Saturday, November 14, 2015

Our Bus Trip to the Coast

We just got back to Cuenca today after a long vacation at the beach. I've been meaning to write about our trip over there on the bus but was too busy doing, well, not much of anything. Isn't that the whole idea??

Let's be honest--in the States taking a trip on a bus is one rung up on the ladder from hitchhiking. In this third world country where most people don't own cars and certainly can't afford to fly, buses are the primary way of getting around the country.

We ride buses all the time in the city but hadn't actually traveled on one out of town in years. Not because of any negative previous experiences. Simply that whatever we've been doing and riding a bus to get there haven't coincided.

This time they did, so we took a taxi to the terminal near the airport to buy tickets to Guayaquil. Once there we would switch to a different line for the ride up the coast to our final destination, where friends we were staying with would pick us up.

It's hard for me to convey how different our mindset is after living in Ecuador for so long. I can remember how early on walking into this same bus terminal was extremely intimidating. There are taxis and people everywhere. Inside are many windows where you buy tickets, each line servicing a different part of the country. Sensory overload kicks in, and this is just in Cuenca. The terminal in Guayaquil is HUGE--three stories of apparent chaos and over 100 windows!

Having "survived" innumerable situations of all sorts over the years, we know that by staying calm and centered we will board a bus and be on our way. Sure enough, someone asks us where we going and points us to the window of the company with the next departure. We purchase two tickets on an Executivo--nicer quality and assigned seats--express bus for $12 total (I was so excited by the low price I forgot to ask for my 50% discount!) and head to the proper lane to wait for our chariot to arrive.

What looks like chaos at first glance turns out to be a well-organized operation. There are people at the entryway constantly asking passengers where they are going and pointing them to the correct lane. The buses come and go on time.

After only about a five minute wait our bus arrived.

You give the driver your luggage and he stores it underneath. Since it's an express route there are no worries of someone at an earlier stop walking off with your suitcase, but we still took our computers and smaller bags inside with us. As you can see, the interior is quite nice and there's plenty of legroom.

Since we were the first passengers to purchase tickets (15 minutes before the bus departed) we got the bulkhead seats on the first row which meant even more legroom. Nice! In the ten minutes we sat before leaving we were serenaded by a blind musician,

offered the chance to buy newspapers from another guy, and visited by a candy vendor

who apparently wasn't part of the "system" because he was escorted away by security guys.

As soon as we pulled out of the terminal music started playing from the speakers. I knew it was coming and I brace myself for this because, hey, we're in Ecuador and salsa normally blares in whatever mode of transportation you find yourself. Surprise! The very first song was Wham's "Never Gonna Dance Again," followed by Kansas' "Dust in the Wind." Bee Gees, Eagles, and Billy Joel were also in the mix. Compliments to the DJ!

Although we were on an "express" bus we stopped to pick up a few stray passengers while heading out of town. They were never at what you would call a normal stop, so we figured they were friends or relatives of the driver. Who knows what kind of regular shenanigans take place when you're only riding that one time?

Speaking of the driver, I was glad to see he was a middle aged guy. The young bucks tend to careen through the Cajas mountains, which is an hour of the three and a half hour trip, like they're behind the wheel of a sports car. We've had too many nauseous journeys with van services but this time the ride was smooth and comfortable.

I had paid a dime to use the restroom at the terminal before we left. I thought it was kind of cool that the attendant had his own little convenience store set up inside for last minute purchases. But nature called en route because of too many cups of coffee before leaving the house. Fortunately the bus had a tiny toilet room in the rear.

Hold that thought about "fortunately." We were in the mountains by then and the bus was lurching to and fro, which was going to make taking care of business a challenge. Worse, I couldn't get the damn door closed. I slammed it and slammed it, until with one especially vigorous yank the bottom of the handle broke off the door.

Oh, boy-----.

So picture this. I'm trying to pee in this little bitty space, bracing myself against the wall and holding the door closed with the broken handle. The bus is weaving back and forth which is making it impossible for me to "concentrate." I wedge the door into the frame several times to use two hands but it keeps flying open. I'm pouring sweat, my aim is less than stellar, and this whole ordeal is taking forever. When I finally finish and return to my seat Cynthia says, "My God, what took you so long?!?" Well-----.

After we emerged from the Cajas our resourceful driver stopped along the way to let a guy selling empanadas on board, getting a complimentary lunch for himself. That guy got off in the next town and was replaced by another fellow selling ice cream. You guessed it--free dessert for the driver. What a country!

The remainder of the trip was uneventful. At the Guayaquil terminal we knew which window to buy our next set of tickets from, and according to the schedule I had read online the bus wasn't leaving for half an hour. Great! We would have time for Cynthia to use the restroom and grab some lunch.

