Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Day of Living Dangerously

We're now in Durham, NC enjoying daily life with our new little granddaughter and family. I of course brought my camera but forgot the damn cord that uploads photos to the computer, so I thought that no posts with pics would be possible until we returned to Cuenca. Fortunately my son has an almost identical camera and his cord fits mine. Hooray!

I booked our flight to the States months ago and thought I had done a brilliant job of scheduling a mid-morning departure. Unfortunately I recently learned that neither the earliest flights or vans from Cuenca to Guayaquil arrived soon enough to hit the 3 hour recommended window for international flights (more on that later).

We thus decided to head over the day before and explore Guayaquil, the city of 6 million inhabitants (bigger than any US city except New York--in a country the size of Colorado. Who knew?!?!) that is almost universally described as "dangerous." Truth is the place looks pretty scary along the van route through miles of slum areas, but we'd heard the Malecon, a boardwalk area along the water, was both lovely and safe.

Our friend Juan Heredia of Terra Diversa recommended and booked a room for us at Hotel City Plaza and once again his expertise came through. The rate was quite reasonable (he had explained that Guayaquil has a dearth of mid-range hotels--they are mostly either expensive or cheap) and our room was wonderful--lots of windows, lots of space, BIG bathroom. The front desk staff is bilingual and there is even a courtesy van to the airport. Nice!

I never thought I'd get used to the treacherous drive through the Cajas, but I can only describe the van trip over as "uneventful," so to my amazement I guess it's happened. We quickly settled in our room and went out to explore the Forbidden City.

The Malecon was wonderful.

It's a really long stretch of real estate filled with fountains,

meticulous landscaping,

places to chillax,


unusual bars,

children's play areas,

and interesting art.

All along the way we enjoyed beautiful architecture.

The entire area was filled with families, sweethearts, and working folks on lunch break. Security personnel was always visible but we observed no unruly or inappropriate behavior. Having said all this, we agreed that there is no compelling reason for us to return unless we are in a similar future travel situation. There's a country, continent, and world out there to explore.

We had a really early start to the airport Thursday and the hotel was kind enough to prepare a box meal since we were too early for breakfast. Getting there three hours early turned out to be a bust for two reasons: 1) airline personnel weren't even on duty when we queued up and 2) we were at our gate 2 1/2 hours before takeoff, leaving us to wonder why, as in the US, this recommendation exists.

It was weird how many times we had to show our passports and boarding passes (I'm thinking 5) before actually getting on the plane. I couldn't imagine drug dealers or other nefarious characters possibly dreaming up any shenanigans that would get them past even the third checkpoint, but it turns out this was child's play compared to what TSA had dreamed up in Miami.

Good God. There I had to remove so many personal possessions and articles of clothing to get through security I felt like I had lost a massive bet in strip poker. And the system for retrieving and rechecking your bags was so spread out and convoluted it seemed like visitors were being punished for daring to enter the country.

Anyway, it was all totally worth it to roll in here late that night and meet little Addison Claire for the first time. She was waiting up for us and it's been a lovefest ever since. I unequivocally declare that grandparenthood rocks!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts before Departure

Tomorrow we leave for our second trip back to the US, and I have been thinking about what awaits us there as well as what we’ll leave behind. Obviously the focus of our journey is one of pure joy as we officially meet our new granddaughter Addison. Skype video has been a wonderful blessing, but nothing can replace touching and smelling her newborn skin and holding that precious little one in our arms.

Food fetishes dominated my thoughts first time back. I fantasized about good beef, fried okra (hey, I’m from the South), Popeye’s spicy chicken, and a long list of other favorites. It turned out that the anticipation in most cases exceeded the experience, so I’m looking forward to but not craving specific things to eat this visit.

Being 6’3” there aren’t many opportunities to shop for clothes in Ecuador since the population is generally much shorter. I’ll be happy to replace tennis shoes, jeans (part of the “uniform” which I honestly get sick of wearing here almost every day), and a few other items. Cynthia, on the other hand, has a 2 day outlet mall extravaganza planned with our daughter. Yikes!!

And our trip to Montana for our 40th anniversary will be a dream come true. Ever since we saw “The Horse Whisperer” with Robert Redford years ago we’ve longed to experience “Big Sky Country” up close and personal. This is one of the few areas of the country left on our must-do list.

So we’re tremendously excited to soon be back with our beloved family again plus enjoy our special wedding celebration. But I’m reminded of a few aspects of life in the States that are hard to look forward to. One is the return to “nanny nation,” beginning with taking off your shoes at the airport (still!), being hassled about water bottles, and enduring the phalanx of TSA ogres. These are minor examples of the frightening loss of personal freedom that Homeland Security and the Patriot Act have rammed down the throat of the American public (thanks for permitting me a moment on the soapbox). Ecuador is by contrast vastly under-regulated. Trust me, less is better. WAY better.

Speaking of which, you may be oblivious to the fact that the sheer bounty and plethora of choice in the US is a source of stress. A Cuencano friend of ours wants us to bring him back a digital picture frame. He went online to research the choices, gave up in frustration because there are so damned many and told us to just pick out one. I have chronicled our struggles to locate certain items, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how limited availability simplifies one’s life in so many ways. It will be amazing to visit a mega-sized grocery store again and stare at 25 different kinds of mustard. “Yes” or “no” turns out to be much easier than “which.”

Believe it or not, the rest of the world is not necessarily mired in the funk of economic doldrums that has dominated the US psyche for the past few years. Cuenca is booming. Construction is happening everywhere you look; investment opportunities abound; people are happy; life is relaxed. It’s hard to put into words, but the collective energy of our native country is going to be a bigger jolt to my system than the summertime heat and humidity.

All those differences aside, I can’t wait to get on the plane and be back with our loved ones. But like before, it will be good to return to our small, quiet, peaceful life in Cuenca.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back to the Future

It has been awhile since I've written a blog post and a number of you have asked me if everything is OK. In fact all is extremely well. Since we returned from Vilcabamba the focus of our family has been on a very special event that occurred this Wednesday.

Please allow me to introduce Addison Claire Staton, our first grandchild.

This 8 pounds and 20 inches of pure sweetness was born June 15 at 5:08 AM, missing Grammy Cynthia's birthday on the 14th by just that much. There are no words to express our joy and excitement of this blessed event.

We can't wait to head for the US this Wednesday to hug our son and daughter-in-law, meet the newest member of TeamStaton and begin our roles as doting grandparents. Our travel plans also include a fun visit with our daughter and her hubby, as well as a long-anticipated trip to Montana to celebrate our 40th anniversary.

Wow, there's a whole lotta love in the Staton family these days. What a magnificent life we have!