Comerford Dam, Vermont

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Excursion to Paute - Un Dia Maravillosa with New Friends

My new friend and potential landlady, Maria Elena, invited me along for a day at her country home in Paute, which is about 35 minutes outside of Cuenca. Her original invitation was to Len and Sharon, an American couple who are staying in the little cottage in Maria Elena's back yard, but when Rebecca (my conversational Spanish teacher) and I arrived to look at the cottage, Maria Elena graciously included us in the invitation.

It was a glorious day for all of us. Imagine it - two Americans who are beginning to learn Spanish, me, with some Spanish under my belt, Maria Elena, with no English, and Rebecca, who understands English but speaks only Spanish. This was Spanish immersion at its finest for the three of us students, and Rebecca and Maria Elena were patient and helpful throughout!

We were also treated to a typical Cuencano meal that included roast chicken, roast pork, rice, a little potato, egg and cheese croquette, two kinds of tortillas, and two salads - avocado and tomato and carrot and broccoli. It was a wonderful afternoon of eating, laughing and talking.

Maria Elena's parents owned a larger house up the way and all the surrounding land; now the land has  been split up for three small summer houses; one each for Maria Elena and her two sisters. This little country house is about 30 years old, with a well established garden - mature trees laden with avocados, mango and papaya trees!

There's just enough room in the house for all of Maria Elena's grandkids to come and stay with her!

The climate is great for cacti, succulents and just about everything!

Those white flowers to the right are Datura, a hallucinogenic, although here they tell me it's used as a sleeping aid.

Check out these Hens and Chickens! They're huge!

This is the view from the front of the house.

You can see some of the greenhouses for roses and other flowers that are exported and sold locally in the lower left of this photo.

All in all, a really fantastic day with new friends and new discoveries.

5/28/11 Finding a house update:  Len and Sharon have found an apartment and will be moving in soon. This means I'll be able to take a good look at the cottage and hopefully, will be able to move in myself, soon. This is good, because there's a white mini Schnauzer nearby that is calling to me!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Looking for a Place to Call Home

From my computer desk in Vermont, it seemed like there was an abundant and continuous flow of available apartments, condos and furnished rooms available for rent in Cuenca. Almost every day, a new housing opportunity was posted on one of the websites for Cuenca wannabes. I figured this would be the least of my worries.

Not so, it turns out. All those listings, with enticing photos of rooms and views of the city aren't actually available. "Sorry, I don't have any listings at present," from one agent who has six or seven places posted on his website. WHY ARE THEY POSTED IF THEY ARE NOT AVAILABLE? If you can't keep your website updated, how efficient are you at the rest of your job? Just sayin'.

So, my first lesson in how things don't exactly go according to plan here in Cuenca.

Suggestions from expats who have already survived the looking-for-a-place-to-live ordeal include: "Buy a paper." "No, don't do that, most people don't advertise - just walk around and look for 'se arriende' signs."

Bueno, based on the great tour that I took in April with Karen Cornell and Juan Perez, who drove me around Cuenca and pointed out areas of the city where gringos live, I consult my bus guide and head out.

First stop - around the Oro Verde hotel - lots of condos and apartments in this area.

Here are the condos with the views of the city that I saw on the Internet. But they are all gated and locked up tight. I scan the buildings for 'se arriende' notices, but can't find any.

Bueno, across the river is a residential area where there might be something. I hoof it over there, but not before noticing this lady doing her laundry in the river alongside the condos. This is actually a pretty common site all over Cuenca, but a little more striking next to these luxury buildings.

Over in the residential area, I crisscross the streets, but find no signs, just very nice homes, many with their own security kiosks. Again, a nice area, but further from the city center than I'd like to be.

Fortunately for me, my conversational Spanish teacher and new friend Rebecca has a suggestion. Her friend Maria Elena has a little 2-bedroom house behind her house that she wants to rent. During Friday's session, we walk over to Maria Elena's for a look around. It's right across from the river Tomebamba, and a large green space covers the hill across the river - I think it's a public garden.

This is the house from the street - flower gardens in front and back, with the little house in the rear. Even though the house is on a busy street, once those gates close, it's quiet and secluded.

Located in theVergel neighborhood, it is within walking distance of the center of town, and there is a bus stop at the end of the block. Rebecca lives in this neighborhood, so she shows me around, pointing out good restaurants, a place for a hair cut, doctor's office. Me encanta - I love it.

There is an American couple in the house right now - looking for a permanent place (!), so I can't get inside to take a look. I have to be satisfied with walking around the outside on this first visit.

Maria Elena says that for a long term renter she would be willing to get WiFi and provide laundry facilities. A small dog is okay with her and there is a storage building nearby for my shipment when it arrives.

It all feels good to me, and I can only hope that the couple currently in residence has fantastic luck and finds a permanent place soon, so I can take a look at the inside and seal the deal. Oh, did I mention the rent?  $300/month all utilities included!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stairs, Gasp, Stairs, Wheeze, and more Stairs!

A newcomer to Cuenca might be forgiven for cursing the city's many stairways. While much of the city is relatively flat, there's only one way to get to the old center of town, and that's to climb some stairs. A lot of stairs.

And these are not simple flights of stairs, as you can see. These are monster staircases that leave you gasping for breath after the first flight because of the altitude (8300 feet).

After the second flight, a heartfelt thanks goes out to the staircase builders of old for putting landings every so often, where a novice stairclimber can rest and walk slowly back and forth to catch her breath.

By the third and fourth landing, not only is the novice stairclimber out of breath, but thighs are burning and water is desperately needed.

