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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Otavalo & Cotacachi

Even though I had only been back from my trip to the States a few weeks, I had the itch to go on a road trip.  Several times in the past, I had been in Quito with the intention of taking the extra jaunt north to Otavalo and Cotacachi but something always came up.   This time, there was no other agenda.

Friday morning I hit the road, albeit a bit late.  The road between Cuenca and Quito has become all too familiar to me, so there was nothing all that exciting and new about it.   I arrived in Quito just as it started to get dark.  I decided to take a different route that would bypass the most congested area of Quito (as if there's a less congested area!!).   It began to pour rain along with thunder and lightening bolts that appeared to be more vertical than horizontal.  Traffic was slow on a 2-lane road.   UGH.  

I made a few mistakes on directions with one putting me smack dab in the middle of Quito's rush-hour traffic and a big soccer game that had just let out at the same time.  OI VEY.   I got out of that mess and back on track only to fall off the track again as I missed a sign (if there was one) at a roundabout that pointed my way to Otavalo.  I asked someone in the car next to me at a stoplight and he told me to turnaround and go "DIRECTO!" (straight ahead).

Mind you, at this point I had already driven about 8 hours, through all kinds of zig-zaggy roads, construction zones, and whatnot.   Now it was dark.  The road was under construction for widening.  Fresh blacktop, a winding road up and down and over hills....WITH NO LINES....in pitch black darkness!!!  I couldn't tell WHERE I was supposed to drive.   I tried to stay close to the car in front of me, but I think they were clueless, too.  Otavalo is only about 90 kms (approx 55 miles) from Quito but it took over 2 hours to get there.

I got there...over 10 hours from the time I left Cuenca.  I had an address for my hotel and knew it was within a few blocks of the big Saturday market, but I didn't know where THAT was, so I drove randomly around downtown.  It was Friday night and very active with a lot of young people on the streets.  When I didn't miraculously find my hotel, unlike most men, I asked a policeman for directions.   It was just a few blocks away.

I checked in to the Hotel Acoma (I remember the name by either remembering 'glaucoma' or 'a coma').  The hotel was surprisingly nice and full of character.  The night attendant informed me they didn't have my room but would give me a larger room that sleeps 6 for the same price as my original room.  The 'NA' and the rest of the staff (of 3) ended up being some of the most charming and helpful hosts I've ever met.  The room was immaculate ,complete with all white linens.  Boy, THAT must be a challenge!!!

I found a cool pizza place with a very rustic wooden motif with a nice big fire in the fireplace.  I had a personal pizza and a few beers and I was a happy camper.

The next day, Saturday, is THE big day for the market in Otavalo, a town of approximately 50,000.   In the wee hours, hundreds of vendors descend on downtown and start setting up their booths and products.  What I thought was simply in the 'market square' actually spilled out of the market square and stretched several blocks down closed streets.  The market is well-known for its wide range of weavings, jewelry, clothes, wood and stone carvings, paintings, hats, and all kind of kitsch from pretty much any corner of Ecuador and neighboring Peru and Colombia. 

The following day, I drove to Cotacachi which is only a few miles from Otavalo.  Cotacachi is, supposedly, another favorite for expat retirees.  It's a small town of only a few thousand and sits at the base of the huge 16,000+ foot volcano of the same name.   In fact the town is flanked by two volcanos...the other one named Imbabura which reaches approximately 15,000 feet.

I remember seeing an episode on House Hunters International that featured a couple who bought a nice adobe house there.  The architecture reminded me of Santa Fe, New Mexcio...which I love...the architecture, that is.  Anyway, everything I found when googling Cotacachi seemed to portray the same image.   They also boast their leather market and 'leather street' which is lined with shops featuring almost nothing else but leather products.

Welllllll....I couldn't find ANY housing development that resembled what I'd seen on TV and online.  Believe me, I searched high and low, up, down, over, and around and backtracked just in case I missed something.  NADA.  Well, I DID see one or two houses.   But, the overall feel and look of Cotacachi was a disappointment.  ONE street was alive and it was the 'leather street' but go one block either side and 'zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz'.    So, maybe those developments were out there somewhere, but if they are THAT hard to find and not representative of the town and surrounding area....then, I wasn't interested. Cotacachi was a 'bust'.

Next, I drove up to Lake Cuicocha, nestled in the flanks of the volcano Cotacachi.  It's a deep volcanic crater that's 4km long and 3km wide. In the center of the lake are three domes of volcanic rock that form two islands covered with vegetation and separated by a water channel.

