Friday, April 27, 2012

Documentary on Ecuador

The day after we returned from Dad Pombo's funeral in California, the filming for the documentary "Ecuador desde Afuera" began. We were jet-lagged and weary, but somehow I managed to find the coffee pot and a few cups to serve our guests.

After seeing the finished product last night on television, I have to say that I was quite impressed. To see Ecuador through the world's eyes was truly amazing and for those of you who are thinking of making the leap to "south of zero," you might want to watch this.

"Ecuador desde Afuera"

Here are some of the behind-the-scene shots...

Thanks to Karen for helping me find the kitchen! 

Filmographer and director -- I have a new appreciation for these folks!

Ready, set, action!

You'll recognize this scene in the film!
The day started and ended with coffee!

I have a much greater appreciation for filmmakers, filmographers, directors, and all the behind-the-scene folks who work tirelessly to bring a picture to life.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Living and Working in Ecuador

I received an e-mail this week that made me chuckle. "I think you should change your blog title to 'Living and Working in Ecuador.'"

It's probably not a bad idea, but I never feel like I'm working except when I'm in language school three days a week! For some reason, I got placed in the Advanced-Advanced Spanish Class and at first I wanted to transfer out (immediately), but the only way you can grow in a language is to be in a class with 20-somethings that speak 100 times better than you do. So I've hung in there and most of my days are either writing and speaking in Spanish or studying to catch up on what I missed in the other four levels.

On Saturday I teach the Advanced Conversational Class at CEDEI which is actually the class that I'm taking in Spanish, so it's been a perfect match in that regard. My students are amazing and range from 14 to 60 years of age, so it's been a challenge to keep them all engaged.

Mark's schedule is better this cycle with classes in the afternoon, so we have our mornings and early afternoons together. Many times, we'll just walk across the parking lot to the Oro Verde Hotel for cappuccino and drink it by poolside. No wonder I always feel like I'm on vacation!

The hotel is undergoing renovation which will include a conference center. However, I'm a little disappointed after checking out the model inside the hotel; it looks more like a "hospital" in its appearance. The decorative brick is being replaced with a drab cement exterior. I'll reserve final judgment until I see the finished product, but I already miss the colonial look and feel of the building--especially the terracotta tile roof.

There's a lot of construction going on in Cuenca and it's hard to miss--even with our busy schedules. There are about 50 building projects going on around the city. Some are mere holes in the ground and others are nearing completion with folks moving in already. It's amazing to look at the landscape and see how quickly it has changed. This morning when we walked across the parking lot, one of my favorite views disappeared from sight as a new condo building put up the next level. Our apartment still has a view of the Tomebamba River and the Cajas Mountains, so we have been spared for now!

Even with our busy schedules and construction going on, we still feel blessed to call Cuenca home.

Until next time...hasta luego!

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Piedra de Agua, Founder's Week and Weddings!

When I head to Baños, I normally go to Hosteria Duran, but just up the hill is Piedra de Agua which is now fully functional and all the pools are up and running.

The first time I went to Piedra de Agua it didn't look quite finished and that's because it wasn't!  Now with all the facilities open, it's delightful and perfect for a day of pampering. I ordered a "jugo de piña" by poolside and was impressed with the attentiveness of the staff (all of which speak some English).  For $2.24 (tax included), my pineapple delight was delivered in a huge glass (twice as much as I've received at restaurants in Cuenca).

It was our first week back to teaching, so I thought a little pampering was in order and even the weather cooperated. We're back to "normal" Cuenca weather (sunny mornings with afternoon showers). Our schedules are even synchronized; Mark teaches in the afternoon, so we have our mornings and evenings together.

With all the Founder's Day activities going on this week, it's nice to have time to explore some of the craft fairs, food events, and traditional dancing. And last night we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and fireworks from our balcony! It was a perfect end to a day of pampering and shopping. This upcoming week we also start back to Spanish classes (required of all CEDEI teachers -- 3 times a week for 2 hours), so this was our last weekend without homework so we're living it up until Monday.

Today after teaching, I got to witness my first Cuencano wedding and it was amazing. Everyone was lining the streets waiting for the bride to exit the antique car with her father. As I looked around, I realized that the guests were more dressed up than the bridesmaids. That explains all the "prom" dresses that I see in the stores around the city; they actually wear them to weddings! 

The bride was radiant and was so kind to let everyone take pictures of a wedding that we weren't even invited to. I counted 14 flower girls and junior bridesmaids (not counting the one in the maid of honor's arms) and the male escorts.

