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Friday, February 29, 2008

Buying a Condo

Dear Family and Friends,

As we are sitting here in Ecuador and hearing about the falling Dow Jones and shrinking house values back home, it is difficult to know what to do to protect our retirement investments. We found out about a condo that is for sale from some friends. When Randy and Karen were here last week, we went to look at the condo and liked it very much.

Cuenca is growing by leaps and bounds. We thought it over and decided to take some money and invest it here in Ecuador. So, we made the sellers an offer they could refuse...but they were motivated sellers and accepted our offer.

At this point, we do not intend to rent or lease the property. We are thinking of spending our winters here. It is very nice weather...not too hot and not too cold. Right now, the cost of living in Ecuador is very good compared to anywhere in the U.S.

Since the condo is part of managed property, we can safely lock it up and return home anytime.

Our new condo is in a building overlooking the Tomebamba river. We have a first floor apartment with lots of terrace for Chuck to exercise his "green thumb."

The best part is that we have a guest bedroom. So, if you did not come to Cuenca this year we hope you will visit in the future.

Here is a picture of our apartment building:



Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Terrace Garden

Dear Family and Friends,

Today, I am going share some pictures of one of Chuck's pastimes since we have been here. The apartment we are renting is surrounded by terraces. Every week Chuck goes to the Feria Libre market and buys one or two new plants. He brings them home on the bus. He then goes to the Coral Centro and buys potting soil. Last, he goes across the street to the potter and buys a pot or two. He then lovingly pots each plant. Since we have been here, Chuck has made our terrace beautiful with flowers.

Two plant stalls among the many he has to choose from at the market.


A few of Chuck's plants on our terrace.

FUSCHIA



BLEEDING HEART ????



BOUGAINVILLEA


Our LEMON TREE is starting to produce



Another photo of what I think is a BLEEDING HEART. If anyone can verify this or supply the proper name, I would appreciate knowing.

Our friends, Karen and Randy, left for home last Sunday. Chuck and I have been alone this week. We have many guests coming during March and are looking forward to the exciting month ahead.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Friday, February 22, 2008

Double Decker Bus Tour of Cuenca II

Dear Family and Friends,

I am going to share more pictures today from the double decker bus tour we took of Cuenca the other day. This first picture is of the Tomebamba river. This is the largest of the rivers in Cuenca. We live only a couple of blocks from this river.

We have had so much rain lately that the river is full to capacity. It would be great for white water rafting right now.

As we went past the 10th of August market I took this picture of the other side of the street. All of these women have the same hats (white with blue hat bands).


The double decker tour bus is new here in Cuenca. So far the city has not raised the electric and telephone wires. So in a few spots everyone has to duck to keep from getting decapitated. Here is a picture of Karen and Randy protecting their heads as we go down a particularly dicey street.

Since the bus is relatively new, it causes a lot of interest among the pedestrians as we pass.

The tour took us to Turi, a nearby village on the side of the hills south of Cuenca. I used my telephoto to take this picture and doctored it up so I can show you where we are living. The red arrow points to the coliseum and the yellow arrow points to our apartment building. We live on the back side of this building.


This last picture I am sharing is of De Todos los Santos church. It is located on the hillside behind the Tomebamba river.

If we don't strangle from the rain, we will update you on Cuenca life again soon.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Double Decker Bus Tour of Cuenca

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday and today we have had terrific thunder storms with down pours. The mornings start out fine and each day, about 2:00pm, the storms started. We have four rivers that run through Cuenca and they are all about to flood. I think the rainy season has begun.


This morning, while Chuck went to the market to buy vegetables and shrimp for dinner, I went with Randy and Karen on the double decker tourist bus. It leaves several days a week from the central plaza, Park Abdon Calderon. It tours the old colonial section of Cuenca and then goes to Turi, which is located on the hillside above Cuenca for a magnificent view of the city.



All of the tourists climb to the top of the tour bus for the best view. Here are Randy and Karen in their front row seats.


The old cathedral was built in 1557, but soon was too small for the faithful of the town. At the present time, the old cathedral is in process of restoration. It is no longer used as a church and is operated as a museum. It is located on one corner of the Park Abdon Calderon (main plaza). This is where the tour bus begins the tour.

The new cathedral (official name: Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción) is located directly across the plaza from the old cathedral. Its towers are truncated due to a calculation error of the architect. If they had been raised to their planned height, the foundation of this church to the Immaculate Concepcion, would not have been able to bear the weight. In spite of the architect's immense mistake, the New Cathedral of Cuenca is a monumental work that began to be built in 1880. When the Cathedral was first constructed 9,000 out of Cuenca's 10,000 inhabitants could fit. The new cathedral's blue and white domes have become a symbol for the city.

