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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Better Shop Around

I love going to the open-air mercados here in Cuenca.  Sometimes they're referred to as the Indigenous Markets primarily because most of the vendors are Indigenous (natives).  Each major area of the city has a mercado that serves those that live nearby.  But, the granddaddy of them all is the Feria Libre.

I've written about going to the market before, so what's new about this entry?  You'll see at the end.

Wednesdays are what I call 'zoo day' at the Feria Libre.  That's because vendors take over the entire parking lot for ONE day, every week, setting up tents selling clothing, shoes, curtains, bedding, underwear, etc etc.  This is in ADDITION to the permanent Feria Libre installations!!  And, that's the day most people come on busses from the rural areas and nearby towns to buy their supplies for the week.  It's also when a slew of women bring live chickens in gunny-sacks and stand in a long row (in their indigenous wardrobe of pleated skirts, embroidered blouses, hair braided in ponytails, and a hat) holding their gunny-sacks open for browsers to see what they have to offer and barter over a price.  Wednesdays are crowded from very early morning until about 1pm.   If you don't like hordes of people, don't go on Wednesdays!!!

Saturdays are almost as busy, but at least the parking lot is available for PARKING!!!

To say it's amazing is an understatement.  The entire market takes up several square blocks.  Some of it is enclosed in buildings, some of it has overhead roofs but no walls, some of it is under makeshift tarp canopies, and some of it is simply laid out on the asphalt.  There are THOUSANDS of pounds of fruits and vegetables everywhere.  You have to wonder how they ever sell it all and what about all that product at the BOTTOM of the barrel or pickup-sized heap???   You almost never see anything rotting.

Some vendors sell multiple things such as strawberries, mangos, bananas, apples, avocado, cucumbers, etc.  While others seem to sell only one thing.   There's one section of the market where there's nothing but TONS of potatoes.   How a person decides to buy from one vendor over another when they're all selling POTATOES is beyond me.   Ditto with onions, scallions, garlic, avocados, and limes.  I mean....just how many limes does a person need every week????

There's the seafood section with corvina (sea bass) piled high, lots of tuna, catfish (ick), and other types of fish I've never heard of.  Shrimp from small to huge, clams, Ecuadorian crab (worthless), calamari, trout, all brought up from the beach communities and, generally, pretty fresh (and cheap).

There's the live animal section with ducks, chickens, roosters, chicks, turkeys, geese, kittens, puppies, guinea pigs, bunny rabbits, and, and, and.  

There are dead animal sections (meats) with every part of cow, pig, and chicken you may (or may not) want.  Tongue?  Sure!  Hooves?  Sure!   Chicken feet?  Of course!!!

There are dump-truck-sized piles of pineapples, watermelons, bananas, oranges, and there's mangoes up the wazzoo.

Huge strawberries (double the size of a walnut) are common-place. 

You can buy eggs for .10 cents a piece.  You can get huge eggs from an ostrich, or tiny ones from Cornish.  You can get brown eggs, blue eggs, polk-a-dotted eggs, or green eggs (without the ham...Sam).

You can buy plastics, small appliances, get a haircut, buy videos, woven baskets, toilet paper, grains, and all kinds of spices (if you know what they are and what they're called).

Oh, and you can buy live plants as well as cut flowers for HALF the cost of what they sell them for at the flower market next to the Cathedral in El Centro.   You can even buy a bushel of flower petals!!!   Yep, they save them from the flowers they don't sell and people buy them to toss on the ground in parades and funerals.

OK....now for the clincher.  Some people don't like going to the mercados either because of the crowds and/or the aesthetics, and/or they fear things are not healthy (you should wash everything).  The alternative is the big-box grocery stores.  We have TWO chains, with THREE locations each.  That means SIX big-box grocery stores that serves a city of 1/2 million.   SuperMaxi is much like Safeway, Ralphs, or Winn-Dixie...3 locations.  Coral (3 locations as well) is a pseudo-WalMart on a much smaller scale where you can get all your groceries, tires, a wrench, and a bra in one place....though, quite frankly, their bra's are just tooooo tight on me!!!!

