Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rental units at Edificio La Fragata...progressing

Some have asked what "Edificio La Fragata" means... So, here it is:

Edificio = building, in Spanish +
La Fragata = frigatebird, in Spanish.

So... the building is named after a type of bird.

You can see frigatebirds in the Galapagos islands, off the coast of Ecuador. For pictures and more info on this remarkable bird, go to:

This bird is one of our favorites!

Our 2 furnished, short term rental units are progressing right along at Edificio La Fragata. We're aiming for both apartments to be ready to rent by mid-July.

There is a studio (sleeps 2) and a 2 bedroom penthouse (sleeps 4), both wheel-chair accessable and both with private terraces.  For more details, in case you missed an earlier post, go back in our blog to a March 2010 entry, where we got the keys to the units...

Furniture for both apartments is starting to come in, right on schedule.  Some is being custom made, so the delivery time frame is a bit longer... by end of June.  We've been shopping for the furniture and linens and kitchenware....adding a couple more light fixtures and towel racks and other accessories.

One of our workers is building another closet for the studio and the painter arrives Monday to paint the studio, too.  Window curtains/drapes for the penthouse are installed; shades for the studio are due in soon.  Happy to report the internal elevator is also coming along ok. 

We've started drafting the web sites for the 2 units, with more details (legal and other) to be added soon, along with the finished pictures, once everything is done. 

Here are some pictures, to give you an idea...all for the penthouse unit:

-Living/dining area (tables/chairs/bar stools on order; we'll add a TV soon).  This furniture is Madeform brand:

-Bedrooms (linens/end tables are coming).  Master has a queen bed; 2nd bedroom has 2 twin beds. 

All headboards/bedframes (also Madeform brand) and mattresses are the same style (for both units).

We've decided, in the interest of time, to put a conventional, Queen bed in the studio, rather than the Murphy-type, wall bed we originally planned.  We can always add that later, if we decide.

Since some of our readers are here in Cuenca shopping for mattresses, we're including this picture of the label...a new model which is advertised as 'bug resistant', made by the Chaide y Chaide brand...

The shops at the ground level of Fragata are starting to do a brisk business...  a coffee/bakery shop, a hair/nails salon,  furniture shops, a veterinary business, clothing shops...
Here's a shot of the bakery counter:

Some pictures of the neighborhood...the Ital-Deli (meat market/deli with sandwiches upstairs) right next door (on the corner of Av Solano and Av. Mora)

Fragata is located on Av. Mora, right off Av. Solano.  Here's a picture of Av. Mora:

A picture of the bakery around the corner on Av. Solano (outside chairs are with the Ital-Deli):

Workers at Fragata, 5 stories up!
(You can see them in the street scene picture above, too.)

We're making progress....

Updated info on booking flights within Ecuador

Good info for those headed this way...

Last October, we posted the above blog.  At the time, we thought the only in-county airlines that accepted online reservations, in English, was LAN...

Today, Chuck shared that Aerogal also does!  Click the "English" button at upper right.

Thanks, Chuck!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Yes, Volcano...but Cuenca is just fine!

Thanks to all who have sent concerned notes checking on us here in Cuenca.  We've got several notes, ranging from 'end of the world?' to 'are you dead'?  Made us smile.  Happy to report we are just fine!

Even though Ecuador is about the size of Oregon or Nevada, we are not affected much by the ash and rumbles north of us.  Today is a little smoky, a little foggy...with patches of blue sky........

Another wonderful morning here in the southern Andes.

If you're traveling this way, be sure to check with the airlines to be sure they are open and planes are flying...Depending upon the winds, you could be affected.

Tipping our coffee cups to you all and thanks for checking on us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Glorious Days

We've been having some absolutely glorious days here in Cuenca.  Brilliant blue skies, warm weather, not much rain.  Perfect for getting out and about.

We had TWO in a row, walking mornings to town:  our traditional Sunday walk and then another walk on Monday (holiday) with the Watsons.  Both, fun, as always.  We caught up with the news, had breakfast out, delighted in all the happenings of our City...totally enjoyable.

Here are some pictures along the can see the brilliant sky and the sunshine!

