We are so excited to finally be moving and traveling on our own. Follow our blog as we adventure around the country! We hope that you will enjoy reading our story just as much as we are experiencing it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The first day of July

It's early Sunday morning, July 1.  I left off last Sunday evening arriving in Auburn, Alabama fleeing from Debby.  Monday we hung out in Auburn and went to a movie with the kids, Brave.  It was okay, but definitely a rental.  We got bedding for Swoosh and did some grocery shopping.  I was emailing with my friend Mark Ellington who lives in Atlanta, and when he found out how close we were invited us to come up and visit.  So on Tuesday we packed up and headed 2.5 hours north to the bedroom town of Marietta, Georgia. 

We parked the trailer in their culdesac and visited late into the evening with them.  Thomas had been wanting to see their son Keegan, his good friend from Florida anyways.  We really enjoyed seeing their new house in the woods, it was beautiful.  Mark works for the School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech as an administrator.  He runs 9 buildings and staff in the manufacturing department.  The boys slept in the house with Keegan, and the girls and I opened up the trailer and slept in it and it was surprisingly comfortable.  Kye, their older son is going to college at Kinnesaw (sp?) State.  He and I took a ride in the 1983 Jaguar XJ6 that he and his dad just got running again.  It has an LS1 conversion in it, but it had been sitting for years, so the injetors were clogged.  Thanks for having us to visit Sue, Mark and gang.  It was a blast catching up with you.

After breakfast Wednesday morning we headed towards Florida.  We had hoped to get the nickel tour of Georgia Tech, but it wasn't meant to be.  We made it to Valdosta, Georgia and the Eagles Roost RV park.  It was a fairly nice park for being 30 years old, and very well maintained.  We didn't get to use the pool because it closed when the office did at round 7 pm, but the showers were nice.  Nothing compared to the ones in Auburn at University Station though, wow. 

Thursday morning we headed to Tampa, and after about five minutes on the road we were back in Florida for the second time.  We arrived in Tampa around 2pm and went straight to Lazydays RV shop.  Don met us there and evaluated the damage, which he later estimated at $5,400.00!  The whole front of the trailer has to be pulled off to be repaired, but since the cheapest version of this trailer is around $12,000, its worth it to get it fixed. Samuel was starving to death because he didn't eat a good enough breakfast so we got in a hurry to get to the campground.  Jenn snacked him enough for me to get the truck and trailer weighed.  Amazingly, the truck weighed over 11,000 pounds and the trailer was about 8,300 pounds.

We went to the Happy Traveller RV park in Thonantasassa, just up I-75 from Brandon.  The park is nice and shady like the Eagle's Roost and we're close to the showers, but the wifi is marginal at best and there are a few large ant hills nearby that keep raiding the trailer.  There are quite a few permanent residents here, and as usual we are by far the youngest.  We plan on being here for a week.  I called Tanys, our Real Estate agent, to set up looking at houses on Friday morning, and she set up four for us to look at.  We agreed to meet at the first house, near where Jenn ecpects she'll be working at 0930.  We went shopping then ate dinner and crashed out.

Jenn stayed home to study for her seven tests on Friday while the kids and I went to look at houses.  The first house we looked at was in Bloomingdale and had been built in the early 80's, and as Mark would say, "had a lot of deferred maintenance on it".  It had a pool and was in a good location, but none of us were impressed.  The second house was ready for move in and reminded us all of our old house here so it was an instant hit with the kids.  The third house was smaller, still nice, but in a less desirable neighborhood.  It was $200 cheaper than the second, but not worth it.  The last house was nice but two of the kids almost revolted against it when I asked their opinion.  We put an application in to rent the second house.  The kids will be going to Mulrennan Middle and Durant High Schools.

We finished up looking at the houses and schools around noon and headed back to the trailer.  Jenn was still working.  Everyone was tired so we just kind of quietly hung out until we needed to go to the store.  I took Shannon and Sam with me to the WinnDixie around the corner and picked up some food for dinner.  If it seems like we are always shopping it's because we have very little place to store enough food for 6 people in the trailer.  Our almost new Halftime oven decided to overheat and is in need of repair, so we are having to work around that too.  Jenn was studying until about 10 pm and the kids and I watched a movie. 

Saturday morning Jenn was up at 5 am finishing up her reviewing for the tests.  I woke up around 6 am and made her breakfast.  She was off to Polk State College in Lakeland by 6:30.  It took her an hour to get there because avoiding toll roads in Florida can be a challenge.  I went back to bed and didn't get up until she was calling to tell me she was done around 10:30.  She picked up the rental application on her way home.  She took seven exams of 30 questions each in an hour and a half, and felt good about it, even as the gal next to her was still trying to finish her first test. 

When Jenn got back she was starving so she ate everything in sight.  I didn't have lunch made since I had just fed the kids and I breakfast so after doing the laundry we ended up back at the store.  This time Jenn came and we stocked up a bit for a few days.  While Jenn was doing laundry I was working on John's web pages while sitting in the park office, the only place wifi is strong enough to use with my notebook.  I learned the importance of child themes in WordPress the hard way as updating the themes deletes all custom files.  It took about 2 hours to fix two web sites.  We also got the application for renting done and sent that off.  I did battle with the ants in the hopes of slowing them down a little.  We shall see.  We wrapped up the week by watching How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek 2 over a BBQ chicken dinner.  Its good to be back in the south. 


Monday, June 25, 2012

Run away! Runaway! Saturday and Sunday.

As I write this, Tropical Storm Debby has not only prevented us from making it to Tampa, but has also chased us north back into Alabama.  We landed in Auburn, home of the Auburn Tigers, last night under calm and fantastic sunset skies.  Its dry and peaceful here still.
Saturday we started out from Monroe LA, leaving behind the Ouachita RV Park, which was hard to find and the bathrooms were in disrepair.  We pushed through to the Clayton-Jackson areas (of JFK-Oswald lore?) and managed to decode the hideous roads enough to get off for fuel and get back on with only a few u-turns and minor frustration. 
We made it as far as Lucedale on highway 98 when I heard a large boom.  At first I thought Len Osanic on Black Op Radio had hit the microphone while recording that episode since when I got out none of the tires were flat and the truck steering had been normal.  Jennifer was actually the one who noticed the hissing sound coming from the right front tire.  It was a slow leak so I had mistaken it for the a/c condenser dripping water on a hot pipe. 
There was a gas station across the freeway so we hurried over there before the truck was no longer drivable.  The tire was flat in minutes, and it was after 3pm on Saturday, so the tire repair shop across the street was closed.  The spare I had been lugging around was in such bad shape it was barely recognizable as a tire.  The catch 22 was that the roadside assistance would only change a spare or tow us, tire replacement or repair was not covered.  So we decided that while Thomas and I waited with the truck for the roadside assistance to arrive, Jenn and the other kids would take the spare to a nearby walmart (spit) to get it replaced, and then bring it back to be swapped out.  Amazingly enough, this worked.  Soon the truck was back on the road with one new off-road tire and one highway tire on the front.  Frankenstein had nothing on us. 
I still needed two tires on the front because apparently the reason the one tire blew (a 12"x4" section was missing from the inside sidewall) was the belts had shifted or broken due to over inflation and long hot driving.  That explained why I got a violent shimmy above 65 mph in my front end ever since New Mexico.  The roadside assistance guy, Glenn, noted that the other front tire was also uneven due to broken belts.  65 psi on the front tires is all it needs, not 80!  Another lesson learned.
Despite our best efforts at finding normal tires we were forced to drive Frankenstein through Mobile to Pensacola. 
On Sunday I headed to the only place open that did tires, Pep Boys (remember, this is the south).  It took 3 hours, but I got two new tires installed and a rain check for a free oil change for Jenn.  We still hadn't decided if we were going to stay and ride out Debby by the time I got back.  Once we checked the storm's progress it seemed like Pensacola was going to get clobbered so we decided to move. 
We headed north out of Florida towards Montgomery AL, and made it as far as Auburn by 7pm.  We had planned on heading for Columbus or Macon, but in hindsight I think we're better off here.  So now we wait.  Debby isn't going anywhere soon, and we seen to be out of the way just enough here, at least for now.
Jenn got an encouraging email from one of the places she wants to work, and is excited about that prospect and at the possibility that FL may grant her a staff permit without meeting the 480 hr requirement.  She needs to be there by Friday night so she can take exams on Saturday.  For us Pikeys, the skootcher continues.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The trip so far

