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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas...you've been robbed

Depending on how far back you've been reading my blog, some of you know I purchased a Peugeot not long after moving here so I could have a car to bop about exploring, but also to help me with all the logistics of remodelling my house.

Not long after, I decided I would rather have a 4x4 SUV so I could haul industrial stuff, toss my dog in the back to go for a ride, or simply venture off onto alluring pothole-riddled roads that wind way up into the hills. 

I really like my 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee that I still own back in the States.  So, why not stick with what you know, right?   In the States, that Jeep is worth maybe $2,500.  But here in EC, they still command $10,000 even with 200,000 kms on them!!!  YIPES!!

There seemed to be far more Jeeps available up in Quito than here in Cuenca.   So, I did a lot of research online and narrowed down the list of vehicles I wanted to examine more closely, printed the info sheets along with photos, address, and contact info.   I contacted a driver in Quito who was recommended by others and made arrangements with him to drive me around Quito for $10 an hour.  This was far more efficient since he knew his way around and I wouldn't have to hail a taxi after each stop.  In mid-September, I flew to Quito with the intent of staying for 3-4 days, examining a dozen to 20 vehicles, test drives, then ultimately buying a Jeep and driving it back to Cuenca.

We looked at a lot of Jeep Grand Cherokees but, for my budget, they were high in miles, needed work or some functions didn't work properly (ie; A/C), and many of them were V-8's which was a bit overkill and gas guzzlers.

I amended my focus to Chevy Grand Vitaras since 1 out 3 (exagerating...but not by much) cars on the road in EC are GV's.   I had actually found one in Cuenca before the trip that I liked, but it needed a few things done to it.  I tried to negotiate with the salesperson to offset the costs of what clearly needed to be repaired.  Nothing doing.   He wouldn't budge an inch on price.  He would only replace 1 speark plug.   So, I was outa there and ultimately wrote a letter to the owner about the sales persons' arrogance and why they lost my business.

Back to Quito.   After looking at, and driving several....my driver and I narrowed it down to the finalist, a 2003 Grand Vitara, V-6, Automatic.  It was over my budget and it, too, needed some repairs.    In Ecuador, it is very common for people to roll back the odometer, even the digital ones.   In the province of Pichincha (where Quito is located) there is a government website you can use to enter the license plate # and see the mileage that was recorded the last few times the car was registered.   The current odometer reading was 102,000 kms.   Funny....over a year ago when the car was last registered, it was recorded at 130,000 kms!!!    We pointed this out to the sales manager and he responded 'not my problem'.   YES, it is.   The price was based on 102,000 kms when in reality the car probably had 140,000 - 150,000 kms.   He didn't care.   And, there were the needed repairs.  He didn't care.   He would only come down $500.  That's it.

I was tired, I didn't want to return to Cuenca empty-handed, it wasn't TOO far over my budget, and I liked it....so, I bought it.    I hated satisfying that bastard.

The very first night, the GV was broken into!!!   The passenger window was smashed out with a brick which also marred up some of my interior plastic.  They took my new camera which I completely forgot I had left in the glove compartment.  They also took the faceplate from my stereo which was JUST replaced by the dealer earlier that day because the previous one didn't work!   ARRGHHH!!!

The (effing) police said I should not have parked there....I should park AT HOME!!   I said my home is in CUENCA!!!   Apparently, the area I was in was considered rather dangerous late at night.  The hotel I stayed in had told me to park immediately in front of the hotel, but when I had returned at 10:30 that night there was no space, so I parked on the corner across the street....a mere 75-100 feet away!!!   It was as if the police and the hotel were blaming me for the break-in...it was all my fault because I didn't park in Cuenca or directly in front of the hotel.   GEEEEZ!!!!!  I was pissed off.

When I should've been enjoying my drive home to Cuenca, I instead went to a glass repair place.  Luckily, it only cost me $40 to replace the glass.

BUT....on my way home to Cuenca, I noticed the window was having a tough time going all the way up.  Sometimes it would just stop.   Back in Cuenca, I went to a glass shop where they informed me the shop in Quito installed the wrong glass for my car.   It was more straight, whereas my window frame had more curvature...thus, the cause of the window binding and slowing down/stopping.   Another $40 for another window.   Then, $30 for a 'new' (used...probably previously stolen) stereo faceplate so my stereo would work.

That other repair that I knew was needed ended up costing me almost $600.  It was more complicated than I had originally perceived.

Fast Forward....Christmas Day...of all days.

Last night, when I came home, I didn't park the GV in my garage.  I left it on the alley-like street directly in front of my house....which I've done before.  

