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Friday, January 29, 2016

Ecuadorian Construction

I must confess that we've been spying on our neighbours...well, okay, not spying so much as watching in fascination tinged with a mild horror as the people across the street put an addition on their house.

Construction, in itself, is different here. There's no wooden construction (at least for the most part), instead everything is made of concrete and brick and silly things like insulation and vapor barriers aren't de riguer here. We didn't have the best vantage point, as the addition is tucked in behind a sharply slanted roof, but we still marveled at the process.
Lower right is roof line prior to changes (ignore the view)
It all started with a new fence. The one you can see out front used to be a simple chain link, but things are obviously going well for them and they upgraded. Then we noticed that the entire front yard had been dug out to create a new parking place for the car and that the garage was sporting a new rebar grid in the front.. Finally the rear wall of the garage was pulled down and construction started in earnest.
Shiny new fencing to keep out prying eyes!
A cinder block wall went up, abutting the neighbours' house. This is hardly unusual and caused no fuss as other parts of the house also shared walls with next door. This new room(s) was quickly shaped by red brick and rose two stories and above the slopped roof line. We watched in fascination as they workers used an old (actually, very old and battered) 2x10 to check the wall for level. 
The cinder block is new, as are the bricks

Once the wall had reached a certain height forms were placed on top of the brick and a unifying layer of cement was poured to hold the works together (presumably a wall plate?)..That's when the investigation of the connecting roof began. They took away part of the roofing, I'm guessing to see how they might merge the three different pitches. They only took away a 2x2 section at first and eventually most of the facing roof was removed as they started on the addition's roof.
The yellow building belongs to the neighbours
Further layers of brick were built up to pitch the roof and then round wooden poles were put in place to act as joists. The incomplete work was covered (rather haphazardly) with plastic until they could start laying in the roof sections. The roofing material is made of corrugated metal sheets. I can only imagine what it sounds like in the house when it rains heavily. We have yet to see them installing any sort of barrier between the metal roof and the interior, but who knows?
Not exactly 2 X 4 construction, right?
There was a bit of drama between the neighbour and the workers, but I couldn't hear the discussion. There was some pointing to where the two houses joined and some minor repairs were made and I think all parties are now satisfied, but it remains to be seen.
The interior work will continue, away from our prying eyes, but the re-bar in the front needs to be dealt with and we wait with baited breath to see if a larger window will be installed in the front. 
Note the Re-bar on the right...building continues (?)
 A week later and nothing has been done with the Re-bar and the hole between the brick and the wooden siding remains. We're anticipating them expanding out the slanted room, but who can tell?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hello Russia! Привет Россия!

Добро пожаловат! (Welcome!)
(Hope that's correct, but I'm using google translate...) Just wanted to say a quick "hello" to all of you Russians, suddenly interested in my blog. You've been inundating my site with views and I'm curious to know who you are and how you're doing!

Let me know if you have any questions about Canada or Ecuador and I'll do my best to answer them.

All the best from the Southern Hemisphere!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Being Abroad: What Are the Drawbacks?

I find that in virtual life, it can be very easy to put lipstick on the pig and pretend that everything is perfect. We see it on Facebook in all the perfect pictures with smiling faces and well edited travel photos. We see in in the tweets about achievements and through snap-chat. Perfect happiness seems to be all around us, and really, we're all pretty guilty of it. Who really wants to show a rain soddened photo of what might possibly be the Eiffel Tower? Or a quick snap of the huge pile of poop that you stepped in, barefoot, because you weren't paying attention? No one. No one wants to show pictures of their kids' meltdowns in restaurants or on the train back from Machu Picchu, either. You probably get my drift.
Complex issues with hidden surprises
So it's hard. Hard to put down the realities and sacrifices of packing up our lives and heading out into the wide world. It's hard to explain how sometimes you just really want to go home, because you know it's likely easier. But it happens.
Unexpected moment of surprise and pleasure
So what's hard about living abroad? I've said it before: it's a whole different world out there. What seems normal and logical to one person (because of what they're used to) maybe be ridiculous to another. Cultural practices can vary wildly, personal space and what qualifies as rude or not are not set in stone. Not everyone adheres to our sense of 'rightness'.
Rough and unyielding circumstances
Not being fluent in the language is really hard, because I really want to understand and be understood. I'm no slouch when it comes to Spanish, but I'm no where near fluent. We both do passingly well, we can hold down a conversation for the most part and can usually get what we need from stores etc, but I miss a lot of nuance and occasionally miss out an entire section because my vocabulary is lacking. When things go wrong it can be doubly hard, because I'm already stressed, so trying to get help in a foreign language throws me over the top sometimes. Especially when the culture isn't customer service oriented or dislikes confrontation. (Case in point - Ecuadorians will almost always tell you "yes" because that's what they think you want to hear and it avoids any nasty situations at that particular moment. Whether it's actually possible or not is an entirely different matter.
Strange things that you don't know what to do with?
Not having the things we're used to having can be hard, too. Especially when I'm not feeling well and all I really want is some hard core cold medicine to knock me out. They don't really have that here. Decongestants are a controlled substances and hard to come by, but you can get sleeping pills no problem. (They scare me.) My list really could be endless...I miss a toilet that is actually bolted to the floor, reliable plumbing (p-traps seem to be optional in many places here), Christmas lights that will last more than one season and limitless English TV channels. I also miss Dr. Pepper and gourmet specialty items that have yet to be discovered by Ecuadorian palates.
Inexplicable combinations
It's also hard being so far away from family and friends, especially if someone is ailing. The sticker shock of airplane tickets can get the heart pumping or even make a trip back home impossible. It's hard to miss birthdays and other special occasions as well. We really have to pick and choose which we go to, which can get us in trouble.
Unexpected occurences
When the Canadian dollar tumbles (as it just has) we feel it. It sucks. It cuts our income dramatically and we have to be even more selective about what we buy and when we buy it. So, it's not exactly the highfalutin' life style that many people assume we have. It's more cost effective to live here, to be sure, but we aren't drinking champagne and eating caviar everyday. (Or even every second day.) The flip side of the whole money thing is sticker shock when you go other places. We had lunch in the airport in Montreal, on our way to the East coast of Canada. We each had a sandwich, shared a small bottle of water and a very stale lemon tart and the dubious pleasure cost us over $30. Aigh! We can eat a filling lunch here for $7.50 CDN and that includes beer. When you live in a country that is more affordable, it's a shocker to go to 1st world countries and (literally) pay the price.
Sunshine basking with friends (it happens)
We've sacrificed a lot of things to live here, but we do it for the lifestyle, the experiences and the immersion in a different culture. If I'm having a bad day, I may not agree that it's worth it, but most of the time the sacrifice pays for itself in spades. I don't want to sugar coat the experience, but I don't want it to seem daunting, either. Like everything, it has its pros and cons. You just have to be willing to take your lumps (sometimes while crying or swearing under your breath) and remember that everything in life teaches you something.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Parades Parades Parades!

