We flew into Quito on Feb 1 at midnight. We slept in comfortable recliners in the long stay across from the main terminal. Our flight to Cuenca left at 8 am. No major hiccups in the flights. We had all of our papers in hand to obtain a permanent resident visa. The paperwork alone had cost over 1200 dollars and then the fees from the visa facilitator another 1500. The president had signed a new immigration law three days before we arrived so we don’t know if we can still slide in under the old law. Strictly speaking, no, but this is South America and things are never concrete. Our facilitator drove us 4 hours to Machala where a few palms were greased and our papers were accepted. We are awaiting a decision. Stressful. The old law would be more beneficial to us. There were a number of unanticipated fees also.
We are leasing a house (condo or appt) in a gated community for a year. There are ten houses here and each one shares a common wall with its neighbor. This unit is 3 story 3 bedroom and fully furnished down to the pots and pans. We pay $600. a month. It also includes all utilities and even the internet service. We are leasing it from the daughter of a friend. We had met her before and she had accepted a year long assignment to the Galapagos. It meets our needs perfectly and allows for people to come visit us from the US. 2 things hard to get used to. Hot water comes through a mini heater on demand thingie. It depends on time of day and many times you only have a few minutes of hot water.Hello cold showers. The other thing, which is true of all of South America is that toilet paper is NEVER put into the toilet but rather into the waste basket next to it. Garbage is picked up three times a week for that reason. Takes a little getting used to. The water in this city is considered safe to drink and very pristine. The problem is that this great water is delivered through hundred year old pipes.
Cuenca is at altitude in the Andes and so some people suffer from altitude sickness on arrival and in some cases have to get back down to the lowlands. I am having a little more trouble adjusting this time. I get shortness of breath going up stairs but can still walk 2 to 3 miles some days without any adverse effects. My tinnitus has gotten appreciably worse and i am hoping for some relief soon. We are at 8700 ft. We have been here a month and I have already lost 14 lbs. We eat a good breakfast always consisting of fresh fruit and avocado and eggs. Lunch is the other meal of the day. There are many almuerzo restaurants here. A typical almuerzo costs between $2.00 and $3.50 and always begins with a fruit juice followed by a large soup or salad. Then the plato fuerte or main course followed by desert We share it and there is always food left over. Dinner, if at all, is more on the order of a snack. We drink way too much coffee. Groceries can be expensive and you can hear a lot of English being spoken in the SuperMaxis. Open air fruit and veggie markets are a bargain. every street has at least one little convenience shop that stock an amazing array of goods. There are 400 restaurants in Cuenca. the ones we have gone to, albeit nice ones, are relatively expensive with an average ticket of $25.00 even when we share. We do mostly cooking at home. We are trying to learn to live on a fixed income.More about food another time.
The weather here is ideal. There are no heaters or air conditioners. Layered clothing covers it all. It does rain. Taxis are abundant. You cant go a minute without seeing several. I can go almost anywhere in the city for $2,00 or even less. Very rarely $3.00 it feels wrong however so the minimum I will pay is $2 and many times $3. We have not braved the busses yet. as seniors, or third age people as we are know here we are entitled to half off on most things including air fare on national airlines and even trips to the galapagos. The local busses will cost us $,12 There are a lot of very nice parks here also.
This is a town of almost 400,00 people with both a new town and an old town, Much history here. There is a large expat community here which we have avoided until Sat night. More about that later.Compared to the town we hail from it is a lot more modern here. Three large malls.Upon entry to Mall del Rio, for instance you are greeted by Forever 21, Calvin Kline and Ralph Loren before you even get 30 ft inside. More later
People incessantly ask why we moved here and how come I speak spanish at the level I do. Its a long story but I am most reminded of the lyric of John Denver” Going home to a place he’s never been before” Since I was 16 I have been immersed in the Latin culture. At 16 I participated in a 2 month exchange to Culiacan Mexico where I learned I have a real talent for the language and for assimilation into the culture. I attended a very special school at UOP in Stockton called Elbert Covell. Most of the students and teachers were from Latin America. I never took a college course taught in English. Most of my classes were with less than 10 people. My economics teacher, for example, was Castro’s Finance Minister through the revolution. With students from every country we had to come together on a common language because Spanish is spoken differently in each country and customs are different. We took all our meals together and lived together. We seldom left out little part of the campus. Only some 400 of us ever graduated and I am the webmaster for the group. We are a very tight group and the kind that maintains a common bond,. It is the kind of group that even if you don’t personally know another member you can still connect with them and they will offer all hospitality.
