Featured Post

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Little of This, and a Little of That

OMG!!!   At this very moment, I am just 64 clicks away from hitting the 100,000 views mark!!!   Ok, so it isn't like my blog is a big hit on YouTube that's gone viral and millions have taken a look.  But, I'm damn proud that each new blog entry gets nearly 2,000 hits!!!  Like Sally Field once said 'You really like me, you really LIKE me!!'.    Well, 99.999% of you do anyway.  I do have to adjust for those folks who send me downright rude/nasty/mean comments.   They're just 'spewing negativity'.  I don't pay them no never-mind anyway.   Umm...wellll...I TRY not to.  Once in awhile I do have to yell at my Mom to KNOCK IT OFF!!!!

Moving on.  Press-on (Lee nails).

First item on the agenda:

Follow-up on the Police extortion saga.

With the family back in Nashvull, Tinnisee and Granny back at 'the home', keeping the stock of the boxed-wine industry displaying green up-arrows, I began to follow up on what transpired on our Puerto Lopez/Montanita leg of our recent trip (see recent posts).   I wasn't going to just do nothing (as several people suggested as, after all, it's part of their culture....adapt).  I decided to do two things:
  • Inform others via Facebook, GringoTree, Expat forums, etc
    • if they own a car, don't be fooled by their matricula expiration date...pretty much means nothing
    • provide suggestions on how to possibly avoid being extorted
  • Inform the authorities
Luckily, an individual saw my detailed post and sent the link to the Agencia Nacional Transito (ANT).  They immediately contacted me through this blog and asked me if I would help them in their on-going efforts to put the kabosh on corruption.  So, I had gender-reassignment surgery and went undercover.    NOT!!!  My case was turned over to the head of the department and I provided all the details to him, as well as the photo that was taken.  They were right on top of my communications, responding immediately.  Ultimately, they sent me 4 photos to identify the 2 who were part of the extortion.   I'm guessing right about now, those two kinda sorta wished they didn't do what they did.

For those of you considering coming here, or live here, consider the following:

Follow-up on my car 'situation'.

I'm so grateful to my friend Marcelo who dropped everything to come out to the autopista and pick us up and deliver us home.  AND, that he knew of a tow-truck operator who he had follow him to our miserable site and haul my car away.   AND, that Marcelo knew of a good mechanic to take my car to, instead of Mirasol Chevrolet who would be far more expensive.

3 weeks later, I got my car back.   This was no minor breakdown.  The engine had to be pulled out, then stripped down to bare bones to ensure all the internal damage was found and rectified.  To see my engine with all its guts hanging out and pieces and parts and bolts and nuts lying around in various pans reminded me of the days I worked on my old cars with Dad and, invariably, would end up (after reassembling the engine) with a handful of nuts/bolts we had no idea where they belonged.  EEEEK!!!

What went wrong?   A piece of bushing inside a sprocket that turned the chains that turned the overhead cams went PFFFFFFFTTTT!!   And, the pieces of metal went flying into various parts of the engine which gouged, scraped, and scratched other parts.

Two piston arms (connecting rods), 24 thingies that press down on the valves, new sprocket, new bushings, fuel injectors cleaned, starter cleaned, alternator cleaned, radiator core cleaned out, re-surfacing the cam-shaft, new oil pump, new water pump, and all new gaskets....came to......$1800.    Now, THAT, back in the USofA would've required a 3rd mortgage.  The labor was $450.  In the USofA, that would get you 4 hours of labor.  Here, it got me 3 weeks.

Illness

I went out on a Friday night and had a beer with a friend.  I was hacking a bit, which seemed odd.  During sleeptime, I hacked allllllll night long.   With each hack, I was destroying my throat more.  No sleep.  The next day, I seem to feel better.  Until that night.  ALLLLLL NIGHT LONG...hacking uncontrollably.   No sleep.  Sunday I rotated from bed to couch to bed to couch to......    No sleep.

Monday morning, I kept staring at the clock...is it time?  Is it time yet?   Ugh...3 more hours to go.  2 more hours.  Should I go in early?  Will there be a line?   I dragged my ass outa bed, threw on a hat and went to the Coopera doctors office.   I don't think they appreciated me showing up naked wearing only a hat, but I digress.  Luckily, I was the only one there and saw her immediately.   It was all I could do to lay my head on her desk.  I felt like I was a dead man walking.

She gave me a prescription for a list of items.   I went to their pharmacy and got them filled, then returned to her office where she injected a couple of them in my butt-tocks (Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump).   Within a few hours I was feeling better and feeling like I was actually going to live.

