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Monday, February 19, 2018

The Zen of Living on South American Time

I was talking with some new arrivals recently, and they seemed impressed with the level of subsistence here. (To clarify, not truly subsistence, but decent lifestyle.). We really don't lack much of anything that we had in Canada, except some minor items like specialty foods.
Classic siesta mode - both human and canid
That doesn't mean that life here is just like life in North America. No, not at all. I remember my sister describing "island time" when she visited the Bahamas. The entire country was able to downshift into a relaxed "it's all good, mon" vibe that, upon arrival, was vexing for her fast paced North American lifestyles. She and her hubbie eventually made the switch, as well, and had a very relaxing holiday. This concept is also prevalent in Ecuador; not called "island time", but "mañana". Yes, mañana literally means tomorrow, but it's not used (usually) in the literal sense, no. It's used more in the "sometime in the future" sense. (Tomorrow never comes, right?)
Family pickup match of football (downtime!)
This is a major change from how things run up north. For example: our building operates off two large water pumps that distribute water pressure throughout the building. One of the pumps is short circuiting. We found this out nearly 3 weeks ago. The technician is supposed to come on Friday. This is a perfect of example of "mañana". Now, water, for us, is essential to our well being and happiness. Water pressure is also essential for our tankless water heater (calefon/on demand water heater, as you like.) No pressure, no hot water. This, we've discovered, is a first world problem.  The job of correcting the electrical issue was deemed "small" and therefore, not a priority. Hence a (hopeful) repair tomorrow.

Interesting enough for onlookers
This also applied to our sofa cushions (see the "Epic of the Sofa Cushions") for another example of "mañana" in action. It is a process, adjusting to this slower pace. It happens in restaurants, too. (No, you don't have to wait for weeks to get your order, but an hour isn't completely unheard of, to be sure.)
Then I noticed one goalie...(their side lost)

We're seeing it on a grander scale with the light rail system that is being constructed in Cuenca. (Granted it's been riddled with budgetary and labour issues, as well.) It's now two years past due and looking like it might be delayed again. This is to be expected, when has a municipal project ever completed on time? However, when your cable/internet provider says they'll send out a technician in three days, this is when things start getting challenging.
Full on traditional dress! We might be relaxing,
but we can still dress nicely.
There are places where the concept of "mañana" don't apply is on the road. (I've discussed this before as well.) The sweet nature of most Ecuadorians goes out the window as soon as they sit behind the wheel of a vehicle.  This is a mystery to me.

Even tortoises get in on the napping action
So, if you're thinking of hanging out down here for a while, pack your sunscreen and heaps of patience. Time is one of the few things we actually have in abundance as retirees, so we need to spend it gratefully..

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Heading into Carnival (Carnaval en español)

Apparently, this is a weird year for Catholics. Ash Wednesday is on much maligned Valentine's Day and Easter falls on April 1st. Should make for interesting observances. The weirdness has already begun: we were out wandering today, minding our own business when we got hit with a drive by shooting; not bullets, of course, but water guns. It's an early start to the carnival festivities, which I've outline in previous posts. (The fun isn't supposed to start until February 11th. I guess some people need to get in some target practice before hand.)
Serious fire power...yours for $12
I've been jonesing for super giant cans of "espuma" (foam) that hold about a litre of the stuff (maybe more!). Two cans, gangster style, one in each hand, would get us through Parque Calderon in a blaze of glory and heaps of foam.
About 5-10 minutes of foam madness
per can, depending on strategy
Like true cowards, we usually kill the big day at a friend's house. They host an annual chili party, as a means of avoiding the hard core water and foam fights that spread across the city during the final weekend before the dour season of Lent. (Ashes and fish, I've heard it called!)
The top indicates the foam colour
Some people find this time of year troublesome and irritating, including many Cuencanos, who head to their houses in the country to ride out the street wars in safety. I recommend picking up a few cans of foam and joining in the fun.

Let the games begin!
For the most part, we don't mind. Most "warriors" are careful to make sure you want to participate, or harmlessly hit you with a short spurt of water from a passing car. It's all good. (Foam in the ears...not so much...hence, the classic jacket-with-hood defence.) Do mind the water balloons that mysteriously fall from upper balconies, though, don't say you weren't warned.

