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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Out on the Ledge - More Hiking Adventures

Our hosting duties finally ran their course and we were free to get back out into the wilds of rural Cuenca. Our friend, Ric, planned an outing to a town called Baguanchi and from there to the parroquia of Paccha. There is a "mirador" there at the top of a mountain ridge that was worth checking out.

After days of unsatisfying weather, we had a gorgeous day, so spirits were high. As usual, the bus driver was completely insane, but we reached our destination with white knuckles and mild nausea. 

It was an easy climb, for the most part, with only one ridge that seemed more dangerous than it actually was. Though our leader has never done the full loop, we decided to follow a small path that lead down another ridge to the farms below. It wasn't until we'd gotten to the bottom and consulted one of the locals that we were told we shouldn't have taken the "dangerous"  route down the hill. We traversed a small corn field and made it back to the road.

We finished off our day by heading to a new brewery, specializing in Czech beer. This was, of course, accompanied by meat, potatoes and hearty bread.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Deliciousness of the Festival of Corpus Christi

There are a lot of festivals here and, mostly, I don't understand the why of most of them. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the celebration, of course! I actually had to look up Corpus Christi (Cristi, here). Of course, I knew it's a Catholic celebration and by the name, it should be obvious that it celebrates the body of Christ. So I went online. (Whatever did we do without the internet?) It's actually a celebration of the Eucharist - the transformation of the blood and body of Christ to the holy wine and communion wafer. This is also know as transubstantiation.
2nd best macaroons so far

What I didn't get is why Corpus Christi is celebrated here with a wealth of sweets, so I did a bit more digging. It wasn't just a matter of taking the communion wafer to a whole new level, no. Corpus Christi happens to coincide with the return of the Pleiades constellation to the sky over the Andes and many indigenous groups use this time of year to celebrate the harvest and consider it the "new year". Sweets and harvest time go hand in hand. So, I feel I've solved the mystery. I've always loved how traditional festivals and Christian ones seem to line up so nicely. Of course, we all know that it helped ease the disparity between the old and new religions.Catholicism had a pretty amazing marketing team, back in the day.

Vendors as far as the eye can see

So, despite my status as a non-believer, I still get to browse the sweets, enjoy the odd treat and enjoy the fireworks displays that are set up in the main square of parque Calderon for the five day event. What fireworks have to do with transubstantiation, I have no idea. Nor, do I know why they're built into bamboo towers, so close to the crowd that you can get singed hair. What I do know is that if there aren't fireworks in Ecuador, it isn't a real party.

At least this year, they've cordoned off an area around the towers, before you could get as close as you liked! Safety first! (So not an Ecuadorian motto!)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Renewing Our Passport Whilst Abroad

First of all...yes, yes I did use the word "whilst". Call me old fashioned, but it has a certain panache and is actually the correct usage, as opposed to "while". Sure, "while" is widely accepted now, but this is just how I roll.

We have been invited on an adventure with friends, which has waylaid certain plans and made it necessary to renew our passports early. (I think our 5 year passports have never truly been more than 4 and half year passports in reality.) But we're here and Canada is...well...there! Enter the Canadian Consulate in Guayaquil. "Of course you can renew your passports here!" "Yay", says I! We don't have to make the 7 hour journey to Canadian Embassy in Quito. Happy day.
We dutifully filled out the paperwork, got our photos and hopped on a ridiculously early bus to Guayaquil (a 5 am one, to be precise) so that we could arrive bright and early for the 9am office opening. Most of you know that morning is not my time to shine, much less the 3:30 wake up call, but I persevered. Because of the time of day, the 4 hour trip only took 3 hours and we found ourselves outside the consulate with 40 minutes to spare. A quick coffee and "continental" breakfast filled up the time and we were whisked up to the 6th floor of the Blue Tower to submit our paperwork. We were met by the very helpful Paola. We managed to catch the 9:55am bus back to Cuenca and found ourselves back at home a little before 2pm.

We'll ignore the fact that as Paola looked over our paperwork and asked us a few questions, she very happily told us that we could have couriered in the paperwork, we needn't have come ourselves. (!!!) Considering the hour at which we started our day, we took the news fairly well, but it was something that we really would have been happy to know through one of our email conversations with her. She softened the blow by saying they would courier our passports to us FOR FREE. No need for a second trip.

So, lesson learned and you're welcome, other Canadians, who might be put in the same position! 

As one of our friends signs off on his email "this is the life we chose".