Today, I went to the car to go pick up friends visiting from Guatemala, to drive out to the countryside and show them around.   I gasped as I saw the drivers door ajar.  Did I not fully close my door last night?  Then, I saw it was unlocked.  HUH?    I opened the door and everything seemed normal.  I looked around for broken glass.  None.   Everything was there.   Things that could've been easily stolen, weren't.  Then I noticed the engine hood was popped.   I opened it up and discovered a big empty space where the air filter box would normally be.  It had been removed.  Bolts lay in the engine compartment and on the ground.   Everything else seemed to be intact...even the battery was there. It seems as though someone wanted THAT specific part and nothing else. 

I examined the interior again.   Underneath the glove compartment a cover had been pulled down and several large bundles of wires had been severed.   Even though other electrical functions still worked, the car wouldn't start.    I guess it's tow-truck time in la manana.  (Update: Mon 12/26....the dealer informed me it was the GV's computer that was severed and taken from underneath the dash!!!   I can just see the $$$$ signs now.)

Weird thing is, because of all the celebration noise last night, I moved to the guest bedroom in the back of the house where it was quieter.  Had I remained in my rooom, my dog would've surely heard them and growled like she always does whenever someone is in the alley.  Butttttt.......

BAH HUMBUG!!!

Dano

Christmas in Cuenca

Well, I'm writing this on Christmas Day.    Happy Holidays everyone!!   Hey...wait a minute...I'm not in the USA anymore, I can be as UN PC as I want to be!!!   Sooooo....

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!  

My spirits aren't so great at this moment.   I just discovered a few minutes ago my car was robbed.   UGH.  Happy thoughts didn't last long, did it?   More about that in the post to follow.   I'll try to step back in time a few days and put on a brighter hat.

I wondered how an Ecuadorian Christmas was going to be compared to what I've been used to the past @#%#$* years (the number has been hidden to protect the innocent).  I got hit with a dose of 'uh oh' as far back as September when I saw Xmas merchandise hitting the store.   I thought....c'mon not HERE, too!!!   I mean, what happened to AFTER Thanksgiving?   Or AFTER Halloween?   Now, it's starts 1/3 of a year beforehand!!!  Soon, we'll be shopping for Xmas stuff before back-to-school stuff!!!

Here's some of the things I observed leading up to Christmas:
  • I spotted only a few houses trimmed in lights.
  • Only a few blocks surrounding the main square downtown had lights strung overhead
  • Since we primarily only have eucalyptus trees here, with some pines, there are no Xmas tree lots.   If anyone puts up a tree in their home, it's a fake one.   But, even that seemed pretty rare.  
  • However, the malls did a lot of decorations with giant fake trees adorned with huge bows and ornaments and various scenes tucked around the base.
  • Stores had large areas set aside to sell candy out of giant barrels...almost as if it were Halloween.
  • Lots and lots of fireworks.  Some of it was aerial sprays of colors and shapes.  But, much of it is 'cohetes' which are nothing more than loud BOOMS!!!   The kind that rattle your nerves...at all hours of the day and night.  I can do without those, thanks.
  • One store, PYCCA, normally sells a wide variety of items from plastics, housewares, artwork, small appliances, etc in their 2-level store.   I dropped in one day to find almost all their 'normal' products squished into a small corner upstairs and the rest of the store was taken over by things for kids (toys, games, stuffed animals, etc).
  • Christmas here is all about the kids.  On Christmas Eve morning, starting at 8am, they had a huge parade downtown called 'El Pase del NiƱo Viajero'  (roughly translated 'Passing of the Child Traveler').  Thouuuuuuusands of people attended as well as were IN the parade.   Lots of children on decorated horses, or in religious scenes built on the back of a flatbed or pickup truck.  The viewers crowded the narrow street so much, it was a blur who was watching and who was moving (albeit VERY slowly) along the parade route.   The paraders had maybe the width of 1 lane to travel.  Supposedly, the parade went on til late in the afternoon.
  • I really wasn't in tune to what was going on, where, and when.  But, luckily, I heard about the symphony putting on two concerts on the same night, in two separate churches near one another.  One concert was wind instruments, the other was strings.   I attended the wind instruments (horns, flutes, clarinets, basoons, etc) in the 'Old Cathedral'.  It filled up very quickly in the last 5 minutes before 'showtime'.   I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the performance and the acoustics in such an old structure.   They started off with a montage of holiday standards that WE, as ExPats, are familiar with but I don't know if it's really a staple of the Latin countries or not.   Songs such as Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, etc.  After all, if you translate the English words into Spanish words, they aren't likely to fit the musical rhythm, right?  Then they performed music I wasn't familiar with and several numbers included a very nice sounding male Tenor soloist.  After 50 minutes or so, it was over.   It was free.  It was good.
    • A gentleman approached me as people were leaving and asked me if I was the guy who writes the blog!!!   I'd been recognized!!  Actually, this was the 3rd time someone has recognized me solely by my face-only picture at the bottom of my blog...and passed along compliments.  What a nice treat!!
  • From what I've read, one big tradition at Christmas is turkey.   Since Thanksgiving is really an American thing (Pilgrims didn't land in EC), about the only time you'll see turkey in stores is around Christmas time.   Down the block from my house is a BBQ stand of sorts that fronts the owners home.   They usually roast pigs, chicken, etc on certain nights of the week.  The other day, I noticed some young people stationed at a walkup opening in the place, as if they were taking orders.   Then, yesterday, a steady stream of customers were dropping by, standing in line, to pick up their pre-ordered cooked turkey.   This went on late into last night and again this morning.
  • Ecuadorian families get together for a big dinner. It is traditional to eat stuffed turkey or chicken with various sauces, fruits, salads and rice with cheese or corn and, of course, drink wine. Gifts for children usually are placed at the foot of the bed to to open then they wake up on Christmas day.  An Ecuadorian friend told me that it is not common for adults to exchange gifts.  Everything is geared towards children, the baby Jesus, praying, helping/giving to the poor, and family, family, family.
OK...on to the photos!!!

