Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tangling with Technology

Ecuador isn't much of a high tech country. Sure, we've got WiFi and ATM's, but a lot of things you take for granted in the U.S. simply do not exist in my world. And since I'm not exactly a high tech kind of guy, I often feel like Crocodile Dundee in the most common situations when I return here.

It starts in the airport where after a long flight I head straight to the restroom. God forbid #2 is required, when an accidental movement can turn the toilet into a bidet or I find myself wildly gesticulating to activate a motion sensor that's playing hard to get.

Washing my hands afterwards is a supposedly mundane activity that reduces me to looking like one of the kids in Grease "Doin' That Crazy Hand Jive" to get the water flowing and the paper towels expending. My hands are waving everywhere. In front of? Under? How high? How low? Who in the hell decided all this no-touch stuff was a great idea? The whole concept of motion sensing makes no sense to me.

Of course I could opt for one of those Xlerator hand dryers. Never have a problem getting one of those bad boys to turn on. What a macho product. I remember the first time I experienced this ridiculously powerful apparatus. It was after a movie when we lived in Vegas and of course everyone had to pee afterwards--those mega-sized $6.00 soft drinks show no mercy. So maybe six of these beasts were roaring simultaneously and it was like standing on the tarmac behind a jumbo jetliner. These contraptions blow air so violently there should be a warning label about traumatizing small children. Or unexpecting adults---.

But I digress. I buy a few things at the grocery store and swipe my card to make the purchase. Believe it or not even this Flintstones transaction has not made it to Ecuador, which helps give you my perspective on this whole post.

The card doesn't work. Sigh-----. I convey this to the checkout girl and she asks, "Do you have a chip?" I comment that I'm trying to buy some chips but other than that I don't what she's talking about.

"On your card."

"I have no idea." I show her my card. "Do I?"

"Yes, it's right there."

Long silence-----------. "OK, now what do I do?"

"You insert it on the bottom."

"There's a place to insert the card on the bottom?? When did this happen? Why did this happen??"

I think that's the end of it, but the machine has questions of its own for me. "Is ______ the correct amount?" Huh? I hope so. Was I supposed to be following along with a calculator? "Do you want cash back?" Cash back? In Ecuador the clerks actually ask if you have the exact change to give them. I'm just trying to make a simple purchase and this is turning into an interrogation!

I took my daughter to the oncology center for one of her chemotherapy infusions and didn't fare too well even there. The floor she visits has a refreshment room with a refrigerator, water dispenser, coffee maker, and ice machine. After careful reading of the instructions I actually produced a cup of coffee. I know that sounds lame but I was quite proud of myself.

My interaction with the ice machine wasn't as successful. I lined up my drink cup under the spout and pressed the bar above it. Ice comes out. Great. I take my hand off the bar. Ice comes out. And comes out. And comes out. I panic and don't know what to do except yank my cup away.

The ice stops coming out. Seems the machine is activated by--you guessed it--a motion sensor, my new arch nemesis.

So later I'm with my daughter at her station where she's receiving the infusion. This place is set up with recliners like hers all around the perimeter of a large room with everyone facing the center. Which is kind of a shame because through the big window right behind us is a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline.

Given the nature of what's going on here you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the atmosphere is, shall we say, subdued. Most patients and companions say nothing and those that do generally speak quietly like in a library. Adrian and I accumulate some trash with drinks and snacks that I dispose of in a large receptacle in the middle of the room. I step on the pedal and the lid of course rises. I take my foot off the pedal and figure the lid will gently descend.

I figure wrong. It drops like a stone with and goes WHAM!! A grumpy guy says, "Hey, buddy, can you hold it down?" I meekly mouth, "I'm sorry-----."

I don't even want to get into my trials and tribulations buying train and subway tickets. So many screens. So many choices. So many opportunities to screw up, especially when you can just feel the frustrated energy of impatient regular riders behind you who are thinking, "Come on, you moron!"

Or trying to hold said tickets against the glass readers correctly to get through the turnstiles. One employee gave up explaining the proper technique and let me go through the handicap gate. That was a definite low point.

I truly love visiting the U.S. but I'm glad I live in a simple place where you pay cash for almost everything. Where you make coffee in a coffee pot and drink water from the tap, flush the toilet and turn on the faucet with a handle. Where you walk almost everywhere and take a 25 cent bus ride almost everywhere else. Where people don't seem to be in such a hurry to go nowhere special and do nothing important.

And I'm especially happy to be far, far away from every sort of motion sensor.







