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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Recent Events

Hola!!!

Just a few ramblings about events in recent days. 

CUE - GYE - CUE in one day

Robert and Franny, from New York state, purchased my house some months ago and we've become friends.   They are one of the bold ones who shipped all their worldly goods in a container from New York to Ecuador.  I couldn't imagine doing it what with all the granular tasks you must perform such as listing EVERY item in the container and their value right down to the number of spoons.  And, the bureaucracy....one goof and you could screw the whole process up.  And, the packing so things arrive in the same condition they left.   And, the waiting.   And, the cost.

When their container arrived at the shipping port in Guayaquil, they had to go down and sign papers in person.   Every day the container sat there, no matter the reason, was costing them $90 a day.

F&R don't own a car, so they asked me to drive them down there and back in one day.  We had fun in the car while they enjoyed the spectacular views going over the Cajas.  I only scared them once when a bus decided to dare me to get back in my lane from passing before colliding.  It is VERY common here that drivers don't give-in even if it may mean death.   I SWEAR!!   One time I was passing a car and decided it wasn't going to work and tried to return to my driving lane...the traffic wouldn't let me in!! They honked their horn at me!!  I digress.

We got to hot/humid GYE  and met up with a coordinator who led us out to the marina.  20 minutes later the papers were signed and we were back in the car to drive back to CUE.   We did stop at a nice mall and had lunch at Chili's, a very American restaurant.

To break up the trip back, we stopped a few times for photo-ops and a bit of shopping for fruits and plants at roadside shacks.

We left CUE around 7:30am and I got back to my house at the same time...but PM.   Twelve hours...ugh....my head was spinning from all the zig-zaggy driving down to GYE (from 8,000 feet to 13,000 feet to sea-level), then back up to CUE (from sea-level to 13,000 feet and down to 8,000 feet).

Robert and Franny tasting various products the vendor gave them.


On the way back up to CUE, we stopped to admire the clouds and topography that we had just driven through.


Franny taking a photo.  Robert was off smokin a cig.  BAAAD ROBERT!!!!




Gettimg Internet Installed

I've spent a lot of time getting internet accounts set up and water/electricity accounts switched over as a result of moving and buying the 2 rental apartments.  I've got the processes down pat now. 

When I purchased my first apartment, I had to hurry to get Internet established because I had a guest coming soon thereafter to apartment-sit and take care of my feline kids while I was in the US of A.  ETAPA, one of the internet companies, was backlogged and couldn't come out until almost 10 days later.   When they did, I opened the door and there standing before me were two 'kids' with knapsacks ready to do the installation.   They looked 14!!!   I turned to Peg, my guest, and said 'Honey, the kids are home'!!!

We watched as they did the installation.   There was NO WAY any of this could've/would've occured in the States.   First, they said the phone line in the apartment was not their company's so they couldn't use it.  What?  You mean there's a physical line for each and every possible company?  EEEESH.   That meant they had to string their own line.  Now, in the USA, this would've halted the job right then and there, a new appointment would have to be made for a different crew to come out, and the 'special' circumstances would've cost hundreds of dollars.

First, let me give you an image.  There are 40 units in the complex.  My unit is in the back of the complex on the 4th level.  The electrical room, where all the connection/hubs are, is located in the front of the complex on the first level.  I thought...they're going to string a line all the way from the front of the building, back, and up to my place???  Yep.   These kids strung a line up walls, pillars, and railings to get to the ROOF, then slung the wire along the entire length of the red-tiled roof, then dangled it outside the back bedroom window where it was pulled in and connected to the WIFI router!!!!   Job done!!!!   Mind you, OSHA would've had a fit, they had no safety belts or ropes.  The company would've had a fit because it took 6 hours.   The condominium Board would've had a fit because internet lines strung across the roof is against the CC&R's.  The whole job was against standard protocol, but THEY GOT IT DONE!!   And, at no additional charge.....just the regular $28 installation fee.   As another blogger writes when she signs off...."Cuenca, gotta love it!!!"

TIMMY!!!  You get down off that roof right NOW!!



Peg (from Seattle) and the 'kids' checking their installation.

