Friday, February 26, 2010

The People You Meet In Cuenca: Minneapolis Based Craftsmen

I could do a hundred posts on the fabulous characters I have met since arriving in Cuenca, Ecuador. Not to malign the United States, but nowhere that I've lived there ever compares to the variety of people that you meet when you are traveling abroad!

Today I just finished an hour long conversation about the supply chain for Ukrainian Easter Eggs with a lovely man from Minneapolis. He's an engineer, and he's built several tools for processing the wax used to make the egg design. He's a supplier for this well-known Minneapolis landmark:

Ukrainian Gift Shop

If you've ever been in the Ukrainian Gift Shop you know what a unique treasure it is to browse and buy. The wood for the sticks used to make the patterns comes from Lithuania, but it is processed in Minneapolis before being sent to the Ukraine. There, the copper for the beeswax funnels is hand-processed by the owners' family before being sent back to Minneapolis, where the beeswax used in the designs is extruded and loaded into the sticks.

Although I'm supposed to be working, conversations like these always make my day. I love the learning and the novelty of it all, and it was just so funny and interesting to meet someone from where I used to live and then get a tutorial on an art form that I've always thought was cool. You definitely learn a lot when you hit the road, and not always about the things you think you will when you set out!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fighting A Cold In Cuenca

The dry rainy season in Cuenca has taken a turn for the wet, and my sinuses have taken a turn for the worst!

Despite having escaped the Carnival madness with only one head to toe soaking, I still have managed to catch a cold as the weather has shifted. The regular afternoon rains have resumed with some truly spectacular window-rattling thunder. In fact, on Monday we even had hail, which is pretty rare here.

Dear Lousy Weather: Please stop, I hate you!


Unlike me, the locals are very excited by all the rain. Dry conditions earlier in the year had led to rationing of power, with the municipal power out 2 - 4 hours daily to relieve stress on the hydroelectric systems. A lot of people supplemented with gas, which is what is used to power hot water systems and stoves here, but since the timing was never really clear, your lights and refrigerator could be out at weird times.

It was a monster pain in the rear, so torrential downpours have a smile on the locals' soaked faces. The cabbies have also been enjoying it, as they add a dollar or two on your fare for driving you around in the bucketing rain. It's not a huge deal, since you can still get across town for $5 or less, but it's still a bit of a pain.

Anyway, in some attempts to counteract the sniffle inducing weather, a group of us decided to venture up to little Banos, the thermal springs spa zone of Cuenca. It marked my first time riding a bus in Cuenca, which was kind of an adventure for me. Since the bus is only 25 cents a ride here, my friends were shocked I hadn't tried it before. Living downtown I walk to most things, so really hadn't had the opportunity before.

Banos was a good idea but a lousy experience. Going on a Sunday was dumb, for two reasons. One, the pools were really crowded, since no one had school or work. Secondly, the hot springs pools are cleaned on Wednesday nights and Sunday nights. This makes Sunday afternoons a little gross to my prissy American self. I didn't handle the crowd well with the murky water. Yes, I know thermal springs are murky naturally, but I have to believe that the little kid eating his chocolate popsicle in the kids' end of the pool didn't help!

Since then, the sniffles have not abated. I have a totally new appreciation for lotion enhanced Kleenex, since it is completely unavailable here in Cuenca and I have a red nose to rival Rudolph's! Drinking lots of 100% natural lemonades (70 cents - $1 a glass) and organic fresh squeezed orange juice (80 cents to $1.60 a glass) to try and give my body the ammunition to fight back. Really hope that it clears up by the weekend--planning some birthday outings and I definitely don't want to look like a snot nosed monster in my 30th birthday pictures!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prices In Cuenca Ecuador, Part 1

I did some shopping and baking this weekend, and thought I would share a few notes on the prices for goods and transportation here in Cuenca. Some things in Ecuador are cheaper than they are back home, while others are more expensive. See what you think of these 10 price comparison points:
  1. Bus Trip: 25 cents
  2. Optifree Express Contact Solution: $12.97 (Note that contact solution is not sold in supermarkets or big box stores. Nor is it sold at optometrists offices. Instead, it is sold at pharmacies, and kept behind the counter. Optifree and CIBAvision are the two brands that are sold here in Cuenca.)
  3. 400,000 volt taser: $38 (I didn't buy this, a friend did. No ID required.)
  4. Jif Creamy Peanut Butter: $5.01 (small jar)
  5. Ginger Root: 83 cents for half a pound
  6. Milk (1 liter): 80 cents
  7. Lemons: 35 cents for two big ones
  8. 10" Wood-fired pizza with ham, cheese, mushroom, green pepper, and bacon: $4.72
  9. 8 ounces of fresh squeezed pineapple juice: 70 cents at the sit down restaurant
  10. 3 pairs of ankle socks at the Tia (a supermarket): $1.59
Thoughts? Reactions? Let me know other things you'd like to know the prices of here in Cuenca and I can do some additional research!

