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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Return to Banos - Part I

Banos?  REALLY?   He went to BANOS AGAIN?  Yes.  Oh gawd....he's gonna show us a bunch of waterfall photos as if we haven't seen enough already!!   Well, maybe a few.

Yes, I went to Banos again.  My 4th time.  I had an itch to get outa Dodge and there was a gap in-between guests checking in/checking out of my apartments so I leaped at the chance.  I've also tried to do the Devils Nose Train a few times, but missed due to timing (not mine...Granny's), so I was determined to check this one off my list (hello Chris/Mike) once and for all.

This 4-day trip will be broken into blog-segments because there's just too too much to tell, and waaaay too many photos to post, in one entry.  Besides, I like to make you wait.  Wait for it...WAAAIT FOR IT!!!!!

I left Dodge City (Cuenca) at 8am and drove like the proverbial bat outa hell.   The weather was perfect, sunny and some clouds, dry road, astounding views and not much slow truck/bus traffic to deal with.  I was shooting for the 11am train departure and I knew it took at least 2.5 hours to get there.

Along the way there's a long stretch of countryside that is jaw-dropping gorgeous, but it's also subject to frequent fog, low clouds, and/or rain.  Not this time.   I wanted to take photos but couldn't afford the time to stop.  So, I found myself frequently driving with one hand and the other with my (new) camera focused out the windshield.  As usual, though, many of them just didn't do justice what my eyeballs could see...the depth, the magnitude, the 3-D, the looming, the height, the width, etc etc.  And, the glare in my windshield also caused some photos to go to the trashcan in the sky.

I arrived 20 minutes before departure.  Luckily, there were seats still available.  I had a $25 or $35 option.  For the latter, I could choose my own seat and I would get breakfast which I needed as I hadn't had any.

I handed my ticket to the guy at the steps leading onto the train.  He said 'go to the left'.   Went I boarded, the half-car to the left was nothing more than a couch that wrapped around the 3 sides and I could sit anywhere....amongst all the others who'd already snagged their spot.   However, to the right was a nice orderly car with seats of 4 (2 facing 2) on one side and space for 2 (1 facing 1) on the other side.  The chairs were nice and comfy looking and there were small tables you could pop-up.  This was more inviting to me, so I took a 1 on 1 and popped up my own private table.

Once under way, I figured out why the car 'to the left' was more versatile because people could get up and wander from one side to the other depending on the view of the moment.  I just so happen to pick the side where my view was pretty much the wall of the embankment versus the other side which was the view of the canyons below.  To see that, I would have to get very friendly with the 2 on 2 folks across the aisle.  Oh well.   I figured I'd be able to see what they could see, on the way back because the train will turn around.

The train was very modern, smooth, quiet (no charming clackety clack).  We had a guide who, via a hand-held microphone, explained every little detail in Spanish, then in English, as we descended.   It was a trip 45 minutes down, then 1 hour to roam about at the end of the line, then 45 minutes return.

I had heard all the hype about this trip.  The original track was constructed over a hundred years ago and it was a HUGE engineering feat (at the time).  The design was to scale the side of a mountain by descending (or ascending) to a point where the train would pass an intersection by the length of the train, then switch the track and head down (or up) the next leg....but....without turning the train around or the train going around a curve.   This meant, in the first leg (for example) you would be travelling forward, then in the next leg, you would be travelling backward.

I had visions of this precarious trip where I'd be looking thousands of feet down the sheer side of a mountain, wondering how the bed of the track could hold up.   Well, to be truthful, it wasn't all that death-defying.  It was 3 zigs and 3 zags and that was it.  YAWN.   Ok, OK, it was interesting, it was pretty, it was something I wanted to do and I'm glad I did, but I don't need to do it again.

At the end of the line, was a cool little station with a cafe situated right at a bridge crossing over a river.  We had 'lunch' (never did get that 'breakfast') which consisted of a tall glass of juice and either a sandwich or a corn-husk-wrapped-something-or-other.  Across the track was a 'market' of vendors (all 5 of them) selling something touristy.  Normally, you could walk up a long set of stairs to a center that presented historical information of the construction of the train system in Ecuador...which is now being completely renovated.  However, we couldn't go up there because very recently a slide occurred which put the safety of the buildings in jeopardy (see photos).   I took a nap.   The last 15 minutes of our 1 hour stop included a performance of a dozen or so dancers in EC regalia.

