Sunday, December 26, 2010

Twas the Day After Christmas...

The week of Christmas has flown by with so many new experiences blended with the familiar it is hard to know where to begin. 

All events in Ecuador are celebrated with firecrakers, and not little ones but big ones that seem to rock the house sometimes.  Iggy is not a lover of that kind of noise and has found a safe place to retreat to when the noise begins.  Well actually, it can happen any time of the day or night and any day of the week!  I have no idea what it is all about but Christmas was celebrated with many loud cracks of firecrakers that's for sure well into the wee hours of the morning Christmas day.

Wednesday the 23rd an evening of caroling was hosted at the California Kitchen with an old fashioned sharing of cookies brought by everyone who came. The hardier then went to the Parque Calderon and sang carols for the Cuencanos . . . we took the cab home but not before eating way tooo many great cookies.

As you will read on many of the blogs we follow the biggest celebration of Christmas is the the festival of the traveling Infant Child, the Pase del Nino Viajero on December 24. It’s an all day affair, with a parade that illustrates the journey of Joseph and Mary. Led by the guiding star, and accompanied by angels, the Three Kings, officials, shepherds and huge numbers of costumed children. There are floats illustrating religious themes as well as the principal float carrying the Niño Viajero, borne by clerics. Along with the religious nature of the procession, there is also the native influence. Horses and llamas, carrying local produce, chickens and sweets march together with musicians, creating a rich, colorful and musical display.  Jack was not able to stand for the parade so we took a bus to our favorite pizza place, La Fornace on Solano.  The pizza is cooked on a wood fired oven It was great!  On the way home, again by bus, the traffic was stopped by the parade so we got to see some of it anyway!
Christmas day was filled with preparation for the dinner we hosted.  The turkey was barely able to fit in the oven weighing in at 19.8 pounds! 

While the turkey cooked a small parade passed by our house on the way to the church.

It was a great time with lots of food and fellowship with our new friends in this new land.   On the surface it appeared to be a true American dinner, but the sweet potatoes Sue fixed were  purple and there are no pumpkins so Rachel and I used a local squash call zapallo for "pumpkin" pie and "pumpkin" cheese cake and the uninformed were none the wiser!

Our Feast

Alfredo, Noshy, and Jack

Jim and Rachel, Jim and Debby, back of Bev 
Noshy on Cleanup duty

Sara, Gary and Sue, Alfredo and Noshy and Jack
One of my gifts included this parrot plant on my window sill and a beautiful arrangement.

Hope you all had a blessed Christmas and that the New Year is filled with peace and love.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Week Number 7

I am not sure were the days go.  We have been so busy that the weeks just slip away and I don't sit down and share our adventures with you all as regularly as I should . . I will try to do better.  Wait I said that before...

It is hard to believe that Christmas is next week!  There are Christmas trees decorated in all the stores. We are making plans to share the feast with new friends.  As it stands there will be about 12 of us, expats and Ecuadorians.  If any of you reading this are here in Cuenca and I have not invited you to dinner please get in touch with me!  Christmas is a time for family to share the day and remember why we celebrate.  Jack and I, Noshe and Alfredo, and Gary and Sue would love to have you join us, as here we are all family. 

Sunday we gathered with several gringos at Capilla Calvario, Calvery Chapel Cuenca, for church.  We understant that Pastor Freddy is considering having an English serivce due to the growing number of expats attending his church and even Spanish lessons.   we will keep you posted.  That evening we met with Mike and Patty Grimm at a great new Cafe for dinner.  Gourmand Cafe is a little hard to find (Calle Humberto Ma. Cordero 1-60 y 10 de Agosto) but what great food and lemon meringue pie!  Sorry no picture, we eat the pie too fast!

Our adventures this week have also included a great evening at Di Bacco's. Tuesday nights expats and Cuencanos gathering over adult beverages and Italian food.  Lots of good consversations and sharing what adventure the previous week held, where to find sour cream, the best chocolate in Cuenca, etc. 

Wednesday included shopping for crockpots and things to keep Christmas dinner warm at Coral in the Mall del Rio. The challenge is ovens here are very small unless you buy a big US brand and our rented house did not come with one.  It is a good thing that the Gaithers live down the street and can walk some of the dinner over when it is done in their oven!  Wednesday night the Ministry of External Affars, Trade, and Integration hosted a lovely evening for expats to answer some immigration and business opportunity questions and then there was entertainment, and local food and drinks.  We wore out after the first dance troop performed.

This morning Jack and Iggy had their recliner delivered.  I am pleased to announce that the delivery was scheduled for 11 AM and they arrived at 10:35!  Jack and Iggy had to try it out immediately.