Except the lady behind the window said the bus was leaving in five minutes. (Sigh.) When I told Cynthia this she was, shall we say, less than pleased. Keeping it real, she was furious. I said, "Look, go to the bathroom. If the bus leaves before we get there we'll catch the next one." "What about lunch?" "If we make it we'll eat some of the food we brought."

Amazingly the driver somehow knew we were coming and waited for us. We threw the luggage underneath, climbed aboard, and were out of there a minute later. Starving, we tore through an apple like it was put through a wood chipper. Not a lot of conversation took place between us the rest of the way------.

I wanted to share this story because it represents a microcosm of life here. Did the journey go smoothly? No. Does anything go smoothly in Ecuador? Rarely. Bottom line: we got there.

Did we have a fabulous vacation? Absolutely. See--all smiles now.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I sat on the beach this afternoon alone. When I say alone, I mean alone. As in not-a-single-person-in- sight-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see-in-every-direction alone.

The beautiful 24 unit condo building Cynthia and I are staying in has twenty three empty units right now. The pool, the grill, the hammocks, hell, even the beach is all ours.

Is something wrong? Hardly. We're in Punta Blanca, an exclusive enclave on Ecuador's Pacific coast where successful residents of Guayaquil (1 1/2 hours away) have second homes for weekends and holidays. When we arrived on Sunday in the midst of a big national celebration kids were in the pool, cabanas were set up on the beach, and parties went late into the night.

Now everyone but us has gone back to their lives and we've got the joint to ourselves. With IL conferences, a busy social life in Cuenca, and visits with our family in the U.S. we're around other people a lot. So it's been revelatory, renewing, and surprisingly relaxing to just hang out with each other and our thoughts. No agenda, no plans.

Oh, there's plenty to do nearby. Salinas, Ecuador's most developed resort area, is a half an hour south and Montanita, the coast's renowned surfer party town, is the same distance to the north. Since we're here for about ten days we'll undoubtedly get out and about at some point, but so far a trip to the nearby supermarket has been our entire itinerary.

Sitting on the beach with my eyes closed, I felt the wind on my face and the soft sand beneath my feet--smelled the salt air-- listened to the crashing waves and an occasional sea bird overhead. I felt myself enter a meditative state without the need to repeat a mantra.

Being there was enough. Being here now is enough.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween Superheroes

OK, I gave you an advance glimpse of the Halloween costume party we went to last week. Our good friends and hosts Michael & Cheri Edwards had the brilliant idea to challenge us guests to come as superheroes. But nothing easy like Superman or Batman--nope, we had to invent our very own superheroes!

I decided to go as The Incredible Sulk. My superpower was the ability to make everyone miserable by complaining about any and everything "certain" expats love to point out. Example (in a whine-y voice): "I just knew it would rain again today. The weather here sucks. That darn taxi driver tried to rip me off. I wish these people spoke more English!" Of course I didn't stay in character all night or none of the other guests would have come near me!

Cynthia was Supermaxi, in honor of our grocery store as well as those sanitary pads everyone thinks of when they first hear the name. Decked out in red & white, she sported a Supermaxi card earring and a Supermaxi purse filled with coupons. Her dress was adorned with said pads plus flowers ecologically fashioned from the used wrappers. Fishnet stockings, a black wig and tiara completed the ensemble.

Michael and Cheri love to dance, so along with their incredibly inventive video invitation they sent along links of instruction for line dances like The Electric Slide, The Hustle, and even Thriller! I actually practiced awhile before going to the party, with decidedly mixed results.

Their home was filled with cool Halloween decorations, food and alcohol were in abundance, and everyone truly had a blast! Here are some photos from the evening to give you a taste of the fun.

Aren't we silly??

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cuenca Independence Day Festivities

This weekend our hometown hosts its biggest party of the year celebrating Cuenca Independence Day. All hotels are fully booked as 100,000 visitors have poured into the city to participate in the festivities. Displays, activities, fireworks, and concerts are happening day and night all over town.

We attended an outdoor kickoff performance by the Cuenca Symphony Thursday evening in Parque de la Madre. How awesome it was to enjoy such quality entertainment for free while sipping a nice bottle of wine we brought along. Afterwards we strolled home talking about how great our life is here.

Last night we went to an awesome Halloween party at the home of some of our dearest friends. I'll tell you all about it in my next post. In the meantime here's a preview pic.

Oh, my!!

Today was the first official day of the festival. Since we needed to return the capes we'd rented for the party we decided to wander around and check out the action. Along the way I took a few photos to share.

A small segment of those 100,000 visitors plus 500,000 residents.

Loads of colorful merchandise for sale.

