Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the Softer Side

WWJD… (What Would John Do?)

My brother, John, is a certified chef and is known far and wide for his scrumptious creations. I have always admired his ability to create a gourmet meal out of whatever he can scrounge out of the fridge and cupboards. However, I am the baker in the family (at least he lets me believe that). So, today when the baking mood struck in an apartment without an oven, I asked myself “WWJD?”

The strawberries were purchased out of a wheelbarrow near the indigenous market, the chocolate was obtained at the Mercado in a raw slab form (they grow cocoa beans down here, too!). The chocolate has never been ‘cut’ so it took lots of sugar. I also threw in some coconutty, gooey stuff I found in a store called ‘manjar de leche coco’. Maravilloso!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Went Shopping Today.....

Came home with proof that god loves me .....
.....even in Ecuador.

Peanut butter may be the US's greatest gift to the world.


Friday, June 26, 2009

What is This??

I see these all over the place. Usually stuck on a pole at an intersection. My handy dandy Franklin pocket translator tells men that the verb 'parar' means 'stop'. Google translate says that pare = stop. would appear to mean something more like "slow down enough before proceeding to make sure nothing larger than you is headed your way"

Incidentally.....there must be speed limit signs somewhere, but I don't recall ever seeing one. I'll see if I can spot one.

Despite all my smart alecky (sp) comments on this blog, be informed that I LOVE THIS PLACE!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cultural Observations From ...... The Softer Side

Where there’s smoke…no disculpo!

We do a lot of walking here in Cuenca. One really does not need a car in this town. Buses are cheap – a mere 25 cents. A taxi ride across town is $2.00 – max. As Clarke and I wander this lovely but foreign city, we often ponder on why Cuenceanos do or say the various things they do. I, being the more imaginative one, frequently come up with some creative “hypotheses”. Additionally, being deaf, I’ve become quite adept at reading body language and facial expressions and will frequently “guess-interpret” to Clarke what I think a native is trying to tell us in Spanish. Clarke, being the left-brainer in the family (just the facts, madam), will often look at my rear-end and ask “do you know that for sure – or are you just blowing smoke out your arse?” It’s become our inside joke, reduced to a rear-end glance. Truth of the matter is: we both have been doing a lot of smoke-blowing down here and will continue to do so until we master the language – and culture.

Speaking of mastering the culture, the best thing we did was switch to an English speaking, bi-lingual Spanish language teacher. Our original language teacher was a delightful person but her English skills were limited. After two intense, stressful weeks of the immersion method with no English instructions, I called it quits. There was also a situation that happened with our language teacher that was confusing and hurtful. I knew there were cultural implications but we lacked the language skills to resolve it. Clarke endured for a few more sessions but I found a bi-lingual angel named Mia. Mia is from Ohio with a degree in Latin American studies and is married to an Ecuadorian. But most importantly, for me, she can explain things in English. When I told Mia I wanted part of our language sessions to include a discussion of cultural differences, she laughed and said “ok, the first thing you need to know is that Ecuadorians do not like to accept blame – for anything! Ecuadorians will rarely say they are sorry because that implies they assume blame for something." In fact, they even have a word for it in their language “disculpo” which translated means literally ‘unblame me.’ On came the light bulb! Now that we understand ‘disculpo’, we see it in action quite often here.
The other day we picked up our laundry and after arriving home, discovered I had two pair of socks that were missing a mate. We returned to the laundry with the singles as props to explain our dilemma. You guessed it… "no disculpo!” Luckily, I happened to see one of my mates peeking out of someone else’s basket so was able to reclaim sock #1. Sock #2 (my favorite) is on it's way to Peru, property of a young backpacker from Germany who was staying at the hostel nearby. I’m blowing smoke on that last hypothesis but the cultural lesson gleaned from Mia on “disculpo” is a gem too good not to share. Stay tuned for tomorrow's cultural observation on time and age differences!

Hasta luago!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ecuadorian Shower.....

Pictured above is a bidet. For those that don't know what a bidet is, please go here....

We spent part of the day with a new friend here in Cuenca . She is remodeling a truly wonderful apartment that she has recently purchased. The master bath (bigger than most bedrooms and very elegant) has a bidet. Being a mid-westerner, I haven't seen a bidet and was interested ...... so I enquired.

See the handles in the pic above? It seems the outside handles open up the hot and cold water. The middle handle diverts the water so that it shoots up and does the business a bidet does.

