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Sunday, August 30, 2009

RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME - Yes, it can and it did happen

Dear Family and Friends,

Friday night, Chuck and I walked downtown to go to the ex-pat gathering at the Eucalyptus Cafe. We had a good time catching up on our friends' news and meeting new people.

Here are some of the expats gabbing at the Eucalyptus Cafe.

Around 7:00 pm a group of us went to Akelarre, located in Hotel Inca Real, for dinner. The dinner was great. We had so much fun, laughing and joking, that we may have driven some of the other customers away.

After dinner, the waiter brought our checks. Chuck and I were surprised to find that we had two checks. Upon close inspection, I noticed that one check was dated the first part of July. I looked at the waiter and he explained to me that when we were there last time we had left without paying. It can and it did happen. We eat there about once a month. He knew us and knew that one day we would return, so he saved the check for us. We were a little embarrassed that we would do such a thing and happily paid both checks plus gave him a generous tip.

Do you remember back in June when Chuck and I forgot a dinner engagement? We had met a new couple and were invited to their home for dinner. We forgot about the invitation and failed to show up. Yes, it can and did happen. It was at this most embarrassing time that I realized I needed to maintain a desktop calendar on my computer. I have faithfully maintained it since and am happy to report that we have not missed one date or appointment.

Last week we received an email from our friends Nancy and Rich. They were inviting us to dinner on Saturday night. I added it to the calendar as I have trained myself to do. Chuck and I didn't bother going to the market Saturday morning because our social calendar was pretty full for the next few days.

Saturday afternoon we showered and gussied up about as much as we ever gussy up, grabbed a bottle of wine and walked over to Rich's and Nancy's apartment. We rang the doorbell, waited a minute and rang it again. Rich opened the door and seemed a little surprised to see us. I asked, "Are we the first ones here?" He said "You sure are. In fact you are a week early, it's next Saturday." Yes, it can and it did happen.

Rich and Nancy are some of the coolest people we know. They said that since we were there we might as well drink the wine. So Rich poured a round of wine for everyone and we sat and visited. Here is Chuck and Rich.

Since we hadn't had dinner and neither had they, we walked up to Ricky's restaurant for a bite to eat. We had a great time and the food was good. After dinner we walked over to La Fornace for ice cream.

Rich enjoying his banana split.

As it turned out, Rich and Nancy were very gracious. They laughed with us about my mistake. We ended up having a very fun impromptu evening. Sometimes those are the best times of all.

Today, we met Carol and Lee (they own and operate Carolina Bookstore here in Cuenca specializing in English books ... new and used) at Ricky's restaurant. This was the third time this weekend we ate there. We certainly didn't mind, as they have a very expansive menu.

Chuck tried pushing the Cuy pizza. Cuy is guinea pig, a favorite food of Ecuadorians. Carol, Lee and I declined and ordered pasta instead. Chuck, the adventurer, ordered the Cuy pizza and ate every bite.

Here he is chowing down.

We had a good meal and caught up on all the news from Carol and Lee. Then we once again walked to La Fornace for ice cream. We walked back home with full tummies in a misty rain.

Our new refrigerator came on Thursday and we are happy with it.

Here is the roof over our patio. Hugo said that next week he would complete the project with a glass sliding door.

Chuck has another dental appointment tomorrow and I am going back to the ceramic factory on Tuesday. Most of all, we are looking forward to having dinner at Rich's and Nancy's place next Saturday. (September 5). I have it marked on our calendar.

We may be a little forgetful, but we sure are happy.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dining with Friends and my Cell Phone Protection Idea

Dear Family and Friends,

We are really starting to make progress. Not only have we ordered our dining room furniture, we have now ordered our living room furniture and drapes. They are to be delivered in one month, but we forgot to ask if it was one month calendar time or Ecuador time.

Our new refrigerator that we bought on Saturday was due to be delivered on Tuesday and as of right now we are still waiting for delivery. Maybe today.

The reason that deciding on the furniture took so long is that we wanted to make sure we were getting the right colors of fabric. In order to know which colors to select we have been on a quest for art to use in that area.

We chose a print from a painting that was done by my cousin, Bo Bartlett. The name of the painting is "Goddess." She will be hung above our sofa. You can see a picture of this print by going to Bo's website.

Monday, at 10:00 am, Chuck went to his dentist to have his teeth cleaned and a couple of small fillings done. While there, his dentist said he needed to have a root canal done so she scheduled him with a dentist that specializes in root canals. Incredibly, he was in the office of the dental specialist by 4:00 pm having the root canal done. In the USA this would have been at least a month long process.

