A New Kind of Blog
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
We decided to go to the other Navidad event at the parque and entered the Old cathedral just across the square. As we entered, we heard a girl’s choir singing just prior to a very elaborate Christmas manger pagent. After listening to them sing and act out the nativity scene, we went out into the parque where the 30 man Ecuadorian army band was playing rousing military music, slightly inappropriate but nevertheless very lively. Jonny was rubbing his eyes by this point so we didn’t stay for the huge standing fireworks display to explode in all its glory. When we got home, the children in our building were all crowded around a huge paper balloon that had somehow chosen our yard to drop into. We looked up into the night sky which was filled with at least 15 paper balloons. More and more followed. They are like miniature gas balloons made of colorful paper around a frame that supports a wad of burning cloth. The heat from the fire causes the balloon to rise into the air where the wind takes it where it will. When the flame burns out the balloon falls gently to the ground. We watched one very large one rise up from town shooting off fireworks that lasted for at least five minutes. An amazing amount of balloons rose up from at least 9:00 to 11:00PM. At the stroke of eleven, we heard loud explosions and saw the smoke rising from the huge ground fireworks display at Parque Calderon. Our only regret after such an evening full of Christmas was that there was so much going on in town that we might have missed something. Tomorrow is the Children’s parade, a 6 hour long parade through town that is an absolute “don’t miss” event. Christmas in Ecuador is a more grand extension of our past Christmas’s and confirms, once again, that this country absolutely venerates children. Almost every event we went to was crowded with children and many were elaborate events directed just at them. At the very least, Christmas in Ecuador brings out the child in everyone.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Then there is CEDEI who has many English speaking teachers plus student teachers from the US doing their college practicum. It is where Jonny goes to school. Choosing a school is a very personal choice and really depends, as everywhere, on the child and his learning needs. There is a continual controversy in the expatriate community over whether to send a non-Spanish speaking child to total immersion at a school where no English is spoken or to a school with English speaking teachers. We have tried both and have found our child was happiest in the later. The private schools require the parent to supply the books. But school work books written in English are extremely expensive. For instance, a simple pre-school workbook we bought for Jonny cost $37. It is not unusual for an American parent to think their child has been assigned to a class that is too young for their child when they visit the classroom for the first time. However, the size of an Ecuadorian child is illusive. The typical Ecuadorian child is much smaller than most American children (as are most adults) so they look much younger. Ecuadorian children are also very well behaved almost to the level of seeming shy. Our exuberant child stands out with his high energy as well as his curly, red hair but he is adjusting rapidly and is very proud of his burgeoning Spanish.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Each school’s uniform is a different design and color. There are numerous uniform stores that carry huge inventories of all sizes for a half dozen schools. Public displays of affection are very common and you will often see young people innocently kissing each other on the street. You will seldom see a woman in a dress with the exception of the indigenous Indian women who wear colorful, pleated velvet skirts and embroidered tops. The Indian men, who are mostly workers, wear what we would call informal clothes. They go to a job site where they might be pouring concrete, change their street clothes to work clothes, work all day, then when it is time to go home, they change back into their street clothes, wash their hair, hands and faces in running water and go home looking as if they were going out for a special dinner. In the US, workers arrive in their soiled work clothes and go home in the same clothes, day after day. Hair styles for men are like other countries but young men often slick their hair down with a shinny pomade which makes their hair look soaking wet all day long. All in all, the appearance of Ecuadorians is one of neatness, cleanliness and personal care. We have probably not seen a single sloppy dresser with the exception of some foreign tourists.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Even with the unregulated diesel fumes from the trucks and busses, the air here is clear and dry. Humidity is low and the temperature stays relatively constant. Around the second of December, a friend told us that he had seen a report saying that the temperature reached 81 degrees that day, a thirty year record high. We remark often that the temperature in Cuenca is near perfect, never too hot and never too cold. It is very special to read reports about severe weather in the States and look out the window in mid-winter at people walking by in T-shirts and jeans and flowers constantly in bloom. The weather may well be our favorite thing about Cuenca.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
