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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chuck's Twin Has Been Found!!

Dear Family and Friends,

I have heard that somewhere in the world everyone has a twin. We think we have found Chuck's twin.

Holly, is a friend we have in Cuenca. She and her husband, Brian live here with their daughter. They moved to Ecuador from Canada.

Holly emailed us this picture a couple of weeks ago. She was looking at some old pictures and came across this one. It is a picture of her daughter and mother and in the background she spotted Chuck. She emailed the picture to us and told us when and where it was taken to verify if it was him.

This picture was taken in Vancouver, Canada in 2007. The funny thing is that Chuck and I have been to Vancouver several times. In fact we are sure that he has stood in that same location. The problem is we were not in Vancouver in 2007.

Chuck swears it is not him. I know for sure that is not me with him. I think it looks just like him. What I want to know is where did he go on that scooter trip he took a couple of years ago? Who is that woman with him?

(Click on the picture to make it larger for a better view of Chuck's twin)


What is your opinion? Should I be hitting him over the head with a cast iron frying pan or acknowledge that he indeed has a twin?


Nancy

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saraguro, Ecuador

Dear Family and Friends,

We headed back from Loja last weekend on Sunday, June 21st. Chuck saw where there were celebrations going to take place in Saraguro, a village about 2 hours by bus north of Loja. The celebration was because of the soltice. The shortest day of the year in this hemisphere.

We left Loja early so we could stay in Saraguro for a few hours and see what was happening. We read that in Saraguro this celebration is held four times a year. At the two solstices (either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator) and equinoxes (when the sun crosses the earth's equator, making night and day of approximately equal length) . This custom is very old going back to pre-Columbian times.

Originally from the Lake Titicaca region in Bolivia, the Saraguros were moved to their present location by the Incas. As a result, the Saraguros have maintained their age-old traditions and have become leaders in the indigenous movement, both in Ecuador and internationally.

One of the things that makes Saraguro a favorite tourist spot is how the people dress. They dress in black wool. Some people say this is because they are in mourning for the death of the Inca Atahualpa. Others say it is because they are mourning their relocation from Bolivia. Most of the clothes are handspun and handwoven. Most striking is the women's jewelry. They wear large nickel or silver shawl pins (called tupus) to hold their wraps together. They also wear beautiful, colorful beaded necklaces. The necklaces are made of tiny beads and the color of the beads and number of rows indicates their community.

This lady was happy to pose for me. She was beautifully dressed. You will notice her right cupped hand. She was indicating to me that I should pay her for her generosity to pose. This picture was well worth the $1.00 I gave her. We were both very pleased.

Most of the men in Saraguro wear black short calf-length pants and black ponchos.




Chuck went to visit the market while I stayed in the central plaza. I was not surprised to see a procession come from the church carrying a statue of Jesus around the plaza. It was quite common that the Catholic religious calendar came to overlay the traditional sowing and harvest celebrations of the Saraguro.


Today, the Saraguro people have intergrated their pre-Columbian celebrations with Christian relegious celebrations.

While the statue of Jesus was being paraded around, there were sky rockets going off in the square and a band playing traditional music.

Chuck and I were glad we took the time to stop and enjoy this interesting place.

Now we are now back in Cuenca. Hugo came last week with some workers to start our patio cover. We are hoping that it will be completed before we leave for China.

Love,
Nancy

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vilcambamba

Dear Family and Friends,

Last Saturday while we were in Loja we decided to go to Vilcambamba. Vilcambamba is only a forty minute bus ride away. The story we have heard is that people live well into their hundreds in this particular part of Ecuador. The climate is milder and the water is very pure. I do not know if this is true or not, but many people are moving to Vilcambamba from the U.S. and other places. I would say that ex-pat to Ecuadorian citizen ratio in Vilcambamba is the highest in the country.

It was our observation that the people who decide to retire in Vilcambamba tend to be people who are health and environment concious. They tend to be people who eat mostly organic food. We met several people while we were there who had moved to Vilcambamba.

Vilcambamba is a very lovely place....much smaller than Cuenca. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains. It is much lower than Cuenca so altitude is not as much of a problem. I can certainly see why many people are immigrating to Vilcambamba.

This is the main plaza. The town has an American southwest feeling....like a very small Santa Fe. The white trucks in the picture are the taxis. They are called "mixtos".


Horses and burros are a very common sight in the center of the town.



We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. It was part of a hostal. It is located just a block off the main plaza. The lunch was very good. They lady that served us spoke English and when we asked if we could have a tour of the hostel she was very happy to show us around.

