Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Digital Story of Christmas

A very well done video of the Nativity 2.0. Traveling myself for the holidays, my sister's video link sharing really made me smile.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Merger

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today
at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years.

While details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides.

By combining forces, we're told the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukkah.

As part of the merger agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

In exchange for this concession, it is believed that Santa's vast merchandising and distribution network will be opened up for all Chrismukkah participants.

Despite strong speculation, a spokesman for Christmas, Inc., declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might also be in the works at this time.

He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of "Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Notes On A Hospital Visit In Cuenca

Today I went to the hospital. For fun. Yes, that actually happens.

The deal is that Cuenca's newest hospital, Hospital Universitario del Rio, generally just called Hospital del Rio, was having an open house and luncheon. It's a teaching hospital affiliated with the school where I've been teaching during the week, the University of Azuay, and it's administered by an international hospital group, American Hospital Management.

The hospital is about 18 months old, and a friend of ours who runs the Ecuador Medical Tourism Association invited us to go. All new everything and supposed to be the best in Cuenca, so I thought, why not?

It is a bit odd to be at the hospital when you don't need anything. I'm used to the dreaded scheduling, waiting, waiting, waiting process when it comes to visiting hospitals, or the quick run when you're really sick. Instead, we strolled in, sat through a little presentation, and had a very leisurely tour of the facilities.

Hospital del Rio is certainly state of the art. A group of private investors put the thing together, spending more than $42 million on the project. All brand new equipment made by GE with the goal of becoming THE best hospital in Ecuador, and this half of South America. They've got scanners and machines I'd never heard of, but they looked like stuff that would do the trick, right down to the giraffe incubators in the best NICU in the country.

The catch is that you get it all with Ecuador's brand of hospital service - nurses that don't do much and doctors who do it all. You don't have to wait in lines at private hospitals like this, you can spend 2 hours talking to one doctor, and for the private suite rooms the ratio was one nursing station per 8 rooms. Same day lab results are standard, and private specialists clinics are built into the structure.

And then there are the prices . . . this isn't a complete list, just some stuff I wrote down during the presentation and the tour. As you read these and think about your personal medical care situation, remember that flights are $580 roundtrip out of Denver through March 15th (usually $800 - $900), it's a $100 roundtrip transfer to Cuenca in country from Quito or Guayaquil, and today I am wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops. In December, in case I wasn't rubbing in the no snow situation enough.

Ahem, where was I? Right - listing the prices for state of the art medical care in Cuenca at the Hospital del Rio. Some 80% of the doctors speak English, and private translators that are available 24/7 during your stay in Cuenca can be had for around $10 per hour.
  • Appointment with a specialist: $25 - $30, depending on the specialty (they offer cardiology, oncology, dermatology, geriatrics, hematology, pediatrics, psychiatry, orthopedics, and urology on site, among others). Doctors trained in the US, Chile, Columbia, Germany, etc. The ones we met on the tour seemed very nice, as did the techs we interrupted.

  • Surgery room charge for operations: $3 per minute

  • Day rate for the hospital room: $100 for a private suite (includes sofa bed for guests and a private family lounge) off the bedroom, $70 for what US folks would call a standard private room, and they also have shared 2 and 4 bed rooms if you're "impoverished" and need cheaper options.

  • MRI: $200 - $250, depending on the part of the body you're having done. Same day results. Pretty sure a friend paid $850 for a knee view in the States, so this one impressed me the most.

  • Sonogram: $25, and they are available in 3-D and 4-D. I didn't even know they made 4-D for these things.

  • Endoscopy: $150, and they do rectal for colonoscopies as well as the ones that go down the throat. One of the retired people on the tour with us had paid $5,000 for a major endoscopy in the states, and another had paid $1200.
I can't remember the price for a CT scan - I was distracted by the tech who had a scan of somebody's heart up on their screen, working with the image. Apparently the machine makes 64 cuts (views) that are all integrated, and the Hospital del Rio is using it in heart imaging so they can avoid unnecessary catheterizations. It looked pretty darn cool.

The Hospital del Rio also has an Intensive Care Unit. The bed is $120 a day, and the cost of all the other nursing and support can run as high as $1,000 per day depending on what you're hooked to at the time (and the guide, who is the director, is quick to point out here "You get a lot for that price. It's expensive, but you get ventilation, dialysis, heart monitors, all your nursing, you know, those things. So even though it's a high, it's good.") And so I went to the web to look up some US comparables, and found a study from 2005 on average ICU costs in America that gave the average cost figures as $2,192 per day, and some ICU numbers from 1996 that gave the average as $2,000 - $3,000 per day.

The hospital was quick to emphasize their cleanliness, too. Since they're new, they have advantages in that they don't have decades of built up in-house strains of staph like some places in the States and around the world. They also sterilize all the rooms between guests, and contagious/contaminated rooms have a 24 hour quarantine. UV light checks are used to ensure cleanliness, and the rooms have views of the mountains and the river from which the hospital gets its name.

So . . . kind of a long post about a hospital tour, but it ended up being interesting to me so I thought I'd share. Readers, what were your last hospital experiences like, and what did you have to pay for your stuff?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Volcano?

Lately I've gotten a bunch of pings about the volcano that's erupting. Truthfully, it hadn't even crossed my radar - which should let you know that no, I'm not affected and really, neither is Cuenca. If it was a big deal, I'd have heard.

On the other hand, what's the deal with Ecuador and volcanoes anyway? Here's the insider's scoop:


Ecuador is a mountainous country (thanks to the Andes) and we've still got active volcanoes doing their thing. They are clustered around the capital, Quito (10 - 12 hours overland from me), but there are a few eruptions further south. The locals don't always like it - ash clouds are bad for the tourist business.

The volcano erupting now is Tungurahua, whose name means "Throat of Fire" in Quichua, the indigenous language of Ecuador. It's 150 miles north of Cuenca, so we haven't noticed a thing about it. It's actually the third time this year that Tungurahua has erupted . . . so I guess people are kind of used to it? Do you get used to that kind of thing?

It's not really much of a lava spewer, but it does a lot of fancy things with ash. In 1999, when the volcano "woke up" after being asleep for decades, it did more. Now it just looks like this:


It will really only affect Cuenca if the ash cloud gets blown toward us, which might cause some flight path changes and probably make the satellite Internet system struggle. Other than that. . . not much. Enjoy the photos and don't worry, I'm fine!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

4 Ways Grading Makes Me Feel Evil

This Friday, I will administer my first full scale exam to the students at my university class. We've covered five sections of International Relations, including measuring national power, human rights issues around the world, and the merits of global security.

When the exam is done, I will see just how much of the debate between communitarianism and individualism sunk in, or whether or not anyone truly read the section on weaknesses in the UN Peacekeeping Force. (Darling readers, can YOU tell me three things that are wrong with international security protocols as exemplified by UN Peacekeepers?)

And as I grade, I will start to feel like the Wicked Witch of the West(ern Hemisphere).
  1. Grading exams makes you doubt the intelligence of humanity. This has been true of every class I've ever taught. Like the kid in my Saturday class who would have passed had he not skipped three test sections, exams are full of little errors that will make the teacher crabby.

  2. Crabby teachers should not grade essay questions. My inner grammar girl jumps to the forefront, channeling my 4th grade teacher with her box where we could turn in our fellow student's grammar errors for more points. It's like my eyes open to see every last comma error and bit of awkward phrasing, to the point that I find it hard to focus on the actual test response. This makes it take a long time, and I get more crabby, and the essay pages start to drip with red ink and comments.

  3. Someone will ask me for a bit of extra "help". I will shoot them down. This will make me feel mean, even though it's only being fair to everyone not to give extra help, answers, or points to one student.

  4. I will hand out an F. At least one. Some will not care because they knew it was coming. Some will cry. Some will be in big trouble at home. In Ecuador, some will take the class again (and they charge you extra tuition your second time through, a nice incentive to study). Someone's life will be thrown off course, made more stressful, or flat out ruined because of my big, red F. I will feel bad about this.
Still, despite all the reasons that grading makes me feel evil, it's still what I will be doing with at least part of my Saturday. Nebraska doesn't play anymore football until the end of the month, so there will be no afternoon game to save me . . . or my students . . . from quality time with the red pen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Preparing For Christmas In Ecuador

As I'm typing this at Cafecito, the wait staff are putting up the Christmas decorations. Support pillars are already wrapped in tinsel, and the man cursing out the tangled strings of lights makes me feel right at home.

The Christmas star in the mango tree? Not so much.