Back on the train for the trip back to the home station in Alausi (Ahh Lah ooh SEE) where the announcer pretty much kept his trap shut but a video screen presentation promoted all the efforts to restore the EC trains system.

Oh....and the view I had going back up?  The same.  The train didn't turn around.

The End.

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano

Along the way to Alausi.



The town of Chunchi.  Where the buildings stop, is a cliff going down into a valley.  The town is built right up to the edge.



Yes, the chairs are not attached to the floor.

The Devils Nose....at 12 O'Clock

The path of the track.


Informational sign and aerial photograph of the path of the track.



Hmmm....did OSHA approve this design??

Train station at the end of the line.


The slide under the exhibition center.   Ooopsie.
GRACIE!!!  Stop sniffing my shoes and get outa my Blog!!!





Sunday, June 16, 2013

What to Bring When You Move to Ecuador

FINALLY!!!    I've been asked by several to take up this topic for quite a long time now.  Since I don't have  another travel story with all sorts of purty pictures to show you, I thought I might as well tackle this now.  I do it with some dread, though, because I just KNOW others are going to write to me and argue with me about those things I said people SHOULD bring and, of course, admonish me for not mentioning this or that THEY feel is mandatory to bring, or leave home.

Do I bring all my sh_t from home or just what I can cram into luggage?

Well, you have to assess whether you can't live without some of those things you've been lugging around all your life, or if you can store them somewhere so they're still there for you down the road some time, or whether purging is a good thing for you and you feel freed by it all.  And, if you ship everything via container, what happens if, for whatever reason, you end up having to move back?

Personally, I just couldn't imagine dealing with all the bureaucracy of shipping my possessions in a container to EC.  I mean, you have to itemize every frickin spoon or framed photo (size, color, frame composition), or article of clothing (Calvin Klein jeans, 36 x 32 (OK, so I'm FAT!!!) hole in the knee, missing one belt loop)...you get the idea (or nightmare).  And, for every success and ease-of-transition story, there is an equally wrist-slashing nightmare to counter it.  You could get that guy who's in a bad mood or wants payola. Your container could be broken into and stuff stolen.  Your container could be poorly handled and your crystal vases smashed to smitherines.  Or, it could go off without any flaw or hitch or hiccup.  Either way, it generally costs THOUUUUSANDS of dollars.  I dunno, I'd rather spend those thouuuuusands of dollars in the adventure of finding and buying new stuff here.  More than likely, I'd have plenty of $$$ leftover to spend on checking out restaurants, massages, mud baths, side trips and whatnot.  And, there's the savings of not spending so much on alcohol to drown the stress of documenting, packing, shipping, tracking, begging, crying, unpacking, disposing of the packaging, and on and on.

Me, I chose to liquidate.  I remember reading a post somewhere that the person felt it was liberating.  Well, so did I.   I had 'garage' sales but in a different way.  I took photos of everything and posted them on a free website.  Each photo had a caption of what it was and the price. Then, I posted a 'virtual' garage sale on Craigslist, providing the link to the photos.   If a person liked an item, they could email me.  We'd arrange a time for them to come by and pick up the item and pay for it.  In that time, I was able to bring the item down to the garage, ready for pickup.  Once sold, the photo was taken down.   It really worked well as I didn't have to drag everything out into the yard, post signs around town, worry about the weather, or deal with idiots who wanted to barter you down from .25 cents to .10 cents...as if they couldn't afford a quarter.  I wanna SMACK those people!!!.  I pretty much got my asking price in most cases.

Yeah, that meant buying new stuff here in EC.  But, that was part of the fun.  Items generally are cheaper here...like furniture.  So, why not enjoy buying stuff from EC that looks like EC and not from Macy's back home?   And, part of the adventure was finding art I liked that was made by someone from South America and added to the ambiance of my home....rather than ship all my Van Gogh's and Salvador Dali's.

If you weren't able to deduce, I chose the option to come down with whatever I could cram into luggage.  I was flying First Class which allowed me another piece of luggage I would not be allowed in Coach, therefore it gave me an opportunity to bring more 'stuff' down with me.

There were a few things I HAD TO HAVE.   One, was a good set of Circulon pots and pans I bought at Costco only a few months beforehand.  In my initial exploratory trip to Cuenca 3 months before I moved, I noticed that pots/pans available here were flimsy and pricey.   The other thing was my newly purchased (yes, at Costco) floor washer/vacuum/thingy.   99% of the households in Cuenca do not have carpet.   Floors are either hardwood or tile...the latter being the biggest percentage.  I could not envision myself mopping.   Not after enjoying the luxury of owning FOUR I-Robot floor cleaners of various types back home.  So, I broke my floor washer down into manageable parts and stuffed them into my luggage.

