About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
We are from Connecticut originally and have most recently lived in North Carolina, USA. We are starting a new life in South America so our retirement $'s will go farther toward a new way of life and a new adventure.Prior to June of 2010 we never thought a move such as this would be possible or advantageous for us. And, that is why we call this blog "Retirement: Plan B" We intend to see and do as much as possible in our retirement. Spend quality time with family, friends and each other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Medical realities

  For the last few weeks I have been having a little problem with breathing. I thought that I had a respiratory virus or something. I was pretty sure the altitude wasn’t the problem because I had worked through that in the very early days of living in Cuenca and it wasn’t as bothersome as this new problem was becoming.

   I went to see Dr. Ceasar Toral here in Cuenca and he prescribed some medicine and I had to see him again after a couple of weeks to check progress. Unfortunately, there was no progress and things had actually gotten worse. So it was now off to the cardiologist to have a stress test because I have a history of this sort of thing.

  Dr. Juan Pablo Molina checked me out and told me I needed to have a heart catherization done to find the exact problem. Before I could find out what my insurance would and would not cover I had great difficulty breathing and was on my way to the emergency room. In fact, it was the morning following the stress test. I had a serious problem with no opportunity to solve the financial puzzle so we went to the “free hospital”. I know that those two words aren’t normally heard that close together and when spoken are followed by the question “free hospital”  ????? 

  The hospital is in a very old building with a lot of attention needed. The beds in the emergency room were o.k. at least as far as I remember. I was a little preoccupied to really take an accurate assessment of my surroundings. But I do have to say that I was getting a lot of attention from a lot of people. More doctors were checking me out and asking questions than I have ever had the occasion to be involved with at one time in any other hospital and unfortunately I have had some experience in the past for various ailments. The problem was my Spanish is rudimentary, at best (I here people snickering who have heard me try to speak Spanish), I was fortunate there was a man in the hospital with his daughter who spoke English and was kind enough to help a total stranger. If Jesus reads this I want him to know I really appreciated everything he did and I certainly hope his daughter is now well.  For those who think they can live here and not have to learn Spanish just think how I would have felt if Jesus wasn’t there to lend a hand. It truly is a foreign country and not a suburb of the U.S.

  I was in the trauma unit for two days while I was stabilized and observed. The trauma unit people do what is necessary for the welfare of patients but there are no frills here. The bed was really, really uncomfortable and more like a mat in a gym than a real bed. Joan had to buy me bottled water and bring me a pillow and a blanket. She went to different pharmacies to get the meds that were prescribed and other things that I needed. I didn’t get to ask what would have happened if I didn’t have friends or family to do these things. I don’t think they would have let me die. But then again how far can you push this “free” thing??? I would guess if anyone wanted to make a donation to this hospital it would be accepted.

  When I was transferred to Monte Sinai Hospital (the ambulance ride was $35) I was put in the emergency room while we waited for the insurance company to work out details with the Dr. and the hospital. Sadly, this took several hours and the bed that had seemed like an improvement was just as painful to my” bottom” which was tortured for the third day in a row. The gym mats were plastic covered and the sheets were a slippery paper material that wouldn’t stay on the mat. In case anyone doesn’t know they take your clothes away and Johnny coats are open in the back. Skin against plastic for hours at a time is not a good thing.

  The procedure took place late in the afternoon and then I was transferred to a room that I at first mistook for heaven. There was a real bed with a real mattress, a pillow and sheets that were cloth not paper. The bed had a real blanket and a real bed spread. There was a television with HBO and other channels I wouldn’t expect in a hospital. On the wall was a painting. There was a futon in the room in case Joan wanted to stay the night there was a call button for the nurse and a phoned in the room, too.

The bellhop, I mean, the nurse explained I needed to dial #9 for an outside line and asked if there was anything else I needed. We had been told the hospital room was $300 a day.

  Well, I am out of there and very glad to be home. Hospital food in the states usually sucks big time but hospital food in another culture really, really, really sucks and mine was a bland diet. O.K. now I’m going for sympathy, but you do get the general idea of what the medical care is like here.

  During this whole ordeal our friends Mick and Kathy Wesson went way beyond the call of duty and stayed with Joan and drove her from place to place giving her rides to pick things up and to bring her to the hospital to be with me. We want them to know they made life a lot easier and we appreciate their friendship.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

odds and ends

This building is being built and one of the workers is taking a mid day break.