Dano

Looking up at the ceiling of the Old Cathedral just before the symphony concert.

The Old Cathedrals' pipe organ.  Notice the figurines at the bottom.

Little kids on decorated horses.  The umbrellas were protection against the intense sun.

Colorful dancers

Folks watching the parade from their balcony.

The parade route along a narrow street.  Where do the onlookers end and the parade participants begin?

Typical float


Adorable children everywhere.

LOVED THIS!!    Instead of getting your photo taken with Santa, get it taken with a REAL Saint Bernard dog dressed in Santa garb!!!   This dog was amazingly patient!

Stuffed ponies in the park where kids can have their photos taken.

The ever-present hawker of junk.

Her younger brother was the center of attention, getting his photo taken off to the side, but I took a picture of her.

Llama and Pony (both real).

This horse was adorned with candy...see the boxes of Chiclets and Cloret breath mints?  At the back of the horse, see the pigs head with Ecuadorian flags stuck in it?  Lovely.


Horse adorned with hundreds of pieces of candy lined up in rows.


This horse was adorned with fruit, candy, ornaments, and even a bottle of Zhumir (booze).   Where's the horse?  His head is on the left side.


Inside the crates were live chickens.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day Trip - El Chorro Waterfalls

About a half hour drive outside of Cuenca is the town of Giron (Gee-rohn), located in the Yunguilla (Yoon-gee-yuh) valley.  I had driven to Giron before, but wasn't all that impressed.   When I mentioned that to a local friend, he was shocked because he thought it was gorgeous!!    Well, he was talking about the El Chorro Waterfalls just outside Giron, which I didn't even know existed.   

Even though we are in the dryer/warmer months right now, we've had a series of thunder/lightning/rain storms the past several days, so it seemed like a good time to go to a waterfall!!!

Shortly after taking the turnoff in the middle of Giron, you must pay .30 cents to continue on the road (as well as when you return).  After 6 kms, I arrived at the parking lot for the waterfalls.   I was greeted by a nice lady who informed me it cost $2.00 to park and hike to the falls.  Though one river, the waterfalls cascade in 3 huge steps.   She said the first level takes about 10 minutes to get to, the 2nd is a 3-hour roundtrip hike, the 3rd an 8-hour roundtrip hike.  I took the 10 minute.  

Much work went into building the trail as it incorporated a lot of wooden handrails and steps.  The trail is shaded by a lush canopy of trees.   If you didn't look up, you'd miss out on a real treat.  Many of the trees had tons of Bromeliads growing in them!!!

Within minutes, I arrived at the base of the first waterfall.  An arched footbridge crosses over the water as it continues down a ravine and, depending on how full the basin is, you can walk onto a 'beach' area and gaze straight up the falls.  Some people stripped off some clothes, climbed boulders to access the falling water and drenched themselves.  A posted sign stated the pool below was 5 meters deep (approx 15 ft).

