Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ecuador #5 Place to Retire!

As a writer for Yahoo Voices, I often get the feed before it goes live so I was interested in the newest article on the Top #18 Places to Retire Overseas and Ecuador finally jumped out of the number #1 spot and got bumped to #5. This is very good news; I mean...don't you think we need a little break from being in the #1 spot for such a long time?

Since the Reuters article by Alina Dikik surfaced on "Ecuador Seen as a New Retirement Hot Spot," I've been getting about 20 e-mails a day regarding the statement "$600 a month." To set the record straight, we don't live on $600 a month. Our monthly income is $1,317 and we're able to save 20 percent of our income. Any way you slice it or dice it, the figure is not correct. So to all of you wanna be expats on your way to Ecuador, please know that it is highly unlikely that you will be able to live on that amount as stated in the article.

As a freelance writer myself, I always try my best to get my facts straight and unfortunately the article was off by hundreds of dollars. And once something goes "viral" on the Internet, it simply doesn't go away so I thought I would clear the air in that regard.

In the meantime, we've had to postpone our coastal vacation until June as Mark needs some dental work done (he broke a tooth and needs a crown), so we will take a short trip to Guayaquil during the first week of April and stay at the Hampton Inn and treat ourselves to lots of Sweet and Coffee, do the Malecon, and pamper ourselves just a bit before we start a new cycle at school.

We can only hope that the documentary film on expats in Ecuador coming out soon, won't mention anything about finances. Just in case, we're checking out some property in Abruzzo, Italy (#12 place in the world to retire).

Until next time...arrivederci!

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Blessing of the Rivers and Todos Santos Restaurant

Mark and I set out on Thursday for the "blessing of the rivers" near the Broken Bridge and found out that construction abounded. We treaded through muddy streets, hopping over electrical wires and manholes in search of the big celebration. What we found was a group of water worshipers paying homage to the river. Mark and I listened to the chants and decided we probably didn't belong; we simply weren't dressed for the occasion.

Hunger pangs set in and so we climbed the steps to Todos Santos and checked to see if the restaurant was open. It was at that "ify" hour (a quarter to twelve), so we were only slightly disappointed when the hostess said, "We won't be open for another 15 minutes." As we walked out the door with a sigh, the hostess followed us (begging us to come back in).  "We can seat you now," she chimed.

There's nothing like having an entire restaurant to yourself (and I do mean we were the only ones there). That can only mean two things: we were the first customers of the day or it wasn't a very good place to eat. But as I looked around at the well-appointed tables with real cloth napkins and the server with his crisp white shirt, we decided to stay.

When I opened up the menu, I gasped! The prices were a "little" steep (more like gringo prices). While the waiter wasn't looking I snapped a picture of the menu. I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but they snatch that menu away from you fairly quickly, so after I captured my picture we ordered! One of the least expensive things on the menu was pizza ($13.00). Our server explained that it was grande and he was right! Twenty minutes later they served the pizza on a wood plank and it was huge. I had half a slice and Mark had two slices (the rest went into a doggy bag).

It reminded me of the Sicilian pizza that Mark's Nana used to make. For no extra cost you can add five condiments free of charge. We ordered "jamon, queso y champiñones" (ham, cheese and mushrooms). Our server was attentive, but not to the point of "burping us."

Our drinks were served with lots of ice and lime (just the way I like it), and since there's a panaderia on the premises we were served bread with three condiments before our pizza. Yes, it was a bit of carbo loading, so I headed off to water aerobics afterwards so the bread didn't have time to settle on my hips. Our total bill came to $18.00 (including drinks).

Just as we were leaving another couple entered the dining room, so we essentially had the entire place to ourselves. Would we eat there again?  Most definitely, but we would probably do the "uno para dos" thing. Mark and I often split meals and have enough to bring home. We got two more meals out of our pizza!

It's definitely not the cheapest restaurant in town, but the river view, ambiance, service and quality of food was worth it.

