Friday, December 30, 2011

Out with the Old and In with the New!

Ecuador has a unique way of celebrating the New Year!

Last week some interesting “dummies” started to appear on the street corners. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but now I get it (sort of). 

Mark and I were walking back from Supermaxi  on Wednesday and I made the comment, “It looks like some folks are making good use out of old clothes!”

Not really!

In Ecuador, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with “años viejos” (old years) and in with the “Año Nuevo” (New Year). Ecuadorians take figurines (dummies) stuffed with paper, sawdust and sometimes firecrackers and display them on the streets. Some of the dummies represent political  figures, international personalities, cartoon figures, and sometimes—terrorists. On New Year’s Eve, these stuffed dummies are set on fire. Some folks jump the gun and start setting fire to the dummies before New Year’s Eve! To put it simply: the dummies represent the “old year.” 

So I guess if you had a really bad year at work, you can dress up a dummy like your boss and start the New Year out right!

We’ve also seen some peculiar “dressing up” as well (almost like Halloween) and some folks dress in black. I’m told they act as the old year’s “widow.” They move along the street asking for candy or money and then kick the dummy before it’s burned.

The student we are tutoring this month tried to explain the whole process, but I guess we’ll have to experience it in person! The reasoning behind kicking and burning the dummy  is to ensure a good year if you’ve had a bad one.

We’ve been warned in advance that we can plan on not getting much rest on New Year’s Eve and so we’ve already lined up some good movies on DVD and we’ll plan on spending a “quiet” evening at home.

So tonight (for the second time in one week), we saw Mission Impossible 4 on the Big Screen at the Milenium Plaza (tickets were $4.60 per person). It was all in Spanish, but with Tom Cruise—who needs much translating!

Thankfully, there isn’t much we want to “kick” out of this year; it’s been a good one all around!

Próspero Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pase del Niño Viajero

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Last year we spent Christmas in the San Francisco Bay Area and missed the" Pase del Niño Viajero" procession through Cuenca. I remember folks saying, "Oh no, you're going to miss the best part of the year!" At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about, but after experiencing it for ourselves today, we did  miss a BIG DEAL!

There's really no way to describe the entire parade unless you experience it personally. And if you're planning a visit to Cuenca, I suggest you book ahead and make sure you're here during Christmas Eve -- worth the extra price tag that you might have to pay. 

I did a little research on the Pase del Niño Viajero and found out that only in Cuenca is it possible to see this wonderful pagentry. Frommer's describes it this way:  

"The annual Pase del Niño Viajero procession weaves through Cuenca on Christmas Eve. The angel of the guiding star heads the procession, followed by the Magi, shepherds, dancers and a statue of Baby Jesus - the Niño Viajero, 'travelling child'.  A statue of Baby Jesus that was taken to the Holy Land, blessed by the Pope in Rome and returned to Cuenca in 1961is the focus of these Christmas Eve festivities. The procession is one of a series of Cuencan Pasadas that involve representations of the newborn Jesus, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent and continuing until Easter."
What a great way to celebrate Christmas Eve!

Blessings and Joy, 

Connie, Mark and Mocha

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Coffee!

Mark and I decided not to give each other Christmas gifts this year, but I simply couldn’t resist sneaking something under the tree. 

This morning Mark asked, “Did you happen to get coffee at the store yesterday?”

“Hmm…urr…yes,”  I said hesitantly.

“Well, where is it?” Mark prompted.

I reached under the Christmas tree, grabbed the small package and blurted out, “Merry Christmas!”

“Wait, I thought we weren’t going to buy each other gifts?” Mark said forcefully.

“I don’t think this is really considered a ‘gift'— more like a necessity,” I whispered close to his ear, while handing him the loosely wrapped package in red cellophane.

Mark couldn’t have been more surprised as he tore into the “paper” and held up our favorite brand: Sweet and Coffee (think Starbucks of Ecuador). We held each other and reminisced about our first “Sweet and Coffee” experience in Guayaquil during our coastal vacation in July.

While I made coffee, Mark and I got out pictures of our trip and did a play-by-play account of each glorious day: Los Frailes (the most beautiful beach in Ecuador--possibly South America); our trip to Isla de la Plata, my first whale watching experience, our leisurely walks along the beach at night and breakfast each morning at our favorite café in Puerto Lopez (La Ballena – The Whale Café), where we soaked in an ocean view paired with the best French Toast I’ve ever tasted. But it’s the cappuccino that I remember the most; it was literally a “bowl”—not a cup. The foam was meringue-like and had me begging for seconds!

Is it any wonder that we came back from our vacation in paradise with a bag of “Sweet and Coffee” in our “mochila” (backpack)? This morning as we enjoyed Christmas Coffee on our balcony overlooking the Tomebamba River, we toasted to our memorable vacation and made reservations for our return trip, so we can once again bask in the glow of Ecuadorian sunsets, collect whole sand dollars on the pristine beaches of Los Frailes, and enjoy breakfast at La Ballena.

Truth be told; it’s not really about the coffee. It’s about all the experiences that come with it and this morning we re-lived one of those.

Our Christmas tree is decorated with reminders of Puerto Lopez—white sand dollars looped with red ribbon. Simple but elegant.

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without our favorite coffee and this morning we enjoyed the perfect blend!

May you find
health, happiness and peace
during this Holiday Season!

Feliz Navidad

Connie, Mark and Mocha

Technorati Tags: Christmas 2011, Puerto Lopez, Isla de la Plata, Sweet and Coffee, Guayaquil

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Feliz Navidad!

