Monday, April 30, 2012

A Walk in the Park

Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park), even though it's not in the middle of the city, is Cuenca's Central Park. It's a short 10 minute walk from our home and we've been wanting to visit there for some time, but the persistently gloomy weather we've been experiencing kept interfering with our plans.

Yesterday was beautiful and sunny so off we went for a stroll. We figured there would probably be a lot of people there and we were correct.

On the edge of the park vendors had food items galore

(No, this isn't ice cream. It's some kind of creamy stuff, but I've never had the nerve to try it.)

and of course there's always the "food court."

Even though the park was jam packed with thousands of locals

it didn't seem so crowded because of the sheer vastness and beauty of the area.

Families were gathered everywhere,

kids were all over the playground equipment (solid metal--remember those days?),

riding ponies,

and maneuvering paddleboats.

Dogs of every size and variety enjoyed the outdoors,

and sweethearts were tucked into nooks and crannies.

Cuencanos love their three man volleyball

and of course their futbol.

Security is ever-present but hardly seems necessary.

At the end of Paradise Park, where the Tomebamba and Yununcay Rivers converge, is a deep forest you can wander through either on a path or an elevated walkway.

The spot where the rivers come together is one of my favorites in all of Cuenca.

It's so peaceful being among towering eucalyptus trees

and catching glimpses of the rushing river.

Being out in amazing nature and feeling the happy energy of so many people just enjoying life was quite uplifting. Our spirits were high as we began our walk home.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Painting Class

One of the things I looked forward to pursuing in retirement was more involvement in the arts. I've always been pretty good at drawing and thought I might have talent in other areas. Years ago I took a sculpting class and produced this piece,

but life seemed to keep getting in the way of regular instruction. We moved here, and although a valid point can be made that I've now got all the time in the world, no art seemed to be happening. Finally several months ago I sat down at a canvas and this was the result.

I was pleased with the painting but, my God, it took forever! With zero training and technique I bumbled my way through and was thoroughly weary of the whole thing by the time I said, "Enough!"

So I've started a painting class. Gary Myers, a retired art teacher from New Mexico with 25 years experience, recently moved here and was persuaded to share his expertise with Cuenca. His guidance is both personal and positive, and after only two sessions I've learned so much.

I told Gary my main objective was to learn how to paint faster. I'm using acrylics for the first time, and they are so much easier and quicker to clean up than the oils I was using before. Here's the canvas I'm working on after lesson #1,

and this is what it looked like when I left on Friday:

These 3+ hours of work would have taken probably 3 days previously, so I think I'm heading in the right direction. I've got four more classes; I'll probably indulge myself and post "progress reports" along the way.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What a Surreal Week

Wednesday night we celebrated the 78th birthday of one of our dear friends. He's in pretty darned great health overall, he's loving life, and, boy, did we celebrate! Tomorrow afternoon we'll attend a celebration of a much different sort. Another friend recently and unexpectedly passed WAY too soon. He also was enjoying a wonderful retirement here when out of nowhere a sudden health issue took him away from us. In reflecting on these two lives I ask myself, "What is the lesson?" Can it be any more clear that we must celebrate every day, every moment of every day? The future is promised to no one. How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking, "If I can just get past this?" "If I hang in there blah-blah-blah----." If-if-if. You can do all the right things--eat healthy, exercise, meditate, think positive thoughts. Maybe like our first friend you'll beat the actuarial tables. Or maybe in spite of all that proactivity your DNA will flip a switch and---everything changes. These two events, these celebrations, reinforce for me an intention to live life to the fullest NOW. Why postpone my joy? Why define my life with "maybe?" Or "some day?" If our second friend could still speak I'm certain he would agree.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Quiet Lunch with Friends

You go to eat at your neighborhood Applebee’s or Macaroni Grill. It’s probably unusual to bump into anyone you know.

That’s not the way we roll here. Take yesterday. We met up with some friends around lunchtime to attend yet another festival (seems like something is always being celebrated here—this time the Founding of Cuenca has shut our fair city down since Friday). Rather than eat from one of the street vendors we decided to patronize a rather new restaurant a short distance away.

No sooner had we ordered—hamburger for me, chicken tacos for the others, when some other friends wandered in and sat at the table next to us. These two have very different diets. He gets a hot dog; she orders a black bean burger with no bread (gluten free—she brought her own big seaweed wafers for accompaniment).

The six of us are chatting when another couple I met once months ago comes over to reintroduce themselves. After visiting briefly with them the four of us are settled into our meal and engaged in a free-ranging conversation that has somehow veered into the subject of Zen Buddhism.

We feel another couple standing behind us. We turn around but don’t recognize them. New in town, it’s a Baptist minister and his wife inviting us to church service on Sunday. Talk about interesting timing--------.

As we’re getting ready to leave, our massage therapist and her husband arrive, then outside we bump into other friends who are unloading musical equipment from an SUV. We chat briefly about getting together soon to sing and play.

All that activity in an hour. And this was somewhat of an off day. The last time we were in this establishment we knew and spoke to almost every customer there.

