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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas in Ecuador - 2013

I WAS going to write and post this ON Christmas day, but as I may have mentioned before, I'm the worlds GREATEST procrastinator!!!!  But, it's still sorta Christmasy out there wherever you are, right?   If you're NOT in South America, you probably still have your tree up, and maybe the outside house lights and icicle strings are still shining.  Likely, they've never been taken DOWN!!!

Christmas is different here, pretty much like everything else.  I'm from the Pacific NorthWest where it's c-c-cold (versus Wyoming where it's c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-COLD!!!!) and it FEELS like Christmas should feel.  Here, however, I'm wearing shorts.  I wear shorts all the time much to the dismay of many of my friends who are so over seeing my extremely muscular quads and cut calves that resemble much like professional soccer players.  But, I digress.  Easily done at my age.

Ohhhh...yeah...Christmas.   I lived in So Calif for 17 years (San Diego and La La Land) and it was weird come the holidays to be singing about snow and sledding and everything brrrrrr when I was wearing shorts and a tank-top underneath palm trees in sunny, balmy weather!!  It's not quite like that here, but the temps on Christmas Eve were about 80.  The trees are green (not barren), the temps are spring-like, we don't have trees to cut to adorn our homes....all the Christmas trees here are fake.

It's not as much a tradition here to put up lights around the house, but some do.  That said, it's not at ALL like you'd want to hop in the car and drive around and check out the lavishly decorated homes.   Nada.   In fact, many homes don't even display a Christmas tree.  After all, even the fake ones are EXPENSIVE and some are just butt-ugly.

Ok, so I seemed to have painted a bleak mental image of Christmas here.   Just because it's different doesn't mean it's bad.   Here, it's more about the religious aspect and it's all about the children....the ninos.   Even though there's the typical gift-types being sold at the stores (ie; toys) many families simply give gifts of candy, food, gift baskets, and the like.   In larger stores there's a section of at least a dozen barrels filled with candy to purchase by the kilogram.

And parades.  Practically every defined neighborhood has some sort of parade.  Then, there's the 'mother' of them all down a central street in Cuenca on Christmas Eve day.  It starts about 9:30am and ends....hmmmm....sometime late afternoon.  When I went at 2:30pm it was still going strong.  Parades typically involve children dressed up as either angels (the boys) or shepherds (the girls).   Uhhhhh...or is it the other way around?   Lots of dressed-up cars and pickups that create the basis of 'floats'.  And.....gobs of horses adorned with everything and anything imaginable...candy strings, beer bottles, roasted pig, jars of jam, fruit, popcorn.....whatever...with chillen riding atop in dramatic garb.

The Rose Parade, it ain't.

But, everyone loves it.   I was amazed at the young children who'd obviously had been waiting for a long time for the parade to commence yet alone ride on a horse, or donkey, or 'float' for blocks, and blocks, and lonnnnnnnnng blocks for hours.   I did see a few that were conked out, but I didn't see any tantrums or screaming 'MOMMY.....I don't like this anymore!!!!".

As I've mentioned before, it's like the 1950's here.    Back in a time when it was all about family, spending time together, having fun, and not having high expectations that you were going to get an I-Phone Version 6.3 that allows you to send up to 800 worthless text messages to your BFF (Best Friend Forever) per day and tell you how to get to the nearest Starbucks a block away AND pre-orders your favorite drink (Vente mocha, two and 1/2 pumps of chocolate, 1/3 packet of Sweet-n-Low, 9 cubes of ice, shaken, double press espresso)...then automatically debits your checking account for the $13 cost.   Like....OMG....THANKS Mom & Dad!!!!  Like, I'm soooo OVER version 6.2!!!!   It's like soooo in the garbage!!!

Sorry...I just had to 'go there'.

My personal Christmas day was a day of quiet.   Christmas day is pretty much deader than a doornail here as VERY FEW (ahem, cough, cough) businesses are open.  I took the opportunity to enjoy a quiet day working in my yard pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, weedwhacking, and watering.  However, a few days beforehand I went to Coral (a pseudo mini Walmart) and had a heyday throwing all kinds of stuff in my cart....avocados, candy of many types, toothpaste, tea, popcorn, soap, crackers, yogurt, tuna, candles...you name it.  I bought a bunch of Christmasy bags and filled them with random arrangements of the goods I bought.  One of my neighbors lives in a typical shanty made of cinder block and random pieces of materials that makes it look like they built their home from things that blew off cars and trucks along the highway.  They are the sweetest group of people from elderly to baby.   Christmas morning I got up just before dawn and left the big garbage bag of goodies at their front doorstep....with their dogs in attack mode.

