Monday, August 30, 2010

Lie to Me

We're probably--well, maybe--OK, hopefully going to move into our permanent residence in a couple of days. This is the same permanent residence that our soon-to-be-redone lease says we would be occupying July 1. So es posible dia after manana--a mere two months late--Cynthia & I will actually sleep in our own bed for the first time since the end of April.

Unpacking in anticipation of the finish line has been like opening Christmas presents from yourself. The items packed in the early stages haven't seen the light of day in 6 months. So many times I've said, "Oh, I'd forgotten all about this. I like this!." Our apartment is a wreck at the moment but it's because our stuff is everywhere--the decision to ship or not is highly personal, but we definitely made the right choice for us. Hooray!!

So the way the drill goes down for TeamStaton is like this--I unpack; Cynthia arranges. Period. That's why I'm sitting here writing this blog while she's upstairs slaving away. Edd at the moment is nothing more than a living, breathing distraction, and once I've got a bunch of boxes unpacked my only functions are to fetch something, reach something, or render an opinion on something about which the decision has in truth already been made.

It may seem like patience won the day in our unexpected waiting period to get settled, but that would be a gross misperception. I have been (for me) overly sensitive to cultural differences, and aware that I am the guest here in Ecuador. In truth my patience has broken all personal records, an achievement I take great pride in reporting.


I don't believe we would have ever moved into that damn apartment had I not run out of patience, abandoned the "can't we all just get along" strategy, and kicked some ass, American style. That manana thing is humorous for awhile, then aggravating, and finally, in my case, "Hulkifying."

We have listened to so many BS "promises" over the past 8 weeks about what would be done and when it would be done. Like the Little Muchacho who cried "Wolf," sadly after awhile you start not believing anything anybody says about whatever.

I asked a Cuencano friend of mine recently,"Why is it Latin American people look each other ( or me) in the eye, lie to each other, know they're lying to each other, then walk away pretending that they weren't lying to each other?." Her answer? "I don't know--we just do."

People say, "Oh, they don't think of it as lying. They just don't like to disappoint, so they tell you what they think you want to hear." Maybe they don't think of it as lying, but, I'm sorry, to a dumb Southern boy like me, if you're not telling the truth, you're lying.

Thus far we're amazed that this cultural difference far exceeds the obvious language barrier as far as comfortably adapting to our new home. We know once we're in and settled we won't "need" locals so much for so many things, but I won't lie to you, it's been tough.

After all the fun-and-games, here's Edd and Cynthia on yet another adventure blogs, this one may be a bit unexpected, but I want you to know the almost always good, the sometimes bad, and the once in a while ugly. This ain't paradise, folks, but it's still pretty darn fantastic.

Next time I'll show you some pictures of our apartment. Believe me? Careful--this is Ecuador.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Coast is NOT Clear

At least it wasn't in Salinas where we spent several days over a long weekend. We'd never been to the coast at all so when some friends invited us to go, you know us by now----por que no (why not?).

Off we went early Friday morning. The drive soon took us through Cajas National Park, which is absolutely breathtaking. Wish I had some pics to share but we were all anxious to get to the beach and didn't stop. Oh, well, another trip I guess.

The drive was also back-breaking, brain-shaking, and last will and testament-making (I think I'll go for a world record in this blog for descriptions using dashes). Cajas is HUGE--it took two hours to get from beginning to end. Two hours of incredible scenery mixed with long stretches of tooth-rattling (off to a good start), unfinished roadwork; curve after curve after curve after---you get the idea; vehicles insanely passing each other on those curves.

Next we passed through Guayaquil. Ecuador's a tiny country (about the size of Colorado), the smallest in South America. This crazy city's got 6 million+ citizens! Who knew?? The downtown area looked pretty nice, but there are miles and miles of frightening slums surrounding it. Not planning to spend a lot of time there.

After about 5-6 hours we arrived in Salinas, the premier resort town in the country. You might accurately surmise from the name that salt is produced here. Therefore the surrounding vegetation is somewhat barren. It's winter here now, so while it's not really cold because of the proximity to the equator, the weather in this area turned out to be quite overcast.

Our friends made all the arrangements, so we were surprised to learn we were staying at a hotel on a naval base right outside of the resort area. The great news about this was that, as opposed to the beach area where the hotels are all across the street California-style, we were right there, up close and personal. And while our immediate area was more NE/NW U.S.-looking (the dash record is in sight) with a rocky coastline, we had our own private, deserted beach a 5 minute stroll away.

I've got to tell you, our Ecuadorian friend is a cookaholic. She's inviting us up for a shrimp breakfast (sorry, SC friends, no grits) one day, a fish breakfast the next, lobster for dinner--the woman never stopped, God bless her. She said it was relaxing for her. Um, OK--------.

