OK so for the most part this a cash only society. Complicated by a lack of 5.00 bills and inadequate supply of 1$ coins. The main currency is the $1.00 coin, either Sacagawea or the president series. Most other coins see little usage. They all exist but if, for instance, your taxi ride is $1.25 and you pay with 2 $1.00 coins you are not likely to have any change returned unless you ask for it. That’s ok by me because I think the taxi rates are criminally low, and that’s my main transportation. At last count there are over 3600 taxis in this town. 60 Lb Gas cylinders delivered and hooked up cost $2.00, the lowest in the world, subsidized by the government.
When you have to pay cash for everything it gives you a completely different perspective on just about everything. You are suddenly counting pennies and really looking at what things cost. Using cards tends to shield you from reality. My only source of money down here is the ATM card from my home bank. It kinda freaks you out to continually go to the ATM to cover costs. No paying bills by credit card. With that said, however, I still pay for groceries at the big markets by debit card. Last night I was informed by the fraud division of my bank that someone had tried to use my debit card to purchase airline tickets in Singapore. They declined it but then had to shut down the debit acct to prevent further misuses. Now I don’t have a way to get funds until they send me a new one which will be interesting as I never get any mail to this address. Minor emergency.
You leave the house with a hundred dollars and often times come home with nothing which really makes you think about just how you are spending the real money. I keep an elaborate spreadsheet so I can figure out just what I’ll have to do to be able to live on a fixed income.
Money has to come from the US and so there is a shortage of most bills. Trying to get change for a $20.00 bill is difficult and anything larger is virtually impossible. You are expected to have change to the lowest dollar amount. Paying for a $3.00 item with a $10.00 bill will get you a pained look and often times rejection. To get change you have to wait in a bank line for a good half hour. Many times your paper bills are rejected if they are not pristine. Thats because even the banks wont take them since they have to send them back to the US for replacement, if they even will. Things are further complicated because the ATMs mostly give money out in 20.00 bills. All of this just leads to some minor adjustments. If you are coming down here be forewarned and bring as many 5’s and 1s as you can.
If you’ve never tried to live on cash only it can be an eye opening experience.. Try it 🙂
The day started out with a trip to go buy a discount card from Gringo Tree. We got to the office and began talking to the lady there. Part way through she asked me the question I have grown to both love and hate..”How come you speak such perfect Spanish.” In the first placed if it was perfect they wouldn’t know I’m not a native speaker, although many times the consensus is that I am a native speaker just from another country, not theirs 🙂 It is a serious stroke to my ego and always makes me happy. I don’t have a short answer, however, and the long one can be tedious. I am still working on an abbreviated version. We reached a part in the conversation where I said I had a number of friends Ecuador, including, I brag, the great grandson of an ex president who has a street named after him here. Her eyes lit up and she asked his name. I told her, Gerardo Borrero, and she responded that he is her cousin. We talked about the family for a moment and I left with another friend made.
The next part of the day was not so much fun. We had a destination bookstore in mind and pam had some squiggles on a piece of paper she called a map and I had my Google Maps, which has recently taken to stabbing me in the back. The taxi was obviously in a hurry and dropped us off somewhere other than we wanted although allegedly close. Pam said go left and Maps said definitely right. Thus it started, name calling and made up logic to describe the direction we thought we should go. It got, as it always does, somewhat personal and nasty. Pam stopped in front of a sign that said Museum of Archaeology and Aboriginal Studies. A nice lady came out and invited us to go in. We went in and continued out arguments as we wandered the museum and eventually calmed down and returned to normal. At the end was a gift shop and the nice lady met us there. We talked for quite a while about the museum and ourselves and eventually got to talking about cooking. She then invited us to have coffee with her. We accepted and were seated in an open patio in the middle of the complex. We had coffee and then she insisted we had to have a bowl of her quinoa soup. That became a full almuerzo with fresh blackberry juice, salad, a hearty soup and desert. I told her that when we get settled I will have them over for dinner. This has not been an isolated occurrence. This kind of amiability and genuine interest in other people is seen day in and day out. We left with a glow inside and proceeded to the initial destination of a book store some two hours later. From there it was a taxi ride over to the Vegetable Bar in time for a quick shared dinner and trivia contest with friends. The main theme here is that interactions with people here have been 99.99 percent wonderful and heart warming. People seem to be a lot more accepting of other people than they are back in Ca. I do believe that speaking Spanish opens up a whole new world of interaction because it is not expected and seems to make a lot of other conversations possible. I think it gives people a chance to ask questions they might not otherwise be able to regarding the US, politics and immigration. I have a collection of cards and names and numbers of the taxi drivers we have met. OK this sounds a little self indulgent and braggy regarding the level of Spanish, and it is, but I had a very special education and opportunities to live with and become immersed in the different Latin cultures and now, at last, I can live them. I feel very much at ease here and look forward to each new experience.