Yes, there are small tiendas in every neighborhood...every block, actually...that sell the basics like chips, soda, milk, eggs.

Practically everyone who comes here to visit or live is surprised at the prices at, let's say, SuperMaxi.  In many cases, their prices aren't that much less than the States when it comes to toothpaste, deodorant, chicken, bread, or a can of beans.   However, if you can fathom to pry your fingers off the labels you've been used to, it's easy to find local brands that are just as good and cheaper.  If you want Tide laundry detergent, you better redeem one of your bricks of gold.  Ditto with Tropicana OJ from Florida.  Why they bother to stock that stuff is beyond me.

Oh...yeah...the clincher.   Almost forgot.   I decided to perform a super-scientific experiment (SSE) to see how much money one might save by buying the same thing at one place over another.  In this SSE, I made a list of items to buy at SuperMaxi as well as the Feria Libre.  Below, behold my analysis.   Be prepared to be AMAZED.

       WHAT                                     QUANTITY      FERIA LIBRE      SUPERMAXI
  • Apples                                    5                         $1.00                       $1.74
  • Avocados                               2 lbs (4)              $1.00                       $1.70
  • Bananas                                 5                              .30                           .37
  • Chicken Breast (no bone)      1 lb                      $2.50                       $4.25
  • Corvina Lomo (Sea Bass)      1 lb                      $2.50                       $8.50
  • Eggs                                        12                        $1.20                       $2.13
  • Grapefruit                                5                         $1.00                       $2.08
  • Langostino (Lg Shrimp)        1 lb                      $7.00                        $14.00
  • Lomo Fino (Filet Mignon)     3 lbs                    $12.90                      $27.00
  • Onions (white)                        3                              .50                       $1.17
  • Oranges (for Juice)                 20                        $1.00                       $2.20
  • Peas (shelled)                          1 lb                      $1.00                       $1.55
  • Pineapple                                 1                          $1.00                      $1.96
  • Pork                                         1 lb                      $2.80                      $3.70
  • Potatoes                                   6 lbs                    $2.10                       $2.75
  • Pumpkin seeds                        5 oz                     $1.00                       $5.60
  • Strawberries (large)                1 lb                      $1.00                       $1.85
  • Tomatoes                                3                              .40                           .96
  • Trout                                       1 lb                      $2.50                       $3.20
DRUMROLL PLEASE!!!!                                 $40.20                 $86.71


Note:  The Feria Libre sells things by the pound, whereas SuperMaxi sells by the kilogram.  I've done the conversion so the prices above are apples-to-apples.

And, to top all that off, when purchasing at the Feria Libre you oftentimes get a 'Yappa' which is a bonus few strawberries, and extra orange or two, or an ounce or two more shrimp tossed in by the merchant for free as a thank you.

Feria Libre WINS!!!

I rest my case, no further questions Your Honor!!!

Now.....where's my Poolitzer Prize????

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano




 
 


A lady showing off her rooster for sale.

Notice the rooster the guy is holding upside down.
He's inspecting other women's fowl for sale and comparing for the best buy.

I'm always amazed that these fish don't go sliding off onto the floor!


According to my friend RP, who I consider the 'Welcome Wagon Lady' of Cuenca, these spidery/starfish-shaped things are called Jamaica (ha-may-cah) used for steeping in boiling water for an hour or two on the back of the stove. It makes a red tea allegedly good for bladder infections, urinary tract ailments, and generally good for health.



Sorry Kevin/Bill (they're vegetarians)







Yep, you can buy your TP at the Feria Libre, too!
This lady is pushing a cart through the crowds barking out what she has to offer and the prices.

Mangos.  Notice the avocados in the background.  They stack them in a bunch and the price is for that bunch.   Same goes for a pail of potatoes, or a pail of strawberries.   But, you can also purchase by-the-piece, too.

5 gallon buckets of strawberries.
 



 
This is one zillionth of the potatoes you'll find at the Feria Libre.
 
 

.....and MORE mangos.

...and piles and piles of juice oranges.


 
SMILE!!!
Clearly, this little piggy didn't floss between meals!!!!
 