We had lunch with friends at the Coffee Tree and watched as the procession continued with guests arriving by bus and then two hours later they all emerged again with a spray of rose pedals and rice for good luck. The "get-away" car was also decorated with a large bouquet of roses on the hood and white bows in the back.

Hopefully, one of these days I'll be invited to a wedding so I can finally wear the only little black dress that I brought to Cuenca.

It's hard to get back into a rhythm of school and teaching after our last break, but that just means more trips to Piedra de Agua!

Until next time time...hasta luego!

New Chicken Soup stories coming out -- highlighting our trip to Cuenca:  "Just Breathe" and "The White Light" (May 22, 2012 and September 4, 2012). 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Coastal Times

To our great surprise when we arrived in Guayaquil for our coastal vacation there was an Art Exhibition of the Hummingbirds at the Malecon! Now through April 29th, you can enjoy this amazing display of 65 hummingbird art sculptures. I thought I had narrowed down my favorites, but at the end of the day they all became #1 in my eyes. If you can make it there before the end of the month, I would highly encourage it. 

Of course, the coastal weather was also a welcome relief. Day after day of rain and clouds in Cuenca wears on me after a while, I need to head to the coast for warmth and sunshine. And Guayaquil delivered both in glorious fashion!

I've pretty much decided that I'm a coastal girl at heart. I love the relaxed feel of the coast where shorts and flip-flips are readily accepted and that I can have my choice of Sweet and Coffee at every turn. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in downtown Guayaquil and again we were impressed with the service. It was hot and humid when we arrived and as soon as our feet landed at the reception desk we were greeted with two ice-cold moras and cool face towels that were mint infused. Talk about service!  We retreated to our room on the tenth floor and immediately turned on the air conditioning and took a nap before we headed for the Malecón. 

After having lived in Miami and Bradenton, Florida for several years, we always feel right at home in Guayaquil. The art exhibition of the hummingbirds didn't disappoint either. In fact, I was mesmerized at every turn. Sixty-five birds were intricately painted and each telling a story. Several times we went back to check out the display and every time, I found something different that I missed the first time. 

Guayaquil is one of those cities that you can visit many times and still find something new to explore. We finally did Las Peñas the right way -- climbing the 444 steps to the top. We were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city and climbed more stairs to the lighthouse and the chapel. It was about 90 degrees with just about that much humidity and I asked Mark, "Do you think we can call for the helicopter to bring us back down?" 


I had blisters on top of blisters by the time we reached the bottom step and I drank two bottles of agua mineral without even blinking. When I reached step #432 I thought we were there already only to realize it was just an illusion. Mark was trailing behind me with an extra reserve of water bottles (thankfully).

It was easier climbing stairs at sea level, but with the humidity it ended up being a toss up. I skipped my work out at the gym that night and opted for a relaxing swim instead. We slept in each day, had a glorious buffet breakfast with omelets prepared to our liking and Belgian waffles with fruit. I wanted to tuck that Pam spray in my purse, but I resisted the urge!  It was so nice to be waited on, being pampered and eating out at some of our favorite spots: TGIF and Tony Roma's

Most folks use Guayaquil as a stop-off place on their way to somewhere else, but we decided to spend a few days there and take in all the sights, which I'm so thankful we did. Our Puerto Lopez vacation will be in June, but this was just what we needed to warm our little hearts up for our true coastal vacation along the beaches.

I made note of some things that I wish we could incorporate in Cuenca, namely the buses that have the exhaust fumes vented out at the top of the bus instead of at mouth and nose level. What a difference a few feet makes! Black soot doesn't blow in your face and you don't have to cover your mouth. I'm not sure why Cuenca hasn't thought of that yet! It makes me want to go around and rig up some piping at the bus stations.

We enjoyed our Sweet and Coffee (even at the bus terminal) which is more like a shopping mall with buses on the side! A woman architect must have been at the helm when they designed that place. We enjoy traveling by bus for many reasons:  lots of leg room, reclining seats, movies, and delightful vendors who sell ice cream and snacks. One vendor came on the bus and won my heart! He started out his presentation with trivia questions with free snacks to those who got the right answer. One question made me tear up. "What woman has two hearts?"  Answer: A pregnant woman!  I never thought of it that way and there were oohs and ahhs across the row of seats. After game and trivia time, the vendor had snacks to sell and, of course, we bought some because he had already won our hearts! 

Our coastal vacation was just too short and Cuenca was just the way we left it: cloudy skies and more rain. We're counting the days until our next  fun in the sun time. 

Until next time...hasta luego!

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