Yours truly checking www.speedtest.net for download/upload speeds.


Christmas Festivities

The ExPat population here in Cuenca make sure some of the traditions they're used to back home continue here.   For example, some of the restaurants owned by ExPats, and some that ExPats frequent, put together Thanksgiving dinners.  

Last week I attended a Christmas party.  Yes, we say CHRISTMAS here because that's WHAT IT IS and we're not slaves to being politically correct.  Anyhoo, Sterling, a well-known ExPat, hosted a party on the roof of the apartment building where he lives.   It has a huge patio with stunning views.  We watched the sun set and then downtown Cuenca took on a whole new look.

Steeples of Santo Domingo church

View to the Cajas, though a bit blurry.

This may not seem like much, but everything you see here you can't see from the street.  There are so many buildings like this where you only see the facade on the street but have no idea what goes on behind it.   This is almost one square block of hidden treasures.

Rooftop view over to the New Cathedral



Stormy looking clouds out East.

Looking across and down the street from the rooftop patio.

Santo Domingo church steeples lit up at night.



Party crashers.  Chris/Kim from England (or is it Finland?), Cathy from the big D,  A, double L, A, S (she swirls ice), and Ed (from San Diego via Iran...of course!).
Regina playing bouncer at the front entrance.



The Villa San Carlos also put on a party.   I went to this place a few months back for a party featuring several local artists.   The villa is drop-dead gorgeous.   It's one of those hidden gems that you'd have no clue how nice it is simply by what you see from the street.   It's a real treat.  And, it's directly across the street from my latest rental apartment purchase, so if I were to get slosshed, I can just stagger across the street and be 'home'.

There were many large tables of 10 expertly decked out with linens, a glass for water, a glass for red wine, and the 'proper' glass for white wine and the mandatory array of silverware ranging from large to tiny.  How many spoons do I really need?  They had a large buffet loaded with shrimp, caesar salad, sauteed vegetables, turkey, ham, beef, mashed potatoes, stuffing and an array of sauces, chutney, and breads.   Our wine glasses were regularly topped of by very a very attentive wait staff.  Then came desserts...3 too choose from, or have one of each.   Luckily they were small portions since I went to the buffet line twice.  We gabbed about our pets, the performances around town, the recent fundraiser for a pet shelter, and how good someone looked after her facelift 3 weeks ago.  All for $25 (the food, not the facelift).

Guess which one had some 'work' done?
Tonight I went to see the symphony again for their CHRISTMAS concert.  This time it was held at a recently remodeled theater on the University of Cuenca campus.  The theater reminded me a lot of Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus where I first started performing in Seattle in 1989.  Same layout, same size, same feel.  A lot of ExPats were in attendance (they're easy to recognize).  Silent Night was special because, when I was a member of the Seattle Mens Chorus, we closed our nightly Holiday concerts with that song, but a double-special version in that there was another song co-mingled with SN called 'Peace, Peace (Peace on Earth)' with beautiful lyrics and on the 3rd round, we performed the lyrics in sign language...completely silent.

Afterwards, I went for a walk along the river.  This year, the city put up approximately 200 lighted shapes such as bells, flowers, angels, etc along the river walkway for about a 6-block stretch.  The trees are also backlit in various colors.  With the barranca (embankment) in the background lined with traditional Ecuadorian architecture, it's really a sight to be seen.  

Then, over to a nearby plaza where giant figurines lit up with swirling lights loomed over the baby Jesus in, yes, a lit up with swirling lights manager.
Illuminated figurines along the river.



On both sides of the river.


Cuenca Symphony




Hmmm....looks like someone who got laid off from Walmart and decided to retire to Ecuador!

Wash Day

I'm always fascinated at the number of people who come out on a sunny day and wash their clothes, blankets, etc in the rivers around Cuenca and lay them out on the lawns to dry.  Sometimes they bring their cows along with them to graze in the park while they do laundry.


Dano

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm in a Tilta-Whirl State of Mind

There is soooo much going on!!!  

I’m in the middle of moving out of my house (that I’ve only been in for 4 months) due to excessive noise from 4 dogs, 5 cars with very active alarms, and one 3 year old kid who’s screams are akin to an ice pick being shoved through my ear drums…well, the one that still functions anyway.