In our building, the first floor consists of three condos. All three condos are occupied by english speaking residents from the states. Our neighbors, Henry and Sue Skaggs and their two boys vacated their condo, 1A, and moved back to Florida at the end of June. Our new neighbors moved into their condo within 2 or 3 days of their departure.

Before we left on our trip we met them but have had little opportunity to really get to know them. Our other neighbor, David, has been traveling also so we have not had the opportunity to properly welcome Scott and Angie to Los Almendros. On Tuesday evening we all gathered at an Italian restaurant for dinner. All of us, that is, except Chuck who was a little under the weather.

Here we all are gathered around the table.

As I said in my last post, I am doing a lot of walking trying to shed some weight. On Monday, while Chuck was busy with dental work, I walked from our condo to the center of town. I am guessing it is a distance between 1.5 and 2 miles. I had a great walk and enjoyed looking in windows and bumming around town. When I got on the bus for my return trip home I realized that my cell phone was missing. I tried to remember if I had actually brought it with me or if I had left it at home. When I got home I searched all around but no cell phone. I was miffed at the thief and I was miffed at myself for allowing this to happen. This is the third cell phone I have had stolen in the last eight months.

On Tuesday I bought a new cell phone. I had the sim card in my stolen phone canceled and my old cell phone number transferred to a new cell phone. I also came up with what I hope is a thief proof place to keep my phone.

What do you think???

Put phone in waist pack

zip it up...

and cover it up!!!

Wednesday morning, Chuck was feeling better. He and Ozzie went to the market. We had a dinner planned last night so Chuck was armed with a shopping list: shrimp, tomatoes, basil and bananas. He also brought home a pound of coffee, four pink impatiences for the patio and a couple of dozen beautiful roses.

After their market adventure, Chuck, Ozzie and I walked up the street to eat at Ricky's, a new restaurant located on Lamar y Ave. de las Americas.

Here is Chuck and Ozzie enjoying their outdoor lunch.

We also had a nice dinner last night with David, Christa, Wolfgang and Patty. Wolfgang is David's motorcycle buddy. They have cycled all over Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. Wolfgang lives in Germany and David spent a couple of months over there this summer cycling Europe. They will be heading out again this weekend so we nabbed them for dinner before they left.

Patty, Wolfgang, David, Christa and Chuck in our bowling alley dining room. We put the kitchen table and plastic patio table in the dining room so we could all sit together. I made a shrimp pasta with basil and feta cheese. I found the recipe on the internet and it turned out great. Chuck supplied the dessert by going to the German bakery.

The workmen that I was waiting for on Monday finally arrived today to finish our patio enclosure. Well, they arrived to put the roof on anyway. We are hoping that the project will be completed shortly. We are anxious to start using it.

I hope to be showing a picture of our new refrigerator and of the completed patio project shortly.

Have a great day.


Monday, August 24, 2009


Dear Family and Friends,

I am behind in posting to the blog. I'll catch you up on what has been happening since we returned from our trip.

I returned to Cuenca without Chuck. He stayed in the U.S. to visit friends and hug grand kids. Unfortunately, I could not do this as I was at my limit for days out of Ecuador for this year.

Being here in Cuenca without Chuck was very different. I missed him terribly. In fact, the picture of these puppies is about how I felt without him here.

I was fortunate to have several dinner invitations from friends and even a breakfast. I bought some movies and a TV series I had not seen before to entertain myself. I even started playing Farmville on Facebook. I guess that gives you some idea of how bored I was.

Chuck returned home last Tuesday. I hired a driver to take me to Guayaquil to meet him at the airport and to bring us both home with his three large pieces of luggage and a very heavy carry on. It worked out great and we were so glad to be together again.

I am going to do more walking. I have gained weight over the last couple of months and my clothes are getting way to tight. It is not easy to buy clothes here that will fit me and that I like. We will see how it goes. Since Chuck has been home we have walked every day.

I also have made a promise to myself to study Spanish one hour each day. So far, I have not been as successful at that. Self discipline is not a virtue that I possess. It is amazing how much Spanish I have picked up by just living here in a totally Spanish speaking environment, but I still have so much more to learn.

We have ordered our dinning room table and chairs. It will take about a month for them to be made and delivered. Tomorrow I will order a sofa and chairs for the living room. We have been here six months with what Chuck calls our empty rooms....a bowling alley. Chuck and I agreed we had to get our condo finished when we found we were not aware of the echo when we talked anymore.

Here is a picture I made at the market last Saturday.

Yesterday, Chuck and I walked along avenue de las Americas (the Pan American Highway) all the way to Super Maxi near the airport. The weather was fantastic. Here are a couple pictures I made along the way.

