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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Whether weather is worrisome

If you've ever taken the time to check weather reports for the Andean areas of Ecuador, you may think that we live in a bleak, cloudy, rainy place. Following this thought, you may wonder how so many expats have lost their minds and decided to make Ecuador their home, well the answer is fairly obvious.  The weather is actually quite good.



There's a funny little glitch in the weather reporting for Cuenca; most of the weather stations are located high up in the mountains, where clouds tend to drape across the peaks until they dump their moisture and evaporate. Accuweather, the most reliable source for weather here (a dubious claim), reflects it's name. (There's only half of the word accurate in it and that's about what they bat for correct weather.)

Yesterday, the website stated that it was 19 degrees (Celsius - embrace it people!) and the "real feel" is 22. Now, I went outside and it felt warmer due to the altitude; thinner air, closer to the sun etc etc etc. If I go out in the sun without sun screen, it will probably take less than half an hour to get sun burnt - and I mean radiation red.  If the usual trend stays, I expect clouds and possible showers sometime after 2:30 in the afternoon. What I find quite interesting (and somewhat bizarre) is taking in some rays on the rooftop while thunder rumbles in the distance and I'm surrounded by storm clouds, yet I sit in a lovely patch of sunlight that hovers over the city.

We went for a nice walk in the 19 degree weather, and when the wind vanished, which it frequently does, it was HOT; sweaty hot, but you can't knock the vitamin D. Later in the day, after lunch and a bit of Spanish study, the wind picked up again and it started clouding over. As predicted by around 2:30-3:00 the thunder started to roll and it rained. It was over and done by 5:00 at the latest. (I do love electrical storms! But do note that it doesn't always storm in the pm.)


So no, we don't live in a dreary place, we see the sun almost everyday and even if it's a bit cloudy, the weather (at this point) is warm. We usually only need jackets in the evenings, and not always. Coming from Vancouver, as we do, we're pretty good at discerning rain clouds, so we don't usually sweat the "should we take an umbrella" question. You'll quickly learn that as long as there's an overhang, you can usually wait out all but the very worst rain deluge and not lose too much time while doing it.

That's it for the weather. We'll see what it's like during the wet season, I'll probably have more to say about it then.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Never a Dull Moment (How to tell that I'm not in Canada anymore!)

We're frequently asked how we like being in Cuenca. The question never seems to diminish even after being here for a quarter of a year.  Truthfully, we love it. Okay, we aren't crazy about the bureaucracy, but that's really our biggest challenge right now. (At least at this point!)

Cuenca is a city of surprises. On any given day you can go out and see something you haven't seen before or never expected to see. We trip across parks and museums that have interesting artwork, desfiles (parades) that pop up randomly and without warning. Wandering around in a fairly residential area can lead you to the equivalent of a May day celebration, with dancing and loud music. I'm sure if I was trying to get to work, or keep to a certain schedule, some of these things might drive me crazy, especially if I was driving, but I find them charming and refreshing, a pleasant break from the crazy laws and restrictions that we're used to in Canada.





 




This is only one of the things that reminds me that I'm no longer in Canada. The first clue is the weather. Sure we've been going through a bit of a cloudy stretch, but I've yet to see a day where the sun doesn't show its face at least once. A cold day requires us to put on a light jacket, but of course, it's summer here, so we'll see how it goes during the rainy season in the fall.

I walk too fast here, despite the "gringo" stereotype of being slow. I usually have no place to be at any sort of precise time, but I haven't lost the "city" pace.  (I also have longer legs than the locals, so that might have a bit to do with it.) This also means that I'm too tall, unlike in Canada, where I'm of average height, I seem to be literally heads above most of the population here. (That I have curly red hair also makes me stick out like a sore thumb, but that's a whole other issue!)

Now, obviously the language is a big hint. Not English, not french, not even Cantonese or Mandarin, Hindi or Punjabi, Italian or Greek that can be frequently heard around Vancouver. Everywhere I go, there's Spanish. (Admittedly, I've also heard this language around Vancouver, but usually not in the absence of all other languages.) I do occasionally hear French or German here, but I can count the instances on one hand. (This really oughtn't to be a surprise, as we are in a Spanish speaking country!)

This sign makes it look like the parking lot (parqueadero) is very religious!

There is no Starbucks here or more to the point (from a truly Canadian perspective) no Timmy's. Over Christmas there were no street vendors hawking chestnuts and pistachios and you'll be hard pressed to find a "dirty water" hot dog here, but you can get some darned good grilled chicken or other meat.  Hockey is something that is mysterious and incomprehensible here. I think the phrase here goes along the lines of "If it's not soccer, it's crap", or something of that nature.

