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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wine in Ecuador

During our cross country trip and our initial foray into Ecuador, I took a sabbatical on my wine blog, Roger's Grapevine ( It probably didn't come as a surprise to friends and readers who knew of our plans to explore Ecuador that my first return to the Grapevine chronicled a wine bottled here in Cuenca: Conte de la Cruz Vinto Tinto Reserva. Suzanne, after reading it, told me that I need to be including some of my Ecuadorian wine observations on our new blog. O.K. Boss, here goes:

Observation number one: Ecuador is far from being a wine lover's dream come true.
While many come to Ecuador for its reasonable cost of living in such areas as real estate, health care and fresh foods, don't count wine among those things you'll save money on. Ecuador is not a high volume wine producer and while great wines are found in nearby Chile and Argentina (wines from these two countries dominate the shelves here) prices are high. Ecuador imposed high import duties on alcohol a short time ago and is considering raising them in the coming year. The result is that I found many of my Chilean and Argentinian favorites at higher prices here in Cuenca than they were in the USA. Not exhorbitantly higher, but higher nevertheless. Variety is also a little more limited and focuses on basic mainstream varietals, some sparkling and a few dessert wines. While I've only been here just over a week, I'm fairly certain stumbling onto a good Brunello or Nebiolo will be an event worthy of a fairly significant celebration. As a result of costs, the bulk afforability of box wines is popular here. That's a growing trend back in the states, as well. But here, the box selection is still restricted to wines that are fairly fruity and young wines, often produced from second run juices. Nothing wrong with those unless you prefer more complex aged and dynamic wines. Wine is readily available here but it is either costlier or simpler in style or both.

Observation number two: Wine merchants are much less sophisticated here.
That's an economic reality and not a reflection on retail capabilities. With higher prices, less variety and lower wine consumption, Ecuadorian merchants are simply not going to invest in developing sophifisticated wine knowledge and expertise. That might change in the future if consumer demand increases. However, don't currently expect a lot of help in choosing from among the labels (most of whom may be unfamiliar) here. You have to do your own wine homework. You also need to be aware that merchant unfamiliarity with wine may extend to proper display and storage as well. Beware of the mercado proudly displaying nearly his entire selection of wine in one of his front windows. Intense sunlight is one of wine's three worst enemies when it's in the bottle and the uv index here exceeds anything regularly seen in the US.

Observation number three: There ARE opportunities here (as there always are where ever wine is sold) to find some really decent wine values, particularly if you're a red wine drinker. Because of the lower consumption levels here, the larger retailers seem to be regularly willing to offer quantity discounts to keep up inventory turns. Smaller shops do not turn inventory as fast and some of these bottles may stay on the shelf for extended periods. However, if it's a well made red wine capable of ageing and it's adequately stored, it just improves. If the retailer purchased it from the wholesaler before the import increased, he probably has kept the old retail. You potentially have a well aged wine at a better retail than its younger vintage counterpart at the big retailer. This can make for a fun outing, exploring the smaller neighborhood shops in search of these potential gems. Remember, many well made wines will have fairly extensive shelf life if not subjected to oxidation, heat or sunlight.
If you enjoy younger, fruitier and sweeter wines, there are some Ecuadorian products (to the best of my knowledge there are three current wine producers in Ecuador) that will please you at very affordble prices. Other saving alternatives are the afoementioned box wines or a line of wines from a Chilean producer labeled Guyasamin. These wines honor renown Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guyasamin who died in 1999 and are produced under license from the charitable foundation in Quito created by his estate. As a result of this and support of the foundation, this wine gets a modification on its tariff and you get a slightly better price point than many of its comparable counterparts.

No, Ecuador isn't a wine lover's dream come true, but wine is available here and with all the lifestyle affordabilities, you certainly don't have to do without a good glass of wine
That's a good thing because Suzanne and i do enjoy an occaisional wine break as we continue juntos en el camino de la vida.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our first week in Ecuador!

