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, August 23, 2012

A Great Little Getaway...just what we needed!

 "It's pretty, but there's not a lot to do in Vilcabamaba", one of our Xpadorian friends told us.  "But you will see a lot of interesting people."  Actually, the prospect of hanging out in a quiet rural area with drop dead gorgeous scenery, eating good food, sipping a little wine, plus meeting interesting people from all over the world sounded like just the therapy we've been needing.  The past six months has been filled with returning to Ecuador, getting our temporary visa, getting our residency visa, getting our cedula, opening a bank account, buying a house, doing some remodeling, getting our container here, unpacking said container,  buying a security system for the house, etc. etc. etc. and so forth!   Whew!  who knew retiring could be such hard work!!!!!

The gate to the Loja centro, built mostly as a tourist attraction.
 Our van from Cuenca had its depot near here.
 So the day before Suzanne's birthday, we boarded the Elite Tours transport van to Loja,  capital of the province of the same name that lies just south of Azuay.  Three and a half hours later we were there and commandeered a driver for the one hour drive south to beautiful, gorgeous Vilcabamba, known as "the valley of longevity".  On the outskirts, nestled on a high ridge sat the resort of Izychaluma ( Izychaluma in the local indigenous dialect means "two hills").  The scenery was gorgeous, our nice private cabin was nestled along a rock walkway with a back deck complete with comfortable hammock and a view!  It had all the makings of a great 4-day retreat! It didn't disappoint us as the following photos will show:

It takes about an hour to get from Loja to Vilcabamba.  There were some washouts on
this mountainous trek during the rainy season so there is a lot of roadwork.  There is
 also a road being rebuilt south to Peru.  We were glad we hired a driver who knew the way.

Descending into the valley where we retreated for 4 days
from the cold and the "hectic" pace of life we had been leading in Cuenca.

Our cabin at Izychaluma Resort

Suzanne at the cabin
View from the cabin's back deck.

It didn't take long to make good use of the hammock! With Suzanne is
"Shotzie", one of our many stuffed bears.  One always travels with us on trips!

Looking downhill into Vilcabamaba centro from the resort.
Hosteria Izychaluma is owned and operated by two German brothers and offers a variety of different accommodations including dormitory rooms that are popular with backpackers.  We met guests from seven different countries during our stay.  One staff member spoke at least four different languages (we overheard her speaking to guests in Spanish, English, French, and German).  The town of Vilcabamba itself is very clean despite some major road renovation going on. It is quiet, laid back and filled with gracious people all seemingly bent on having a wonderful day.  We certainly did!

A town square park is the focal point of Vilcabamba

Downtown is neat, clean, with some nice sidewalk cafes ideal for sitting,
seeing the world go by and being seen.

A stylish church on the square.

It only took about 20-25 minutes to walk to the centro from the resort. It was roughly about 2 kilometers (a downhill mile and a quarter for you Arizona folks).  We treated ourselves to cab ride back (living in the Andes, you learn to do your walking downhill and save your riding for uphill portions of your day!)
Interestingly, all the local taxis in Vilcabamba were 4-wheel drive vehicles!

There are also accommodations in town. Just a block off the square is
Jardins Escondido (Hidden Gardens), a hosteria and also a pretty decent
spot to have a Mexican luncheon.
Leave it to the Ecuadorian Wine Guy to discover a wine emporium just
after arriving in the centro.  Some mixed reviews on our discoveries there.
Roger will be posting those reviews this coming weekend on "Roger's Grapevine"
The resort had nice affordable wines and a nice menu selection so we ate all but one meal on site (breakfast was included in the price of our accommodation).  We hiked, played cards and dominos.  Suzanne got acquainted with several of the resident pets (one new kitten in particular!) and we polished off our last afternoon with relaxing massages.  Our getaway was just what the doctor ordered!

Suzanne and one of her new friends!

Roger enjoyed the grounds as well as the wine!

View from the dining room on our last morning!

We saw this mural during a few hours spent in Loja before our return to Cuenca.

We took time for a stint of sightseeing, a little pottery shopping and an"almuerzo" in Loja before climbing into the van for our return trek to Cuenca.  We arrived back in town, glad to be back at "Casa Yazell" but filled with warm (both literally and figuratively) memories of our Vilcabama getaway.   

It was good, as always, to be "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cuenca Wine Guy Bulletin para once de Agosto!

