The list is endless of what expats can and do contribute to Cuenca. These in general are the kinds of people who are coming to Cuenca, and hopefully will be the kind of expats that will continue to populate Cuenca.

Which, of course, leads to another important factor about the expats. Most whom I have met have a desire to know more about Ecuadorian culture and to learn the language. I know I have been diligently practicing my Espanol since I returned to the states. I can see improvement. Even my student tutors have commented on my improvement. I make time for practice everyday to assure that I do not lose what I have learned and then challenge myself beyond that point. I started out with two student tutors who are native Spanish speakers, but increasingly more students who have had a year or two of Spanish in school want to get in on the act. Who knows before long I may have the entire classes speaking in Spanish.

Another very important factor is that the Ecuadorians themselves are such a welcoming and inviting people. When I hear expats talk about how living in Cuenca today is like living in the states back in the 40's or the 50's, they are generally referring to a less hectic life-style, the courtesy of the Ecuadorians, the work ethic that appears to take pride in what they do, their willingness to please, the laughing and smiling children, the family bonds, and most of all the ability to find contentment in the simple things in life. I don't want to spin an "Ozzie and Harriet" picture for you. There are many in the middle class who work long hours and have hectic lives as they have bought into the American dream of materialism foremost. About a quarter of the population of Ecuador is living outside Ecuador to earn enough money to send back home and to eventually purchase a home. The owning of a home in a society where cash must be paid for the home has become quite a status symbol for many Ecuadorians. The concern, however, becomes one of what happens to a traditional culture when its family life is interrupted by long absences of the fathers, particularly since a majority of the Ecuadorians living abroad are unable to bring their families with them? There is no doubt that the extended family still plays a larger role in Ecuadorian life than it does in the United States, which can help to compensate for absentee fathers. Nonetheless, it is not unusual for multiple brothers and cousins from the same family to all be abroad at the same time. On the other hand, many Ecuadorians like Americans from the United States, as a result of their contacts from living there or having relatives who live in the states. Ecuadorians identify the United States as the country which legally or not gave them the opportunity to improve their living standards, and those who lived abroad have developed some familiarity with the English language. Some of whom have become quite fluent in English.

Cuenca, in particular, offers itself as the cultural capital of Ecuador with two universities, its intellectual leadership, a multiplicity of museums, a very fine city orchestra, and the center for many of the arts and crafts of the people; as she is bespeckled in her jewels of Spanish Renaissance colonial facades, and is an ideal size for a city of 500,000 without the density of population that is found in most big cities in the world today. Cuenca has a low urban crime rate per capita when compared with not only larger Ecuadorian cities, but even more so with American cities. Cuenca proportionately offers the largest middle class of any sizable city in Ecuador. There is no begging to speak of, and not the homeless and shanty towns that can be found in many large cities in the world today. While expats are warned not to be out on the streets late at night, because as Anglos their appearance may attract the thief, I have in any city I have visited in the world always come and gone as I have wanted. I never during my month in Cuenca ever had any incident that even approached a need for a sense of fear. I walked in some neighborhoods that appeared not too likely to be the kind of neighborhoods I would want to walk about in the night, but I did walk the streets quite late at night. Anything can happen anywhere and I am not suggesting that you should not be cautious, but I feel safer in Cuenca than I would in most cities I have visited.

So what is the downside of Cuenca? Possibly I don't know what it is and have not heard about it yet. There is no doubt that if you do not want to learn Spanish that there are a sufficient number of Ecuadorians who are fluent in English, who can help you with the most important issues in relocating and settling in Cuenca. You can always get by on a little shop Spanish with a mix of Spanglish, but you will miss out on the best part of living abroad, which is to experience the people and the culture up close and personal. If you have never lived or traveled to other cultures before, where you are the minority; a move to Cuenca may be unnerving. If you come from a hot climate, Cuenca may be too cold for you, and if you come from a dry climate, Cuenca may be too wet for you. I have yet to weather the bureaucracy of Cuenca with its notorious delays, and its incessant need for multiple copies of every document imaginable. I am told to develop a stoic attitude about the waits and the frustrations of having to go elsewhere to get copies made; but a retired, slowed-down life-style allows for such inconveniences, and such incidences are not everyday occurrences. I am more concerned about being the victim of an auto accident as a rider or as a pedestrian, than I am worried about any crime. Cuencano driving is insane, but it does seem to have a logic of its own. I'm amazed I saw no accidents when in Cuenca, although I heard about a couple of them. The sidewalks are often in need of repair, and can be treacherous. It is not uncommon to walk along very narrow sidewalks that require people passing one another, for one of the parties to have to step out into frequently busy streets. Sometimes a piece of property jets out and absorbs what should have been the sidewalk, which once again requires walking in the street until the sidewalk picks up again. I recently had a friend who fell and injured her wrist, so walking does require a great deal of focus and attention. The political situation with the Ecuadorian government could become more risky, but that has not been unusual in modern Ecuadorian history, and what happens at the political level of a country does not always result in ruptured changes in ones personal life. Quite frankly, things are not so politically and economically stable here in the states right now either, so who is to say where the safer political climate may be at this time or in the near future?

These are all the imponderables in life. Every country I ever visited I enjoyed immensely, but Ecuador's Cuenca is the first where I have ever wanted to live. I only know that I am in love with Cuenca, that my relationship with her will change as all relationships do over time. I'm just gambling at this point in my life that she will be the best fit for me, and that through the ups and downs we will experience life together for as long as we are together.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Keeping all the Balls in the Air!

Well, I'm at home and missing Cuenca. At least through reading the blog updates and the emails from friends in Cuenca, I don't feel a world away. Fortunately, this school year I discovered upon my return that I would be teaching government to seniors the first semester, and I am scheduled to teach economics to them the second semester. That means no freshman (There is most definitely a God!), and no World Civilization. I very much enjoy teaching World Civ, but I am ready for a change.

It's been very hot and humid all summer. A number of years have past since we've had a summer this hot, especially after the very cool summer of last year. Not to mention that the mosquitoes are thick as thieves, and I might stand a better chance of survival fighting off vampires. The blood suckers have not made my walks in the evening at all pleasant. We have had three years of incredible amounts of rain. If you think the rain from July 13th until August 9th while I was in Cuenca was too much, believe me it was nothing like the rain levels and thunder and lightning storms Chicago was experiencing. However, now the ten day forecast is indicating zero percent chance of rain for each of the next ten days, and its only rained twice since I arrived home. Possibly we are entering a new cycle of dry seasons, or possibly it is just a temporary respite. At least at the moment vegetation is still very green.

I have two new tutors for Spanish whether they want to be or not. One of my students is Puerto Rican and is very fluent, but oh how I had to slow him down. The other student is Mexican-American and is in the following period class. I get to re-practice my conversation with her. Having two students know the language provides me with the incentive to come up with something for conversation to practice everyday first thing after taking roll. It's also interesting to be in a position where I am dealing with students who know much more than me. I feel like a first grader who is trying to figure out one plus one, while talking with a student taking calculus.

This has been quite a year of learning, and of masterly keeping all the balls up in the air at the same time. Particularly, when one considers that I don't recall ever hearing of Cuenca until eight months ago. Little did I know the path of learning and discovery on which that journey was about to take me. Whether it was learning about Ecuador, figuring out the city once I arrived in Cuenca, putting the blog together, learning how to use a laptop, learning how to use a new camera, persevering through all the struggles of computer virus melt-downs and getting the "freakin" photos to post to the blog, and of course, learning Spanish. The easiest part for a guy who has never been good with names and faces was how well I learned and remembered so many of the acquaintances and friends I met and made while I was in Cuenca. So I'm still juggling, and adding another ball in the next few months of making definite decisions and plans, and then work through disinvesting myself of all my belongings, and the myriad of paper work that will have to be done in a relocation bid when that time comes. I've got to keep those balls in motion. (Rollin, rollin, rollin! Keep those doggies rollin, Rawhide!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"A Lot of Rolling and Shakin Goin On"

Wow! Wouldn't you know it! The minute I leave Ecuador, and you all decide to throw a party, and not invite me to it. Imagine the stories I'd have to tell next week to my co-workers and students that I had survived the Earthquake of 8/11. I can hear them now, "and you want to move there?" Considering the level of fireworks that frequently go off in Cuenca, which generally sound like dynamite explosions, was the earthquake by any chance a cultural thing? I mean if 8/10 was the celebration of Ecuadorian independence, wouldn't a big holiday comparable to our 4th of July require something a little more significant to celebrate than Cuenca's everyday fireworks--like an earthquake? Well, I'm glad there was no serious destruction,that all of you were kept safe, and that you're just going to have to put a brake on all that excessive partying.

