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Friday, March 30, 2012

Observations - 4th Edition

Time for another round of observations.   After all, the longer I'm here, the more I'm apt to experience differences between what I'm used to back in my homeland and here in Ecuador.  Observations.  MY observations, MY experiences.   I'm not bitching, I'm not ranting that they should change their ways to match what I'm used to, I'm not bashing, I'm not even whining.   These are just things that pop into my head as a 'hmmm...well, whaddaya know....that's interesting'.    And, who knows, maybe others who are reading this and considering a move to EC may find it enlightening.  Those reading this that already live here may think 'hey, me too!!'.

Here we go!!
  • Out on the highways, I'm baffled a lot at the speed limits.  They just don't seem to make sense, and virtually no one pays attention to them, probably for that reason.   I can be on a highway that, yes has its twist and turns, but the average person is travelling 80 kpm (50 mph)...but the signs say 50 or 60 kph (30 - 35 mph).  If we all drove at that speed, we'd fall asleep.    There are long stretches of straight highway on the way to Riobamba where it is normal to drive 100 - 120 kph (60 - 70 mph) but the signs say 60 kph (35 mph)!!!!  I've seen many in-town arterials posted at 30 kph (18 mph).  C'MON!!!
  • It is very rare to see the equivilant of highway patrol cars on the highway system.  Few and far in-between.   Likewise, it will be a blue moon if you ever encounter a speed trap or patrol car sitting somewhere ready to pounce on you for a traffic infraction.  It's almost impossible to engage in a car-chase because the police have the same vehicles as the public.  They don't have 'muscle cars'.
  • I have yet to observe anyone pulled over for such things as a blown-out tailight and/or headlight (everyone in EC would be getting a ticket), speeding, running a stop sign/light, using a cellphone, or not wearing a seatbelt.  Heck....it's normal to see a family of 4 riding on a motorcycle, child in front of father who's driving, baby schmooshed between wife and him, then the wife on the back...all without helmets!!!
  • It is very common to see pigs, cows, horses, and sheep munching the grass along the shoulders of the highways.   Owners simply have a rope around their neck....uhhhhh...the animals neck...then stake the rope into the ground.
  • No matter where you are in the hills or countryside, you will run into a church that anchors the center of even the teeniest, tinyest village.
  • Dogs roam free EVERYwhere here.   I would guestimate 7 out of every 10 dogs I see have titties-a-swayin in the wind.  Reminds me of those gizmos on office desks...you know those steel balls hanging on strings?  You pull one back and let it go and the whole row of balls starts knocking back and forth?  Well, envision two parallel rows on a female dog who's just given birth.
  • Don't even try to return anything in a store.  What is ultra-common back in 'the homeland' is generally not accepted here.  It's a big deal.  Stores do NOT want to take things back and they will try their damndest to tell you 'no'.   It's one of the reasons they drag everything out of the box and, in front of you, demonstrate everything works.   This includes light bulbs and small appliances....plug it in, push the button...WHIRRRR!!!...yep, it works.    Yesterday, I purchased a $7 shampoo dispenser for my shower.  They took it out of the box, looked it over for cracks, etc and pushed the squirt button and showed me yes, indeedy, the button when in and out.  Then they showed me the little packet of screws lest I return the item claiming the screws were not included.  Then, I signed off.
  • Car warranties are voided when the vehicle is sold to someone else...regardless if the time/mileage is still within the manufacturers stated period.
  • When you buy plants in stores or nurseries, they don't have those little plastic stakes that tell you whether they are a sun/shade plant or if they should be in a dry or wet soil.   No info at all.
  • Using your debit card for a purchase?   No such thing as cash-back.
