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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

This past week we sat down with our trusty Snoopy calendar for a family meeting. The Snoopy calendar is an important Tool for these has great, cute cartoons and wise sayings that keep Suzanne from getting too impatient or frustrated with Roger and sometimes, vice versa. In this case, however, it provided documentary evidence that five weeks had indeed passed since we set foot in Ecuador and we were past the midpoint in our exploratory decision making trip. Time has flown by so swiftly!

We, like so many other adventurers before us came down with the intention of investigating, inspecting, and detecting to thoroughly assure us, our friends and family back home that this is a wise, sound and prudent thing for us to do in our retirement. Never mind that deep down in our hearts and bones, we knew we had discovered someplace that was going to be called home the first week we were here. Barring the first morning's panic attack (see the post: OMG! It's Brennie!) and a couple of bouts with sniffles, life here has been pretty much a love fest of activity.

However, we came here with a process and passing the midpoint in our stay meant there was an important task needing to be accomplished! (BIG DRUM ROLL): We needed a list! (note to newcomers: even if we didn't walk different, talk different and act different than the natives, Expadorians would be easy to spot because of our constant usage and dependence upon notepads, business cards and lists!)

So here it comes: The Yazell Annotated List of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Things We've Seen or Learned About Ecuador Midway Through Our Decision Making Trip


This is definitively the biggest of the three lists and there's probably a lot we've forgotten to put down, so forgive us if it's a little incomplete. Let's start with some important fun ones like:

MONICA MCNAUGHTON'S BROWNIES!: Suzanne thought I was tryng to be funny when I suggested that but I wasn't.. Her blondies are that yummy!
ITALIAN RESTAURANTS...There's a bunch in Cuenca but La Vina, Meditterranneo And Bertucci's are among our favs.
GREAT FLOWER nearly all the mercados, plus shops in the neighborhoods, but most especially the market just a block off the Parque Calderon. We always have fresh flowers here!
QUALITY ART AND CRAFTS: The number and variety of artesans in this area is almost hard to put into words. You, of course, have all the stuff you'd expect in a tourist center but with a little hunting, you can find the kind of quality hand craftsmanship that is disappearing in other parts of the world.
MUSEOS: We won't make it through half of them this trip but what we've been through so far (at least half of them for free) is enough to advise tourists to spent at least one full day, if not two exploring Cuenca's presentations.
MOUNTAIN SCENERY: O.K. So we're in the Andes, you expect great views right? Trust me, you're not gonna be prepared for how many times your breath is taken away, not by the altitude, but just simply by the raw, unspoken beauty of the landscapes you'll encounter
ICE CREAM!!!! Except for a rare snippet of Haagen Dazs Rum Raisin, I had given up on ice cream back in the states. Tutto Freddo's is good, (very, very good) but don't leave Cuenca without a visit to MIXX. The quality and flavors wil explode your mind as well as your taste buds.
FRIENDLY PEOPLE: Ecuador has two great assests. Its land and its people. Both are rich and diverse. From children that are always smiling, curious and respectful, to the adults who show reverence for the elderly and respect for each other in ways that many other societies have forgotten, this is a land whose values even rub off on us gringos and makes us better people just by being here and living in a society where sharing a simple hello can give a day nice meaning.
PARKS AND PLAZAS: Public areas and green space abound in this city, not just the historico centro but throughout the neigborhoods as well. If you want to gauge what impact well managed public parks can have on quality of life, spend some time walking the neighborhoods of Cuenca.
AFFORDABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: 29 different bus routes go almost everywhere in the city and each ride is a quarter ( discounted 50% for seniors) Buses to a nearby town are in the $2-$3 range. The absolutely highest cab fare I've paid is $3 and $2 or less will get you there 99.99% of the time in the city. Hire a private driver for anywhere you want to go for the day and pay $12 an hour!plus maybe the cost of his lunch.
ALMUERZO: Speaking of lunch, it's amazing what's available for lunch at prices that make it unafforable to eat at home. Oh, and let me add that the Ecuadorians make the most fabulous SOUPS of any country I've been in.
Real quickly, let's add in:

O.K. Just so you know we aren't looking at things through rose colored glasses, here are the next two categories:

