Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reflecting On 2011

2011wins hands down as the biggest change in my life.  Last year at this time Sharon and I returned from our visit to Ecuador and we started making plans to retire in Cuenca. So many decisions to make.

  • Quitting our jobs
  • Selling or renting our house
  • Selling or storing our furniture
  • Bringing our dog?
  • Starting the residency process
  • Booking airline tickets
  • Saying goodbye to friends and relatives
  • Bringing our cat
Thank goodness I listened to Sharon . I thought the process would take 4-6 weeks but it took every day of 5 months to get everything ready.

In the end we decided not to bring our beloved 11 year old Samoyed.  A wonderful family who just lost their Sammy adopted Cassie and we receive timely reports on how well she is doing.  Feisty, our 16 year old cat is thriving in Cuenca.

Almost all of our friends and most of our family were supportive concerning our move to Cuenca.  I still giggle at the lack of knowledge that some of our family displayed about Ecuador. The best tech advice I can give someone contemplating the move is to bring down the best computer/tablet/cell phone/Kindle that you can afford to Ecuador. The electronics will cost you 30- 40% more in EC and some of the products are just not available.  Make sure you bring Magic Jack for phone calls.

Both Sharon and I had preconceived thoughts about our transition to our new life in Ecuador. In 7 months we have rented a beautiful apartment overlooking the Yanuncay River. We have met wonderful new Expat and Cuencano friends.  The Cuencanos we have met have all been friendly and welcoming and both of us have made a good start in transitioning to Español by taking Spanish lessons. We both love the climate, the people, the slower paced and affordable life style of our new home in Cuenca.

Have there been speed bumps along the way?  Of course.  Our expected 3 month residency process took 7 months and we had to postpone a trip back to the States.  Internet connectivity remains a daily challenge. We still need a translator for most detailed transactions.  There are days I long for a decent Thai or Chinese meal, Although, Skype brings our friends and family to the computer screen Sharon and I both miss our friends, kids and granndkids.

The Animoto video below is a compendium of shots from Oregon and Cuenca.

Feliz Año Nuevo

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caminando y hablando Español

This morning I had a delightful walk with Santi, the brother of Rebe, my Spanish teacher.  Rebe and her family plus Maria Elena and her family have become good friends since our move to Ecuador.

I was apprehensive about our walk since Santi knows just a handful of English words and I have been the world's worst Spanish student.  The walk was great and we managed to communicate just fine. I don't know if my Spanish is improving or I'm a great Charades player but we rarely found ourselves without something to say.

I am publicly recommitting myself to doing my homework and practicing an hour a day. Taxicab and restaurant Spanish will get you by but if you really want to flourish in Cuenca you have to be conversational.

We started at Tres Puentes (Three Bridges) and walked to Parque de Paridisio.  Coming back we stopped at a local tienda and had 2 coffees and 2 pan for a total of $1.50. Coming back Santi showed me different neighborhoods. I liked the grafitti on one house. The neighbors probably did not.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tenemos nuestra residencia en Ecuador

Sharon and I are officially Ecuadorian residents.  After 7 months we finally received our Cedula in Quito yesterday. A Cedula is a national identity card and every Ecuadorian has to have one (even babies).  You have to apply in person with all your paperwork.  Every "i " dotted and every "t" crossed.  Plus everything has to match your birth certifiicate, Passport and Censo card. Plus your signature has to be the same on everyone of those documents.

For a moment imagine your worst DMV experience and then think of standing in line at 7:30 am with 800 other applicants trying to see 15 examiners without networked computers to answer questions (all in Spanish), fingerprinted, photographed and one mens room and one ladies room for all those people.

How's the DMV looking now?

Actually the day turned out to be two since our flight from Cuenca was late and we arrived in Quito at 10:30 am and could not get a number for our finger printing.  It was the best people watching day of my life. All social and ethnic groups were represented and the costumes and babies were mesmorizing.

I think the reason Sharon and I are flourishing in Ecuador is because we realize that we are living in a 3rd world country but experiencing 1st world life experiences.
Here is an example. During the Cedula process our Ecuadorian examiner could not understand why Sharon did not have my last name. Even though our marriage license was in the pack of papers. I could not explain in my very rudimentary Spanish that it was "esta bien" (OK) for women in the U.S. to keep their maiden name. It looked for a moment that our application was going to be held up.  Up stepped a complete stranger in the waiting room to volunteer to translate and in 2 minutes the problem was solved. Bernice was from Cuenca and she is also a hairdresser.  She gave Sharon her card and now we have a potential new hairdresser.

Almost without exception the Ecuadorians we have met are friendly, and eager to help us in every aspect of adjusting to life in South America.