First, happy birthday to Bob I hope you had fun in Sanoma.  Today is June 22nd and we have been on the road for five days now.  I Have a lot of catching up to do.  We pulled out from Oakhurst on Saturday the 16th and headed for Fresno.  We spent most of the day packing in Oakhurst before we started out.  We left around 3 pm and promptly got stuck in traffic on the 41 caused by a fire alongside the road.  It took about 45 minutes to clear and then we were moving again.  When we arrived at John's house in Fresno I accidentally hit a basketball pole, negligently left siiting in the road, and ripped the roof on the camper.  Fortunately, we had planned an extra day to visit in Fresno so I was able to repair the roof with material dad brought down on Sunday.  We took a look at the repair and then went to Father's day dinner at bj's.  Note the bj's in Fresno paled in comparison to the one in Boulder both in quality and style.  When we got back I was able to finish the repair and let it dry overnight.  What a way to start the trip. 
It was 111 degrees in Fresno on Sunday so we decided to leave early the next morning make it over Tehachapi pass by 10 am so it wouldn't be so hot.  Bessy, my truck, needs all the help she can get.  Amazingly enough the hottest the transmission got was 200 degrees and that was coming out of Oakhurst and driving around Fresno, but it hasn't been above 195 degrees since. We made it over Tehachapi pass without incident and then descended into the mojave desert. When we saw the campground in Barstow at Newberry Springs we decided to keep going and made it to Needles California where we dropped in on the Desert View RV park for the night.  The air conditioner struggled to bring the temperature down to 90 degrees and the refrigerator was unable to cool because there was no moisture in the air.  We spent a lot of time in the swimming pool but managed to cook dinner and get to sleep for another early morning on Tuesday.
Since we traveled an extra 2 hours on Monday we were very close in perspective to our next destination so we decided to continue to Gallup New Mexico.  The climb up to Flagstaff was from about 200 feet to over 7300 feet in one day and was hard on the truck pulling so much weight, but she did well.  Flagstaff was our planned second stop, but we ended up eating lunch in the parking lot of a Safeway in there.  When we arrived in Gallup New Mexico we set up and then went to the store to purchase food for dinner and breakfast the next morning.  Our third night we intended on spending in Albuquerque, but we ended up pushing on to Amarillo Texas.  We stayed at Amarillo Ranch RV park in Amarillo Texas.  The neighborhood near the park was a little scary, but the park was very nice although the pool closed early.  Again, we ate dinner in and planned to get up early so we could make it to Allen Texas the next day to visit my cousin Laura, Katie, Megan and John (Steve was on call).   On June 21st we headed out early and made it to Allen where we camped at Lavon lake and Hidden Acres rv park, which was very close to Steve and Laura's house.  We had a very good visit that night with Laura, Katie, Megan and John.  The kids swam and we had barbecue for dinner. 
A full day ahead of schedule I decided to let everyone sleep in on Friday morning.  We woke up around 9 am and were on the road by 1030 am.  We had just bought gas in Longview Texas and got back on the I-20 headed east when I was struck by another vehicle that had drifted out of his lane.  Jennifer watched the whole thing in amazement.  A chevy box van ran into the trailer with it's box and its front wheel impacted my driver side rear wheel and sent us sliding across the road.  I felt like I was in an airplane that had just taken some form of damage, so I was flying by the seat of my pants.  I was driving with my left hand only and eating raisins with my right hand and Jessica was surprised that I only used my left hand to keep the truck under control as we were sliding down the road.  I finished eating my raisins and got the truck of the side of the road.  When the other truck hit us I looked in my side view mirror and watched his wheel buckle under my left rear wheels and then turn sharply and depart off the left side of the road to the median.  Bessy did great and remained under control and didn't take any damage, the trailer however took some damage on the driver side front area where it is ripped open and the side where it was ripped open as well.  We spent 2 hours talking to the state highway patrol and insurance claims adjusters and then spent another 30 minutes duct taping the trailer back together so we could keep going.  Fortunately, the trailer is still mechanically sound and livable. 
We arrived in Monroe, Louisiana at around 730 pm and stopped at the Ouachita rv park.  Its a nice enough park, but the bathrooms and showers left a lot to be desired.   Now we really look like trailer trash with our duct taped rig.  LOL!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ecuador blog day 11 - Quito, the last day

