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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Perspectives

Well, you probably know by now who won the Presidential election.  The one for Ecuador, that is.   Yes, President Rafael Correa was re-elected.   He received about 60% of the vote.

Now, that may seem not all that impressive given that it's just 10% more than half.  In our particular case, we had 8 candidates to choose from.  The call for general elections happened on October 18, 2012.  The election campaigns were officially launched on January 4 OF THIS YEAR and ended on February 14th, 3 days before voting day.  No big conventions where hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted.  No year-long barrage of TV commercials manipulating slash distorting the facts and numbing our senses.  How refreshing is THAT??   Eight presidential candidates were registered.  Anyway, the nearest 'competitor' to PRC got only 23% of the vote and the remaining 17% were sprinkled amongst the other 6 candidates.

Of course, being President of the United States is waaaay different than President of Ecuador.  To give it some perspective, visualize....


  •  In terms of area, Ecuador with 98,985 square miles falls in-between Colorado with 103,729 square miles (the 8th largest state) and Wyoming with 97,105 square miles (the 9th largest state).
  • In terms of population, Ecuador with 14 million people falls in-between Florida and Illinois...respectively the 4th and 5th most populous states.
  • Startling fact:   the entire population of the state of Wyoming would fit in the city of Cuenca (approx 500,000).   Excuuuuuse me?  As I look across the city of Cuenca I'm seeing what could fit in the entire state of Wyoming??   They must not like having neighbors close by in Wyoming!!  
If Ecuador were your home instead of The United States you would:
  • use 91.44% less electricity
  • consume 79.45% less oil
  • spend 94.36% less money on health care
  • have 15.05% more chance at being employed
  • live where the unemployment rate is less than 5%
All these little factoids I got from the internets (GW Bush).

Of course, I could go on and on, but I won't.

Yes I will:
  • Pay $1.48 a gallon for Regular gas, $2.10 for Premium
  • Not get junk mail
  • Not have tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards
  • Not give a rip about the Kardashians
  • Not be at war(s) all the time
  • Not pay $150 a MONTH in property taxes to support schools that you've never had a child use, but families who do have children that attend the schools but have a lesser-valued house pay LESS taxes for the school, though they utilize it MORE.
  • Not fear for your life if you go to a movie theater, sit in a coffee shop, go to McDonalds, let someone go from their job, attend a school/college, or drive down the freeway and accidentally cut someone off. 
  • Take responsibility for your OWN actions and decisions versus holding everyone else accountable.
  • Not worry about your job being out-sourced.
  • Own 1 car per 5 people in EC, versus 1 car per 1.25 people in the US.
  • Experience hard-working people versus hardly-working people.
  • Get a $4 haircut (that takes a half hour) versus $40.
  • Live on cash instead of credit, credit, credit
  • Eat fresh home-cooked meals versus pre-made frozen meals (ie; Lean Cuisine) and/or fast-food.
  • Ride the bus for .25 cents.
  • Pay a dollar for 2 hours of parking.
  • Get food served by people NOT wearing surgical masks over their head, eyebrows, moustache, and goatee.  WHAT??!!   Shouldn't they be covering they eyelashes, arms, and sideburns, too?  What about their ear hair?  
I digress.

Ok, I'll stop there.  Don't want this to be a RANT!!!  Noooooo!!!

Lastly, the words of PRC when he won 4 more years in office:

"In this revolution the citizens are in charge, not capital,"

"We are only here to serve you. Nothing for us; everything for you,"

Granted, them is only words, but when was the last time we heard such sentiment from the politicians of the country we came from?  They wouldn't have the guts.

Dano

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bouncing Around Subjects

Another one so soon?

Yep, I'm motivated.  Topics are piling up.

Our Presidential Elections

Instead of being like Christmas where it has now invaded Thanksgiving...to Halloween...to Back to School, the campaigns here don't start a year+ before voting day!  I mean....aren't they supposed to be DOING their job instead of spending a year CAMPAIGNING for their job?   In Ecuador, election campaigns semi-launched about 2 months ago with announcements.   Full-force see/touch/feel campaigns started maybe 30 days ago.  Elections are next week!!!  On a SUNDAY no less!!!   How refreshing.   Inhale....exxxxxhale.....sighhhhhhhh.  