Enjoy the photos of scenes from Ecuador's version of Xmas.  GASP!!!!   CHRISTMAS!!!!

Dano
The stash I accumulated for my neighbors family.

Typical adorned horse.



Just about everything imaginable is on this entry....from Heineken to candy to pineapples to a roasted pig (rear) to Christmas ornaments.


So young to be shaving already!!!

Lots of bicycle entries this year including this one with a baby and its mother in the 'towable'.





Notice the balcony spectators in upper left.

Thouuuuuusands.

I love this photo of dad/son getting their photo taken by a paid photographer....and me snapping on the sidelines.


Proud dad.

Ever try to dress a Saint Bernard in a Santa suit?

The dog is a definite money-maker!!!!

The main Cathedral of Cuenca.

Angel on Wheels.

We're pooped and we're cute!!!

Yep, plenty of roasted pigs on the Christmas parade floats!!!!




Beautiful roses at the local flower market a block away from the central square of Cuenca.


And, of course, the enchanting lights lining the banks of the Tomebamba river.














Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'm a Plant-Aholic

Hello, my name is Dan (Dano) Austin and I'm a plant-aholic.

HI DANO!!!!

Me and my friend Bett-yeh are freaks when it comes to flowers, plants, bushes, you-name-it.

Ya know, when I was a kid, you couldn't get me to work in the garden, pull weeds, prune stuff, etc.  BLECH!!!  But, now, I find it very therapeutic, relaxing, and rewarding to the see the results of my efforts.

Back in the US of A I had a beautiful waterfront home on 1/3 acre.   It was my dream home that I had built. With bare naked land, I planted....literally....over 1,000 plants, flowers, bushes, trees.  I was in heaven.  But, after 3 layoffs from corporate America bent on out-sourcing jobs, I had to leave my paradise to where I am now....south of the border.  No...not Tijuana.....reeeeeeeeally SOUTH!!!

In Cuenca, most properties have very little outdoor space.  Homes are built a-la-San Francisco where the wall of one house is butted up against the wall of the house next door.  Front yards are pequeno (small) and back yards are usually enclosed patios encompassed by a high wall.

Where I live now, is just outside the city in an area call San Joaquin (San Wah Keen).  It's an area that's QUIET!!!   And, homes here typically have space around the house for a garden, lawn, or whatever.

When I moved into my house, the area around the house was a disaster.  Nothing but hard clay, rocks, construction debris, etc.  To put it lightly, it was a disgusting mess.  So, I went to work.  Two dumptruck loads of tierra negro (black dirt) that I shuttled with my wheelbarrow to add some life to my yard.   Grass seed.   And, so many plants I have no idea how many I've purchased.

Some people ask...'why spend your money and effort on a place you rent?'  My response is usually along the lines that I enjoy the work, the payback, the results, etc etc and with Ecuadorian prices, it's not all that much money I put into it.   Besides, if the landlords were to toss me out, I would yank up every freakin flower and take it with me.....or poison it and return the landscape to the state I received it.

There are soooooo many differences in the way-of-life here.  Back 'home', you can go to Home Depot, or the like, and buy bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, seeds, etc.   Nope, not here.   I have looked, and looked, and looked, and asked, and asked, and asked, and it's VERY difficult to find any place that sells the BEGINNING of a plant.  You can buy the PLANT, but try to find the origination of a plant and it's a mystery.

Rocks...I mean big rocks....are more plentiful here in Cuenca than Starbucks back home.  This city is BUILT on rocks!!  So, it's easy to gather up melon-sized rocks and create planters....which I've done....to a ridiculous level.  Make a new planter, gotta get plants, right?  Hmmmmm.  Want to buy more plants, just build another rock-enclosed planter!

I love Cannas, but couldn't find a place to buy the rhizome for the life of me.  One day, I was driving through Paute and saw someone's 'yard' full of Cannas bursting in color.  I stopped.  I asked her if she would sell me some of her plants.  SURE!!!    She got a pick and dug up several rhizomes for me...$2 a piece....and I went away ecstatic.

Driving down the highway from my house, I noticed a fairly large farm with, amongst many types of vegetables (you oughta SEE the size of cabbage here...we're talking bigger than a watermelon!!!), rows of Gladiolas.  Love them.  I decided to pull in and ask them if they would be willing to sell me some bulbs.  Remember....it's ridiculously difficult to find any place, any one, anywhere, that sells these things.  She said 'sure', for a buck a piece she went through her garden and used a stick to pluck up a dozen or so gladiola bulbs for me.  Then, she led me to the area where the flowers were blooming and cut several off and gave me a bouquet of glads to take home.