Well, apparently our hostess was as inexperienced as myself. However she was a good sport and offered to show us how it worked. So, she leaned over the bidet and turned on the left and right handle. Do you see where this is going?

Now in the picture above, it would seem that the water is adjusted about right. Maybe her bidet is some type of bidet on steroids or something. You gotta be able to see where this is going now.

Remember the part about her leaning over the bidet.....the bidet on steroids. Well, yes, she did turn the center handle.

We are calling it an Ecuadorian shower. Gave the ceiling a pretty good scrubbing, too.

Our hostess is a wonderful person with a great sense of humor. She laughed harder than we did.

The cleanup was left to the remodeling crew.

Yet another day in paradise.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Panama Hats.......

.....Are Not From Panama

Actually Panama Hats originated in and are made in Ecuador. More specifically, right here in Cuenca.

So....why aren't they called Ecuador Hats???

One explanation that I read is that many years ago when they started to be popular and famous, they were shipped from Panama to the rest of the world.

Before we came down here, I expected that many/most local men would wear them. After all, we are at 8000+ ft. elevation and it is so easy to be sunburned here. (skin cancer you know) But NO, in actuality, very few men wear any kind of hat at all. Even baseball caps are pretty scarce. Most of the people that do wear hats are norteamericanos. If you wear a wide brimmed hat, it pretty much labels you as an outsider.

However being a fair haired boy and prone to skin cancer, I have to wear a wide brimmed hat all the time......well, not actually indoors. So yesterday, I traded in my wide brimmed canvas hat for a Panama. I don't blend in any better in my Panama....I just look a little prettier.

FYI, genuine Panamas are very expensive. I bought mine is a really seedy looking store in a not so pretty part of town. As it turned out, the old guy I bought it from actually made it. He has been making them since he was 6 years old and is well known. He took me out of his store and down a narrow hallway. Then we went up some pretty rickety old stairs to his other little showroomie workshopie type place where the rest of the hats were. All in all, it was very cool. Newspaper articles about him on the wall and everything.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Best Job in Town

Hands down......the coolest job in town is being a cop.

They have the best motorcycles, cool uniforms and get to carry guns. Some even have pistol grip, pump shotguns with 18 inch barrels .......very cool and makes me kind of homesick for mine. No pictures right now. Sorry.

The policia nacional have the coolest motorcycles.

This is NOT a posting from the 'softer side.'


Friday, June 19, 2009

Sacagawea Dollar

The US Mint started issuing the Sacagawea dollar in 2000. In 2008 it minted about 25,000,000 of them. Ever wonder where they are???

They are all in Ecuador. The official currency in Ecuador is the US Dollar. The paper bills get really ratty; but the dollar coins are very durable. Many stores and street stands will not take a paper dollar if it is too ratty....although they will give it to you as change. Therefore many people prefer the dollar coins to the bills. They are kind of heavy to carry around.

Pretty cool.
We got one paper bill back as change that is so filthy and ratty that we are not even trying to spend it. We wrote "sucio" on it to help us memorize the word for dirty. There are also sticky notes on most of the stuff in the apartment for the same reason ...... also pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More from the softer side...

When our children were small and had a bad day, I would read them the story “Alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day.” It’s a wonderful story that describes a day in the life of a little boy, Alexander, on a day where everything goes wrong. He fantasizes of running away to Australia where everything is perfect. The moral of the story is that some days are imperfect – even in Australia.

The story always made them (and me) feel better so we coined a phrase from the book that we frequently use in our family…”some days are like that, even in Australia”. Translated it means “even in paradise, there will be bad days and you just have to believe that it will be better tomorrow.”

I had one of those days yesterday. I will leave out all the details. Remember the phrase “Anything that can go wrong, will?” Yep.

Later, after a good cry, our sweet daughter emailed me nine words that helped put it all in perspective. She said, “Mom, some days are like that, even in Australia”.

Out of the mouths of babes…

Hasta la vista!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Learning Spanish

I don't understand why we are not fluent in Spanish yet?
It can't be that hard.
I hear 3 and 4 year olds speaking it all the time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

CUY = Guinea pig

We had a little treat for lunch today. The language school arranged for some of us to go out to lunch to try a South American delicacy. Cuy is a domestically raised guinea pig. It is larger than the guinea pigs that we have as pets in the states.