The first picture is looking across ave. de las Americas to the city center below. The blue domes on the cathedral are a symbol of Cuenca.

And here is Chuck overlooking a neighborhood called Mia Flores.

Chuck is at the dentist this morning and I am home waiting for the workmen to come to finish our patio enclosure. It is now after lunch and still no workmen. I don't think they are going to show up today.

It is so good to be back home.

Nancy and Chuck

Monday, August 10, 2009


Dear Family and Friends,

The main purpose of this trip was to witness the total solar eclipse that occurred on July 22nd in the Pacific Ocean. This eclipse was very special because it had the longest time of totality of this century. The sun was completely obscured for over 6 minutes.

We had been planning this trip for about 2 years. I am so excited to share this event with you because in doing so I get to relive it.

Here is our ship the Costa Classica during the initial boarding in Tianjin, China.

and here is happy Chuck coming aboard.

This was a very special cruise because everyone aboard was there for the same purpose. There were many astronomers, scientists, meteorologists, photographers and journalists on board.

The second most important part of this cruise was that we would be passing very close to the island Iwo Jima.

Everyday on the cruise we had lectures given by experts from all over the world. Most of the lectures had to do with our universe and a few had to do with WWII and Iwo Jima.

All of these lectures only heightened our anticipation of the big eclipse day.

The meterologists told us that the chances were very good for a grand view of the eclipse but I had my doubts because everyday before eclipse day it was bad weather.

When the big day arrived, I was awake by 6:00 am. The eclipse did not take place until 10:00am but I was eager to check things out and secure a good spot on deck for viewing. Chuck said he wanted to sleep to a more humane hour and he would join me on deck after he had his coffee.

When I got on deck the sky was clear with only a very few clouds. I knew then that we were going to get to see it. I was not surprised to see that many others were on deck ahead of me. There were a lot of people setting up their telescopes, cameras and other equipment. Here are just a few:

There was equipment everywhere but it was a big ship so there was plenty of room for us viewers who just wanted to witness this event. The only equipment we had with us was a pair of binoculars that I threw into my suitcase at last minute and the solar viewing glasses that were passed out on the ship to all passengers and crew members.

Chuck joined me on deck around 8:30 or 9:00 am. On our way to position the ship for the best eclipse viewing the ship passed very close to the island of Iwo Jima. We got a really good view of this island.

There were several WWII veterans on board. One veteran was present during the battle of Iwo Jima. He had just given a presentation, a few days before, on his experience... to a standing ovation. This enhanced our experience of actually seeing the island.

The eclipse schedule was:

1st contact: 10:20am - this is when the moon started to cover the sun - (solar viewing glasses were needed to view)

2nd contact: 11:25am - this is when the moon completely covers the sun - (this was when we could take off the solar viewing glasses and look with out naked eyes)

3rd contact: 11:32am - this is when the moon starts to pass away from the sun - (time to put the solar glasses back on)

4th contact: 12:53 - this is when the moon has completely passed away from the sun and the eclipse is over.

The ship continued on and the clock kept ticking. Finally, over the loud speaker of the ship we were informed that first contact had occured. We looked through our solar viewers and sure enough, the moon was just starting to take a bite out of the sun.

I took a few pictures while waiting for the second contact.

Here are people around us viewing the eclipse (notice how dark it was getting.)

Here is Chuck, with his solar glasses on, viewing the eclipse.

Chuck had his own camera with him and he took this picture of me viewing the eclipse. I had my solar glasses on and my hat over my head to protect my face from the sun. Believe it or not I could see everything great through the holes in my hat.

Here is a picture Chuck took of all the people on deck.

I knew from past experience that I could not get a picture of the sun while it was in the total eclipsed phase. I don't have that sophisticated of a camera. But Chuck used his camera and got this picture. Now it is not that great, but considering he was using a point and shoot without a tripod, it is fantastic.

A friend we met on board, Dimitry Rotstein from Israel, emailed me these photos he took with his camera.

The moon as it is covering the sun. Dimitry had to use a filter on the camera lens to get this shot.

He took this photo during complete totality.

And this fabulous shot was taken just as the moon was starting to uncover the sun. It is known as the "diamond ring" phase.

Thanks Dimity.

We sat back during totality and just enjoyed the view. I cannot describe how fantastic it was. We could even see Venus and Mars and stars. It was so incredible. I'm getting goose bumps now just remembering it.

This is a wide angle photo taken by Babak Tafreshi from Iran.

Someone commented on this blog that he/she would like to see a video. Well, there are several places where you can see videos of this eclipse. I could not take one myself but I am including some links that are fantastic. I encourage you to click on them.