  • Traffic signals are quirky here.   I've encountered many intersections where there is a Stop sign AND a traffic light.   Hmmm....so if the light is green and there's a stop sign, too....what are you supposed to do?  Or, if the light is red and there's a stop sign, too....can you proceed through the red light (while the opposite traffic has a green light) as long as you stopped first?   Confusing.   Today was a new one for me.  I was looking at a traffic light that had both green and red illuminated.  HUH??
  • Here, clerks in stores, attendants at parking kiosks, and order-takers at fast-food counters are almost always naturally friendly, not forced-friendly.  They don't need a script to say hello or goodbye or rattle off  'thank you for shopping at Easyway Mrs....uhhhh....ummm....(desperately looking for the name on the receipt) Mrs Nunofurbusiness'.   Idiot marketing folks (with DEGREES!!) from big corporations back home seem to think the public will be pleased and impressed by someone spewing a memorized, scripted, slog of kiss-butt.  'Thank you for calling, it's a wonderful day at Hines Chevrolet of Rancho Cucamonga, my name is Maxine, how may I direct your call?'   'Parts please'.  Here, they may have the most redundant job from hell, but you'd never know it as their smiles are genuine and whatever they say is earnest in nature.  Even taxi drivers.  I say 'Gracias' when I depart and they typically thank me back by saying 'and to you also' (in Spanish).
  • ATMS here are still a bit behind the times.   There's no such thing as being able to make deposits via ATMs.
  • On our 'circle trip' earlier this month, I kept seeing a sign posted at bridges that said '48T'...over and over and over again.   At first, I thought it was a number assigned to the bridge for identification purposes.   But, when I kept seeing the same number repeated I didn't know what it could be.   I think I figured it out.  It's probably stating the weight limit for that bridge.   Problem is....it's posted right AT the bridge.   So, if you're driving a truck and whipping along and you're overweight....oooops....too late.   Kinda like the maximum height posted at overhead bridges.  By the time you're notified, the top of your load is already being sheared off.
  • Speed bumps.  OMG...Ecuador LOVES their speed bumps.  I'm not talking about in parking lots, I'm talking about on the highways.  Granted, they are there generally to slow you down as you approach a town, though the town, and just as you leave.  But, they aren't always marked.  Some highways are better posted than others, so you can't always rely on the fact that because it is well-marked on highway 25, that it will also be so on highway 77.   Some are blacktop (can't see at night), some are blacktop painted in stripes, some are mounds of dirt, some have signs warning you it's coming up in 100 meters, some have warning signs but there's no bumps, some have signs AT the bump (good when you're going 50 mph), and some are.....SURPRISE!!!  GOTCHA!!!  I've slammed into a few...not good for the front-end alignment.   Generally, I try to watch ahead to the vehicles in front of me.   If I see their hind-ends leap up, then I'm prepared.
  • Signage.  BWAAAHHAAAHAAA!!!  WHAT signs?   Ok, there are SOME, but they are sorely lacking in many areas.  That is....that's MY perspective when I compare it to where I'm from.  For instance, you can arrive into a large city that has a sign pointing that-a-way to the next city you're headed for, but that's it...that's the last sign you'll see....there's no more help after that point.   Though a different kind of situation, I was recently exploring outside of Cuenca.  I spotted a sign as part of the Cajas National Park system, which pointed down a road to a lake where you can hike, fish, etc and it was about a mile or two away.   I took the road.   It was impressive that someone 'paved' the road with hand-placed smooth river rock, about 6" - 8" in size, the entire distance.  Even though it looked charming, it was not at all charming to drive over.   Someone would be smart to open a business at the end of the road providing front-end repair, wheel balancing, and front-end alignment!!!   But, I wanted to see the lake.  After slowly rumbling along for quite awhile, I arrived.  IT WAS CLOSED!!!   Do you THINK they could've placed a sign at the beginning stating that and spared people from wasting their time (and their jumbled nerves) for nothing?  I ruhhh--rrruumm---rrrrrummmmmbled back to the highway.
Well, at least I took a couple of photos along the way, so here they are.  What a segue, huh?