We have some time before we head to the coast, so we might try out a few more restaurants that we don't normally go to when we're "working."  Mark and I usually have the $2.25 almuerzo at El Tunel when we're teaching, but this was a nice surprise and made up for the disappointing "River Blessing."  However, I did hear that El Paraiso was where the big celebration took place.

So if you're looking for something different with great brick oven pizza, check out the restaurant at Todos Santos at Calle Larga y Varga Machuca.

Unitl next time...hasta luego!

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P.S. I just got word that the documentary film on expats is nearly complete; I'll let you know the air dates for television soon. It was filmed the day after we returned to Cuenca after Dad Pombo's funeral. Needless to say it wasn't the best timing for us! The film will document how foreigners view Ecuador.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Break and Language Study

Mark and I have finished up our cycles at CEDEI and are heading to the coast for some much needed R&R. We have a couple of reservations made, but we may just go where the wind blows us. Remember spring break back in college when you just hopped on the bus and hoped you made it to your destination? Well, we've got a little of that adventuresome spirit in us as well!

I think working with students has put a little bit of that excitement back in us. The students were all talking about where they were going to spend Easter (spring) vacation and almost all of them were leaving for the "playa" and so we thought we'd join them!

With my Advanced English Conversation students, we celebrated our last day at the Coffee Tree and, of course, we continued our English conversation. I have to say these young people are the cream of the crop and I hope to keep in touch with them at least once a month.

I also had the opportunity to do a product review on a Spanish language program which I enjoyed immensely.  My full review will be up on their website, but in the meantime I wanted to let you know that I love this product better than anything I've used thus far.

Rocket Languages has it over Rosetta and any other program I've used because they teach you the way an adult learns languages with the "why" behind words, phrases, sentence structure and grammar, but in an interactive manner. I tried out their Premium, Premium Plus and Platinum programs and I'm sticking with it 20-30 minutes a day for the rest of my life.

If you're a Spanish beginner, it's perfect. If you're at the intermediate or advanced level, you can continue to increase your vocabulary and fluency in an interactive manner. The Rocket Recorder (voice recognition system) allows you to see how closely you come to matching your voice with the "teachers" (Mauricio and Amy). You can download the audio to your MP3 player or iPod and take it along with you. I downloaded the audios to my iTunes library, so I can take them with me on my morning walks.

Rocket Languages started in 2004 and has been the number one interactive audio language program since 2005 and now I can see why. I actually look forward to studying and with 600 pages worth of content in PDF format, you have the best of both worlds. With each lesson, there's also a cultural section which is very informative and adds to your overall learning experience.
The best part is the user friendliness of the program: you just log on to your account, click on the section you want, and away you go! I found that using an earpiece microphone worked best for me to get the most out of the interactive audio lessons, but it's not absolutely necessary. 

Overall, it's a much better value than any other program I've used thus far, so I give it five stars for price, user friendliness, content, voice recognition and tech support. And with a 60-day money back guarantee (no questions asked), there's nothing to lose.

Until next time...hasta luego!

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pink Zhumir Ice Cream

After two weeks of my no carb diet and ten pounds lighter, I decided to celebrate with some Pink Zhumir ice cream at Mixx Gourmet Ice Cream. To tell you the truth, I don't even like Pink Zhumir, but in the form of "gelato" it's absolutely delicious!

I think I ate my way through grief while Dad Pombo was in the hospital and then going to the States, I realized that everyone tries to feed you before, during and after a funeral. When people don't know what to say or do, they offer food as an alternative. And then there was that box of See's Candy that just happened to disappear over the course of ten days. When I arrived back in Cuenca (a little heavier), I vowed to get back on track. My first stop was to buy a bathroom scale at Sukasa ($17). When I stepped on it for the first time, I almost took it back to get a refund, but then I realized there was nothing wrong with it. It was only doing its job!