I returned home safely and without a hitch. There were only small delays, and short of human transporting, the flights could not have gone smoother. I only spent one evening in Quito. I did not get a real feel for the city, and only saw the part of the city that ran from the airport to the Quito Hotel. Obviously, like Cuenca, the city is not a high-rise density city like Chicago or New York City. However, it does have a greater sense of bigness and traffic that is missing in Cuenca. As soon as I left the airport, the fellow who put the bags in my taxi, immediately asked for a tip, and before we could get a block down the road, the taxi driver was approached by two beggars tapping on the window. Certainly it was a contrast to what was experienced in Cuenca.

The Quito Hotel was quite nice and very large. No water conservation here. When I took a shower, the water hit me like a fire hose and practically knocked me against the back wall of the tub. Needless to say, it made for a great shower. I was told the hotel restaurant was on the seventh floor. I made my way up the elevator. Took one look at the restaurant, which had white table cloths that extended to the floor. There were enough wine glasses and silverware on the tables, that I would have needed an etiquette class to know how to use all the cutlery. The scene was fit for the Queen of England, but with me in my collarless shirt and jeans, and a pocketbook that did not want to even anticipate the cost; got back on the elevator and decided to take a chance on what may be out on the streets of Quito. There was a gambling casino next to the hotel, so I assume gambling is legal in Ecuador, or at least in Quito. I don't recall seeing casinos in Cuenca. There was a South American chain fast-food restaurant across the street from the hotel. I ordered the Special Numeral Uno, which was some kind of personalized enchilada plate. It appeared to have been baked in a throw-a-way dish, and was quite good for fast-food. What I enjoyed is how the young man brings out the dish to you, and presents it as if I was about to dine on something special. I've experienced this in the hamburger chain just down the hill from La Cuadra II while I was in Cuenca. The other difference from fast-foods here in the states is that while people order at the counter, they do not pay the bill until after they have completed their meal. I wonder what that says about the basic level of Ecuadorian values that people can be trusted to pay in a fast-food restaurant after they eat?

I guess now that I am back in the states, I will have to get over asking every Hispanic person I see if they are from Ecuador. In the Miami Airport, a very attractive and classy woman asked if she could share my table with me, since the food court tables were occupied. I, of course, did the chivalrous thing and invited her to join me at my table. I asked if she was from Ecuador, but she said she was from Argentina, which would have given us endless options for discussion. Unfortunately, her English was limited. I couldn't let this opportunity pass, so I began whatever feeble Spanish I could muster just so I would have an excuse to look at her. She patronizingly incurred my miserable Spanish, and my mission was accomplished. After she completed her sandwich, she thanked me for sharing my table and moved on. Then a man managed enough English to ask if he and the two women with him could share my table with me, and I was much obliged. While he ran around getting their three orders filled, I asked the ladies if they were from Ecuador. No, they were from Bolivia. The one woman remind me of myself, and some of the grammatically-twisted and misused worded conversations I had with Ecuadorians. She said, "I am from San Francisco." Her sister said, "No, I am from San Francisco." She replied, "That's what I said, "I am from San Francisco."

I knew I was home, when I walked out of O'Hare Airport, and was smacked in the face with the humidity. It's been in the 90's all week in Chicago with at least two more days of 90 degree heat through Saturday. Today's heat index will be 100 degrees. Thank God, when school begins next week the temperatures at least as now reported will be in the low 80's and in the 70's. Our building is not air-conditioned, and the humidity especially can be killing.

Taking the regional transport bus to my hometown provided us with an Hispanic bus driver. Many Hispanics live in the Chicago area, but generally Anglos just see them as Hispanic, or assume they are Mexican or Puerto Rican, since these two groups have been the largest Hispanic groups with roots going back a hundred years in Chicago. I was surprised to learn that there are 400,000 Ecuadorians living in the Chicago Metropolitan area. Since I was sitting in the front of the bus, and the driver just seem too friendly and courteous not to be Ecuadorian. I finally asked him as he was driving, if he was allowed to talk to riders while he was driving. When the driver positively responded, then I asked the big question, "Was he from Ecuador?" Strike three, and I was out. He was from San Salvador. San Salvador! Jose Cortez, the computer guy, was from San Salvador! No, the driver didn't know him, but like Jose he had a great story to tell about how he came to America. We talked about South American politics and culture, while a crowded bus of riders grew quiet with their personal conversations and seemed to be listening to the two of us. When we arrived in Highland, Indiana; the driver and many of the riders as they prepared to disembarked gave the driver applause and thanked him for an interesting trip. He was a truly charming guy.

So I am home unpacked, paying bills, going through a month's mail, taking care of business, visiting family, and taking a trip to Chicago with friends this Saturday. All the time wishing I was back in Cuenca. Hopefully, when the time is right Cuenca is where I will find myself again. I will only blog in the future, as I talk about some of the topics I have yet to cover, and when things here at home relate to my move to Cuenca. Otherwise, I am going to be way too busy to blog as regularly as I have. Thanks again to all, who contributed to making my time in Cuenca so enjoyable and memorable.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hasta Luego

It's been a great ride for this past month. I really love this city. I enjoyed immensely the Ecuadorian people, and I made many new acquaintances and friends among members of the expat community. Everybody is extremely helpful, and the expat community gives newbies to Cuenca and those who come to settle not only a great social network, but a great source for how to adjust and navigate one's way around Cuenca, the Cuencano cultural mindset, and the bureaucratic red tape that is an integral part of Ecuadorian culture. As I said temporary goodbyes to acquaintances and friends this past week. (Sorry Rich, if I read BobnRox's blog correctly after I had dinner with you and Nancy Friday evening, I would have wished you a Happy Birthday on Friday night.) I for one appreciated that you dined with us way past your bedtime. If you read the other blogs, you already know what great food you can get at California Kitchen. It was back to the Colombian Restaurant on Saturday to have dinner with Barry, where like California Kitchen, the owners are the hosts and are warm and gracious, but unlike California Kitchen have limited English skills. We had the Colombian national dish, which had a variety of meats, pancake, plantain, eggs, and beans. What was absolutely excellent was the sausage--very flavorful and distinctively spicy without being a red chili-hot spicy. It was not a breakfast sausage. Dinner for the two of us came to $18.00, that was with two beers each.

I walked all over Cuenca on Saturday as the weather warmed up. After three days of cold weather, I was more than ready to get in some distance walking time, and I walked miles before I met up with Barry and again after we departed.

After Barry and I departed, I was heading for Maria's Alemania for the opportunity to select a variety of cookies to be packaged as a gift to take back to my mother in the states. I read the map wrong, headed in the opposite direction, but when I eventually corrected myself and found the bakery it was closed. It didn't matter in the least. It was a beautiful evening, and I enjoyed the walking. I also knew it was going to be quite awhile before I would get this chance again to walk the streets and always discover and try something new. I even stopped and tried a blackberry yogurt shake. Blackberries are big in Ecuador, but I didn't think I would like them. Luckily, they were out of Mango, which I first ordered. I tried the blackberry (mora), and it was very good. Next time I am in Cuenca, I will have to try the granadilla yogurt shake.