Here is Chuck in a common area. It is outside under a protective roof. The weather is so mild there that it works year around.



The gardens there were so nice.
The sleeping rooms were nicely decorated and the price was very reasonable. We will probably go a spend a week in Vilcambamba sometime and stay at this hostal. We really liked what we saw. Here is Chuck standing in the doorway. The name is Jardin Escondido Hostal.

We went up into the surrounding mountains and walked around looking at the beautiful views.

This is a view of the small town of Vilcambamba. It is in a very lovely setting.

We left by bus around 3:00 pm and went back to Loja for dinner with friends.

Nancy

Monday, June 22, 2009

Loja Weekend

Dear Family and Friends,

Last Thursday Chuck and I caught the bus to Loja. This is about a 5 or 6 hour journey. It is less than 200 miles from Cuenca but Loja is in the Andes also. The roads are twisty and in some places in ill repair. This is being remedied as I post this....a nice concrete highway is being constructed but for our trip it mean't long construction delays. The bus also had a flat tire so we had to wait for that to be repaired. Needless to say it was a long bus ride.

We stayed in probably the nicest hotel in Loja - The Grand Victoria. We were having a delayed anniversary celebration since I poisioned us on our real anniversary. The hotel was very nice with all the amminities you could want. The reduced price was $85 per night...down from the $100 per night we thought we were going to be paying.

We spent Friday walking Loja. Loja has less than 200,000 people and it is very walkable. Like Cuenca, there are several rivers that run through Loja. One river has nice walking paths and we walked the entire distance to the edge of town.

The first picture is of the church on the main plaza.


Here is Chuck trying on hats. He did not buy one, but it was fun shopping.

We went to the university where they have a pottery factory. Chuck loved the ceramics and pottery. If we had not been traveling by bus this pot would be on our patio today. Chuck says he is going to rent a car and go to Loja on a pottery shopping adventure.


As we were taking our long river walk we came upon the market. Here is Chuck enjoying all the plants. They have many plants that we cannot grow well in Cuenca. The temperature is warmer in Loja.


We also explored the "gateway" to Loja. It is very interesting. It looks like it should be in Europe. You can climb up inside for some great views. They also had an art exhibit inside.

At the edge of town we went to a wonderful park called "Unidad Parque Recreacional Jipiro" The park had small replicas of famous international structures. They had an Effiel Tower, a mosque, an African hut and many others.

Here are some I photographed:



The lake had many beautiful swans. We rented a paddle boat and had a swan follow us all around the lake.


Here is Chuck with some of our Ecuadorian friends:


We spent Saturday in Vilcambamba and stopped in Saraguro on Sunday. I will share our experiences in these places next time.

Nancy

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Corpus Christi in Cuenca - Fireworks Castle

Dear Family and Friends,

One of the most popular activities during Corpus Christi is the lighting of fireworks, especially the fireworks castle. The fireworks castle structure is made out of bamboo poles. The people build the castle in stages and assemble it on the spot. The castles we witnessed had religious artifacts on them, I assume because it is Corpus Christi (a religious holiday).

Here are some pictures I took a couple of years ago for a different celebration. The castle comes in stages. The different stages are then stacked on top of each other and secured.


Here is a picture of the fireworks castle we saw ignited at the other night being assembled. You can see an angel on it.


I took a video of the actual fireworks display. In the beginning of this video you will see a globo going off and then a moment later the fireworks begin. I panned the camera some to show the band playing in the bandstand and some of the crowd. We were standing on the back side of the castle which turned out to be a real good thing. Towards the end of the video you will see fireworks shooting off into the crowd.

I will warn you, this is a seven minute video. I put it on You Tube to make it easier to use in this blog. Depending on the speed of your computer, you may want to click on the link and walk away from you computer awhile and let it download. I videoed the action from beginning to end.

If you want to see the video click on this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkNsejo42Fs


This morning Chuck and I are taking a bus to Loja for the weekend. We are having a postponed anniversary celebration since we were both sick last week on our special day. We have never been to Loja and are looking forward to the trip.

I'll share photos with you when we return.

Have a nice weekend.

Nancy

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Corpus Christi in Cuenca - Globos

Dear Family and Friends,

Another aspect of the Corpus Christi celebrations going on here in Cuenca are the "globos." These are mini hot air balloons. These particular globos were made from light weight paper and had light weight frames to hold their shape. I have seen them before made from simple plastic bags like you get at the local grocery store for carrying groceries.

There is some sort of fuel, don't know what, that is connected to the bottom of the globos. This is ignited and the globo floats up and off into the sky. When several of them are sent up in succession it is an awesome sight to behold.

