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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trebol Roses

I'm a subscriber to a few online forums geared towards the Ex-Pat community here in Cuenca and Ecuador in general.  It's a means to share information as well as be informed of events such as free symphony concerts, something for sale, tours, classes in cooking, etc etc.  Recently I read a notice in one of the forums that the Chamber of Commerce was organizing a tour of a local rose-growing operation.    Well, I love roses (had 32 of them at my house in the US), so HELL YEAH!!

At 9:45am, about 25 of us boarded a modern tour bus (Greyhound sized) and set out for the country.  Once we got off the highway, we were on crude roads climbing up into the hillsides.  I kept thinking, why so far away from all the services of shipping, etc?   We got down to a 1-lane dirt road that seemed a bit steep of such a massive bus.  At one point, we had to force a guy in a pickup to back up a few hundred feet.  We did a little backing up of our own (to the gasps of women aboard fearing we would plummet off a precipice) because the bus tires were spinning out in the wet dirt.  As we approached the farm/plantation, we barely cleared the trees, poles, and whatnot lining the edge of the road.   People came out of their homes along the way and gawked at this behemoth acting like a 4 x 4.  Kids were in awe.  What the.....???  I think even the cows and sheep were baffled.  Chickens scrambled everywhere.  I swear I could hear them shrieking 'the sky is falling, the sky is falling!!'.

We arrived at a beautiful finca (farm) with a hacienda-style house with walkways lined with a zillion white calla-lillies, as well as iris's, and hydrangeas. 

The owners, a very handsome couple probably in their 40's, greeted us.  The operation has been in the family for 3 generations.  Originally, it was strictly a dairy farm, but Juan Carlos saw the opportunity to grow roses and started that part of the operation 15 years ago.  As of now, the rose farm consumes approximately 30 acres.    JC (so I don't have to type Juan Carlos) and his wife are part of the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce and opened his operation to us as a way to engage Ex-Pats and, hopefully, take advantage of the knowledge and expertise we bring to Cuenca.  Trebol Roses is generally not open to the public.  No one could agree on whether this was a farm, or a nursery, or a plantation because it had an air of charm even though it was a million-dollar business.

So, off to the greenhouses we went.  Each greenhouse housed thousands of rose bushes...all hybrid teas.  Each section was a color/breed. JC detailed their day to day operations....how every day roses are cut at the right time, every day shipments in refrigerated trucks drive to Guayaquil and/or Quito and then flown to various countries, someone inspects all the rows (with a magnifying glass) for any bugs, how certain breed names are in demand more at one time of the year than another, and now some simply no longer have a demand and are pulled up and thrown away.  ARRGGGGHHHHH!!!!! 

As you'll see in one of the photos, some of the rose plants reach 8ft tall, or higher.  They strive for LONG STEM roses as they pay more $$.   The longest is 1 meter, which is about 39" or slightly more than 3 feet long!!!  They export to many countries, aside from the US, to Russia, Argentina, Germany, etc. 

Everything is done manually, except for the fact that a lot of infomation is documented and tracked via the computer.   Other than that, no machinery is used to process the roses.   Read the captions on the photos and you'll see just how manual this entire process is.

At the end of our tour, we convened in the hacienda (house) which was a dreamers dream come true of warmth and charm.  Lots of old memorabilia and history was seen.  It was a bit chilly, so several of us gathered around an old cast-iron wood-burning stove.  We were served hot drinks (dunno what it was but it was good) and the dining table was outfitted with an array of sandwiches, pastries, and cookies common to Ecuador.   The hacienda was so charming , we threatened to not leave.  I asked...how many bedrooms???  The hosts thanked us for coming and presented us with a gift....

TWO DOZEN LONG-STEMMED RED ROSES!!!!!

Ok, do the math.   25 of us, 2 dozen roses.  They forked over 600 roses as gifts!!!

Like....OMG!!!