Today was also a tour and luncheon at the new, one year old, Hospital del Rio, a beautiful state of the art teaching hospital.  It is very impressive and only about 5 minutes down river from us.  By the way, doctor visits are $25.  One of the gals there today had had an emergency apendectomy and the total bill was $1700!

Tomorrow we are having some electrical work done.  We want a porch light installed so we can see the front steps better. There is also a performance of the Nutcracker in the evening.  Always something to do, or just stay home and curl up with our Kindles and Christmas music stored on a thumb drive I loaded before we came.

Chao for now!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reflections on the First Four + Weeks

It is hard to believe we arrived in Cuenca a little over four weeks ago.  Saturday was the first day we felt like we had slowed down to the pace we remembered from our "tire kicking" visit in August. But then Sunday came, complete with broken hot water line and a lake in the kitchen, but that's another story for another day.  So goes life getting settled in Cuenca. 

Sooo much has happened and we have learned so much it is hard to put it all into words.  In setting up house in a new country shopping is alway the first chore.  Finding familiar brands or good substitutes was and is fun.  There is very little liquid dish soap here.  Most people use this tub.  It is a hard soap you just rub your sponge across and then wash with the sponge!  It lasts a long time and is very reasonable.  I did finally find a few bottles of liquid soap but hey, this works great! 

Speaking of washing if you are not careful you will only have a surprise during your first shower.  You see C on the handles and naturally think COLD but actually it stands for Calor which means HOT!  The other handle has an F for Frio obviously COLD.

Laundry can be done at the corner Lavanderia, you simply take your load and they wash, dry, and fold it.  The price depends on how much and how long it takes to dry it.  My big fluffy towels I used to cushion things in our ten suitcases take a long time to dry!  Three towels and two pair of jeans was $3.50.  This is just a long block form our house. I do have a washer and clothes lines which I use most of the time.  The process takes me back to childhood picking clothes off the line.  The line is under a roof so afternoon showers don't slow the process too much.

Speaking of near our house the best part of where we live the proximity of the Coop I have mentioned before.  It's a nice walk about 4 long blocks to shop for fresh produce and meats.  The Coop also is a pay point for your utility bills so it is very convienent.  I got in trouble from the guard taking the picture so don't tell.... 

Across from the Coop is a bus stop in case I have over done it and don't want carry the watermelon and other goodies home on foot.  Of course there is entertainment most afternoons and weekends in the park at the bus stop so it's a great way to wait for the bus (and only 25 cents to ride anywhere in town!).

Other things that take getting used to is Christmas just south of the equator.  Days are like spring in Oregon, cool nights, late morning sun, afternoon light shower, sun sets at 6 pm and the cycle starts over.  Of course seeing hybiscus in December takes some getting used to!

Church as been fun and challenging.  One Sunday we went to a fabulous church, of course all in Spanish, which is the challenge as we are progressing very slowly with our Spanish.  But the worship was fabulous and the people so warm and welcoming.  Some Sundays we sleep in and catch church online at Parkway, our home church in Grant Pass.

Well my spelling editor thinks I am typing in Spanish and is questioning every word in this blog. . .I still have not figured out why or how to fix it so please don't count the words I misspelled and send me a note!  I also see it wants to date this last Thursday, when I tried to start this . . actually today is December to figure that our too. 

Oh well.  Hope you all have a great Christmas season, as others have posted Christmas is coming to Cuenca. 

Chao for now!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Cuenca Thanksgiving

To those of you freezing in the USA or elsewhere, I can only say be thankful for this Thanksgiving for heaters!  Homes in Cuenca do not have heaters.  We broke down and got two little electric ones to take the morning chill off but 40-78 degree weather is hard to complain about too much!  We had a great Thanksgiving day:  Chatted with friends in Oregon who told of freezing weather.  Chatted with friends in Montana who were thankful they did not have to go out, Meals on Wheels delivered dinner to them, it was 0 last night and they had 3 inches of snow for Thanksgiving.  Cuenca on the other hand as I said was georgous.  Made a trip to Coral for last minute pyrex to make the apple cobber in and a few extras. 

The frozen turkey was thawed in the refrigerator . . . guess I did not have it a big enough container and ended up washing out the whole refrigerator due to a leaking bag.  Anyway, the Pavo was taken from the bag, washed, and much to my surprise included with the usual bag of gibblets . . . turkey feet!  Guess the more for the broth pot the merrier!

Our friends from North Carolina, Gary and Sue, who now live just down the street brought half the meal.  We feasted and remembered all we have to be thankful for in our new home.

