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Friday, August 29, 2014

A Lesson in Lemon Juice

Okay, so we might be the stupidest people on the planet, but when we bought this simple hand use juicer, it apparently perplexed us and then, miraculously, one evening we discovered the secret. It was so simple and obvious, but minorly miraculous to us that we felt we had to share:

This is what the juicer looks like:

This is where you put in the lemon and the right way to put it in:

This is the WRONG way to put the lemon in:
Counter intuitive, I know!
Simply press and watch the juice run out the holes!

You're welcome!

(PS, no matter how many people tell me these are limes, I know the truth. You only need to taste them...really, lemon all the way!)

On different, but lemon related note, a great recipe for fighting a cold is as follows:

Juice of two small lemons (or half a large lemon), 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, honey for sweetness and hot water. Take twice a day for three days and it should fix you up quite nicely. Something about the combination acts as a decongestant, the lemon gives you a hit of Vitamin C and the honey and warm water is good on the throat (should it be sore).

PS, fresh lemon juice makes way better tarts and pie than bottled stuff (this may come as no surprise to most of you, but it's my number one tip for making lemon filling). It's particularly tasty on avocado and surprisingly refreshing in tomato sauce for pasta.

You can also use lemons in your garburator to make it smell fresh. (Ice sharpens the blades, apparently.) I saw a tip on Pinterest that suggests freezing pieces of lemon in ice cubes and THEN garburating them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ecuador - A World Beyond Cuenca!

I do confess that we've spent a lot of time just wandering around Cuenca - well really El Centro. In fact that's pretty much all we've done over the last 10 months that we've been here, except for a minor excursion here and there and one fairly serious bicycle trip.

Having visitors is an excellent way to break out of a retirement rut and get out and see what's going on in other parts of the country and that is exactly what we did.
Prerequisite floral photos

We took a day trip to a place called Chobshi in the province of Sig Sig. It has a wealth of information about  the Cañari people. The Cañari have been in Ecuador for a ridiculously long time; well before the Incans and are noted for their diplomacy, Socialism and trading skills. They actually had no leader and kept peace by bringing a diversity of South American goods in trade to an enormous region of the continent. This made them popular and converted potential enemies in to trading partners. Cue the Incans. Their political philosophy wasn't quite as...shall I say liberal? While the Cañari were able to build a friendship with the Incans and infiltrate (if you will) the blood line, they eventually had to capitulate to Incan rule, eventually gaining power for themselves in the process. That's the Cole's notes version of the history of the Cañari people. There is a cave in Chobshi where they found proof of habitation that was 12,000 years old. This find is believed to be the beginnings of the Cañaris. If you're interested in learning more here are some useful search terms: Huayna (or occasionally Wayna) Capac, Dhuma, Cañari, Chobshi, etc.

Canari Fortress Ruins

Traditional Canari Farmlands

Map Rock (outlining the local rivers)

The red earth reminded me of PEI

Ron and John enjoying lunch

History lesson over.

As this is winter both Ron and I and our guests were eager to head out to the coast in search of warmer climes and hopefully some more sunshine. Alas and alack, though we found warmer temperatures, sun was (literally) not in the forecast. What we did discover is the rather remarkable beaches of Ecuador. We visited both (la Playa de) Olón and Salinas and also enjoyed the beautiful trek across country. We wended our way through the Andes, past the rice, banana, cacao and mango fields, past the salt "mines" that are actually lagoons filled with ocean water and down along the Coast.

Olon - Life Guard Teddy is on the job!

Cloudy, but warm enough for shorts

Nearby cliffs

Little Blue Jellyfish - there were tons!

Close up of the cliffs

The towns there are a bit "rougher" than what we're used to in Cuenca and it was a gentle reminder that while Ecuador's economy is improving, there is still a lot of work to be done. The people are just as friendly and helpful and also seem to enjoy life just as must as those in our little paradise, which is always humbling and heartwarming at the same time.

Olón is the place to go if all you really want to do is chill out, read a book, take in the surf and relax. There are a few attractions about 45 minutes outside of the pueblo, but it's a town made for surfers, hippies and those in need of a serious break from any type of hustle and bustle. There are crazy little crabs that spend the afternoons digging out new tunnels from the sand and I could have watched them for hours. There was also an amazing assortment of coloured rocks, shells and various remains of sea creatures to make a stroll interesting. The surf provides a steady thrum that can make conversation difficult, but is somehow completely soothing. Accommodations are "rustic" and if you're used to 5 star hotels, you may want to look elsewhere. If you're a beach bum at heart (and not overly fussy about how rooms are constructed), go down and check it out.