I feel very much at home and comfortable here in Ecuador and have no plans to leave but I am always open to the needs of my family and health and would go back to Ca if necessary. Those of you that know me know that my California Indian Heritage is also a very big part of my life. Pam and I had the opportunity to see our native healer before we left on the first excursion. He said that the reason I was drawn to places like Machu Picchu is that I once lived there in a former life. Makes emotional sense if not scientific. The only other place I felt as spiritual was in Taos Pueblo New Mexico.
I’m sorry I dropped the ball on the blog before but I will get it going again and keep it current. There is a lot to share here in Cuenca.. Later today I will write of our experiences this past month and our first real night out on the town last night I really do feel that I have come home to a place I’ve never been before…
We left for Portoviejo in a hired car that we contracted for $90.00. The first thing we noticed along the route were a lot of fancily dressed cowboys mounted on horses. Turns out there was a horse show and parade in Guyaquil that weekend and they were all headed there. We saw a lot of working cowboys but they were not so fancily dressed. Along the way we had to stop once or twice for a funeral and herds of cattle being moved down the road. The route was strewn with huts selling coconut and other fruits and foods.
We arrived at Portoviejo to the Hotel Ejecutivo owned by another Coveliano, Aristo Andrade. He and our Peruvian friends Tontolin and his son, Richard Harry were waiting for us there. Tontolin was there to receive an award from the Casa de Cultura as an outstanding Latin American Poet and author. We were shown to the suite where several presidents have stayed, including the current one, Rafael Correa.
During the nest week we enjoyed the company of friends and took quite a few day trips. Ariosto took us to see Manta, a bustling port city nearby. On the way we saw many people making a pilgrimage to a church in Montecristi to ask the virgin for favors. Montecristi is famous for the weaving of fine Panama Hats. Panama hats is a misnomer given to sombreros de paja toquilla. All true Panama hats have always been made in Ecuador. The name came from the place they were exported from, Panama. There is an incredible statue made of mosaic dedicated to the weavers. There are quite a few statues and monuments in all South American cities’
On another trip we were accompanied by a member of the Casa Cultura who took us high up on a mountain to see an area they are thinking of developing as a camping area. It has beautiful views and there is evidence that there were ancient civilizations located there. There are quite a few Ceiba trees, also know as kapok trees that have many legends surrounding them.
Richard accompanied us to Crucitas, a beach town and to Bahi de Caraquez and San Vicente as well. These beaches were all warm water and sand. There were fishing boats lining the top of the beaches. They are launched directly into the surf and it is quite interesting to see them all but flip over as they crest the breakers on the way to sea. When they come back they are hauled back to the top of the beach by placing logs under them and rolling them. Bahia used to be a beautiful resort town but much of it is under construction right now. There is a 3 year old bridge that replaced the ferries going across to San Vicente. On one trip with Richard to Manta we rented a boat and skipper to show us around. We saw the fishing fleet as well as Blue Footed Boobies and pelicans. There was also a sea turtle and many frigate birds, or fragatas. These birds are amazing as they seem to be like kites and hold still in an air current for long times.
Fish and shell fish are abundant and inexpensive along the coast but get very expensive farther inland. More on that in the next stop..Canoa..
Portoviejo is the capital of the province of Manabi. It is a city of about 200,000 people. It is fairly nondescript as large cities go but it has everything one would need and is a lot more tranquil than cities like Manta. Ariosto has offered to help us get connected there and assures me I could easily work teaching English. We consider this to be a possible town for our relocation. It is close to the beaches and commerce but yet is a quieter town and not so hot as the coast.
