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Friday, September 30, 2016

Get Your Party On - Cuencano Festivals

There's really not a bad time to come visit Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, but if you want to party with the locals in a focused and purposeful manner you might want to visit during one of their major festivals.

El Año Viejo (New Years Eve/literally "the old year"):

Think fireworks, bonfires and effigies (called viejos or años viejos). Not everyone gets this idea, as effigy burning has a different connotation for many people. Here, it's just a way to get rid of the bad feelings from the old year and send out wishes and prayers for the coming year. The effigies are often familiar and beloved characters filled with fireworks and hand written notes that express the dreams for the new year. The pictures may look like we've just survived a civil war, but the only battle is between the communities for best effigy installation. This is a family friendly event, with even small children hopping over the bonfires to have good luck in the new year. Top this off with fireworks and the new year is a pretty great experience. (December 31)
Hoping to win the World Cup

Pick a mask

Pick a body and make a Viejo
Then set it on fire and jump over it 3 times for
good luck!
 Dia de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Saints or sainted innocents):

Parades are a common occurrence here, but this is one of the larger ones. This parade is a light hearted (and sometimes not so light) mockery of all the little issues that bug Cuencanos through out the year. A particular favourite with the locals, especially the children, expect to see expat's being made fun of and other interesting floats and costumes. The satire is heavy and the parade, held on the last day of the celebrations, has been going on since colonization. (December 28 to January 6)


This isn't for everyone, but if you like water fights, this might be the time for you to visit. Cans of fun foam, bags of flour and water guns are de rigeur. For the most part the Ecuadorian youth have been educated to not wantonly attack foreigners, but it's been known to happen - an unexpected jet of water from a passing car, a water balloon from a roof top or a random drive by foaming. If you're prepared for it, it's a pretty good time. The foam doesn't stain your clothes, the water dries and the flour can be shaken out. Be prepared to have people ask you if it's okay to spray you. Of course, if you're packing (either cans of foam or water guns) that makes you a free target right away. The final weekend culminates in huge water/foam fights down in the local parks. Parque Calderon is awash in foam. (The two weeks prior to the Lenten season)

Corpus Cristi (Body of Christ):

The streets are packed with sweets vendors and the square around Parque Calderon is blocked off by the local barrios firework towers. Every night during the festival, the towers are lit up and an incredible display of close up (and I mean close up...mind your clothes) fireworks. Spinners and sparklers work their way up the tower until the top gets lit up and ends in an impressive show of more traditional fireworks. Usually two towers a night are set off. Don't worry about being able to stay awake, with all the sugar you've imbibed during the day (the vendors have something for everyone), you'll be ready to watch the spectacle.
(Held the 9th Thursday after Easter meaning usually in June)

Tres de noviembre (The Third of November):

This is the day of Cuenca's liberation from the invading Spanish. The celebration is held over a three day long weekend and features a huge artisanal market along the banks of the River Tomebamba (Toe-may-BOM-ba), feature artists throughout the cities galleries and museums and closed streets throughout the city. All manner of goods can be purchased and many artisans come from all over South America to participate. There are also free concerts and what would a celebration be without fireworks and food?
(Held the weekend closest to November 3rd.) 

Pase del Niño Viajero (Passage of the Traveling/Wandering Child):

If parades are your thing, then this is a must. The desfile (Spanish for parade) is an event a year long in planning and you'll need to eat your Wheaties if you're going to see the whole thing. It's not unusual for the parade to last for 9 or more hours and it features all sorts of music, floats and groups of Indigenous dancers. It mixes the sacred with the profane. (I've seen the Virgin Mary riding a bicycle decorated like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.) If you're lucky you can score a place in one of the surrounding buildings that offers a balcony over looking the festivities. We usually go down for a while in the morning, break for lunch and possibly a nap (depending on how warm the day is) and then head back for a second round in the afternoon. Be prepared for throngs of people who don't adhere to the regular rules of parade viewing. The parade is often stopped to push back eager viewers to the curb of the street. Children can score candy, thrown from the floats and if it's hot enough the fire department will be out offering to hose them down with water. (Held December 24th)

Of course, there's a lot more going on here. Parades spring up with no notice and there are also art, music, food and even orchid festivals throughout the year, but the festivals mentioned above are fairly big and don't tend to change dates or times of year. Come anytime and have a fantastic holiday, but plan to try and hit some of the big events if you can.

