Our last two nights in Ecuador were spent in this beautiful hacienda in Paute, about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca. Top shelf service! From the moment we were picked up by our driver, Christopher we were treated like royalty. Christopher was attentive to our needs and pointed out many places of interest along the way as well as giving us some history of the area. Fernando, the rooms division manager was/is maravilloso! He is impeccable in his attention to the customers needs and even called our cable company in Quito for us to make sure we had discontinued service as we are leaving Ecuador.
It turns out we had the place to ourselves since last weekend was a holiday weekend and they were packed. The food is delicious, fresh and mostly organic as they have gardens on the premises. The customer service is outstanding! The staff has catered to visitors from around the world and it shows in their prompt attention to your comfort without being cloying. The superior rooms speak of days gone by yet they are updated for modern convenience. Plenty of hot water, gorgeous patios, pools, Turkish baths, massage rooms and two restaurants. A charming fireplace in the original part of the home is surrounded by comfy couches and a bar nearby where you can drink warm canelazo to take the chill off even more. Or sip your drink of choice as you sit on the veranda overlooking the original entrance of the Hacienda overlooking the Rio Paute.
Fernando gave us a tour of the grounds and told us the history of the Hacienda which dates back to the 1790’s. It was a sugar cane plantation and rum distillery. There is also a salon that invokes old Spain and houses beautiful antiques and tapestries from the original home and can be used for meetings, weddings and the like. A lovely pond for paddle boating and horse back riding is included in your room rate. If you EVER get to Uzhupud/Paute you won’t be disappointed by this elegant historic inn from another era.
Hi everybody! If you have been following our blog you know I’ve contributed very little to date. So, here’s a couple of thoughts (hold onto your hats). First, I would tell you that things are really beginning to take shape. Even so, the language and culture is still a challenge, but with Jehovah’s help we are enduring. We just got the approval for our permanent visa, which means we will most likely get our cedula. Our cedulas will allow us to get discounts and medical benefits very inexpensively in addition to other benefits. I can ride the bus as a senior for 12 cents!
Secondly, I want to comment on what I’m eating as this was a question asked of me before we left the States. There are all kinds of vegetables; carrots, brussel sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, onions scallions, corn and potatoes (several kinds) beets, turnips and many more indigenous to the area. There is also lots of meat including poultry, roasted pork, sausage, hot dogs, steak, ground beef and of course fresh fish and seafood including shrimp and calamari. I can get chicken roasted, broasted and fried as well as baked. There’s also cuy (guinea pig) but we haven’t eaten that.
As Chante’ may have mentioned we cook a lot of meals at home so when we do go out it’s a real treat. We both have a few favorite restaurants including a place that serves the best BBQ (not cuy) I’ve ever had, both here as well as in the States, and a great bakery that sells delicious little pecan pies. So I said all that to say this: don’t worry about what you will eat when, not if, you come here. The food is good and there is plenty of it!
Ok, I had to get my rhyming in, there isn’t much rhyming in Spanish. So, the country has been on vacation this past week due to Carnaval…you may think “oh, like Mardi Gras” and that’s close, true. Monday and Tuesday this town shuts down! It wasn’t like this on Christmas Day. Very limited bus service, some field service is cancelled and stores and mercados are closed for the most part too. However, an added bonus for Carnaval celebrants is the indulgence in throwing water and other liquids (let your imagination run wild here) and spraying large cans of foam on family, friends and unsuspecting passersby. Chet had water thrown on him. I had water thrown on me, twice, both times from a passing car but no biggie. Thankfully both times it was only water and not….(again, let your imagine run WILD…ok. stop.) And yes, I’m serious.
Anyway because the students have been out of school for a couple weeks after service one day some of the young sisters and I visited the Amaru Zoo. It’s more like a preserve spread over acres and acres of a mountainside overlooking Cuenca. Lots of hiking up and down to see the 5 different ecosystems of Ecuador represented in 43 animal habitats. Some of these animals could leave if they wanted, but they stay…it’s a really neat place as zoos go. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to see everything, you cannot bring food in with you because of the monkeys especially but there is a snack bar halfway through. And if it’s a workout you’re after well you get 2 for 1! What a deal for only $4.00! Less if you are a student.
