A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Notice to our readers & friends:

Dear readers and friends:

It has been a long time since we have posted on this blog.  The August hospital visit referred to in the last blog was the first in a series of chemotherapy sessions for me.  Over the past several weeks, it looked as though those sessions and an intervening surgical procedure would be successful in combating a case of stage 3 lymphoma.   While I did achieve a short remission, some cancer has returned and my next steps in treatment will require traveling back to the US.  A consequence of this turn of events will be a continuance of the hiatus on our writing efforts as we focus on the struggle  ahead.

Even though the past several months has been challenging and stressful to say the least, Suzanne and I have the been the recipients of many blessings.   As we continue our struggle, we hope to continue to search for the hidden blessings that we know each day, no matter how trying and difficult, must contain.  We will grasp them when we find them, cherish them, share them with each other and hopefully this will help strengthen us in our journey.

Cherish each day you have, dear reader and share it openly and lovingly with those who are important in your life.  Wish us well as we continue our adventure "juntos en el camino de la vida"!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aprender Espanol, poco a poco! (Learning Spanish, little by little)

When we first decided to become ex-patriates in a Latin country, we had all the good intentions of knuckling down and at least learning some basic Spanish.  But with getting ready to move out of the country, with traveling to Mexico, Ecuador and Thailand, plus crossing the US three times in a ten month period, it just didn't happen. Fortunately, our many visits to Mexico over the years provided us with some rudimentary Espanol, enough to navigate airports, taxis , restaurants and ask a few basic "I need help" questions.

We finally arrived in Cuenca to live. Our first priority became securing permanent housing. We bought a house, a bed and some appliances and moved in to await the arrival of our container.  It, of course, got delayed.  Did we use that down time to brush up on our Spanish?  Nah, we just procrastinated again!  Once the container arrived, we got busy building our new lifestyle and settling in as residents.  We were the only gringos in our neighborhood.  We began to pick a little vocabulary here and there just from immersion into the neighborhood and osmosis as we traveled around the city.   It is a fact that Cuenca's openness to the gringo community and the significant number of locals who know some English make it easy to "get by" with a few basic phrases.  Ecuadorians are also very patient and gracious if you attempt to use the language and are very willing to help you learn.  We started picking up more vocabulary "poco a poco" (little by little) but, oh boy, what terrible grammar we had (and still do)!

Despite being strong advocates of learning the language (we advise every one of the newcomers who seek us out for advice "Learn Spanish!"), here we are a year and a half later,  still picking up our Spanish in bits and pieces.  However, we are now up to stopping on the street and chatting with friends and neighbors in THEIR language for sometimes as long as 3 to 4 minutes! We are making some progress, albeit, very slow and agonizing progress. We have since started some computer language learning programs.  That is helping and we plan to hire a home tutor in the near future.  Vocabulary is one thing, but we really need to improve our grammar and pronunciation.

Ecuadorians who have been in the US tell us the hardest thing about learning English was its heavy usage of idiomatic phrases with meanings different than the literal translation.   Actually, that can occur in Spanish, as well, and learning some of those subtleties can make a difference.

Roger during a recent stay in an Ecuadorian hospital.
I recently acquired knowledge of one such phrase during my first hospital stay in Ecuador.  We are fortunate that our primary doctor is fairly bilingual.   In the hospital itself, you will sometimes find a resident or intern on duty who is somewhat bilingual. Basic knowledge of at least one other language (although not always English) is somewhat common in the medical community here.  An occasional nurse will know a little English and if you are lucky, you may encounter a smattering of English at admissions or at the cashier upon checkout.   By and large, however, the hospital staff almost exclusively speaks Spanish.  That can present some challenges even if you have become fairly conversant in Spanish.  This is simply because you are talking about things not commonly referred to in everyday activity. If you go to the hospital, take your Spanish-English dictionary with you!    During my stay, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well I was able to understand what the nurses were telling me and what they were asking of me. During one of my periodic checks by a shift nurse, I was able to tell her I had no pain, no nausea. I got her to tell me my blood pressure reading was and we even conversed about where in Cuenca each of us lived.   However the conversation suddenly reached a pregnant pause when she inquired:  "Señor, hizo un despositivo hoy?"   Huh???  I knew how the words translated:  "Did you make a deposit today?" However I was thoroughly confused as to the intent of her question.  Was it possible we were supposed to prepay part of our hospital bill and the nurse was calling attention to fact we hadn't done so?  I asked the nurse in my broken Spanish if my wife needed to visit the cashier downstairs when she came back to the room to see me.  My nurse giggled.... "No Señor...depositivo aqui (pointing to the bathroom)... en el bano!"

