Monday, July 23, 2012

In Praise of Yoga

My hips are really, really stiff this morning. Come to think of it, so are my shoulders. Must have gone on another one of those bike rides, right?

Nope. Yesterday I put myself through an intense yoga session, and today I'm really feeling it. Deep muscles I didn't know existed are making their presence known.

I religiously go to the gym three days a week. This has been my routine for years and years. While there I lift the heaviest weights my joints can tolerate. I'm usually a bit sore the following morning, but nothing like this. It's amazing that exercise involving only your own body weight can have such an effect.

Yoga has also been a regular part of my life, and I can't say enough good things about it.

Many people assume chronic pain and limited mobility are unavoidable byproducts of the aging process. This is true if you just let it happen, but yoga is a fun and easy way to fight back.

When I bring up the subject of yoga some folks curiously say, "Oh, I'm too stiff to do that stuff." That's exactly why you should consider giving it a try!

Perhaps when bending forward all you can touch is your knees. Great. Start there. With consistency you'll soon reach your shins, and before you know it you'll be touching those toes.

Cynthia suffered with chronic lower back pain for years. She has been regularly attending yoga classes twice a week plus practicing at home on her own, and I'm thrilled to report (and so is she!) that the pain has completely disappeared.

We all know that classic scenario of an old person falling and breaking a hip. Sometimes this sets off a chain reaction of further complications that forever compromise one's quality of life.

I'm convinced such maladies can be avoided by taking a proactive approach to your health. And there's nothing better than yoga for improving both strength and flexibility.

It's not imperative to make a commitment to attending classes. Some are self-conscious about their lack of fitness and feel exposed in a group setting.

There are tons of books and DVD's that allow you to begin right at home, whenever it's convenient for you.

Start slow and listen to your body. Yoga isn't a competitive sport. It is a wonderful opportunity to quiet your restless mind and improve your overall fitness.

At first you'll find yourself focusing on those stubborn hamstrings that are refusing to cooperate with your diligent efforts to stretch them. As you progress you'll become aware of your entire body as your mind quiets and your consciousness expands.

Doing yoga with a partner brings an additional level of enjoyment. Working together and helping each other can be a meaningful way to deepen your relationship.

Nature is often our greatest teacher. How do you want to feel? Like a supple young sapling that effortlessly bends, or a brittle old twig that easily snaps?

Being a passive bystander of your own life is a sad choice. Regular yoga practice allows you to take some control of your well being. I highly recommend you consider making it a part of your daily routine.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The 3 Little Pigs

I often don't know what day it is. This isn't due to the onset of dementia. It's simply because in retirement such information often doesn't really matter. You wake up and it's---today.

Well, that's not exactly true. Many times I have commitments that require me to know the names of the days, but the number itself is irrelevant unless it's a special occasion ("Oh, yesterday was your birthday??" wouldn't make for a happy household).

But I absolutely know today is Saturday. That's because it's the first quiet morning after five straight days of the pounding.

Before I get to that, let me clarify what "quiet" means around here. When we visit our son and family in the States we marvel at the complete lack of outside noise in their house. You see a bird chirping right at the window but no sound reaches your ears. Amazing. That's not exactly the way it works around here.

"Quiet" almost always includes cars, trucks, and buses going by and dogs barking, plus occasional fireworks and car alarms. It's remarkable how your brain tunes out all that background racket, but it really does. Unless I focus on it I rarely notice any noise.

For the past several months, however, our "peacefulness" has been jolted every morning promptly at 7 AM Monday through Friday. Why? Well, there's a house being built right behind our bedroom window.

I begrudgingly have to give the construction crew credit. I can never get anyone around here to show up on time for anything. Greenwich Mean Time could be calibrated based on the arrival of these guys.

When we moved in I thought this lot would forever remain vacant. The street frontage is barely wider than a vehicle, then a bowling alley strip of land runs beside our building and opens up into an enclosed rectangle. Here's how it looked until recently.

I was obviously wrong. Here came a Bobcat clearing the ground. Then trenches for utilities. We dreaded the possibility that yet another mid-rise condo building would obstruct the view that allows me to capture these gorgeous sunsets.

So the bad news is the land is being developed. The good news is our new neighbor is a one story single family home.

I've never had the opportunity to observe a home here being built from beginning to end. The difference in construction technique is quite different from the US. There's no pouring a pad, framing, drywall, siding, roof, finishes, and you're done.