The people in this video are using hands full of ignited straw to light the fuel on the globos in this video.

Once again, I uploaded the video to You Tube. If you would like to see them click on the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-DuZC1uw80&feature=channel_page

Next, I will upload a video of a fireworks tower.

Nancy

Monday, June 15, 2009

Corpus Christi in Cuenca - Dulces - Candy

Dear Family and Friends,

A continuation of the Corpus Christi events that we are privileged to experience this week.

All around Parque Calderon and all along the side of the cathedral are booths set up to sell sweets. Cookies, candies, pastries, chocolate and most anything you can imagine.

I will share a story I heard. I cannot vouch for it's accuracy but it sure makes a good story: "Many years ago when the Spaniards first came, the Indigenous people were not allowed to attend the church services inside the church. The Indigenous were unhappy about the discrimination. So when it was a period of fasting for the religious Spaniards, the Indigenous people would stand outside the church with sweets to tempt the Spaniards."

Click on the link below to see a video of Chuck showing you a small portion of the candy booths.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0meqvqZKHoY

Later I will share the "globos" (mini hot air balloons) being launched from the plaza.

Nancy

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi in Cuenca - Chuck and Puppet

Dear Family and Friends,

Chuck and I have been down to Parque Calderon (the central plaza) almost every night since Thursday. As I said in my last post Corpus Christi lasts all week long. Every night there are fireworks, globos (mini hot air balloons), bands, and merry making going on in the park. As I understand it, each night is sponsored by a different group (doctors, lawyers, etc.)

I tried taking pictures but it was night and I just couldn't get decent pictures in the dark. I made a few video clips and I will share a few with you to give you a flavor of the excitement downtown. Because of the time it takes to download them, I will only share one in a post. So it will take me a few posts to share Corpus Christi with you.

The first clip is just some of the craziness going on in the plaza.


video


In our next post I will show you the hot air balloons.

Nancy

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Down Day

Dear Family and Friends,

On Monday our most wonderful neighbors, Henry and Sue, brought us two bottles of wine. One red and one white with instructions to enjoy ourselves on our anniversary.

I wish I could share with you about how exiting our anniversary was but the truth is I think I poisoned us at lunch. I fried some scallops and made coleslaw. This was the first time I used cabbage not bought at the SuperMaxi. As the afternoon went by we both commented that our stomachs were not well. As the evening came on we knew for sure something was very wrong. Instead of going out for a big celebration Monday evening we decided to postpone dinner until we were more fit and we retired without sharing the wine or anything else for that matter.

Tuesday was a quiet day. Our stomachs were better but still not healthy. This was the very first day we have been in Cuenca that Chuck did not leave the condo. All day long it seemed like it was Sunday instead of Tuesday. Around 6:30pm I sat down to check my email and there was a message from our new friends. They were inquiring about what had happened to us. They had graciously invited us last week to have dinner with them this evening. They were emailing us because they did not have our telephone number. The moment I read it my heart fell, we had forgotten about our dinner date. Unfortunately, I did not have their telephone number either. I emailed her back with our sincerest appologies. Chuck and I feel awful about this.


Today is Corpus Christi, a religious holiday. Actually in Cuenca it is week long event. We are going to go to town and hang out. Since this is the first time we have been in Cuenca for this event we do not know exactly what we will find going on. We do know that there will be a big celebration in the central plaza tonight including fireworks. I found this picture on the internet to give you an idea of how they do fireworks here.....it is called a fireworks castle.


This is just one more reason we love living here.

Nancy and Chuck

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Twenty Four Years with the Love of My Life


Yes I agree, the picture above is not a traditional style wedding picture. It is a picture of two non traditional people very much in love. It is a picture of Chuck and me cutting our wedding cake 24 years ago on June 8, 1985. Tomorrow we celebrate our anniversary. These have been the happiest years of my life. We are so fortunate to have each other.
I love you Chuck.
Nancy

New Japanese Grill and an Old Fashioned Mower

Dear Family and Friends,

Our internet is not working in our apartment. Chuck talked with the internet provider on Firday and they told us they would show up at our place on Saturday morning between 8am and 12am. WE stayed home on Saturday morning and guess what? No one showed and we are still without internet. Tomorrow we will start all over trying to get the service we need. Such is life in Ecuador. We came to town today to use an internet cafe to check on our email and to update the blog.

Last week Chuck read a restaurant review by Sumana on Cuenca Highlife. Chuck and I checked the place out for ourselves last week. The restaurant is a Japanese grill where the food is cooked right in front of you. We had a great meal and plan to frequent this restaurant often. We try to go to our favorite restaurants on a weekly basis....to help make sure they stay in business.
Chuck ordered steak and shrimp and I ordered steak only. The steak was very very tender. The flavor was perfection. Chuck´s shrimp were yummy.

