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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get Outa Here!!!!

No, it's not what you think.  It's not a story about someone telling me to 'get outa here'.  These short/not so short stories will cause the reaction....yep, you got it....GET OUTA HERE!!!

Import Taxes.   The EC government is cracking down on products being brought in from elsewhere in an attempt to encourage locals to buy local products.  Therefore, a hefty import tax is being levied on many products.   I used to buy Vodka (such as Sky or Finlandia) in the neighborhood of $15 - $20.  Recently, I went to buy a bottle of booooooze and was shocked....I say  SHOCKED...to see the prices had skyrocketed to $40+!!!  Even SCHMEEERNOFF was sky high!!!   GET OUTA HERE!!!   Luckily, I have found a good Ecuadorian rum that remains cheap and a good tasting vodka for $9.   But, forget whiskey or scotch.  GE and Whirlpool appliances and TV brands like Sony are going through the roof.

Returns.   EC businesses HATE giving refunds and/or taking back merchandise as a return.   It's next to impossible or, at the very least, made a long and exasperating process.   Case in point.  I bought a nice bath towel from SuKasa.  After I went home, I noticed the price I was charged was $28, not $18 that was on the shelf and on the tag.   A few days later I took it back and pointed out the price difference.  The cashier called a Manager to come down from the lofty offices upstairs.  He said the correct price was what was in the computer...$28.   I asked him how he could tell that when the computer price could be wrong and the tag/shelf price could be the right one?   He was vehement the computer was right...all prices were entered in Quito and he couldn't imagine how the computer would be wrong.    I wanted to buy another towel of a different color and its price was inconsistent between the computer and tag, too!!!  LOL!!   He got very frustrated.  In the end, I was not given any credit.   2nd case in point.    Retailers do as much as possible UP FRONT to avoid returns.   I have seen them check every frickin light bulb to make sure it works.  Recently, I bought a microwave.   A clerk gave me a ticket with the item # on it.  I couldn't buy the one on the shelf. I had to go pay for it and they would bring one up from the bodega (storage) area.  I went to the checkout stand and paid.  The bag girl took the ticket and receipt to another person in charge of the bodega.  He unpacked the microwave with the help of another person, plugged it in, found a plastic dish and dipped it into a bucket of water, put it in the microwave, cooked it for 1 minute while 2 employees stood and watched.  I verified the water was hot by dipping my finger in the bowl.  He repacked the microwave back into the box and sealed it.  Then he escorted us to a security guy overseeing in/out traffic who registered it on a sheet on a clipboard, then we were free to go to my car.  GET OUTA HERE!!!

Elections.   Yoo hoo are from the US of A just finished a year-long campaign for political positions, the most visible being the position of the President.   You endured an endless barrage of mind-numbing, idiotic, backstabbing, finger-pointing, fact-twisting, out-of-context garbage hurled at you via TV, radio, newspapers, yard signs, billboards, and whatnot.   I visualize slitting wrists and nooses.   Our Presidential election is coming up, too.   The election is in February, 2013.   WAIT!!!    HUHHHHHH????   3 months away???  Yep, that's right.   Our current President, JUST ANNOUNCED his candidacy to re-run.   DID YOU HEAR ME RIGHT???   THREEEEEEEEE months away!!!!   Political repugnates in the USA would say (all together now).... GET OUTA HERE!!!

Daring and Stupid.   I am constantly amazed a the number of vehicles that have a blown-out headlight, no tailights, tailights wired to the back-up lights, motorcycles with a man and a woman and a child and a baby sardined in-between them with no helmets, and motorcyclists who drive in the narrow space between two side-by-side cars.   My favorite the other night....a black motorcycle with the driver wearing black clothes, at night, with no lights, zigzagging thru traffic.    GET OUTA HERE!!!

No Water.   A few weeks ago, our neighborhood had no water come Monday morning.  Dunno why.  I had some dirty rags I had soaking in the kitchen sink with bleach.  Tuesday, no water.  Wednesday morning, I woke up and walked downstairs with my water glass in hand.  FWWWOOOOPPP!!!   Down I went as my foot hit the tile floor and the glass when flying and shattered somewhere.  Damn near did the splits.  Ruined another pair of pantyhose.  DAMMIT!!!  I got up.  There was water all over the first floor of my house!!!  WTH???? (for Mom to read).  WTF???? (for all others).  Apparently, I left the kitchen faucet slightly in the 'on' position and when the water came back on...it filled the sink, since it was plugged with my soaking rags, and overflowed....and overflowed....and overflowed onto the floor.   If ever your water is shut off, for whatever reason, make SURE all your faucets are turned OFF!!!   GET OUTA HERE!!!!

