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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remodel...Continued

As I mentioend before (and so the remodel begins), the painters showed up and sealed all the walls and ceilings, then painted the ceilings.  I followed along and painted the walls with the final colors.  End result, 14 colors, 25 gallons of paint, 2 weeks and it's finishedo.   Colors range from mango, pumpkin, plum, brown, gold, green, and blue to name a few.  The last few sound ugly, but they are temporary.  Each of the bathrooms really could use updating with new tile.  But, I'm going to forego that for awhile.  So, in the meantime, I painted colors to go with what tiles I have...not what I WILL have because I don't know that yet.

During the process I ripped out the closets that previously created a fake wall separating two bedrooms.  Also tore up all the carpet upstairs (downstairs is all tile).  Then, all the upstairs doors had to go as the previous owners had painted white over wood...yuk.   Since new doors come with new door frames, the frames were torn off as well.  I love ripping things to shreds.  Releases endorphins I think.  But, I don't like the big pile of mess it results in.  Thank goodness my painter wanted it all.  At the end of the day, he carted off all the carpet, piles of lumber, doors/frames, old moldings, etc etc.  No problemo!!! 

Now I have bare concrete floors upstairs, no doors, but darn pretty walls!!  It was fascinating watching the 2 painters work.  They have such a hard work ethic....they just keep going and going and going...like the Energizer Bunny.   And, when it comes to engineering ways to do something, they figure it out with what they have.  I have a very tall hard-to-get-at central skylight that I had no clue how they were going to get that far up.  But, they lugged in a steel ladder and laid it horizontally between the railings surrounding my loft, topped it off with some planks, then another ladder and voila.  It would NEVER pass OSHA rules!!!

Then there was the new wall to be constructed between the two rooms.   There's no such thing as wood framing here and gypsum (drywall) is very rare.   A few other guys showed up with a truck loaded with bricks, big bags of sand and gravel, rebar, etc etc and unloaded in my driveway.  Then, they lugged all that stuff upstairs to build the new wall!!!   Up and down, up and down, they carried big armfuls of bricks.  It was weird to see sand, gravel and OUTDOOR stuff all laying out on the floor in my bedrooms!!  How are they gonna clean all that up????  They did!!  Wall was completo in ONE week.   Cost?  $780

Well, here's some photos to give you an idea what's transpired in my house over the past 2-3 weeks.

The destruction I created

In the US, we'd be thinking 'lawsuit waiting to happen'

Ummmm....did you say you DON'T have insurance???

All this is going upstairs??? 

What used to be two rooms is now one big one

Julio chipping out concrete from the existing wall, in which to embed the new wall.

What a mess.  I don't wanna look.

And the wall starts going up.  Nice and straight, too.

Not a stick of wood in it.

Now mortar is applied and smoothed out to make the finished wall.  I don';t know how they prevent it from falling off or sagging.  But, they know their craft, that's for sure.

Finished product left to dry for a few days, then paint.  I had them etch out a little niche in the wall in both rooms.   What was 2 rooms, became 1 big room, now back to 2.  And, each room is a foot larger due to the new wall being narrower than the old closets.


A shot from downstairs looking up the stairwell into the central skylight, fresh with new paint and tapestries from a local artist.  Skylight is mango and white, and the lower wall is a light pea-soup green. (not the best color name, I know)


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meet Gracie

I'm such a BAD DAD!!   A few posts back, I told you about the !%#$!@# I went through to bring my little girl down to EC from the Seattle area.  Back in Feb, I brought my two cats down and their pictures have appeared in this blog.

But, when Gracie was catching up on my blog, she blew her stack and gave me a ration of sh_t for not posting any pictures of her!!!  My bad!!

So, to complete the picture of my family here in Cuenca, I give you....

GRACIE!!!

HUH?   (those of you who are old enough....remember the Victorola dog?)

Siente Se!!!   ('sit' in English)   She's learning her Spanish commands.

How come I can't paint, too, Dad!!??


All My Children.  Gracie, Bozo, and Chip (in the back)


More on Costs

I'm constantly amazed at what such-n-such costs here versus back home.  In my last blog, I gave some stunning examples of the cost of services (ie; weld repair) and the a ripoff I experienced by a well-known plumbing service back in the Seattle area.