We didn't see a lot of Quito. The population is 4 times the size of Cuenca with all the traffic problems that a city with 2 million people would experience.  It was refreshing to go into the mall and experience all the stores that an American city would take for granted.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Vacas Y El Rio

Walking is one of my favorite activities in Cuenca. A bonus to walking is taking pictures and anticipating finding my favorite herd of Cows. The herd consists of 7 cows and I've named one Violetta.
She has a half moon on the top of her back so she is easy to identify.

Yesterday, I walked to ETAPA, the city owned utility company to change my Internet service. The Internet Service that we use in the building is like the "Little Girl With The Curl". We shared 1 meg with 10 people. When one or two were on the service was passable. When 3 or more were on Skype was unusable. So it was off to ETAPA to change service providers. I did the whole transaction in Spanish. I was a little nervous signing the contract but I'm pretty sure I signed up for 2mg for $51.00 a month.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cuenca IPad Users Group Skype Session

Today, the group skyped with Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles.  The topic: "How Does The IPad Compare" with the IPad. Len demonstrated the Kindle Fire as well as the other new Kindle Reader models.  Our group was able to ask him questions about specific applications running on the Kindle Fire as well as would Amazon's Prime Service work in Ecuador without the use of a VPN.

Two days before the meeting I was emailed about someone from the U.S. joining our meeting. I'm happy to announce that this will be possible in the very near future. I'm upgrading my bandwidth and you'll be able to join us live via Skype and also via a video after the meeting. We will also be discussing some of the new tools that new expats will need visiting or retiring to Ecuador.  Contact me for more details.
Lenny Charnoff  graygeek at gmail.com

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Journey Is The Reward

Sharon asked me to walk to Cadelaes, her favorite spice store. I read on the Ecuador Expat Facebook page that there was another branch of Cadelas on the east end of town. So off I went camera in hand to find the store.  The video below depicts the journey. It was a 3.6 mile walk there and after finding the the store closed for their 90 minute lunch break I decided to make the trip on Monday. On the way back I stopped at San Blas for an eighty five cent durazno (peach ) ice cream cone. I took Mariscal Lamar to Benigno Malo and then to Solano and stopping off at Mt. Sinai Hospital Farmacia for a medicine that I could pick up without a prescription that would have cost $30 in the States and cost $10.82 here. I found Violetta my favorite cow grazing 50 meters from the apartment on the other side of the Yanuncay River.  Life Is Good In Cuenca

Monday, November 14, 2011

Six Months In Cuenca

This Saturday marked a half year in Cuenca for Sharon and I. We enjoy our new apartment and have made wonderful new expat and Ecuadorian friends. The weather right now is very spring like. The temperature is in the low 70's each day and the nights are not as chilly. We look forward to traveling back to the U.S.in January to see our family and friends who we miss dearly.  The video below is a compendium of photos over the past 6 months.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10th ExPat Day In Cuenca

The Chamber of Commerce in Cuenca declared Nov 10th as Expat Day in Cuenca. A wonderful party and real treat in my life to live in such a marvelous city.  Viva Cuenca.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Silver Cook In El Centro

Yesterday was a real treat when a new Mime started performing on the side of the New Cathedral in Cuenca.  He has real talent. Besides the expert paint and costume he had professional arm and eye movements. Notice the feint hand movement at 0.48 when the chicas want him to pose.

I finish the video with a Sunday walk along Calle Larga to the 10th of August Mercado. Sharon went upstairs and did all the negotiating in Spanish alone.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Cuenca Art Shows

If you like Art Shows then Cuenca was Nirvana this week. It was a week long holiday and it seems that every street you walked down had a music or art festival. I concentrated on getting gifts for friends and family when we go back to the States in January.

My favorite activity was negotiating with some Peruvian ladies for alpaca sweaters. I posed with my favorite saleslady after the transaction.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Walk Down Calle Larga

After a declicious breakfast at the Kook Sharon, Dean, Bill and I go shopping for fruits and veggies at Diez de Augusto ( the tenth of August) Mercado (Market). Open 7 days a week the market consists of two big floors. Meats, Fish and Fruits are on the bottom floor.  Restaurants, Shops and Veggies are on the top floor. We were in search of onions, carrots, potatoes, strawberries, mangoes, and papayas.

Sharon did all of the negotiating of prices for the first time in Spanish. Besides the great price of fresh produce I love photographing the Campasinos in their native costumes.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Un dia hermosa en el barrio

Un dia hermosa en el barrioThe title of this post translates to "A beautiful day in the neighborhood". The weather has been just fantastic in Cuenca the last couple of days.  Sunny, and in the high 70's around 3:00 pm and very low humidity. We had breakfast with our good friends Dean and Bill at Banana's Restaurant right near the Caroline Book Store. The country breakfast ( huevos, papas, tocina y cafe) was outstanding. We walked to the 10th of August Mercado and purchased strawberries, limes, and potatoes.