As luck would have it, if I just headed in the direction of home after we had dinner and returned to El Centro; about a block from Parque Calderon was an open bakery filled with galletas (cookies) and an English speaking mother who waited on me. I picked out a wide assortment of cookies for my mother upon my return to Chicago. The owner had her eight year old son with her, and he was full of enthusiasm. What a talker! I asked him his name and how old he was in Spanish, and I think he told me his whole life story in the most rapid Spanish I have heard to date in Cuenca. When it came time to pay, I ask her son, Manuel, to count all the dollars out for me. He counted up to eighteen. It suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten what his mother said the price of the box of cookies were. She reminded me, and Manuel began to count all over again. We got it right, and I thanked him for his help.

One of the posters requested the name of the pizza place that I bragged about on an earlier post. I only ate there twice and had walked past it numerous times, but never wrote down its name and location. Streets as one leaves EL Centro heading west do not follow a perfect grid, and at times I reach a fork in the road, and street names change, although ultimately they all take me back to La Caudra II. The restaurant is called Pizza Express. It is not part of a chain, just a simple neighborhood restaurant. It is located at at 18-68y Grand Columbia. If you are walking west from El Centro along Grand Columbia or Simone Bolivar. You will come to a forge in the street were both streets merge and become Gran Columbia.
Being Saturday night, they had more than just the two pizza workers who are normally there during the day. They assured me they would be open on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. You know where I am having Sunday dinner. Keep in mine depending on your taste in pizza, there is no tomato sauce served on these pizzas. Their toppings are plentiful, the cueso cheese is good, and if they get the crust just right like the first time I had it, it was particularly flaky and light.

After my pizza, I walked for blocks along the river. The Rio Tombebamba is by no means a wide river. It generally is only twenty to forty feet wide. However, with the increase in rain the last few days, the greater depth of water, and the numerous rocks in the water make the river a fast moving ride of rapids. Much of the river is surrounded by shrubs along its banks or enhanced by parkways. It made for a very nice evening stroll, as my thoughts reflected on the events and experiences of the past month and my final evening in Cuenca.

I returned to La Cuadra II and began to pack for tomorrow's departure. I eventually went down to see my good amigo, Jose, and he gave me my final Spanish lesson for the time being. He showed me many photos of his wife, and son,his parents and siblings, and even of himself as a boy and a number of his cousins. We said our goodbyes. Jose reminds me a great deal of my son Chris. He is a real solid young man, and loves his wife and son deeply. I will miss him.

I am going to be extremely busy when I get home, but I do hope to make the time to post some follow-up thoughts and reflections on Cuenca, and occasionally keep friends back in Cuenca informed of my progress toward my eventual return to Cuenca. I have not discussed the Catholic Church, the pro and cons of renting or buying, and the advantages and disadvantages of living in Cuenca, nor the type of people who might consider if Cuenca is the right move for them.

Thanks to all of you who made my visit to Cuenca utterly enjoyable, and so resoundingly a beautiful experience. Hasta luego! Jaime

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Photos of Cuneca, Part II

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Click on the link below to the slide presentation, or if need be copy and paste into your URL:


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Sands of Time

As I returned to La Cuadra II one day last week, the power was temporarily out. Since the elevator wasn't working, I climbed the stairs. Upon ascending the stairs I met Valerie. Suddenly the power was restored, and Valerie invited me to meet her husband, Wil. I dropped by briefly for introductions, and then this week stopped by their condo for an evening of conversation. Talk about six degrees of separation! What were the odds that Valerie and Wil, who not only live in Cuenca, but also reside on the same floor in the same building in Cuenca as myself; would be from the same city of Valparaiso back in the states? We never knew each other in Valparaiso. We had to come to Cuenca to meet. Wil and Valerie are busily renovating a second floor residence in colonial El Centro, where they plan to move upon its completion. They both want to be closer to the action. I wish them the best in their endeavor.

I had a very fine dinner last night with Brian and Shelley at their place, as we also visited with Orilla and Garth from Canada. Brian and Shelley have really been great to me, and I very much appreciate their friendship and kindness. Freddi was her perfect self, and Brian really knows how to handle himself in the kitchen.

Today Gil, Deborah, and myself were driven up to Ingapirca by Fabian Aris Borque. For anyone new to Cuenca, or may be planning to travel to Cuenca in the near future, Fabian is your go-to hombre for travel excursions, and he will even pick you up in Guayaquil and transport you to Cuenca from the Guayaquil Airport if you so desire. Fabian speaks fluent English, has lived in the states, Chicago, of course. Fabian is amiable, and knows his way around Cuenca and all the outlying sites, and his rates are reasonable. His telephone number is 0991 078 135. His email is sonialv@etapaonline.net.ec. He is well-known and well-respected in the expat community.

We were blessed with a young Ecuadorian guide, Susanna, who spoke fluent English, and who had the challenge of presenting the entire 90 minute tour in both English and Spanish to accommodate the language needs of people in her group. Ingapirca is the largest and oldest Inca ruin in Ecuador. Typical of human history; one group, the Incas, conquer another group, the Canari. Intermarriage and assimilation of cultures take place. Unfortunately, for the Incas, their ascendancy in Ecuador lasted less than a century, as they would soon give way to their conquest by the Spaniards.

The ride back to Cuenca was exciting. Fabian knows the back roads, when road construction becomes a travel problem. What prevents him from frequently replacing his shocks, axles, and suspension system as he maneuvers around and through the pot holes, gravel roads, and uneven road inclinations is beyond me. Fabian jockeys for position in typical Ecuadorian driving-style around autos and trucks which approach each other on one lane roads; while mental determination is made as to who sits, who moves in reverse, who attempts to pass whom in the narrow corridor of dusty rural roads. I love it! Fabian was at his finest moment like the matador who challenges the bull who rears forward at the site of the matador's cape, as Fabian waits for a truck to pass him and as he encourages the driver on. The driver for better or for worse thought better of the challenge, and put his truck in reverse and pulled back to a point where before he had the opportunity to bring himself to a halt, Fabian was already racing around him. I did see a site I never expected to observe in Ecuador. One driver actually stopped and waved for us to make the turn first. The main highway is being reconstructed and widened, and should be quite nice once the construction work is completed. Meantime, traffic in two directions often in one lane--very interesting, very interesting, indeed. Yet the negotiation of transportation seems to ultimately work itself out just fine among all the drivers.

The trip back from Ingapurca is especially nice. We were now moving from a higher altitude to a lower altitude. As we descended, we were able to experience the full appreciation of the beautiful landscape from a panoramic view. We could see just how rich the farmland is, and the multiples of truck farm products to which the soil is put to use. We were amazed at the numbers of homes along the mountainsides, and the large number of new homes that have or were being built. The weather also warmed, and we began to strip off the extra layers of clothes that were definitely needed in the higher altitude of Ingapirca, which also proved to be quite windy.

We eventually made our way back to Cuenca and the entire excursion, which included about an hour for lunch took about seven hours. Our lunch at Ingapirca was the traditional Ecuadorian meal: a big bowl of the delicious potato soup, beef, rice, potatoes, and a fresh fruit juice drink. The meal for all four of us was just seven dollars.

Unfortunately, our return to Cuenca meant saying "Hasta luego" to Gil and Deborah, who are returning to San Francisco on Friday, and will not return to Cuenca until November. Their departure was also a reminder of my own soon-to-be departure, as the sand in the hour-glass is quickly receding. Hopefully, we will all be together again.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Photos of Cuenca

Well, I have finally succeeded in getting my photos posted not quite the way intended, but in a way I believe any one can view them as a slide show. Hopefully, you will just need to click on to the URL below. If not, just cut and paste, and the slide presentation should appear:


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blessing and Curses, Curses and Blessings: Part III

I have had serious problems with my computer, and Nancy Watson had recommended a gentleman to me who she believed could repair it. (Nancy, if you are reading this, the problems went way beyond a browser button that wouldn't click by the time I sought help.) Jose Cortez (09-556-1077)came to my place, took a look at my new laptop, which was bought specifically for my trip to Cuenca. To make a long story short, Jose took the computer with him, made all the corrections necessary, which included cleaning up viruses. Before Jose brought the computer back the next day, he needed a couple of extra hours to complete his repairs. Since I did not have a phone, Jose sent a friend by, so I could talk with Jose on the phone to verify that he would be a couple of hours late from the time that he thought he would drop off my computer.

