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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Goin' to the Polls

It's election time in Ecuador. After 10 years of stable government, Ecuador's constitution requires a change. Currently a president can only sit for two terms, much like the US and unlike Canada.

El Presidente Correa, both loved and maligned, is stepping down and the country's control is up for grabs. Voting is mandatory in Ecuador for citizens (with some exceptions) and fines can be levied and contracts can be scuttled if you don't do your civic duty. Extranjeros (foreigners) that reside in the country can choose to vote or not, assuming they've been in the country a sufficient amount of time and are registered to vote.

The campaign period is blessedly short, just over a month or so and the vote takes place on a Sunday, to make it easier for everyone to get out to the polls. The thing that surprised us the most is that the whole weekend is dry. We had planned to meet friends at the local craft brewery on Friday, but it was closed. (Now, being Ecuador there could be several reasons for this, but the REAL reason was that alcohol sales are banned over the election weekend.) Even restaurants are prohibited from selling booze...can you imagine?

The polls are only open for 10 hours (7 am to 5 pm), but it seemed a sufficient amount of time for the populace to get out and participate in democracy. At the polling stations the men and women are separated...there are voting booths for each sex and nary the twain shall meet, as the saying goes. The ballots are numerous. There is a sheet for the president, a sheet for the assembly members, regional representatives and provincial (parochial) representatives. There was also a special ballot specific to whether elected officials should be allowed to have offshore accounts.  The ballots include photos of the representatives, in case of illiteracy and are in full colour. It's pretty impressive.

Once you place your vote, you receive confirmation of having participated so you can avoid those nasty fines and problems that come with not adhering to the law. For fifty cents you can have the paper, that includes your photo and personal information laminated for posterity - for easy keeping in your wallet. 

Other than that, everything is pretty standard. You need ID to vote, then you sign the registry and then cast your ballots and place them in the ballot boxes. It will be interesting to see if the country goes with the status quo or chooses to go more conservative. We await the results with slightly baited breath. 

Guillermo Lasso Mendoza
Lenin Moreno Garcés
Four days later - after protests in the street for the delay to count EVERY ballot and accusations, from all sides, of voter fraud and shady dealings - and it looks like we're going to have a runoff vote, which means we go back to the polls. For a president to be elected, they must achieve 50% of the vote or 40% plus a 10% margin over the next most popular candidate. The incumbent party's candidate is sitting at 39.3% with the challenger at 28.1%. What does all that mean? That the burden of majority (as outlined by the law) has not been achieved and there will be a second round of voting between Moreno and Lasso on April 2nd. (Yup, Goin' to the Polls 2.0!) Who'da thunk?
The bizarre outcome (from my perspective) of this, is that the man that was trailing by more than 10% in the original vote could wind up winning the election, if the populace that voted for losing third parties switch their vote to Sr. Lasso, despite the fact that Sr. Moreno actually had the majority vote, as does his cabinet. (I guess that makes for a minority government, should Lasso win.) If Lasso does win, he's sworn to throw Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian consulate in London, England; Moreno has indicated that he's willing to continue providing Assange with asylum. I don't expect that this has much influence on the election, it's more of a pop culture tidbit.

Stayed tuned! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

What Cost Wealth?

This whole popularism thing has gotten me down. I see all these wealthy politicians in  first world countries scrambling to grasp every last cent and protect them from "undesirables". They're rhetoric is freaking out the regular population and people are losing their heads. Does it help the people that they're scaring? No, all it does is line the pockets of the sabre rattlers and make the gap between that vaunted 1% and the rest of us plebes greater.

Our fancy Vancouver loft
Don't get me wrong - I grew up in the "ME" 80's. Partying, fast cars, designer clothes. I wanted it all. I came from a lower income household, but I went to a high school in a wealthier part of town. I was the kid in the no name clothes, without a car (sometimes we didn't even have a phone) and my only spending money was for buying lunch. (Usually around $20 a week, but a lot of the time that also had to cover my dinner, too.) Forget the "class" trip to Hawaii for spring break, forget shopping at Aritzia or Guess, that was definitely out. So that made me hungry for the "good" stuff. I was going to have a big house, Porsche and a huge (dare I say YUGE?) wardrobe with lots of accessories and a billion shoes. (Confession: I got pretty close on the shoes.)

