Thursday, October 8, 2015

Time to Go Home!

In a scene that's repeated every time we travel, I'm done packing (like in 15 minutes) and Cynthia is still hard at it. Is that our private scenario or do you other couples go through the same drill?

When we were young our elder relatives warned how time would fly when we were their age. Just the opposite has turned out to be true for us. Our lives are so busy that we often look back on recent events and say to each other, "My God, it seems like that happened forever ago!"

Such has been the case with this trip to the States. We've been gone only about a month but it feels like a much longer period of time. We started in New Jersey, then to Las Vegas, back to New Jersey, then to North Carolina. We leave in the morning to fly back to Newark before a layover in Atlanta and arrival in Quito tomorrow night. Two nights there then back to our home late Saturday night. It truly feels like we've been gone for months and I can't even say how many.

What a whirlwind of experiences--awesome malls--the Bronx Zoo--all kinds of food and wine--Las Vegas--grandkids--Trader Joe's--driving. I drove more in the last week than in the previous five years. And it wasn't an overall pleasant activity. We're used to walking almost everywhere. If we're a bit turned around we stop, look, talk about it, then proceed. When you're driving, you have to make immediate decisions that are so stressful. Oh, shit, the entrance ramp is on the right and we're in the left lane! Why can't they be consistent?? Where am I supposed to turn? Great, we just missed it. Sigh---.

And while your perimeter is exponentially expanded by having a car, sitting behind the wheel on roads and freeways feels like such a colossal waste of time and so sterile. I miss being outside and walking through my neighborhood, feeling the sun on my face, smelling and hearing, what? Life I guess.

It's weird how I don't really feel like I belong anywhere here any more. Northern people are so harsh. The sound of their conversations are grating on my ears. Southern people are so---Southern. Cynthia overheard a grandmama talking to her grandson in Toys "R' Us today and could barely understand what she was saying through the drawl.

Don't get me wrong, I love this country, and I love my family. But I don't think I could be happy living here full time again. I've been away from this culture too long and I also love the life we've created in Ecuador--the unhurried flow of life, the friendships we treasure, the happier, relaxed person I've become.

I think it's time to go home.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Random Thoughts from the U. S.

1. We lived in Las Vegas for 4 years before moving to Ecuador, right? So you think we'd be used to the heat, but my God, during our week there for the IL conference we were constantly asking ourselves, "How in the hell did we do this?!?" When you're used to our highs of mid-70's and a low of mid-50's in Cuenca every day, 100+ temps are a shock to your system. We stayed with friends for a day after the conference and I walked across the street to explore the new LINQ retail area. As soon as I returned I threw on my bathing suit and jumped in the pool. Oof--in every way you can imagine, Las Vegas is a great place to visit--can't believe we actually lived there!

2. A new mall has opened right behind the Red Rock Casino where the conference was held. We wandered over there for dinner one night and decided to eat at a restaurant called the Lazy Dog. In spite of the grueling daytime temps Vegas is actually quite pleasant in the evening so we asked to eat outside. But since we had entered through the al fresco area and noticed a number of dogs we asked to be seated where they weren't. Well, it turns out the name of the restaurant was chosen specifically because they cater to dog owners. H-m-m-m---being non-pet people this wasn't ideal, but we were hungry and the music was too loud inside so we said OK, just as far from the canines as possible. Good decision--my ribs were fall-off-the-bone amazing and Cynthia's salmon was outstanding as well. (And thankfully no one's dog came to the table begging for one of my bones.)

3. Speaking of food, we've developed a new formula for eating out in the States: 1 serving = at least 2 meals. No wonder the U.S. has an obesity problem. The meals are enormous! Talking about this over ridiculously huge platters of food one night, we couldn't remember ever pushing back a plate in Ecuador and saying, "Wow, I'm stuffed--I can't eat another bite!"

4. And speaking of Ecuador, there aren't many rules for daily living in our country. Personal responsibility is king, and people are generally left alone to live life as they choose. In the States we've discovered it's quite different. Take our daughter's hometown in New Jersey. I try to be helpful when I'm here and one night I volunteered to take out the yard trash and recycling since pickup was scheduled for the next morning. I went out the following day and saw it all still sitting there. Why? Because I hadn't put the trash on the correct side of the sidewalk. Really? The sidewalk is like two feet wide. But those are the rules, of which I've since learned there are many in this part of the world. So I took everything out tonight and was reflecting on how I now am concerned about my "presentation" of the f---ing trash to please the garbage men enough to remove it all. Sigh----

Tomorrow we head to North Carolina to visit the other half of the family. Who knows what adventures await there?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

No Surprise to Me!