From a pedestrian standpoint, the visual campaigns are comprised of large 6-8 ft tall A-framed boards with the candidates photos, standing in every corner and greenspace around town, cars converted to moving promoters...no, not with bumper stickers...but full-scale screens engulfing the body of the car, and walls of barns, retaining walls, and out-buildings painted with images of the candidate and 'VOTE FOR _____!!'  

I'm on the rolls to vote this year.   We'll see how it goes.

President Correa is very popular.  After a decade of upheavals and the public ousting a string of presidents, Correa came along and finished the 2 year term of the latest ousted guy, then was re-elected 4 more years, and is expected to easily win 60% or more next week.   He is charismatic.   He's 49.  He has a Vice President who's a paraplegic in a wheelchair from a gunshot during a robbery.  But, beyond personality, he took advantage of the money Ecuador's oil  and mining (silver and gold) generates...to improve/build roads, schools, infrastructure, wind energy, hospitals, etc etc.

President Rafael Correa announced an 8.8 percent increase in the minimum national wage for 2013, a move he says will provide 96 percent of basic living necessities. The increase means the minimum monthly salary will rise from $292 to $318. The minimum wage was $200 when Correa took office in 2006.

Of course, there's always those elements people don't like about him, but it seems overall, he's been very good for EC.

Most of these signs are taken down every night and put back up the next morning, presumably to  avoid  defacing.

Entire retaining wall painted in support of President Correa.



Cuencas Civil Projects

Speaking of politics, the Mayor of Cuenca....a city of a half million population... Paul Granda, is a mere 40 years old.

Cuenca has assertively pursued a long list of improvements to better itself.  Let's look at a slice of that list...shall we?

  • All the street signal lights have been replaced with LED fixtures.
  • Downtown sidewalks are being re-built.
  • Park de la Madre is being completely rebuilt including an underground parking lot and a new planetarium theater.
  • Plazas surrounding local churches have been renovated.
  • Tres de Noviembre street was gutted and completely rebuilt with walking/biking paths and spaces for small businesses such as coffee shops and clubs to entice people to wander along the river and take a bit of the load off Calle Larga on the upper bank.
  • A plank bridge with no railings used to access a growing neighborhood was replaced with a new arched concrete bridge.
  • A major bottleneck in one of two of the main arterials around Cuenca was alleviated by building a tunnel under the roundabout.  Cost....a bit over $4 million and completed in under a year.
  • 21 kms of light rail has commenced construction along one of the busiest arterials and to the airport.  Cost about $215 million and estimated to be completed by end of 2014.
  • Many historical buildings are under restoration projects.
  • University of Cuenca theater was restored.
  • Higher education institutions are being constructed in Cuenca and neighboring Azogues.
  • The soccer stadium is set for restoration and increased capacity.
  • Likewise, the Jefferson Coliseum is scheduled for remodeling.
  • Cell towers are popping up everywhere.

Art

In my new rental house, I have 5 cool niches in the wall as I go up the stairway.   Perfect for some new art.  I have always loved artists who create creations out of pieces of thrown-away metal.  Spark plugs.  Bicycle sprockets and chains.  Nails.  Nuts-n-bolts.  Wheel bearings.

I saw that CIDAP, one of many museums, was hosting the works of a local artist who uses these things.  I decided to go in hopes of finding a piece perfect for one of my niches.  I did.

Also, more photos of my coffee bean art.

My iguana made of scrap metal.  It's about 2 1/2 feet long by a foot wide.

 Notice the sprockets and bicycle chain that makes up his/her back.


Coffee bean art.  This pieces actually resembles my current house and the setting it's in.

Peas, unroasted coffee beans, black eyed peas, and pumpkin seeds.



Cuerito

I've owned a lot of cars in my life.  It's been a long time since I've owned a car with cloth seats.  Hate it.  Get in and your pants get stuck at the entrance to the door even though your butt is fully seated.  I prefer leather.   So, I thought someday, sometime, I would have my seats re-covered in leather.  I've seen many shops who do that and I've rode in many taxis who've had their interior re-covered.  I was prepared for maybe $500.