Back on the bus and down the winding roads and back to Cuenca, everyone was satiated by a great trip.  We were back by 3:30pm

Ok, get THIS.   
  • Bus for an hour's drive each way, to and from
  • Tour (about 2 hours)
  • Lunch/goodies
  • 2 dozen long-stemmed roses for each person
Cost????

$8

GET OUT!!!!!


Row after row after row of greenhouses nestled waaaay back in the hills far off the main highway.

Cut little church as we neared Trebol Roses.


This photo may not look too exciting because there aren't a lot of roses in bloom.  That's what you DON'T want, because each rose must be cut before it blooms, while it is still a tight bud.

The metal structure you see above us is the mechanism used to move the buckets filled with cut roses along to the sorting and boxing area.  Sort of like a manual aerial tram to move the cut roses along.

These things are TALL!!!  I'm 6ft.  (ps...bad hair day)

Those paper sacks are placed over buds to give them warmth and speed along their development, especially if that particular breed/color is in high demand at the moment.

After cutting, the roses are placed in a cage box to keep them upright and separated, then the cage is sunk into vats of water which contains chlorine to keep bacteria from damaging the flowers.

No automation here.   Every single rose is taken from the 'cage box', stripped of its lower leaves, then held up to a placard (which she is doing here) to measure the length.  Based on the length, they are manually sorted into different racks based on size.  The longer the rose, the more $$ they command.

Though it looks like a dozen, there's actually another dozen enveloped in the same bundle.  The top portion of the flowers are protected by cardboard wrap and dividers.


Would you believe these are THROWAWAYS!!!   Because the bloom has opened too much.

In the refrigerated room, ready to be placed in cardboard boxes and loaded onto a truck, bound for who knows where.

Ok, so it's not a rose, but this sucker located at the entrance to the house was about 4ft in diameter!!

View from inside the house to the gardens in back.



The 2 dozen gifted roses on my dining table

Located far off the highway, way back in the rolling, green hills of Ecuador.   A long ways from the nearest HomeDepot!!!!  (there ain't any)


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Return Drive Home from Salinas

The return trip from Salinas to Cuenca was a breeze (except for that time the cop pulled me over...oh, and that big-rig rollover accident).  I made great time.  It took about 6 hours to get to Salinas from Cuenca and that included all the downhill traveling out of the Andes.  But, coming home only took me 5 hours and that included all the UPhill driving back into the Andes.  I was buzzin along at 110 to 120 through all the flat areas!!  Calm down Mother...that's KPH, not MPH.   Translated, 120 KPH is only 72 MPH.   I SAID CALM DOWN!!!

Travelling in the Andes is a different experience every time because of the cloud layer.  Sometimes it's thick and you wonder when you'll ever climb (or descend) out of it, other times it's very thin and you're on the other side of it in no time, and yet other times (though rare) it's clear and sunny the entire way.  This time, I was through the cloud layer in the lower levels, so all the upper driving was crystal clear and OHHHHHH what scenery!!   You can't help but be redundant in your reactions while driving.  Turn a corner 'OMG'.  Around another bend 'OMG!'  And, you find yourself re-positioning your jaw from open to closed over and over.

What ticks me off is 'they' haven't developed a 3D digital camera for the average Joe/Jane yet.  The pictures forthcoming just don't do it justice.  What I saw and what is displayed here are waaaaay different.  The impact of the scale of heights as well as the depth of valleys and ridges just don't convey.  So, look deeply at the photos and look for the teeny tiny spots that are houses to give you a perspective of the true grandeur.  If your software has it, use the Zoom feature (sometimes a slider down at the bottom) and scroll the photo back and forth, up and down.

Oh, almost forgot.  The cop.   Wellllll....on my way TO Salinas, I got pulled over right out of a toll station because I idiotically picked up my cell phone, (following instructions of the people I was swapping houses with), to inform them I was at that junction.  Woops.  After checking all my paperwork, he let me go.  Whew!!