After that, in an attempt to explore, I picked a road and followed it.  It was one of those roads made out of firmly packed, fist-size rock as the roadbed.  It was rattling my car (and my nerves) but I figured it would come to an end soon.  Not so.  There's a point which you decide to keep going because to turn around means enduring what you just endured and maybe, just maybe, it will come to an end soon anyway.   So, I kept going.   I finally figured out the faster I drove, the smoother.....wait.....the less rattly it was because my tires would fly over the tops of the rocks versus my suspension dropping into every crag if I drove slower.   If there was anything lose on my car, it's probably gone now.

I was headed for Ibarra, a city of about 150,000 inhabitants.  Finally, this rickety road spilled into a small village.  I asked a security guard the way to Ibarra.  He told me to go down 1 block and turn left and follow it.   Okie Dokie!!!    Wellllllll.....it was more rickety road that, at times, narrowed down to one lane as I went down, down, down into a huge ravine and up, up, up the other side.  At points, the road was nothing more than dirt with a LOT of dust.   I thought it seemed like a very crude road given the fact it was the only route from this village to a large city and I questioned the validity of the route.  But, I soon encountered a BUS headed the same way, so I figured I must be on the right track and not headed for the city dump somewhere in oblivion.    I swear, busses go EVERYWHERE in Ecuador.  Long story short, I finally spilled into Ibarra and explored a bit there.

I decided to depart Otavalo early in the morning on Monday so I could avoid some of the traffic and also allow me time for a quick side-trip to the Equator (no, not Ecuador...read it again) otherwise known as Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) just outside Quito.   Even though breakfast normally doesn't start until 8am at the hotel, the NA happily prepared my eggs, bread, coffee, and juice at 7am just for lil ol' me.
I arrived at Mitad del Mundo right at opening time at 9am.   The sun was out and beating down hard.  It felt hot already.   I did the requisite straddle of the line splitting the earth in two and took photos to substantiate the fact one of my feet was in the northern hemisphere and my other foot in the southern.

Maybe that's why I began to feel woozie.  My brain was doing the same thing to me that occured at the Miami airport a few weeks before.  My eyes couldn't focus on multiple things without electronic-like flashes wiggin me out.   I quickly grabbed some juice, water, and candy bar and headed for the AC of my car and gulped them down. 

After awhile, I was back to normal and hit the road again.   This time, there were no mistakes on my drive back as I whizzed past Quito in onward to Cuenca.   A few stops on the way back to eat, stretch my legs, and give my eyes and brain a rest and I made it home before it was dark.

4 days, 1300 kms (780 miles).  Lots of photos of which "only" 40+ made the cut for this blog.  ENJOY!!!


Find that little line in the upper third of the photo....that's the highway I traveled.

Otavalo with a volcano as its backdrop.

Hotel Acoma in Otavalo

The vendors used these crude carts made out of welded re-bar, to move their products from their trucks to the location of their stall in the market.

Colorful yarn!!  (Pherecia & Chris...calm down!!)

Embroidered neckpieces.

Whimsical hats.

Sno-cone cart.

Area rugs/wall hangings.

Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.

Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.
Ice cream cart....25 cents.

Kids jumpers.

Geetars.  Actually, they're about ukelele size.

I always think it's funny/odd to see technology and indigenous at the same time.  She is shielding her head from the intense sun.



Nice landscape treatment in Otavalo park.

Entertainment in front of the church where a wedding was about to commence.

Hope they don't mind me snapping a photo of the wedding procession (bride in front...the one in white).

Mural in the Otavalo church.

Otavalo farmers market.

Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.

Artistic touch to a ceiling fixture.


Eggs anyone?





Inside Ibarra church.


Ibarra. In the middle of a roundabout.

Just your everyday view of a volcano while driving down a street in Ibarra.

Resort on the shores of Lake San Pablo outside Otavalo.

Chandelier inside restaurant on Lake San Pablo.

A crater on the flanks of volcano Cotacachi formed Lake Cuicocha.

Another church in Ibarra.

Interior of that church....oddly modern.

This is not a wide street.  I drove out onto the runway of the (inactive) Ibarra airport and took this shot down the centerline looking directly at volcano Imbabura.

Mitad del Mundo...the Equator

Thems my feet.

Me and my shadow straddling the middle of the Earth.

How artistic of me!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How many legs does it take to get 'There'??