My first ascent of the steps above, the day I arrived in Cuenca, was illuminating, to say the least. Maybe it was just oxygen deprivation, but it seemed to me that a lot of people were stopping on every landing for a breather. So why not me?

Then I noticed that street vendors had their wares laid out on the landings - must be a lot of people stopping, I figured.

Okay, there were some guys who could trip along all the way to the top without stopping. Awe inspiring, to say the least. And my Spanish conversational teacher suggested that taking the stairs two at a time was easier. She actually did that as we went up the stairs together, lightly taking the steps two at a time, with me gasping along behind her.

It is true that one could avoid the stairs altogether by taking a bus or a taxi. And it's also true that coming down the stairs is delightful, with the city spread out below and the Tomebamba river gurgling along.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the day that I can climb one staircase all the way to the top without stopping. Forget about that two-stepping, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Celebrating one week in Cuenca!

No regrets, not a single one, after my first week of life in Cuenca. A week of high altitude, walking 3+ miles a day, and racking my brain for Spanish vocabulary has left me a little tired and achy, though.

Plus I got a good sunburn from sitting on the roof terrace with Reby yesterday. A little exposure goes a long way here - the sun is very strong because we're on the equator, or close to it.

I figured out how to take photos on my iPad, and here are a couple of my little pad. Love that luxury kitchen, eh?!

Looked at one apartment this morning - location was good, but apartment was too small.

Yesterday when I was at the SuperMaxi (that's the modern grocery store - I know, it sounds like a feminine hygiene product!) I saw a couple of things to share with you.

The yellow envelope with the screw off top is pineapple jam. Notice the brand name - for snobs only!
And what is that cereal on the plate? In the shape of bananas, watermelons, grapes and some other unknown fruits? Trix, you silly rabbits!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vamos a have a conversation en Espanol

With some trepidation, I presented myself this morning to a Spanish school for 3 hours of Spanish conversation with Rebecca, or Reby, for short. Every twenty minutes or so, my brain totally turned to mush and I couldn't say anything at all in either Spanish or English, but we managed pretty well.

At the end of the session, I knew that she and I had a lot in common and that I had found my first amiga cuencana (Cuencan friend). For the last fifteen minutes or so, we sat in the sun on the roof terrace - a beautiful day with almost no clouds in the sky. Reby said this meant it would be cold tonight, which means about 40 degrees.

On Friday, we will resume and she is going to start showing me the city, with an eye to finding an apartment. This is muy bueno, because there are two kinds of rents here - one for gringos (higher) and one for locals (lower). I'm going for the lower rate, with Reby's help.

Most shops close from 1-3 pm here, which is a good excuse for a long lunch and a nap. I had an appointment at 3 pm to look at a couple of apartments, and the realtor emailed me to meet her at Banco Pinchinca y Solano. I wasn't sure what this meant, so I walked to Banco Pinchincha, which is a high rise building on Solano. I figured she would see me, the conspicious gringa, but after moving from corner to corner and waiting on the steps of the bank for about 45 minutes, I gave up.

Next I wanted to find a cutting board for my little kitchen. I walked to the supermercado and found one, and also checked out some puppies in a local pet store window. There was a white miniature schnauzer! I had to sternly steer myself away from her, but not until asking whether she was a he or a she and how much she cost!

Just as an aside, the length of day here is twelve hours, all year long. It gets dark about 6:30 pm. Both the nights and the days feel long to me. After all, how many days in the year are like that in Vermont?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blog Resurrected - from Cuenca, Ecuador

After spending my first five days in Cuenca, I've decided it's time to resurrect my blog, albeit with a slightly different look. There's so much to share about the experience of moving from Vermont and this beautiful city - and some of you might want to know.

Since my last blog, a lifetime ago in February, I have sold my house, sold my car, found homes for all my cats, put together a small shipment of things I couldn't part with, quit my job, and started the legal process of becoming a resident of Ecuador.

The list fits into one paragraph, but the experience was alternately heart-rending and exhilarating, terrifying and liberating. You gotta want it, and you gotta keep moving forward, no matter what.

Here in Cuenca, I have rented a small efficiency apartment for a month, while I look for a permanent place. It's so small that I have to step outside the bathroom to towel myself off after a shower! And while I'm doing that, if I'm not careful, I'll hit my head on the TV!

But it has WiFi, cable TV, a propane stovetop and a microwave, dishes and linens. It is just a block or so from a local mercado, and the town square is a ten-minute walk. Right across the street is one of Cuenca's four rivers, with green space on either side with benches every so often.

Cuenca is a city of 500,00 in the Andes, at an altitude of 8,300 ft. I'm keenly aware of the altitude every time I go out walking - any uphill stretch or set of stairs sets my heart racing. But that should be gone soon.

Families rule here. They stroll around together, mother holding the newest baby, father watching the toddler running in front. They are not in a hurry, but clearly enjoying each others' company. There are no strollers here - babies are held or carried on their mother's back. They are held close in loving arms, not separated from their parent by a stroller or car seat. Think it might make a difference in how a kid turns out?

Another striking thing here is the tight pants syndrome. Young girls and women alike wear the tightest pants I have ever seen! Spray painted on.

It goes without saying that I stick out like a sore thumb here, with my gringa looks. But people are polite, friendly, helpful and very patient with my attempts to communicate in Spanish.

I'll start taking some conversational Spanish lessons tomorrow, but so far I have managed to buy a cell phone (Thank God the instruction book was in English and Spanish), do some grocery shopping, and take the bus around town.

This afternoon I'll start looking at apartments, which is turning out to be a tad frustrating. All the fantastic places that are posted on the Internet turn out to be non-existent. Some people advise using a real estate agent, others say keep away from those real estate agents. It's going to be an adventure!