That was TO Salinas.   On the way FROM Salinas, I got motioned over by a cop parked on the shoulder because I did a U-turn to get to the other side to enter a gas station.  The U-turn area across from the gas station was closed off due to re-paving so I used the next one nearby...even though it had a No U-turn sign.  But, geez, I would've had to travel another mile or two before I could turn around.  How silly.  Woops.  After checking all my paperwork, he let me go, too.  WHEW!!!  And, I didn't even have to fork over any payola!!

On to the photo's......

Taken from about 10,000 ft at a roadside cafe perched at the edge of the world, looking down a few thousand feet.  Note the white speck out there is a house.

Note the clusetr of homes down below.  The green tinted glass on the left is where the dining area of the cafe is.  Talk about a view of the world!!

See that dot to the right of center in this photo?  A small house.



The line you see horizontally slicing through the hill is the highway I'm on.

Whoopsee.   He must've been coming down too fast and oversteered in order to flip this way!

Nearing the summit at nearly 13,000 ft things get more scrub-brushy and big rock outcrops. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Last Day at the Beach (Salinas)

Waaagghh, boo-hoo, yea!!

Tomorrow I return home to Cuenca!!! A 2.5 hour drive to Guayaquil, then .5 hour traversing the city, then another 3 hours up, Up, UP into the Andes and home.

Speaking of Guayaquil (perfect segue), I dashed into GYE and back in one day on Friday.  When I was coming back to Salinas in the early evening, I saw brakelights ahead and whirling police lights, so I slowed down.  When I came to a stop, I was the 2nd car back from a crowd of teenagers blocking the 3 lanes of the highway going my direction.  I thought there was an accident.  But, it appeared to be some sort of demonstration.  When someone tried to break through the mob with their car, they were quick to respond and prevent any crossing of the human line.  On the other side of the highway (divided by a shallow ravine median), the traffic was moving freely.  What the???  Then, the youths started dragging branches and pieces of wood onto the road to further prevent crossing.    That made a few other drivers uncomfortable and they started backing up....to WHERE???   It's not like you can get the quickly accumulating crowd of cars behind you to all back up simultaneously!!!    That maneuver left me in FRONT of the blockade.  GRRREAT.   I backed up a bit to create a bit of distance between me and the crowd.   Next thing I knew, they were lighting the debris on fire.  GRRREATTT.  A few feeble attempts amounted to nothing, but then it took hold and we soon had huge flames.  The half dozen (or less) police present were just hanging about, not doing much of anything.  I guess they didn't want to provoke them further.  By now, the other side of the highway was blocked, too.  Meanwhile, I'm not sure what to do or not to do.  I just decided to stay locked in the car in case someone wanted to take advantage of this gringo and make me the Rodney King of Ecuador.  So, I decided to make like this was a big drive-in movie and got out the big bag of chips I just bought and started munching.
 
No one had placards conveying their message, so who knows what this was all about.  But, I do know the area is lined with colleges and these appeared to be college-age kids, so maybe there's a connection there.  More police arrived, and by 'more' I'm guessing another 6 or 7.  More hanging out.  Suddenly, people who had gotten out of their cars to see what was up, started running away from the group and I thought 'oh no'...but they were running back to their cars as they seemed to know something was about to occur and maybe traffic would get through.  The police, sans any riot gear, apparently moved on the crowd and forced them off the road while at the same time putting out the fire and kicking the debris aside.  As soon as there was an opening, drivers hit the gas and the stampede was on....driving over the burning embers and to FREEDOM!!!!   I saw someone indicate to me that the crowd was throwing things, maybe rocks, and I wondered how many dents or broken windows I might end up with, but I got through without a scratch.  It was nice driving back with no traffic ahead of me!! LOL

Ok, that was a major digression from the subject of this story, but it was worth it.

Now, to the beach.

The last few days have been very nice weather-wise.  About 80 degrees (26C) and low on the humidity side.  Friday was a national holiday, so that meant hordes of people from the city headed for the beaches for a 3-day weekend.  I spent my last few days on the beach, soaking up the rays, watching all the people (lots of families and kids) as well the constant parade of hawkers selling their wares.