For my ex-patriate friends in Cuenca who really miss their California Zinfandel, here's a special wine bulletin:   I saw Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel on the shelves at Super Maxi El Vergel this Saturday.  Granted it was at roughly twice the retail ($28) you probably would have paid in the US of A but then again it is the first spotting of either a Zinfandel or Primitivo I've ever made in Ecuador (including some extensive restaurant wine list reading) and if you've been in severe Zinfandel withdrawal, it might be worth the splurge to you.

Thought you would like to know....Sainte!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Vino de Monastario del Carmen de la Asuncion

A recent Cuenca wine purchase.
An order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns has existed in Cuenca since 1682.  By 1730, the order's monastery was part of a complex that included the Sanctuario Mariano, a beautiful white baroque church nearly adjacent to the Nuevo Catedral in Cuenca and home of a very popular flower market on the plaza in front.  In the corner is a lobby where the cloistered nuns have non visual interaction with the public via a turnstile where they vend among other things, soap, dulce de leche and wine.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The wine is a traditional vino de consagrar and has been approved for use as a sacramental wine by the archbishop of Cuenca.  Vino de Consegrar by traditional and church regulation utilizes concentrated must of white grapes and then is aged in large oak barrels.  Concentrated grape must is the unfiltered squeezings that comes from the crushing of grapes to produce juice.  Being produced from must insures a high concentration of sugars so it is a very sweet wine.  This aging imparts a golden bronze coloration and concentration of flavors giving most of these wines a rich fig and raisin aroma and flavor.  While many must-produced wines are often in single digits for alcohol content,  Vina Florida offered by the Carmelite Sisters of Cuenca comes in at 11%.  That's not particularly high for wine, but the combination of double digit alcohol content with a good deal of residual sugar can lead to a pretty rapid "buzz" if consumed too quickly.  Because your body burns sugar first, then later metabolizes alcohol, the combination of the two together will simply lead to a quicker concentration of blood alcohol content.
Santuario Mariano in Cuenca
Photo courtesy of Rich and Nancy's blog:

Recently Vina Florida has become available at retail here in Cuenca. (The Wine Guy secured his at the Co-opera).  It's at a higher price than what you will pay through the vendor turnstile at the Monasterio del Carmen de la Ascuncion but it is still affordable, particularly by Ecuadorian standards.   If you are looking for a sweet treat to sip at sunset or to share with your dinner guests,  you may want to try a bottle of Vina Florida. It may satisfy those who have moved here and miss their former availability of late harvest wines.

While Suzanne and I normally prefer bold, dry red wine wines, we did enjoy straying over to the sweeter side in trying this locally available wine.   It never hurts to try something new when you are traveling "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch!

The Plaza in Chordeleg, Ecuador
Suzanne and some friends have formed an informal group in Cuenca.   They call themselves "Ladies who lunch and shop!"   Boy,  do they know how to do both of those!  It started out as an innocent monthly get together over lunch.  Each month, someone different in the group would pick a venue and send out invitations to the group and those who could attend would respond.  The group of ladies would get together, enjoy a meal at one of Cuenca's better restaurants and share the latest news, gossip and tips on adjusting to ex-patriate life.  What a great escape and a wonderful idea for  adjusting to life in a foreign land!
The artistic fountain in the Chordeleg Plaza

This past week, however, the ladies took it up a notch further.  They commandeered a Mercedes Benz van, private driver and scheduled a special trip for fifteen (the van's turned out they could have scheduled two vans based on the number of interested participants) to Chordeleg, the filigree silver jewelry capital of Azuay province (and probably Ecuador,  if not South America).   Chordeleg is  roughly 1.5 to 2 hours down the road from Cuenca. The excursion allowed the ladies a full  three hours of shopping in Chordeleg and then included a slight detour on the route back to Cuenca for lunch at the Hosteria Uzhupud in Paute.  This resort offers a fabulous setting and superb dining..  A great time was had by all!

The folks in the US have the Red Hat Ladies but they don't hold a candle to "The Ex-Patriate Ladies who Lunch and Shop" of Cuenca, Ecuador.
Suzanne (front-left) and "The Ladies Who Lunch and Shop"
enjoying themselves in Paute, Ecuador

Suzanne enjoyed her special excursion with friends (Roger meanwhile took a nap and painted the front courtyard wall).  So went another day in retirement as we continue our journey:  "juntos en el camino de la vida."