Awesome graffiti

As Ron and I walk along the river, every once in a while we see a flock of parrots chasing each other from palm tree to palm tree or, walking past the Inca ruins at Pumapunga, you can catch sight of an alpaca or llama grazing on the grassy slopes. No, this isn't Canada. Sure, it's hard to get some things and other cherished items are expensive (yes, peanut butter, I mean you!). But in stunning contrast, you never know what interesting and entertaining things you'll trip across next. This is a city of chance. If you don't get out and about you might miss something, or if you happen to be walking down a street you've never been on before you may just find a masterpiece. Getting lost here is more about discovery than lost time.
Park dedicated to artist who use fire as part of their medium.





We're so looking forward to getting out to see the rest of Ecuador, but I'll leave that for another day. So, yes, we ARE enjoying being here in Cuenca.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lost In Translation! Trying to get residency. UPDATE - 16 Feb 2014 (in red text)

We've been here in Cuenca for almost three full months and it was early in the second week that we first visited the residency office.  We were feeling nervous and yet overly confident at the same time.  We'd been in contact with the Ecuadorian Consulate in Montreal for a stretch of time and felt that we had done our due diligence and had everything in order.

Boy were we wrong!  It seems that communication between the consulate and the immigration department is, well, let's say it's lacking.  (It doesn't help that requirements seem to change like the weather here.)  We had outdated items, missing items and items that were never required in the first place.  It was basically a debacle.  As mentioned in a previous blog, our marriage certificate was "expired", as were our criminal record checks.  Apparently, Ecuadorians have one piece of paper that shows everything on it, so there is a certain "timeliness" that comes with paperwork. Our system of certification is mysterious to them.

Anyhow, we were required to get new criminal record checks and a marriage certificate.  The girl (I can hardly call her a woman, as she it quite young) at the residency office kindly gave us a list of requirements and tried to explain where we had gone wrong.  This is difficult as our Spanish was negligible and her English, while fairly good, doesn't have the depth of vocabulary necessary to explain requirements in fine detail.  (I think she might disagree with me.)

So we ordered the required items, contacted the Ecuadorian Consulate in Montreal to get the paper work we were missing and spent a fairly obscene amount of money on couriers etc. (You can't get postage paid return courier envelopes here in Ecuador, so we had to use a family "emissary" to at on our behalf.)

Round two: despite horrendous delays with our DHL package, we finally received our paperwork back; notarized and apostilled and we headed down to the residency office once again.  Nope, still wrong.  Some of the new documents weren't legalized. (Despite the paper she provided us stating that it wasn't necessary.)  So we've now couriered (using UPS this time) documents back to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Montreal once again,via our long suffering emissary.  Sigh.  (There's also a tricky issue with a 1x2 inch stamp on the back of our criminal record checks, which I'm not sure whether we've fixed or not.) 
Bottom line, here's what you currently need to get your pensioners visa as a Canadian (I would assume that this also applies to other countries)  Please note THIS MAY CHANGE RAPIDLY AND FREQUENTLY so don't be surprised  if you need something else down the road:

1. Your passport must be valid for more than 6 months

2. You will need colour copies of your passport picture page, your entry visa and registration of visa (the copies need to be notarized by an Ecuadorian notary...not a notary in Canada) Good news is that the notary only charges $1 per page. (I will also note that our checklist specifies a Cuencano notary.)

3. Criminal record checks (at this point in time you have somewhere between 90-180 days from the date it's printed before it expires - this is a hotly debated issue and I can't find anything in writing to confirm anything more specific)
     a) the original criminal record check need to be legalized by the Ecuadorian Consulate in Canada (ECinC) closest to you
     b) the criminal record check also needs to be copied (preferably in colour...do front and back!), this copy must be notarized and then sent to the DFAIT (Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Transportation) to be apostilled.  (A happy red stamp that takes approximately 15 business day to get back once the DFAIT receives it.) Trust me, it will take at least the full 15 days. 
    c)you must also have the notarized, apostilled colour copy of the criminal record check legalized by the Ecuadorian Consulate
    d)The notarized, apostilled copy needs to be translated either by an approved translator in Canada and also legalized by the consulate or you can have the document translated here in Ecuador (I'm unclear on whether the Ecuadorian Consulate in Canada will legalize a document without a translation)

4. Certificate of Migratory Movement (certificado de movimiento migratorio) which you get here in Ecuador.  These are only valid for 30 days.

5. Proof of your retirement income from whomever is supplying it (we had a company letter)  This also need steps a through d in item 3.
     a) In addition (I believe because funds are in Canadian dollars) you will also require a "Protocolizacion" this is a letter from the ECinC that verifies that it meets the dollar requirements of a pensioner visa, this is accompanied usually by a copy or the original letter

6. For women only, or so I believe, a Marriage Certificate (this cannot be more than 120 days from the date it was printed)  This needs to follow the same procedure as your criminal record check including apostillization!

