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, September 29, 2011

Rub it in...rub it in!

Before we left, nearly all of our USA and Ecuador friends made comments about how much we would enjoy Thai food during our trip. While that has certainly been true, one unexpected memory we will certainly carry back with us and treasure for a long time to come is memories of the enjoyment of a good Thai massage. We have had several of these during our adventures here. The most recent was a one hour foot massage streetside in a bar and restaurant district in Chiang Mai at 11:00 pm before calling it an evening. We lounged in recliners on the front portico of the massage parlor and watched contentedly as the evening crowd passed by (except for the more than dozen others who were also enjoying their massages along side us!).

A trained Thai massage therapist can knead your skin, muscles and tendons plus manipulate your body parts in ways that would probably make the typical midwest chiropactor swoon and faint. The end result of all this assault on your physical being, however, is a nearly thorough sense of rejuvenation and even a hint of physical euphoria. The fact that most massages here will only cost about four to five bucks an hour makes this pretty amazing and memorable, as well.

Opportunities for good Thai massage are everywhere! Malls, street fairs, spas, even kiosks between gate areas in the airport are potential locales to obtain a good Thai massage. There is even a massage center at the outlet store of the Women's Penitentiary Occupational Rehabilitation Center in Chiang Mai!

There are always three things, you're never very far away from in any city, town or village in Thailand: A beautifully constructed wat, a good restaurant or street food vendor offering great authentic Thai cuisine and a spot to enjoy really good Thai massage. We will have many beautiful photographs of the first to cherish. With a Thai in the family and Roger's cache of Thai spices he's bringing back in his suitcase, we will periodically get to enjoy the second. We may, however, really miss really good, highly affordable Thai massage once we leave here.

That's one of the reasons there are probably several more one or two hour "therapy" sessions on tap for us before we depart Thailand and continue onward "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cuenca and Chiang Mai: Two Cities We Love!

Chiang Mai, Thailand competes with Cuenca, Ecuador in various listings for the best spot in the world to retire to. It currently ranks number two in most listings and has been in the top five spots for a number of years.

There are a number of similarities between the two cities:

Both have a rich and colorful history that is appreciated and admired by foreigners and locals alike. Both Cuenca and Chiang Mai were capitals of important indigenous civilizations. In Chiang Mai's case, it became the headquarters of the Lanna Kingdom in the early 1200's.

Both have a central core area which they are trying to preserve. In Chiang Mai, this area is well defined by a surrounding moat along which are portions of the old original city wall and city gates. As a whole, however, Cuenca has done a better job of preserving its architectural cultural heritage. Differences in historic construction and climate (wood doesn't last long periods in tropical rains) may be a contributing factor here.

Both cities can be cited for their abundance of beautiful houses of worship. In Chiang Mai, there are over 300 wats (temple complexes) one of which contains a chedi (religious memorial) that dates back to the 1200's.

Both cities offer excellent and affordable medical and, especially in Chiang Mai's case, dental care.

Outside of the core, both cities have ample modern growth, development and amenities. Chiang Mai has more modern shopping centers...Cuenca has more Mercados (called bazaars here)but Chiang Mai has them as well. It even has one that only opens at night. Also on each Saturday and Sunday evening, a long city street is closed and designated as a "walking market". Vendors set up beginning at 4:00pm and you can shop and snack until you drop or at 10:30pm, whichever occurs first.

Both cities have well rated universities which attract their country's brighest young people.

Both cities celebrate their cultural heritage. Chiang Mai's indigenous population includes hill tribes that were refugees from Burma, Laos and even China in the area's early history. Indigeneous people do enjoy more social respect, however, in Ecuador.