Later that day I walked into El Centro and exchanged a Blu-Ray Disc that had no subtitles. Hopefully in year I'll be ready to see a movie entirely in Spanish but I'm not ready now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No Cambio

"No Cambio" is roughly translated into English as "no change". No change as in handing a Cunecano merchant currency and he/she has no change in the till.

I think all of you who read this blog know that Ecuador as well as Panama and El Salvador use the American Dollar as their currency.  Ecuador mints their coins but relies on available paper currency for circulation.  Cuenca also heavily uses the gold Sacajewa coins.

I have learned from experience to always carry gold coins, $5 and $10 bills because going to the local tiendas (stores) you have almost no chance of getting change of a $20 before noon.

One of the perks of living in Cuenca is that you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the local tiendas, food coop or from the campasino vendors on the street. My first score was 10 large madirinas(tangerines) for a $1. I've purchased fruit from this street vendor before and he always starts off with the "Gringo Price". I'm confident with my numbers and we quickly negotiated the right price.  The "right price" is also in different parts of town. I can get 15 tangerines for a $1 if I go the Fiere Libre Market but that's a bus ride away and very busy.

My next purchase was a 1/2 kilo of fresas (strawberries) for $1.50. The third purchase was a 1/2 kilo of freshly ground cafe (coffee) for $3.00. I gave the jefe (manager) a $5 bill and his reply was "no cambio". The woman next to me had made a purchase with a $10 bill and she had the same predicament. We waited for 5 minutes until the next customer came. In the interim she started talking to me in Spanish.  The usual conversation entails if I'm visiting or living in Cuenca? Do I like Cuenca? Where am I from? and am I renting or buying?  You always get a big smile from Cuencanos when you speak Spanish.

The video below is my walk into town and some of the interesting sites in front of my apartment building on the Yanuncay River.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lots Of Mileage With 2 Spanish Words

I'm back to taking Spanish lessons 3 times a week and I try to use as much Spanish on my walks into El Centro. I was exiting the Farmacia at Mt. Sinai Hospital. An adorable 2 year old was blocking my path. I probably would have knocked her down if I opened the door. Her father saw this and quickly swooped her up in his arms. I said "Tu hija es muy hermosa"(your daugher is very beautiful). His face lit up and he immediately said "Muchas gracias".

The next encounter was on the bus and two young boys were having a friendly argument about who had the best backpack. When one of them got off the bus I told the other one that his backpack was "muy chevere" which translates to "very cool".  I was greeted with a surprised smile. My goal is everyday to start a conversation in Spanish with someone I don't know.

Below is an Animoto video of my walk today.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Juggling With Fire

The title of the post sounds like it could be a political novel or a TV reality show. It's actually a street entertainer that I encountered on my daily walk into El Centro. The corner of Doce de Abril y Solano is very busy with traffic and pedestrians. There's is always one or two street entertainer demonstrating their talent. This young man was especially good.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cuenca IPad Users Group

I'm certain that if I still lived in Oregon I could not get a dozen people at 11:00 am to come for a meeting every other week to discuss how to effectively use the IPad as a replacement for their computer. Being retired and living in a city where you can walk or take public transit everywhere certainly makes setting up a meeting easier.

This past meeting we set up a Facebook Group ( Cuenca IPad Users Group) so we can communicate online as well as in person. If you're visiting Cuenca come and join us even if you're just considering purchasing an IPad.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Rainy Monday In Cuenca

The last couple of days Cuenca has been reminding me of Portland Oregon. The day starts off gray and then there is intermittent rain all day. Except in Cuenca the rain is usually a downpour and the streets flood very quickly.

I decided to bring my camera and enjoy the rain and the beautiful river 20 meters from my apartment. I walked to El Centro to pick up a package at the Post Office and bumped into 3 expats on the way. Can you guess who I captured in the last picture?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Online Marketing, Riding The Bus And More Cows

This past Thursday I was invited to give a presentation to the Cuenca Chamber Of Commerce . The topic was "10 Must Have Online Marketing Tools".  The group was small and I did get to meet some new Cuencano business people as well as a new American.  I was told if I presented in Spanish the group size would have been quadrupled. My goal now is to be able to give the same presentation in six months totally in Spanish.

In previous posts I have talked about riding the bus in Cuenca. It's a great transportation system and for twenty five cents you get to ride just about anywhere in the city. It's rare that I have to wait for a bus more than 10 minutes. The down size is that most of the drivers are frustrated race car drivers. You should always have one hand free just in case there is an abrupt stop. I was carrying 4 packages from Super Maxi and when the bus driver jammed on his brakes I was airborne. A Cuencano saw this and caught me before me and the packages were splattered on the floor.

