Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Earthquake

I'm sure you've all read about the recent devastating earthquake in Ecuador. Please know that the damage was mostly confined to the northwest coastal area of the country. Here is a reprinted article from Conde Nast about travel to Ecuador:

Don't Cancel Your Trip to Ecuador

Quito's historic center remains mostly unaffected by the earthquake; the city still plans a close inspection of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The earthquake-prone country suffered one of its worst natural disasters in decades, but the main tourist destinations remain largely unaffected.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador late Saturday night, toppling buildings and bridges in the northwestern coastal province of Manabí and the resort town of Pedernales; at least 350 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured. With tremors felt all the way in the capital city of Quito and neighboring countries Peru and Colombia, the quake is one of the worst to hit the country since 1979.

Despite the destruction—and the billions in repairs estimated—the damage appears to be isolated to the central coast, said Fernando Alvarado, Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism. Here's what you should know.

What has been affected?

Manabí and the province Esmeraldas have endured the worst of it, but gateways to the Amazon, Andes, and Galápagos—where many travelers will head this year—remain open and operational, the ministry said in a statement.

Airports in Quito (some 175 miles east and inland from the quake), Latacunga, Cuenca, Loja, and Tulcan were spared, while the areas around the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanos have not reported any major problems. Hotels remain open, and tours have not been canceled.

The port city of Guayaquil, 180 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake, and where many travelers land en route to the Galápagos, didn't fare as well. A drone video showed the collapse of an overpass, while roads, streets, and bridges suffered damage across the city; however, Guayaquil's airport and hotels are fully functional.

The Galápagos themselves are about 850 miles from the mainland, and have not been affected by the quake or aftershocks. All airports, hotels, and cruises in the area are continuing with service as normal, while guided tours and excursions continue to run. "Visitors traveling to Ecuador or planning a visit to unaffected areas can feel confident that their trip will not be impacted and feel secure to continue with their plans to visit our country," said Alvarado.

Friday, April 15, 2016

New Orleans

Have five days come and gone already? Once a conference starts time becomes a blur. We had a fab experience all week--the French Quarter Festival, Garden District, lots of wandering around, and incredible food. Here are some pics:











Now it's time to go see those grandbabies!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Head's Up

We're leaving for the States in about an hour and won't return to Cuenca until the beginning of May. First stop is New Orleans for an International Living conference. Before we get to work on Tuesday we're going to eat and drink our way through an annual event called French Quarter Fest.

After the conference we're off to New Jersey to visit with half the family, then down to North Carolina to see the other half, then back to Ecuador. I don't write about our family life so posts will be sporadic until our return.

Oh, a week after we land in Cuenca we're off again for a fantastic six day cruise in the Galapagos. Cynthia has wanted to go there for ages, so this will be an early celebration of our upcoming 45th wedding anniversary.

Until I have time to write again, ciao amigos!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Art Gallery Opening

I mentioned in a previous post about bumping into a new art gallery last week. Yesterday evening was its grand opening, and as promised we were there. Take a look at the size of the crowd and how cool the art is.







Anybody out there have contacts in the art world? This caliber of work deserves a broader audience.

And just to prove we were really there (we always seem to be holding wine glasses----).


Afterwards we strolled to dinner with friends in the cool night air. I remarked that it's so easy to take our remarkable expat lives for granted. How often in our previous world did we say, "Oh, nothing special planned tonight. Just meeting friends at the opening of an art gallery then walking to dinner in the historic district." Uh, like----never.

Our lives here truly are a blessing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ecuador's Real Religion

Holy Week has come and gone. As I showed in my last post thousands of Ecuadorians were visiting local churches and celebrating the holiday in various ways. But while the population is 95% Catholic, we learned yesterday what the country's real religion is.

We needed to go to the IESS (Social Security) hospital for some follow-up appointments.


Since it was mid-afternoon we were surprised that our normally busy street was almost deserted and it took awhile to flag down a taxi. Once we arrived there wasn't the normal hustle bustle of patients and doctors, but the lobby area was unusually packed. What was going on?

We looked up at the TV on the wall and immediately got our answer. Undefeated Ecuador was playing Columbia in soccer. I have a blasphemous confession to make--we're not fans of the sport and had no idea the game was in progress.