Oh Yea.. The two pictures of garbage, which are hard to see, show the way garbage is dealt with here. Outside of every place is a folding metal shelf where garbage, placed in plastic bags, or bolsas, is set for collection, no garbage cans involved. Garbage is picked up three days a week.
We walk a lot here. I really enjoy it. Pam tolerates it. Thursday we went to pick up her repaired glasses downtown I heard Google Maps laughing in the background. Our 1.5 mile round trip turned into over 6 min. We did not have the name of the shop nor a phone but we thought we knew about where. Once again I entrusted my reputation to Google Maps. Pam had said that she would disown me if we ever wound up walking in circles again. I’m pretty surles. If we had walked straight up Mariscal Lamar we would have run into it. But NOO Google said left here..right there another left and pretty soon we were good and lost. We consulted with Maps.me and Waze but they were in on it with Google. I enjoyed the walk anyway. We saw some really neat things, discovered another Mercado and another Artisan Plaza. Some 5 hours into it we found the shop and got her glasses. As we left I made the almost fatal mistake of asking for directions to get back to the river. About 6 blocks straight down that way..Pam said lets take a cab. I said, agitatedly, why now, its just around the corner. Some hour and a half later I gave in, and not nicely, and we got a taxi which took us the other 4 miles to our destination for the evening. I would have been murdered if I hadn’t got the cab. As it was she only let me live because she needs a translator. We finally arrived at the Broken Bridge Bistro where we were to meet some friends we had made recently and have a quick bite before the evening show of Pedro singing beatles tunes. We started with 2 cocktails apiece, Black Russians for me and White Russians for Pam, and then I had two more so I wouldn’t feel Pam slip the knife into my side. There were probably a dozen of us there. It was FANTASTIC. Pedro works without a teleprompter or cheat sheet as he knows the words to some 400 songs. He is one of only two artists in ecuador sponsored by Bose. We made a few new friends and decided to go to the Symphony the next night. We met at the Vegetable Bar and had dinner, Fish and Chips,then on to the symphony arriving exactly one minute before it began. It was free and is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. Great performance
Invite to Death by Cacao Celebrate with us — 6-8:30 PM – March 11 at the Vegetable Bar Gastronomic Event’s Chocolate Dinner Festival. I offer you Ecuadorian savory courses, hot cacao and sweet dessert to die for! All this plus, Chocolate Profiling and Chocolate Wine Pairings for just $35/person . Experience the sweet ’n sultriness of Premium Chocolate grown by the World’s original purveyors of Chocolate. Forget the Diet—This is your Multi-Course Chocoholic’s Adventure! CHOCOLATE FEAST MENU TO DIE FOR – Appetizers * Chocolate Covered Peppered Bacon * Grilled Pineapple with Tequila Chili Pepper Chocolate Sauce Starters * Poached pear and Blue Cheese Salad with Chocolate Dressing Mains * Pumpkin-Filled Chocolate Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter, Pears, and Hazelnuts or *Chocolate and Coconut Encrusted Paiche Sides * Roasted Baby Carrots with Balsamic-Bitter Chocolate Syrup * * Charred Cauliflower and Jalapeno Peppers with Picada Sauce Desserts * Death by Cacao Flourless Fudge Brownie with Mango Chutney * Ecuadorian Chocolate Earl Grey Mousse Plus hot Ecuadorian Cocoa & Wine & Chocolate Pairing
The chocolate event was first class. At first I balked at the price but it was easily worth twice the price. Incredible creations prepared to excellence. Chocolate covered bacon and the salad were especially good. The presentation on chocolate and the samples was outstanding. I would follow this and do it again without hesitation. Michelle is planning to do other events including an interactive murder mystery.