Rich and Chuck are taking a break along the way...(The 2 Nancy's are resting, too, off camera...)  We like to take a quick break on these benches near our SuperMaxi.

We traditionally stop to pet this very sweet doggie.  This week we brought him a doggie treat, which he loved!  We'll have to bring him more.

The sky really was this blue!

We enjoyed this street art and the woman's colorful dress.

Monday was a National Holiday, celebrating the Battle of Pichincha in 1822.
 This event marks an important step toward Independance from Spain (since 1532), and the eventual formation of the Republic of Ecuador (including Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.)

Newcomers will soon recognize the name 'Pichincha'....It's the name of the largest Bank in Ecuador and the name of the province where Quito, the nation's capital, is located.
It's also the name of an active volcano (15,692 ft high),  which most recently erupted in 1993, with dire consequences in the region.
We had heard that the there would be a parade on Monday, and we were really looking forward to seeing it.  But, we got to the main square as all the fun was ending.  Soldiers were in the process of getting back into the queens were removing their sashes...crowd was dispersing... 
We missed the celebration and it wasn't even 10am! 

But, the flags were still flying high...

Sky was still this gorgeous shade of blue...
(Old Cathedral at the Square)

Another angle of the New domes against the blue sky...

We ended the day with another glorious sight...a rainbow!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our 'New Normal'

Some folks in the USA like to say that the 'New Normal' relates to 9/11...but, our 'New Normal' relates to our life here in Cuenca, Ecuador.

The computer counter tells us we've been in Ecuador now for 443 days, so it's probably safe to say we've made that important transition from tourist to resident.  What seemed 'exotic' then is now 'everyday'.  Not that we are totally used to everything, but we are better at taking it all in stride.  There is a certain peace as you make the know where to find stuff, you know where the bargains are, and you know more 'words'...You get more comfortable.  You don't get lost all the time.  You make new friends.

The transition from US to Ecuador is easier for some than for others.  Time helps.  Exposure to new things and new situations help, too.  We also made that transition from rural life to City life...not easy (Cities are loud!), and we're not missing that hay season and all that hard ranch work at all!
There is still a hole in the heart from leaving our extra-special Mr Boots the kitty... The hole will always be there, but we know Art and Ruth are spoiling him rotten!  We're comforted by that (and so thankful!) and we know Boots is so much happier in the country. City life is just not for him.

Time passes. Memories stay forever.

Some folks have asked us about our 'typical day'.......and, we're happy to report there is no such thing for us!  Yes, we do have our schedules with vendors and friends, but the most 'typical' we can report is that we begin and end each day on our porch.  We still marvel at the beauty of each sunrise and sunset...the hummingbirds who visit our window boxes...and we can set our clocks by the construction work across the way and the church bells nearby.  We love hearing the little children sing and play at the day care center, too.

Here are some other things that we have adjusted to.  We list them as folks begin their journey here, in hopes that, by sharing, we can ease the transition/s...

Remember how we worried we wouldn't find clothes and shoes that fit, or food we like, or furniture, appliances, or meds, or a place to live?  Or, friends?  Well, happy to report we found them all. 

SuperMaxi has just about all we need, and most brands we're used to are there.  You'll pay more for US brands, but many of the local brands are just as good (and cheaper).  There are 3 SuperMaxi's in Cuenca; if you don't find what you need at one, try another as the inventory can be different, store to store.  You can find fresh bread and produce in the markets, too.  We like the flower markets for big bouquets of the freshest flowers, for practically a song.  We still are delighted when we stumble upon a tiny (new to us) bakery or are able to find just-the-right-thing at a store (when before we thought it could only be found in the US).  We know the best, sweetest strawberries are sold by the wheelburrow vendors downtown...

Shoes in big-lady sizes are at some shops...  you can have big-man shoes made to order.  Nancy (finally!)found her clothing size at a couple of stores, too!  The ETA Fashion store at the Mall de Rio carries bigger (than Ecuadorian) sizes, as well as the clothing store at the main Square (Facing the New Cathedral, go to the right side of the square...go upstairs, main floor is for baby/children's clothes).  Nancy also found a tailor...we'll report back with quality and details as soon as the clothes are ready for pick-up.

Leslie, our cooking teacher, gave us information on where to find some ingredients, too.  There is a spice store near the Totems on R. Crespo (also carries filo dough!) and there IS sour cream here!  (At SuperMaxi, look for 'agria' near the butter).  Leslie suggests you make a list, in Spanish, for the spice store...some items are not displayed.

We have found furniture and appliances we like at local shops, too, and we've had some furniture made to order when we couldn't find what we needed.  All good quality and delivered in a reasonable time frame.  We've also found a couple places that will custom-make shower curtains and window treatments. 
In our 'New Normal', we've gotten used to some shops closing for a couple hours mid day for lunch (used to be so frustrating!)...  and we've gotten used to vendors who prefer to deliver in the evenings after the work day is over. 

We know where the good food is...lots of good restaurants here in Cuenca!  Mexican and Colombian restaurants have good hot sauce, too.  Set lunches are usually good, about $2 or so for lots of food.  Look for menu of the day usually posted at the door.  At the Good Affinity restaurant, it's vegetarian; and we're learning the Spanish words so we know what to longer 'mystery meat' to us.
The best, biggest burgers are at the Inca Lounge!  And, we think the best steaks are at the Terrace.
Tiestos remains a favorite, too, with very tasty, spicy condiments, really fun presentations, a party atmosphere and a most friendly and accommodating chef and staff.  For a cup of the best coffee, we go to Kookaburra Cafe...You will find your favorites, too.

*No longer 'exotic'
Our 'New Normal'  includes those sights and sounds we used to think were 'different' or even 'exotic', and 'other worldly'...  We still appreciate the Chola Cuencanas (indigenous women) in their colorful dress, the families doing laundry in the rivers, the old colonial buildings preserved by UNESCO status, livestock tethered at the side of the busy roads to graze... but we don't stop and stare any more. We barely notice the roasting cuy (guinea pig),  the huge, whole roasted pigs  and the animals being butchered in the markets.  We're used to finding ALL the parts  (head, feet, etc) when we buy whole chickens...we no longer cringe when we see ALL the animal parts in the shops.  We don't take as many 'tourist' pictures...One day, we didn't even bother to reach for a camera as a parade went by.  We knew there would always be another parade and photo opportunity. We basked in the joyful moment instead.

We have made wonderful friends.  Gringos and Ecuadorians, both.  We cherish and treasure these friendships.  Most are here for the long-term, as we are.  Some have decided that Ecuador is not for them, and they have moved on.  Some have made the visits back to the US to visit, shop and take care of will find that people come and go here.  Most return.  Many who have made the journey here are happy to call it *home*.  We do now, too.

Some newcomers are still stuck in their constant TV mode...we've made that transition to...Not us!
We might turn the TV on every now and then for news, but after awhile, it just makes us nuts!  So, off it goes and we get on with the day.  We watch more movies than news.  It's distressing to see what the news folks think is really news.  Violence, intolerance, pollution, bad, hateful behavior...all that.  Who needs it?  We prefer normal blood pressure and peace.  We do have our opinions, of course, but we really try to avoid all those controversies.  Didn't our Mom's say that discussions of religion and politics should be avoided?  For good reason..Newcomers will find that other newcomers like to talk about all that...but, in our 'New Normal', we've transitioned...The only thing we want to say on the topic is this:  The politicians here seem to listen to and want to take care of the people...a good thing. 

*Security and Safety
Some folks who have been here awhile have gotten careless about their personal safety.  Easy to do, as the people are generally friendly and trustworthy.  But, be mindful...  we're in a big City, and some folks (both Gringos and locals) will take advantage of an opportunity...  pickpockets (some children are really good at this!), business deals, snatch/run of jewelry, cameras, cell phones, laptops, purses, shopping bags, etc.  We've seen and heard of several incidents.  Nancy still doesn't carry a purse ...and our pockets still have zippers or velcro or safety pins to slow down the opportunity.  Why tempt fate?  But, if you're City-savvy, you'll do just fine here.  We compare Cuenca to our life in San Francisco...but a comparison to any big city works...If there are precautions you'd take, say in Chicago or NYC, take those same precautions here ...take a taxi at night,  lock your doors, etc...)

We recently put in a peephole on our apt door...we'd had several incidents of incessant doorbell ringing, at all times of the day and night. Even with security in our building, we don't just answer the door...
 We didn't open the door without knowing who was there in San Francisco either.  And, we had a gate/entry system at the ranch in Oregon.

When we first arrived (and when we first visited), we were stunned by the number of armed guards.  Seemed that every store, no matter how small, had a guard (or several) posted at the doors with weapons.  Now, we barely notice. We did see an incident of a military-style, well-trained and very serious security precaution when we were out and about near the Central Bank.  Convoys of several military trucks...many soldiers with drawn machine guns fanned out over a block or more.  Traffic stopped.  Helicopters overhead.  Turns out the Bank was moving money...(We stayed glued to the nearest wall until it was over.)

Another incident to share... we witnessed an example of swift justice.  A shop guard took off on foot after a robber.  Police arrived and beat the heck out of the robber before taking him in..  The crowd cheered.  We've seen several guards take off after thieves and  members of the public don't hesitate to join in the pursuit.

Our 'New Normal'  includes watching where you're can trip/fall so easily on the uneven cobblestone streets.  And, since pedestrians have NO right of way, we are mindful of that, too.  Drivers are crazy here!  One speed:  Fast!  We are known to walk several blocks out of the way of a busy street so we don't have to try to cross it on foot.  If there is a traffic accident (we haven't seen many, surprisingly),  and if there is an injury or death involved, the drivers will most likely end up in jail while it gets all sorted out.  We hear that jail is NOT a good can be held for a long, long time. 

*Adjusting to Altitude and health issues
Some newcomers will suffer with our high altitude.  (Cuenca is at 8300 ft.)  One minute you'll feel fine, the next minute you won't.  That's normal, as your body adjusts.  To ease the symptoms, drink your water and rest and eat good food.  A tea, found in the markets, called 'mate de coca' helps, too.  Some folks find that a Sinutab or a Clariton pill help with the ears, if they are stuffed up.  Most folks adjust within a couple of weeks or so.  It took us longer, but our health wasn't the best when we arrived.  One may also suffer from new plants, diesel fumes, perfumed products.  We did, but we're mostly fine now. (Either our bodies adjusted or we've learned to substitute products and/or avoid the plants and pollution...)
Remember, too, that excellent doctors, who speak perfect English, are here.

*Back to the '50's
Sometimes we think we've gone back in time here.  There is still the frustration of slow technology (but there are lots of options for faster speed..there are good techs here, too, that can help).  What we like the best is a slower pace and the family values... we love the babes-in-arms tradition, as well as the creative ways babies are carried on the backs of both Moms and Dads. Prams, baby buggies and strollers are not common here... Toddlers are either carried or they walk fast to stay up. We don't see temper tantrums (if we do, the kids are usually from somewhere else.)  At nap time, the babies just go to sleep wherever they are, in their parent's arms or tied to their backs.

We're still getting used to the lack of power tools and machines -- just the other day we saw some workers, with hand tools only, tearing up some cobblestone streets for replacement.  Mostly hand tools at the new construction, too.

We like the friendliness of the people.  Most people greet you on the street and in the markets with a smile and a 'buenos'. Some women-friends greet with a hug and kiss on the cheek. (Some men do, too.)  Some small businesses remember your name and your last purchases.  Shop-keepers will ask about your family and your health.  One of our workers offered to light a candle and say a prayer before Nancy had some dental work done! (Very sweet!) 
Cuenca is a big city with big city services, but it still has a small-town feel, a friendliness, openness and graciousness of the past.

The work ethic is strong here.  It's a matter of pride for folks to have a job.  We don't see Homeless Vets with pan-handling signs or desperate parents asking for money for food for their families, as we did in the US.  Streets are clean.  Garbage is recycled. School kids wear modest uniforms.  Many businesses (banks, insurance firms, etc) require uniforms for their workers, too.  Dress code for most Cuencanos is conservative, neat, clean and stylish.  It's a rarity to see a raggedy, unkempt person. 

*We still love a party and all the music and fireworks!
Ecuadorians sure know how to do it right!  At all hours!  We don't listen as much to our favorite CD's we brought with us.  Instead, we have found a good radio station, 97.3 FM............The station plays a little bit of everything, a little jazz, a little hip hop, a little rock and roll, even some US Country, opera and classical.  Works for us.

 We're enjoying our 'New Normal'.  A new rhythm...a new life that now seems perfectly normal to us.
We hope that those who arrive here and plan to stay can make the transition easily, with not too much homesickness and yearning for a previous life.   Ecuador is NOT the USA (good and bad)...but it's pretty wonderful! We love it here, and hope newcomers do, too.

So, here's our advice for new arrivals...Assimilate, adjust and smile!  Keep learning your Spanish, breathe, relax and move forward... you'll do just fine. 

Don't forget to pack your patience!

Love and peace to all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pictures from the Ballet

Nancy Watson took these pictures.   Thank you, Nancy!
And, Thanks again for setting up a fun evening.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bugs in Cuenca

Charlene, one of our blog readers, sent us a comment asking about the bug population here.  In fact, we've gotten several notes asking about this topic, so thought we'd do a blog entry...

Yes, there are bugs/insects in Cuenca!

Are there 'alot'?  It depends...

Compared to our ranch in rural, southern Oregon, we'd say 'no'...but the bugs are different here. 

Remember, Cuenca is at 8300 ft altitude (and we grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area at sea level;  the ranch was at about 800 ft or so).  No humidity here.  The air is dry and the temperatures are moderate.  No seasons, just 'wet' and 'dry'...No scorching, humid summers, no frigid, snowy winters.

At the ranch, we had those horrid, biting horse flies and mosquitoes at certain times of the year.  In Cuenca (we're in a big city now), no horse flies, but we do see an occasional house fly.  And, we've seen a couple mosquitoes, too.  But, nothing like we'd see during the summer in Oregon.

A couple of our friends have hired an exterminator  to rid their apartment of bugs...but we haven't needed to do that.  We have found a few potato bug-type,flying 'things' and a few worm-like 'things' in the apartment, but we just 'save' them and move them outside.  Not a problem.  We have also had aphids in some of the plants on our porch...and some pretty big, jumping spiders upstairs.  Again, not a huge problem for us.  Those spiders were amazing!  Yes, they got moved outside...We just put a glass over the bug, slip a piece of paper over the top of the glass and send the bugs on the way out the window...

Speaking of windows..,no screens on them!  No need.  We live a few floors up, and we leave our windows open all night for the fresh air.  We haven't seen any window screens here, unlike some areas of Ecuador.

We think we got biten by some kind of insect down at the river...kind of like little flea bites, a little itchy, but nothing like the bugs that used to bite us in the pastures.  Those bites used to itch like the devil!  (Wearing boots and not flip-flops, helped.) 

 Friends have complained of something biting them in bed, but we haven't experienced that.  (Our friends found a good spray that seemed to get rid of whatever that was...)

There are, of course, more bugs and insects along the coast of Ecuador and in the jungle areas, where the altitudes are lower and the temperatures are warmer and more humid than here.   Some bite and can carry diseases, and that's why you need to take precautions and use insect "barriers".........mosquito netting, insect sprays, 'bug off' clothing, etc.

Hope this helps.

*Added May 20:  For Bob and Roxanne's blog entry on bugs at the Coast, see

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome Tom and George!

We're always amazed by the notes and comments on our silly little blog!

We originally started the blog as we were planning our first trip to Ecuador to visit family...Rich's brother and our sister-in-law, Bob and Roxanne (and Coquita, the Rocket Girl)  live on the Coast.  We visited them and Ecuador in 2008,  fell in love with Cuenca, and here we are.  We update the blog with pics and stories, hoping to share our experiences with family and friends in the US and beyond.  We're delighted to see that we now have blog readers all over the world! 

Through our blog, we have met new friends, too, both online and 'in person'.  Tom and George from Atlanta recently contacted us to line up an 'in person' meet.  We sent a quick email to our friends, Chuck and Nancy and Bruce and Charlie, to see if they could join us for a 'Welcome to Cuenca' lunch at the Terrace.

Funniest thing...  Nancy was sitting in the Atlanta airport, reading our email invite and started looking around...and found Tom and George!  All 3 of them were on the same flight!  They recognized Nancy immediately from her blog.  What a wonderful coincidence.

Here we are at The Terrace...  such nice FUN guys!

We had a great time.  Tom and George, welcome again to Cuenca!

Another coincidence... 

While Chuck was out getting our tickets to the Royal Russian Ballet, he ran into Tom and George again...and, guess what!  They were getting tickets, too.  So, after resting from lunch, we all 6 met at the Ballet and were able to continue our visiting... 

We all really enjoyed the performance.  Definitely a treat.  Not sure how the dancers were able to perform so well at this altitude, but they were just wonderful.

One more coincidence...  (we're wondering if it's not really a 'coincidence, but 'fate' instead!)  At lunch today on the Square...yep, you got it...  we ran into Tom and George yet again!  

We're sure there's a joke or funny quip in this somewhere...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More fun pics

Our days have been full and varied, but we often forget the camera!  Or, if we remember the camera, we get some not-so-good shots...But, we're learning...

We did get some cute pics of Bob, Rox and Coquita when they visited Cuenca recently...Here we are toasting Roxanne at her birthday celebration at The Terrace...

Here's Bob getting ready to take Coquita, the Rocket Girl, out for a walk...(cute pic of Rox, too)

Here are some fun pics from earlier walks...this one is taken at the Main Square.....

We love the colorful outfits!

 Welcome home, Nancy!

A talented artist on Calle Larga...

Kookaburra Cafe...Jenny and Chris.

Susan in the garden...we miss you guys!

Progress shot of the Terrazza building construction in our neighborhood (for those friends awaiting completion!)

New Restaurant: The California Kitchen

Our friends, Carol and George and their family, have just opened a new restaurant in town.  It's located at Gaspar Sangurima 6-68 y Borrero.

Meet Carol, George, Susie and Jim.  (This picture was taken at the bookstore awhile ago...cute family photo!)

We attended the opening night with many!

Menu includes burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts... 
and the decor is beautiful, located in a lovely courtyard.  Opening night the special offered was lasagne.  Cheesecake and apple cobbler were divine!

We'll get more pics when we return for breakfast or lunch soon.  The soup and sandwiches looked really good!

We wish Carol, George, Susie and Jim the very best success in their new adventure!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sunday -- Always Something New

Our Sunday walk started earlier than usual.  We caught up with Chuck and got an early start to town and breakfast.  Nancy didn't join us this week as she's traveling. 
Nancy, we missed you!

Our original plan for the morning was to meet Chuck and then go on to the Kookaburra Cafe for breakfast.  So far, all according to plan...We started on our usual route, and then decided to try a new way.  Weather was cool and no intense sun yet, perfect walking weather.

Pictures along the route...

Here are some decorations on a back of a pick-up truck. 
We found out later that a big 10K race for charity was starting later to raise money for Haiti and others.  We think that explains the decorations on the truck (for parade later, too?)  The big cross at the top of the street was also decorated with flowers and banners. 
The race is one of the biggest in the 48th year. 

Here are a few folks rigging up bells across from the big cross (we think they were planning to ring the bells as the racers whizzed by).

Breakfast at the Kookaburra was delicious, as always.  Linda came in on the way to participate in the race. 
Larry and their house guests came in, too.

Several of us decided to head on down to check out the race and wish Linda luck!

We spied Charlie looking out the window!

Awaiting the runners...

Here's the finish line and the first of the runners coming in.
There were several wheelchair racers that came in early, too.

The river is UP big-time from recent rains (brown water in the background).   Fast-moving rapids!  Hard to tell who/what was racing along faster...runners or river.

And, the sun was intense (note the umbrellas in the crowd).  We were happy to have an umbrella and water with us, too (that's what was in Nancy's shopping bag, for those who will ask).

After watching the race, we were all inspired to keep up the exercise program...  We walked along the river path with Bruce and Charlie and admired the gardens along the way. 

Another fun Sunday with friends.