Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rainy Days & Thursdays

We are into our third day of rain. Well, that gives us an excuse to be lazy and stay home, reading spy novels and writing on the blog. Not so bad I guess. Well, not so bad at all actually. On this trip, Gil has already managed to read 8 books and is on his 9th (Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, and authors such as that) and I've read 4 similar books. Okay now, you must give me a break. I did sleep four days due to two bouts of fever. (I'm fully recovered now, by the way.) I will freely admit that he is a much faster reader than I am. (Although, depending on the book, he will skip chapters, giving him an unfair speed advantage.)

Anyway, a hearty thank you to our wonderful landlords Rich & Nancy for having such a fun selection of entertaining books available to us. By the way, Rich & Nancy have a blog on their experiences of living in Cuenca. Once I figure out how to "link" to it, I'll do that here. In the meantime, you can view it at:

I should also thank Carolina's Bookstore in El Centro, from where it appears most of the books came. We met Carol, who is the owner of this English language bookstore. She's just lovely and has lots of information to share.

Remember the beautiful Tomebamba river that runs outside of our apartment? Here's a picture of it that was taken one day last week after a few days of sunshine, without even a sprinkle of rain. Note the rocks along the river bank. Don't you just love mountain rivers?

Here's the Tomebamba after two days of rain. Not torrential downpours here in Cuenca, but a fairly steady rain all day. What happened to the rocks? Gone, gone, gone under a deep, raging river. It truly must be pouring up in the Andes where Cuenca's four rivers originate.

Here's a closer view. No sign of the rocks anywhere. There are also rocks in the middle of the river. Some of them are quite large. They've gone missing too, as you can see.

It's wild, I tell you, wild. We've been assured that it cannot come over its banks and cross the highway. Supposedly, in the past, it would overflow, but now there are flood controls in place. In any event, we are glad this apartment is on the second floor!

Of course, the rain has its advantages. Gil had a field trip the other day (literally) taking pictures of flowers along the banks of the Tomebamba as we returned from one of our outings into El Centro. Here are just a few of the pictures of the beautiful flowers that my talented photographer husband took that day.

And let's not forget the beautiful Parque Calderon. Where would it be without the rain to nourish its gorgeous gardens?

And of course, the stormy cloud cover, once the rain stops, makes for some beautiful, fiery sunsets.

We are hoping the rain will stop soon though, because we have only 8 days left after today on this trip to Cuenca. We will be coming back, but we love it here and hate to leave.

By the way, for technical, legal reasons, we have decided not to purchase the condo and instead will get our residency through investing in a CD at an Ecudorean bank, and then renting. Since we are running out of time, we will probably just look for a rental when we return.

What reasons you ask for not buying? Well, one reason is that we've heard horror stories about people not getting what they thought they were getting once they got their deed. Like terraces. People think they've bought a condo with a terrace, and then a year later when they finally get a copy of the deed (sometimes deeds take awhile to actually appear [we've heard some took five years] so you don't get to see it before you pay), they find out the terrace doesn't belong to the condo, instead it is the roof of the place below and they have to jump through hoops, and spend more money to get the right to use the terrace. There are other legal issues as well. Just too much that is unknown, and so we decided not to risk our retirement funds on a purchase right now. And things are different here, and you can't always know what questions to ask. We asked a lot, researched a lot, but there were just some things that until you are in the thick of it, you don't find out.

Anyway, we loved the condo and are sorry that in the end we could not go through with the deal. But we are happy with our decision (in consultation with our immigration attorney) to proceed with the CD option for residency.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Being Sick in Cuenca

The last couple of days have been rainy in Cuenca, and the Tomebamba river is running high and fast outside of our apartment. It's just as well that these last couple of days have been rainy because I, Deborah, have managed to get sick again. I'm not sure it is something I ate this time though, because it was only a fever and headache/eye ache. Gil & I ate the same foods, and he didn't get sick, so I think I came down with some mild flu bug. (Or maybe he just has a tougher stomach than I do.) I'm taking Cipro anyway, just in case it is a swallowed bug. I'm already much better.

One thing we have noticed is that even a mild fever in this altitude really knocks out us lowlanders who are already always teetering on the edge of becoming fatigued with too much activity. Since it's extremely important to stay well hydrated, the added fever and the way it dries out your system just wipes you out. (My fever is gone now, was only ever between 100-101, and lasted only 24 hours. But it sure did zonk me out.)

That brings us to the matter of today's post. Many of you have asked about the healthcare in Cuenca, and some of you have expressed concern that we might not be able to get the best care here. So we wanted to give you some information about that and hopefully put your minds at ease.

Gil and I toured a healthcare facility near the apartment we are currently renting and want to share some of what we learned so that you will know that we will be in good hands, healthcarewise, here in Cuenca. In fact, Cuenca is quite on the cutting edge with regard to healthcare.

