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Friday, December 2, 2016

My Own Ugly Truth

When I could actually climb up onto something.

So, I've been in a lot of pain lately. It started with blowing out my back on the flight between Santiago and Auckland, but I thought I'd healed from that. My back would twinge off and on, but it wasn't anything I couldn't deal with. I like to think I have a pretty high pain tolerance and I've been doing all the "right" things: working on strengthening my core, keeping mobile, setting up the computer at a place where I could stand comfortably. I walked - a lot - to keep myself limber and probably was too stubborn about it. "Come on, Kid, walk it off!"

Then my back started stiffening up and a week later I had pains shooting down my left leg and it was hard to sleep through the night. I could barely turn over. Sciatica. Not pleasant. I went to massage therapy, not those nice calming massages that you get when you're on vacation, but one of those muscle probing, subcutaneous manipulating massages that leave you bruised, but somehow strangely hopeful.

The joys of a functioning body
That was almost three weeks  ago and I'm still suffering. (I'm hoping that it's improving, but if I don't take ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory, the pull of the nerve hurts. I've gone to another massage appointment, a physio treatment and one with a chiropractor, but here's the truth of it: I probably should have taken care of it when I first realized I couldn't do the things I normally could. (You know: touch my toes, tie my shoes without discomfort.) I just didn't have it in me. I didn't want to "deal" with finding someone, making arrangements (possibly in Spanish) and figuring out the where, how and how much of it. And my hesitancy led to this. And all because it's different here. 
Me, feeling like Humpty Dumpty
There aren't a lot of walk-in clinics, so you have to get to the doctor's office early, make an appointment (if you're lucky enough) and then return later to get checked out. Then, should I need x-rays, I need to go somewhere else and then return to the doctor to be seen again. Then I started wondering what I'd have to do if I needed an MRI or something. My concerns got the better of me. 

I'm glad to say I'm slowly on the mend (fingers crossed), but my laziness and reluctance to shake up my normal existence got the better of me. I'll never take my flexibility for granted again and will work hard at keeping and improving it. The more obstacles we face, the more comfortable we get, but our hesitancy might be our undoing when a new situation pops up. I guess that's something to take into consideration if you're looking at moving abroad. Can you do what it takes to take care of yourself in a time of crisis. Okay...crisis might be an overstatement, but I've never been in so much pain in my life!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What to Expect when Traveling in Ecuador

Some of you will know my views on traveling. All that crap about "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey" is a crock. It didn't used to be. Getting on the airplane used to be the most exciting part of the trip, but now in times of heightened security, power starved weaklings masquerading as security guards and "travel hubs", it pretty well sucks.
Thank you Salvador Dali for capturing the essence of
time in Ecuador
That's not to say that things can't go wrong once you arrive in your destination country. This is also true of Ecuador. So, what to expect?

As a rule, Ecuadorian people are warm and helpful, to the point where they really don't want to say "no" to you, even if what you want is impossible.(I suspect that they avoid conflict if at all possible.) As warm and accommodating as they are, they are not a timely people. (Okay this is a generalization, but true none the less.) Case in point: we called an electrician on November 12th and he said he would come by at the end of the day. Later on he texted to say he couldn't make it and we'd see him on Monday, the 14th. Today is the 22nd and we've yet to see him. Ron fixed the problem himself, so we're all good.
Nothing like seeing dawn and dusk at the same airport
(on the same day)
What you might not imagine is that this cavalier approach to timeliness can also apply to flights, bus schedules, restaurant and store opening and closing times, appointments (even professional ones), and dinner dates. (The rule of thumb here is show up at least a half hour late for dinners, parties etc.)
Don't expect them to be on time
So, imagine you're off on a once in a lifetime trip to the Galapagos, you've scheduled your time down to the hour, to get the most out of your expensive trip and then your connection gets cancelled. You have to spend the night in Guayaquil or Quito and your beautifully planned schedule goes to crap. To save time you arrange for a driver to meet you at one of the Galapagos airports so you can make up the time with a driving tour instead of the bus tour that you've missed. You smile as your plane arrives one time and you step out onto the tarmac and collect your bag. As you walk outside into the sultry air of a glorious day you scan the crowd for a sign with your name on it. There isn't one. You wait for an hour and finally your driver runs up, tucking in his shirt, like he just got out of bed. The steam is shooting out your ears and he seems confused as to why you're frustrated. He welcomes you with a smile, perhaps an apology, when you demand to know why he's late, but he likely offers no reason. 