                       This picture is to give you an idea of just how comfortable he is with heights.

Some times we see things that surprise us a little. This is a truck full of eggs being delivered to one of the "tiendas" a grocery store. The eggs here are not refrigerated and are very tasty. Each egg is stamped with an expiration date. We are told if the egg isn't refrigerated to start with it doen't need to be put in the fridge at home either. So ours sit on top of the fridge out of the way until we need them.

The milk sits out on a shelf in the store as well. It is not refrigerated until it is opened. We saw this in the states with "Parmalat". The "Nutri Leche" brand is sold in both bags and cardboard boxes. The cost is $1.07 for the box and 97 cents for the bag. Each package is one litre. We don't like to pour from either so we put it in a pitcher in the fridge after opening the package.
We buy our coffee freshly ground also in a bag. The coffee beans are still warm when it is ground. It is very rich coffee and has a high oil content. It is sold by"Cafe Lojano" near the "New Cathedral" at $3 a pound.
  We have gotten word from our shipping agent that our pallet (household goods we shipped from North Carolina) is expected to arrive in Guayaquil Ec. on the 13th. and we should be able to go to Guayaquil and do the necessary paperwork on the 16th, one week from today. Mick and Kathy think that is an optomistic estimate, but we are hoping they are wrong. We want our stuff!!!!! It has taken so long it will be like Christmas morning when we finally get to open the boxes.
  A second reason for wanting to go to Guayquil is the restaurants they have that Cuenca does not have. Mickey D's is just one of them.
Hasta Pronto,
Dale and Joan

Monday, November 7, 2011

Viva Cuenca

This has been a very different week for Cuenca. The city is celebrating its independence day with a week of activities. The streets and sidewalks have been more crowded than usual. Many of the streets are blocked off to allow for festival activities such as block parties and arts and craft fairs.

  Many of the booths are overflowing with clothing, art, crafts, nick nacks and food. Some have very nice things (a lot a redundancy) and some have trinkets to appeal to people caught up in buying for the sake of buying. Some of the sellers have come some distance to sell their goods. We talked to a lady from Peru who was selling sweaters and other clothing items.

                                     This lady is waiting for the cultural parade to begin.

 We went to the cultural parade last Sunday and had a good time. It was a beautiful sunny day and I tanned some and Joan burned some. We went early and found a seat on a wall across the street from Parque Calderon. We had a good vantage point until the late comers came and stood in front of us with their umbrellas open to protect them from the sun. The parade brought out the same type of vendors that a parade in the states would have, with the exception of the umbrella sellers. We tried to go to the military parade later in the week but the pushing and shoving was more stress than the parade was worth.  We left before the parade even started. We were told that the pushing and shoving got even worse as more late comers arrived.

                                                       An umbrella vendor 

                                            Staying out of the hot sun

                               Dancers performing in the street before the parade begins.
                                       Launching "globos" as the parade passes by
                                       Beauty queens and old cars are always required
                                  The street is crowded before the military parade begins

                                         The street lined with vendors on both sides

Booths lined both sides of the blocked off street near Parque De La Madre art on the right side and cloths and other goods on the left.
Some of the art was very much like we would find at an art fair in the states but most of it  had a definite latin American style. 

Now that we have seen these things we will be happy to get back to normal.

Viva Cuenca
Dale and Joan

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Today I am just sharing some pictures.
Joan is holding less than half of the red bananas we bought for $3
They are sweeter and the meat of the fruit is a deeper yellow than any we've had before.We shared them with 3 other people.
There are a lot of tourists in Cuenca and some of them carry a heavy load.
The tour bus as it passes the Coffee Tree cafe
This is just a picture of the countryside between Cuenca and Giron, a town about 20 kilometers away.
These little guys are just waiting for you to put them on your dinner plate. Cuy, (guinea pig)
 Oh, Boy !!! 
The Christmas decorations are up in the malls and stores.
I have been asked about credit card usage so here is a picture of a sign above a Banco De Guayaquil ATM
I can't explain "Hell Kitty"

Hasta Pronto,
Dale and Joan

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cuenca Realities: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It is not our intention to portray ourselves as experts on the subject of Cuenca or any other part of Ecuador.There are already too many people in cyber space who are doing just that. Some have visited and some have lived here for a few days or weeks and have learned all there is to know about the area, the laws, the people, who should be hired and where to buy property. We aren’t going that way we are just telling what has happened to us and what we’ve seen with our own two eyes. 

