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Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Epic of the Sofa Cushions or "Patience"

In grade 12 English class we were challenged to write an epic poem; it had to include an overwhelming challenge featuring a hero or heroine who accomplished great deeds with much struggle. Mine was quite silly, about a princess who had broccoli stuck in her teeth which lost her the love of the prince. She had to find a way to remove said (very stubborn) broccoli and win back her love. I can't remember a single line. I think my English teacher (Mr. Morris) commented that it was a bit short on epic requirements but "mad fun".

This leads me to our saga of the decorative sofa cushions . (Okay, as a Canadian, I'm supposed to refer to a 'sofa' as a 'chesterfield', but in my head I have a very specific visual of what a chesterfield looks like versus our comfy sofas.) Anyhow, we found a furniture store that also makes custom throw pillows. They have an attractive selection of fabrics, so after talking it over amongst ourselves we decided to order four; total cost $32 or $8 a piece.

Chesterfield, but I usually imagine it with some sort of tapestry fabric...
Sofa...see the difference?
Our initial conversation with the sales lady indicated that the actual production of the pillows takes about three days. On our return and at the point of actual ordering February 7th) we were told to come back in a week, on Valentine's Day to pick up our completed order.

Valentine's day arrived (it just happened to coincide with Carnival this year) and we headed down to the taller to pick up our anticipated decorative items. Of course, they were was Carnival, after all. They were also closed Sunday (that goes without saying), Monday AND Tuesday. We did our grocery shopping early that week, so we went to the Mercado on Wednesday and as we passed the store, we saw that it was open. We popped in our heads and were greeted with a look of apprehension. Our pillows were not yet ready, could we come back Monday. (The order hadn't been put in promptly, so there was a delay due to Carnival.) Sure, no problem. We smiled, told the 'vendadora' not to worry and made plans to return the following Monday.

Monday arrives and we head down the hill with anticipation. It was almost 11:00 am, enough time for the nice lady to get settled in to her day and not feel rushed - I know, we're very thoughtful that way. We get to the corner, where the store is located and notice that the steel security shutters are drawn and locked. CLOSED. Which meant our sofas still looked like this:
Naked and sad...
Okay, that's twice now that they've told us to come on a specific day and then not been opened. We considered our options. Perhaps they had closed for an early lunch. We bided our time, wandering they city, stopping at the market and getting my fingers (almost) slapped by a vendor for touching her produce. (That was a first and hopefully a last!) After and hour and a half we returned and the store was still closed. We looked at each other and decided to laugh it off. After all, we're in Ecuador.

Tuesday arrives and we decide to go later in the day. (This is 17 days after the original "three day" order.) We can't believe our luck...the store is open! Uh-oh...another look of apprehension. She's forgotten to bring the pillows and is so very sorry. Could we please come back the same time tomorrow and for sure the pillows will be there. Fine, says I, but you've asked us to come back twice on days that you were closed, will you be open tomorrow? Of course, is the response, don't worry we're open until 7 pm!
Yup...still unadorned...
At this point we can't quite decide what to do; ask for our money back? Wait it out? Seriously, if we get our money back and go somewhere else, what are the chances of this playing out all over again. We decide to stick with the store.

Wednesday dawns, we have a leisurely morning (except for Ron trying to clean some sort of goo that was smudging the glass shower doors...that was a mini-epic.) We eat lunch, try to have a nap, but the pounding somewhere in the building can't be blocked out. Finally we head into El Centro, we get coffee at one of the stores we like, we stop by a friends house for "beer o'clock" and don't leave their place until somewhere around 5pm.

The store is open! Yay! What do we see? Yup, you guessed it...look of apprehension. The lady picks up the phone and I hear her ask the person on the other end of the line "where are you?" Turns out they're 20 minutes away, the traffic was worse than anticipated. She offers to deliver the pillows if we live nearby. (We're no more than 10 blocks away.) She promises to call us once she is near our intersection, so we can meet her outside. Fine. At this point we can only laugh or run stark raving mad through the streets.

Today is Thursday (almost three weeks after our initial order), we did our grocery shopping and walked past the store. Closed. We still have to go to the Mercado, so maybe on our way home, the darn thing will be open and (against my gut and any real likelihood) they will have our cushions. (Fingers crossed!)

Hopefully, we will be able to add photos of the cushions to this post later this afternoon, but don't hold your breathe.

UPDATE: Sweet success! (Sort of) 
So like all things Ecuadorian we finally got our cushions, but not exactly what we ordered (they were out of one of the fabrics so offered us several different options.) We wound up mixing some of our old cushions with some of the new ones and whatever was left over went on the guest room bed. Here's the (sort of) final product...I suspect we'll be looking for another option sometime in the future:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Calefon oh my Calefon (On-demand Water Heating)

We're always for innovations that save energy and resources, which is why we were a little bit excited to move to a place that has an on-demand water heater (aka tankless water heating). These have been popular in Europe and Japan for many years and we even considered getting one for the house in Prince Edward Island. 