When Jose returned the computer; he sat for two hours with me and showed me everything that he had cleaned-up and corrected, new programs he had downloaded on my computer and how they worked, and how to download photos from my camera to the blog site. A miracle may happen, and who knows, you just may see some photos yet before I leave Cuenca--no promises though. Jose's prices were very reasonable, and yes, this is an advertisement. If you need a computer repair hombre in Cuenca, Jose Cortez is your man--high quality, excellent service, and reasonable pricing.

Of course, that wasn't the end of my computer problems. After the computer was returned, parts of text were jumping around while I was typing emails, posts, and Office Word. Jose immediately identified the problem. I needed a mouse. The built-in device used to navigate in these laptops was too sensitive to my wrist and finger motions, so for less than ten dollars, I was able to purchase a cordless mouse--problem more than solved. Well no, not quite yet. No more than all my computer problems were rectified, then the cable connection stopped working for the better part of two days. For reasons beyond my understanding--maybe less traffic on the weekend--but by Friday evening and all day today the cable has just been working fine. Go figure! So when I couldn't use my computer, it has given me more time to study my Spanish. Oh, learning all these conjunctions and word orders is going to be so much fun.

City Bus Cruise and Local Fest

The last two days have been sunny and restful. I missed getting out to Zoe's Friday evening due to illness from something I most likely ate at a local fest, and should have known better than to eat. Today, Saturday, has been a day of rest as well. So hopefully, I will feel well enough to get out and about tomorrow morning to Parque Calderon, where on Sunday mornings concert programs may be presented, and a number of expats come to meet, touch bases, and possibly have breakfast or lunch together.

Jose Cortez, the computer technician and I got to talking, and I told him about how I wanted to ride the double-decker bus on a city tour of Cuenca. How my first attempt had failed, and how I heard that the tour was only in Spanish. Jose had not taken the tour himself, so he went along and he translated for me. The current price of the tour is five dollars, and takes about two hours. As it turns out part of the tour is in English. An attractive young blond, American from Seattle who was doing her internship in Cuenca did the honors in English. However, most of the tour is presented in Espanol. My camera is also new, so I have been learning how to use it. This is the first time I have purchased a camera since my 35mm died in the 90's. The city tour was my first effort at using the video, and I have not transferred it yet from my camera to my laptop to maybe the blog--oh this really is going to prove interesting! We went up to Camino a Turi, the pinnacle of Cuenca, where I was able to snap panoramic photos and videos of the city. I also had my first ear of white corn cooked over the charcoal grill. It's a definite winner. I was surprised for kernels as large as these and prepared in the manner that they were, that they came out so tender and flavorful.

The tour gave me a good perspective of the layout of the city, and an opportunity to experience the city from above instead of always at street level. What was fun for everyone on the upper-deck was that the cables running across the street are low enough that a number of them barely clear the bus. When passengers are standing and taking photos or video-taping on the upper-deck, the crowd shouts at them to get down before they are decapitated or electrocuted. We truly did have to duck sometimes lower than the back of the seats to avoid contact with cables. That's a city excursion one will never experience in Chicago. The insurance companies haven't destroyed Cuenca yet.

While touring the city, we saw a square where people were preparing for a local fest that evening, and decided we would attend later. We had dinner at the up-scaled, Vino Olivo, which was near the square where the fest was taking place. The restaurant's lights were out, so we ate on the patio. The kitchen did have power. Eventually, power was restored throughout the entire establishment. We actually had a great location for seeing the fireworks, and the burning lights which slowly ascended into the sky like hot-air balloons, and stayed lit and afloat for as long as half-an-hour. I have not been to a fireworks display in the states for at least six or seven years now, so these lights were something new to me. The dinner was disappointing. We ordered a seafood paella. Both the rice and the seafood were too dry, which is exactly how I have had paella back home in Valparaiso on several occasions. Only once, have I had paella, which melted in my mouth; which was in a Spanish restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about ten years ago. Possibly other fare on the menu may be quite good, but I would not recommended the paella.

After dinner, we went over to the concert. The performance was an Ecuadorian contemporary rock group, and the theme was "Cuenca Lives". Makeshift eateries were everywhere. I forgot what Jose said they were called, but I pointed out to him the trays of cones sticking up in what looks like mounds of ice cream. I knew this colorful concoction wasn't ice cream, because it doesn't melt. Before I could say anything more, Jose pulled out some coins and bought me a cone. I had refused to purchase this dessert in the past, because I was concerned about contamination. The purchase had been made, throwing precaution to the wind, and not wanting to offend Jose; I ate it. It had the texture of Cool Whip, and I understand that it is made from fruit juices. It is served with a very little spoon, which is actually a tiny plastic utensil with a flat square surface extending from the handle were the spoon should be. From the number of adults and kids I see eating these cones, they seem quite popular. The cones and their vividly colored concoctions are not very large, and are obviously intended to be eaten in small bites. I myself would prefer ice cream or soft-serve. Of course, there was hell to be paid the next morning as my health issues arose, and I stayed near the facilities in the condo all day and night Friday. Sunday, I went to a pharmacy to get medication for stopping the runs. No one needs a prescription to use the pharmacies in Ecuador. Just stop in, and tell them what you need or want, and it's yours.

It was about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, and maybe 500 to 1,000 people were on hand at the fest. According to Jose, the band was now playing nationalistic music, which was a clue that the concert was soon to end. We both grabbed cabs going in opposite directions to our homes ahead of the mob of people, a number of whom may have tied traffic up for quite awhile attempting to cross streets in a duel with the autos and attempting to signal taxis all at the same time. My taxi had to come to the end of a median and make a place to turn around and take me in the opposite direction. Believe me, he made a place. It truly is whoever gets the space first in this competition. Except for the taxis, there were no amusement rides like one would find at neighborhood and church fests back home. There was a hill were kids had mats that had green glo-lites on them, which they used to ride down a natural hill that was only six-eight feet high. The kids remind me of my generation when we were kids, when we didn't have so much and had to often make our own fun.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cuenca Foods

I've had major computer problems, but I'm in no mood to go into that today. Last week we had five absolutely beautiful days of gorgeous weather--clear skies, sunshine, and no rain. Most of this week has been rainy, although the sun did come out later Wednesday afternoon; and today, Friday, has been quite sunny. It's really difficult to believe a ten day weather forecast for Cuenca on the Internet. The forecasts are bizarre. Two sites--like MSN--predicted the chances for precipitation, which depended on the day of the week, to range from 70-90%, well into late next week. Meanwhile, two other sites gave a forecast for the same time period which ranged from 15% to 30% chances of rain. In other words, we will know the chances for precipitation on any given day, only when that given day arrives.

I braved the drizzle and the on-and-off showers determined to walk to the indigenous market for an assortment of fresh fruits. I was told that on Wednesdays, the market expands to three to four times its daily size. I went hog-wild on a variety of fruits. The prices by American standards are so low. The women were selling, and I was buying! I bought eight gigantic bananas today for 25 cents total. I picked the really green ones, so they would take awhile to ripen. Strawberries of a large size, and globe-type grapes were a dollar a pound. I know I overpaid for these. Mangoes were 50 cents a piece. Mangoes and strawberries are difficult to find in the market at this time, so I paid for these products without any real haggling. The ladies were not willing to budge one iota with me on these particular fruits. I know when I left the states, mangoes were selling for 50 cents each. However, those mangoes were half the size of the ones I purchased here in Cuenca. These larger mangoes, during this time of the year when they are plentiful, sell four for five dollars or sometimes a dollar each in places like Super WalMart or Meijers back home. I don't know why mangoes are so rare at this time in Cuenca. Still, I know I paid too much. I thought I got a good deal on kiwis, which was ten for a dollar.

