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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Dear Family and Friends,

Saturday morning we had our breakfast at the Hotel Palace and then took a taxi to the bus station. The Guayaquil bus station is new and it is very nice. There are a couple of levels of shopping and a real nice food court. Like most bus stations in Ecuador this is a very lively venue.

We went to the kiosk and bought our tickets to Machala. We requested and got our favorite seats, 3 & 4 and then we went to the food court and had a cappuccino. To our surprise, the bus was only half full when it left the station.

The buses file out of the bus station one right after the other. We followed the FBI bus through the city before we turned off on the road to Machala.

Riding the bus in Ecuador is a lot of fun for us. This bus stopped at many towns on the way to Machala. At each stop we would have five or six vendors board the bus and hawk their goods, which was mainly fruit juices, water, and snack items. Here are some of the vendors and their products I was able to capture from our good front row seats.

Sliced pineapples -

Empanadas - (fried dough with stuffing - cheese, chicken or pork)

Fresh fruit cups.

Fried plantains topped with fresh cheese.

Chuck succumbed to a cheese filled empanada and me to an ice cream stick. We avoid all liquids because the 4 hour bus ride does not include bathroom stops.

We arrived in Machala an hailed a taxi. Chuck (in his best Spanish) told the taxi driver that we were not familiar with Machala and asked him to take us to a good hotel in the city center.

The driver nodded his head and took us to the city center. He pulled up to Hotel Centro. I am sure he understood Chuck to say that we wanted this hotel.

From my perspective this was not a very good hotel. It did have an air condition unit in the room, hot water for the shower and was only a block away from the central plaza so we took the room - $25.00. The hot water for the shower was provided by what I call a suicide shower head. The water flows through an electric heating element just before it showers your body.

The town of Machala was filled with people on the streets. The streets were littered with trash and the weather was hot. Not as hot and humid as Guayaquil, but still quite uncomfortable. The central plaza was clean and well laid out. The church on the plaza was nice.

I would not recommend Machala as a tourist destination. Ecuador has so many better places to visit. There was one thing that I did like. We went into a large casino right of the central plaza. They had two floors of slot machines. The payout was similar to what you might get in the USA, unlike other casinos we have been to in Ecuador. Luckily, I turned $10 into $30. We celebrated by having dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

On Sunday morning we got up, had breakfast at the hotel and headed straight to the bus station. In Machala each bus line has it's own station so you have to tell the taxi driver your destination and he takes you to the appropriate station.

Again, we were able to get seats 3 & 4.

The bus ride from Machala to Cuenca is absolutely fantastic for scenery. About 30 minutes out of Machala we were doing a gradual climb into the Andes. The scenery was beautiful.

We went from green country side to scenery that was arid.

Then we were in the Yunguilla valley and we knew we were getting closer to home. The valley is so lush and beautiful that we could see why many people like to move here and buy remote haciendas for their retirement. The views are wonderful.

The trip from Machala to Cuenca took about 3.5 hours. We did not climb as high as when coming over the Cajas. We never had fog and the roads were great.

We were glad to be back home to our own bed, our own pillows and our own shower.

Nancy and Chuck

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bus trip to Guayaquil

Dear Family and Friends,

After our housekeeper finished on Thursday, Chuck and I threw some clothes in a small bag and took a taxi to the bus station for a trip to Guayaquil. The main purpose of this trip was to get a visa at the Chinese consulate.

We bought tickets for seats 3 and 4. These are front row seats on the bus that sometimes provide a little more leg room and sometimes provides better views, since they are front row seats opposite from the driver.

While waiting around for the bus departure time, we discovered a restaurant located upstairs in the bus station. We went up there for a quick lunch before we headed out on our 4 hour trip to Guayaquil.

Here is a birds eye picture of our bus station.

The trip through the Cajas (a part of the Andes) is sometimes on paved road and sometimes on mud. It depends on whether the road has been washed out or not. A new road is being built and progress is going very well.

Here is a picture of the new road. We are riding on the completed side. The other side has the concrete poured but is covered to protect it from the rain while it cures.

There are advantages and disadvantages to riding in the front row seats. Here is a disadvantage. We were riding through thick fog in the mountains and this is the view we had. It is also the view the driver of the bus had. I think he was driving by braille.

We arrived in Guayaquil and took a taxi to Hotel Palace. This is a nice hotel located in the center of town. It has all the amenities that keeps Nancy happy.