Oh my gosh, she was asking if I had had a bowel movement today!  (It was my turn to laugh!)

"Si, Senora, yo hecho un grande depositivo...un grande boom-boom!"  This time, we both giggled!

And so it goes.....until the tutor arrives, we will probably continue to pick up some more Spanish, poco a poco, as we continue our journey juntos en el camino de la vida.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Nice B&B Getaway in Punta Carnero, Ecuador!

The Schmidt's home
 in Punta Carnero, Ecuador
John and Heather Schmidt didn't set set out to pursue a dream of owning their own Bed & Breakfast in Ecuador.  However, sometimes life has a way of having a dream come and find you!

This couple from Arizona's Valley of the Sun, like so many ex-patriates, came to Ecuador hoping to be able to salvage some their hopes for their retirement after the economic woes in the US.  As many readers now know, Arizona was one of the hardest hit markets in the U.S. when the real estate housing bubble burst.

Heather collected shells
as they remodeled!
Suzanne and I had been introduced to Heather and John through a mutual friend in Arizona who referred them to us for help and advice in their preparation to explore the possibilities of moving to Ecuador.

When they finally arrived and began to explore the coastal area near Salinas, they almost abandoned hope of finding what they were looking for.   However, almost at the last minute they found a four bedroom spacious home with large front and back yards and a casita directly across from the beach in Punta Carnero.  Punta Carnero Beach is a nice stretch of smooth sand just south and around the peninsula from Salinas.  It is a beach popular with surfers because of regularly occurring large waves.  That creates riptides that are sometimes rough for swimming but it is always great for walking and shelling.

They made an offer on the property and even hired a caretaker.  Shortly before they left, they were talking about all the amazing space they had (each bedroom already had its own bath and the downstairs floor plan was open and spacious).  Slowly the previously unborn idea of creating a Bed and Breakfast began to germinate.

First things first;  they had to return to the US to begin prep for moving to Ecuador.  There were challenges but fortunately things worked out very well.  By spring they were back in Ecuador, in the full throes of remodeling and even traveling to Cuenca to pay a visit their lawyer who were helping them establish permanent residency.  We were glad to finally meet this gracious couple in person and give them a friendly welcome to our adopted land.

The view from our room!
Naturally, when all was complete and they announced their opening, Suzanne and I looked for an opportunity to come over and take their new facility for a test drive.   We booked their front beach bungalow room with a hammock on the balcony overlooking the surf.  The first morning Suzanne hit the beach in search of shells to add to her collection.  I wasted no time in becoming enamored with the two beautiful dogs they had adopted: Annabel and Josie.  

A great place to relax.
Our comfortable room!
Despite being totally new at this kind of venture, Heather and John are superb attentive hosts and they have a done a wonderful job of creating a relaxing casual, comfortable facility.  Nearby Salinas and La Libertad offer opportunities for shopping, fishing, whale watching , restaurant hopping or you can do  long leisurely strolls on the beach.   If you enjoy a nice breakfast, be sure to request the delicious torte de fideo.  By all means prepare to recharge your batteries when you visit.   The name of the facility is Las Palmas del Mar and you can find them on Facebook or at

Head to the coast and put your feet up for a spell.  Say hi to John and Heather and give Annabel and Josie a pat for Roger!

Use the pool when the waves are high!
Roger's girlfriends:  Annabel & Josie!

Las Palmas del Mar......we look forward to returning there again in the future as we continue our own Ecuadorian journey "juntos en el camino dela vida".

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents! (Part II)

In our last blog, we discussed the turbulent economic history of Ecuador and the fact that, despite a growing and booming economy today, this period still has an impact on everyday living in Ecuador and these residual concerns should be considered by potential newcomers wanting to reside here.