29 May 2012:
We woke up at 0515 to get breakfast at 0600 at the hotel restaurant on the 8th floor.  Just like the night before it was a great view.  The food was pretty good but just like most breakfasts at hotels it was heavy on bread.  We had omelets (tortillas), but they were small.  We grabbed our bags and headed for the free shuttle.  After checking out we hopped in for the 10 minute ride to the airport. After arriving we made our way inside, and after a short confusion about which airline we needed to check in with we made it to the ticket counter.  They were very efficient and nice, and like most people at the counters in the cities, spoke pretty good English. We checked our bags and headed for outbound immigration.  They asked our destination and stamped our passports, then we headed for security.  The security check is the standard metal detector and baggage scan.  No pat down, no backscatter nuke the passengers microwave b.s. like you find in the U.S. (or old Nazi's in the future movies). After the security check we headed to the duty free area and found some gifts.  The cigars we looked all over Quito for were right there in the stores.  I didn't ask the price so I could tell myself that they were more expensive than where I got them yesterday.  As usual we brought our empty water bottles through security so we could fill them up afterwards and have something to drink on the airplane.  Apparently TSA in the U.S. has these nice people so confused that when we went to sit down at the gate they confiscated our empty water bottles.  These two tiny girls proceeded to hassle all the passengers out of their water bottles and even performed pat downs on the women who had to leave the area to use el bano.  When I went to the bathroom I expected to get pat down too but they just waved me through.  I guess they aren't allowed to do any cross gender pat downs (fondling).  The crazy thing is there are liquors and wines for sale in the duty free areas, which if you had bought one of these would have been confiscated within meters of where you bought it and AFTER security.  Really here folks?  No even the TSA is that silly. We finally managed to start boarding the plane.  While we were waiting we talked to two nice Asian girls from Toronto, Canada. They were very talkative and told us about their trip and the blood letting mosquitoes they encountered.  We told them about Cuenca and they liked that there were no bugs there.  While we were waiting our new friends emailed and called us to make sure everything was going well.  There was a long walk to the plane but we found our seats and despite being group 5 there was plenty of room for our carry-ons.  Jennifer is regretting her Bola Rola activities a little as something in her food is causing a tummy problem.  She is sleeping right now. We arrived in Miami and had to walk for miles before we got to the sky-train which took us about 300 yards, then we walked for miles agsin.  Finally we got to immigration.  That went quick.  Then we had to walk another half mile or so to get to customs and baggage claim.  Once we got our bags we went through customs where they x-rayed all our stuff... again.  Then we go to walk about a quarter mile to the ticket counter where we got our tickets to Tampa.  After that we had to walk another quarter mioe to drop off our checked bags.  Then we had to walk about two miles from the dropoff to the security check area.  When we finally got there the fat TSA Nazi at the checkin station started giving me a hard time because I had a plastic bag in my hand with a gift in it in addition to my carry-on and my personal item.  He said, 'I don't make the rules, I just enforce them.'  Well tubby, you must have been feeding your face when they finished writing the rules because you're the only idiot to 'enforce' that stray thought on our whole trip.  So, as usual with TSA we opted out of the microwave machine.  We were a bit tired of walking all over kingdom come with our luggage, so by the time the pat down folks started copping Nazi attitudes with us I was about ready to go off.  They let me through to get my patdown but started by first ignoring, then treating Jenn like some bomb toting terrorist.  There was one guy running everything on our half of the security check and he just ignored us for about 5 minutes.  Next, I got the GI Joe with the kung-fu grip who was a bit overzealous with his pat down procedures.  He pulled his hands up so hard when searching my legs I thought I was getting a free proctology exam.  At least this guy didn't try to pants me!  TSA - just go away. After we finally sat down Jenn was still having an upset tummy but she wanted to try to eat.  I found a place that served mashed potatoes and brought it back for her.  She ate about half of them.  We finally boarded the flight to Tampa.  It was 38 minutes in the air.  We landed, got our luggage, picked up the rental car and headed for the hotel.  Thrifty wanted to charge us $9.90 a day to have a second driver.  I told them no, so I ended up doing all the driving, which wasn't bad but made for long and tiring days.  We ate breakfast at Denny's on Hwy 60 at about 9 pm for dinner.  Then we got back to the a Quinta and crashed out.

Ecuador blog day 10 - Cuenca to Quito and the bank

28 May 2012:
We got up and made breakfast and headed with Patrick to the bank by 9:40 am.  The bank I chose had branches in all cities in Ecuador, but none in the U.S..  Still, being a U.S. citizen makes all banks everywhere squeemish about the hassles the U.S. IRS causes worldwide.  Without Patrick's assistance we would never have succeeded in opening an account.  The bank required two color copies of each passport and of each drivers liscense and a local address with proof of residence, like a bill.  Here's where making friends in Ecuador saved our skins.  The letter of recommendation Gabriela gave us was not enough to make everything work by itself.  We also needed $500 cash to open the account, which I didn't have and couldn't get because my ATM card wouldn't work (maybe because I didn't tell them we were leaving the U.S. - good thing I brought some cash).  Fortunately, I was able to write a check to myself for the amount, but it was going to take 8 days to clear.  This alone would have put us outside our trip window.  Also, there is one key to doing this that would have changed how I did everything.  It takes 3 days after you open an account before they will issue an ATM card, which happens to be the only way to obtain internet account access.  To get the ATM card you have to show up in person with your passport.  Nobody can get it for you and it cannot be mailed.  It will have to wait until I can return to Ecuador. The first part of the process involved the bank using the copies of our passports to run background checks on us through the embassy.  We made the copies of Jenn's passport, I already had mine, and delivered them to the bank rep.  Then we left to run other errands and make copies of our drivers licenses and get a utility bill.  The backround checks woud take about an hour and a half.  Doing this the morning we were planning to leave was pushing our luck.  Again, without our new friends we would have had a critical failure. Patrick is getting his Masters degree in Business Planning and needed to get a new copy of his High School diploma, so we ran those errands with him.  When we got back there was a lot of paperwork to sign and no time to read it.  We got our receipt, a CD at 7%, and a new account number.  In hindsight I would have done this first thing on Monday or Tuesday when we got to Cuenca, but at that time we didn't have the connections that we established during the week.  If it were possible to do that we could have gotten our ATM cards by Friday or Monday and been set.  As it was, we were lucky to do as much as we did.  Also, as a retiree I only needed $500, instead of the $25,000 for non-pensioners who want to establish residency. We still had to go back to the house to get our bags, and Fernanda had Juanita making a huge lunch, which we unfortunately had to eat in somewhat of a hurry.  The food was great.  Soups are a big part of the traditional meal.  Meats, and various sweets rounded out the lunch.  Fruit juice is the standard drink, but there is nothing standard about the types of juices there.  Jenn and I both want to learn how to cook Ecuadorian dishes.  Fernanda wouldn't let Juanita come back with us though. :-) After lunch we loaded up and headed for the airport.  Since our flight was inside Ecuador it made it much less painful to get our bags checked and through security than usual.  We got there in just enough time to hear the first boarding call.  We were soon on our way to Quito. Patrick had wanted to meet us back in Quito for dinner since he was flying in around 7pm.  We had some time to kill and some shopping to do.  There was a giant mall named 'Cinquento' across the street from the hotel so we went exploring.  We found some great things in there for family and friends.  We also hiked around looking for Cohiba cigars that Dad wanted.  Bolita's tummy was upset probably due to all the new foods.  Patrick called about 7:30 and said he was having to run errands until 10pm.  We wouldn't be able to do dinner, but we skyped and tango'd a couple of times trying to get that to work.  Jennifer and I ended up eating in the Penthouse restaurant in the hotel.  There was a table near us full of ugly, swearing, loud, obnoxiuos Americans, so I was trying to restrain myself from throwing them from the window.  Jennifer could see my distress and said she was done.  We went back to the room, got organized for the next days travels and went to sleep.