As you know, I recently got back from a trip to the US of A.  It had been a year and a half in the waiting due to lonnnng delays in getting my Residency Visa, then my Censo (which is no longer needed), then my Cedula.   It was time overdue to hug my mama (81), see my best friends and ensure I hadn't been replaced, as well as check on the waterfront house I still own but can't seem to get an interested buyer. 

An avid reader wrote me and asked if I was going to write about my trip and I thought 'no, why would I?  My blog is about my life in EC'.   I've given it second thought.  After all, so many people have moved here from some other country and invariably they travel back to their former home country to visit relatives and whatnot.  So, I guess it's all a part of the experience...moving somewhere else and the part about having to travel back to the origination point for visits....right???

My trip had many legs.   Because Cuenca (CUE) does not have an international airport (outfitted with customs/immigration facilities), one must get their tushes to either Guayaquil (GYE) or Quito (UIO) to fly anywhere outside of EC. 

First leg.   I hopped a van for a 3-hour ride from Cuenca to their offices near the Guayaquil airport.  Cost:  $15.   Then, hopped in a taxi which took me to the airport terminal just a handful of blocks away (I had 3 bags) but required a weird circumvention route to ultimately get there.  Cost:  $4.  Waited a couple hours, used internet, recharged laptop.

Second leg.  Flew for 45 minutes on LAN airlines from GYE to UIO.   Service amounted to passing a wicker basket down the aisle and selecting from some chewey candies.  I grabbed one of each color.  Excitement was provided by air turbulence, common to the descending process into UIO.  After all, we were skimming alongside a corridor of volcanoes and then into UIO which is situated between two long ridges.....all of this ripe for turbulence.  This time, it was REALLY bumpy.  So much so, I heard many passengers yelp at the surprise of a sudden drop....one of many.  Waited a couple hours, used internet, recharged laptop.

Third leg.  On a LAN airline 767, we were to depart late at night and arrive around 6am in Miami.   I LOVE the 767's because they are wide....two seats, aisle, three seats, aisle, 2 seats.   They seat darn near 300 people!!  We sat on the tarmac for awhile with no announcement.  Finally, the captain stated they were waiting for a crew to investigate an odd smell that several passengers had brought to their attention.  An hour later, they didn't discover anything and decided to take off.

Quito has a new airport under construction outside the city, whereas the existing one is smack dab in the middle of the city.  They needed a longer runway, especially due to the altitude of the city.  Having been a pilot myself in my younger days, I was curious as to how long our rollout would be.   'Rollout' is the point from which the pilot gives full throttle (thrust) from a dead stop to the point of liftoff from the tarmac.   I had counted it at GYE, which is at sea level, to be 33 seconds for an Airbus 320.  I used the standard scientific method of 'one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three....'.   In Quito (UIO) I counted to 48!!!!   Think about it.   Count to 48 right now (I'll wait).  That's how long we rolled and rolled and rolled and I had to wonder just how much runway was left for us to use???  That's the affect of altitude.  The air is thinner and, therefore, it takes longer to attain lift.  Ditto with heat.  The hotter the air, the more it takes to attain lift.

We landed in Miami (MIA).   Because we had entered a new country, we had to go through Customs, retrieve our bags, run our bags through scanner equipment, then RE-check our bags if we were continuing on to another destination.   Waited a couple hours, used internet, recharged laptop.

Fourth leg.   On American, I flew to Chicago.  Unfortunately, AA had changed the flight schedule and my layover time had been reduced from 2 hours to only 30 minutes.  Luckily, the connection gate was nearby and they were already boarding by the time I landed.  I got on, no problem, but I had my doubts about my bags.

Fifth leg.   Chicago to my final destination, The Emerald City (Seattle).  No sooner had I arrived at baggage claim I heard an annoucement with my name in it.  I didn't know what they said, so I went to the service desk presuming what they ended up confirming.  My bags didn't make it.   BUT, since there were so many flights coming from Chicago to Seattle, my bags would be on the next flight which was due to arrive in an hour.    My friend Mavis picked me up and we hit a nearby Jack In the Box to kill time and get my fix for onion rings that I had been deprived of for so long.  Then, back to the airport and my bags were waitig for me.

From the time I left Cuenca, to the time I arrived in SEA....22 hours.  Luckily, I arrived without having killed anyone.

Seattle was having gorgeous weather.  It had been nearly 50 days without any rain.  Though lawns were dry and golden, the trees were lush and green.   I've known Seattle most of my life, but boy-howdy, I sure noticed the green canopy everywhere.  I felt like I was driving through tunnels of trees.  There is absolutely NOWHERE better than Seattle (or the Pacific Northwest to be broader) in the summertime.