                                                                        The Good

Fruits and Vegetables are fresh, delicious and affordable. The 4 peaches, 3 tomatoes, 2 eggplant, 2 mangos, 1 cucumber and 1 pepper in the picture above cost only $4. 86.
Restaurants are inexpensive and there are a lot to choose from, Italian, Chilean, Argentinean, American and lots of Ecuadorian restaurants that will serve a lunch meal with juice, soup, potato, meat and vegetable for as little as $1.50, although, $2.00 or $2.50 is more common.
The People have been terrific here. We have been impressed with the Cuencanos since we first arrived and checked into the Hotel Cuenca. They have gone out of their way to help us and to make us feel at home. They will listen to our ridiculous attempts at Spanish and will let us pantomime and point without laughing at us and walking away.

The Scenery is totally different from anything we ever experienced in Connecticut or North Carolina (the Blue Ridge mountains just don’t compare). We are surrounded by higher mountains and Cuenca is in a sort of bowl and we lose track of the fact that we are over 8000 feet above sea level. A trip outside of Cuenca and we are amazed at the views once again.

The Architecture is really interesting. I’m sure the difference from what we are used to seeing is part of the appeal but we are enjoying it all the same.
The Weather is one of the good things about Cuenca for sure. We are not as warm as the coast but we do not have to suffer the humidity or the excessive heat in the warmer months. We don’t need heating or air conditioning but some days will be in the upper 80’s F. and some nights will get down to about 40 F. So, it isn’t paradise weather but it sure isn’t Miami or Buffalo, either. The lack of bugs is a real plus, too.
The Cost of Utilitiesis also one of the good things. Phone bills are low, there is no need for heating a whole house so electric isn’t very much, propane for hot water and cooking is very inexpensive.
Gasoline is subsidized by the gov’t and regular gas is only $1.48 per gal

                                                                         The Bad

Traffic is on our list as a bad thing. Cuencais not pedestrian friendly and the same people who are kind, considerate and helpful are demons behind the wheel of a car, bus or truck. The pedestrian has the right of way but when claiming that right one had better be hurrying across the street to keep from being run over.
The Car Alarms and the sounds of the city are one of the biggest things to get adjusted to. We have lived on Cul de Sacs for the last 35 years and are more familiar with the sounds of a small town than we are with the noises of a city of 500,000. So to us the car alarm is a real nuisance.
Walking on the sidewalk is usually a game of chicken. There seems to be a different mind set when it comes to passing other pedestrians who are walking toward you. It is stand your ground, claim your space and don’t move over until you absolutely have to. It means there will be a lot of bumping on a busy street.
Gringo pricing or as some call it the "gringo tax". Gringos are seen as having a lot of money. So, very often (maybe always) a gringo shopper is an opportunity to make a bigger profit. Sometimes you know what is happening and other times you figure it is but you don’t know by how much you are being taken.
Spanish is the language spoken here and it is very frustrating to feel helpless in a grocery store, the market or the bank. I don’t think the whole world should learn English just for me but it would be nice if they would.

                                                                            The Ugly

When we first visited Cuenca in February we met Lee and Carol Dubs, the owners of the Carolina Bookstore. They told us that one of their fears is that Gringos would come here to Cuenca and do what Gringos have done in other countries which would not be a good thing. Sociologists have pointed out that in other countries a “Gringo invasion” has always turned out badly. We want to be part of the community but we have no intention of trying to change Cuenca or take charge of anything. We see ourselves as guests here and we want to act accordingly. This brings me to the ugly.
Fakes and Phonies. Some how it seems it is not enough for some people to be honest about who and what they are or have been in the past. One man introduced himself to a friend as a doctor and 2 weeks later, forgetting what he had said, introduced himself as a lawyer.
Con men and women are not only in the U.S.they are here, and what is really worse some of them are gringos taking advantage of other gringos.
It seems as though some people come here and lose all sense of caution and will trust someone just because they speak English or because they are from the same country. We have heard of people buying cars only to find out they paid a lot more than they should have. Real estate is being sold at prices higher than the actual cost so the agent can keep an outrageous commission on the sale.
Bogus Charities Many of us have come to Ecuador and found people who are not as well off as we are. The need to help kicks in and we reach for our wallets because, after all, we now have a much lower cost of living and are able to help. The bad thing is the money or goods donated do not always go where we think it will go and the ones who need the help are helped very little or not at all. To me this is behavior of the lowest kind and we should all be sure we don’t let others take advantage of us at expense of the weak and helpless.
Until Next time,
Dale and Joan

