Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let's Talk Weather in Cuenca, Ecuador!

The Tomebamba River
One of the most common questions I receive is about the weather. Folks planning on visiting Cuenca check Weather.com or Wunderground.com, and then shoot me an e-mail that goes something like this: “I checked the forecast and it will be raining the entire two weeks of our visit to Cuenca!” And that statement is usually followed by a question, “Is it like Seattle there?”

It's definitely not Seattle in Cuenca, but some may think so during the months of April and May!

We have been here an entire year and I’ve tracked the weather with my “radar” and I’ve written down the days that it has rained (the weeks and the months). It’s appropriate to say that there is a fair amount of rain in Cuenca. When the glossy print magazines describe Cuenca, they use words like “perpetual spring” which means there is an abundance of rain and blooming flowers; we have both here!

Our Spanish teacher explained the seasons this way: March, April and May are the months of rain with April bringing "aguas mil" (a thousand waters). June, July, August and part of September are the months of "heladas" (winter), which are characterized by cool mornings, giving way to sun, windy afternoons and cool evenings. The remaining months: October, November, December, January and February are "summer," characterized by more sun and less rain.

The great thing about Cuenca is it's so easy to be forgiving about the weather. Even with seven straight days of clouds and rain, all “trespasses” are forgiven when the sun comes out. Today was one of those days! It started out with clouds and rain. In the afternoon it began to clear and the sky was a brilliant blue with white fluffy clouds (70 degrees). On days like today, I think to myself, How can anyone complain about the weather in Cuenca?

Ice in Cuenca?
This morning when I walked Mocha, I slipped on a patch of ice! No kidding. For a moment I thought I was back on the streets of Philadelphia in the winter. It just so happened that a vendor threw his leftover ice on the sidewalk to “melt,” and I happened to trip on it! It was a great wake-up call. Whenever I’m tempted to complain about the rain, I think about how fortunate I am that I don’t have to shovel snow and ice anymore!

It’s safe to say that the weather is changing all around the world and Ecuador is no exception. Cuenca is in a unique position because of the altitude (8,300 feet); it’s where the weather forms. And that’s why it can actually rain while the sun is out or why we have hailstorms at a moment’s notice.

Coming from a California girl’s perspective, this is still paradise: no humidity, no extremes in temperature, no hot days with little relief in sight, and no snow to shovel! On the days that it’s cloudy and rainy, it reminds me of Northern California during the month of January. When the sun is shining and there are blue skies, it reminds me of Dana Point, California without the ocean breeze.

Personally, it's an ideal location: no need for a heater (yep, we made it all year without heating except for occasionally letting the oven door open to warm up the bricks) and no need for air conditioning. Weather wise, I don’t think there's any such thing as a perfect location, but this is just about as close as you can get!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Today's weather report: The morning started out cloudy with rain, giving way to clear and sunny skies at 10:30 a.m., continuing throughout the day (70 degrees).

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Lifeline: Computers, Teeth and Cookies!

“Nooooooo!” I screamed.

Mark rushed into the study and found me hunched over my pink laptop—trying to revive it! My “lifeline” was dead—not as in the “blue screen of death,” but NOT turning on. It’s strange how dependent we have become in our computerized world that the very thought of losing our “companions” causes us to go into panic mode. 

Yes, I panicked when I realized it wasn’t coming back to life! For those of you searching for the perfect laptop to bring to Cuenca, do not bring a Dell (the parts are difficult to find). But I fell in love with “PINKY” and that’s the end of the story!

My beloved pink laptop is slightly over a year old, but its battery and recharger have been replaced twice. And I don’t think there’s going to be a third time or “she” is going to be dumped! Our first call was made to Jose (our computer guy). He worked in the States as a computer tech, speaks English and Spanish, and he’s reliable. None of that mañana stuff; he’s pronto!

The computer event happened on Saturday at 9:00 a.m. and we promptly gave Jose a call. He said he would be right over. Sure enough…30 minutes later he was on our doorstep to assess the situation. He asked what happened right before the “crash.” And I said, “There was this little message: ‘Your battery is able to charge normally, but it is reaching the end of its normal life.’”

Jose scratched his head and announced, “I’ve got another laptop for sale--$450. And you can make payments on it over six months if you like?”

Not what I wanted to hear! However, there was an alternative suggestion regarding my recharger. Evidently, when we replaced the recharger the first time with a universal (not a Dell), it was too strong (wrong amps) and drained the battery. Thankfully, Jose had a friend of a friend, who owns a computer parts store in town and he was pretty sure he carried Dell parts.