This is Ecuador. There isn't really a sense of urgency for, well, darned near anything. Ecuadorians don't begrudge standing in line for half an hour to pay a bill or queuing up early in the morning to try and get a doctor's appointment for that day. You might get your drink order once you've already finished your meal and you ALWAYS have to ask for the bill. You'll never be rushed out of the restaurant until you're good and ready.

What do you do? Just be prepared for the unexpected, be patient and know that you'll get further with kindness than anger. (Again Ecuadorians hate conflict and "scenes", they will just walk away with a shrug.) Generally, they mean no harm, insult or damage. It just is. Think of the movie the Lion King and hum "Hacuna Matata" under your breath.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Humble Pie Sometimes Tastes Okay

Humble (chicken pot) pie
I tend to get caught up in things...overly caught up in things, to be sure. I'm a worrier by nature and love (LOVE!) to take things on that are completely out of my control. (The US election for example.)

I worry about our future, what the Canadian dollar will do, how I'll get my work out in when I have a sore back and pinched sciatic nerve. It can get pretty overwhelming. (Again...the whole US election thing...what does it mean? How will it affect Canada? Will our neighbours to the south reconcile and if so how? Why why why.) Sorry for the scary little peak inside my head, but I'm fairly certain that my thoughts aren't unique. 
To descend or not???
Not all that long ago we were invited to lunch at an Ecuadorian family's home. They actually fed us two meals and showed us proudly around their home.We spent about four hours (maybe 5) there and learned a lot about middle class life in Ecuador, enjoyed their sizable country/suburban house and arrived home...exhausted...operating in a second language for that amount of time is tiring. Fast forward to last Sunday. 
Setting up the kitchen
We felt it was important to reciprocate so we invited all five family members to come to lunch at our house. Now, some of you already know that the Ecuadorian palate is beautiful, but simple. I went with basics...a good old fashioned late afternoon Sunday dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and veg. I also made a salad, fresh dressing and a strawberry rhubarb pie. (Even using the Spanish word for rhubarb they were unfamiliar with it.) It turned out pretty well. I was also worried that our house might seem ostentatious or pretentious. (Is there actually a difference?)  Would the artwork be offensive. Did it seem like we were showing off? On the less hoity-toity side, our place isn't that big. They actually quite liked our place, art and view. They didn't shy away from asking about the meaning of our painting with skeletons in it and didn't seem shocked by the naked sculptures everywhere. We sat down and enjoyed the meal and talked of inconsequential things.
The journey of life
The mom offered to help us with the dishes and we explained that we had a dishwasher. Now, they'd admired our refrigerator (their youngest daughter couldn't believe that it made ice!), large oven and five burner stove, but they hadn't noticed the dishwasher. They were completely fascinated. They oohed and aahed over the detergent tablets, marveled at how much we could put in and that the dishes would come out clean. This was humbling in it's own way. I don't know if they realize that it's cheaper to buy a machine than to hire an employee and that's how middle class folks in North America get by. For the most part, they think that we (meaning gringos) are "rich" and that means all the trappings that come with it. Of course, they do their own dishes by hand, like we used to do, back in the good old days.

With all the craziness going on, this moment made me grateful. Grateful to have friends of different stripes, grateful for being blessed enough to have a dishwasher and grateful to be in a place where I can learn such lessons.

Friday, November 11, 2016

After the Fall - Rise Like the Phoenix

To my American friends,

I know that a lot of you are despairing right now. That fear and embarrassment have taken over and it feels like the end of something precious to you. I also know that 50% of the people who took time to vote are feeling pretty excited and that might be scary for some of you. Never has there felt like a larger divide in your country. I'll be honest, your president-elect scares the crap out of me and I don't feel he's a good person. I don't quite understand his appeal to a portion of the electorate, but I don't understand the gun thing or abject fear of universal health care either, so maybe it's me. That isn't my point though. I don't want to create more division.