Next day, after a night with 9 (yes, I counted them) episodes of diarrhea, back to the doc.  The penicillin dehydrated me and my intestinal flora needed help.  More meds.   In a few days, I was back to normal.  Visited the doc a 3rd time to ensure everything was cope-uh-set-tick.

Cost?   $2 doc visit (times 2...3rd time was free), $40.61 in prescriptions which became $8.61 after 70% coverage, $2.63 a month medical premium.   Total:  $15.24

The bluest skies are always found in Seattle....errrr....screeeech!!!  CUENCA!!

The past 4-5 days, we have had a very unusual weather anamoly....completely clear blue skies!   Now, you might think 'big deal', but it is here.   It is VERY rare to have completely cloudless skies in Cuenca.  Weather is always on the move here with most days seeing a mixture of clouds/sun and maybe rain.  Look up at one moment, then look again 20 minutes later and the skies will look completely different between the two times.  According to the papers, some jet stream (it's always a jet stream isn't it?  Damn jets!!!) from Peru is responsible.  Not a cloud in the sky for several days which means intense sun, but temps only reaching mid to high 70's.  LOVE IT.

House For Sale

Anyone wanna buy a waterfront home on 1/3 acre with drop dead stunning views of the Olympic Mountains near Seattle for a ridiculously low price?   Selling my house in the states.   Need buyer.   You don't really wanna move to Cuenca, do you?

http://www.matrix.nwmls.com/Matrix/Public/Portal.aspx?ID=7267079937

Sorry, no photos this go-round.  But, tune in to my next entry where I'll tell you about (and show you) my orchid farms tour and the recent re-opening of the Parque de la Madre after a major overhaul.

Dano

...and now, a word from our Sponsor.









Friday, April 12, 2013

A Trip with Granny's Cousins - Finale (Banos)

The route we took to get us to Banos sliced across the country on a path I hadn't taken before.  It was a good highway (always a crapshot) and we didn't have to do a lot of climbing until the last part.   The highway (E40) connected us to E35 just south of Riobamba.  Now I was back in familiar territory because E35 is the route between Cuenca and Quito.  About 25 miles past Riobamba is the large city of Ambato.  As we were descending from the high plains, I noticed the rolling hills in front of us had some white-ish stuff on it.  Noooo....couldn't be!!!  WHAT THE......SNOW???  In a few minutes more, we were driving on a snow-covered highway with white all around us!   We were blown away.   Drivers all around us didn't know what the heck to do.  But, it didn't phase me since I'm from the Seattle area and driven in snow a gazillion times.  Then, it dawned on us.  There had been a big storm looming ahead of us about 30 minutes prior.  The 'snow' we encountered was actually accumulated hail!  We laughed ourselves silly as we continued on our way to Ambato, out of the 'snow' in about a mile.

In Ambato, we took the cutoff for Banos which actually made us head a bit south again.   We had already passed a few impressive volcanoes along the way, but we were anxious to see the one we came to see...the one that's been having indigestion lately.   Tungurahua, (throat of fire) stands over 15,000 feet and has been actively erupting since 1999.  Most of the time, it is shrouded in clouds, unable to see the whole thing.  But, as we approached Banos, there it was!!   We looked for signs of life.   Nada.   Wait...WAIT!!!  It PUFFED!!!!  IT PUFFED FOR US!!!   YEA!!!!!!!    Cameras in the car went wild.

We arrived in Banos in the early evening after an all-day drive from Montanita.   We checked into our hotel, located smack-dab in the middle of the Banos village.  Perfect location.  The hotel name?  Hotel Eruption, of course!!  When we were making our reservations a few weeks beforehand, Granny did NOT want to stay at the HE because of its name and the fact we had two teenagers with us.  Good Grief!!!  The two teens might get giggly over the name and go back to their schools and friends and make a big deal out of it.  ARRGGHHH!!!  But, that's where we stayed.

The next morning we were ready for adventure, which is what Banos is all about.  We took the waterfall tour, which I've done before.   Granny stayed in her room (or so she claims).  The tour bus was a 'Chiva'.  Chivas are basically a truck with a flatbed with benches and an overhead canopy, colorfully painted.  No windows, no seatbelts, just hang on.