Our tour around the old city we saw the beautiful colonial architecture that has made Cuenca the most beautiful city in Ecuador.

Here is a view of the old and new side by side. These are very large old homes that overlook the river. It is incredible to think that people lived in such large houses. Today, these buildings are subdivided into small businesses and apartments. The building on the right has been updated and shows the contrast between the old and the new.
Speaking of old and new, I took this photograph from the top of the bus. The contrast between the people of Cuenca is a very common sight.

I will share more pictures of our tour of Cuenca soon in my next blog.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Kimblers Visit

Dear Family and Friends,

Last week I decided to ride Bus #4 to the end of the line to see where it goes. The bus climbed into the nearby hills and when it came to the end of the line I got off so I could look around. It was a wonderful sight. I was at the end of the world it seemed. In front of me was corn fields and in the distance were the foothills of the Caja mountains. Chuck and I have traveled to the end of the line of several buses and we are always delighted with the journey and where we find ourselves. It is a great way to get to know the surrounding area since we do not have a car.

On Sunday our friends from home (Richland, WA), Randy and Karen Kimbler, arrived. We have enjoyed visiting with them and showing them Cuenca.

On the Sunday, after they arrived we walked along the river to our favorite sushi restaurant. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we walked into town to have a nice lunch. Randy is vegan and we have located many restaurants that have vegetarian items on their menus. Yesterday we went to the market and bought loads of vegetables. Last night Randy cooked us a delightful dinner.

Randy and Karen are considering moving to Cuenca when they retire. They are going to be looking at property while they are here. Randy is also interested in the availability of scooters. He and Chuck will have a great time exploring the dealerships around town.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck







Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sharing Cuenca with Granddaughters

Dear Family and Friends,

Chuck and I have been back in Cuenca now for about two weeks. On our way back to Ecuador we went to Minnesota to get our oldest granddaughters, Portia and Paris, and bring them back with us for a visit. For the last two weeks we have been enjoying having them with us and showing them Ecuador.

We spent a couple of days in Quito on our way to Cuenca. While in Quito we took the girls to the equator.

While there, Chuck tried his hand at using a blow gun.
We took them to see children performing Ecuadorian folk dances.

While here in Cuenca, we did the normal tourist activities, and in addition, we helped the girls have a very unique experience. Back home in Minnesota, Portia, Paris and their family help support a girl that lives here in Cuenca through the Compassion program. When they learned they were coming down to visit, their mom, Merri, arranged through Compassion to have Portia and Paris meet Jhenny, the girl they help support.

This was a wonderful, heart warming experience for all concerned. We took the girls to meet Jhenny and we were able to visit her school and to visit her home and meet her family. Jhenny is fourteen and is the oldest of three children. She is a warm and charming young lady.

This is a picture of the girls and Jhenny taken at her school.


Here is a picture of Chuck, Nancy, Portia, Paris and Jhenny and her family, taken inside Jhenny's home. Jhenny's parents moved to Cuenca from up north in order to have a better life. They had been farmers, but they couldn't make a living doing that. Now, when it is possible, Jhenny's dad works construction and her mom sells produce at the market. If all goes well for them (father working and mother selling all her produce) they can earn $200 per month. Of course, this is when times are good, most of the time they fall short of that much money. They all sleep, eat and cook in one room that only has power at night. The landlord turns off the electricity during the day to save money. They pay $75 per month rent.

Yes, Jhenny and her family are part of the "black hat people." Chuck and I found, as we have in all our world travels, that they are just like us. They want the very best for Jhenny and her siblings. They are loving parents and work hard to provide the best they can for their family.

To have the opportunity to meet and talk with this beautiful family would not have been possible without our granddaughters visit. Hugs were passed all around during the day and we came home feeling so fortunate that we were able to get to visit with them.

The next day we went to the market hoping to find Jhenny's mom. Among the thousands of people selling there we found her with ease. We now have our personal "green grocer." We will always seek her out for buying the vegetables she sells. Here is a picture of Portia and Paris with Jhenny's mom at the market.


At this moment, Chuck is back in the USA. He accompanied the girls home and will return to Ecuador tomorrow.

