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Archive for May, 2012

LONG STORY, BUT FOR A GREAT CAUSE:
Michael has attended a few Benefit Poker Tournaments, (anyone remember the night I dropped our newly acquired cedula’s and passports at the Cuenca airport back in October??)  It costs $7.00 to buy in and the funds raised go to buy food for an Orphanage located in the Yungilla Valley, it is about an hour outside of Cuenca.
We learned that one of our neighbors works closely with the Orphanage, and I asked if I could go with her to help out once in a while.  One morning my neighbor and her husband picked me up and we traveled to the “Messengers of Peace” Orphanage.  It was a day after another Poker Tournament, so she had already gone shopping for meat, fruits and vegetables.  Once we arrived I realized it wasn’t the type of Orphanage I was expecting.  They call the residents “kids”, but they range in age from 7 years old to 42 years old, and all have some form of mental disability.  There are currently 52 residents.
They are never adopted, and live out their lives there. 
So, I said I wanted to help.  Well, my job the first day was to chop up about 20 pounds of really bloody, red meat, into individual portions, bagging and labeling it.  Me – cutting up meat.  It was a long morning. 
Our neighbor documents every item of food that is brought in with the donated funds, and it is portioned out for distribution.  She does a wonderful job.  I was shown around the grounds, the older “kids” go to work in a nearby Rose Farm, and the younger ones go to school, and after that they make soap to sell for personal spending money.  They raise pigs for consumption and sale. 
The residents I met were sweet, it was explained to them that an “Americano” had come to visit and help out.  I don’t think I left the classroom without being kissed by every child. 
I went again a few weeks later and this time I toted my camera along, only after asking our neighbor if it would be acceptable to take pictures.  Another American couple came with that time.  We made 80 empanadas to feed the children and the staff.
A pic of two of the residents, with the American fellow that came for a visit:

This gentleman was very protective of this young woman.  He knew the concept of taking a photo and tried very hard to make her smile for the camera:

This young woman loved her hat, and smiled and laughed alot:

The building to the left is the soap factory, and the buildings behind are the livestock areas.

A few weeks later, my neighbor asked if I wanted to go to a “photo shoot of the children”, they were making a cookbook to be sold for Mother’s Day to raise funds for the kitchen of the Orphanage.  I said, sure, I would love to go.  I thought we were going back to the Messengers of Peace Orphange to take pictures of the residents.  Wrong.  I was brought to a gorgeous home here in Cuenca where local children were photographed by a professional photographer.  I brought my own camera along to take candid shots. The children were given chef hats and aprons and posed.  It was nice.
 
About a week later our neighbor came over and asked for my candid shots, so we gave them to her. A few weeks after that, our neighbor came over again,  and asked if I would be willing to take additional photos for the cookbook.  I thought what the heck, sure, I would be happy to do that.  I was a little intimidated, I don’t take great people pictures, scenery is more up my alley.

  Anyway, I went.  The lighting was awful but I tried my best.  After two hours, we were done, and I explained I wanted to take to the pics back home and look at them and try to “spruce” them up.  We don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom or anything like that, Microsoft gives you a minor program to fix pictures.  I just wanted to review them and straighten stuff.  Well, no deal, the pic’s had to go the publisher that night!!!! 

This is the cover of the “Cookbook”.  They ended up including 6 of my photos.  It took coming to Ecuador to become a “published photographer”, LOL!!!!

My shot is the first one, the second is the cookbook inclusion of the photograph, same goes for the following pictures: 

There was an event for the kick off of the cookbook, it was sold for $10.00, we hope it raised some money for a worthy cause.

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We wanted to take a break from our hectic life (LOL!) and go to the coast, we decided to return to the place in Puerto Lopez that we had gone to with my Mom. 
As usual, we couldn’t sit together in the Van to Guayaquil, Michael and Oscar sat in the front with the driver, and I was stuck in the back row, next to two young Ecuadorian men.  We were up pretty early, so I was looking forward to sleeping during the three hour ride through the Andes.  Oh well, best laid plans.  The two guys next to me were like 13 year old girls, they didn’t shut up for about an hour, they were very animated, eventually they ran out of things to say and their conversation ended.  I was so thankful; peace and quiet at last. 
I was drifting off and then I heard the sound of a helicopter. A helicopter???
   What the heck is a helicopter doing in the Caja’s Mountains??? 
I opened my eyes to find that the van had a drop down screen to watch videos, my peaceful ride through the mountains was now accompanied with the movie “Black Hawk Down”.  The soundtrack was blaring, it was dubbed in Spanish, but it had subtitles, ALSO in Spanish.  It was sorta surreal, beautiful mountain scenery with a movie about death and mayhem.
Anyway, we caught the nice bus to Olon, which also played a movie, “We Bought a Zoo” with Matt Damon.  It was also dubbed in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles.  Michael joked that there must be a ton of deaf Ecuadorians that take this type of transportation.
In Olon the Taxi that the Hotel arranged for us was waiting, we were quite comfortable during the 45 minute ride to Puerto Lopez.  We got to the hotel, checked in and strolled the beach in enough time to catch a great sunset.
The Hotel:

Our Room:
  Each room is named after a fish, or a bird, or a flower, and the room key is a HUGE piece of wood in the shape of the animal.  So, we had a key shaped like a Butterfly.

The room actually sleeps five, there is a single bed to left of this one, and a loft area with another double bed.  We had a refrigerator and a cooktop.  It was nice to be able to make our coffee in the morning and sit on our private balcony.  There is no A/C, but the room had several ceiling fans and a few floor fans.  We didn’t really need them, this room is on the “second floor” and the breezes were amazing.  We left the French Doors open at night, we could hear the waves.

Our Balcony:
We had two entrances to the balcony, one off the French doors next to the bed, and one that wrapped around from the room entrance.
Through the trees we could watch the waves. There were two comfy chairs and two hammocks, they were not so comfy, wierd plastic things.
The bushes were like Bougainvillea gone wild; red, white, orange, pink, absolutely beautiful. There were tons of birds, some we had never seen before, and we were pleasantly surprised at the lack of bugs. 

 
 

Typical Puerto Lopez transporatation:
 We spent one day watching a guy with a motorcycle going up and down the beach all day transporting people.  At one point there were five people on one Motorcycle.

We made our coffee each morning, had breakfast in our room, and then we would claim two hammocks and go to the beach.  The hotel has a nice library, so we would pick a book, take towels and soda or water down to a little Cabana, and spend very relaxing days, literally hanging out.

Sunsets: 
Enough said.
Flowers on the grounds of the hotel: 
Their garden is specatular.


The Beach:

The beach is beautiful and quiet.  We would stroll and look for driftwood and green rocks.  The bag coming home was alot heavier than it was going,

The little blip in the surf is Oscar.

An afternoon in Puerto Lopez.

Oscar has been frightened of the water since the time he fell off one of the kayaks.  We would not go NEAR water.  For some reason, he took to the beach like crazy.  He went nuts playing in the surf and chasing crabs, I guess his Daschund breeding went into high gear, he kept digging in the sand trying to get a crab.  They always out smarted him.

Horses that showed up on the beach.

We watched these guys run back and forth from this little boat unloading fish. 

The owners of the hotel were on vacation themselves, so the duty of walking the five “Hotel” dogs was given to a hotel employee.  This day, guests had volunteered to take them for their 45 minute walk down the beach.

On our last evening we lost one of our cell phones. 
We had taken one of the funny little “Taxis” to a nice Italian restaurant we had gone to with a couple we had met at the Hosteria.  We strolled back to the hotel, and when we got to our room we realized we were missing a phone, so off down the dirt road we went with flashlights.  We walked all the way back to the restaurant, and then we called the missing cell phone.  A guy answered, we didn’t speak Spanish, he didn’t speak English, so the restaurant owner intervened for us.  The “guy” had found the phone in the taxi we had taken to the restaurant and was willing to bring it to our hotel in the morning, BUT, he wanted to know how much we were going to pay him to bring the phone to us. We didn’t specify an amount, we just said we would pay.  About an hour later he called back and said he would bring the phone to the hotel that night. It cost us $10.00 to get our phone back.
The trip back from the coast was uneventful, there was another movie on the bus, which we slept through.  Michael, me and Oscar were out like lights.
  A bonus of our little excursion to the coast was meeting a really nice couple, originally from Southern California and now living in Panama.  They are here in Ecuador exploring around to see if they want to make the move.  After they left Puerto Lopez, they toured around the coast and then came to Cuenca.   We met them for lunch on Friday, and yesterday Linda and Stephen came to our house for lunch along with our friends Wally and Hazel.
It was a nice day.  Life in Ecuador.


