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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dentists and Departmentos (how to buy an apartment)

This month is about tackling new challenges, at least for us. We've spent a lot of time wandering around the city, familiarizing ourselves with the neighbourhoods and local offerings. We've found hat makers and a Greek yogurt place, a beer maker and our favourite veggie seller. But it was time to get down to the real life things that we all do...things like go to the dentist.

Almost everyone in our building goes to the same dentist, so we decided to book an appointment for a cleaning to see how we liked her. The bonus is that she's fluent in English, which is helpful, as our vocabulary hasn't expanded to things like teeth grinding, fillings and other dental phrases. I know some of you up in N.A. are thinking YIKES! "How advanced are their skills?" "What type of tools do they use and "Is it safe?" (How appropriate, for those of you that get the reference!)

One of our happy little bird friends.

The office seemed like a normal dentist office...mediocre-ly comfortable chairs and magazines in the waiting room, a receptionist and regular dental chairs with very recognizable dental lights and the persistent sound of "zweeeee zweeee" from the polishing head of the dental machine. It was a fairly quick in and out visit. What was different? No paperwork...nothing, no forms about allergies or operations and all the other crazy stuff you get in North America and we didn't have any x-rays. We both got a good thorough cleaning and were sent on our way. Ron needs to have a filling changed out as it's loosened, but beyond that, no problem. She kept us waiting a little while, because of a dental emergency so she gave us a discount. Total cost? $45 for both of us - with discount. Prices have been increasing, or so we've heard. Try and remember the last time your dentist apologised (and I mean came out, sat down with us and earnestly apologised) for keeping you waiting 30 minutes and then offered a discount! I would never happen!

We've also decide to tackle the home buying challenge. I know...we said we'd wait for a year, but we came across something that we can't resist. You might wonder if the process is complicated. Nope. It's not terribly different from North America, where you place an offer with conditions which is either accepted, rejected or countered. This offer usually is accompanied by some good faith deposit (called earnest money, here) of any amount you care to offer, but 10% is not unusual.

View we'll have from the Condo

The BIG difference is paying for the property. We're buying an apartment that is still being constructed, so with our promise to purchase they want 40% down, right away, preferably by wiring the funds. Then we are to pay in increments until the property is completed, only holding back 10% to secure the actual property title. Basically, you pay for the whole thing in advance. Not what we're used to. Despite this nerve wracking process and giant leap of faith, we're proceeding. 

Guest room view
Fees for the lawyer vary, and we paid a premium to have bilingual lawyers, but in this case, we were happy to pay more to ensure we understood everything that was going on. On top of lawyers fees are notary fees equaling almost the same amount as for the lawyers.

Kitchen cabinets (excuse the dust, work is still in progress)

Built in wardrobes
Once the condo is complete, we will have to wait for the title transfer. We've built in a time line for this in our contract to buy, as the process can take a L-O-N-G time (we've heard up to 5 years!). Once we actually have the deed in our hand we then have to cough over the final 10%. (On a side note: we can also hold back our installment payments if we feel the work  isn't progressing as we liked, but this was written in to the contract.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quirky Ecuadorian Facts and Interesting Cuenca Info

We're coming up to closing our fifth month in Ecuador and we've been minding our time, taking care of paperwork, figuring out how and where to do things and meeting new people.

We've also tripped across some interesting factoids about Ecuador and our fair city of Cuenca.  My favourite article so far was about the nature of Ecuadorian culture, particularly timeliness. This is an excerpt from a pop up on a gringo site about Ecuador:

"Ecuador is one of the most unpunctual countries of the world. It was such a problem that in 2003 the government decided to launch the National Campaign for punctuality. October 1st was the launch, with president Lucio Guitérrez and other authorities. In order to arrive on time, they synchronized everyones clocks to be on the same time. Even then the campaign started more than 20 minutes late!"

Now this is not true of the indigenous people of Ecuador, as they have a very simple philosophy: don't be lazy, don't lie and don't steal. If you say you're going to be somewhere at 3:30, you'd better be there or you're a liar. That doesn't apply to the other Ecuadorians that come from a Spanish or other European back ground. Not to say that everyone is late, but...well, almost everyone is late.

This past weekend we also experienced our first Carnival.  I know this word brings to mind long lines of Samba dancers, scanty costumes, beads, tons of food and alcohol and general craziness, but there are no Samba school competitions or large parades, at least here in Cuenca. Carnival consists of water, flour, balloons, water guns and "espuma" or foam. 