First, as you can see, there are indeed operating facilities here. You'll note that there is plenty of lighting, an adjustable operating table, and plenty of room for the surgeons to move around the patient while the surgery proceeds.

If you are worried about sanitation, don't be. Here you can see that there are autoclaves for sterilizing medical instruments. Okay, sure, it looks a bit old, but who's to say it doesn't work wonders in sterilization. It just has to heat them up, right?

I know you all think that Cuenca, and Ecuador, probably don't have modern technology, but to prove you wrong, here is a photo of an x-ray machine. While we haven't, fortunately, had need of this machine while we've been here, we have no reason to think it won't work just fine.

Should we have the need of an iron lung. Not to worry. See, they have one. It's positioned outside the hospital so that the patient can have a view while they are trapped in there, and so that the noise of the machine will not disturb the other patients. Very forward, humanitarian thinking, don't you think?

And finally, God forbid that the medical technology doesn't work, don't worry. Our remains will be properly stored and catalogued.

JUST KIDDING!!! Of course, by now, you know that.

There is a museum of medical history right next to our apartment and we took a tour of it a few days ago. Quite interesting.

The truth is that Cuenca does have very good hospitals and doctors. One of the hospitals was finished just last year, and is affiliated with Boston University hospital. Another one is affiliated with John's Hopskins Hospital. Many of the doctors speak fluent English, and we have been provided the names of several of them. Fortunately, we haven't needed them (knock on wood), on this trip. In addition, like in much of Europe, you don't need a prescription for most medications (only for narcotics), and medicines are much less expensive here than in the US.

In fact, medical tourism to Cuenca is becoming more prevelant. Our landlord has another apartment near Mt. Sinai Hospital that he is making completely wheelchair friendly, because more and more people are coming here for healthcare. We're just hoping the medical tourism doesn't drive the cost of healthcare up too much.

Well, I'm going to go drink another big glass of water now.

Hoping your are all well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Exploring Cuenca

We had a busy few days continuing to explore Cuenca. We visited several very good museums in El Centro and learned a lot about the history of Ecuador and Cuenca. One museum had an amazing collection of indigenous artifacts going back more than 3000 years. From the outside, the museum looked like a little hole-in-the-wall, but once inside, it was huge. It was really fascinating seeing the development of forms of art and pottery through the years.

We also visited Pumapungo, which is an Inca ruin right here in Cuenca. There is an aviary on the grounds -- evidently the Inca kept a zoo of sorts which included birds, jaguars and other animals. Here are a few shots of just a few of the beautiful birds that were in the aviary.

A Tucan

An Amazonian parrot

A Red-tipped parrot
Pumapungo, while no Machu Pichu, is a very interesting site. This was thought to be both a religious center as well as housing for royals. Here are a couple of shots of the Pumapungo ruins.

There's also a botanical gardens at Pumapungo. We are not certain, but we think this plant is quinoa. Its fronds have tiny seeds that resemble quinoa. The plants in the food garden are supposed to be those that the Inca would have eaten. And then, like now, quinoa was an important food crop for the people of the highlands. So, we believe that this is quinoa.

By the way, the quinoa we've made here is delicous. It has a very nutty flavor and reminds me of peanut butter. Yummy!

After visiting Pumapungo, we made our way to our favorite spot, Parque Calderon. We met a very nice Ecuadorean man there. He spoke no English, and our Spanish, though coming along, is still scant. But, we managed to have a long conversation. Turns out he is an electrical engineer, and worked for years with an Italian based company working on electric generation plants in Ecuador. He highly encouraged us to go to Ingapirca, some larger Inca ruins outside of Cuenca, and we definitely plan to do that before this trip is over. We were quite pleased at how much we could understand what he was saying. Of course, he spoke slowly for us. But we are starting to understand more and more Spanish.

Here's a picture of our Ecuadorean friend.

We then tried to walk off some of our overly large lunch by continuing to explore El Centro. We found a block on one street where the shops focused on all kinds of party goods, from decorations, pinatas, fancy party clothes, etc. El Centro streets are often like that. There will be multiple shops catering to the same theme within a block. One block might have more clothing stores, one street fabric shops (beautiful fabrics!, although I haven't found where to buy notions like pins, needles, threads, etc.), another block lots of electronics or appliance stores.

Two bumbs hanging out together on the fiesta street.

Finally, although it's a bit hard to see due to the shadows, here's a shot of the flower market that is open everyday. The flowers are really beautiful, and we're told you can get a lovely arrangement for just a few dollars.

This morning, we walked over to Parque Calderon and caught up with some of our new expat friends. It started raining again today, just a light rain, but that drove us all off to another fine lunch. We thought we'd lose some weight on this trip because we are doing so much walking. But the lunches we've been eating have been so huge (and mostly very inexpensive), so that doesn't seem to be happening. When we are living here though, we won't be eating out everyday for lunch. Almost all of the expats who come here to live lose weight because they start walking more and eating healthier. Although gaining weight on the first trip seems to be normal. Sigh. I was hoping to get a head start and lose ten pounds during this month. You can tell from these photos that that has not happened.

