Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's a Pool Party!

What happens when you get five men and three ladies in the pool?

It’s a pool party!

Every Monday and Thursday, I head to Banos (terapias termales) to combine leisure, language and pool therapy. Why Monday and Thursday you ask? Well, let’s just say the water is “mas limpia.” Those are the days they “clean” the pool.
The same group shows up on Monday and Thursday because they know our little “secret”—clean water! After four hours in the pool, doing laps, and chatting with my “nuevos amigos,” I’m ready for lunch at Hosteria Duran’s Restaurant. After a few more “language lessons,” I hit “banos turcos.” There’s a another whole other group of friends there—some stay for six hours in the steam room (taking 30 minute breaks) and then there’s Signora Pombo who lets herself out after 15 minutes!

“Mis neuvos maestros de espanol” are the best thing since language school. Each week, I bring a new set of verbs and vocabulary I want to practice and they correct me. I also learned some things not to say (not all things you pick up on the street are good!), so for now I’m sticking with my pool Spanish for the correct pronunciation and usage.

Everyone finds their own way to learn espanol: some go to language school for a bit and practice what they’ve learned; others need something more informal—like a pool party—and for others a combination of the above works best.

I look forward to meeting with my pool friends every week (we’re like family), and there’s nothing that breaks down barriers like exercising in the warm thermal baths with new friends to spark up conversation. “Mis neuvos amigos de piscina” are keepers.

Until our next pool party…hasta luego!

Hasta luego!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Left Foot!

Yesterday I got on the bus to do some shopping at the “plastic store” (aka – Coral). I gave up my seat for an indigenous woman carrying a sack load of green bananas.

I inched my way to the back of the bus to signal the driver that I needed to get off (and hit the red button). All was fine until the bus came to an abrupt stop (a herd of goats crossed the street), and I had one foot on and one foot off the bus! “Please God,” I prayed, “don’t let the bus start again until my left foot follows my right foot!”

Too late.

My left foot followed, but without my shoe. Somewhere on bus #11 in Cuenca, Ecuador is a size 7-1/2 black sketcher shoe with Velcro straps. They were my favorite pair of walking shoes. Sigh. As the bus took off, I chased after it yelling, “Mi zapoto…mi zapoto, por favor!”

Do you think the bus stopped for my left foot?


I "strolled" across the street to Coral hoping that not a single soul saw this signora with one shoe on and one shoe off. At one point I thought about slipping off the right shoe, but that would have made me barefoot.

Not good.

After I arrived at Coral there were so many people (especially in the school section) that no one noticed I had one shoe off and one shoe on.

Not one person.

I made my way to the flower section where I found a mixed bouquet (total cost: $1.17). It’s the most inexpensive place to buy flowers that I have found in Cuenca, although a close second is SuperMaxi on Wednesdays (20 percent off). For some reason, the Coral flowers last for an entire week with a baby aspirin added to the water. My left foot agreed. I grabbed the flowers and “ran.”

When I was handed a shopping cart (push cart), I fell a little to the left. But thankfully my right foot held me in the upright position and “we” carried on.

As I wandered all three stories of Coral—pushing, pulling and carrying my cart up the stairs and down the elevator—I realized I could pretty much do well with only one “foot.” I bought paint supplies, food for the week, and cleaning items which came to a  total of $24.34 (yikes!).

As I headed for the checkout, I felt slightly relieved that no one had noticed that I had one shoe on and one shoe off. After I picked up my receipt, I headed out the sliding doors where the security guard noticed that I had a missing “zapato.” At that point, he offered to get me a taxi. He didn’t ask “why” or “how,” he just assumed I only had half a pair of shoes. It was a relief to get in the taxi and not the bus because—quite frankly—I was afraid of losing my right "foot."

Thankfully, I arrived home with three packages and a bouquet of flowers, at which point the security guard at our complex asked, “¿Donde está el zapato?” (while pointing to my left foot). I smiled gracefully and said, “Lo he perdido!” A strange look filled his face and then he picked up everything—without a word—and escorted me to my apartment.

I now have exactly 2-1/2 pairs of “zapotos” and I’m so very thankful to have my left foot!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paradise Lost!

We no longer have “Mocha” in our lives!
Yesterday, when I went shopping at SuperMaxi, Mark took Mocha for a walk. When I came back home I asked Mark, “Where’s our ‘Mochachino’?”

“I took him back to the vet?” Mark blurted out.

“C’mon…you’re kidding…where’s Mocha?” I asked again.

“Mocha is being ‘adopted’ by another family,” Mark said with downcast eyes.