Well, here's some more examples of how great it is to be here.  After all, it's these kinds of savings that allow me to be here in the first place.

Now that my house remodel is progressing nicely (painting 95% done, furniture arrived) it was time to start adding the little touches such as plants.  We don't have large nurseries here, they are small neighborhood types.  In fact I have one just up the street.  A wonderfully sweet lady named Joanna owns/runs it and it's pretty rustic to say the least.  Not only did she sell me pots and plants at dirt (ha ha, get it?) cheap prices, but she POTTED the plants for me, adding dirt and even ground cover to decorate the top of the soil, and carefully wiped every pot clean.

Then I went to the flower market downtown where around the rim of it are a handful of vendors selling live plants.  A very squatty, older, indigenous woman wearing the standard Panama hat, started rattling off plant names and prices and deals, etc that did nothing but whiz over my head.  Rooted roses were $2.50 each, or 3 for $5.  SOLD.  I needed tall plants, short plants, inside plants, outside plants....everything under the sun.  So, I bought and bought and bought.  Now I needed pots (messettas).   I've never seen a shop that sells them so I wondered where I would get them.  Solution.  She marches me a half block down the street and into a typical colonial building, to the interior courtyard and unlocks an old door.  She climbs over the debris and motions me inside.  I hit the motherlode!!  Behind that door was a huge pile of clay pots that looked like a dumptruck had simply backed up and unleashed its' load.  So, I climbed and clamored and scrounged and found pot after pot....large, medium, small, flat-sided (for hanging on walls), long rectangles, you name it.

Now, soil.   Where does one buy soil?  No problemo.  She had big gunny sacks piled high filled with nutient-rich hummus composted organic STUFF.  Ok, gimme one of those, too.

End result?  Five 4ft plants, 2 palms, 2 large Hybiscus, 5 roses, 1 orchid, 25lbs of dirt/mulch, 1 diffenbachia, 2 geraniums, 1 fern, a half dozen 4-6" plants of various types, 5 large pots, 6 med pots, 5 small pots, 2 long rectangular pots, 2 wall pots (with 1 flat side).   That's 2 dozen plants and and 20 clay pots!!  Cost?  $160.  What I got would easily be over $500 in the US of A.

All that would make a guy hungry.  So, I went to lunch at a cafe on the edge of the main park.  With table service, I had a double-layered grilled club sandwich with chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and egg with potato chips.  And a latte.  Ended it all with a chocolate dipped ice cream cone.  Cost?  $4.70

I just got home from the grocery store.  When it comes to the mainstream supermarket, I don't see stunning price differences, but I have observed significant differences in the stock.  For example, there are very little refrigerated items in grocery stores here, aside from the meat section.  Milk and juices are in rectangular boxes on the shelf, eggs are on the shelf (gasp!).  AND I have yet to see ONE product anywhere that resembles Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, Healthy Choice, etc etc.  No frozen pizzas (but there's plenty of fresh pizzarias around town) and only a small section of ice cream.  Hmmm...wonder what all this says?  Absolutely no doubt, Ecuadorians are not push-button meal-makers.  They cook from scratch....like my MAMA did!!

Some of my pots-n-plants stash.  I admit, I'm a plantaholic!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Poh Puree

Anyone who knows me knows that Excel spreadsheets are my life.  I track everything with a spreadsheet.  So, naturally, I have one to track all the subject matters in my blog in hopes that I don’t repeat myself, nor forget something I wanted to write about.  So, when something pops in my mind, I throw it on the sheet.

My sheet runneth over.

So, in an attempt to knock a bunch of subjects out in one swell foop, I am going to do a brain dump, shortie style.

