Saturday, December 25, 2010

El Pase del Nino Viajero

I know there are other places around the world that hold to the traditions of Christmas in a way that resonates the Spirit that can be felt, seen, and heard.  Place Cuenca on your must-see celebratory Christmas venues.  I know it's easier to impress the Iowa farm boy that I am because the parades in Iowa are always replete with the incongruous entries of combines, terragators, firetrucks, ambulances, and yes of course the local saddle club that brings up the rear.  It doesn't matter what the holiday is, they're all there and the subtle differences might be that the parade marshal wears a Santa hat on Christmas and a red white and blue tie on Independence Day.  But let me tell you, this is different.  There wasn't one combine, one firetruck, and no one was advertising State Farm Insurance either.  It was all about a little Nino in a far off place called Bethlehem.  The costumes were bright and beautiful and the childrens faces were...angelic. 


Suffice it to say that the children of the city and the surrounding area are not only in attendance, they are the Christ-like focus.  I remember being dazzled by the colors on the street in Otavalo on market day.  There is a sort of optical inebriation that occurs that makes you glad you are alive to witness it.  So it was on this day.  You know that you can never really describe it to someone in a way that they can picture it, so you pull out your camera and discover that even Sony can't do it justice.  You just have to be there. 

For more great pictures, please go to Chuck and Nancy's site where they captured some great color:

Sometimes the parade got pretty slow, but it never seemed to stop altogether.  Crossing Mariscal Sucre on foot was a feat.  Crossing it with a bicycle was Mission Impossible.  We parked and locked our bikes on the garden railings in Parque Calderon and sprouted feet.

After watching the parade for a couple hours Rachel and I decided to join friends at California Kitchen for a pre-arranged lunch. We unlatched our bikes and walked them through the human gauntlet.   After crossing Mariscal Sucre I looked back and Rachel was no where to be seen.  She was swallowed in a sea of humanity.  How  hard could it be to find a gringa with a bright red bicicleta I asked myself?  I turned around, Mongo at my side and dove back into the swarming mass, and found the going even more difficult.  Still no Rachel.  I knew she was ok, but where was she?  Pushing around in the crowd was useless so I found the highest spot in Calderon and still no white blouse with a red bike in sight.  I had told Rachel that California Kitchen was only a few blocks away on Gaspar Sangurima, so that would seem to be the logical place to find her....eventually.  Mongo and I pushed back though one more time and I rode my two wheeled black steed over to Cali Kitchen and waited for a bit.  After ten minutes I decided to leave my bike and to retrace steps back to where I had lost my bride.  I knew that Rachel really didn't know her cartography here very well, so she could have taken any of about 4 different routes, or perhaps she was simply was 'stuck'.  Eventually I found her walking her Scarlet, still beaming her smile, and engaged in conversation with someone who looked like a gringo (but wasn't).  She knew that gringos would  be the best hope in guidance to a place called California Kitchen!   I think there was a little Christmas spirit that guided me to her in that moment because I might still be looking for her without a little 'luck'.   Our lunch with friends was grand and their hugs were heartfelt and warm.  We got a standing ovation for finding each other but of course I got taken to the woodshed for losing her in the first place.  You might ask about why we didn't call each other on our cell phones.  That would simply be too easy.  Her cell phone was in her purse.  Her purse was in my back pack.  My backpack was where it was supposed to be.....on my back.  I'll never again make light of the Ecuadorian dairymen who milk their cows in the pasture and carry their milk in buckets for miles.

By comparison, the dairyman method of milk transport is genious.   

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Sunday several of us gringo types went to visit an orphanage here on the outskirts of Cuenca.  Twenty three little souls are surviving there mostly I think on the love delivered by the two (that's right...two) women who care for them on a daily basis.  Two months ago funding all but dried up when the government decided to back off on the help.  The other orphanages in Cuenca are apparently run by the Catholic church and have better resources.  There's a lot more to learn about this place and see where we can help.  Food is the most obvious need right now.  The kids are not getting 3 meals and the one they get is not going to make them reach their genetic potential.  Believe it or not I think 3 or 4 dairy goats would do wonders for their long term survival.  There is grass to eat and I think the older children could milk the goats.  Next week there are some chickens being donated which will also help.  There is a small core group of gringos that have taken up this cause and there is some clothing and food trickling in to give some hope to these abandoned children.  There is enormous needs here just for the children's survival so if you have an interest in helping here, even just giving a little love, please talk to George and Carol next time you have lunch at California Kitchen.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Our Container Arrives

I woke this morning at 3:00 AM, not disturbed or restless, but thoughtful.  I had a dream last night and the characters included important people in my life.  I guess we all have those dreams.  There was something profound in it though and I feel compelled to write.  I’ve been away from our blog for a while.  I think most people that read our blog want to hear something about Ecuador and Cuenca and I will get to that, but for now it’s going to be something a little more ethereal.  Rachel and I were at Gringos and Friends last night at DiBacco’s Restaurante and had supper with some special people.  I looked around the room and realized we were surrounded with special people.  Most people say I talk too much, so it’s probably true.  Last night I just listened and watched.  It wasn’t just a bunch of 60-somethings tipping their brewskies either.  There were families there with young children.   I took special care to watch the kids play.  They were little white children, gringlets.  Their blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes were an anomaly in this country, but their spirit was one with the little people of the darker condor persuasion.  They were content and happy.  Not one of them was fussing, whining, or demanding their parent’s attention.   Then I looked at the parents and discovered the why.  The parents were here to live a different life with the focus on family and all things important, not material.   They were going to educate their children in a rich life that could never be afforded at even the most expensive schools in the US.    Those young parents were also reaching out to all of us gray panthers, not because they wanted to know the best restaurants in town but because there was a common spirit that transcended our linear chronograph.   Ok, enough of the ethereal. 

