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Saturday, April 28, 2012

HOLY BLOG BATMAN!!!

I moved here 1 year and 2 months ago....and....

THIS IS
MY
100th
BLOG
ENTRY
!!!!!!!

(insert fireworks)

...and I haven't a CLUE what to write for this momentous occasion!!!  Maybe if I take a few more sips of my scotch-n-water my brain will loosen up.

GULP

Well, I could tell you about yet another episode with my car.   I've sort of become a driver-for-pay.  I told my real estate agent if he needed someone to drive him and his clients around to consider me.  He has a 'car' but it's really not conducive to showing clients.  It's a rough jeep-style bangedy-bang-bang 4x4.  He has to shift and talk and pay attention to traffic all at the same time.  Plus, I broke his door handle off over a year ago.  Anyway, I thought it would provide some boredom relief, plus I love to look at real estate, and it would free up his hands and mind and I would make a few bucks.  Hired drivers usually go for a whopping $10 an hour and the cost of gas comes out of that, though at $1.48 a gallon, it's not so bad.

My agent, Michael, referred me to a couple from Colorado (Hi Rex & Cheryl!!!) who were spending some weeks here scoping out the possibility of retiring here.   Without a car, they didn't have means to see places outside what you'd use a taxi for.  I drove a total of 13 hours for them over 3 days.  It was fun showing them around, providing them important information (like what motels are for), sharing stories, turning them on to restaurants, etc.  We even ate Cuy together!  More on that later.

Sip.  SIIIIP.

Then Michael asked me to drive him and a charming young lady from China and another guest to view some listings.  This was fun as he invited me to join them as we went through the houses.   I love to see what is selling for how much and where.   We drove about 30 minutes out into the countryside to see a hacienda on a few acres with fruit trees and a small river running along the backside of the property.  The property had lovely manicured yards behind gated and private walls, and the interior was an exterior of sorts.   The primary living area was as if it was outdoors, but had a pitched roof over it....lots of sunlight and LOTS of planters billowing with colorful plants.   I saw a Geranium plant over 6 feet tall inside the house!!!   Price?   About $160K.

Sip.  Sip.

On the way back to town, I thought my car was acting a bit pukey.  But, I chalked it up to 4 passengers which I'm not used to having.   But, I have a V-6.   Hmmm.   We got back into town and I was driving on an arterial with a slight hill.   Hmmmm....sure seems gutless!!!  Odd.

By the time I dropped off the client and took Michael back to his office, after 3 hours of driving, my car was dying fast.   I figured it was fuel starvation.  Maybe I got bad gas.  Maybe the injectors are clogged.  Maybe the gas filter is dirty.   So, I drove to the gas station and put Super grade in ($2.13 a gallon) and a bottle of injector cleaner, then headed to the autopista (freeway of sorts) to try to resuscitate my engine.  My car sounded like it was gargling phlegm.  The fastest I was able to reach on the autopista was 30 mph and that was on a flat.   I pointed the car to the Chev dealer....AGAIN.  This was the THIRD visit this month!!!  When I pull up to my Service Manager's kiosk, he just looked at me and dropped his jaw.  Back AGAIN???  Por Que???  By the time I arrived at the dealer, my car was barely moving.

Fast forward...2 days.   Diagnosis.....catalytic converter (one of three) gone bad....clogged.  Cost...$363.

Ok...Driving Miss Daisy Services LTD 16 hours @ $10 hr = $160 income (don't tell the IRS!!!!).  Car repairs $363.   Net profit -$203.

Ohhhh....about that Cuy.   Cuy is considered a delicacy here.  It's pricey.  It's Guinea Pig.   You see them on spinning roasters everywhere here.   They are even in grocery stores, laid out on a styrofoam platter and covered in shrink wrap....hairless Guinea Pig....WITH the head and feet.   Locals giggle when they ask you if you've had Cuy yet.  I think it's because it is so freaking ugly.   Picture a large rat....on a skewer...with its mouth agape (usually stuffed with something) complete with UGLY teeth, and little rat-like paws.  Who'd want to eat THAT!!!???   Well, Rex/Cheryl and I did.  Actually...Cheryl passed (not as in 'out').    We asked the waitress to please NOT bring us the head and feet.  We order a 'presa' which means 'a piece'.  Luckily, the plate came (along with salad and potatoes and such) sans head.  It was like ordering a quarter chicken...a thigh and leg...but this one still had the rat-like feet on it.   Rex gave me a small piece to taste and it was yummy.  So, I can now say 'Yes' I've eaten Cuy, but I'm not sure you will ever see me with a plate with the whole thing on it.  I just don't want to see that ugly face on my plate...with it's last expression before it was...well...you know.