Just for posting this I know I risk being pelted with snowballs by all my friends who are braving the snowstorms in New England but take heart…the sun IS shining somewhere! The past two weeks in Cuenca, or more, have been very rainy and I felt the ol’ SAD kicking in. For those of you who are not blessed with SAD it’s an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s like a bad case of the blues…for me anyway. It’s definitely milder since I came here because the sun does shine more than it doesn’t and it’s very green. However, some former residents of Seattle who make their home in Cuenca say it reminds them of that drizzly city. Suffice it to say someone told me we are in the wet season as of mid-January. I believe them!
Tripadvisor and I have a little vacation research party after deciding sun is what we need, because even Chet was feeling a bit ho-hum. I booked us in at the EcoLodge and off to the bus we go. It’s an overnight bus leaving at 10pm from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre. The bus is 8 hours they say. They being the ticket agents who leave out some crucial information. The bus trip isn’t 8 hours directly there. It’s more like a 5 hour trip with a middle of the night (or should I say wee hour of the morning) stop at immigration that took 2.5-3 hours standing in a HUGE line, so our trip really took 9 hours. Someone told me that it sometimes takes only 5 minutes. I think they might have been on something but… If one were to drive, well that would be shorter but from what I hear the rigamarole of going through immigration still makes the trip 6 plus hours. However, we were not discouraged.
We arrived at 7a.m quite groggy and took a mototaxi to our home for the next few days. We overpaid for the taxi, the guy charged us $4 USD when it should have been only S/2. That’s 2 Soles. Basically it’s 3 of our dollars for every one of theirs, our favor. So our taxi driver really took advantage of our early morning-suspended-animation stupor, we paid him the equivalent of $12 for a 3 minute ride when it should only have been about .60 cents. We had to laugh, there won’t be a next time!
Now normally when we’ve arrived at a hotel early they come up with some reason why we cannot get into our room right away…the other guests are in there, it’s not clean, we look dirty…etc., etc., however not at the EcoLodge. They promptly showed us our room, and this is in high season. There are only 7 rooms in this sustainable, environmentally friendly place, constructed almost entirely of bamboo and stone. Plus, they let us stay all day with no charge on the day of our departure. Whoot, whoot! We liked this place.
Brilliant sunshine, great food, a therapeutic massage by a masseuse who turned out to be a sister and regular pioneer! All in all a great, relaxing retreat! Mancora is filled with a lot of young (A LOT) mostly European backpackers but staying a block over from the main drag really helped. We didn’t hear any of the partying that Mancora can also be known for. Just forewarning you. Yes, Ecuador has beaches too, but we wanted to try something different and be assured of great weather. I had heard that Mancora abuts a desert so I knew rain would be unlikely. Yeah, no rain the whole 4 days. Last night we hopped on the bus again at midnight. The immigration ordeal only took an hour this time. Not too shabby. Will we return? I vote yes. I think Chet does too but for now he’s taking a much deserved siesta.
You ever have a moment, day or days when you felt like you just wanted to be led by the hand and have someone else make the decisions for you? To be given all the answers before you even ask the questions? Then come to Piedra de Agua.
Between cedula business, our ministry, getting the apartment finished, getting to know our way around, i.e navigating on the bus system, and being sick with stomach illnesses (me, not Chet and that’s another blog entirely) we haven’t really been “tourists”. So we decided to take a couple of days and take a much needed vacation in our hometown and surroundings. Ecuador is approximately the size of Colorado but it packs a significant punch when it comes to diversity of things to see, do and experience with all your senses.
