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!