Ok, so now I have pots/pans and a floor washer.

When you move to such a foreign place as South America, you have no idea if they have this or that, that is so common back home.  Your mind tends to think 'they' can't be that sophisticated.  So, I better bring a couple years supply of Q-Tips, deodorant, shavers, dryer sheets, bar soap, etc etc....right?

Yes and No.

My new city is very civilized.  Yes, I can buy Colgate toothpaste here, toothbrushes, deodorant (albeit a different brand), Q-tips, Bic shavers, bar soap (albeit not Dial or Ivory), etc etc.   The point is, there is almost always an equivalent of whatever you use back home, that will do just fine here.  You just need to learn A) what the Spanish name for it is here, B) what brand they offer here, C) what of those choices do you prefer once you have tried them.  They might not have Kiss My Face shaving cream here, but you can try other options.  Or, you can ask friends when they come to visit you to bring you 3 bottles of KMF shaving cream.

Ok, let's start getting spuhciffic here:

  • Clothes
    • Ec'ers are smaller folk then most North Americans.   So, it can be challenging finding shoes larger than size 10 for men.   Ditto with jeans if you are 5'10" or taller because most people are shorter here.   The size XL for shirts is really a size L back home. Therefore, anyone who wears XL back home needs a 2XL here and that is RARE RARE RARE to find here.
    • This means....bring as much clothes as you can.  Whenever someone visits, have them bring some for you.   Whenever you travel home, go there with next to nothing in your luggage and stuff it full of your favorites on return.
    • Bring long pants, shorts, coats, plenty of shoes of wide variety, belts, undies, socks, swimsuit, outer tee shirts, dress shirts....the basics.  Skip the tux, opera gloves, tiara, business suits, and wingtips. 
    • Hats...plenty of ballcaps and other assorted varieties for both men and women.  After all, the sun is VERY intense here so hats are very common.
    • Umbrella...yup, you need those here, too.  But, save the space and weight and buy them some cheapies here.
  • Photos
    • Scan your favorite photos of the grandchillen, the dogs when they were puppies, Mom/Dad, etc and bring them on a CD.  Then, reprint them on photo paper and buy new frames once here.  Saves on weight and space.  Besides, your old frames might not go with your new EC d├ęcor.
  • Bedding
    • Sheets are notoriously thin here.  Bring a couple pairs of sheets sets with you.  Also, most of the sheet sets here are horribly ugly.  For some reason, they don't seem to like solids here.  There are stores (ie; SuKasa) that sell nice sets but they are insanely overpriced.
    • Blankies are fine here, inexpensive.
    • Bedspreads are typically very ugly here.  For some reason, they all look like you landed in Disneyland or Alice in Wonderland, or you're just plain high on sumthin.  Solid colors or simple patterns are rare.  You choose.
  • Towels
    • Same thing.  Here they are very thin.  For thick towels you pay a hefty price.  Bring several nice sets with you.
  • Electronics
    • Bring your laptop along with all the CD's of software you have installed on it.  Bring a good backup drive.  Backup all your 'stuff' on another device.
    • You don't need to bring your printer.   For example, a Canon All-in One (printer, scanner, copier) costs at mere $65 here.
    • I-pads, I-pods, I-phones, I-I's, I-Toilets, etc....bring 'em if you want.  I don't care.  They're just devices that I-diotize people anyway.
    • TV's.   yes, they cost a lot here if they are imported such as Sony, Magnavox, or Victrola.  But, do you REALLY want to lug your 72" flat screen TV with you when you can buy a South American brand here for a regular price?  I mean, we DO have television here ya know.  We even have a thing called DVR players, too!!  
  • Documents
    • This is important because you'll be filing taxes from a broad....ummm....I mean abroad!  Before you move, scan all your important documents and burn them to a CD so you'll have them available if/when needed.
    • Also, if you plan to get a form of residency Visa, get all those documents in order before you come.  For example, you might need a criminal background report.  A document may need to be notarized, apostilled, blessed by the Pope of your State, rubber-stamped by the doctor who delivered you, or who knows what.  Do these things before you leave and make sure they are not too old, too.
  • Meds, Prescriptions, Vitamins
    • EC is not a vitamin-addicted country.  So, if you have your favorites, stock up on them.  Consolidate bottles by getting rid of all the fluff...the packaging, the cotton, fill-'em up to the top.
