Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Weekend in Review

This weekend has been full of surprises: we have met fellow bloggers, folks who have e-mailed us and finally come to see Cuenca for themselves, attended one of our first expat events, shopped for furniture, and are considering adopting a puppy (we think it has something to do with the empty nest syndrome, but we're not sure!).

Saturday: After shopping all day (by hoofing it around town), we finally put the final touches on our new apartment -- minus the furniture that is being made for the living room.  In the evening, we attended our first expat event at the California Kitchen (dinner and a show!). The meal was excellent and we enjoyed lasagna (we're Italian -- of course), and then the FAMA dancers performed. Just watching them made our body parts hurt: Mark's back started to ache and my shoulders were in pain. Neither one of us can remember when we were that flexible!

The entire weekend we have been contemplating getting a dog (Shih Tzu). We fell in love with Fredi (Brian and Shellie's dog) after meeting them this week at the post office. And then we couldn't stop thinking about what it would mean to have our own little "girl." We even picked out a name for her -- Canela (cinnamon in Spanish). We actually practiced saying "Canela" out loud! We haven't figured out the particulars yet, but we know that it may cause some complications in our travel arrangements so we have held off on rushing to the "vet" to put in our order.

To tell you the truth, we miss our kids. This past week we received a package from our son and his wife -- the DVD of their wedding. Mark and I ripped open the package and sat down to watch the video (start to finish). We cried -- no sobbed -- through the entire thing and then watched it again! For those of you who have been following our story, we left for Cuenca just three days after our son's wedding. To make sure that our feelings for a "puppy" are not to be mistaken for "homesickness" for our kids, we've decided to wait a week and see how we feel (doggy wise).

Sunday:  Normally, Mark and I attend church (Centro Cristiano), but this morning we congregated at Parque Calderon to meet with fellow bloggers -- Shellie and Brian (and Fredi!); Clark and Brenda (they have their kids visiting from the States -- how wonderful is that?). After warding off the shoe shine boys, we met with Mike and Kim (they're checking out Cuenca and today was their 40th anniversary!). I tried to find some horrible things to say about Cuenca and Ecuador in general, but I couldn't think of anything -- not one thing! Okay, maybe a couple of things like the "femur breakers" in the sidewalks that make me pay attention to where I'm stepping. Or the fact that the Internet still doesn't work as smoothly as I would like, but those are minor (itsy-bitsy) things. We feel blessed to call Cuenca "home" -- with or without our kids or a puppy (yet!).

Tonight we turned on the Emmy's and found it to be absolutely boring, so I took the time to sort through pictures and write my editor an e-mail. I've been sitting on a writing contract and don't know whether I'm ready to plunge into a six-month book commitment (I'm retired -- remember?). After wading through the nine-page contract and reading the fine print, I don't have peace...I just need more time. I don't even have a sofa or an office yet and with the Internet being slightly unpredictable, my deadline would have to be extended (more on that later...).

Sundays are my favorite day of the week; the traffic comes to a standstill, families take time to be together (picnics in the park or by the river), and life is savored like a fine wine. In fact, on our way home, a young family invited us to picnic with them along the Tomebamba! We thanked them politely, but told them we had just eaten and that our apartment was just across the street. They told us how fortunate we were to have such an amazing place by the river and we agreed...(we are truly blessed!).

Tomorrow is the beginning of a new week and I speak for both of us when I say, "We love weekends!"

Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Location, Location, Location!

It's amazing how your life can change by walking 50 feet across the street! Since moving to our new condo, we have taken a morning and evening walk along the river, dined on our balcony -- almost every evening -- and go to bed listening to the "negative ions" lulling us to sleep. A simple change of location has changed the way we live!

Today, I received six e-mails regarding where to find the best housing in Cuenca -- all from folks about ready to retire. Although I can't speak to everyone's needs, I will say this is absolutely the best place we have ever lived (and that includes a villa on the Mediterranean in Sicily, Italy). And believe me...that's hard to beat.

It seams that the Tomebamba River has a rhythm all its own, starting at 6:30 a.m. when the joggers, runners, walkers, and rollerbladers start their day. It's not unusual to see whole families walking together before they go to work, followed by the indigenous people doing their laundry along the riverbanks, and then at night more joggers, runners, walkers, and "yes" young lovers strolling hand in hand along the trail.