7. Letter of Request (in Spanish) they give you a letter sample when you register your visa (if you do so).  It includes your personal information and reason for wanting to live in Ecuador.  The letter must be dated for the day you submit your application at the residency offices.

8. Application this is available on the Ecuadorian government website.  Do NOT date the application or sign it until you're in the office. 



These documents need to be presented in the order listed on the check list.  (Items 7 & 8 actually come first in the process.)   You will likely have to get several sets of coloured copies of various things, so keep small bills ready, you will also have to buy a file for the residency office to keep your documents in. (They keep the file that you have to buy.)

Hope this helps in some way! We'll let you know if anything else comes up after we go in for attempt 3...it's supposed to be the charm.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Flam-tastic New Years - Hola 2014!

Most of you know that we've never been huge new years celebrators.  It didn't make any sense to shell out $200 a plate for a mediocre meal, bad DJ music and greeting the new year with 200 of our closest strangers.  We were lucky if we even stayed up until midnight.  Hey it was the new year somewhere in the world!

But this year was different.  We'd come a long way to be in a different culture and we weren't going to miss it.  The new year here is celebrate with the whole family. (As is most everything in Ecuador.)  We noticed odd things starting to appear on the streets: stuffed dummies of all shapes and sizes, papier mache face masks both realistic and not.  Then came the stands full of fire works and completed effigies started showing up in store doorways and on car bumpers.

Pick a body, pick a face!

Cartoon characters seemed very popular


That Barney mask was REALLY tempting.

Very tiny selection of available fireworks and sparklers
Okay, so you might be asking yourself "What is all of this?" (I know we would have wondered if we hadn't done some research.)  This is how the new year goes down here:  you build yourself an effigy. Some people make it look like themselves, some like to use cartoon characters, some like to use famous people, like politicians or athletes. (Sorry Brangelina...you aren't that popular here.) Why? Well, you load down your effigy with notes about your wishes for the future or the things that you want to move on from that happened in the past and at midnight you burn your creation to get rid of the bad from last year and start fresh in the new one.  It isn't effigy burning as we know it.  This is a well intentioned practice to wish good things for people. The local neighbourhoods ("barrios") compete for the best display and they don't go small.

To give you an idea of scale

Crazy detail

There was a troupe of the guys wandering around all night, not sure why.

"Seeing the identity of my people being extinguished"
(That qualifies as getting rid of something bad!)





"The Train" Valencia, the fastest (soccer/futbol) player on the planet...like a gazelle...the best center in the world leaving his rival wrathful"
The only way to get rid of an evil doll is to burn it to ashes...we all know this!

Adios, Diego!

Team Ecuador - Wishing Success in 2014 World Cup

Hoping for Monetary Success in 2014

More wishes for the soccer team
The last photo is just down the street from us, right at the end of the block.  Neither of us could believe that they were going to burn these huge installations.  We went home and had a nice dinner.

(With some sparkling wine of course.  By 8pm we were ready to head out and see what was going on.  Some people started the party early by burning their effigies right in the middle of the street.  Cars wended their way around the odd fire here and there and traffic was a nightmare, with all sorts of streets randomly blocked off for the barrio presentations.  Pure craziness.  The streets were very busy with families roaming around and the ubiquitous street vendors cashing in on the extra business. (Many with effigies attached to their carts and wheel barrows.)
There were little spot fires, like this one all over the city, even during daylight hours, but we had to wait until midnight for the real show to start.
Yup, This One is Going to Be Lit Up

A Family Effigy Pyre

Will It Burn?

Douse It With More Incendiary Liquid!

Voila!

We amused ourselves with similar shows of pyrotechnics as we waited until midnight.  It was amazing to see the little kids up and running around, helping arrange the piles of effigies.
These little ones are making a nest for the bodies!
And having a grand time while doing it.
We realized it was almost midnight and headed back to the huge presentation near our house. And here's how it went down:
Spend all day putting it up, then rip it apart and burn it!

First Flames

Stuff in bottom left, still to be burned!

Big crowd (you can see a fire starting way up the street, too).

Crowd Shot - lots of gringos

Did I mention that they put fireworks in the effigies?  I recommend they stand back!

Looks like a war zone especially with the 2nd fire in the background


Post Firework Explosion...it was LOUD!
Ron went out this morning to see the damage and, except for a few dark stains on the cobbles and the odd bit of ash floating around, it's like nothing ever happened.  Effigy fairies must have been hard at work while the rest of us slept. Hard to believe when stuff like this was going on only hours before!

video


If you ever (and I mean EVER) get the opportunity to witness this, don't miss it.  It's as much fun as you can have with fire, alcohol and the new year.  Even with that combination there was no violence, looting or mayhem, just a good family experience that includes combustible liquids, matches and a good sense of humour.