Sunday, December 11, 2016

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

It has been over two years since I’ve written about Hearts of Gold, a non-profit charitable foundation here in Cuenca. When I learned they had recently celebrated their third anniversary I decided to visit their offices to check in with Executive Director Natasha Verkley.

I remember when Natasha’s dad, Richard, started Hearts of Gold as a gesture to give back to the local community. He held a raffle for a gold coin in a now defunct restaurant during Gringo Night to help some small cause that had come to his attention.

From that modest beginning Hearts of Gold has certainly come a long way. What began as a simple desire to help impoverished children has grown into a locally recognized foundation that works tirelessly to support “boots on the ground” efforts in poor communities.

Since its founding, Hearts of Gold has been able to increase its total aid output by 698%, impacting the lives of over 3500 children and their families. This remarkable achievement is primarily due to the incredible generosity of Cuenca’s expat community.

Natasha explained to me that Hearts of Gold’s success is based on partnering with compassionate community leaders who recognize problems in their neighborhoods and courageously create organizations to solve them. Hearts of Gold’s commitment to local organizations and their leaders has shown that these groups flourish throughout the years with programs growing and stabilizing through collaboration.

Hearts of Gold has also been able to increase its impact by partnering with both the Province of Azuay to open the first food bank in the province and the Municipality of Cuenca in creating a language exchange program.

This year has been another busy one for Hearts of Gold. In addition to maintaining its regular partnerships, the foundation also responded to Ecuador’s devastating earthquake in the spring, collecting and distributing over $55,000 to ongoing recovery efforts.

Plans for 2017 are focused on a two-pronged approach with Hearts of Gold’s Community Assistance Program. In addition to continuing to help local organizations receive the administrative support and funding they need to carry out their missions, next year there will be a focus on empowering community leaders with the knowledge and skills required to become increasingly self-sufficient. Successful implementation will allow Hearts of Gold to further broaden its assistance efforts.

Based in a country where charity and philanthropy are not heartily embraced, Hearts of Gold is truly an amazing success story. Staffed by four dedicated young women, the organization has positively impacted the entire Azuay province.

And with a look of steely determination in her eyes, Natasha tells me they’re just getting started.

PS. Hearts of Gold wants you to join their team of global givers! Make your holiday donation count this year and support a small grassroots organization that empowers local leaders to enact community change. Readers in the U.S. who would like to support Hearts of Gold with a tax-deductible contribution before the end of the year can do so online at their website.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time for Thanks

This has been an unexpectedly challenging year for the Staton family. No patient anticipates a devastating diagnosis from one’s doctor, and no parent can ever be prepared for that phone call from their child saying, “I’ve got cancer.”

The earthshaking developments of the last six months, which came ripe with opportunities to wallow in despair and negativity, have instead fostered for me an increased awareness of wonderful blessings that have revealed themselves during this journey--some surprising, others obvious, and a few hidden in plain sight.

So in the spirit that defines the holiday season here’s what I am most thankful for:

While I am pretty diligent about exercise and diet, our daughter’s battle with cancer has given me newfound appreciation for my own excellent health and the well-being of the rest of the family.

How wonderful that I have three families to cherish--my immediate family with four beautiful grandchildren, my family of close friends at home in Cuenca, and my global network of International Living associates. All add such richness to my life.

I am pleased that Cynthia and I have created a lifestyle that allowed her to be at our daughter’s side within days of the diagnosis, and for us to be able assist our loving family as long as we are needed.

It’s impossible to describe how proud I am that Adrian, upon learning that she would immediately be undergoing a debilitating chemotherapy regimen, said, “Well, then I’m going to be the best chemo patient ever,” and then proceeded to do exactly that.

I am encouraged that through the combination of early detection, an excellent medical team, aggressive treatment, and positive intention by everyone that Adrian’s prognosis is extremely optimistic.

I am blown away by the incredible kindness and generosity of so many individuals who have sent cards and flowers--opened their homes for playdates--picked up from school and driven Adrian to appointments--donated money, meals, and supplies. Some are our friends from Ecuador, classmates from high school that I haven’t seen in years, even total strangers. The basic goodness of people that we have experienced firsthand literally brings tears of joy to my eyes.

Most of all I am eternally grateful for the incredible woman with whom I have had the privilege of sharing almost my whole life. Cynthia is the unwavering rock of our family. Her boundless energy and indomitable spirit are truly inspirational, and by her very presence she makes everyone, especially me, better.

