A New Kind of Blog

There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The annual children's Christmas parade

Each year the day before Christmas Eve, the people of the city of Cuenca get their children, cars, and horses all dressed up to celebrate in a massive parade. It is loosely organized and has no central theme except to present the children in costumes that herald the Christmas season. No amount of words can replace the photos of these faces.

One of the many marching bands

Tired children on a movable manger scene

Almost all of the children in the parade were surrounded by caring parents who helped them cope

Yesterday, these sheep were probably out in the fields. Today, they are on parade.

Two beautiful Senioritas

If you look closely, you will see that the blanket on the horse is made of fruits and vegetables.

On this horse, the blanket is made of candy bars. The baby is asleep under his father's protective umbrella. 

Jonny couldn't resist petting the sheep

It is hard to see just  how extravagant this float is

A girl's marching band playing the recorder

Sheep on parade

Three little Americans in the hot sun

My favorite

35,000 people and we saw only one policeman

A miniature truck with its load of children

Think of the hours of work to make these floats

A staggering load of candy and fruit

Christmas carols by an accordian man

A tired horse and his keeper

Just around the corner from the park, a truck was parked that was filled with food. Women passed out free bananas, popcorn, bread, and soup to anyone who wanted something to eat. 

Hope you enjoyed these photos of one of the nicest days any one could spend honoring the children of Cuenca.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A quick trip

We don’t usually write about our travels, but a lot happened on our recent one week trip to the States. There were a few important business, tax, and banking problems that could not be done online or in the mail, so we packed up, made some quick travel arrangements, and flew to North Carolina.

One interesting aspect of the flights was the increased level of security. In Quito, we went through Ecuador exit procedure without problems, then at the departure lounge, experienced our first “pat down.” Jonny thought it was fun and asked for a pair of latex gloves from one of the attendants and proceeded to pat down the agents to general hilarity. I was then “selected” to go to the checked baggage area out on the tarmac. Escorted by a guard, we went through many restricted areas for about a quarter mile of walking up and down endless stairs to an area near the runway piled high with hundreds of pieces of luggage waiting to be loaded onto planes. Our four bags were pulled aside and one suitcase sat on a table with an attendant waiting for me to open it. He took out Jonny’s sippy cup that had a dragon’s head on the top that bounces up and down and asked me what it was. I explained that it was a drinking cup and he nodded with some level of understanding, zipped the bag closed and I was escorted back. The guard and I were both patted down again and returned to the waiting lounge.
Our LAN Ecuador flight was almost like flying in the old days, an excellent meal, comfortable seats, and pleasant attendants. Miami airport was a zoo and required an hour on line to get out boarding passes, then again through security, customs, immigration but with no problem with the Sippy Cup. On USAir, we encountered more of what we had been used to, cramped seats, no food, and indifferent attendants. We stepped off the airplane in Charlotte to frigid weather. The east coast of the US was in a cold snap where temperatures in Florida reached into the low thirties and the low twenties in North Carolina.

 In our rental car, we spent four days racing from bank to lawyer to Walmart to friends to a short night’s sleep and then a repeat of the same schedule the next day. We got our fill of McDonald’s Big Macs and Kid’s meals, the usual shock at the excess in the stores compared to our simpler and probably more sensible offerings, plus an observation that, even in this economic crisis, people are terribly resilient and are doing the best that they can. We saw casual friends on the street and in stores and it seemed like we had not even been gone. Our close friends were still as close as ever and Jonny fell right in with his old buddies.

 Then it was time to come home to Cuenca again. Another four flights and the familiar bustle and confusion carrying four suitcases filled with Christmas gifts and items that friends had asked us to bring back. Stepping off the plane in Cuenca sent a wave of gratitude through all of us.

We were happy to be home. Though still tired from our exhausting trip, we kept our promise to Jonny and put up the tree and now look forward to the very festive holiday season ahead. Happy holidays to all. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Census Update

Today is census day in Ecuador. At 7:00am, we looked out the window at a seemingly deserted city of a half-million people.  It was apparent that the lock-down was total.

Not a car, person, or bus was in view.  The streets were deserted. A few birds flew by the window that were not paying attention to the curfew.  They were all that moved.