They have rusted out and been patched numerous times and, with a new paint job, look terrific yet always touch a nostalgic nerve. We have driven American automatic shift cars for so long that we felt we had to have one. We searched and searched for a used automatic and found they are almost non-existent in Ecuador. There are absolutely no automatics in the small cars and maybe one in a hundred among available SUV’s. We were fortunate enough to find one but also found the price for an automatic approximately 50% higher than a stick shift. However, gasoline is a real bargain. Ecuador is an oil exporter and the gasoline industry is nationalized. The government controls the price of gas which at present is $1.48 per gallon and has been so for the last year. There are no daily price increases or decreases like in the US. Getting an Ecuadorian driver’s license is a real hassle. It is expensive and we understand the driver’s test has to be taken in Spanish. Most gringos who opt to get one hire someone to take the test for them. For almost everything bureaucratic here in Ecuador there is someone who can do it for you. To register our Hyundai Tucson, we hired a taxi driver who specializes in car registrations. It took four stops, one to have the car inspected, another to get official papers that became covered with stamps, another to have copies made of everything in triplicate and lastly a visit to a special office that looked over everything and sent us out for more official papers. Car insurance is yet another story, one we have yet to investigate. If it is like health insurance, the conclusion will be that you should self-insure as the insurance companies are notorious for not honoring claims. Good maps of Cuenca are hard to find. The best one is provided by Cathy at Cuenca Real Estate. It shows every street on hard, glossy heavy paper. Driving in Cuenca takes some getting used to as there are many one way streets. Most river crossings into town are also one way. There are very few street signs that identify cross streets so learning the basic thoroughfares is important. Home and business addresses in the city are numbered with a dash in the middle like 3-82 or 1-24. If you have a car you will have to get used to the wild taxi drivers who dodge in an out of unbelievably small spaces often within inches of your fenders. It is a game of bluff where cars, trucks and busses inch their way into an intersection until they intimidate someone approaching to slow down and they then charge into the intersection. There are many traffic and driving rules just like in the US but they are mostly not obeyed. Police sit at the circles and intersections talking to each other and pay little attention unless there is a problem. If you have an accident, the locals advise you not to call the police as it opens a potential criminal case if you are in the wrong. Most local drivers just leave the site of an accident. Our maid’s father was walking his cow across the Autopista in Challuabamba and both were killed by a car that just kept going and was never apprehended. Traffic circles are everywhere. You enter the circle after giving right-of-way to the cars already in the circle. Then, when there is enough space for your car, you enter quickly yet watch carefully for other cars trying to find a hole in the circular procession. Almost always some small car will dart into the circle from your right side letting your car shield him from oncoming traffic. At intersections, vehicles inch slowly forward, more and more until they are almost blocking the oncoming traffic. Again, they hope someone will get nervous, stop or slow down and let them proceed. Nighttime is even worse. Car radios are one of the items that petty thieves find almost too easy to steal and convert to cash. Everyone advises that you take the removable radio out when you park the car almost anywhere except in the safety of your home. We have lost two radios due to carelessness on our part. But, driving is not really that bad. It just takes getting used to. Enormous patience and super care are primary requisites to navigating the city.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Computer keyboards purchased here are all in Spanish and have a slightly different layout. It doesn’t take long to get used to but it might again be easier to bring an English keyboard. Printers are inexpensive and you can get a small selection of Canon, HP and Lexmark products. You can only find A4 paper which is longer than the usual US inkjet paper. It works just fine in any printer but is harder to fit in a filing cabinet.