This holiday season is creeping up on me in the oddest way. I spent my Thanksgiving with my sister at the spa at Piedra de Agua, doing full body mud masks and picking up a sunburn by the thermal pool. It's currently about 76 degrees, and I'm regretting wearing a long sleeve shirt to teach today. Even though I know Christmas is coming, it's hard to wrap my mind around it.

Still, I will be having Christmas in the traditional style, despite having missed Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the snow and crowds that went with both. I've got a ticket back to Nebraska for Christmas in the snow. I can't seem to wrap my mind around that level of cold, either, so I'm just focusing on how nice it will be to be home for the holidays!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Utility Bills In Ecuador

Now that I've officially been in the apartment for over a month, it's time for the utility bills to start showing up.

I realized when they did that I'm getting a little local in my ways. Here's the low down:

Gas Bill $2

Water Bill: $6.26

Electric Bill: $47.36

Gas, fine. The stove, dryer, and water heater run on gas.

Water, fine. You know how I feel about hot showers in Cuenca. This is not negotiable.

Electric . . . whoa, whoa, whoa. . . . what is making the electric bill so stinking high? That's ridiculous! I fussed about that for ages. $48 bucks for electricity? For just one month? It's not like I even have heat to be running! That's highway robbery, that's what that is. Huff, huff, whine, whine, whine.

Then I remembered what I used to pay in the states for a month of electricity in November.

Then I just shut up and paid. Although I am turning off the lights relentlessly now and giving my refrigerator nasty looks.

It's little things like the bills that remind me that I'm starting to localize in my approach to prices and expenses more and more each day that I'm here. For example, a $3 cab fare is now pretty steep, and $25 for a nice dinner is eating pretty high on the hog. I spent $8.46 at the office supply store and felt like I got ripped off . . . buying a ream of printer paper, a binder, four sheets of art paper, and an envelope.

And yet I find $64 for unlimited high speed wireless completely reasonable . . . readers, what's the breakdown for you?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweeney Todd In Spanish Kind Of Sucks

Many, many moons ago when I was studying in Spain, I had the opportunity to go see the musical "Rent" in Madrid. This proved to be a traumatic experience on a number of levels, which ended with me riding around the subway for a couple of hours until my brain could calm down through the use of the soothing mantra of "Proxima Parada. . . " It was Spanish being used the right way, and not Spanish being horribly manipulated into a phrasal line that only had room for a fixed number of English syllables.

So you'd think I would have learned my lesson about musicals in translation waaaaaaaayyyyyy back in the day. But I still like red wine mixed with flat Coca-cola, too, so apparently some things just don't stick.

Which brings us to Sweeney Todd.

I like Sweeney Todd. For those not familiar with the show, the basic point is there's a man who's been wronged and returns to London as a barber with a plan to set things right. Only he goes a little crazy, and starts killing his clients. He happens to live above a meat pie shop . . . and well, it's really good anyway.

These are my favorite Sweeney Todd songs, as interpreted by the cast of the movie - Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and yeah, the barber is the man occasionally known as Borat.

Pirelli's Miracle Elixer:

The Shaving Contest:

A Little Priest:

Notice how each of these rely on rhyme and rhythm in English. Just for future reference.

So, KW and I were going to have a girl's night out. We discussed movies, but there wasn't anything worth turning up at the theater for and then we heard that Sweeney Todd was going to be on - for free - at the big Banco Central theater. Spanish tenors, full cast, etc.

And I foolishly thought it would be in English. So we went, waited in line, and got seats in the back of the house. As the lights came up and the orchestra began, I could tell I was excited.

Silly, silly me.

The barbaro brutal de Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, is not that good in Spanish if what you really like is the way the songs go . . . in English. Still, they tried to put on a good show and it was very well attended. The line of people outside at intermission waiting to get in eased the conscience of cutting out after the first act, but it just wasn't right in the other language.

At least I can have the videos as comfort . . . !

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Buying Medicine In Cuenca Ecuador

Medicine is one of those things that you never really consider until you actually need to get some. I've referenced picking up headache medicine before, but never really delved into the on-the-ground medical scene here for the basics. Here's how it goes:

1. I sit at home, feeling cruddy for one reason or another. Eventually, I work up the guts to head to a pharmacy.

2. On the way, I try and remember anything - anything at all - about words in Spanish that I know about the disease or ailment I have. Yeah, I could look stuff up at home, but I only tend to think of that when I'm at the store.

3. At the pharmacy, I stare at the display cases. In smaller shops, these are usually arranged as two front glass display cases with the pharmacist manning the cash register on top. Unknown rows stretch behind the counter, full of stuff I don't know about. In larger shops, it's more like the states, where there are aisles for me to roam, hoping that what I need will jump out at me before I have to figure out how to ask for it.

4. I start being shadowed/watched like a hawk by the pharmacist. They're terrified I'm going to ask them something. Gringa face = English questions = maybe she'll find what she wants and leave.

5. We start talking. One of us will bite the bullet. They'll either ask me what I need or I'll ask if they have something. There will be an instant wave of relief when Spanish comes out of my mouth on their part.

6. Confusion sets in. I am asking for something that is not a painkiller. Note to the class: Whatever the word is for antihistamine, it is not antihistamine said with Spanish vowels. Nice try, no dice. On the other hand, allergies are alergias. Bwahahahaha, I win!

7. Pantomine and/or extraneous hand gestures are used by both sides. Welcome back to the first grade.

8. A recommendation is made. I have no idea what I'm about to take, but I'm confident that we are on the same page in terms of what it is supposed to do.

9. Prices are discussed. Generic = generico, which I actually know. There is not a generico for what I want. Prices are quotes by the box (caja) and by the pill. I don't know the word for pill, but cada uno is each one, so whatever. I will take four to try.

10. The pharmacist goes to the mystery rows of goodies, opens the box of pills, whips out a scissors, and cuts me off four pills. Money changes hands, and I leave.

A little ridiculous? Well, most of that is me. Some of the pharmacies here are really also clinics, and the people manning the counter are actual doctors. Thus, the concept of a drop in clinic is not really prevalent around here, since you can just walk into pharmacies. Also, medicines have very different prices here than in the states. My allergy stuff was expensive at $1.50 a pill, but wow, did it work fast and last all day, too. Nexium you can over the counter, and a generic pack of 20 is like $6. If you have the technical name of something, or the active ingredient (see also: people actually planning ahead) you can match meds even if the names are different. I've heard glaucoma drops are very cheap here, and if you all need anything checked on, I'm more than willing to ask. My local pharmacist already thinks I'm an idiot ;-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'm The Teacher, Dammit

Yesterday leaving class, I hopped in a cab. It was 11 am, and a beautiful day was ahead of me. Of work. Whatever, it was nice out and I was looking forward to a ride home with the windows down.

Little did I know the third degree that was about to result. I mean, I'm used to chatting with the local taxistas, but sheesh was I ever getting a cross examination! Where was I going? Why? Weren't there more classes in the afternoon? How many hours of class had I already done?

Eventually, he asked what I studied. I said, "I'm the International Relations teacher."

OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH. Well, didn't that change things. Apparently, my taxi driver is the unofficial director of his own one man truancy squad, and had thought I was a lazy student skipping out on my afternoon classes. He was totally apologetic about grilling me.

In some ways, I get where he's coming from. Skipping is a problem, and the university actually has attendance policies that fail you if you miss too much class. The kicker was when he said I looked too young to be a teacher.

My students said this to me today too, when one of them asked how old I was. They don't believe I'm 30 on my way to 31.

On one hand, completely fine and awesome. I blend in on campus walking around, and who wants to look like an old lady? On the other hand, well, I AM A TEACHER HERE. I'm not a student, and sometimes I need to be teacher-y about things and its frustrating when administrators and others think you're just another enrollee. I got the hairy eye in the teacher's lounge the other day until I started grading some stuff, and when I hand out grades I want to be viewed as an authority and not the "big sister" or a peer.

So . . . in a completely odd train of thought . . . I'm trying to think about how to come across as older. It's like my freshman year of college all over again, and it feels a little weird. We'll just see how it goes . . .

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Halloween & Other Happenings

By insistent and repeated demand, I have Halloween wear:


Maid Marian & The Friar: Note The Authentic Footwear

So . . . that happened. Halloween was actually a fairly early night. Something about semi-frozen tangerine jello shots and forgetting to schedule dinner into the festivities, if I recall correctly. Not to worry - the fun was hardly over. Waking up the next day, it was the beginning of Cuenca Days.