Friday, September 23, 2016

All Natural Hike

I have always enjoyed getting away and losing myself in the wilderness. There is something truly invigorating and peaceful about wandering through nature. It's a place where you can contemplate creativity as you are surrounded by nature's beautiful pallet. You can destress and get away from the noise and clutter of civilization. In a way, it's sort of like meditating, except rather than sitting in a room with your legs folded, you are surrounded by nothing other than the sounds and sights of the forest, rivers,streams,lakes, flowers, wildlife and other amazing beautiful sights.

Avilahuayca in the Cajas, Cuenca
Base of the Salkantay, Peru
It can also be a wonderful way to meet new people, find new surroundings and keep physically fit. We have been very lucky in that regard and, to date, have had the opportunity to hike and wander amongst some incredibly stunning scenery in the world. We've met a lot of amazing people and hopefully we'll also visit and meet plenty more in the future.
Our Salkantay trekking group
Axel (hiking is a natural high)
I was born in the Gaspe Peninsula area of the province of Quebec, Canada and Danica was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and then we spent most of our lives in and around Vancouver, B.C. These are all incredibly beautiful parts of Canada, an amazingly vast and stunningly gorgeous country.
Percé Rock, Gaspé Peninsula

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
I consider myself very lucky to be a Canadian and to have had the pleasure and opportunity to grow up being free and feeling safe to venture out into the wilderness that abounds throughout. There doesn't seem to be a limit to the lakes, forests, mountains, or oceans that are within easy distance from almost anywhere in the country. It is the second largest country by area in the world and 38th by population consisting of just over 36 million people compared to the largest country Russia's 143.4 million. This gives us a vast amount of free space to wander and explore.

Whistler, B.C.
I'm not sure if being from a country that has so much wilderness is part of the reason that I enjoy being in nature and hiking so much, but it had to play some role in it, I'm sure, and I don't hike nearly as much as a lot of Canadians and other people in the world but I do thoroughly enjoy it.
Freycinet National Park
Some people hike for the exercise, such as a lot of the Vancouver people who tackle the Grouse Grind on a regular basis, and some do it strictly for the pleasure of communing with nature. For me it's kind of a combination of the two. I love the experience of being out there but I also love pushing myself to see what I can accomplish.
Grouse Grind
I am also amazed at the ability of a lot of people in the world that despite their age they continue to have an incredible mental and physical ability to do very challenging hikes and other sports feats and they seem to thrive on accomplishing their chosen task with great joy. I, too, will strive to continue to do these things in my life and each time I have the chance to achieve another hike or another adventure I rejoice that I have the freedom, blessing and opportunity to do these things in my life, because there are so many people in the world that are unable to.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
12 Apostles, Australia
Blue Mountains, Australia
Three Sisters, Australia

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

You could also call this blog post "Desperation is the Mother of How-Hard-Can-It-Be?"

I think it started when we had the Bed and Breakfast, or maybe even earlier, in Home Ec  class; the idea that you can make stuff from scratch. I had time on my hands, as it was hard to find work in the Comox Valley and who doesn't love home made baked goods? I thought it would give my little B&B an edge. Of course, making cookies was old hat by then, but then I tackled bread. Yup, for many of you this is a no brainer, but for the city dwelling "if it doesn't exist in the supermarket it doesn't exist" variety of people (like myself) this was a huge leap.
Homemade chicken pot pie