I included a picture of two roses that were given to us five days ago. Roses are a primary export of ecuador. They are very inexpensive here and are guaranteed to stay fresh for fifteen days. Looks like they mean it. Beautiful
Its intensely frustrating not knowing what our visa status is or what will happen in the near future. We missed the old law by three days. Not real sure how the new one will work and frankly neither are they. Read a lot of opinions by lawyers here but each canton (state) government seems to play by its own rules. I don’t care about the financial implications of having to renew it at two years but rather the new requirements for international health insurance which is difficult and expensive to get at 65 + or with pre existing conditions. I am also very concerned with whether or not it will still grant a cedula with all the rights and privileges including the Third Age rights of half off. Would make flights back home somewhat more affordable. That said…I understand the reasoning for the new law. It actually makes it easier for non US foreign immigrants to come here legally and tries to alleviate some of the strain that immigrants put on the medical system. It also extends the time a tourist can stay to 6 months from 3 .Its just that we jumped through all the hoops and got here just three days late. I ave sunk about $3500 into the process and stand to lose it if we have to start over with the new law, although it looks like the requirements wont be quite as stringent. For the most part this all falls outside of things I can control and it appears I am not so good at that. Ecuadorians are extremely kind and gracious people and they are well aware of how much tourism and residency benefits the economy. The timing is the biggest issue for us. Because the government agencies are still confused about the new law and because there is a presidential election in April there is virtually no movement on these issues. They have extended everyone’s visas until the end of April. Im sure it will all work out there is just increased anxiety until it does..
The political future here is also in flux. Out of one boondoggle into another. Presidential elections were in Feb but require a winner by 50% of the votes cast or 40% with a margin of 10% If not there is a runoff between the top two. Logical and who knows what would have happened if we had the same. All other candidates now throw their support to one of the two. It looks like it will totally change the outcome. Also elections are held on Sunday and there is a penalty for not voting. Booze sales stop two days before the election and start a day after. Unfortunately claims of fraud are just as prevalent. Campaigning is also restricted to specific time frames.
1st level was just not going to work each day. Still lived in a household of 6 people with constant natural turmoil. Level 2 means that you live in a quiet environment with no obligations to do anything at all. Sometimes we wake up at 10 and decide to just stay in bed or play on the computer. No one to judge fewer to care. Takes some getting used to since we are programed to believe we should always be in motion. I believe level 3 involves getting involved in something again but I think thats about a year away 🙂
Yesterday I convinced Pam that we needed to go for a walk. She is a real trooper but has a problem with walking for the sake of exercise and exploration of our environment . She says she will not go on anymore circular walks without a predetermined destination and knowing the route. I swear to her there wont be a problem this time but I can hear Google Maps laughing in the background. Yesterday a simple one mile turned into a 3.5 mile walk thanks to Google, Maps.me and Waze. I am completely internet centric and Pam is totally paper map oriented. Unfortunately we have not found a good useful map of the city. Many of the streets are not marked which can make it even more difficult.
Yesterday we wandered the streets in a part of the old town we had never been to before. It was a lot more like what most foreigners would consider to be typical of South America, with artisanal booths and colorful dress. We finally found a place that says it can fix Pam’s glasses. All the other optical places we had visited said it could not be done. We go pick them up this afternoon if we can just remember where the shop is 🙂 We didn’t get a receipt or a business card.
This city is officially called Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca This means Santa Ana of the four rivers of the basin. The rivers run through the town and anre meadow lined and popular walking or picnic spots. We walked along the Tomebamba yesterday and observed a spot where indigenous people were doing laundry in the river. Pretty sure there are trout in the river, even read that somewhere, but you NEVER see anyone fishing. Fishing is mostly done in the Cajas national park with a guide. Of course there is abundant fishing along the coast.
At the end of the day we decided to go to the weekly trivia event at the Vegetable Bar. Dinner at 5:30 trivia from 6:30 till around 8 Teams of four compete. Met some more expats and had a good time. Somebody exclaimed that all of the expats they had met were very interesting people. I replied that, yes, they are. If you think about it what kind of person uproots from the US or Canada and moves to a foreign country and gets involved in the community. An adventurous person without xenophobia, usually well traveled and open minded. Having now met a number of them I believe this is true. Everyone has a story, including me, that makes them more interesting to know. Have also seen that many of the expats have opened some sort of a small business or service and/or are very involved in volunteer work. Pretty sure I will fall into one or more of these categories but am trying to hold off for a year so I can keep exploring before I commit to any kind of a fixed schedule.
