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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Corpus Christi - 2016

This is a lonnng one folks!  Lots of photos and videos to watch....and you don't have to drop a bunch of quarters in the machine!!  I just hope they all work!  It's all from ONE night out on the town.

What is Corpus Christi?  I didn't know.   All I knew from the past 5 years is that boatloads of candy are sold by vendors lining the streets around Parque Calderon...the main park in front of the Cathedral.  Though impressive that it is, visually, it's waaaay too redundant (99.5% of the same things sold at each booth) and 95% of the candy is 'ehhhh'.   Some of it is darn near 100% sugar.  Looks pretty, taste is disappointing.  Though, there are a FEW exceptions.

To view one of the videos I've inserted (listen'up MOM!!) click on the arrow/triangle in the middle of the screen.  The video will then run, but in a small screen.  To enlargen the screen, click in the LOWER RIGHT corner where you see a box-like image.  When the video is over, press the ESC (Escape) key (upper left corner of your keyboard) to return to this blog.



Back to the definition.   I consulted the interwebs and copied/pasted snippets of information forthwith.
The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ), is a liturgical solemnity celebrating the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus Christ and his Real Presence in the Eucharist. It emphasizes the joy of the institution of the Eucharist, which had previously been observed only on Maundy Thursday in the somber atmosphere of the nearness of Good Friday.
By tradition, Catholics take part in a procession through the streets of a neighborhood near their parish following mass and pray and sing. The Eucharist, known as the Blessed Sacrament, is placed in a monstrance and is held aloft by a member of the clergy during the procession. After the procession, parishioners return to the church where benediction usually takes place.
There, now we be edjeecated.
My experience with Cuenca festivities is they don't always do the same thing over and over every year.  The event may be the same but the content and locations vary.  I decided to go to the 2nd evening of the week-long event.  Since I only live 2 blocks away from the Cathedral and park, I didn't have to navigate traffic and find parking as in the past.  I just saundered out.  OMG!!   There must've been 10,000 people in Parque Calderon....a park the size of one square block!
Some of the nice lighting effects in Parque Calderon

Young adults were entertaining people with their breakdancing techniques in the Gazebo.



I love how this tree is highlighted in Parque Calderon.
It (whatever IT was) was supposed to start at 8pm.  So, I left my apt at 7:30pm.  When I got there, four teams were assembling four pyrotechnic towers from big piles of....ummmm....sticks.   Each crew represented a sponsoring entity (ie; Catholic University, Ministry of Tourism, etc).  It's somewhat of a competition to see who can build the most elaborate and dazzling fireworks display.


Visualize an old fashioned oil rig, made out of bamboo, but outfitted with spinning wheels and fireworks that shoot out in all directions and you pretty much have it.
Aside from the imagination, engineering, and ultimate design, it's mind-boggling these teams can re-assemble the structure onsite and actually make it come to fruition successfully...all within the course of less than 2 hours!!!   I mean, when they start, it's just a big heap of bamboo sticks and pre-made pinwheels and thingamagigs.  I didn't see any numbering, nor was anyone refering to a map or assembly instructions of Steps 1, 2, 3, etc.   I'm not sure what would be more difficult...assembling a closet from IKEA, or assembling one of these!

Ummm....who's got part #79???





Now, this one goes on top of that other one.....right?
Each person seemed to be responsible for their own part.  No one was yelling at another person telling them that's not right, or put it there/not there, or it's upside down.  Someone would grab a rod of bamboo and jam it in there, then get some twine out and secure it.  Then another person would use some duct tape to secure some other thing.  No one inspected the result for any oversight or get final sign-off for safety.   It was all 'fly by the seat of the pants'.



Once they got one module done, they would lift it up while someone else slipped a new base under it, strap the two together, thereby making the tower higher and higher.  Then, they would start adding feature attachments to that newly added module.  Each section seemed to be about 5ft in height.  One of the towers reached nearly 30 feet tall.




During all this, I wandered around people-watching.  Tons of families with little ones (staying up past 10pm!) eating ice cream, buying candy, or munching down on food sold by sidewalk vendors such as (white) corn on the cob, chicken skewers, cotton candy, and plantain chips.
New this year, you could enter the inner courtyard of the adjoining Monastery of the Cathedral.  In the newly restored courtyard (that I featured in a past blog showcasing the Symphony performance during it's grand re-opening after a devastating fire) were artesan vendors featuring locally made products such as chocolates, coffee beans, preserves, jewelry, cheese, breads, etc.  Tented seating areas were set up so you could sit down, enjoy an espresso, and absorb the historical atmosphere under a starlit night.