I want to give you words of hope. Canadians did almost the same thing your country just did. (Perhaps not as grandly, but that's what makes us a little different.) We voted in a minority government two terms in a row. That meant that we had a conservative Prime Minister, but that the majority of the house was left leaning. They didn't get much done. So we decided to give the conservative guy all the power. He got his majority government and proceeded to tear our country down  (he would say in its own best interest). Of course, there are those in Canada that felt he did a great job, our economy didn't take the hit yours did in 2008 - we're suffering more now. He supported the oil industry, he promoted xenophobia and muzzled our scientists and snuck through large omnibus bills of legislation, burying the stripping of our rights in minutiae. Some of our people were happy. He was making Canada "great" (White North) again. Sound familiar? Then the next election approached and the crisis in Syria was front and centre. He talked about banning the niqab and closing our borders. That was our line in the sand.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, like you. Sure a lot of them are white, but they came to our country with a dream of a better life and while we now have a rainbow of skin colours, we all have that same hope. We've done terrible things to our immigrants, too. We're no angels. But we, as a country, finally stood up and said "No more". No to prejudice and fear. We said "yes" to our scientists and (hopefully) to protecting our environment, to adhering to the only true Canadian value - TOLERANCE. 

In the meantime, while you're waiting it out, stand up for what you believe in. Don't allow the hate spewed by your president-elect to define you - as if it could. You will have to be louder during this difficult time, braver and more steadfast. This is not the time to weaken. Loving what you don't understand is the hardest task of all, but it's so much better than surrendering to hate.

I accept that not all my fellow Canadians believe in climate change (or change in general for that matter) and they're allowed their opinions. I believe that they have the same fears and desires that I do. They want to feel safe and have opportunities to prosper and grow. They want their children to live in a better world than what we have now. This is common ground. We may define it differently, but if we can take fear off the table, we can work together. That didn't stop us from getting our country back and you can, too.

It may be a frustrating, embarrassing four years, but perhaps that's what is needed for the country to come together again.  You will be tested. Your commitment to love over hate will be tried, but this, too, shall pass.

We're your friends and we are trying to be a rational example in an irrational world. We have your backs America. 

With much love and hope,

Your Canadian friend 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

When Home Isn't Home

For the most part, life abroad is pretty awesome, and in many ways, strangely the same as being in your native country. (Let's be honest, you bring yourself with you and that influences a lot of your day to day life - you are YOU after all.) But every once in a while something happens (or doesn't) and you realize that where you are in that moment just isn't the same as home.
Roasted turkey
Homemade cranberry sauce in the making
For me, this happened quite recently. It started with Thanksgiving - Canadian Thanksgiving for you US folks. There aren't a lot of Canadians down here, so the holiday is about as much of a non-event as something can be and I saw pictures of my friends and family gathering with theirs - tables loaded with all the trimmings and I felt a little pinch, somewhere deep down. I shook it off. Then I started seeing Halloween decorations pop up in photos. Admittedly, there are Halloween decorations in Cuenca, but they're a bit of a sales gimmick, more than anything.  We certainly don't get trick-or-treaters (though I hear rumours that it's starting to happen in some areas) and people generally don't dress up unless you're going to some sort of gringo style party. Halloween was one of my very favourite holidays, so it's weird to see it  come and go with so little fanfare.
Halloween and Christmas Combined
Not exactly standard, if you know what I mean?
Now, we're heading into the traditional holiday season. US Thanksgiving is coming up, which will be a bit bigger happening down here and then Christmas. Even Christmas isn't quite the same, in good ways, but still different, nonetheless. Just being in the southern hemisphere makes it so, as the days are usually warm and sunny, because we're in the start of summer once Christmas rolls around. They do have one heck of a party for Christmas Eve - if you like parades that is. El pase de Niño Viajero is a nine hour parade that I've spoken about (ad nauseum) and there's tons of photos on this blog of the incredible event. If you're lucky you'll have already booked a hotel along the route with a balcony overlooking the festivities. We usually just go down for a bit in the morning, go get some lunch and then return for more in the afternoon. We've never seen the entire parade, but I imagine not many people do.
They also really know how to celebrate New Year's Eve. (Although they call it old year - año viejo.) If you read my post about Cuencano festivals this is one that's really not to be missed.So it's not like there's a lack of festivities - they just aren't the festivities I grew up with, which, every once in a while, is a reminder that I'm not in my natural habitat.
Latest acquisition from Festival de Cuenca
With that thought floating out in the universe, I'm off to check out the tres de noviembre festival of Cuenca - this will be our fourth, surprisingly. Nothing celebrates freedom from Spanish overlords like art, music, food and dance! Feliz festival!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Living the High Life - Life at Altitude