I'm honored to continue to be recognized by InterNations as one of Ecuador's top bloggers. InterNations is the largest international community for people who live and work abroad, offering global networking opportunities, local events and expat-relevant information in 390 cities around the globe.

Each year the organization conducts a survey to determine the best and worst expat destinations worldwide, and the #1 country this year is------drum roll------ECUADOR!!! Keep in mind these results are from expats themselves, making them as real as it gets.

To read the entire article showing all the rankings click here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Well, My Bags Are Packed & I'm Ready to Go-----

For anyone interested, the dryer showed up today right on time. I'm going to give that company glowing recommendations in every online publication in Cuenca!

As an IL correspondent I'm always writing about why readers should consider living in Ecuador. But nothing is ever mentioned about what’s involved with leaving, so since I’m about to depart for the U.S. to visit family on the way to IL’s big Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas conference in Las Vegas, I thought you might be interested in knowing what’s involved, at least for the Staton family, preparing to board the plane.

Refrigerator—empty. Furniture—covered. Curtains—drawn. Plugs—unplugged. I’ve given all the perishables to our neighbor downstairs who is especially helpful because of her bilingual skills. She has also been given envelopes with next month’s rent for the landlord and payment to our housekeeper for this month’s services.

We pay our maid when we’re away for two reasons, even though our home obviously doesn’t get very untidy in our absence. One is out of loyalty. She has been with us for four years and depends on the income we provide for her family. Second, we ask her to visit the apartment every week just to make sure everything is OK. And finally, with the extra time she gets the chance to take care of some extra chores like washing windows since the regular top to bottom cleaning isn’t necessary.

All of our utility bills are automatically deducted from our checking account so we never have to worry about payment. I purchased a new tank of propane thus we’re sure to have hot water when we return in October.

Since we travel frequently we’ve designed our life to be able to “lock and leave.” That means among other things no plants and no pets. We live in a secure building with double gates and our front door has double locks, so we never give a thought to the possibility of an intrusion in our absence.

I checked in online for my flight this morning. Most Ecuadorians don’t do this, which means when I arrive at the airport I’ll bypass the inevitable line and hand over my luggage to an agent. They also don’t have much of an interest in bulkhead or exit row seats, so nine times out of ten I snag one of those coveted seats for free.

Well, it’s about time for me to call a taxi to the airport (it will cost me $2.50). I’ve packed some favorite recipes to prepare for the family with a special focus on fresh corn, peaches, and heirloom tomatoes, which we don’t have here in great supply and my daughter says are still in season. And juicy steaks to cook on the grill—our beef in Ecuador is not the greatest, to tell you the truth.

U.S.A., here I come!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Stroll

This time I'm enjoying an ice cold beer, but I'm not celebrating as much as I am savoring my most recent experience.

To digress a moment, you may be rightfully wondering why so many blogs all of a sudden. Well, Cynthia flew to our daughter's home in New Jersey a week ahead of me. That leaves me with time on my hands and the realization that I appear to have an inherent need to communicate. I further realize that my poor wife is normally on the receiving end of all my verbal chatter, which perhaps explains why she expressed a need of her own--to take a vacation from me. So spoken words have been temporarily replaced with writing, and you are the unwilling recipients.

Anyway, I started the day planning to go out for a walk, but our typical winter weather--overcast and chilly--wasn't cooperating. Finally in mid-afternoon patches of blue started popping through and off I went to Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park) for a Sunday stroll.

I first wandered through a nearby neighborhood where on an ancient street called Calle de Herrerias blacksmiths still forge iron the old-fashioned way into gates, balconies, and ornamental objects. Ladies were selling tamales, humitas, and pots full of God-knows-what all along the sidewalks. I went by a small park dedicated to the blacksmith craft.

After passing SOLCA, Ecuador's leading cancer hospital, I entered the park, Cuenca's largest by far. Even though, like almost everything else in our life, it is only a ten minute walk away, we haven't visited in quite some time.

I immediately noticed a couple of changes. One was the installation of a lot of new playground equipment beyond the two soccer fields that front the park (if you ever are confused about Ecuador's main sport, by the way, the multitude of soccer balls being kicked around will remind you). The other was the elimination of the old ramshackle "food court," as we fondly called it,

replaced by new wooden buildings selling the same basic traditional fare as before. Plenty of independent vendors were still dotted about, several of whom were selling this odd confection (not the candied apples),

a pile of something that is scooped into ice cream cones. Everything about it just seems so wrong that I've yet to indulge.

Of the thousands scattered throughout the huge green space, I observed that the vendors and I were the only people there alone. Families were picnicking and sweethearts were smooching wherever I looked.

Paradise Park is shaped like an elongated horseshoe with the Tomebamba River forming the northern edge and the Yununcay River on the south. Making a loop I passed along the Tomebamba side of the park and followed a path that takes you between the river and a beautiful eucalyptus forest.