Above our picture on this blog I write, “Life is good!! Be happy!!” After almost seven decades on the planet I thought I knew what that meant. The events of 2016 have expanded my understanding of these words to both a higher and deeper level than I imagined possible.

This is what I know--live with love and kindness in your heart and you will never experience regret. Be grateful for every moment, for each one is unique and precious. And take time to be thankful for everything in your life. Life truly is good!


Sunday, November 6, 2016

On the Road Again

Wow, it's hard to believe after such a short time at home that I'm outta here again tonight. Cynthia and I will be attending a BIG International Living conference (almost 700 attendees!) in Las Vegas next week, then we head east to spend the holidays with our family.

Those of you who don't travel for extended periods of time may not be aware that part of the exit strategy is completely eating down the contents of your refrigerator. I've done such an outstanding job this time that the only remaining food is an apple, three strips of bacon, and two eggs. No question what I'm having for lunch today (after a breakfast of, you guessed it, bacon and eggs). Maybe TOO good a job-----.

I'm often asked by fellow expats if I get caught back up in the "energy" of the U.S. when I'm there. Readers who haven't lived abroad probably don't know what this even means. I'm referring to the over-stressed, over-stimulated, over-scheduled life we left behind and that doesn't exist at least here in Cuenca.

The answer is "no." I find myself in that culture but no longer of it. As a mental tuneup I watched The Matrix again this week (if you've never seen it, you really should) because I actually feel somewhat like Neo whenever I journey to a different location. All around me life is going on but I am experiencing a different reality. I get amused (and a bit sad) to see people getting so worked up about trivialities. I marvel at the sheer abundance in the States and know that excessive consumerism isn't necessary to be fulfilled.

Don't get me wrong--I love my home country and am always thrilled to return. I look forward to a delicious steak, a trip to Target and a huge grocery store, going to the mall, and seeing a movie with the latest technology. And I of course cherish every minute of being with my beloved family.

But I'm always glad to return to our quiet, simple world here in Ecuador. No, we don't have access to all the goodies available in the United States. We instead enjoy something much more important---peace.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The "3 P's" of Our Presidential Election

I’ve been wanting to comment on the upcoming presidential election but there has been so much late-breaking news that I can’t keep up! Perhaps some new development will be in the headlines before you even read this.

What an earth-shaking, ground-breaking campaign we have witnessed. Two celebrity candidates, both profoundly disliked by the voting public, slugging it out for months in an ugly contest for the White House. Charges and countercharges have been so numerous that we’re all exhausted.

I see “3 P’s” in play (and, no, one of them is NOT the word used by Trump with Billy Bush), and two of them have in my mind gotten far too much attention.

Polls

I’m not sure how much the general public pays attention to polls but the media LOVE them. New ones seem to come out every few days with stories about how they indicate this and that.

Problem is, the information presented fluctuates so wildly that they are meaningless. Two weeks ago the pollsters declared the election over and Hillary the winner. According to them there was only a handful of undecided’s insufficient to have any impact on the outcome.

A couple of days ago (and before last night’s bombshell FBI revelation) polls showed Hillary’s lead had shrunk from insurmountable to within margin of error. Now given the previous “conclusive” data how could that have possibly happened in one week?

Polling data was wrong on Brexit. It was wrong recently in Columbia. WAY wrong in both cases. I say ignore all this rubbish.

Personalities

In this corner, a brash, outspoken newcomer with a faulty brain-to-mouth filter. His opponent, a scripted, robotic political veteran with a shady past.

It’s hard to like either one of them, isn’t it? Trump’s membrane-thin skin and supersized ego have opened so many self-inflicted wounds. Clinton is a congenital liar who seems more like a castoff android from Westworld than a real human being.

But sadly their collective flaws have driven much of the hateful vitriol of each candidate’s respective supporters. On social media I observe this behavior is much more pronounced among Hillary fans.

Many of them seem to despise Trump with an intensity that is borderline disturbing. Trump supporter: “Hillary is corrupt and evil.” Hillary fan: “Oh, yeah? Trump is the kind of man who would tie up and beat your child, rape her, then enjoy killing her.” Huh? No contest.

Like them or not, these are our two candidates and we’re voting for President, not Mr. & Miss Congeniality. Let’s force ourselves to quit watching the freak show this campaign has turned into and pay more attention to P #3.

Policies

For this final week, can we put all the “Crooked Hillary” and “woman-hating bigot” nonsense on the shelf and keep our easily diverted minds on what these two deeply flawed people represent for our future? And not just the next four years. Supreme Court appointments will impact us for a generation.

