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Friday, October 21, 2016

Hard to BULK Up in Ecuador

Let's face it, we're a consumer nation, and there's nothing we like better than a "good deal". This concept has spurred on things like buying clubs, IKEA and (of course) Costco. To be right up front, many things in Costco scare me. Have you seen the size of some of the tuna tins? (Ron's parents only wished something like that existed back in the day, what with the 11 kids to raise.) It's given us the idea that bigger is often better: yes the idea of bulk purchasing. 
Now, there's only two of us, but we still bought 20kg bags of rice, 24 roll packs of toilet paper and 3 litre tins of olive oil. Why? Because we knew we'd use it and it was always cheaper in the long run. This leads me to Ecuador - land of the single purchase. You can actually buy a single cigarette from the corner stands. When you go to the pharmacy and are looking for ibuprofen (for example) you can actually buy ONE PILL. It can be challenging to buy the whole packet - at the very least you get a strange look. Heck, I've even seen them hand out single shots of cough medicine. (You can also buy eggs individually.)Toilet paper is the same price whether you buy 4 rolls or 24 - actually sometimes the 24 is more expensive and almost all food items are individually wrapped. When you buy a packet of saltines they come in neat little packages of three crackers. Talk about over packaging!

Single serve pills
So, why? Why is this? It actually comes down to cash flow. Just because 24 of something costs less per unit (in theory), you still need the money to buy the larger quantity and not everyone has that luxury. So the smaller stores sell the smaller individually wrapped packages at maybe a penny or two higher than the big stores sell the multi-unit packages (per unit). Why buy 10 when you can buy 1? (This also applies to instant versus brewed coffee. Instant is cheaper and you don't need extra equipment.)

Tons of tiny instead of one big one
This has been a life lesson for us and it's been very difficult to get our little North American brains wrapped around. It's really hard not to reach for the "family sized" items, but we're getting a handle on it. It's actually so crazy that I've seen restaurateurs buying 50 tiny bottles of soy sauce. (You can't get bulk soy sauce here, at least from what I've seen.) They don't have food distributors like they do in NA. either, they all shop at the mercados and at the big chain grocery stores...can you imagine the nightmare of running a restaurant???
Here, the answer is mainly..."no"
Anyhow, this realization is humbling and, in many ways, simplifies everything. There are no coupons to worry about, sales to chase (at least most of the time) and you buy what you can afford and no more.  That's not to say that there aren't people here with money. Cuenca is actually quite a well off city, but we can learn a lot from people who only operate in cash.

So the next time you're buying your jumbo pack of [fill in the blank], think of me and my Ecuadorian neighbours with our little pack of one.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Perplexing Case of Lost Time

If I had a dollar for every time that someone asked me what we do to fill our days, I'd have at least a hundred bucks. For people with things like full-time jobs, school aged children (or younger - aigh!) and students trying to survive the post secondary education system, the thought of having almost endless free time is pretty mind boggling.
Me lazing around reading
I know. I've been there. I've squished in the house cleaning on a Thursday night so I could go somewhere on a Saturday. I've spent the whole weekend running chores only to find, much to my horror, that it was almost Monday again and I had nothing really to show for my weekend except an extra hour's sleep.
Us taking a break on a rock

So when I'm asked what we do everyday, I say one of two things: "Whatever we want" or "As little as possible." In my mind, this isn't actually true. We still have to clean the house, do the laundry and go to get groceries. Sometimes we have social engagements or Spanish classes to attend, the dentist needs a visit every once in a while and we try and get out every day for a "constitutional". Then there's our gym schedule. We go three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We're almost always doing research on our next great trip; as the whole point of this adventure is to get out and see the world. With so much dedication to such things, a nap is usually needed to get us over the midday hump. Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming. (A can hear many of you laughing right now.) 
Yup, sitting on our butts again!
So here's the thing. Humans are adaptable and we adjust to the demands of our lives, more or less. That I find it stressful to have two appointments in one day would have been laughable only a few short years ago, but that's actually how it is now. The luxury of a two hour breakfast is now standard. I sip my coffee, surf the net and before I know it, it's 11 am and I haven't even made the bed yet. My time fills as necessary, things have slowed down and I'm hardly ever in a rush to get something done. (Including the housework, much to Ron's chagrin...he's a disciplined creature who knocks out his chores as soon as they are due and puts me to shame.)
Waiting for the bus to come pick us up
I don't know what happened to time. It still passes rapidly and I'm usually at a loss as to where the day has gone, despite not really having anything to do. (Thursdays are my favourite, as they're "free" days, no chores, no exercise, no anything...just sloth...yes, I'm that lazy.) So this is retirement; this is why retired folks can write letters, hang out in Timmies for endless hours and tell the same stories over and over again; we have nothing better to do. (Okay, there's some retired people out there that never learn to slow down...bless their hearts.)
Yay, retirement!
So while you can't imagine having each and every morning to just whittle away  the hours, I can't imagine having to rush anymore. Two sides of the same coin, you might say. Lord help me if I ever have to go to work again. Have hope, this could be you one day! No time is lost, really, it's just passed quietly.