That’s when I knew… Mark wasn’t joking around.

For two days, Mocha was a part of our family. He slept at our feet, played on the balcony, stood up on his hind legs and danced when we came into the room, made us laugh with his upturned tail and puppy-like ways, slept in my arms while I read, and followed us around into every room… waiting for us to pick him up or to play.

Our apartment looks like a puppy toy factory and Mocha’s footprints are everywhere: in the kitchen, on the balcony, and in the bedroom – reminders of the cutest dog on the face of the earth!

So what happened to “paradise”?

When I left to go grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, Mocha peed all over the down comforter in our bedroom and on the white rug in the living room. That’s what puppies do when they’re being trained—right?

Actually, I thought Mocha was doing really well—for a Shih-Tzu—going “peeps and poops” on the newspaper (most of the time!) and doing his duty on walks outside by the river. Yes, of course, there were a few surprises here and there, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Puppies aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. Children aren’t perfect. Parents aren’t perfect. My husband isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s “Mr. Clean.” I guess that’s why our Snowshoe cat, Bianca, was the "perfect" pet. She didn’t have to be potty trained and never had an accident. But dogs are different; they’re “human”; they make mistakes (and they’re not perfect!).

After crying myself to sleep last night and cleaning the floors today—where Mocha’s paw prints lie—I see reminders everywhere of the little puppy that captured my heart: the blue and white collar hanging in the foyer, the blue and yellow puppy bed where Mocha took naps, the puppy water bowl with blue footprints lining the edge and “Brilliant Puppy Shampoo” (used only once!).

In all fairness, my hubby has been under a tremendous amount of stress. He is flying back to the States this evening to testify in a trial (as a witness). It has been wearing on both of us for the last two years (the legal system takes a long time in America). It probably wasn’t the best time to bring a puppy into the world, but I was actually looking forward to some bonding time with Mocha while Mark was gone. But instead, I will be hanging out in my writing cave—healing from a broken heart.

Paradise is lost in the “Pombo Casa” for a little while, but it will return someday…I’m sure of it.

Until next time…hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

P.S. To my expat friends, if you see me around Cuenca with my dark sunglasses on while it’s raining, you’ll understand why! If you see me clinging tighter to “Fredi” – Brian and Shellie’s Shih-Tzu on Sunday mornings at Parque Calderon, you won’t have to ask questions. To those of you who were planning a puppy shower, you can put away the invitations (for now). And to the wonderful family who adopted “Mocha,” enjoy one of life’s greatest blessings. Oh, how I wish I had taken more pictures (especially of Mocha standing up on his little hind legs -- so adorable!). Oh...and...please, don't ask me to snap out of it because quite frankly, that's simply not possible.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


We brought home a new family member today -- Mocha!  He is a Shih-Tzu and was originally named "Canela" until we looked under the "fur" and found out "she" was a he. Oh my!

We're still using the wrong pronouns, but we figure that's a small problem that can be fixed. Originally, I was slightly disappointed (I had visions of pink raincoats, pink purses, and glitzy pink hair accessories), but just think of all the money we'll save without a "she" wardrobe. Sure, we could have waited for a "girl," but we had already bonded to Canela...I mean Mocha!

My new writing companion is sitting on my lap as I pound on the keys (my comma doesn't work and it's driving me C-R-A-Z-Y, so when I hit it hard Mocha thinks I want to play). I finally got one story edited and sent off, so at this rate it might be tomorrow before the next one is sent through cyperspace.

Mocha already has run of the balcony, a place to pee and poop (newspaper trained), and has already taken an afternoon siesta with us! I'm guessing that Mocha is smarter than Mark or me by the way he has us wrapped around his little tail.

Mark has night duty, but our balcony is right off the master bedroom and Mocha already knows where to go (pee and poop!).

Mocha is pulling on my leg; it's walk by the river time (more later!).

Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo, Marco & Mocha

In Memory: We have not forgotten the events of 9/11 (the newspapers here in Ecuador have not forgotten either). To family and friends who lost loved ones, we mourn with you. On such a somber anniversary, it's wonderful to have a new little life in our "casa."

Friday, September 10, 2010


I'm not sure what it is, but Artesa (the ceramic place) keeps alluding us. Today we went with our wonderful new friends, Mike and Kim, and we were hoping to find some treasures in the "seconds" room. But wouldn't you know it?  It is only open in the morning (8-12), and we arrived at 12:30 p.m.  Maria, the woman who greeted us, in the "show room" told us that we needed to come back the next morning (this was already our second visit). I guess some things just aren't mean to be!