Last week was a special time for Rachel and me.  Our container arrived.  Now if you live in the US and you are living vicariously through gringo blogs in Ecuador you might wonder what a container is.  If you live here in Ecuador, you already know what a container is.  A container is either a 20 or 40 foot metal box that rides on a semi truck flatbed, a rail car, or gets hoisted to an ocean vessel where it is carried over the the big water to faraway places like Ecuador.  North American expats (gringos) view these containers with equal parts joy and disdain.  Generally, you make a decision that those things you left at home in Iowa or Oklahoma were either expendable or not.  I came to Ecuador with two suitcases, but then I’m a man.  If you are a woman, your sentiments for objects of affection run a little deeper.  This all flys in the face of the nonmaterialism I speak of above, but then I think of Out of Africa and the fine china and the Edison phonograph that Meryl Streep brought from Denmark to the Masai in 1914 and I guess I think it's ok in 2010 to bring your subwoofer.   One of the first decisions of this newlywed couple was whether it would be worth it to bring those sentimental and creature comforts here to roost.  I can tell you that after seeing the warm glow in Rachel’s eyes this past week it was worth it.  Rachel’s mother’s special glass trees sit atop Rachel’s French Armoire in our living room.   Her elegant wing backed chairs nestle in a corner of our kitchen and dining area.  Her massive and luxurious queen sized bed coddles us to sleep at night.  The little clay creatures fashioned by Brooks and Bianca in their formative years are here safe and ready to express their story to anyone who will listen.  The loveseat where Rachel and I first kissed is in the man cave and welcomes Rachel and I to a repeated experience of love and comfort.  Rachel is the daughter of a hardware store owner.  Do you think her tools are important?  Well, I’m pretty sure she can do some amazing things with them and will.  

 Art is important too and things crafted by Rachel’s talented and now deceased brother are a constant reminder of his abilities and passion.  Let’s not forget the heavy cookware that helps those fresh Ecuadorian vegetables reach their culinary zenith.   Then there’s the side by side LG refrigerator that makes ice, dispenses it, and holds enough food for the Ecuadorian army.     Yes, we’re both happy with our decision to ship things here.  If you want to know a good formula for getting things here we believe we can make some recommendations.  Give us a call.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rachel's Bike is 'Scarlet'

We all leave things behind when we come to Ecuador.  Some of those 'things' are harder to leave behind than others.  Rachel's turbo charged Miata 'Mazda Speed' (remember 'Zoom Zoom') was her most difficult possession to leave behind.  She dubbed her car 'Scarlet' for the red color it so appropriately wore and also for her heroine in 'Gone With the Wind'.   

 Rachel's new heroine 'Scarlet' rides on two wheels with disc brakes, 24 gears and has a suspension that evens the cobblestones and 'locks out' for the really rugged outings.  I don't think we're ready for rock climbs on our bikes yet, but we'll be ready when our bodies and spirits say so.  Juan at PaPikes made  special accomodations for us to buy this bike.  That's the way Juan is.  He is a good friend, a very fair, honest, and generous business man.  When you are ready to buy a bike, come and see Juan. 

Our first ride with our bikes 'Scarlet' and 'Mongo' was to visit some friends who just moved to a lovely home just off Doce De Abril.   Rachel quickly learned the technique of timing to get in the one lane tunnel under Avendidas de Americas keeping an out-of-the-shadows profile and a merging speed that allowed for safe dispatch to the other side.  Rachel and Scarlet are unscathed and happy.  Rachel's confidence is growing quickly and I have no doubt she will soon be going everywhere in town with or without me.  She still misses her Scarlet Miata but the memory is fading.    

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Waiting for This Day

First a note to Rachel's mother and dad:   Rachel is alive and well.  In fact she rather embraced the ride down Doce De Abril! 

There's no bounds to what Rachel can and will accomplish here in Ecuador.  I'm so proud of her.  In this city of 500,000 there are probably only 5 women cyclists riding the streets here. Actually, I think that count is very generous, but count Rachel among that elite handful.  A while ago I shared on this blog site my first harrowing day on two wheels in Cuenca.  Gathering my wits after some close brushes with the Blue Angels of Death (buses) that day I was determined that I would one day ride comfortably and confidently in traffic here.  I am proud to say that I am doing just that but it took a lot of fortitude and single mindedness to get where I am.  Only in the wishful recesses in the back of my mind did I believe that one day Rachel would join me as well. 

We had a great time!  Our friend Juan from PaBikes was kind enough to let Rachel try out another Mongoose for a couple hours.   The 'goose' that Rachel is pictured in here is not what we've chosen however.  Rachel had the opportunity to ride my Mongoose as well and this one simply didn't measure up.  Juan was more than happy to upgrade our choice.  We ended up special ordering a smaller framed twin to my Mongo, so it is on its way from Quito.  Rachel's Mongoose will be appropriately christened Monga.  The fact that we will both have independent two wheeled mobility in this city will greatly expand our footprint and keep our bodies firm.  You can only begin to imagine how this expands our life here.  While other people are jumping on the Blue Angel buses (they are Blue Angels of Death when they are rasping and belching their diesel fumes beside me on my bicycle) we are like free birds swooping in and out of traffic diverting only when the spirit moves us to occasionally ride the sidewalks.  It is magical to surge ahead of the Blue Angels of Death and the Yellow Hornets (taxis) in traffic and laugh out loud as we eschew their fares, retain our muscle tone and feel the warmth of the breeze.   It was great to share learned strategies with Rachel about which streets, which sidewalks, which tunnels and the myriad of self imposed safety rules I’ve learned to keep yourself in one piece in this town.  I love Rachel and her safety is numero uno.  Her freedom is numero dos.  The bicycle is freedom.  Thank you Juan.

Today Rachel is with Dr. Edgar Rodas, one of the most highly esteemed doctors in all of Ecuador.  He is a former Minister of Health in the Ecuadorian cabinet.  He is the founder and leader of a nonprofit health organization that brings surgical procedures and wellness programs to the poorest of the poor and the remotest of the remote in all of Ecuador.  He is the Dean of Surgery at the University of Azuay.  He is a modest, warm, talented, unselfish and kind man.