When we relocated to Prince Edward Island, it turned into a small specialty cake business, that was both rewarding and terrifying in equal measure. Being responsible for someone's wedding or major anniversary cake is a pretty big deal. I even tried my hand at pasta and was getting pretty good at making candy.
From the "hell yeah, I made that" files
Then we found ourselves in Ecuador; land of rice, potatoes and unaged beef. Not to say that the food isn't good here, but many of my "go to" things aren't available, or if they are, they're ridiculously expensive. Case in point peanut butter. When we first arrived it was $5.89 for 500mL. Currently it is over $10 for the same bottle due to increases in import taxes. So, what to do? We found that the mercados carried pasta de mani (peanut paste - just ground up , lightly roasted peanuts) and I started tweaking it with a bit of extra oil and some salt. This was a much less expensive option as I could buy the paste for $2 a pound. Fast forward to our last grocery outing. As I'm perusing the aisles of SuperMaxi I espy a 1lb. bag of raw (shelled) peanuts for $1.27. What if I roasted them myself, removed the skins and ground them up? This is where the "how hard can it be?" came in. Into the cart went the bag and proceeded to sit in the cupboard for several days. Then I noticed the peanut butter was getting low.
Stashed in an old Schullo peanut butter jar
(That's the $10 per bottle brand!)
So, I did it. I roasted them, and removed the skins as best I could. (Apparently a salad spinner works marvelously, but we don't have one.) Then into the food processor they went with a bit of oil. Grainy and dry. More oil, more blending and VOILA, peanut butter. Here's the learning curve part. The oil doesn't really release from the peanuts until they're creamed, so I have slightly runnier than normal peanut butter, but it has a gorgeous roasted flavour that is lacking in the pasta de mani. Was all the work worth it? We shall see.

Home roasted, hand mixed peanut butter
So I've now made, due to lack of (or price of) frozen processed crap here: pizza dough, focaccia, peanut butter, tomato sauce, ginger ale, hot chocolate, add to that Ron's pancakes and waffles from scratch and the regular gamut  of things I make from scratch and we're almost back to the good old days of "if you don't make it, you don't have it". Heck, I never buy salad dressing anymore, I just whip up a small batch as needed.  Who knows what's next, maybe mayo, perhaps fresh mozzarella, and I also have a recipe for Dijon mustard just waiting for when my stash runs out.
Pizza...again, homemade

Now, if we could only set up a garden and grow our own fruit and vegetables, we'd be ready for the apocalypse, assuming there was still electricity. (Ha ha.) 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Everything in Moderation

I've been reading part of my old blog posts lately and have been finding it interesting. I haven't really focused on the big stuff, like our great trips or accomplishments, but more on the little things. The blog posts that have a tranquility to them, where I'm thinking positively and feeling good. 
I choose somewhere in between
It's so easy to fall out of that sense of peace. I easily get caught up in the day to day minutiae of life and like a dripping tap, all those little things get on my nerves. No matter that every day I find a reason to be grateful, the drip drip drip wears down my enthusiasm sometimes. I also have very high expectations of myself. This is a character flaw of the highest order, to be sure and it can be exhausting. I had big dreams for my little blog. I imagined that I'd help people thinking about moving abroad, that I might bring a little amusement into others' days, that I might do some good, but on a grand scale. That isn't to be. I don't have the drive to go out and schmooze with business people, drop broad hints that I'm a popular blogger that might help their businesses or have the acerbic wit that draws so many fans to other sites. At the heart of it, I'm lazy, I just want things to happen organically. (Meaning I don't have to work too hard.) This theory also applies to my novels. I did the heavy lifting writing the things, shouldn't that be enough? But we all know it isn't; that more work needs to be done to become successful and that doesn't even take into consideration that luck that is also required.
So, I've decided that, like everything else in life, moderation is the key. My books are moderately successful, considering the effort I put in to marketing them, my blog is moderately successful in that I've been read in 92 countries and am coming up to 40,000 hits. Not bad for a non-monetized, non-advertised bit of flotsam on the web filled with such things. My diet is moderate, as is my drinking and exercising (more or less) and my social activity falls into the same category. My Spanish is moderately good, and I think that's the most I can hope for, so I'm trying to learn to accept that exceptionalism just isn't for me. Like Popeye says "I am what I am" and that's okay.

Seriously, most of us have to be's the law of, well...averages. I know we all want to be special, to excel at something more than everyone else, but the odds are just against us on this. (It's like trying to beat the stock market...statistically challenging.)  

So here's to average and to moderation. I salute you and I salute all of us that fit in the middle category. Without us, no one else would be amazing.