Cuenca Days is not the official name of the holiday, but it's what it feels like. The whole town is pretty much off work for 4 or 5 days depending on your job, and every night there is a major fireworks show. One night I saw five shows as each barrio (neighborhood) expressed its civic pride and one-up-manship for the year. It was like the 4th of July, Groundhog Day edition.

I attempted to take a little time off work and check things out. They had some massive Arts-In-The-Park kind of stuff, but I ended up being fairly *yawn* about it all. I was expecting . . . more/different? Not the same kinds of things in every booth. I did the street and the park shows, as well as a seriously underwhelming taste event at La Esquina de Las Artes, but I didn't come home with anything other than sore feet.

Sadly, class resumed. For the newbies, I am teaching Saturday mornings as well as four days during the week. It's not like its a heavy load, I'm just a bit out of practice with teaching! The class during the week is International Relations, and I have to study as much as they do to keep up. I laughed at myself Thursday night, finishing up my stuff for Friday's class - definitely university days all over again.

This week, now that the holidays are over, work is crazy! I have a ton of projects to finish up - far more than there are hours in a day for working. Not so good. It's nice to be wanted by the clients, but I'm struggling to keep up now that I have to play educated profesora part-time. Getting through this week should be interesting, and I'll be glad to update when it's over and I can breathe again!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Renting A Halloween Costume In Ecuador

I giggled all the way home.

This Saturday there is a costume party at Inca Lounge, and you don't have to pay a cover if you have a costume. Admittedly, the cover is only $5, so it's not like there a high barrier to cross there, but it's Halloween and hey, who really needs that big of an excuse?

So where do you get a costume in an adult size in a totally Catholic country for Halloween?

MASKERADE, the costume rental shop.

Only I didn't know that it was a rental place when I went in. I was planning to buy something (cheap) and wear that. Except once we (BWH & I) got inside the shop and I got to reading the signs, I realized that we could rent this stuff.

How much? Sheesh, what are these details you speak of?

We took a number, 80. They were currently on 42. The place was packed! It's set up as a long counter, with all of the costumes behind the counter in big rows. You look through a book and pick out a costume and then tell them about it so they can go get your Spiderman suit or whatever. Then you take it and go try it on and go from there.

The place was teeming with kids in various kinds of costumes and some office workers doing the adult costume thing. Adult costume things here are different - they tend to be religious themed, or historical. Like monks and nuns and Robin Hood. So Ben has a Franciscan monk costume, and I have some sort of tacky medieval Maid Marian suit. I'm pretty sure the gold streamers are supposed to go in my hair and they offered me a crown, but its a long sleeved thing that goes to the floor and what do I really want with a crown?

Anyway, for the grand total of $16.60 plus a $10 deposit, we got our costumes, due back Sunday. It took about 2 hours, and in the big picture, if you had told me 6 months ago that I would be able to walk into a costume shop and fearlessly rent a costume in another language, I would have laughed you out of town. Now, well, Maid Marian will be making her appearance on Saturday night!

Monday, October 18, 2010

If You Love Your Apartment, Don't Clean It

Well my friends, the big day arrived at last and this weekend I moved into my new apartment. I also watched the Texas-Nebraska game, but we're not speaking of that.

Was the wait worth it? On most counts, yes, yes, yes. I am so excited for this place. I have a fabulous view out the kitchen and brand new bathrooms. Despite all the construction mess there was when I first saw it, my apartment in Cuenca has turned out beautifully. Check out these before and after pictures:

The Bathroom:


The Bedroom:


The Kitchen:


On the other hand, despite the construction guys promising to clean, there is dust everywhere. And random spots. The guys did a construction clean, not a my-mother-in-law-is-coming-over level clean. Being opposed to fine layers of white dust on everything I own, I swore to thoroughly clean the whole place as I moved it.

I've finished the bathroom in the master bedroom and one of the closets. Umm . . . .

It all started when I had to go to the bathroom. I was peacefully sweeping in the living room, and I had the urge. I went to the bathroom and flipped the lid up to discover spots on the seat, along with one dusty fingerprint. Not cool. Fortunately, with just a few quick squirts of bathroom cleaner that could be all covered.

The next thing I knew, I was bent over the toilet scrubbing a spot off the back of the S-bend on the base. I don't know what came over me in there, but I wiped down the walls, did the floor inch by inch by hand, scrubbed out the hinges on the doors, and polished that faucet like five times. Something clearly snapped.

And something else snapped . . . because I found about 16 things wrong in there. Tiny, tiny things that you would really only notice if, say, you were on your knees scrubbing out the corners with the tip of your finger. Since I am a product of my raising, I have a list of places to hit with a grouter, wood pen, and WD-40. Just for the bathroom.

Had I not gone all Mr. Clean in there, I would have never seen those things. Lesson learned. If you love your apartment at first, don't clean it anytime soon!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Baby Snatching? Seriously?

So I'm out to dinner last night, talking with the lovely JO and updating her about the University professorship situation. I'd gone in to the class on Wednesday to observe, to start preparing to teach October 25th. This is when the current professor is officially scheduled to start her maternity leave.

Anyway, after the class the professor and I are talking. We arrange to drive into town to have lunch, and she has to pull a giant kiddie pool out of the front seat of her pick-up truck so that I can sit. Not being entirely sure why an 8 & 9/10th's months pregnant lady is messing around with a kiddie pool, I ask her about it. Apparently it's for the delivery . . . she has a mid-wife and is doing the whole thing at home in the water birth style.

Now I know home birth is becoming more popular, even in the states, but this throws me for a loop. I was telling JO about it, because why not? It's interesting and different.

She comes back with an even more interesting and different take. Apparently, having babies at home is common in Ecuador because THEN NO ONE STEALS THE BABY AT THE HOSPITAL.

Yeah, exactly. Hospital baby snatchings are common? She shrugs, which can mean anything from "oh yes, totally" to "honestly, it is so easy to pull your leg." I ask her why, and she says that some people who can't have babies buy babies, and thus there is a market for babies, and people just want to serve that market.

For a minute I have a flashback to China, where I knew of a woman who went to the south of the country, headed out to the sticks, and picked up a lovely baby girl for $250. She was frustrated, as a single woman, with the hurdles in the adoption process. The twist? PEOPLE TOLD HER SHE OVERPAID.

I didn't have it in me to ask what a baby would run here. The last thing I need is to discover how affordable it is to buy a baby down here and then turn up back home with a matched set of big-eyed insta-grandkids. I can hear myself now:

"Mom, Dad, I was only going to get one but then I found out they were on SALE."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Visiting My Someday Home

Today I went to visit my apartment again. I say visit, because I don't get to live there yet. It's been mine since mid-August, but it's not finished.

Ah, the joys of renting pre-construction. . . no, no joy actually.

Lemme 'splain. No, is too much. Let me sum up.

inigo montoya


Ahem. So I found my lovely, lovely, lovely apartment with the fabulous view of the downtown skyline with the assistance of the wonderful Michael Berger at CuencaCondos. He's a friend (Hi Mike!) and he'd been with me through the stove thief adventures to know what I was in the market to rent.

One day when I was avoiding the apartment hunt drama and attempting to get some actual work done (I have those days. Sometimes.) I got THE CALL. It was Mike, wanting to know what I was doing right then.


"Because if you don't come take one of these places, I'm never speaking to you about apartments again," he said. Really, can you resist that kind of threat? I couldn't. I shut the computer and let him pick me up to take me to Luciano's apartments.

Conveniently for me the picker-outer, the building was still under construction. I got to wander through every unit and indulge my oooh-what's-that instincts to the max. Eventually I settled on a three bedroom, two bath unit on the third floor. It looked like a cement box, with windows, but the rooms were mapped out and the bathrooms were tiled. There was a kid who looked about 14 years old assembling the closet/cabinets for the bedrooms, but he seemed to know what he was doing.

I took it on faith, for $375.

It was supposed to be done with my life moved into it by October 1st.

Ahem. Check your calendars, people. I'm supposed to be doing a lot more than visiting this apartment right now!

I've watched the toilets go in. I've watched the kitchen counters get built. I've learned about the finer details of putting in granite countertops and the joys of floating hardwood floors. I've very narrowly avoided having a mauve living room (Me: "Do these pinkish thumb marks on the wall mean this is the color it's going to be?" Luciano: "Yes" Me: "NO!"), and didn't visit in time to stop from having a wheat/gold accent wall in the master bedroom. I can live with the wall.

Anytime, really. I'm ready to live with the wall!