Communication in translation can at times go awry, and in one situation I gave three women a good laugh when I could not comprehend exactly how many grapes I was getting for a dollar. Knowing I was being ridiculous in a reaction to our mutual lack of clear communication I said, "What! One grape for one dollar." After the ladies had their laugh and chuckles at my expense, the one woman weighed the grapes out and showed me exactly what a dollar would get me. The old saying once again held true, "A picture is worth a thousand words." One thing expats say after they have been in Cuenca awhile is that they no longer compare prices with American prices, but instead compare them within the Cuenca market of competition. When expats return to visit in the states, the sticker shock is abhorrent.

I purchased five Ecuadorian fruits that were extremely inexpensive by my expectations. I was able to purchase the equivalent quanities of eight to ten of these fruits for a dollar. The best of these is granadilla--gold to orange in color and about the size of a tennis ball. Crack them open with your fingers and eat the sweet-tasting liquid pulp and seeds as if drinking from a dipper. The narajillan is much larger than the granadilla and is green in color. It has a citrus taste that is like a cross between rhubarb and lime, and often it is used in making many fruit juices. Fruit juices are found everywhere in almost every restaurant and made fresh. The narajillan is another favorite of mine as well. Another version of the narajillan is the naranjilla (naran xiya), which means the "little orange". I have no idea why it is referred to as a "little orange", since it is a little larger than a ping-pong ball and actually looks more like a small not yet ripened tomato. But like these other fruits discussed in this paragraph they have a skin which is like a solid shell that is broken open with the fingers, and like the narajillan, the naranjilla has a green liquified content for consumption, but with a stronger citrus taste.

Guayaba is yellowish green in color, and about 1/4th the size of a granadilla, but larger in size than a naranjilla. The guayaba is an Ecuadorian breed of the guava family. I don't recall ever eating guava. Unlike the other fruits discussed in the previous paragraph, the guayaba is not filled with a liquid type of pulp. The texture and taste reminds me of avacado. Avacados are also consumed widely in Ecuador.

The(toma te de arbo'l) looks like an oval-shaped tomato, only with a tougher skin. It is considered a fruit, but then so is the tomato. I must give credit to the building security guys. They identified the fruits for me, and wrote out each of the fruit's names. A lady, who lives in the building and who also speaks English, was entering the building as we were working on our fruit identification project. She explained to me that (toma te de arbo'l) is like a tomato only sweeter, and is not used in salads. She said my particular picks were not yet ripe, and I should wait a few more days before eating them.

These tropical fruits are used not only for fruit drinks, or just simply eaten as picked, but also are used in the making of jellies, jams, marmalade's, ice creams and gelatos. They are also used in many recipes for the flavoring of dishes, the mixing of tropical alcoholic drinks, and the making of liquors--some of which would be unique to Norte Americanos. These fruits are loaded with many natural vitamins and minerals. The staples of plentiful fruits and vegetables in Ecuador make for a very healthy diet.

Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. It exports more bananas than any other country, and 1/3rd of its banana production is exported to the United States. More importantly, Ecuadorians still control their banana production, as opposed to the big three conglomerates of Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte.

As I said, I went hog-wild on fruits. I bought a colorful, striped, reusable shopping bag for 50c to carry my treasures back to the condo. Common sense would have dictated that I take a taxi back, but I was insistent that I would walk back despite the heftiness of the bag. I really needed the exercise. It was chilly when I left the condo, but the rain had stopped. Off came my jacket, and my long-sleeved, over-the-head, light-weight sweater-like garment. I took on the challenge in my blue tee-shirt, and made it all the way home in a sweat. The walk made for a good work-out, especially the last block up the steep incline to Cuadro Dos. Only if it would have rained heavily would I have surrendered to the use of a taxi.

Chicken in Ecuador, like Chicken back home, is said to be produced with the use of hormones. Cattle supposedly is still free of hormones, and most cattle is grange-raised on grass. There are health professionals who theorize that grange-raised cattle is much healthier than corn-fed cattle. The theory is that corn-fed beef may be a major dietary contributor for a great deal of the coronary problems among the modern American population in United States; while our ancestors avoided such coronary problems by eating grass-fed cattle. Usually restaurants make a distinction between "pollo" (chicken) dishes, and carne (meat) dishes. However, the meat is frequently not identified. Sometimes when I ask, I find out-sometimes not. For all I know, I may have already had cuy (guinea pig on one of the sticks laden with meat that is charbroiled over an open flame pit so common in the squares, carnivals, and by-ways of Cuenca).

Wednesday evening, I ate at a local neighborhood eatery. The vast majority of these restaurants are family-run. The husband ran the operation, his wife did the cooking, and his daughter of about eleven was there to help as well. Generally, in these neighborhood restaurants they don't frequently have gringo customers. I have found that the family will prepare a meal and want very much to please you with their preparation. The meal was quite good. A typical Ecuadorian meal served with rice, potatoes, beans, carne (in this case beef). There seems to be no end to how Ecuadorians can prepare their endless variety of potatoes, and they are always good. I need to find what these beans are called. I normally don't like beans of any kind, other than pork and beans, and the red kidney beans my mother used when she made her excellent chili. These beans are larger than the kidney beans, and very tasty the two times I've had them. Unfortunately, guys have a more difficult time digesting plant protein than women, so the after-effects of lower intestinal distress had to be tolerated.

The family just beamed when I complimented them on a delicioso meal. The young girl was always smiling the way children so often do in Cuenca. I gave her a fifty cent piece after I paid the bill. She thanked me, and excitedly bolted off her stool to immediately run to the kitchen to show her mother what I had given her. The price for the meal was a total of $4.00, and that included a grande beer. The bottle of beer was much larger than a large draft back home. I took half of the beer home with me, so I could finish it later. Another favorite of mine is the fried plantain, which looks like a very large green banana, and is served with many dishes in Ecuador, and can be prepared in many different ways.

What I have shared with you to date about the foods of Ecuador is barely skimming the surface, not only in foods that are unique to Ecuador, but also in the way in which they are prepared.

Retirement:: Part II

I now have my blog links in place, so readers of this site can read other perspectives and experiences of expats in Cuenca. Concerning retirement, I would like to link you to "Edd Says--Come to Quenca", Edd has a take on retirement in Cuenca that is more expansive than what I presented in my July 23rd post . Why recreate the wheel, when Edd already did such a fine job of expressing shared thoughts on retirement in Cuenca. Seek out Edd's post, Friday, July 16, 2010, entitled "Social Security".


Friday, July 23, 2010

What Retirement Can Be Like

What a busy, and fun-filled Thursday and Friday it has been for me. I had the opportunity to meet with fellow bloggers, Brian and Shelley, of "Planet Irony." We met for lunch at Raymipampa Restaurant, which is a favorite with Ecuadorians and expats alike. I had the chance to meet Freddi, who is the most adorable Shitsu, and lives just to be contentedly petted. Brian explained that Shitsu dogs over the centuries had been bred to have the aggressiveness taken out of them. A shitsu then served as a lap dog, who obediently sat on the Chinese empress' lap without causing a disturbance. A shitsu has hair instead of fur, and so does not shed. Freddi felt just like a ball of soft, fluffy fur; even though it was hair. It was so nice to be around a small dog that always wasn't yapping.

Later in the afternoon, Brian and Shelley invited me to their beautiful apartment. The wood throughout the home was done in laurel wood, which has a luxurious look to it, and appears to be the same color and hew of the wood I mentioned in a previous post seeing at an upscale pizza restaurante by the SuperMaxi. I had never heard of laurel trees before, so I learn something new everyday. Shelley assisted me with my blog. She gave me a lot of good pointers, and I very much appreciated her help. Shelley promised that when I return to Cuenca, I should be ready for her "graduate course" of statistical disaggregation analysis of blog viewers from around the world to my site, etc. With a course title like that I may have to pay university prices.

Brian, Shelley, and I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of buying, or of renting a furnished or an unfurnished apartment. This a major point of discussion that comes up frequently with expats and visitors like myself, with whom I meet and socialize in Cuenca. I will focus on this point specifically in a later post. We ended the early evening hours with a Ecuadorian beer, and what for me was an interesting afternoon of conversation.