It's been just over a week since we arrived in Cuenca and it's time to reflect on our experience. As we talked, Roger and I discovered we've both enjoyed the architecture, the mild weather and the laid back life style. We love being able to take long walks and having time to do whatever we decide for the day. However, what has had the most impact on us has been the people, both Ecuadorians and Expadorians. They have accepted and welcomed us into this community so well.
It began with Brennie, who came to our aid, then Miguel, our driver, who helped in getting phones and oriented us to the city and even showed us his favorite Italian restaurant, Bertucci's. Val and Will, good neighbors in every sense of the word who guided us through the co-op, the mercado, the bakery and more. Mick and Kathy hosted an introductory dinner where we met Jim, Angie, Pat and Sue and shared great views of the city, river and stars from their terrace. New landlords Tom and Monica have been more than gracious and we're looking forward to sharing their hospitality and meeting more new friends. While on a walk, we stopped and enjoyed a metal artisan who patiently showed this non Spanish speaking gringa the details of his craft. Neighbor Hugo, a retiree from Quito greeted us so warmly and welcomingly when we met him on a walk and discovered we shared the same edificio. Each and every day brings new acquaintances and new things to fill our calendar of activities. We've bumped into Connie and Mark at Tutto Freddos and Rich and Nancy at lunch. We're looking forward to a coffee with the Kimblers and I even get rid of Roger for an evening when he heads out to the monthly poker night! We are in awe of how this city and its residents have opened their doors and hearts to us and filled our days with not only new places but new relationships to explore.

It hasn't all been a bed of roses....they want how much for Tide at SuperMaxi????? Where do all those speeding and honking vehicles come from just when I want to cross the street???? Someone get that neigborhood rooster a isn't even close to dawn yet!!! And of course, there's the nightly rendition of the honorary Ecuadorian national anthem: the car alarm!

But all in all, it's as one local ex-pat reminded us recently: I wake up every morning, pinch myself and say "My God, I'm living here in the Andes". Cuenca and Ecuador isn't for everybody...but with each passing day, we think it just may be for us. We are so very grateful to be able to be here.....and to be juntos en el camino de la vida!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Turning Things Around

In our first two forays into the historico centro of Cuenca, we got twisted around. "You don't usually do that, are you ok?" Suzanne queried. I actually WAS a little rattled. You see, I've always been one of those people with a keen sense of direction and the ability to follow my nose and magically get to where we wanted to be. As a youngster, when we first moved to suburban Pittsburgh, Pa. My father used to always insist I accompany him downtown so he wouldn't get lost. I was not only his third born, I was his organic GPS.

Not suprising therefore, that after two episodes of mis-direction here in Ecuador's third largest city, that I became just a little mildly concerned for my mental and physical well-being. That is until I discoverd the reason for my mild confusion was NOT early onset Alzheimers. It came to me on Tuesday, the 21st of June. The folks up in the northern hemisphere recognize that date as the first day of summer as the sun treks north to warm the cockles of your pea picking hearts. Down here, we're south of zero and the sun's passage over the equator means it's moving away from us. And while it still rises in the east and sets in the west just it does for the norte americanos, we are watching its trek across the sky as we face north instead of facing south as we once did when we resided in the ole US of A.

Good brief and mild disorientation was NOT due to an organic malfunction, a major disturbance in the "force" or any other threat or crisis. It was just a simple misconception on my part that some things would be the same here as where I was from. That's not an uncommon mistake for newly arrived expat wannabes to make here. But it can sometimes be a hard thing to learn from.

Now that I turned things back around where they should be, I'm delighted to go walking more assurredly and hand-in-hand through the centro with my beloved partner of 40 years. We are confidently again: juntos en el camino de la vida!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

OMG! It's Brennie!