As an adult, I've lived (for a short time) the jet set life, where I could buy what I wanted, spend stupid amounts of money on a single dinner and not worry too much where the money was coming from. But that's a voracious thing. Suddenly standard brands weren't good enough, I wanted Pink Tartan and Luis Vuitton. Sure, a BMW sounds good - we worked hard didn't we deserve it? One day, my husband and I looked at each other and we realized that we'd been sucked into the vortex that is consumerism. We were working to amass STUFF. It wasn't the life we wanted. 
First attempt to simplify
Fast forward to now. I'm quite a bit older than that 18 year old girl with dollar signs in her eyes. We live a pretty low key life on a small pension that would astound most people. Our clothes are the best quality we can afford, but most of our money goes to traveling; to building up EXPERIENCES instead of that intoxicating, addicting STUFF that seems to have its grip on most of the world. I see no sense in paying $6000 for a something that I can pick up for $25. Having Louboutins doesn't define me as a person - and why should it?

How have I come to this? Part of it was just personal revelation, but having seen many poor countries, I've come to realize that the accumulation of wealth has very little to do with happiness. Of course, having no money sucks...worrying about how you're going to feed yourself or your children is a nightmare, but once you have a place to keep you safe and sheltered (whether you rent or own), a reliable stream of sustenance and a means to educate your kids, you don't really need a lot more. (Okay, I'm fan of hot water and internet access, but I'm a spoiled North American.) 
The new digs...still not shabby
In my work, I saw people clawing and grasping to keep every penny that's in their account and I'm not talking about the poor folks. I've talked to people whose only purpose in life is to accumulate more: money, cars, houses, and for what? I've never met anyone who thought they had enough money, myself included. I've seen VERY large bank accounts and balance sheets and still it wasn't enough. What's worse is they were willing to throw less fortunate people under the bus to acquire more. Ironically, the more they had the more they were terrified of losing it. They were losing sleep, getting old and making themselves sick with the pursuit of it.  Sort of like drug addicts, actually, now that I think of it.  It is the thing that drives the world's problems today. If only we could all step back, look around and say "it's enough, I have enough" then we could make the world more peaceable, kind and just.
Travel is AWESOME (when we can afford it)
I know a lot of you are fighting the hard fight - that the ends seem so far apart that they'll never connect, I've been you and my only advice is that you must believe that you can do it. For the rest of you, caught in the hamster wheel of status, maybe take a moment and just be. Be grateful for your health (if you have it), your loved ones, the clothes on your body and the food in your cupboard. I'm going to paraphrase something I read online, but can't source now: "If you aren't happy with everything that you have now, why do you think that buying more will change that?" (If you know the source, please let me know!)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Spelunking in Baños de Cuenca


As most of you know, I'm on the sidelines for a while with a stupid injury/sciatica, but that can't keep a good man down. Ron headed out to the "bedroom community" of Baños de Cuenca for a challenging hike and a bit of spelunking. (Also known as caving.) I leave it to Ron to share his hike with you.

Our group of intrepid hikers met in El Centro and then caught a bus taking the 10 of us in the direction of Baños for our newest adventure. 

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View of  Bañosfrom the trail
Brian Bitner, our guide, had discovered these caves while wondering the hills and cliffs around Baños, so he invited us and we responded with enthusiasm. It had rained heavily the night before so the trails were a little more slippery and treacherous than usual especially for us, who are not in their twenties anymore. We persevered and made it up the steep slippery trails and arrived at the first of two caves. 

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Inside were the remnants from people that were obviously mining the caves, as well as the ones that decided to use it for romance and partying (the places we find in our youth). For anyone interested in geology, the veins of quartz and other minerals inside were equally fascinating.

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After spending some time exploring the caves it was time to head back and that is when the adventure took a turn for the silly and a time for some of the group to revisit childhood thrills. As I mentioned early, it had rained heavily the night before and the trails were fairly muddy which made the descent far trickier than the ascent and a number of the group decided it was a lot safer and quicker to just slide down the steep trails on their backsides, which obviously made for a lot of hilarity.

By the time we reached the bottom of the trail some of the group looked like little kids who had been playing in the mud with their behinds and legs totally drenched and laughing histerically. All in all, it was a fun adventure and a great hike.
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From there we hiked off to Baños for a cold beer and some sustenance after our workout. Afterwards, some decided to partake in the hot baths in Baños to sooth the muscles and others of us set off home and other destinations.