Piedra de Agua is a natural thermal spa about a 20 minute ride outside of Cuenca. We decided to take a taxi but you can take a #12 or #200 bus. The taxi was $5. I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves but let me just tell you that this was beyond relaxing! We chose to do the Wellness Package for two. The package includes a 30 minute relaxation massage, a steam bath, a soak in a volcanic red mud pool that is full of minerals like magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, calcium and potassium. Next a shower in a volcanic shower, then soak in the blue mud pool (manganese, gold, and quartz minerals) and again back to the shower. Next there is a soak in the contrasting underground thermal pools, yeah 10 minutes in the hot pool and a heart stopping, gasping plunge into the cold pool for 1 minute. Ahhhhh, ooooooh, yikes!! You do that 2x, my friend. For your reward you now get a treat of a fruit plate, some dipping chocolate and your choice of champagne, wine, or fresh juice. No, the pampering isn’t over yet! On to the steam boxes for 10-15 minutes, shower and back outside for the thermal pools, hot and cold, your pleasure. You can swim, float, soak, etc. for as long as you like. Altogether we spent 4 hours there and could have spent all day. We did not have to think about what to do next The. Whole. Time. they lead you where you should go next as smooth jazz plays in the background. There is also a beautiful restaurant on site for lunch or dinner. Piedra de Agua is open from 6a.m to about 10p.m. I heard it’s absolutely beautiful at night, and there’s 2×1 some afternoons/evenings and on Mondays. Check it out when (not if) you come down here, you won’t be disappointed! Oh, and btw the package was $55 per person ($110 for 2 and you have to have 2 for that price). Yes, I’m serious it includes the delicious snack. If you are flying solo no worries, it’s $30 for all the pools and as much mud as you can play in. Massages are $20 extra.
Pictures coming right up. The last picture is of my first talk in Spanish last Wednesday. The friends said they understood it…they are so loving.
12:06 a.m January 1, the sound of explosions rouse us from a fitful sleep. The sky is on fire. Chet is happy to take my word for it and turns over. Ever curious, I wander outside. From our 3rd floor patio I look out on the most incredible scene of my 53 years, (ha! now you know how old I am! No biggie, right?). From every window in the apartment there is the sound and sight of hundreds (no exaggeration) of exploding Roman Candles, Shells, Fountains and Repeaters over the city. The streets are lit up with firecrackers, sparklers and the burning of dummies that represent prominent people in the belief that they bring good luck for the New Year. These dummies are prominently displayed for sale along the streets as the last day of the old year progresses. Young boys in drag stand in the streets and pressure passing cars to stop and give them money. Our normally quiet street is a carnival, people dancing with masks and dressed in all manner of outlandish costumes. Halloween is no big deal here, but this pageantry exceeds that holiday in the States. We had our meeting tonight, they used to cancel it because of the hullabaloo but not anymore. I’m glad, although we had light attendance. A lot of the friends stayed home to escape the foolishness I’m guessing. Next year we will think about taking a vacation from the city.
I wanted to address a lot of the emails I’ve gotten asking for advice about life here in Ecuador and making the transition. We have been surprised and delighted and truly honored that so many friends are reading the meanderings of my wandering mind and are seeking to “step over into Macedonia”. Whether that is here or elsewhere. Questions regarding flushing toilet paper, bringing a pet, where certain congregations are, appropriate footwear, cost of living, etc. etc. are all valid and important questions. Unfortunately we are not able to answer them all. Our lives are busier than ever before and I am sure you understand our inability to get back to individual emails. With that being said, we will respond to 1 kind of email, if you need an attorney for a cedula, we have an excellent reference for a brother and sister here in Cuenca.
Otherwise, you may want to check out these resources:
2. Gringo Tree
3. Gringos Abroad (written by Witnesses for everyone)
4. jw.org (for meeting locations and times including sign language)
5. Cuenca Highlife
all of the above are blogs/websites that offer a wealth of up-to-date information, plus you can post questions with the exception of jw.org of course!
6. Living and Retiring in Cuenca, Ecuador, 101 Questions Answered-this is a book you can download for about $2.99 from Amazon.com it was very helpful to us at the beginning.
7. Go to spy out the land. Our coming here for 3 weeks before we decided to move was invaluable. We heard about rents through word of mouth and actually did not wind up looking for an apartment, it came to us. That won’t be everyone’s experience but talking to friends and taking the time to temporarily experience the life you will have goes a long way in “counting the cost” of your move on all levels.
Hope this helps and now I’m going to take a much needed siesta! Hasta Luego!