  • EC has what is called SOAT.  In essence, it's insurance for the victim(s) of an accident and everyone who drives a car MUST pay for it on an annual basis.  It's run by the government.  It doesn’t matter who or why the accident was caused.   Any person involved in the accident, and gets injured, receives certain benefit payments.  Simple.  Cost?  Depends on the year of vehicle and size.  But, generally $20 - $40 per year.  It does NOT cover any damage to property or vehicle(s).
  • April is RAIN month here.   Generally, when rain comes, it comes NOW.  WHOOSH, instantly without warning (except for those big black looming clouds overhead).  And, when it rains here, it comes down in torrents….gushers…the kind that makes you go to the window and look out.  Of course, with all the glass skylights, glass covered sun room, and hard-tiled roofs it makes a lot of noise! The mall nearby has metal roofing and when you’re inside it’s a loud roar when it pours.  Last week, we had a couple days in a row where there was thunder and lightening and they were BIG boomers, too!  The river near me was so full and rapid I could hear it a block away.
  • Elections are coming up.  In EC, EVERYONE 18 and over is REQUIRED to vote, or face a fine.  GOOD!!  Makes everyone be part of the decisions, not just the 29% who turn out in the US.
  • Cuencas’ anniversary was April 12th.  I went to a arts/crafts fair.  Had a 2-scoop ice cream cone for a buck.  Speaking of cost of food, I went to an open-air market yesterday and bought a pound bag of large strawberries ($1), two large cucumbers (.40 cents), and two onions (.20 cents a piece).  Today I purchased 5 DVD’s for $1.50 each.  Lunch, had a big bowl of cut fruit and an espresso for $1.80.
  • More on costs….
    • Locked myself out of house.  Locksmith came, couldn’t get it open.  I rode with him back to his shop to get other tools.  Returned and got the door open.  Cost?  $5
    • Had a guy hook up my icemaker water line to the fridge, connect a gas line to my cooktop, as well as one for the oven which also required him to run to a store and buy an electrical plug to fit to the wires.  Took him 75 minutes total.  Cost?  $25
    • The weld on the hinge to my front gate broke.  Welder came over to look at it, drove back to his place got his equipment, came back and re-welded it.  Cost?  $10
    • My lawn had reached 10-12” as I had nothing to mow it with.  My favorite taxi driver knew someone and brought him over.  An older man and a kid about 10.  Almost no one uses lawnmowers around here…not even the city maintenance crew!!  They all use weedwhackers.  So, he whacked while the kid raked.  Cost?  $10 per month which includes his taxi fare to/from.   He doesn’t own a car so he throws his tools into whatever taxi he takes. 
    • Back home in Bremerton, my tenant experienced water back-flowing out of the toilet whenever they used the sink.  Plumber came and unclogged the line.  Cost?  $350
  • With EVERY purchase at a place of business (versus a shanty or open market stall), you must give the cashier your Cedula, which is your ID in EC.  If you don’t have one, then your Passport until you get one.   Buying hardware?  Groceries?  Furniture?  Pampers?  Whip out your ID.
  • With the advent of the rainiest month, Cuenca set out to clean out their drains.  Crews went along the streets and used specially angled shovels and scooped out all the muck into a wheelbarrow, then wheeled it to a nearby spot and dumped out the pile.  Then, a truck came along and collected all the piles.  Now that I think of it, with all the downpours we’ve had, I have not ONCE seen a street or intersection underwater because of backed up drains.  Hmmm….see them all the time back home ‘flooded street closed’.
  • Perfect segue.  One of the reasons Cuenca appealed to me is because it is so clean.  Even though there is poor around, everything is kept neat and clean.  Part of this is due to the street cleaning crews.   Crews wear bright, single-colored coveralls and walk the streets pushing a 50 gallon drum on wheels and carrying a broom and/or scoop.  They pick up garbage from the ground, curbs, plazas, etc.  I’ve seen an orange crew, blue crew, lime green crew, but don’t know what the significance (if any) the colors have.  No, they’re not prisoners as they are not supervised.
  • I’m itching to buy a car.   Taxi’s are great but not so much when you want to run a series of errands, or unplanned stops when you spot something that intrigues you, or simply for getting out and exploring more.  As I mentioned before, whatever price you see, it’s the price you’ll pay.  So, if the price of the car is $10,000 you don’t have to consider….oh, it’ll be an additional $1,200 on top of that for tax.  Tax is already included.  Nice.
Ok, well I think that’s enough for now.   Knocked several off my list!!  Guess I’ll throw in a few pics for your entertainment as well.  
The river as it was when I first came here

The river after a rain gusher

Brown water river rafting anyone?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ima Pooped

Ima Pooped.  If I ever were to do drag in Ecuador, that would be my drag name…Ima Pooped.  