Bougainvillaea in Salinas

Teddy lunching on the restaurant patio

Ice Cream Vendors

Paddle Boat Rentals

Need a chair & table??? You can buy that, too.

This guy was selling temporary tattoos

Teddy chilling out, watching all the vendors go by

Well deserved R&R

Salinas is a tourist city. There's tons of hotel and condos lining the beach in three different sections of the city. There's a great selection of restaurants and clubs. If you do opt to hang out at the beach, I would recommend finding a quiet stretch at either end of the city and not the part in the middle of the action. We spent two hours sitting on beach chairs watching (and occasionally being accosted by) the endless (and I really do me ENDLESS) parade of vendors. It's something that must be experienced if you go, but I could only tolerate it for the 2 hours, any more than that might have made me do something crazy.

I really think that the coast of Ecuador has something for everyone, you just have to take your time to find the place that's right for you. When selecting a beach location pay particular attention to who is reviewing the place and what their likes and dislikes were (more so than usual), you really need to read between the lines on reviews.

We aren't sure if either Olón or Salinas is the place for us, but we know there's a beach that has our name on it and we'll enjoy taking the time to find it. Be well, appreciate your loved ones and, if you can, find a moment of joy in every single day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Banos or Bust

Birthdays, for the most part are pleasant things. We can celebrate the fact that we're still above ground and breathing oxygen (a various forms of diesel smoke, if you're here in Cuenca). They're also a time of reflection, for some, analyzing the prior year and looking ahead to set goals or make wishes for the future.

In this general vein, we set off to celebrate one of our friends' birthday with a bicycle trip to Banos.(The near one, not the one that's five hours away by car, or the other one, that's somewhere in Ecuador, but I'm not really sure where - yes there are three with additional names that keep them straight.) Apparently it's only an hour and a half bike ride, which sounds fairly pleasant and when one arrives in Banos, one can partake of the various thermal pools for which the town is named. (Banos = baths.)

Okay, a bit of bare honestly here...I haven't been on a bike since our trek to the three volcanoes back in February, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about being able to make the distance, but really, it's not that far outside of Cuenca and I've been working out, so I kept that little worry to myself.

The ride, for the most part was pleasant. (If you exclude the monster hill we had to go over to reach the town.) We mostly got to ride through bucolic country side with fairly little traffic and we even got to wave to our furniture as we passed near where it's being stored.

I've never been to Banos, at least until this little jaunt of ours with a group that I christened the Fellowship (a la Lord of the Rings). So once we cleared the HILL we cruised down the other side in to a pretty little town with a blue church and many thermal pools. Some of us decided to go to soak immediately, while others wanted nourishment. (A quick stop at an empanada vendor apparently did not fill the bill.) So Ron and I and a few friends (including the birthday girl), went in search of food.
Pretty Banos
Successfully nourished, we returned to our spa of choice and were faced with a perplexing decision...did we just want access to the bathing pool or more of the spas resources, like the extremely hot and cold pool, or the sauna or perhaps all three? Having felt the water we opted for the piscina (pool) as it was getting late and the cost was $8.  Very strangely, once you've spent a few minutes in a fairly warm pool, it doesn't see so pleasing and we started yearning for the extremely hot pool. But it was not to be, once we had made our decision, unless we wanted to cough over another $8 per person, our hot pool desires were to be quashed. (This is one of the weird quirks of Ecuador, once you make a decision, it's pretty well it.) Had we opted for the "all in" selection, the cost would only have been $14, but if you choose one thing and then want something else, you're going to pay. Why we couldn't just pay the $6 difference is still beyond us. (But let that be a lesson for you.) We opted to stick to the large middling temperature pool, as we knew we'd have to leave in fairly short order.

We took a much quicker return trip, by returning via the main road, which might sound scary, but it was actually pretty good as it was mostly down hill and because it was Sunday the traffic was light. We followed all this up with a birthday party (and a rousing knock out tournament of table tennis aka ping pong) and a good time was had by all. Until next time!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Personal Responsibilty - a Rant (consider that your disclaimer)

This post has little do with Ecuador, but even as I type that, I know it's not true. I've come to realize how over-legislated and under-accountable we've become in North America. We live in a litigious society of "not-my-faults" and "you-should-have-known-betters" that undermines the personal responsibility in our own lives. Ecuador does not have the same zeal for suing people, companies or the government. If you fall in a hole, you should have been watching where you were going. Their attitude is "how stupid do you have to be to let yourself walk over a cliff?"

(Interestingly this is in complete contravention of the Spanish linguistic set up for accidents. They structure a statement about an accident in such a way as to avoid personal responsibility. "Se me cayo" or, in English (super loosely) "it is that I fell down" or, even more loosely, "not my fault, I just happened to fall".)