My British son-in-law has tried his best to get me interested in soccer. But as I've explained to him, Americans generally support sports that we invented. And on a personal level, I'm no more a fan of a pitchers' duel in baseball or a defensive struggle in football than I am of a game where guys kick a ball around for an hour and a half to end up with a 1-1 tie. Give me points and lots of them!

Ecuadorians live and die by their team, and I'm sure this attitude is reflected throughout Latin America. When a game is being televised during the day business grinds to a halt and locals are crowded around television screens all over the city.

There were so many people watching the game in the lobby that someone at the hospital finally turned off the TV so doctors and patients would return to the health care business they were all there for. We saw our physicians much quicker than normal and were soon on our way.

So here's an "insider tip" for you--schedule appointments on game day for super-quick service. If your doctor actually shows up and isn't watching the team somewhere else, that is------.

P.S. Ecuador lost 3-1, but somehow the sun came up this morning and life goes on.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Visit to the Seven Churches

Every year before Easter as many as 10,000 Catholics hit the streets of Cuenca to participate in Maunday Thursday. This tradition dates back to Roman times when Christian pilgrims visited the city's seven basilicas as an act of penance. Cuenca attracts thousands of visitors for this event because of the proximity of churches in the historic district.

Cynthia and I happened to be downtown on Thursday at a going away party for friends who are moving to Spain. When we left the restaurant at around 10 PM we were stunned to find the streets absolutely packed with pedestrians. We'd never done the seven churches walk before and spontaneously decided, "What the heck, we're here--let's do it!"

I happened to have my camera with me so here are some photos:



Vendors were everywhere making sure no one was hungry.




Here's the New Cathedral under a full moon.


As this is by far our biggest church there were tons of people going in and out.


Some other shots from churches along the way.






Many of our churches are beautifully lit at night, but we discovered they must be on timers that go off at 10:30. I wish I had a better photo for you.


We made it to five churches before heading home. On the way we crossed the Tomebamba river


and walked down our very quiet street after a busier than expected evening.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Joys of Wandering Around

One of the joys of pedestrian life is you never know what you might encounter when you're out wandering around. I offer you last night as a prime example.

We met great friends for an amazing meal at Trattoria Novecento, a gorgeous restaurant in Hotel Santa Lucia.


I don't throw around words like "amazing" when it comes to the food here in Cuenca because quite honestly the cuisine doesn't often measure up to U.S. standards. But Cynthia's salmon and roasted veggies and my pepper-encrusted steak with mushroom risotto were both spot-on. Here's a shot of our mozzarella and prosciutto salad.


Afterwards the plan was to attend a special choral production nearby in the Old Cathedral that we had read about. When we got there about twenty minutes early the church was dark and the gates were locked. Not promising----

While waiting outside "just in case," we noticed well-dressed people coming in and out of the beautiful building across from the church.


Were we mistaken about the concert's location? Curious, we went inside and found folks standing around chatting and sipping wine.


Looking into the empty auditorium we discovered a presentation had just taken place for members of the Judicial Council. Not sure what that organization is but we figured, what the hell, the concert's not happening and we're here, so let's have a glass of wine and do a bit of chatting ourselves. Which is exactly what we did.


We soon parted company because our friends had an early start the next day. Cynthia and I weren't really ready to call it a night and decided to walk to a symphony performance that was on the way home anyway.

En route we bumped into a fab new art gallery, Galeria del Artista, and detoured a few minutes to check it out.



The owner was quite gracious and invited us to the gallery's grand opening next Friday night. Art--live jazz--wine--cheese--put that one on the calendar!

Oops-time for the concert to start. We hustled down the street and luckily snagged two great seats on the first row of the balcony just as the lights went down. We were treated to an Easter extravaganza featuring the full orchestra, a beautiful violin virtuosa, 60 member mixed choir, and four solo vocalists. Wow! And as usual, completely free of charge.


Strolling home afterwards it would have been easy to conclude we were under the spell of the full moon overhead. Except the truth is, because we often find ourselves walking around in such an interesting city, cool stuff like what I've described happens to us all the time.

Photos courtesy of Cheri Edwards and Jadwiga Rytych.