The first stop had options to ride in a metal bucket and be flung across the river gorge in front of the waterfalls, then back.  The TN gang did that.  $1.50  Next, came an opportunity to do a zip-line.   Both Maddy-mae and Opie were chomping at the bit to fly through the air (with the greatest of ease).  This zip-line was the mother of them all....a full kilometer long from high on a ridge down into the gorge, crossing the river, then re-crossing the river again, to the end at the bottom of the gorge.  In the past, you had to hike back out, but this time they had a vehicle waiting to drive them back up to the top.  $15.

The last stop on the waterfall tour was to die for.  It was something that one could almost say made the entire  trip to South America worthwhile if that were the only thing you did.  We walked a trail, parallel to the river, to a point where the water fell into a big pool of a semi-open cavern.  Wow.  heh-heh...that was nuttin.  Further down the trail, we came to a suspension bridge.  These are NOT my favorite because they swing and bounce and you wonder if you're going to step on that one rotted board and......   Crossing the suspension bridge, you got a full view of the huge, roaring waterfall.  Looking outwards, was a beautiful gorge with the river at the bottom, a house dwarfed in the jungle-like canopy and another suspension bridge leading to it.   Now I know where the Garden of Eden is located!!

Across another suspension bridge and down a trail carved out of the side of the hill, we descended to a point where we could stand behind the waterfall!  The word 'amazing' doesn't serve justice.  It boggles my mind that people had the idea, motivation, and perseverance to carve steps out of a sheer rock cliff to bring visitors to this point.  The stairs and outlooks were pure works of art.  A couple of men were working on the trail railings, laying brick and mortar, precariously clinging to very little footing and a sheer drop below.  All the materials (brick and concrete) had to be hand-carried down the trail to their location.

That night, Maw-mah and Maddie-mae opted for a spa treatment for their feet.  For ten bucks, they soaked their feet in a de-ionizing machine filled with water.   It's supposed to be a detoxifying process where toxins in your body exit through the bottoms of your feet.  By the time they were done, their water was darker than root beer!  Toxic people them folks from Tinnissee!!!

The next day, the TN family went horseback riding.  Granny stayed in her room once again.  Or, so she said.   I stayed in my room to write my blog.

Later, after they returned, Opie and I rented Quads.   I'd never driven one before, but he had.  They are like motorcycles but with 4 wheels and they're great for going off the road.  The rental lady was a bit intrepid about renting to Opie because he didn't have his passport with him.   He convinced her he knew how to ride one because he had one back home.  I noticed the sign said minimum age 16.  Opie was 14, but looked and acted much older.  I was nervous because I was essentially the adult, responsible for him.   We got our quads, but Opie kept killing the engine every time he tried to start.  The battery was a bit pooped, so the staff had to keep pushing him to get it started.  Then he would kill it again.  Rinse/repeat, Rinse/repeat.  I asked him 'I thought you said you knew how to operate these things!!'    Well, he did, but not ones with clutches.  He had an automatic back home.  DOH!!!   I thought the staff was going to recant on the rental, but they gave him an automatic and off we went.

Opie and I took a cobblestone road and climbed waaaaaay up to the top of a hill on the opposite side of the volcano, looking waaaaay down on Banos.  The views were amazing.  After goofing around on various dirt roads up at the top, we headed down....as were the clouds...heading down.  Once we stopped to take a photo but by the time Opie got the camera out, the clouds engulfed us and obliterated the view.

That night, I took the gang up to 'Luna Run Tun'....a fantastic resort high on the hillside looking down upon Banos.  We walked a bit of the grounds and checked out the stunning infinity pool built right on the edge of the cliff.  We had dinner in the restaurant where you can sit next to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and look straight down onto Banos.

Ahhh, but it was time to leave Banos and head home.  Our last stop would be the town of Alausi, the starting point for the Devils Nose Train.  When we got there about 11:30am, the station attendant informed us 'yep' there were tickets still available.   For the 3pm train.   ACCCCKKK!!!   Granny got her brain cells twisted around thinking there was a 1pm train, when in fact it was 11am.   We were not going to wait 3.5 hours for the next train.  Granny wanted to get home to her babies (a couple of wiener dogs).  There wasn't anything in Alausi to see other than the train station itself.

Back in the car for our final 2.5 hour leg of our week-long trip.  Everything was fine until.....

UNTIL.......

dum DUM.......DUMMMM!!!!!

Just as we were approaching the outskirts of Cuenca, a rattling noise started coming from my engine.  Hmmmm....that doesn't sound good.   In less than a quarter mile, as I tried to ascend a minor slope, my car wouldn't have anything to do with it.  No OOMPH.   I pulled to the shoulder and the motor died.