What is their vision on the economy, immigration, foreign policy, national security, deficit reduction, and the host of other vitally important issues? Which position most aligns with your own values?

Let’s make it our business to know as least as much about what’s at stake in this important election as we do about emails and sexual harassment charges. Then let’s vote our conscience on November 8.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Typical Week of Our Expat Life

This article I wrote was just published in IL's Ecuador Insider. Thought you might enjoy it as well.

"My wife Cynthia and I look forward to participating in IL's exciting new Bootcamp event in Las Vegas next month, and I'm sure we'll hear the most-asked question we get from attendees at conferences: "So what do you do all day in Ecuador?"

We've come to understand that this is a roundabout way of wondering, "What would I do all day?" After all, you can do endless research on the weather, healthcare, and cost of living in expat destinations, but it's hard to put yourself in the picture and imagine what daily life is really like.

Since living abroad seems so exotic, our typical answer of "Pretty much the same things you do now," catches people off guard. But honestly, wherever you live, food must be bought and prepared, dishes and clothes washed, and errands run. All between the time you get out of bed in the morning and go to sleep at night.

That being said, we live a charmed life in Cuenca. Simple, but charmed. Except in rare instances (that usually involve setting the alarm to catch an early flight) we wake up whenever our eyes decide to open. The sun is always up—starting the day in the dark is taboo in Casa Staton.

We tend to ease into the day, quietly drinking coffee while checking the news online or reading. Three mornings a week, Cynthia practices yoga in the studio conveniently located in the lobby of our building and I walk to a nearby gym. These are the only regularly scheduled activities in our entire week.

The other four mornings often involve other types of physical activities like riding a stationary bike we have upstairs, or taking a long walk along one of the nearby rivers. The morning is also the time to catch up on emails and talk to our grandchildren in the States on Skype video.

Afternoons are whatever we want them to be—doctor appointments, meeting friends for lunch, going to the grocery store. Sometimes we don't unlock the front door all day, choosing instead to stay home and work on writing assignments, or perhaps cook a nice dinner. Whenever we feel tired we simply lie down and rest.

There was a time when our evenings were filled with social activities, but now we usually choose to prop our feet up with a glass of wine and watch TV or movies. A free Zumba class takes place three times a week in a park across the street that we keep threatening to attend. But it starts at 8 p.m. and…well, you know...

Does this all sound incredibly boring? After spending our adult years in the U.S. being overworked, over-scheduled, and over-stressed, we relish the easy, carefree lifestyle we have created in Cuenca.

Plus, having only three waking hours scheduled each week allows us to spontaneously decide to throw our bathing suits in a bag and go to a spa just outside of town. Or stay out too late with friends having too much fun.

Is there such a thing as having too much fun? I don't think so."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Clean Sweep

Habitat III, a United Nations-sponsored conference on sustainable living, has drawn 20,000 attendees from all over the globe to Quito this week. Cuenca is in the spotlight as the only city in Ecuador to be recognized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for meeting standards of “orderly and sustainable” growth in the category of cities under two million in population.

Not only that, Cuenca ranks #14 throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean. The designation is based on the city’s coverage of basic services, including electric, water, and sewer, for its growth planning, low crime rate, and social and environmental consciousness.

Visitors to Cuenca often have preconceived notions of places in Latin America being trashy and dirty, and there are plenty of areas in Ecuador that fit this description. They are therefore favorably surprised to discover the city's cleanliness.

I'd like to say that the elevated consciousness of our citizens deserves all the credit, but sadly that isn't the case. Sure, there are trash receptacles throughout town and, yes, you sometimes see pet owners with poop bags. But too many folks are still prone to toss trash out of car windows and leave empty alcohol bottles here and there.

Cuenca is so clean because the city government employs a small army to pick up after all of us. Beginning at 5 AM every day two hundred fifty six uniformed employees with rolling 55 gallon drums sweep the streets and sidewalks, and another one hundred ninety five park workers maintain Cuenca's many public green spaces every 36 days.

Street cleaning machines pass through El Centro five times a day and once or twice a week in the rest of the city. One hundred eighty four people collect garbage twice a week, and even in this department Cuenca ranks highest in the country with a 98% coverage area.

So congratulations to Cuenca for the much deserved international recognition, and thank you to the 600+ hard-working Cuencanos who help make our beautiful city such a wonderful place to live.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Different Strokes---

At the moment Cynthia is participating in a weekend yoga/meditation/detox retreat somewhere outside of Cuenca. When she was signing up she asked me if I wanted to join her. My only hesitation in answering was the "Uh---" that preceded, "No thanks."