The skins are best eaten as soon as the cuy is brought to the table as it is crispy and hot. When it cools off the skin loses some of it's crispness. It is actually quite tasty. Both the crispy skin and the meat is good. It is a rich meat, full of flavor ...... but not lean. The organs are much darker than the meat and much leaner. I really enjoyed them until someone told me that it was the organs. That was fiine .... because I still liked them.

The cuy is brought to the table whole ... head, feet and all. Not too much meat on the ribs by the way. Best to grab a big thigh. I suspect that you can eat the brain, but I was pretty full by the time I thought of that.

Oh by the way, Brendita didn't like cuy so much (HUGE understatement). But she was A VERY GOOD SPORT.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salsa dancing workout

We had a ball last night learning to salsa. I finally found something I do better here than Clarke. (It's that right brain/left brain thing.) The interesting thing about salsa dancing is that it's much like the language...precise and controlled. Of course, it helps to have a sense of rhythm. Here's a picture of us doing the salsa (stomp?) I don't know who tampered with the evidence!

Salsa Lessons........

.......are not for overweight 58 year old gringos with bad knees. (Brendita said she did fine: probably no mirrors on the walls for a good reason.)

Gee....too bad the pics didn't work out.

As a consolation, I am uploading a pic of a lovely meal we prepared in our own little apartment.

Spanish Phrase of the Day....

"No comiences Brendita."
Don't start with me Brenda.



That big green thing is a papaya.
Click on the image to see full sized

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cars in Cuenca

Very Expensive.
It appears that most drivers save some money by not purchasing their cars with brakes (they must be an added cost option).
After all, who needs brakes when you have a horn????
You can always slow down by running over a pedestrian or 2.

Coming Attractions

Tomorrows blog will nave pics of Brendita (Brennie) taking salsa lessons. Clarke will be edited out of the pics

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Question of Safety

I've gotten into the habit of going out and climbing stairs for about 45 minutes (up, down,etc.) usaually between 9 & 11 PM.

Brenda is a little concerned for my safety.

Most Ecuadorian men are about 5'6".

That is me in my stair climbing uniform.

Really now....? Who do you think scares who? (I just hope I don't get arrested as a menace.)

No Smoking???

The only smokers I have seen here were two US citizens.


Of course the elevation is 8,000 or 9,000 ft: so your lungs don't need to be further challenged.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tall, short, heavy or slim...It is all relative

I am 5'8".

In Kansas, that makes me shorter than most of my male students.

Here in Cuenca, I am tall.

It is kind of cool....until you go shopping for clothes.

I forgot to bring a sweater, so we set out to purchase one.

In the lovely picture, I am modeling an extra large blue sweat shirty type thing.

The mere fact that I would share this lovely pic should convince anyone that I am am most certainly able to laugh at myself. OR. Brenda was going to publish it anyway. She thinks it is hilarious. She was laughing so hard, it is a miracle she was able to take a decent picture.

Musings from the softer side

Greetings family and friends,

"Todo es neuvo"...everything is new! It's scary yet exciting. It's daunting but exhilarating. Each day we venture out of the comfort zone of our apartment presents a new challenge. Did I mention exhausting?? Learning a new language at our age is no walk in the park, but I was unprepared for the emotional exhaustion of being hearing impaired and learning a new language. The pronunciation! E is pronounced like a, i is pronounced like e, g sounds like h but don't forget the h is silent! And that rolling sound made with the tongue with the letter r? Well, that one will have to wait.

I love the Ecuadorian people and have been moved by their generosity and hospitality. While riding in the van from Guayauqil to Cuenca, aside from the astounding beauty of the scenery, two things happened that I will never forget. Our seatmates were a young couple from Cuenca who were in Guayaquil on business, Marysol and Claudio. Marysol and I connected instantly, in spite of our language barrier. She knew a little English and I had my dog-eared Spanish dictionary. For the next four hours, through halting "Spanglish" and pantomimes, we managed to learn much about each other. When we arrived in Cuenca, the driver stopped at the edge of town where passengers are normally dropped off. Negotiations transpired (with lots of gestures) between Marysol and the driver and Marysol obviously won. The driver reluctantly started up the van and delivered us to Claudio and Marysol's home where she insisted on driving us to our apartment. So...we were personally delivered to our front door by perfect strangers who had no agenda except kindness. Many hugs later, we promised to get together for dinner after we know the language better.