I do have scads of pictures of the place at various stages of done - when I actually get in there I hope to have the time to post them up for sharing. Now I just use them as comfort, to verify that progress is being made and that someday - SOON - I am going to get to live in this place.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Helium Homepage Featured Writer Today

Just got a note that one of my articles for Helium, "How to follow your favorite football team online" is being featured on their homepage today. It's way down at the bottom, but still there. Yay for publicity!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Reactions In Cuenca To Ecuador's Police Strike

This morning, I taught my regular Saturday morning class at the Abraham Lincoln school (quick recap - to be a professor, I have to also be a private school teacher. Follow that logic? Me neither. Welcome to Ecuador). I was looking forward to it today because it was a chance to do a good survey of local reactions to this week's police strike in Ecuador.

The teachers at the school are a mix of Cuenca locals and foreigners. My students come from middle and upper class families, and they're the equivalent of sophomores in high school. My class is all girls and very sweet. They can giggle in two languages.

Anyway, our lesson today was on gangsters and heroes (I just follow the book, people) and we had to make sentences expressing who is a hero and why. Soldiers are heroes, because they save Ecuador from the police. This earned a number of solemn nods from around the class. Soldiers are also cuter than the police, which earned laughs.

The girls then confessed to having spent the day of the police strike in Ecuador mostly glued to the television with their families. Those who have relatives in Quito or Guayaquil checked in throughout the day by email and cell phone to keep tabs on the public unrest in Ecuador. Many of my Cuencana students do have family on the coast, and so checking in - especially after the roads closed - was important. All the public schools in the country were closed Friday, which the students dismissed as "boring" since exams are coming up and they had to study anyway.

Among the local teachers in Cuenca, the mood was cautious relief. Several confessed to having been truly frightened. "I'm not easily scared," said one, "but that really shook me up." Correa, after all, is supposed to be different, and not susceptible to the coup d'etats that took out a number of his predecessors.

One of the long-time foreign teachers expressed ambivalence about the whole situation. "This is my fourth coup," he said, shrugging. I didn't ask if it was his fourth coup in Ecuador, but dang. Can you imagine?

In terms of the mood on the street, there are a number of stores that should be open that are still closed today (Saturday) but no real sense of emergency. People seem to be a little shaken that it happened, but mostly relieved that it's over. Speculation about the political outcomes is rampant among expats, but the locals just shrug and say, "Who knows what will happen?"

I'm with the locals. It's Ecuador. Who knows what will happen?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Police Strike In Ecuador Leads To Quiet Night

It's mid-evening in Cuenca, and it seems like it is going to be a quiet night. The news media may prove me wrong in the morning, but this photo I just took of Cuenca's streets on the first night of the police strike pretty much sums up the state of affairs around here:


I'm off until tomorrow unless something major happens. Given the crowds on the street, I think I will be sleeping peacefully tonight.

Ecuador Coup Seems Less Serious In Cuenca

Tonight in Cuenca, extremists thought that rioters would be taking to the streets in response to the so-called Ecuador coup. However, walking into Parque Calderon, we surprised the crew setting up the food tent.

Food tents, people. Food tents in the middle of a mass political demonstration? What is this?

This is actually not being very serious. There were about 200 people gathered by the government buildings in Parque Calderon by 7 pm, listening to speeches in support of Correa's actions. A live band started to play when the speeches finished, and children danced in the green spaces of the park.

Shops and restaurants that were closed earlier in the day are already reopening. The bars and restaurants of Cuenca were doing a booming business as we walked to and from the park. People seem to be in a cheerful mood, even the breakfast tent crew.

What will happen next? Some of it depends on what happens tonight in other parts of the country. The Ecuadorian government has declared a state of emergency and the borders are presently closed, but if all stays quiet this police strike may be a flash-in-the-pan news event. Fingers crossed!

Cuenca Mayor Assure Us All Is Well

Cuenca seems to be taking a pass on the national unrest in Ecuador. The mayor of Cuenca was just up on the news, pointing out that the local police do not intend to go on strike and insisting that all was going to be calm here.

We'll see. There are soldiers on patrol on the streets of Cuenca, though they are being quiet about it. Most shops are closed up, and the local bars are shutting down for the day to avoid the possibility of being looted. Still, the weather this afternoon is gorgeous, and it seems like most people are more interested in having a relaxing day off now that the national agencies and schools are closed than getting themselves into any kind of revolutionary fervor.

Even just a few hours into knowing about it, my impression is that locally we all have gone on high alert JUST IN CASE but probably not much is going to happen, at least until it gets dark and the beer supplies run down. Even then . . . I can smell roasting meat from the neighbors. BBQ night, perhaps? I mean, I don't want to make light of their civil unrest here, but I've seen worse in China when they rioted in Shanghai. Going to do some other things for a bit until I have more news!

Photos From The Police Strike In Ecuador

Here's something you don't see everyday. The police threw tear gas - at the President of Ecuador. He was trying to give a speech, and now he's hanging out in the hospital, protected by guards.

Good quality Ecuador police strike photos here:

Note that Correa - the president - has a cane because he recently had knee surgery. Also, he doesn't hide behind his FBI-type people - instead, he told the police "You want to kill me? I'm here!" Don't exactly get that in the US!

Police Strike In Ecuador; Cuenca Sitting Tight

The national government of Ecuador is under fire after putting an end to some of the benefits previously received by the police. The police have gone on strike, and things are getting a bit out of hand.

At the end of the day, its about money and power. In the middle of the day, it's about figuring out what's going on.

In Cuenca, things are quiet. The President of Ecuador has been hit with tear gas, and they are burning things in the streets of Guayaquil. Airline service in and out of the country has been suspended, though some flights en route are being accepted.

The Internet from Etapa, the state agency, has been in and out all morning. This afternoon we got world that the schools are closed, as well as the Supermaxi (Cuenca's biggest supermarket) and the Feria Libre (Cuenca's biggest indigenous market). People are going to ground among the gringo population, stocking their fridges and staying tuned to the television.

I'm okay. I have a full fridge, a hovering, macho boyfriend who can't quite hide his excitement about the ongoing "revolution" and I live behind three locked doors and an electric fence. I'll be on Twitter as I get updates, and I'll be in and out of the Internet as we have coverage. The Embassy is officially telling everyone to stay calm and stay home, which seems like a decent plan to me!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Taste Of India In Cuenca

Once upon a time, there was a furniture store on the corner of Benigno Malo and Calle Larga. Then there was no furniture shop and just a small paper sign announcing that it had moved. And then there was a makeover.

Painters descended like a rabid pack of rainbow-makers. Buzz saws whirred. Purple took over the ceiling. The back wall went bright orange. An electric green surrounded the windows that were already struggling to adapt to their new onion dome frames.

Under the purple ceiling, a tented canopy of beaded and sparkling fabrics pitched itself. Semi-sheer sari scarves ran away from their owners to hang on the walls. A plasma screen TV came to life on the back wall, pumping out the best of Bollywood circa 1982. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Taj Mahal!

I'll confess that my first meal here was an accident. They'd left a door ajar during the last week of construction and like any good neighborhood snoop I poked my nose in to ask when they were going to be open. A nice man came and escorted my friend and I to a booth, insisting, "We are open now! Sit, sit, eat!"

Um, okay. That is a table saw being operated next to the chef, right? Clearly not important.

They bring us menus, but this is apparently just practice for the real opening night, since all they have are shawarma's (the Indian version of a gyro) and Coca-Cola. It's surprisingly delicious, considering the circumstances. The real opening day is going to be Thursday and they promise a full menu.

We make plans to test that promise, because to be perfectly honest, the "ethnic" food in Cuenca kind of stinks. There's no Thai takeout, Italian food means pasta + pizza, and spicy dishes exist only in an alternative universe I've not yet discovered. Thus, we are full prepared to be utterly disappointed by our Thursday night India feast.

Fast-forward to Saturday. I'm scratching out the notes that will become this blog post while waiting for $20 worth of $1.50 & $3.00 Indian snacks and entrees to be prepared. (I think someone is walking to India and back to get the spices. This is the only reasonable explanation for the length of the wait. Well, that and the number of items I've just ordered.) I've been sent by the gods of hungry people to "Get more samosa," "Make sure you pick up some of that bread," and "See if the other Aloo dishes are as good as the first one." The taste report:
  • Veggie samosas were voted to be slightly better than the chicken samosas. Get one of each anyway.
  • The Aloo Palak is richly spiced and delicious, but the Aloo Mutter is better.
  • Chicken Biryani beats Chicken Korma.
  • Real chai tea!!!! (after gallons of te nacional - aka the local swill - my mouth is euphoric)
  • Naan Saada is where it's at for the bread.
When you walk in, be prepared to roll out! The portion sizes were generous, and even the takeout was more than plenty. Frankly, as far as the taste buds are concerned, this is the best transformation that has ever happened to a furniture store!

