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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seattle to Chicago to New York

Well, the first leg of my return flight to Ecuador went off without a hitch, though it turned out expensive.  When I checked in at Seattle, I had to pay overweight charges for both my bags which amounted to $120.  Airlines allot 50 lbs per bag but mine was about 10 lbs over in each because I was trying to stuff as much of my personal items as I could to take back with me.   Gracie cost $170.   And, the airlines charge a baggage-check fee now, so that was $60.  So, that came to $350 on TOP of my airfare.  Then, I asked about upgrading to first class and was told that would be $180 more and it would only be for the Seattle to Chicago leg…it would not include Chicago to JFK.  I paused for a bit but then thought of the misery I would be in if I had to sit in coach for 4 hours, so I went for it.  At the gate, I realized first class passengers don’t have to pay a baggage check fee, so I got a Rep ro refund me $60   $470 later, I was aboard the plane.  I watched Gracie come up the conveyor belt and she was lying down, very calm. 

We arrived on time and I watched Gracie come down the conveyor belt in an equally calm state, with ground crew giving her attention.  My next gate was only down a few, so no long treks thank goodness.  The next plane was on American Eagle, which flies smaller aircraft.  This one looked like a long thin tube.  Odd given the fact we’re flying from a major city to a major city and not a short hop.  I didn’t opt to upgrade to first class as I figured with a 2 and 2 configuration versus a 3 and 3, it wouldn’t be too crowded.  Ha!   The seats were narrower than a typical aircraft which is bad enough!!  I had to duck my head a bit when coming thru the front door and my hair scraped the interior ceiling.   The overhead bins were not large enough to accommodate carry-on bags so a lot of people, including me, had to check their carry-on at the jetway. 

As I had been informed before, when I took the cats down….I asked the flight attendant to check on the status of Gracie…that she was boarded successfully.  When we were close to push-back, the FA approached me and said there was an issue with my dog.  So, I followed her to the front of the plane where the gate crew and pilots were having a conversation.  Apparently, the Seattle rep classified her as ‘baggage’ instead of a ‘live animal’.  So, she did not show up on the flight’s manifest (list of passengers) which triggers the flight crew to know they have a live animal and make sure the cargo area heat is functioning properly.  It so happened this aircraft’s cargo heat was NOT functioning!!!  Had I not made the FA aware of Gracie, they would’ve taken off not knowing there was a live animal in cargo, and with the heater not functioning, she would have likely died from exposure (very cold temps at high altitude). 

Also, since the crew didn’t have her on the manifest, they didn’t know where she was.  They had people scrambling around the airport trying to find her.   I told them when I arrived, that I saw her offloaded at gate H10 and put into a red cart.  We were at gate H5…not far away.   Finally, the left hand and the right hand connected and everyone realized she was already aboard in cargo!!   Then, the debate began on what to do with her.  They discussed bringing her on board the plane but pets are required to fit under the seat and that just wasn’t going to fly (scuze the pun).  Then they thought why not treat her as a handicap assistant dog but that brought into play a bunch of other red tape.  Meanwhile, the plane was loaded and all the passengers were staring up front wondering what the holdup was.  Me and Gracie were holding up the entire flight while the various crews figured out what to do with us. 

A half hour later, they offloaded Gracie and my bags out of cargo and decided to put me on another flight, but to LaGuardia as there were no more flights to JFK.  There, I would have to collect my bags and Gracie in baggage claim, then be driven in a car from LaGuardia to JFK to catch up to my flight from JFK to Ecuador.  American gave me a voucher to pay for the car.  Meanwhile, my flight to JFK took off. 

Can you believe it?  A simple coding error on the part of the American Rep in Seattle put my dog’s life in jeopardy!!  Had I not said anything, we would’ve taken off with her in the belly of that plane without any heat.  Granted, there are sensors that tell the pilots if the heat is malfunctioning but it doesn’t mean anything if there’s just bags back there and the crew isn’t aware of a live animal aboard!!!

I had the pilot of the flight to LaGuardia verify she was aboard and everything was functioning correctly.

So, as I write this, I’m crammed into coach with three people abroad and I’m having to lean out into the aisle to fit.  Every time a FA walks by, I get knocked around.  GRRRR!!!  I have NO elbow room and NO WARM NUTS!!!

GRRRR!!!!!

Believe me, AA will hear from me and I better get some freebies out of it!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Transportation

Taxi’s.  Now that subject will get a lot of tourists chiming in with their horror stories.  Some downright scare people, but it doesn’t bother me.  They drive wherever they want, straddling the centerline for example, and STOP signs don’t mean diddly squat to them.  As long as no one is coming, they just keep going.  The time you want to cover your eyes and pray is when they penetrate a traffic circle (they’re all over here) amongst a dozen or more other cars whirling around the circle and no one knows where the other guy is headed. 

