Monday, March 2, 2015

Santiago

We've spent four nights here and are about to head out to the wine region of Casablanca valley today on the way to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. So a quick recap with some photos before our guide arrives. Our apartment couldn't have been better chosen. It's on the 25th floor with this view of the city from the rooftop pool two stories up.


Our location is only minutes from so many of Santiago's "must-see" historical sites, plus lots of restaurants and a subway stop.





We visited as many neighborhoods as we could. Upscale Lastarria



Funky Bellavista


Modern Las Condes and preppy Providencia



On our last day we went to the Museum of Fine Arts



Ate lunch at La Rosa Emporium, famous for the best ice cream in town


and finished the day with a stroll through the Paris/London section.



We covered a LOT of territory in a short amount of time. Santiago, a sprawling metropolis of 6 1/2 million people, is somewhat like LA--temperate weather and low humidity + a serious smog problem. In every way a first world city, Santiago was a wonderful destination for an enriching visit. Prices are not cheap, but we enjoyed the cultural activities and for sure the amazing food and wine.

So thank you, Santiago, for a great start to our trip!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bon Voyage!

Cynthia and I moved to Ecuador almost five years ago with exotic travel plans. In fact, lowering our living expenses so we could travel more was one of our motivations for moving abroad in the first place.

Since arriving in Cuenca in 2010 we've gotten to see a lot of our new country, but a major change in our lives caused a redirection of our international destinations.

Grandchildren.

You see, when we got here we had none--now we have four, all three years old or less.

So our "exotic travel" for the past few years has been to North Carolina and New Jersey. Please understand I'm not complaining. We love those grandbabies with all our hearts, so much so that we gladly spend as much time with them as possible during these irreplaceable early years.

But tomorrow we are expanding our horizons southward as we embark on an awesome trip just for us. We'll spend four days of discovery in Santiago, Chile (we're staying in an amazing 25th floor apartment overlooking the city), a day imbibing in the nearby wine country, then two days at a beachfront villa in Vina del Mar before boarding a cruise ship for a two week journey around the tip of South America that ends in Buenos Aires. We'll steak, Malbec, and tango our way through that amazing city for a whole week before returning home.


Along the way we'll visit the Chilean lake district, explore parts of Patagonia,trek in a gorgeous forest reserve, take a boat trip to see all sorts of wildlife, pass through the Magellan strait and "Glacier Alley," and bounce through wilderness in a 4X4 to hang out with king penguins.

About twenty friends and colleagues from here in Cuenca will be aboard for what promises to be the trip of a lifetime. I look forward to sharing the journey with you perhaps along the way and for sure when we get back.

In our International Living presentations I always quote Henry David Thoreau: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."

Brothers and sisters, we're doing just that.

Ciao!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscars 2014--The Year of Miserable Movies

With "Boyhood" Cynthia and I completed our annual ritual of watching all the nominated films before the big Oscars night. We had high hopes for this last one based on critical buzz but found ourselves looking at our watches and wondering when it would ever end.

I think it safe to say that none of this year's movies are destined for "classic" status. Almost all of them focus on a character who is unhappy, depressed and/or dysfunctional. In the case of "Birdman" that applies to every character in the film. Even in the ones with redemptive endings you don't feel like standing up and cheering. In "Wild" Reese Witherspoon arrives at a bridge. Whoopee. The guy in "The Imitation Game" triumphantly breaks the Nazi code, then we learn during the credits he later kills himself. Ouch. Even MLK in "Selma" is catching grief left and right from his wife, co-workers, and of course Whitey. The biggest hero is poor Stephen Hawking slumped in a wheelchair and unable to speak. Geez-----.

"Into the Woods" gets a pass from this disappointing critique. Taking a clever, successful play from the stage to the screen isn't as hard as condensing a book into a cohesive two hour movie, and in the case of this one the ability to incorporate special effects actually enhances the final product.

Does this group of nominees reflect the overall mood of the viewing public? If so I wish the United States a belated and heartfelt HAPPY New Year! Here's to some feel-good flicks that make us smile and elevate our spirits in 2015.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Party Central?

It's Carnaval 2015 and the raucous celebrations continue in Cuenca. Mardi Gras in New Orleans can't hold a candle to this wild and crazy place. Here's a scene shot from our window that gives you a glimpse of the mad revelry going on.


NOT!!

Cuenca today is an absolute ghost town. Stevie Wonder could happily wander around town without an escort.

The owner of the gym where I work out is kindly opening until noon each day while all this "merriment" is going on. Walking there this morning I was amazed at how many birds I heard singing. I'm sure this is happening every day, but the buzz of traffic and city noise normally drowns out all the chirping. It is just that quiet right now.

So where is everybody? The short answer is--somewhere else. Citizens with means have traveled to coastal spots like Salinas. This is what the scene there looks like right now. Wanna join them?