    • Rarely do you need a physical prescription from a doctor to get meds at a pharmacy here.  HOWEVER, you do want to keep record of WHAT the med is (as well as dosage), so you can find the equivalent here in case it's not available under the same brand/name.
    • On your exploratory trip, find out what IS and what IS NOT available here.  If a med is not available, see if you can arrange an extended refill program with your doctor back home and then have them either shipped to you or brought in by friends visiting.
  • Glasses
    • If you have a big head like me, you might want to bring a couple extra pairs of sunglasses with you.  Again, I remind you, EC'ers are smaller folk.  Therefore, things you wear such as sunglasses are made for smaller people with smaller heads.
  • Phones
    • Determine how you'll communicate with the folks back home.  In my case, I bought a MagicJack at Radio Shack before I came here.   For a small annual fee, I can make as many calls as I want to, and for as long as I want to, to folks back in the States (and them to me) without any charge per-call.  I brought my own set of cordless phones to be stationed throughout the house.
    • A cell phone to use within EC-only is easy to set up.  For about $35 you can buy a cell phone here, with a local company chip (ie; Claro or MoviStar) and have a local phone #.   You don't need to sign up for a monthly plan.  Instead, you can add a dollar value to your phone at countless kiosks and tiendas around town.
  • Tools
    • Forget it.  They weigh too much and not worth the cost of putting your luggage overweight when you could've used that weight for other things that matter more.  Also, many tools we use 'back home' are not necessary here.  For example, most construction here is brick and/or concrete, therefore a Skill Saw is really not used much.   As mentioned before, items that are imported are taxed heavily.  So, if you want to buy a DeWalt drill here, expect to pay $300.  But, there are equally good brands of the South American (or Chinese) type that allow you to buy a drill for $39.  Same with wrenches, screwdrivers, socket sets, etc.
  • DVD's
    • They cost $1.50 - $2 here and, yes, they are in English.
  • Kitchen Items
    • All of these are easily replaceable here and very cheaply, too.  You might opt to leave your silverware, mixing bowls, measuring cups, Tupperware (yes, GASP!), cheese grater, glasses, plates, coffee cups, cutting board, etc etc....BEHIND.  Pots/pans...no.   Otherwise...yes.
  • Other Electronic Gadgets
    • Hair dryers, clothes irons, curlers, etc....easy to get and very inexpensive here.
    • Microwave....if you bring your own microwave, I'm gonna slap you silly.
    • Yes, bring your favorite coffee grinder and/or coffee press
    • Coffee maker...no
    • Food Processor....if it's EXTRA special and it can inflate river rafts...ok.  But, there are very inexpensive FP's here (ie; $50)
  • Adult Stuff
    • I can't believe I'm 'going there' but.....if you feel comfortable going through Customs/Immigrations and the POSSIBILITY of those items being exposed when your luggage is opened, well OK then.  But, be warned, EC is very prudish when it comes to this sort of thing.  That said, there are very few outlets here from which to shop, very little to select from, and very uninspired.   I'm just sayin.  So, I've HEARD.
  • Food
    • Here's where it becomes a free-for-all.   I'm not a cook.  I'm like my Mom.  I know salt and pepper and....ummm....garlic.....and.....ummmmm.....teriyaki sauce.   That's pretty much my limit.  But, I hear over and over again that many people have trouble finding their favorite spice or cooking sumthinoranother.  I know my friend Granny has anyone travelling her way bring with them HORSERADISH.  Can't find it here.   She also wants one of those gigantic containers of Sea Salt from Costco.  Others have difficulty finding baking soda....or was it baking powder?  I can never remember the difference.  Part of the challenge is knowing the Spanish name for whatever it is you're looking for and knowing where to go to get it (ie; a specialty spice shop, an organic store, etc).
  • How to Pack It
    • Whatever you DO decide to bring, squish it.   Take stuff out of their packaging and squoosh it into a baggie.  Or if you must bring your fave Tupperware, fill it full of stuff even it it's socks.  For example, I love Swiffers.  They don't sell it here.  So, if someone brings some for me, I have them take it out of the box, stuff it in a baggie and squeeze the air out of it.  Or, stuff some inside a shoe.  Leave no empty space unoccupied. Maximize!!!
That's it.  That's my advice.  Take it or leave it.  But, don't blame me if you're invited to meet the President and you didn't bring your tux.

Dano

GRACIE!!!   That is RUDE to my readers!!!
Now, get out of my BLOG!!!!




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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