Dano

Sing along won'tcha?   "Over the River and thru the Woods, to the Big Lake that's Closed!!!"

One of the many tributaries headed to be one of the 4 rivers that traverse through Cuenca.

The stonework was impressive, but not nice to drive over.



Along the way were a man and his young son with their fishing poles headed to catch some trout out of the river. 
Aunt Bee was probably back home bakin pies.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Grab Bag

My Mom has had a lot of garage sales in the past.  When closing time nears, she starts assembling 'grab bags' of miscellaneous items from the sale and posts a cheap price.  Buy the bag and get the surprise of whatever is inside!

Well, so goes this post.  I have lots of little subjects laying around, nothing to write a whole lot about, and most of them have no connection to one another.   So, let's start jumping around in my 'grab bag' brain shall we?

Costs

Awhile back, a person left a comment to one of my topics which focused on the cost of things.  She asked:  'Would you please post an update about your cats? Food? Vets? Litter?'   Ok.   My boys are doing great, they love their new house and walled-in yard.  Vets...there's lots of them around, but I haven't had the need to visit any for either my cats or dog.  ProCat 17lbs dry food $20, Tidy Cat 20lbs $15, Dry dog food 33lbs $22.   (check that one off).

Satellite TV

I recently bailed on DirectTV services.  Even though they had a lot of channels, the handful available in English did not have much programming I liked.   I mean, I LOVE The Simpsons, but I can't handle 3 hours of it every day!!   On the flip side, I HATE Two and a Half Men...the stupidest show on TV, but regularly the highest rated, which tells me something about how dumb-downed society is becoming.  The Kardashians is almost better, but BARELY.  I digress.   And, many of the shows are episodes from a year or more ago.  

When I went into the offices to cancel, they put me on the phone with a person who's job it was to retain my account.  He went on and on and on kissing my butt (during which I was banging my head on the lady's desk I was sitting at....causing her to laugh because she knew what i was going through).  He ultimately got to the meat of his point by offering me a whopping $7 a month discount for 6 months and a few extra channels thown in.   Whoop-tee-do.   'No'  'Set me FREE!!'   'Let my people go!!!'  'Free me from the binds that DirectTV enslaves me!!'.  Ok, a bit dramatic, but after telling him I still wanted to cancel, he then offered they would store my equipment in the back room of their offices and MAYBE I knew a friend who wants to sign up for DirectTV and I could simply transfer my account over to them!!  'I don't have any friends...I'm an Ugly American, remember?'.    He tried valliantly....he went down in burning flames and I won.

Medical

I had another medical experience this past week.   Back in November, I signed up for medical coverage with Coopera (see past post in archives) for $2.63 per month.   They require a few months of paid premiums before they provide coverage.  

I made an appointment to see the doctor to find out if any of my existing prescriptions were covered.   I was able to see her the next day.   They don't cover hormone medications, nor anti-depressants, but they do cover cholesterol medications.   However, they will only fill a 30-day supply at a time.  I can either buy the medication at their pharmacy down the street and get it for 80% off, or I can get it filled at my own pharmacy and submit the receipts and get reimbursed.  The cost for my visit with her was $2...sort of like a co-pay.

Coopera has 1 doctor (who also speaks English) and 1 dentist at their main offices in San Joaquin, a neighborhood in an outlying area of Cuenca.   If they are not able to meet my needs, I can see my own doctor or specialist and still be covered.

Since it's been a year that I've been in Cuenca, I have not had my regular blood tests that my USA doctor always monitored for me.    The Coopera doctor recommended a panel of 6 tests.  I could go to any lab I wanted to.  I went to a lab at Mt Sinai hospital and, for $45, got the blood tests done with the results available the same day.  Coopera will cover the cost of the blood tests IF the test results show a medical need (ie; cholesterol too high).  If the results come back in the 'good range', then the cost of the test is not covered.  Interesting.

Speaking of Coopera

Coopera is involved in several lines of busineses such as organic farming, grocery stores, credit union, medical/dental, restaurants that serve their products, etc.   Their grocery stores are a nice source to buy healthy, organic products.   But, what drives me NUTS, is the fact they don't post their prices on a LOT of their goods!!   Wine, oils, pasta, desserts, marmalades, coffee, and many, many more items are sans price.   Chicken, fish, seafood, fruits and vegetables are all priced...why not the other?  It is true of all their stores I've been to.  I've been to several and each time I'm there, I ask someone 'where is the price?' and each time, the clerk smiles and runs to the checkout person, has them scan the price, and returns to me and announces how much it is.   EEESH!!!   I don't think I'm being overly 'Ugly American (or insert any other country name)' by thinking everything should be priced (just like it is in every other store I've been to in Cuenca) so I can make my decision as I shop and not stop to find someone to run and get the price for me every time I run into a product that's unmarked.  