But she also got really ill, so a trip we had hoped to take to Isle de la Plata (Poor Man's Galapagos) that would involve whale-watching (there's another one!) coming and going got derailed. Oh, well, the whales come every year; h-m-m-m---another trip--------.

We still had a blast, though. Since the weather sucked, we basically did a lot of eating, drinking, sleeping (we slept SO much it was unbelievable; had no idea we were that tired), and walking on the beach and around town.

A number of people have already asked me, "What did you think of Salinas?." Honestly, we were underwhelmed. Please don't misunderstand, there was nothing enormously wrong (although the bumpy dirt roads everywhere but the main stretch along the beach were a definite turnoff); it just kind of reminded us of Myrtle Beach without the putt-putt (does that count?) courses and pancake joints.

Before we returned to Cuenca Tuesday we set out chasing some sunshine. Turns out it was only 30 minutes north of us all the time, across the bay in San Pablo. Why sunny there & cloudy in Salinas? Like most everything you could possibly ask me about most anything in Ecuador, my answer is, "I have no idea."

But sunny it was in this nutty little town with a mile of wall-to-wall (surely I've got the trophy) beach shacks selling super-fresh, super-cheap seafood right on the beach. And a mile of jaw-dropping (he's pouring it on down the home stretch!) slums directly across the street. Who cares? I'm not here to save the world. The sun's shinin'; the waves are crashin;, I'm body surfin', eating shrimp and drinking huge beers for a buck twenty five each. Life is good!

And then there was the drive back. (Sigh)

Guayaquil again--oof. Cajas again. Double oof. At night this time with the clouds rolling in, creating impenetrable fog around all those damned curves (but still people were honking their horns and passing). Long delays through the unfinished stretches where the traffic is one way and alternates. Funny thing about that though. While you're sitting there, out of the fog emerges this throng of people trying to sell potato chips, chocolate, who knows what. Bless their hearts, it's really cold in these mountains at night; it's dark; yet here they are, delay after delay, hoping to make a few bucks. Understand in Ecuador the minimum wage is $240/mo.

That's not the funny part. Their sudden appearance oddly reminded me of the "Thriller" video with MJ and all the ghouls. And then I thought, "If they'd all line up and do that choreography for tips they'd probably make a lot more money than trying to sell this crap nobody wants." But that's just my warped mind churning away.

We somehow arrived back in Cuenca with no apparent disk problems and all teeth intact. Cynthia and I are already mentally planning a bus trip up the coast sometime next year. Backpacks, maybe $1000 in our pocket, no time limit, just go till there's no more dough. I've been told there's awesome surf in Montanitas and that the tropical flavor of Esmereldas is intoxicating.

Anybody-want-to-join-us? (Just in case)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Inca Ruins and Sloppy Jose's

We're finally about to move into our permanent residence so it's been a crazy busy week. And we're leaving first thing in the morning for a long weekend on the coast. So while I have several things to write about I literally haven't had time to do it.

Therefore I want to share with you some more photos taken during an outing a couple of weeks ago. We visited Ingapirca, which are the most important Incan ruins in Ecuador. Because it was a Sunday we stopped in Canar on the way to tour their weekly market. The trip was arranged through Terra Diversa, a local company owned by our good friend Juan Heredia. By sheer coincidence another friend, Paul Wilches, served as the guide that day.

Canar is a large town with what appeared to be a zero gringo population. It was fascinating to wander around and like a fly on the wall observe the locals dressed in their special white Sunday hats and living their lives.


and young--------

Paul did an excellent job of explaining the different foods

and there were plenty to choose from

as well as beautiful garments

Taking a guided tour to Ingapirca was so much better than going alone. Paul's explanation of the history, the layout, and the technology made the trip incredibly enriching. Otherwise you'd wander around for 10 minutes, say "OK, I've seen a bunch of rocks," and leave. Here are some shots of the ruins and the surrounding area.

and of course the "Two Amigos"

We got back late afternoon pretty beat, but guess what? Some great friends of ours were leaving town soon and having a going-away party for themselves. What the hell--we can sleep in tomorrow. We "freshened," created appetizers from whatever was in the refrigerator, grabbed a cab, and scooted to the other side of town. The hosts served "Sloppy Jose's," we ate and drank until too late and fell into bed.

Just another day in paradise. Gotta go pack. Love ya, mean it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Under the Weather

Nicholas had a question about the weather after my last posting. Quite honestly it has totally sucked for the last week+--no sun, chilly, and often raining. With no heat or air in the apartment we're walking around inside with coats on! Not exactly the "Eternal Spring" promised on the enticing Cuenca websites. Oh, well, nothing's perfect.

We were supposed to go to the beach over the weekend, but that trip got postponed until this Friday. So we jumped at an invitation to visit the nearby Yunguilla valley instead. Although only about 45 minutes from here, it's at a lower elevation and therefore has much different weather. As in warm and sunny. Yes!!