It was damned hot today. Not sure why these candied apples weren't melting.

Artwork tends to be on the colorful side as well.

No more festivities for us as we're off tomorrow morning for a week and a half at the beach. Tough life, huh? Can't wait to tell you about last night's party. Stay tuned------.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doing What You've Gotta Do

A prerequisite to successful expat life is the ability to be flexible. So many aspects of your daily experiences abroad are different from what you're used to wherever you came from. Your choices in dealing with this truth are: 1) make yourself miserable by finding fault with the culture and the lack of availability of goods and services you previously took for granted, or 2) find joy in being creative and adaptable in your new surroundings.

I can think of no better example of all this than in food preparation. We live at 8400 feet here in Cuenca. At that high altitude it takes water forever to come to a boil because of the thin oxygen. Baking requires lots of adjustments both to the amount of ingredients (more flour, less leavening, less fat) and to the oven temperature. I've never seen french fries get too brown no matter how long I've left them in the oil.

Then there's the matter of what you have to choose from when you go to the grocery store. A restaurant owner may have come in before you and wiped out the whole inventory of broccoli or romaine lettuce. Lots of items you readers in the U.S. routinely purchase, particularly with ethnic foods, are not on our shelves ever at any price.

We arrived in 2010 with naive assumptions about learning to cook local dishes. When we discovered you can get all of the local cuisine you want at lunch around town every day for $3 per person that notion was quickly jettisoned in favor of figuring out how to make what we already know how to make with what's here.

I also love flipping through food magazines and looking at new recipes online. In every case the keepers are those that can prepared as shown or a "work around" can be devised.

I bumped into a knockoff recipe for P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps. Certainly better Chinese food can be found at other restaurants in the States but we really like that dish and Asian food here is, shall we say, a bit sketchy. So I decided to give it a go.

Two challenges. First, we don't have ground chicken or turkey in the supermarket. Betcha didn't know that. No problem--ground pork is a reasonable substitute. Next, those crunchy water chestnuts are MIA as well. What to do, what to do? My solution was finely chopped carrots. Same texture and more nutrition.

The result? Voila! Edd's knockoff-of-a-knockoff P.F. Chang lettuce wraps.

Are they any good? Do you think I would have written this blog if they weren't? Hell yeah, they're fantastic!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A New Travel Wrinkle to Share

Our normal strategy for travels to the States is to keep going. By that I mean scheduling flights with minimal layovers and absolutely NO overnight stays. A short layover is a great excuse to stretch your legs a bit, but there's nothing worse than arriving late, schlepping your luggage to a hotel and falling in bed for a few hours, then reversing the drill early the next morning. You arrive at your destination exhausted and out of sorts.

To accomplish this we generally fly red eye's. We are able to sleep at least a little on the plane, and with a nap the next day we're good to go. Plus overnight flights don't waste a whole travel day.

We follow the same plan returning home when going through Guayaquil, but we avoid that alternative whenever possible because we've stumbled upon a much better idea flying into Quito. Over the years we've developed great friends there who, when in town, graciously open their homes to us whenever we are coming though. One couple lives nearby and kindly transports us back and forth as well.

Resting and relaxing with friends and without responsibilities for a couple of days before flying home has proven to be incredibly rejuvenating. Plus since Quito is 1000 feet higher than Cuenca we find readjusting to the altitude at home is much quicker. It used to take us a week to feel like ourselves again, but doing it this way we feel great almost immediately.

On our most recent trip home we experienced a new wrinkle on this plan that I want to pass along to readers in Cuenca who don't have friends in Quito and others who may be coming to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos or explore the country as a possible retirement destination. We were contacted by friends Jon and Cheryl Byrd who now live in Mindo outside Quito and maintain a residence in the city that they've now listed on airbnb. They asked us to come check it out and we happily accepted their invitation.

Boy, are we glad we did because their place is amazing! Located in a quiet residential neighborhood with easy access to nearby Parque Carolina, this is not some cramped and sparse studio apartment--it's a real house loaded with cool amenities and their personal furnishings. With an open floor plan,

huge fully stocked kitchen,

three, yes, three bedrooms,

a lovely outdoor space with grill and fireplace,

washer and dryer, separate office and sitting area, plus, get this, a steam/shower room that is to die for, what more could you possibly want???

We loved staying at the Byrd's home and highly recommend it to all of you who find yourself in Quito. Check out more details here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Cheese Stands Alone

I'm sitting here savoring a plate of Parrano and sharp cheddar cheese with fruit and crackers. That may not seem like a big deal because you don't realize that cheese in Ecuador pretty much sucks. Oh, we have plastic packages in the grocery store with names like Gouda, Gruyere, and Swiss, but sadly the contents are all perpetrators of identity theft with the same bland flavor.