No, the culture here favors the third Little Pig in this post's title. They build 'em out of bricks. Behold-----

This home is literally being built wall-to-wall, taking up every square inch of land. It looks like there's going to be a small courtyard in one back corner and windows across the front. Otherwise no exterior light would enter, but it appears the design includes an "old school" large central skylight.

And as you can see all the walls are created one brick at a time. It will be interesting to see how the electrical system is eventually installed. Check out the steel beams that will support the roof.

Needless to say this style of construction is built to last. Unfortunately for us it also takes forever to complete. Until all this ruckus started 7 o'clock wasn't our ideal waking hour.

It still isn't.

Makes the Latin American tradition of an afternoon siesta that much easier to embrace.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Biking with My Buddy

Peter had been after me for awhile to come join him on one of his Sunday bike rides. Since we live on opposite ends of town some logistics were required. The excursion he had in mind was going to be several hours over bumpy dirt roads, and I didn't think my legs could withstand the outing plus riding to his house beforehand plus making it back home afterwards.

So I rode over Saturday and left my bike, then came back Sunday morning for our trip. I was supposed to be there an hour earlier, but South America got in the way. I went to the bus stop, saw the #7 coming, then watched it take the wrong turn. H-m-m-m---. Buses don't run that frequently on the weekends. Another one finally came down the hill and went another different way. What the hell??

I walked down to the corner where all these shenanigans were happening and discovered the police had barricaded the street. Why? Remember--asking "why" is not a winning strategy here.

I then sauntered past the barricade and up the hill, waiting with some other folks for the next bus. We weren't at an "official" bus stop (there wasn't even one in sight), but our location seemed logical. To us, that is, but not to the next #7 driver--he blew right past our waving hands like we were invisible.

Plan B, catching a taxi, had already been formulated and now was the time for implementation, but I had been noticing the past 20 or so that went by already had passengers. To tell you the truth I was beginning to feel a bit trapped and helpless because there was no Plan C.

Luckily I at last flagged down an empty cab. Jumping inside, I sat next to a driver who looked about 12 years old. "How old are you?" I asked. "17," he replied. I'd never seen a taxi driver so young; I'm not sure I'd ever seen a human being behind the wheel of a vehicle that childlike. But I needed to get to the other side of town an hour ago, so "Vamos!"

The kid had no idea where Peter lived when I told him the address but of course I did know, so he drove and I navigated. I'm happy to report he proved to be a very safe and careful driver. Give him a few years----. Then finally I arrived and off we went on our bikes.

Peter and his wife Karen live in a lovely home in the middle of "Gringolandia" on the west side of Cuenca--an area loaded with mid to high rise residence towers. I was amazed that 15 minutes from his place, on a bike no less, we were in areas that bore no resemblance to the city I thought I knew.

Just a few minutes into our ride the roads became dirt

and the surroundings were decidedly rural.

The vistas were amazing considering how close we were to "civilization."

We came across old structures like this that have been there for God knows how long.

As we journeyed further I saw family outings right beside one of Cuenca's four rivers.

It seemed like the area was getting more remote

then the next thing you know we're having tea in a packed cuy (guinea pig) restaurant.

The ride back was equally picturesque

and I was ready for some food and a nap as soon as we returned.

Thanks, amigo, for a terrific day!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Just Get on the Bus, Gus

I like riding the local buses. Many Cuencanos tell me that this is dangerous, although a little questioning reveals they’ve actually never ridden a bus. “But I saw on the news--------.”

It’s not about saving money. Sure, bus fare is 25 cents (half that if you’re 65 or older) and a cab costs $1.50-2.00. Times are not so hard that I don’t have an extra $1.75.

Riding buses helps keep me grounded. I see the “real” Cuenca here—students, indigenous women with kids strapped on their back, professionals sitting and standing side by side.

There’s an interesting ritual in which I sometimes participate just like a local. Bus drivers are loath to give you change. All you’ve got is a 50 cent piece. You tap the shoulder of the person in front of you, show him your coin, and if he has a quarter he gives it to you, takes yours and pays for both of you. No Spanish required. How cool!

Then you’ve got the traveling salesmen who hop aboard for a couple of stops shouting out their sad story and hawking anything from pencils (pencils??) to candy bars. Or musicians who entertain you for spare change.

It’s all great fun, and I’m sorry I see so few expat passengers. Many only seem to hang out with each other, eat/drink at “gringo” restaurants and bars, and own cars so neither buses or taxis are ridden. We don’t have gated communities here, but it appears some of my compatriots are creating “gated existences” for themselves, associating with the local people and culture only when absolutely required.