Being a member of Coopera and, therefore, having a vested interest in their business success, you would think (oops, there I go again...thinking) they are losing business because people will forego buying many products not knowing how much they cost.  And, some people may even stop shopping at Coopera out of frustration and have a more positive experience elsewhere.   

Before I get whacked over the head for A) complaining, or B) not doing anything about it, or C) writing about something negative because my posts should contain solely positives about Ecuador...because no negatives exist...riiiight, or D) trying to do something about it but I shouldn't because it's the culture and it's always been that way and it will never change unless the natives want it/initiate the change and because I'm a foreigner my suggestion has no merit and I should be complacent because I'm a guest in their country and they are my hosts, or E) all of the above.......ummmm.....where was I?

Oh.....now I remember....I did contact a person in Coopera who represents most of the English-speaking members.   He, himself, finds it troublesome they don't post a lot of prices (as do other Coopera employees I've spoken to).  And, he has forwarded complaints as well as written his own email to management describing the frustrations (regarding the lack of pricing) his English-speaking clientele have conveyed to him.  

Silence.

Rain

Last year we got over 70 inches of rain!!!  The norm for Cuenca is about 29.   It looks like we've started off 2012 in the same direction as 2011 as we are 60% ahead of our normal rainfall thus far.   UGH!!!   I'm from Seattle which is tormented with the image of 'it rains all the time there, doesn't it?'.   No, it doesn't.  In fact, it gets about the same amount of rain as Chicago, Boston, NYC but it doesn't have the same bone-chilling winters or hot/humid summers.  I don't know why Seattle gets such a bad rap.   Funny thing is, the next thing out of a visitors mouth is usually 'But it is sooo beautiful and green there!!'.   Well, how do you think it gets that way??  RAIN!!!    I'm just glad when it rains in Cuenca it POURS...not dribble, dribble, dribble.  But, I doubt the folks in the hills and those with dirt access roads would agree with me, as they get a lot of muddy runoff.

Enjoy the photos.  They don't have diddly to do with anything I said above.  Just more 'Grab Bag'.

Dano

Out exploring neighborhoods the other day, I encountered this plank bridge (no railings) to cross a roaring river to get to a fairly populated area!!  EEEEK!!

The river the plank-railing-less bridge crossed.

A church on the road leaving Banos headed to Ambato.

Another church in a village on the way to Ambato.  In the village, there is a stretch 3-4 blocks long of nothing but stores selling jeans.

Approaching the town of Alausi, this large statue looks over the village below.



Hmmmm....anyone know the guy??
Carolina Park in Quito

Carolina Park ice cream vendor

Carolina Park has a lot of soccer fields, basketball courts, lagoon for pedal-boats, running paths, and this fun area for bicycles.

All the vouchers I had to buy and display to cover one evening of parking in Quito

I was inspired by this statement.   ;-)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Trip - Círculo de Viaje

My new friends (George, from Antigua, Guatemala and Raul from Cali, Columbia) who were visiting Cuenca the past few months were spending a month in Banos.  I visited them a few weeks back and wrote a blog entry about it.   We talked about the idea of making a ‘circle trip’ up to Quito, over to the coast, down the coastline, to Guayaquil, then back up to Cuenca where they are scheduled to leave on Weds, March 14th.   All this, though, depended upon my car being repaired in time.  It was finished in time, albeit 2 days before their deadline to be out of their Banos apartment on March 1st.   At the last minute, we agreed the trip was a ‘go’ and I quickly found a 2BR apartment in Quito to rent for 4 days so we’d have our first place to land.  I also made arrangements for my 12yo dog-walker and his parents to come by my house each day and feed the kids (the four-legged kind).

I drove to Banos on Thursday and stayed with them on their final night.   The next morning, after packing their bags and having breakfast, the 3 of us hit the road headed for Quito.   Quito is about 120 miles to the north.  Again, one can’t calculate how long it will take to drive because you can’t presume an average of 50 or 60 mph.  Various stretches of road are different…sometimes only 2 lanes, sometimes 4 lanes, sometimes straight, sometimes hairpin turns.   Most roads invariably spill into small towns where you have to traverse through stop lights and come out the other side.   The one good thing about this segment was it didn’t involve a lot of dizzying twists and turns…it was pretty much straight road.