PS Check out my interview on

And hello Costa Rica, you're officially country 100, followed closely by the Dominican Republic making 101

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Little Blog that Could

The very first picture on this blog
When I first started this blog, it was kind of an exercise in vanity as well as an easy way to keep our family and friends up to speed with what we were up to. We had moved more than 6,000 kilometres away and this was our equivalent to the annual Christmas letter.

Our one time home
That was over 6 years ago and my little blog has expanded into something bigger. It's a place for wannabe expats and first time travelers to get info, as well as a glimpse into the lives of people living abroad, and a place for the fam to see what's going on, where we are and, occasionally, to see what we look like.  (Not to mention, a place to shamelessly flog my books!)
A rare sighting of the black jacketed
Well, as of today, I've had hits from 99 countries (6 of the seven continents)...who knows where the 100th is going to be from! I'm slowly sliding towards 40,000 hits (less than a thousand to go) and am hoping to get there before year end. By no means is this a wildly successful blog, but for what it is, it's doing pretty well.

Home, for now
Despite the world upheaval, some people just want to get a little  peak at someone else's life and we're happy to oblige, no matter how dull it seems in the heat of the moment.

My forever home
So here's to the 100th county, whomever you will be and to the 40,000 reader. Here's to all of you who got us this far and to whatever lies in the future. 

Thank you!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Get Your Party On - Cuencano Festivals

There's really not a bad time to come visit Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, but if you want to party with the locals in a focused and purposeful manner you might want to visit during one of their major festivals.

El Año Viejo (New Years Eve/literally "the old year"):

Think fireworks, bonfires and effigies (called viejos or años viejos). Not everyone gets this idea, as effigy burning has a different connotation for many people. Here, it's just a way to get rid of the bad feelings from the old year and send out wishes and prayers for the coming year. The effigies are often familiar and beloved characters filled with fireworks and hand written notes that express the dreams for the new year. The pictures may look like we've just survived a civil war, but the only battle is between the communities for best effigy installation. This is a family friendly event, with even small children hopping over the bonfires to have good luck in the new year. Top this off with fireworks and the new year is a pretty great experience. (December 31)
Hoping to win the World Cup

Pick a mask

Pick a body and make a Viejo
Then set it on fire and jump over it 3 times for
good luck!
 Dia de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Saints or sainted innocents):

Parades are a common occurrence here, but this is one of the larger ones. This parade is a light hearted (and sometimes not so light) mockery of all the little issues that bug Cuencanos through out the year. A particular favourite with the locals, especially the children, expect to see expat's being made fun of and other interesting floats and costumes. The satire is heavy and the parade, held on the last day of the celebrations, has been going on since colonization. (December 28 to January 6)


This isn't for everyone, but if you like water fights, this might be the time for you to visit. Cans of fun foam, bags of flour and water guns are de rigeur. For the most part the Ecuadorian youth have been educated to not wantonly attack foreigners, but it's been known to happen - an unexpected jet of water from a passing car, a water balloon from a roof top or a random drive by foaming. If you're prepared for it, it's a pretty good time. The foam doesn't stain your clothes, the water dries and the flour can be shaken out. Be prepared to have people ask you if it's okay to spray you. Of course, if you're packing (either cans of foam or water guns) that makes you a free target right away. The final weekend culminates in huge water/foam fights down in the local parks. Parque Calderon is awash in foam. (The two weeks prior to the Lenten season)

Corpus Cristi (Body of Christ):

The streets are packed with sweets vendors and the square around Parque Calderon is blocked off by the local barrios firework towers. Every night during the festival, the towers are lit up and an incredible display of close up (and I mean close up...mind your clothes) fireworks. Spinners and sparklers work their way up the tower until the top gets lit up and ends in an impressive show of more traditional fireworks. Usually two towers a night are set off. Don't worry about being able to stay awake, with all the sugar you've imbibed during the day (the vendors have something for everyone), you'll be ready to watch the spectacle.
(Held the 9th Thursday after Easter meaning usually in June)

Tres de noviembre (The Third of November):

This is the day of Cuenca's liberation from the invading Spanish. The celebration is held over a three day long weekend and features a huge artisanal market along the banks of the River Tomebamba (Toe-may-BOM-ba), feature artists throughout the cities galleries and museums and closed streets throughout the city. All manner of goods can be purchased and many artisans come from all over South America to participate. There are also free concerts and what would a celebration be without fireworks and food?
(Held the weekend closest to November 3rd.) 