We always return from the States with some new clothes and personal care products plus non-perishable food items like nuts, Dijon mustard, horseradish, taco sauce, and peanut butter. When a friend shared that she brings back cheese Cynthia and I were like, "Wow." Since cheese is in the refrigerated section somehow we'd never thought about it, but what the heck, it's aged in caves or something, right? And we wouldn't ever be out of air conditioning.

So we loaded up and---YES!!--it totally worked! Our life continues to improve in little increments like this that are hard for you to appreciate in the "Land of Plenty."

But cheese is supposed to go with wine, and therein lies a bit of a problem. We enjoyed so many fabulous wines at reasonable prices in the U.S. When I was huffing and puffing at the gym a friend commented that during the month away my red blood cell count had lowered, which is true. Since we live at high altitude our bodies naturally produce more red blood cells so we stay properly oxygenated in this thinner atmosphere. I relied to him, "Yeah, and they've been replaced with red wine cells!"

Import taxes have gotten so hateful that even OK wine is now prohibitively expensive. We noticed the prices had gone up even during the short time we were away. As an example, wines we paid $5 for in Argentina and Chile, and maybe $9 in the States, top $20 here now. Yikes!!

So---the cheese stands alone. We've switched over to an excellent dark Caribbean rum for $12/fifth that lasts for days rather than the equivalent of twelve buck Chuck that tastes lousy and is gone in one night.

Speaking of which, my glass is empty. Until next time------.

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

We were abruptly awakened at 5:08 AM by---a car alarm? A house alarm? Barking dogs? All excellent guesses but, no, this time it was by an----EARTHQUAKE!!!

This was I think the fifth one we've experienced since living in Ecuador and by far the most "vigorous," lasting maybe eight-ish seconds and giving the whole building a good shake. Cynthia put a pillow on her head and I said, "Don't get up!" Is that what you're supposed to do? I don't have a clue; I just said the first thing that came into my half-asleep mind. But thinking about it now, if the building collapsed at least we'd have had a California King-sized cushion under us.

Earthquakes here seem to happen around this same time of the early morning and always wake us up, but we've gotten so used to them that when the last one hit we simultaneously mumbled, "Earthquake---" and went back to sleep, never even bothering to open our eyes.

A couple of years ago we were in Quito for an International Living conference and our room was on a high floor of the Swissotel. We were talking to our son on Skype when he said, "Um, why is the picture moving back and forth?" Cynthia replied, "Because we're HAVING AN EARTHQUAKE! BYE!" Since the internal structure of taller buildings is designed to have more "give" in these situations, we were really swaying for a few seconds.

Ecuador doesn't have weather extremes like wide-ranging temperature swings, tornadoes, and hurricanes. But shifting plates beneath the surface do create occasional minor earthquakes and potentially extreme volcanic activity. You may have read that Cotapaxi volcano near Quito has rumbled to life and could erupt any day now. No one can predict the severity if it does, but over 300,000 citizens are in harm's way and the government has evacuation plans in place.

Then there's the coming El Niño. You probably know that the predicted heavy rains may thankfully relieve some of California's drought. Over here in South America Peru and Ecuador are expected to get hammered as well, and if storm activity is as severe as expected a lot of residences built too close to the ocean are expected to be destroyed. Sad, but that's the chance you take when building codes are ignored.

If you've never felt an earthquake I've gotta tell you it's really freaky. You're in the "safety of your own home" yet don't feel safe at all when the whole damn building is moving. We rode out a hurricane in Charleston years ago and, similarly, experiencing the raw power of Mother Nature when she gets riled up is absolutely amazing and at the same time incredibly humbling.

Well, time for bed, people. Getting rocked to sleep when you're a baby is lovely. Getting rocked awake---not so much. Wish us sweet dreams!

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 "mañana 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!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A "Typical" Day

When Cynthia and I attend International Living conferences (we'll be at this year's Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas conference in Las Vegas from September 25-27, in fact) the most frequent question we're asked is, "What do you do all day?."

None of our days are "usual," meaning dull and repetitive, although they're not without a whisper of a structure. What routine we have is built around our morning fitness schedules. Cynthia attends yoga classes and I head to the gym three days a week. Everything else is pretty much freelanced.

But to give those interested a glimpse of what a "typical" day is like around here, let me quickly recount today so far. I got out of here around 9 this morning to, yes, go work out. After beating myself up for about an hour with the weights I walked across the river to the ATM to grab some cash. Then I remembered we've got company coming over this evening and nothing to serve except alcohol (which is certainly better than nothing, but-----) so I decided to stroll over to the nearby Supermaxi to pick up some provisions.