Monday, September 20, 2010

From High School to College In Just 6 Days

Last week, I found myself waking up at 6 am for the first time in years. I wasn't on my way to catch a flight, either, which is generally the only acceptable reason for my lazy writer's butt to be up that early.

I was going to school.

By 7:30 I was dressed, armed with a backpack full of study supplies, and waiting for the bus. My fellow sufferer, SF, met up with me to ensure our 25 cents was duly plunked down into the slot for Bus #4. We managed to find a seat and bumped our way over the sleepy cobblestone streets until we reached our destination at the end of the line - Colegio Santa Ana.

It's worth noting here that a Colegio is not a college. It's a high school. Colleges are Universidades, and Colegios are high schools. I've studied Spanish for years and still think this is weird.

Anyway, Colegio Santa Ana perches on the side of a large hill overlooking the main city of Cuenca. Real estate developers in the States would kill for the vista off the playground alone.

Me? I would kill for some breakfast. It's a thought that occurs to me more than once as the morning drags on. The regular teachers are all in attendance for the final days of intensive curriculum planning before school starts. I'm attending as an observer, preparing to serve as a substitute for SF's first week of classes while he attends a wedding in the States.

I'm just there to see the place and find my classroom, right? Except instead I am getting a bird's eye view of the inner working of the curriculum administration system at a Cuenca Colegio. It's interesting, as they are re-doing the guides for each grade level, but there is a lot of discussion in circles and I'm praying that this all gets sorted by the time I start subbing on Monday.

Flash forward. Friday night I get a note from SF, who's now in the States, that his school is trying to get a hold of me, that they've got some kind of emergency. By Sunday morning, it's sorted out - the emergency situation was that I've been canned in favor of someone who was able to attend all of the curriculum planning sessions.

Sadness, right? Well, not really. I'm actually relieved to not have to make the long bus ride on Monday morning, especially since I would have just lusted after the panoramic view anyway.

48 hours later, I'm sitting in a windowless room taking notes. Welcome back to University, kiddo!

As I was celebrating my new-found freedom from subbing on Sunday, I got a note about a Profesora looking for someone to cover her maternity leave. The position starts in October, but the catch is being at the first day of class to figure out what's going on and if this is going to work. So I end up perched in the back row, utterly alone as not one of the other students in the class will sit with me. I later find out this isn't social shunning of the gringa - their previous professor penalized them for not sitting up front!

Anyway, the course is called International Relations. Asking if I'm interested in the subject is like checking to see if bears really sleep in the woods.

There's more to the story, naturally, because this is Ecuador and things are never perfectly simple. The way things happen here are twisty and turny and full of the unexpected. One minute you're a sacked sub, and the next minute you're on the road to being a college professor. Asi es Ecuador!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Think South America Keeps Me From Football? Think Again!

College football season is upon us, my friends, and I couldn't be happier about the return of my favorite time of the year.

Game time, naturally.

Yes, I spent the day throwing up. I do not know why, though suspect #1 is Inca's $5 sashimi for dinner and suspect #2 is 1/3 of a bottle of Pilsner. Beer + Jen = Sick. I've know this since I was about 5 years old and drinking out of cans at backyard BBQ's thinking they were soda. I'm 30 now, and despite my GPA's over the years, I'm a slow learner.

It took one thing to make me feel better:

Yes, the original strains of the Husker Tunnel Walk song, Sirius. Streaming through my computer connection, the Husker Radio network let me listen to a wonderful opening game that I am sad not to have been able to attend. Then again, my lunch yesterday was $1, with tax. Choices, you know?

Ah, Nebraska football. Music to my ears to hear Taylor Martinez run the football in for the first touchdown as well. Screw passing. I like a good running game - I really, really do. Can you throw the ball? Meh? How about run it 50 yards for a touchdown? Yes? Well, then, welcome aboard, kid.

Hopefully later in the season when more games are televised, I will be able to watch them courtesy of my friend Ben's Slingbox, which is pretty much the greatest invention ever to a fan outside the US cable markets. Until then, the radio will do me.

I mean, I have a Nebraska t-shirt, Nebraska sweatshirt, and rub-on game day Nebraska football tattoos. You think I'm missing these games for any reason?

Think again. Go Huskers!

Husker Helmet

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moving Time In Ecuador

I've been a bit lax on updating with all the news going on here, in part because I am in the middle of moving. This will be the first of two house moves in the next couple months. Mike at Cuenca Condos helped me find a place that is going to be perfect . . . when it finishes in about a month. So for the next month I will be staying above the Inca Lounge in the lovely apartments owned by Juan Herredia of Terradiversa.

In the meantime I've been to Quito and back, negotiated the return of my missing underwear from the caretakers at the old place (I wish I was kidding!), written over 40 articles and blog posts, seen a dance show at California Kitchen, and possibly committed to a 10 hour motorcycle ride (yes, I'm out of my mind. More on this later).

Moving in Ecuador is an interesting process, because I don't drive. Think about that. How do you move anything anywhere? In a car. Maybe a truck. I have neither, although really I should be able to fit everything I brought down with me back into the suitcases I packed in originally.

Oh, hardy-har-har. It's a stuff explosion down here and I am trying to sort it out. When I get caught up I will let you all see the water repair disaster I am leaving behind, and let you know the story of finding a perfect, brand-new apartment for rent in Cuenca. Until then, you know where I'll be - fighting with my suitcases until everything fits!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Do You Do With One Aspirin?

So I went to the pharmacy for my friend Pete yesterday, because I was going to town anyway, his head hurt, and there were no painkillers in the house. I explained to the nice man behind the counter that my friend's head hurt and could he please sell me something like aspirin?

He did. One. That would be a single pill in a blister pack, 34 cents, thank you.

What do you do with one aspirin? I mean, yes, take it, but really, people buy these one at a time here?

Apparently so - you should have seen the look he gave me when I said, "You know, I really meant a box when I said I wanted aspirin."

Eyebrows up, mouth open. "A box?"

"Yes, please," I said.

That came to $8.50. Hmmm . . . too much since all I had was a ten and wanted snacks.

So we settled on half a box, because apparently you can do that, too. Do people not keep this kind of thing in their homes by the bottle here? Weird, weird, weird.

The Great Stove Thief Of Cuenca

Apartments in Cuenca are a process to obtain, that is for darn sure. Along the way you discover all kinds of horrifying aspects of apartment life in other countries, like the electric showers. Occasionally, you discover the opportunity to have a really good laugh.

As with the stove thief.

For background, most apartments in Cuenca are completely unfurnished. And by unfurnished, I mean stripped down to the basics. There aren't bulbs in the light fixtures, appliances in the kitchen, or even mirrors in the bathroom. When you read that an apartment is unfurnished, they aren't kidding

As a foreigner here, I don't come with my own house full of furniture, so I have been looking at furnished apartments, or at the very least partially furnished places that have their kitchen appliances. One of the apartments on my list was this one from Bienes Raices Catedral, Cuenca's largest (for now) real estate agency.

Cuenca Kitchen

Note the presence of kitchen appliances here.

A few additional notes about Bienes Raices Catedral for your reference. They say on their website that they speak English. This is true over email depending which agent you are talking to at the time, but when you get to the office, you'd better be able to habla Espanol. Though they have a large office, when Pete and I showed up for our appointment there, nobody was speaking any English, which is okay for me, but not so fun for my friend Pete, who is looking for his own place with a dog. Anyway, this is a problem with a lot of real estate places in Cuenca - you have to double check that they really are bilingual! Some can't speak any Spanish, while others can't hack it in English.

Also, the super organized and polished front that they started with quickly went downhill when we started looking at places. The first place they tried to show me was right next door, but it had already been rented and no one had bothered to tell them. Then we drove over to the condo you see in the photo above.

We walk into the place, and it is indeed a good price in a nice building near a park and a main street in the district that I want. However, when we turn to the kitchen, there's a problem.

It's completely stripped.

I mention this to the agent, and he gives me the little speech about how appliances aren't included in unfurnished rentals in Cuenca. Yeah, yeah - I know this from the nice folks over at Cuenca Condos and Cuenca's Best Properties, who've given me quite an education in the local market. But in the listing it specifically says this place is supposed to come with a refrigerator and a stove.