I confess it. We skipped the annual Paseo del Niño Viajero parade this year. We did go downtown, but except for checking out the little kids in their traditional dress and eyeballing the occasional decorated sheep, we just cut through the crowd and went to buy some wine.
Yup, sheep wearing food...go figure!
I know, I could we? We've raved about the parade and all that it entails, but seriously...twice was enough, at least for the time being.

That doesn't mean we missed out on the fun, per se. We had three parades march past our building and came across another parade on Boxing Day (that would be December 26th for those of you that aren't part of the Commonwealth). 
Peek-a-boo Parade #1
Note bus waiting patiently for parade #2 to pass
Cristo Rey Parade (#3) Preparation
The street in front of our apartment
These are pictures from the Boxing day parade that we accidentally came across coming from the new cathedral. It's obviously a celebration of plenty and gratitude.
And accompaniments
Cuy on a bed of roasted potatoes
Bean garlands
Giant bottle of booze on a horse
Last minute present? Vendors around the cathedral
He seems quite pleased with his wings.
Roasted chicken eating a $10 bill

We had our usual stroll, late New Year's Eve to check out the big community installations. This year's theme was "FIFA Corruption" apparently. Some of the displays weren't as impressive as they've been in past years, possibly due to the affect of oil prices and the economic slow down, or just because rich fat cats scamming the system is a fairly usual thing in South America and didn't engender any boiling outrage.
Año Viejo Effigies
Could you burn Mario?
This guy was huge, maybe 6'5"
What? They're a roller coaster, can't you tell?
Burning of the Año Viejos
 What we didn't do is stick around for the fires. Instead we headed back to the castle (the apartment - as one of our friends calls it) to watch the fireworks. Many of the families that stay in the city buy fireworks and not just the little cracklers or screamers, but the big, bright colourful ones that you see on Canada Day or during the Symphony of Fire...whatever it's called now. In El Centro, you can hear them going off, but because so many of the streets are narrow, you only get to see a select few. We were curious as to how big the display really was.
One firework
It...was...BIG. Bigger than we could have imagined. As soon as it gets dark (sometimes earlier) they start. Until about 11:45 they're random, scattered around the city and fairly sporadic. And then you get close to midnight and the real show starts. We have a 180 degree view of the city and as the fireworks became more regular I tried to tape a bit of video. And then the horrible thing happened. I ran out of memory card. Yup, just as it was really warming up and I could record the best part. We stood at our window, in awe of the completely dazzling display. The fireworks kept going fast and furious until about 12:25, so we had a good 40 minute show. They wound down a little after 1:am, but continued to go off through the night and over the next couple of days. (I've mentioned that Ecuadorians love their fireworks, right?)

I find myself at a loss for words to describe what we saw, but it was magnificent. I'll be ready for next year, with my large memory card and a perch on the roof of our building. As we've told many friends, if you really want to experience Cuenca at its best, the holidays are the time to visit. There isn't a ton of commercialism during Christmas, but there are decorations and the city gets busier leading up to parade day, so you do get that "feeling". It's just too bad that you can't be in a lofty perch and in the heart of the New Year's festivities at the same time, so plan to come back to experience one or the other the next time. 

More pictures from the parade:

Little Angel
Big Angel (narrowly avoiding a wardrobe malfunction)
Getting ready to mount up
They grow facial hair young here.
The three "wise"
Colonial Influence
Traditional Dress
This little guy could barely stay awake
His parade mate isn't impressed.
So stoic
A dress big enough for a horse.
And the band plays on...
Christ Child a la "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
More Traditional Dress
Riding in style
Angel in a toque...a must for every parade
This Christ Child makes almost every parade.
Well, that's it for the crazy holiday season. In a little while Carnival will roll around with all its fun and then we'll be off to the other side of the world for a while. Until the next post, be well and savour life, because it's short.