Well, back to Northern California! We have been getting everything back in order after being away from home for a month. Also, we have been intensifying our Spanish-learning efforts and trying to get rid of extraneous detritus that has been accumulating in our home and garage over the past twenty years.
And, it is SO hot! The kind of heat that makes me not want to ever leave a temperature-controlled environment. It is supposed to reach almost 100 degrees today and 104 tomorrow! In addition to the heat, water is a precious commodity due to the drought ravaging the area. Beautifully kept lawns are a thing of the past, and the new norm is dry, wheat-colored weeds that take over the entire neighborhood. For once, our lawn is not the most pitiful in the area; it simply looks as if we are doing our part to conserve water. The only effort I am making in watering is trying to keep my trees from withering away.
Oh, and to add to the widespread insanity, fireworks just went on sale in preparation for the Fourth of July. Here's hoping that the entire city doesn't go up in flames like the dry tinderbox that it is!
Well, I guess it's time to start wrapping up my observations. Cuenca is a beautiful city- I love that the weather changes constantly and is never too hot or cold. This is especially on my mind now that I'm back in Sacramento and it is 80 degrees at 10am.
The traffic fumes and noise are off putting, but I think that if we lived in a quieter neighborhood, the noise issues would subside. And, the light rail system(and a proposal that would change the buses over eventually to low emission ones) that is being installed may take care of a lot of the fumes. Frank really does not like being packed into a bus and having to jump off when the bus has barely stopped, but he lived in NYC for six years, so I'm sure he could get used to it again!😀
The food is AMAZING! I love the variety of fruits and vegetables available at the mercado and the almuerzos are cheap, sufficient, tasty, and not extremely unhealthy when viewed from the perspective of the average American's diet. I would have to get used to the lack(or exorbitant prices) of certain things that we view as almost staples in the U.S. Things such as pasta sauce, good tasting olives (Frank said that the ones I bought tasted like they were preserved in kerosene), and wine are very different than what is in California. The cheapest wine (which is a liter in a cardboard box) starts at $6, and, if you want it in an actual glass bottle, more like $10.
The people in Ecuador are quite friendly, but, despite what I had read online previous to our trip, not many people speak English(other than at the gringo haunts), so it will be extremely necessary to up our Spanish game.
Everything is so green! Again, the difference from California (with a pernicious drought occurring) is quite apparent. There are such bright roses and orchids and many other plants everywhere and they are all gorgeous!
So, are we moving? Well, we will need to count the cost thoroughly and also review other possibilities (one being Pereira, Colombia, on which I have started doing research), and then see what the future holds!
Sunday we went to the Amaru Zoo. That is a simple statement which belies the amount of effort involved. It was approximately a three hour hike, seemingly 80% uphill, which would be pretty remarkable considering that the end point is at the same place as the start.
It is a remarkable zoo. All of the animals have been rescued from various (and sometimes heinous) circumstances. They are kept in habitats as free and open as possible, which means that you can stand three feet away from the lions (through only a double chain link fence) and the cute little capuchin monkeys can come and sit on your shoulder! We got to see the lions fed, but I was hoping to hear them roar, and the zoo personnel said that they usually do that late in the afternoon, so we missed it.
We have been having a great time figuring out what living in Cuenca would be like. I really do love the weather! It has stayed cool the entire time, varying between overcast, sunny, and occasional rain showers.
I have found out that one can rent an apartment for as little as $170, especially if one sends in a local friend as a ringer, but also that it is easy to quickly rack up living expenses if one feels it necessary to live exactly as one does in the U.S. Still, many things are quite inexpensive, especially as vacations go! Full spa pedicures for $10 (and that was at a very gringo-fied location) and almuerzos (lunch specials) for $2.50 are very nice.
We decided to go on a day trip to an area famous for their jewelry- Chordeleg. It was quite an experience. First, we went to the main bus terminal and found the bus going the way we wanted, which actually said Gualeceo on it, because those buses leave every few minutes and get you within 10-15 minutes of Chordeleg, but the buses to Chordeleg evidently leave only every couple of hours. But, once you get to Gualaceo, there are constant buses to Chordeleg available.
So, we are on the road to Gualaceo, and a guy stands up at the front (at first I thought he was going to collect bus fares, but that didn't happen until we arrived at our destination). He starts passing out a brochure type cookbook and starts a sales pitch. It was actually a very nice memento, so I went ahead and got it. He finished his spiel, collected the brochures or the money from all the passengers, and then jumps off the bus as soon as the driver stopped for the next light. "Odd," I thought and had no sooner prepared for an uneventful rest of the journey, when another man jumps onboard and proceeds to try to sell everyone ziploc baggies full of coconut water. His pitch was quick and to the point and he was off the bus before the light turned green. Then came the real pro. We got the full infomercial treatment from him! Even without understanding much Spanish, it was very entertaining. First, he passed out baggies of some kind of snack-type items. Then, I could understand that he was telling us how much we would pay if we went to our local tienda to purchase such a highly prized snack, but that we had the privilege and honor to be able to get not one, but TWO, of them for the low, low price of $1! Then we got to hear how his lovely, invalid mother spends hours hand making these delicious whatevers, and how we would be helping to provide a living wage for her in her old age. Actually, I must include a caveat here: because I only have an extremely limited grasp of the Spanish language, most of this is a guess. When I can only understand one word in ten, I kind of make up the rest! But, his presentation style was riveting!