Ecuador uses the American dollar as currency. The bills and coins are the same as in the US with the addition of a brass dollar coin which is used quite freely. It is basically a cash society though credit cards such as Discovery, Visa, MasterCard and American Express are used freely. Some retailers will charge more if you do not use cash. An IVA of 12% is added to the cost of most items. Recently because of the economic collapse and to try to keep cash in Ecuador and prevent it from leaving the country, the government has passed regulations adding a protective tariff to almost all imported goods. This has affected the price of everything from electronics to perfume. There is also a law that a retailer must give you a receipt for every sale. It is the government’s way of regulating taxation on retail sales. Often there is this painstaking writing out of a receipt for sales as small as a loaf of bread. Retailers also expect you to provide the small change part of a transaction. If the sale is $20.43, they will ask for the 0.43 from your small change. ATM machines are everywhere. What most expatriates do is use a debit card from an American bank at a bank ATM machine and pay their bills with cash. We use a Bank of America account in the US and take out a few hundred dollars at a time. The international handling charge for our bank is $5.00 for each transaction. Other banks charge more or less. There are many excellent Ecuadorian banks but they are usually very crowded at the tellers booths. We were fortunate enough to be introduced by a friend to the private banking department of our bank and deal with an officer of the bank for our transactions. Transfers of money or deposits of foreign checks take a minimum of 21 days to clear. It is probably a good idea to take out a checking account at a local bank so you will have checks to pay things like rent, electric and water bills. Alternatively, you can easily arrange for your local bank to pay these bills automatically each month. Be aware that if you bring substantial amounts of cash into Ecuador to make an investment, the government charges 2% to take that money out of Ecuador. There may be ways around this but it is something to be aware of.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Normally it rains almost every day for a while, then clears up and the sun comes out but we have had almost no rain for the last three months. The normal rainy season begins sometime around December but with global warming and who knows what other factors there are at play, this appears to be a difficult time for those of us used to unlimited water and power. Interestingly, there are no restrictions on watering flowers, or shower use, or washing cars. It’s just one more thing to get used to.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
But everywhere, up and down the streets, there are room size store fronts usually with an eclectic mix of things for sale. One store will sell mattresses, the next handmade furniture, the next might be a minimarket, the next a DVD store selling pirated DVD’s for $1.50 each, the next a woman cooking rice and chicken in a big pot and serving it at two tables in plastic bowls with a spoon. Then the next block will be a repeat of the same type of stores. On and on it goes for block after block interspersed with these Mom and Pop stores which is how most people here make their living. We have one huge mall called Mall Del Rio that has almost everything you could ask for including a large Wallmart-like store called Coral and a movie complex. By the way, almost all movies on TV are in English with Spanish subtitles. If you have Direct TV at home as we do, and if the program happens to be in Spanish there is a little yellow button on the remote that switches the spoken language from Spanish to English.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The streets and sidewalks are spotlessly clean as teams of green uniformed men and women daily pick up every speck of trash.
Today, I was at our house in the country which is 15 minutes outside Cuenca via the Autopista. It is an area that is even warmer and drier than Cuenca, a suburb called Challuabamba. The house is for sale but we love to go out there to enjoy the quiet and peaceful countryside. Sitting on the terrace, I was struck once again by the industriousness of the Indigenous Indian people who have so little but make the best of everything. A family of Indians had recently plowed a field next to our house and were planting corn by hand. There were five of them, three women and two men between 25 and 60 years of age. All but the youngest woman wore traditional Indian clothing, velvet skirts and embroidered blouses. The men wore regular attire. All were barefoot and wore hats to protect their heads from the intense sunlight. Two of the men and two of the women were bent over digging with hoes attached to short handles no more than four feet long. The fifth woman broadcast the precious corn seeds into the furrows. It will take them many days to hoe and plant row after row in order to complete sowing seeds on nearly two acres of land. It is a laborious job that would take an American farmer with his tractor and other equipment only hours to complete. At noon, they stopped hoeing and planting and sat down in the dirt to eat rice from plastic bowls. Laughing and talking, they put their tired bodies to rest for a few minutes of a long day.