So we get into a little argument about it, since I want a lower monthly rent if there aren't going to be appliances. The agent tells me I'm being unreasonable and reminds me again that this is normal for Cuenca. Yes, but the listing says it comes with appliances, and because I know I'm right and the agent has a Blackberry, I invite him to look it up if he doesn't believe me.

He looks it up, muttering the whole time about how I just don't know the market and really, he's not trying to rip me off and it's a great price and so on. I don't care, I don't want to buy $1500 worth of appliances for a place that's supposed to be furnished. Look it up.

Lo an behold, the foreign lady can actually read Spanish correctly. The apartment description specifically mentions that the appliances are included, listing them by name.

Well, this freaks the agent, because 1) I'm right (Take that, doubter man) and 2) the stuff's not there. He call his office and asks them about it. They verify that the owner listed the appliances as being there, and what does he mean they aren't there now? Where did the appliances go?

We still don't know.

Needless to say, I didn't take the apartment. We left it blaming the Great Stove Thief Of Cuenca. He's a fast one, sneaky and smart, and somewhere he's got a refrigerator and stove, much to my own intense personal amusement and the chagrin of my real estate agent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Broken Keyboard = Blessing In Disguise

The letter "F" popped off my keyboard today. While some might think of it as a disaster, I'm okay with it. I've popped the keys off keyboards before, and it's actually turned out to be something of a blessing.

Put aside for a second the life skill of knowing how to put keys back on computers. That's a pretty good skill, but that's not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is how sometimes when things break, you get to find a better way of doing things.

In this case, way back last year, I killed the left hand shift key on my computer. I used to be a power shifter, and when I'm in the zone I'm a pretty fast and hard typist. Keys know when they are being pressed, and sometimes - in the case of my poor shift key - they've had all they can handle and they run for cover.

The trouble with the shift key's run for freedom across my desk was that I was in the middle of a book project with a tight deadline. There wasn't a day to take the thing in to be replaced, and my attempts to put the key back on were a failure (my mother has since showed me the way, which I deeply, deeply appreciate. As does my resecured "F" key).

So what's a freelancer to do? Deadline looming, keyboard busted . . . . tears, right?

Actually, CAPSLOCK.

Since the shift key was broken, I had to hit my CAPSLOCK whenever I needed a capital letter. At first, this felt incredibly awkward. My hands kept trying to shift where there was no shift key and it was a royal pain in the palm. I wouldn't get the CAPSLOCK key turned off in time and spent precious minutes with deleting until I retrained my auto-correct.

But then . . . it started to feel natural. And then it started to feel fast.

Now I'm hooked. Forget you, shift key - I've got CAPSLOCK. And CAPSLOCK has my loyalty, because since I got the hang of thumping it for a capital letter and then thumping it again for regular style as opposed to pinning my hand down on the shift key, I type 10 - 15 words faster per minute. You have no idea what that's worth to me under a deadline.

I've CAPSLOCK'D so much I burned my little light out. I don't know how to fix that. But it's much less important than my faster typing speed.

The "F" key reminded me today to be grateful for that original bit of breakage, though, and I just thought I'd share my new tricks with the CAPSLOCK. Give it a go and see how it feels for you, too. What differences do you notice?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Less Ghosty Ghostwriter

I'm pleased to share that one element of my life and work is coming out of the shadows! The sometimes-downfall of ghostwriting and content creation for others is its perpetual anonymity. However, one of my more fun and entertaining clients has now expanded his about page to include his team of contributors.

This gives you the opportunity to see me on the About Page, along with Marcus and the rest of his team. I encourage you to check it out - the web site is full of information and tidbits about German life, and the overall tone is very conversational. If you are planning a trip to Germany, dreaming of relocating to Germany, or just want to know more about the country overall, we've all worked hard to make this a must-visit destination on the web.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cuenca's Hot Water Disappointment

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a thing for showers. I LOVE THEM. Long, hot showers are somewhat critical to taking me out of zombie state and into a functional state in the morning. They're relaxing. They're good for thinking. Opera is more fun in the shower. And, as an aside, showers keep me clean.

Cold showers, on the other hand, are the worst things in the world. Nothing makes me more likely to use my worst grown up words, get all grumpy, and start hating on the universe than a cold shower. Woe betide anyone who gives me any excuse at all to be angry with them after I've had a cold shower, because it's going to feel like World War III just broke out.

My Personality After A Cold Shower

Angry Grizzly

So, to the plumbers and electricians and architects of Cuenca, if you as a group don't start engineering better showers in this town, I'm going to hit you with something. Repeatedly.

At the moment, it seems as though every place I've ever taken a shower here {3 apartments + 2 guest showers} and everyone I've talked to has agreed that for the most part, there are three water temperatures available in Cuenca:
  • Arctic
  • Tepid
  • Scalding
Most water heater systems are gas powered, making the problem one of both heat source and pressure. On one hand, in theory, the hot water should never run out since it is continually heated as it is piped in. In practice, you have to get the water pressure just right to maximize the heating power of the gas flame. Too much and its arctic. Too little and its scalding. In the middle and . . . oh, let's face it. I spend 10 minutes a morning standing out of the spray, fiddling with the water, trying to get it to somewhere in the middle and scowling the entire time.

As a means of getting around the acknowledged problem with the gas heated showers, some systems use electric shower heads. Yes, all my North American readers, you read that right. Electric shower heads.

Scary Electric Shower Example #1

Scary Electric Shower 1

Scary Electric Shower Example #2

Scary Electric Shower 2

Thumbs Down Added By Actual User

Scary Electric Shower 3

Install these puppies the wrong way, and you'll get a shower experience you'll never forget. I had one in my second apartment, and let me tell you, fearing for my life cut into my shower time considerably. I also wore rubber flip flops to shower in religiously, just in case.

These death traps appear throughout Latin and South America. According to the Southern Baptist Missionary I talked to Tuesday, in Guatemala they are known as "Widowmakers" which seems about right. I'll never have one again.

The worst part of them, of course, is they still don't give consistently hot water, either. And yet there they are . . . in use . . . creating a whole legion of people with stories about "that time the shower caught on fire" or "the time I fried myself." Good times, people, good times.

It is a good way to distinguish yourself as an in-the-know type when looking for apartments here, though. Green out of towners ask about square footage and bedrooms. Second time around types and seasoned locals? We're asking about the hot water!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wi-Fi Hot Spots In Cuenca Ecuador, July 2010 Edition

This represents the most updated list of working wireless hot spots in Cuenca, Ecuador. I put out a list of wireless Internet connection points in Cuenca in January and there are still good comments there, but I had missed a couple and there are a few that have changed their status.
  • Bar Inca: You need a password to log in here, but they'll happily give it to you. Outlet is at the bar, although if you ask nicely you can also get a power strip from the back office to work on the couches. Opens at 9(ish) most days, closed Mondays, good food. 3 de Noviembre, along the river.

  • Cafe Austria: Medium speed wireless. Not functional. They've changed the password from this spring, and I can't get the network to hold a connection. I am not alone in this, and Mac vs. PC doesn't appear to make a difference. Still, chocolate frogs on offer and the staff doesn't mind if you work there for hours. Benigno Malo y Juan Jaramillo.
  • Cafe Eucalyptus: Plug in at the bar if the wi-fi is not working, which it usually isn't. Only one person can be plugged in at the bar at a time. Evening events like salsa shows make this best for daytime use. Gran Columbia 9 - 41.

  • Cafecito: No password, high speed wireless. Also a youth hostel but you don't have to stay there to park in the cafe zone and use the Internet connection. Three prong plug behind the plant in the upper right corner as you arrive, round and two prong plug next to the cake display on the left.

  • California Kitchen: High speed wireless connection (Casa Sangurima) takes a password you can get from the staff. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Only place in Cuenca for biscuits and gravy, and the broccoli salad is also really good. Plug ins are on the left wall. Presidente Borerro y Gaspar Sangurima.

  • La Esquina de las Artes: The connection point here is in the courtyard by the shops, but you can also pick up some signal inside the ice cream shop. Next to the University of Cuenca, easy walk/cab from downtown.

  • Mall del Rio: Connection is strongest in the food court, limited places to plug in. Some can and some can't connect - doesn't seem to be a pattern here.

  • Millenium Plaza: Connection is strongest on the far side of the mall away from the Kentucky Fried Chicken. There's a small table with power outlets. Expect to share with a teenage gamer or two.