Friday I had dinner with Lourdes, who had recently returned from Pennsylvania. Lourdes was born in Ecuador, but left at an early age with her family and grew up in the United States. She is at least for a period of time returning to her roots, although she does have a love affair with the "Big Apple" as well. We ate at the El Cantaro, which was the first visit for both of us. Lourdes had a pasta dish. There are quite a few pastas in Ecuador, but Lourdes told me that in the preparation of the sauces they generally are quite different from Italian pasta dishes. I had a steamed-trout dish prepared with a mustard-based sauce that I had found to be very good. Ecuador is also known for its fresh seafood dishes, both fish and shell fish. I intend to return to El Cantaro to try their sea bass. I understand that if I do not want to deal with the bones to be sure I order fish fillet. It seems fish that has not been filleted is more oftentimes served in Ecuador than in the states. Both dinners including our drinks and the two coffees following dinner came to about $16. Not a buy price for one of Cuenca's more upscale restaurants.

Lourdes is very busy refurbishing an apartment that she has just moved into since she returned from the states. She chose to rent an unfurnished apartment. Apartments in Ecuador do not come with light fixtures. The electrical is in place, but the fixtures around the bulbs must be purchased by the renter, and are taken by the renter when vacating the apartment. I met Lourdes through a blog link of expats in Cuenca long before I came to Cuenca. The blogs are a great way of not only learning about Cuenca, but also making contacts with people once you arrive. You will be able to link to Lourdes blog, "Looloo in Ecuador" as well as many others, right from my blog as soon as I get my blog links inserted. (Thank you, Shelley.)

Lourdes speaks Spanish very fluently, which I greatly envy. The advantage to being with someone who speaks fluent Spanish is that I can get so much more from a conversation with a Spanish-only speaking person, as Lourdes can quickly translate for me. On the other hand, having a translator is the type of "easy" which I do not want to take advantage of too often. It is only through my struggle with the language that I will improve in my use of it. I use the word "struggle", only because I wish I could communicate more with Ecuadorians using their language, since to date I have not met many who speak more than a modicum of English. Otherwise, the urgency of being in Cuenca pushes me forward to learn, and to make a game out of it. When I'm not listening and practicing "Spanish for Dummies", or practicing the elementary basics to procure a taxi ride or make a purchase; I can always practice or try a new sentence or two of Spanish on Jose', one of the security men here at the condo. Jose' makes me write down every new sentence I want to say to him, so he can see exactly what I am trying to say. Then he can correct my grammatical mistakes, pronunciation, or sentence structure order. I usually have to spend time first looking up the words in the dictionary, and stringing them together in sentences trying to apply as best I can what I remember about conjugations and so on. Jose does a good job with me, particularly considering that he hardly speaks a word of English.

Friday, it must be an evening at Zoe's for expats. What a great place to meet other expats and visitors like myself. There are so many fascinating people, who have done interesting things with their lives. These evenings at Zoe's are not only good for making social contacts, but also sharing information and being helpful to one another. These Friday evenings give expats who are interested the opportunity to meet and make an endless number of contacts and friends; which are always being replenished as new visitors come to vacation, study, or settle in Cuenca. It is generally impossible to meet with everybody in attendance over the course of a two hour social period. While many conversations are cursory, there are both old acquaintances and new to offer anyone in attendance some time for in-depth conversations. This evening alone I met with Larry, an investor from Los Angeles; talked with Doug, an entrepreneur from Atlanta; and conversed with George and Lillian of Houston, Texas, who have just settled in Cuenca, and who were the first couple I met my first day in Cuenca. I had time to touch bases with Ali and with Regina, who I met the previous week at Zoe's, and with whom I have spent some time since. Besides a quick hello to some people I met from the previous week at Zoe's, I also met Gil and Deborah from San Francisco; and I met Martin, who is about to take a college position teaching English in Kuwait, and has taught in a multiplicity of countries. People who meet at Zoe's will often break into smaller groups and head out for some evening activity. This Friday, Martin, Gil, Deborah, and I had dinner at a Columbian restaurant that Martin frequents. The meal was good, and the conversation was scintillating when talking with people who have such wide experiences of travel and study to bring to the table. All and all--a very good day!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poverty in Cuenca

I had been told by friends that there was an open market close by about a mile from where I am staying at La Caudra Dos, about five blocks south of SuperMaxi. Therefore, I decided to explore that part of town yesterday and see if I could find the market. I had a choice of two directions to follow at one juncture. I decided not to follow the "straight line is the shortest distance between two points" philosophy, and instead took an around-a-bout path that looked like it would allow me to explore more of what seemed like a business district. This was probably the least affluent area of Cuenca I had encountered thus far. The population appeared to be primarily indigenous. My round-a-bout walking pattern surprisingly led me directly to the market. The market was more impressive than the one I had visited in El Centro, because it more reminded me of the open-markets I visited in India, Bangkok,and Hong Kong back in the 70's. However, even this market was not like the open-street bazaars where vendors were stationed under canopies of canvas like years ago.

This market was semi-housed in a building with the meats and all of the other manufactured items on the inside of the building that had only partial walls, while all the vendors of fruits and vegetables ringed around about half of the exterior of the market, sheltered in the open air only by a roof . The market vendors also appeared to be a totally indigenous people. The sounds of language, the haggling over prices, the smells and odors of every fruit and vegetable imaginable, the olfactory onslaught of freshly slaughtered meats of every kind, the aromas of newly picked flowers mixing with that of variously cooked meats, combined further with the smell of live-stock and pets, and finally the garbage and sewer odors--all effusively swirling in a mixture of sights, sounds, and smells rarely experienced in the states.

There were live chickens, roosters, geese, rabbits, and guinea pigs. All of which would be purchased, fattened up, and eventually eaten. Yes, guinea pigs are considered a national delicacy in Ecuador, and they are served under the name of cuy. No, not yet, and yes, maybe. As long as its not served to me with its feet and head still intact.

Of further interest were the large variety of dogs that could be purchased. I assume for pets. There was a multiplicity of breeds, all placed together (numbering six to twelve) in make-shift cages of wood frames and chicken wire, while resting on areas of straw waiting to be adopted. Obviously, there is nothing I have described to you that remotely would ever meet the standards of any Board of Health back home. The closest I can recall to an open market experience anything like this in the United States beckons back from my experience as a child and a very young man during the last of the hey-days of the old Maxwell Street market in Chicago, which was also known as "Jew Town" back in the 50's and 60's. I have memories of that time period that remind me of a familiarity of what I described to you above, except that on Maxwell Street every ethnic group imaginable was represented among the vendors and customers of a by-gone era.

I was amazed at how healthy the dogs in the market looked, and how well they seem to get along with one another. Dogs are numerous in Cuenca. They appear to me to have homes, and pretty much a free "come-and-go as you like" attitude by their owners. What I love about Cuencano dogs is that thus far not one has barked at me, and I have walked past many dogs. In fact, there was an enormous dog yesterday. He was just lying on the walk on his side. I, of course, am looking up and I don't spot the dog until the very last second. I almost fell full-body over him. Damn, the dog didn't even react. I must say, however, that there are times when I will hear what sounds like a large number of dogs barking. Sometimes it sounds as if two dogs or two packs of dogs are snarling and barking at one another, which is always quick and short-lived. Other times it's just dogs barking for a period of time. This serenade generally happens at night, and last night was the first evening were the dogs were howling and barking in unison for a period of time. I saw an almost full moon rising early today, so we must be in a full moon period. Hopefully, there are no vampires in Cuenca.