Lotsa Water.   I was asked to house-sit for a lady who was headed back to some god-forsaken place call Tinnehseee for a few weeks.  I went back to my house on a daily basis to feed my kids, Bozo and Chip.   Well, one of those days I opened the front door and saw a sea of water covering the first level of my house.   NOT AGAIN!!!   Then I looked up.  The ceiling was soaking wet, dripping water, and the paint was gone.  I thought...OMG....I left a faucet on AGAIN!!!  I ran upstairs, but to my surprise everything was dry!!   I figured a pipe must've burst or sprang a leak.  I called the landlady who said she would rush home.  Her son shut off the water to the house.   Her housekeeper and I swept and sucked the water out of the house.  But, the ceiling was soaked and it had to come down.  So, I started cutting into the panels.  Every panel I cut into, I got drenched with a gallon or more of water.   Over and over and OVER!!!  No one helped me.  Now, there was soggy stucco panels all over my floor and MANY more gallons of water mixed in.  I cleaned it all up.  No help.  The landlady's family was all snug and comfortable in their home, 30 feet away from my front door, having lunch.  I was livid.   Afterwards, several of us searched and searched for the source of the flood but could find nothing.  Everything was seco...dry.  Meanwhile, I had to leave for a 4pm appointment to meet with the sellers of the apartment I was about to complete purchasing.  I arrived at the meeting, late, soaked to the bones, and pieces of stucco ceiling in my hair and schmooshed in my clothes.  Afterwards, I returned to the house I was sitting.   The next day, I checked my house...nothing was being done.  2nd day...same thing....nada.  3rd day...nada.   I went over to the landlady's house and asked why noone was working on fixing my house?  She said it was because they figured it was MY FAULT!!!  They believed I left a faucet running!!!  I had told them before, that I had not been at the house, and that everything upstairs was dry and no faucets running.  I then challenged them with FACTS....something that seems to be foreign to EC'ers.  We knew the water was coming from the upstairs bathroom because when we poured water on the floor, it flowed right to a corner and thru a hole and onto the ceiling below.   I explained, using something very foreign....LOGIC....that the shower wasn't the source because the shower drain has no plug, therefore the water could not have built up and overflowed.   Now, to the sink.  The sink couldn't have been the culprit because it, too, has no drain plug and even if water did build up, it has an overflow channel.  That left the toilet....how would the toilet suddenly back up and overflow?  And, if it did, why not the 1st floor toilets first?   GRRRRRR!!!    It was 'point the finger, case solved'.   GET OUTA HERE!!!!

The river 'Denial'.    It frustrated me that, even though the family said they now believed it was not my fault....that there was still no explanation to the mystery.  I needed to be vindicated.   During my investigation, I discovered a long gap between the house and the roofing in which water could easily fall down onto the kitchen ceiling.  However, it would only happen in a strong wind situation with hard rains.  Not impossible.  I felt it was a flaw ripe for a similar situation to happen again.  I informed the owners.   We also found, as mentioned before, the hole in the floor of the upper bathroom that, if water exists, will allow water to escape onto the ceiling below.  A few days later, I discovered water on the floor of that bathroom again!!  MARIAH!!!  MERGATROID!!!   ....or whatever that word is for enlightenment.  Water was escaping from a corner at the top of the toilet tank.   The tank lid has a concave shape inside it and, if the flushing tube mechanism is positioned just (un)right the top of the tank cover will press on it, causing a flow of water.  The tank itself was not level, therefore the water ran to the corner edge and over the top before it could go down the drain tube as it should!!!  VOILA!!!  Mystery solved.  I have vindicated myself no matter what anyone else thinks!!!    Fast forward a few days.  The ceiling is now fixed and everything is back to normal.  But...the owner has chosen not to bother to seal the gap between the house and the roofing.  They have not sealed the hole that allows water to fall from the upstairs bathroom to the ceiling below.  They have also not bothered to level the toilet.  And, I spent 7 hours cleaning up the mess left by the ceiling installers where white goop was flung all over the walls, kitchen cabinets, floors, you name it.  No help. GET OUTA HERE!!!!