Cheese, fruit, and some extra wine (just in case) purchased, I spotted a "wheelbarrow lady" nearby with beautiful strawberries. Maybe you don't know what that means. Indigenous folks load wheelbarrows with fruit and sell their wares all over the city. The main mercado is on the other side of town so I don't even want to know how far these sweet folks push those heavy things, and I'm happy to buy from them whenever I can. I got $2 worth (it's customary to ask for "poquito mas"--a little more) and continued my walk home.

I stopped by to tell Betty, our local florist, how beautiful the roses are that I bought from her a couple of days ago. Two dozen just-off-the-truck-and-still-bundled-in-cardboard from nearby Paute had set me back a whopping four bucks and they are absolutely gorgeous. Betty knows zero English and I speak Tarzan Spanish but we work it out, and she seemed so pleased that I took the few minutes to pop in and thank her.

Not done yet. Next and final stop was the "sandwich guy" near our building to pick up lunch. Good thing too because the bags were getting heavy! Two big roast pork and two roast turkey sandwiches plus this yummy coconut juice drink that seems to always be sold as an accompaniment came to $9.50. And, man, they are good!

Hoofing it again to our building and up the four flights of steps I was back home by 11:30. And tired. After finishing this post it's siesta time, then perhaps I'll finish an article for IL magazine I'm working on later this afternoon before our company arrives for wine and Mexican food at a nearby restaurant.

Or not. There's always tomorrow---.

So there it is. Another day in paradise!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Say "Cheese"!!

I recently started to notice that my teeth were looking kind of tired after a lifetime of consuming grape popsicles, blueberries, red wine, coffee, and whatever else is a staining agent. In the past I've tried those whitening strips you can buy at Target but the results were always short-lived and less than impressive. So, vain guy that I am, I decided to go the professional route and put a sparkle back in my smile.

I'm fortunate to have a really great dentist right up the street from our residence. Dra. Daniela (Danny) Ordonez is thorough and gentle, and she speaks perfect English. She's also a perfectionist, a quality I'm always happy to find in a medical practitioner.

So into the chair I go, not knowing what to expect since I've never had this procedure performed on me. Basically I laid there for about an hour with a contraption in my mouth to keep it open properly while she painted a strong hydrogen peroxide solution on my teeth several times and held a special light over them. It wasn't the most pleasant experience but I figured, what the hell, if my teeth look great for years this is no biggie.

We weren't done. I had to come back the next day to be fitted with mouth guards into which I was to squirt syringes of more peroxide, then wear them for three hours over the course of four days. Cynthia was quite pleased with this development since she would get a short daily vacation from listening to my constant blabbing.

But that still wasn't all. Danny told me the longer I refrained from drinking red wine, coffee, and green or black tea during the next month, the longer the whitening procedure would last. No problem, I thought. After consuming copious amounts of excellent red wine in Chile, Argentina, and the States this year I've pretty much sworn off of the stuff we can afford to drink here anyway. Fortunately white wine and dark rum weren't on the forbidden list. Tea--I didn't really drink that anyway. And coffee? I drink 2-2 1/2 cups each morning so I figured I wouldn't even notice.

Uh, wrong.

God, my head hurt so damned bad the first day that no amount of ibuprofen could make it stop. Trust me, I know--I tested the dosage limits to no avail. My body literally felt like I had the flu. I couldn't believe that cutting off what I thought was moderate coffee intake could have such a devastating effect.

This caused me to reevaluate my whole relationship with this particular beverage. I've been putting something into my body in amounts I thought were benign, but the severe withdrawal symptoms emphatically demonstrated otherwise. I obviously should consume less coffee once I could drink it again, but that was so----later. In the meantime I didn't want to take a chance experiencing another miserable day and I needed a substitute source of caffeine now.

Off to the Supermaxi. Searching the shelves of tea I spotted a box called Runa with some herb from the Amazon that promised natural energy with antioxidants. I turned the box around and, YES!!, that energy came from caffeine, the same amount as a cup of coffee. Now we're talkin'!

I've been drinking a single cup a day since and you know what, I've discovered that's all the caffeine I really need to clear my head and get going in the morning. No, it doesn't have the wonderful aroma and flavor of fresh brewed coffee, but it tastes OK. And I've come to realize I was really too jacked up with the amount I was previously consuming, so I've learned a valuable lesson about myself in a very unexpected way.

And my teeth? I have to say they look terrific, and I'm very glad I decided to have them professionally whitened. If you're a reader in Cuenca, take a good look in the mirror and see if maybe your smile could use an upgrade too. The treatment is quite inexpensive and Danny is a fabulous dentist. Email her at

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse

In my last post I talked about differences between life in Ecuador versus the United States, focusing on shopping at the grocery store. This time I want to mention a trend just beginning here that reflects a behavioral shift already in full swing in the States.