Side note: the weather has improved, so maybe the wet season is holding off for a while.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

So Begins the Rainy Season

How people think about the weather here in Cuenca is not how I grew up thinking about weather. Canadians LOVE to discuss all things climate related and it's the go to conversation if you run out of small talk.

Here the weather just, well...IS. If it's rainy, the people consider it to be "frio" (cold) and if it's sunny, then it's "calor" (hot). There seems to be no in between. It took me to years to learn the word "tibio" (tepid), as no one uses that concept here.

You can read the weather sites and posts about what the weather is like at a particular time of year here, but it's half-baked science at best (I think the weather stations are poorly placed, therefore not actually all that accurate) and pure conjecture at worst. I believe most travel sites will tell you that rainy season starts somewhere in late February/March and ends somewhere in there, too, sometimes extending to April. As far as I can tell, none of the websites actually agree.
Upside? You do get some stunning sunsets
Locals generally don't worry about it, it's just part of their daily existence that they'll need an umbrella, scarf, gloves and knitted/polar fleece cap (I'll explain that momentarily). Most wear several layers of clothes, even if the temperature is an intense 27C. (This feels more like in the 30s due to the thinner air and closer proximity to the sun.)
Love the clear, blue sky days, but they're unusual
It's only mid-January and it seems like the rainy season is upon us. I liken it to autumn or spring in Vancouver (with less temperature swings). We're now only on day 2 of cloudy overcast skies and relentless drizzle that switches to full blown tropical rain on a whim. Because of the rain, the locals will consider it cold. (They don't understand minus Celsius temperatures for the most part, they barely understand single digit temperatures. Last year the "cold snap", temperatures dropped to 12C in the day. Don't roll your eyes, people living up in the Northern states and Canada.)

Completely socked in days are unusual, too
So, I expect to see a lot of winter wear, as mentioned above, and worry about the cold. Most will ask why we aren't wearing a heavier jacket. (Sometimes in the day we, horrifyingly, don't wear a jacket at all!) We'll definitely get warnings about catching a cold or the flu. No matter that you tell them these come from germs and viruses, there is an underlying belief system that to be cold is to have a cold. 

The skies are most often like this, and cheers to it!
Let's hope that the rainy season is short and not too brisk. It's always a shame to have to pull out the little space heater or wear socks around the house. (I can hear your eyes rolling!)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What's Goin' on in Ecuador?

As much fun as it is to travel, sometimes it's just interesting to make note of what's happening in my temporary home. It's almost never a dull moment, considering our peaceful existences.

Cuenca is supposed to be the proud home to a light rail system, but general issues like contract disputes, budget shortages etc have delayed the project which was supposed to be completed over three years ago. Recently, a new contract was signed and Tranvia is supposed to be completed by the end of September. The mayor has just updated us and said that even this isn't going to happen and that it likely won't be until 2019. This isn't surprising. The good news is that affected businesses will receive some financial compensation. (I mean, really, where else does that happen?) Once it's completed, the buses running through the city will be reduced and that's a good thing.

Less of this would be good.
We've also had some legal excitement with the existing government. The Vice-President was removed from office for being caught up in a bribery scandal. A South American company (Odebrecht) regularly used bribery to win large  contracts both private and public. Sr. Jorge Glas, was found guilty and is serving 6 years in prison in Quito. The conviction wasn't exactly surprising. The reach of Odebrecht was huge and many countries have been affected. Politicians, CEOs and other people of import have fallen because of their greed. Sr. Glas has been replaced by Maria Alejandra Vicuña. (Yes, the country is going to hell, we have a President in a wheelchair and a woman (gasp!) as second in command. We've come a long way, baby!)
"Damn, I'm caught."
The current President (Lenin Moreno) is on a mission to clear out corruption, even though many Ecuadorians feared that he would only be a puppet of Rafael Correa, the previous leader. This has not been the case and Correa (who seems to share a lot in common with the big sensitive baby from the USA) has gone on the offensive, as Moreno goes about fixing many things that were wrong and addressing the concerns of various groups. Correa would be amusing if he wasn't trying to undermine a very popular and effective President.
Ex-President Correa, likely whining about something
The whole health insurance thing is still up in the air and the new fees for the universal health care are being challenged in court, but I suspect that the requirement for coverage will stand. There is going to be a special meeting with the President and a special auditor to discuss Correa's handling of health care costs during his tenure. I'm pretty sure that there's been a whole pile of mismanagement, false filings by doctors and other little scams that have drained the system and created financial chaos. It's rumoured that Correa told the head of IESS (the medical system) to not bill the government for outstanding costs, as they didn't have the money and that it had happened for several years, basically bankrupting the system.