I'm moving again.   NO WAY!!  GET OUTA HERE!!!   Yes, I made a big guffaw in moving to my existing digs.   At the time I looked at the place, I was in a bit of hurry due to the gouging by the wicked woman Macrina who tried to charge me $200 a month for utilities.   I didn't know the landlady who lives in front of me had.....4 yappy dogs, 1 screaming at the top of his lungs 3 year-old, 3 fully grown adult 'children' who each own their own alarm-screaming cars on top of the 2 adult car-owners, making a grand total of 5 alarm-screaming cars, and 4 parakeets outside my front door.....though they're down to two because 'some kitty kat' knocked the stand over and two got away.   Not say'in WHO's kitty kat it was.   The family is clueless that all these noises affect their tenant a mere 30 feet away.  When I came  home one day during the house-sitting gig, I took a nap for 1.5 hours.  During that time, I heard ( and COUNTED) their car alarms.....36 TIMES!!!!    I kid you not.    GET OUTA HERE!!!!

OJ.    The other day I was shopping for groceries at SuperMaxi (equivilant of Safeway, QFC, Ralph's, etc).   I spotted a 2.75 quart jug of orange juice made by Tropicana.   Price?   $12!!!!!!!    Give me a break....I can buy 40 juice oranges for $2 and make my own fresh orange juice!!  Who the HECK would pay 12 bucks for this?  Why stock it?  GET OUTA HERE!!!!

Now, the photos.

Dano
When I looked up....This don't look so good.


You can't tell, but there's water covering that floor.


The panels as I cut them down.

UGH

Ditto



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Celebrating Cuencas Independence

Each year, Cuenca celebrates its independence over a period of 4 days between Nov 1-4, but it typically spills over at both ends.  Cuenca gained its independence from Spain nearly 200 years ago on November 3, 1820.   There ya go...your history lesson for the day.

On October 31, I attended a performance by the Cuenca Symphony in a theater I'd never been in before but had wanted to see.   It was large (3 tiers of seating) but it was old and need of major restoration which probably explains why the upper two tiers were closed off.   The seats were worn out, creaky, and were numbered with 4" stickers on the backs.   There was no squinting and fumbling to find your seat number, that's for sure.  They screamed...
183!!!!

I had seen the symphony last year for a Christmas concert and was quite impressed with their performance.  I counted about 60 instrumentalists.   Again, their performance was quite enjoyable..well...what I was able to enjoy what with people constantly coming in late DURING a number, finding a seat, squeeeak went the seat, people leaving DURING a number, people yapping, and one dude who couldn't put his GD cell phone down.  He was texting and answering his phone (no, it didn't ring out loud) and speaking to someone while holding the program over his mouth.  HOW RUDE!!   Then, there was the baby shrieking.  An ice pick through my ear would've felt better.  After several numbers, I left.  There were many people lined up against the wall, so you could say it was SRO.  Oh, and it was FREE.

On November 1st, I went on an organized tour (for expats) to learn about another cultural tradition.  The 'Day of the Dead' is mixed in with the independence celebrations, though for a different reason.  It's not at all like Halloween where people get dressed up in costumes and go door-to-door to get candy.  It's about family visiting and celebrating their dead loved ones and ancestors in the cemeteries.  They spend part of the day visiting the cemetery and adorning the graves with anything from flowers, to trinkets, to blinking lights, to photos, to lit candles, and sometimes all of the above.  Some even leave food for the dead.   Another tradition is to clean the grave, especially those that have glass doors.  As you'll see in the photos, many of the graves require a ladder to be reached.  The family unlocks the door, performs some cleaning and tidying up, and may replace some of the novelties inside the enclosure.

Our tour was at the main city cemetery around 9pm and there were THOUSANDS of people young and old there!!  Ummm...I mean living, breathing people.  It's all about people-class and level of wealth that determines where a person is buried.  How close they are to the chapel, how high up, how big of space, in the ground, above the ground, or in a family vault.  Even the unclaimed have their own space.  In some areas, it's by profession.  Taxi drivers have their own enclave!!!   Politicians and lawyers, too.   Interestingly, once a person is buried it doesn't necessarily mean that is their 'final resting place'.  They might move.   You see, burial places are RENTED.  Fail to pay the rent, your loved one will be moved to a lower rent district.  Can't afford to keep up the payments?   You can have their remains moved to a less expensive location.  Someone in the group asked what the average rent might be.  Approximately $45 a year.  That means $450 for 10 years, or $2,250 for 50 years.   I wonder how they serve the eviction notice?   Knock Knock....."Ma'am, you need to move.  You haven't paid your rent.  Ma'am...MA'AM!!!   WAKE UP!!!!"