Ten feet in the noise of all the playing children is replaced by the sound of rushing water and the sweet fragrance of those enormous trees.

The tip of the park where the two rivers converge is perhaps for me the most magical spot in all of Cuenca. I always sit on the trunk of a tree that grows horizontally out over the water, close my eyes and let other senses take over. The cool breeze on my face--the intoxicating smell of the water cascading over rocks--it's incredibly soothing.

Popping out the other side, I walked by the duck pond

and the new playground equipment

on my way out. As I got to the roundabout at the beginning of my street an indigenous family had set up a menagerie of stuffed animals for sale right on the curb. How they expected anyone to stop to buy anything in the middle of a busy through way defies all logic, but I see stuff like this that I don't understand constantly and can only scratch my head and wonder.

I visited the tienda next door to buy this beer on the way upstairs. No, alcohol is not for sale on Sunday, but Natalie lives in our building and knows I'm not a threat to report her. It's so cute how after all these years she never fails to remind me to return the empty bottle.

That concludes a very pleasant outing this afternoon. I love this place!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Update to a Great Day

On a recent trip back to the States baggage handlers ripped the handle off of a zipper on my suitcase. Based on yesterday's good vibrations I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to get it repaired. There's a combination shoe repair/seamstress business called La Rapida right up the street, but I hesitate to visit the place because none of the girls speak a syllable of English.

Chatting about zippers isn't a strong part of my Spanish conversational skills, so in I went with a few key words memorized from Google Translate. I fully expected I'd need a new zipper and would pick up the suitcase in a few days but, no. The employee promptly took it back to the workroom and ten minutes later out came the suitcase with the same zipper and a new handle. Cost: $3.00.

Wow! They certainly lived up to their name!

The events of the last two days feel like I've been transported to an alternate universe. If I had a party tonight to celebrate I bet all my Cuencano guests would show up on time. No, slow down, that's asking too much----------.

A Great Day

I'm sitting here sipping a Bailey's, vodka, and milk over ice (what would that be? A White Irishman?) to celebrate an exceptional day. Cynthia left for the States on Wednesday, a week ahead of my departure, and my days when we're apart rarely reach the stellar level. Ah, but today was an exception.

It seemed like a good omen when my propane gas guy showed up just as I was leaving for the gym this morning. I had paid for the tank six days ago, but still-----. After a vigorous workout there was a knock on the door, which was surprising because our building has two gates (and at least one of them is occasionally locked, sad to say). Outside was my landlord and another chap I knew must be a maestro. That's a fancy word here for a handyman.

I had reported a leak behind the shower in our spare downstairs bathroom yesterday afternoon. Those of you who live here know that a repairman showing up the next morning is right up there with Bigfoot and Loch Ness monster sightings. The only way to contain the leak was to turn off all the water to our apartment downstairs outside the building. That meant afterwards letting dishes pile up in the sink, not flushing the toilet, and delaying my shower until it was time for #2. Then back downstairs (we live in a 4th floor walk-up, by the way), turn on the water, go back upstairs, quickly take care of all agua-related business, go back downstairs, turn off the water, and go back upstairs.

Knowing Cuenca's award-losing service reputation I had mentally prepared myself for an entire weekend of this madness, so I was cautiously overjoyed by the unexpected appearance of my two visitors. I say "cautiously" because the arrival of a maestro only means just that---he has arrived. Him actually accomplishing anything is a crap shoot, especially if he has to leave to get a part. How many of us have misunderstood that his promise to be back in two hours really meant two days? The "maƱana culture" in all its glory.

So guess what. He had to go get a part. Oh, boy-----.

And then he came back with the part! HE CAME BACK!! And he repaired the shower. And for good measure he fixed a funky light fixture in the kitchen. Wow!

Had nothing else happened the rest of the day I would have been very happy, but "the hits just kept on coming." I was so pumped I sat down and cranked out rough drafts for our next three GringoTree columns. If you're not reading those I wish you would. Cynthia and I collaborate on weekly conversations about expat life, and since you read this blog I think you'll find them entertaining.

Then my phone rang. It was the technicians who were scheduled to come by this afternoon to pick up our dryer for maintenance. When I made the appointment earlier this week I calculated the odds of them actually showing up as none and none, yet here they were. Now I actually think we may get our dryer back!

I had some towels in the washer that I hung up to dry on the stair railing upstairs. I felt so Ecuadorian, so culturally immersed. If only I could say all that in Spanish.

The evening ended with a productive business dinner meeting downtown. I walked home feeling really good about life. After finishing this post I'm off to bed, ready for an uneventful recovery day tomorrow.

Cheers, everyone!