Here's some other photos taken while wandering about (or as Canadians say 'aboot').

Huge ficus tree in Parque Calderon.

Entrance to Cathedral

Exiting the Cathedral

It's 150 walking steps from the front to the back of the Cathedral...and that's not counting the golden pulpit area you see, which is cordoned off.
I wandered back outside where I heard music being struck up.  Hundreds of people were exiting the Cathedral holding lighted candles, in a slow procession.  The 'music' sounded like a funeral dirge....slow and mournful.   Then, withiin the procession, appeared a canopy being carried by several men and beneath it was the Priest, holding the monstrance, accompanied with other 'officials' of the diocese.  This procession slowly left the church and went around the block and returned to the Cathedral where they re-entered to continue and finish with the benediction.



Two of the towers were located on one side of the park and the other two on the other side.  So, when the first tower was ignited (about 9pm) the crowd surged towards that side of the park.  I thought there would be a stampede!  YUCK!  But, I stayed put and watched from the other side since I had a good position in front of my favorite tower and what seemed to be the tallest.


After those two were done, it was time for the ones in front of me to blow.  Well, we waited, and waited.....and......waited........annnnnnnnnnd waited.   I was dying standing up as my knees were killing me and I was beginning to hunch over.  But, I wasn't about to leave after all that time.
During all this time, a small band was playing a song I hear allllllll the time around Cuenca.  And they played it over.....and over.............annnnnd overrrrrr.....ennnnnndlessly repeating.  I was getting dizzy from being blasted with the 'music' (in tickie marks for a REASON).



To this 'music' a group of costumed 'creatures' appeared and danced in the street, running back and forth and in circles....over...and over. and overrrrrrr.  I don't know how they didn't drop from exhaustion or dizziness.  The band finally stopped after this went on for waaaay toooooo long.  Everyone applauded (I think more because they were glad they finally stopped!!).   Calm.



After all this waiting and listening to the never-ending repetition of that 'music' (I have no clue what its pertinence is) there were intermittent (read 'long gaps') of aerial fireworks (the kind we're used to back home).  The launching boom was so powerful you could feel the soundwaves hit your body, which then would make people look upward.  PFFFFTTTT!!!   7 out of 10 were 'ehhhhh', why did I bother to look.  While, the other 3 would be 'ooooh, ahhhhh'.  My favorite one reminds me of Tina Turners hair.
Now they're gonna light the tower in front of me, right?   Waiting.  Waiting.  Watched little shits....ummm...errrrr....little adorable 3-5 year-olds run up to the tower and spin the wheels with their wittle hands.  Tugging on them.  Where's the (effing) parents?   I was getting pissed.  No one was monitoring the tower, not even anyone from the sponsoring team.  Where the hell were they?   Those little brats had better not break anything!!!
The band struck up again.  OI VEY!!  At least, this time, a different tune.
FINALLY, about 10pm, the team showed up along with a dozen or so 'creatures' from the prior group dancing in the streets.  A bull, a reindeer, a ????  I dunno.
The crowd instinctively moved back.  No barriers, ropes, police tape, nada.  No cops or monitors keeping the crowd at bay.  I was in front, all of 30 feet away from the monster.

IGNITION!!!

We were immediately pelted with sparks of fireworks and we moved further back....a whopping 2 feet.  Screams of giggles from everyone getting pelted.  A few sparks landed on my bald spot...OUCH!  Was the polyester I was wearing going to go up in flames?  No one cared.
The only 'crowd control' was the aforementioned group of 'creatures' who pranced and ran circles around the tower, while it was exploding, they too, were getting pelted in their costumes.
Different stages would put on a dazzling show then fizzle out.  Team members would then approach the tower and, using a large knife, sever something, then use a torch to light the next segment to launch the next phase of dazzlement (and pummeling).  At one point, a swirling, whirling, swooshing flying saucer was ignited and launched into the air and it went higher, and higher, hundreds of feet in the air like a spaceship leaving Mother Earth before it fizzled out.

Wanna watch it?  Here's the link (click on it and it will open a new window) of the video I uploaded to YouTube:

Corpus Christi Fireworks in Cuenca, Ecuador 2016

It was well worth the wait.  I didn't stay around for the 4th and final unit.  I dragged my ass home, stopping briefly to get a big skewer of chicken (slathered with a mayo/avocado sauce) with plate of potatoes ($2) from a sidewalk vendor to devour while walking back.

Til next time.....

Dano

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Real Reality of the Costs of Living Here

Howdy!!  Remember me?