For 2 bucks you can rent a chair and umbrella.  Plop down and watch the whole scene.  Here's a list of things you can buy at any given moment as hawkers walk the stretch beach  back and forth, repeatedly calling out their product::
  • sunglasses
  • clothes
  • snocones
  • cotton candy
  • beer
  • empanadas
  • jewelry
  • hats
  • coconuts (with milk inside)
  • ice cream
  • ceviche
  • potato chips
  • arts/crafts
  • inflatables
  • corn on the cob with cheese (ewww)
  • temporary tattoos
  • langostinos (jumbo shrimp)
  • langostas (lobster)
  • rides on the banana thingamabob behind a boat
  • jet ski rentals
  • ....and much, much more!!
Many of the hawkers have 3-wheeled umbrella'd carts with wide bicycle tires they push back and forth on the beach.

After the beach, I headed for my favorite roadside outdoor seafood place situated in a cluster of a dozen or so others covering a square block.    It was hopping due to the weekend crowds, so they had extra helpers in the form of kids.  I don't mean 'forced child laborers'.  These were family kids who were enjoying helping their parents and/or older siblings.  My 'server' was 11 years old.  He took my order, got me another beer, cleared my table...all with a smile...especially illuminated when I handed him a tip. 

I mentioned it before, but this time I had 20 (a double order) butterflied, breaded shrimp, skip the rice and salad, but substituted papas fritas (french fries) for $10 plus two 20oz Pilsner beers for $1.50 each.  YUM!!   While eating my meal, hawkers were selling fresh jumbo shrimp and lobsters.  I bought 2 pounds of shrimp ($10) and 3 small lobsters ($10).  YUM!!

Enjoy the pics....and a video this time (when you run the video, click Full Screen in the bottom right-hand cornder)!!  WOOHOO!!

The 'mob scene'


Bozo meets a lobster


An 'ocean' of red umbrellas cram the beach

Ride the banana towed behind a speedboat!!!
SnoCone cart vendor pedaling around the streets and neighborhoods offering up a cold treat.


Ice cream carts

SnoCone cart


This vendor is showing off for me.  He takes a machete to hack open the tops of coconuts and hands it to you with a straw to drink the milk.

Sunglasses anyone?

Jewelry is everywhere.

The cluster of open-air seafood dives.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I have over 10,000 ____ (select the correct answer)

Choose (only one) from the following possible answers to the question "I have over 10,000 _______":
  1. cells in my body
  2. cents in my IRA account (thanks USA Gov't)
  3. bites on my body from my stay in Salinas
  4. dogs in my neighborhood that bark incessantly
  5. idiots living in the city who don't know how to use their car alarm
  6. taxi drivers in the city who obviously don't know what the lines on the streets (or highway) mean
  7. views of my blogs
  8. salty sea shells from the seashore south of Salinas
  9. dog and cat hairs stuck in my cars' upholstery
  10. shares of Bank of America stock, now worth almost nothing
....and the answer IS!!!
  1. I would be dead
  2. Pretty darn close given the recent plummeting and general downward spiral of the economy in the USA
  3. I would be dead.    No, really, I only have about 30.  ONLY!!!
  4. Dog-gone close!  But, since they're all running around in the streets and everywhere else, who can count them when they won't hold still!
  5. Again, hard to count.  But, my guess is....waaaay more.
  6. I honestly think they know what the lines mean.   You're supposed to straddle them, right?
  7. If you selected this as your answer, you done good.  Congratulations!!
  8. Nope.  They're all from NORTH of Salinas.
  9. Sorry, I just don't have time to count them all.  But, I'm bettin by the time I get back to Cuenca carrying my 3 kids in the car, I will have 20,000+ and only 4,829 will come out with the vacuum.
  10. What kind of a dumbass do you think I am?  Why would I hold stock of a company who's responsible for outsourcing thousands of USA jobs to other countries, thereby contributing to the demise of our economy???   HMMMM????
A great big THANKS to all of you who've read my postings thus far and another big THANKS for the many comments and compliments you've posted.   I'm very flattered.

Now, on to ONE MEEEEELLION!!!!