I’m in the middle of moving to a ‘new’ house in a semi-rural area just a few minutes outside the city.  By ‘new’, I mean it was built 3 years ago but never finished.  The owners finally decided to dust if off, finish the job, and rent it out.   It needed all new paint inside, light fixtures, switches/plug-ins, closets built, holes patched, water heater, handrailings on the stairs, plumbing fixtures, and appliances.   The dirt road in front of the place had been built up long after the driveway portal and gate were done, which put them about 20 inches too low.   So, the owners also needed to tear down the portal, raise the gate track, and rebuild the portal.

Oh, and that leak in the ceiling from the upstairs toilet because they installed it without a wax ring.   Which also means they probably need to rip up the downstairs toilet, too for the same reason.   They also need to have new cabinetry built to accommodate the refrigerator, oven, and microwave.  I designed it and gave them the specs. 

When I first viewed the place over a month ago, they said ‘no problemo’ to having it ready by the 15th of December.   HA!!  A week before the 15th, I checked the list of things to do and only a couple got marked ‘complete’.  

A lot of things did get done last week.   I had the entire interior painted by my team I’ve used many times before.   Looks great.  Electrical fixtures are in and functioning, though the owner picked some really UGLY fixtures for the kitchen and bedrooms.  I mean….c’mon…..they look like those glass canning jars for preserves!!!   Guess I’m going to buying some nicer ones myself and swap them out.

I was lucky my timing was perfect in that the kitchen cabinets weren’t quite done and there was this space to the left of the sink that called out to me….DIIIISSSSSSHHHHHWAAAAASSSSSHHHHERRRRRRR!!!   I asked them if they would cut the cabinet out and tweak this and that so a dishwasher could fit in there.  Plus, add electrical and plumbing (minor detail) and I would buy the dishwasher.  OK!!!  YEAAAAA!!!!

Like many rentals here (and sales, too) the renter must provide their own appliances.  ICK.   The owners are providing the cooktop, extractor fan, and will pay me back (by reduced rent) for the horno…errrr…oven.  So, I went to my friend Jimmy, who I purchased appliances from before at a nice discount, and announced ‘I need some more’!!   He winced and told me ‘oh Dano, if only you had come last weekend…we just had a 30% off sale’!!!   But, for me (wink, wink) he would extend the offer.  So, I purchased a washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and oven from him….at 30% off!!!!

One man was doing most of this fix-up work which meant for slow progress.  He rebuilt the entire driveway portal by himself.  One day, I saw him cutting rebar with a hacksaw.  He had to cut at least 50 pieces about 8” long to create a grate over the driveway drain.   I’m used to seeing Ecuadorians doing things very manual and labor intensive without any complaint, especially when there are faster methods out there.  Examples:  using a machete to clear weeds along the highways versus a weedwhacker, using a weedwhacker to maintain ALL the greenspace in the city then HAND raking up the cuttings versus using a mower and blowers, using a hacksaw versus using a power tool with a metal cutting blade.   I went to the hardware store and bought a Black & Decker saw and blades and gave it to him to use.  If anything, it was a selfish move on my part to just speed up the process of getting the long list of to-do’s done quicker.  Am I an Ugly American for doing that?  (don’t answer).

All the while this was going on, I finally closed the sale on my 2nd short-term rental apartment on Nov 13th.  This was a process that started back in July!  I needed to get it ready for renting.   It’s a modern apartment in a 3 year-old building.  So, it’s not like I had to do a bunch of remodeling.  Even though the sale included everything in it (furniture, appliances, artwork, etc) it didn’t include any of the kitchen stuff, bed linens, or towels.   I had an Excel Spreadsheet (naturally) of almost 150 items to buy from spoons, to pots/pans, to toilet paper, to sheets/blankets/pillows, to foil, to salt and pepper, to those clips that keep open bags of chips closed (as IF I ever leave some for a 2nd munchfest!!)….you get the idea.