I'm at home, catching up on things while a guy is here to clean my sofa and a couple of large area rugs.  I'll report on the results at the end of this blog.  While I have a zillion subjects to write about (never at a lack of those), what's been on the forefront of my mind lately is 'costs'.

I recently moved from the house I rented just outside of the city to El Centro, the downtown of Cuenca.  It's all part of a larger story I'll have to write about later.  But, suffice to say, I moved into a large apartment which was in horrible condition and needed renovating.  Thus, I had to buy a lot of stuff.  Thus, experiencing the wide range of costs provided an opportunity to share them with you.  After all, you might be wondering what reality is as it relates to living here.

I've written a couple of blogs in the past, detailing some expenses such as groceries....such as this one:

http://danoinec.blogspot.com/2014/02/you-better-shop-around.html

But, today I'm going to hit a bunch of fronts.  Very random.  Some with photos (at the end of the blog) so you can see what I got for what price.  Obviously, (so why am I mentioning it?) no need to post a photo of a tomato since you already know what they look like.

So, here goes...

  • Furniture
    • Sofa, hand-made, fabric of my choice (leather), + 3 accent pillows = $450
      • Taxes and delivery included
    • Dining table + 4 chairs = $450 (T&D included)
    • 32 feet of carpet runner = $135
    • Queen bed (individually wrapped coil springs (like BeautyRest)) with boxsprings = $330 (T&D included)
    • Living room armchair, fabric of my choice = $180
    • 43" LED SMART TV = $635
  • Utilities (average per month)
    • Gas (in the form of steel tanks weighing about 75 lbs, delivered)
        • for cooking = $2.50
        • for hot water = $2.50
        • for clothes dryer = $2.50
    • Electricity = $35
    • Water = $10
    • Internet = $45 (1 level up from standard service/speed)
    • Cell phone = $10
  • Recreation & Entertainment
    • Movie theater ticket = $6
    • Grande popcorn at said theater = $4
    • Museums = Free
    • Symphony concerts = Free
    • DVD's = $1.50
    • Relaxation in one of Bano's thermal spa 'resorts'.  Swim pool, steam room, mud caves, lockers, bathrooms, umbrella tables, and lounge chairs.  Entrance fee = $5 to $12.  No time restriction.
    • Bicycling = Free bicycles to ride on Sundays (provided by the City)
    • Olympic swim pool (city) = $2
  • Car
    • Fuel
      • Gas - Regular = $1.48 a gallon (fixed price, controlled by gov't)
        • Note:  It's been the same for the 5+ years I've been here
      • Gas - Super = $2.10 a gallon (price varies based on competition)
      • Diesel = $1.04 a gallon
    • Repair shop rate = $25 an hour
    • Alignment = $10
    • Car wash = $10 for an SUV, full service includes power wash undercarriage, engine compartment, hand dry, vacuum, windows cleaned, shiny treatment on tires, dash, etc.
    • Insurance = $600 a year, full coverage
      • Note:  Here, the cost of insurance is based on what you paid for the car (in this case, I paid $16,500).  That's your coverage.  It doesn't go down as the car gets older (devalued).
    • Parking = $1 for 4 thirty minute segments (total 2 hours)
    • Cost of a new car is not much different than what it costs in the USA, unless you are buying a brand where EC imposes a heavy import tax and/or brands not common here (ie; Chrysler, Mercedes, Honda, Acura, Audi, Jeep, etc).  Some of the most common cars here are Chevrolet, Hyundai, Ford, Kia, Toyota.
    • Cost of a USED vehicle is a whole different matter.  Used cars don't devalue here at anywhere near the rate as back home.  Example:  My 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee back home MAY be worth $2,000 per blue book.  But, here, they can sell for $9,000.
    • Transportation
      • Taxi = $2 - $3 average per ride
      • City Bus = .25 cents
      • Light Rail = TBD when it's up and running early next year
      • Bus to Guayaquil (4 hours) = $8
      • Van to Guayaquil (3 hours, 7 passengers) = $12
    • Housing
      • Rentals (apartment, townhouse, or house) = $500 (avg)
        • Now, don't jump all over me on this one!!!  Yes, there's plenty of cheaper places and many way more expensive.  But, there's so many variables....location, size, age, gringo-priced vs Ecuadorian (what it SHOULD be) priced, amenities, furnished/unfurnished, etc.  BUT, overall, it's easy to get good quality housing for this amount.
        • Usually requires 1st month rent + security deposit of the same amount.
      • Short-term rentals = $39 - $69 a night
        • Defined as apartments (sometimes a house) fully furnished and outfitted with everything a guest would need except food.  Typically located on websites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and VRBO.  Perfect for tourists who don't want to stay in a hotel room for their 10 days, 2 weeks, month-long stays.
      • Hotels = $40 - $80 a night
        • Based on two-people at an 'average' (not a dump, not ritzy, and central location) hotel.  Plenty of classier hotels at a higher cost ($80 - $200 a night) and plenty lesser than $40 but you're probably only using it for an hour (tee hee).
    • Handcrafted Items (made to my specs)