WARNING....photos ahead.  May make you puke.

CLEANUP!!!   AISLE 7!!!!!

Dano

Before image.   They're cute BEFORE you eat them.

Egads.  Not so cute when they'e being cooked.

Cuy ferris wheel??

Cuy....formerly known as a cute guinea pig.  Makes you wanna dive right in, eh?
Bone Appuhteeth!!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Taxes

UGH...sore subject!!  Even more sore (sorer?) this year for me.  

After being laid off 3 times in a row back in the US of A, I got fed up with the system, the government, out-sourcing of millions of jobs overseas, and the downward spiral of the culture and society there and decided to get the hell out.  After my second layoff due to the collapse of Washington Mutual Bank (WaMu) and the subsequent takeover by Chase Bank....I looked for a job for 18 months!   Unemployment ran out, medical ran out, and my savings was getting sucked dry to cover living expenses including a hefty mortgage.  Being single, there was no one else to 'carry me'.

Then, I got a job!!   But, 3 months later they laid me (and others) off.   Geez, you'd THINK they would've seen the train coming at the time they hired me??

That was IT.  I needed to preserve what savings I had left.  I had already worked for 40 years (I started when I was 6....cough, cough!!) and I was worn out.  Yes, I could've tried to find another job and work for another decade to the 'accepted' age of retirement but who could tell whether finances would hold up and I could actually AFFORD to retire then?   It wasn't a gamble I was willing to take.

So, I looked at what I had accumulated and looked around for viable places to 'retire'.  The House Hunters International television show opened my eyes to the possibilities that existed elsewhere in the world.  No, my retirement choices did not need to be limited to Arizona, Mexico, or Florida!!!  

Fast forward.   I took a trip to Panama to see what I could see.   I cut the trip short because it was too freaking hot and humid.  I was soaking wet all the time.  I like hot, but humidity turns me into a hatchet murderer.  

A few months later, I came to Ecuador on a two-week exploratory trip.   I confirmed Cuenca was a good fit.   Inexpensive (my money goes a lot further here), clean, friendly, dollar is the currency, pretty, NOT humid, not too big, not too small.  The 'glass slipper' fit.   Three months later, I moved.  Uh river dare chee USA!!!  Hello South America!!   SOUTH AMERICA.....who would've thunk????

What the heck does this have to do with the title (Taxes) of this entry Dan?  C'mon....get on track!!!

I'm getting there!   I'M GETTING THERE!!  (geez, so impatient!!!)

As they say, there are only two things certain in life...death and taxes.   I don't know about other countries, but if you are born in the USA, you are doomed to pay taxes for the rest of your life (and even at death) whether you like it or not....whether you live there or not....whether you utilize anything that the taxes pay for or not.  I didn't CHOOSE to be born in the USA, but the USA has chosen for me that I must pay taxes to them forever.

I just filed my 2011 tax return.  I owe $40,000!!  (insert muffled screams)  The reason I owe so much is because I took MY money out of MY retirement accounts before the US government said I could.  It is the source of money I needed to live on down here, and to buy my house.  With the penalty and the income tax rate, they took approximately one-third for themselves.    Thanks Dano!!   We'll spend it wisely!!!  Yeah, right....on wars the USA is perpetually involved in and bailing everyone else out but the very people who gave them their money in the first place...US Citizens.