Outside the cemetery was a zoo of vendors selling flowers (real and plastic) and all kinds of trinkets for the dead as well as little packages of cleaning supplies.   And, there was food everywhere including cotton candy.  I fully expected to hear someone belt out 'GIT CHUR POPCORN, GIT YER HOT DOGS!!'  It was crazy with everyone yelling out their product for sale.   No one seemed to need a permit to set up operations.  Clearly, some had made their Coloda Morada drink in a big bucket at home and came to the cemetery prepared to sell the traditional drink by carrying the bucket amongst the crowds and scooping up a cupfull for each paying patron.

We also went to a restaurant to learn about another part of the 'Day of the Dead' tradition...the making of and eating/drinking of GuaGua (wah-wah) de Pan and Colada Morada.  Guaguas de pan are bread babies. Some families make their own guaguas de pan at home, but most buy them from the panaderías, or bakeries, which only make them during this time of the year. These bread babies can be up to 12 inches long and are shaped with a ball of dough for the head and a long, tapering ball of dough for the body. They are decorated with icing and may have jam or some other sweet inside.

The colada morada is a thick purple-colored drink made from cooking blackberries, blueberries, cinnamon, cloves, and other fruits and spices with a little oatmeal in the water until thick. The drink is then blended until smooth. From the middle of October until the second of November, cafés and restaurants try to outdo each other in offering the best guaguas de pan and coladas moradas.  Yeah, I drank one...it was like drinking purple goo with lumps of fruit in it.   Not impressed, but I can now say I did it.

Our tour lasted 3 hours which included the bread babies, colada morada, guided tour of the cemetery and private bus...all for $15.

People come from all over Ecuador to participate in Cuencas celebrations.   There is a LOT that goes on.  Tented craft fairs line streets all over Cuenca selling Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Columbian art, clothing, jewelry, and whatnot.   Performers grab sections of Parque Calderon to entertain the crowds.  There's fireworks.  Food vendors are wherever they happen to set up their barbeque and go into operation.  No, it's not about Thai noodles, Burgers, Chinese, Pizza, and Corndogs.   It's 98% Ecuadorian such as grilled meats and vegetables on skewers, potatoes, corn, candies, ice cream, etc.

And there are concerts in almost every significant neighborhood...FREE concerts!   I must've ran into at least a dozen stages around town.  The big daddy of them all was a concert in the stadium for a big name mariachi group.  The huge arterial, Ave Solano, was completely shut down of all vehicle traffic for its mile length, and the streets immediately around the stadium were as well.

The President came to town, too.   I caught his 'motorcade' which consisted of maybe 3 average-sized SUV's and a couple of motorycle police escorting them through traffic.  Yes, they went through and around traffic.  Streets were not shut down for them.  It wasn't a huge entourage of armored cars with ambulances following.   It was just a whoop whoop from the cops to warn us to move over, then cautiously driving through a red light and onward.  No helicopters overhead.  No news vans.  No people lining the streets to wave at a black limo.   No limos!

Last year, I saw an amusement park setup but never went to.  I have always liked wild rides.  So, this year, a friend and I decided to go check it out.  It was situated in a bizarre location...essentially what looked like a gravel pit just above the autopista (freeway).  Hordes of people parked wherever they could....along the freeway, off the side of the road by smooshing down the brush, wherever.  Many people parked on the other side of the autopista and had to make mad dashes across the road at the roundabout then clambor up a long dirt road to the site.   We went at night and walked in near pitch black up that steep dirt road.  On the way up were various vendors who created their own makeshift sites on the steep hill by pushing rocks and dirt to level out their 'site'.  

Their were two levels to the 'parque de diversion' ('fun park'...though somehow I can't help but think a 'park of diversion' sounds kinda kinky).   The lower level seemed to be a separate operation because all of their rides looked rather old and beaten.  The upper level had very new-looking rides and definitely within my thrill-scale.    Tickets were $1, $2, or $3 depending on the thrill-scale.   There was only one $3 ride that I could tell.  The ones we rode were two bucks each.  Entrance to the park was FREE.

First up was a big pendulum motion thingy.   We sat in groups of seats around a circle at the end of a big vertical arm.  The ride started to swing back and forth.  Then, our circle of seats started to spin as we were thrust back and forth like a pendulum out of control....higher and higher.   My stomach felt queezy.   We were screaming.  My friend Ronald shut his eyes for the entire duration while I grabbed momentary glances of the city, amusement park lights, trees, and people swirling around me then shut my eyes so my brain didn't implode.