Last week was non-stop work on the remodel.  Tore out the closets that formed a wall between two bedrooms, took out all the painted doors and ripped off all the moldings around the doors and floors, took up the upstairs carpet, and painted, painted, painted.  The two guys I have working here are sealing the ceiling and walls with sealant tinted with the color for that room, then I came behind them and painted the final color.  Painted 3 bathrooms, master bedroom, loft area, and my office.  Hung 2 more outdoor light fixtures, finally got a guy hired to do my lawn (which was over a foot tall) which he tackled and I followed thru with weeding and trimming and thinning the flowers.  Moved my desk, computer, file cabinet, and armoire into the ‘new’ office. 

This weekend marked the anniversary of Cuenca.  It’s called Doce de Abril (12th of April).  So, everything is closed and Monday (Lunes) is a holiday.  Festivals are all over the place which include craft fairs, concerts, fireworks, etc.  I took a few hours and went with a friend and walked through several of the arts and crafts locations, enjoyed a 2 scoop ice cream cone ($1) then went for pizza afterwards and back home for more painting. 

This…all in 1 week.  Ima Pooped.

Next week?  We move downstairs and start sealing and painting the living room, foyer, and dining area, plus the guys start constructing a permanent brick/concrete wall between the two bedrooms.  That, and my new furniture is slated to be delivered on Friday.  In the midst of all this, my agent and I need to go ‘somewhere’ and get the water and electric bill changed over to me and pay for the last month.  Oh, and I need to run BACK to the bank because the ATM machine the other day didn’t spit my card out FAR enough for me to grab, so it ‘ate it’ (held it for my security).  Need to retrieve my card which is my lifeline!!!  Oh, and get a phone book.   Hmmmm….I want to check out that nursery I spotted one time in a taxi, need to get some plants for the house.   Annnndddd….need to get back to that place I found that sells piso flotantes (floating hardwood floors) and get them to come over to the house and give me a bid on new ‘hardwood’ floors for the upstairs area.  Annnnd, at some point, need to get back to those folks who make doors and see what it will cost to replace the upstairs doors I ripped out and had hauled away.

Ima Pooped.

Monday, April 4, 2011

And so the Remodel Begins

Previous to today, I worked on replacing all the plug-in outlets and light switches. The cover plates were gawd awful and most had paint slathered on them.   Unfortunately, the house is lacking when it comes to lighting.  Ecuadorians don't relish lighting like we do in the USA. Where we might have a half dozen canned lights installed, they install ONE and you're lucky it's a canned light fixture and not simply a bulb hanging on a wire which is usually the case.

So, in the cases where I DO have canned fixtures, they were discolored and ugly, so every one of them got replaced.   I also got rid of several gaggy fixtures of polished brass with flower-like shades.  UGH!!  All said and done, I replaced 32 plug-ins, 24 light switches, and over a dozen canned light fixtures. 

Today, the painters showed up to start the process of painting the entire interior of the house.  Because EC houses are generally built out of brick and concrete, there is no drywall...it is CONCRETE which makes it real fun to hang pictures, etc.  Because the walls are concrete, they are porous and need to be sealed.  If you don't, you will get variations of color depending on the porosity of any given spot.  It appears the previous owners didn't have the walls or ceiling sealed.  So, I hired the painters to seal the ceilings and paint them as well as seal all the walls, but I will paint the walls myself. 

While they worked, I painted all the black iron grids on the windows.  In the office, I actually removed the grid and painted it while it lay on the concrete floor (I had removed the old yukky carpet).  Them iron grids are HEAVY!!!

Next, I took out all my agression by ripping out the closets that were built to also double as a wall between two bedrooms.  I will be having a concrete wall constructed in place of them.

Also got most of the fireplace painted.

I'm tired.  Margarita sounds good right about now.

See pics.

Old light switch plate

Old plug-in which worked for American as well as European plugs

Fireplace - Before

Fireplace - After (semi)

What the heck, it's a concrete floor...who cares if I get paint on it?