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Yammee

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Miami.   In a nutshell, one of my devoted readers contacted me with an offer I couldn't refuse.  She had 2 pets to bring down to EC and wanted assistance in getting her stuff organized for her container shipping and, once travelling, be able to escort one of her itsy-bitsy dogs with me and her with her other IB dog in the cabin.   She had a ton of frequent flyer miles to 'pay' for my flight.   She put up the moolah for accommodations in a motel.  HERE in EC, a motel means something ENTIRELY different, but I won't go into that. 

I searched for probably a total of 20 hours using a slew of websites, Craigslist (which was full of obvious scams), AirBnB, FlipKey, etc.....to find a suitable place to stay.  I wanted more than just a hotel room....a place I could prepare a few meals and enjoy extra space for the 4 days I'd be there.

But, whatever the reason, I could not find anything less than $100 a night....even at Days Inn, Extended Stay America, or other typical run-of-the-mill along-the-highway types.  I found TONS of rooms for $200 - $400 a night (and MORE!!!).   GET OUTA HERE!!!   With the Miami Boat Show going on and it being a 3-day holiday weekend, hotel rooms were hard to find.  I ended up at a Motel 6 for $100 a night (plus $3 bucks a day for internets (George Bush)).   I remember when their name meant the price of the room!!!!  GADS!  At least, though, this was a NICE M6 in that they had just remodeled many of the rooms.  Fresh thick paint, good-sized space, flat screen TV (in a casing that had RCA and HDMI ports), new beds, a microwave, and a small fridge fer my Scotch (CRITICAL!).  

I flew out of GYE after midnight and arrived in MIA 4 hours later...before the crack of dawn.  I had time to kill before the car rental agency opened, so I wandered back-n-forth, back-n-forth.   I tried to call the agency for a pickup but my quarters were of the EC type and didn't work in the TWO pay phones I was able to find.  Finally, I was able to get change.  But, the TWO pay phones didn't work.  I kept going out to the car rental shuttle area but it was useless as there was nothing there but crickets.

Finally, I killed a few hours and headed back out to the car rental shuttle pickup area in hopes my shuttle might be passing through.  Of the 12 or so stalls, I picked one to stand and wait.  A shuttle of a different company pulled in.  The door opened.  I hesitated.  Is that.......?   No way "HELLO!!!  What the hell are you doing here!!!!"   Deboarding the shuttle was none other than a former guest of mine (in Sept, 2013) in one of my short-term rental apartments in Cuenca!!!   She was making her final move from Rhode Island to Cuenca and all her shit.....errrrr.....bags were coming off the van!!! 

What a freaking small world!   She was by herself, so I helped her with her myriad of bags and escorted her, her cat, and two loaded carts down the myriad of elevators, moving sidewalks, and concourses to her gate where she was to board for Panama and, ultimately, Cuenca.

There's just NO explanation whatsoever to wrap ones mind around these small world occurrences!!!  I remember I was in Europe, Austria I think, and waiting at a train station.  In comes the train.  Car after car after car passes me and the train finally came to a halt.  The doors open.  Off steps two friends of mine from a church in San Diego!!!   THAT country, THAT date, THAT time, THAT train, THAT door.   Boggles.

Since I was in the States, I took advantage of the boooooooze prices.  In Florida, the cost for a 750ml bottle of Chivas Scotch 12 (the kind Mollie used to get me for thank-you's (RIP sweetie)) is about $27.  In Ecuador..................................................hold on..............................wait for it.....................waaaaaaaait..........$70.

GET OUTA HERE!!!!!!

Being an Analyst by profession  for 30+ years, I analyze everything to death.  If you've been reading my blog, you know that I've oftentimes compared the dif's between the US of A and Ecuador.  This past week, I had the opportunity to reverse the roles a bit.   I returned to the 'land of opportunity' from my so-called '3rd world country'.  So, let's see what I noticed coming at it from a DIFFERENT direction....shall we?

Luckily, the weather was nice.  It is February, after all.  So the mornings were a bit nippy but it warmed up nicely to the low 70's and no humidity.  Dano don't do humidity.