I find it puzzling to travel so far away to a foreign country, then do everything you can to pretend you don’t really live there.

I’ll just keep riding the bus, thank you. Hey, do you have a quarter? All I’ve got is this 50 cent piece.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I'm honored to announce that the folks at InterNations (, an invite-only social network for people who live and work abroad, have invited me to be a featured blogger for Ecuador on their website. Representing over 300 communities, InterNations has global members numbering in the hundreds of thousands. See the badge in the right hand column below.

This comes on the heels of the Expat Daily News Latin America naming eddsaid one of the "Best Blogs in Latin America." It is amazing for me to think back on starting a little blog almost four years ago for my personal enjoyment, then watching readership grow to thousands of people in over 35 countries!

So many people have shared that my writing has been a big part of their decision to relocate to Ecuador. This is an unintended responsibility that I take quite seriously. I always strive to represent my life here candidly and honestly. From my heart I thank you for your support and the kind comments I receive from you on the blog and by email.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

International Living

I received an unexpected phone call from a friend about a month and a half ago. As a result of that conversation I'm now writing for International Living, and Cynthia and I are the featured speakers from Cuenca at their "Fast-Track Ecuador" conference in Quito next month, where over 350 attendees are expected.

So far I've written one of their daily Postcards (reprinted below) and a full length article about health care in Ecuador published in the current issue. My association with TerraDiversa was also featured in IL's Fund Your Life Overseas reports, and numerous other projects are in the works.

The topic of our presentation at the conference will be "Keep Dreaming!" The story of our relocation to Cuenca will be interwoven with the message that if you don't give up on your dreams they can sometimes manifest in unexpected ways.

These new developments are simply the latest chapter in the continuous stream of blessings that has defined my life since we moved here. All of them have been spontaneous and serendipitous. Choosing to "go with the flow" seems to be working out quite well so far.

Go With the Flow – or Go Home!
By Edd Staton

Three years ago my wife and I shocked our family and friends by announcing that we had decided to relocate to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Our lives had reached an unforeseen crossroads in the U.S. Both of our ultra-successful careers had been suddenly jettisoned by downsizing, and we were surprised and disappointed to discover bleak employment prospects for folks in their 50s.

Rather than endure years of unsatisfying work for substandard wages, we chose to explore options that would allow us to start living life now.

With the amount of savings we had accumulated, we knew staying in the States wasn’t an option. But if we were to relocate overseas, it had to be somewhere that would accommodate our seemingly impossible wish list:

Low cost of living
Perfect climate
Proximity to our family
Excellent medical care
Cultural activities and modern conveniences

Exhaustive research turned up a city we’d never heard of called Cuenca in the highlands of Ecuador, a country we knew next to nothing about. But Cuenca appeared to meet all of our criteria, and a "look/see" trip confirmed this could be The Place, so we took the plunge...

I’m happy to report that, in many ways, our standard of living exceeds the lifestyle we enjoyed in the States with two substantial incomes.

We live in a beautiful two-story penthouse apartment, eat fresh and healthy food, regularly enjoy things we once considered luxuries (like fresh flowers, massages, and mani/pedi’s), and go to free symphony performances and film festivals.

This isn't how it works out for everyone—we know people who arrived in Cuenca around the same time as us, with high expectations. Some have already gone back home or relocated elsewhere. So, Cuenca is not for everybody.

The altitude is 8,400 feet, which doesn't suit everyone. (Summer in Tahoe feels like every day in Cuenca.). You may find the "eternal spring-like" weather too cloudy and cool. If you're looking for a "cheap United States," you'll probably become frustrated by cultural differences.

For example, virtually everything takes a long time. "Manana" really means "not now." Our favorite cereal might be out of stock for weeks. The way we've happily dealt with these frustrations...and the advice I give to anyone who's thinking of a move to Ecuador is: Go with the flow...or go home.

In exchange for leaving behind a culture with impressive efficiency and virtually unlimited choice, we have relaxed into an unhurried flow of life with no clock to watch or rigid schedule to maintain.

We enjoy wonderful relationships with people we’ve really gotten to know.

And with the time previously devoured by work, commutes, chores, and errands...we now pursue hobbies and interests that nourish our minds, bodies and spirits.

Plus we live in a gorgeous, clean colonial city filled with kind and gracious people. So for us, moving to Cuenca has been a dream come true!