Cuenca, by world standards has what one may call "genteel poverty." The city has proportionately the largest middle-class of any large city in Ecuador. From what I have read, and from what I have heard from visitors, and from what I have observed to date; unlike Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador's two largest cities, there is no begging on the streets in Cuenca. Unlike from my own experiences in India, Cuenca does not have a homeless population. I have not to date found people sleeping on the sidewalks, nor sleeping on the stairs and in the hallways of tenements and high rises, nor sleeping in public buildings like the railway stations as was and is the case in India. Nor have I seen make-shift homes of refrigerator crates or tin roofs simply providing the semblance of a shelter as is still so common in India. If any of these activities are happening in Cuenca, they are very rare and not prevalent as these activities are in numerous cities in the world like a Mumbai.

Additionally in response to another one of your questions from back home. The Ecuadorian people for the most part are quite warm and friendly, as were the Indian people. I did have the advantage in India of being able to communicate more easily with more Indians, because more of them spoke at least some English, and the Indian middle-class spoke English quite well. However, I find people have been quite patient in trying to understand me in order to provide me with information or a service. Ecuadorians who approach me to possibly practice their English or just to help me out when they speak a little English, are quick to say not so fast, speak slower please. So yes, if someone has some understanding of English it does make sense to speak the language slowly enough for the other person to comprehend it. People who only have some familiarity with another language are still frequently translating in their heads. They have not reached the point yet, where they think automatically in the second language.

Blessings and Curses, Curses and Blessings: Part II

Well, on Tuesday, Nancy Watson of the awarding winning blog, "Nancy and Chuck in Ecuador" graciously stopped by to show me how to download photos from my camera to the blog. Things were going smoothly, until we came to the part where we had to click on "browse". The "browse" would not click into action, and that's as far as we got. So some of you who have been emailing me to see some photos of Cuenca, as I said in my earlier post, consider yourself lucky if I just get the blog posts up on a regular basis. I lucked out by renting an apartment with broadband connection. Who knows how this would have gone with my unfamiliarity with WIFI combined with my first use of a laptop. Nancy recommended a computer gentleman to me. If he responds, and is able to fix my new laptop; or more likely, show me what I'm doing or failing to do, to do what I want the computer to do, when I want it to do it; then I will be up and running and be able to do what you and I both want it to do, which is display some photos of Cuenca. Oh, the insanity of it all!

I like my new camera, which is a Fuji. Nancy managed to get what was currently on my camera displayed on a site, and from the quick glimpse I managed to take, the quality of the color and clarity from the photos looked good. Nonetheless, I was spoiled by my old 35mm Nikon, with telephoto and wide-angled lenses. I don't miss carting around all the equipment, but that telephoto allowed me to take photos of portions of buildings, close-ups of statues, and close-ups of people. I discretely could from a distance, for example, snap photos of people in native dress. Now, I would have to be very close to them, or ask their permission to take close-up photos. The close-ups can oftentimes be the most telling and intriguing.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

My First Weekend in Cuenca

Yesterday, Saturday, was a down day for me. By Friday night I was tired, but insisted that I was going to get my blog posted before I went to bed. When I am tired and spend too much time on the computer, I suffer from eye strain. I awakened Saturday to an excruciating head ache, and with all of the tension which surrounds my eyes when they are strained. Unfortunately, I only had aspirin, which I knew from experience was going to do no good. I hoped if I just stayed in bed and rested my eyes, the tension would finally let up. It was a perfect day to be under the weather. It was cloudy all day, and it also rained on and off throughout the day. Finally, I ventured out into the rain about 4:00 p.m. I needed food, and I needed something like a Tylenol.

Did I mention to you that since I have arrived in Cuenca I am always hungry? I have eaten more carbs in the past week than in the last two months. Some may argue that my increased carb intake is causing greater hunger cravings by playing havoc with my sugar levels, and they probably are right. Nevertheless, I find that fruits, yogurt, and meat without carbs just doesn't cut it for me in the Andes. I may be kidding myself, but my clothes to date don't feel any tighter. Friends here in Cuenca say the high altitude will require more carbs to keep up one's energy level, and the amount of walking we do also burns calories. Many a blogger has reported that they eat more, but still lose weight. Time will tell. If true, wouldn't that be the icing on the cake?

I arrived at the SuperMaxi, which is not only a supermarket, but anchors about a dozen other upscale boutiques and shops in an enclosed mall environment. I decided to try the pizza in one of the restaurants. Remember I only paid a $1.50 for a personalized delicioso pizza on my first day of arrival. At this restaurant, I paid $6.00 for the Pizza which included tax, but did not include the coke. The pizza was decent--nothing really to write home about. So why the greater expense for mediocre pizza? I was paying for higher rental in an upscale shopping center, and for ambiance. The restaurant had elegant wood counters of a two-tone hue. If I were building a house, I would definitely want my kitchen cabinets and any other woodwork done in that particular wood and tone. Sorry, I didn't ask about the wood. I had all I could do with my level of Spanish just to order the pizza.

In yesterday's blog I had described for you the condo I rented. However, I wanted to save for today what I consider to be the outstanding feature of this very fine condo, and that is the balcony, which runs across the entire length of the south side of the condo. Balconies are rare in much of the new construction in Cuenca, and when available are oftentimes small. I am on the seventh floor, which is the top floor of the condo building. Only the top floor condos have balconies in this complex. The master bedroom, middle bedroom, and living room are all glass-enclosed along the exterior wall, with sliding doors that open to the balcony. I don't need to concern myself with remembering to slide the door shut behind me, because there are no pesky flies nor mosquitoes. While Cuenca does have spiders, insects are rare. The kitchen exterior wall above the sink is also entire window with a view out into the the neighborhood.

I have a grand view of the neighborhood before me. How do I describe the neighborhood? I think back home we might call it gentrification. The high-rise condos align one side of the neighborhood before there is a steep drop off on the north side to a lower elevation of land. I assume that these high-rise condos (four to eight stories) recently replaced older housing structures. As I look to the south, the homes below me are a combination of new townhouses, older appearing buildings that look maintained, and others than are in need of repairs. About three or four short blocks southward, (maybe the length of a football field) the land begins to rise and there are blocks of homes built along the incline up the side of the mountain that extend upward to eye level with me on the seventh floor. Above these homes is a thick layer of Eucalyptus trees.

The view is always entertaining, whether observing people, pets, and chickens on their roof-top terraces; or watching the younger kids and later in the day the older adolescents playing fotbal and volley ball on the court directly below the condo balcony. There are four basketball hoops which are setup as well, but I never see anyone playing basketball. What I noticed for the first time yesterday is that on the incline are two adjoining vacant lots, each about 25-30 feet wide and possibly 60 feet long. These two lots are green pasture land, and there were about eight cows out there yesterday munching on the grass along the steep slope of the land. Some gringos complain about the slow pace of bureaucracy in Ecuador when it comes to getting things done. Well, I can't address that issue, because I haven't had to deal with it yet. However, there certainly isn't any bureaucratic red tape when it comes to zoning ordinance restrictions, which of course, is part of the charm of Cuenca, and which sadly over time will most likely disappear.

What really makes the view captivating is the mountains to the west. The clouds and light are invariably changing the landscape. Today when I arose from my slumber, the day was very sunny and warm, and the clouds slung over the mountains. I feel such a spiritual connection with these mountains. I could not help but think of Moses and Mount Sinai. Only unlike Moses, who could only look upon the Promised Land, but could not enter it; I felt I was in the Promise Land and the wilderness was on the other side of the mountains. I know that sounds absolutely corny, but I have found something special in Cuenca.

Today is Sunday. Everything is at a standstill, and except for the two major malls almost all the businesses and restaurants are close. Today is family day, and Cuecanos spend a day of leisure at home with their families. The city is very quiet. Few people are seen about, and there is little traffic. I hiked down to El Centro in the afternoon of what has been a perfectly sunny day. I by chance met up with Regina, who has recently resettled to Cuenca from Mexico. We first met last Friday evening at the gathering of expats at Zoe's. We spent the rest of the day together. I learned more about finding my way around Quenca, saw for the first time the Rio Tomebama which runs through the heart of Cuenca, and I had a wonderfully tasting Ecuadorian meal of chicken in a sauce that included lime and hinted of some Thai dishes I've eaten. The meal was served with potatoes and rice, the two major carb staples in Ecuadorian diets. Regina had potato soup. Ecuadorians are famous for their soups, and potato soup is a favorite of Regina's.