Minutes later, six policemen in dress uniform walked abreast down the center of our street.  A half hour later a man and young boy, both carrying backpacks, meandered down the street, the first of many census takers that we would see on the street. In the previous weeks, High school students had been trained how to take the census and were today often seen in the company of their teachers as they made their way from house to house. It seemed strange to look out of our windows at the thousands of homes and apartments with the knowledge that, in every one, there were families waiting for the doorbell to ring. No one was at work. There were no church services this Sunday census day. No markets or restaurants were open. Everything was closed for the day. And, strangely, there were no fireworks to wake us in the morning. The entire population of Ecuador was at home waiting for the door bell to ring. 
Our day wore on, ten, twelve, two o’clock and the world outside remained as still and unchanged as a photograph. A fast and furious rain squall at two o’clock must have drenched many of the census takers. At three, two young men from our nearby high school arrived to fill out our forms. Seventy-four questions and a half hour later, they put away the forms and went on to the next of 15 households they would visit. After a polite goodbye, they dragged their tired bodies up to then next floor to do it all over again with our neighbors. All the rumors and apprehension we had anticipated were over. It was simple, direct and involved no questions about wealth or money, required no signatures or identification, and seemed mostly concerned about the quality of everyone’s living conditions. At five, the city came alive again, as if time had been asleep. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ecuador Census

Unlike the United States, Ecuador and many other countries when performing their national census, have a total lock-down on the day of the census. No-one, except those few essential workers with exemptions, are allowed to leave their homes from 7:00Am to 5:00pm on November 28th.  During those hours, each home will be visited by a census taker who will ask 74 questions which, when compiled by the end of the year, will give an accurate counting of the population and learn more about the true demographics of Ecuador.  Some of the questions are about the age and sex of citizens, residents and tourists, but there are additional questions about housing accommodations, telephone land lines, cellular phones, computers, even how many incandescent or non-ecological light bulbs are in your home.  We have been advised by our landlord that a census taker will come to our building around 10:00 in the morning and will spend almost an hour with us. It portends to be quite thorough and should be a challenge to our Spanish skills. If you want to know more log onto www.Cuencahighlife.com for a write up on the census, or if you wish, visit the national census website at www.inec.gov.ec.  After the census, we’ll post something about our experience with the census taker on Sunday. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Rivers of Cuenca

The rivers of Cuenca begin high in the mountains above the city. 

Hundreds of lakes high in the Cajas National Park

Cuenca is a city of rivers with at least four roaring through town and, like the mountains surrounding, the rivers have moods and seasons. There is the River Milchichig that makes the northern boundary of the city, the Rio Tomebamba that separates the old part of the city with the new to the south, the  RioYanuncay that is essentially the southern boundary of the new part of town, and the River Tarqui in the far south that joins the Yanuncay in the Eastern part of the city. All begins in the mountains to the west.

Waterfalls tumbling out of the mountains

And the downward journey begins

We thought you might enjoy seeing the Rio Tomebamba over the course of a year. All along the river that flows through the city is a green space, narrow in some spots, wider with parks in others. Families often come down to the river to wash their clothes and spread them out on the grass to dry. Children play after school on the swings, jungle gyms, and slides scattered through the parkland every few hundred yards. Our Jonny's favorite pastime is throwing rocks into the rapids.

There's a good rock, If I can just get to it. 

Got it

Watch out for the splash. 

 Lovers find secluded spots to hold each other which is a very public pastime in Cuenca. But above all is the pastoral feeling you get just sitting by the river in the heart of a city and watching the water roar by.

January 2010 while the river was high

and a roaring torrent

But, there is a season when the river is deathly quiet. Now is that time.

This is the river in February 2010

This is the same view now in the fall of 2010

The river in February

and now, the same view in November. 

It seems that every October and November the rain in the mountains becomes so scarce that the rivers run almost dry, an erie sight for those of us who love the roaring torrent.  Last fall, the main reservoir in Paute, which is a major source of our electricity, became so low that the energy company enforced 3-7 hours a day of no electricity for weeks on end.

These above two photos were back when we were having the brownouts last fall

Our building was fortunate enough to have our own generator so we were not inconvenienced but small businesses and homes without generators had a difficult time. There are rumors that this year the electric company has made contingency plans to prevent last year’s brownouts but we shall see.

This is the river today which seems lower and drier than last fall. 

Not much water to wash the clothes

High and dry on a hot fall day.

There are not many cities in the world that have four rivers running through them. High or low, we are most fortunate to be able to enjoy living in the heart of the city and still have such a wonderful place to go. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not so different after all,

After coming from the States and spending almost two years in Cuenca, we have found that many of our initial problems and confusion with how things work have dissipated considerably. When we first arrived, everything seemed difficult probably because many things were truly different. Or, maybe we just made it difficult because language, customs, and ways of doing things were not what we were used to. Nevertheless, we stumbled forward, learning as we went.