If you've never been above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) or so , you may not entirely get that living higher up can be challenging. In fact, some people are affected at elevations as low (relatively speaking) as 1,500m/4,921ft. The ,oxygen is just thinner up at high altitudes and aerobic activity can be hard. 
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Sea level, we know you well!
I noticed it first when we first got to Quito for a visit. Climbing the stairs at the hotel made me breathless. (It was a pretty hotel but nothing so luxurious that it took my breath away, if you know what I mean.) I didn't really notice it when I was walking around, unless I hit a steepish hill or stairs. I was lucky, I didn't get any of the "hangover" symptoms that some people get. (Things like headaches, nausea, lightheadedness etc.) That is, until I got to Cuenca...a city at a lower elevation than Quito, ironically. This type of altitude sickness is more formally called AMS (acute mountain sickness.) There are worse and more deadly types that involve liquid in the lungs and on the brain. These are deadly and best to be avoided. AMS is a good precursor to the others, but isn't necessarily a requirement.
El Panecillo in
Quito - 2,850 metres (9,350 ft)
This is the perversity that is altitude sickness. Just because you don't get it once, doesn't mean you can't get it another time. It also means that if you want to live an active lifestyle you have to be okay with feeling like you can't draw in enough breath. I've learned that even though I feel like I might suffocate, I really won't. I might puff up inclines like the little engine that could, but I still make it up. It's not so bad in Cuenca; stairs still wind me, but I recover a lot faster, but get me up into the Cajas and any incline makes me feel (presumably) asthmatic.  In truth, the higher you get the harder it gets, but I've found that if I can keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll hit a sweet spot and stop suffering eventually.

Cusco (3,399m/11,200ft)
It's not just that, either...being short of breath. Sometimes, when we come back from being at sea level I get sick (as in nausea and vomit - sorry...I know that's a gross thought) and it wipes me out for two or three days even though I'm only talking to the toilet once, usually in the middle of the night on the day I arrive. It happened the first time I came to Cuenca and it happened again the last time, but there have been at least four times in between that I was fine. You just don't know.
Cuenca - 2,500 metres (8,200 feet)
Mirador Turi (slightly higher than Cuenca)
This last time I was cocky, we ate empanadas for lunch and then had pasta for supper. Not exactly light eating if you know what I mean and I paid the price. You can try to counter balance it or take steps to avoid it.

How to (try to) Avoid AMS:

In the first 12-24 hours it is best to avoid:
          1. ALCOHOL (none, zip, zilch, nada, zero)
          2. Heavy foods, stick to clear liquids like broths, clear juices etc (no, still not alcohol)
          3. Physical activity - keep it to a minimum
(These three rules our are from Jorge, our hotel manager in Cusco.

Oh, and HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! You loose tons of moisture up at altitude, so you'll want to drink lots of water. Fortunately, Cuenca has some of the world's best drinking water, but most other places you'll need to drink bottled water. Most of us don't have enough time to do what really needs to be done to avoid altitude sickness which is only ascending 500m (1,640ft) per 24 hour period.

Peru - the Salkantay Pass
4,630 metres/15,190 ft
Living at high altitude also affects how things cook, including how water boils (it actually boils at a lower temperature, so things cook more slowly), and how cakes and cookies bake. You can't just whip up your favourite batch of chocolate chip cookies without making changes to the recipe. (Which means they may never be the same again, no matter how hard you try.) The good news is that there are lots of sites out there to help you. Just be prepared to make adjustments to those tried and true recipes.
El Cajas - Tres Cruces Summit
This is life at altitude and some people need oxygen and others need to get themselves to a lower altitude ASAP. You can actually die from altitude sickness at it's most extreme, so it's something that you have to be aware of when considering the leap to the stunning Andes. If you want to find out more visit, a nifty site with everything you ever wanted to know about high altitude living, including how long you should cook an egg at your exact altitude.
Huayna Picchu (2,720m/8,920ft)
There are actually benefits to living at high altitude. You tend to lose weight, as your body is working so much harder to get oxygen. Your heart gets stronger (assuming it was originally healthy) and your red blood cells increase and when you go back to sea level physical activity is easier. (At least for the first couple of weeks.) I was much more able to perform in Australia without incident because of my high altitude life. That being said, it's still hard to workout here, but I'm training to improve my cardio performance and am likely in better physical condition now than when I was in my 20's. If that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is!