Ecuador blog day 9 - Cuenca and Rancho Chullabamba

27 May 2012:
Today we went to Chullabamba, a suburb northeast of Cuenca.  The project Fernanda's father is working on is about 2 months from approval by the city and it is called Rancho Chullabamba.  They have a 60 hectare area that used to be Fernanda's grandfathers farm.  When he died the farm was inherited four ways and some of it sold off.  The entire area is now owned by about 20 owners, Gustavo being the primary shareholder with 25 percent.  The weather is slightly warmer than Cuenca, which is nice.  Cuenca can be on the cool side sometimes.  It is 10 minutes from the hospital and shopping and about 5 minutes from the 'Asian School' which is reportedly amazing.  Chullabamba sits just over a ridge to the northeast of Cuenca proper, and slightly lower than Cuenca in altitude. Rancho Chullabamba is going to be designed like a suburb in the U.S. where the houses don't have their own security fences (which is common in most of the rest of the world and certainly in Ecuador).  Instead it will have security for the whole community with fences, gates, walls and ravines 'protecting' it on all sides.  I put it quotes because I'm not sure there is anything to really 'protect' against.  The ubiquitous security fences and security guards in Ecuador are more of a tradition than a necessity.  While there I never felt threatened, not once. The project will have a mini-mercado, bank, dry cleaners and even a meals on wheels program with healthy food options for those working people who don't have time to shop and cook all the time.  There will be a club with a restaurant and a nearby facility for older residents, perhaps elderly relatives of other residents.  The lots are an average of 450 square meters, which equates to about 5000 square feet.  Not big, but nice enough to have fun with without time cosuming requirements.   The project will have 55 percent of the area dedicated to green space along with community gathering areas for BBQ's and the like. After viewing the property and enjoyng the view from the top of the mountain we descended the trail and headed back the short distance to the Pan-American highway.  We travelled north and east to the next town where there were pigs roasting.  We stopped for lunch and had pig-skins, black sausage and many other pork products.  Jenn had an Inca-Cola that is a Coke product.  Apparently Coke is very big in Ecuador, which is an 'other'. After lunch we went to Cuenca for Ecuadorian ice cream, twice.  The ice cream looked like an upside down dixie cup and it had a popsickle stick holding it up.  The first type we got tasted like home made vanilla ice cream, and the second was called dulce de leche, which tasted like caramel.  Thew were evil.  Another type of cold treat we got was espumillia, which tasted like a creamy marshmellow.  It was in a sugar cone and it even had sprinkles on it.  We rolled ourselves back to the house and I found myself alone at the table typing on the blog, still staying about two days behind, and everyone else was taking a nap.  The naps turned out to be a good idea.  At about 8pm we drove over in two cars to Gustavo and Maria's (Fernands's parents).  They were celebrating her parents returning from'a European vacation and they included us.  It was great to meet Fernanda's mom and dad and brother and his family.  It was also nice to see Pablo and Juana again too.  They were giving gifts from their trip and they even gave Bolita a decorated finger nail file which she was using soon after.  Gringo loco was treated to some very fine ron (rum) and then later a very strong dry martini.  I was still nursing the martini as we were getting eady to leave later.  They treated us like family. With Natalie's, then Fernanda's, then finally Patrick's help I was able to understand Gustavo's description of Rancho Chullabamba (RC) while staring at a large development schematic.  His english was much better than my spanish, but there were a lot of new words we needed help with.  This is a very exciting project and it's in a beautiful area.  Once the crowd died down we talked more about the specifics of the business aspects.  Fernanda will be in charge of the foriegn buyers, which is an interesting proposition for her. We left there around 11pm.  After we got back to the house we talked for a bit then hit the rack.  Monday we had to do banking stuff and make our 3pm flight to Quito.

Ecuador blog day 8 - Cuenca and Yungilla

26 May 2012 It was Saturday and Patrick had volunteered to take us to Yungilla.  Fernanda wanted to go but she was hoping her dad would be getting in from the airport while we were gone.  They had been out of contact while on their trip to Italy and Europe, but it turned out to be a technical issue with the new iPhone Gustavo traded his Blackberry for two days prior to leaving.  Fernanda's parents didn't return home until Sunday night. We traveled the 45 minutes to Yungilla while listening to Rafael Correa on the radio, apparenly he speaks to the people from a different town every Saturday.  There are a lot of really good things that the President is doing, especially with the roads, but there are a few that are a little unfortunate.  The key to his success seems to be his integrity and his tireless work ethic.  Without the integrity he would not be able to garner support for the anti-trust stands hes taken.  The banks, multi-national corporations, oil companies and media organizations have been taken to task here.  One thing I don't know if I like is there are no guns allowed in Ecuador anymore, not even for hunting.  I'm sure the president has got his reasons. As we travelled out of Cuenca we went up and over some hills.  It was nice and sunny in the morning as we headed south and east out of town.  On the way back the south side of those mountains got very foggy which is a nightly occurence.  We descended from Cuenca at 2500 meters to Giron (1500m) and Santa Isabella (1000m) to the Yungilla valley which basically runs from south of Giron to Santa Isabella on the north side of the river.  In the valley and on the lower hills it is warm and somewhat humid (27c to 30c), but up where Gustavo and Pablo's weekend houses are its closer to 25c with a breeze during the day.  It was very comfortable, especially in the shade.  When the clouds covered the sun and we were in the pool it was almost too cold.  In the evening it cools off and the breeze dies down.  Down in the valley near the river, where the bridge crosses it gets closer to 35c.  The northern part of the valley seemed to be the best area due to the bugs and the heat, but everywhere should be amazing for growing just about anything. The first property that Ana Cecelia took us to was her brother-in-law's (the architect) home.  It was on 1 hectare and covered with manicured lawns and orchards, a pond, and a vegetable garden whose tiera (earth) was black!  I have three words to describe this place, 'Robin Masters Estate'!  They were asking $450k, and although not as big as the Paute farm, it was more of an estate.  Very nice 4 bedroom, 4 bath and a pool. The next two areas were open land.  The first had 5 hectares at $10-$14 per meter, so one hectare would have been between $100k and $140k.  Not too bad all in all, but it was without anything.  The next was 1.5 hectares at $20 per meter so it would cost $300k with zero improvements at all.  I thought it would be better to keep looking.  I think we need a lot between 2000 and 4000 sq meters (1/2 - 1 acre), probably with a 3-4 bedroom house already on it and hopefully a little orchard.  The vegetable garden is easy to do once we get there and it doesn't matter what time of year it is since its the same weather year round. :-) For what we are doing a place near the city for convienence, like an apartment, and a place in the country for fun and farming would be perfect. After we were done looking at land we said farewell to Ana Cecilia and her husband and headed for a lunch spot that Patrick was excited that we try.  As usual Jennifer was fearless and we ate along the road at a tiny restaurant.  The food was great.  We all had a traditional Ecuadorian lunch, guatita and seco de chivo with rice. Look it up. :-) From lunch we went to Gustavo's weekend home.  Once you get off the main highway through Yungilla to go anywhere, 4wd is recommended.  After bouncing along the back roads for about 10 minutes we arrive at the double estate compound of Gustavo and his brother-in-law (and lifelong friend) Pablo.  They married sisters; Pablo married Juana and Gustavo married Maria.  We met Pablo, Juana, their son Sebastian and his wife Andrea and their two children.  Andrea is a model too, and after we met Patrick pointed out billboards with her photos too.  They invited us over but we didn't hear it so we ended up visiting with them for about 45 minutes right before we were leaving.  Sebastian, Andrea and Juana spoke very good English so we weren't too handicapped.  Juana owns the best scool in Cuenca, Santana, and offered Jennifer a job teaching English on the spot.  She was very sweet.  They all went well beyond polite hospitality and made us feel like family.  I feel like I owe it to them to learn Spanish now. On the way out we met their neighbor and a Very important man in Ecuador, and what was becoming the norm, one of Patricks close friends.  I will forgoe writing his name here so it isn't googleable.  Is that a word?  Needless to say I will probably be opening a bank account with Banko del Austro when I get a chance. On the way back to Cuenca we talked about another nice valley on the road towards Loja called Susadel and the need for us to come back so we can go to the beaches and drive the Route de la Espondaluce (formerly Route de Sol).  That evening we went to the bakery and got some specialty breads, which Jennifer was crazy for, and I ate and liked despite my diet.  I cheated... and ate a lot of alpha lipoic acid to process it as fast as possible.  Everyone else had coffee con leche and I had te verde.  The xpreads and toppings were great.  Dulce de leche is like caramel. After that we turned in.  Yungilla gets high marks for climate.  It can be too warm lower down, but downright perfect on the hills.