After standing in line at the "correo" (post office) today, I thought there has to be a better way to send Christmas cards, so this is our gift to you with love from Cuenca, Ecuador. Enjoy!

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My apologies to all the e-mail blog readers who weren't able to see the card. Click here to view it.

Happy Holidays from Cuenca!

Connie, Mark and Mocha

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jellied Cranberry Sauce?!?

"Mark, can you believe it?" I gasped, while moving my shopping cart closer to get a better look at the top shelf. "It's Ocean Spray Cranberries!" I shouted, jumping up and down!

Truth be told, I don't even like cranberries: whole, jellied or in a sauce. It's just the idea that SuperMaxi carried it (just in case I changed my mind!).

I know Thanksgiving is history, but Christmas is just around the corner and the thought of a bowl full of cranberries sounds absolutely delightful at this point.

My hubby briefly looked at the price ($2.59) and gave me a downward glance which meant,"How much does this really mean to you?"

I clutched the can close to my heart and whispered, "It's priceless!"

“Okay,” my hubby smirked in satisfaction, “you can put it in the cart.” 

"Thank-you...thank-you...thank-you!" I chimed, placing it in the shopping cart before he changed his mind.

When you compare the fact that Jif Peanut Butter is almost $8.00 for a medium-sized jar, I felt like I had won the lottery!

We don't normally shop at The Gringo Store (SuperMaxi), but when we do there are surprises around every corner. Tomorrow, I'm going on the hunt for Rocky Road Marshmallows (LARGE), and see what I can find.

I'll be reporting back...

Until next time...hasta luego!

Technorati Tags: cost of living in Ecuador, SuperMaxi, food costs in Ecuador

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Friday, December 16, 2011

English Students!

I had the privilege of being able to talk to several classes at the University of Cuenca this week and on Wednesday I was at the Polytechnical University (Salesiana). I was impressed with the school's campus (murals everywhere), and more importantly the caliber of the students. The English Club asked me to speak to some of their students and it was so interesting to hear about their backgrounds--many of whom studied in the States in an exchange program.

Left to right:  Carlos, Gaby, Diana, and Xavier

I met with Carlos, Gaby, Xavier and Diana all of whom are studying different majors (social marketing, accounting to electrical engineering) and their English is perfect! It was interesting to listen to their goals, their dreams and aspirations after graduation. As with many of the universities in Cuenca, there are English Clubs to help students refine their skills in speaking; however, I have to say that these students don't need improvement! They are incredibly bright, energetic and sincere. I count it a privilege to be able to learn from them and hopefully to shed some light on problems and challenges that they may face in the future as they enter their chosen professions. 

Today I spoke at the University of Cuenca about Living and Retiring in Cuenca and the emerging expat explosion in Cuenca. I think it's just starting to sink in about how the tourism industry of Cuenca will be booming in the next few years and how they're going to have to accommodate the influx of foreigners--many of whom will be staying long-term. They're being proactive in their thinking and realize their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Cuenca will look much differently in five years, but the heart of the city will remain the same--the cultural capital of Ecuador.

We can already see the makings of a new transportation system "tranvia" (tram) that will encircle the city and the problem areas like the "redondel" on Avenida de las Americas will soon divert traffic under a tunnel which will create a lot less confusion during peak traffic times.

Future planning will determine the future of Cuenca and the city is working hard toward a plan that will accommodate not only its present residents, but for tourists who may someday call Cuenca home! So if you're planning a trip to Cuenca, now is the time to visit (December - February).

And now back to my Christmas shopping via the online stores. Our son left us an iPhone during his recent visit to Cuenca and I just found the perfect little gadget to "park" it!

Until next time...hasta luego!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rainy Days and Tuesdays

Okay, I'll admit it; it rains a lot in Cuenca (even when it's not supposed to). And "yes" I've heard that people have moved away from this lovely city because they just can't tolerate the cold and the rain. Well, I'm not so sure about the cold part, but the rain does tend to get on my nerves a tad bit.

There are a few things I wish I had packed in my suitcase: lots of colorful rain boots, rain gear (rain coats with hoods), and Tote umbrellas in every size and color. That way, when it rains I can skip along with my boots and I don't have to worry about being splashed from head to toe by the big blue buses that seem to make it their purpose to hunt me down on every corner and make sure I'm drenching wet!

Really, I don't mind, but when I have to be somewhere (all dressed up), it makes me wish that I had carried a huge black garbage bag and plopped it over my head (with a few holes for my nose and eyes). Last night I had my "Tandem Club" at the University of Cuenca and it was beautiful when I entered the building, but soon the pitter patter of raindrops started and by the time I left there was a torrential downpour.

There were no taxis in sight (all were full), but I made the Magnolia Cafe my refuge. If you have to be stuck in a rainstorm, you might as well enjoy a great chicken salad sandwich and a warm cappuccino. I even managed to draft a Chicken Soup story out of the whole ordeal, so it was worth it. It gave me time to dry out, call my favorite taxi driver, and make my list for the States (in August) of all the splashy rain boots in hot pink with polka dots and colorful umbrellas. And I think a raincoat with a zip-out lining might even make me look forward to the rain.  And just for kicks and giggles, I just might order a yellow slicker for Mocha!

To all you Ecuadorian Expat Wannabees...listen up! Pack up your rain gear.

Oh, and did I fail to mention...there's outdoor sitting with or without the rain (with heaters). Vive Magnolia Cafe!

Better yet, sit inside where it's really warm and cozy, but don't take "my" sofa!

Magnolia Cafe is located in the Otorongo Plaza -- can't miss it (red doors)!

Until next time...hasta luego!

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