When we're visiting our daughter in New Jersey we usually find ourselves in Manhattan at some point. Riding the train into the city, walking along the streets, and dining in restaurants it's impossible not to notice how many people are staring at their phones. Or wearing ear buds connected to their phones. On a recent train ride I'm not exaggerating when I report that every single passenger in sight except Cynthia and me was "connected" in some way to a smartphone.

This was of great curiosity to me so I would steal surreptitious glances at the screens of folks nearby to see what they were so interested in. Maybe they were learning a new language--keeping up with current events--taking care of some business during their ride.

Nope. Every single person was either playing a game or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Pinterest or some other form of social media.

On the streets people are transfixed staring at their phones as they shuffle along oblivious to their surroundings. In restaurants almost everyone has their phone perched on the table so they don't "miss anything." At a movie we went to little screens were visible in the dark throughout the theater as fellow attendees were texting away during the previews.

This technology explosion is happening so quickly that I'm honestly having trouble processing it all. On one hand I'm amused and on the other concerned about where we're heading. Here in Ecuador I am the proud owner of a $40 "dumbphone" on which a call is made or received maybe once a week tops. Circumstances occasionally force me to send a text, but in the time it takes me to fumble my way through the process I could have made three calls, gone to the bathroom, and fixed myself a sandwich.

I like to walk around town feeling the sun on my back and the breeze blowing (no, not through my hair). The sights and sounds of my surroundings are always interesting because, well, they are part of my life. But I'm saddened to see what I call the "Zombie Apocalypse," this phenomenon of smartphone addiction already prevalent in the U.S., beginning to take hold in Ecuador as well.

A recent survey in the States revealed that making a phone call is only the sixth most popular use of a smartphone. Surfing the Web, texting, playing games, posting photos and God knows what else all ranked higher. Here you still see most people using their phones for what they were originally intended--talking to someone. But the writing is on the wall.

Walking down the sidewalks I'm starting to encounter folks slowly meandering with that familiar stooped shoulder, downward facing posture. This even happened recently as I came up behind a little indigenous woman in her traditional dress. How mind bending to notice that the phone she was staring at is much nicer than mine! At traffic signals young professionals are hurriedly texting before the light turns green. Ecuador's emerging middle class is eager to own all manner of status possessions, and the latest electronic devices seem to be at the top of the list.

One day I know I'll be forced to either upgrade to a smartphone or risk being left behind and labelled as a hopeless old fogey wallowing in the past. Until then I'll remain blissfully disconnected, fully participating in my life and enjoying face-to-face conversations with interesting people.

So if you need to reach me feel free to call, but be advised I probably won't even have my phone with me. And should you need a quick reply, for God's sake don't send me a text!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Grocery Shopping Here is----Different

We've recently returned from a couple of months in the States visiting family (with a week in Cancun at the International Living Ultimate Event thrown in). When we come home I can't help but notice the differences between life here and in the U.S.

Take going to the grocery store, for instance. Since we had zero food in the house, the first thing I did after unpacking was head to the Supermaxi to restock the refrigerator and pantry. I was, as always, welcomed by a greeter upon entering the store. Does that happen where you shop? I didn't think so. This gentleman also checks any bags (except purses) that you bring in and hands you a number to reclaim your property when you leave. A shoplifting deterrent, I'm sure.

I obviously needed a lot of stuff and grabbed a buggy. But even if I was there to purchase only a few items I would have still needed a buggy because our store has no hand-held baskets. Why? Insider tip--you don't ask "Why?" in Ecuador because the answer, if there is one, is irrelevant. It just is-----. (A corollary anecdote: I was once scolded for taking photos inside the store. See--you want to ask that question again. Don't.)

The first aisle you come to has the dairy products. So where are the milk and eggs? On the shelf in another part of the store. Milk is ultra-pasteurized and in boxes or bags; eggs don't need refrigeration because, unlike in the U.S., they aren't so rigorously cleaned that their protective coating is scrubbed off of the shells.

Next is the deli. We have rotisserie chickens but, contrary to the mantra that Ecuador's low cost of living, the darn things are expensive. The bird you buy for $5 at the Kroger or Publix costs $9 here. I've never understood how a chicken that takes 8-10 weeks from hatching to your table no matter where it hatches, raised in a country with a minimum wage of like $340 per month, can cost almost double. But I buy them anyway because they're s-o-o-o convenient to have around.