Ecuador blog day 7 - Cuenca, Las Cajas National Park and the San Joaquin Country Club

25 May 2012: I forgot to mention that I learned how to say some interesting things like caca de baca (cow poop), which Jennifer got all over her shoes at one of the properties two days ago.  I called it baca caca and it made the girls laugh.  I got the nickname "Gringo Loco" that I now wear with pride.  Fernanda thinks I'm pretty crazy.  Jennifer is in heaven eating all the new and interesting foods, but she eats so much that we tease her that we'll have to roll her home.  Her nickname is Bola Rola, but Fenanda's father Gustavo calls her Bolita, or 'cute little ball'. Saturday we awoke to Senor Patrick, Fernanda's husband, arriving from Quito where he works. We made breakfast and headed out to the Cajas National Park just 20 minutes to the west of Cuenca.  We drove past farms until we entered the park.  It was very rugged and the altitude at Tres Cruces (the peak of the road - "three crosses") was 4,167 meters or 13,867 feet!  You could definately feel the lack of oxygen up there.  We were laughing becaues many bikers and a runner wen't by while we were there.  We took some pictures of wild llamas and on the way back we stopped at a trout farm (treche, I think thats trout) so Natalie (Nellie) could see the fish being caught. When we got back down to Cuenca Patrick took us to the sole country club in Cuenca, the San Jouaquin Country Club.  He told us it was about $4000 for a lifetime family membership but it was by invitation only.  There were some millionaires who couldn't get in because of that.  It was really nice and the people in Ecuador that we met were some of the friendliest in the world.  We ate a really nice lunch.  I had corbina, which is like sea bass.  Jennifer was trying everything and really loves the food here.  There are 9 tennis courts, racquetball courts, a huge pool, an amazing 18 hole golf course and for members they are all Free!  No green fee.  I think anual dues are around $100.  Also there are areas for parties and a couple of nice bars. Patrick was very proud of the club, and for good reason, he had been on the board of directors for years and it was very nice. After this we started Jennifers favorite part of the trip, the Gastro tourism.  Under Patricks expert tutalige we went all over town trying desserts and visiting bakeries.  We also got to visit Fernanda's grandmothers house where she spent a lot of time as a little girl.  The house was sold after she died but the new owners converted the first floor into an amazing restaurant and the top two floors into an apartment for the owners.  La pergola was the name of the restaurant and it is where they plan to have Natalie's First Communion party. In the evening we needed some supplies and Patrick needed a haircut (not as badnas I did) so we headed to the Mall del Rio.  The mall was pretty big.  It had two floors with all types of very modern stores and goods.  It was anchored at one end by a super department store named Coral that was a combination of Walmart and Lowes, and a motorcycle shop.  I got some more eggs and we loaded up on ron y coca-cola.  Cuba libres were the order of business later.  We got to see one of Anna's modelling pictures on the wall of a furniture store.  I have a hard time telling that its the same girl.  She is very beautiful, but the makeup makes here look very different to me. Later: At about 1030 in the night the friends started showing up.  Uncle Eggy, Rafael, Javier, and their wives whose names I will certainly mess up, stayed until 3am.  Most spoke very good English so they could help Jenn and especially me hack through the evening in Spanish.  We talked about cars and airplanes and politics while the girls talked about people and social happenings, and everybody made jokes.  Everyone was drinking Cuba libres and we even had a cigar on the back patio.  We got to meet more wonderful people and make more new friends.  What a great time.  Boy were we tired on Saturday.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ecuador Day 6 - Cuenca, Ingapirca and more apartment hunting

24 May 2012: We woke up, got breakfast and headed out with Natalie to Ingapirca, which means "wall of the Inka" in the native (non-Spanish) language.  It is about a one and a half hour drive up into the mountains from Cuenca.  There is a town named Ingapirca right next to the ruins.  The drive was a bit cramped as all four of us were in the single cab of a chevy pickup, but we made it fun by playing traveling games.  We taught Natalie the alphbet game and she taught us the farm animal game.  In the farm animal game we had to call out the animals we saw along the road in spanish.  The more rare the animal the more points.  Pigs (coochies) were 20pts, horses (caballos) were 15pts, sheep (borregos) were 10pts, chickens and roosters (guyinas and gallos) were 5pts, cows and bulls (bacas and toros) were 1pt, dogs (perros) and calling an animal the wrong name make your score go to zero, and llamas (pronounce yamas), donkeys (burrows), and mules (mulas) made your opponents score go to zero.  First one to 1000 wins.  We were expecting cold, rainy weather at Ingapirca but instead it was warm and sunny.  The roads were slow and windy.  We looked at the ruins and walked around the temple and the grounds. The history was very interesting.  The location was very impressive and defensible on a jutting plauteau with about a 100 foot drop on 2 sides.  Down the side of the mountain there were some more sites so we hiked a bit and saw some quaint Ecuadorian country houses along a trail on a ridgetop. We saw the Inca face and hiked back. We were at about 9500 feet so the hiking took a lot of effort, especially going back up.  We bought some trinkets and had some snacks so we could hold ourselves over until lunch back at the house after another one and a half hours in the car.  We headed back and the trip seemed to go much quicker. The driving is very aggressive in Ecuador. Pedestrians know to stay out of the way and to give way to autos.  Some of the roads are narrow and made of gravel.  It is frequent when off the main roads to have to squeek by another car at very slow speeds.  Flashing lights and honking horns to warn other drivers of your prescense is common.  Passing at high speeds and enmasse is also common.  The round abouts, yield signs and one way streets make for a challenging environment for U.S. drivers used to giving way to pedestrians and driving defensively.  Driving defensively here would preclude you from getting anywhere. After lunch at the house we headed to Cuenca to meet up with Ana for the afternoon and evening of apartment hunting.  She started by showing us more moderately priced apartments.  The first apartment was 6th floor unit with access to an eigth floor roof common area that had amazing views but was off limits to kids, for good reason.  The floor plan was very open, the kitchen was nice and it had 3 bedrooms and 3 baths for $170k.  There was also a $50 per month condo fee.  This had a huge front door, separate laundry and kitchen areas, a nice terrace, and a big parking area (large enough for two cars).  The views from inside were very nice, but the views up on the roof were amazing.  The owners might consider renting it, but the nice caballero didn't know. Across the street we found another apartment for $130k (getting closer to my price range) which was on the second floor.  There was no view.  It was a 3 bedroom 4 bath with a den which was 5 years old.  According to Ana it cost $200k to build new.  It had had two water damage incidents so that was a problem.  The kitchen was a little wierd but the living spaces were nice and the bedrooms were big.  The Santana School English coordinator was renting the apartment so we got to meet her.  She was very nice.  The third apartment (#7 for the trip) that we saw was smaller and had angularly irregular rooms.  It overlooked the Tomebamba river, had 3 bedrooms, 3 baths (I think - it was dark and the lights were off while we were viewing it, plus I was sending a list for groceries to Fernanda on the phone).  It was a little older and unfurnished but it was in our price range at $470 per month.  The last apartment we saw was at the very high status edificio (building) named Vista Linda.  Unfortunately, it was on the first floor so privacy and security were immediate issues.  With the maid's quarters it was a 4 bedroom, 5 bath unit for $169k.  There were actually nice views out of the bedroom windows to the north but horrible parking lot views out of the living room and the kitchen.  It was very close to the Mall del Rio and the highest status building in Cuenca, Vista Linda #1.  Very wealthy people live in this area and after seeing the buildings it was obvious why. This was a very long day and we were glad to get back to the house and have dinner. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I am back to haunt you!Just thought you might want to know.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ecuador Day 5 - Cuenca, Paute, Gualaceo, Chordeleg and more

