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!