As some of you who read this blog know I am fond of a herd of Holsteins that graze in the park near my apartment. I had to hold my breath when Violetta was crossing Primero de Mayo alone.  No problema - she and her buds made it safely.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Violetta And The Yanuncay River

I try to walk at least 4 miles every day and change my route every other day. There is a Campasino women that owns 7 cows and grazes them in different areas of the city. Yes, Cuenca is a 460 year old city that has 18 story modern buildings and a herd of cows that grazes in different locations. I know it's the same herd because of one of the cows has a half moon on her upper back.I call her Violetta.

Each cow is on a tether but as you can see in the movie they are free roaming with traffic all around them.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Sharon along with Dean and Bill traveled to Vilcabamba to celebrate our anniversaries which are a week apart. Vilcambamba is about 4 hours southwest of Cuenca. It's about 3000 ft lower in altitude and the weather was considerably warmer during the day.

We stayed at Hosteria Izhcayluma. The cabins are very affordable and offer great vistas. We really enjoyed the massages. 75 minute full body massage is $18. We visited the very small town and were surprised that half the signs were in English.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Trebol Rose Plantation

Last Wednesday (8/31) the Cuenca Chamber Of Commerce Ex-Pat group visited the Trebol Rose Plantation.  It's about 40 minutes outside Cuenca but at 9500 ft. thus making it about 10-15 degrees cooler. The bus ride for the 20+ ex-pats was an adventure because the last 4 km were all narrow dirt roads and the bus driver had to use all his skills to get us there.

The owner has his wife were wonderful hosts. Juan took us on a superb tour and explained in great detail the whole process of growing and the business of exporting roses.  Russia and the U.S. are his two biggest customers. He and his wife raise 19 varieties of roses..

At the end of the tour we were invited back to their home and treated to hot tea, juice, vegetables and empanadas. Just before getting on to the bus each expat was presented with a bouquet of 24 magnificent red roses.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bus Stops And Friendly Cuencanos

The weather changes every hour in Cuenca. I was walking back from the Coopera near Avenida de las Americas when the skies opened up. Of course I had no umbrella. And the nearest bus stop was 3 blocks away. Frequently a bus will stop if you flag him down. The buses run every 5 mintues and I was able to flag the next bus in about 3 minutes thus avoiding a complete soaking. The fare is 25 cents but the driver usually makes change if you have a 50 cent or $1 coin. I  purchase a bus card and pass my card over the card reader. Students and seniors over 65 pay 12 cents when using a card. The down side is that the bus drivers are frustrated Indy race car drives. In my scores of rides I have only met 2or 3 bus drivers that drive safe and slow.

I ventured out in the afternoon to buy some Blu-Ray discs. I found a tienda that sells them 3 for $10. On the way there waiting for the light to turn green I exchanged a smile with a Cuencano about my age. Note to readers I know about 400 Spanish words but my conjugation of verbs has a long way to go. He asked me in Spanish "how it was going" and if I was an American.  We found out that we lived only a block away. In the next 10 minutes we chatted about our children, grandchildren and the crazy Cuencano cab drivers. I told him I had an errand to complete and then I was walking to Super Maxi ( the big supermarket in Cuenca. He asked me if I needed a ride to the store. After waiting for me to shop he drove me back to his apartment.(a block from my apartment) . He invited me in for coffee and we agreed to meet Thursday for a walk.  All in All a great experience and maybe a new friend in Cuenca. I'm sure I killed  the tense in a couple of my Spanish sentences but I have found Cuencanos to smile and appreciate that I am using Spanish. My favorite mistake was when asked if I like the fish in Ecuador. I quickly replied, "Me gusta mucho Cortina. thinking I was saying "Corvina" which is Sea  Bass. I really was saying, "I really like the curtains".

The picture below I captured in the Tomebamba River where some Camapasinos were washing their laundry.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

El Centro And Futbol

The New Cathedral is almost always on my walking route. It's a great place to people watch and there's music and in this video one of the reasons why children are so well behaved in Ecuador. I also snap my wife and Dean outside of Banana's Restaurant.

The next day on my walk to SuperMaxi I pass the stadium and there are some pictures of police on horseback protecting the crowds at a Futbol game. They take that sport very seriously in Ecuador.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mercado 9 de Octubre

Cuenca has many mercados. The biggest is Fiere Libre. I went there once with a Spanish speaking ex-pat and was overwhemed. It's was indeed a visceral experience. A smaller and gentler Mercado is Mercado 9 de Octubre located at Mariscal Lamar and  Hno Miguel.  Today I ventured in and was awed by the 2 floors of vendors. I  mostly stayed on the first floor and was very proud that I conducted all the transactions in Spanish without using hand gestures. I even asked for a nyapa( spelling) which in Quecha means an extra.