But we did pick up a few pieces and toured the factory, watching the workers draw the designs and paint them. I'm pretty sure you need a steady hand to do that sort of work and a lot of patience. When they say, "hecho a mano" they mean it. Each piece is expertly hand painted. Heck, I can't even color in the lines or paint by number!

We did find the "seconds" room under lock and key. We gazed in...drooling at some fine pieces with a few flaws (not really noticeable), and I'm sure at a significant "disquento." But we will be back (in the morning next time!).

With our treasures in hand, we took a taxi to Parque Calderon where we enjoyed "helado" at Tutto Freddo (and I wonder why I can't lose weight?). During our visit, a follower of our blog came up and introduced himself and then another blog follower. They all recognized my husband!  Hmm...I think it's the bald head (I notice the Ecuadorian men keep their hair and they have lots of it).

Then Mike, Kim and I wandered into Parque Calderon where we met another follower of our blog -- a young couple -- who were absolutely delightful. We found their lives to be so interesting -- a Harvard grad lawyer! We told him we needed more immigration attorneys in Cuenca, but I'm not sure he was interested in that field (but it was worth a try!).

We took more pictures and more pictures! It was a gorgeous day and the sunshine was a welcome change from the rain we've had (although I love the sound of the river as it lulls us to sleep each night, so I'm thankful for the rain!).

We took the #3 bus home to our newly furnished place; the big mirror went up in the dining room and our guest room is now complete. Mark placed the Artesa pottery on the shelf and we called it a day. It's only been a few times where we both fell asleep as soon as we "dropped," but it was absolutely divine. 

I never knew that shoppping for pottery could take so much out of a person, but we'll be back for more and next time we'll be sure to arrive at Artesa in the morning!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo y Marco

Isabel La Catolica 1-102 y Av. de las Americas
Cuecna, Ecuador

Maria Ines can help you find the perfect piece(s)!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Shall We Then Live?

Lately, I have been receiving almost "frantic" e-mails that go something like this: "Do you think we can possibly live on $3,000 a month in Cuenca?" I'm sorry, I have to laugh out loud and then I respond very nicely (of course!).

The answer is not always easy; I think it depends on your level of comfort. We have $1,400 a month to live on, but we can still save $500 a month. We won't receive Social Security for another seven years (at age 62) which will then triple our income, but we're not counting on Social Security so we're saving each month. The way things are going in the States, you just never know.

We're fortunate in that we have a great condo for $210 a month plus condo fees --  right along the Tomebamba River. We couldn't ask for a more beautiful place. But we have noticed since we have been here that rents are going up and so is the price of food. I left for America at the end of July and when I returned, cappuccino at the Oro Verde Hotel went up from $1.00 to $1.50 -- in part because Americans frequent the Gourmet Deli at the hotel.

So how shall we then live? Very carefully. Life can change for all of us in an instant, so we have taken some preventative measures. Since my hubby's hospitalization last month, we have decided on medical insurance through Humana which will defray the costs of hospitalization; they pay for 80 percent of our prescriptions and help with the cost of office visits (which are only $25 per visit). We also have kept our life insurance policies which are a combined total of $100 a month. You never know when you're going to get run over by a bus (a very likely possibility in Cuenca!). We will keep both life insurance policies until we reach age 65 which is in another 10 years. Some may think life insurance is not a necessity, but we do. If we both die simultaneously, our boys will be millionaires. I'm sure they're praying for our deaths right at this moment!

That being said "yes" you can live comfortably on $1,400 a month and still save. I'm usually not one to divulge our budget, but in this case I think it's important because if you only have one pension it's vital that you see the realities. I did not include my writing income which varies from month to month (usually $300 to $600); I write for compilations, the Internet and "royalties" on my books(s). Trust me, authors do not get rich, unless they're New York Best Times Sellers (I am not!).

So here it is...the truth...the whole truth:
Rent                                     $210
Condo fees and water               90
Electricity                                15
Food                                      200 (we shop at the Coop)
Transportation                          40 (bus, taxi) We do not own a car.
Life Insurance                         100
Medical Ins.                              80 (for both of us: hospital, prescriptions, office visits)
Cable TV                                  30 (Direct TV)
Dining Out                                40  (once a month at a nice place or a lot of coffee/pastry/ice cream)    
Misc.                                        40 (you never know what you might find at the mercado!)
Cell Phones                               20 (pre-paid phone cards)
Medical                                     25
Savings                                     500

Total                                      1,390

As you can see, we are well within our means. We do not have a maid (I need my exercise!); we don't have a gym membership (we walk a lot -- especially around the Tomebamba River that's in our "backyard"); we don't have a car (our feet carry us where we need to go); we shop mostly at the Coop which is incredibly cheap. I use vinegar to clean almost everything (it does a superb job without harsh chemicals). And my writing income is a bonus; I write for the Internet on several sites which goes directly into savings (via PayPal). We use my writing income for special trips, vacations and for dining out on special occasions. I do not include it in our monthly budget because I may decide not to write some day (I'm retired...remember?).