Amazingly enough, you just don’t see accidents.  I think I’ve seen 2 in both the times I’ve been here.   And, RARELY do see a damaged car driving the streets.  Traffic police are next to non-existent.  Unlike back home where you see a cop car every 3 blocks and likely ‘hiding’ to snag some irreverent person traveling 37 in a 30 mph.  OMG!!!!  It really ticked me off where I used to live (Bremerton) because cops constantly parked near the school zone to pick off people going more than 20 mph between and .  Doesn’t matter if there’s a SOUL in sight…you must drive 20 mph.  Geez, I can almost run that fast!!!   The many years I lived there, it was rare I ever saw anyone walking on the shoulder in that area.  And, it didn’t matter if it was a weekend, summer (school out), or a holiday.  By gawd, you better slow down to a crawl mister or the LAW will come down HARD!!!  Maybe there’s something to be said about applying common sense and not making so many laws…that it can work out just fine without being overcomplicated about it.

There are no Yield signs here.

Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here.  Pedestrians take responsibility for THEMSELVES.

You don’t get in trouble for jaywalking.

You don’t get in trouble for crossing the street when you don’t have the walk sign.  If there’s no traffic coming, CROSS!!!   We don’t stand there like an idiot and no cars coming from anywhere and say to ourselves ‘we must obey the law and only cross when that little man turns green’. 

Big box stores are not required to provide 500 handicap parking spaces (ok, so I exaggerated a BIT!!).  I was always intrigued back home when I went to places like Costco and there’d be tons of cars parked in the handicap spots, yet I rarely spotted anyone in the store that seemed in genuine need of a special parking.  In fact, there is NO requirement for handicap parking here.  And there’s no such things as handicap placards for the cars.  Which makes me think….I rarely see any handicap people around.  Not sure I’ve ever seen anyone in a wheelchair.  Plenty of elderly people out about walking on disheveled cobblestone sidewalks and carrying heavy items cuz that’s what they do.  Things gotta get done, so they do them. 

(a few days later).  I saw handicapped parking!! OMG…right there in the below ground parking lot (TILED parking lot, no less) of the KyWi hardware store (sort of like True Value) I saw a sign hanging above a parking spot.   It said “Discapacidad” meaning ‘disability’.  I have to admit, though, I could’ve swore it said “Decapitated” and laughed.

But, I digress (again). 

I must say, though, I can’t stand all the horn honking Taxi drivers do.   If the car(s) ahead of you don’t start moving a nano-second after the light turns green, they are on their horns.  For cripes sake, it takes a second or two before the 8 cars ahead of you get going!!  Just because you honk your horn it doesn’t magically make everyone move, especially if there’s a REASON no one’s moving!!  They toot-toot when they’re skimming by another car straddling the center line to let you know they’re there, they’ll toot-toot to tell a pedestrian to get out of the way, they’ll toot-toot-toot-toot-toot outside your house gate to let you know they’re there and they’ll toot-toot-toot if you don’t appear at your front door within a nano-second from their original set of toot-toots!!! 

I would like to meet with the Mayor and suggest we BAN HORNS!!!

If you don’t own a car, which many don’t, you taxi everywhere or take the bus.  But, what if you want to buy some large items?  Many large stores also have a pool of pickup trucks and drivers available to load up your stuff and deliver it to your house for a few bucks.   So, no need to own a big behemoth gas guzzling monster (the kind you have to pole vault to get into) like so many love to own back home…not because they really NEED them, but more because it’s a status thing.  My toy is bigger than yours!!   LOOK!! I’m an UH MAR E CAN!!!!

I was at the airport recently and was really taken aback by how small it was.  I mean, you turn off the main boulevard and enter the airport and, bam, you’re there.  It’s not like entering another city or megalopolis.   One reason for the inauspiciousness is; neither Guayaquil, Quito, nor Cuenca (the 3 largest cities in EC) have massive parking structures or a sea of asphalt for parking.  You get in and you get out….period.  If you’re going to be gone for awhile, Ecuadorians are not about to spend their hard earned money to simply have their car parked at the airport.  Instead, they’ll taxi to and from and leave the car at home where it’s FREE. 

But, I digress (again). 

Miami to Seattle (The Trip from Hell)

Step by step recap of what transpired:

  • It took me 1 ½ hours from the time I got off the plane to the time I got through all the customs/immigration process!!
  • Miami is the WORST airport when it comes to the logistics you have to jockey through to get thru customs.
  • After walking through lonnnnnng, lonnnnng, endless corridors I finally arrived at baggage claim and customs.
  • I waited and waited for my bag to come through even though I was flying 1st Class which, supposedly, has your bags loaded in priority order so they are first off the plane.  My bag was near-last.
  • I also had a large pet carrier to pick up and waited until all the bags were finished being delivered…but no carrier.  I finally asked someone if there was a special place a carrier would be directed to, and he pointed across the room where, lo-n-behold it was sitting.  How was I supposed to know that???
  • Then I joined a huge crowd of well over 100 people that had to merge into only 4 available lines for  customs…where they checked my passport and took my form.   Then, no more than 50 feet away, there was a man standing in the pathway collecting the same form.  I said I already gave mine to the agent in the booth!
  • From that point, we were supposed to follow colored dots on the floor.  But, there were NO instructions as to WHICH colored dots we were supposed to follow!  I followed the yellow dots.
  • At the end of the yellow dots, I re-checked my bags, but the lady said they couldn’t take the kennel, even though I told her nothing was in it.  She said I had to take the kennel to the 2nd floor, but no other instructions beyond that.
  • I went to the 2nd floor only to find a sea of AA ticket counters with no one in them and ‘Port Au Prince’ on the overheads.  Nothing indicated where I was supposed to hand over the kennel.
  • I finally decided to follow the Domestic terminal signs, which led me outside and another lonnnnng walk to another terminal.  There I found a sign to the effect of ‘baggage drop desk’ and followed it.  No ‘desk’ anywhere, but a man standing next to a conveyor belt.  I asked him if this was the right place for the kennel, and he responded he spoke no English.  In MIAMI, at an INTERNATIONAL airport, performing a PUBLIC function????  So, off went my kennel to who knows where, wondering if it would ever end up with my bags.
  • I looked at the overheads to see what gate my flight was to depart at.  My flight wasn’t listed.  I asked an American Airlines rep who was standing at the entrance to the ticket counter lines, fielding questions, and she snapped at me that my flight was at gate XXX, but I said that flight shows 2:40 boarding time, not 3:40 boarding time that my ticket says.  She said ‘well, that’s because of the time change…one hour back’.   Knowing that my ticket always reflects the real time as of the day of flight and also knowing that it is ‘Spring FORWARD’, not ‘Spring BACKWARD’, I repeated my ticket says .  She looked at her list and said, ‘oh, that’s gate XXX leaving at ’ in a very rude, condescending tone.
  • Ok, so now I have to go back THRU security since I was forced to leave the secure area earlier.  I approached security where another rep was standing checking tickets and ID.  I had to fumble a bit in my bag to find my passport and she snapped at me ‘Sir, you need to get yourself organized because I have a long line waiting behind you!!!’.  I was so pissed off at that point (due to the previous events) that I snapped right back at her that there wasn’t anyone behind me when I first approached her…that a large group just showed up 2 seconds beforehand.  She saw my First Class classification and points me to a special line.
  • At the end of that line was a security agent checking tickets and ID’s, and he too was being very short and snippy with people.  I passed thru to the next stop to have my carry-on bag checked and go thru the sensors.
  • When I went thru the metal detector sensors, the alarm went off.  I had already removed everything from my pockets.  TSA agents started rattling off various things…did I take out my phone?  Did I take out my keys?  Did I, Did I, Did I.  YES, YES, and YES!!!  My wallet was in my pocket but I told them there was NOTHING in there that is metal!!!   In any case, I tossed it in the tub and ripped one ring off my finger and thru it in the tub as well (the other would not come off) and then I passed the metal detector test.   GOOD GAWD!!!
  • After all this S$^%*! I walked up to the flight monitors to look up my flight (to Chicago, then on to Seattle) and what do I find?  CANCELLED!!!
  • I found an AA rep and asked them ‘what do I do’?  She said to go to the Rebooking Center next to gate XXX, which I did, but no one was there.  I found another gate that was staffed and asked them.  They told me to go back to the Rebooking Center and use the phones on the wall.
  • Using the wall phones, I called and got a rebooking agent.  She put me on hold.  The call got disconnected.
  • I called back (at this point, my patience was non-existent and I was furious, to say the least).  Others started to show up and place calls as well.  While I was on the phone with the second agent, Frank, I heard a guy next to me say ‘I got disconnected!’.   I said, ‘that happened to me, too!’.  Frank proceeds to tell me ‘let’s focus on getting you rebooked and not on other people around you’.  What the hell?  I can talk to someone else if I want to!!!!  
  • He rebooked me on a flight to Dallas, then to Seattle which was a couple hours away from departing.  He said my baggage would be redirected, too.
  • When I arrived in Seattle, after waiting for the entire baggage arrival to be processed, my bags and the kennel never showed up. 
  • I filed a claim with the AA agent in charge of missing bags.  This was approximately .  He said the bags would come in around and they would deliver them to me at the place I was staying in Seattle, in the morning, somewhere between and .
  • The next day, comes and goes, but no bags delivered.  I called AA and they called the contracting company who informed them they were running behind but my bags should be delivered in the next 2 hours.  That comes and goes, too.  I call back and again AA contacts the company.  They said they would call me directly.  They never did.  My bags didn’t show up until !!!  I stayed at home all day waiting for them.

This is why people HATE to fly these days and why some go off the deep end!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Quito to Miami

The flight to Miami was pretty uneventful.  I was at the Quito airport earlier than needed to be.  By the time I went thru the ticket counter (first class line) and security, I had easily an hour or more before departure.   So, I sat bored for an hour. 