Skyped with grand daughters yesterday and one was crying because she misses us so much. Makes it hard but remembering what its like to be there. We can , and will, make at least semi annual trips back home to see them. pretty sure 6 weeks will be enough for everyone to get their fill. Thanks to modern technology communication has never been easier or as real time as it is now.
My phone went dead so I don’t have any new pictures to post this time Still till pretty frustrated over the lack of a resident visa since the law was changed Jan 28th and no one, especially government officials, know how to interpret the new laws. They say they will have clarification in late April so I guess its hurry up and wait. Its also a matter of each canton (State) having a different perspective and rules. We drove 4 hours to another canton to submit our paperwork because they were still accepting applications. This all falls under accepting the things you can’t control and apparently I’m not very good at that. OK enough for today..
Cuenca has between 300 and 400 restaurants. I’ll talk about that in another post. For now I want to talk about variety of foods and cooking at home,
Since landing in Quito a month ago I have managed to lose 15 lbs, had my blood sugars return to pretty much normal, and generally feel healthier. Its not something I planned its a result of the environment. We mostly only eat two meals a day, a late breakfast and a late lunch/dinner. The removal of most stress has led me to be more creative and experimental in my cooking.
Starting with the unbelievable variety of fresh fruits. There are four large open air markets (mercado) here loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables at incredible prices. They are also available at the super markets but tend to be more expensive. There are also little convenience markets, in garages and dedicated rooms of houses, on just about every block so if you forgot something or suddenly have an urge you can get just about anything there.
I start each day with either a pitahaya (yellow dragon fruit) or a granadilla (Sweet Passion Fruit) followed by an egg scramble with mushrooms, avocado, cheese and sometimes bacon. I douse mine in a special hot sauce made from the tree tomato. If anyone wants they can stop by my house in Eureka cause I left one there 🙂 we also have coffee.We sometimes enjoy pork chops for breakfast..The eggs are all brown or if we get them from the mercados they will be multi colored Araucana eggs. Eggs are not refrigerated. Turns out they keep for quite a while just out on the counter. In the US they are usually washed and tumbled which removes the natural protective oils and speeds the decomposition so therefore they are refrigerated. Usually sold in quantities of 15 or 30 although we are seeing packages of a dozen now. They are graded by size. I also very much enjoy quail eggs which I buy in the supermarket 20 for $2.00 Hard boiled for three minutes they make an awesome snack. Milk is sold in quart size cartons and also is not refrigerated until it is opened. Also keeps for a long time on the counter. Hard cheeses are expensive. We buy a variety pack of cubed pieces. The avocados are much larger and very reasonable. They are available in a bunch of shapes and sizes, including small ones that have no pit. Because of the abundance if we get an itch for guacamole we just go ahead and make it. Mushrooms are about the same and packaged the same also. I buy pre sliced Criminis usually. Bacon is different in that this is pig country and I buy it by the kilo based on the meat to fat ratio. It is nicely stacked in the butchers case and is considerably thicker and more meaty. It is graded and I usually buy the best grade for about 14.00/Kilo. I usually get 200 to 250 grams at a time which is 8-10 slices. When cooked it doesn’t render a pan full of grease. Pancake mixes jams and loaves of bread are also available. We tend to buy the 7 grain loaves. Most ecuadorians buy the many assorted fresh rolls available. Too much bread for us but most ecuadorians we know have to have their fresh bread rolls daily and its not an option. This was true in most of the South American countries we visited also.
Cooking utensils are expensive here and most people seem to use very small frying pans.We bought, what for us, was a normal pan 28cm which is 11 inches. It was the largest we could find. We also went on a hunt for a pepper grinder. Finally found one but then have not found normal peppercorns. Just hot or a large puffy one that is very aromatic. Salt and pepper here are ground into a fine powder. In trying to figure out how to open cooking oil containers, which look just like ours, I have broken every one. Same with the tops on booze bottles. Frustrating but I’ll figure it out. We drink a lot of coffee. We drink instant because we like the flavor. It is a very high grade. Pam doesn’t like the coffee in restaurants because it is invariably espresso and no matter how much she tries to get them to water it down it is always way too strong for her. We have an electric water heater that looks like a coffee pot that has an automatic shut off. We also had these in Chile. Water boils at about 195 degrees here due to altitude so you have to let it boil longer to get it really hot. But its very convenient. No Keurigs here yet although we saw a version in Chile. I still drink my coffee with Irish Cream in it. Real Baileys here goes for $85.00 a bottle because of the tariffs. The ecuadorian equivalents costs $6,00 and are soy based.