You're used to a deli with all kinds of meats and cheeses, and probably a nice selection of prepared foods to go. Ours has lots of ham. Plus cheeses that have names like cheddar and Gruyere but somehow all seem to taste the same. Oh, there are a few other choices but when I say lots of ham, I mean LOTS of ham. I tried many of them but, much like their cheese neighbors, they have different names and prices but all of them have the flavor, or lack of flavor, of that pre-packaged sliced stuff that was stacked between slices of white bread in my brown bag lunches in grammar school.

But here's an example of how learning just one new Spanish word can improve your life. I've always avoided this jamon (ham) ahumado I'd seen for months because I didn't know what "ahumado" meant and the word didn't look too enticing. I recently found out at a restaurant it means "smoked." Well---now I was interested. Lo and behold, jamon ahumado is fabulous! After tasting it I immediately wanted to whip up a bowl of potato salad. This very well may seem silly and trivial to you but little treasures and discoveries mean a lot when you've learned to do without so many things you used to take for granted.

Moving on to the meat section. Poultry, beef, and pork--just like the U.S. The chickens are whole or cut into breasts, thighs, wings, and legs--just like the U.S. The beef and pork---not so much. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of styrofoam trays sealed with plastic that have meat inside. Some you recognize as ground beef or pork (no ground chicken or turkey, by the way), pork chops, or tenderloin. But most of it looks like someone hung a dead animal on a hook and started hacking away with a chain saw. Looking for a nice chuck roast or maybe a pork shoulder? Fuggidabowdit. You just stare at unidentifiable chunks of flesh and think, "What the hell is this???" For that reason we only prepare chicken, hamburger, filet Mignon, pork chops, or pork tenderloin at home because we have no idea what to do with anything else.

Inventorying throughout the store is done with clipboards so you never know from one visit to the next if your favorite cereal will be there. If not it may be back in a week--a month--or never. So hoarding is a common practice when you spot something that's been unavailable for awhile. A friend told me just today that she grabbed a dozen jars of Dijon mustard that hasn't been around for months and quite probably will disappear again.

Here's another reason produce may be unavailable: restaurant owners shop in the grocery stores!! You'll see someone loading all the broccoli or a type of lettuce into his cart and you know what's on his menu today.

I could go on and on, but let's get in the checkout line. Sometimes that's a challenge in itself because the area in front of the lines is often a mish mash of empty carts. Why? This time there is an answer: the damned carts won't fit through the space next to the cashier!

I learned this the hard way my very first trip to Supermaxi five years ago. I'd been in the store f-o-r-e-v-e-r because I didn't know the layout plus, uh, everything was in Spanish----. I happily stepped in front of my cart, unloaded some groceries onto the belt, and pulled the cart forward. And pulled the cart forward. And--why wouldn't the stupid cart move??? The cashier and bag boy were in stitches! How was I to know you unload all of your groceries and just leave the empty cart, along with everyone else's, sitting there in everyone's way until some employee decides to clear them out.

That's only the beginning of interesting occurrences in the checkout line. Your items are totaled and the cashier tells you the final tally. Say it's $40.37. You give her two twenties and a five. She'll actually ask if you have the thirty seven cents! Maybe you do, but the automatic response is always "No." Small change and dollar coins are a precious commodity here. You want to give the bag boy some change for taking your groceries to the taxi; you've gotta pay the taxi driver $1.50 to take you home. Hand him a twenty and you'll quickly be given a lesson in Spanish curse words.

Finally let's focus on that bag boy. If he was given any training at all it most certainly didn't involve the concept of weight distribution. The goal seems to be, "Let me see how many heavy things I can get into one bag. How about this huge jug of laundry detergent with the two bottles of wine and the cartons of milk. Excellent!!" I guess they assume that many of these shoppers have a housekeeper back at the casa waiting to help unload. I've got to haul those bags up four flights of steps!

All of this may sound like I'm complaining but the truth is I like having that guy greet me when I come in and thank me when I leave. I like knowing where everything is (or isn't) and not having so many choices to consider. I don't even mind the fact that I can't get all the products I enjoy because it gives me something to look forward to and really enjoy when we go back to the States.

So, yes, there are many differences between Ecuador and the U.S., even in the grocery store. And I think it's all wonderful. How boring would it be to move abroad and discover that everything is just the same as where you came from?!?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Have We Made a Big Mistake?

Cynthia and I have been house sitting for our daughter and family this past week here in New Jersey. After enduring months of constant snow in the yard a change of scenery was in order, so they've been relaxing in Cancun--well, as much as you can with an infant and a toddler. Ironically we're off to Cancun ourselves pretty soon to speak at International Living's Ultimate Event.

In the meantime we've enjoyed a lovely springtime vacation. You might be thinking, "Hey, dude, you two are retired. Aren't you always 'on vacation'?" Well, technically yes, but I find it interesting how a change of scene affects your perspective. Even when you're doing pretty much the same things it somehow feels different when you're doing them someplace else. Do you agree?