After enjoying the scene for awhile, I decided to head back to the car and explore the area a bit more.  I noticed while at the falls, a dirt road across the valley that climbed and climbed and climbed a really cool looking mountain.   So, I headed for that.  I found the road in very good condition sans huge potholes, slides, or other challenges, so up, Up, UP I went.   It wasn't until I was near the top, that I finally encountered a few homes of farmers.   Geez, what we would have to pay to have view homesites like these back in the US of A , but here it's just the norm....no biggie.  No one here is muscling in to squeeze another home onto a view site, and pay a hefty price tag, because it's just no big deal here and there's plenty of it.

So there you have it...another afternoon excursion.   Back home in time for my nap.   Enjoy the photos.

Dano


A church alongside the road on the way to the waterfalls from Giron.


The 3 levels of the waterfalls.  The first and 2nd fall are above and to the left of the powerlines.  The 3rd and lowest waterfall is below the powerline, almost in the mildde of this photo.

Trail to the waterfalls.

Bromeliads in the trees!

Look closely....see the red things in the trees?  Bromeliads.



The base of the waterfalls.




Look at the top of the rock outcrop.  A couple, with an umbrella, had it all to themselves.

Looking to the other side of the valley from the waterfalls...to where I'm about to go.

Looking back to the lower waterfalls where I was earlier.


Looking back to the falls (lower left).

The road from whence I came (see the falls in upper right corner).

Looking down into Yunguilla valley where the town of Giron is located.


Big rock formation on the other side of the valley from the waterfalls.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day Trip - Biblian

Having driven past Azogues several times, I have seen this castle-like structure perched high on a hillside and wondered what the heck it was.    Only one way to find out...hop in the car and go...which is what I did one recent afternoon.

The small town of Biblian is just past Azogues as you're heading towards Canar from Cuenca.  I didn't see any signs pointing the way to this place, or even promoting it, but hey....it's high on a hill, so I just pointed the car in that direction and drove up, up, up and soon I was there.

I even found it difficult to find much information on the place via Google, aside from plenty of photos.  But, what is the story behind it?  What are the facts?   In a nutshell, this is what I was able to dig up:

It is called the Santuario de la Virgen del Rocio Biblian.  The area had severe droughts in the late 1800's, killing animials and crops.  The people of the village carried an image of the Virgin to the top of the hill in hopes she would intervene.  Rains showed up.  They built the sanctuary on that site, which was finished in 1908.  That's it in a nutshell, end of history lesson for today.

As with any large cathedral, it never ceases to amaze me the feats that were accomplished in building such a structure.  In this case, it was constructed into the side of a very steep hill.   The structure is wide, but not very deep.   As you'll see in the photos below, the side of the hill can actually be seen inside the sanctuary, behind the altar.

There are 6 difinitive levels:
  • Level 1 - Foundation
  • Level 2 - Mausoleum
  • Level 3 - Mausoleum
  • Level 4 - Sanctuary
  • Level 5 - Dome
  • Level 6 - Pyramidal cap on top of the dome
The mausoleums are very shallow with only a few layers of crypts.  I don't know if there's any rule to determine who gets to be entombed here (ie; public vs church parishoners vs church elders, etc), but there were some relatively recent burials based on the dates.  Space is limited.

Outside, cobblestone stairways flank both sides of the cathedral where you can ascend to the level of the dome and peer down into the sanctuary.   I got to enjoy traversing from one side to the other via narrow (2 - 3 ft wide) catwalks where the huge lights were mounted to illuminate the cathedral at night, overlooking the town below.   I say "got to enjoy" because there was nothing to restrict my access, much like I found when I travelled in Europe.   Walk along the top of a hundreds-of-years old rock walls enclosing a city without handrails or other protective devices?  No problem!!   No fears of lawsuits, prohibitive insurance premiums, no liability waivers, etc etc that typically cause these kinds of accesses to be shut down in America.  It's your decision, and you take the responsibility for YOUR decision!!!

Enjoy the pics!!

Dano


On the way up.


From the parking area.

Looking down on the town of Biblian from the stairway heading up to the sanctuary.

Mausoleum below the sanctuary.

A few spaces remain available, but ACT NOW, as they won't last!!!!

Figurine at a water basin (note faucet at the bottom).

The 'cat walk' (as I call it) along the front of the cathedral.

Looking down from the cat walk to my car below.

The doors were closed but there a couple of missing panes of glass, so I stuck my camera through and took these interior shots.  Good thing I didn't drop the camera or I would've been toast.   Notice at the front of the sanctuary, the exposed hillside in which the support pillars are ensconced.

Tilting my camera up (through the hole in the door) to see the dome above the sanctuary and further up into the pyramidal cap over the dome.

More cat walk.

Sure seems older than 1908.   (nice touch Dano...adding the blue trash can!!).

The external side of the dome and pyramidal cap.

Looking up the outside of the dome.

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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