Dr. Rodas’ staff of medical volunteers shares his vision of sustained health and wellness for all of Ecuador.  For Rachel to be invited to participate in this philanthropic medical adventure is nothing short of a God Thing.  How she came to be connected with Dr. Rodas is another story best left for another time.  Suffice it to say I am enormously proud of my Rachel for her courage, grit and determination.  Keep her in your prayers.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Visitors from Vilcabamba

You'll have to go back several months to find Rachel's and my trip to Vilcabamba on this blog site.  It was an enchanting trip.  We weren't married yet.  We were still trying to determine whether our love for each other was enough to make us safe and viable as a couple.  We were still needing to know whether our tempos and rhythms would gel.  We had not yet been on 'the ride' together.  On that trip Rachel and I rode horses in the mountains on a gruelling and harrowing adventure.  Rachel got some kind of stomach bug on that trip also.  'The Bug' lasted for four days.  We also met and became friends with Rick and Eve Casto. Rick and Eve just follow their hearts and their hearts lead them to Ecuador and into the Valley of Longevity in Vilcabamba.  They are helping to manage a wonderful resort and spa in Vilcabamba known as Terra Madre.   Rick and Eve are missionaries.  They are the kind of missionaries that make you want to become a Christian if you're not one and if you are already a Christian, you're really proud to be one and will be inspired to be more like one. 

Yesterday Rick and Eve came to Cuenca and stayed the night with us.   They are the perfect guests and make hosting a total pleasure.  We talked about Ecuador and why we love it here.  This seems to always be a topic of conversation among gringos here.  Go figure.  We talked about matters of the heart.  We talked about our families.  We talked about food and how to prepare it here.  We even broke out a deck of cards with different pictures from Ecuador on the face of every card and played a new game for Rachel and me called 'Golf'.  It was really fun.  Rick and Eve touched our hearts and our souls and today we're better and happier people because of it.  It's kind of like that here in Ecuador.  You meet people here every day that enrich your life and make you realize that you're never alone.  You talk about things that you never dreamed of talking about anywhere else.  Whatever you were before you came here doesn't matter.  Ecuador is a new start for everyone who comes here.  You can become the person you've always wanted to be.  You might suggest that is possible anywhere....even in your own home town.  Try it.  Good luck.  When you're frustrated and had enough, send me an email.      

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mike and Patty's Birthday Party

Last month (October) Mike and Patty Grimm had a party to celebrate their mutual Libran birthdays at California Kitchen here in Cuenca.   Rachel wasn't here yet so I had to go solo, but the company was great.   Mike and Patty are wonderful people to be around and their friends are likewise.  If you've never had a meal at California Kitchen you need to allow yourself that pleasure. 
For those with an extremely robust appetite there is an hamburguesa to end all hamburguesas.

The owner/operators of California Kitchen, Carol and George and their family are welcoming, warm and dedicated to delivering a delicious and unique dining experience to your table. 

Bob LeFevre and Mike Grimm have become excellent friends.  They are both Viet Nam era Air Force pilots.  Suffice it to say they both have some great stories to tell.  James Reed, another pilot in attendance flew 747's for United.  I am merely a licensed private pilot but it struck me that four of us in attendance were pilots and love flying.  I wonder if there might be a correlation of spirit between pilots and the allure of independent living in Ecuador.  When half of the men in attendance are pilots and the ratio to pilots and non pilots in the general population is probably less than 1 in a hundred you have to wonder.  This wasn't a purposeful pilot gathering!

Bob and Freida will return to Ecuador in January to their new home on the coast.  Bob plans to build a two seat gyrocopter and will likely be able to take off right from the sandy beach in front of his house.  Does it get any better than that?  I'm pretty sure Mike and James and I will be over to help him build it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Playing to the Beat of Independence

Rachel's independent spirit of excitement and glee is shown early in life

There's a picture of Rachel with her brothers when she was two years of age in Lawton Oklahoma. Rachel's mouth was wide open in an expression of total glee, released from all bonds that might trouble a two year old.  I love that picture.  I think we all yearn for that release of entering into our surroundings, just stopping to smell the roses, picking up the symbols and playing to the beat of the band.  I guess that's why I married Rachel.  She smells the roses and plays the symbols. 

Rachel seizes the moment and symbols the beat of independence

November 3 was Cuenca Independence Day.  Bands played, Presidente Correa was in town to celebrate with us, vendors and artisans from all over the country were here to add color and nuance to an historic and significant event.  For those of us who live here now it is difficult to believe that Cuenca or Ecuador for that matter was ever anything but independent.  There's a spirit that goes with an independent country and an independent people.  Mark my word, the Ecuadorian spirit is alive and well and the people love their independence just like the American patriot from the US.

It strikes me about the similarities between our countries, the US and Ecuador.  Many people would cite the differences which are obviously apparent at every level, socio-economic, cultural, demographic, climatic, etc.   But let's look at core spirit and independent thinking. When the Ecuadorian people have had enough of the direction their leadership takes, they are heard.  They are heard in large numbers with an open voice.   Changes are made.   A couple years ago the American cousins of the North decided they didn't like their country's direction and voted in a massive change of political leadership and representation.  Two years later, expectations weren't met, and again the voice of the people was heard with a resulting change to the US House of Representatives.  It doesn't matter which side of the isle you sit on.  Democracy and independence is alive and well in the US and Ecuador.  Congratulations on your independence Ecuador!      

Sunday, October 31, 2010

We're Home!

