Featured Post

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day Trip - Ingapirca Ruins

As mentioned in previous blogs, I avail myself to drive for car-less people who want to be taken to various sites around and out of town.   Most of my clients have been folks visiting from other countries, exploring the possibility of moving here.   99% don't want to rent a car as they generally are not comfortable driving in a foreign atmosphere.

Last week, I was asked by a couple, who actually live in Cuenca, to drive them and their visiting (from Dallas) friends to a few sites outside of town...one of them being the Ingapirca Ruins.

Ingapirca is in the Canar province, about 2 1/2 hours drive north of Cuenca.   It is the name of an Incan archeological site just outside the town of the same name.  Built in the 15th century, these are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. The most significant building is the temple of the sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. The building is constructed in the Incan way without mortar in most of the complex. The stones were carefully chiseled and fashioned to fit together perfectly.

It just so happened that we went on one of 3 days of celebration of the sun, Inti Raymi.  Most of the ruins were cordoned off because the focus was on the amphitheater where performances were about to take place.   We watched as musicians played mystical music, a circle of fire was lit, and dancers moved about the grassy slope in Andean outfits.  It was cold, chilly, and rain spritz us regularly, but the dancers braved the chilly weather in scanty clothing (bare-chested men in leather and alpaca chaps).

There were a few hundred people in attendance, mainly local indigenous families wearing their colorful, traditional garb.  We stuck out like sore thumbs...3 blonds and 2 tall white men.

Like I said, the weather was somewhat icky.  One of the guys in our group joked 'it ain't workin'...in reference to the ceremony being all about celebrating the sun god.  But right smack dab during the middle of the ceremonies, a circle of blue sky opened up directly above us and let the sun in.  How perfect was that!!??

Along the way back to our parked car about 1/4 mile away, the dirt road was lined on both sides with canopy-covered stalls where vendors sold candies, hats/scarves, hot food, and other Andean knickknacks.  

While driving down the winding pothole-riddled road, we admired the vistas, cows, pigs, houses with blue-tinted windows, riverstreams, and one sight that made me hit the brakes.  I threw it in reverse.  The ladies dove for their cameras.   At the front of a house was THE CUTEST little girl (2 or 3 years old?) wearing her native hat and sweeping the front porch.   She could be the cover of LIFE magazine.  Just as the women were poised to take a photo, the little girls' brother (presumably) came to her defense.  He stood between her and us (in the car) with his back turned and turned her around to face the house and they both stood there until we went away!!!!!   AWWWWW!!!!

Of course, we discussed this (over and over).   Why would he rush to protect her when we stayed in our car?   Certainly this doesn't constantly happen to her as they live in the middle of nowhere...how many people hit the brakes to take a photo of her?   Maybe it's a cultural thing.  I have noticed that a lot of indigenous people prefer not to have their photo taken.  If asked, many of them say 'no'.  Is it a techie thing?  That would be odd, given a LOT of indigenous folk use cell phones!!

We drove back towards Cuenca and over to Paute to the Uzhupud hacienda/resort where we enjoyed a nice lunch in front of a toasty fireplace under barrell ceilings painted with hundreds of birds.  This is the same place where, over a year ago, while dining on the patio I was solicited by film crew for a speaking role in a promotional video for the Paute Valley.

Then, home for my daily nap(s).

Enjoy the photos.  Sorry some are a bit blurry.  Mist got on my lens and my camera doesn't focus very well on super-zoomed shots.

Dano






Dancers braving the chill in a semi-circle

Even the lamas formed a circle!!!


Indigenous folk carry their babies in a slingon their back.


From 2011 celebration
(photo by Anne S)



hehehehehe....couldn't resist.


(photo by Anne S)


Cuy anyone?  (guinea pig)


This little piggy went to the market.....to be eaten.
(photo by Anne S)



Brother protecting his little sister from the gringo papparazzi!!