We use the envelope system; the money goes in at the beginning of the month and when it's gone...it's gone! Oh, I forgot to mention; I cut my hair myself and my husband is bald (it works out well for both of us). We have a land line in our condo, which the Oro Verde will hook up soon and we receive free Internet through them because we are part of the condominium complex.

With our present condo, it came partially furnished: washer, dryer, stove, refrigerator, credenza, and lamp. We bought living room furniture and bedroom furniture (grand total:  $1,000). We have two bedrooms, two baths, and 1,400 square feet. It feels just right, especially when the kids come to visit. Our balcony is our favorite place and where we spend the majority of time. Our Internet is FREE (we are associated with the Oro Verde Condominiums).  If a medical emergency arises, we have enough savings to cover it and what our insurance doesn't pay, we can supplement with our savings. We have no debt (we sold everything and paid off all our outstanding bills before we left the States).

So how shall we then live? It all depends on you! I feel that we live better now than we ever did in the States and knowing that we have no debt certainly makes life more enjoyable. It's a win-win situation. There is no way we could have retired in the States. We would have been working two jobs (possibly 3), wondering how we were going to pay for doctor bills or pay the premium on our medical insurance which is $1,400 for the two of us. And then there's that little matter of heating/air-conditioning which we don't have to worry about in Cuenca (perpetual spring). Extra bonus: No need for snow shovels or snow blowers!

Some retirees prefer to wait until Social Security kicks in before calling it "quits," but we figured we would be kickin' the bucket about that time, so we prefer to live out the next ten years in a place where there is a river that runs through it and where the price is right! That's how we have chosen to live.

Until Next Time...Hasta Luego!

Consuelo y Marco

P.S. Mark just informed me that they gave him a "raise" of  $75 in his retirement (I didn't think you got raises when you retired; he explained it to me but I had no clue about what he was talking about!). It looks like the kids will be visiting sooner than I thought.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nuestros Nuevos Amigos

One of the greatest things about Cuenca is meeting new friends! We met Mike and Kim last Sunday at Parque Calderon; they are here celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They’re also checking out Cuenca as a possible place to retire, but I think leaving the grandkids might be an obstacle (I can only imagine what that would be like!).

We had a great time yesterday enjoying “almuerzo” together, walking along the Tomebamba, dodging buses as we crossed the street, and setting up a dinner date for Tiestos (Juan Jaramillo 7-34 y Borrero). It's a must for anyone visiting Cuenca as Juan Carlos (the Chef) makes such a great impression and his food presentation is nothing short of spectacular. I’m always amazed—shocked really—at his ability to remember everyone’s name. It doesn’t matter if you were there a year ago or last week; Juan Carlos will remember!

Mike and Mark have a lot in common; they were both former pastors and now Mike has a great job with the city (Southern California). Kim and I hit it off because we know what it’s like to be a pastor’s wife and we’ve traveled the globe in the process. Both Mike and Kim have an affinity for languages (Kim taught Latin), and Mike already sounds as if he has lived in Ecuador all of his life.

We’ll meet up again on Friday at Tiestos and then attend church together at Centro Cristiano on Sunday before they head back to the States to ponder their decision about “retirement” in Ecuador. It’s no small task to consider all the possibilities. I remember waking up at 3:00 a.m. in a cold sweat and thinking, Are we crazy—what in the world are we doing? I came here “blindly.” Mark visited once in February 2010 and blurted out, “I’m going to Cuenca with or without you!” Actually, I only have myself to blame for that one. Six months before Mark's trip, I had researched an article on “The Best Places in the World to Retire” and Cuenca kept coming up as #1 for the past nine years (minus a year or two being bumped to second place).

Mike and Kim will have a lot to think about in the next year as they ponder the possibilities of retirement in another country. I think we painted a realistic picture for them (at least I hope we did). Whether they remain in the States (close to their grandkids) or if they come to Cuenca, they will always be “nuestros nuevos amigos"!

Until Next Time…Hasta Luego!

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