Me neither.

Lots of others are gathered at weekend homes outside of town in Paute and Yunguilla. Or hanging out with their family, preparing huge feasts and squirting foam and/or throwing water balloons at each other (a tradition I just don't get).

These two gringos are keeping a low profile, which is quite easy since there's nothing to do anyway. Trust me, I'm not complaining. It's wonderful to enjoy all this peace and quiet for a bit. Tomorrow the city will be semi-open, then Wednesday all will be back to normal.

I'll miss hearing the birds.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pakakuna Gardens

Close friends who lived in the building next door surprised us late last year by announcing they were leaving Cuenca to take up residence in a community outside of Quito called Pakakuna Gardens. We asked the obvious question: Why??

They shared that they had tired of the noise which invariably accompanies city life and felt ready to enjoy a more peaceful setting. They described their soon-to-be new home as a Shangri-La with amazing landscaping and abundant sunshine.

Cynthia and I are card carrying city folks, so the remote location (40 minutes from Quito) outweighed any positives for us residence-wise, but we were thrilled to get to spend a couple of nights with our amigos after the recent International Living conference and check the place out.

Words like "WOW!" and "Oh, my goodness!!" don't come close to describing how incredibly beautiful Pakakuna Gardens is. Let me share with you some photos so you can see for yourself.








After a hectic few days in Quito hanging out here was exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries. If this looks like your idea of paradise, email info@pakakunagardens.com for more info.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Where in the Hell Have You Been???

My goodness, has it really been since last July when I posted anything?? Shame on me!

Actually I have a somewhat lengthy explanation. We absolutely had to escape the dreary, overcast,chilly weather that defines Cuenca in July and August, so we were in the US visiting family during those months. We returned home in September and spent those few weeks in a whirlwind of social engagements, doctor appointments, and (on my part) preparation for an important presentation I was making at an upcoming International Living event in Las Vegas.

Then we were off to Vegas the first week of October to attend the conference, visit my sister and brother-in-law plus some dear friends, and clear out a storage room. We were already in the States, our daughter was expecting our fourth grandchild in November, and the holidays were rolling around after that, so we decided to stay the whole three months until after New Year's.

Since this blog is about me (or Cynthia and me) I purposely avoid writing about our family, and they have no interest in sharing our somewhat public life. That's why you didn't hear from me during the last half of 2014.

We were bone tired when we returned to Cuenca, sleeping 10 hours a day for the first week back. As soon as we recovered--and readjusted to the altitude--vigorous preparation for IL's Ecuador Fast Track conference in Quito began. I had two presentations to revise and a brand new one to create the script and visuals.

Cynthia and I take this work very seriously, practicing relentlessly before going onstage in front of hundreds of people who deserve our best. Still, we happily participated in as much socializing as we could before leaving for Quito at the beginning of February.

Our presentations and the overall conference went splendidly. We spent Sunday after the event having lunch with wonderful friends, then stayed for a couple of nights with other great friends who have recently moved from Cuenca to a gorgeous setting outside of Quito. Their community is so stunningly beautiful that I'll soon post some photos I took while there.

We're now back home for 11 whole days before leaving again on Feb. 25 for Santiago, Chile. We spend several days there, take a wine country tour on the way to the Pacific ocean at Vina del Mar, then board a cruise ship for an amazing two week trip around the tip of South America that ends in Buenos Aires. We'll stay over a week in Argentina's capital eating fantastic beef and consuming copious amounts of Malbec while watching tango shows, finally returning to Cuenca the last part of March.

After that we have no plans.

Well, we are going to Cancun for a week in June to speak at another International Living conference. Oh, then there's the one in Vegas in the fall again. And we'll be back in the States two or three times playing with those four grandkids. And we've been talking about visiting Columbia.

Yikes, looks like another busy year after all! I'll keep you informed. Stay tuned-------.



Monday, July 7, 2014

Neighborhood Fiesta

The city of Cuenca sponsors free Zumba classes at parks all over town, including one near our building that is rocking from 8 to 9 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening. We've not participated but most definitely hear the music and enthusiastic instructor urging on sometimes as many as 100 folks from the neighborhood.

So it was a bit odd this past Friday that the music started cranking at 9, but we thought maybe the schedule had changed. Then it kept going--and going--and still going when we went to bed. I learned the next morning that we were celebrating the annual fiesta for our El Vergel barrio (neighborhood).

All weekend. Sigh-----

Sure enough, Saturday night we were living in Party Central once again. I woke up to go to the bathroom at 1:30 and the music was still blaring, so maybe it stopped at 2? Who knows?

Yesterday the fiesta got started in the early afternoon and I at last wandered over to check it out. Our little park was packed with revelers and vendors. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what the celebration looked like.








Yes, somehow she's sleeping through all the racket.



And I'm happy to report that the party finally shut down at 9 last night.