What makes the colonial section so rewarding is the historic beauty of the building facades with their cobble stone streets and sidewalks. Except for possibly the French Quarters in New Orleans there are not too many authentic historical preservations in the United States as extensive as this part of Cuneca. It has an old world charm that is authentic, and isn't a manufactured Disneyesque, squeaky-clean type of re-creation. El Centro is the living, vibrant center of Cuneca--a twenty-first century city, which continues to enhance itself with modern technology, while still having a respect for the traditions, designs, and craftsmanship of the past.

Amigos y Amigos

Friday was people day. I was scheduled to have an Ecuadorian breakfast at Kookaburra Cafe with Rich and Nancy, who are two expats here in Cuenca from the states, who I met and interacted with through their blog. I was pleasantly surprised to meet Rich's brother, Bob and his wife, Roxanne as well. They are the folks from whom I am renting the condo. They also have a home on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, and rent out their condo when they are living on the coast. They were in town for a few days on business and staying with Rich and Nancy. Bob and Roxanne also have a blog. Both couples' blogs are linked on "Cuenca High Life", a web site for expats and travelers to Cuenca. I strongly recommend "Cuenca High Life' to people who plan on visiting here.

I can not begin to tell you how beautiful Bob and Roxanne's condo is, and how nicely furnished. There are so many amenities in terms of fully ceramic bathrooms from ceiling to floor and encompassing the bath tubs as well, to beautifully ceramic floors throughout the kitchen, living room, and hallway which adjoins the three bedrooms and two baths. Hardwood floors in all three bedrooms. Quality wood doors with a simple carved trim etched into the doors to set them off from just being plain looking doors. Wood framing around all the doors. Numerous inset and spotlighting throughout every room of the house. I'm no expert on home designs, so forgive me if I'm not using the proper carpentry descriptives. The walls and ceilings are set off from one another by wood cornices, and every ceiling in the house is then further enhanced by a higher inset that is also set off by wood cornices. It's an elegant home perfect for my tastes, and my understanding is that such a condo in our area would cost twice as much as the cost in Cuenca. I am not talking about the city of Chicago or North Shore market, then you could triple or quadruple the market value.

Roxanne, and I assume Bob, have some great tastes in art. There is a haunting painting of this young couple's faces above my desk where I type out these posts that I find absolutely mesmerizing. There is a sketch in the hallway of the faces of a young couple that is also very expressive. Lucky for Bob and Roxanne, I am such a good, decent, and honest guy. I don't recall them including all their paintings on an inventory of the furnishings that I have to account for when I vacate the premises.

At any rate, the five of us had an Ecuadorian breakfast with another couple, Mike and Patty, who were heading back to the states while their home was being built in Cuenca. Also present for breakfast was Steve, who also has his own blog. Steve was very helpful in the advice he gave me concerning the procurement of permanent residency in Ecuador. Please refer to his blog for further details. I could not have asked to start my visit with a nicer set of folks than Steve and these three couples. We had a very good breakfast, and good conversation. Ecuadorian seasoning is flavorful without generally being red-chilly-hot spicy, as commonly associated with Mexican cooking. The garlic-roasted potatoes were perfecto. I had the chance immediately after breakfast to meet with Steve's wife, Linda, as well, who had not been able to join the group for breakfast.

Friday evening many of the expats and newcomers gather at Zoe's a popular restaurant and lounge in El Centro or the Colonial Quarters. Imagine walking into a room filled with people you have never met before, and you look around and there are people you immediately recognize from their photos in their blogs. None of these people know a thing about me, because I've just started blogging, and I'm still working my way through the machinations of the site and my use of my first laptop. Some of the bloggers feel psychologically naked, "Oh you know so much about us, and we know nothing about you." was a comment I heard more than once.

Well, it didn't take anytime at all to break the ice, as the room filled and people congregated about sharing their stories and why they came to or are thinking of moving to Cuenca. It was a fascinating evening. I'll long remember standing out on the balcony and talking with various couples, while engaging in the feast for the eyes of the colonial facades and the cobble stone streets running down the block, and the way the evening sky seem to set off the facades of the buildings. In my first post, I stated that I had fallen in love with Cuenca from our first acquaintance, and I wanted to discover if our contact was simply a long-distance romance that could not withstand the test of reality. Unlike some cyberspace romances that went so well while we emailed, but not so well once we met, Cuenca has romanced me beyond belief. The question now is will our romance stand the test of time? We will see.

My only disappointment to date has been with myself. Karma has a way of catching up with us. I regret that I had not applied myself better in learning Spanish when I was in high school. Although over time, people will forget what they learn when they don't use it, that knowledge is still filed away in the old noggin somewhere waiting to be resurrected. Education truly is wasted on the young.

I left Zoe's with a lady from Santa Barbara, who like me was exploring Cuenca as a possible relocation. She had been visiting the square each evening of the week as the Catholic Church was celebrating some kind of religious feast day. Abi spoke more Spanish than I, but I soon learned she could get off a plethora of questions in Spanish, but understanding the responses--not so well. We did the best we could.

I first walked into the church. A mass was taking place. There were no pews. Everyone was standing. The interior of the church was ornate, and in the traditional Spanish style. There were streamers of pastel-colored drapery that ran down from the statue of Mary outwards, which had the effect of further emphasizing the already front-centerd focus of Mary in the church. Although the music was more lively than what I associate with Anglo Catholic services, the reverence of the people in the church reminded me of the Catholicism of old when I was a child.

On the square outside the church, Abi and I mingled with the people, and communicated as best we could. The people are so open and friendly. Abi said the program was advertised to begin at 8:00, which meant in Ecuadorian "whenever it happens". "The happening" did not begin until 9:30. We spoke with one couple who may have been about our age. The husband spoke some English, so between his English and Abi's Spanish we were able to patch together a conversation. The couple have three sons and a daughter--all living in Minneapolis. I asked the father how his children like Minneapolis. He diplomatically said, "They like Minneapolis, because they all have jobs." There are 14 million Ecuadorians, something like 3 0r 4 million are living in the United States--primarily in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

It was the neatest thing in the world to watch the people--their close proximity to one another, the indulgence of the youngsters, not in a spoiled way, but just in terms of time and affection showered upon the kids. The children I see everywhere are always smiling and of good cheer. No one is in a rush. It doesn't matter when the program starts. It will start when it starts. Just being here with family and friends and relaxing is reason enough. It is the end in itself. The program was incidental.

Poor Abi--she had been bragging all evening about the wonderful dancers, singers, flute players, etc that had performed the previous evenings. Unfortunately, once the program began, it began with a very slow-moving, surreal, possibly political statement that reminded me of a mime out of Cirque Du Soleil--minus the rest of the cast and acts to hold ones attention. Not knowing if this solo dance dramatization may go on for an hour, the fact that I was tired, and the fact that my left eye was really irritated possibly from incense that may have been used during the mass, or from the vendors cooking various meats for the people in the square; I begged off and decided to head home.

I took the first taxi I saw. My faced lit up when the driver spoke English. I had an amigo with whom to converse on the way back to the condo. Better yet, he had just returned from Chicago on April 30th, where he had worked in a restaurant kitchen for thirteen years. With English and the Chicago connection, we began immediately to commiserate. He has a thirteen year old and a twelve year old son, and his home was about ten minutes beyond my condo. He invited me to his home to meet his wife, Marianna, and his two sons. As we arrived at our destination, he warned me that I should not get into a taxi without first asking the driver to show his identification. He proceeded to show me his I.D., and the two I'D's that he had from Madison, Wisconsin. I asked him if he had lived in Madison. He said no, that his cousin lived in Madison and was able to get him the Wisconsin licenses, which he said were good enough for Illinois. We may get together yet. I would like to meet with an Ecuadorian family in their home. Of all the taxis in Cuenca, that we should meet up. How's that for fate, and for six degrees of separation. Hasta luego!