There's a bit of excitement outside our apartment windows right now. Evidently, there must have been some minor traffic accident. There are about 50 people out there all giving their opinions about what happened. Well, I'll tell you right now that there is no way that all of those people actually saw what happened because there are never that many people outside our place at one time. One older woman is pointing to and pulling her white hair while clearly telling off the driver of a cab who was evidently involved. Not sure what her white hair has to do with it. There's no yelling or screaming, but everyone is talking at once and trying to get their opinion stated. Latin America is really a fun place.
Have I mentioned that there is always a reason to party? This week was Simon Bolivar week. Yesterday was his birthday. (For those of you who don't know, he liberated much of South America from Spain.) There have been festivals and fireworks all week. Seems the Cuencanos find lots of reasons for shooting off firecrackers -- big ones. We hear them all the time. It's so common that I don't even jump when one goes off now. Life is a constant celebration in Cuenca!

Until next time,
Gil & Deborah

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Well, it's been a couple of beautiful days in Cuenca. We have been very busy with our fantastic real estate agent, Xavier, who has helped us open a bank account and taken us around to find appliances for the condo we are planning to buy. He has also taken us on tours of the city and been an amazing friend to us. We are currently waiting on the title search to be completed on the condo before actually paying for it. But we are on our way to owning a condo in Cuenca!! Once we know we're set to go, we'll send you some photos of the place.

Here's a picture of me with Xavier. He really has been wonderful and is a good friend to us.

After appliance shopping with Xavier, Gil & I took our usual afternoon walk to El Centro for lunch and some exploring. I would like to report that we are now able to climb the stairs leading up from our current rental to the old town without stopping part way up to pretend we are looking at the view, when in reality we are catching our breath in this high altitude. Gil estimates that the climb is between 5 & 6 stories (84 steps), and now, climbing slowly and steadily we get all the way to the top without stopping. Admittedly, we are panting up a storm when we get to the top, but we can get our breath back pretty quickly now. Here's a photo of the daunting climb.

Today, as we've done most days, we stopped at a restaurant for an almeurzo ejecutivo (executive lunch). It consists of a soup, a main dish which usually has rice, a meat, a salad (we don't eat the salads at the restaurants, but eat lots of it at home) and another side dish -today, large corn kernels fried with egg which is delicious -, fruit juice and a dessert. Today's cost, $2.00 each. Can't beat it!

After lunch, and some exploration strolling, we got an ice cream and walked over to Parque Calderon for some people watching. The ice cream cone was shaped like a cup. I don't know what flavor my ice cream was, but it was some kind of fruit and delicious. Gil stuck with chocolate. Here's a photo of the a happy ice cream eater.

As you can see, it's been bright and sunny here. We did have some rain in the afternoons the first week we were here. That's unusual for this time of year. But, then, the weather's been strange all over lately. Anyway, the last few days have been splendid and we just love it here.

Gil & Deborah

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trying Something New

July 18, 2010

Hello everyone:
We are trying something new here. We've never done a blog before, but so many of your emails bounced back when we had all of the photos attached, that we thought we start communicating this way. Now, you can just look up the blog instead of downloading the email with all the pictures attached.Today was a beautiful day in Cuenca. The sun was shining brightly when we got up this morning and it stayed sunny all day. We took a walk over to Parque Calderon where people gather on Sunday mornings. We met up with a number of the expats we have already met here, and made new acquaintances with a few others. After the group started to break up, Gil & I went to lunch with new friends, Jerry & Rhonda. They have been here about ten months, and are a wealth of information for us. Turns out, they are living in the very building where we are currently working on purchasing a condo. So after lunch, we took the bus over to their place and spent the afternoon picking their brains. They are really nice people, and are about our ages (so a bit younger than many of the other expats we've met.)
Afterwards, Gil & I took the bus home. It was easy to do. We've got some exploring to do on using the buses, but looks like it won't be difficult once we have the system figured out. Bus rides are 25 cents.
We got off the bus before our stop so we could spend a little more time walking around El Centro. It was a perfect day!

By the way, once we get this blog thing figured out, we'll fancy it up a bit. Here are a few pictures from the day.
This is the old cathedral at Parque Calderon. The park/square has the old cathedral on one side, and directly across is the new cathedral. Here is the New Cathedral. It is the one with the blue domes that we've sent earlier. (I think I might have mislabeled it earlier.)

Here is the Hotel Inca Real where we had lunch with Jerry & Rhonda. It was lovely. Our table was inside this beautiful courtyard.

Finally, here is the view of Cuenca from Rhonda & Jerry's place.

Hope you are all well & happy!