Dano

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coastal Stories

I'm still in Salinas.  BUT, the owners of the house I'm staying in have graciously agreed to reduce my sentence...errrr...ummm....trade our homes back a week earlier than planned.  They are thrilled with Cuenca and now know they want to move there.  So, as one moron president once said "Mission Accomplished". 

I returned to Montanita for an overnighter.   I filtered it down to two places I'd choose from to stay at because both were right on the beach and both had swimming pools, too.   But, when I arrived, the first place I stopped at, Hotel Montanita, was clearly run down and in need of TLC.  The pool was NOT inviting.  So, I went to my other choice, 'Charos'.  It was far nicer.  Nice lush gardens, nice pool AND jacuuzi, and for $30 my room was right on the ocean with a balcony outfitted with a hammock.   The only negative was the shower situation.  You never know what you're going to get in these small towns with poor/outdated infrastructure.  Sometimes you have no water pressure, most times very little hot water.  Well, oddly enough, my water was SCALDING hot (I kid you not) and there was very little cold water to mix in with it.  It's usually the other way around.  The cold water came out of the tap in a trickle.  The hot water was fresh from some rapid boil close by!!!

After checking in early in the afternoon, I hopped in the car and drove just a few blocks out of town and took a dirt road headed for the Canopy Lines (aka Zip Lines).  I really need a 4x4, not a Peugeot hatchback.   About a mile back, into the jungle-like hills I climbed and arrived at a thatched hut.  I was the only customer there (this was a Tuesday).   No one spoke English which seemed odd given this is a touristy town.  But, I was able to extract that they had 9 zip lines and the total cost for doing all 9 lines was $20.  WOW!!!   Anywhere else, I would expect it to cost $100.

This was my first time doing a zip line.  A new adventure to add to my already-accomplished list of piloting my own plane, skydiving, hang-gliding, parasailing, shooting myself into the sky from the roof of the Las Vegas Stratosphere, and other throw-your-body-into-oblivion experiences I've had. 

In case you don't know what it is, I'll explain.  Someone stretches a thick cable between two hills, usually several hundred feet apart and as high in the air as possible.   Sort of like a tight highwire.  You have a harness strapped around your butt and lower torso, which is then connected to a pulley which travels on the cable.  In this case, I was on a high platform and a guy pushed me off into oblivion, and I rode the cable, in a downward slope, to the other end where a rudimentary brake system slows you down to a stop in the last few feet.   Once unhooked, you climb a set of stairs (this was exhausting) to reach a higher point, get on another cable and ride it another direction.  If designed well, the plan is to keep going higher and higher, and steeper and steeper the slope (higher speeds) until you arrive back at your starting point.

After the first ride, they gave me two options for the next line.  Superman or X-Man.   There were two guys...one to go ahead of me so he could check out the line as well as receive me on the other end, and the other guy to follow after me.   The guy who went first, showed me what X-Man looked like.  WHOA!!!   It meant flying across the zip-line upside down (head pointed to the ground) with my legs up in the air, spread out, and my arms spread out pointing to the ground....my body in the form of an 'X'.   Ahem.  Cough Cough.   Well, I was upside down and my legs were spread, but I didn't have the guts to completely let go of both hands...just one at a time....because I didn't understand what would keep me in the harness!!!

Ok, 3rd line.  This time, Superman.   After some kinky/funky body contortions to get into position, involving one of the guys who'd be connected to me and riding with me, I was facing the ground again, but instead of straight down, I was horizontal like Superman flying.  Off we went, me flying like Superman (more like flapping my arms like an albatross).   It was strange because I couldn't see any structure in front of me as the harness and hooks were behind and above me, so I was flying face first.   Then, coming into the landing, I thought I was going to eat dirt as my face came within about a foot of the landing surface. 

One more line and I was finished.  I wazzuhpooped.   9 lines would've wiped me out. 