The actual purchase cost can be quite prohibitive and as we'd already maxed out our 'green' grant with the geothermal system and required a holding tank to run it, we skipped the on-demand water heater, or calefon, as it's known in Spanish. (We also didn't understand them all that well, but here's a handy diagram.)

Anyhow, we now find ourselves the recipients of on-demand water. The heater was tucked away tastefully in a cabinet in the kitchen, with the cold water line running into the bottom of it and hot water lines running out. (As pictured.)
Yes, it says "GO-177"
This is a propane based heater that requires good ventilation (see the exhaust at the top). What we didn't realise is that it also needs ready access to air. (I guess it makes sense with fire being involved!) So our nicely tucked away heater was basically experiencing a severe asthma attack when we ran it with the doors closed. This made the water temperature fluctuate wildly when we used the hot water for any extended period of time. (Think shower...) The builder finally recommended that until he found a solution that we only use the calefon with the doors opened.
You can barely make out the happily burning flame.
This has improved the water temperature issue (it's nice and consistent now) and the calefon doesn't sound like it's being smothered while it runs. It now makes a hearty whooshing sound (vaguely reminiscent of the furnace in Nightmare on Elm Street - okay, that might be an overstatement) and then is basically silent.

The point of all of this? Do not be afraid of the on-demand water heater. It can save a lot of money on a monthly basis and is a bit more environmentally friendly that keeping a huge tank of water warm all the time. Our dish washer seems to be quite pleased with the calefon as well...our dishes come out pristine. This makes Ron happy, both because he doesn't have to wash the dishes in the first place or make up for any dishwasher short comings.
Ron's clever solution to covering up the "widow maker"
wires for an electric water heater. It's a soap dish...
So far, we've used up about a tank and a half of gas (1/4 of one being sucked up by the gas lines running to our apartment), so we figure we can run on one tank a month (give or take) and that costs (right now) a whopping $2-$2.50. The initial outlay on a tank is $65. The gas takes care of our hot water, stove and dryer, everything else is electric. Now, if we could only get the right size water pump for the building, we just might be in shower nirvana.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Ecuador Isn't Like Canada 2.0

I bet most of you are thinking..."Of course Ecuador isn't like Canada, don't be silly! Ecuador is warm, Canada is not!" There is some truth to that, but Canada isn't the frozen wasteland many people imagine it to be, but that isn't the point of this post. What is different is the time North American's obsess making their home "nice". While people like "nice" things here, it isn't their be all and end all of existence. First of all, there isn't time for it and secondly, isn't family more important than worrying about whether your paint tones match? (Plus there's an entirely different style design aesthetic here.)

These facts don't take away from the beauty of the countryside, amiability of the people or general pleasure of life here. What it does do is occasionally take you aback.

Case in point; TV and internet installers. They genuinely want your business, but I'm guessing that they have little training when it comes to the care and maintenance of a client's property. Our brand new building has beautiful lines of conduit, through which to run coaxial cable, tastefully hidden by interior walls with panels for easy access. 

Each apartment is duly wired and ready for telephone,internet and TV, but for some strange and unknowable reason (that even the builder doesn't understand) the various companies are unable (or unwilling) to use the lines provided. This necessitated 'cables visibles' (I'm pretty sure you can figure out the translation on that) to be run across the outside of the building to each suite and through a hole in the window frame. Complete madness.

The actual process to get the lines installed involved a dozen different people (from the cable provider) and at least five appointments. The second to last set of installers told us it would be a good idea to run the cables through the existing conduit (!!!), in complete contravention of what all the other techs, installers and salesmen insisted on. We said "Great! Let's do it." Then he talked to his supervisor and the answer was a flat "No." It would have saved us from the following unsightliness.

Across apartment below
Around the corner - why pin it neatly against the wall, right?
Along the patio dividing wall on lower level, so what
if it slipped off the wall a little? No one will notice!
The only thing I can figure (concerning non-use of the existing conduit) is that the cable company is worried about people jacking into the wires and stealing their services. (Probably not a completely unwarranted  concern.) That being said, the installers had no real concern for the window sills and heavily damaged our neighbour's wall in the process of trying to install the cable line. (A wall that had already been repaired once after having his blinds installed.) Had they but asked for a towel or piece of cardboard the wall would have been fine.

To save our own windows Ron put the hole in the window frame himself and drilled appropriate holes to ensure the cable wasn't running pell-mell across our living room floor.

In Canada, we would deem all of this as completely unacceptable, but this is just how it is here. If you want things done a certain way, you have to be ready to provide the necessary equipment (example; a hammer for the handyman - true story) and help. What we've come to accept as the norm (as North Americas) really isn't. A worker here gets the job done, without thinking about the before and after.

The good thing is, that for the most part, the workers are willing to try and remedy the situation, if they suddenly find themselves face to face with a disappointed (and often irate) home owner. It's just all part of the learning process.