After we staggered off the ride and got our stomachs back in order, we headed to a ride RONALD wanted go on.  Since I made him go on the wild pendulum, I agreed.   I shouldn't have.   First thing I noted was this ride would NEVER be allowed in the States!!   It screamed lawsuits and injuries.  Visualize....a big bowl-like structure laying flat.  Around the perimeter of this bowl is one continuous hard plastic seat lined with a continuous steel rail about shoulder height (while seated).  Take a seat.  No seatbelts.  No padding, ANYWHERE.   You just sit anywhere you want along the continuous HARD plastic seat and you wrap your arms around the steel rail....your body forming the shape of a 'T'.  Hang on for dear life.   The bowl starts to spin slowly.  OK.   Then the bowl starts to tilt.  Fun.   Then the bowl starts bouncing.  NOT OK!!!   Whatever part of your body is not secured (which means ALL of your body except your arms) is flung about like a rag doll.  You have NO control.   Peoples legs were flying everywhere...into the laps of the person next to them, up, down, left, right.   You desperately try to reposition yourself to get a better grip but it's impossible.  It was hysterical to watch the others across from me fight for their lives but it was all in the midst of the pain I was enduring at the same time.   One guy completely lost his grip and his friends had to grab onto him while he was flailing about to keep him from being chucked into oblivion.  A few times, the ride would stop doing its pancake-flipping-in-a-frying-pan-thing to give us a welcome reprieve...only to start it all over again.  

OMG.  If this, in the first place, were even to be allowed in the States there would be two long rows of booths either side of the exit point of the ride.   One row would be nothing but Chiropractors to readjust you and lure you into a never-ending contract of adjustment services for the next few years.  The other row would be salivating attorneys with forms on clipboards ready to be handed out to file a juicy, money-laden lawsuit.  Regularly used terms would include 'Post Traumatic Disorder', 'Nightsweats', 'Inability to perform sexual responsibilities with spouse', and 'Pain and Suffering'.

Then we went on the Zipper...a good old-fashioned ride I loved as a kid.   It looked pretty benign.   Even Ronald agreed, once the ride started, that it seemed pretty cool as we glided around in a vertical circle.  Then, the machine started flipping our cage as we went up and down and round and round.  More screaming.

That was it.  No more.  But.   There was another ride that was luring me...the THREE DOLLAR RIDE (enter pipe organ music DUM DEE DUM DUMMMMMM!!!)   It takes a LOT to stop me from going on a wild ride, but after watching from the sidelines this ride had me dead in my tracks.   Like the first ride, it operated like a pendulum.  Except the arm of the pendulum was about 50 feet long.  At the base was a cluster of seats in a round formation.   Again, very similar to ride #1.   As the arm began to swing, the cluster of seats began to rotate.  The arm swung higher and higher until, the heart attack inducer, the arm became completly vertical at the top...the 180 degree point, with everyone upside down, facing the ground, spinning at a height of double the arm length!!!!  Then.....woooooossshhhhhhh......down and up the other side and again, upside down and spinning.   A full 360 degree loop.  NO WAY JOSE!!!!  I can only imagine the G's the riders must've been experiencing!!!  I think I would've gone into labor!!

So, that's how I celebrated Cuencas Independence Day and Day of the Dead.   Hope you enjoy the photos I took along the way.

Dano



Cuenca Symphony.  Ummm...I can't find my seat!!!  It's #135.  Where the h_ll is it???

Tomebamba river at night.

Santo Domingo church where our tour gathered.

As you enter the Santo Domingo church.

Santo Domingo church

Listening to the chef (and translator) explaining how Colada Morada is made.

GuaGua de Pan

Vendor table outside cemetery selling plastic flowers.  Don't you DARE put this stuff on MY grave!!!  

Visitors viewing grave (see upper level)

Some people bring their own crude ladders either made of bamboo or horizontal boards nailed to vertical boards.

People cleaning a grave.


The tomb of the unclaiimed.


A glass memorial of immigrants who didn't make it (ie; attempted to immigrate to Ecuador but died in the process).   Notice the illuminated 'tabs' at the bottom (see next photo).

Some of the names of immigrants who didn't make it.

Nifty tree illumination at the cemetery.

Spoooooky.

An artists creation of an Iguana in metal.  Ronald thinks it's pretty cool. 

Just one of many artists showings around town.  This one underneath the Puente del Roto (broken bridge).

One of my favorite forms of art where the artist uses miscellaneous pieces of metal from everyday life.   The spine along the back and front of this sea horse is made out of bicycle/motorcycle chain.

These were EVERYWHERE around Cuenca and in some real weird colors, too!  Blue???  Love the chocolate covered strawberries on skewers.   Buck a piece.   YUMMMM

Mannequin/Mime performer on a street corner.






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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