Everyday is a lesson in humility and patience…have we mastered it? Of course not! Maybe after a millennium…or two, smile. The lessons come in when our false expectations run straight into reality. “Oh, yeah, well everybody (including friends who’ve been here for 20 years) is saying it will take 3 to 5 years but we’ll be different, surely it won’t take us that long!” Haha! FALSE! it’s gonna take at least that long. And you know what? It’s ok. We try to sit back and enjoy the ride. Calm down, embrace the culture. We remind ourselves we’re in a marathon, not a hundred yard dash.
Chet says he goes a little crazy sometimes over the cash based system here, all our bills were taken care of in the States with online banking. We paid about 20 bills online in the States, we are down to 4 now. The landlord shows up for the cash rent the first of every month, that was very weird at first! Purchasing appliances, furniture, etc. you’ll get a deeper discount with cash and most stores don’t even accept cards. We are learning to adjust. We try to relish the language and laugh at our many bumbling mistakes like telling someone I made a dish with “roasted eyes” when I meant to say roasted garlic! Or that my spouse and I are birds instead of telling them we are a couple! And if you ask for manzanilla on your toast, please expect them to look at you strangely and bring chamomile tea, not butter. Butter is mantequilla. All of this has made for some great laughs with the friends and openings with locals about who we are and why we are here.
Our lives have speeded up quite a bit, as we are very busy now in service, endeavoring to take advantage of all avenues of the ministry including public witnessing with the cart at the big Mercado near our kingdom hall and evening service here, which is a treat being able to work casa a casa (house to house) at 8 and 9pm at night. Not all the friends in all 60 congregations here work their territory at night, but we live in a relatively safe area for evening witnessing so that’s a blessing. There is 12 hours of daylight here year round, about 5:45 a.m to 5:45 p.m so early morning witnessing in the park is nice too. There are lots of people out in the park, jogging and working out on the equipment that the city has built into a lot of the parks. Although it is still a challenge to get our time because we have very little return visits, I do currently have 3 studies and we are praying for more!
Fridays finds us working on the Assembly Hall in Racar, about a half hour from home. Huge storm this past week shortly after our arrival, Chet and Luis, the assembly hall caretaker, look anxiously outside as hail begins to fall. Just an hour prior it was a beautiful sunny day!
Our congregation’s newest and youngest unbaptized publisher is Darla. She is 3, will be 4 in January. Darla, her mom and grandmother are regulars in evening witnessing which meets on Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m, despite her single mom and grandmother working all day until 6pm. One day Darla asked her mom why she couldn’t fill out a field service report? Her mom explained that she couldn’t because she wasn’t a publisher. So Darla said, “Well, then I want to become a publisher!” Her mom explained that she had to talk to the elders about that. So at the next meeting…and the next one Darla approached the coordinator and asked when she could talk to him about being a publisher. No joke! This past Sunday, Darla had her meeting and was approved to become an unbaptized publisher. Darla told the brothers that she wants to serve Jehovah forever.
The picture below is of our service group. Christian, the young man in the wheelchair is 21 and frequently auxiliary pioneers. New service groups are in the wings and this weekend we will start having 2 combined groups at our home for the field ministry.
Tuesday afternoons is the opportunity to strengthen my Spanish with these two lovely companions…Micaela and Daniela, 11 & 12 years old. This picture was taken as we did public witnessing on a path near the river Tomebamba. They are such a source of encouragement and fun! Micaela, the shorter of the two, is a stickler for correct pronunciation and meaning, and of course I need it desperately!
In other news the weather is so beautiful here its really warmed up, not as chilly as when we arrived and it’s sunny most days with low humidity, sometimes showers in the afternoon and then cool again at night. Next month the friends here are looking forward to going to the district convention, the International one will be held in Quito but mostly English are invited to that here in Ecuador. The Spanish convention will be held in Azogues. Lots of excitement among the friends as they have waited for months for this!
Chet thought it would be great to mention that we both visited the dentist this month for thorough cleanings for under $60. Total! yep. Also, chiropractor visits for $15. Nice, hmmm? Lastly, here’s a recipe for a hot spiced beverage typical of Ecuador, Canelazo (pronounced Cahn-eh-lasoh). http://www.food.com/recipe/canelazo-spiced-cinnamon-rum-drink-455405
It can be served with or without alcohol so everyone can enjoy it. Canela is cinnamon in Spanish, thus the name. Buen Provecho!