I had a yard sale at Mom's to further reduce my inventory of personal belongings.   A lot of it I had set aside from my original reduction sales before I moved to CUE...thinking I would want 'this stuff' in CUE.  But, after being in CUE for over a year and a half, I realized I didn't need most of it and it would either be too much of a hassle and/or too costly to ship it down to EC anyway.   End result, I made a few hundred bucks, reduced the amount of stuff stored in Mom's garage, and gave the rest away to charity.

The rest of my stay I won't bore you with.  It was visit friends, shop for things to stuff in my bags to take back with me (I had to stock up on SWIFFERS!!!), get some new clothes (hard to find big guy sizes in EC), visit family, etc.   My sis came out from Laramie, Wyo to check out the spiffy new house they bought.  Oh, and dine out, dine out, dine out.   GOSH...the prices were shocking me.  At one restaurant I had a nice burger and fries and (ahem) 3 martini's.   Cost?  $45!!!!!

First day I was there, I got a parking ticket.  $44!!  I could pay it online....for an additional $4 convenience fee.  ARRGHH.

3 weeks later, I headed home to EC.  Reverse the order of the above.

First leg.  Late night departure from SEA to Chicago ORD.

Second leg.  Chicago to Miami.  Early in the manana, I had to transition over to the international terminal and schlep my way to LAN Airlines....down a corridor, onto moving sidewalks (thank God), another corridor, more moving sidewalks, rinse/repeat, rinse/repeat...repeat, repeat.   Schelping 3 bags.  I could tell my energy level was on a low reading.

As I was riding an escalator down to the final leg of my schlep, I tried to read the various signs to tell me where I could find LAN's counter to check-in my bags.  My brain was wigging out.   I couldn't read the signs and electronic messages appeared to be freaking out and when I moved my head, the images my eyes scanned along the way, showed up split seconds later.   The images my eyes were capturing were getting all garbled up by my brain.  Envision that part of an old movie where the film runs out and there's all that sratchy image stuff flying by.  I thought....grrrreat....I'm gonna pass out here in the Miami airport and come-to with paramedics standing over me and I'm gonna have a huge good 'ol US of A medical bill.

So, I quickly sat my ass down on the cold concrete floor (so I wouldn't fall as far) and tried to focus on not looking at anything that would cause me to see all those distorted, flashing images.   This was the first time this had ever happened to me.  I'm used to hitting a sugar low and I know if I miss my medication my head gets a bit loopy, but I had taken it earlier that morning.   But, this was entirely different.  After awhile, I got up and scrambled to a nearby shop and bought a candybar and water and inhaled those.   Just as a backup, I took another dose of medication.  I was sweating like a pig headed for you-know-where.   I thought it would be just my luck some security person would interpret my sweating as being a nervous passenger and put me on a terrorist watch.   Luckily, I finally came out of it and felt semi-normal and went on my way.

Third leg.  Off we sailed into the wild blue yonder on another 767.  I had the foresight to ask to switch to an exit row seat so I would have more legroom.  But, I overlooked the fact that some exit rows have a bulkhead smack dab in front of you which is NOT what I wanted.  Dammit!!!  Luckily, the flight wasn't full, so I snagged a seat in the middle section which I had all to myself.  Movies, food, wine, pillows, ear plugs, whiskey, I was a happy camper.

Fourth leg.  After arriving in Quito, we had to do the whole Customs/Immigration thing again.  Sailed through.  The Airbus 320 was a full flight.  Everyone was on board and we waited....and waited...and waited.  Finally, the captain announced they were delaying departure in order to wait for other passengers coming in on other flights that were running late.  Lots of moans and groans from the passengers on board.  The Flight Attendants kept walking up and down the aisle with their clicker counting how many passengers were on board and, presumably, how many empty seats remained.  This got a bit irritating after a bit because how many times does it take to know how many are/aren't there?   Passengers arrived and boarded and tried to cram their bags into already full overhead compartments while we all watched.  Passengers DE-boarded.  This went on for quite awhile.  Some passengers who had waited and watched all this started to get vocal with the FA's.    They wanted to leave NOW.   A lot of people were getting hot under the collar.   Keep in mind, this was the LAST flight of the day to GYE from UIO.  I highly doubted anyone on board had connections in GYE they would be late for, or miss.   They just wanted to get home...period.   I thought.....what if THEY were the ones coming in late and LAN was waiting for?   They would be so appreciative that LAN waited for them.  But, they'd be pissed if LAN left them high and dry in Quito without any other option.  But, noooooo....they didn't give a hoo-hah about someone else's situation because THEY were on board, that's all that mattered.  I don't get it.   People don't seem to have the ability (or just don't give a rats ass if it doesn't benefit them) to put themselves in the other person's shoes and see their viewpoint.  I have a motto:  "Don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to you".  So, if you wouldn't want to be left behind, then shut the hell up.   You'll be home an hour late...whoopteedo.  Another 45 minute flight from UIO to GYE.