The Alcaldia (City Hall) in Cuenca.  It was formerly the main branch of
Cuenca's oldest and largest bank which failed in the 90's.
Now on to a look at the country's financial institutions.  It, of course, can be helpful as an expatriate to have an account here.  When we arrived the second time to become permanent residents, we were able to open a savings account at a bank utilizing just our passports as identification, but it wasn't easy.   It required references from established Ecuadorian citizens (in our case, our attorneys), a translator and it took almost four hours to accomplish.   Once we obtained our residency cedula, we were able to add a checking account but it took the better part of the afternoon to convince our bank to do that without having us endure a six month waiting period!  To say they can be more bureaucratic than government agencies is not an exaggeration.    On the advice of our attorneys we basically utilize our accounts here just for monthly living expenses and a small cash reserve.  We write a monthly check to ourselves from our account in the US and deposit in our account.  It avoids the hassle of  constant international ATM withdrawals (which sometimes presents some special hazards).  The accounts also help provide for automatic payments (insurance, etc) and deposits (required for IVA refunds if you are tercera edad).    We do, however, maintain the majority of our investment funds and savings in accounts in the US.   Two major reasons:  1. if we would ever decide to return to the US (or to another country) there is a 5% tax levied on funds transferred out of Ecuador.  2.  the potential risk due to the instability of local financial institutions, particularly in the case of large deposits.

During all three of the financial shut downs this past year, there were articles in which depositors were quoted as saying they were told their accounts were insured, but that didn't seem to be the case.  They weren't lied to, but financial institution insurance on deposits here is a far, far different animal here than what you are accustomed to in the US.  It is NOT the equivalent of FDIC and FSLIC.   In the case of the recently shut down Coopera, the insurance took the form of a self insured trust account managed by the Coopera itself.  

Prospective account holder question: "Will my account be insured?"
Coopera truthful answer:  "Yes"
Reality:   In the case of mismanagement,  self insurance is of questionable value and offers extremely limited protection!

Ecuador does now have an institution called COSEDE (Corporation del Seguro de Depositos or Deposits Insurance Corporation).  By law, all financial institutions controlled by the Superintendent of Banking and Insurance without any pre-existing comparable deposit insurance coverage are required to join COSEDE and make annual contributions to it.  It is a federally established private corporation but it is NOT, however, backed with federal funding, only the contributions of the member institutions.  The board sets an account account limit on an annual basis (for 2013, the amount was $30,000.  It is somewhat vague as to whether larger accounts are covered up to a $30,000 limit or at all.  In any case, the insurance kicks in only if there is a total failure and closure of the financial institution. If, however, the accounts in the institutions are sold and transferred to other institutions (which the majority of smaller accounts usually are), the insurance is not applicable.

We know of a good number of ex-patriates who have sizable deposits down here.  Many did so because they were attracted by the very high interest rates paid down here.  Rates above 10% on CD's are very common, particularly in the credit unions.    My question has always been:  If these institutions are paying interest rates up to three and four times what is being paid by over 80% of world's financial institutions, what is the risk factor that causes them to have to do that?  Invariably, my friends respond, there may be more risk, but I 'm OK because I'm insured.  I fear most have failed to fully investigate what safety that insurance really offers.  Many may be finding out with these recent closures.

As of the date of posting this blog, it appears that the Coopera depositors of $10,000 or less will be OK because their accounts are being transferred to other institutions.  Depositors of larger accounts will likely not see all of their funds and those they do will be returned over a extended period of time and without interest.

Ecuador has many, many financial advantages for the ex-patriate seeking a retirement haven.  It also has many potential financial pitfalls.  Do your homework, do your due diligence, be cautious and you can enjoy a great life here but understand that you have some homework cut out for you.

An important note of caution to readers:

 Most of the information cited in this blog was presented as I was able to discern it at the time of this posting.  Being marginally conversant with the language and with the difficulty in reading Ecuadorian legal and technical reports, this may have resulted in inaccuracies in some select specific details. Knowing that blogs such as this tend to have very long term readership, I also caution readers that all things DO change with time in Ecuador and many things may have changed by the time you read this.  What was important to me was to give you, the reader,  a reasonable representative overview of the subject as it exists today. This should will allow you to gain some perspective and then be prepared to go forth and do your own due diligence and research if this perspective causes you to have reason to do so!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents! (Part I)

The recent closure of the financial offices of the Coopera Ltda, the third financial institution to be forcibly closed within the past year (two credit unions and one bank), caused a number of inquiries and questions from readers and friends in the states.  I thought it might be appropriate to give some economic background on this country many of you are interested in.  It may help put the closure of this popular financial institution into a better understood perspective.  It will also help many newcomers to understand that, even though the official Ecuador currency is the U.S. dollar, the economy and financial realities of life are much different here than in the US.