Florida, much like much of the US of A, is FLAT!!!!!   No hills, no bumps, no valleys.  The only way you get a view is via a high-rise condo or a hump in a freeway overpass.....and that view is of FLAT.

I stayed in the South of Miami...an area called Cutler Bay (though I never saw a bay).   I was amazed at the fact I had driven over 200 miles by the time I turned in my car.  Yes, 200+ miles WITHIN the metropolitan area known as Miami!!!  

My observations:
  • It's flat (I may have eluded to that fact before)
  • In a stretch from 200th St to 40th St on the Dixie 1 highway (6 lane divided arterial), I counted 35 fast-food franchises.   Those that stood out along the by-way,  not counting walk-in/sit-yer-ass down restaurants such as Denny's, Fudruckers, TGIF, and the like.  Nor, counting the endless cafeterias, rib joints (with bare necessity dancing), or the inevitable Starbucks.  I'm talkin McD's, Booger King, Dairy Queen, Something Pollo, Wendy's, Taco Hell, etc.  
    • Of those 35, 7 were McDonalds, and 4 of 'dem were Burger Kings.  Just sayin....
  • Though I'm SURE it's just a coinky-dink....hordes and hordes of obese people.  OMG!!!
  • BIG cars everywhere!!! I was scared.  GEEEZZZ....where do all these people take their big 4WD SUV's off-roading in Florida!!!!!!  I saw so many big-ass trucks towering over me in my puny Toyota Corolla.  I'd have to pole-vault just to get into the drivers seat!!!
  • $3.50 a gallon for gas...unless you were near the airport in which case it was $4.50.
  • Nice smooooooth roads with nary a pothole.  Wish we had THAT in Cuenca!
  • Very civilized.....no horn-honkin, don't think I ever heard a car alarm wailing, and no stupid CHIRP CHIRP every time some locked or unlocked their doors.
  • Every one stopped at red lights and stop signs, no matter whether there was anyone else present.
  • Big-ass cop cars (the Ford Crown Victoria kind) and, likewise, taxis of the same gas-guzzling make and model because, after all, they WERE cop cars at one time.  And, the population of taxis on the road was very minimal.
  • Architecture.  WHAT architecture???   Miami evolved in the 1950's bland era when Jackie Gleason was King.  Houses are single-floor boxes with no character whatsoever.  Blahhhhhhhh.    No imagination.  Nothing for future generations to appreciate.
  • Streets were clean and landscaping manicured to a tee.
  • Almost no one walked.  Very few people on the sidewalks.  Everyone drove everywhere.
  • Welcome to Strip Mall World.  Miami is the epitome of strip malls.  Thus, no walking.  The arterials are lined mile after mile with strip malls (and some actual mall-malls) of lifeless character.  In rare exception  (ie; Coral Gables, South Beach) there was no personality.....no identity....to the neighborhoods people lived in.  Sure, they had a name, but it was just a name with no character.  No central village that anchored the neighborhood, where people meandered and said 'hello' and sipped a coffee with their newspaper, no local hangout, no identity to be proud of, or defend, or take pride in.   I doubt very much they have locally organized events, parades, or other village-type events that bring their inhabitants together.
  • Spanish and English was commonly spoken.  Pretty much half and half.  Cubans and Hispanics very much dominate the demographic.  Oh...and senior citizens.  LOTs of them!!!!
I did get a couple of hours to adventure into the world of Miami that IS alive.  That being Miami Beach, or more specifically, South Beach.  I'd been there twice before.  But, it dawned on me it was over 20 years ago.   YIPES!   Feels more like 10.  Back 'then' SB (or SoBe) was just getting the attention of the world.  It was a haven of small boutique art-deco designed hotels.   It was (and still is) the place to be and be seen.  Back then, it was a small strip of small hotels that were renovated to be chic, painted in deco colors, and highlighted in neon.  I remember walking by Versace's home...where he was later murdered.  I remember Collins Ave, Washington and the Lincoln Rd Mall, just a block or two away, being rather desolate and begging with opportunity for revitalization.  Back then, it was the stereotypical scene with older Jewish folk sitting out on the front verandas in their rocking chairs yammering on about something.   Now, those places have been given new life with the younger crowd and the energy entirely different.  Chic shops and clubs line Washington and Collins where, when I was there 20 or so years ago, it was ho-hum.

