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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

End of an Era - Spanish Classes Complete

It seemed a bit of an anticlimax, my final Spanish lesson. I've been taking classes since November of 2013 pretty well non-stop, except for Christmas breaks and occasionally a couple of weeks of down time between sessions. It's hard to believe that the process has come to an end.

What have I achieved, you might ask? A good solid basis on which to improve my Spanish. Yes, after a year and a quarter I'm no where near fluent, nor do I think I ever hope to be, but I can get by. Sure, I mess up on conjugations, forget to use (or overuse) subjunctive and I could use a serious increase to my vocabulary, but what I do know seems to be useful. Case in point, we wanted to get some frosted window coating to cover half our master bathroom window, just for a bit of privacy. So we started checking all the little hardware tiendas in our neighbourhood, then we checked the plastic sellers (yes, there is such a thing here-they provide to-go containers, straws, plastic shopping bags etc.) but we weren't brave enough to go in and ask about a "cosa" (that means thing - we didn't know how to begin to describe what we were looking for) for our "ventana" (window).
Kind of apt, no?
We walk past a taller de letras (or signage shop) every day and I finally took a moment to read what they had to offer. It seemed like they might have what we were looking for. I took a deep breath and entered. I was polite and said "buenas tardes, como esta?" and then plunged in to an awkward, but apparently intelligible request for "lamina para vidrios que  puede darnos una poca de privacidad." (Laminate for glass that can give us a bit of privacy...I probably should have used subjunctive, now that I think about it - pueda instead of puede). "En el estilo de helado?" was the response (or something to that effect - I only really caught the helado part). Yes! That's exactly what we wanted - to make the window look frosted.
How I felt for the first 6 months or so...

Needless to say we left with a sheet of lamina helado and a plastic scraper to smooth out the bubbles. Success!

Here's the thing you need to know, or at least this is my experience...I'm usually so wrapped up in trying to think about how to say a thing, and deconstructing once the words are uttered that I normally miss whatever the response is, or only catch the tail end of it. I'm hoping this is normal. I also spend a lot of time after thinking about ways I could have said things better, after the fact. I just wish that my conclusions would stick in my brain and offer themselves up readily during the next challenge, but alas this is not the case.
Si, hablo espanol!

I know enough to know I'm not saying things correctly, but unpracticed enough not to be able to correct everything right away...sometimes it comes to me an hour later, but bless the Ecuadorians, they are patient and don't even cringe as I butcher their language. They're the first to tell me that my Spanish is very good (they mean for a "gringa") and while I don't believe them entirely, it's still nice to hear.

So, thank you Ana-Luisa (of Coffee Club Spanish for your patience, guidance and humour...I'm sorry I can't be the star pupil that leaves your class with fully functioning Spanish, but I know more than I did a year and a bit ago, which I'll have to be satisfied with for now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banos de Cuenca

You've all probably figured out that we're enjoying ourselves (for the most part) here in Cuenca. Despite our time here, we really haven't gotten out to a lot of the traditional places that tourists like to go. Sure, we made it down to the coast and have visited a few sites outside of the city limits, but many people who visit, see more in a month than we have in the whole time we've been here. Chalk it up to laziness, over involvement in getting settled or just plain comfortableness. We're hoping that will change soon.

I made a return trip to Banos de Cuenca, a suburb, really, of the city proper. The town features a very pretty blue church that sits high on the hillside, overlooking the tourist information centre and the rest of the town, if you miss your bus stop for the spas, this is where you'll likely wind up deboarding.

The town of Banos de Cuenca is a mini Banos de Agua, (quite famous and located closer to Quito,in Tungurahua province) with thermal pools and spas abounding. It's a nice way to spend an afternoon, soaking in the mineral pools, giving yourself clay treatments (now for a girl who doesn't like to get dirty...this was a challenge, but I sucked it up...twice, once for red mud and the second for blue) or packaging yourself up in a steam box (yup, like the one's you see in old gangster movies) with your head sticking out and your neck wrapped in a towel. You can also get massage services and other treatments.
Like fish en papiote...

Bring flip flops/thongs, the ground is rough and can be slippery.
Most of the spas offer some sort of package that includes all of their "public areas", meaning the pools, saunas and steam rooms. They will not tell you at the front desk if some of the services aren't available, so it's always good to ask and maybe have a walk around, before you commit to paying.

My friend and I went to Piedra de Agua for their Monday two for one special. ($35 for entry to all their services excluding treatments from their staff.) They failed to mention that the biggest pool was being serviced, but there are two other smaller mineral pools, so it wasn't a huge tragedy. The staff is attentive and you can drink and eat pool side, but the prices are higher than you would anticipate. (We had two bottles of water which cost $3.14. This sounds like a deal, if you aren't in Ecuador, but I know full well that each of those water bottles cost under 50¢ - probably well under - so the mark up is a bit much.)
Contrast pools, one cold & one hot
Even on their discount days, it isn't overly busy. I'd probably recommend avoiding holidays, as Cuencanos likely flock there for a little R & R. There are two bus lines that can take you to Banos de Cuenca, for a whopping 25¢, one way, number 12 & 200, or you can catch a cab for around $5, or so says the website.  There are other spas in Banos de Cuenca, so don`t take this as a recommendation for Piedra de Agua, although I did enjoy it. I don`t really have anything to compare it to, so take a tour of the facility before you pay and know that there aren`t really any in and out privileges, so you`re stuck with whatever they have on their menu and the associated cost if you want to spend a whole day. Other tips of note: if you elect (and pay) to only use one service and then decide you'd like access to more, there is not will have to pay the full entry on top of your original payment. This is something that they need to work on and which might seem strange to North Americans, but don't say you weren't warned!