Don't get me wrong. I practice yoga right here in this office three days a week and try to meditate daily. I have no qualms about de-toxing and would probably benefit from it. But two whole days (and I mean two whole days--she left at 6 AM yesterday and returns home around 8 tonight) of all that is a little too rich for my blood.

Instead I've so far spent the weekend doing a little writing, catching up on some reading, drinking beer and watching football. Thus our "How was your weekend?" conversation this evening is going to be a little one-sided.

It's great that we know ourselves and each other so well--after 45 years of marriage we should, right?--that the "do it to make the other person happy" ship sailed long ago. I still cringe to think of the ear splitting Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad concerts I dragged her to back in our dating days. I swear I thought she was digging it!

In only two more weeks Cynthia heads back to the States until after the New Year, with me following shortly thereafter. All of our travel this year almost makes it feel like we're visitors instead of residents of Cuenca. Here's to a more "normal" 2017 for us and the rest of our dear family.

Yikes, it's almost time for the Falcons/Broncos game. Priorities-----. At least I did yoga this morning.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cuenca Art Walk 2016


The 2nd annual Cuenca Art Walk has been in full swing this weekend. Fifty-five different venues all over the city have opened their doors for patrons to enjoy art, music, dance, and food. Cynthia and I were out of the country last year for the inaugural Art Walk so we were anxious to participate this time.

We met friends for breakfast downtown at a small cafe inside the old cathedral. Then we ventured out together to wander the streets of our hometown. What's really interesting about an event like this is you get a new perspective on something that already seems so familiar.

Some of the galleries and shops we visited I've probably walked past a hundred times without ever noticing their presence. We all "put the blinders on" in our daily lives, don't we, as we're going from Point A to Point B. In addition to enjoying all the artistic presentations it was fun to get to know Cuenca even better. And any time you're out and about here the chances are good you will bump into someone you know, so the camaraderie of hanging out with our friends plus all the other folks whose paths we crossed made the day extra special.

Even when the weather temporarily became uncooperative things worked out. We happened to be in front of a small Italian restaurant where none of us had ever dined as it started to rain. A few minutes later we found ourselves upstairs in the cozy dining room sharing a lovely platter of cheeses, olives, bread, and condiments while toasting our friendship with glasses of Carmenere. Of course while we were there other friends arrived and sat at a nearby table--it's Cuenca!

I enjoyed myself so much that I didn't remember to take as many photos as I intended. But here are a few shots from along the route of the Art Walk.






At our last stop we came across another group of friends gathered at a big table outside a restaurant facing a beautiful park. We pulled up chairs and joined them for a final glass of wine and some conversation before wearily heading home. Our terrific day suitably ended with a remarkable sunset.


Special thanks to Cara Venn for coordinating Cuenca Art Walk 2016. Your unselfish efforts gave us all a memorable weekend!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts about the First Debate

Let me begin by thanking so many of you for your kindness regarding our daughter Adrian. I am pleased to report that she is responding extremely well to her treatment and we have every reason to expect a full recovery. Cynthia and I returned home to Cuenca three weeks ago for some much needed rest. After our duties in November at the next big International Living conference in Las Vegas we will spend the holiday season in the States with our family.

I've enjoyed following this presidential election more than any in my life. There was so much drama during the primaries for both parties with Bernie Sanders giving presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton an unexpected run for her money, and the even more improbable rise of outsider Donald Trump within the Republican ranks.

While the first challenger is a socialist and the other a capitalist, both were lifted by the electorate's desire for a change. Hope and change, the promises of Barack Obama eight years ago, have been largely unfulfilled as our country finds itself today more divided than ever racially, economically, and ideologically. Disgruntlement with our elected leaders is at an all time high, and people are eager for the country to move in a different direction. Any direction, given Sanders' near-victory and Trump's ascendance.

At last when the candidates met for the first time face to face last night, Cynthia and I joined 80 million other people anxious to watch the spectacle. With 46 years of political experience (beginning as a volunteer in Joe Lieberman's state senate race in 1970), the bar was set high for Hillary to perform at an exemplary level. As usual, no one knew exactly what to expect from The Donald, who was participating in the first one-on-one debate of his life with zero mock debate preparation.

So how did it go, and who won? From the perspective of proper debating skill I thought Hillary won by a landslide. She kept a cool (bordering on icy) demeanor throughout, never got rattled, and delivered obviously rehearsed "ad libs" on cue. Donald sniffed, drank water like he was channeling Little Marco, and often demonstrated his lack of rehearsal by going off on tangents and wasting valuable stage time.

And yet------

Predictably, most journalists declared Hillary the winner. But in almost all the polls of actual viewers, Trump won "bigly" in spite of his sometimes ragged outing.

If you are Hillary and her camp this news has to be incredibly disappointing and frustrating. She gives a stellar performance while he huffs and puffs, yet he wins in the public eye by margins as high as 90% to 10%.

What gives?

Eventually running for President has always been the inevitable trajectory of Hillary's long career, but I think the message for this election cycle is she's the wrong candidate at the wrong time. She has demonized Trump on the campaign trail and through massive ad buys. In fact her whole campaign of Stronger Together (whatever that means) is basically, "He's even worse than me!"

There is nothing memorable about her platform because she basically embraces the policies of Obama that the electorate appears eager to reject. And since he defeated her in 2008 on the way to becoming our nation's first black president there seems to be no juice behind electing the first woman to the nation's highest office.

Beyond the results of last night's debate is more bad news for the candidate. In spite of throwing everything at Trump but the kitchen sink for months, the race is virtually tied including vital swing states and others that traditionally vote Democratic. Coming down the home stretch she appears to have nothing left in the tank except to keep repeating the same charges of "dangerous," "incompetent," and "unfit" that have grown increasingly stale.

Plus there are two more debates to go. After such extensive prep she probably can't top her performance of last night, but guess who can? And will? Trump has proven throughout the last fourteen months to be an amazingly quick study, so there's no reason to think he won't get better and better.

Then there's the Julian Assange wild card. Mr. WikiLeaks states that he has critically damaging information about Ms. Clinton. Why would he make such a statement if it isn't true? Look for him to dump it shortly before the last debate for maximum impact.

The Ecuadorian owner of a restaurant where we often eat lunch approached our table this afternoon and asked what we thought about the debate. I replied, "A better question is what you thought about it." He said, "It seems like Donald Trump isn't ready to be President of the United States."

Ah, what a year of political surprises. And with six weeks to go, who knows what may happen between now and November 8. But given the current direction of the campaign I told our friend, "Well, he'd better get ready because we very well may be calling him President Trump in January."



Monday, August 8, 2016

Update

In June our daughter Adrian was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cynthia immediately flew to the States to join the family and I followed a week ago. We will be here in New Jersey until the end of the month.

Adrian will soon finish her first round of chemo and is responding remarkably well to the treatment. Her positive attitude and resolve are inspirational, and we are certain she will beat this. If you would like to follow her journey she has set up this website:

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/adrianwalker/journal

Your positive energy is much appreciated.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit--Good or Bad?

I want to address a subject that is very important to me today. I awoke this morning to learn that the UK's citizens have voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the European Union.

This news came as a shocking surprise to pollsters who assumed the vote would maintain the status quo, but not to me. There is an undeniable parallel between the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. and this historic vote on the "other side of the pond." No establishment figures, be they politicians or the media, took Trump's candidacy seriously either, yet he has attracted a record number of new voters on the way to becoming the GOP nominee.

Too many critics focus on The Donald's oversized personality and sometimes outlandish statements while ignoring the underlying discontent that has propelled his candidacy. There appears to be a shift in global consciousness occurring where people have reached a breaking point regarding their frustration with unresponsive government. They are fed up with the loss of personal freedom through overreaching government intrusions into their lives and the arrogant attitude of elected representatives that signals "be quiet--we know what's best for you."

Trump's appeal to his supporters is not so much exactly what he will or won't do but that he can be counted on to do something. They believed that a vote for more experienced establishment opponents in the primaries, and now for Hillary in November, is a choice to continue along the same "do nothing" path with which they are supremely dissatisfied. And their unhappiness is so intense they are willing to take a chance and boldly move the country in a new direction.

The same mindset has prevailed in the UK. The EU experiment from the outset was a monetary initiative cloaked in the same "safety and security" fabrication as our own Patriot Act. In the end each has been revealed to be more about government control than the welfare of the citizenry.

In both cases the immigration issue stands at the forefront, but it is a mistake to lionize this one aspect of a much broader feeling of disgruntlement. Famous author Stephen Covey reminds us to "keep the main thing the main thing." The main thing right now is that people worldwide are standing at the window like the guy in the movie Network and shouting, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!"

Has the UK made a wise decision? Time will tell. The great news is if this turns out to be a mistake they can decide something different.

I believe the vast majority of us are good and decent, and that we are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for ourselves. I fervently believe in democracy. I believe that the will of the people must prevail.

And for that reason I celebrate yesterday's vote as a win for the people. Let freedom ring!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Full Moon Horseriding Adventure

We recently enjoyed a very special weekend that I'd like to share with you. Through our good friends at TerraDiversa tour company Cynthia and I have had the pleasure of several horseback riding trips over the years through the beautiful Ecuadorian countryside.

Last month we took these excursions to a whole different level with a full moon ride.


Joined by another fun-loving couple we all were driven to Hacienda Totorillas


where we would be staying overnight in a lovely, rustic casita on the property.





Even these photos can't fully capture the beauty of this place. And to think it's only a short distance from the city!



Shortly after getting settled another group arrived to join us for the ride. We all got outfitted with boots and safety helmets



and at dusk we were off!

Our steady horses climbed upwards along narrow ancient trails used by the CaƱari people long before the arrival of the Incas. Then just as we came into a high clearing the full moon slowly rose over the mountains as seen in the first photo.

It was a sight so truly magnificent that all of us sat silently on our saddles in awe. Then our guide Carlos told us to turn around and there behind us were the twinkling lights of Cuenca!

On the way back in a pasture Carlos asked if we wanted to go faster for a bit. Everyone said "yes," and off we went galloping through the night. A little scary? Sure was. An unforgettable memory? Absolutely!!

Once we returned a ceremony was held around a bonfire as our group enjoyed wine and refreshments.


Afterwards our riding companions left and the four of us pretty quickly fell into bed. The next day we took a leisurely hike to once more take in the breathtaking scenery before heading home.




If you'd like to experience the beauty of Ecuador from a unique perspective, consider going for a horseback ride even if you've never been on a horse in your life. All the horses are matched to the size of the rider and each tour is tailored to the skill and experience of the group. Contact MontaRuna Tours for more details.

The casita we stayed in is available for rental whether or not you want to ride. It has two bedrooms and is fully furnished. All you need to bring are food and clothing, and if, like us, you don't own a vehicle, transportation can be arranged. Cynthia and I love to go there occasionally just to relax and remind ourselves what a gorgeous country Ecuador is. Check with TerraDiversa for more info.





Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sometimes We Lose Our Minds

On Sunday we often hang out at home and don't even unlock the door. For "retired people" we're often quite busy during the week and this day of R&R really suits us.

Today began with that exact vibe. I got up early, had a relaxing yoga session, and sat down to watch the finals of the French Open. Cynthia slept in and piddled around, while I actually crawled back into bed for a late morning nap.

A-h-h-h---life is good!

Shortly after my shower Cynthia asked me to help her turn our king size mattress. Sure, no problem. Somehow that involved us moving the bed out from the wall, which caused us to discover that the area back there hadn't been cleaned in awhile.

This triggered a chain reaction of thinking about all the other places in the house that needed attention, and we suddenly were off on a full court press deep cleaning project. I'm talking about up on ladders and down on hands and knees stuff. Tops of kitchen cabinets--behind the sofa--cleaning the sofa--tops of tall furniture--scrubbing the grout.

I don't know what the hell got into us, but a second shower, ibuprofen, and a cocktail later, I have to admit it feels good to know we got all of that done with one massive effort.

And it was still kind of like a normal Sunday--we haven't unlocked the front door.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Galapagos--Final Thoughts


Did we really go to Galapagos two weeks ago? Cynthia especially had dreamed of this trip for so many years. And no matter how many photos you've seen of other people standing right next to the animals, it still almost seems incredible to realize we did exactly the same thing.

If Galapagos is on your bucket list, know that there are basically three different ways to visit the islands: a land-based stay on one island, island hopping, and a cruise. If your budget and schedule allow we definitely recommend the cruise option. Numerous species are endemic to a specific island, and cruise ships are the only way to reach the farthest, often uninhabited islands in the archipelago to observe them. Metropolitan Touring, owner of the Santa Cruz II ship that was our home in Galapagos, lists what they call the "Big 15" endemic species. We saw 12 of them on our western itinerary cruise.

Another recommendation for a trip of this nature is to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your pocketbook. In the case of a cruise, the nicer boats allow you a better level of food and accommodation. And most importantly, they employ the most qualified guides, which adds immeasurably to the depth of your experience.

Finally, Galapagos or not, whatever it is you want to do in this world, stop making excuses and delaying your joy. Get out there and do it! I urge you to live a life of no regrets--tomorrow is promised to no one.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Galapagos--Day Five

The last day of the cruise was predictably filled with activities. We had arrived at Isla Floreana, an outpost for pirates, whalers, and sealers back in the day. After observing sea lions lounging on the rocks



we took a short hike at Post Office Bay. For centuries it has been a tradition to leave letters in a barrel there and anyone going to the recipients’ location delivers them upon returning home.


We sent four postcards to friends and family in the States. Will be interesting to see if they are ever received.


After that passengers had a choice of hanging out on the beach, kayaking, or snorkeling.


We chose the last option and had a fab time, spotting lots of beautiful fish and a couple of turtles. We went back to the ship a bit early to rest before heading out again TWICE during the afternoon.

First excursion: more snorkeling for me and a glass bottom boat ride for Cynthia. Then back to the boat for a quick change of clothes and returning to observe sea turtle nesting areas and pink flamingos. We hiked to the beach


just in time to see a baby turtle hatch—and promptly be eaten by a frigate bird that swooped down and gobbled it up. Yikes!

Nearing sunset while returning to the pangas we saw the flamingos in a lagoon and rushed to an observation area for some quick final photos. Sadly mine didn't turn out but it was still a great way to end the cruise excursions.

We had a pleasant final evening exchanging contact info and saying goodbye to new friends. There was quite a show in the waters beside the boat where lots of BIG sharks and sea lions competed for flying fish. Dinner, drinks and what?!?---karaoke (I did a mean Pretty Woman), then time to pack before bed.

A farewell pic from Floreana.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Galapagos--Day Four

We woke up today amazed that this was only our third full day of the cruise. We’ve been kept so busy that it seemed like we’d been on the boat MUCH longer. That’s a good thing, and today was no different.

An early wake up and into the pangas by 8 to go into Puerto Ayora, the largest town (population 20,000) on Santa Cruz, the most populous island in Galapagos. First stop, the Charles Darwin Research Station.


The facility itself isn’t open to the public; we were there to visit the breeding grounds of the giant tortoises.

And we weren’t disappointed as a couple in one of the pens was going at it.


Our guide said mating can last up to three hours! Granted it’s not easy maneuvering with those massive shells involved, but, hey, maybe they just enjoy it!

We then had some free time to wander around town and purchase souvenirs before boarding a bus to visit a plantation producing artisanal coffee and sugar cane liquor. We stumbled upon a little fresh seafood stand serving both customers and critters!




I had signed up to ride a mountain bike to the plantation but we were both so hot and sweaty from the steamy weather that I changed my mind and rode the bus. Good call. Samples of coffee and the sugar cane products were for sale, and we got to raise a toast with the alcohol, which was 130 proof!

See where the beaker measures 65? That's the percentage of alcohol.


Oh, my!


Next we were driven to a buffet lunch at a hacienda in the highlands with a view of the Pacific.


After our meal and a bit of relaxing on to a long cave formed by the rapid flow of lava eons ago. Too dark for decent photos here.Then the highlight of the day—getting up close and personal with giant tortoises!


This was for us the iconic and quintessential Galapagos experience. We’d seen the photos of others doing it and now here we were taking our own pictures of these magnificent animals. It truly felt like we had been transported back into prehistoric times.





After crawling inside some empty shells and taking silly photos



we headed back to the ship. Being ashore all day without a break was exhausting, but after dinner there was a show with local musicians and dancers that we couldn’t miss. In fact we somehow got our second wind and found ourselves up dancing with lots of our fellow passengers.


Quite a day!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Galapagos--Day Three

And an early start today because of a very busy morning itinerary. First a steep, somewhat challenging vertical hike


to Darwin Lake, a super-salty crater lake on Isabela.


Great views and a cool surprise—a flightless cormorant family had built a nest right on the steps where we got off the panga!


After returning to the boat and changing clothes, we went back to Isabela to kayak along the shore. Very peaceful and fun. Several cormorants popped up next to our kayak, a Galapagos penguin was hanging out, and at one point a quite large stingray glided underneath us.



After nothing but perfect weather the sky got unexpectedly cloudy, and the crew decided the water was too choppy for the first afternoon excursion of more snorkeling. We chose to forego the hike scheduled afterwards in favor of sitting in the Jacuzzi and relaxing in our room with a bottle of wine.


The day ended with a sunset cocktail party and dinner.