It seems like it's been a long dry spell without posting.  So much has happened in the last few weeks but I just felt like we had to be in the 'zone' of tending to business and our prearranged assignments of tasks while in the US.  It is all a little unfortunate in a way because I'm not sure we were totally ourselves and we were certainly stressed while travelling about the US, shipping household goods to Cuenca from Denton Texas, meeting with family in Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, getting married in Tennessee, going on a honeymoon in Missouri, going to the Ecuadorian consulate in Texas, taking care of business matters in Oklahoma, clearing out Rachel's house, having two household sales, and in general burning candles at both ends.  Color us exhausted.  Color us unwinding.  Color us relieved and happy to settle into this new home of ours in Cuenca.  We're home!

I'm hoping that Rachel will add a few words at some point to describe her feelings and emotions as she takes in her new surroundings.  I was in the states for almost a month so my first couple days back in Ecuador were a juxtaposition of dreamlike surrealism and giddy joy.  The 'giddiness' was certainly due in no small part to having the love of my life right here with me.   Its one thing to marvel at your surroundings but when there's no one to share it with it's like the proverbial falling tree in the forest with no one to hear it.  There's no sound.  My experience in Ecuador is at last a shared experience.  If you are a US expatriate you can identify with what I'm saying.  If you go back to the states and tell people about why you keep coming back here they just look at you like you are certainly a Martian.  At least to Rachel, I'm no longer a Martian.

Every time you engage in a conversation with a local here it is a virtual treasure trove of Ecuador culture and the heart of the people.  Today Rachel and I were blessed to meet Dr. Rodrigo Crespo Toral.  If you live in Ecuador, especially in Cuenca, you know the name Crespo.  There are statues and streets named for Rodrigo’s father and his great uncle Remigio in Cuenca.  They are a family of physicians, healers.    Rodrigo was a professor of pediatric medicine at Georgetown University.  At 86, he is still handsome and regal and is obviously proud of his beautiful wife of 62 years.  This day he had two granddaughters, their mother, and his lovely wife at his side.  We ate ice cream together at a wonderful heladoria on Parque Calderon.    It was important to Rodrigo that his granddaughters knew about the city that fostered his development.  The building where we ate our helados once housed the high school where Rodrigo learned Latin and the disciplines of biology and physiology.  I felt so humbled and privileged to be with him this day.  Rachel talked with him about being a specialty neo natal nurse in the US.  “You aren’t retiring are you?” he admonished.  I had the feeling Rodrigo wasn’t long out of the practice of medicine.  His passion was still in his eyes and his steady voice.  We had just brushed with the heart of Ecuador and her heart is well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We're Married!!!!

There’s a part of me that would like to get back to a ‘routine’ of sorts.  I think we all crave familiarity and ‘safe zone’ living.  For me, safe zone living is going around the ‘circles of death’ in Cuenca in my Mongoose, but you get the picture.   Instead of high wire gymnastics on Mongo, I’ve taken on my life with the love of my life, Rachel.  It has been magical and magnificent, exciting and exhilarating, and yes at moments frenetic, frenzied, and even freakish.   Now before you accuse me of wilting into some sort of alliterative gibberish, please understand one thing.  It’s all good.  The woman I fell in love with 47 years ago is real and not a dream.  She is everything and more than what any man could hope for in this world or the next.  I am blessed.  We are blessed.  Life is so good.

The first order of business (well, at least the first public order of business) in arriving at the airport in Tulsa was to assess Rachel’s progress in consolidating her life’s accumulation of things for moving to a more simple and humble life in Ecuador.  The progress was good. 
The second order of business was to get married.  We’ve both been in white marriages before.   This one was brown, well blue actually, as in jeans and sandals.   We chose Tennessee as our legal entity for recognizing our intent to savor our lives together.  Why Tennessee?  Well, you see the Volunteers see getting married as an act of love and life changing intent rather than as a significant legal event.  It fit our purposes well.  We got married in a county courthouse with a licensed Baptist minister.  Our legal documents were completed in 20 minutes after we answered some rather difficult questions about our histories.  I don’t mean difficult because we were embarrassed or sorrowed, I mean because dates are hard to remember when you’re 60 or close to it.  Well that’s my age now anyway.  We had our wedding dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken and proceeded to Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri where our nuptial nirvana awaited. 

You have to picture us ripping through the winding highways and byways of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri in Rachel’s red turbo Miata, rag top down, her hair flowing and billowing in a poetic and graceful dance.  My own three hairs were ecstatic as well.  We were in bliss.  We looked at our hands where our new found hardware gave reality to our act that we had just culminated.  We are married!!!!!! 

The trees were just reaching a zenith of color, and yes, when you’re in love autumn leaves are just a little more beautiful, songs are just a little sweeter, and the person sitting beside you is even more radiant than what your wildest dream can conjure.   You see I have history with Rachel.  We were 12 when we met.  I was in love with her then but she was unattainable.  She still is, but God is good.  The person I had always dreamed about was finally at my side and we are ready for writing a new chapter in our lives. 

We spent a couple nights in a log house out in the boonies.  Well, we didn’t exactly rough it.  There was a private hot tub, a Jacuzzi tub, a loft with a queen sized bed, and yes we packed some wine and rib eyes too.  We strolled along our own private river where we skipped stones and found lucky rocks with holes in them.  We drove around the countryside looking at breathtaking color in the trees and the color of the locals.  Was this wedded bliss?  I’ve heard about this before.  For a few moments there  was an absence of bliss, but I discovered afterward that it was merely an adjustment period of recognizing the divine nature of the woman I married and the magic words ‘you’re right dear’.  How easy those words can be said.  Why is it that men hold on so strenuously to the notion that we could think otherwise?  Does it really matter who is right?  I’ve thrown away the scoreboard. 

If you read my blogs on a regular basis you know how I extol the beauty and grace of Ecuador and its wonderful people.  I confess that coming back to Middle America was both a wakeup call and a reminder of our roots.  America is beautiful.  Her people are good.  I am proud to be an American.  I also confess that when our time in the States is completed, I believe we will be able and ready and excited to come home.  Home is where the heart is.  My heart is where Rachel is.  We can live anywhere, but our new home and our new life together is in Cuenca.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Warmth of the Ecuadorian People

In just a couple days I'm heading back to the States to get married.  I couldn't be more excited!  Rachel is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone, let alone me. 