Transportation is cheap in both cities. Chiang Mai has wider streets but no public bus system. They do, however, have four forms of taxis: regular automobiles (more expensive than Cuenca), Song Traew, a covered pickup truck with benches. In these vehicles, the price is fixed at 20 baht (about 60 cents) anywhere. However, you will have to negotiate with the driver to find out if he wants to go there based on where the rest of his passengers are going. There is also the infamous motortrike called tuk-tuk and you might even find a rickshaw although those, we are told, are dying out as the drivers retire.

Arts and crafts are in abundance in both cities and each has its specialities. Weaving is common to both areas. Chiang Mai abounds in affordable, very high quality silk.

A fairly high widespread usage of English is common to both cities although it is spoken less in Chiang Mai. However, the usage of bi-lingual signage is more common here. All official signs (highway markers, etc) are bilingual and you have to be in the most rural of areas to see a road sign in Thai only.

Both cities are having an extraordinary amount of rain this year! We thought we would throw that in for all our friends back in Cuenca who seem to be whining just a bit about the weather. Trust me, This area has you beat for rain.....we went to an Isan style Thai
restuarant just before a rain hit the other night and a full inch and a quarter fell before we
finished our meal! (This restaurant was roofed but open sided which is common in this climate).

Both cities are served by a major connecting airport with service to nearby countries.

Both cities are home to growing expat populations. The percentage is relatively small in both cases but Chiang Mai "extrajaneros" are more diverse and include Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, (affectionately called Kiwis), British, German and, of course, Americans. Collectively (except for the Japanese), we are referred to as falang, the Thai name for guava, whose color our skin resembles. In both countries, the ex-pat population is welcomed and treated well, but we would have to give the nod to Ecuador for both populations doing a much better job of integrating with and accepting each other.

With so many positive and wonderful things in common, it's no wonder both cities are atrracting ex-pat retirees. Each also has some unique advantages and, as with every place you chose to live, some disavantages to deal with.

We've fallen in love with the beauty and wonder of Chiang Mai but the Yazells have missed Cuenca, Ecuador. We look forward to our return home in January but until then we are fortunately blessed to be "juntos en el camino de la vida"!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the road again in Thailand!

Before leaving Bangkok, we squeezed in some more dining. Isan Thai, or northern Thai cuisine has become our favorite. Roger even has become fond of drizzling chili powder or, better yet, chili paste oil on his "sticky rice". We also managed to squeeze in a ferry ride across the river but elected not to do a "rooster tail" boat tour because of the high waters from recent rains. There has been flooding in the northeast due to the rains and the river in Bangkok was high enough it had flooded some of the pier from which the ferries operated. We all had to walk bent over on hastily constructed platforms to reach the ferry. In addition to visiting a couple more wats, we stopped in a neighborhood known for its craftsmen and bought a handmade alms singing bowl. Alms bowls are utilized by the Buddhist monks in collecting donations for their temple's support. The singing bowls resonate like a bell when stroked with a pestle. Most are now made by machine but there are three families of Chinese ancestry in a small crafts neighborhood near Bangkok's famous "Golden Mount" that still shape and form these bowls by hand on an anvil. Our Ecuadorian friends will get to try their hand at making our purchased bowl "sing" when we return in January.

There's so much we did not get to see and do in Bangkok but it was time for us to head to the former capitol of the Lannae kingdom, Chiang Mai. We took the one hour flight via Thai Airlines northward to Thailand's mountain country. As we descended into the green and lush Ping River Valley and flew over the historic, moat-surrounded old city founded over 700 years ago, we held very grateful to be juntos en el camino de la vida.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some general observations on Bangkok!

Bangkok, Thailand's capital is an enormous and very spread out city. Everywhere you go there is a curious mixture of old and new....a two block stretch of high rises will suddenly be broken up by a cluster of old buildings. You also are never very far away from either a wat complex or a mosque (Buddhists dominate in Thailand but there is a strong Muslim presence, as well.)