We had been trying to get a place to stay based on AirBnB. They do not have a way to allow you to join and use their services without a phone. I had every other way of communication but once in Ecuador my phone would not work. I contacted them and they were no help whatsoever, insisting that a working phone was absolutely necessary. BULLSHIT.. Many tourists traveling in these countries do not have functioning cell phones. I was fortunate in that the place I selected allowed mail communication and I was able to arrange it outside of the service. We went from the airport to this guys house which was quite hard to find although only a couple of blocks from the airport. In the meantime I received word from my friend in Peru, Carlos Castro Pat, that he was in Portoviejo to receive an award from the Cultural Ministry as a major latin american poet and author. He asked if we would come stay there for a few days at the hotel of another Coveliano Alumni, Ariosto Andrade. Because of the amount of luggage we have we found bus travel problematic. I asked the taxi driver how much it would be to take us to Portoviejo. He showed us his tariff list and it said $120.00 I agreed and we arranged for him to come get us at 10 the next morning. The hosts were a couple of young men that had a passion for helping people. They were wonderful and we talked late into the night. Guayaquil is a gigantic city and was not very welcoming. I wasn’t there long enough to be fair but it had a feeling I just didn’t like.
When I told my host what the driver was going to charge to take us he got very hot. He said he hated seeing these guys take advantage of tourists. He said he could get us one for 90. The first guy was somewhat old and didn’t seem like he would be much of a guide. I had no way to contact the first guy and cancel the trip. We left a message but apparently he never got it. Both guys showed up at 10 and then the fireworks started. The first guy got hot and demanded to be paid. He wouldn’t leave. My hosts put themselves in the middle and eventually it came to blows. Meanwhile we got in the second guys car and he tried to drive away. The first guy followed us and tried to block us several times. At last he succeeded. We were trapped on the highway. My guy called the cops. Both were telling the cop their story. The laws of conflict here are not so clear and if agreement can’t be reached all parties are often taken to jail until it can be sorted out. We finally agreed to give the first guy 10.00 so he would go away.
The trip to Portoviejo was very nice. We traveled through the countryside with the driver pointing out the different vegitation and crops. We passed a bunch of mounted cowboys in full regalia. When queried it turns out there was a big parade of horses in Guayaquil that weekend and they were on the way. Of course when I got my camera ready they were all gone. We never saw anymore, just the working ones in regular clothes. Three hours or so later we arrived in Poroviejo at the Hotel Ejecutivo of Ariosto Andrade and I met my friends Carlos Castro Pat and Richard Harry and made a new friend in Ariosto, Next up is Portoviejo..a place we could live…
Machu Picchu is definitely one of the wonders of the world. We arrived in Cusco from Buenos Aires after having spent the entire night in the Airport in Lima. We met a nice lawyer on his way to give a talk in Cusco and passed the night in discussions. \We had booked an expensive tour in Cusco that included two nights in a hotel, a tour of Cusco and the local ruins and the train and admission to Machu Picchu. The first tour was six hours and included a tour of the church as well as various Inca sights like Qoricancha and Saqsayhuaman. The cathedral was incredible . They do not allow photographs in the cathedral but they do sell books with pictures 🙂 The next day we boarded a bus to the train station some 20 minutes away in Poroy. From there we boarded the Safari Train to Machu Picchu passing trough Ollantaytambo and finally Machu Picchu some hours later. The train was wonderful. Full service. From the train station you take a bus that goes up the mountain. It is all switchbacks and requires special askills to allow for passing. I cant say enough about this tour. I bought it from Viator and it was carried out by GoToPeru tour company. They met us at the airport and a representative was there with us at the beginning and end of each activity to be sure we were in the right place at the right time. The hotel they put us in was very nice and the restaurant featured dishes made from Llama. I had a filet minion of Alpaca. Fantastic.
Machu Picchu itself is nothing less than an awe inspiring miracle of ancient technology. It laid undiscovered for 400 years because the last Inca (chief) knew he was being hunted and so ordered his people to abandon the site and go meet the Spanish in the lowlands so they wouldn’t discover their sacred city. It worked and the jungle reclaimed the city until it was discovered in 1918. Only 60% has been found and restored so far. There is incredible stone work throughout. In many places the stones fit together so well we would be hard pressed to do anything similar today. There is the tower of the Sun that is round and also built of stone. There is an intricate systems of canals that move water within the city in channels carved into the stone. There are fountains as well. Agriculture was accomplished in terraces. There is the Inca Trail which connected and still connects Chile, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador with Machu Picchu. You can take a 4 day hike on the trail to get there also. It was raining and foggy on the day we were there but was still incredible. One of the 5 people in our group was German. He and Pam hit it off and she let him help her with all the walking and steps. I’m sure she would never have let me and there would have been an ugly scene. I’m thankful he was there and she was able to do the trip. We had a native guide. To see Machu Picchu you really have to have a native guide like Romero who speaks English and is completely versed in the history and geography of the site. This is an experience not to be missed..