 Tomorrow some long lost friends arrive here in Cuenca and I get to be with them for a couple days before I leave.  I've been reflecting tonight on how things happen here in Ecuador.  First, you must understand that people here truly have a warm and forgiving heart.  They MUST be forgiving to be kind to us silly gringos! I was thinking back to my first days in Ecuador back in January when it first occurred to me that I  knew this was where I was going to spend the last chapters of my life.  I encountered the locals in Cotacachi that simply took me under their wing and showed me their heart.  The owners of Hostel El Arbolito and the restaurant owner next door became my friends.  They looked out for me.  They helped me with my pitiful Spanish.  They called taxis for me and told me exciting and beautiful places to explore.  They fixed my eggs the way I liked them.  It wasn't just the perfect climate.  It wasn't the majestic and mystical Imbabura.  It wasn't just the pan pipes that still bring tears to my eyes from a recognition of a spiritual resonance that permeates this country.  It's the people.  

Another thing happens when you come to this country with your senses and your spirit open.  You meet other people who who have come here from far away places like the US and Canada and Switzerland and Germany and they sense what is going on here too. A comraderie is quickly established. Suddenly you have more friends than you've ever had in your life!  I look at the pictures I took of the people that were on my tour in January.  They were all here for a visit.  More than half of them are now living here! 

Some special friends, Bob and Freida (see above), stayed in touch with me over the last 8 months and have found their way back to Ecuador from New Hampshire.  They came into Ecuador this time to expand their search for their new home.  Like me they fell in love with the charm and the tranquil life in the countryside of the Imbabura.  This time they also wanted to experience the beautiful pacific coast.  While exploring the sandy beaches north of Salinas they accidentally ran into some other friends of mine from Cuenca who just happened to also be touring over there.  Bob and Mike are both former military pilots and share a passion for world history, politics, and the things that make the world turn.  They aren't the kind of people that just sit back and watch the tide roll in.  They are engaged and passionate about life's experience.  Bob had an engineering business fostered at the University of New Hampshire and MIT.  Mike was a career Air Force pilot in special ops and has lived all over the world.   Mike and Bob immediately became great friends and their wives, Patty and Freida also became great friends.  It's like that here.  Believe it.  Mike and Patty are passionate about Ecuador too.  You can visit them at

Tomorrow Bob and Freida will be here to stay with me and experience Cuenca.  They will stay in Rachel's and my condo and keep watch over our home while Rachel and I make our way around the midwest visiting family, get married, and honeymoon.  The day Bob and Freida arrive in Cuenca Mike and Patty are throwing a party to celebrate their birthdays down at the California Kitchen.  I am invited.  Bob and Freida are invited.  I know I will see other familiar faces there too.  If they aren't yet friends, they soon will be.  Life is so good.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Stop at Peliqueria Azuay

One of the expenses that I always hated to endure in the states was a haircut. Shelling out $17 for a haircut at a Walmart just rubbed me the wrong way.  They never took more than about ten minutes on me. I never got my neck shaved with hot creme and a straight razor either. Granted, I don't have a lot of hairs to cut, but the ones I have I want cut with some care.   This morning I  went whipping by Peliqueria Azuay on on my bicycle.  Impulsive that I am, I figured  I could just as well get a haircut since I am after all getting married in about a week.  My Mongoose brakes grabbed a hold of the cobblestones and in a minute I was invited in (my bicycle included).  The street was busy and you can see from the picture how much space there is on the street for a highly prized bicycle.  With Mongo at my side, I felt comfortable inside and the man having his hair cut immediately engaged me in conversation in Ingles.  Eager to exercise his dormant English, Jorge was at once friendly and inquisitive as to what brought me to Cuenca.  Jorge's darling 4 year old daughter, Diana looked on with her big brown eyes.  Carmen, the barber just kept cutting Jorge's hair and started giving him a fabulous shave.  I knew I had hit a gold mine here.  After visiting with Jorge I found that he had lived in the US for a number of years but was back living once again in his beloved Cuenca.  Cuenca is his home.  He didn't say so, but I think he built his nest egg in the US and now he's back where he wanted to be in the first place.   We talked about the people of Cuenca and how they have this special friendliness and acceptance of foreigners and anyone who might be different from themselves.  We talked about the Cuenca climate and the politics surrounding last week's noise in Quito.  I think that topic is pretty over with.   He showed me pictures of the rest of his handsome family.  Then I found out that this was his father's peliqueria (barber shop).  Pretty soon his dad comes out.  Padre has been at this for 40 years in this shop.  I got the impression that he now cuts hair when he gets the urge and not necessarily so much in between urges.  It seems like this is how it's supposed to be when we're over 70 or so.  Work when we feel like it!  Most Ecuadorians love work and are hard at it well into their 70's or 80's.  I guess work isn't such drudgery when you like what you're doing,  take a two hour lunch and engage the people you come in contact with all day.  Time flys and life is good.  
     When it was my turn on the throne I came to my moment of paniced but practiced translation, 'Corte por favor sólo un poco' which I think means just cut a little but I've had mixed results in that interpretation.   Sometimes that seems to mean just leave two or three short hairs.  I never know whether I'm telling them to cut just a little or leave just a little.  In any event, today is my lucky day.  Rachel will not be embarrassed after all!  I'm fortunate to have Jorge at the ready to translate my desires to Carmen.  Jorge seems to give a much more eloquent rendition of 'cut just a little' and Carmen is obviously taking in the apparently clear and precise instructions.  Jorge could have left at this point but instead stayed to visit while Carmen worked on the detail of my ever-thinning scalp. The result was highly satisfactory and my neck feels clean and sleek.  Afterwards I wanted to take their picture.  I'm not sure they were wholly into the picture thing because their smiles were constant and flowing without the camera and not so much as I took their picture.  I wish you could have seen Diana's smile because she could melt the Sphynx.  

