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.

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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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: