Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Green and Clean Cuenca!

This morning on my walk along the Tomebamba River, I noticed that the huge holes in the ground -- made last week -- were being filled with trees!

And then across the river, I saw huge signs: "Cuenca: Un mundo limpio y verde!" When I looked down in the river (more rocks than water right now!), there were school kids, the army and city officials cleaning up garbage in and along the river. What a great way to make a not so clean job lots of fun!

In two weeks' time, we have had a variety of new gardens planted, new trees, and a cleaner river --  made possible by the "Keep Cuenca Clean and Green" motto.

There was a huge celebration with the school band playing, photographers from the newspaper (El Mercurio y El Tiempo) snapping up photos, and officials giving speeches -- thanking all those who volunteered.

The all girls school was called out and they were busy planting trees, when the army marched through! Everyone had a hand in "sprucing" up Cuenca today.

This evening Mark and I took Mocha out for his evening run along the river and we all enjoyed the new look. Keeping Cuenca green and clean is our motto too!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Just a side note: We are in the "spring season"  here in Cuenca and something is always blooming. Normally I suffer from terrible allergies, but nothing here so far (yippee!).

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Cajas Day!

Last week was gorgeous weather (almost every day), so last Thursday while the sun was still shining, we woke up, looked at each other and said, "It's a Cajas Day!"

We've been holding out on visiting due to the weather and altitude adjustment. We went with a friend who drove us there and I couldn't believe what I saw. It reminded me of Switzerland, Austria, and the California Nevadas (sort of an odd combination -- I know!).

We made it to 11,000 feet and lunched at Dos Chorreras and booked the honeymoon suite at the hosteria for our 35th wedding anniversary next month. They gave us a tour of the facilities and we were mesmerized. My camera card was full and every other picture I had to delete. Sigh...

Next time, we want to make it up to the lakes, but this was just a trial run to see if the altitude affected us, and I'm happy to report that it did not. We drank coca tea, so I'm sure that had a lot to do with it.

So remember, when the sun is shining head to the mountains and make it a Cajas Day!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Some more photos of the Cajas -- enjoy!

My first llama and I have to get the backside?!?

That's better...bring your friends to see the gringos!

No words needed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kids in Cuenca

One thing I noticed right away when we first arrived in Cuenca was how well behaved children are here. There are no public outbursts, whining or temper tantrums often associated with kids in the U.S.

I had to wonder? Is it a DNA sort of thing or is it how the children are raised in Ecuador? So I went right to the source; I asked several Ecuadorians what they thought made the difference. They all agreed that it’s the way children are treated starting as infants. You often see mothers nursing their children in public—usually very discreetly. So is breastfeeding the answer?

I’m sure that the mother/child nurturing relationship is the beginning, but there’s so much more. Children in Ecuador are grateful for the smallest things. When I’m on the bus, I watch mothers swaddle their babies around their back in brightly colored blankets, grandmothers doting on their grandkids, and siblings often playing—not fighting—with each other. That’s not to say, these children are “perfect,” but the noticeable difference is too prevalent not to take notice.

Our love for children in Cuenca has led us to work with the Kids’ Club at our church on Saturdays. We start by collecting kids at the Mercado (asking their parents’ permission—of course), and then we take them back to the church, have story time, sing songs, let the children color their worksheet, provide a snack, and an hour later, we deliver them back to their parents.

These kids may not have much materialistically, but they are “rich”; they know they are loved, they are polite, well-mannered, and take nothing for granted. Their faces shine with gratitude. I’ve worked with kids in a variety of situations overseas and in the States, and I have to tell you…these kids are special (all of them).

We look forward to every Saturday morning because we know that bright smiles await us! Little do they know…they give back so much more than we give to them.

Many expats offer to volunteer their time in Ecuador: some teach English  in private schools, others work in orphanages, and some help children with handicaps. As “guests” in this country, we want to do our part to give back as a way to say “thank you.”

I must warn you: working with kids in Cuenca is contagious, so you just might find yourself doing it full-time!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sundays in Cuenca

Remember when Sunday was a day of rest? You took a Sunday drive with the family, stopped for an ice cream cone at Frosty Freeze, took a nap, went on a picnic, and spent time with family?

Well, it still happens in Cuenca! Maybe that’s why I love it here so much; it reminds me of my childhood days in Southern California in the 1950’s.

There was no sense of urgency back then, just lazy Sunday afternoons with family and friends. Most stores were closed all day and Sunday dinners -- complete with buttery mashed potatoes, green beans laced with ham and double-dipped fried chicken -- were common (we didn't worry about cholesterol levels in those days).

Yesterday after church at Calvary Chapel, Mark and I took a walk and enjoyed the gorgeous weather with blue skies and white fluffy clouds. Mocha had fun exploring new territory and staking out a new “potty” spot.

For some strange reason, my mouth was watering for Burger King French fries (I know…not good for the cholesterol), but I had to have some. So we walked a few blocks to Mall del Rio (one of the newest and largest shopping malls in Cuenca). It seemed like the most logical choice since it has a food court with lots of fast food eateries.
We were amazed—shocked really—that they were starting to put up Christmas decorations. In the States, Christmas starts in July and is in full swing by October, so maybe it’s not that early.