Next time you're needing a haircut in Cuenca, consider Peliqueria Azuay, $1.50 well spent.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ecuador Makes Headlines

Well, by now most everyone has heard about the 'difficulties' we had here in Ecuador a couple days ago.  I need to write about it before I forget it.  I don't mean that it was totally forgettable; I just mean that in about a week I will have no idea about when it happened or how it changed anything.  This was not 9-11, folks.  This wasn't the Watts riots of LA.   This was not a great tsunami flood.  This wasn't even an Iowa blizzard or flood.  World events are things that change us and how we perceive the world in general.  This was not a world event.  So what was it then?  Well, I'm not really sure.  I think it had something to do with some people not making as much money as they wanted.  Imagine that.  If a group of people (policia ala Barnio Fifo) decide they don't like things a certain way and they have guns and were issued a bullet today, trouble is always a possibility. Now how these collective Barnios got the 150 collective Gomerio Pylitos in the military to side with them is beyond me.  I think it must have been a mixture of:   "Damn, we haven't run this president out of office yet and he's been in here for FIVE YEARS!"  and "Hey, guys, if we do a demonstration maybe we can get a raise and we'll get that new Samsung!"

It is true that Correa is a bit of a theatrical peacock, but I'm actually on his side on this one.  The motives behind this uprising weren't the sorts of things that stir your soul like 'Remember the Alamo' or 'Give me liberty or give me death'.  The bad guys in this case were the ones that raised the trouble in the first place.  They're all fired, some or most of them in jail, and who knows how many got hurt or worse.  Is there some angst against Presidente Correa in this bet there is.  Does everyone love President Obama in the US?  Not.  Does Correa control the press?  Well, pretty much.  Television journalism in Ecuador doesn't have the same 'standards' as in the US.  But there again, change your channels from CNN to Fox News and you'll find a different flavor as well.  Who tells the truth?  You decide.

I'll be glad when this all blows over.  It already has here.  For us in Cuenca it was a late morning and early afternoon of 'what’s going on?’  The banks closed for the afternoon, most shops closed, the schools let out, and I wasn't able to buy my delicious Ecuadorian bacon.  That was the extent of my inconvenience and horror.  The next day I got my bacon and the girls at the meat counter in the Coopera were as friendly as ever.  The streets and shops were all back to normal.  Life goes merrily along and yes the dogs still bark.

For those of you who have altered your thinking about whether to retire in Ecuador because of this put it all in perspective.  If you read a little history, you'll see that Ecuador has a unique but total democracy.  If things get bad here, the president is gone.  Trust me.  I finally found it in print the other day and I wish I had got a quote on it, but it goes something like this:  'The military and the police are not allegiant to the President; they are allegiant to the People'.  Before you start thinking anarchy, don't.  It works here.  It always has.  Ask the Incas, ask the Spanish.  It's not about a society of people that want to impose their will on the rest of the world.  We're too small for that here in Ecuador.  I don't think we even have an F-16.   But don't try to invade Ecuador either.  We'll send the Shuar after you and you'll definitely regret it.  Ask Peru.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunrise in Cuenca

This morning Rachel called me at 6:00 AM from the states on Skype.  We have coffee together on Skype.  It's not the same as holding her hand, but it's all we have right now.  I looked out the window and the sun was rising over Cuenca.  This scene repeats itself daily and each day I almost gasp.  This day I got to share it with Rachel because I took the web cam and showed her.  Of course a $60 webcam doesn't do it justice, nor for that matter does a $100 camera.  In fact, the only way you can appreciate it is to be here.  Rachel's not here with me, so for right now, it's just a pretty sunrise.  Well, that's not entirely true either.  It is a reminder that we have been blessed, not only with each other but with good health, wonderful friends and family and the God given ability to just enjoy life on earth.

In 13 days, 3 and a half hours, and a handful of long minutes Rachel and I will be together again.  In a turbo charged Miata moment we'll be be ripping down the highway, top down, hair on fire, looking for a preacher.  We're getting married.

We met when we were 12.  There was something very special between us then, but neither of us knew the other felt that way so time and life in general kept us apart for 47 years.  We raised families and our marriages had sad endings.  Then she caught wind that I was going to Ecuador to live a different life than what I had been living.  Perhaps she's just a romantic like me, but she wanted to know more.  She wanted to live vicariously in my emails.  I asked her why it had to be vicariously.  I crossed several states to see her again, our friendship blossomed and that 'thing' that we had when we were 12 was discovered to be real.  Like that sunrise with bold blues, reds, and pinks we knew that we had been missing something most of our life.  I was reawakened in Ecuador.  I was reborn with Rachel.  Our time is now.

We have much to do.  Rachel wants to bring some of her personal things that will surely give life to our otherwise sterile condo.  I'm looking forward to the warmth and calm her things will give our abode.  But of course that means shipping.  It means going through the customs gauntlet in Guayaquil.   Already I hear groans and gnashing of teeth.  But we've got the best shipper in Ecuador looking out for us, so we'll be ok.  Rachel's having to bear this burden of packaging what she wants to ship, and selling the rest.  If you are in Ecuador and you came from somewhere else, you know this drill already.  She's also closing down her last days as a neo natal specialized registered nurse and she's saying goodbye to those blessed little babies whose lives may be owed to her.  All this to be with me?  I've got a big commitment ahead.  I want Rachel to be happy and fulfilled.  She deserves only the best.  I will do my best.

We will be traversing the middle of the USA to see her parents, our children and families, our siblings and families,  some special cousins and some very special friends.  Most of them think we have totally gone off the deep end.  They are right.  By the standards of our former lives, we have definitely gone off the deep end.   We have traded loneliness for companionship, emptiness for love.  We have traded responsible careers for passion.  We have left our cars for....bicycles, walking and fitness.  We have left our beautiful homes for ..... a condo that will never need heat or air conditioning,  ever.   We are leaving $150 doctor visits where the doctor sees you for five minutes for a doctor that actually sees you for an hour and charges you $25.   What were we thinking?   Now if I could only do something about the barking dogs!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mongoose and the Blue Angel of Death

When it is blogging time I put down in words the very emotion that drives me at the moment.  I own the moment, but I want to share it with you.  To get you in my 'moment' requires a certain level of 'willing suspension of disbelief'.  First, know that I will take you where your senses are asked to remember.  Did you know that your nose has the best memory? Your nose (olfactory sense) is very primal and essential in mating mother and child at suckling time.  The reality is that if that first smell of your mother could be kept pristinely preserved for your reference today, you would likely have some pretty early visual, tactile, and auditory remembrances associated with it.  So now, sharpen your senses, let go of your daily woes, and ride with me on your imaginary mountain bike because we all need some exercise!

Yesterday was my maiden voyage on my Mongoose, hereafter to be christened Mongo.   My good friend Juan at PaBikes, just down the street from Palermo arranged to have Mongo set up for me at 3:00 just as he promised.  I had an important appointment at 4:30 downtown and wanted to make sure that I had enough time to break in Mongo en route.  After a brief safety briefing with Juan (it should have been a bit longer, but I’m the whacko who was antsy to get rolling) it was my turn for questions.  “Juan, is it ok to take Avendida Doce de Abril to my destination?”  Notice I didn’t ask “Is it safe?”  I wanted it to be ok.   I could tell by his fixed gaze that he was sizing me up for a coffin.  “Well, its ok, my friend, but you must be very careful.”  I keep forgetting that in the Latin culture when asked a question, the answer is never ‘NO’.  The polite thing to say when the answer is at best dubious is ‘of course’, or ‘mañana’.  Latinos are way more courteous and polite than we gringos.  It’s a culture thing.  Ok, I’ve been here long enough to know as a polite listener that you add up the speakers’ facial expression, their encouraging positive words, and take their intent entirely from their face.  Juan's intent was very clear.  “You silly gringo, you are out of your mind!”  But I AM a silly gringo, so I listened to his words and ignored his obvious intent.

So I’m down the calle (street) on Mongo checking out the gears for the first time.  I’m in my own little world of mechanics and the thrill of new equipment, oblivious that the grim reaper was muffling his laughter.  My endorphins making me drunk beyond the legal limit, I’m careening down a quiet street to get my bike legs and I leap a curb and go headlong down a busy street that immediately goes into a tunnel.  Whoops.  This is pure lunacy.  There’s no turning around and traffic is going 45 (that’s mph) down a single lane with high curbs on both sides and with a total width that gives just enough room for Rachel’s Miata.  I am so screwed.  Ok, the traffic is going 45, there’s no way to turn around or stop, so the only thing I can do is pedal my ass off and hope I can get through the tunnel before a fumy metro bus devours Mongo with me on him.  Of course I’m brand new on this bike and as I feverishly go through the gears to make this mountain bike a world class touring bike I throw a chain.  Sh-t.

God is forgiving.  Jesse Ventura said you can’t legislate for stupidity.  I’m glad God was watching me this day.  Rachel prays for me every day to clear the way because I don’t always look and think before I lunge forward.  (See horseback ride in Vilcabamba).  Between Rachel’s prayers, God’s forgiveness, and my stupid luck (that Jesse never made a law for), I survived my first test and solid learning.  Tunnels are not for bikes silly gringo.

My second test:  traffic circles.  Otherwise known as circles of death, the traffic circles in Cuenca are uniquely designed to reward the brave and severely punish the courteous or faint of heart.   For the bicycle rider, well, remember the grim reaper thing?  His laughter is no longer muffled.  So I’m going down the side of the street so close to the curb that my tires are rubbing and I hear the Blue Angel of Death (BAD) behind me (metro bus) belching (whatever they belch) chortling, and spitting out the last bike rider, hungry for fresh two wheeled meat and we’re nearing the Circle of Death (COD)..  For the life of me I’m in a tizzy because I know the toilet water swirls clockwise below the equator so I’m thinking the same must be true in the circles of death.  I therefore prepare myself for a right hand swirl.  Wrong! Irch.  Brake time.  I don’t mean break time, I mean BRAKE TIME.   Ok, I’ve got the gears down pretty good now, but the brakes……I think I you already know that a good mountain bike has disc brakes.  That means when you throw on the brakes you….stop.  If your right hand is stronger than your left and you lay it on good you can do forward summer salts with your bicycle.  Well, not to worry.  I’m a silly gringo, but not stupid.  I put equal squeeze on both wheels and I stopped and jumped on to the dubious safety of the sidewalk.  Now I’m socially screwed.  The metro bus driver that was hungry for fresh Mongoose got his laugh in, the other drivers already in the circle of death are paying attention to their own possible demise, and the pedestrians on the sidewalk that I so rudely claimed a sharing piece of are incredulous that I didn’t stay the course in the COD.    Now I know how the matador feels when he leaps over the fence.

Ok, lesson #2 in bicycle riding in Cuenca:  stay the hell out of the traffic circles.

Still alive and wiser to a magnitude of ten, I wait for my moment to join the fray once again and see my opening.  You thought I was going to jump back on the street didn’t you!  I am a silly gringo, yes, stupid, no.  Awash with relief and the satisfaction of a gained sense of normalcy I become once again the cool suave bike rider now that I am the predator, not the prey.  With my chubby knobby mountain bike tires I am king of the cobblestone.   I am the Lion King riding a Mongoose.  If the irony hits you, that’s good.  Of course even the Lion King must be kind and courteous to his subjects, so I’m dodging fruit vendors, school girls (where are the school boys anyway?) and find that power poles are put in the most unlikely places on the sidewalk.  Ok, the pedestrian route is not without challenges either. 