Tomorrow: repelling and who knows what awaits the future, the world is full of adventure waiting to be experienced.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

End of an Era

We've lost a lot of icons over the past year and a bit. Icons that we've loved or at least appreciated for their talent; those that we'd have loved to sit down and have a coffee with and those that would reduce us to a babbling mess if we were in their presence. It's sad and strangely life affirming at the same time. It makes you pick yourself up and get to the things you've been putting off.

There's so many more, but losing David hurt.
All that, and yet it doesn't compare to losing a good friend or loved one. We lost a couple of those as well this year. One such a surprise that it left us weepy and breathless.We've now lost a tie to our past. 

Our very dear John
Ron's mother, Ola, passed away from a massive stroke early this month.  She didn't quite reach 92, but she had one heck of a life. She gave birth to eleven (yup double 1) children that all are alive today. (That's pretty impressive, even one of my siblings has passed away.) She experienced the gamut of life's offerings; wealth that was lost, cross country moves, career changes, loss of a parent when she was young. She fought for her reproductive rights and won. Really, after 11 children, she'd thought she done her bit, but at the time doctors were reluctant to do anything without the husband's permission. With Ron's father away on the road a lot, this was almost impossible. She convinced the doctor to help. I'm sure there was, at the very least, some strong words spoken, if not a good shaking meted out by her hand. It might have had something to do with the fact that her oldest daughter was also pregnant at the time and that might have seemed like a line in the sand for Ola.
That's her on her 90th birthday - lookin' good!
She tucked babies into drawers and did what she needed to manage that soccer team of kids. It wasn't easy; she relied heavily on the older kids to help with the younger. She experienced a lot in her nine decades; changes in the world that many of us can only imagine and, for the most part, she embraced it all. She was fond of keeping up with family on her iPad via Facebook and loved talking on the phone sharing her strong opinions with all who would give her the platform. If you were smart, you'd just agree and carry on - there is no arguing with a woman who raised so many children while having a career as well. With over 90 years under her belt, her stories were numerous and not the stuff for this blog.

Gone with her are the collective memories she has of her family and friends, of the life that brought her from the small (then) Anglo town of Gaspe, Quebec, to the busy streets of Toronto, the arid air of Kamloops and on to the wet coast of Vancouver. For that the world is more bereft. I know that the family misses her, but is glad that she went in a manner that was acceptable to her; no long illness and lingering. She was a force of nature that most people don't get to experience. I hope that George (or Sandy, as he was sometimes called), your husband of 50 years plus, joyfully meets you in the great beyond. May you be at peace, Mother/Gram/Gigi/Ola.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Legend of the Ecuadorian Head Cold

I confess, right off, that there really isn't any such legend. Generally speaking, a cold is a cold is a cold, but every once in a while I come down with what I've deemed "the Ecuadorian Cold". 
Everyone understand this concept

True: suffering from this sciatic-like problem and having a cold at the same time is pretty sucky, but while the Ecuadorian cold takes longer to get rid of, it's a kinder, gentler cold, in its own way. So, what's the difference you say?

Think about your last head cold: the stuffy head, the cough, perhaps the chills and, of course, the sore throat...all at the same time. Nasty. In contrast, the "Ecuadorian" cold comes in stages. Mine started with a sore throat and chills. I felt terrible for a day and then the chills went away and I was just nagged by the sore throat. A week later, my nose  slowly started to fill up, not in an aggressive head pounding way, but in an endless drip that might drive me around the bend. And now, I'm at that icky gummy point that makes it hard to breath through mouth or nose, but this too will pass.

I don't know how long this cold is going to hang in. It's my great wish that it and the sciatica go in short order. As to the later, every week is a little better and for the former, it can make itself scarce immediately.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lost Season - When Help Isn't Helping

Sunrise in PEI - The beginning of something new
It was a pretty sucky holiday season. Because of my hip and leg, we really didn't get to enjoy any of the usual treats this holiday. No parade, no checking out the monigotes (we'd call them effigies) and the large community installations that they burn with such joie de vivre here. It was pretty bleak, even though we've tried to make the best of it. It feels like we missed the whole thing. I did make shortbread and caramels, but that does not a Christmas make.

This whole sciatica thing has been a long, painful, but educational process. I'm gobsmacked by how long I've been suffering. Granted, I'm partially to blame, as I ignored some of the warning signs for longer than I should have. All that being said, I've come to a crossroads.