      • One of my wrought iron chandeliers = $90
      • One of my candelabra stands = $40
      • Basic cafe tables = $15 - $50 (depending on size)
    • Repairs
      • Like back in the 1950's, things are repaired here.  We don't chuck 'em because they're too costly to repair or no one does that anymore.  Toasters, blenders, waffle irons, TV's, cameras, etc can be repaired for around $5 an hour plus cost of parts.
      • Plumbing.  Every single house or apt I've lived in here as sprung a leak or five.  It's part of life here.  Cost varies, of course, based on time and complexity.   But, I've had a lot of simple leaks (not hugely invasive) fixed in the range of $20 - $50 for the job.
      • Remodel bathroom.  Chip off all existing tile on walls and floor and replace with new tile. New toilet, sink, faucet, towel/tp bars, shower curtain, paint, mirror, electrical outlets, and light fixture.  All labor and materials.  $600  (toilet paper not included).
    • Decor (all handmade to my specs)
      • Drapes,  11ft long by 8 ft tall, pleated, plus an additional sheer curtain = $190
      • Blinds, 6 1/2 feet wide by 4 1/2 feet long, roller type, fabric, blackout = $85
      • Bench cushion, 9 ft long = $65
      • Accent pillows
        • I provided the cover, they provided the pillow/stuffing = $5
        • I provided the pillow, they provided the new zippered cover = $7.50
    • Pets
      • Doggie day care (ie; boarding) = $7 per day
      • Canned food = not carried much here and what there is, is EXPENSIVE!
      • Dry dog food, 16 lb bag = $16
      • Vet
        • Annual vacs = $25
        • X-ray = $30
        • Consult with Cardiologist = $27.50
        • Cat cremation $100
    • Food
      • Groceries
        • Note:  This is what I've paid by going to the local indigenous mercados.  The prices are doubled if you shop at a supermarket such as SuperMaxi.
        • Strawberries = $1.50 lb
        • Lomo Fino (filet mignon) = $5 lb
        • Trout = $1.50 lb
        • Large Shrimp = $6 lb
        • 8 Tomatos (med) = $1
        • 12 eggs = $1.20
        • Shelled peas = $1.50 lb
        • 6 apples = $1
        • Chicken breast (with bone) = $2 lb
        • Corvina (sea bass) = $2.50 lb
      • 4-course lunch (known as Almuerzo) including juice, bowl of soup, main entree, small dessert = $3.50
      • Coffee, freshly roasted and ground = $4 lb
    • Fines (uggh)
      • Most fines are based on a percentage of the minimum month wage (right now is about $350).  So, if the infraction calls for a 20% fine, it would amount to $70.
      • I've had 3 parking infractions that cost me over $70 each.  OUCH!!!!
      • Then there was the $130 fine AND 6 points off my drivers license for (smallest font so Mom can't read it) flipping off a traffic director.
    • Taxes
      • My property tax for 2 apts was about $150 (total) for 2016
        • Prop tax payers get a discount if they pay early in the year, with the discount diminishing as time passes.
      • Sales tax (IVA)
        • 12% on everything but it's usually included in the price you see.
        • Applied to everything...not one rate if you live here but a different rate if you live there.  Not a higher rate because it's closer to the airport or because you, as a tourist, are funding a new football stadium.
        • The rate is being raised from 12% to 14% for 1 year to help fund earthquake recovery efforts.  Sounds high, but that's only $2 more on a $100 purchase.
    • Primping
      • Haircut (for me, a male with short, boring hair) = $5
      • Massage 1 hour = somewhere around $20
      • Bikini wax = haven't been there/haven't done that
    • Medical
      • Gov't medical insurance, 100% coverage = $75 a month
      • Teeth cleaning = $35
      • Chiropractor = $15
    • 65 and over?  Known as Tercera Edad (third age)
      • Large discount on airline fares
      • Half off bus fares
      • Get a large chunk of the sales tax you paid, refunded to you
      • Exclusive (jump in front of) lines at banks, supermarkets, gov't offices
    • Clothes
      • This is a toughy.  Why?  Because most Gringos and Gringas are physically larger than Ecuadorians.  EC'ers are generally shorter.   So, it's VERY challenging to find clothes here that fit 'us'.  And, if you wear an XL back home, that same XL here is not the same.  It's the equivalant of an L.  Forget trying to find a 2XL (so you end up with an XL)...almost non-existent here.  Shoes can be a bit of a hard-find, too.  For example, I wear a size 11 (44 in metrics).   90% of the stores here seem to stop at 42.  The good news is, you can have clothes and shoes made here and, from what I hear, at a reasonable price (but not Costco price).
    • Stuff
      • Housecleaner = $10 - $15 (avg 3 hours) per visit
      • Movers = $160
        • Based on my recent experience.  Large truck, driver, plus 2 workers.  2 trips. Involved loading/unloading appliances, furniture, boxes, etc and carrying them down and up a flight of stairs.  Approx 4 hours duration.
      • Large (about 24" x 36") map of Cuenca, framed, glass, and hangar = $35
      • Tipping (if at all) = 10%
      • Bathroom mirror (sheet type), custom cut to 36" x 30" = $5
      • Copy of a key = $1
      • Handwoven basket = $7
      • Paint (1 gallon - Glidden) = $25