Now, Cadillac Escalade's, Mercedes, Masseratti's, buff beefcake bods, boob-jobs in thongs on rollerblades, Cops on Sequeways, drag-queens lip-syncing songs for audiences sipping their mimosas, and tented sidewalk cafes line the streets.   Doormen and bouncers are everywhere.  Cars creep along Ocean Drive to take in the spectacle.  Much fashion magazine modeling is done here, too.  As I inched along the boulevard, a handsome, perfectly coiffed guy jumped out of his car, decked out in a handsome black suit, and struck a model pose as a photographer took his shots.  With his chiseled looks, the model had it all down perfect.  He had 'the look'.   He looked like he had stepped right out of page 2 of Vogue.

40-50 story condo high-rises dot the Miami Beach landscape so much you wonder how the ground under them doesn't collapse from all the weight.  Buildings, in my humble opinion, that are nothing more than glass, square boxes that won't age well.  It'll be the blight of Miami in 2030.  I looked up at those high-rises and thought....why would I want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own a box within a box that's like everyone else?  Oh...but wait a minute....it's got a VIEW as far as the eye can see!!!!!!

OF FLAT.

I also took a spin along the cruise ship terminals to gawk at the big ships.   Years ago I went on a couple of Caribbean cruises out of Miami.  I remember the first time seeing all these huge cruise ships parked along the pier and looking for which one was mine.  Then, I saw this little pip-squeak boat sitting in the shadow of all these big bullies.  It was my boat.   It carried only 800 passengers (which I liked) but it looked so darn small compared to the others that carry 4-5,000!!!!

I'm home now.  Ensconced in my house in Cuenca where I have a yard of roses, bamboo, iris's, geraniums, and calla's.  Where I look out at hills and have a view of downtown Cuenca.  Views here, are a dime a dozen.  We have potholes, we have clean-cut yards and not-so, strip malls are a rarity, people walk the streets to shop, a neighborhood celebration is underway, and kids enjoy the zip-line that's part of their playground.  In general, we have small cars, cops have small cars/pickups, taxis are small cars.  And, there's really nowhere we need to be, to be 'seen'.

And we have the idiots who honk their horn all the time or let their car alarms wail as they casually load their groceries into their trunk....while the neighbors dogs bark incessantly.

DAMMIT!!!!

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano

One of the fancier neighborhoods of Miami.   Upon entering CG, the tone took on a whole new angle.  Lush trees canopied the streets of mini-mansions and there was nary a blade of grass out of place.

 

LOVE these trees.  Take a look at the people walking underneath on the left side.  See how BIG this sucker is????


 
But, the moment you leave Coral Gables you're slammed into a visual reality of the 'norm'.  Streets become rather bland, cars parked on the front lawns of small bungalows, and virtually no tree canopy.  It's like a line was drawn in the sand....you stay over there, we stay over here.

Oddly, I saw many expensive cars parked in front of very basic homes.   Like this Mercedes SUV.
 
An example of the old architecture of Miami, well-preserved.

The new architecture of Miami....big, tall, boxes.  Nothing to savor in the future.

I can't imagine a couple of those little squares in these massive buildings...being called my home.  And, of course, there are Association Boards that tell you what you can/can't do....like no plants on the balconies, only white drapes, don't hang anything on the railing, etc etc.   BLECH!!!!

At least this building has some character!!

And this one, too.
 


The 'Hummer' of all cruise ships.  There's over 14 deck levels!!!!

Appropriately named don'tcha think?   The front of the ship looks like a Beluga whale...with it's bulbous head.
South Beach.  Several hotels have a classic car parked out front to add to the deco ambiance of Ocean Drive.

Of course, the rich get the premium parking spaces in front of the hotels to add to the lavishness of Ocean Drive, too.
(PS to car owner....UGLY wheels!!!)




Ocean Drive is never boring.

There's no place like home
There's no place like home
There's no place like home
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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