Chao for now!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another Beautiful Day

The sun has greeted us again this morning.  What a beautiful day in Cuenca.  Our weather has been sunny mornings with showers in ther afternoons.  On my bus ride/walk to the Coop and Coral the benefit of the rain shows in the river.  Last week there was more rocks than water!

Today I tried out my new asperador (vacumn cleaner)  worked great.  With Thanksgiving tomorrrow I wanted to get the house clean before the cooking begins.  Sue down the street and I will share the cooking.  We have so much to be thankful for in our new home and new counrty.  Good food is abundant and very reasonable, people generally are very kind an helpful, we have made many new friends in the three weeks we have been here and have been able to renew friendships with those that welcomed us last August when we visited.

Speaking of good food, shopping at the growers coop is a great exerience.  As I mentioned, it is only about three blocks away.  The only problem is my eyes are usually bigger than I can carry comfortably. This little trip cost $7.34 and $3 of that was the chicken breasts!  The food is fresh and the people there are great with this gringa, answering questions about the various produce and trying to explain what to do with some of the fruit that I have never seen before.

Time to kick back and enjoy the evening.  We were going to go to a puppet show but got involved with dinner with friends and the time got away.  View of the skylight in the den will have to do for the night along with my Kindle!  Got to love that electronic book!

Hope you all have a wonderful day tomorrow and take the time to reflect on the many people that bless your lives, the health you have, and all the good the year has held.  You that are following this bless us with your interest in our adventure. Thank you.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reasons to Celebrate

What a week we have had. Our guests from North Carolina, Gary and Sue have been very busy looking for thier own base of operations and settled on Thursday with a very nice house just down the street from us. We are learning the buses and the Monay shopping center together.

We went for a celebration dinner at Mangire Bene (Estevez de Toral 8-91 y Bolívar). Great lasagna! They will move in on Monday, a pretty easy move with just suitcases to roll down the street!

The weather has been mild with sunny mornings and rain in the afternoon. Today, Saturday, was especially nice in the morning so off we went to downtown to pick up my replacement laptop and enjoy the sun. Had a great pizza for lunch, stopped at the Panadería (bakery) and then Jack sat in the Parque while I ran to the tourist office for a bus map, then to the plaza to get a new poncho, stopping for flowers at the flower market. Jack owed me two bunches ($2) as the deal when we decided to move to Cuenca was I would get flowers every week . . . you gotta love it here!

Home by cab, Jack and Iggy are napping and I am typing as the rain falls! Sorry no nap picture - but can you hear the snoring? Not sure why the blog spell checker has suddenly decided that it should check this all in Spanish . . . oh well. Chao for now!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cuenca At Last

In case you were wondering we are alive and well and living in Cuenca! Oh want a story we have to tell if I can only get it all straight! Apologies up front for the long narration but some of you want to know the details . . others just skim and thanks for reading anyway!!!

The last days in Grant s Pass were crazy, filled with hugs and a few tears and promises to say in touch. We had our plans all set as I shared before to get Iggy's health certificate done on Friday before we were to leave followed by a mad dash up to Salem to get the USDA to certify the certificate, then church on Sunday, pick up the van early Monday, load, drive to San Francisco, appointment with the Ecuadorian Consulate on Tuesday to get Iggy's certificate stamped, fly out on Wednesday at 6 AM which meant, a 4 AM airport arrival. Good plan right? Got a call from the Consulate Friday a week before we were to leave saying due to the Ecuadorian Independence Day (Nov 3rd) celebrations the consulate would be closed on Tuesday could be come later . . no, well then just mail the document....uh OK change all plans. Rescheduled the vet and USDA for Monday, called to pick up the van late Monday, cancel on night of hotel reservations in SFO . . no problem! Well the hotel reservation had to canceled and remade and yes we got a refund for the whole reservation but the nightly rate went up $15, good news was the van offered us a rate that was $120 less so we are ahead!

Monday saw the vet then drove to Salem to get the certificate stamped and the cost had gone up $1, money order or credit card only . . had gotten the money order . . . OK they could take $1 cash. Mad dash to FedEx to overnight the health certificate to SFO with prepaid return the only problem there was which page of 5 did they need. Called the Consulate, I'm sorry the person who know about these things is not in call in 10 minutes, 10 minutes later no answer, it's now 10 til 2 when the Consulate closes. Called again, I'm sorry the person who knows is not in call tomorrow . . . sorry, have to do this NOW so sent money order for $50 and all the pages praying they would return the pages we needed. FedEx delivered by return mail on Thursday, all the pages with the necessary Consulate stamp...Iggy now had permission to enter the country!