We easily found our way to the colonial center of Quito and to what was the perfect location of our apartment.  On the 4th floor, we had a fully-furnished modern 2BR/2BA apartment with all the amenities, awesome view, parking garage, and even an elevator in the building (rare here) for $60 a night.  We only had to walk 2 blocks to start taking in all the sites you’ll see in the photos below.  We stayed 3 nights, dining out, cooking/eating in, walking through cathedral after cathedral, climbing the Basilica (see prior story), etc etc.  

On our last day, we drove up to a large angel-like statue on a hill overlooking the city.   El Panecillo (little bread loaf) hill is a lump in the middle of the city.  On top stands a 150 ft winged Madonna known as the Virgin of Quito.   She stands on a globe-like pedestal, holding a chain tied to a dragon at her feet and is stepping on a snake.   We climbed up inside the pedestal where we saw the interior framework, historical photos of the construction, and other artifacts.

Back in the car.  We headed for the coast.  We didn’t have a clue how long it would take us to reach the coast because, again, we had no prior knowledge of the types of roads, how many towns we would have to go through, altitudes…nada, zip.  We were explorers!!!

Just outside Quito we entered jungle territory.   We turned, curved, swerved, veered, and twisted around what seemed like an endless array of winding mountainous curves.   We were treated to lush landscape of palm trees, banana palms, and elephant ear monster-sized plants along with waterfall after waterfall after waterfall.

We finally descended out of the hills and onto the flat lands without anyone in the car puking….though are heads were still spinning.  George followed along on the map so we could visually see our progress in inches-accomplished and inches-to-go. 

In Santo Domingo, we pulled into a huge KFC for lunch and a bit of rest.   It was the first and ONLY fast food joint with a drive-thru I’ve seen yet in Ecuador. 

Driving through the area of Chone was bizaare.   Heavy rains caused LOTS of muddy slides and had closed the highway a few weeks before.  Chone was still under water.  We saw houses in low-lying areas halfway under water.  Half of the town streets were still under water.  

As far as the road goes, we experienced just about everything.   There were stretches of new, wide road…then it would be reduced to something wider than 1 lane, full of potholes that I expertly darted (tossing my passengers about like dolls), then become nothing but dirt and gravel, then new pavement, then back again.   We had no clue how long we were going to have to endure this…all the way to the coast?  Another mile?   My nerves were getting frayed.   This went on for probably an hour.   I kept saying 'THIS is the highway to the coast?'.   It was more like a back-country road headed to Farmer Johns' spread.

Now we were coming up against the loss of daylight.   We decided to forego heading up to Manta, Bahia de Caraquez, and Crucita....places I know little about but have heard mentioned many times in various Expat postings.   I do know Manta is a big tuna port and now they have a cruise ship terminal.   Already we were trimming our trip agenda.   Onward to Portoviejo and Jipijapa (which I nicked name Jiffy Pop) then over to Puerto Cayo where we would finally arrive at the ocean, then down the coast to Montanita where we planned to stay overnight.  Crossing from Jiffy Pop to Puerto Cayo in the dark was a test of my abilities to avoid surprise slides that only seemed to be located on a curve.   Visualize:  driving around a corner in the dark, no warnings, no orange cones, no flashers and voila....a mushy pile of dirt, rock, and vegetation ooozed across your lane.  SURPRISE!!!    I scored a 100 (misses, that is...not hits).

We arrived in Montanita around 7:30pm.  It was verrrrry humid and the small village was hopping with people milling about the streeets in surfer shorts sans shirts, bikinis, flip-flops, and slurrping down beers.  Open-air restaurants were full, too.   This, on a Monday night.  Montanita is a party town of the young set..surfers and new millenium hippies.   I fit right in....HA!!!  High season is December through March/April.  

The hotel I stayed in before was booked.  We didn't make reservations beforehand because we really didn't know where we would end up...if we would make it all the way to Montanita from Quito in one day.  The owner made a few calls for us and walked us down to another hotel where a room was available for $40 but it had no AC nor pool nor jacuuzi like his business establishment had.  And, it was smack dab in the party zone, thus more nighttime noise.   It was on the 5th floor.  We lugged our baggage up 65 steps to our room, dripping wet with sweat.    Even though we had windows on 3 sides of our large room, there was little breeze.  UGH.