I asked her...where the 'F'....ok, so I didn't quite put it that way....where does one buy bulbs (bulbos) or PaPa's (collectively referring to anything of a rhizome, tuber, or bulb nature)???  She told me to go to the flower market next the the Cathedral in central Cuenca.  There, a few stalls operated by indigenous women have them for sale.  WOW.   No COMMERCIAL outlet?  Nope.

The next day, I stopped by the flower market and, sure enough, a few women had a milk-crate full of stuff yanked up from the ground.   They even knew (supposedly) what color belonged to a particular bulb.  It was like sifting through a garage-sale box of junk....dig down and find what you want.  HOW ODD!!!

I bought a bunch at .50 cents a piece.  I decided to modify a spot in my yard.   I took my pick and dug up the grass and flipped it over to create a mound.  I stopped in at a nearby home that sells bags of dirt along with sand, rock, etc.  I purchased 20 gunny sacks of dirt (at $2 a bag) and had them delivered for $7 bucks.  I emptied all 20 bags into my new creation area.

When I was in Paute last week to get my Ecuadorian drivers license (future blog story....eeesh), I stopped by several of my favorite nurseries and loaded up on my 'drugs'....plants.

So, today, I created a whole new plant area, where 30-40 new bulbs, along with a myriad of other plants including Canna's, bearded Iris's, Impatiens, Daisies, Petunias, Geraniums, Lobelia, Pansies, and others I have no clue what their name is....have new homes and I anxiously await their colorful display.

Didja know...
  • Geraniums can grow up to 6ft tall here?
  • Impatiens grow 2-3 feet tall?
  • Those Christmas flower thingies....grow year round and some are the size of TREES!
  • Plants considered as Annuals back home are used as HEDGES here!!
  • Bummer that we don't have Tulips or Daffodils here.  It doesn't get cold enough to 'snap' them during their dormant time.
  • Calla Lilies grow 4-5 feet tall!!!
  • Mom sent me a packet of yellow sweet corn seeds.  Someone told me they won't grow here.  I wanted to prove them wrong.  They were right.  Mine grew to about 8 inches and stopped.  The corn grown dang near everywhere there's an empty space here....is a white corn.
Ok, so here's the photos of my plant gardens surrounding my house.  Please don't send the folks in the white coats to take me away.

Dano

PS...Gracie is not in this blog entry.  Whenever I work in the garden, it usually involves the garden hose and for some inexplicable reason (heh, heh, heh) she runs and hides because she THINKS I'm gonna squirt her (heh, heh, heh).

UGH.....LY
BUTT-UGLY


Buy a wheelbarrow and tools and start bringing in nice black dirt from the mountains.

Lots of bamboo to create a hedge to add an element of privacy.



Looking better, no?

I said I would never have roses, but ended up with 32 rose bushes back home.  Never say never.



This is one of two truckloads.

Grass seed taking hold.

Decided to frame the plant area with rocks....LOTS of rocks....to create a barrier between the grass and the flowers.  Backfilled with dirt.  But, by doing so, I created more space for plants!!!  So, I bought MORE!!! 


One of my Dahlias.


Those are my white Calla Lillies on the right.  HUGE!!!

I told myself I wasn't going to do this side of the yard, butttttt.......



My Panthees.

I love Canna's.  Most of mine are about 6ft tall. 

This is my egg plant.  Get it???


Love these grasses. A dark burgundy grass with plums of wheat color, very symmetrical, and easy care.

My Calla Lillies are over 4ft tall!

This photo doesn't do it justice.  The Geraniums are about 5ft tall...reaching up to my living room window.

My project of today.  Again, the photo doesn't capture just how much there is.  Lots of bearded Iris's.

These climbing vines can actually become a tree if not potted.  Bright yellow clusters bloom the full length.  I regulary train the vines to go where I want them to.

I have 3 hanging hummingbird feeders and 3 hanging baskets of Fuchias.

This flower is an Annual (doesn't survive winters) back home.  Here, they grow to 6ft tall and are commonly used as privacy hedges!

Love this blackish-blue plant!!

Several houses under construction in my area, thus lots of construction debris including this concrete drain pipe I  nabbed and turned into a planter.


I've been in love with Impatiens ever since I first saw them at one of my best friends (Scottie) house in Sonoma, Calif.   Here, Impatiens can grow 2-3 ft high!!



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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