Spent our last days in Grants Pass trying to wrap things up, get extra time and hugs with those we love, stuff the last few things in our 10 suitcases, two carry-ons each, and Iggy's kennel! Sunday was a special time with Church family and friends, the pastor prayed of us joking most people retire to Grants Pass, so if you are from Grants Pass guess you have to retire to Ecuador!

Monday Jack and our dear friend Ken went to pick up the van. We had reserved a Dodge caravan or equivalent . . . when they got there there was no van but they were sure we would be happy with the mini SUV. NOT! After a calm threat to own the company and a call to the president they left with a 12 passenger van that was designated for in Oregon use only!

Ken did a fabulous job packing the van, Iggy even had his own seat way in the back.

The drive to SFO was gloriously uneventful. Did a dry run to the airport so we knew the ropes for in the morning, had a great Italian dinner after we bought a new cane for Jack as we (Claudia) had left it behind the door in Grants Pass.

I wish I had not had my hand so full after the driver from the rental car agency dropped us off on the sidewalk in front of the terminal at 4 AM so you could see the suitcases, dog kennel, and us. No porter on the job yet, so Jack went in and sat down, I sat with the luggage and dog on the curb . . . waiting for the port and a wheelchair.

Finally got all the luggage weighed and checked in, paid for the one over weight bag (85 pounds!), 6 excess bags, and Iggy. Iggy got his TSA inspection and off he went. The first leg of the flight had its excitement, as we approached Miami - residual turbulence from tropical storms had the flight attendants told to stay in their seats . . what fun!

From Miami to Quayaquil, Ecuador seemed to take forever but did enjoy talking to an Ecuadoran neurosurgeon along the way.

Landed in Ecuador on time, wheelchair waiting at the gate and off we went to immigration. No problems, gave them our address in Cuenca. Next stop baggage claim. When I told the fellow pushing Jack we had diez (10) suitcases plus the dog his eyes got real big and I rented 4 carts and he found a friend to help. We finally cleared customs with a miracle of no duty charged for our excess baggage and no fee for Iggy an hour later!

The Grand Hotel had a van waiting and off we went. Iggy was quit an oddity as few people have dogs and certainly not as large as he. We dropped into bed over 20 hours after we started a little numb and realizing we were really in Ecuador! In case you lost track of the days it is at this point Thursday November 4th. The Iguana is a mozaic above the pool at the Grand Hotel.

After an included lovely breakfast buffet, the van picked us up and we enjoyed the drive over the Andes, through the Cajas National Park to Cuenca. We arrived at our new house to find it still under preparation for our arrival....we only rented it two months ago but we did not expect it to be done . . . this is Ecuador after all. Since there was no gas for the kitchen we enjoyed a great dinner at the California Kitchen and said "Hola" to new old friends. To make a very long and trying portion of the story short, the owner of the house we rented in August was a thief: the promised repairs were not made, and not likely to be made. It was the weekend from Hell. Welcome to Cuenca.

Tuesday we had an appointment to be driven to bank by a bilingual Ecuadorian who know someone with a house for rent so after the bank we went and saw the house. It is much smaller than the one we had but just the size we really wanted! Without shopping around we took it on the spot. It is located across from the Paraiso Park where the rivers of Cuenca come together, convenient to major bus lines, a growers Co-op, and a Coral which is a Wal-Mart like store.

Now the only problem was we had company coming to stay with us, arriving on Friday from North Carolina with their dog, and our second bedroom only had a twin bed. Fine for the dog but not so for the people. Wednesday Arturo, our new friend and "facilitator" took us to a furniture maker to order a bed, no metal frames here, then to a store to order a queen bed, back to the original house to move our 10 suitcases plus all the goodies we bought for the kitchen to the new house. What a blessing, a quiet nights sleep with hot water...

OK, house tour: There is a park that runs all along the Tomabamba River and it is just across the street. Yes the cows mow the lawn in the park.

Our entrance is gated with a remote door opener in the house to let folks in. We have a lovely formal living room, dining room,what we call den with a fireplace, kitchen, two bedrooms. The master bedroom has a solarium I guess you could call it and the second bedroom opens to the back patio. There is a laundry room, cold water washing only but that's OK! There is also a one bedroom apartment upstairs so "Come to Cuenca" is still an offer!!!

Our guests arrived on Friday afternoon, the bed frame freshly stained and still a bit fragrant was delivered at 9 pm but the mattress was delayed so wonderful Arturo brought a mattress over to get buy with . . . the new one was delivered on Monday.

You can read some of the blogs I follow and read about the weather we have been having the International Food Festival we attended etc. If I don't get this posted soon I will never get caught up! Hope to post as there is good stuff to share. Thanks for reading!!!!!