Chuck checked out the address and hours of operation of the Chinese consulate. Having completed that task we took a taxi to the largest mall in Guayaquil, San Marino. It is a huge three story ultra modern mall. We looked for a new espresso maker since ours bit the dust last week. (this was due to cockpit error....I left it on without water in the tank!!!) No success!

We had dinner at the Sports Planet. It is larger than the Sports Planet in Cuenca, but it was also noisier. Chuck was happy to learn it was two for one night. Here is a happy man with his two Club beers.

The next morning we hired a driver and were on our way to get our visas by 9:00 am. We got to the consulate to learn that in addition to our passports we needed a copy of our airline e-tickets, a copy of our cedula (Ecuadorian ID), a copy of our passport and a small photo. Since the office only stayed open until 12:30, we were so glad we had a driver to run us to a internet cafe to print out a copy of our e-tickets, a photo store to make passport size photos, and a store to make copies of our cedula and passports.

We arrived back to the consulate before noon and filled out the paperwork and turned over the required material. The cost for our visas was $130 each. This is because we had U.S. passports. If we had Ecuadorian passports the cost would have been $80 each. The clerk said it would take one week to process. So Chuck is going back to Guayaquil next week to pick up our passports and visas.

Having completed our main purpose for going to Guayaquil we patted ourselves on the back and had the driver take us to where we could shop for art. He delivered us to the Banco Central Museum. Not exactly an art gallery for buying art, but we enjoyed it anyway. It is located on the malecon (a river front walk way).

Here is a picture I made out of the window of the museum. You can see part of the malecon and some of Guayaquil behind.

When we went back to the hotel to rest, Chuck suggested that we check out the next morning and take the bus to Machala. I figured why not, it is so hot and muggy here anyway.

So I'll blog about that part of our trip another time.

Have a nice Memorial Day everyone.

Nancy and Chuck

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quest for Art

Dear Family and Friends,

This past week in Cuenca has been pretty much the same as usual except that we have had Hugo working on our patio all week. He has finished laying the tile and we are thinking that yes, it is a little dark but when we get the plants back where they belong it will look just fine.

The patio tiles on the floor look whiter than usual because it has not had the left over dust washed off yet.

The next project for the patio is to add a glass enclosure.

One thing about having workers here all week is that Chuck and I cannot go into town together. One of us needs to stay home to let Hugo in and out of the building. The guard will not let Hugo in without an OK from us. Since Hugo is in and out getting supplies it really ties one of us down.
Last week we took turns going out and doing errands. It never got to the point of having to draw straws, but Chuck and I had to work at not having a dispute over whose turn it was to have freedom.

On one of my turns out on the town I went furniture looking. I found the dining room furniture I want for our condo. I talked with the salesman and he quoted me a discount for paying cash. I told him that I would bring my husband in soon so he could see it and make sure he liked it too.

I had pizza for lunch at La Florenza (sp?). It is a pizzeria and ice cream shop. Their pizzas are a little different from what I am used to in the U.S. They do not use a red tomato base. It is a milder base that is light orange in color. The thin pizza crust is hand rolled. I remembered half way through my lunch to take a picture of the pizza. This is the diablo pizza. It has salami and peppers. It is not very spicy, but they serve a pepper condiment that makes the pizza very tasty when added. I always ask for extra oregano to sprinkle on top.

Unlike many pizzas served in the U.S. this pizza is best eaten with a knife and fork because the crust is not as dry. The special for the day was pizza, coke and ice cream for $3.99.

We went to ex-pat night last Friday. It was amazing how many new faces were there. We did not know over half the people there. A lot of the friends we do know were not there but it was great seeing the ones that were.

It is a funny thing about ex-pat night. There are a few long time Cuenca expats that show up every week but for the most part ex-pat night is made up of visitors to Cuenca and people who have lived in Cuenca a year or less. Chuck and I try to go at least once a month.

On Saturday afternoon we were invited to an international piano competition. Our neighbor, Henry Skaggs (age 16) was a participant. All the performances were outstanding. In my opinion Henry is a piano prodigy. I don't know if I have mentioned it before, but Henry and his family lived in Columbus, GA for 15 years before moving to Cuenca two years ago.

Here is a picture of Henry just before his performance.

Young Henry was my Spanish tutor before I had to spend so much time in the states. He will tutor me some more before he moves. They are moving back to the U.S. at the end of June. They are a great family and Chuck and I are so happy our paths have crossed.