Remnants - post Carnival. These are the small cans of foam.

Load 'em up!
Apparently the name of the game is soaking people, foaming people, flouring people (we didn't see any of this, but are told it exists). If you have no sense of humour and are fussy, Cuenca is not the place to be during Mardi Gras, but for the most part participants are respectful, except for the random drive by water attack and the occasional water bomb from a balcony.  This can involve a bucket, so walkers beware. In all honestly, we were only hit twice by surprise and not with buckets and we let some kids unload water balloons on us when they asked nicely. (We were safely across the street, so fared fairly well, until I tried to catch a balloon to throw back...bad idea, soaked myself in the process. There are no pictures of the actual Carnival events, as I was afraid to get my camera wet.

We did see people walking around looking like snowmen or some sort of wacky Steven King foam creature. Next year, if we're here, we're planning to load up and head out for some hi-jinks. Did I mention the confetti? Also popular. 

Another interesting way to...can you call it a celebration?...let's go with participate seems to be strictly practiced by the school kids, particularly the high schoolers. Instead of wimpy water balloons and buckets, they happily (sometimes more than others) dunk each other in the river. I'm not talking about a couple of splashes but "drenched to the bones" soaking. 

Many gringos opt to have parties at home and we went to a couple (I know, how social of us!) In the past gringos have been a favourite target of Carnival revelers, but from our experience everyone was restrained. These pictures are for you Matt! Side note, potlucks are huge with gringos here, but a mystery, I think, to the locals...
First shot of the spread, still much food to arrive.

Traditional bread called gua gua pan, which is Chechuan for "Child" bread.

Those are my lemon tarts and flourless chocolate cake.

Probably a bad segue after showing food, but another odd fact about Ecuador...the toilet paper is lightly scented. Why? Well most of the plumbing in ecuador is clay pipe, so toilet paper sticks to the walls of the sewer system, clogging it up abysmally, hence the need to throw toilet paper in a waste bin, instead of flushing. This may sound gross, but really, it works fine and our bathroom does not smell, or anything.

It's also hard to find pepper here, at least in restaurants. There will always be copious amounts of salt, but if you love pepper, plan on carrying around your own personal shaker. Herbs and spices are mainly medicinal here. Salt, garlic and onion are the main flavour makers in many dishes and yet soups are still fantastic and most almuerzos are delicious...don't know how they do it.

I think that's enough little bits of flotsam and jetsam for now. Sending love from the southern hemisphere!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rain Forests - Ecuador Style

About an hour outside of Cuenca is a forest reserve called Aguarongo. It's a science centre and reserve for many indigenous plants, including ones with beneficial medicinal ingredients. We were lucky, as the weather held and we even had some lovely spots of sunshine.
Our first rainbow in Cuenca!

Touring Aguarongo

The ride itself went fairly smoothly until we reached the dirt road that led to the forest. It was narrow and pitted, so should you take this journey, be prepared for some bouncing, rocking and rolling. At points, through the brush and trees, you can see that the cliff is quite steep. Your mind can't help but ponder what would happen, should the bus jump the road. There were no signs of any calamity, so I trusted myself to our drive, Nestor.

When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by charming building that reminded me of the Shire with round doors and charmingly shingled, as you can see in the photos.

Traditionally styled eating area. The circular shape helps prevent wind from leaking in.

We had a lovely guide named Adriana, who conducted us through the forest, pointing out medicinal plants, interesting trees and showing us the lay of the land. It was the first tour we took in Spanish and we made it through quite well. The landscape reminded me of regrowth five to ten years after a fire, but the altitude affects how high and quickly things can grow. Adriana pointed out a paper tree bush and told us is was twenty years old, they only grow 3cm a year (or maybe less...). The bush was roughly the height of a friendly, greet your neighbour hedge.

After our hike through the forest, that included stunning views of the surrounding area, we sat down to a lovely almuerzo, featuring a squash soup with cheese (accompanied by perfect avocado and lime slices), chicken in a vegetable sauce with rice and vegetables.  There was also a juice that had thin sort of oatmeal mixed in...I know, sounds weird, but it was really delicious.  I can't describe it, but if you get a chance, try it.

This one's my pride and joy...lovely sunlight through the canopy.
Just behind this hill is Cuenca.

That was our adventure to the Aguarongo Forest. Sending our love from the southern hemisphere!