The other thing That is always close by is a good restaurant. Thai food is, of course, an obvious expectation, but you will be suprised at the number of pizza parlors and English or Irish pubs. There is some variety in the Thai restaurants as each section of the country has its own style of cuisine. Our son's girlfriend's family is from northeastern Thailand, near Laos and her aunt and uncle (our gracious hosts in Bangkok)run a successful Isan restaurant in Bangkok. The cuisine there is probably to Thai cooking what southern country comfort food is to family meals back home. There's always a little bit of everything on the the table. Family style service is standard practice and there's always an assortment of fresh herbs, spices and sauces on the side as well as in the prepared food. Trust me, you haven't experienced the full scope of Thai food until you've enjoyed a country Thai breakfast. It might consist of a small salty crusted fish that looks similar to bluegill accompanied by "sticky rice" dipped in chili paste and perhaps served with a side of herb and rice soup mixed with either squid or pork or both! It definitely isn't biscuits and gravy from Cracker Barrel! It is, however, suprisingly good for breakfast and gets you through the day.

You are also never far from someplace that gives Thai massages. From booths in open air markets to kiosks and shops in the mall to very elaborate spas you are sure to be able to unwind the cares of any day with a trained Thai masseuse. We did just that on our second day (is this a pattern developing?). This time we went for the cadillac spa treatment...refreshment served before and after, personal concierge for our group in addition to the individual therapists and a private room and two hours worth of therapy. Did I mention all this cost us less than $20 per person?

We're getting a bang out of Bangkok and we look forward to discovering what else this wonderful land has in store for us as we continue "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Siam, I Am!

We made it....Suzanne and I are in Thailand for a one month visit. It only took 25 hours of traveling to get here, including rerouting the last of three planes in order to avoid a typhoon in the making near Twaiwan. After some much needed sleep, we headed out to enjoy our first day in Bangkok. In Thailand, there are four things you are guaranteed to do during your first day: 1. Eat some Thai food. 2. Sweat a lot. 3. Eat more Thai food. 4. Sweat a lot more. We did those four as well as a few more fun things. We visited two wats, (temples) including the only remaining Loha Prasat in the world (there have only been three, the first of which included the Lord Buddha among its occupants). We toured the Grand Palace complex including a visit to the wat which houses the Emerald Buddha. I got started at by a group of school kids on a tour of the palace grounds. Falang staring is a common pastime in rural Thailand but less common in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. (Falang is the Thai equivalent of a gringo).

We were fortunate to finish off our hectic first day with Thai massages. Thai massages involve kneading and moving your body parts in a manner that would make the average midwest chiropractor swoon. Afterwards, you enjoy a couple of hours of almost euphoric physical relaxation and well being. We got to make some new friends whose names we will be challenged to remember and sampled some new foods we'll probably never be able to pronounce. We also came to the conclusion that the Thai alphabet was secretly developed by a cadre of hyperactive kindergardeners during a bizarre fingerpainting class. Fortunately, there's a lot of bilingual signage here.

There are also wonderful things to experience, enjoy and explore in this beautiful and exoctic country. Once again, we feel blessed to be "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Monday, September 12, 2011

On the road of life to help a special Floridian!

When Roger and I returned from Cuenca, we headed to Florida. We had promised Roger's stepmom, Mary, we would help her downsize. Mary is 88 years old but still lives in her own home and she wanted to simplify. Our son's girlfriend, Thoom, graciously offered to help, so after resting a few days in Atlanta, we piled into the SUV and headed to Florida. We spent nearly three weeks going through everything, deciding what to keep, what to sell and what to donate. We also took time out to play...a little shopping, a few games of cards and a glass of wine or two. Sometimes it was really difficult for Mary to part with things she had kept for decades. But, overall, she was a real trooper! We got everything priced and will be doing garage sales and flea markets when we return in December. Mary has decided she wanted to host our final Christmas in the States before we return to Ecuador. As Mary she can find her Christmas decorations!

While Mary, Thoom and I went through things in the house, Roger built a patio for Mary. It is something that she has always wanted. We ladies definitely had the cooler part of the job! But now Mary and her buddies can sip wine on her new back patio!