Uzhupud hacienda/resort


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Visa, Censo, Cedula...OH MY!!! - the Sequel

Last we left off on this on-going mini-series, I had driven to Quito to get my Cedula processed on Wednesday, May 23rd.  Since I was down to the FINAL hurdle of this 1 year, 3 month long process, I recapped all that I had gone through in a blog entry posted 2 days later (May 25th).  The only thing left was to pick the dang thing up.

We continue where we find Dano (moi) having just uttered these words:

"Finally, everything was done.  She informed me my Cedula should be printed and ready for pickup the next day, Thursday, around ….IF there are no problems.  Apparently, the final output had to be reviewed one more time before handing it over to me.  IF there were any problems, she would call me.  I never heard from her, so I presumed all was aok. 

We left the building and the assistant made a call to my attorney in Cuenca to inform them we were done.   We made arrangements for the assistant to pick up my Cedula in lieu of me because she knew the process better than I.  Then she would send it down on a plane and I’m to go into my attorneys’ office to pick it up.
 
Wish me luck!!!"
 
Luck.  Schmuck.   What I didn't tell you was, during all this I was having car problems again!!!   I know, I know, I can hear y'all sighing and rolling your eyes at me.   On the way to Quito I noticed my car didn't have much power on the hills like I'm used to.  I looked to see if there was a branch of my Chev servicer in the area, but there wasn't one.  So, I took my car to another outlet of Chev after I was done with the Cedula process.  NO ONE spoke English, so I told the story to my friend Alex who was with me and he translated to the Chev Servicing Manager.  It was a bit difficult because my friend is pretty much clueless to car/motor terminology no matter what language you state it in.   I was suspicious I had yet another catalytic converter problem because the cars' behavior was exactly the same as it was a month earlier when I had a CC replaced and the problem resolved.  
 
They told me they would look at it, but warned me that Friday was a holiday and they would be closed that day AND Saturday.  More than likely, they wouldn't know what the problem was until Monday and then, for some odd reason, they determined it might take 4-5 days to get it fixed!!!
 
Well, I wasn't about to stay in Quito 7-8 more days waiting for the car to be repaired, find other lodging accomodations, etc.   So, I booked a flight back to CUE on Friday the 25th and a return trip to Quito on Monday the 4th to presumably pick the car up and drive it back home.  So much for my sightseeing plans of Otavalo, Cotacachi, and standing on the line of the middle of the world (the Equator).
 
When I got back home, I solicited the help of 'my' servicing manager here at Chev in Cuenca.  I asked him to call and talk to his counterpart in Quito and help solve the mystery of my car and, generally, communicate with me.
 
Communicate.  HA!!!    It's mind-boggling to me how poor 'customer service' can be here in EC.  In the USA, we have such high, near impossible, customer service expectations.   Both my guy here in CUE and I tried calling the Quito center Weds, Thurs, Fri, and Sat...no answer, no answer, no answer, no answer.   We tried entering the extenstion # as well as letting it roll to the operator to connect us.  Even the operator of the dealership didn't answer!!!!!!
 
When I flew to Quito on Monday, June 4th, I had no clue if my car was ready.  But, after all, it had been EIGHT days....eight OPEN BUSINESS days....surely it must be ready, right?
 
Nope.  They said they had been calling my friend, Alex.  Well, Alex lives in Quito and I'm in CUENCA!!  Alex told them to call me, but they didn't bother even though my phone# is clearly written on the service order.  
 
They replaced a catalytic converter.  I presumed it was one of the other 2 (the car has 3).  But, when I looked under the car, they had replaced the one that was just replaced 4 weeks ago by Chev in Cuenca!!!
WHAT THE......?????   They showed me the 'old' $300+ part...the guts was missing.  It's the guts that do the work of getting rid of bad emissions.  They said the guts had been destroyed and was blocking the exhaust (causing poor performance) and they had shaken it out into a garbage can. 
 
I took the car for a test drive and it was behaving much better, so I decided to continue my plan to trek back to CUE the next morning.  $500.
 