Pase del Niño Viajero (Passage of the Traveling/Wandering Child):

If parades are your thing, then this is a must. The desfile (Spanish for parade) is an event a year long in planning and you'll need to eat your Wheaties if you're going to see the whole thing. It's not unusual for the parade to last for 9 or more hours and it features all sorts of music, floats and groups of Indigenous dancers. It mixes the sacred with the profane. (I've seen the Virgin Mary riding a bicycle decorated like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.) If you're lucky you can score a place in one of the surrounding buildings that offers a balcony over looking the festivities. We usually go down for a while in the morning, break for lunch and possibly a nap (depending on how warm the day is) and then head back for a second round in the afternoon. Be prepared for throngs of people who don't adhere to the regular rules of parade viewing. The parade is often stopped to push back eager viewers to the curb of the street. Children can score candy, thrown from the floats and if it's hot enough the fire department will be out offering to hose them down with water. (Held December 24th)

Of course, there's a lot more going on here. Parades spring up with no notice and there are also art, music, food and even orchid festivals throughout the year, but the festivals mentioned above are fairly big and don't tend to change dates or times of year. Come anytime and have a fantastic holiday, but plan to try and hit some of the big events if you can.

Friday, September 23, 2016

All Natural Hike

I have always enjoyed getting away and losing myself in the wilderness. There is something truly invigorating and peaceful about wandering through nature. It's a place where you can contemplate creativity as you are surrounded by nature's beautiful pallet. You can destress and get away from the noise and clutter of civilization. In a way, it's sort of like meditating, except rather than sitting in a room with your legs folded, you are surrounded by nothing other than the sounds and sights of the forest, rivers,streams,lakes, flowers, wildlife and other amazing beautiful sights.

Avilahuayca in the Cajas, Cuenca
Base of the Salkantay, Peru
It can also be a wonderful way to meet new people, find new surroundings and keep physically fit. We have been very lucky in that regard and, to date, have had the opportunity to hike and wander amongst some incredibly stunning scenery in the world. We've met a lot of amazing people and hopefully we'll also visit and meet plenty more in the future.
Our Salkantay trekking group
Axel (hiking is a natural high)
I was born in the Gaspe Peninsula area of the province of Quebec, Canada and Danica was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and then we spent most of our lives in and around Vancouver, B.C. These are all incredibly beautiful parts of Canada, an amazingly vast and stunningly gorgeous country.
Percé Rock, Gaspé Peninsula

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
I consider myself very lucky to be a Canadian and to have had the pleasure and opportunity to grow up being free and feeling safe to venture out into the wilderness that abounds throughout. There doesn't seem to be a limit to the lakes, forests, mountains, or oceans that are within easy distance from almost anywhere in the country. It is the second largest country by area in the world and 38th by population consisting of just over 36 million people compared to the largest country Russia's 143.4 million. This gives us a vast amount of free space to wander and explore.

Whistler, B.C.
I'm not sure if being from a country that has so much wilderness is part of the reason that I enjoy being in nature and hiking so much, but it had to play some role in it, I'm sure, and I don't hike nearly as much as a lot of Canadians and other people in the world but I do thoroughly enjoy it.
Freycinet National Park
Some people hike for the exercise, such as a lot of the Vancouver people who tackle the Grouse Grind on a regular basis, and some do it strictly for the pleasure of communing with nature. For me it's kind of a combination of the two. I love the experience of being out there but I also love pushing myself to see what I can accomplish.
Grouse Grind
I am also amazed at the ability of a lot of people in the world that despite their age they continue to have an incredible mental and physical ability to do very challenging hikes and other sports feats and they seem to thrive on accomplishing their chosen task with great joy. I, too, will strive to continue to do these things in my life and each time I have the chance to achieve another hike or another adventure I rejoice that I have the freedom, blessing and opportunity to do these things in my life, because there are so many people in the world that are unable to.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
12 Apostles, Australia
Blue Mountains, Australia
Three Sisters, Australia