First class travelers are the first allowed to board, then coach.  Coach had long been boarding and I noticed there were a few first class seats still open.  Either they’re late, or just unsold.  The one next to me was still vacant. 

Just before pushback, a senior-ish lady came from the back and took the seat next to me.  I thought ‘hmmmm’ and wondered if she was a coach passenger snatching a first class seat.  After all, why was she in the back beforehand?  I didn’t say anything.   Maybe she was invited up front.  Still suspicious, I noticed she didn’t seem all that savvy about the seat mechanisms or other first class things happening around her.  I didn’t say anything.  Usually, in first class, the FA will address you by name.  For example, ‘Good Morning Mr Smith, would you like an omelet or poison for breakfast?’.  I thought, good, she’ll be caught then as the FA won’t have any name for her seat.  Breakfast was served (omelets, juice, croissant, and fruit plate).  No names, she was served.  She seemed tickled.

Awhile after breakfast was done and taken away, the flight attendant approached her and asked her something (I couldn’t hear).  She started digging around in her purse while the FA waited.  I thought AH HA…she’s gonna get caught!   The lady couldn’t find what she was looking for (I presumed her boarding pass which shows her seat assignment) and the FA decided to not wait any longer.  A few seconds later, the lady found her seat assignment ticket in her passport and showed it to me and asked me in Spanish if this was her correct seat.  I said ‘no’, 14E is back there (pointing to the rear)…this is TWO E!!!!

I mean c’mon…what kind of idiot do you take me for (I was thinking, but not saying).  Lady, you were back there and know damn well where your seat is but snuck up here and snatched an empty first class seat and have been enjoying first class service even though you paid coach!!!  And 2E is nowhere NEAR close to 14E.  But, I didn’t say that.

Not wanting to let this go (no big surprise there, huh?) I got up to go to the bathroom about 10 minutes later.  When I came out I brought the subject up to the FA.  She said she THOUGHT she had an extra passenger because her meal count didn’t add up.  Another FA kept telling her that but she kept telling him, ‘no, no, it’s right’.  Then she checked her manifest which shows who is sitting where and there’s no name in the seat next to me.  That’s when she decided to approach the lady.

Anyhoo, long story not as long…the FA decided not to make her move back.  After all, the serving was done and what’s the point?  What’s the POINT?   I think this lady knows exactly what she did and she’s getting away with it and probably has done it before and/or will do it again.  If you don’t DO something about it, it will continue.  Sighhh.

Oh look…here comes the FA serving WARM NUTS and more drinks!!  Wonder if she’ll simply skip over the lady.  Nope…continues to give her first class service.

What a rip.

Next segment

At the hostal last night, I watched the sun go down and the lights come up from the rooftop deck.  Dinner was being prepared and it smelled good!!  I had a grande beer ($2) and was ready to eat…freshly made potato leek soup with toasted garlic bread, followed by meat pie and salad, topped off with a bananer split!!  Oh, and two more glasses of wine.  Total $13. 

Since I had to get up at I headed for my room at .  I was having a hard time with the key in the doorknob and wondered if I had the right room.  Yep, right room.  Pushed the key in harder but it wouldn’t unlock…neither would the key come OUT!!  Push, pull, twist that way and this way and tug some more while twisting the knob…no luck.  Back UP the 5 flights of stairs to the reception desk to ask for assist.  The guy didn’t know if he had any tools, but would go look to see if he had a pair of pliers.  I waited.  He came back.  He started serving drinks to guests.  I wondered….”Well?”.  Finally, I asked him if he found anything and he said ‘oh…no, I didn’t’.  GRRREAT.  He said he’ll come down and help me.  I went down to my room and tried all the aforementioned again, but this time with a lot more determination.  Nothing.  And by ‘nothing’ I’m referring to my accomplishments as well as those of the employees…they never showed up to ‘help’.  I was getting pissed off to say the least.  Then, I noticed the window next to the door and remembered latching it earlier, noticing that the latch was somewhat feeble.  I started working on the window, pushing both sides that go in/out hoping to loosen up the latch.  One piece of the window frame molding came off.  Progress.  I didn’t want to break anything, but I was getting to the point of not caring.  After a lot of pushing the limits of the window frames, the latch finally gave way.  Then, I had to hoist my big ass up to the window sill level and compact my frame into a shape that would fit thru a 3’ x 3’ window.  I was certain I was going to fall to the floor inside…the CONCRETE floor.  But, amazingly, I reached down and pulled and pulled on the toes of my tennis shoes until I had one foot that cleared the window frame and then the other cleared and I was able to hop down into the room.  From there, I was able to unlock/lock the room from the inside knob.  GRRRRRR!!!!

