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Monday, March 27, 2017

La Vida Dulce - The Sweet Life

The fact that we are truly blessed comes to me in odd, unexpected moments. Now that I'm up and about more, I get to see all the acquaintances that we've made in our neighbourhood and on our usual routes. It's nice to know that they noticed my absence and are glad to see me back up and around.

Then we go and do something crazy - like accept two invitations from hispaƱolhablantes (Spanish speakers) in one day. For us, this is stressful, despite our gains in the language. It hurts our brains to spend 3 hours trying to maintain a conversation with someone who has little or no English. (This isn't a complaint, we feel that learning Spanish is our most important task here - we just aren't fluent and it makes it challenging.)

We navigated some tricky political conversation with our neighbour DoƱa Bolivia, a very well meaning, kind woman who has adopted us in a small way. We find her worries and insights interesting and though we don't always agree with her point of view, it's an education to spend time with her in her tchotchke (chochki) filled house.

Ariel Dawi - Painter, Artist and Grill Master
Later we were invited for dinner at an expat Argentinian's house. Being Latino, dinner doesn't start until around 9:30 (blame the Ecuadorians, who seem to constantly run late - the invitation was for 8:30). If I know only one thing about Argentinians it's that they are passionate about barbecue.  

Argentinian Parrillada
On his deck, he has half an oil drum set up for grilling and if you aren't a carnivore, there's no point in coming for dinner. He served chorizo and blood sausage, chicken wings and parts, pork ribs, beef loin and steak. On the side we had beautifully breaded and fried eggplant, a salad of white beans, tomato and onion, fresh sliced avacado, bread and a selection of sauces to go with our meat. (This is something that the Ecuadorians generally lack - finishing touches like a selection of salsas, but the Argentinians have down pat.) It was then that I realized how incredibly lucky we are and how welcoming strangers from strange lands can we.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cajas on My Mind

Last Saturday, our hiking group decided to do a nice 8km hike through the Cajas which ended up as 13km, with a few of the group sleeping over night in a lovely grove that would be well sheltered from the weather, if lacking in amenities. I wasn't going to go. The Cajas are notorious for cranky weather, uneven and poorly marked trails and I'm still recovering from my injuries.

That morning, the skies looked quite clear, I could see the mountains and just couldn't stand the thought of staying in the house one more day, so I geared up and off Ron and I went to the meeting point. We had to wait for the bus for over an hour...this is Ecuador, after all and my tendon started cramping up, but I persevered.
Lady of the Waterfall
The delay didn't do us much favours with the weather. After about 40 minutes on the bus, we debarked (de-bussed?) and were met with hail. Thankfully, most of us had dressed appropriately and it was but a minor irritant. Side note: layers are important under these circumstances, I only had a running shirt on and they my rain jacket and could feel the little pellets binging off my shoulders. It hailed so much that the ground was white and though none of us suggested not continuing, I did wonder what I'd gotten myself into. I added another layer between me and the projectiles and found myself far more comfortable.
Thanks LT, for the photo..the white stuff is hail.
The good news was that the sky eventually relented and we dried out and made it to the camping spot with only one member taking a tumble. (It wasn't me.) The scenery was stunning; filled with lakes, waterfalls and empty vistas that make you feel like there's no one else on the planet. (Except the 14 people we were hiking with, of course.)
The shelter of the wooded copse

Paper trees - one of the few that grow well at
high altitude

Some witty person said we're like the children of Isreal
spreading out across our land
Those of us that weren't staying over had another 3kms or so, to get back to the main road and try and catch a bus. The passage took down two more of us, myself included. (This is bad news, the last thing I need to do is fall on my broken bum, which bears the question why was I there in the first place? Hind sight is 20/20 as they say.) 
A gentleman fisher
Lone tree

One of the many river valleys through the Cajas
We were incredibly lucky to catch a bus only minutes after arriving at the highway and as we headed back home the sun started breaking through the cloud cover, just in time to welcome us back to Cuenca.
Credit John Keeble - Master of the Action shot

Actual footage of me going down on my butt
I'm suffering for the fall, or possibly, just because that's how this healing process goes, but it was worth it. There is no better balm for the soul than being out in nature, but for the time, my big hike days are on hold. I can't wait for the time when I can fearlessly strap on my boots and get back out into the wild.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

You Can't Keep a Good Computer Down

Life has been traumatic lately - in a first world sort of way. I'm still recuperating from the torn muscle and tendon. It makes sitting, standing and generally existing hard a good part of the time, but at least I had my trusty computer to nurse me through the doldrums...