A quick fresh-up (if that was even possible) and we headed out for dinner and beers.  I should've ordered two large beers from the get-go as I chugged the first one down like a glass of water.   Sweat was pouring out of my head and dripping on the table.  I HATE HUMIDITY!!!

The next day, we WERE going to go to Puerto Lopez and take the 'poor mans Galapagos' boat tour ($45 per person) to the island Isla de la Plata, but after talking to the tour salesperson, George decided it wasn't as interesting as he had hoped for.  Yes, there were weird looking birds but he'd seen birds before, and yes you could snorkle, but he'd done that before, and the whale-watching season had passed, and it would be an all-day thing, 90 minutes boating to and 90 back.  He was hoping to see tortugas....large tortoises, but we were told there weren't any.   So...we nixed it, stayed in town, and enjoyed the beach.   While roaming around, we ran into two women from Cuenca we knew.  Later that day, we rendevoused with them at a shack bar on the beach and enjoyed several cocktails and yummy food while the sun set.  The mosquitos thoroughly enjoyed dining on me.

The next day, it was only George and I that continued on.  Raul's cousin, from Columbia, was also in Montanita.   Raul is a clothes designer and she was wearing much of his designs.  Someone commented on her clothes and she told them they were designed by her cousin Raul.  They wanted to meet Raul as they owned a store in the area and might be interested in carrying his line.  So, Raul stayed in town to have meetings with them over the next couple days.   Later, he took a bus to GYE, then another to CUE to catch up with us back home.

At this point in the trip, I was now in familiar territory.  I drove to Salinas to show George what it was like and we had a seafood lunch at my favorite beach shack (from when I stayed there for 2 weeks back in August).  

Again, we amended our plan and decided to head straight home to Cuenca instead of checking out the town of Playas between Salinas and GYE.   We were a little fried from the beach and decided another beach town was not the best idea.  We left Montanita around 11:30 am, had lunch in Salinas, then drove the rest of the way home to Cuenca and arrived back at my house close to 7pm.  A very smooth trip with lot of open highway where I could enjoy flying along at 70 mph, that is until we got to the point of climbing into the Andes but, again, it was familiar territory so no biggie.

It was nice to be home after 7 days and 930 miles on the road.  Gracie was beside herself to see us.   The cats, well....they didn't give a rip.

Enjoy the photos.  Since I've already posted photos of Banos and Montanita in previous blog entries, I didn't re-post them here.  Just look back in the archives if you want to see them.

Dano

The 'White House' of Ecuador....The Presidential Palace


A Monastery

A beautiful old theater in Quito. It had a fire awhile back and they are attempting to restore it.  The interior motif was breathtaking.

Over the interior lobby of the theater.

'Just' another beautiful building in the old colonial area of Quito.

Church

Inside that church....dripping in gold

Looking up inside the dome.  The floors were very creaky in this building.  Every step you took could be heard by everyone.

More of old colonial Quito.

One of 3 churches inside a huge convent.


Another 'church' inside the convent.  It was soooo quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Look at the ceiling!!

Closeup of the ceiling.

Closeup of the dome above the altar.

Another church on a hill we climbed, and climbed, and climbed....to reach the level where the Basilica was.  Remember, we're at nearly 9,000 feet.   Only to find out the Basilica was DOWN the hill from us!!!!

The view of Quito from the Angel.  See the Basilica (with two clock towers) on the left?  That's the sucker we climbed!!!

The angel on the hill overlooking Quito.

The pedestal the angel stands on.  You can climb up inside to the intricate black railing encompassing the base.

Stained glass window in the pedestal base.

Inside the sphere the angel stands on.  Each of those square, aluminum pieces are numbered and assembled in numerical order.

Sunset on Montanita beach.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Car Update

I know you all have been sweating it out, waiting to hear the status of my car repair after being broken into on Christmas Eve and the computer (that runs the car) ripped out of it.   Well, TWO MONTHS later…I finally was reunited with my Grand Vitara.   First, Chevrolet said it would be ready Feb 15.   Well, that came and went…nada.  Then they said Feb 22.  That came and went, too.  Then they said the part would come in on Feb 25 and the car would be ready Feb 27th.   Of course, I challenged them as to why they kept coming up with dates but nothing would happen.  They shrugged.  I said ‘don’t you KNOW where the part is?’ because there should be tracking, right?   Nope.   ‘Then why are you picking dates out of seemingly thin air?’.  No explanation.   I wrote to the parts manager a couple times as well as left several phone messages of which none were responded to.  