Maids Room - Before (typical Ecuadorian lighting)

Maids Room - After

Outdoor Lighting - Before (again with the typical lack of fixtures!!)

Outdoor Lighting - After (MUCH better don'tcha thin?)

Ripping out the room divider closets

See-thru Bedrooms
And while I'm busting my butt, they could care less!  HMMPH!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Final Leg - New York to Cuenca

Yet another leg of my return to my Ecuador home that ain’t so great. 

So, last I left you, I was enroute to LaGuardia from Chicago, though I was originally SUPPOSED to go to JFK.  Got to LG (which I was told is a domestic airport whereas JFK is international).   Picked up my bags and Gracie in the kennel.  Went to the American Airlines luggage customer service booth where I encountered a very non-chalant could-care-less-she-has-a-job woman who told me the voucher I had for ground transportation to JFK was not valid as the company it referenced was no longer in business.  I needed to go upstairs to the ticket counter and have it changed to XYZ company. 

With my knapsack on my back, a cart stacked with Gracie’s kennel and on top of that the giant duffle bag, and towing behind me my large rolling bag…I headed for the elevator.  First, know that La Guardia is an old, outdated airport.  The elevator door was not wide enough to roll in, so I had to dismantle everything and put it all in the elevator piece by piece to go up ONE floor, then offload the same way.  I had not one single nerve left.

There was ONE person at the AA ticket counter who I had to explain about 6 different ways what I needed.  He finally updated the voucher and called for the car.  He said it would be there in 2 minutes and it would be #86.  I lugged everything outside and waited….and waited….during which time I was rolling all my S#!(* back and forth along the curb examining every town car sitting there.  NONE said 86, in fact NONE had any markings other than their license plates.  Where was I supposed to find the number?  I noticed across the way a bunch of cars lined up and I yelled to someone over there if that’s where I should pick up my car.  Yes.  There was no ramp, so I manhandled my cart and S#!(* off the curb and across the street and over another curb.   No sign of my car.

I wasn’t about to keep up this back-n-forth with all my S#!(*, so I left it on the island and marched back into the AA ticket counter and asked the guy where the hell is my car?  He said ‘no’ I shouldn’t be waiting across the way, it should be directly outside the doors.  So, BACK I go again and wait again.  NO car.   Furious, I again abandoned my luggage and went back to the counter and found out he had no idea the front strip was closed due to construction and all the cars were being routed to across the way.   He also didn’t have any idea where I was supposed to find 86.  GRRR!!  So, he called the towncar company again.  A lady showed up and said the kennel wouldn’t fit and she wouldn’t allow the dog inside the car.  This time, the AA agent came out to the curb and called the company and requested an SUV which arrived shortly.  Meanwhile, time was ticking away to make my flight at JFK.

The driver was very nice and so happened to be from Cuenca himself (a lot of Ecuadorians have jobs in the US…especially NYC and send $$ home).

JFK is a HUGE airport.  The driver dropped me off at LAN’s terminal.  Repeat the process….grabbed a cart and loaded up all my S#!(* and went to the LAN counter to check in.   The agent noticed I only had a one-way ticket.  I told her I had moved to Cuenca and was just bringing my dog and personal belongings down…that my immigrant Visa was being processed.  She asked me how I was going to prove that to Customs in EC?  I replied that I would show my passport just like I do whenever I’ve traveled to any foreign country.  She informed me EC has a rule that requires a return ticket be in possession when you enter the country.  BUT I’M NOT RETURNING…I LIVE THERE NOW!!!   Too bad, so sad sir…I had to buy a return ticket which, in essence, would be throw-away.   She wanted to weigh Gracie in the kennel to see what to charge me…it wouldn’t fit on the scales.  So, I had to get Gracie out and have her sit on the scales.  Then I had to fling my heavy cumbersome bags on the scales, too.   KACHING….overweight charges.   She even wanted to weigh my carry-on bag!!!  Their policy is no more than 8 kilograms for carry-on.  No other airline has ever weighed carry-on bags!!   I was so fed-up, furious, and tired, I buried my head in my hands and said ‘fine…go ahead and charge me whatever you’re going to charge me, I just want to get home’. 