In addition to those taxes, I also pay over $5,000 a year in property taxes.  Of that amount, $120 a MONTH goes to the local schools of the town where my US house is....even though I'm single, never had children (that I know of), blah blah.   Why so much?  Because I HAPPEN to have a nice waterfront house!  Doesn't matter HOW I got it, or how much I MAKE...they just presume I'm made of $$$ because I have that house.   If you lifted up that house and plunked it down in a different neighborhood and put a family of 6 in it, they would pay less taxes than me because the value of the house is less (different location)...even though 4 kids would be using schools,  SIX people would be utilizing services such as fire/police, paved streets, lights, infrastructure, etc....versus ONE.   Makes sense donut??

Yes, I tried to sell my house.   Believe me, I wanted to get rid of that thing BADLY.   But, after reducing my price $100,000 from what it was valued before the collapse, and reducing it three more times during the course of the 6-month listing, there were no bites.  My tenant bailed on me after only 6 months of a 1 year lease.   During the 6-month listing, the house was empty...hemorrhaging my savings even more.   After I took it off the market, it took 3 months to find a renter.   My savings continues to bleed, albeit slower, because I still carry a negative.

When I filed my 2011 taxes, there was not one IOTA of relief provided for those who had to prematurely dip into their retirement accounts to keep afloat.   People have lost their jobs.  Their unemployment has run out.   They can't afford the insane cost of medical coverage.  They've depleted their savings to keep their homes out of foreclosure.  They dip into their last source of money to keep things going.   The government doesn't give a rip...they still want 'their share' and slap you with a penalty on top if it just to add a little extra sting to your already sore wound.

If I were to work here in Ecuador, or anywhere else for that matter, the US government will demand its cut.  I could live in Outer Mongolia, be a cobbler making shoes, not set foot in the USA for ten years and it will still demand I fork over part of my Mongolian income to 'pay my fair share' of the USA machine.

Ok, so this blog is supposed to be about my life here in Ecuador, not bitching about back home stuff.  Ok, here's where I make the connection.

I just paid my Ecuador property taxes for 2011.   Here, they become due at the beginnig of the year and you have ALL YEAR to pay them before being considered delinquent.  The government even has a discount program to reward those who pay them early.  For example, they will give you XX% off your taxes if you pay them by the end of February, or X% if you pay them by the end of March...the discount decreasing as more time elapses.   How much was my property tax bill for 2011 you ask?

$154

On the matter of other taxes, the IVA (sales) tax is 12%.  It is the same across the country, none of this 9.8% if you're in Cuenca, 10.2% if you're in Quito, or 6.7% if you live in the jungles.  It is the same for everyone, everywhere.    98% of the time, the 12% IVA tax is included in the price of whatever you buy so you don't have to mentally add it to the price to figure out how much it is really going to cost you.  If laundry detergent is $7.63, that's what you'll pay....$7.63.   Even big-ticket items, such as a car, the IVA is included.  That $10,000 purchase price on the sign?   That's what you pay....not $11,200 (after tax added).

Most restaurants include the IVA tax and a 10% service charge in their menu prices, but not always.  You have to read the disclosure line at the bottom of the menu to know.  Tipping is almost non-existent here because of the included 10% service charge.   If a person tips, it's just the extra change leftover, or maybe a buck or two depending on how many people were served.  No tipping taxis.  No tipping the cashier at the mini-mart because he/she gave you the correct change for your toilet paper purchase.  No tipping the person that correctly gave you the 2 scoops of ice cream flavors you asked for.   We don't have Starbucks or coffee carts here, so that's another big savings from not having to tip.   But, yes, there is tipping for people who handle your luggage, or wash your car extra good, or the young person who carries your groceries to your car, or the furniture delivery guy who carried that heavy couch up three floors into your apartment because few buildings have elevators.

Well, that's it for this week.  Sorry, no purty photos....just a lotta bitchin.   I mean, what photos would I post that correlates with the story?  A photo of my tax return?   Of my property tax bill?    Of my blood pressure read-out while I was filing my taxes online?   Of me after drinking that bottle of scotch after I filed my taxes?

Nah...boring.