I lifted the hood and checked for any obvious signs of the source of the problem.  Nada.  The car wouldn't restart and stay running.  I called my friend Marcelo, who's bailed my ass out before, and asked him if he could send a tow truck and also pick us up and deliver us home.  He knew a tow truck owner.

We waited on the shoulder of the autopista.  It was rather comical as our luggage was lined up on the shoulder and 5 white Americanos were lounging about waiting for salvation.  Granny had to go potty in the brush.  Countless people drove by and toot-tooted their horn.   HI!!!   Bye!!!   We think they were honking at Maddie-mae.  One guy stopped and asked me (in Spanish) what our problem was.  I told him it was the motor and it was 'un problemo grande'.  He said 'I check'.  Nooo....nooo...not necessary, the problem is very big, not something that can be fixed alongside the road.  'I check'.  He asked when my friend was coming and I said he should be there any moment.  'I check'.  GAWD!!!   So, he climbed under the car and looked all around.  He had a friend who's a mechanic, he would call them.  Noooo...not necessary.  Finally, after much back and forth, I convinced him we were alright and he left.   Then, a man and woman stopped and asked the same questions.  They wanted to be sure we were okay before they went on their way.   Very nice.

After a few hours of waiting, Marcelo swooped in and the tow truck right behind him.  The car was loaded up on the back of the truck and we crammed ourselves into Marcelo's car (with Opie stuffed in the back with the luggage) and we were on our way home, a mere few miles away.

So close, yet so far.

The car has been at the mechanic now for over 2 weeks.  A piece of metal disintegrated in the area of the camshaft chains and it appears fragments traveled around in the engine as other places showed signs of gouging.  Many, many parts are being replaced and thus far, the bill is hovering around $2,000.  I'll almost have a new engine by the time they're done!

So, let's check the leader board shall we?
  • $250 police extortion
  • $375 car registration fees
  • $2,000 repair bill
         $2,625*    **

*  does not include accommodations, food, beverages, or entertainment
** fuel costs paid for by Granny

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano


Cast of Characters:



Granny was played by Manon S.
Maw-mah was played by Kimberly S.
Maddy-mae was played by Madison W.
Opie was played by Alex W.
Cameo by Dano

SNOW on the road.....in ECUADOR????
Tungurahua Volcano

BURRRRRPPPP!!!!!!

Our Chiva.


Maw-mah, Maddie-mae, and Opie being flung across a gorge in a steel basket.


Opie getting readied to fly down a zip-line.

Too bad he finds it so boring.  

Next up....Maddie-mae.

It's a good couple hundred feet down to that river.





The first cascade falls into a semi-covered cavern.


This suspension bridge is very, very, very high up!!!

Notice the house in the upper right and the suspension bridge leading to it.   This photo is taken from the suspension bridge I'm walking on.   It's HIGH!!!    Also, notice the stairways on the lower left.

Can you believe such a thing was built??

If I didn't mention it here, would you have noticed the people half way down and to the left of the waterfall?  That's where we're headed!!!  Smack dab in the middle of the photo and to the left of the waterfall, see the man in tan clothes working OUTSIDE of the trail wall.

Again, notice the worker in tan clothes working OUTSIDE of the trail wall.

The stairs remind me of the Great Wall.  Observation area on the upper left.


See what I mean by....the word 'amazing' doesn't serve justice???

One of the workers mudding the wall along the trail.

You can see the road in the upper part of the photo, with the utility poles.

Hmmmm.....did OSHA inspect this?

Notice the worker on the outside of the trail wall.

Two suspension bridges.


Yeah, yeah...yours truly.  Rare sighting of Sasquatch.
Sasquatch, Opie, Maw-mah, Maddie-mae

Look mid-way down the photo and to the right.  Two people.   Gives you a perspective of size, no?

Town of Banos.  Notice the waterfalls along the cliffs in the lower left, and another in the upper left.

Opie and our Quads....looking across at the flanks of the volcano.


Now you understand why I dubbed him 'Opie'?

Opie showing off his new Alpaca sweater.


I spotted this guy leaving Granny's room.  Maybe he's from Housekeeping???



Eggs anyone?

Inside the church in Banos.

So close....yet so far.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Trip with Granny's Cousins - Part III (Montanita)

Just an hour down the coast from Puerto Lopez is the town of Montanita.   This makes my 3rd time there.  It's where I met Granny nearly a year ago.  