BUT, I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have keys to the apartment!   Yes, when we were at the Notary office for the signing, I said to the group consisting of the seller, seller’s agent, my agent “do I dare ask if anyone thought to bring the keys?”  Answer:  “No”.   I was fuming mad primarily because leading up to this had been a failed attempt to do a walk-through.   I hadn’t seen the apartment since JULY and wanted to inspect the interior BEFORE closing.   But, as usual, real estate agents here (even the reported best ones) fail miserably when it comes to LEADING their clients through the process.  Only because I’ve had quite a lot of experience in real estate over the years, was I savvy enough to bring up things that the agent should have already had on their check list of standard to-do’s.   Things like:  are the property taxes paid current and provide proof, proof water/electric are paid current, pro-rated rent, transfer of security deposit, scheduling a walk-through, gathering all copies of the keys/remotes, etc, orientation/handoff of the property (ie; where’s the water shutoff valve, how does the security intercom work, which one is my bodega (storage unit) etc etc. 

Even leading up to this part, we had some bumps with the sellers who, seemingly, forgot what they agreed to back in July.   We agreed on XX price, $3,000 less than asking, which was to include YY things in the apartment but not ZZ, and they were inventoried in (you guessed it) an Excel Spreadsheet.   After a few months, the seller decided he wanted to sell the ZZ items for, gee what a coinky-dink, $3,000.   Looking at the inventory of the ZZ items, I didn’t think they were worth it.  I could fill the gap by purchasing my own stuff for less.   Well, the seller didn’t like my counter offer.   He was thinking he was selling the items that were actually already included in the original accepted offer of XX price (such as the refrigerator, washer/dryer, cook stove, etc) for the additional $3,000.   Noooooooo!!!.    Of course, did we have signed agreements backing this up?  Noooooo.   It was verbal.   At least, however, everyone else (but the seller) remembered this and told him so.

Here comes the clincher.   We closed on Nov 13th, right?   No keys, right?   No walk-through even AFTER the closing, right?  I handed the sellers a check for XX dollars, right?   Me gettie NADA.

The tenant in the unit, and the seller, had previously agreed that the renter would move out on the 30th of November.   December 1st came along and, I still didn't have keys handed over to me.  I appeared at the security desk to see if maybe the tenant left the keys behind when he moved out.  Nope.  In fact, the security guard informed me the tenant asked the seller if he could stay 4 more days and the seller said ‘yes’!!!   EXCUSE ME!!!!????  Senor Seller…you DON’T OWN THE PROPERTY ANYMORE!!!

By this time, my blood pressure was setting off alarms.   warning....WARNING....PULL UP, PULL UP!!!!!

Oh, it gets better.   Wait for it.  WAAAAIT FOR IT.  

The seller collected the November rent from the tenant which paid him up to December 1st.   The seller sold the property on Nov 13th.   So, the rent collected from the 13th to the 1st should be mine, right?  He shouldn’t keep rent for a period of time he no longer owns the property, right?   Will he transfer that pro-rated amount to me?  "NO".

The seller was holding a security deposit on the unit.  Once the unit was sold to me on Nov 13th, I became the new owner and therefore the decider of whether the tenant gets the security deposit back based on the condition of the unit when he vacates it.   Will the seller transfer the security deposit over to me?  "NO".

This meant if there was anything wrong with the unit that I had to fix, it would come out of my pocket because the seller would return the security deposit directly to the former renter.

I didn’t get the keys to MY property until the 4th of December.  

Since then, I’ve bought all the items on my 150-list, fixed some plumbing issues, cleaned everything inside and out, top to bottom, did some accent painting on blah walls, got internet set up, mounted a TV and DVR on the wall downstairs and she’s ready for booking!

Dano

The house I'm moving into.

Need some handrailings.

Driveway portal being rebuilt.

Closets to go here.

Need some paint, light fixtures, and switches.

Across the street (dirt road)

Handrailing (check)
Paint (check)

Bedroom closets (check).

New driveway gate portal (check).

Neighbor up the hill behind me.  Not bad, eh?

The rental apartment loft landing (before)

Loft landing after a splash of new color.

Apartment loft bedroom.

Before

After a mini-makeover.

Front door to apartment after I added a little highlight.


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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