Ok, let's skip back a bit.  It's June 4th.  Remember my Cedula which was supposed to be picked up on Thurs May 24th?   I never heard anything from the Civil Registry department, so I presumed (there I go again) everything was AOK.   When I went to my attorneys office to pick it up, they informed me the assistant went in to pick it up, but it wasn't ready and the next day was a holiday, blah blah.
 
Two days later, I again drop in on my attorney.   Well, it seems on the 24th the assistant handed the Civil Registry person the ORIGINAL Power of Attorney paper to retrieve my Cedula.  But, she didn't get it back when she was told the Cedula was not ready.  Now, when she returned a second time, she was told she needed to provide a certified copy of the Power of Attorney in order to pick up my Cedula for me even though she had given them the original which they claimed to not have.
 
Now I understand that girl in the movie where her head spun around and around hurling vomit on the walls of her bedroom.
 
I told my attorneys, 'look, I'm going to Quito on the 4th and I can just get it myself if that would help'.  
 
Days later, it turns out the assistant was able to pick it up and put it on a plane.  I was notified it was here in Cuenca....COME AN' GIT IT!!!!
 
I stopped by my attorneys office one day....they were closed.  UGH.
 
I sent an email asking them to inform me when they would next be open as that week was the Corpus Christi festival and who knows who would be open or when.
 
I got my Cedula in my hot little hands on Tuesday, June 12th in the year of two thousand and twelve, AD.
 
BUT WAIT!!!!
 
HUH???.....is this the part where I'm offering a set of Ginzu knives?
 
Two significant events have happened in the past few weeks.
 
Remember when (back in January) I was not allowed to fly out of Ecuador on a trip to the USA because I didn't have my Censo even though my immigration attorney said I didn't need one to travel, and even though the Government was 'out of paper' and couldn't produce one anyway??  Well, our President issued an order that Censo's are now no longer needed!!!!   Where do I get a refund of the $500+ bucks I lost out on due to that trip-to-nowhere?    (replay vision of vomit hurling)
 
And, they have now opened a processing center HERE in Cuenca to get Cedulas.  No more traveling to Quito!!!
 
LOVE the timing.
 
Back to the car.  Now I need to find out why a $300+ new catalytic converter was reduced to dust in a mere 4 weeks and how to prevent it from happening again.
 
Stay tuned for the next episode.  Will we find Dano still hurling?  Or, will he just have the dry heaves?
 
Photo time!!!   The trip to/from Quito was stunning with clear weather on both legs.  Enjoy the sights I got to see, but multiply the effect by several levels as the camera just doesn't capture what my eyes saw. 
 
Maybe it needs a new catalytic converter???
 
Dano
 
View from my rental apartment in Quito
 







One of several volcanoes outside Quito



This cracks me up!!!  I've seen them on the highway in the past, too!!   These are new truck/bus frames with nothing but the motor, suspension, and driver functions installed!!   The driver is wearing a helmet and goggles, sitting on a CHAIR, and a tarp protects the dashboard instruments, but has a clear plastic 'window' for the driver to read the guages.   No windshield...but he has mirrors!!!    I ask you....WHERE in North America would you ever see THIS???

This green grass looked like waves of silk.


 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sporting & Fitness Life in Cuenca

Last time, I wrote a little about one element of social life in Cuenca.   I imagine many of you who read this dirge are sports enthusiasts.   So, this is all about SOME of the sport-related things you can do in/around the city.

Soccer.  Duh.   Soccer is everywhere, whether it be found in a professional stadium or a space of green, or any flat spot of dirt.  Back home I find many people, especially those younger folks, with their faces buried in some electronic device or butts firmly planted in front of their computer or TV playing video games.  The only thing getting exercised is their eyeballs and thumbs.   Here, kids get outside and PLAY.   All they seem to need is a simple ball and they are in heaven.  There are all sorts of variations on soccer fields throughout Cuenca.

The main soccer stadium is just down the street from me.   It was built in 1945 and remodeled again in 1971 and 2001.  It seats 23,000.