Dano

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hidden Treasures

Sighhhhh.    I've had a tough time sitting down to write an entry this week.   Dunno why...just is.  It's not like I'm too busy and don't have the time.   I've always said "I'm the worlds BEST procrastinator!!!"   I'm highly organized, but boy can I put things on the back burner FOREVER!!   Then, all of a sudden, I get a burst of energy out of nowhere and get that thing I've been putting off for a long time...DONE!!

So, this week I was wondering what the heck I would write about.   More issues with my car?  True...but nah.   Travels....nah, haven't gone anywhere (because of the car issues).   An art soiree I went to....ehhh.   Well, I have shown lots of photos of churches in the past, but many of them had no interior shots.  Maybe I should go around and get those and also get some shots of churches around Cuenca that I HAVEN'T been to yet.  OK!!   Problem is....I have no idea when they have their doors open and when I tried to take on this task, 6 out of 7 were not open.  Dang it.

But, as luck would have it (as opposed to the kind of luck I need to win the lottery), I stumbled upon a hidden treasure of which this blog entry will be dedicated.

The Todo Santos (translated 'All Saints') church in Cuenca has been under restoration for quite awhile.  I was hoping to get inside to see it, but it's still closed.   Recently, an entry in 'Gringo Tree' (an expat bulletin board of sorts) promoted a  restaurant of the same name, 'TodoSantos' located at the other end of a long building of which the church is a part of.   It was lunch time and I LOVE new experiences so I thought I'd check it out.  

The entrance is almost un-noticeable if not for the sandwich board in front of the door.  I walked into a lonnng hallway that led to the reception desk at the other end.  They don't serve almuerzos (traditional 4-course lunch special averaging $3 in Cuenca) but did have a nice menu.  A bit pricey for Cuenca, but what the heck.  I asked where the dining room was as it was not clearly seen from the reception desk.   She said 'downstairs'.  So, down I went.   Wow...what a treat!!   The steps were made out of large stones and I had to duck my head a few times to clear the overhead archways.   I passed the area where breads and pastries are made in a huge old-fashioned thing-a-ma-jig (see photos) and descended into what almost seemed a cavern.   Beautiful brick and stone archways framed romantic nooks outfitted with dark wooden tables adorned with LINEN napkins (RARE!!) and candlesticks.  All this in a building perched on the embankment above the Tomebamba river.

Well, this was just too darn fancy for me in my shorts to enjoy by myself.   I decided to come back another time and bring friends, maybe for dinner.

But....wait.   I took a few photos as I knew I had found my blog subject for the week.   A gentleman was standing nearby and asked me if I wanted to see the 'ardtsvket'.   Huh?  The 'rdtsuwst'.   Ummmm...I don't understand....repeat por favor?   'Would you like to see the rarteest?'   GAWD...I have horrible hearing and I had to ask him again....HUH???    'Would you like to see the artist?'.   I said, 'OHHHHHH.....there's an artist gallery over there (pointing to the other side of the dining room)?'    'Si, SI!!!'   

Oddly, we had to traverse the dining room to enter into another room which showcased artwork.  It was a great presentation, complete with nifty niches to highlight the architecture of the room.  But...so remote!!!

The 'guy' was Diego...THE artist!!   His specialty is creating artistic pieces made out of COFFEE BEANS!!!   Coffee beans in their natural state are typically cream-colored, red, or maybe green.  Roasting produces the various shades of browns to almost black.    He uses the various shades of coffee beans to create a 'tree of life', or a 'colibri (hummingbird)', or a 'butterfly', or maybe the outline of roofscapes of a neighborhood.  

His prices are very reasonable, given the fact he says it takes him approximately 10 days for each piece.   I'm thinking of busting my budget to buy one.

Meanwhile, enjoy the photos of my little hidden treasure discovery.

Dano

Down the long hall to the reception desk.



Past the place where they bake fresh breads and pastries in that-thar-thing in the back.


Romantic, eh?


The main dining area.

Through the dining area and into this hidden, tucked away from humanity......art gallery.

One of Diego's pieces....a butterfly.

No, the black shape is not painted or hand-stamped on each bean.  They are NATURALLY that way!!!

The arteest.....Diego.

All of the aforementioned is hidden behind and below this non-descript entrance!!!

About Me

My photo
Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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