After eleven sessions of physiotherapy I was only marginally better, but, by no means, was the progress satisfactory. Because I was suffering so terribly after treatments they called in the big guns and had the owner of the rehabilitation centre evaluate me. So what was his conclusion? The muscles and/or tendons are so horribly inflamed that they are impinging on my nerve and the treatment and all exercise was only making it worse. He decreed that I need to rest for 15 days, meaning limited activity and lots of least as much is comfortable. He's not certain that it's my sciatic nerve that's impinged, but another nearby nerve that mimics sciatic symptoms. Good times.

In summation, what I'd been doing to make myself better was making me worse. Sigh. So here's to hoping that rest will do the trick, even though I did rest for three days in the infancy of my little problem.

Being in pain has given me new insight. The effect is devastating. Not only do you hurt on levels that cannot be understood by those who haven't experienced it, but it's depressing. The thought of being comfortable again is so far distant from reality that it seems like a childhood dream that you can no longer remember in detail. It is soul crushing and spirit killing. There is no room for anything else but the pain and you live in that darkness without hope.

The slightest twinge sends me into a panic, wondering if a full blow episode of agony is coming on. It makes me fearful to even move, lest what little comfort I've found gives way to another bout of throbbing, shocking waves of pain. Even though I know, for a fact, that I'm not suffering as I did in the beginning, it doesn't seem to make any difference; that there is pain, even reduced, is enough to set me to tears and despair.

All that and yet, here I am hoping, once again, that relief might be in sight. I send out huge respect to those of you who are living with chronic pain. I don't know if those around you can even understand the challenges of  your day to day life, but bless you for your courage in going on. I don't know if I'm made of strong enough stuff.

The lesson, for me, in all of this? If your body is telling you that there's something else wrong - something beyond what the doctor has found - listen! Had I been more insistent originally, I might already be out of the woods. I know the road to recovery will be longer than I would like, but at least there is hope.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Zika - the Godzilla that Attacked Tourism

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of all the fear mongering going on out there, and there's a lot of it. Between Daesh (ISIS), the "criminality" of Latinos, the Canadian axis of evil (yeah, that's an actual thing), Russian hackers, coed bathrooms and fake food, one can hardly take a breath anymore.

The Olympics in Rio was another theatre for consternation. Who wouldn't come because of fears of Zika? I can think of about a dozen reasons not to have gone, outside of the latest illness outbreak, but what do I know? Oh, yeah, right. I'm in a "Zika" country. And now there was an article on one of the news channels about where to go to avoid Zika. I know that health is important, but I really feel like we're always being led down this path of paranoia; that the media is making mountains out of mole hills, so to speak.

All of Ecuador has been black balled because of some cases on the coast. It doesn't matter that, where I live, high in the Andes, that mosquitoes aren't actually a problem. We don't have malaria, yellow fever or Zika - it's pretty safe to visit, if those are your concerns. Now, if I was an Olympian, I'd have been more worried about the sewage floating around in the ocean and rivers, about the pollution in the city, the dodgy drinking water and the pesky problem of an impoverished country pouring in billions of dollars when it's population is gripped with unrelenting poverty, or its environment being ravished for natural resources, which poisons the water further and adds to climate change. (You know, that thing that doesn't exist.)

El Cajas, Cuenca Ecuador
Don't get me wrong, the affects of Zika can be daunting, especially for those that are pregnant of with weakened immune systems. But, truly, this is a common sense issue. If you're pregnant or wanting to be pregnant - avoid areas with Zika. If you have a weak immune system - avoid areas with Zika, but if you're healthy adult, you'll most likely be okay. Use bug repellent and cover up at high risk times.Think about all the virus outbreaks that have caused panic around the world: SARS, avian flu, Spanish flu etc. What have you heard of them lately? Not much. Malaria has been around forever and people still travel to places that are hot spots, even though there still isn't a cure for it.
English Bay, Vancouver, Canada - No Zika there
I guess I'm biased. The South American countries that are affected rely heavily on tourism. They can little afford to have that stream of income cut off because of mostly unwarranted fear. I concede that nothing is more important than your health. (Trust me, I'm learning a valuable lesson about that as I type!). Yet, there are things that are worth a very educated risk So do your homework...I'm not a doctor, but Zika isn't high on my worry list, to be sure and then get out there and see this amazing continent!