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know in Cuenca! Forty-five minutes later, I had a brand new Dell recharger hooked up to PINKY. And today, I’m happy to report that she's 100 percent fully recharged. The price was a little salty ($126), but it works. The office visit by Jose was $15 (visit and assessment), plus taxi fare to “al centro” and back.

My laptop is my lifeline—literally! Like many expats in Cuenca, I still work (that was one of the conditions of our “retirement”). I have kept up relationships with the editors I have worked for in the past and they send me regular assignments. My office hours are Monday through Thursday and I try to have the weekends off. But it doesn’t always work out that way!
Chocolate Chip "Rocks"
Mark and I celebrated my “new” laptop with some homemade chocolate chip cookies (“yes” you can buy those dainty little morsels in Cuenca). Unfortunately, the cookies turned out hard as rocks and Mark broke his tooth. Today he gets to practice some new vocabulary words at the dentist.

Tomorrow I should have a tooth story!

Until next time…hasta luego!

P.S. If you would like to have Jose's contact information for your computer needs, he's in the book! Or you can e-mail me at conniepombo@hotmail.com.

Technorati Tags: computers, living and retiring in Ecuador, Cuenca, International Living, number one place to retire
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Ingapirca – Ruined?!?

Since arriving in Cuenca, we have heard glowing reports about the Ingapirca ruins. “Oh, you just have to go; it’s the ‘Machu Picchu’ of Ecuador,” one expat exclaimed.

For some reason, Ingapirca kept getting bumped to the bottom of our “to-do” list and on Thursday when it decided to rain on the ruins, we headed down the autopista to “Inga.” The 80 kilometer ride revealed some scenic Ecuadorian countryside with the “bluebells of Texas” gracing every turn. And then on the horizon…the sign…”Ingapirca”!

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but it looked more like a glorified version of the Pumapungo ruins in Cuenca. There were six tour buses, lots of gringos, and a sea of umbrellas protecting everyone from the deluge of rain that welcomed us. It took about ten minutes to view the entire section of ruins—running from stone to stone—with our umbrellas in tow.

Ingapirca is located in the Cañar Province at about 10,000 feet so the weather is mostly cloudy with a chance of rain—most days. If you’re fortunate enough to have sunny weather, I’m sure it looks just like the postcards in the museum!

Actually, I was slightly disappointed because I didn’t get any pictures of the llamas (they were taking cover from the rain). And I have to say that the entrance fee of $6.00 for non-residents and $2.00 for residents would be well worth the price when the sun is shining. We just happened to hit it on a soggy day!

If you’re planning a visit to the ruins, be sure to check the weather report and head out early in the day. We had a slight three-hour delay in the morning as our Ecuadorian friends had some electrical problems with their car and we had to pay a visit to the mechanic.

The entire day wasn’t “ruined." On the way back to Cuenca, we stopped by a cascading waterfall that reminded me of the Giron waterfalls!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Tags: Ingapirica ruins, living and retiring in Ecuador, best places to retire, Canar, Ecuador
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Feliz Día del Padre

Today was a lot easier on the emotions than this time last year (our second Father’s Day without the boys). Not that we have forgotten about our kids (completely); it’s just that it’s easier to cope!

Last year, we were still adjusting to being away from our boys (ages 24 and 29) and we had just married off our youngest son, so emotions were running high. Knowing that Mark wouldn’t be receiving any Father’s Day cards, we were proactive in our packing and brought the “best of the best” with us. The homemade cards with the scribbles and misspelled words were our favorite, so we made room for them in our suitcase.

I think our boys are used to our absence after a year. The calls are less frequent and for Father’s Day, Mark only heard from one of our sons with a Facebook message.

Yep, they’ve forgotten about us!

But Mark and I didn’t forget our dads: we called as soon as we got home from church and had a great time talking with them. Maybe it’s a generational thing (I’m not quite sure), but I think it’s healthy that they aren’t so attached to us. We did our job well—“we gave them roots and now they have wings!”

Father’s Day isn’t celebrated with as much gusto as Mother’s Day, but we knew where to find the action—the mall! After church, we walked to Mall del Rio—the biggest shopping center in Cuenca and I treated Mark to “French fries and ice cream.” It sounds strange, but that’s what he wanted: something sweet and salty. It may have to do with the fact that we lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for 23 years where they eat ice cream with potato chips!

The food court in the mall was packed and we watched generations of fathers enjoy their meal, have their picture taken with the kids, and then open up gifts. We sat next to a large family with seven kids and each child had a gift wrapped for Papá! More than a few tears betrayed me as I watched the love and generosity of each child.