After weighing in, my plan was simple: stay away from "pan" (bread), no sugar, and only eat fresh fruits and vegetables (and lean protein). I'm not sure why I didn't think of that before! The next "few" pounds should shed more easily now that I've found out what works. Oh, and lots and lots of water with fresh lemon and ginger in it. I don't even miss coffee anymore.

Most expats lose at least 20-30 pounds during their first few months in Ecuador, but unfortunately I ate my way through Cuenca and fell in love with bread. I'm an unusual case and almost everyone I know has stayed on the lean side (just don't forget to pack your bathroom scale!).

Combined with my new "diet," I've incorporated some water aerobics and at least two hours of walking every  day (not leisurely walking, but at a fast clip with weights). Non-food rewards work for me as well, like a manicure or pedicure which was absolutely delightful this week. I was at Monte Sinai getting "stuck" by the dermatologist and rewarded myself afterwards with a manicure at Studio Morena which is on the first floor of the Consultorios Monte Sinai (Torre 2).

The pleasant staff placed a warming pack around my shoulders while they worked on my "uñas"--making them bright and cheerful (total cost: $5.00). At the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania where I used to go for some pampering, I walked out with a bill about ten times that amount.

Pink Zhumir ice cream is my new favorite, but will be reserved for special occasions (like today!).

Until next time...hasta luego!

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pay Day and Paying Bills

Mark usually takes care of the financial stuff, but I thought I'd tag along for the ride this time to see how I could get it all done in one day. No easy task to be sure. Now that we're both working, it's a little more complicated and indeed it does take almost an entire day.

For those of you who are thinking of "Living and Working in Ecuador," you might be interested in the process.  Since paying bills is pretty boring stuff, I thought you might enjoy some of the flowers in the courtyard of the school where we teach.

Here's what we did between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (all in a day's work!):

1. Withdrew money from Banco del Pacifico (they're one of the few banks that allow you to withdraw larger sums of money than most banks).
2. Paid our alíquota (security guard fees and water) at Hotel Oro Verde.
3. Picked up our paychecks for teaching. Not so simple. I get paid at CEDEI (El Centro) and Mark has to pick up his check at the administration building (around the corner) because he's on a different system than I am.
4. Trotted off to Banco Pichincha to cash our checks. Make sure to take off your sunglasses, don't wear a hat, carry firearms or keep your cell phone on! The guard always checks our backpack before we enter the bank and again when we leave. Try to avoid banks around 12:30 p.m. (or during the two-hour lunch "hour"). If you're cashing a check you will need your original cedula. We never carry our originals, so a copy of your cedula will suffice.
5. Took a "little" walk to Banco Bolivariano because that's where we have our checking account and where our medical insurance is withdrawn. You can also pay your electric, telephone and water bill there, but we forgot to do it this time!
6. Next stop: Centro Pago where we paid our electric and telephone bill. Electric was $27 and our telephone bill was $4.00 (we used our land line a lot more last month).
7. Then off to pay our rent at Motricentro where our landlord has his business.
8. I forgot to pick up a new phone book (available at ETAPA on the corner of Gran Colombia and Tarqui), so we caught the #7 bus back into town. When we arrived at ETAPA the receptionist told us they would be getting a new shipment in next week (hmm...that's what they told us the week before!).
9. While we were back in town, we had a snack at Coffee Tree and discussed our shopping list for Supermaxi.
10. Final stop:  Supermaxi to do our once-a-month shopping for things we can't get at Coopera or the open market.

We arrived back home around 4:30 p.m., just in time to take Mocha for his afternoon walk and pick up some whole wheat bread at our local bakery. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy paying bills! It's not as easy as in the States where you can pay everything online in about 15 minutes, but the trade-off is we don't have to spend half our income at the gas pumps. I always go through sticker shock when we go back to the States. How do folks manage to keep their tanks full at $4.30 a gallon?

Payday and paying bills in Cuenca is a lot more rewarding than in the States: money goes further, the bills are smaller, and the pay isn't bad either!

Until next time...hasta luego!

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