We've still gone to bed and gotten up whenever we felt like it, and our waking hours haven't involved anything extraordinary. In fact, Cynthia not being at her usual yoga classes and me not going to the gym regularly are the only disruptions to our Cuenca schedule.

But now that I think of it, that's all the schedule that we have. Absolutely nothing else in our lives is planned. How weird that releasing such a small amount of structure seems so liberating. Each day has felt like we have all the time in the world!

For at least our first year in Cuenca every day was exactly like that. Zero schedule. Occasionally one of us would say to the other, "Do you think we should be at least a little bit organized?" Then we'd look at each other, laugh,and say, "Nah."

Somehow over the past five years we've allowed a whole hour a day three times a week of scheduled activity to creep into our world. And I'm sitting here wondering if it's cramping our style. I think maybe we're slipping. Please excuse me. I've gotta go talk to Cynthia about this right now.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cuenca vs. Montevideo and Buenos Aires

Part 2 of Cynthia & I comparing Cuenca to other South American cities we visited on our cruise was published in GringoTree today. Check it out here!

Friday, May 15, 2015

On the Road to Jerusalem

En route from Cuenca to New Jersey I spent the day and night with friends who live outside Quito. We decided that rather than just hang out and visit, an excursion would be a fun way to spend our time together.

An old magazine in their home had an article about some potentially interesting stops within driving distance along with a map that was in truth more of a "suggestion." There was a time when we wouldn't have set out on a day trip with such sketchy information. For starters, we weren't even sure where we were going!

Living abroad for years changes your perception of such "obstacles." No worries, we decided. The worst that can happen is we get lost. We've been lost figuratively and literally lots of times before and survived. What are we waiting for--let's get going!

Off we go in search of Jerusalem National Park. I'm not even sure why that place was chosen. Birds--hummingbirds--something like that. It doesn't matter. We're seeing a beautiful new part of Ecuador. Anything else is a bonus.

Lo and behold, we find it without a hitch. Maybe that really is a map!

The entryway was chained and it appeared no one but us was there, so we parked and started walking. A couple of minutes later we encountered an official-looking guy who told us we needed to buy tickets at a house we had just passed. Who knew? Inside we found a nicely dressed lady and purchased our admission for $1 each (mine should have been fifty cents since I'm over 65 but it wasn't worth bringing up).

What happened next was so weird, almost like a zombie movie. As soon as we got back outside, people started emerging from buildings--the woods--everywhere! Our dollar even got us a private guide. She took us along dirt paths and explained all about the flora and fauna of the park.

The area was quite hot and arid.

Cacti, bromeliads, and yucca were everywhere.

Spanish moss hung from many of the trees.

It was a fascinating tour, although we discovered from our guide the wildlife we had come there to see is active from dawn until around 6 in the morning. Oh well-----.

All of us were quite hungry by this time, so we continued north and decided to stop at the first place that looked decent. A short while later we parked in a small town that had a couple of restaurants. As we walked around stares from the locals, who obviously hadn't seen many gringos, took me back to our earliest days in Cuenca when expats were still a rarity. The first place we went into was apparently out of food. In the other spot the owner was so kind and seemingly honored by our presence. Three full lunches cost us $6 total.

One more stop before heading home--a, what would you call it? A "tangerine-yard" (vineyards imply grapes, right?) producing wine made from, what else, tangerines. Ecuador's season-less climate isn't conducive for growing grapes, and this curiosity was too enticing to not explore. When we got to the correct town we asked the first person we say where the winery was. She immediately gave us detailed instructions, which led us to believe this place must be the real deal.

Not so much. We got there and saw a sign, but the "facility" was just a normal looking house. Could this be it? We got out and saw a lady sitting outside a storage shed with crates of tangerines.

Yep, this was it, and she was the owner's daughter. Confused about why three expat strangers were standing in her front yard, we showed her the magazine. Looking at the first photo she said, "That's my Poppy!" Seeing the next one she exclaimed, "Oh, that's ME!!" Apparently she had never been shown the article, and we were for certain the only gringos who had ever stopped by.

Now filled with pride, she explained that the tangerine juice fermented for two months then aged another nine before being sold. She showed us around the grounds

and was happy to let us purchase a bottle for $8.

On our drive home we encountered a surreal scene. The distant mountains looked like they were from another planet.

This turned out to be a very environmentally unfriendly mining operation producing material used in concrete blocks for housing. Check out the sediment sliding down into the river. Yikes!

What a perfect "Porque no?" (why not?) day this turned out to be. We didn't know exactly what we were doing, or even where we were going. And things turned out even better than we could have imagined. Life is good in Ecuador!