  • Mosca: Coffee shop with wi-fi and one of the only wireless Internet connections I know of in this part of Cuenca. Near the SuKasa in the Excalibur building, 22-400 Gran Columbia.
  • Parque Calderon: Etapatelecom operates a wi-fi hot spot in front of the tourist office. Slow {like molasses in January slow}. Remember you also have to log on for this one - the system is set up to take you to the log in screen, where it provides you with the user name and password you need. Allegedly you can hold this connection throughout the downtown, which is useful in a limited sense for iPhone and smart phone users.
Cuenca roamers, let me know how these work out for you and I'll try to keep the list updated!

O Visa, Where Art Thou?

My visa officially expired yesterday. My lawyer assures me there is no problem with this, because the visa was done last week, it just wasn't signed. The guy who has to sign the visa was on vacation, no big deal, he'll do it when he gets back.

Call it a case of "You know you're not in America anymore when . . . " but seriously, only one guy in the immigration office in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has the power to sign a visa? No one can fill in for him while he is on vacation? This is for real?

Yes, welcome to Ecuador. This is bureaucracy here. For real. This is why you need at least a month before your visa expires to renew a visa. Even if the process is only supposed to take 3 - 4 days.

Allegedly, the visa is now signed and I will get my passport WITH VISA back in my hot little hands on Thursday. Right. Do pardon me if I wonder where on earth this process is really!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Computer Repairs Overseas

While I had previously reported that I'd killed my Internet connection, I don't know that I mentioned that later that week I also managed to kill the power cord for my computer. This was a much bigger emergency than my kaput wi-fi connection. After all, there are about a dozen wi-fi hot spots in Cuenca with my name on them, but I can't use any of them without power.

Naturally, I discovered this disaster at about 8 pm on a Saturday night. In case you're wondering, this is the time in Cuenca when you are least likely to be able to find any practical shop open again until Monday morning. You want beer? Plenty of that around. Same for roasted meat kabobs, taxis, or even small shops. Tech support? Bwah-hahaha, no.

Like a mature and experienced expat, I brought out my grown up words and had a bit of a cry. Where on earth was I going to go to get this fixed?

By Monday, a few options had presented themselves. It was only a matter of scheduling in enough time to check them all out. Dell did have an online store for Ecuador, but I really wanted to be able to just go pick one up as soon as possible. Grousing, complaining, and nervous about what I was going to have to spend to get what I needed {tech is about 3x as expensive here as in the States}, I headed into town.

And found my salvation for a mere $60.

Dear Targus, I love you.

Targus Universal Laptop Charger

I was able to find a Targus universal laptop charger at the La Victoria store just a few blocks from Parque Calderon on Gran Columbia. It took less than five minutes to explain what I needed and for the nice man to solve the problem of no physical Dell stores with this nifty thing. It even has a car charger attachment, which while I don't have a car down here is at least handy. I'm pretty much hooked up like James Bond now - a plug in for almost any situation I can imagine.

I looked up the Targus universal charger kit online later and found out it costs $104 on the Internet. I got the last one in the store, and even got a $10 discount because I was willing to pay cash on the spot. How I got something technology related for less in Ecuador than it is available online I don't even know. All I know is I once again have power, which is what I desperately needed. That guy at La Victoria is like my new best friend now, and he doesn't even know it :-)

And now to the next battle . . . fixing the personal Internet problem. Here's hoping it will be as painless as the cord replacement ended up being!

Houston, We *May* Have A Visa

Talked with my lawyer today about my visa and it seems that the process may have gone through! Supposedly her assistant is picking it up today, which would give me another 60 days before I have to start working on a more permanent visa.

The extra time will be wonderful. A major adjustment for me coming back down here has been remembering to work on Ecuador time again. Things don't happen in anything near the speed which they are originally described, and this is endemic throughout every aspect of work in the country. Houses are finished months late, even by big-name developers. Contractors don't show. Service helpers are frequently hours late. Whatever time you're given, doubling or even tripling it is a safe bet for realistic planning.

On one hand it's great, because it makes life easy. There's no real deadline pressure for many things. On the other hand, it drives me absolutely bonkers, like a three day visa taking almost two weeks. But what can I do? This is the country I've chosen, and I'll be getting the darn thing at last! I am very excited for the moment when I have my passport back in hand - it will be a big relief.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dear Bureaucracy, I Hate You

Well, it's a beautiful Friday in Ecuador. The weather has been lovely today, and the sun setting behind the mountains out my window is mixing with the clouds to create a gentle striping of pink and lavender.

Really, there's only one thing that can ruin an evening like this.


More specifically, the bureaucracy that is holding up my visa extension getting approved. I was supposed to get my completed paperwork and visa back on Wednesday. No word from the lawyer all day. I send an email on Thursday checking in politely - I mean, I don't want to be a nasty nag, right? I just want my ever-loving visa and my passport back in my hot little hands.

Instead, she doesn't call me. She calls my friend who went with me to her office to tell him that I need to provide her with bank statements showing a different amount in my account. Well, that's all well and good, except it's after the close of business in the US by the time I get wind of all of this and what am I supposed to do about it now?

I would probably be less incensed about this (Asi es Ecuador, as they say) had I not already spent a fair portion of my week dealing with the malfunctioning of my portable Internet connection. Apparently the internal workings of the poor thing have up and died, but finding that out definitively involved a trip to the main Porta customer service office on Gran Columbia which is dreadful. Not only did they give me wrong and incomplete information, but the process for repairs was going to day several days for me to get the thing back.

Instead, I ended up going to the sweet little shop where Porta outsources all their repairs rather than having any in-house technicians (because why would a large cell phone service provider want techs? I mean really!). They had a next day answer for me on the confirmed death of the modem. Tears for my Internet, people. Not looking forward to having to replace that!

So all unsettled and fussy, which is not ideal. However, I am blessed in a number of ways, so heading into the weekend I am trying to focus on:
  • My wonderful Ecuadorian friends who are hooking me up with Internet as well as a place to stay (because really, until I have that visa approved and know I can stay, I don't want to lease a place)
  • The sweethearts who have been suggesting places for me to teach so I can have a more permanent visa and skip all this bureaucracy crap for the next year
  • My father, who is awesome and handles it really well when I call all upset from foreign countries with ever-changing visa rules
  • The chicken lime soup from California Kitchen waiting for me
  • Watching Slokum do the rugby thing tomorrow
  • The just-for-fun web projects planned for Sunday
  • The reality that all of this will be solved one way or another!
I know I've got to get some new pictures up from things happening here and do updates on everything that's changed in Cuenca . . . but until then, I think this week is about over for me!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Fiery Morning In Cuenca

Came out of the house and up the road this morning to discover a house in the neighborhood on fire. I was out and about on the way to settle into watch the finals for the World Cup at the Inca Lounge when I noticed the fire.

It looked terrible. A twisting fat finger of flame was rolling up into the sky, framed by billows of black smoke and overlaid with the sounds of people yelling. I was with my friend Ben and we both took off for the fire, he much faster than I given my lifetime commitment to wearing shoes not suited for running anywhere.

By the time I hustled up to the top of the hill near the house, several things were clear:

--It had been raining a lot lately, so the surrounding area was fairly well protected

--Nobody was still in the house and everyone was okay

--The Fire Department was on the way, but the bucket brigade was a pack of all-stars. The back of the house was the center of the fire, and anyone with a clear shot, bucket, or hose was tossing water on it.

--Cement construction keeps things contained.

In just a few minutes the fire was a lot less than it had been, and with the sirens closing in we took off. Still, the memory will stick with me for a while. The fire started with the gas in the kitchen - I guess they were changing the cooking canisters {no central gas here} and something sparked. I'll be tip-toeing around the stove tops for a while!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Deja Vu, Ecuadorian Style

I've arrived in Cuenca, and it's good to be back in Ecuador. Okay, so it's raining right now and I'm supposed to go out in that which is not so good, but overall I'm pleased to be here.

The odd bit is feeling like I didn't really go all that far away. Familiar faces are here, and even in Quito on the way to the visa office (so far, so good) two friends from Cuenca were on the street. Couple it with the cheek kisses and well wishes from my seatmate on the plane and it just feels like stepping back into another home.

My main problem is the luggage . . . or I should say, what my luggage did to me. I really need to make a note that I can't travel with a heavy backpack anymore. I woke up last night with muscle spasm that were excruciatingly painful. My back is not pleased, and my shoulder muscles seriously have it in for me!