The second memorable thing that happened was with the other van riders. Two timid young girls from the rural area were also traveling to Cuenca. At about the halfway point, I bravely announced that I needed to use the "bano" (one of the few words Spanish words I knew). With a disgruntled look, the van driver stopped at a restaurant where the rural girls and I ran giggling like schoolgirls to the outside bathroom. (It's a girl-thing, even in Ecuador!) I finished first and went back to the van. However, the girls detoured into the restaurant and bought lollipops for all of us, driver included. For the remainder of the trip, we all happily sucked on lollipops while I mused over the wonderful lesson I had just witnessed on generosity.

Hasta luego (see you later)!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Crossing the Street

The picture is a 'kill zone' for pedestrians that are not very careful. In some places of the world it means 'pedestrian right of way'. In Cuenca, i believe the paint on the road just makes it easier to wash your blood off the pavement if you carelessly cross the street.

Lunch = Almuerzo

There are a thousand little places for lunch here. Very small places. 3 - 6 tables.

Lunch is called almuerzo. Cost is usually $1.50.

Consists of some type of homemade soup....and other stuff too. The place we randomly dropped into today was soup, rice, meat something and fresh fruit juice blend. And, oh ya....popcorn included in todays lunch

Yummy, nutricious and cheap.

Spanish vs English

Spanishseemstobespokenfaster. MaybethatisthereasonIdon"tunderstandit.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fruit, Fruit, Fruit

Holy Mother of should see all the fruit here! Fresh and cheap.

Brenda is in heavan. She got a blender today so she will probably live on fruit smoothies.

Avacadoes????? Three for a buck! Big, ripe and perfect. (That almost sounds sexy.) We had guacamole and fruit smoothie for dinner.

Peanut Butter. There is a store that does sell JIF. It is very expensive. So what. It is JIF, so I will pay whatever they have the nerve to ask.

Gotta go. Adios.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pretty Pics of Stairs

Click HERE or on the pic of Brennie getting religion to see some lovely stairs. The inside shots are of the stairs in our language school. There are a couple misc pics thrown in too.

ABOUT SPELLING ISSUES: Because I am using an IP address in Ecuador, the blog machine is running a Spanish spell checker. So whenn I spell check...every word is hilited as wrong. So I am not spell checking

Pedestrian Rights

Pedestrians have the right to dodge cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks and all 2 or 4 wheel vehicles

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cuenca is NOT Handicapped Accessible

The picture says it all....all 84 steps if you are counting!

You are looking at our fitness center!

Interesting Fruit

Went to the mercado (local produce...and everything else market) today.

Got an interestng fruit....have no idea what is is called. Has a tough...really tough orange outer skin. Tastes great and is really sweet. It only LOOKS like snot.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Travel Pics

Clickk on the interesting pic of Brennie to see some more travel pics.

Included are:

Pics of travel in the days of Swine Flu.

Brennie using her Blackberry on the plane.

A couple other pics of Brennie during the 3 hour van ride up the Andes. We rode in a van from Guayaquil (sea level), up through the pass (12,000 feet) adn down in the valley where Cuenca is (8 or 9,000 feet).

We made some friends int the van...Marisol and Claudio. We hope to see them again. They were very nice to us........and that is the good part of traveling.

I took some really crummy pics....will try to be more selective with next group.

And oh ya....the road form Guayaquil to Cuenca was a nightmare!!.

I had some trouble getting this post up...hope it works ok. Bed time.

Airplane Food

You are probably thinking..... "peanuts?"

We flew Northwest Air (owned by Delta) from Kansas City to Miami. Yeah....peanuts. 'Peanuts' refers to the entire flight.

We flew LAN from Miami to Ecuador. Great flight. LAN has NWA beat in every department except seat size. They actually fed us food and it was good. Hot too. Not nearly as good as Uncle Johns fine fare. But good for an airplane.....actually great for an airplane.

In Transit Thoughts

You know how some people say they 'just love to travel'? Are they talking about the hours spent in small cramped airplane seats and waiting rooms. Are they talking about the lovely stale air in the plane? Surely not. They must be talking about the multiple security checks in the airports. (We were on 4 flights.) You know that poor schlubb that gets taken aside and given special attention at the security check? I am sure that is really hilarious to watch. But I wouldn't know because it is always me. Not exaggerating here....happens every single time. I wonder why? Maybe because I sweat so much.

Am I rambling...being self indulgent?

Brenda is a saint.

Enough bitching....I'll download some blurry pics and get another post ready.