So hop the bus and enjoy a few hours (or more) in Banos de Cuenca, cloudy or sunny, it's a nice way to pass some time and relax.

Other options: NovaquaHosteria Duran (they seem to be affiliated) , Hosteria Rodas. There may be more, if you take the time to wander around the town.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Revenge of the Water Leak

You know how, sometimes, things are so much fun you want to do them again? This does not apply to water may have seen our post with regard to the cabinet screw drilled through our water line and the ensuing water feature in our kitchen. It took over a week to fix, but we thought it was all behind us.

Enter son of water leak. (Or son of a....well, you get the idea). Apparently, the apartment above ours suffered a similar issue, but it wasn't caught quite as quickly so an inundation developed. We heard a weird plip, plip, plip coming from the kitchen and upon arriving on the scene, noticed a dark square slowly spreading from the wall (above the cabinets), across the ceiling and leaving a little trail of water droplets on the countertop. Cue the panic.
The day dripping, but less plaster.

I went running upstairs and there is the developer (a man who is coming to hate water almost as much as my brother-in-law) moping up a huge puddle of water. The water main had already been switched off. Apparently he was tipped off by one of the workers complaining that their radio was "warbling" when they plugged it in to the outlet on the kitchen wall. (That can't be good...)
Anyhow, some raining plaster and two patch jobs later, we have our ceiling back. Like all things Ecuadorian, it took some doing. The second layer of plaster was laid on too early, so it partially cracked and needed to be repatched. Then the second layer (or would that now be the third?) wasn't allowed to dry long enough before the paint was applied...more raining plaster. Layer 3 or 4 (depending on your point of view) was conscientiously dried by hand using our blow dryer and the final layer of paint was completed by 7:30pm or so. (We still hadn't even started dinner.) By 8:30 we had sat down to supper, ceiling completed.
Up close you can tell...

But if you don't stare at it, it's fine.
If you're thinking about making the leap, I hope you find all of this is definitely food for thought and if you're even a little bit of a perfectionist this might not be the place for you! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Some Stuff for Our Place Or "What You Should Bring With You"

With all my posts about our trials and travails of feathering our nest, I thought I might try to help with, what seems to be, a burning question for expats: "What do we need to bring with us?" So, I could get all existential here, and ask "what does anyone truly need?" Shelter, food and (arguably) love. In truth, what one needs for a comfortable existence is subjective.
It's all about personal perspective! (Picture source:
The overwhelming thing that seems to be desperately missed by many immigrants is comfort food. You name it...cheddar cheese, peanut butter, pickles, Dr. Pepper...for the most part the thing that you loved back in North America is probably different here, or doesn't exist. That's not to say that you can't buy cheddar cheese, peanut butter, pickles or soda definitely can. So you either adapt or bring in large quantities in hopes that it will get you through to your next visit up North. If, like some of my relatives, you can't live without Twinings tea, you may not make it here.
Poutine...classic Canadian comfort food.
You can buy almost any gadget here. Appliances, tech stuff, kitchen gear, even "As Seen on TV" items, but much of it is apparently at a price that seizes the hearts of many Americans. (Canadians don't suffer from sticker shock quite as badly, but every now and again we take a sharp breath when we look at a price tag - especially now, with the dollar trading at around 80 cents US.)
The one thing that we can recommend that you bring (assuming you're shipping down a container) is kitchen appliances. For whatever reason, there is a pretty big disparity in quality. We can't quite figure out why, but North American appliances are just better, at least at this point. I won't even get in to the quirks of Indurama appliances that are quite popular here. This is not to say that you can't get by with South American appliances...almost everyone manages it and at least it's easy to get parts and service for the local brands. Even though it's completely unrelated to appliances, here are some branch names that make me giggle:

The mattresses here seem to be very comfortable (some people vehemently disagree), even if the sizes aren't quite the same as what we're used to, but we have yet to find a truly "comfortable" sofa here in Ecuador. Some are close, but most are not. Dining chairs are another mystery. Ecuador seems to like very straight backs. No adjusted angle or graceful curve on which to recline. The nuns of my mother's Catholic school would approve.

We have a friend that gets rid of more and more stuff, the longer he stays here. He's embraced simplicity in a way that is inspiring and yet foreign to us. (I can't overstate the importance of a comfortable sofa... which say more about me that I may want to admit - sad but true.)

Doesn't get much better than this...
So, really, you can get away with just bringing your clothes and filling your nest with local has been done before and millions of Ecuadorians swear by it. As I will always recommend...come here, live here for an extended period, before you buy property, ship containers or cash in your retirement savings to "make the leap". Then decide what you can and can't live with (or without, for that matter). We're glad we brought our appliances and furniture, as it's what we're used to and feels right to us. It's nice to have familiar objects when in a strange new world, but we lived with the local stuff for an extended time as well and know a good life, either way.