I got up at and went to the shower next to my room (private room, shared bath).  I saw all kinds of hot water heaters around the place so I was sure I would enjoy a nice hot shower.  Great water pressure…but where’s the hot water?  First, the hot water knob was on the right, not the left like we’re used to (same thing in my house…trips me up all the time).  Hot water finally came….for about 5 seconds then reverted back to luke-cold water.  I tried various combinations of off/on, slow stream/fast stream, but same thing over and over.  Finally gave up and braved the water for 20 seconds and I was done.

The van came to pick me up for the airport.  I locked the inside knob and shut the room to my door, key still stuck in it and walked away with a bit of a smirk, knowing that someone from staff would finally have to deal with how to get into the room….just like I did.  Ya think I was gonna leave the room unlocked for them?  Hell NO!!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Come Fly with Me (landing at Quito)

video

Inbound to Quito


LAN Airlines


A Trek back to US of A - Cuenca to Quito

This little story details my travels from Cuenca back to the Seattle area for 2 weeks.  Purpose of trip?  Retrieving my baby girl Gracie (dog in case you don’t know it) to bring back to Cuenca, and for my Mommy’s 80th birthday….not necessarily in that order. 

First, I needed to arrange a taxi to the airport in CUE, but almost of them are too small to fit the dog kennel in.  My friend Wilson, a taxi driver, arranged for his uncle to take me in his station wagon. 

LUCKILY, late on the night before, I happened to check my flight information on LAN’s website.  The flight WAS due to depart at , therefore I arranged for the taxi to pick me up at .  I was shocked to see the flight had been bumped up an hour to .  They never notified me.  At the last minute I had to scramble to bump up my taxi pickup, too, but Wilson’s uncle doesn’t have a cell phone, so he was hard to reach.  Wilson was able to call someone with a cell phone that worked next to his uncle’s and relayed the message to him.   Interesting that my flight ORIGINALLY was to leave at , then changed to , then changed to ….none of which was I automatically notified by email.  I wonder how many other people didn’t know of the change?  Because, the flight maybe only had maybe 50 people on it. 

Cuenca airport, as I mentioned before, is very small…maybe 4-5 gates and no jetways.  When you arrive at the airport, it feels like 5 steps to the ticket counter, and 12 more to the gate.  Compare what you know about going thru security in the US to:   not having to take shoes off, not having to take computer out of bag, don’t care about liquids.  And, you walk out onto the tarmac to board and, very cool, you get to board either at the front or the rear of the plane.  Makes boarding very quick versus the typical, awful, frustrating, hatchet-murder-inducing process in the states.

A 35-minute bumpy flight later on a 737 and I was in Quito.  Quito (kee toh) is Ecuador’s capital and has over a million in population, right?  Well, it’s airport is also tiny…only a few gates and only TWO baggage claim belts!!!  Minutes later I had my bags and headed out the door to my pre-arranged waiting van.  A $10, 20 minute ride thru Quito up, and down, and over, and around I arrived at my hostal ‘Secret Gardens’.   SG is a squashed into a hillside, a very skinny but tall property.  A sign as you enter the front door informs you the reception desk is on the 5th floor outdoor deck, plop your luggage down and ‘come on up’.  UP INDEED!!!  Straight up very tightly winding narrow stairs.  I mean, remember, Quito is already at 9,000 ft and by the time you get to the rooftop deck you feel as though you've arrived at 10,000 ft, and you dread the idea of dragging your heavy luggage up any of those stairs.  Luckily, they gave me a room on the first level ($26). 

The rooftop deck is definitely the place to hang out…where I’m writing this from.  I’m looking out across an amazing topography.  Quito is a city built at the foot of a huge volcano.  The city is comprised of hills and valleys and more hills and valleys.  It makes San Francisco look wimpy.  The neighborhoods and city in general sweep right up the sides of the hills and down the others.  What is amazing is the neighborhoods that go up, up, up the slopes of what is at least a 1,000 ft hill as if it was creeping up past your ankles and headed for your knees.  Too bad my pictures can do justice as the 3 dimensional aspect of it is lost.  On one tall knoll (double the height of Queen Anne in Seattle) is a huge statue, an angel with wings overlooking the city.

I will have to come back to Quito to explore it later.  After all, it only cost $50 to fly here.  So far, this is my second time here and seen none of it as it has only been a stopover to a next-day flight.  Speaking of which, mine leaves at 6:15 am, so I’m gonna have to get up at 3:30 and pull myself together for all day travel tomorrow (Miami – Chicago – Seattle).

Later!!!


Cuenca airport passenger waiting area...that's all of it.

All Aboard!!!

Cuenca Airport Terminal....massive ain't it?



Quito - Angel statue on top of large hill (as viewed from my hostal)
 

View from rooftop deck of my hostal

Cool figurines on the rooftop deck of my hostal

Monday, March 14, 2011

My new (Improvised) Kitchen !!