Throw in bruises in my elbow-pits due to my duffel bag, blisters from walking too much in the wrong pair of shoes, and a sore place on my hip where I was nudging the purple monster bag through the various lines for customs and the airports and I'm a mess. I'll probably have a very quiet first weekend here, just trying to get my body to be happy with me again. And trying once again to track down a massage parlor that is open and taking appointments - this situation is definitely calling for reinforcements, or at least a new set of luggage!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ecuadorian Visa Games Begin

A bright start to the morning - a phone call from a visa lawyer in Quito, Ecuador.

And let the visa games begin . . .

Getting visas in Ecuador has been shifting over the last year or so, presenting some challenges for those of us who are looking at somewhat long-term presence in the country without establishing permanent residency. It used to be that you could simply renew your 90 day tourist visa rather indefinitely, a part of the famous (infamous?) visa run culture I was introduced to when I was living in Asia.

Basically, every couple of months you just needed to pop out of the country for a second and you'd get hit with a brand new batch of visa time. In China, people would run to Hong Kong for a weekend of open access Internet and superior English language bookstores. Drop the passport at the office on Friday when you get in, pick it up Monday morning when you head out, shopped, rested, and ready for more China time.

In Ecuador, the pop in and pop out option has been curtailed. No more re-juicing your tourist visa. The 90 day tourist visa now means 90 days in a calendar year, not 90 days whenever you get a new entry. Which means if I want to be in Ecuador the rest of the year, I need another kind of visa.

And so we are in the process. I'm not interested in the $25,000 investor class visa, and I'm not in the mood to pursue a property purchase. There is a work visa prospect out there on the horizon, but these things take time and evidently a collegiate diploma certified by the State Department as authentic which I've no idea how to even begin to pursue since I was under the impression that the State Department did actual things, like protect the country, versus authenticating degrees.

Also, the lawyer helpfully pointed out that you are supposed to only get a work visa in the field to match your degree. Right, because career change never happens and everyone is doing EXACTLY what they planned to do when they left college. Not entirely sure how that will work out for me, with my combination of HR, Psychology, and Spanish degrees and a career as a freelancer. Job title brainstorming seems imminent :-)

In the meantime, we are working on some kind of limited three month visa which can then be converted into any other kind of visa later. Much later, when we've figured this all out. I'll keep you updated!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alaska . . . With No Camera, Naturally

Well, I have finally come back from Alaska, with nothing photo-wise to show for myself.

And here I thought I was being so clever!

I'd been to my cousin's wedding and showed up with a camera without a battery charger. Thus, I made sure that I had a battery charger when I went to Alaska.

The camera I left in the car. In my parent's garage. Because, you know, it was happy there.

I was not so happy to be without it, although I did have a great time on the trip. If you want to know what Alaska looks like, call me. I'll be happy to tell you what I saw, even if I'll never be able to show you.

In other news . . . 9 days to Ecuador Part II . . . packing nightmare commences in 3 . . 2 . . oh wait, it's already here!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Texas Ten Conference Logo

I'll confess, I "borrowed" this from my friend AK, who posted it up where I could grab it.


I did have a good laugh at this. Funnier to me is how totally okay I am with Nebraska giving the Big 12 Conference the peace out in favor of the Big 10 . . . which now has 12 teams while the Big 12 only has 10. I try not to focus on that ridiculousness; it makes my head hurt.

Part of the peace with the new arrangement is that I am quite happy to drive to Big 10 game sites. In fact, I think some of the commuting might actually be shorter, ensuring that Nebraska fans will have more opportunities than ever to take our show on the road. Admittedly, there won't be able more 80 degree games in December in Texas, but you know, we're actually pretty used to lousy weather up here. We're going to be fine.

Also a bonus? I know good places to go for game watching in some of our new conference cities. Joe Sensors in Minneapolis has a fond place in my heart, thanks in no small part to the fierce contingent of Nebraska fans that regularly went there. They have a band, pumping out the team songs and generally contributing to the fun Go Big Red atmosphere. Admittedly, you do need to get there at least an hour before game time to get a decent seat, but the food is okay, so no worries there. Like it really kills you to endure extra sports with the Minnesotans on game day, don'tcha know?

Anyway . . . who's excited for the new season ahead? Me, me, me . . . and it's only June ;-)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Two Flavors Of Awesome: Zombie and Chocolate

It has been a very busy, busy couple of weeks of traveling. It's like I've adopted a new theme song based on the number of miles I've tacked on the car:

The worst part about that song? Half the places he names in that song are places I've been or are going just in the last three months. And that includes Alaska.

So it's not exactly a surprise that I'm getting a little travel weary over here. Fortunately, in all this running around, I've discovered several slices of awesome out there in the world. Some of them will get their own listings and just forgive me if they are out of order. Two, however, I feel the need to mention here.

First, the flavor that eats you: Zombie.

I was gifted with an audiobook of World War Z, which is about a zombie plague that threatens world existence. Just stop laughing now, because it's so good it's unbelievable. Told in a series of interviews by different character voices (including Mark Hamill aka Luke Skywalker and Alan Alda from M*A*S*H) the audiobook describes the near end of the world thanks to an outbreak of zombies.

While not a hysterically funny book, it is subtly amusing and very thought provoking. You can even play "Would I have survived?" with the risk calculator on the official website. I'm only at 43%.

World War Z was written by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) and the movie version is supposed to be out in 2012. Fun trivia? The guy who bought the rights to this, thinking it would be a good movie, is Brad Pitt. But whatever about him, right? You need something good to listen to or read this summer, I'm pegging you with World War Z, and if you see me I give you permission to borrow my copy of the audiobook.

Next, the flavor you eat: Pretzel M&Ms

I showed up in North Carolina and was presented with a bit of chocolate salty crunchy deliciousness the likes of which I had never seen before.

Pretzel M&Ms

I don't even know if you can buy these in Nebraska. But so help me, I will find out. Writers need chocolate to function . . . or at least this one does, and the better the chocolate, the better I work. The bag of these that I sampled is sadly empty, so this post will close with a small plea: Somebody find me more of these!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

$50 Sunglasses: The Dangers of Promotional Writing

I got back from my most recent out-of-state adventure and was excited because my sunglasses have arrived.

Sunglasses that I don't really need, but I do. I do. I sold them to myself, after all.

They're Italian. Vintage. And they promise to be much better for my eyes than the $5 drugstore sunglasses I've been using for the last couple of years. Although now I will have to actually care where they are and watch out to ensure I don't sit on them!

I'm not supposed to have them at all, naturally. They break one of the cardinal rules of promotional writing, which is to love the products . . . but don't buy them!

If I bought one of everything I wrote about, I would have a house full of beautiful things and absolutely no money in the bank. Hence, the no-buy rule for my promotional work. It keeps my bank account insulated from trips to Spanish beachfront hotels, my bathroom free of Chi Nano curling irons, my sister's house devoid of Frontline Flea treatments, and my parents' yard uncluttered by solar alarm systems . . . just to mention a few of the things from the last month.

And yet this sales cynic sold herself on Italian sunglasses. Sigh. Will I never learn? It's one of the dangers of promotional writing - you are so busy convincing the target market that you can definitely end up convincing yourself.

The sunglasses will also come in handy for the next stage of summer roaming at hand. It's been hard to keep up with the blog and any other hobbies as I've been running between weddings and graduations and trying to work all the while. The next big jaunt is a drive from Nebraska to Washington DC for a cousin's wedding, and then I will be roaming on to North Carolina to visit dear friends and my storage unit. It will be hot, the sun will be out, and I will *need* those sunglasses, dear reader, really *need* them.

Definitely *need* . . . right . . . oh well. I do love my job, even if I do oversell to myself at the end of the day. Have a good laugh at my expense, and watch out for your own impulsive buys!
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

I'm As Old As Pac Man

Apparently, I'm not the only one turning 30 this year. It seems that the popular arcade game, Pac Man, is also 30 this year.

Google did not make a game for my birthday.

However, they did make a game for the Pac Man birthday out of the Google logo that appears above their search box on the main page.

Hit "Insert Coin" or just double click on the banner and you can use your arrow keys to play. If you hit "Insert Coin" twice, or keep clicking on the icon, you can get Mrs. Pac Man for two players, and play with a friend. Note that the second player has to use W-A-S-D as their arrow keys.

I made it through 8 levels on the first try. It's kind of fun. Very addicting, just like the real thing. I stink at the game, just like the real thing, too. Apparently 8 - 10 levels is about my limit.

It apparently has 256 levels. Dear Lord, who has that kind of free time?

Google is leaving the game up for the weekend, so why not play? Do note that in the bottom left corner of the play box there is a sound icon - the game has original style arcade siren sound, and it can get a little annoying by the third level.
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