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Flip Side of the Immigration Coin

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, it was easy to get caught up in the "Asian Invasion" blame game. Even now, housing prices are sky rocketing, making it unaffordable for the actual residents of the city. For several decades, we've experienced an influx of emigrants coming from various Asian countries. (Not to mention countries all over the world.)
Vancouver city skyline
To be fair, the first Chinese immigrants to Canada built our railway system and the cost to them was dear. Thousands died trying to link our two distant coast lines. At one point, Vancouver had the largest Chinese population outside of the actual country. That was back in the day, when Asians were menial labourers, struggling to establish a life in their new country. Once they moved out of that role and became business people, real estate magnates and community builders the "real" Canadians started getting nervous and pointing fingers about housing prices, alterations to our "true" culture etc. I believe that there is some truth in this: I know there's money laundering going on, that real estate investment is an easy way to clean your ill gotten gains. I also know that we have problems with Triads and the drug trade, but can we blame the whole thing on one people? Hardly.

View from the North Van Squamish train run
So, here I am now, in Cuenca, Ecuador and I'm the evil foreigner that's ruining the country through increased costs, strain on the social support system and because I stand out like a sore thumb, it's easiest to point the finger at me. It's an uncomfortable position to be in, to say the least and it's really hard not to argue the point. I know full well that there are some people here who can't stand the "slowness" of service, the informality of contracts, the inability of the residents to speak English etc. The whole ugly "expat" thing. They don't realize that Ecuador operates under Napoleonic law, making litigation challenging. (I actually find that refreshing. If you're stupid enough to fall in a hole, you deal with it.)
Cuenca city skyline
There are, of course, mitigating factors. As soon as oil tanked, the former President increased import taxes by up to 43%. This affected building costs, food costs and other sundry things that all Ecuadorians use, but no one mentions that. Then there's the crisis in Venezuela that has thousands of people fleeing the country so they can eat regularly, or even semi-regularly. After the 2008 financial crash that affected the US and Europe, many Ecuadorians that had left the country returned, bringing European and North America expectations (as well as Euros and US$) with them. That is also rarely mentioned. Nor is the fact that the burgeoning middle class has an improved standard of living. This has happened over the last decade and would surely affect costs around the country.

Celebrating (and praying for more) plenty.
But, really, who am I to say whether my being here has impacted the country? I have no meter to measure it by. For now, I have to suck it up and be the scape goat (possibly the very real cause) for/of the cultural and financial changes that seem to be hurting the local populace. This is the price of being where we are and I'm either willing to pay it, or I'm not.

Friday, June 2, 2017

To Roam at Will

You know that fantasy, where you win the lottery and you pull up stakes and roam the world?
Machu Picchu

Uluru (Ayer's Rock)

Would you actually do it? That endless treadmill of planes, hotels and way stations? I often wonder how long people would last?
Somewhere in Montana
Canadian Rockies


For the most part, humans are creatures of comfort. We like our stuff, we like easy, we like familiar. What does it take to yank someone out of their comfort zone and roam the globe, unhindered by the need for home? (My personal thought is that the earlier you're exposed to travel the more likely you are to have a passion for it.)



New York City
We've traveled quite a bit, not like some people who are almost literally vagabonds, but lately, we've been getting around. 

Vancouver Island

Washington State

Cabo San Lucas
I find there's a magic moment when the tedium of hauling around suitcases, clearing security and triple checking travel plans becomes second nature. It's usually around the one month mark in my travels. I stop caring about wearing the same clothes over and over again, because the experience of new places appeases my need for diversity.
Mount Rushmore

The problem is that the world is so big and fascinating. (And what about interplanetary travel???) How do we get to see all that we want without impoverishing ourselves in the process? Perhaps we need to divest ourselves of most of our worldly possessions and just go - calling no place  or all places home. Ron is particularly good at this. If you've ever seen his wardrobe you know that simple is his mantra. To be honest, you can't usually tell if he's changed clothes or not, but assume he has because he almost always smells nice.
Prince Edward Island

Quito. Ecuador
I'm not quite sure that I'm ready to do that (despite the wanderlust that drives me), so we're trying to leverage the home exchange thing as much as we can. Perhaps, we'll try and do the granddaddy of exchanges - a full year (or more) of back to back trades that will take us all the places we want to go without having to pay for many hotels. 


For now, we'll do the best we can with what we have. What are you willing to do to see the world? Does anyone out there have a brilliant plan they're willing to share?