I am safe and unscathed.  My bicycle is like new.  I was taught the skill of street survival on two wheels and I’m here to tell you about it.  Life is good.  I love Cuenca.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wheels Beneath My Feet!

I am a walking maniac.  I love to walk and since I've come to Cuenca I walk about 6 miles a day on average.  I take the long way to downtown along the Tomebamba.  It keeps me fit and my encounters are wonderful.  Here's the problem.  I'm wearing out my shoes fast. I also love bicycling and find that it gets me to places much faster and with less effort than via Sketchers.  If I want to get the same exercise as I did walking, I will simply go farther and faster on my bike!  My shoes will thank me!  Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.  Rachel plans to bring her bike from the states so we will both be very mobile.  A couple weeks ago  I made friends with Juan Vintimilla, owner of PaBikes, a great little bike shop right down the street on Ordonez Lazo.  Today I walked in, talked with Juan, and test drove a Mongoose mountain bike.  It is awesome.  I had a cross over bike before, but this one is the real deal.  It's the two wheel version of a Land Rover with plenty of horsepower (me).   It has disk brakes that could stop a Mack truck and shifters that are as tight and sure as Rachel's Miata.  The front forks are made to take some pretty severe bumps and are adjustable for riding street or in the sierras.  This Mongoose will outlast me and I'm planning on at least another 30-40 years.

I had the double pleasure while visiting with Juan to meet an associate of his, Mauricio Carrion.  Mauricio has been living in New York City and promoting cycling there but has come back to his roots in Ecuador.  He is going to be organizing bike rides around Ecuador.  How cool is that!  Mauricio is an ergonomic specialist so he works with Juan and Juan's customers to make sure they are fitted with the right type and size bike and to make accomodations for people with special needs.  For example, I have a bad lower back, so he is recommending a more upright posture and hence a longer post on the handlebars.  I don't think I got quite this much attention on the last bike I bought in the states.

Well here's the really good news.  I told Juan and Mauricio (above)  that there aren't any secure bike racks in the underground garage at our condo,  Palermo.  I told them that if they would help me lobby the manager to have one installed, it might help them sell more bikes to those of us at Palermo.  It just so happens that Mauricio's cousin is the building's owner's manager!  Tomorrow Mauricio and Juan will come down here and we will get this arranged.  I am very excited, because that was my biggest concern for having the bikes in the Palermo underground garage which to me is where they should be stored.  I believe this is what you call customer service.  If you're in Cuenca and need a bicycle, see my friend Juan.

Chordeleg, Ecuador

Yesterday I had this urgent need to move about.  Each day that I wait to reunite with Rachel is in most ways an empty feeling, a frustrating trial of patience.  It charges my spirit with the task of healthy daily maintenance.   She is in the US and I am in Ecuador.  Practical realities dictate that we must follow a determined course of action that will enable us to be together on a permanent basis.  She has much to do in the US to prepare for her new life with me here.  I have much to do on this end to prepare a comfortable home for us. Today's technology allows us to see and talk to each other every day on Skype.  That has been a life saver.  It is wonderful, but you are not in each others presence.  It is her presence I crave and yearn for.  How do you fill that void?

Rachel and I have discussed wedding bands.  We are at an age and state of mind and spirit that permits and prefers practical and simple solutions in life.  Wedding bands are a symbol of a committed and loving relationship.  They tell the world that you are a couple and that no one else is invited into your intimate world.  In Ecuador there are very practical considerations about wedding bands.  The number one rule is that you don't flaunt wealth in this country without the risk of calling attention to yourself as a vulnerable target for theft.  We don't need to worry about being wealthy anyway, so we fit right in.  A set of simple bands without precious stones is a no brainer.

So, you ask yourself, what does this have to do with your lonely moment where you have this urgent need to move about?  Chordeleg.  This little village kept coming up in conversations with locals and expats alike.  It is known as the jewelry village for all of Azuay, and some people come from much greater distances because of the extensive offerings of simple but good value silver and gold adornments.  Jewelry in local parlance is joyas.  What a great name is that!  Of course a jewelry store is a joyeria.  It occured to me that I should fill my time this day with real purpose!  I must see the joyerias of Chordeleg and see if Rachel's and my bands might be waiting there for us.

I walked a half block to the bus stop, jumped on #8 and with 25 cents and 15 minutes I was on the other side of Cuenca at the bus terminal.  From there I fumbled around looking for a ticket and kept asking the ticket agents which bus line went to Chordeleg.  They all kept pointing a different direction.  Silly Gringo.  I didn't need a ticket.  I just needed to pay my ten centavos (10 cents) to go through the turnstyle and get on the bus to Gualaceo and Chordeleg.  Oh yes, there was another 75 centavos once on board.  That 75 cents took me on the scenic 40 minute ride along the Tomebamba and into the beautiful valley of Gualaceo.  The bus was comfortable and clean.  I had been to Gualaceo with my friend Xavier a week or two ago.  Gualaceo will definately be a return trip when Rachel gets here.  It is the city of shoes for women.  Chordeleg is the city for rings on your fingers.  Cotacachi is the city of leather, San Antonio de Ibarra the village of wood furniture, Otavalo the city of colorful woven fabrics, well you get the idea.   I love the idea that a community of artisans can help each other grow and perfect their trade.  I also love it that when you have a specific need you can go where the best of the best artisans reside and find many styles, qualities and prices to suit your budget and taste.  I'm still looking for that community of electronics wizards, Senior Samsung and Senior Sony.  I'm told I won't find it here.  Bring your 60 LED in your shipping container.  That inconvenience I can live with.

So here's some pictures from Chordeleg.  There were all types of rings there but my size 12 chubby gringo fingers didn't find what they were looking for there.  I think fate wanted Rachel and I to do our ring shopping together.  I know all my women readers would say, Dah!