You do need to understand the Ecuadorian economy because it impacts almost everything you'll be examining in considering a move here:  Why is medical care so affordable and the cost of fine wine and electronics so high?   A used car costs what???   Why is there there so much petty crime?  Why is long term rent cheap in comparison to the cost of purchasing a house.  Why are my credit cards almost worthless?  We all looked at Ecuador because of its affordability and the opportunity to enjoy a retirement lifestyle much more accommodating than we could have in the US.  It should not be surprising to us that there are some economic trade offs for that kind of reward.  Many come as a surprise to newcomers but mostly because they haven't done enough background checking and homework on the economic realities of life here.

Anyway, here we go.  Please do recognize that if what I  write generates a lot of questions, that's a strong indication you need to be prepared to do some of your own due diligence and research!

When you arrive at one of its international airports, visit its resorts and its three largest cities and focus on the vibrancy, the amenities,  and the colonial beauty at such affordable prices, it is sometimes difficult to equate Ecuador with a lot of the rest of Latin American.   You certainly don't get the impression of a country struggling to climb out of a third world economic abyss. But not so long ago, that was very much the case.   Consider this:  Just about 12 years ago, the minimum wage in this country was $53 per month and 69% of the entire population lived below the poverty line. The two biggest sources of foreign income was Ecuadorians living in North America sending money home and Ecuadorians living in Europe sending money home.  Just a year prior, every financial institutional in the country except one FAILED (that's correct, only one survived, just barely) .

Financial institution closures still occur on an average of about two a year and financial institutions here probably would love to have the public confidence rating numbers of the US Congress!  Government hasn't fared much better in its stability.   During the past two decades, the majority of men elected to the presidency of this country failed to complete their first term, only one (the current President) won his first term outright without a run-off, and only one (yep, same guy) successfully ran for reelection. We don't have the rate of kidnappings and murders and outright civil war that exists in Mexico, but be aware, random burglary, robbery, extortion and fraud do occur in higher frequency here than what you are accustomed to in the US and the reasons are largely economic.

That's the reality but there are also some silver linings amongst these clouds:  Ecuador does have one of the fastest improving economies in Latin America:  Effective this year, the minimum wage for Ecuadorians has increased six fold over what it was twelve years ago.  At the end of last year, the percentage of the population living below the poverty level was down substantially to 27.3%.  There is an average of 10,000 new residents a year due to Ecuadorians returning home to live!  While our government still has pockets of bureaucratic problems and corruption, they are being addressed.  While the government does still seems to behave strangely to outsiders, it has become more stabilized and institutionalized.  For the first time in modern Ecuadorian history, it has the confidence of a majority of the population.  For the first time there has been major reform in police and bureaucratic corruption, there's even a new community police force in major cities.  The country's improvement in infrastructure is slowly bringing some of the benefits of prosperity formerly enjoyed almost exclusively by major urban areas to the rest of the country.  There has, truly, been remarkable progress in recent years!

Is this a country on the move?...yes, yes, yes!  Has it solved all its former problems?, no, no!

While the middle class is growing at a great rate, there is still a huge level of poverty and a large disparity between have and have-nots.  In some respects, the rapidly growing economy and the appearance of a large prosperous middle class along with an influx of affluent ex-patriates from abroad has accentuated the disparity.  Ecuador still has many of the social and civil issues that that disparity fosters and festers.  Distrust, deflection and deception became, in Ecuador's darkest economic hours,  essential skills of survival for most residents.  Despite their being in conflict with traditional Ecuadorian social and family values, those skills are still all too commonly in use today.   In fact, many of the challenges and frustrations of living everyday life in Ecuador today can be traced to this turbulent economic history.  It will impact you and will be a factor you will have to deal with if you become an expatriate resident.

This subject will be continued in our next blog to be labeled: " Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents!  (Part II)"   It will deal specifically with financial institutions today and will touch more specifically on concerns to have in utilizing those entities.

An important note of caution to readers:

 Most of the information cited in this blog was presented as I was able to discern it at the time of this posting.  Being marginally conversant with the language and with the difficulty in reading Ecuadorian legal and technical reports, this may have resulted in inaccuracies in some select specific details.  Knowing that blogs such as this tend to have a very long term readership, I also caution readers that all things DO change with time in Ecuador and many things may have changed by the time you read this.  What was important to me was to give you, the reader,  a reasonable representative overview of the subject as it exists today. This should will allow you to gain some perspective and then be prepared to go forth and do your own due diligence and research if this perspective causes you to have reason to do so!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Get on the bus and see Cuenca!