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Our Home

When we told people we were moving to Ecuador, some thought we were nuts. 
I think they envisioned grass huts and no running water. Well, in some areas in the countryside that is true, but we found a lovely home in Cuenca. We had to start from scratch regarding kitchen utensils and furniture, but we dragged 18 suitcases of photos, artwork, sculptures, etc., things that we had accumulated along the years.  The final trip down was really tough on the suitcases, and a few very treasured things were broken, but most arrived safely,
most importantly, Michael, me and Oscar. 
Anyway, people have asked for pictures of our home, so here they are. We still have a few bits and pieces of kitchen items and furniture that we need to get, but we have made the place comfortable and we feel happily at home. 
Here is a little tour of our home, lots of pictures, kind of a long blog:
Often in the newer communities, the homes are like row houses, we live in an end unit.
This is the front of our home.
There are two entrances, one leads into the living room, and the other leads into the laundry/mud room.

                                                                Our main entrance.

The living room.

All the furniture was custom made, the wood furniture was a dream.  The upholstered stuff, NOT SO MUCH.  The original sofa and loveseat would have made Herman Munster feel like a shrimp.  Who remembers “Edith Ann”, the Lilly Tomlin character in the over sized rocking chair?  That was me, sitting on the original stuff, what a disaster!!  The workman that made it took it back and scaled it down.  We had to buy new upholstery.  What an episode.  Oh well, we are not thrilled with the finished product, but we will live with it for a while.  We call them the concrete cushion furniture.  LOL!!!!

As I said, we tried to bring as many personal things as we could.  We brought all of our soapstone and whalebone carvings that we had collected in Canada.  Stuff from Spain, things from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, France, China, and England.  Things we cherished and that could be packed in a suitcase.
   
We also brought books that we knew we could never replace, and some things that would make you laugh, like an Oscar Mayer Weiner whistle.  
An accent wall in the living room.
 
It’s cool, but limited our ability to place some of the other custom furniture we had made.  We thought we would have our entertainment unit on a wall. 
 Not going to work, Oh well.   The cut-outs in the wall have lighting and lets us showcase some of the things we brought with us.  It looks quite nice all lit up.

The Dining Room.
This is a VERY Ecuadorian table set we bought.  We thought it was cool and funky.  In the past we had a formal dining room set, and let’s face it, anyone that knows us, KNOWS we are not formal.  The one in the showroom was built to Ecuadorian sizes = very small,  so we gave them the dimensions we wanted, and they made this one for us.  The chair seats are longer and the table is higher.  We are going to have chair cushions made from the left over upholstery from the sofa disaster. 

There is a recessed area under the glass, so we bought a piece of fabric that we think brings out the gold highlights in the finish of the table, and we placed this triangular shaped tile that we bought in Quito in the center.

The “Hutch” that we had made to match the Dining Room Table.

Entrance through the French Doors to the Patio from the Dining Room.

An overall shot from the dining room into the living room.
Bright open area.

This is the “Office” on the first floor.
Michael set up a table to make his flies for fly fishing.  It faces the back patio.
The “fabric” on the floor is what is left of the original upholstry from the first go round with the sofa.  We are going to use it to make cushions for the dining room table chairs.
Entrance area, we liked the curved legs on this table.

The “Social” bathroom on the first floor.

The stairs to the second floor.
 
These have been a challenge for Oscar, the pic doesn’t show that there are two more landings of stairs.  You think he would have thinned out by now, but NOOOO.
The Kitchen.
The kitchen has more cabinets than I can possibly fill.  As in alot of Ecuadorian homes, they only have gas cooktops, but it was a requirement of ours that we have a place for an oven.  Who wants boiled and fried food forever???
Never mind being able to bake. We bought the oven, the microwave the fridge and the washer and dryer.

There is under cabinet lighting, and the cabinets with the frosted glass have interior lighting. The skylight also allows for lots of light during the day.
This is another counter in the kitchen.  It faces the entry to the Mud Room/Laundry Room.  More cabinets, lots of storage space. We love the light from the windows, so we hung the two pieces of stained glass my Mom made.
The Laundry Room.
Yes, there are still people that take their clothing to the river and beat them on rocks to clean them, absolutely no joke.  But as you see, we have a nice laundry room.  Right outside the back door is a traditional stone sink for doing laundry.  We wash Oscar in it after a walk, if the road is muddy from rain.  With the windows and the skylight, this room is always bright.

The TV Room on the second floor.
On the other side of the room there are two easy chairs. 
Very comfy.