By the way Joan and our friend Kathy have started "Cuenca Weavers" and are taking orders for handmade custom products such as Shawls, Ponchos, baby blankets, scarves and more. Their blog can be seen at cuencaweavers@blogspot.com Please take a look, Thanks






Monday, October 10, 2011

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

  We had a beautiful day yesterday so we got out and did some walking. The temp yesterday was about 80 and the sun was shining. We got a little sun burned and a bit tired but all in all we had a good day. The picture above shows how things are blooming around town.

  We walked to Parque Calderon and wandered about taking pictures and just watching people enjoying a Sunday. The Domes of the New Cathedral are always worth another picture.
The old cathedral is a good looking building too.
   The flower market was busy and the flowers were beautiful, as they always are.
  This picture is of a government building  in "El Centro" which is the old part of Cuenca. I made this a bit larger so you would be able to see some of the detail. I don't think this picture shows the full beauty, though. Sorry aboout the trash can at the bottom of the picture.
This is the interior of Santos Alfonso. I have made the image larger to show some of the detail. We have yet to see the inside of a church here that did not have a great deal of beauty. I do think someone was a little "bored" with the whole thing.

    San Blas is another church a few blocks down the road from Santos Alfonso. It is near a park that is very nice with a lot of benches and three ice cream shop. I had hoped to get a picture of the interior of this church but the doors were closed when we arrived.
  We walked by the Archaeological park and saw these cactus growing. It is not dry here but we do have some cactus and even more at the coast.
 This is a statue of the Inca Chief "Huanyna Capac" I think it was cetainly nice of him to pose for this. Maybe they found an old Olan Mills portrait of him.
 This last picture is of the broken bridge ( or the bridge to nowhere during election years ) it is one of Cuenca's landmarks.
  Now that summer is almost here and the weather changed at the beginning of October as though mother nature could read a calendar we will most likely do more walking and spend more time outdoors. We have yet to see all of the city or all of the parks and have not taken many trips outside the city. There is so little time and so much to do. We are looking forward to more adventures. After all, that is one of the things retirement is for.
Hasta Luego
Dale and Joan

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another week zips into the past

  It seems as though we never have enough time. I had often heard people who were retired say they were busier in retirement than when they were working. I didn't think that could be true but now I believe them.
  Joan does her weaving 4 days a week and I run around with my friend Mick doing errands ( those oh so important tasks) and then spend time drinking coffee at the coffee tree before Joan is done with weaving for the day. Then it is time for lunch and Joan and I will take care of things we need to do together.
  This week we went to the bank of Pichincha and picked up a debit card for Joan and applied for a credit card. We don't really want a credit card but it will keep us from having to pay for a membership at Super Maxi (the supermarket) each year and we will earn air miles with Lan Airlines. We are still taking spanish lessons twice a week with Noshy.
We will be putting sentences together soon

We have been socializing, of course, and have had dinner out a couple of time this week as well as having Mick and Kathy to our house for dinner. We always seem to have a lot of fun and do a lot of laughing. We met a new couple this week at dinner at the Wesson's. They are the Bogart's. We had a nice visit with them and we will be seeing them again soon. They just arrived from Canada and we know they will be busy getting settled in and we wish them well.                                   
Today, the Wesson's invited us to go with them to a mexican restaurant out of town. El Agave restaurant is about 20 kilometer's away but it was well worth the trip. The owner's are an Ecuadorian man and his Mexican wife. They both have lived in the states and speak very good english. The food was really very good and I am sure we will be going back before too long.