Roger on the bus during our first ride!
One of the first things many visitors do when arriving in Cuenca for the first time is head to Parque Calderon, the heart of the city and its historico centro. It is a beautiful spot to begin learning about our wonderful city.  On the south edge of the park, next to the Museo de Catredal Viejo (Museum of the Old Cathedral), is the parking spot for the double decker open top bus tours that can take yon on about an one hour motor tour of part of our wonderful city.

It's usually among the earliest things most people do while in town and a great way to learn about the city.  This is especially true if you can get a local friend to go along and explain most of the sights (there is a narration, but it is in Espanol).  The link below will show you a very condensed video of the bus route.

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Come to Cuenca and get on the bus!

Friday, June 21, 2013

It's about time!

It's overdue but it will be a short blog today...I've been recovering from a bug bite plus working on a painting project and Suzanne has got a really cool cross stitch thing going.  It's not that keeping you folks up to date on life here south of the equator isn't's just that we are really getting a kick out of retirement life down here and have been keeping ourselves really really busy doing some serious fun stuff!

This is Roger in Quito at the Guyasamin Museo
Nothing to do with today's blog..just a cool photo!
Anyway, it's about time:

Our friends up north celebrated their longest day of sunlight today while we here in the southern hemisphere endured our shortest day.  Here in Cuenca, we were cut back to a brief 11 hours, 57 minutes and 22 seconds between our local sunrise and local sunset.  Back in December when you guys were whining about your shortest day, we had our longest...on that day the time between sunrise and sunset mushroomed into a startling 12 hours, 10 minutes and 55 seconds.  Needless to say we don't mess around with that nonsense called "daylight savings time".  The only time we reset clocks down here is when have a power outage or power surge.

As my friend and fellow blogger Clarke Greene would say:  "Life is sweet"

 (This is true even though Jif Peanut Butter has become more expensive down here...SuperMaxi figured out we really like the stuff better than the other U.S. brands so they priced it $1.58 higher than the's volume really slowed down but it still outsells that stinky old Peter Pan!)

Anyway, we are are still alive and kicking and still glad to be "juntos en el camino de la vida!"

Monday, May 6, 2013

El Condor Pasa! (The Condor Passes)

The Andean Condor is a magnificent bird.  It is slightly smaller than the also nearly extinct Californian Condor but has a longer wingspan and greater bulk.  Both are members of the vulture family and are principally carrion feeders.

The Andean Condor can have a wingspan of up to ten and a half feet, can weigh from 25 to 35 pounds, can soar up to an hour without flapping its wings and has been known to travel up to 150 miles a day in search of food.  Its average age is believed to be in the 50's although there have been three documented cases of males living into their late 70's.  They reach sexual maturity at about six years of age, and they mate monogamously for life.  Successful breeding will result in a single egg being produced once every two years.   The Andean Condor has been found from Venezuela down to Patagonia in the southern tip of Argentina. It was once very common but now is considered endangered.

Coat of Arms of Ecuador
Four South American countries honor the Andean Condor as their national bird (Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador), five symbolically include the bird on their national coats of arms (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador) and it is also considered a national symbol in Argentina.

The Condor also figures prominently in the religions and mythology of the indigenous people of South America.  Incas and others believed that man is born from the stars and, after death, his spirit returns there on the wings of the condor.   Many ancient religions associate the condor with the sun diety and often see the condor as a messenger carrying prayers to the gods and returning with omens.  There were also some religions that believed that the condor was inhabited by the souls of men who had angered the gods and thus were doomed to spend eternity subsisting of the flesh of decaying animals.  At one point Incan legends told that the condor was responsible for carrying the sun up into the sky each day and returning it to its nighttime resting place at the bottom of a large lake.   An indigenous belief from Amazonia holds that the condor serves as the guardian spirit of mankind and that mankind would perish without the condor. With all the biological diversity that exists here, the condor is a unique and treasured symbol of nature's patrimony and of national pride.

Here in our adopted home of Ecuador,  there were, until recently, only an estimated 68 of these creatures left; an estimated 50 in the wild and 18 in captivity.    It had been speculated that there were  condors in Azuay province but no public reported sightings had been issued since the early 90's.   It was therefore obviously exciting to residents when an article in a local newspaper in March told of a family of three that had been under observation by a biologist and photographer in the Cajas mountain region just outside of Cuenca.  We were told the birds had been named Soraya (the adult female), Manuel (her adult mate) and Arturo (their male juvenile offspring).