Like I said, never a dull moment. Who knows what other dirty little secrets will come out during the various investigations. Perhaps we should start a pool to predict when Tranvia will be complete or who will be brought to trial next.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Adieu 2017 Hola 2018!

I think that we can pretty well all agree that it has been a weird year. Part of me feels like the world has completely lost its collective mind...and I mean even more so than usual. 

For me, personally, I've overcome a few health challenges and been lucky enough to move on and experience some incredible moments: via travel, personal growth and good friends. I'm constantly fighting to find balance, peace and self-acceptance. There have been moments this year when I've achieved it and other times when I've failed abysmally. I've come to accept that this is the clear definition of life. Most importantly, I haven't given up trying.

I have struggled to understand how others think (on a global scale and individually) and have questioned my own thought process. (I count that as a success...we should all question how we come to conclusions.) 

I hope that 2018 brings all of you more clarity, calm and growth. I wish for you a year of magic and wonder. Let us be kind and accepting, of both ourselves and others. May we learn to breath and reflect, may our anger not rule us, and may we find forgiveness.

Happiest of New Years!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Santa in training!
To all of our family and friends, both near and far, we're wishing you the very best of this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (a bit late), Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, Happy Eid (even though it's well past) and Merry "Yay, I've got a day off".
We decorate EVERYTHING here
Hopefully, you find that the miles are not an impediment to sending and receiving love and warm thoughts, which we send freely and joyously.

May 2018 bring you happiness, success and wonder.

From Ron and I

Friday, December 22, 2017

May the Force be with Us

I me, I really can I do a post about a movie franchise? (For one thing, there are 1,000s of dedicated sites, I'm sure and B (that's an inside joke to those who love Craig Ferguson) it's only make believe, right? 

Rebel Alliance Flag
Here's the thing though: for the majority of my life there has been Star Wars. I was just a little kid when the first movie came out, sweeping the globe in a sort of interstellar mania. It was simple and sweet, so clear cut that a grade school kid could figure it out. We played it in the school yard and my birthday cake was Star Wars themed. It was wholesome and fascinating. (Occasionally groan inducing, when viewed from today's perspective, but that makes it even more charming.)

I was sitting, innocently, in the theatre, having watched the opening credits of Star Wars - the Last Jedi roll over the screen (so thrilling, right?) and got a good glimpse of the protagonist Rey, It was in that moment that realised Star Wars had provided me with a strong female role model that I hadn't even known that I needed. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa) was a kick butt, rebel leader and she was...a GIRL. Sure, she was objectified by that Jabba the Hutt guy (put a tribble on his head and does he remind you of anyone???), but she took her revenge didn't she? She bossed around Chewbacca, didn't take any guff (yes, guff...I said it) from Han Solo and stared down Darth Vader. (Hell, she was leading the entire Rebel army now as a General!) 

In the latest instalment there's also Rey, a girl of unknown origins, minding her own business when the Force comes calling. I was watching her on screen and was delighted to see that she had she'd actually worked out and could do the things they had her doing on screen. She seemed to be, in many ways, like me (except for the martial arts fighting and lifting stuff with her mind, of course). I saw a cast of mixed races and multiple women in positions of power. We've come a long way, baby. (Yes, there's still a long way to go.)

Imperial Empire Flag

More than that, I found myself asking do I belong to the Rebel Alliance, as I'd like to believe, or am I a cog in the wheel of the Empire? I think this is an important question for our time. Are we as righteous as we think, or are we part of the problem. It's not so clear cut in real life, as in the movies. I want to think that I'm on the side of the oppressed, the down trodden, the huddle masses, but have I contributed to the power of the Dark Side? It's a good and valid question that doesn't have an easy answer.

Some people can't let go of the old and feel that Last Jedi doesn't honour the past, but for me, it's proof of life. Rey is the symbol of passing the torch, the hope that the future has possibility and that the next generation is ready to step up. With everything going on in this crazy world (I'm looking at you, countries that can't grasp the idea that we're on this globe together), we need a rallying cry. And we need hope, we need inspiration and for heaven's sake, we need the Force.