Monday, March 31, 2014

We aren't in BFE - honest!

We never cease to be amazed at the people who think we are in the middle of an African desert with no modern conveniences available. This couldn't be further from the truth.

First, we aren't in Africa, we are in South America. Here's a little map to help you orient yourself as to where we are living.

This one shows the country of Ecuador and we are living in Azuay province and if you look close, you will see Cuenca.

We have good electric service, great tap water and decent Internet. We have lost water once since we arrived three months ago. If you don't count the power outages while they installed new poles, we have lost power twice and one of those was from an accident up the road from us. Our gas stove is great and so is our refrigerator, albeit a little noisy.

We do have grocery stores, big and small. We do have hardware stores, big and small. You can find most things you need for day to day living. You even can find a fair number of US brands but usually at a higher price. Toiletries abound, albeit highly scented. No problem finding shampoo, conditioner, soaps, sanitizers, razors, deodorant, toothpaste and even Listerine.

Toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, disposable plates & flatware, garbage bags and a wide variety of cleaning supplies are all available both in the large stores like Supermaxi and Coral as well as at little corner tiendas.

No problem finding pens, pencils, notebooks, scissors, tape, paper clips, binder clips, bulletin boards, staplers/staples, sticky notes and all the other assorted office supplies. They may not be exactly what you are used to in the states but they do the job. If you are like me, I do recommend bringing any favorite refillable pens/pencils as well as refills. Another thing to note, the paper size is different here which means folders are as well. We found many more legal size than letter size folders.

We've had no problem in the grocery store - even found Ramen Noodles the other day (good eats when you have a cold). We liked both the Scullo and SNOB brands of various things rather than buying US and paying extra. For the most part, we buy lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Can you believe we haven't  had ice cream since we arrived? We buy milk in a carton on the shelf and the same with eggs. No need to refrigerate the milk until opened or the eggs at all! Tons of snacky foods - chips, crackers, cookies. Yogurt is here but it's more of a drink than a thick food, we pour it over our nightly dish of fresh fruit. Recently a store opened that advertises Greek yogurt but we haven't tried it yet.

The things we have found lacking in the stores are:
  • Non-chocolate cereals. Choices are limited but we have found one we like and we add raisins, oatmeal or wheat bran
  • Whole wheat pasta (we have substituted vegetable pasta)
  • Decaf coffee or tea. We have found instant decaf coffee but we grind our own beans. We had some dark roast decaf coffee beans and decaf Earl Grey tea muled in to us.
  • Reasonably priced linens. You can find anything pretty much, but you will pay a lot more than in the US. Main reason we brought our own sheets & towels.
  • Denture tablets are non-existent. Period!
  • Clothing that fits us...especially socks & shoes!
  • Alcohol prep wipes and Disposable hand wipes.
  • Index cards. I use these for addresses to hand to taxi drivers and haven't found any refills yet.
  • Pseudophedrine and Benadryl. We will bring these back from our annual US visits. Same with large size Aleve, Tylenol Extra Strength and generic acid reducer.
  • Latex free bandaids
You can find an amazing array of computer parts and accessories but most are overpriced or antique by US standards. We did buy our printer here but took a while to find ink refills. We priced a can of compressed air at $17 - EEP! So we will continue to buy electronics in the US and bring them back with us.

There are events to attend daily, most in El Centro, but others scattered around town. For example, this Sunday the road in front of our house was closed for a 5k run (or some measure of run). Another time we had a parade walking down our street.

There are several nice parks around Cuenca. The largest, appropriately named Paradise Park, has paddle boats and Segways for rent! Playgrounds for kids include wonderful exercise equipment as well as jogging tracks. There are several good gyms, Yoga classes, basketball and soccer courts, a ton of museum, art exhibits (mostly free or a minimal charge of a dollar or two) and music galore. Cuenca has its own symphony and their concerts are completely free. Restaurants? You could eat at a different one every day and in a month you still wouldn't have tried them all.

So you see, we really aren't in BFE at all!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Visiting the ancients...

We took our first real sightseeing trip last Saturday with our friend and "go to" man, Emilio, as our driver and guide. We were accompanied by our new friend, Kane, who will be relocating to Cuenca late this summer or early this fall.

The day started early for us, 8:15 and by 8:30 we had picked up Kane and were headed to Ingapirca (Wall of the Inca),  about a 90 minute drive from Cuenca. We had brought warm clothes as well as rain gear since the weather can change rapidly.

The drive there took us through some beautiful country and before we knew it, we were on the last few miles of our trip. As we drove through a small town we saw the community working to help with the road work being done. Unfortunately for us, the road was temporarily closed and we had to take an interesting detour through the back roads.

Soon we arrived at Ingaprica, got registered and paid our admittance. I paid $1 since I am Tercera Edad (third age), Stu paid $2 and Kane paid $6 since he only had a passport, no cedula. Very inexpensive!

It was already cool so I pulled on my rain jacket on top of my long-sleeved shirt and fleece. We had a few drops of rain but it soon left, the sun came out and we removed our jacket. Rather than reiterate the history of Ingapirca, I recommend you read the Wiki page about it. I'll just share some of the photos we took.

After touring the ruins we opted for the 45 minute walk along the Inca Trail. Oh my! I had no idea what I was getting into...this is a small part of the 3 day hike many do. Did I forget to mention that we were over 10,500 ft in altitude? Oh remember, what goes down...must walk back up. Have to admit that my legs and lungs got a work out. There were a couple of times I wasn't sure I could make it, but I did. Phew!

We did a little browsing at the souvenir shop and I bought a pretty alpaca scarf for $5. All the scarves I brought with me were for dressy wear so this will be a welcome addition this winter. Emilio was kind enough to show off this adorable hat for us!

My favorite photo of the day!

From here we headed back towards Cuenca stopping for lunch in a little spot Emilio recommended. El muerzo is lunch here and most have a daily special. We all ordered off the informal menu and the only one who cleaned his plate was Emilio.

Our next stop was at the Santuario de la Virgen del Rocío in the town of Biblian. The church was built into the side of the mountain, with the raw rock actually making part of the back wall, after a priest prayed for rain during a drought and after several days the rain came and ended the drought. The church is gorgeous, the architecture amazing and the views of the city below wonderful.

Of course when I saw this cute little guy and his buddy, I had to snap a couple pics...

Our last stop of the day was at another, lesser known set of Inca ruins called Cojitambo. At the top of the hill above the ruins is supposed to be one of the most spectacular 360 degree views of the area. I say supposed to because none of us had enough energy to make it up the hill. We got about half way where Emilio showed us a miniature orchid...there are a lot of varieties growing wild in the area. We will return another day.

We got home around 4:30, what a fantastic day! I took over 300 photos so this is just a small sampling. You can see all the pictures in our SmugMug album.

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