23 May 2012: The plan for today was to go to the valley regions around Paute and Gualeco (pronounced pow-tey and wal-a-se-yo).  These are areas to the east of Cuenca down the river valleys where the Cuenca river becomes the Paute river which flows to the Amazon river to the east.  Ana Cecila, Fernanda's sister-in-law and good friend, is a relator and was willing to show us places all over the area.  She doesn't speak much english, so when she found out she was taking two Americans she hired an interpreter for $75 for the half day.  This was a suprise to us and we said we were willing to do without and work with our spanish and writing things down.  When we told her that she relayed the message to her car and the interpreter, Rosa, decided to go along for fun anyways.  Rosa turned out to be a wonderful asset, since her english was so good (she has a PhD in English Literature and taught it in high school for 20 years) and she actually grew up in the area we were looking at, she was telling us all sorts of wonderful "native" information about the area.  I tried to buy her and the rest of the group lunch but we were crunched for time at the end of the trip so I hope I get to repay her sometime for coming along.  Also along with us was Lule as the driver.  She did the driving and Ana Cecelia did the talking on the phone. They were a good team.  Rosa told us about a place at the coast near the city of Salinas that was right on the beach for $80k, which sounded wonderful.  She said it wasn't hot because of the constant cool breezes and that the Routa del Sol (The Sun Highway) that runs along the coast is amazingly beautiful and very nice since the new roads have gone in. This corresponds with what Fernanda was saying, that this is a MUST do trip.  Rosa also had American (gringo) friends that built a house in a development especially for gringos, by gringos, in the Yungilla valley (yun-gee-ya).  This interested me because she described it like living on the rim of the Grand Canyon but everything was green.  Hopefully we will get that information from her.  The first property we saw was five minutes past the town of Paute on a paved road.  It was 3.5 hectares (about 7 acres) and it was amazing.  There were two Talapia ponds, three of every type of fruit including all citrus, avacados (aguacate in spanish), chirimoya, and other exotic fruits, a five bedroom, five bath house with a horse tac building, a guardian's house and a party house (me mas gusto).  There were also stable for about six horses.  The property streched to the Paute River down a gradual sloping hill.  The house sat about half way down the property. There was a vegetable garden. There was about 3 acres for the horses closest to the river.  They were asking $450k U.S..  The road was quiet most of the time and there were zero bugs.  The party house even had a huge tiled dance floor.  The view of the valley and the river were great.  I was spoiled for the rest of the day.  The next property was a bit closer to town and there was more crowding on all sides. It was about 1 acre with a lot of mature trees (standard FANTASTIC orchard). There was a nice swimming pool, a basketball court, long drive and covered parking.  It was five bedrooms and 1.5 baths (not enough for me).  The floorplan was open and nice but it was overpriced compared to the first one.  They wanted $450k U.S. also, but I wouldn't have paid $200k.  The first one I would have paid $250k, maybe $280k, but I liked it much more.  The view here was not great either. Next we visited a Hosteria that Rosa's cousin owns named Uzhupud (pronounced oos-u-pood) in what is known as the Valley of the Tomatoes.  It was gorgeous.  The flowers and the grounds were immaculate.  It is a perfect honeymoon retreat tucked away in the depths of the countryside.  We proceded on our way to Gualeco where we saw property number three.  This property was okay, but the house was not constructed well and was in disrepair.  It sat lower beside a creek on a total of about 6000 meters (6/10th of a Hectare or about 1.5 acres).  It had three rooms that were like REALLY cheap hotel rooms with an outdoor shower and bathroom!  The "spa" looked like somebody built a roman bathtub into the concrete and it was full of rust and mud.  To top it off it was next to the Gualeco shoe factory (which wasn't all that loud or smelly, but...) and they wanted $500k U.S.. HA! Next we went to an Amazing farm owned by Fernanda's 1st cousin once removed (her dad's cousin). His name was Felipe and he was very nice.  There were 6 Hectares, one of which was on a mountainside on the other side of the road.  The road was paved to the house but there had been a mudslide and it had washed out a part so it made for slow going there.  He was getting older (in his 70's) and felt like he couldn't keep up the property, and since nobody came often to visit him there he decided to sell it.  He wanted $1 million U.S. which was way out of our price range.  I was beginning to think Ana Cecelia though I was rich.  The property was amazing though with a large house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, 14 acres and an antique house in addition to the new one.  There was every kind of fruit tree and a orchid house.  There were also 20 milking cows that came with the property.  The thing that I am learning about the asking price and the real value of the property is that it is somewhere between 50% and 70% of the asking price, but sometimes it may be as low as 10% if someone is desperate for money.  Here we parted ways with Rosa and Lule.  They traveled back to town and Ana Cecelia met up with another relator to view the next property.  We jumped in the car with Fernanda who came to meet us.  She has been SO wonderful in wanting to show us around.  I couldn't have imagined a more helpful or amazing family to stay with. The last property we saw outside Cuenca was an 8000 meter piece of undeveloped land with a 50 year old house on it which was of no value.  For the land alone they wanted $110k.  The land was being used as pasture for cows, was relatively flat, had a very long drive along other properties.  The house was a three bedroom two bath and was not actually in too bad of shape, but would probably need to be rebuilt from the ground up.  After this property we parted ways with Ana Cecelia and went on to lunch in Chordeleg.  After a little looking around we found a fun little restaurant and ate.  Jennifer has been really enjoying the Ecuadorina fare and has managed to try just about everything.  I have been trying to stick to my Paleo Diet, but have given up past breakfast so as not to miss out on the experience.  I will reset and heal up after we get back to the states I suppose  Chordeleg is known for its jewelery so of course we visitied the silver stores where things are handmade.  Gualeceo is known for its handicrafts and artisans, but we didn't have time to look around the town much since we had to get back to Cuenca for apartment hunting.  Some pointers for Chordeleg, according to Rosa, Puertas del Sol is a great place for jewelery in Chordeleg and Sara Orellana's gallery is a great place for hand crafted furniture.  The place we went with Fernanda for jewelery was The Joyeria de Nicole.  After Chordeleg we headed back to Cuenca where we met up with Ana again to look at apartments.  Based on what we were being shown she must have been confused about our price range by almost double! The first Apartment we saw was nice for $850 per month (very high for rent).  It was furnished with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths overlooking the Tomebamba river.  The second apartment we saw was very nice.  It was on the 4th floor in the building across the street from the one on the first floor we had seen the previous night.  This one was $650 per month, plus a $150 condo fee and it was unfurnished.   It had 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and wonderful views.  The floor plan was also very inviting, it had 2 parking spots and a storage closet.  It was going to be available in June.  The third apartment we saw was under construction and for sale, and it was amazing, and expensive.  For a mere $400k you can own a two story penthouse on the 17th and 18th floors of a brand new high rise building covering about 2000 square feet with unbelievable views and huge terraces.  This was a 3 bedroom 4 bath unit. The fourth apartment we saw was almost finished, but still under construction, down the hall from the other penthouse.  It was smaller but still two stories. It was a 3 bedroom and 3 bath unit for $240k.  If I were to buy an apartment I would probably bid around 50% on this one.  It was probably worth about $170k.  The view and terraces were also amazing but quite a bit smaller.  We ended the apartment hunting there and proceded to meet up with Fernanda to head back to the house for dinner.  It was a very tiring day and there were more to follow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ecuador Day 4 - Cuenca, Oh My!