Volleyball.   You wouldn't think it, but V-ball is very popular here.  Again, it can be any spot big enough, a net, and a ball and you're set.   Though, here, the game is typically played 3 on 3 versus 5 on 5.

Fishing.  At 8,000+ feet?  Yep.  Trout, that is.    There are a lot of lakes and stocked ponds to be found up in the Cajas.  Some places, you can rent a stick and line to do the fishing (nothing fancy here) and you pay based on the fish you catch.

In the Jefferson Coliseum sporting complex you will find:
  • Basketball courts
  • Tennis courts
  • Soccer field
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Raquetball
  • Olympic sized swimming pool with 10 lanes, separate from another pool dedicated to only diving with 3 different platform levels
  • Martial arts
  • ...and the main coliseum arena dedicated to professional basketball games
In the sporting complex located in the Totoracocha neighborhood, we have:
  • a 1,000+ ft Velodrome (bicycling) with up to 43 degree embankments!
  • an indoor roller rink much like the Velodrome with banked curves
Archery.  Yep, got that, too

Running.   Sure....after the person who just snatched your watch off your wrist!!!  Just kidding!!!   We have 4 rivers that slice through Cuenca and each of them have greenbelts set aside as parks and running paths for those avid joggers who can run and still breath at 8,200 feet!!!

Gyms.   There are several smattered about town, but they are rather small in comparison to the 'big-box' gyms back home.  They're typically outfitted nicely with aerobic equipment and free-weights, but it's rare to find one that also includes showers, sauna, pool, etc.

Bicycling.   Not so much.  What bicyclists you do see around town are generally those who use them to run an errand or something.  This is probably because our streets are generally narrow and there's no dedicated bike lanes.  That, and the maniac driving doesn't make bicycling too inviting.

Hiking.  Plenty of that in the Cajas.

Walking.   The city version of 'hiking'.   LOTS of that to do around here.  People walk, Walk, WALK here.  No driving from one strip mall to the next strip mall three blocks away...nooooo.   They walk their arses off here.

Stair climbing.  I have a nutcase best friend back home who likes to 'go run the stairs' during his lunch hour.   Ahem....I am talking the stairs of a 40 FLOOR OFFICE BUILDING!!!!   He would casually mention he ran the stairs TWICE on his break as if was as difficult as slicing toast.  GRRRRRR   Anyhoo, we don't have them thar highrises here in Cuenca...the most you'll find is maybe 10 floors and there aren't even many of those.  But, outside, going from the lower level of the 'New Town' area up the embankment from the river to the 'Old Town' area is several sets of staircases.  One in particular I hoofed recently was 89 steps.   Pretty good workout at 8,200 feet...though my best friend would probably guffaw at it.  HRRMMPPHH!!!

So, there you go.   An idea of what kind of sporting facilities and options you have for physical fitness and/or sports entertainment, though I'm sure I've overlooked a few.   Walking your dog, lugging bags of fresh fruits and vegetables from the outdoor markets up 2 or 3 flights to your apartment, lifting those mega-sized beer glasses, walking a block to catch the taxi...I know...I know...I should give them due space here in this blog but it's time for photos!!!

Dano


Jefferson Coliseum - Basketball

Jefferson Coliseum structure

Olympic diving platforms

Olympic pool

Basketball courts

Archery fields

Rock climbing wall

Soccer practice fields

Translated:  Olympic Pool, Judo, Massage rooms, Physical Therapy, Coliseum, Raquetball, Cafeteria

Tennis courts


Soccer stadium




Saturday, June 2, 2012

Expat Social Life in Cuenca

I've written much about places I've gone, things I've seen, car breakdowns (more to come), costs of living here, and the bureaucracy, but pretty much nothing about social life here.   I know a lot of my readers ('my'...as if I own you!!) are still in their respective countries contemplating a move here, so I thought it might be interesting for them to get a sampling of what kind of social life 'we' expats have here.