What brings this on, you might ask? I read an article recently, about a not-to-be-named city in Canada that cut off the branches of a climbing tree because a little boy fell and hurt himself. Another not-to-be-named city actually cut another climbing tree down completely. Seriously! This is also the reason that toasters have warnings about not immersing them in water. (Or hair dryers for that matter.) It does get worse.

Does this mean that I don't believe in suing? No, I'm not prepared to go that far. If you produce a product and a design flaw or careless processing creates harm for the users, you have a certain responsibility to make amends for the damage and fix the problem. But, if I burn my hand on a pan that I just took out of the oven (and believe me I do this frequently) I don't sue the pan manufacturer for not putting a warning on the pan that says "Caution, can cause injury if heated." Why? Because I already know that! Sure I have silicon handle wraps, oven mitts and tea towels to protect my hands, but sometimes, I just forget when I'm on cruise control and getting ready to deglaze the roasting pan. In cases like that, guess what? It IS my fault.

It's having a trickle down effect to the younger generation. If parents neglect to ensure that there are consequences to actions, their kids never learn. Suddenly the teacher is to blame that the child can't read, not the fact that the kid spends 4 hours a day playing video games and NOT doing their homework. Obesity is caused by the fast food industry. (Okay, I partially believe that one, but really...what do you think is going to happen if you give your kids (or yourself) fast food everyday?)

We have to wear seat belts, bike helmets, safety goggles (to play floor hockey!), neon coloured vests to be seen in traffic, steel toed boots, non slip shoes. (Not to mention the safety equipment for skiing, snow boarding, roller blading, skate boarding!) We can't run on the pool deck or heaven forbid (in some places) play tag (more on that in a minute!) Too dangerous. No more driving in the back of pick up trucks or in the trunk of the station wagon. (Or my personal favourite - the "back back" of a Volkswagon Beetle. And yes, that's a real thing.)

Our playgrounds have lost long slides, teeter totters, zip lines (oh, yes I remember those, they were a blast, but no longer safe). Yes, the tag thing. I read that a school wanted to ban tag. I guess little Johnny was looking behind him to see who was in pursuit and either tripped or ran in to something. I'm assuming his parents weren't pleased and the school reacted by banning tag. A teacher was quoted as saying (& I'll paraphrase here) "there a lot of fun things to do at recess that don't require running". Perhaps they could all sit in a circle, wrapped in bubble wrap and crochet, but wait, crochet needles have hooks...that could be dangerous. Okay scrap the crocheting, how about drawing - nope paper cuts or Susie might try to eat the crayon, then where would we be? You do see where I'm going with this, right?

Anyhow, back to my point. If you do stupid stuff, sometimes stupid consequences will ensue. Guess what? We learn from it. I burnt my leg on the rim of a fire pit once and I learned not to go quite so close. I used my left arm to do something that was designed for a right arm action and burnt myself. (I told you I do that a lot.) Never did it again. I'm cautious around traffic when I ride my bike, as I got hit once. (Not badly, but enough that I learnt to be careful.) I can now look around and assess the possible repercussions of my actions with a good deal of accuracy and this skill actually seeped in to my work and social life. It made me a better person, as I (usually) think before I speak and/or do.

Our three kids were taught that actions have consequences, be it a cold shower, loss of privileges or cessation of the fun thing they were doing. But we never wrapped them in cotton batting and tied them to a chair to keep them safe. Did they fall? Yup. Did they get a little bruised and battered goofing around climbing trees, balancing on logs and running on uneven surfaces? You betcha! And they're better for it now.

Maybe, just maybe, if we'd stop blaming others and took some responsibility, texting and driving wouldn't be an issue. (Just for one example of idiocy on the highest level.) Maybe our kids would still be able to zip down the trolley (that's what we called zip lines when we were kids) and that awesome slide at False Creek Elementary School would still be there. Along with the fort and fireman's pole. (Take note that the zip line, teeter totters and other wacky play ground items exist here in Ecuador, including swings set in a circle where you can knock feet if you swing high enough.)

I'm not the only nut bar that has this crazy idea. Case in point:
Several European towns (led by the Netherlands, I believe) removed all traffic signs and signals in order to "calm" traffic. If I remember correctly, the town in Holland experienced a 90% decrease in traffic accidents and other traffic related incidents. Some reference material if you're interested: 
And if you don't believe him, how about the Institute for Transportation in Leeds, England?

Maybe if people of authority (parents, government, community leaders etc.) stopped blaming the system, their boss, the teachers, the idiot at the gas station and took some personal responsibility, our young people might pick up the same habit. Maybe I'm just an idealist. And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I'm pointing fingers. That's my rant and I'll try and let it go now.