Sunday, May 29, 2011

Magic Kingdom

Billkuh--BOMbah! Ishkuh--LOOmah! If you thought this was the incantation of a sorcerer casting a magic spell you wouldn't be too far off base. These are the phonetic pronunciations of where Cynthia and I spent the past week, and there we happily experienced a special kind of magic.

Vilcabamba, located four hours south of Cuenca, is known worldwide as the Valley of Longevity. It seems a disproportionate number of centenarians reside there, and I've come away thinking that fantastic scenery and major league chillaxin' are a big part of the secret formula.

Our excursion got off to a great start when the private van provided by our hosteria actually showed up right on time (never expected--always appreciated). We and our good friends the Stephenson's climbed aboard and enjoyed beautiful vistas and a bottle of wine on the way. Hey, we weren't driving!

We arrived at Izhcayluma

in time to quickly check in, head to our rooms,

and be greeted by the sight of an inviting hammock as we climbed the stairs.

In the distance was the most wondrous landscape imaginable.

Peter and Karen had been here before, but this was our first visit and we were absolutely blown away. Magic was indeed alive.

Izhcayluma bills itself as providing a resort experience at backpacker prices. With comfortable rooms featuring killer stone walled walk-in showers, stunning grounds,

beautiful pool,

excellent spa,

full service restaurant,

bar with pool and ping pong tables, and, yes, super low prices, you'll get no argument from this guy.

We spent most of our visit right there on the property. Wandering around looking at the scenery,

enjoying multiple spa treatments, lounging by the pool, marveling at gorgeous sunsets,

eating too much good food and drinking WAY too much wine--next thing you know it's time for bed!

We did venture into the sleepy little town of Vilcabamba for a walk about.

Trust me, I had no flashbacks of Las Vegas, our former hometown. The streets were pretty much deserted, and it was really odd to see perhaps more gringos, many of them in little cafes clutching those monster sized Pilseners, than true locals. We had planned to send the whole afternoon and evening there, but right after a yummy Mexican lunch we'd experienced all the excitement we could take so we beat a hasty retreat back to base camp.

Another day Cynthia and I undertook what was called one of the easier hiking choices. We were treated to outstanding views throughout the three hour adventure,

but "easy" it was not and we paid a heavy price the following two days for our rambunctiousness.

Our timing was impeccable as rain arrived shortly before our departure to Cuenca.

Not that many of us retirees exactly lead a stressful life here, but what a joy to discover such a magical spot to just get out of town and away from one's normal routine. Will we go back? You bet your sweet Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fly Fishing with E.T.

This post is for all of you who wonder what in the heck there is to do all day in little Cuenca, Ecuador. There was an announcement in one of our online publications that a fly fishing casting class was being conducted in the pond at nearby Paradise Park. This is a sport I’ve tried and enjoyed, and one that I someday hoped to have the time to pursue. So yesterday morning I wandered over there to “get my learn on.”

On the way I bumped into some friends who, with tongues planted firmly in cheek, told me that Saturday was the End of the World. I pride myself on keeping up with pop culture from afar, but somehow the apocalypse itself had eluded me. Well, today is Sunday-------------. I heard the quack who predicted this was an evangelist whose previous prognostication had also been wrong. Suggested slogan for your next try, big guy: “Third Time’s the Charm!”

There was quite a good turnout of gringos young and old for the class, and most of them I had never met. You might think that over the course of a year in a small place like this everybody would kinda see or bump into each other somewhere or other. Apparently not.

I was really surprised that proper casting technique feels so awkward. When you’re using a cork you just let ‘er rip and fish wherever it lands. Fly fishing is much more Zen-like—when you’re doing it correctly the motion and rhythm are almost like a dance. No one would call me the Fred Astaire of this sport. I got my line all tangled up in a tree once on the backswing (it seems like this always happens, even when I go deep sea fishing!) and the fly didn’t exactly land where I intended most of the time, but by the time I left I feel like I had improved from horrible to perhaps awful. And I’m surprised my shoulder is damned sore today—fly fishing looks so relaxing!