And that was all before we even got to Gualaceo! I was hoping to stop at the Ecuagenera, an orchid growing place that got rave reviews for the variety included, but, even though I had tried to make my plan known to the driver at the start of the journey, we barreled past it at such a speed that it would have been a twenty minute walk uphill by the time we could have gotten him to stop. So, we focused on getting to Chordeleg. It is a quaint little town that I am pretty sure has more jewelry shops than New York City. And, while some of the jewelry was very tasteful and elegant, some of it was gaudy to the extreme! Most of what is sold there is silver, which I prefer to yellow gold. I am not a true jewelry fan though, and the jeweler a kept wanting to show me earrings that would brush my shoulders from my earlobes and heavy duty necklaces which would make me the envy of any gangsta rapper. When I told one that I only like small, simple things, the jeweler said that Frank was a lucky man. I ended up purchasing two pairs of earrings and a small necklace.
By the time we left Chordeleg, there was a huge influx of travelers on the bus. We were fortunate enough to find seats(albeit not together), but some passengers spent the entire hour or so standing in the aisle. All in all, it was a fun day!
3:27am! On Sunday morning! That is the time at which we were awakened by industrial speakers playing music to "serenade Mama"! It was Mother's Day, and this is evidently a regular ritual for the day: show your mother how much you love her by getting up at an ungodly hour to sing or play music to her. My question is this: wouldn't it be kinder and show more honor to Mama to let her sleep in at least on this one day per year?
Speaking of mothers, it is interesting to see their interaction(or lack thereof) with their children. It is not uncommon to see a three or four year old seemingly walking by himself on the sidewalk of a busy street. But, when one looks around in consternation, one finds a parent walking twenty to thirty feet in front of the child, with nary a glance backwards! Very different, but the children seem to do quite well and learn to do many things at a very early age.
For example, there was a commercial in preparation of Mother's Day which portrayed a child performing household duties for mom. She vaccuumed the floors and the furniture, dusted the tables(including under frames and knick knacks), and various other duties. The funny thing was, she could not have been older than four - she was still wearing footie pajamas!
Oh, and I discovered something else: a woman here can wear hooker heels, skintight pants, see-through blouses, short skirts, and low-cut tops and most people here think it is okay. But, wearing shorts of any length brands her a hussy!
We went to Guayquil for one night and that was extremely busy as we did both a city tour and a Bethel tour in under 24 hours. None of us liked the city much at all as it was hot, humid, large and dirty. We also heard that it is pretty dangerous, although we had a wonderful family as hosts who took very good care of us!😀 But, we did get to pet some iguanas at a park that has too many to count in a very small area! Evidently, one hotel started putting out food for them and they all started coming there and now they have their own personal city-paid attendant!😂
So, we are now in Cuenca! After a three hour drive from Guayaquil that reminded me a lot of driving to Lake Tahoe, we made it! I was very glad that I hadn't eaten lunch, because it was curvy enough that I might have been ill.
So far, I'm not extremely skilled at bargaining. Taxis range from $1.50(the minimum) to $3 to just about anywhere in town we want to go. Or the bus is 25c and isn't bad to ride on (other than, I've heard, right when school is getting out).
We are awakened every morning at 6:45am by the music coming from the elementary school across the street calling all the children to be there by 7am. They all look so nice and clean in their uniforms and their hair neatly combed and (for the girls) neatly braided.
The apartment we are is is gorgeous, albeit a little noisy due to having a main street right outside the bedroom window. But, it is a two bedroom, two bath apartment with security, furnished, for $440. And that's with only staying the one month. In talking to several people, I'm sure that we could find an adequate unfurnished apartment with a signed lease for $300 or less!
I went to do laundry, but the lady who worked at the laundromat said they would do two large bags for $10, so I just left it. They did a good job, but I have a feeling that I should have talked them down a little.😏
We found the Plaza de San Francisco, where there are quite a few artisanal shops selling locally made goods: Panama hats (which have never been made in Panama!), ponchos, leather goods and more surrounded us! We each got a hat. That is a necessity because, even though there is a lot of cloud cover, we are on the equator and at about 8000 feet, so the sun is quite powerful here!