So, now it is Friday night and the weekend is here. There will be no weaving tomorrow and no Coffee Tree, but we will find something to keep us busy ( in a good way)
Hasta Pronto
Dale and Joan

Monday, October 3, 2011

Enjoying the change in the weather

  On Saturday morning we went to breakfast at the California Kitchen in the El Centro section of Cuenca. The restaurant is in a building which also houses a hotel that has just been renovated. The "Kitchen" is a popular breakfast spot on Saturday mornings for "Gringos".
  We went with Mick and Kathy Wesson and their housekeepers son, Jonathan. Jonathan is learning english in school and had asked if he could spend some time with the Wesson's so that he could hear more english. The Wesson's are a good choice because Kathy does very well speaking spanish so Jonathan wasn't left out of the conversations. He also seemed to enjoy the pancakes at the "Kitchen"

Jonathan, enjoying pan cakes

  During the week Joan and I did a little bit of walking around town and were glad to have some time without rain. The weather has even warmed a bit and we are happy about that too.
  We aren't real happy to see all the graffiti that is appearing in Cuenca, though. We don't understand why some "idiots" think it is alright to mark up some body else's property. It is even worse when they have no talent and nothing worth saying.
  The picture below isn't graffiti. We pass this nursery school when walking to and from the mall. The painting on the wall is pretty effective advertising considering the business they are in.
On our way home from the mall we were walking behind these young ladies and I thought a picture might show that not everyone dresses in traditional garb. As a matter of fact, tight jeans and high heels are more prevalent here than the traditional outfits. We sometimes wonder how the women can walk on the cobblestones streets and the uneven and broken side walks without killing themselves.

This picture is of one of the security people who works in our building. He is sitting on the wall in front of our building enjoying the nice weather. He is a nice guy and is always friendly as we come into and go out of the building. We call him the general.                                                                       

So with the sun shining more and the temperatures in the 70's we are heading into our summer and we expect we will be outside a lot more and there will be a lot more pictures of Cuenca and the surrounding area.

Hasta Pronto,
Dale and Joan

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Good news

  Late last week we got an e-mail from Gabriella Espinosa's ( our attorney for immigration ) office telling us we could go to Quito to do the paperwork for our Censo's and Cedula's. We booked a flight on Aerogal for Sunday afternoon and arrived in the capital city of Ecuador late Sunday afternoon.  We had found a very good price at the Dann Carlton Hotel on Booking.com so that is where we stayed. It is a very nice hotel and without the special pricing we would not have been able to  stay there.
Our room
The hotel lobby
  Monday morning we went to the attorney's office and although we were eager to get started we had to wait for the attorney's assistants to get our paperwork ready before we could head to the government offices. An hour later we were ready to go.
  When we got to the censo office, our first stop, we had 58 people ahead of us. the assistant who was with us said it would take about 3 hours. It actually took 5 and then we were off to the next office to get our cedula's. If you have to go thru this process you might consider taking snacks and drinks as the process is slow but you don't want to leave the building just in case something happens and your number is called. We were thinking we would surely have to spend another day in Quito because the last Aerogal flight was at 5:45. At the next office our helper was able to get us some special attention and we were moved along pretty quickly. We answered the necessary questions affirming what was on the official forms we had filled out and submitted through Gabriella's office, we were fingerprinted and photographed and faster than what we believed would be possible we were in a cab and headed back to Gabriella's office to get the luggage we had left there that morning. 
  We had a special request for double cheeseburger's from Mickey D's (Cuenca doesn't have a MacDonald's) from our friends Mick and Kathy Wesson (Metamorphasis: Changing to retirement, blogspot) so we made a quick stop across the street for the burgers and fries that would be our celebratory dinner if we were able to make the flight.
  We made the flight with little time to spare and the burgers and fries tasted pretty darn good when we ate them that evening in our condo inspite of having to reheat them in the microwave.
  Today, we went to the airport to pick up our  cedulas that Gabriella's retrieved for us after they were actually printed.  We are excited to be official residents of Ecuador. We can now start the process to have our household goods shipped to us from North Carolina
Waiting for the free bread coupon
 As I have said before I often spend time drinking coffee at the "Coffee Tree". Last Saturday I took this picture of some of the ladies who come to the church next door to get a coupon for bread. I don't know how long this has been going on but I thought the traditional garb and the buildings in the back ground make it look almost timeless.
  Hasta Pronto,
Dale and Joan