Time to file a complaint with the Customer Service Division at the head office in Quito.   I received an automated reply confirming receipt of my email, a reference number, and text about how important customer satisfaction is to them.   Long story short….never heard back from them after that.

Next, it was a visit to the manager of the Servicing department where my car was.  Juan Carlos was super nice and accommodating and oversaw my service from that point forward.  I told him 3 of us were planning a week-long trip in the car starting Thursday, March 1st….the car needed to be done by then and tested well enough that I could feel confident I wouldn’t break down in the middle of nowhere.  Long story short, I got the car handed over to me on Wednesday, Feb 29th.

Originally, it was estimated the repairs would cost nearly $5,000.  Thank goodness, it came in less than that and Juan Carlos threw on a last minute 10% discount out of pity for me, bringing the total cost down to $3,452.   

Later that day, while my car was being inspected for insurance coverage, the horn didn’t work.  So, back to Chevrolet on the way out of town the next morning, to get the horn fixed.  No charge.

The End (Fin)

Dano

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This Would Never Happen in the USA

I am in Quito as I write this.  Friends from Guatemala and Columbia are about to return to their homes after a few months stay in Ecuador.   I FINALLY got my car fixed and returned to me after 2 months waiting.  At the very last minute, we decided to take a 'circle trip'.   I drove from Cuenca to Banos to pick them up, then we drove on to Quito to spend 3 nights/4 days there....in a 2 bedroom fully furnished and equipped apartment I found online, smack dab in the heart of the colonial old-town area, just a few blocks from the Presidential Palace (equivilant of White House).  

Yesterday, after wandering around the colonial area dripping in beautiful churches, convents, hotels, museums, and whatnot, we hiked up the hill to the Basilica.   For $2, we were allowed inside where we could climb the steeple and see the stunning vistas of Quito.   Years ago, when I backpacked Europe, I went from cathedral to cathedral and climbed their steeples for their views.  I thought this would be the same type of experience.

OHHHHH...were we in for a BIG SURPRISE!!!

It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas.  On July 10, 1892, the first stone was placed.  Between 1892 and 1909, the Heart of Mary Cathedral was constructed.  The building is noted for its grotesques in the form of native Ecuadorian animals, such as armadillos, iguana, and Galapagos tortoises.  The Basilica is 492 feet long and 115 feet wide. It is 98 feet high in the sanctuary, and 377 feet high in the two frontal towers.

We entered a spiral stairwell and began our climb.  Oh...don't forget...Quito is at 9,000+ feet, so air is a valuable commodity.  In a short while we spilled out onto a landing area with admirable views.  Nice.   Photos.  Click Click.  Back into the stair well and up, up, up. 

Next, we landed in the area behind the huge round stained-glass window (white arrow in photo) at the front of the Basilica.  Stunning.  I turned around and gasped at what was our next adventure.  There was a lonnnnnng catwalk that traversed the length of the cathedral but, get this, over the top of the soaring, 100 ft high ceilings of the sanctuary!!!    Stop....think....envision.....you are inside the cathedral sitting in the pews, and you look up to the arched ceilings 100 feet up above you.   On the backside of those ceilings, is a catwalk YOU CAN WALK ACROSS!!!!   A simple planked walkway about 3 feet wide with simple rope railings beckoned us to the other side.

We all managed to get to the other side....some taking the opportunity to mimick being a model on Project Runway.  At the end, was a steep ladder with rungs made of thick re-bar.  Going up didn't seem so bad, but coming down seemed STRAIGHT DOWN. 

At this end was a steeple-like structure that looked somewhat like a spaceship where, if you dared, you climbed two more ladders to a round landing where you can take in the 360 view.  Those stairs looked too steep for my taste and I chose to forego.  Besides, we had yet climbed the steeples in the front of the church which would place us much higher than this structure, so the view was only going to get better.   Kids went up/down these ladders, ladies in low-heel shoes and....ummm...you might say they were glad they wore underwear for their visit.  Not a single person was supervising these areas and there were no restrictions for age, footwear, heart conditions, waivers to sign....nothing....nada.  You were on your own.