I appeared to be the only member of the fly fisherpeople hurrying off to an afternoon commitment to attend a lecture by a gentleman named George Green ( He has had an interesting life doing stuff like banking, real estate development, and talking to aliens. Who wouldn’t want to hear what that guy has to say?

This was not a highly publicized event and riding over there in the cab I wondered if Cynthia and I might be the only ones there. Surprise—there were maybe 25-30 attendees, several that we knew, but again most of whom were strangers. Amazing. And I was right—no fly fishers.

George spoke matter-of-factly about stumbling upon an alien disk craft in a restricted hangar at Edwards Air Force base as a young soldier. He skillfully wove tales of his former career as a high-rolling banker and real estate developer with observations about how what’s going on in the world involves much more than what rank and file citizens are told. I kept thinking of The Matrix as he spoke.

Then he casually shared that he was in contact with E.T.’s from some place that starts with a P who have selected him to warn the human race that we are on a collision course with annihilation if we don’t wake up and take personal responsibility for changing the course of history. I have to say that whether or not aliens communicated this I don’t totally disagree with the message.

During the Q&A things got a bit---surprising. Why I would find anything surprising when I knowingly show up at a lecture about close encounters is debatable, but I must admit folks asking with straight faces about clones and form-changing reptilians walking among us caught even me off guard.

Still, three hours flew by with a not-something-you-do-every-day kind of experience that was fun and thought-provoking. And this was after I’d started the morning practicing my fly casting in the pond of a beautiful park.

So, what did you do Saturday?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy Anniversary!!

We knew it was sometime soon, but we couldn't remember the exact date we arrived in Cuenca last year. Thankfully Cynthia kept our 2010 calendar, and from it we discovered that Tuesday, May 17, was actually our one year anniversary in Ecuador. Hooray for us!!

Someone recently mentioned to me that old adage about how "time flies when you're having fun." But thinking back over the past twelve months I have to disagree. We've had so much fun, and our lives have been so busy and eventful that it actually seems like forever ago that we left Vegas to come here. I tend to think that time flies when you're bored. If there are huge expanses of nothing between a few scattered little somethings like birthdays or Christmas, it seems like those somethings are coming around again before you know it.

It's been fun to take a little time to look back at my blog posts from when we first got here and remember what we were dealing with and thinking about compared to the way things are now. My first entry was about going to our grocery store, Supermaxi. I was flummoxed by having to pay $44 for an annual shopping card--since that entitles you to 10% off on most everything in the joint plus 20% discounts on selected daily categories of merchandise we have saved SO much money over the past year. I will gladly re-up for that one.

It used to take us forever to get out of that place because we didn't know where (or what) anything was. We spent way more time staring than shopping. Now we're in and out in no time. They run out of certain special things you want, so we've learned to grab 'em when you see 'em (I wasn't quite out of peanut butter, but I saw one jar of Jiff Reduced Fat Crunchy for the first time ever and scooped it up). When I spot California corn once in a blue moon at least one meal that week will definitely include California corn. The dark chocolate I enjoy has gone MIA and may not surface for months. Bummer.

Roosters? They used to be my pet peeve. Do we have them in our neighborhood now? Yep. Do I hear them anymore? They might as well be mimes.

Language problems? Are we now fluent in Spanish? I wish. We're certainly better than when we first arrived, but damn it's not as easy as I hoped. Interestingly we understand much more than we can say. Thank God for Google Translate. It's not perfect, but it's sure come in handy muchas veces (that means "many times"--see, I'm learning!)

Why not? I love that post; you might enjoy reading it from the archives. Those two words have become my motto here, and asking that question has opened so many doors and introduced us to so many wonderful friends and experiences.