Soraya and Arturo at nesting site.

Taking flight. 

The location of the family's nesting ground was, of course, left undisclosed for the birds' protection.

Excitement turned to horror and even anger a scant few weeks later.  Social media (Twitter and Facebook) went viral with images of locals holding up a carcass of an Andean condor.  The photo was reportedly taken just outside of Cuenca!  Initially,  it was reported that the condor had been identified as a female.  The outrage that appeared online was almost indescribable.  In less than forty-eight hours the photo swept across a multitude of public media.   The stories invoked responses from officials as well as pledges of investigation at the local, provincial and ministerial level.

Because of initial reports that the bird was female, there was speculation that it might have been Soraya.  However, later reports identified it as a juvenile so it could not be Soraya.  Either there was another condor in the area or perhaps Arturo was misnamed.  Upon further examination of more photos, it turned out that the carcass was that of a juvenile male.  It was recently reported that there is believed to be at least an 80% chance that the bird in question, is indeed, Arturo, the male juvenile offspring of Manuel and Soraya and the subject of the March article.

Some of those pictured in the photographs within a brief time contacted authorities. They were interviewed and within a week presented testimony at the Azuay courthouse in Cuenca.  Media reports related that they were performing cleaning on irrigation channels in the area in question when an individual came by on horseback.  An examination of his game occurred and was followed by a session that produced the photos later published online.   Media reports stated that the bird was killed by a gunshot wound to the head.

The area near the condor's nesting site and near the area in which the photos were taken is a protected area and the taking of game there carries a one to two year jail term.  Because the game taken was an endangered species the term is increased to two to four years imprisonment.  As of the posting of this blog, the identity of the man purported to be the killer of the condor is known to authorities but neither the condor carcass nor the suspect himself has been recovered by the authorities.

Two other condors were reportedly found dead in other areas of Ecuador in the past four months.  In those cases, there was no evidence of human involvement but the birds were examined later and discovered to have been poisoned.  We, in Ecuador, mourn these terrible losses and hope for the preservation of a valued national symbol.

Viva El Condor!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The New Quito Airport: A Little Bit of Trouble In Tababela

In a previous blog, I promised readers a story about the new Quito airport.  Let's cover some background and basics first....then I'll tell the story of our first experience at the new facility:

The new airport located in the Tababela Valley east of Quito
The new airport is situated about 25km east of Quito in an area called the Tababela Valley.  The valley is much broader than the one in which Quito proper is located and much lower in elevation  (about 400 meters).   That already makes it more appealing to pilots.   It also has much longer runways which were  critically needed.  Planes have been known to regularly reach the end of the old airport runway and some have crashed into mountains and buildings while on descent and approach.  The old airport first opened in 1960 and over a dozen fatal crashes occurred between then and its closing this year. A significant number of non fatal crashes have occurred as well.  As recently as November of last year, a plane overran the runway at the old site.

I tell you this to establish the fact that the new airport was very sorely needed from an aviation safety standpoint. (Not to mention that it was an old and tired facility)  The new airport offers runways that are long and wide with no obstruction and great visibility (except when the infamous Andes mountain fog rolls down into the valley).    There are great drop off and pick up points and you'll discover broad boulevards leading from a relatively new highway that runs through the valley northward.  It will be closer for many sources of export cargo shipments. It is also within driving distance of Yachay,  Ecuador's proposed new "City of Knowledge".

Yes, it is further out from the center of the city, but that's where adequate space was available to build the type of facility needed.  Normally that would be just a mild inconvenience.    There are, however, a couple of contributing problems:   Right after you pass through nearby Chayamba, the main road narrows rapidly from  six lanes to two (from 3 to 1 each way), descends into a gorge and crosses a bridge that is sometimes reduced to one way traffic.  Just past the bridge is a construction area and just beyond that is a tunnel that bores through one of the mountains surrounding the city proper.  That tunnel is undergoing renovation and traffic is often restricted and the tunnel is even half closed on occasion.   There is, of course, a new express bus shuttle service at the new airport that costs less than $10.  Despite special lanes for part of transit route, it is still subject to the some of the above mentioned traffic delays and it has only one stop in town which happens to be the taxi stand at the old abandoned airport!  Let me explain it this way:  in order to save the $30-$35 cab fare  and long ride into town,  you can take the $8 express bus ride that might take up to an hour and a half in order to catch a $15 to $25  twenty to twenty five minute cab ride from the site of the old airport!