First, there are primarily 3 expat hangout slash social events a week.  In no particular order:

1.  Tuesdays at DiBacco's italian restaurant around 5:30pm ish to 7:00pm ish, located in the old central.  The owners and workers there know everyone's name and they are just as much a part of the social gathering as the expats themselves.  It's all about cocktails and chatting.   Most have become friends and yap about life in general, but there is always a few new people that show up and eventually become part of the seasoned group.   Some take a table and have dinner.
  • Side note:   On Thursdays, DB's has an expat gathering especially designed for 'newbies'.   This is where they can meet others like them and talk about anything pertaining to their move....where they're from, why they moved (usually the same reason), why they chose Cuenca, and share helpful hints and war stories amongst themselves.   DB's has also staged mini business fairs oriented to providing needed services to expats...such as banking, real estate, medical, insurance, etc.  Newbies eventually graduate to the 'seasoned' group that gathers on Tuesdays.  But, the underlying theme is for the more seasoned expat to help those who are coming down the road after them and steering them clear of the potholes they experienced before them.  The newbies become seasoned and passes along the torch to the next newbie, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
2.  Fridays, expats gather at Zoe's restaurant, also in the old central area, in the upstairs bar.   In both instances of DB's and Zoe's, some people migrate to a restaurant to have dinner together after the social expat hour.

3.  On Sunday afternoons, when all else is deader than a doornail in the city, the gringos descend upon Inca Lounge & Bistro.  This is the most festive of the gatherings...IMHO.   Inca is situated on the barranco (embankment) above the Tomebamba river.  It is a very old building that you sometimes wonder if the planks under your feet are going to hold up.   But, as I've discovered in my life, the more older, creakier, 'worn-out shoe' of a place it is, the more popular it is.   I'm gonna digress a bit here....I worked in a famous disco in San Diego lo many a year ago.   We built a new place down the street and closed the old one.   On our opening night of the new location, someone etched in the bathroom "make this place old!!".   Case in point.

From about 1:30pm or so until maybe 5pm, you will find a large group of people crammed around mooshed-together tables in a small space in the garden outside.   Inside, sports enthusiasts are hunkered down in front of the TV monitors watching soccer.  Sometimes, local soccer teams show up after their game.  

Inca has a tinnnnnnny kitchen but OMG...the food produced from that tinnnnnnny kitchen is awesome.   Inca is one of maybe 5 places in all of Cuenca that knows how to produce a killer burger.  You have to WAIT....but the wait is worth it.  They also make their own fresh potato chips.   Michael, the owner, hails from Alaska, and he is constantly making the rounds schmoozing with his friends slash clientele.

Ok, so far it sounds like all I'm doing is promoting local businesses.  But, what is fun about this...is the fun folk who show up to these places.  First of all, if you have moved to freaking SOUTH AMERICA, you must be a person who's got some sorta guts and spirit, right?   I mean, it's not likely a person(s) who sits in front of the TV and watches Lawrence Welk while crocheting before going to their nightly bible study class...is going to move to Ecuador, right?    The expats I've met here are fun folks, looking for adventure and living life to its fullest in their retirement years.   THOUGH, not every expat is a retiree.  Nooooo.

I'm caught off guard at times when I meet YOUNGER people who opted to move here.   Two classic examples are folks who own two of my favorite restaurants.   The folks who restored the space and started the San Sebas cafe on the San Sebastian plaza have lived in many places in the USA.  They came here with their (side note...gorgeous) daughter Lindsay who pretty much runs the operations.  She's the kinda gal who looks like she's right out of a Dove soap commercial.

Then, there's Carol and George who moved here from San Diego along with BOTH their adult son and daughter.  They created California Kitchen in an old colonial building and all four of them have their roles in running the business.   Carol, who used to be a real estate agent, is one of the, if not THE gracious serving staff.  At 268493 (combine two of the numbers) she's still working the floor.

Geez, I'm still promoting businesses aren't I?  