The other side of the TV Room.
  I won’t even start about the cool lighting in the ceiling in this room, and actually all around the whole house.  It seems kind of Scandinavian to us. 
Yeah, more masks and things we brought with us.
 Master Bedroom.
This is the custom bedroom set  that we had made from a picture from the Ethan Allen site. It is perfect.  The guy dreamed up a pair of nightstands on his own.  They are beautiful as well, but I can’t put pic’s of everything up – don’t want to be too much of a bore.  Sorry to keep using the word “custom”, it doesn’t have the same stuffy meaning here.  You just ask for something, pay for it, and hope it works out. Go back to to the earlier part of this blog, about the “custom sofa” and “Edith Ann thing”.   LOL!!!  The beadspread is something we bought in Chile in 2004, it is so warm, we couldn’t imagine not bringing it with us. 

Our sitting area in the Master Bedroom.

The Master bedroom bathroom.

Same cabinetry as in the kitchen, with a lovely large linen closet that you can’t see in the pic.

As usual, no bathtub, but the shower has a nice sitting area.  Beautiful tile work.  By the way, the bathroom ventilation is the window you see open.  LOL!!  Makes it a little chilly sometimes when taking a shower.
Master Bedroom Closet Area.
 Different sections have different amenities, like the pull out racks for  hanging pants, tons of drawers.  There is a skylight in here, so most days you don’t even need to turn on the light.

Guest Bedroom.

Guest Bedroom Bath.

View from the balcony off of the Master Bedroom.
 

The balcony overlooks the back patio.

Moonrise from the balcony.
We are happy in our Ecuadorian home.  We have lots of room, who whats to visit??
  Tomorrow we are off to the coast for some sand, waves and hopefully sunshine. 

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My thought for today

                        Laugh, love, be kind, and give to others.  
                        My thought for today about my Uncle Ned.










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Fishing and UFO’s

Michael had been invited to go fishing with a neighbor a few times, and each time it was on very short notice, and we had something else planned for the day.  The other morning, at about 7:45 a.m. there was a banging at our front door, and there was our neighbor asking Michael to go fishing, we made some sandwiches, some Coca tea (for the elevation) and packed a few munchies for the trek.  They said they would be back around 5:00 and off they went.  The rest is Michael’s.
We rode into the Caja’s, after about 40 minutes we were high in the Andes, I saw several groups of pack horses scattered along the roadside.  I was told that these were animals belonging to families that live 2 -3 hrs back in the mountians with no roads.   Everything is carried in and out by horse, usually one person stays with the horses, while the families go into Cuenca to buy supplies.  Tough life of hard working people.

 When we got to our destination, or what I thought was our destination, we turned off the road for another 15 or 20 minute drive up the side of a mountian.  The road was really rough, the car kept bottoming out, Patricio (my neighbor) and I got out to guide his brother around the deep ruts, while holding bowling ball size rocks to put under the tires in the event that the car started to roll backwards, I was getting a real laugh out of this.

We finally got to where we would leave the car at rural farm house made of earthen stone (abode brick) and a straw roof, with chickens and ducks running around.  I looked back down over  the switch backs we had just driven up, the cars on the road below looked like matchbox toys!!! A check of my GPS showed we were just above 10,000 feet elevation. 
 Hiking in to  the Lakes

We started hiking into the mountains and it was ALL up hill.  I swore to myself I would keep up with these guys and was really happy that I did. Each time I felt I was ready for a break I just kept saying to myself “5 more minutes”. After about 45 minutes, a lake was finally in site.  I was so relieved, but Patricio say “Oh no Mike this is lake #1 , small fish,  we are going to lake #5”.  OH MY GOD I thought, but on we went.
Lake # 1

Lake #3


Lake #5

During the hike in I realized just what a outstanding place I was in, the beauty really moved me.  It was like nothing I had experienced before and really wished Anne was with me to see it.  We got to lake #5 an hour and a half later, total hike was about 2hrs and 20 minutes, we were at 13,400 feet elevation, no wonder I had such a hard time breathing.   The lake we came upon was big, calm and crystal clear. It started to lightly rain, but I didn’t care, I was fishing.  I pulled out my  trusted Patagonia Rain jacket and thought this is a bit tight, then I realized it was Anne’s not mine!!! Thank God I lost weight or the jacket would have never zipped, but it did and I was warm and toasty.