Afterwards we took a stroll down the aisles of Mall del Rio and ran into about everyone we knew! Sunday is a big day for shopping at the “Rio,” but this was more like a Macy’s Day Parade. There were kids jumping on trampolines, families dining out at “La Creta,” and a lot of gift-giving in the aisles of Coral (our version of Wal-Mart).

Just as we were about to exit the mall, a thunderstorm broke loose and we were stranded without an umbrella, so back to the stores we went and did some window shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, but I found some great bargains—especially in the evening gown section. Dresses that were normally $210 were marked down 80 percent!

When the storm started to clear, we headed home on the #7 bus and watched as a double rainbow appeared just as approached our doorstep.

¡Feliz día papá!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Technorati Tags: living and retiring in Cuenca, Ecuador, Father's Day, Shopping in Ecuador
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Enjoy a review of my book, Living and Retiring in Ecuador.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Finished!

I’ve been on a brief hiatus getting some writing projects completed and didn’t realize how long it’s been since I blogged until someone e-mailed me and said, “Are you dead?”

Well, I’m back!

While I was “absent,” the house down the road got finished! It started out as a plot, then a cement blob and now—after three months—it’s a beautiful new home.

The workers were kind enough to let me peek inside the windows and I was amazed at how modern and spacious it is—truly gorgeous. It’s 50 feet from the river, it’s on a corner lot with a yard and it’s part of a gated community. I’m not sure if it’s for sale, but it would be a great find (four bedrooms, 3-1/2 baths and the location is simply perfect).

There's only one catch! While I sat on the front steps—taking in the beauty of Cuenca’s weather at its best—I couldn’t help but notice the next door neighbor’s pet rooster. He sounded like he was laying eggs the way he was going at it. Mocha started barking and the rooster crowed louder and louder. So much for a perfect spot!

We recently had some friends move out in the country—thinking it would be quieter—and they ended up with two roosters and four dogs serenading them through the night. Sometimes if it looks too good to be true; it probably is!

Construction projects are part of the scenery in Cuenca these days: new high-rise condos, new homes and townhouses, and renovations on older places. It’s part of the new Cuenca! But I’m not so sure that I like the new, modern look. For some reason, I’m still in favor of the old Cuencano-style homes with the wrought iron balconies, red tile roofs and large wooden doors. It's what endeared me to Cuenca.

It’s sad to think that this lovely city is somehow getting buried under brick and mortar to meet construction demands.

But maybe it’s just not finished yet!

Until next time…hasta luego!

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Escape

It has been said that Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America and I believe it!

And to prove our point, we took a weekend escape to see some of the countryside and explore Giron. Everything I had heard about this place was absolutely true and the scenery was simply breathtaking—almost alpine-like. It’s hard to believe that in one hour, you can be transported to another world. On our way, we passed by banana palms and papaya trees which were all indicators that we were headed south!
First stop was “Giron Falls,” which is a lovely drive south of Cuenca (one-hour by car). As we headed into the park entrance, we could already see the waterfalls cascading off the mountain. Since we made the trip with some Ecuadorian friends, we let them lead the way!

Our trip up the mountain probably would have been much shorter, but I kept shouting, “Stop the car; I need to take a picture!” Be forewarned: There are “mini” waterfalls before you actually get to the big waterfall—all of which are compelling. The scenery was reminiscent of my trip to Bad Gastein, Austria two years ago. If you take the snow and replace it with white clouds drifting through the green, you have the alps of Ecuador!

At the entrance to the falls, there’s a parking lot (cost: $1.00), which has a “restaurant,” tienda and gift shop. It’s a great place to “feed and water” before you take a hike. Make sure you bring your hiking books or tennis shoes because this is no place for high heels, although we did see a few Ecuadorian women trying to make the climb in six-inch spiked heels!

We walked a few hundred feet to another checkpoint where we bought our tickets for the waterfalls ($1.00 with our “green card” and $2.00 for non-card carriers). We also had the option of going to the higher falls, but we stuck with level one. This was my first big outing since having the “plague,” so I was determined not to overdo it. The shirtless teenager—who took our tickets—reminded us that we were welcome to enjoy a sugarcane drink (a specialty of the region) after we returned from our hike, but unfortunately we forgot!

The hike up to the waterfall was a series of steps (sorry, I didn’t count them) with guardrails the entire way. Half way up, there is a look-out area which is a perfect place to take pictures. As you peak through the foliage, you can get an amazing view of the falls with the wooden bridge in the foreground.

I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who want to visit, but let’s just say that it’s going to be one of those moments that you will remember for the rest of your life. We now affectionately call it our “Niagra Falls” in Ecuador.