How to describe Montanita?  Well.....a bit hippie, a lot surfer, bamboo/tiki architecture, party atmosphere, artists, dreadlocks, a bit on the wild side, barefoot.  That about does it!

We settled into our digs at SoleMare which is located at the surfers end of the beach rather than smack dab in Montanita-central.  The setting was nice but there was no AC and it was humid. Dano don't do humidity.  I sweat....I pour.  The rooms were more expensive but nowhere near as nice as our rooms and amenities at Nantu in PL.  It didn't take long before I was not liking it.  Carlos, the owner/manager, immediately chastised me for raising the window blinds to let more air in, because they are fragile and may break.  "DON'T TOUCH THESE!!".   Gimme a break!!  I also parked my car at the worng angle.  I was not supposed to eat in the room.  I went for a walk on the beach late that night as it was pleasant and cool.  When I returned to SoleMare, Carlos's father jumped to his feet and scolded me for not hosing off my feet before entering the complex and ultimately my room.  ETFOM!!!

But, let's back up a bit.  It was now Monday.  Banks open.  There are no banks in Montanita...only an ATM.   Maddy-Mae and Opie were signed up for surfing lessons.  Granny and Mah-maw were proudly waiting to take 157 photos of every surfing movement they made.  I, on the other hand, was miserable with the room, hot and humid.  I got the idea to drive to Salinas, about 50 miles away, to the bank and bring my car registration fees current.   The cool part of the drive was the fact I would be COOL in my AC car!!!  Before I left, I took advantage of the huge mud puddles outside the complex to scoop up mud and fling it at my car....primarily the license plate to obsure at least one of the digits so cops couldn't read the entire thing and enter in their on-board computer.  My car was already a muddy mess due to substantial rains in days beforehand that caused a lot of dirt runoff onto the paved roads.

In Salinas, I paid the $375 registration fees at the bank and got a receipt, then drove back to Montanita.

We strolled through the village, admiring beautiful jewelry art displayed by the artists on simple tables made of plywood and sawhorses, or just laid out on sheets on the sidewalk.  Dinner and a few beers and a stroll back to the complex via the beach and we all crashed.

After a fitfull night sleep sprawled across the top of the bed with fan on full force, I refused breakfast and hopped in my car and headed for my favorite hotel in Montanita...Charo's (as in 'coochy coochy').  There I had breakfast and asked about room rates/availability.  They had a room for the same price as I paid at SoleMare but it had AC and the complex had a pool and jacuzzi.  BOOK EM' DANO!!!  So, I loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly...uhhh...Charo's, that is.   I laid out by the pool, dipped in the cool jacuzzi, had a beer (or two), and napped in my hammock on my balcony listening to the roar of the surf.

I drove back to SoleMare to watch the kids on their 2nd day of surfing lessons.  They were up on their boards and having a ball.  Granny and I took to the surf ourselves, sans boards.  I tried to body surf but could never catch a wave.

The next morning, we headed to our next destination, Banos.   But, first we needed to make a stop just outside Montanita to visit Denise's tree-house home with her boyfriend who handcrafts surfboards out of balsa wood.  It was amazing to see how someone from the Pacific Northwest in the USA was living in a 3-level 'house' made of bamboo, open air, no glass windows, bare-bones kitchen, no walk-in closets, no dishwasher, no car, no AC....just the raw basics.  Her boyfriend proudly showed us his very rudimentary factory where he produces highly sought-after surfboards to aficionados around the world.

After our short visit, we were back on the road for a lonnnng drive back and through Guayaquil and onto a route I'd never driven before.  I had no clue how long the drive might be, what the road condition would be, whether it was flat or hilly or winding.  We just winged it knowing that somewhere it would connect us up to Riobamba where it would merge with a highway I'm familiar with to take us into Banos.

Why Banos?  Because Opie wanted to see a VOLCANO!!

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano


Just before entering Montanita is this intriguing cliffside.....thing.

The flipside of what you see on the previous photo.  So, where's the two elephants, 2 billygoats, 2 ostriches, 2 zebras......????

Beautiful downtown Montanita.

This was under construction the last time I visited, now it's done.   Odd architecture for Montanita, but then again Montanita is odd.

SoleMare


The courtyard of SoleMare.

Opie and Maddy-mae practicing their technique before heading to the surf.

Annnnd.....HE's UP!!!   

Opie chatted up this woman who joined us for dinner.  She looks a lot like a younger Granny.

Opie, Victor (the board maker), Maddy-mae


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