Then they offered me to do the Tarzan swing.  Huh??  We hiked over to another platform where a cable was connected way out over a valley to another line.  I was hooked up and with a lot of tugging back by the other 2 guys, I was launched.  OMG!!!   First off, the line I was connected to was not taut...it had a long curvature to it.  So, when I launched, I dropped straight towards the ground until the line took up the slack, then swung outward.  !@$#%&*!#!! (expletive).  I swung like a pendulum out and back and side to side with about 100 feet drop below me.  I finally belted out a Tarzan yell that would make Carol Burnett proud.

Exhausted, I drove back to the hotel and took myself out to dinner in one of the sidewalk restaurants, big burger, fries, and 2 grande beers.  $6. 

I enjoyed some hammock time before going to bed.  I had to drown out the constant roar of the crashing waves with my A/C, but then I had the constant drone of the A/C, so luckily I brought earplugs and all was well.

Next day.  After breakfast, I drove up the coast about an hour.   The topography became more and more jungle-like with large hills that ran down to the beaches.  My destination was Puerto Lopez, a small town on a crescent-shaped bay, known for it's fishing as well as the starting point for whale-watching tours and excursions to Isla Plata, an island about 1 hour away refered to as the poor mans Galapagos Island where unique sea and bird life exist, you can snorkle amongst coral reefs, etc.  But, it was a bit of a gloomy wet day, so I changed my mind and decided to head 'home' to Salinas.  On the way back, I saw two people riding the air currents along the beach in parasails.  I pulled over to watch them.  They landed smack dab in the middle of the 4-lane highway....skidding in on their butts!  LOL!

Today, I had hoped to lay in the sun on the beach after running a few errands.  But, as I drove by the malecon, the entire stretch of beach was lined with police positioned about every 50 feet and NO ONE on the beach.  They were obviously keeping people off the beach for some reason.  I wondered...tsunami warning?   Well, the internet at the house wasn't working so I had no way to research it.   Someone mentioned an earthquake in a neighboring country and the police were worried about large swells.  I haven't yet been able to verify what the real story is.

In lieu of the beach, I stopped by my favorite seafood hut/restaurant/dive/shack.   Seafood is king here.  The place I go is a cluster of eateries taking up the whole block, all under ramshackled roof, and all open to the streets.  Hawkers flash their menus in your face before you even get out of your car, wanting you to eat at THEIR place.  I decided the busiest one was the safest one (food doesn't get old).   I had a plate of 8 large butterflied, breaded shrimp, rice, and lettuce/tomato/avocado salad and another one of those large beers.  Cost?  $6.50.   While 'dining', hawkers wandered through the tables selling sunglasses, bracelets, jewelry, CD's, DVD's, and even fresh lobster (still moving) and jumbo shrimp.   I bought 3 CD's at a buck a piece, and a DVD $1.50.  All of them are piratedcopies but that's essentially all there is here.  Get this...the lobsters (langostas) were $2-$3 a piece and the jumbo shrimp (langostinos) $5 a pound.

I might need to get me some of dem before I leave Salinas!!

I really don't find hammocks all that comfortable.

The dirt road zig-zagging up the hill to the thatched headquarters of the Canopy Line.  That's one of the zip line cables I rode in the picture.


One of the guides coming in for a landing.  Take note of the height of this line by envisioning a car on the road below.

That's me doing my 'X Men' immitation above the jungle forest below.

Amazing the effort it must've taken to set up these lines in the first place.  Each line was several hundred feet in length.

The surf outside my room at night.

Just an hour north of dry, barren Salinas area, the topography morphs into jungle. 

In Puerto Lopez, there are no yellow taxis.  Only these motorcycle-based 3-wheelers.


Puerto Lopez bay dotted with fishing boats which are no more than extra-large wooden dinghies.

Where there is seafood, bamboo thatched huts serving fresh ceviche, beer, and trinkets line the beach.

Looking down upon Puerto Lopez.


Cool beach outside Puerto Lopez complete with a 'shipwreck'

Spent some time examining the rocks and seashells on a remote beach.  Beautiful colors and patterns.  Lots of jewelry and necklaces are made from these.

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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