Faster and funnier. We got up, saw Natalie off to school and made breakfast. Then we headed off to the Ortega Panama Hat factory in Cuenca.  Our wonderful hostess arranged a tour for us and it was very informative.  Normal - $22, Fine -$75-$300 and Superfine - $1000-$1500 became words we understood. The finer the straw the tighter the weave the longer it takes, upwards of 6-8 months instead of 2 days, to weave a hat.  I would be afraid to wear a $300 hat, much less a $1500 one!  We walked out with a purchase, but its a secret.

 Next we were dropped off at the Tomebamba Cultural Museum which was fascinating. It is built on top of an ancient Kanaria and Inka temple site overlooking a large area of Cuenca.  The museum was very nicely done from the displays, including the Shuar people, to the gardens and the foundations of the ruins.

 Fernanda was working, but she found time to drop us off for lunch at Raymipampa's restaurant, but she couldn't join us.  This restaurant is in the same building as the Calderon, right on the central park, or Calderon Square. The food was very good.  Lunch, eaten around 2pm, is the big meal of the day.  Jennifer had the "Typico" and I had the "Pechuga de Pollo".  After lunch we wandered downtown for a while before the double decker bus tour was scheduled to start (at 3pm).  We discovered the flower market and the trinket market.  There were a lot of neat little stores but nothing that peaked our interest. We ended up sitting in the central park waiting.  When it got close to the time we used el banos in the church museum across the square from el Claderon and then climbed aboard for the tour.

The tour was $5 a piece and showed us some neat parts of town we hadn't seen yet and we went to the church on top of the hill to the south of town and took pictures of the very impressive view.  These views were only slightly better than those from the bedroom windows so it was a bit anti-climatic.

 After the tour (2 hrs) Fernanda picked us up and showed us an apartment in a new building in a residential area of town that she used to live in.  It was 2br/2ba for $115k, but it was on the first floor right across from the elevator.  I remembered not liking that when we lived in Iwakuni, so although the price was pretty good it wasn't appealing.

 After the tour of the apartment we went to coffee where we met Eva who is business partners with Fernanda in the FourRiversCamp project.  They talked business, asked us our opinions and we offered to help them find contacts in the U.S. to grow the awareness and attendance of the 3 week camp.  They have a very nice website at www.fourriverscamp.com.  Eva was going to get some information about houses that her friends were trying to sell to us, but as of Wednesday we haven't seen anything. Jennifer had a chocolate ice cream and a cafe con letche and I had a hot tea.  Afterwards we went back to the house and made a quick dinner and turned in.   There was a BUSY day ahead of us.

Ecuador Day 3 - Quito to Cuenca

We woke up around 0730 and headed down for breakfast.  This time we had learned our lesson and only ordered omelets and cafe con leche and te caliente.  The omelets were 3 eggs each so they were pretty big and the grand total came out to $14. Much better than $43! 

Next we went out of the hotel to the travel agency across the street where we purchased two round trip tickets to Cuenca for $155 each.  More than I had expected, again, but not nearly what it could have been.  If we had purchased each ticket one way it would have been $89 per leg.  Another quick bit of good information we discovered was that my plan for the return flights on the 29th wasn't going to work because we would have had to leave Cuenca no later than 0700 in the morning to make all the connections.  The travel agent and Jennifer agreed that we should spend another night in Quito on the way out, so we are planning on flying back on the 28th to Quito and then on to Florida on the 29th.

When we got back to the hotel we checked to see if they had any more rooms available for the 28th. They did but they were $209 a night.  We ended up using their business center to make reservations at the Best Western.  The Hilton Colon was a very nice hotel.  As far as I can tell the water was completely drinkable by gringos. I ingested it multiple times and am still not feeling ill. We decided to go over to the office building where Gabriela Espinosa, the immigration attorney, runs her office.  We were a little early so we decided to get some bottled water at the same place we got the Claro sim card the day before.  We went up to Gabriela's office and waited for about 35 minutes for her to arrive.  Our appointment was at 11:00 but she arrrived at 11:30. That gave us about 45 minutes to get all the paperwork intiated and figure out what we needed to do next.  It was 12:20 when we were finished and we had to hustle to get ourselves checked out at the hotel.

 We brought our bags down, checked out and got into the taxi.  It took about 25 minutes to get to the airport, but we made it.  We went inside and checked in, getting our tickets and sending three bags through checked luggage.  We kept one bag each and headed for security, which consisted of a metal detector.  We did the standard, TSA conditioned, routine of taking our belts off and everything else, but I decided to leave my running shoes on.  There was no problem with the metal detector and the security didn't hassle us at all.  We made our way to the gate and sat down.  In less than 5 minutes they were calling for us to board. We had cut it about as close as you can and still make it!

  We walked out onto a painted pathway on the tarmac towards the TAME Embrarer190 which would take us on the 45 minute flight to Cuenca.  We got on board and were seated. The crew was very professional and efficient and we actually took off 5 minutes early.  We circled south over Quito and climbed through the clouds.  Just as I thought we should be leveling off we were starting our descent.  I didn't see the volcano that is supposedly errupting. Maybe next trip.

  Once we arrived in Cuenca we were greeted by the wonderful weather.  It was sunny but with a nice cool breeze.  After getting our checked bags we met Fernanda and she hustled us off towards home.  She and her daughter Natalie live on a hill overlooking Cuenca and the views are fantastic.  On the way we followed the Trans-American highway to the south side of the town.  We drove past the Mall del Rio and the landmark street Solana and then we doubled back onto a dirt road that led to their house. 

Along the road there were houses that looked like they had been built out of pallets and scrap roofing material next to orchards, businesses and mansions. Like all the houses in Ecuador, and outside the U.S. in general, Fernanda's house was enclosed in a mini compound of fences, gates and barbed wire to keep out... who knows what.  She has two dogs and fluffy, the dog she recently adopted from her daughter who likes to travel and doesn't want the dog to suffer her being gone so much. The other two are outside dogs, a golden and a german sheppard.  Their house is very nice to say the least.

Once we had made our way inside we met Anita, Anna, Natalie and Juanita (the housekeeper).  Anita is Fernanda's mother-in-law, and Anna and Natalie Fernanda's daughters.  Juanita made us a lunch of spagetti since we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was after 2pm.  I was hungry so I ate it despite my diet.  Oh well.  A little cheating wont hurt.  One thing I learned from Anita is that a proper greeting in Ecuador involves a hug and a kiss on the cheek and a polite greeting like "Mucho gusto" or the like.  Jenn taught me to say, "Eu una plasar."  This supposedly means, "It is a pleasure to meet you."

 After lunch we made plans on what we were going to do for the week and then we went to the grocery store on the way to pick up Natalie who was at dance class.  I got green beans to sautee in garlic and butter and we ended up cooking them for dinner.  Frijoles Verde were a hit, and they went well with the garlic shrimp Fernanda made.  In addition to getting groceries we did a few laps around the town to see the sights. Three bridges, or "tres puentes" is a famous landmark at the south end of town.  El Calderon, The Cathedral, is at the center of town and it is huge.  It has three blue domes on top and is visible from most places in town making it the primary landmark. 