Fifth leg.   Outside the terminal, I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to take me to my hostal very nearby.  He didn't know where it was, even though I showed him the address.  He consulted with others.  $7.   I said 'no', the hostal said it shouldn't be more than $4.  He grunted and went away.  Meanwhile, another driver overhearing this said he would take me.   The hostal truly was only a few blocks away but to get there it required a circuitous route.

The hostal had my reservation, but not my room.   It was 10:30 at night and I was dog tired.   However, he said he did have a room, a dorm with 6 beds, that I could have all  to myself and he wouldn't charge me anything more than the $20 deposit I already paid.  OK.   I couldn't help be reminded of the Seinfeld episode where he had a car rental reservation at the airport but the reservation agent informed him that, though they had the reservation in the system, they didn't have a car.  Seinfeld implored the woman that, since he had a reservation, there should be a car.  He further told her 'I don't think you understand how a reservation works' to which she tersely responded 'yes, she does'.   Seinfeld informed her 'I don't think you do, because if you did you would have a car.  You see, you are supposed to KEEP the car!!'. 

We went out the back door, down a smelly (of fish) corridor, past a laundry room and turned to go up a set of metal stairs attached to the outside of the building.  These stairs had to be no wider than 18 inches!!!  Up 3 flights and through a steel door and into the room.  It was okay enough. Clean white linens, private bath...ummm....wait....there was no sink or mirror....just a toilet and a shower and the shower had only one knob, so you know what THAT means.  NO HOT WATER!!!   Ok, I needed sleep.  I went to bed after banging my head on the steel frames of the bunkbeds several times.  Oh, lest I forget, there were no keys to the room, just a sliding rod to lock the steel door, though that wasn't worth much since the window right next to the door could not be fully closed, nor locked.

Along about 1am, I awoke to knocking on my room door.   It was the night manager with two young women behind him with backpacks and looking very exhausted.   They had just arrived on a late night flight.  What was I supposed to do...say NO??   What the hell happened to me having the room all to myself for $20 which, by the way, a bed in the shared dorm normally costs only $9??  HMMMM????

Sixth leg.  UGH.  I got up at 7am and had breakfast.  I felt miserable.   Other guests were coming down from their rooms in the other part of the building which seemed nicer.  They all seemed happy and refreshed.  Yeah, because they were sleeping in nice rooms like the one I HAD reserved!!!!  The night manager gave me a ride to the van office.   Within a few minutes, I was in the front seat of the van on my way back home to Cuenca.   Most of the way I slept even while the driver careened around curve after curve after curve going through the Andes, climbing from sea level to my 8,000 ft city.

Hey!!!  I came back with one more leg than when I left!!!!

I left Seattle late on a Thursday night.  I arrived back home in Cuenca around noon on Saturday.


Stayed tuned for my next blog where I take a 4-day driving trip to Otavlo, Cotacachi, and Ibarra in northern Ecuador, and stand on the line known as the middle of the world...the Equator.  LOTS of photos, too!!!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

More On's

Just to let you know, the title IS a double entendre....as you'll soon realize somewhere in this entry.  I have so many things to write about, I can't limit myself to just one topic this go-round.   Here goes:

More on Here vs There.  

I received a lot of feedback, all positive believe it or not, on my last entry.   Some gave me more examples, some alluded to the fact I could've posted a hundred more.   Here's a few more:

There:  I was there for 3 weeks, in a cosmopolitan area with more than 1 million population.  During that entire time, I don't think I heard a car alarm more than 3 times...and I'm being generous.
Here:    The DAY I got back, the number of times I heard an alarm started racking up like I won big at a slot machine.   Within hours I heard MORE than 50!!!!