Since we’ve had a lot of rain the last couple of weeks, the waterfall was raging. You will need a raincoat; otherwise you will get drenched. The pool at the bottom of the falls looks shallow, but it’s 14 -feet deep and absolutely memorizing. Be sure you hang on to something sturdy when you look down into the pool; otherwise, you just might slip like I did!

Afterwards we made our way back down—the same way that we came up—and took some more pictures of the landscape. Since we worked up an appetite, our next decision was where to have “almuerzo”: Lago de Cristal or head to the Bambu Restaurant in the Yunguilla Valley. We left it up to our friends and they made the decision for us!

We dined at the Bambu Restaurant which is a not-to-be missed experience. Pedro—the owner—is a landscaper and chef. He has created a peaceful sanctuary and a tropical paradise, which leaves you with the impression that you have visited “Hawaii” instead of the Yunguilla Valley. I guarantee that you won’t want to leave this place. Our friends had to drag me back to the car—kicking and screaming!

They lured me into the van by telling me there was something else I needed to see. Right up the road—within walking distance of the Bambu Restaurant—was a “boutique hotel” which knocked my socks off. It was not what I was expecting; in fact, I think I let out a gasp when I walked through the well-appointed lobby and got a glimpse of the pool. “Oh, my goodness,” I shouted. “Is this place for real?”

Unfortunately, no rooms were available; otherwise, we would have spent the night ($38 – including breakfast). I already had my room(s) picked out—one with a terrace and one with a balcony. I pictured myself lounging by the pool, sipping something with an umbrella in it, and soaking in the panoramic views of the valley.

While I was dreaming, our hosts met up with some of their friends from Cuenca. Evidently, this place is no secret and many Cuencanos head to the Yunguilla Valley for its subtropical climate and panoramic views. It’s also home to the rich and famous of Cuenca who have “summer” and weekend places in the valley. The sprawling mansions dot the hillsides and the valley floor. I didn’t see any for rent, but I’m trying to figure out how to get a “day job” as a house sitter during the weekdays. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Our weekend escape came to an end—all too quickly—and we headed back to Cuenca. We left at 10:30 a.m. and returned at 7:00 p.m., but it seemed like we had been gone for days (in a good way). The same trip can be made by bus ($1.00 per person). It’s still hard to believe that so much beauty can be found in just an hour’s drive south of Cuenca!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Enjoy the Video!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cold Snap!

Mark and I have been hunkered down in the house for the past week—waiting for the bad weather to pass! It did not.

The newspaper (El Tiempo) dedicated the entire front page to the 15 days of 5 degrees Celsius weather (41 degrees at night) and promised 10 more days of the same. It’s called paradise with a cold snap!

We don’t have heating in our condo, so we’ve been opening up the oven door to take the chill out of the air which works perfectly for us. At night we cuddle up with four down comforters and I place the heating pad under the covers to warm up the mattress. I call it the poor man’s electric blanket!

But today, it was back to 70 degrees which put a big smile on my face. I was so afraid I would have to delete the word “paradise” out of the book! But Cuenca made a comeback and made me realize once again why we moved here.

To celebrate, Mocha and I took a two-hour walk around the neighborhood to visit all of Mocha’s friends, including Pepe (his friends just call him “Pep”!).

While Mocha and Pepe “talked,” I took in the sounds of the Tomebamba River, the smell of the eucalyptus trees, and the brilliant blue sky—dotted with a few fluffy clouds. It brought back memories of this time last year.

On June 3, 2010, I was jumping for joy because we had finally landed in Quito, after a whirlwind three months of sorting, sifting and packing. It seemed like a “fuzzy”” dream -- at the time -- until we got on the plane and buckled our seatbelts. Nothing will ever compare to that moment when the plane touched ground in Ecuador—to the applause of everyone on board. It was worth all the sacrifice that we went through to get here.

Meeting with folks this week—who have made the journey—brought back a lot of memories of our trip. They too, have done the tornado move as I like to call it. "Hurry up and get out of Dodge before something else happens!" So many folks are looking to retire in Cuenca because of the affordable health care that is available here and I will have to agree; there’s nothing like it in the States (nada!).

We feel fortunate to have the privilege of retiring at age 55—not many are able to do that. And if we make it until we’re 62, we can give our Social Security checks to our kids so they can use it for a down payment on a house. If we were in the States, we would be wondering how we would be able to pay for our health insurance premiums which were $1,400 a month with a $10,000 deductible!

Life is good in paradise—despite the cold snap!

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