Pam and I were taken to a restaurant in the town of Machu Picchu for a lunch which had been included with our tour. The guide took us there and left us. We had a nice buffet lunch and headed back to the train. We got on the train and realized we had left Pam’s bag in the restaurant. I wanted to run go get it but the conductor said there were only five minutes till the last train. They said they would ask someone to go get it and bring it to us the next day. We called our tour company and they confirmed it would come the next day although we would already be gone. We made arrangements with our host to forward it to us. The bag had Pam’s cell phone, my glasses, some presents and some clothes. It was never found and communication with our host broke down. This was the only downside to this trip. I cant recommend this tour company enough. They went above and beyond at every opportunity. They took us back to the plane and we continued on to Ecuador. The plane, Avianca, not only serves you nice meals but Wine and rum are included at no extra cost..Next stop Guayaquil.
PS I finally learned how to make the pictures appear in a table. You can click on one to make it larger.
Buenos Aires is a BIG ASS City.. It really is all about the steak and tango. Pam and I attended a tango class and had dinner and a tango show. We took a tour by boat along the El Tigre Delta a fantastic series of byways that connect to a main river. The shores are covered with vacation homes. There is even one where the past president Domingo Fausto Sarmeinto lived. It has been encased in glass to protect it from the elements. We did a ton of walking. Stayed for two days and headed to Machu Pichu Peru.. WOW wait for that one. All in all this was an ineresting city but way too big for us..
Montevideo is the Capital of this tiny country. The city is quite beautiful with exquisite houses. You can see that there is a laid back attitude towards marijuana here. The grow shop sign greets you when you get off the ship. There are amazing handicrafts for sale nearby. Pam wanted another shot of her “babies” from the Ralli Museum. I also included the graduation photo from out mixology class on the ship. Full regalia bathrobes and shower caps. That class was a highlight of the trip. Watching a container ship being loaded and unloaded was anmazing. On the way out we passed a ship graveyard. Last stop will be Buenos Aires
Punta del Este Uraguay playground of the rich. Houses are in the millions. Green parrots all over the place. The sculpture garden at the Ralli museum had a sign that read stay off the grass and dont touch the sculptures.. Nice job Pam.. They had a very impressive art display including Dalis. First thing you notice is the absence of any one but white people. Turns out the Spanish and Italians populated the country and the natives were all wiped out. Population of a little over 3 million. Original development was from money arriving from undisclosed sources with little vigilance. Tighter control now
Pam, amongst many others was disappointed that we could not make the ports where the penguin tours were supposed to take place. The ship added a couple of additional ports including this one where there is a large colony of Magellan penguins. It is nesting time and they lay the eggs in burrows. They are amazing to watch. Videos are too large to post here but I have some of them marching in line and swimming the back stroke.
On the 4th day of a two week cruise the seas got angry. With seas to 30 Ft and winds to 100Km we were denied permission to dock in our next 3 ports. People were a litle disgruntled since they were the most sought after ports but there was nothing we could do about it. We cruised the Beagle Channel named after Darwin and saw the glaciers. We entered the Straight of Magellan and cruised there also. Finally we braved the Cape Horn where the Atlantic and Pacific meet over Antartica. 400 ships hav been lost there. We were given certificates for making the crossing. Then we headed up to Argentina and Uraguay. We were not able to land in the Falklands either.
Life aboard the ship was amazing.. We had a culinary center on board with several classes and guest chefs including Alex Seidel. We had a special dinner with a guest chef involving pairings of wine and South American foods. There was also a Haloween pairing dinner with fine wines. We also took a mixology class and graduated with certificates from that also. We made good friends with the bartender Christian and the head of the booze department. I posted pictures on facebook of the flaming drinks. In the class we had to make a number of cocktails and had to drink them all 🙂 Next stop Puerto Madryn Argentina.. Here come the penguins…