Here:   October 1st and Christmas trees were being hoisted into place at the mall and merchandise hitting the shelves.   Geez, it used to not start until after Thanksgiving (like the 1950's), then it slid back to Halloween, now it's invading back-to-school!!!  
There:  Ditto

Here:   LAN airlines is probably the BEST airline I've ever flown.  I don't usually hype a big corporation, but get this!  Flying internationally from EC to there:
  • Flight Attendant uniforms were VERY professional.  Hair was coiffed.  Perfect makeup (on the women), and they carried themselves with dignity and pride.  They stood at attention at their stations when the safety announcements were running.
  • Waiting in my seat was a plastic bag filled with a blanket, pillow, earphones, earplugs, and an eye mask (like Kitty Carlisle used to wear).  NO CHARGE
  • We were served a hot meal with SILVERWARE....metal!!!...in COACH!!!   With WINE!!   FREE!!   in COACH!!!
  • Each seatback had its own video screen where I could select from an array of movies, tv shows, documentaries, or music.   I could use a remote in my armrest to control the sound, fast forward, turn the lights off/on, etc.  FREE.
  • I wasn't charged any fee for my baggage, nor for any onboard snacks.
  • When the FA's served a drink, they used tongs to pluck ice from the container to the glass. 
  • When they handed me the drink, they looked me in the EYES and smiled.
  • After everything had been served and most had eaten, they came by again to give us a refill on our wine and/or offer a shot of WHISKEY!!!   BINGO!!!!
There:  I fly American Airlines for the frequent flyer miles and the fact they partner with Alaska Air and LAN.  What a difference:
  • When checking in at an automated kiosk, it asked me how many bags I was going to check.  One.  $25 please.
  • Flight attendants wore pants and shirts.  The shirts were usually baggy and pulled half way out at the waist.
  • Hair was....pull it back and slap a clip on it.  Over time, some clumps of hair obviously worked its way out and frizzed, but no one seemed to care.
  • Meal?  Sure...for a price.   I just wanted a bag of nuts.  $6 please, and give us your card so we can swipe it through this thingamajig right now.
  • Prefer an aisle seat?  Yeah, if you enjoy getting sideswiped by the FA's hips every frickin time they walk by!!!
  • When they fill a drink order, they take one cup and schlep it through the ice and dump it into another cup....crrrrrrrunch!!!!  
  • When they hand you the drink, all you see is an extended arm.  The FA is moving ahead...NEXT!!!!
There:  Tip everyone.  Tip the dry cleaner, tip the person who scooped your ice cream, tip the coffee guy, tip the taxi driver, tip the doorman, tip the luggage porter, tip the guy who hailed you the taxi driver that you're going to also tip, tip the store clerk simply because she gave you the correct change.  It's up to 20% now for food servers.  Interesting, what with the prices of everything going up, the price on the menu goes up, too.   Therefore, food servers have built-in raises.  When real estate prices go up, the real estate agents get hefty raises without doing anything different.  Funny, I was lucky if I got a 3-5% raise at the bank.  And, there's the ever-present argument of just how to calculate the tip...based on the total bill, based on the taxes, based on the bill minus taxes...ugh!!!   One friend of mine is adamant it is 'double the tax' and (he or she) brings it up E-V-E-R-Y time we dine out.  So, when the tax rate goes up (and it does frequently), it's an automatic raise for the server.
Here:   A large percentage of restaurants include a 10% service charge which is either stated on the menu and/or the bill.  If not, a dollar or two is sufficient.   Taxi drivers are not tipped.   Nor is every one else and their brother or cousin.   Just those who have always been tipped (like in the 1950's)...the luggage handler, the tour guide, and the grocery boy who takes your bags to your car.

Ok, nuf of that.

When I got back from my trip 'there', I picked up my kids from two different places.   My dog, Gracie, went to Auntie Na-Na's house where she was spoiled and played with cousin Desilu for 3 weeks.  Though, there was that incident where she chased Na-Na's roommates rabbit around the yard and proudly brought it to her front door...albeit lifeless.  AHEM...cough, cough.  