An Update On The Facebook Hijacking

Several people have asked about the Facebook situation, and I am sorry to report that there is no progress on that front. The staff at Facebook have been absolutely unhelpful in terms of getting my account back. It has been two weeks since I first reported the account being stolen, and I've followed up twice with no results.

I know that several friends also reported the account as hijacked, and I want to express my gratitude to each one of you who did that. I feel supported, even if the Facebook security team isn't taking action there either.

I may see about other options with Facebook this week, but I'm quite turned off by their lack of response to the security breach. I'm also quite mystified that they can be promoting themselves as a business platform if this is the kind of response time they offer for security issues!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't Let It Spit In Your Eye

Tonight I met a new bug here in Cuenca. The Andes are not known for their insects, and other than a few flies and mosquitos I really haven't encountered any bugs up here at all.

Until I met the Atuto, as it is known locally.

Atuto Cuenca Ecuador Bugs

This is the closest picture I could find online, because when I first encountered it, I wasn't thinking about pictures. No. I was thinking about flip flops, which is what I was wearing on my feet, and that fact that the bug was on my dining room floor between me and the bathroom. So I shrieked and ran for the neighbors to identify what it was and what to do about it.

Blame it on growing up in the Midwest, but I associate unidentified creepy crawlies with possible poison hazards. Who else has a grandma with a picture of a brown recluse on the side of her fridge? Midwesterners are just raised to identify poisonous vs. non-poisonous insects, and until I knew which side of the line my unwelcome three inch visitor feel into, I wasn't facing it alone.

My Atuto was all black, and in the flesh it looks a lot like an oversize grasshopper. So not really that harmful, right?

Wrong. While I was worried about jumping or biting, my downstairs neighbor volunteered "Don't let it spit in your eye!"

Excuse me?

It seems that the Atuto spits. . . or more accurately, projectile shits according to the experts over at It's a vague relative of the bombadier beetle family and excretes a venom out its backside that includes hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide, which creates a rash/burn on human skin. This burn is particularly harmful to open sores and tender tissues. . . like your eyes. Hence why the locals are adamant about not letting this one get its venom into your eye.

Fortunately, I was able to get my Atuto pinned under a glass and tossed out of the apartment down into the central garden where the pigeons can have their way with the thing. Shannon, who has lived in these apartments for over a year, says he's only ever seen one in his house, in the bathroom. They've seen a few in the garden area, but the Atuto's don't seem to be terribly interested in being indoors or being around people. Fine by me, as you may imagine!

I'll let you know if I see more (hopefully not!) and get a real life picture. Apparently the Atuto is highly localized to this part of the country, so it may be a challenge.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Caught at Work at Kookaburra Cafe

To show you what the writer's life in Ecuador looks like, I might have preferred something where I was more awake and not recovering from moving house (more on that later!). However, this is what it looks like when you have a deadline and it needs to get done and the only way to get it done is to park yourself at a lovely cafe and make it work:

In action at the cafe!

Jen Adams

Of course, before I whine too much, check out how much sunlight is in this photo. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I didn't spend much more of it inside.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Featured Freelancer in AWAI Newsletter

As some of you know, I am a member of the American Writers And Artists, Inc. It´s a part of the Agora, Inc. learning and publishing empire, and I have taken a few of their training courses.

Recently, I responded to a call for statements about living the writer´s life. . . not expecting to see myself mentioned in the next newsletter! And yet there I am, congratulated on the AWAI main page and featured in their February 11th newsletter.

Here´s the text from the newsletter:
  • Two AWAI members who are traveling the globe … and why the "Writer's Life Rocks" for them:

    Olive Wolfe is using her writing and photography skills to publish her first blog ( Olive says, "[In 2009] I was in the Czech Republic once again and stayed in the Gustav Mahler hotel in Jihlava, led a tour to a Tuscany cooking school, returned to India in the Cochin in the Kerala province, then back to my old stomping grounds in London for the holidays."

    Wow! Talk about living the dream. And …

    Jen Adams has always been deeply passionate about travel, but was tied down to specific locations because of her work in corporate HR. Since becoming a full-time writer in 2008, she's been able to travel freely and pursue her passion.

    Last year, she spent time in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, and England. This year, she's embracing her freedom even more, wintering in Cuenca, Ecuador.

    Jen explains, "My clients don't know that I'm on the road so much. Thanks to the Internet, I can work continuously even as I roam. At 29, I'm living the life I dreamed of as a child, but didn't expect to have until I retired. My time is my own – I can work on interesting copy, deal with interesting people, and explore interesting places. I wouldn't trade it for the world!"