Sunday night Chuck and I did a "first" here in Cuenca. We went to see a movie at the Mall de Rio. The movie "Angels and Demons" was in English with Spanish subtitles. We invited Christa Hirsh to join us. The movie cost Christa and me $4.50 and Chuck $2.25. Many things are half price here after you become a resident and are age 65 or older. Our popcorn was $1.75. This seems cheap by U.S. standards but believe me it is very expensive for Cuenca.

Hugo finished up with our patio on Monday. Yesterday Chuck and I had the whole day free to go where we wanted...TOGETHER!!

We started the day with breakfast at a resturant on Calle Larga. It has a sign out front that says "breakfast all day." I don't recall the actual name of the restaurant but it is located on the river side of the street between the market and Hotel Victoria.

The breakfast was not outstanding but it was good. We had eggs, bacon, toast, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee. Our breakfast was approximately $3.00 each. The outstanding part was the view we had of the river and across the way.

After breakfast, I took Chuck to see the dining room furniture I picked out. He liked it and we were all set to get it but we couldn't decide on what color fabric to have the chair seats upholstered. We told the salesman that we would be back next week.

We decided to find the picture that will hang behind the sofa first. This will give us the colors to work from to decorate the living room and dining room. Then we can select the fabric color for the furniture.

This gave a new direction for the rest of the day. We picked up a guide pamphlet at the tourist office showing where the art galleries are in Cuenca and set out to find just the right piece to hang on our wall.

Of course, there are so many galleries in Cuenca we could not visit them all in one day, but we both agreed that the painting below will not make it into the finals.

Chuck and I are leaving for Guayaquil tomorrow. We are going to go to the Chinese embassy to get visas. We are planning on a trip to China in July. While we are in Guayaquil we will visit art galleries there.

That is about it for last week.

Nancy and Chuck

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Back in Cuenca

Dear Family and Friends,

I returned from the U.S. on Saturday. Chuck met me in Guayaquil at the airport. It was so good to see him waiting for me with a big smile on his face. We have been separated too much over the last couple of months. I am so happy to be back with him where I belong.

My trip back to the states was so that I could accompany Matt back home. Going through immigration is a big thing and I determined long ago that when he comes to visit I will accompany him both ways. He had a wonderful visit and he took over 700 pictures with his new digital camera.

While in the U.S. I stayed with my friend, Glenda. Glenda is now living in our house in Richland. We have one large back room that contains all our furnishings (may need to stage the house when we sell it in the future) and a murphy bed. It is a bit crowded, but sleeping among familiar items provides some comfort.

It was a funny feeling going back home to a house that is not really ours anymore. The house has different furnishings and it is starting to take on a new life. I had to mentally shift away the feelings that I was in Glenda's space.

Over the few days that I was back there, I visited with friends and family. Only a little time for each but it was nice to do so.

The weather back there is getting real nice. Randy and Karen had several of us over for dinner and of course wine. They are moving forward in their plans to relocate here after they retire. They are putting their house on the market in June.

Before I returned Ecuador, Glenda gave me some sage to burn in our condo to remove any negative energy. I have enough to last for a good long time.

The first few days after returning to Cuenca I was completely exhausted. I told Chuck that I needed some quiet time to rejuvenate from the past couple of months. It took me three days to unpack. My full suit cases set in the guest bedroom fully packed. Only yesterday did I finally get them all unpacked. I am glad I took some time to get centered before jumping into my daily life here. I feel like my old self again.

Just before I left to take Matt home, Chuck and I picked out tile for our patio. We are going to have part of it enclosed, but before we can do that we want to add some tile to enhance it. Chuck and I shopped and shopped and came up with the best match we could find. Now that Hugo is putting it in it seems a little too dark. However, I think it will look nice when it is complete.

Last night we had dinner with Brian and Shelly. They had another couple who are from Florida and are planning to retire here soon. The couple are in the process of buying a home on seven acres about an hour south of Cuenca. It is fun visiting with folks who are at the same stage we were not long ago. You could really feel their excitment.

Chuck and I are planning on going to ex-pat night this Friday. We haven't been in a couple of months. We want to see everyone and catch up on the news around here.

I apologize to those of you who follow this blog for my erratic postings the last couple of months. I am now back in the saddle and look forward to sharing our lives in Cuenca with you.

I'm headed off to the Wednesday morning market. Fresh fruits, vegetables and some shrimp.

Happy Day