A year later much of what was confusing, overwhelming, and downright frustrating has become routine. A lot of the sensory overload and culture shock has faded into the background. There is no longer the possibility that we've having a crazy dream or at least a "memorable" vacation.

No, this is now our life. And we love it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

She Came in through the Bathroom Window

We are blessed with phenomenal views of Cuenca from our apartment. Many folks hope for at least a little kitchen window--we've got a monster expanse of glass and can see for miles.

Even from the master bathroom we look out at the city and the mountaintop community of Turi. Trouble is, Cuenca could peer right back at us when we emerged from the shower or tub.

Something needed to be done, but we were kind of stumped.

You see, we didn't want to block our view of the mountains, so curtains or Roman shades were out. We needed to cover the lower half of the windows, and while we'd seen Levalor blinds in the States that attached and pulled up from the bottom, that idea, if even possible here, would be prohibitively expensive.

Our interior design friend Caty Jaramillo of Trapitos (see "It's Curtains for Us") suggested privacy film and knew just the guy to send over. Privacy film? We'd never heard of it, but like everything else enlightenment was only a Google search away.

It turned out there are some very creative and interesting design possibilities with this product. We saved one we particularly liked to show Saul Coronel, the owner of Disenarte. Like Caty, he arrived right on time for his appointment and quickly measured our windows. We pulled up the website we had saved on our computer and asked if he could make something similar for us.

"I can exactly match that if you want," was his reply. Saul quoted us an extremely reasonable price for the design, materials, and installation, and we said, "Giddyup!"
A few days later he emailed us a mockup of the finished product for our approval, and within a week he was back in the bathroom meticulously applying the film to our windows.

When he finished we were astonished--our windows looked exactly like the picture we had shown him!

Privacy film is a remarkably attractive and inexpensive alternative to typical window treatments, and Saul Coronel of Disenarte is the go-to guy if you want to use it for the windows in your home or business. Email him at or call 072881185 (office) or 088390152 (cell).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spice, Spice, Baby

In my last post I shared the science behind the carbolicious diet consumed in the highlands of Ecuador. Now I'd like to delve further into our local cuisine by exploring the reasons behind what many expats describe as the "blandness" of food here in Cuenca. Hardly a week goes by without someone saying something to me like, "Man, I wish a Thai restaurant would open here," or "Why isn't there one good Mexican joint?"

In truth Cuenca's local food is mildly seasoned. It's rare to even find a pepper shaker on the tables of most restaurants. A small bowl filled with a liquid concoction called ahi is used instead. There's always salt though, which is often used so abundantly I sometimes wonder why the diner doesn't save time and just unscrew the top and pour instead of shake.

But once again there's a counter-intuitive scientific explanation for our spicy shortcomings. The hottest food all around the globe is concentrated near the equator. Ecuador certainly meets that categorization, but at 8400 feet altitude Cuenca falls short in the temperature department.

Because you see it's in areas with the hottest climate that super-spicy foods are consumed. You don't hear much about Eskimo hot and sour blubber, right? H-m-m-m---so why in the heck do people that are already sweltering love to chow down on the heat? Wouldn't that make them even hotter?

Exactly. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers, creates some interesting changes in your body when consumed. Blood circulation is increased which brings more blood to the skin's surface, and the capillaries in your skin dilate. The combination of these two physiological effects? You sweat!

And sweating is one of our bodies' primary defense mechanisms against overheating. The heat that increased blood flow brings to the surface is radiated out and away from the body, helping stabilize the core temperature.

Eating habits around the world have evolved over very long periods of time. The earliest settlers no doubt ate experimentally and gradually learned what foods provided optimum health in their particular habitat. In those steamy, low-lying areas the hotter the better. In Cuenca-------not so much.

Oh, one last thing about spicy cuisine. It's common for people consuming capsaicin-flavored food to experience feelings of pleasure and even euphoria. So your mouth may be burning, but other areas may be yearning.