Love,

Nancy and Chuck

Home for Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

Chuck and I are flying out of Cuenca this evening to return to our home in Richland, WA for Christmas. We will be home until January 13th. The Ecuadorian blogs will continue in January.

We are very happy to be going home to visit family and friends, but I must admit, we wish we could split ourselves in two because on Christmas eve in Cuenca is the most popular celebration of the year. The parade of the ninos (children). I understand that people come from all over Ecuador to view this event.

Chuck's sister, Audrey and her husband, Jim are house-sitting our apartment. They will be here through Christmas. Audrey and Jim have promised pictures of the event.

In Cuenca, the churches and cathedrals are illuminated at night. This picture is of Las Conceptas.

My prayer for the coming year is that my heart will be so filled with peace and love.....there will not be room for anger or fear. I wish the same for you.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Lunch in Challuabama

Dear Family and Friends,

I apologize for not sending out a blog sooner, but I have been under the weather lately. I have had a sore throat and fever for several days. After getting some good medical attention, I am now doing much better. I am sure what we did last Sunday did not help me, in any way, toward recovery.

Chuck's brother and sister and their spouses are visiting us now. We decided to take them all to a nearby town for a nice Ecuadorian lunch. Our neighbors and friends, Bill & Christa and Milena joined us on this adventure.

The restaurant we like is an outdoor restaurant and is very popular. We can get there with a 40 minute ride on the number 9 bus. It is about 15 miles from outside of Cuenca.

The first picture is everyone waiting on the corner for the bus. Some are going through their change to have their quarter ready for the bus ride.

We got on the bus. Some of us had seats and others had to ride standing for awhile.


When we got to the restaurant we all had a wonderful meal. The cost was $1.50 per person. It included our choice of grilled meat (chicken, pork or mystery meat) and some rice, corn and beans. The drink was included. For those who wanted, a fresh fruit salad was offered for an additional 50 cents. The restaurant was packed with locals. As usual, we were the only gringos there.






After our lunch we went out and waited for the return bus. We waited and waited and WAITED! After about 40 minutes Carolyn (our Spanish speaking sister) and Chuck went back to the restaurant to inquire when we might expect the next bus. To our dismay we learned that we had missed the last bus and the next bus would come by until tomorrow.









Luckily, a gentleman offered to take us into town. We were delighted. Then we found out we would be riding in the back of his small size pick-up. There were nine of us. He had his mom and dad with him, so the cab was already spoken for. The question was not if we would ride in the back. We knew that it sure beat walking back to Cuenca. The question was could nine of us fit into the back of his truck.






One at a time we crawled into the back. By the time all nine of us were in, we were wedged like sardines. He drove us back to Cuenca very carefully. We had a great time. Some of the passengers in the other vehicles on the road waved at us. I am sure we were an odd site. It is quite common to see Ecuadorians riding in the back of pick ups, but to see us gringos riding in the back was pretty unique.





He delivered us to the main plaza in Cuenca. We all arrived safely and very thankful for his generosity.
After we were all unloaded, we all went to the ice cream shop across the street and sat in the park and enjoyed our "sportsmanship" reward.
If you happen to be one of our future guests, we cannot guarantee that you will not have unexpected adventure. But rest assured that we will not take the bus out of town for lunch on a Sunday.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Andes People

THE BLACK HAT PEOPLE

This is not their real name. I just call them that to distinguish them from the white hat people who live around Cuenca.

When we were on our way back from Banos, we stopped high in the Andes at a little village for a cup of coffee. As we were sitting outside sipping our coffee, I noticed that all the people of the village were wearing black hats. Around Cuenca the indigenous women wear white hats. I pulled out my camera and started photographing the scenes around me.

In this first picture, this woman is walking along spinning wool. Her daughter is following her wearing the same hat as her mom. The mother is wearing rubber boots. This was a common sight up there because the unpaved roads were muddy from frequent rain.

This woman was busy knitting as she walked past us. Notice the difference in the skirt from the woman above. The skirt with the embroidered bottoms are more commonly seen around Cuenca. The skirt with the horizontal pleats at the bottom seemed to be more common with the black hat people.

All the indigenous women carry things on their back. The hands are free to doing other necessary things. Most children are carried on their mother's back until they are about two years old.

The scene below was right beside us as we sipped on our coffee. The people on the right are waiting for the bus. They are going to Quito or at least in that direction.


When I was putting these pictures together I went back and viewed some pictures taken since we have arrived and discovered this picture of a black hat woman taken last month in Cuenca. Now I know why her hat was not white. She came from somewhere else besides Cuenca....just like me.