My kitchen is definitely outdated and needs to be gutted and remodelled top to bottom.  But, that's going to be awhile.  In the meantime, since the house came with NO appliances (sellers took them) I had to be able to cook and store food, right?  So, I bought all new appliances with the remodel in mind.  Refrigerator in place, and microwave on the counter, and a $39 cheapo counter-top 'bunson' burner and I was in operation. 

But, after awhile, the bunson (sp?) burner was getting to me.  The 3 burners didn't put out much ummmmphh.  Took forever to boil water.  Then, again, I am at 8,000 feet.  And, I couldn't bake, or broil, or roast.

So, the other day, I decided to unpack my oven and cooktop and just sit them on the counters and HOOK EM UP!!

Today, I had the guy who hooked up my calefon (tankless hot water heater) come back and hook up my fridge water line for the ice maker and connect the electrical and gas lines for the oven and cooktop.  He was here for an hour and 15 minutes, and had to run out for some parts.  Total cost for his service?  $35

How do you like my new setup?  (see pics)


My new oven has a rotisserie in it!!

Doesn't the gas tank add to the elegance?  The cooktop has to be partially off the countertop due to the gas connection.
Yes, that's a dishrack.  I HATE hand washing dishes!!  My dishwasher is still in the box.  Sighhhh

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rambling On

The following is just a bunch of snippets that fell out of my brain and onto my keyboard:
  • Started painting the interior of my house.  Had some paint contractors come by and bid on the job.  I HATE painting ceilings...the rest I have no problem with.  The ceilings need to be sealed.  It appears the walls do, too.  Almost all construction here in EC is concrete...there's virtually no drywall anywhere.  If the concrete isn't sealed before painting, you can get varied effects. 
  • Speaking of paint, stores can color match.  Yeah, right.  Their method of color matching is holding up whatever you bring in (ie; a leaf) and matching it to the paper color wheel.  There is no such thing as computer color matching.  Thus, the Martha Stewart and Behr colors I selected in the US didn't do me a whole lotta good down here.
  • Decided to buy a new tankless hot water heater.  The one here probably was original (15 yrs old) and it produced hot water, but you couldn't mix in any cold or it became a lukewarm shower.  Luckily, the store I bought all my appliances had ONE left at $370 (compared to nearly $1,000 in the US).   The president of EC has, for whatever reason, imposed a ban on importing tankless hot water heaters.  So, they've been flying off the shelves since almost 99.99% of all homes here use them.   Now I have nice scalding hot water!!!
  • As I mentioned before, there's no central gas here.  Nearly everyone uses tanks in the house (about double the size of a BBQ gas tank).  I have 4...one for laundry, one for the cooktop, one for the hot water heater, one for the oven.  Two of them ran dry, so I called the company to bring me two.  Within an hour they were at my gate and swapped out two empty tanks for two full ones.  Cost...$4.
  • Speaking of cheap...I got my first EC haircut.   I noticed a 'unisex' salon near my hostal so went there.   They cut my hair with scissors, trimmed with the electric sheers, then cleaned up all the edges by applying lather and cutting with a razor, THEN shampooed my hair and styled it.  Cost....$5.
  • Oh, since my property is walled in, there's no way for anyone to approach my front door unless they have been let in the exterior part.  The sellers didn't have any mechanism for knowing someone was at the gate other than that person yelling to get their attention.  So, I purchased a couple of wireless remote doorbells and installed them.  So, who is the FIRST to show up and use them???  MORMONS!!!!   I couldn't believe it when I opened the gate.  They were nice young fellows and we chatted a bit about their EC adventure, but I clearly told them I had a different philosophy on things and I was 'tight with Marie' so, all was well and they left.  Even ran into them on the streets some days later and they were all happy to see me.  What next....Jehovahs Witnesses????
  • Decided to drop in on the hostal I stayed at in Nov and have lunch as I knew they usually have $2 specials. Unfortunately, I was a bit late and they had ran out.  So, I had this huge bowl of cut up mixed fruit and an espresso.  Cost...$1.80.
  • One thing that is challenging here (amongst MANY) is labels.  All those labels we're used to wherever we came from are pretty much non-existent.  So, not only do you need to know Spanish for communication, you need to know it in order to understand lables on products.  Is that liquidy thing in a bottle for laundry?  Dishes?  Polishing furniture?  Oil for the car?   You don't see TIDE, or DOWNEY, or SHOUT...you see....ummm....foreign words.   And, just because it's a popular product in the US, don't think it's everywhere.  I have yet to find anything like BOUNCE.  It just doesn't exist.  Guess I'll throw some in my luggage next time I'm in the States.
Ok...nuf of this rambling.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This-n-That

It’s a very dry day today.  No, I don’t mean the weather.  I mean as in DRRRRYYYYYY!!!  (no Al Key Hall).  And I’m not talking about liquor stores closed, but no alcohol sales PERIOD…not in stores, not even in restaurants!!!  Domingo (Sunday) is an important day to the Latins, not only for religious reasons but it’s an important day to spend with family.  I probably mentioned before (how can I remember everything I’ve written about?) but most businesses are closed on Sundays.  So, if you’re single like me, it can be a real boring day.  Then again, it’s a great day to get tasks done around the house/office. 