Now we are back in Atlanta before leaving on our next leg of our adventures. Our son Steve gave us a wonderful surprise this summer.....airline tickets to Thailand. Thoom is originally from Thailand so she will be staying with us for a month and Steve will join us for the last two weeks. So the next few blogs will be about our adventures from Thailand.

As always, Juntos en el Camino de La Vida!

These hard working gals, Mary, Thoom & Suzanne, were ready
 to celebrate the end of  nearly two weeks of downsizing.
The Yazells in Florida:  Stephen, Roger, Mary & Suzanne
Roger & Mary on the newly completed patio!
Back in Georgia, Suzanne and Thoom cool off while the
guys watched the opening of the football season at a friend's house.
Next stop on the road of life....Thoom's native Thailand!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Few Of Our Favorite Things Part III

After two months in Ecuador we have come to love hats and have added the hats made in this vicinity to our list of favorite things.  They are almost a necessity if you plan on spending a fair amount of time outdoors. On a sunny day, sunglasses, suncreen (SP50 at least!) and a good Panama hat are your best friends and protectors against what has to be one of the highest UV indexes in the western hemisphere.  You definitely need to be conscious of protecting your skin against overexposure if you plan on spending any time in Cuenca.It's probably one of the reasons why the famous Panama hat originated here. 
That, of course, leads to the question, why is it called a Panama Hat?  Why not the Cuenca Hat or the Ecuador Hat? Chalk that up to several movie stars who made films in Panama and wore this type of hat not only in their films but afterwards as well.  In any case, the woven hat originated in the Azuay province of the southern Andes and the hats are still made there today.  As you drive into Sigsig, a factory sits on the edge of the village utilizing machinery that was probably installed during the peak of Humphrey's Bogart's popularity. In this village, you will see literally scores of locals weaving fibers into hats as they walk about town.  Just about everywhere in Ecuador, you will find hats for sale.  We recommend that you buy and use one in this bright sunny climate.  

The Yazells plan on becoming regular hat wearers as we continue juntos en el camino de la vida!

The World's Largest Panama Hat on display for tourists to photograph at the hat factory in Sigsig.

Hand woven hats awaiting their turn in the hat mold.

Steam mold for final forming of hats.

Roger's hat in this photo came with him from
the U.S. It is a collapsible canvas type that packs easily.
The photo was taken at the Pumapungo Archaelogical Park.

Suzanne tried on several hats at this shop in Quito!

This one is targeted for purchase when we return!

Suzanne purchased this hand in Cuenca at
Bernal Hats on Simon Bolivar.

Roger's first hat came from Sigsig.
The shirt is Ecuadorian from Cemuart in Cuenca.
 The photo was at the Turi Overlook.

Roger's second panama hat was purchased in Cuenca
at La Paja Toquilla on Juan Jaramillo and it rapidly
became his favorite.

If you plan on spending a sunny day walking around Cuenca, don't forget your hat!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Few Of Our Favorite Things Part II

During our two month exploratory trip to Cuenca, we did just that....each day we explored what soon became apparent would be our new home city. And what a wonderful city Cuenca is for just heading out each each day and seeing what you can discover. The photos below reminded us of some our favorite discoveries....the flower market, street vendors, street performers as well as impromtu performances on and near Parque Calderon, great plazas for just sitting, relaxing and people watching. There are great shops to discover, greenbelts to stop and rest in and if you get tired of walking, you can take a bus to edge of the city for only a quarter! The double decker tourist bus is a must for new arrivals! Most everyone heads to the Mall del Rio but the greatest discoveries await you in the side streets of the centro and in Cuenca's many wonderful neighborhoods. We estimated we averaged about two miles a day walking in our explorations. By foot, by bus or even by affordable taxi, Cuenca is a great place to be "juntos en el camino de la vida"!