In Cuenca, and Ecuador in general, there aren't many "box stores".  There are a lot of stores along the streets that specialize in a few different things. For example, you will see a paint and ladder store next to a jewelry store next to a cell phone store.  For cell phones Cuenca is big in Claro and Quito is more Movistar. This is important because the minute rates are different when calling inside your provider versus outside.  If you are on Claro and all your friends are Movi, everybody will pay more when you talk. 

Finally we ended up at the house (home), and were ready for bed.  The room on the second floor has a most impressive view of 95 percent of Cuenca, and it's especially amazing at night when the city is lit up like a chrismas tree. The nights are cool and breezy, but it makes for good sleeping. Now since I'm only two days behind in writing I'm going to bed!

Ecuador Day 2 - Quito on Sunday

Wnte managed to get down to the breakfast brunch before it closed at 10:30am.  I thought the front desk person said $10 dollars per person, but it turned out to be $18 per person plus drinks.  Another successful game of "Soak the Gringo".  I was all to happy to have an omelet after the previous days travels, but yikes.  The omelet cost as much as the Salmon I had later that night for room service. The only thing Jennifer wanted on her birthday was a glass of wine with a nice dinner. Quito, as well as the rest of Ecuador, is a dry country on Sundays!!!  Yikes.  We discovered this after breakfast when we tried to cash in our drink tickets. 

We ended up walking around Avenida de Amazonas looking for a place to buy a Claro (one of two major Cell companies in Ecuador) sim card.  Every business was closed save a few pharmacias.  We decided to try to locate the offices where Mrs Espinosa works and low and behold, in the first floor of her building we found a place that sells SIM cards on Sunday.  I bought it for $5 even though it was listed at $3, which I didn't see until after I bought it.  The card was supposed to have some minutes on it but was completely out.  The sim was detached from the rest of the card so I'm thinking it was previously used.  Later I had to go to another nearby pharmacia to reload the card for $5.  At least this time I think I got what I paid for and it allowed me to talk to Fernanda who is our host in Cuenca. 

Afterwards we made our way to the community park across from the hotel and browsed through local wares. The artwork was gorgeous.  If we move down here I could easily see decorating some rooms with those pieces.  I would add a picture but I didn't want to offend anyone by taking pictures of their art without buying any.  The locals had their wares out on the sidewalks and there were a lot of alpaca ponchos, hand crafted hats, Panama hats and leather wallets.  There were local bands, one playing rock while the other was clearing their gear.  We walked around and headed back to the hotel. 

We decided to skip lunch and get an early dinner. Somewhere between the long travel day, the late night, the altitude, and the late breakfast Jenn was nursing a migraine. She wanted to rest.  I wanted to take her to a nice dinner, but the only place that was open was all the way in colonial Quito, which required a cab ride and didn't serve alcohol since it was Sunday. Did I mention that all Jenn wanted was a nice dinner and a glass of wine to celebrate?  We decided to try our luck after relaxing for a while and walk down to a place that was recommended in our 16 year old guide book that my dad had loaned us.  It was closed.  We walked back. Besides getting stuck in the rotating door when we left the hotel we also almost got run over by an inpatient driver who wasn't looking.  For the most part we didn't have too much trouble with the traffic, but it definately keeps you on your toes.

 After we returned to the hotel we decided to just resort to room service.  I ordered Grilled Chicken and Salmon, and amazingly they had red wine available!  The answer was right there on the desk the whole time.  Jenn also got to enjoy a nice piece of birthday cheesecake.  She needed to eat apparently because her headache went away as well.  The birthday experience in Quito was a mixed bag due to everything being closed.  I wanted to make it special for Jennifer but was stumped at nearly every turn.  Fortunately, in the end the day turned out pretty well, and we got to relax together while watching "The Proposal" with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock.  Happy Birthday Jenn.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ecuador - Day 1 LA to Quito

I already wrote this once... I will try again. May 19th - We started our travels at 4:15 in the morning.  We awoke after a wonderful visit with Clark and Denise and their beautiful daughters.  Clark braved the LA freeways to take us to the airport, and at 4:45 there was still traffic and road construction.  We found a detour along the way, and although nobody said anything we were all a bit worried that we'd arrive late.  Needless to say we arrived at the terminal right on time.  We checked one bag and got our tickets and then made our way to security... and our first date with TSA destiny. 

 Jennifer and I both opted out of the millimeter wave backscatter machine, which the TSA mistakenly pushes as safe technology.  After dealing with the backscatter technology in the military there is no way I would subject myself or anyone else to that type of radiation.  The TSA has obviously been training their pat down personnel.  They seemed relatively professional.  Jennifer and I agreed that it was the lesser of two evils.  I'm still convinced that the entire TSA beaurocracy is a complete fraud designed to make travellers feel safe while providing zero actual protection.

 We ate some breakfast and got on the plane headed to Houston.  We waited an extra 30 minutes on deck waiting for the weight and balance since the computer was down. This made us late getting into Houston and we had to quickly deboard and rush to the next plane. Fortunately, Jennifer had time to use the restroom, but United Airlines has not impressed me with their operations so far on this trip.  We made that leg to Miami but it was somewhat painful.  We were getting tired.

 Jenn and I got a break in Miami, but we had to go through TSA again.  We had to get new tickets and stand in a very long line at 5pm.  We made the security check and this time the L3 spinner machine was waiting for us, along with a TSA propaganda video tape.  Again, we opted out.  The TSA agents were both, again, very professional, albeit a little bit more "thorough" lets say. The guy pulled my pants down about 6 inches while my arms were up as part of the leg pat down, which he did both front and back.  We managed to avoid that the second time around by having me hold the waistband.

 Once we finally cleared the blue shirts we headed to the sky train and off to the terminal to get dinner and our next flight, on to Quito.  We discovered that we weren't sitting together for the next flight and it was full so there weren't any options to swap seats.  Jenn was way up front, in between two people sleeping and frustrated that she couldn't, and I was in the back on the window... pinned and cramped for four hours. 

We were both sore and a bit tired by the time we landed in Quito at 11:30pm.  Jenn had a headache and we had to wait in line for 45 minutes to clear customs.  The line moved really slow.  Once outside the terminal we resorted to taking a taxi.  It was an $8 ride plus tip.  The Hilton Colon staff was really nice.  They even gave us tickets for free drinks, but it was 12:30 in the morning and all either of us wanted to do was sleep.  We were in bed within an hour and slept in.  The next morning was Sunday, and Jennifer's birthday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stutter Start

Today Jennifer and I are going to LA to visit our friends Clark and Denise in Agoura Hills.  We got the kids off to school and said our "See Ya's" to them.  Tomorrow we brave the TSA and head for S. America!  Wish us luck and safe travels... and of course, follow along as we post throughout the trip.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Skootcher Continues

Well, all you Pikey Skootcher readers out there, it's summer time and the skootcher is about to begin again.  This is turning into a summer trip blog... We had such a great time last year we decided to go back the other way this year.  We won't be taking our time and smelling the roses though, but it should prove interesting none-the-less.  Bessy will be pulling the trailer again with the Vanny in trail.  The kids, Jenn and I have had a great time hanging out in Oakhurst.  The weather was beautiful and our hosts have been the best, but it's time for us to get moving on again.  Where to? you ask.  Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted. 

Warm Regards.

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