Our sister-in-law is visiting with us this week. She is going to language school half days in the mornings. She will be with us for Thanksgiving.

There is an American owned local restaurant that is cooking turkey, dressing and fixings for all the ex-pats that want to join. We are going to join them on Thanksgiving evening for dinner. That should be fun.

Have a nice Thanksgiving.

Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Banos and Alausi

Dear Family and Friends,

Chuck and I had some free time last week in between guests. We decided to go north into the volcano area of the Andes.

We were going to go by bus, until our neighbor and friend, Milena, suggested that since she had not been to that part of Ecuador yet, that she would like to come with us and that she would drive her Land Cruiser.

Our destination was Banos, a town of about 50,000 people. It is south of Quito and is very popular with tourists. It's name comes from it's mineral hot springs. It sits at the foot of an active volcano.

This is our friend, Milena.

It turned out to be a 9 hour car trip to Banos. It was a long and exhausting day because the roads were not good. About 1/4 of the trip was on dirt roads with rocks and ruts. This was due to the fact that they are improving the roads and and had them torn up. Another 1/4 of the roads, although paved, had big pot holes, which had to be avoided. The last half of the highway was paved and in fairly good condition, BUT, as we weaved from town to town we discovered that each village had built road humps to slow the traffic down. The humps were so large we had to come to a complete stop before starting over them. What we thought would be a four to five hour trip turned out to be twice as long. Thank goodness for Milena's 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Although we suffered from road fatigue, the journey through the Andes was incredibly beautiful. One of the most fascinating things about the trip was going through the villages and small towns. It was so interesting to get a glimpse of another culture. I'll share photos of some of the Andes people tomorrow.

This is the La Basílica de la Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa, the main cathedral in Banos. It is beautiful lit up at night....almost has a Disneyland feel when observing it. During the day it is quite plan, dark stones for the building and the spires are painted a contrasting white.

We drove up a mountain to an observation point and viewed Banos from above. You can see how it is nestled into the mountains, which makes for fabulous scenery. One reason it is so popular with tourists.


Banos is known as the "Gateway to the Amazon." and has a newly paved road to Puyo. Puyo is the actual beginning of the Amazon jungle. After touring Banos for a day, we decided to drive the paved road to Puyo. Puyo is as far as the paved road goes. After Puyo, there are no paved roads in the jungle.

The road was good and the views were, once again, fantastic. The highway to Puyo follows the Pastaza river. The river forms a deep canyon and the road is in between the canyon and mountains. All along the highway are beautiful waterfalls. We stopped at this particular waterfall because they had a cable car that swooshed across the canyon to the other side. We watched these Canadians go safely across and back and then decided that it was probably safe enough for us Americans.

The closer we got to Puyo, the vegetation changed to tropical. It was an approximate 70 mile trip that was totally downhill (about 1800 meters below Banos). Near Puyo we encountered this view down the river. You can see that it is raining in the distance. I know logically that what I see in the distance is not Brazil, but it seemed as though we could see all the way to Brazil.

We looked around some in Puyo and did some shopping at a tourist artisan center, then we headed back to Banos.

The next morning we started our long trek home. The only difference is that we made the return trip a two day venture instead of doing it all in one day.

We spent the night in Alausi. This city was over halfway home and we were happy to stop and rest awhile. Alausi, is located high in the Andes. It is built on the side of a mountain. The city is built on three terraces. The main part of the city is built on the middle terrace. Our hotel was built on the top terrace, thus this great picture overlooking the city. We stopped well before dark and had plenty of time to explore the city before having dinner.


If you look closely you will see a giant statue overlooking the city. The statue is of St. Peter.

Here is a closer look. St. Peter is made from ceramic tile and is taller than he appears in this picture. You can see Chuck, in a blue jacket, standing under his feet.

We had a very nice trip.

We are glad to be back in Cuenca. Yesterday, I spent all morning at the market buying fresh fruits and vegetables.

Idea of prices at the market:

tomatoes - vine ripened - $1.00 a dozen
eggs - fresh large brown - $1.00 a dozen
onions - purple - $.50 a dozen
strawberries - $1.00 per liter
large green and red peppers - $.50 for four
bananas - $.50 a bunch

There is something special about buying directly from the indigenous people. The fruits and vegetables are so much fresher and it is a heck of a lot more fun than shopping the produce section at Safeway.

Next time I will share pictures of some people who live in the Andes.

Remember to take special care of yourself...

Love,
Nancy and Chuck