I said in the title that my head is spinning. That is mostly because if you ask ten different people a question, you may get ten answers. "Is the water good to drink?" The answers I got were: "It's perfect!", "Foreigners need to be careful.", "It won't harm you, but it tastes horribly of chlorine.", and "An American engineer toured all the water treatment plants in South America and said that Cuenca's is the best of any of them and rivals anything in the U.S." So, we got bottled, but use the tap as well. But, a lot of things are that way. It just depends on the personal experience of each person. So, you'll get my experiences this month! Take them as you will!😉
Trying to make up for lost time in resting on Sunday, we tried to pack a bunch into Monday. We never did make it to El Mitad del Mundo (the equator line), but hopefully we will get to it on our way back through Quito.
We went to a neo Gothic cathedral with a ton of stairs, but did not go inside. Then we went to another cathedral, the Iglesia La Compañía. I had read something about it and wanted to see it in person. I have never seen so much gold in my life! Gold leaf covered almost everything! The walls, the ceiling, the statues! It is truly amazing how much money the Catholic Church has accumulated. I took a couple of surreptitious pictures (they don't want you to as they want you to buy the postcards).
After that, we walked around trying to find an almuerzo (lunch special). A man ( who said he had been to California but, oddly, only to all the cities with Spanish saints' names!😏)tried to sell us on a trip guided by his brother to El Mitad del Mundo and, when that didn't work, on Panama hats. Trying to find a good hat, we followed him off the main road to a small, semi-hidden shop that had visions of being mugged racing through my head. Needless to say, we did not buy a hat there.
Then we stopped at a tiny hole-in-the-wall café for our almuerzo. No gringos and no English spoken. The food was good and only $2.25 each for soup, main course, juice and banana. However, ordering was an adventure. The waitress offered several types of soups, including meat, fish and cheese. Three of us ordered meat and one cheese. The soups ( I identified Lima beans, potatoes and cilantro) came out, sprinkled with cheese, but with no evidence of meat except for Frank's, which had fish(?). After that ordering fiasco, I just ordered chicken for all of our main dishes and let the waitress choose the juice. Dad was upset, because he wanted meat, but I wasn't willing to risk it! The juice (mango) came, and then the meal. Rice, chicken, fried plantain, and a bit of tomato/cucumber salad. It was delicious!
We finished eating and then caught the bus. We debated going to the equator line, but it was getting late and everyone was starting to get tired, so my parents went back to the hotel to rest.
Frank and I went to the Botanical Gardens. By this time, it was becoming overcast and we were pretty sure it would rain soon, but we took a chance. The gardens were lovely. Gorgeous flowers and the cutest little bonsai garden. It started to rain a little as we were going through the Prehistoric Gardens. Then we found the hothouses. As we explored the carnivorous exhibit, it rained harder,and, by the time we got to the orchids, there was a full thunderstorm raging. But we had a great time! A newly wedded couple, in all their formal finery, were also inside- having pictures taken in beautiful surroundings despite the rain.
When we had waited out the rain and gotten some hot chocolate at the snack stand, we made our way out of the park and to the main road where we caught a cab back to our hotel.(only $2.50! 😃)
Sunday seems to be a very quiet day in Quito. Which is good, because, not only are we exhausted from the journey, but the rarified air here still has us a little breathless and tired. We did walk a block down to the Super Maxi (the local Safeway). There were some good deals and some expensive things. Basically, if you want a particular brand that needs to be imported from the U.S. (Like Hershey's cocoa), you will pay a premium.
But, the fruit is amazing! I have never seen papayas or pineapples this big! I thought the meats and seafood were overpriced and then I remembered that it was per kilogram, not per pound.
The weather is good. Cool and sunny. The hotel we are staying in is very nice, more like a hacienda than a Hyatt. 😀 I like that, but some people prefer the large rooms available in most American hotels.
Well, we got on our way! Woke up at 2:45am and were at the airport at 4am. The airport experience at Sacramento was interesting. Peets Coffee was not opening on time due to a manager not showing up and, when they finally opened, was only taking credit card payments. Had an Irish Cream coffee on the first flight-yum!
Random thought: I wonder if there is some kind of specialized program to be trained to use the light wands to direct the planes? I think that would be a pretty nice job!
The plane got to Salt Lake City at 8:45am. Boarding for the next flight started at 9am. Two concourses over. So, we hurried over, making a very necessary pit stop on the way. Got to our gate with a minute to spare and then were told that the flight was running late. Oh, well.
Atlanta is hot and muggy. And I can say that even though we never left the airport because parts of the airport seemed to have little or no air conditioning. Not much to see in the areas we were waiting in. But, WHO EVER thought it might be a good idea to put a smoking lounge twenty feet from the gate waiting area and then leave the door open all the time? Doesn't that rather defeat the purpose of a smoking lounge to keep the smoke away from the rest of us?
The flight from Atlanta to Quito was nice. They did a very good job with my gluten free meal, although I think it was kind of an all-purpose (gluten-free, low salt, halal, kosher, whatever) meal with a gluten free packaged roll thrown in for good measure!😉
I'm a Certified Massage Therapist, a book lover, a happy wife, a teacher, and a fiber arts specialist. Oh, and I may be moving to Ecuador!