One early area of confusion was the lack of mail. There is almost no mail delivered to your home here. Utilities don’t send bills. Arrangements for connecting your electric, water, internet, home phone, cell phone, and TV are normally done at their respective business offices. Then, once you have paid an initial bill, you can take the receipt to your bank and arrange for an automatic monthly withdrawal from your bank account.  It took a while but we finally figured it all out after our electric and our phone had been disconnected a couple of times for non-payment.

Getting our residency was not a big problem, it just took many steps and a lot of footwork. We got the needed information for documentation from our Cuenca lawyer before we left the States so we knew exactly what documents to bring.  Some documents are only obtainable in the States. A few of our friends toughed it out and went through the Visa, Censo, and Cedula paces on their own. We chose to have our lawyer walk us through the process and still think it was money well spent as the Ecuadorian bureaucratic system can frustrate anyone especially newcomers. Though some others don’t agree, we think having a close relationship with an Ecuadorian lawyer helps immeasurably.

Buying a car is another hurdle to surmount.  It is confusing but can be easily done by hiring for the day a good taxi driver who speaks English. He will take you to the many stops required to register your auto beginning with a car inspection, a trip to the bank, getting the required government insurance plan (SOAT), and the final visit to the registration compound which will remind you of the crowds at a rock concert.  It helps to have an Ecuadorian taxi driver to help muscle your way through the crowds to the right wicket.

Finding the perfect place to buy the kind of food you like can only be done by trial and error but, in time, you will find your favorite produce market, meat purveyor, Supermaxi’s best alternative products to the ones you liked at home, and the always important, favorite restaurants.  After almost two years of trying different brands, we have come up with all but a few products that are just as good and sometimes better than those we used to buy in the States.

On and on it goes. The point being that our lives are quite settled down now. We have learned where to go, how to accomplish difficult tasks, and what our favorites are. It was a long and often frustrating learning curve that was continually impeded by our lack of understanding as much of what we were told was in Spanish but even that is better now. Cuenca finally has begun to feel like home. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Sunday at the park

The cell phone rang and our building maintenance woman, Nancy, was calling. Her husband, eight year old son, and she wondered if we might like to join them at the Parque Paradiso. Crowding all of us into our car, we drove to the park where we were to meet her sister who is our maid, husband and four children. The Parque Paradiso is the largest park in Cuenca, a city full of parks that are always filled with people.

Just a small section of this huge park

But, Sunday is a special day and Sunday afternoon is when Nancy has her half day off from work.  The park was crowded with thousands of people, families of every age but mostly Cuencanos with not another gringo in sight. We walked a good half mile into the park past picnicking families, past swings filled with laughing children, over creeks on swinging bridges, past tents where food was being cooked and sold, beyond a track for sporting events where a horse and buggy gave rides to children, to an area where there was a lake with an island in the center which was home to unusual varieties of ducks and geese and swans. At the side of the lake there was a free concession where a long line of people waited to board paddle boats. It seemed a scene out of a turn of the century photograph.   

Cuenca is filled with parks. The rivers that flow through the city are lined with parks with swings, slides, and exercise apparatus every quarter of a mile or so. There are little pocket parks every few blocks in the city with benches and an occasional small paved court for sports. The half dozen large parks compete for the population who arrive on foot or by bus by the hundreds. Spinning carrousels, long slides, jungle gyms, canopy like wire slides, horseback rides, swings, and the almost ever present festival of some sort or the other are the attractions but it is the wide open grassy spaces that seem to bring the families. They arrive in groups of five, ten, or even twenty carrying plastic bags of food and the ubiquitous white futbol. They pour into the parks, stake out a grassy area for games, and place the elderly and children in the shade of some trees.

This Sunday, we were with one of these groups.  We met our maid’s family and her cousin’s family and became a group of eight adults and eight children. The small children played around the trees while the older children and adults warmed up with a game of tossing the futbol around a circle.

Warming up by bouncing the ball round the circle

Then teams were created and a lively hour long game of futbol ensued. Goals were created by using a pair of bicycles as one goal and a couple of jackets at the other goal and were manned by a ten year old girl on one side and a mother on the other.

Jonny on the attack

Running, kicking at the ball, often falling but always with laughter and deference to the youngest who played their hearts out, they spent their one afternoon of non-work. 

a shot gone astray

The team waiting for the attack

Ishmael with his sights on the goal

After a break for a drink of soda 

Nothing like a cold drink on a hot day

and before we left to go home, a rope was hung between two trees for a game of volleyball that lasted until dark.

Once again, we have no message to offer from this delightful Sunday at the park, only the joy and fulfillment we find in our home away from home.