SMELLY DIESEL EXHAUST FUMES FROM ALL THOSE BUSES: great cheap transportion but spend more than ten minutes at a popular parada waiting for your number of bus to show and you'll want to schedule some respiratory therapy.
DOGGY DEPOSITS ON THE SIDEWALKS: they do a great job picking up litter but not the presents our furry friends leave.
CAR ALARMS: The unexpected fireworks and the roosters are becoming part of my circadian cycles but Oh those car alarms that nobody seems to respond to!
HIGH IMPORT TAXES: for me, it's a shocker that Australian wines are among the most expensive heres but it applies to a lot of imports that cost more here or simply aren't available.
PLAYING TRAFFIC ROULETTE: They call them rondelles here. You may know them as roundabouts or rotaries. These circles of traffic chaos and adventure are a pure nightmare for the pedestrian who didn't plan his street crossing ahead of time and is not practiced in the fine art of street crossing survival.
POSTAGE: A great picture postcard costs a quarter or less until you want to mail it then it requires another $2 at least!
LEGAL AMBIGUITIES: Ecuadorians have some of the most tangled and complex bureaucratic procedures, rules and laws you could ever image but everyone seems to accept them as reality. It will be among the most frustrating things you will encounter on your path to living here but take a deep breath, (hire a competent lawyer!), and seek more advice than you ever thought
Last but not least, we come to:
Overall, it's one of the most beautiful countries on Earth but as with everywhere some ugliness exists. Beauty is, sometimes, in the eye of the beholder and I recognize that many of our new Ecuadorian friends will have different tastes than ours. At the risk of offending my new amigos, I have to state with certainty that we are grateful for the affordability of bathroom remodeling here, because in our humble gringo opinions, bright red ceramic fixtures against green and pink patterned tile in the master bathroom IS UGLY!

We may have missed a few things but the critical takeaway from our midpoint meeting is that our GOOD list is bountiful and well out weighs the BAD and the UGLY. It makes us feel blessed to be here as we continue juntos en el camino de la vida!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ecua-volley anyone!

Here in Ecuador, weekends are for familia. You see families out and about together all over town, on the plazas and along the river if it's sunny. There's always much shopping at the mercados, in the centro and at the malls. And, of course, every Saturday afternoon (usually rain OR shine) families gather at the courts in the neighborhood parks to watch dads, brothers, cousins and friends compete in Ecua-volley.

Ecua-volley is the unique Ecuadorian version of volleyball and it's nearly as large a national sports pastime as futball (soccer, but don't call it that here!). In Ecua-volley, the net is slightly higher (I'm guessing about 10 to 12 inches; they use a standard soccer ball instead of the softer, lighter volleyball we're used to in the states and the teams are comprised of only 3 players. Scoring appears to be similar and the allowance of three touches is the same except that players are allowed a brief "hold" on the ball with their fingertips. Games are seriously competitive and there is usually two games going on in the standard paved courts in the park. These courts also function for futball, basketball and a rare game of tennis but Saturdays seem to reserved at virtually every one for Ecua-volley as teams gather to wait their turn at entering the court. We've only been to three different sites but it appears that the losing team loses the right to remain in competition while the winners stay to take on new challengers. There is frequently wagering between the teams and sometimes the exchange of cash is not insignificant. That can make for very spirited and intense competition. We witnessed one game in there were at least 3 dozen volleys across the net before a point was scored. Regardless if the game is competitive or casual, there is always a crowd of spectators, usually family members. If the facility is lighted, games may go fairly well into the evening. If the weather is good, pots of food and refreshment will probably appear toward the end of the day. Someone will bring a boom box and the band of victors, losers and spectators begins to blend into a neighborly gathering reminiscent of a large family reunion and picnic. On one of the first Saturdays we spent in our rental apartment, the gathering in the court behind our building lasted late into the night. Part of it then moved just down the street to a neighbors house and lasted until the wee hours of the morning. It may have kept us up alittle but the fun had by all involved was obvious.

The regular gathering of family and friends, including the weekly Ecua-volley games, are part of an enviable pattern of life here in Ecuador. Family, fun, sharing and fellowship are among some of society's best virtues here. We are delighted at being exposed to and sharing in it as we continue onward juntos en el camino de la vida!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

O-setenta-tres! Having fun at Te-Bingo.

Monica's email said come join us for bingo and and a tea at the Oro Verde. The cost was five dollars per person and proceeds would benefit The Messengers of Peace Foundation. Their neighbors Mario and Yolanda were active in this charitable group. They explained that the charity supported a country rehabilitation center, school and even a foster home program for handicapped orphans.

It sounded like a worthwhile charity and once again, it looked like rain, so off to "Te Bingo" we went. It was a good decision and a delightful time was had in the fellowship of our tableful of new Expadorian friends and a gracious roomful of Ecuadorian hosts that made us feel quite welcome.