    Oh....and the cost for cleaning the sofa and carpets?  Took him an hour just to do the sofa and ottoman, then another hour to do a large area rug and a smaller one.  $65

    Most of those prices probably look pretty good to you.  Oddly enough, there's a lot of dye cot toh mee here, too.

    Appliances such as refrigerators, washers/dryers, microwave ovens, etc can be mortifyingly expensive.  If you walk into a store and see the sticker price on these things, you'll probably turn around and walk right back out....like I did a few times.  BUT, 9 out of 10 times, that price is the CREDIT price and it's waaaay lower if you pay CASH.  From a business marketing standpoint, I don't understand why they don't post both so they don't have people like me doing a 180.  But, one salesperson stopped me and asked if I'd be paying cash and I said 'yes'.  He informed me there was discount.  I thought....'yeah, yeah, a whopping 10%'.  But, nooooooo....it can be 40% - 50% off!!!   Case in point.  I just purchased a TV where the sticker said $1,190.   YIPES!   But, by paying cash, that price dropped to $635!!!

    Other pricey items are those where the EC gov't slaps a hefty import tax on them.  Goods they believe are 'luxury' (meaning you don't NEED them) or are not made here in So America, can be adorned with a 40% tax.  Examples;

    • Abosolut Vodka = $50 (but you can buy EC vodka for $10 - $15)
    • Chivas Scotch = $100
    • Tide laundry detergent = $25+ (after all, we DO have good laundry detergents right here!)
    • Can't live without your Whirlpool washer even though an EC brand is just as good?   Ok, go ahead and pay $500 more!
    • I recently tried to find a reasonably-priced toaster.  OMG....$50!!!  For a TOASTER!!!
    • Thick and fluffy towels?  $25 - $30 for the bath size.
    • 42,965 thread count per square inch sheets made of cotton from a lamb's butt in Nigeria?  $100 (or more) for a Queen set.
    • A very nice looking, simple, and well made bedspread that doesn't look like you just threw up in Alice in Wonderland?   $300   KID YOU NOT!!!!

    Ok, so we've seen a taste of low prices and high prices.   What about same/same (same here as there)?
    Yep, we have that, too....a lot of it, actually.  I'm always surprised when I see things that cost just about the same as back home.  Cuz, after all, we've been led to believe everything is dirt cheap here.

    Examples:

    • Toothpaste, toothbrushes
    • Deodorant
    • Q-tips
    • Car oil
    • Foil
    • Paper towels
    • Toilet paper
    • Condiments
    • Bottled spices
    • Shampoo
    • Aspirin 
    • Tires
    • Light bulbs

    GADS....I could go on and on!!  Ooops, I guess I already did.  Time to stop.

    Of course, I can't possibly cover everything such as soap, a prostitute, socks, Depends, a hamburger, or a 'doobie'.  However, I thought you might find the above interesting even if it doesn't address the cost of a Vente 1 1/2 pumps of chocolate, goat milk, no whip, 5 cubes of ice Mochachino in a no-tree-kill cup.

    Til next time.....

    Dano


    Leather Sofa = $450.  Candlestands $45 each.

    Dining table = $450

    Armchair = $180

    3ft wide wrought iron chandelier = $90

    Another candle stand = $40

    Dining room blind = $85

    9ft bench handmade cushion (w/o pillows) $65

    11ft handmade pleated drapes and sheer back curtain = $190

    Framing a large map of Cuenca = $35

    Small desk = $20


    TV stand = $25

    Bath remodel = $600

    14" handwoven bowl = $7

    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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