Instead of collecting the assorted fees right there, she sent me to a separate counter for payment.  There I had to book a return flight to the US…doesn’t matter where…as long as it’s not EC.  So, I booked a flight to Miami for $800+ some time in June!!!   Also had to pay a couple hundred bucks for Gracie and overweight charges.   I asked about upgrading to 1st Class as I knew I would be miserable if I were sardined like the last leg, but for 5 hours this time.   The upgrade would cost $1,000!!!   Um…..I passed.

Back to the original counter, I got my boarding pass.  Luckily, the agent must’ve had pity on me, as she booked me in a row of three seats with no one on either side of me.  It was about and my flight was due to leave at .  Lonnnnng day and no nerves left.   I went to the boarding gate and grimaced at the sight of at least a dozen baby strollers and a slew of young children traveling with family.  OH GAWD…..it’s gonna be a crying flight.

The plane was a wide-body 767-300 which has 2 seats, aisle, 3 seats, aisle, 2 seats.  I was in the center 3 seats section where I could fold up the armrests and sprawl out.  Watched some TV, ate, and drank my stash of mini-bottles of al-kee-hall and finally slept.

We flew over Cuba, Panama, and arrived about .   My bags came through fairly quick but Gracie was practically last.  By that time, the line through Customs had grown from next to nothing to an eternity.  Customs didn’t ask any questions at all.   Even though your bags have to be scanned BEFORE the flight, for some reason they scan the bags AFTER, too…as you’re about to exit out of the secure area and to the waiting throngs of family, friends, etc.   This is where they took the paperwork for Gracie (remember that 10-day race?).  The guy took his copy and left me with the remaining 6 or so and said nothing.  THAT WAS IT???  I did all THAT for what was barely a blink of an eye by Customs??????

Oh, and that return ticket I was required to buy?  No one asked to see it, nor how or when I was going to leave the country.  GRRRRRR!!!

Thank gawd, my pre-arranged driver was waiting for me with my name on a placard, and a short walk outside to his van and we were off headed home. 

CUE is around 100 miles from Guayaquil.  Part of the trip is flat, then you climb up into the Andes on the PanAmerican highway.  The vistas are stunning, but I was dozing off and on.  Though my driver’s name was Donovan, it should’ve been Mario Andretti.  He was flying through all the corners (there’s tons of hairpin turns winding thru the mountains) with tires squealing on every one.  I had to hang on not to slide across the seat.  I could hear Gracie sliding around in her kennel in the back.  I kept waiting for a tire to blow on a corner.  I thought about checking his tires when we got to Cuenca, to see how much tread he burned off in that single trip.

We finally headed downward where I knew Cuenca would be appearing soon.  It was such a nice sight.  He drove me direct to my house.  Gracie, Bozo, and Chip all re-united.  I could see the happy, surprised look on Gracie when she spotted the cats.  YEA…we’re all together again!!    It was only but it felt like late afternoon.  I unpacked, showered, and took a long nap. 

Clouds above Cuenca

Ships heading up the Mississippi river
AHHHHH CUENCA!!!!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cat on a Hot Glass Roof

Ok, so it's not a TIN roof!!  But....those of you who know my kitties, know that I have a mischevious cat named 'Chip' who I inherited from my Mom (which explains his behavior!!).  

Not long after I brought my cats down to EC, I spotted Chip up on the glass roof of my sunroom!!!    I didn't think there was any way either of my cats could escape my 8ft high walls, but there he was!!!  Panicked, I demanded he get down NOW!!! Typical of Chip's personality, he ignored me. 

Then, Chip walked into the room.  HUH??? 

It seems there is a Chip twin in the neighborhood who likes to walk along the upper edges of the walls and onto my sunroom glass roof!!  This guy look soooo much like my Chippie!!!  Except for the fact he doesn't have a 'chip' out of his ear like my boy does.

Take a look at the photo's and see for yourself!!

My Chippie

Another shot of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Chip

Cat on a Hot Glass Roof

Tell me he (she?) doesn't look like Chip!!

No Name Cat or Chip?    You decide!!!

About Me

My photo
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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