Brenda Eddy had no reason to think that it was anything but another typical morning in Cuenca as she left Edificio La Quadra II following a visit to a pair of good friends. It was then her thoughts were interrupted by an excited shout "Oh my God, it's Brennie!".
Suzanne hadn't reacted like that to seeing someone in person for the first time since the 60's. As a young teen she had screamed when she saw Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits in his first Chicago concert. What had prompted this groupie-fan style outburst decades later at the entryway to an otherwise quiet condomiumium residence in Ecuador?

A recap of the events since our last blog may shed some light: Since then we boarded a flight from Atlanta to Quito enroute to Cuenca for our planned two month stay. The flight went well, arriving late in the evening in Quito. Our first experience with altitude adjustment occurred on a near breathless hike to baggage claim and customs. Things appeared to be going better when 3 of our 4 pieces of checked luggage came off together in the first wave. Our last piece was literally that...last. Needless to say, that led to some quality anxiety time. The anticipated hotel shuttle was not to be found, cell phones were inoperable and no courtesy phones were to be found so we invested an extra half hour arranging transport. It was early am when we finally hit the sack. It appearred booking the later flight to Cuenca on LAN was a wise choice. Not so wise was failing to read LAN's baggage restrictions which were roughly half the weight restiction for Delta. Oh well, a few trips back and forth (not to mention a few extra dollars) and we were on our way. In Cuenca, Roger nearly tripped over the luggage cart laughing as we exited baggage claim. He had immediately recognized our host landlord Bob (of Bob n Rox fame). To insure we could find our ride, Bob was waving a sign that read "The Wine Guy". Bob got us to our apartment and we settled in, armed with some names and phone numbers we could use if we needed help (our landlords were leaving shortly, but more about that to come on their bean spilling from us!) We didn't have working cells, but we had taken the step of having them unlocked and ready to receive a local sim card, hopefully from the provider convenietly located next door. (Don't wager real money on how that worked out). O.K. We'll just email some local expats we've been in contact with for advice and help. Ooops, we traveled with an I-pad which requires wireless and the apartment only has a direct modem. There were also no unlocked wifi networks showing on our computer. No problem, have the security desk guy call everyone's favorite guide and facilitator Fabian (Bob had wisely written down his name and number).

This brings us to morning in question. Roger is in the parking lot discovering the driver who has arrived is not Fabian, doesn't speak a lick of English, and when inquired about where to go for cell phone service pointed to the Mission Impossible store where Roger had already failed. Suzanne was on her way back into the building to at least retrieve Fabian's name and number when she spied Brenda Eddy on her way out.

Although we had never met, we've been reading her husband Clarke Green's blog for nearly a year and Roger and Clarke connected recently on Facebook. Imagine the excitement at seeing a familiar friendly face. It was a welcome sight in a tempest of confusion. Brennie turned out to a sweet and gracious samaritan, phoning Fabian who in turn sent brother Miguel who got us phone equipped and later that day helped get us oriented to our new city. Brennie even got us introduced to our new neighbors Val & Will. With phones in hand, we advised Mick and Kathy another bag of dog food had found its way to Ecuador. Later Roger found a computer store with wireless modem. We shopped, got to meet George and family plus Rick and Nancy at the California kitchen. We were able to let family at home know we were safe and even began to catch our breath (literally as well as figuratively).
As we watched fireworks from our balcony this evening, we felt exicited and blessed to be here. With a little help from new found friends, we remain juntos en el camino de la vida.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Brief update!

We havE been on a two week cross country tour. Some of the time has been spent visiting sights we've always wanted to see, some seeing friends, some visiting family. We haven't spent time learning how to do the blog on our I-pad and wireless access has been limited so that's part of the reason for lack of posts(along with the fact that the days seem to go by very fast!). In any case we are in the final preparations for our flight to Ecuador to begin our initial two month stay. We will arriving in Cuenca on Wednesday. We're looking forwarding to not being entirely based in a suitcase and anchored for a while but also lookinug forward to some busy explorations.

More news and posting to come...until then, we are, as always, junto en el camino de la vida!