Today is Sunday.  Case in point…I washed all the windows.

It’s Monday now, but due to Carnaval, pretty much everything is closed until Weds.  It’s amazing how quiet the streets are and how few cars are on them.  Visualize Christmas day about …that’s how quiet it is. 

I ventured out anyway.  Wanted to go to an open air market and buy a bunch of wooden utensils for the kitchen.  Some of the stalls were open and I got my stuff.   Walked several blocks and got very hungry, so stopped in at one of only a few cafeterias open.  Had a nice big lunch of 3 different meats, rice, cucumber salad, and soda for $3.75.   Rejuvenated, I walked thru the main park and towards my now favorite pastry and chocolate chop, donned a pair of tongs and a woven basket and started picking.  Walked another block to a good point for hailing taxi’s.  I noticed the intersection was very wet…yet it was about 75 out.  I knew what was up…and up was the only place I needed to look. 

From a balcony above the street was, clearly, a group of people armed with water supplies to douse people in the busy intersection.   I didn’t dare walk out from under the cover I was standing in.  Ohhhh wait….here comes a delicious target….a double-decker tour bus with the top deck open to the world and loaded with people.   And, it gets better, the light turned red for the bus, so they were sitting ducks.   The moment the bus stopped, all the poor people became water logged and in a flurry of water slinging.  Some on the bus came prepared and threw water balloons back.  I wanted to grab my camera and get pics for you but was afraid it would get wet. 

Once the bus left, I saw a cab coming and hailed it and knew I would have to make a mad dash across the street, vulnerable to the water thugs, to get to safe covering and into the taxi.  But, just as I was planning my escape, I apparently exposed myself which resulted in what must have been a big bucket of water on my head!!!
LOVE the skylights constructed over interior courtyards in the old buildings.  Thinking I might do this in my house, too.


Bread fresh out of the ovens in back.  You can smell it on the street.  .20 cts per.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carnaval !!

Yes, I spelt it currect.  Don't go emailing me informing me it should be Carnival !!! 

March 4th - 8th is Carnaval.  If there's anything a Cuencano is, is they are partiers.  Geez laweeze, I've seen more parades in the time I've been here than I've seen in 10 years.  

Though Carnaval here is not quite like what you see in Rio, it's still a party.  Today, several blocks of downtown were closed off and parades ensued.  People dress up (men as women) and have just good ol' plain fun....the most notorious of which is, as I mentioned in a previous post, is water balloons, buckets of water, water guns, water spraycans, etc.   I've never seen them before, but they sell cans (that look like spray paint cans) which spray people with water.  Today I was standing at a crosswalk waiting to cross and a car drove by and I was 'doused' with this spray can stuff.  I looked down at my shirt and it looked like hundreds of dots of styrofoam had hit me.  But, seconds later, it disappeared, leaving no stains on my shirt. 

BUT....there are those who get hit so many times with this stuff, they look like walking foam (see pics).  Later, I was in a store buying hand made chocolates and a lady came in to buy some of the canned stuff.  After her purchase, she tried it out on ME!!!   She didn't think it worked correctly.   I motioned to her that it was more like hair spray, so she gave me a hefty squirt in my hair!!! 

I digress for a moment (par for the course, eh?).  I've heard it over and over and now I'm experiencing it.  Cuencanos are the NICEST people you'll ever encounter.  They are always helpful, always have a smile on their face, want to know about you, work hard, and party hard.  So far, I have never had the experience that is all too common back home...when you ask someone for something, they either ignore you, can't be bothered, or generally give you that 'go away' look. 

Ok, back on track.  I was a little late getting to the parade today, but did catch some of the frivolity as you'll see in the pics and video.  The BAD thing about Carnaval is that everything closes up...even the banks....for 3 1/2 days.  It won't be til Weds (it's Sat now) til business is back up and running.   Dang it.  I wanted to paint the interior of my house and there's no way I'm going to be able to get supplies to do that until Weds.   So, somehow I'm going to have to find something to do for 3.5 days.

I will surely post more about Carnaval as it is only getting started today.  So, stay tuned.




Note the foam-covered individuals!!
video


Saturday, March 5, 2011

How's the Weather?

So, it's the first week of March, right?  That usually means (back home) still threats of snow, still ccccold, but at least the Daffodils have bloomed.  Summer still months away.

Not here.

It's what they call 'Eternal Spring' here.  Generally every day reaches the 70's and sometimes it'll pop into the 80's.  Per the records, the average temp is 72 degrees.  But, due to being at 8,000 ft above sea level, the air is thinner and the sun generally feels warmer than what the actual number might typically represent to you.  I'd say, if it says 72, it feels like 78.