The kitties stayed with Aunt Peg who housesat my newly purchased apartment.  There's no parking at all in front of the building, so I pulled up onto the curb so I wouldn't impede traffic in one of the two lanes, and put on my 4-way flashers.   It took a couple of minutes for Peg and I to round up the two runts and carry them downstairs and out to the street.  In that short amount of time, a tow truck had arrived and had my car half-way dragged up onto their tilted ramp....with Gracie INSIDE!!!    Being on a busy, noisy street with one cat in my arms and the other in Pegs, I was freaked and threw them inside the car right away for their safety.  The parking officer said it would cost me $70 for them to release my car right then and there, or $45 for them to finish loading the car and haul it away to the car-pound...wherever that is....WITH my 3 kids in the car!!!   Excuse me, but who's going to feed them or give them air when they have no way to open the car or lower the windows???!!!  Peg pleaded with them in Spanish that all we were doing was getting the cats and loading them for just a few minutes.  I mean, c'mon, out of 40 apartments surely it's the norm to have a car stop and load/unload regularly.  AND, the military hospital down the block who also doesn't have any on-street parking had a line of cars with flashers flashing and THEY weren't hauled away!!!   I'm sure Peg won them over with her freshly learned spanish and her blond good looks didn't hurt either!!!   So, my car (with Gracie, Bozo, and Chip) were released to us without prejudice.   GRRRRRRRR

Warning Will Robinson, WARNING WILL ROBINSON!!!!

Like I did recently (blog about renting a house from one "Macrina" who tried to gouge me for $200 a month utilities), I feel it is my duty to let others know of someone they might want to consider avoiding.  I have yet another experience I want to pass along in hopes that others will be able to steer clear of a pothole I slammed into.  This time, it's a person in real estate SALES.

'Cuenca Real Estate' is well-known.  They have what I consider as the largest online inventory and a nicely presented website, albeit in need of better functionality like most of them do.   They are also affiliated with 'TuCasaCuenca'.   Kathy Gonzalez Corral is a 'piece of work'.   I'll let you be the judge based on the FACTS hereto and forthwith and assunder (whatever):
  • I called on a Monday at 11am asking to see the property,  KG said she was trying to get access to the apartment because there were tenants in it.  Wednesday...no call, no update.
  • When I made an offer and it was accepted, she said she wanted $5k earnest money so she wouldn't show the apartment to anyone else.  I responded  challenging the notion that a large deposit was required in order to constrain her from continuing to show the place.  There’s nothing to stop her from continuing to show the place and obtaining backup offers should the agreement between the seller and I fall through, and only then would those backup offers be activated.  The accepted offer alone (not earnest money) is the basis to stop presennting offers…and only accepting backups in case our deal falls through.  Earnest money is about giving the seller a level of confidence, and a level of commitment by the buyer the deal will go through.  What am I doing...training KG?
  • I requested a conference call between myself, her, and the sellers (who reside in the USA) specifically so we could spell out what needs to be done and who does what and all 3 parties would hear the same thing at the same time.   8am.   The sellers and I are on the line...but not Kathy.  I call her, 'OH....I thought it was 8pm!!'.  She joined the call.   During the call I got the feeling she wasn't paying attention.   I asked her WHO takes care of getting the signed/notarized documents properly registered, recorded, and title changed?  She said she would take care of that.  (save this for later)
  • When the report of 'no liens' came back to KG, she wanted to set up a closing for 2 days later.  I had to remind her that I clearly documented (and reviewed in the conf call) that there were a list of contingencies to be met first.  She then wanted to review the list with me.  I responded there was no need for it to be reviewed..it just needed to be DONE!!   There were things such as proof the taxes were current, utilities paid current, the unit was cleaned, verify the inventory of included items (ie; kitchen pots/pans, bedding, tv, etc) were still there that still needed to be done.  AND, I wasn't about to take someone (KG's) word for it that there were no liens...I wanted to SEE the report.  KG just wanted to rush to closing and get her commission.
  • When we closed, we reviewed the charges between the buyer and seller.  She arbitrarily decided to charge $100 to pay to someone to 'go stand in line' to get the documents recorded, registered, and title changed at the Property Registry office.  She said 'I don't do that', 'I don't have time to waste standing in line'.   Ok, go back to the 3rd bullet above where she told us she takes care of that.  So, I decided I would inherit that charge since it was in my interest to get the documents recorded properly, though I thought a hundred bucks was a pretty hefty fee given wages are in the $2 - $5 an hour range here.
  • I also told KG that the electric and water bills are paid in arrears, so her affiliate, the property management company that handled the unit, would still need to pay those when they become due in Sept.   She collected $30 from the buyers side of the balance sheet for that.   (save this for later)
  • When we were finished at the Notary’s office, I asked her how long it would take to get the documents registered and she said about 15 days…which was during the time I would be in the USA.  She said she would get copies of the finalized documents and I could get them from her when I returned.  I wasn't betting on it.
  • When I returned, I emailed her asking if she had the finalized documents.  She said she would get back to me the next day…she didn’t.  I again asked for a status.  She responded telling me “The property is registered and the capital gains paid. I have a ten dollars balance.”  That’s not what I asked!!!!  I asked about having the documents!!
  • I replied asking her where I can pick them up.  She replied with the address and that she'd drop them off at 10am the next day and leave them with Carla.
  • The next day I waited awhile before going, knowing that 'miss spacecase' might forget or be late.  I drove to the address…there was no such address on either one of the cross streets she provided me.  Sitting in my car that was overheating (and myself, too), I tried to find her phone #.  Finally, I called someone I knew who had it and they text’d it to me.  I called KG and told her there was no such address.  'YES THERE IS, YES THERE IS!!!'  'Ohhhhh.....wait....it's not 3-46....it's 4-36!!'   GRRRR!!!!!  She told me she and Carla were waiting for me at 10am but I didn’t show up.  I informed her no one made an appointment…that she was simply going to drop them off!!! Then she told me Carla was not there..she had gone to the IRS…for me to come back later after 3pm.  GRRRRRR!!!!!
  • I drove to a gas station and put water in my radiator and decided to check out the office and see if someone MIGHT be there.   Lo and behold, minutes after our conversation, Carla was in the office along with, presumably, KG's business partner. Carla handed me a $58 check with no explanation.  KG told me in her email there was a $10 overage of cap gains paid.  So, why the $58 and why no explanation????  I left with the (supposed) registered documents in hand.
  • The next day I went to the Electric company to change the account name.  The documents I got from KG were required in order to change the name.  I sat in queue only to be informed they needed me to make a copy to leave behind with them.  I walked down the street and got copies made and went back to the electric company, got another number, and waited in queue again.  Then, I was told that the copies KG provided me were not valid because they didn’t have the registry’s stamp on it.   What she gave me was nothing more than the exact same document I left with when we left the Notarys office over a month prior!!   GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!
  • I called KG and, in disbelief, she asked me ‘the documents aren’t registered?’.  GEEZ, how am I supposed to know?  SHE was the one that was hired and paid to shepherd this transaction through! She thought maybe her ‘helper’ simply went and paid the capital gains tax.   How could that be…we paid the cap gains tax directly to the NOTARY when we signed the documents over a month ago!!!!  She said she didn’t look at the documents she gave Carla…WHAT???...she doesn't check things to be sure they’re correct?
  • KG called me back later that night and informed me her gopher didn't have the papers registered.  She wanted me to return the papers to her and she would have it done.  Funny….how could she tell me a few days earlier that ‘the property was registered, cap gains paid, and you have a $10 balance’ if nothing was done at all?  This does not add up.
  • Which brings the question to mind….what happened to the $100 I gave her that was supposed to be used to pay for this gophers service?   Who’s pocket is it sitting in?  And, for what?   NOTHING!!
  • And, that $30 I gave her to pay for the utility bills?   When I got back from my trip, I checked both the water and electric bills and they were not paid.   So, I paid them myself.  I'm sure KG never informed the property management company they were supposed to do this and, of course, never handed them the money, either.  
It's my belief that once this deal closed, papers were signed, and commission paid, KG simply filed the folder away as 'Done' and no longer had any interest (because there was no longer any monetary motivation) to follow through. 