Yesterday, we happened on a herd of cows who were "mowing" the grass along the river. I didn't have my camera with me, but I have to marvel at the diversity of sights and sounds. And then there are our new friends that we meet and greet each morning, walking their dogs or simply taking in the beauty of the flora and fauna.

Life along the river has a rhythm to it and most of all it's peaceful. Mark asked me tonight during our dinner on the balcony, "What does this place remind you of the most?" I didn't hesitate with my answer. It reminds me of Orinda, Moraga, and Berkeley, California with its eucalyptus trees and rolling green hills and mountains. The river is reminiscent of Bend, Oregon and Stowe, Vermont (minus the cold), but most of all it reminds me of the best location we have ever lived.
Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Banos!

On Sunday for my 55th birthday, my hubby had a surprise… Piedra de Agua.

About 10 minutes outside of Cuenca, you can be in the crater of a volcano and enjoy being pampered like a princess. I’m not sure if Mark knew it or not, but while we were basking in the warm waters of the mineral baths, we were in the center of the crater! Not that it should make that much difference, but remember…we just had an earthquake not too long ago and while I was enjoying the soothing mineral waters and the candlelit cavern, I thought, Hmm…I wonder if this is stable ground? Not to worry, nothing happened except a very invigorating experience.

Afterwards we had lunch at the restaurant (al fresco) and enjoyed a steam bath (very, very hot!). I think we should have had the steam bath first and then lunch (oh well, next time). There are a variety of treatments at Piedra de Agua including mud baths (don’t wear a white swimsuit!) and a variety of massages (inside a cave) for ten dollars extra or access to all treatments for $30. The service was impeccable and I felt truly pampered.
Now, I have to tell you, I’m hard pressed to decide which “banos” I like better. You see, just down the street (or up) -- depending on the direction you are coming from -- there is another “banos.” Actually, if you want to get technical about the whole thing, “banos” are everywhere in Banos. We haven’t tried all of them yet, but today just for the fun of it we headed to Osteria Duran to do a little comparison shopping. We arrived by taxi ($3.00) at Osteria Duran and saw several tour buses. Not what you want to see because the pool is not that big. After paying $5.00 for the entrance fee which also includes use of the grounds and steam baths, we found the pool to be packed and no tables available. It looked like a banos convention. I checked out the look on my hubby’s face and thought, Uh-oh, I think we won’t be coming back here again! But as it turned out, in two hours everyone went “home,” and we had the pool to ourselves which was lovely.

If I had to tell you which experience I liked better, it would definitely be “Piedra de Agua.” For $5.00 more, you have personalized service, access to all the mineral pools, the steam room, and a polite and courteous staff that makes sure your experience is exceptional.

There you have it…”a tale of two banos.” Now, I just need to check out the rest of the mineral baths and spas!

Unril next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Friday, August 13, 2010

Moving Again!

In one week, I've traveled back from the States, seen my hubby through his first Ecuadorian hospitalization, experienced an earthquake, and now we are moving (on Sunday!) -- my 55th birthday.

Why you ask? Well...let's just say it was a deal we couldn't refuse. Our present rent is $650 and our new rent is $200 (right across the street). Currently we are living in the "Gringo Palace" -- an 18-story condo complex with all the luxuries known to man: a gym, sauna, granite counters, marble floors, and "yes" even barking dogs (lots and lots of them!). Although we have enjoyed this part of the gringo experience, we're ready to switch channels and listen to the rushing sounds of the Tomebamba River from our balcony!

Our "new" condo is associated with the Hotel Oro Verde and is twice as big as our present place and is semi-furnished, which will allow us to add our own touch of Cuenca. We will save $400 a month in doing so, so it's worth dragging our four suitcases across the street. We have also decided that after Mark's recent hospitalization, we should seek medical insurance in case of longer stays or more "food poisoning." 

And then there's the matter of our kids (one is married and one is probably getting married very soon). We have talked about having Christmas in July every year and flying our sons and their spouses down for a little bit of Cuencano cheer.