Here is Chuck watching the chef prepare our meal.



We went to ex-pat night last Friday. We met new friends and had a wonderful time. As we were going into Zoe´s I looked up the street and thought how often Cuenca reminds me of an old European city....with it´s cobblestone streets and beautiful church spires.



We have a vacant lot near our condo. It is fenced off and the grass inside grows pretty fast and gets pretty tall in no time because of the nice weather here. Every so often we will look in the lot and see a few goats or cows parked there to mow the grass. My last picture from last week is a picture of one of the grass mowers this month. There were two black cows parked in the lot to do their work.


Looking forward to next week. Corpus Christi is being celebrated. This is new holiday for us but we will tell you all about it next week.
Love,
Nancy and Chuck

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Visas, Brunch and a new Espresso Machine

Dear Family and Friends,

Last week when we went to Guayaquil to get visas for China we were told it would take one week to process them. So, last Thursday Chuck took the bus to Guayaquil to get them. When he got to the Chinese consulate, they were closed. It seems that day was a Chinese holiday.

Yesterday Chuck took the bus to Guayaquil again. This time his trip was a success! We now have our visas for China.

When we walk around Cuenca we never know what we may come across. This little boy was walking out of a store. I do not know anymore but it sure looked odd to see a kid carrying a stuffed cow head on his shoulder.


Last Friday a man from the U.S. embassy in Guayaquil came to Cuenca to give a presentation to US ex-pats. We do not have an embassy in Cuenca so they come here about once a year to let us know what they can provide for us. It was an interesting presentation. The only thing I got out of it was that they are there for emergencies. Also, he told us to be careful in Guayaquil because they are having problems with people being robbed. The robbers disguise themselves as taxi drivers. Once you are in the taxi they take you to an ATM machine and make you withdraw money. He suggested not to take a taxi off the street but to call a taxi company and order a taxi.

After the meeting, we went to lunch with some new friends who are moving here from Florida. We had the set menu which was very good. About $3.00 apiece. After lunch we went to the ceramic factory to show them the beautiful dishes that are made here in Cuenca. I couldn't resist, I added some bowls to our collection.

On Saturday, we went to San Sabastian plaza for a jazz concert. This was a free concert sponsored by the German embassy. It was really good. We got there early and had front row seats.

This little princess was seated next to us. She was so cute with her tiara and sunglasses.

We have been fighting bees on our patio. They discovered one of the humming bird feeders. We had one feeder that they could get the sugar water from. There must have been a hundred of them collecting sugar water. The humming birds were very distressed that there feeder was being taken over.

Chuck took that feeder down, washed it out and put it away. The other feeders have not attracted the bees so far. The humming birds are now happy and back to putting up their regular territorial battles over the feeders.


A couple of weeks ago I ruined my espresso maker. This was quite a tragedy for me because I love to have my cappacino first thing every morning. I left the machine on and it burned out. When we went to Guayaquil we looked for a new one but couldn't find one. I found some at the Super Stock, but they were the big $300 to $500 espresso machines.

Finally, last week we went to Su Kasa and found this mid size espresso maker. It makes wonderful cappacinos. I love it. But the funny thing is that Chuck took my burned out espresso maker to a small repair shop. They repaired it for only $7.00. Now a have my old one as a back-up. Here is my new one.


Last Sunday we and two other couples took our friends, Henry, Sue and their boys to a farewell brunch at the Oro Verde hotel. Henry and Sue are going back to the U.S. at the end of June. The came down a couple of years ago just for the adventure. They put their two boys into Ecuadorian schools. The boys did not know Spanish when they first came here, but now they are very fluent.

We had a great brunch and it was so much fun visiting with everyone. We will miss the Skaggs when they are gone.

Here is Henry, Sue and the boys.


Recycling Ecuador style. Every garbage pick-up day there are people who scout the neighborhoods and go through the garbage to find anything that can be recycled. It must be worth their time because it is done all over Cuenca. After they have collected all the recyclable items a truck comes around and picks it up. These ladies were collecting material this morning.
As you can see, they have collected quite a bit.


I have been lax on my Spanish lessons lately. One reason, I think, it that I have discovered Facebook. It has consumed my time trying to keep up with what is happening to all the people I have become friends with. I posted some Cuenca pictures and some pictures from my childhood. It is so much fun, but man, it can consume your life.

That's about it for now.

Chao!

Nancy