It was odd to see folks in shorts and flip flops, especially at a seafood place where we had a phenomenally fresh shrimp and sea bass lunch. Wasn't the beach trip next weekend??

In addition to getting to wear sunglasses again we were treated to some unbelievably gorgeous scenery all the way. Here are some of the best pics from our outing:

Normally I'm blabbing about this and that, but sometimes pictures truly are worth a thousand words, aren't they? Or when I get wound up, several thousand--------. Ecuador is one crazy beautiful country. Oh, by the way, this trip to the coast coming up is during prime humpback whale-watching season. More photos may be forthcoming!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Out of Gas

After being here for three months Cynthia and I have still developed no routine or schedule whatsoever, with the exception of our standing appointments for massage every other Thursday. We go to bed and get up whenever we feel like it, go to the grocery store when we run out of food, and say "yes" to pretty much every invitation that comes our way.

This plan (or lack of) has worked out exceptionally well and provided many opportunities thus far, although over time we know some sort of schedule will most likely evolve organically. Yesterday, however, our carpe diem lifestyle hit a speed bump which almost caused a crash today.

Our stove and hot water tank are connected to a gas tank located in the basement of our building. We keep a spare handy to avoid the obvious "running out of hot water in the middle of your shower" problem. Whenever replacements are needed you call and delivery often happens in less than an hour (h-m-m-m---these folks could sure teach the "Manana Brothers" working--a relative term in this case--on our apartment a few lessons).

Well, night before last Cynthia noticed the water was sure taking a long time to get hot in the kitchen sink. Uh, oh. Did we forget to call? Down to the basement I went. Lifted the spare--light, which means empty. Lifted the one hooked up--maybe a little heavier at best. Yep, we forgot.

Usually no sweat; we would just call first thing the next morning. But yesterday mucho sweat because: 1) this is the three day Ecuador Independence Day weekend, and they hook their extra day on Friday instead of Monday like in the States and 2) we were going out of town early yesterday anyway.

So Cynthia and I both crammed into a small shower stall built for one at the same time and rushed to get clean with the little hot water left. Those of you who know me won't be surprised that I actually enjoyed the experience; those of you who know Cynthia---um, not so much.

We successfully assumed enough Kama Sutra poses to complete the mission and went off on a delightful day trip. Now it's Saturday morning on a holiday weekend and we still have no gas. What to do?

First I boldly call the phone number to the gas company. A torrent of Spanish voicemail spews out with no recognizable mention of "for English press 1, for Spanish press 2." Damn it. I know what I said in an earlier post, but that was all theoretical and philosophical. This is real world stuff--we can't cook or take a shower here, people!

OK, so forget about that. The company's not that far away, so I decide to ride my bike up there and personally scope out the situation. As I approach I see no vehicles, no lights, nobody. Double damn it. Wait--the driveway to the back lot is unlocked. Yes!!

No. Zero activity back there either, but I see one truck sitting in front of the office. God, whoever's in there, please speak English, please speak English. He does, at least enough for me to understand that there are no deliveries until Monday, and the lot is open until 1 o'clock for drive-up exchanges.

"So you're sayin' there's a chance" (Dumb & Dumber reference--sorry). Except I have no car, my bike's out of the question, and it's too far to walk carrying an empty tank (these are much larger than the ones for your gas grill, guys), and carrying a full one back would be impossible.

Hold on. What am I thinking? I've got thousands of cars! They're all yellow and, like a wizard, with a wave of my hand I can instantly summon one. No magic wand needed.

A cab!!

I zip home, haul both tanks to the street, raise my arm and sure enough--POOF!--my chariot appears. We load up the trunk and drive away. Ten minutes and a couple of dollars fare later two full tanks are in the basement, one is hooked up, and we're back in business.

There's no great moral to this story (Where there's a chill, there's a way---nah). It's just a quick anecdote to demonstrate the resourcefulness required to survive--and thrive--in new surroundings. Predictable? Never. Challenging? Sometimes. Fun? Always.

Happy Ecuador Independence Day, everybody!! Gotta go throw some guinea pigs on the grill.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Instantly I was awake. And, puzzlingly, frightened. Like I can imagine one would feel hearing an intruder in the house. All senses on alert.

What was that??

I looked over at Cynthia. Her eyes were wide open too. It seemed like the windows had rattled or something. We listened. Was it wind? We've had a couple of windy days before, but nothing like that.

Odd--it seemed perfectly still outside. What time is it? A little before 7.

Then it happened again. Out of nowhere, for just a second, maybe two, the windows rattled fiercely. The whole building---moved.

Silence and stillness. Except for our bedroom door. Was it eerily swaying back and forth? In an instant we realized--earthquake!

What do you do? We didn't know what to do; we'd never experienced an earthquake before. So we just laid there and waited. And waited.