A great slide show:

A well done youtube video:

if either of these links do not work for you, please email me so I can fix them.

After the eclipse was over the ship raised the eclipse flag...signifying our viewing success.

Another link I am including is the web site of the person who organized this cruise. His name is Roy Mayhugh. He organizes eclipse trips for every eclipse. If you might be interested in taking a trip for the main purpose of seeing a total solar eclipse this is the person you want to link up with.

Roy Mayhugh -

I understand that the next total eclipse is July 11, 2010. It will pass over the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island, Chile and Argentina. We have not decided if we are going to try and see this one or not but, if you are interested, email us.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Japan - Kagoshima and Kobe

Dear Family and Friends,

One thing you might be interested in is that our temperatures were taken every time we entered a country. We had our temps taken when our plane landed in Korea and again in China.
Everywhere our ship docked, we had our temps taken as we got off the ship. When we were arriving by air our temps were taken before we got off the plane as in the first picture

and when we got off the ship it was taken as we exited the boat as in the second picture.

Actually the ship took Chuck and I to Japan twice. Once on our way to see the eclipse and then again on our return to China after seeing the eclipse.

Our first stop was in Kagoshima. As you see on the map Kagoshima is in the southern most part of Japan.

The weather in Kagoshima was very hot and humid. Again, Chuck and I decided to tour Kagoshima on our own as we were only there a few hours. Our ship docked at 8:30 am and we had to be back by 1:30 pm.

We took a taxi downtown. Chuck asked the taxi driver to take him to an ATM machine so that he could get some Yen (Japanese money) to pay him. The driver took us to three different locations and at each location the ATM machines were not working. It seems we had arrived in Kagoshima on some sort of a Japanese holiday.

The taxi had a meter and we could see the cost of the ride was increasing pretty fast so when we got downtown Chuck offered to pay the driver in dollars. The driver accepted the dollars and since it was so early we found all the stores were still closed.

Chuck remembered from our earlier trips to Japan that he could go to the post office and use the ATM machine there. He located one nearby on the map and went and got some Yen.

By then things were beginning to open downtown. We found a 100 Yen store. A 100 Yen store is equivalent to our Dollar store in the USA. We shopped around in there for awhile and then went to a huge downtown high end shopping area.

After shopping in the nice shopping area, we found an internet cafe. We checked our email. No matter where we went the air conditioning was a little shy on keeping up with the heat.

It was about this time that I pooped out and took a taxi back to the ship. Chuck elected to stay downtown to explore so he gave me 2000 Yen (that's about $20) for the taxi. When he returned to the ship he told me about all the great shops he found. I told him about how he had not given me enough money for the taxi and how the taxi driver brought me to the ship anyway.


After viewing the eclipse our ship headed back to China. On the way back we stopped in Kobe. This was a great stop because we arrived in Kobe at 8:00 am on Friday and stayed in port overnight and did not leave Kobe until 6:00 pm on Saturday. We had two full days to explore Kobe, not just a few hours.

A really neat thing about Kobe is that there was a light rail train to take us from the port terminal to the central train station downtown (just about a 10 minute ride.) The trains ran about 5 or 6 minutes apart.

Chuck and I had breakfast on the ship and then headed into town using the light rail. We spent the morning shopping. In the main part of downtown, Kobe has closed some streets to cars and covered them making a them pedestrian only. They reminded me of Freemont street in Las Vegas.

Japan has some really neat department stores. They remind me of how the department stores used to be in the USA over 50 years ago. It is not unusual at all to have an attendant operating the elevator. Notice the white gloves, this is quite common even with the taxi drivers.

The basement of the huge department stores are devoted to huge deli's and the very top floors have restaurants. In one department store, as we stepped off the escalator, we saw there was a big glass wall with people inside taking a cooking class.

Another thing I found of interest is that in Japan people cue up to wait for the bus. There is no bunching, when someone arrives to wait for the bus they stand behind the person who arrived just before.

In Kobe, as in China, we were able to find a Starbucks. In Kobe they have renovated an old house and turned it into a Starbucks.

And for all you Seattle folks, you might be interested to know that Tully's is alive and well in Japan too. Here is Chuck taking a coffee break.

Kobe had a city tour bus that looked at lot like a trolley. It had about 15 stops around Kobe and you could buy a day pass to get on and off anywhere you liked. We did this on our second day. The weather was rainy all day, but we found some real interesting things to do.