(The ever adaptable cabbies of Quito have, of course, developed some alternate routes.  The one we took from town back to the airport on our return trip  because the above mentioned tunnel was closed could best be described as the"white-knuckled-scenic route".  We will remember it for some time to come!)

 All these issues can add significant time and expense if your plans call for a stay in Quito.  If you only require a single overnight stay while awaiting a connecting flight, it is hardly worth the transit into town.   Do your homework and work well in advance.  You may not be as lucky as my son was because hotel space near the new airport is still very limited and demand will probably be exceeding supply for the near future.

Not to worry long term, because construction is underway on a new highway and a new bridge to access the airport that holds the promise that airport commute time will be well under an hour.   If all goes as well as expected (that actually does happen sometimes in Ecuador!)  we should be buzzing back and forth from the city proper to the new airport with ease in about 2 years!

OK....OK...that's enough basics...what about our story?  What was the Yazell experience in going through the new airport for the first time?   Well, the transition into town from the airport was actually among the lesser of our trials that day.  Let me explain:

Our son recently came to visit us.  Despite our urgings to route through Guayaquil, he arranged to travel via Quito (he's at a high medallion level with Delta, had a direct flight from Atlanta, could pay for it with his flyer miles and still be entitled to a class upgrade).  His flight got into Quito late,  at 10:30pm.  He had no room reservations and all the airport kiosks and restaurants were closing (not that he would have wanted a $12 hamburger from Johnny Rockets, anyway!)  He did manage to beg the purchase of a bottled water from an employee cleaning at one of the stands.  His plan to snooze at the airport until his morning flight to Cuenca was kiboshed by the fact there was simply no comfortable lounge seating in the main terminal area.  He managed to find a bi-lingual driver at the cab stand (remember this is well after the last arrival of the day) The driver also happened to know of an available hostal vacancy a mere ten minutes from the airport.  Steve has always been one of the luckiest world travelers I have ever seen!

His return was also booked through Quito.  Suzanne and I both love Quito, so we decided to fly up with our son a couple of days early to share the sights of the city.    We flew through some rain clouds coming in but had a good view of the facility as we landed.  We noted lots of space, bright, shiny new equipment everywhere, plus a modern new terminal building with articulated jetways to disembark through.   As we exited the jetway, we were greeted by flashing red beacons and strobe lights, a buzzing alarm and an announcement in Spanish that I think was reassuring us that the problem was being dealt with, but we were to exit the airport.........huh, we just entered???    Anyway, the buzzing and the announcement shut off very quickly and was not repeated.  Lacking any other direction, we continued to follow the parade of passengers ahead of us down the corridor where all the signs basically said "this way to baggage claim".   There were regular intervals of red beacons and flashing strobes as we advanced, but no announcements, no police or first responders, etc.   No escalators were working so we descended a staircase into the baggage claim area.

The milling throng at the two domestic baggage carousels seemed as puzzled as we were.  The scene though the glass windows to the international arrival area was similar, except that their few milling people were all behind the check through lanes that lead into international baggage claim.   Shortly after our arrival, someone found and cornered an airport employee who explained that lighting had struck the terminal building just before we landed as a storm passed through.  This had triggered all the fire alarms, as well as shutting down all the computers in the terminal   The airport was in the process of rebooting all their systems.  

As veteran Ecuadorian residents, we knew that this meant a wait and some patience would be in order.  More than forty minutes later, that patience was getting harder to baggage, no word, zip, nada......   Concerned about losing our booked transportation and wanting an update, I headed for the baggage area exit on a recon mission.   There I was informed by the security guard in attendance that if I left the area, I could not return.   A big smile, my broken Espanol, not to mention a friendly handshake. (or maybe it was just my pleading look!) convinced him to allow me to find our driver,   update him and get his assistance in going to the airline counter to get someone to come to the baggage area to explain what's happening.

I returned to baggage claim to find at least four more flights had arrived and our milling throng had become quite a crowd.  A rep from a different airline showed up and had all their passengers form a line on the far wall.  As soon as they did that, airline employees began carrying in baggage from the curbside through a side door. (It was pouring down rain outside and the baggage was very, very wet). A spokesman from our airline showed up and explained that our bags were still on the trucks at the upstairs receiving doors. It seems these were automatic firedoors that were computer controlled.  Although most of the terminal's computers were rebooted, no one seemed to be able to get those doors unlocked!  Our airline had decided not to distribute bags by hand but to wait until the doors were unlocked so the bags could be dispensed through the carousel.