    It's a brave, new world out there, and AWAI members seem custom-made for this change in thinking and attitude.

If I´d been thinking, I would have included a link to my blog, too, but hey. . . a shout out by name, even if they asked for it, totally made my day. Thousands of my writing peers see that newsletter, and I couldn´t be more thrilled!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Andes Style Weight Loss

Losing weight at high altitudes isn't just a figment of my imagination. Several of the locals I have chatted with have mentioned that it is easy to lose weight up here in Cuenca. Theories have ranged from the organic nature of the local food to the absence of weaknesses like McDonald's and Dairy Queen.

However, researchers in Germany have now proven that a metabolism bump occurs when you spend time at high altitudes. This propels weight loss, and the phenomenon is also coupled with a natural decrease in appetites at high altitudes caused by changes in your leptin levels (leptin controls the hunger impulse).

To follow up, the researchers also noted that the subjects in their study were more active when they returned to their natural elevation. This is attributed to the altitude training effect, which is that when you hit a lower elevation, it's easier for your body to function, so you feel more fit and can be more active with ease.

Basically, it means that spending 9 weeks up in Cuenca is the best post-holiday diet ever. I'm eating lots of great food, but my body is burning through the calories faster. I've noticed a few pounds gone from my belly and arms, although my writers cushion is stubbornly retaining its shape. Still, it is nice to know that there are scientifically proven benefits to spending time here!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Internet Hijacking

It seems my email and facebook accounts were compromised. I've recovered the email, but facebook is a really pain to get assistance from for this kind of thing. I'm so sorry! Working on it!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lucas And The Ghosts

Yesterday we went to one of Cuenca's more interesting theater destinations, the Prohibido Centro Cultural. It's a really unique venue, with an interior decor that is a bit other-wordly. Think the costume crew from Alien meets Hieronymus Bosch meets the Grateful Dead and you'll be close.

For the stunning entrance price of $2.50 (includes popcorn), we got to see an alternative puppet show called Lucas y Las Fantasmas (Lucas and the Ghosts):


The story is told with two live actors playing the parts of the ghosts, Mario y Carnelio, and through the eyes of Lucas, a full puppet of whom Tim Burton would be proud:


The basic plot is that Lucas is terrorized by these two ghosts, although his parents don't believe in ghosts. Let to deal with them alone, he has to face down their hunger for child flesh (illustrated with a song about all the ways they will cook and eat him) and convince them to help themselves toward the light. To get to the light, they have to solve the problems in their lives that left them as ghosts. A series of puppets, all controlled by the two actors playing the ghosts, portray lost loves, other ghosts, and eventually, the ghost women who replace the lost loves of Mario and Carnelio.

The thing was in Spanish, which strained my abilities, but it was still easy to follow. Basically a comedy despite the dark themes, there was a lot of physical humor, plays on worlds, and incorporated songs to make the play entertaining. Although it ran to 90 minutes, it felt more like 30 minutes, tops!

Some of the more comical moments were with the attempts by the ghosts to rectify their previous errors. Mario, a plumber, ends up flooding the mall. Carnelio discovers his lost love isn't dead . . . but she is old and deaf. When he tries to tell her he wants to show her his love (amo) she doesn't hear correctly and thinks he wants to flash her his ass (ano) so she beats him up and leaves him again in misery.

It does end with a happily ever after, as the two ghosts find two murdered women who prove to be their undead soulmates. They also work out a deal with Lucas, mocked by his parents as phobic, to scare Mommy and Daddy. The play cuts out with a peacefully sleeping Lucas as the two ghosts chase his parents all over the house.

The Prohibido Centro Cultural has a museum portion that is open daily, and also has a Facebook page with their schedule of events. Plays weekly at 8 pm, and while I may not catch them all, it certainly looks like an interesting season!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No Snow, Just Foam

I looked out the window of the cafe today and was surprised to see that it looked like it was snowing in the street! What a horror, right?

Fortunately, it isn't snow. . . it's just foam being spewed from an upstairs window at passing cars. And I'm lucky it's not water balloons!

You see, the carnival week is coming up, and the local tradition is to pelt each other with water, usually in the foam of squirt guns and thrown water balloons. Recently, foam has also become popular as it is less damaging on clothes. Thus, in the weeks before the carnival (February 14th is the main day) everyone starts testing out their ammo.

Girls get to be especially targeted, although I've seen more than one school girl at the bus stop by my house turning the tables. I'll confess that I'm planning to get in on the mischief.

My apartment, you see, overlooks a bus stop. Crowds of people gather there throughout the day, just below my dining room window. We've decided that if we get a hose, we can pretty much go to town on the locals from above with very little chance of retaliation, even from the nine year old kids with supersoakers as big as their heads.

He, he, he . . .sanctioned mischief. Is that a holiday or what?