Beautiful Scenery
The fishing started, we met up with other relatives of Patricios, everyone spread out.  This lake is huge with rolling hills all around, I couldn’t see where the others were,  we just communicated by whistling.  This is a lake where these guys usually catch large numbers of trout (rainbow/browns), but after 4 hrs I only had ONE. As we gatherded to leave I didn’t feel bad, the other guys had also only caught one or two, I didn’t care, it was a great day. The hike out wasn’t bad, mostly down hill and with the sun going down behind the peaks everything had an orange glow, it was great.
Hiking back out of the Caja’s
Back at the farm house we were invited in to have tea and warm up while we waited for everyone to return. It was getting dark and at that altitude the temp was dropping fast.  We sat around in an old kitchen, with an open fire in the corner and meat hanging from the ceiling smoking.  Our hosts were wonderful,  an older gentlemen and his wife.  She wore the traditional red wool skirt ,with thick wool shawls around her  shoulders, jogging pants and wellies, and a thick wool hat with a marijuana leaf on the front. 
Now remember, my Spanish is very limited so  I missed most of the tales being told, but Patricio did his best to translate for me.  There were two small children, maybe 4 and 5 years old and I gave them some hard candy and a pack of gum I had.  Their eyes grew and the biggest smiles I ever saw came across their faces. Grandma smiled also and came over and took me by the hand and led me over to the corner where the fire was.  She told the guy that was already sitting there to move, I was given his place.  I guess it was the warmest seat in the house, it was her way of saying thanks for treating her grandchildren to sweets.  A few hours went by of tea drinking and telling stories, I understood some but missed alot.  I listened to the farmer tell a tale about something, and all I understood was that 3 days ago something happened, but the rest I had no clue.  I guess the puzzled look on my face let them them know I didn’t understand, so his wife starts waving a dish above her head and the farmer was swinging his arms around.  I had no idea what was going on!  Then my friend Patricio said “You know – ET, ET, how you say UFO?”.  I came to learn that there are many sightings in that area, they all shook their heads in agreement and claimed to have seen UFO’s at one time or another.  I didn’t see any, if I ever do, I promise I will let you know.
I wish I had taken pictures of the house and family, but I didn’t want to be rude.  Maybe next time.
So after a very enjoyable evening we packed up the cars to go into the freezing cold and pitch black night.  One car woudn’t start so everyone was pushing, one pop of the clutch and it roared to life.  Down the the road and thru the Andes back to Cuenca.  What a great day.  My muscles were aching but my face had a giant smile. It was about 10pm by the time I made it to our front door, so much for being home by 5pm.  I was tired, hungry and my legs felt like rubberbands but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  It was a wonderful day and I feel privileged to have spent a day like that.   I can’t wait to do it again.

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We joined some friends for a day in the park.  We were looking forward to  Burrow Races, Go Cart races and a Soccer game,
“Clowns vs. Indigenous Women”.
The Burrow races were scheduled to start at 10:30. 
Well, it is Ecuador, so at 11:00, when there wasn’t a single Burrow in sight,  we strolled through the park.  It is the largest park in Cuenca, Parque El Paraiso. 
We pulled up a bench for a rest.

The flora is beautiful
This little girl adored Seamus and wanted to walk him, she kept telling him to “Caminar” (spanish for walk), and when he would stop to sniff or look around she would demand that he “Vamos”.   Too funny.
At one point when everyone was watching the little girl in the white dress walking Seamus, her older sister, in the pink dress, wandered off.  The Mom was pretty panicked, our friend Wally and the Mom fanned out, they both noticed her at the same time.  She had gone off to go play on a slide. 
The Burrows finally showed up.

These guys were having fun taking turns getting on the burrows and having their pictures taken.  Smiles everywhere.

The Go-Cart race went off first.  One guy steered and one guy pushed.  The track is pretty big so about half way around when the guy pushing got tired, they swapped positions.

 This team didn’t even have a steering wheel for their Cart. 
He just held on for dear life. 

These blow up toys are sold at every parade and event.
Vendors were selling balloons, munchies, and toys.
“AND THEY’RE OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The Burrow Races finally started at 12:30.  It was HYSTERICAL.  The burrows were definitely the ones in charge.  They were going every which way, if they didn’t feel like going straight, they didn’t!!! 

This burrow just slammed to a halt.  He wasn’t going any further and
the poor rider was exhausted.  The race was several laps long!!
Notice the vendor guy, everyone was laughing like crazy, including the rider!!!

This guy gave up riding the beast, and just walked him.
El Diablo riding a burrow!!

As you can see from the pictures, the sky was really clouding up and we were in for a downpour, so we decided to head home.  We were bummed that we would miss the Clowns v. Indigenous Ladies.  Just as we got home, the skies opened up and it rained like crazy.  We are pretty sure the soccer game was canceled.  We keep looking through the paper hoping for a mention of the rescheduling of the match!!   So far, no luck.

Cuenca’s version of the Kentucky Derby!!

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