Mark and I feel like newlyweds. We bought a bed today which will serve as our table, sofa, and study area. Each month we will add a new piece of furniture (table, TV, sofa...) until our house becomes a home. We also love the freedom of being able to walk outside without having to wait 20 minutes for the elevator and going through security check points. I know...I know...some like the extra security and assurance, but I recently told Mark that I feel like I'm under house arrest. We do have 24/7 security at our new place, but there's only one check point and no elevator (we're on the second floor (a total of 14 steps). 

We also adore the sound of the rushing river as we lay in bed at night -- the master bedroom has a full-length balcony and I'm sure we'll be spending most of our days out there.

So we're on the move again, rolling the suitcases with our earthly possessions to our new home which hopefully will be our last move for a while. We added it up last night and realized this is our 32nd move in 35 years of marriage. Phew!

Until our next move...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rocked out of Bed

Yes, it's true...we were rocked out of bed by a 7.1 earthquake at 6:54 a.m. this morning. I thought my hubby was getting "frisky" in bed when I realized our 18-story condo complex was swaying and the girders were grinding. As a native Californian and having lived in Sicily for six years, earthquakes are not new to us, but this one gave us quite a jolt.

Mark and I hardly thought anything of it until we received several e-mails asking if we were okay. Mark is still recovering from his bout with food poisoning, so an earthquake didn't seem like such a big deal but it has received a lot of attention.

All is well in paradise and I'm sure that rocking out of bed isn't such a bad thing -- at least we landed on both feet!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Medical Care in Cuenca

After ten days in the States I returned to Cuenca to find my hubby hospitalized! As far as we know it was food poisoning. Ironically, another American friend of ours was admitted on the same day at the same time and on the same floor as Mark.

Although this was an unfortunate incident, it has proven to be a learning curve for us. First of all, we had planned to search for medical insurance companies in Ecuador, including Salud and Humana, to protect us in case of a long or complicated hospital stay. But we first had to obtain our cedula (which we received in July), and then I left for the States. There’s nothing like an emergency to help you speed things along.

Mark was hospitalized at Mt. Sinai Hospital where our doctor, Pablo Parra, (an internal medicine specialist) is on staff. We were amazed at the speed at which Mark was admitted and received IV fluids due to dehydration.

All the rooms at Mt. Sinai are private suites with a fold-out sofa for family members who wish to spend the night. I was able to stay with Mark the entire time. The nurses actually prepared my bed, complete with monogrammed sheets and “tucked” me in. During the night Mark was attended to by a competent team of nursing staff and residents. A battery of lab tests were run to determine if Mark’s illness was typhoid or hepatitis A. The results were negative for both (thankfully!), and it was determined that Mark indeed had food poisoning.

By the following morning, Mark’s nausea and vomiting had subsided and he was given the option to leave the hospital or stay one more day. After another thorough examination by Dr. Parra, Mark was released, but not before a complimentary breakfast was served to me along with the morning newspaper (El Mercurio). Mark was given tea and toast, although he enjoyed looking at what I had to eat!

All the visits by staff and physicians were seamless and the test results were given to us as soon as they were available. While we were waiting for news of Mark’s most recent labs, a floral arrangement was delivered to our room compliments of the hospital.

I was almost “sad” to hear that Mark was being discharged because “almuerzo” was arriving! I have to admit that hospital food has never been very high on my food chain, but Mt. Sinai does an extraordinary job in the culinary arts department.

Mark is now home and resting comfortably. I’m still in shock at the speed and efficiency of the medical system at Mt. Sinai. Our total bill came to $250! That was for a private suite, doctor’s visits, labs, medication, IV hydration and meals. Where can you go in the States for such superb care at that price?

No one wants to be admitted to the hospital, but this experience has put our minds at rest regarding the medical care in Cuenca. It only confirmed what we have heard from others—who have had serious illnesses and prolonged stays—that the medical care in Cuenca is exceptional.

We will still investigate our medical insurance options to find a plan that fits our needs, but it’s a relief to know that we are assured state-of-the-art medical care with highly trained physicians who are just a phone call away!

Until next time...hasta luego!
Consuelo y Marco
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