When I lived in San Diego, it was sun, sun, and more sun.  EVERY day.  Believe it or not, it got old.  I got excited if a cloud passed through.  Here, you get a bit of everything almost every day.  Usually it starts off cloudy in the morning, then lots of sun through the afternoon with big billowy clouds passing aloft...the kind you want to take pictures of as they are so beautiful.   Then, about 6 times out of 10, we'll have rain at some point in the late afternoon.   Right now, it is 5;30PM and it is gushing outside.  Love the noise it makes hitting all the glass skylights in the house.  To go outside right now, you'd never know it was 75 earlier and there were thousands of people out in the streets downtown celebrating Carnaval (yes, I spelt it write!!). 

Back to it being March.  The other day I sort laughed at myself, as I was outside watering the lawn and flowers in my shorts and tee-shirt.  In MARCH!!!   Sorry, Chris...go ahead and send me the raspberries.  (to those not in the know...she's in Wyoming.  Nuf said).

Here's a couple pictures of my outing today.


River Tomebamba

Mass in old Church

Tapestries

Banana chips and typical concoction you see being sold on the streets.  Not ice cream but served and eaten like one.

The clouds I was telling you about.

Mexican restaurant in indoor courtyard.  $4.50


Skylight of indoor Mexican restaurant looking up at Church and clouds.


My Boyz (Cats) finally arrive in their new Home!!

Finally got my cats to my new house yesterday.   Since I had to stay in a hostal (hotel) for 2 weeks until my 'new' house was ready, I needed to have someone house the cats for me in the interim.  Poor guys went from (their perspective):

  • Comfort of our home in Bremerton
  • To a Jeep ride to Seattle
  • To trapped in a bedroom at Uncle Bri’s house in Seattle
  • Thrust in a kennel and bumped, dragged, examined, and rolled all over Seattle’s airport
  • Went up a moving conveyor belt into the belly of a big monster machine (airplane)
  • Heard lots of noise and all kinds of sensations in the dark (airplane taking off)
  • Got pushed up against the wall of the kennel in this big noisy dark space (airplane landing and braking)
  • Down a conveyor belt into some unknown place (Dallas)
  • Tossed around and carted all over Dallas airport and up another conveyor belt into another big machine…oh no, not again
  • More noise, and weird sensations in the dark for several more hours
  • Wash, rinse, and repeat (aka…same thing again in Miami)
  • Finally saw our Dad again in a foreign country (Quito, EC)
  • Tossed into a van and driven to God knows where
  • Stayed in a hotel room, tried to escape.  We were pissed.
  • Back in that damn van again and back to the airport (Quito)
  • All kinds of people staring at us and taking pictures.  What?  They’ve never seen cats before?    SHEESH  Still pissed off.
  • Oh GAWD….another conveyor belt….we know what happens next
  • This big machine ride (airplane) was REALLY bumpy.  Must have a lot of potholes in this country!!
  • See our Dad again as we ride another conveyor belt with a bunch of luggage.
  • Again with the STARES!!!
  • We don’t fit in a taxi (they are tiny here, so Dad orders a station wagon
  • We go to Uncle George’s.   (we didn’t even know we HAD an Uncle George!!
  • Dad abandons us at Uncle Georges for some unknown reason.  And, we have to put up with, what is supposedly our ‘cousin’, a kitten named ‘Newman’ who has WAY more energy than we care.
  • BTW….we are still VERY PISSED OFF.  We snub Dad whenever he visits us. 
  • 2 whole weeks later, Dad comes and gets us and we go to yet ANOTHER house.  He keeps saying this is our ‘new home’.  We don’t care.   We are pissed, we run away from him, we don’t know where we are, we hide wherever we can so maybe it will all go away.
  • Well, we are kinda glad to see him.  So, I guess we can maybe MAKE him pet us and MAYBE we’ll hang around close by….just close enough but far enough he can’t reach us.
  • Hmmmm….that bed Dad is in looks warm.   Wouldn’t hurt to curl up on it next to him.
  • Next morning, Dad leaves the front door wide open!!!   We can ESCAPE!!   Oddly, when we go out side, Dad doesn’t seem to care.  He would always yell at us when we did that back home!!
  • Is it okay to come out?
    Nope, I don't see a way out!!!
    What's in there?
    I'm not sure if this is a safe thing to do!!??
    I know I'm gonna get yelled at any second!!!
    Hmmm...oh well, might as well eat Dad's plants while we can!!
  • Hmmmm…nice plants.  Think we’ll snack on them.   Pretty nice yard, but we weren’t able to find any way to escape.  There’s these very high walls and we keep looking at them over and over, assessing whether we can jump that high, but determine it’s not possible.  Every time we look at Dad, he has a smirk on his face.   A couple times we thought we were in trouble whenever Dad moved, so we dashed back in the house.  But, we figured he wasn’t trying to catch us.  Something is up, and we can’t figure it out.  Oh well, might as well take advantage of Dad’s total carelessness in letting us outside.  Woohoo!!!

About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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