Do I really need to describe how well this announcement was received?....just image the metaphor about noxious bodily fumes during religious services and you'll get the general idea.   At least, we all remained orderly enough that police intervention was not required..  Anyway, after two more flights followed suit and hand delivered luggage to their customers,  our airline finally relented (we were getting close to needing troops to maintain order by this point)  The passengers from our flight rushed the narrow doorway to the street like moviegoers seeking an exit from a burning theater!  They created such a logjam  that the handlers couldn't get the bags inside so they began to stack them outside on the sidewalk in the rain.  It took major shouting that almost erupted in fisticuffs to clear the doorway and begin the process of bringing the baggage inside,  Partway through that process someone figured out how to unlock the fire doors.  The baggage trucks that were as yet unloaded zoomed away to head back to the unloading area above the carousels.  Those in our flight who hadn't got, or only partially had their luggage,  now proceeded to stampede back to the carousel.  Of course, it was now surrounded by another yet flight that had arrived.  Those people were positively convinced that the bags which were beginning to appear on the conveyor were theirs and not ours because only their flight was listed on the monitor.

Out of deference to language sensitive readers, I should probably not go into too much further descriptive detail.  Let me just conclude by saying that slightly over one and a half hours after we had completed our forty-five minute flight from Cuenca to Quito, we finally had our soaked luggage safely in tow and were following our driver to the parking lot where our van would take us to  our much needed,  warm,  comfortable accommodations and, of course, a much needed dinner!  On the ride to our hotel, my son quietly commented, "Dad, I think your new airport has a few operational kinks to work out, yet!"

We enjoyed our meal that evening.  The wine toast expressed the hope that Stephen's departure back to Atlanta and our return to Cuenca would be much less eventful......but that story, my friends,  may have to wait for yet another blog.

We were, for the moment,  happy to be enjoying our meal and happy to be "juntos en el camino de la vida"!

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Changing of The Guard in Quito

The Presidential Palace in Quito prior
to the ceremonial changing of the guard
Although elections were recently held in Ecuador, this post isn't about a new administration in our capitol city.  It's about a ceremony that occurs on most Monday mornings at 11:30 am.  It is a formal presentation and changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace.   This stately residence and office of the President of the Republic is located on the north side of the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia in the heart of the historico centro in Quito, Ecuador's capital city.

The Yazells being touristas in Quito!
When our son Stephen scheduled travel through Quito on his first visit to our new home, we decided to spend a couple of days showing him our capitol before his flight back to the US. (since we know someone will ask, we will be blogging later about the new international airport in Quito!).  Suzanne and I also stayed over a couple of more days to visit some of the of the areas we hadn't seen yet.  Other than Roger's birthday celebration, one of the highlights of our stay was the aforementioned guard changing ceremony at the Presidential Palace.

  Due to Presidente Correa being enroute to the Pope's coronation, the ceremony was overseen by Ecuador's current Vice President,  Lenin Moreno.   He is from our home city of Cuenca and we Cuencanos are proud of the fact that he was a nominee for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize!

Vice Presidente Moreno is in the center of this photo.  

In any case, we hope you enjoy the photos we took during the ceremony and hope you get a chance to enjoy this simple but elegant ceremony for yourself when you visit:

Here comes the guards!

No patriotic ceremony is complete without a good military band!

Some high step marching was called for as the guards assembled!

Students provided vocal accompaniment for the National Anthem.

The Ecuadorian flag is raised on the center tower of the palace during the National Anthem.

Colorful uniforms on units throughout the plaza made an impressive sight!

Quito was the very first city ever named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's historico centro has beautiful churches, government buildings, museums, wonderful plazas and a mixture of great architecture that includes old European , gothic and even a little art deco in addition to the classic colonial.
This is a must stop for any visitor to Ecuador, especially if you plan to spend a day or two in Quito in transition to the coast, the Amazonia, the Galapagos or even the rest of the Andean Sierra.

We thoroughly enjoy each and every time we visit this city but are always happy to return to Cuenca, our home and first love in Ecuador.  We feel fortunate to live in a country with so much to explore and enjoy as we continue our journey "juntos en el camino de la vida".