There was a "choo-choo" train running through the mall with small children aboard waving their hands and laughing, a booth for Santa being set up, and a large Christmas tree in the center of the mall (void of ornaments).

The food court was packed, so we passed on the French fries and had ice cream instead at Tutto Freddo. We gave up trying to find a seat and found a bench instead with a perfect view of the mall and did some people watching (and listening!).

The stores were slightly decorated for Christmas, but nothing overt or flashy. I was amazed at the number of shops with evening gowns. I want to know where these people go to sport such fine attire. There must be a lot of weddings in Cuenca or some gala events that I haven’t attended. But even if I were invited to a formal event, this girl is wearing her flats! You’ll never find me strapping my feet to those six-inch stilettos (I'm afraid of heights!). I’ll stick to my Sketchers...thank you very much.

I meandered into a “profumeria” and bought some soap for the guest bathroom in a beautiful blue decanter ($5.95). I asked the clerk, “Estoy buscando para jamon?” She smiled (chuckled) and said, “Si, el jabon?” Silly me, I asked for ham instead of soap!

We took a taxi home and enjoyed a lazy afternoon along the river—walking Mocha—and watched families having picnics, playing soccer and marveled at the vendors lining the streets with soft ice cream, swirls of pink cotton candy, and Cuecano hot dogs.

Sundays are a day of rest, celebration of family, and good food--just like I remember when I was a little girl!

Until next time...hasta luego!

P.S. Yesterday was my dad's 81st birthday (10-10-10) and I called him via Skype. As we talked, the Sunday drives came pouring back in: My sister and I begged from the backseat of our 1955 Chevy for dad to stop at Frosty Freeze. Dad teased us by making a sharp right turn away from the drive-in while we sighed. And then just as quickly, Dad made a U-turn back into the parking lot of Frosty Freeze! He was and always will be my hero.

Happy Birthday, Dad. This "little" girl loves you!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sucre Sale Cafe

One of the best things about living in Cuenca is discovering new places to eat. One such find happened on Saturday. We had passed by Sucre Sale Café many times during our trips to Parque Calderon and said, “We need to have lunch there!” On Saturday, we enjoyed "almuerzo" with a friend who was visiting Cuenca for a few days.
I’ve been to Paris several times and always fell in love with the food (noticed by my bathroom scales when I returned to the States!). If you like crepes, you will appreciate what Thomas Bacle (owner and chef) can create.

My hubby had chocolate crepes and I had the best Quiche Lorraine I've ever tasted. I found myself “licking” the plate and begged for seconds. Of course, I also helped myself to Mark’s chocolate crepes while he guarded the other half of his plate with a fork and knife!

If that wasn’t enough, we shared another dessert—“ Moelleux au chocolat." How can I describe a baby volcano gushing with warm chocolate? It was deceiving—at first glance— because it looked so innocent; a little round cake served with three apple slices on the side. With one touch of the fork, the warm chocolate "exploded" and mixed with the vanilla sauce. To say that it was amazing would be an understatement. I’m not sure how Chef Bacle pulled it off, but it was absolutely incredible. Mark and I had a fork fight—trying to keep one another from taking the last bite!

The best part was the bill! With Quiche Lorraine, salad, crepes, Moelleux au chocolat and two drinks, our total came to less than $9.00. It wasn’t just the great food, it was the ambiance. I felt for a moment that I was back in Paris, but speaking Spanish instead of French!

The owners of Sucre Sale Café will welcome you with the best that France has to offer while you’re in Cuenca!

Until next time….Bienvenue!

Sucre Sale Café
Luis Cordero 8-74 y Sucre
Cuenca, Ecuador

P.S. Sucre Sale Cafe is also pet friendly! We bring Mocha along in his sporty dog carrier. While he enjoys his bone, we munch on our lunch.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Political Unrest?

By now you've probably heard the news: political unrest in Ecuador.

Living in Cuenca, you would hardly know that something was going on except yesterday stores were closed, children didn't go to school, and the familiar police presence around our neighborhood was absent. Other than minor incoveniences like trying to go grocery shopping and having SuperMaxi shut down, it was life as usual. It seemed more like a holiday or a Sunday afternoon, rather than "political unrest."

Yes, I'm sure if you live in downtown Quito or Quayquil, you may have a different take on the subject. In Cuenca,there were no mass riots, people being killed or looting. Cuencanos have learned to take these things in stride and have a "so what" kind of attitude.

As a precaution, Americans living in Ecuador have been urged to stay at home and report their status to the US Consulate in case the political situation escalates. Airports in Quayaquil and Quito (and other major cities were closed yesterday), along with some major roads. Colombia and Peru closed their borders. And President Correa was held up in the hospital for 12 hours after having a bout with tear gas; he slipped away via wheelchair!

So what does this all mean? For now, it means that President Correa and the police have some homework to do! Having lived in Sicily for six years, we are familiar with this sort of thing and normally it runs its course and things go back to normal. But then again, we had the Mafia to take over where the police left off.

Things are normal in the Pombo House: Mocha is back with us (a long story!), and daily walks along the river continue. Life goes on (political unrest or not!).

Until next time...hasta luego!

Consuelo, Marco y Mocha
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