They deserve a bit of slack. Imagine living in a house complied of items you scrounged. This is the reality of many Ecuadorians, especially when it comes to installing a roof; they can be made from found items like plastic sheets (hard and soft) metal scraps and even cardboard (used mostly for temporary patching). There isn't a lot of need to "seal" the house...many have large gaps between the cinder block and around their door frames and windows, or sometimes the window is missing all together. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely money here in Cuenca and it certainly isn't the expats that have the majority, despite the prevailing stereotype, but a good portion of the workers come from outside of the city, where houses have electricity, but not a whole lot else. It is their reality, so people like us, who have lots of windows, good furniture and several appliances (pure luxury!) are the exception to the rule, in their experience.

All this being said, we're in our new space, have internet and TV ($65/month including HD), plus hot water (you don't truly appreciate it, until you don't have it for a while) and we even have upper kitchen cabinets. Life is good and that's just about all that anyone can ask for.

Oh, and for those of you wondering about TV and internet quality, they're both fairly reliable, with just enough quirks to remind you where you are.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Dress Me Up! Cuenca Fashion

I've got to admit, my style has slipped to an all time low. Usually you'll find me in skinny jeans, a tank or t-shirt and flats (usually beat up, but comfortable). Now this may seem incredible to those of you who know me well, but fear not, I have not completely abandoned my high heels, even on the cobblestones.

I am not unique amongst the expats here. There are some crazy gringo styles getting rocked around the city; tie-dye (yes, I said it) travel fashion (the Tilley hat is alive and well), sandals (with socks - I have no words) and all types of 'unique' fashion that keeps expats comfortable and occasionally cringe worthy. (Sometimes I wonder if people look in the mirror before they go out.)
Not actual Cuencano Expats
Close, but not real expats either...
Tilley reigns supreme, for practical reasons, I would guess.
(Still not an actual expat here in Ecuador - but a good example)
This is not the Ecuadorian way. Between the traditional dress of the Chola Cuencanas, Canaris and other indigenes groups, the young hipsters (of which there are a lot) and the business crowd, fashion abounds here. The business people are formal, suits, often uniforms, especially for bank employees, well coifed hair, manis and pedis and there really isn't any such thing as casual Friday. What I've come to notice though, is that matching shirts and shoes seem to be the thing. I call it "matchy- matchy". I've been compiling photo evidence of the practice and present it here. For each photo shown, I've missed at least three or four other examples as the camera wasn't in my hand, ready to grab another amazing colour combination...seriously, I've missed a good twenty photos or so.
Blues shoes, blue shirt - exactly the same blue, too!
Extreme matchy-matchy - two for two!
Just to prove that guys get in on the action, too.
Ignore the bra strap, notice the shoes and shirt!
I know you're sad that I haven't posted any pictures of wild expat outfits, but I thought it wouldn't win me any friends and would likely alienate many, so you'll have to leave it to your imaginations.

If you really want to draw notice here as a foreigner, walk down the street with a mop and broom. This draws quizzical glances, double takes and seems to make the kids less wary, strange to say. (We know this as we carried such items to our new apartment and it drew more interest than a parade we passed on our way.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Best Laid Plans o' Mice and Men...

Okay, so I'm off a bit on Robbie Burns day, but the sentiment holds true. This year, like every year since I started this blog, I planned to do a post per week. As you can see, I'm about three weeks behind. But I have a good excuse...we've finally moved to our new apartment.

It started on the 20th, when we finally got our electricity hooked up...a big moment since we've been waiting for a year. Then came the water...this was also terribly exciting until the developer noticed a cascade of water coursing down our back splash. This was not good. One of the screws from the upper cabinets had perforated the water line. So down came the upper cabinets (that I had just finished filling with dishes - so much for the 'touch once' rule!) and then a hole was hammered in the wall to access the water line. The screw had hit perfectly in the centre of the couldn't have done it that perfectly if you'd tried.
Taken slightly from the left side...
The next eight days consisted of unpacking what we could, getting appliances installed (they aren't usually included with the suite) and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. There is still construction going on in the building, so we're playing 'fight the dust'...not fun, but necessary.
Oven with space over top for the microwave

Fridge, tucked in the corner

Just fits...barely...
Cook top - check!
We spent our first night here this last Tuesday, our water line had been replaced and our calefon (on demand hot water heater) was ready to go. There will be another installment that regales our internet and TV experience...don't miss it!

So now we are nicely ensconced in the "castle" as one friend calls it. (I prefer aerie, but who am I to say??).
Night comes to the city

Top left Mirador Turi, bottom right Catedral Nueva

The point of all this? Life gets in the way of plans. When interviewing for a job, I always hated the question "where do you see yourself in five years?". Seriously, 'stuff' gets in the way of my plans every week and you want me to predict something half a decade out? Impossible! (At least for me, I'm usually jealous (and slightly suspicious) of people who have that much control over their lives.)
Day time shot by Ron
Be prepared for a barrage of posts, I have a few in the works, so I can try to hit my target come the end of the year. (See, I do try to have goals.) Until next time, stay safe, tell someone you love them and take one moment to breathe!