Next, we returned to the front of the church via the catwalk over the sanctuary below.  Then, back into the spiral stairwell and arrived at a charming cafe (lavendar arrow) where you could have a snack and sit at the windows more than 100 feet above ground.  

Another level, a gift shop (blue arrow).

Another level and we arrived in the chamber where the clock faces and mechanisms were housed.  A tight steel spiral staircase led us to a catwalk where we were at the same level as the hands of the clock (yellow arrow). 

Back into the spiral staircase and up again we went to the chamber of the bells (black arrow).  I stood on a box and reached up to ropes that were connected to the bells and yanked on them.   CLANG!!!  CLANG!!  CLANG!!! rang out across Quito by the hands of yours truly.

You'd THINK that would be it, right??  Nope!  We, and others that came after us, kept gasping "MORE??".

Up another darn-near-straight-up rebar ladder, we crawled onto the floor of the LAST stop in the steeple (red arrow).   We had only the tip of the steeple left above us, where we were prevented from entering.  We were probably at nearly 350 feet above the ground.  It was spooky and you couldn't help wonder how they monitor all the little concrete ornaments that adorn the church...to know they are secure and not going to topple off and clobber someone on the ground below?   Even some of the gargoyles that hung straight out from the sides looked a bit iffy.

Ok, let's go back a sec.  Remember me mentioning the fact this would NEVER be allowed in the USA??

1.   A simple plank walkway laid down over the top of the ceiling, with basic rope 'handrails'....not supervised, anyone could attempt to go outside the 'rails' and test the stability of the ceiling structure itself.  No age restrictions.  No capacity limitations.  Nada.  Nothing.
2.  Very steep ladders made of re-bar.  No age restrictions.  No restrictions on the type of shoes worn.  No supervision.  Hundreds of feet up from the ground.  No protections whatsoever.  In one instance, one rung of the ladder was missing. 
3.  Again, hundreds of feet up from the ground.  Nothing prevented anyone from walking off the beaten path and onto any surface of the cathedral.  No cameras, no security, no supervision.

Fear, liability, lawsuit, insurance, waivers, warnings, restrictions, etc etc would simply kill this experience in the USA and it would never be allowed to happen.  But, here....you are expected to take responsibility for your OWN actions, know the risks, and make your OWN decisions.  Thank Goodness!!!!

Enjoy the photos of our climbing expedition!!!

Dano







Nearly 500 feet long and 377 feet tall.



The front doors.

Just inside the front doors.  These arches are about 40 feet tall.


To get the feeling of the size of the interior, notice the person walking down the center aisle.  Also, take note of the top point of the ceilings.  We'll be walking across those in a bit!!




The catwalk across the top of the ceiling of the sanctuary!!   The exterior ceiling is comprised of rebar grid supports and aluminum ceiling tiles attached to that to give the exterior roof a scaly shingle look.


Raul climbing the first set of steep steel ladders.

Then, the next two set of 'straight up' ladders lead to the platform in the next couple photos.

The catwalk is inside the steep-pitched roofline, then you climb up the ladder and onto this spaceship-like structure.

This platform is reached via the two aforementioned ladders.  Notice the idiot casually sitting on the ledge!!

Another view of the spaceship steeple from our vantage in the steeples in front of the cathedral.

Some of the MANY animal fixtures jutting out from the sides of the cathedral.  If you look at the previous photo,  you'll see them high above the heads of the folks on the viewing platform.
The cafe.


Spiral staircase leads to the catwalk behind the clock faces.

Moi.

More tight, steep climbing.

The bells and the ropes you can pull to make them ring.
Yet ANOTHER ladder leads up to the final public space.
Ummmmm....where are the safety rails at the top of the ladder? 

Straight down to the street level.   Notice the bike rider by the blue car.

A view across to the other twin steeple.
The highest point we could reach is just before that final triangular peak...right about where the line of the mountain behind it would cross it.

I was behind that clock!!!

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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