The afternoon also brought home a reminder that, as newcomers in this Spanish speaking land, it is fairly helpful (even essential) to know and understand a few key phrases "en espanol".
The utility of being able to ask "?Donde es el bano." comes to mind as one of the most obvious examples. Knowing commonly used numbers in Spanish is also helpful in terms of doing everyday shopping, asking what bus to take, etc. But here, just knowing the spanish number is only half the battle. With numerals, more than any other spanish words, it can be easy to become confused as to what you're hearing when spoken back to you. Carrying a calculator and pointing can help and is probably reccomended in a significant purchase negotiation. That's not always practical, however, in a busy shopping environment with impatient customers behind you. You simply need to learn those numbers!

And that, dear friends, brings us back to our afternoon of bingo. It turned out to be the perfect way to get in nearly two hours of practice in learning our numerales en espanol! I'm happy to report the lesson was good and the Yazells made significant progress in being able to understand the costs quickly thrown at us the next time we peruse the produce at the mercado. We still need extra practice on the numbers in the 60's (sesenta) and the 70's (setenta)because they often still sound alike to us. It was somewhat conforting to notice that even bilingual Mario who had graciously joined our table to help us with the numbers had to turn on occaision to the number board to determine the number that had been called.

We had a fun afternoon and we felt good in contributing to a worthy cause. We also left determined to do more practice on our numbers as we continue our travels, juntos en el camino de la vida!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Huffing, Puffing, Developing Calves of Steel, in Search of Great Almuerzo!

As we enter week three of our Ecuadorian exploration, we continue to be blessed with making new friends as well as getting great advice and insight from some experienced Expadorians. Roger even got a chance to make a little profit at Texas Hold Em night (always nice to go home a winner!) but the greatest riches continue to come from our interactions with the people here, both Expadorian and local.

We continue to adapt to the altitude and are beginning to cope with that well. Of course, walking up to 4 miles a day probably has helped the adjustment. We spend a portion of each day exploring a new section of this city on foot. After getting a bus route guide downtown, we also are utilizing buses more. Often, we'll take the bus to a new area we've targeted to explore, then spend a couple of hours or more walking and exploring that part of town. Sometimes our return is a walk back, but as we venture farther away, a bus ride home has become more frequent. Both usually mean that we still have to tackle "heart attack hill". From the bus stop to our edificio is about a 1.5 block walk up what has to be a fifteen degree incline. We've seen some cars struggle to make this beastie! Our first attempt required three rest stops and we generally still take at least one. Recently, we did make it in one continuous trip. We would have done the "Rocky" victory dance at the top but we were too busy huffing and puffing for breath. Suzanne says Ecuador will either give us "calves of steel" or make us prime candidates for knee surgery. We are, however, getting in great shape learning this city and we're loving the process!

Since we are out almost every day, we frequently eat out for lunch or, as they say here, almuerzo. Many blogs have been written about the almuerzo specials available in this city. Most consist of a small bread, a protein dish (meat, beans, sometimes both), lots of rice, and a veggie dish or at least a little lettuce, tomato and avacado. A small sweet bread and and beverage are usually included. Some add or at least offer soup as well. (Ecuadorians generally excel at their soups!). It is almost impossible to walk more than 4 blocks in this city without seeing small cafes, cafeterias or restaurants offering these daily specials. If you spend more than $5 per person, you qualify as a ravenous glutton. We have even spent less than $5 for the two of us and have been pressed to consume all we were served. Does quality sometimes vary? Of course, but that's been part of the fun! We love searching for those gems that offer the standard dishes at competitive prices but where the quality of the ingredients and the preparation of the foods stands above the competition. A recent such find in the Centro may be of interest to our new friends locally since it only opened this June. It is Restaurante Cilantro on Juan Jaramillo (8-86) near Benigno Malo. Our almuerzo there began with an absolutely awesome creamy chicken/noodle/mushroom soup. The rest of the ingredients, while standard fare, was quite excellent in both quality and presentation. After reviewing this restaurant's regular menu and wine list, we're planning to return for dinner as well.

We'll report back in a future as to whether owner Marco Prado wows us as much with dinner as he did with his menu a la dia. His was probably our best almuerzo so far in Cuenca.

We do, of course, plan to keep looking for more great places to eat, to keep exploring this wonderful city and to keep developing those leg muscles as we remain: juntos en el camino de la vida!