Or did I? When I came home after grocery shopping, my laptop had gone to sleep...permenantly. I blame the Windows 10 upgrade, but what do I know? Being the responsible computer owner, I had diligently created recovery discs in the event of catastrophic failure. I was feeling pretty smug about it, to be honest. I transfered all the important stuff to a zip drive and started the recovery process. The boot repair failed, files were missing and my only option was to start from the beginning. This entailed basically wiping the hard drive of everything and reloading the initial programs. I doubled checked that I'd removed the important files and bit the bullet.

The function failed. My hard drive was mostly empty and my recovery discs wouldn't reload any of the programs. Argh. Black screen of death...

So we packed up the shell of my laptop and found a little tienda with a nice young man named Fernando, who said he'd do what he could. The good news? Obviously, I'm back up and running, with Windows 8.1 and Office 2013 all for the low price of $35 USD. I am happy, but Fernando says the hard drive is on its last legs and could die at any time. He says he can hook me up with a 500GB drive for a good price, so I'm thinking on it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Hills are Calling

Chimbarazo - one of Ecuador's many volcanoes.
It's been three and a half months since I was assailed by my horrible affliction. Through trial and error, I finally started (real) recovery at the very beginning of the new year. It has been a long road and I'm still struggling with morning stiffness, discomfort through the night and various little surprises that make me know that I'm still not repaired entirely. Be that as it may, I'm up and around more, trying to get back to normal. It may be the hardest part of the recovery. I can't do all the things I want, nor even most of the things, but I can do some things (like make the bed, do the house cleaning, walk (very carefully) around the city) and that makes it dangerous.

The hills surrounding Cuenca
I scared myself recently. The laptop started to tip over and I reacted instinctively to try and grab it. I felt a sharp pull in my damaged tendon and then the throbbing set in. It's been a couple of days and I know I've "tweaked" something, but not so badly that I'm back at square one. It's probably a good thing that it's rainy season, as I can hear the hills calling and I'm desperate to get back out on hikes, long walks to unknown places and getting my body moving again. In the mean time, I'm learning new things, like how to knit (at which I suck), making pasta (I did better at that), but not writing, no...why ever would I fill my time with something like that?
El Cajas - something not to be missed
It might be a bit of time yet, before I tie on my hiking boots, but I'm pretty sure I can see it happening. The mountains surrounding Cuenca are buried in cloud today, so they aren't as tempting as when the sun is shining; highlighting the amazing greens and golds that make the Cajas so spectacular. 

And so I heeded the call. It was a simple hike, more a gambol through the countryside, than trekking, but it was good to be out in the fresh air, away from the city. We arrived in Llacao after a 30 cent and 45 minute bus ride and wandered around the hills surrounding the town.


Political Advertising a la Ecuador

Although it was overcast, I still managed to get sun burnt. I guess my poor pasty skin just couldn't handle the UVs, no matter how filtered. It was a good. day and I will be grateful to lay my head to rest tonight.
The crazy crew that put up with my hobbling.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Faith and Foam

It's always an interesting time, experiencing a culture that is completely different from your own, but when a significant religious holiday rolls around, it kind of makes you sit up and notice. I've been asked a couple of times, by locals, what traditions Canada has for Carnival; the days before the Lenten season. I don't have much to say. We don't have a huge dance festival like Brazil, nor do we have water and foam fights  like they do here.
Elusive foam monster only come out at
Carnaval - our dear friend John
It's very difficult to explain to a predominantly religious (Catholic) society that I come from a country were religion is a very personal thing and that many types are practiced. It's even harder for them to understand that I'm unaffiliated with a recognized belief system. My lack of faithful practice doesn't take away from my joy or curiosity about their own beliefs. I've said many times that being Catholic in Ecuador is a kinder gentler practice than what I'm familiar with. There seems to be a lot of room for other influences.

Aya Huma the Quechuan spirit guide

So comes Carnaval and Mardi Gras. It's celebrated here with water, espuma (spray cans filled with (fairly) harmless foam), corn starch, confetti and the occasional egg.There are parades, loud music, fire works, and general levity. As a visitor, if you aren't in the know, it can prove surprising. Water balloons, drive by foamings and unexpected starch bombs can take you unawares. It's all in good fun and Cuencanos generally respect our gringo ignorance. We've been asked if it's okay to shoot us.

Parque Calderon is a hotbed of foam fighting activity
Now comes Ash Wednesday. A lot of the population wanders around with ash crosses on their foreheads and prepares for the restrictions that come with Lent. Many restaurants will offer fish on Fridays and parades, fireworks and music will be so much less over the next forty days.  It's the only time that Cuenca seems fairly subdued.

I don't know much about faith, but I can see that it drives many of the people here and makes their lives richer. It doesn't seem like they hold differing opinions against people and I suspect that many prayers are said for the faithless, but in the kindest way possible.