At one stop there was an old school. The classrooms had been converted into shops but on the third floor there was a big open area - once the school's auditorium. We heard drumming coming from upstairs and went up to find a big circle of special needs people drumming away. This was a happy crowd and they were having a grand time. We really enjoyed it.

In the afternoon we did more shopping and we had lunch at a sushi diner. I made this video because I loved how everything worked. The sushi came around on a moving belt and we could take which ones we wanted. We ate till we were finished and then someone tallied our bill by counting our empty plates. Just click on the triangle button to watch.

We enjoyed our stay in Kobe very much.

I've saved the most exciting part of our trip to share with you on the next post. It is of the solar eclipse.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cheju, South Korea (Jeju)

Dear Family and Friends,

We boarded the cruise ship, Costa Classica, on Friday, July 17th. Our first port of call was an island off the mainland of South Korea. There seems to be two different English translations for this island (Cheju and Jeju) both are pronounced the same. Cheju Island is located about 40 miles off the south-west coast of Korea. We were told that it is known in Korea for its strong winds, fantastic rocks and its extraordinarily beautiful women.

The island was formed by a now extinct volcano over the course of five eruptions millions of years ago. This volcano is now known as Mount Halla (6,397 ft.) Cheju Island is a very popular place for Korean couples to spend their honeymoon.

As you know, at each port of call the cruise ship offers tours of that destination. These tours are quite expensive but it is a good way to see a place in the short amount of time that the ship is in port. Chuck and I usually opt out of these tour packages. We have found in the past that if we get off the ship and look around we can find a taxi that will take us to the same tourist sights at a fraction of the cost.

As we got off the ship we were greeted by this Korean drum and gong corp.

We went through the terminal and we saw many taxis outside. There was one man who seemed to be the taxi captain. He spoke some English. He would negotiate the price and then hand people off to a non-English speaking taxi driver.

Chuck talked to the taxi captain and he said he could give us a complete tour for $8.00. Chuck told him we did not want a complete tour, just a half tour and the cost ended up being $6.00. We were so happy because this was such a GOOD price.

The first place our driver took us was to see the Haenyeo, the women of the sea, who fish for shellfish. Approximately 6000 women are involved in this work. They work without breathing apparatus to more than 50 ft. below the surface, using only goggles and a wetsuit.

We looked down to see the "working mermaids" but alas, all we could see were tourists.

The next picture is of Chuck and I posing by a replica of a Musin. Musins are statues that are on the island representing the guardian gods. I thought this Musin needed some horns. It is so funny how at the time you think you are being so clever but when you look back at the picture you see how stupid you looked.

The next place the taxi driver took us was to Mystery Road. Here we are standing on Mystery Road. It is an optical illusion. You think you are driving up hill but in actuality you are going down hill. The driver turned off the car, put it in neutral and we rolled backwards up the hill.

Besides Mount Halla there are many small valcanos on the island. Our driver took us to one so we could walk up and see the crater.

And here it is. We were too close to get a picture of the whole crater but hopefully you can tell it is out there. Chuck climbed up on a tall platform to even get this picture.

One thing they had on display in this park was a huge rock made out of volcanic material. It had flowed around a tree and the tree had long since decayed. This left a huge rock with a hole in the center. Here is Chuck checking it out.

I loved the signs indicating the restrooms.

When I got inside the women's restroom I was surprised to see I had a choice of toilet style. The doors on the stalls indicated whether the toilet inside was a western or eastern style toilet.

And, if you are interested, this is an eastern style toilet. I call it a squatter.

When we got back into town we asked the driver to let us off at McDonalds so we could get some coffee. I've seen McDonalds all over the world, but the is the first one I have ever seen that offers home delivery.

While we were still at McDonalds and not yet back at the ship, Chuck pulled out $10 and gave it to the taxi driver. It was at this point we relized we were being scammed. The driver smiled at the money and said no and whipped out a piece of paper and wrote $60.

I won't write about the conversation that followed. But I was so very very angry. We knew exactly what was going on. I left the scene and went inside McDonalds to cool off while Chuck was left to handle the situation.

In the end Chuck paid the driver the $60. It was a very unpleasant situation and I am sharing the incident so that hopefully this will not happen to others.

We were talking with another couple on the ship that night and they said the same thing happened to them in China. They were told by the pedi-cab driver that the ride would be $4. (The driver held up four fingers and then said dollars). When they got out and tried to pay the driver he quickly whipped out paper and pencil and wrote $40. Like us, they succumed to the scam.

Well at least we have learned our exspensive lesson. In the future we will have our own paper and pen and when we get a price quote we will have the driver write it down for us before we take the ride.

Like China, the weather was overcast, hot and humid. We were glad to get back on the air-conditioned ship.