Red flags went up in my mind when I first met her.  She plows through conversatons like a bulldozer with a wrecking ball attached.  You'd think she was born, raised, and just got off the train from da' Bronx.  She kept asking questions she had already asked before but, clearly, didn't pay attention to the answer.   If she took notes, it was random scribbles all over the face of a file folder.  She reminds me of a person with A.D.D!!

If I didn’t have the experience I have in real estate, I’d be sitting on a property that was never properly registered.   This has happened before to other people KG has represented and it was a mess to get it corrected.   Most people, let alone foreigners, don’t know the process and depend on the people they hire, to do what they’re supposed to do so their investment is safe.  And, they depend on what they say as being fact….verified fact.

I sent KG a note stating: 

"Some of the most critical elements of being a good real estate agent is good communication, being organized, being thorough, and attention to detail.  Need I say more?"



    PS.....oh, BTW, if you're coming to Cuenca and have the need for short-term housing, rather than stay in a hotel room with a bed, you might check out my apartment, see if it meets your needs.  I have it listed on Air BnB and FlipKey.   Here's the link to my unit on AirBnB:   https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/720684  And, the link to FlipKey (by TripAdvisor) http://www.flipkey.com/cuenca-condo-rentals/p441432/

    About Me

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    Palma, Mallorca, Spain
    This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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