I had coffee with an expat friend who happens to own the same make/model car as mine..but a year older.  He had his done in 'cuerito'.   'Cuero' means leather in Spanish.  'Cuerito' (or Cuerina) is, essentially, a leather-look-feel-alike product.  He really liked the result and I was shocked at the price.  I went to the same guy.   I had the front seats, headrests, rear seats, headrests, all re-covered in 'cuerito'.   Cost?   $95.

GET OUTA HERE!!!!

Before.  Cloth seats easily stained, threads pulled, and/or cigarette burns.

After...with cuerito.




The Ruins

I went to the Ingapirca Ruins recently with a 'lovely couple' from Tennessee.   As opposed to last time I was there, we were able to wander through the entire site with a tour guide.   Now, you get to see more of it.

Ingapirca Ruins








Dano

BTW....these 'shiny badges' as AirBnB calls 'em are my two short-term apartment rentals in Cuenca!  So, if you're thinking of coming for a visit, or need a homey place to stay while looking for your more permanent digs, consider these two options!   Better than just a room in a hotel, but costs the same or LESS...but you get MORE!!
















Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Sanguine Life of Retirement

Yeah, yeah.  I know I'm overdue.  Build a bridge and get over it!!!   Lot's been going on.

Just because you move to Ecuador and you're retired, doesn't mean 'sh_t' stops happening.  At least not in my case.  And, just because you're retired and have all the time in the world, versus evenings and weekends in the past, doesn't mean you have the mental bandwidth to handle it all.

My New Home

So, I finally got settled in.  I like the place.  It's QUIET.   But, the house sat empty for 3 or so years after it was constructed and I'm the first liver-inner.  As such, I'm the first person to test it out as well and, aaaaas such, I'm the one who uncovers the issues.   Clearly, whoever built the house did a sloppy job on finishes and someone wasn't thinking too clearly about things like 1.5 bathrooms, both with pedestal sinks...where do you store stuff?  Oh, and that pesky little issue of tilting the front porch AWAY from the front door so when it rains, or you hose the porch off, water doesn't run under the front door and into the foyer.  Oh....what?....a  thingamagig that fits under the door to prevent water and bugs from entering?  HUH?

The landlords are VERRRRY lazy.  They are a classic case of 'manana' and when manana comes, it also goes, and so goes the promise they made.  POOF.    When I first saw the house in October I noticed a hole in the lower yard filled with water that smelled a bit like sewage.   I asked about, knowing a few things or two about houses and septic fields, and they said 'oh, that's water runoff from the road on the upper part of the lot'.  Hmmmm....me thought....then why isn't anything else wet above this area?   I half-heartedly accepted their excuse...errr...explanation.    Well, guess what.  When I was working in the yard, I noticed another wet spot directly in line with the lower water-filled hole....which....by the way....some idiot filled with broken tile debris that I took out piece by piece.   Like....what....it's going to decompose???   Anyway, I went in and flushed the downstairs toilet, then went back outside and 'up from the ground came a bubbling crud...no, not crude'.   I KNEW IT!!!  

Manuel came over and dug up nearly 40 feet of septic line.  It had all been crushed.   I don't HOW or WHERE you-know-what went for 30 days prior to that but in no way was it able to pass through that crushed pipe.  I'm just SAYIN!!!

Oh, les'see.  If I had the heater on and the TV and I microwaved popcorn at the same time, the breaker switch would flip.   Then, it went downhill from there.    I was making buttuh one day with my food processor  and the WHOLE house switch (located in a box near the road) snapped!!!  Then it got to the point the whole-house breaker wouldn't stay on at all...well, it would again in the morning but then it would start acting up again.   After a few days without power, electricians SEEM to have fixed the problem.

Oh, and the 3 leaks in the roof surrounding my skylight.  They fixed the interior damage to the ceiling but didn't bother to stop the source of the leak!!!   WHUH???   After a few more rains and signs that the interior ceiling was going south again, I suggested to the owners for the umpteenth time....YOU MIGHT FIX THE ROOF!!!!!