Dinner is pretty much the same as home. The seasonings are different, The adobo seasonings are excellent and really add to the meats. The cuts of meat are also different and take a little getting used to. People here, as everywhere, eat a lot of chicken. We also like lentils and home made chicken soup/stew. On the coast we ate a lot of seafood especially langostino but up here it is quite expensive. we do buy shrimp however.
Quinoa is grown here and we eat it sometimes. Carrots can weigh over a lb each and are very good. Corn is mostly choclo, which has kernels the size of hominy and is a lot less sweet than our yellow corn. Squash is plentiful. Pumpkin varieties are quite popular, Zuchinni comes in round little squashes also.
We have all the cereals and granolas. Oatmeal is a different story..Regular oatmeal is not the same consistency as what we are used to. Most of the instant oatmeals are meant to be drank.
We don’t do much desert but the other night I decided to use some of the fresh bananas that had been given to Pam and had now ripened to make a banana bread. One problem with baking here is that baking powder is illegal and regulated. Restrictions have been loosened recently and now you can buy it in the spice section in small quantities but it always mixed with cream of tarter or something else. Apparently it is used in some drug manufacture, The bread turned out fantastic anyway.
K that’s enough. of this for now. We are about to leave to go have fish and chips in a restaurant downtown that does them special some fridays. Caters to expats of course..
We finally took a night out. We have mostly stayed in the house. Raining. Getting used to not having to go anywhere and not mattering when we chose to not do it. We have watched a lot of movies. I had Direct TV installed and bought a super smart tv. Along with a VPN I am now overloaded with choices to watch. We have gone for a number of walks. We will do a lot more when the rains stop. Anyway.. We decided to go to an american bistro bar and club that we had read about in one of the local expat magazines. There are between 3 and 5 thousand expats here. We went to a place called The Broken Bridge Louisiana Bistro. We read that they were having the best guitar player in Cuenca doing a show at 7:00 for a $5.00 cover. Sounded good, We had been to a movie earlier and had seen LaLaLand. We hailed a taxi and quickly found out that none of the drivers had ever heard of the place. That didn’t really bother us because no one has ever heard of the street we live on either. Armed with an approximate address ( the best you can hope for here considering about 50% of the streets aren’t marked ) We drove down the cute little street that runs along the Tomebamba river and were about to give up when we spotted a small logo sign that said we had arrived. We went up the stairs and entered a small space that had a little bar a few tables and a food menu. Appeared that it could hold about 30 people. We immediately met the owner, Tom, and we sat at the long table with him. we ordered a Black Russian and a White Russian knowing that there is no Kaluha here. They tasted great. When I decided to order a second they had run out of the Coffee Liquor. I decided to try something different but before they could make it the barkeep had run out and bought a new bottle of Coffee Liquor. This type of service is not unusual here. We have witnessed it many times where as just a few months ago back in California we went to a restaurant that was advertising steak dinners and when we got there at 5:00 They were out of potatoes. Going to get more was a foreign idea to them.
Since we had a while to wait for the show to begin we ordered a quick salmon dinner to share. Outstanding. We had a long conversation with the owner. It is not unusual to find very small hole in the wall business here. 7:00 came and went and at closer to 8:00 the guitarist and the singer set up on a small stage in the front. There were 9 of us total in attendance. The singer was fantastic, The guitarist was very accomplished. We got a big surprise a little later on. We had been having a drink and socializing with a very nice woman. Suddenly they called her to the stage to perform and introduced her as a broadway star of Cats and Les Mis, Cindy Benson. I looked her up later and she does, indeed, have those credentials and more. The entertainments was excellent and not overpowering as we might have feared from such a small venue.Pretty much only english was spoken there.
It was a great night out and an excellent introduction to the expat community. We will go back. There are many others we want to try. this is a town of almost 400 restaurants. We have made reservations for a “death by chocolate” multi course meal in two weeks at another American owned place called The Vegetable Bar. The menu is extensive and I will publish it after the event.