Ok, when I was considering moving to EC I ran upon a communication on the inter nets (thank you George Bush) from two guys named George and Tom.  I wrote them asking questions about this place I was considering uping my life and moving to.  They responded with helpful answers.   When I visited EC on my initial exploratory trip I met them at Zoe's.  Before I knew it, a bunch of us went out to Mansion Alcazar for martini's then off to another bar and danced and blah blah.

Well, George and Tom decided to move to some god-forsaken place in Mexico.  I can only presume they intend to do a startup business as a new drug cartel on the scene.  JUST KIDDING BOYZ!!!  Anyhoo, recently the expat community threw them a going-away party.  Black tie....in SOUTH AMERICA for cripes sake!!!   Who packed their tux???  Not ME!!!  I digress.  About 40 of us gathered at the amazing home slash restaurant known as Joes Secret Garden.  JSG stages only-Saturday dinners in their house and garden.   Reservations only.   Their culinary talent makes people salivate at the thought of next Saturday.  

Everyone was bedecked in their glam gowns and suits.  It was a Cuenca gala.  The poor servers were pounced upon as soon as they entered from the kitchen doors as the oars-de-ooovers were scrumptious.  Anyone 25 feet back missed out.  Lots of fun socializing amongst friends and well-wishes to the _____ who were bailing on us.  Later, we were summoned outside and down the block to the riverside.  There, they put on a great fireworks display.  No one lost any appendage.  Back to the house/gardens.  Then, we were summoned to the back yard where there was a LARGE box wrapped like a gift.  Oh goodie....STRIPPERS!!!   Ahem...cough...cough.    Out from the box leaped John in boxers, sport coat, and diamond (?) encrusted tie....sans shirt...followed by a full moon.....twice....maybe it was three times, I dunno...I had closed my eyes. 

As the evening winded down, Joe tickled the ivories of his grand piano....his baby he brought down from the US.  We talked about his framed poster of Kitty Carlisle.   He played for her in one of her last performances at the age of 96 (Kitty, not Joe).   Talented in the kitchen and talented musically (Joe, not Kitty).

So, this might give you a bit of a taste of what just one element of expat social life is like in Cuenca.  No, we're not sitting on our front porches in a rocking chair talking about how things were better when FDR was president.  We're just a bunch of normal sickos who like to have fun.

Photos ahead are from the gala evening of sending off our friends George and Tom.   Don't sue me.

Uh River Dare Chee mi amigos!!!

Dano


The silver foxes, Regina and George (of George and Tom)

Tom (of George and Tom) and Magdelena (of Magdelena and Daniel...who bought my Peugeot....or....as they call it 'Pew Joe'

Bob and the sweetest gal on earth, Bonnie....of Ed and Bonnie.

Ed (of Ed and Bonnie),...aka Regis Philbin,  Tom (of George and Tom), and Anne (looks like Carol Burnett, no?)

Crowd gathered at the river for the fireworks.
Jim & Carolyn

Josh and Glen Campbell....wait...no....Josh and Rod from Tennessee.
DerryLyn with some blog writer lurking in the background.

Cathy & Bob

George (of George & Tom) and Cathy (of Cathy & Bob)

John-in-the-Box.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.....I feel a full moon a-comin-on!!!

Barbie...of John-in-the-Box  & Barb


Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered!!!

YUMMMMMMM

Ashley
Mike, George (of Carol/George (of Calif Kitchen)) and Susie (daughter)

Carol....of California Kitchen fame.
Mike of Inca Lounge & Bistro, and John (John-in-the-Box)
Bonnie and Linda
Daniel & Magdelena, and Bonnie
Susie (daughter of Carol/George of Calif Kitchen) and Michel
Jim (son of Carol/George of Calif Kitchen) and ???? (whoopsie)

The 'secrets' hard at work in Joe's Secret Garden cocina.
 

Joe at the piano.  He'll be playin through June then he's headlining in Branson, Missouri!!!


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.

Total Views