Nothing. That was it. Over.

I threw on my bathrobe, fired up the computer, and Googled "Ecuador earthquake August 12, 2010." Sure enough, a 6.9 quake had just happened a couple of hundred miles NE of us. Thankfully, in what appeared on the map to be an uninhabited jungle area.

I've been in some super heavy surf. I've ridden out a hurricane. Neither compared to the sheer, brutal force the planet unleashed in those couple of seconds. Wow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Miracle Cure for Dementia Discovered!!

I'll admit it. I went through a period where it seemed like mentally I was starting to slip. Forgetting more than usual--loss of concentration--slow reaction in new situations. Cynthia was openly concerned and while downplaying it all, privately I was too. During our last weeks in the States, the stress of preparing to move certainly didn't help.

But once we got here all those symptoms vanished. I was so caught up in the newness of our daily life that I didn't notice at first. As we settled in a bit, though, it became obvious to us both that an almost astonishing improvement had occurred.

So now that I could think clearly again I began to ponder how this happened. After all, since people generally don't embrace change, most would consider moving abroad and starting a new life exciting, for sure, but pretty darned stressful in its own way--new surroundings, new language, new friends------new everything.

Yet here I am, the guy who just a few months ago was experiencing brain freeze trying to find the exit in parking lots, now almost every day dispensing advice to others on global relocation! What's going on? Is it the mountain air? The food? The increased exercise?

Maybe all those factors play a role, but here's what I've discovered is the main ingredient for mental clarity, razor-sharp concentration, and improved memory:


Who knew it could be so simple? When you're not always caught up juggling what seems like a million commitments you get to totally focus on "right now." You can enjoy slowing down and listening to what others are saying instead of formulating your snappy response. And your memory is phenomenal when there's nothing much to remember.

I can't take all the credit for this revelation, however. The culture here virtually forces you to downgrade your expectations to the point where when locals are involved you must take it one thing at a time. Schedule something at 2:00 and at 4:00, for example, and you are instantly doomed. The appointment at 2 is maybe happening and the 4 o'clock---fuggidaboudit.

So there you have it. Dr. Eddsaid's Miracle Cure for Dementia. It's absolutely free, but there's still a steep price to pay--having the willingness to, in metaphysical terms. "let go and let God."

Step right up. Any takers?

PS. 8/12/2010 Amazingly a "real" article about this subject appears in USA Today the very next morning after the post:

I'm not imagining this!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

---It's Only a Day Away

You probably didn't know that tiny Ecuador is the world's leading exporter of bananas.

The same is not true of "mananas", however. Most if not all of them are needed right here at home to be freely handed out each time the simple question "When?" is asked. I've explained previously how this word can mean any time, including never.

Whenever "es posible" precedes manana, a whole different level of obscurity is in play. "It's possible" is so filled with hope, isn't it? Well, the local person uttering this phrase is full of something, all right, but I wouldn't put hope at the top of the list.

The Eddsaid translation of "es posible," gleaned from numerous conversations and the observation of their aftermath, is "I have absolutely no idea." So when someone tells you "es posible manana," basically you're screwed.

But here's the interesting thing. It's not intended that way at all.

For example, after almost a month and a half we're STILL not in our permanent residence that was "promised" to us July 1. Almost without fail whenever we chat with our friends and relatives in the States the first topic of conversation is, "So when are you moving into your new apartment?." This is a normal and natural question coming from a culture where there is a premium on timeliness and where there are penalties for nonperformance.

After being away from the US only a few months we've come to realize how much Americans live in the future. Everyone is stressed out and hurrying through the day with too much to do; TGIF; "If I can just accumulate this much money/get that promotion/go away for a few days and relax-----." Wayne Dyer calls this mindset "striving but never arriving."

Here the focus is on enjoying today. Many businesses literally close from 1-3 and employees go home to have lunch with their families. People are not complacent or lazy; they're simply not willing to sacrifice enjoyment of daily life to the relentless pursuit of material gain.

So "es posible" and "manana" are examples of polite and accepted acknowledgment that in truth nobody has an exact idea of when things will happen--or cares too much.

You, as the recipient of such a message, truly have zero power. What are you going to do? Threaten to take your business elsewhere? Good luck with that strategy. Toto, we're not in Kansas any more. That's just not the way it works here.

Some of the tiny old neighborhood grocery stores have a sign posted that says, "We cannot extend credit today, but we can tomorrow so please come back then." Think about the metaphysical brilliance of this message.

Cynthia and I find ourselves caught in a sort of purgatory between a lifetime of conditioning to expect a certain level of service and a growing understanding that here the attitude is "it's not business--it's personal." Away from the (often self-imposed) pressure created by over-scheduling and under-enjoying, we're quickly embracing our new slogan of "por que no"---why not??

Exactly when are we moving into that apartment? Es posible manana.