Builders LOVE to throw debris out into the yard.  Supposedly, it will disappear.   My property had debris strewn all over it.  I told the landlord I wanted it all cleaned up.  They did nothing.  I cleaned it all up and made a huge pile in the front yard.   Ceramic tiles were hurled everywhere.  Cabinet shelves/doors in the high grass.  Plastic bottles.   Sheets of metal.  Barbed wire. Cutting blades.  Speaking of cutting, I cut myself several times extracting all the tiles from the yard.  Talk about sharp edges that people could get hurt with!!!   LAWSUIT!!!!  Oh wait, that's only the greedy folks and lawyers in the USA.    I digress.   Then, the landlords promised to take the pile of debris I created away now that I had done all the work cleaning it up.   NOPE.   A friend of mine who found this house for me and who's also a friend of the owners, finally gave in and hauled most of the stuff away.  MOST.

I was thrilled this house came with a WORKING fireplace, instead of a fake facade!!!   So, I gathered up wood scraps from around the yard and started a fire.  YEA!!!   NAY!!!!!!!!!!   Smoke engulfed the entire interior of the house.   I opened all the windows downstairs and upstairs.  No breeze.  UGH.  The house smelled like smoke for at least 2 weeks after.   No, it wasn't an unopened flue....they don't use them things here.   I think it was just poor design.  A small draft pipe and a 90 degree angle are not conducive for a strong updraft a chimney needs.  Oh well.  Back to being a useless facade.

I'm not done yet.

I'm not hooked up to city water.  It comes from a local spring so I hear.   I pay $5 a month to a local indigenous lady named Mercedes.  Several of the homes in the area have water lines strung along the shoulder of the road....ABOVE the ground...or flung up in the brush alongside the road looking like a kiddie rollercoaster.    These lines spring leaks all the time.   Water pressure went down, down, down over the period of a week or so until the pressure was so low it wouldn't activate the hot water heater, resulting in no hot water.   GRRRRRR.    If there's one thing that will turn me into a hatchet-murderer is the inability to shower and feel like a normal human being!!!!

After a week-plus of this, they finally fixed a break in one of the main lines and the water pressure was back on.    I thought the water was coming from a well, but apparently it's from a spring.  So, when it rains hard, which it does often here, the water turns into running dirt.  There's no way I can have the aerator and screen thingy on my faucets here because they'll get clogged up with dirt after a hardy rain.  So, I took them all off.

OH!!!  Remember me talking about water flowing under the front door?  Well.   How about water overflowing the window frames and onto the floor?  YEP!!  That, too!!!  During a hellacious deluge of rain, the direction of the rain was hitting the windows, and filling up the window frame tracks.   And, when the tracks filled up and spilled over into the adjacent track it went....yep...inside and down the wall and onto the floor.   Remedy....drill holes in the window frames so they self-drain.

Then there's those downright nit-picky things that earn me the 'Angry American' badge of pride.   Ya know, where the shower floor is tilted AWAY from the tiny drain hole?  Where I have to use a squeegee to drag the water to the drain so it won't sit there and get stagnant?

And to Shake Things Up!

I got to experience my first EARTHQUAKE in Ecuador!! Yipppeeee!!!   Peru seems to get a lot of them.  And, all the volcanoes surrounding the Quito area can get things a jumpin from time to time.   But, here in Cuenca it's.....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.   But, a few days ago, my house started rolling around as if it was built on jelly.  Lasted about 15 seconds.  I froze as I didn't know if it would grow in intensity.   Come to find out, it was a 6.9 located in Columbia, our neighbor to the North.  I'm used to EQ's having lived in So Calif for many years, and Seattle has had a couple of dillies, too.

Back Home

I received notice my tenants are moving out of the waterfront house I own up near Seattle.  EEESH   I already have a negative on it which is draining my savings and I haven't been able to sell it.  I mean, c'mon....a one-third acre of waterfront with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the water and Olympic Mountains, clams on the beach, 7 yr old house of nearly 3,000 sqft on 3 levels, heated floors, rooftop deck with jacuzzi, and I can't get more than what I owe on it?   UGH.

Bozo

My baby boy Bozo died this past week.  He was only 8.  The sweetest, funniest cat you'd ever want to know.   I don't know what happened.  He escaped out an open window (because my oven was creating a lot of smoke) and the next morning, he was lying lifeless in the empty lot next door.   No signs of an attack.  He made me laugh all the time.  I think he rode the short bus to school.   He flew on an airplane with his baby brother Chip, all the way from Seattle to South America!!!    He no habla espanol.

Hasta luego mi amor.

Dano


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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