After lunch we wandered through the festival. Thousands of people. We didn’t know a soul.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ecuador at Your Service

I don't know how many of you are reading my new travel blog for TerraDiversa, called Adventures in Paradise. In a shameless plug I'd really appreciate it if you'd "follow," RSS Feed, or however else you'd like to keep up with the going's-on of our new venture.

If you don't have the time or interest here's a re-post of what happened earlier this week:

TerraDiversa went global yesterday when our own Edd Staton was a guest on Ecuador at your Service, an online radio show broadcast on the Overseas Radio Network ( Hosted by Ashley Rogers & Michel Blanchard, the weekly show features topics of interest about all things Ecuador. These two fine folks also have a travel consultancy and concierge service in Cuenca called Ecuador at your Service(, that offers a wide range of customized assistance for visitors and new arrivals.

We were talking about travel, of course, and what's new at TerraDiversa. If you want to listen to the whole broadcast click on Show Archive at the ORN website and choose the second listing for 4/10. But understanding busy schedules, here are some highlights of our chat:

What makes Ecuador a great travel destination?

Most people's knowledge of Ecuador involves the Galapagos but, my gosh, this country has SO much to offer. We have about 1200 miles of unspoiled beaches on the Pacific where you can enjoy amazing sport fishing and from June through October, humpback whale watching. The highlands of the Andes, where Cuenca is located, has birdwatching, active volcanoes, adventure travel, and outstanding cultural experiences. And visitors are often surprised to learn they can visit the Amazon in eastern Ecuador on river cruises or staying in ecolodges. It turns out that little Ecuador, which is only the size of Colorado, is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world!

Tell us about what's new at TerraDiversa.

What's NOT new? We moved to an excellent new location downtown on Calle Larga several months ago. We attended the NY Times travel show in March. A totally new website should be launched by the end of April. We will soon have an exclusive line of logo'd apparel and nutritional snacks for sale, and we are creating some exciting new tours in both Ecuador and Peru. There's a LOT going on!

So why should people use a tour operator instead of doing it on their own?

That's a great question. People who choose to use a tour operator are looking for a different travel experience than do-it-yourself travelers. They want to have comfortable transportation instead of public buses, they appreciate the expertise of trained guides, and they genuinely enjoy the camaraderie of sharing their excursions with others. We consider ourselves travel specialists and work hard to listen to our customers and always exceed their expectations.

What kinds of tours does TerraDiversa offer, and what are the most popular trips?

We have both day trips and multi-day tours throughout Ecuador and Peru, generally grouped into Cultural Journeys and Adventure Travel. And since TerraDiversa's founder, Juan Heredia, started his career as a tour guide in the Galapagos we specialize in that awesome destination. Our most popular tours are to the beautiful Cajas mountains, horseback riding at our hacienda, and for sure Galapagos.

Thanks, Ashley & Michel, for the opportunity to appear on your program. Hopefully listeners picked up some helpful information, and we definitely had a lot of fun!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spare change?

Apparently I've touched a nerve from the number of emails I've received about my last post regarding new Cuenca discoveries. Rather than answer them all individually I'm going to allow myself the indulgence of responding to everybody at once here.

The public bathrooms are on the La Esquina side of Calle Larga after you climb the Gran Esclinata and head west (up the hill). That's the good news. The inconclusive news is I don't know exactly where the cartridge refill joint and change place are located.

Why? Well, in the case of the cartridges, ours don't need refilling yet so until they do I haven't bothered with details other than knowing that such an establishment exists. For now anything more is just useless information fighting for space in the diminishing memory vault of my mind.

We learned that the change place requires a passport or cedula for transactions. As of this writing we have neither. Our censos were confiscated by the immigration peeps when we returned from the States a couple of weeks ago. Not that they would have helped--they expired at the end of January. And our passports are in Quito being stamped with our newly approved retirement visa. Like the cartridges, we can't use the service right now so I'm happy enough to know I will soon be able to eliminate our ongoing change aggravation.

Maybe somebody else living here can post a reply filling in the blanks I created. Otherwise I'll let everybody know when I know.

PS. Here's a little "today" story. Cynthia's bedside lamp appeared to blow out the plug last night when she turned it on. To make sure what was going on I plugged it into another outlet awhile ago. All the power in the apartment promptly disappeared. We're about to go to the grocery store because our refrigerator is so empty it looks like we're about to go on a trip.


Easter Saturday. Our landlord of course isn't here, and because the power's out we have no internet, so I can't pull up Google Translate to try and call him (he speaks less English than I do Spanish). I call our friends in the next building to ask if I can use their computer to at least try to call and communicate with him. Sure.

My buddy mentioned that his maintenance guy is bilingual and suggested maybe we could ask him to make the call. Great idea. He calls. No answer. We call his sister. No answer.


Let me back up and explain why I couldn't just open our fuse box and flip the errant switch. We actually have such a box, but it only controls individual circuits. The main breaker is in a master box with everyone else's outside the building secured with a padlock.

I ask the maintenance man if he'll walk over to my building and speak with the family who lives in the basement and keeps the common areas clean. I have zero faith that they actually have a key to the lock but I'm out of options. Before asking them I point out the box and we notice that the lock is----unlocked.

We open the door, see the thrown breaker, reset it. I go upstairs to check. Yep, all is well in the world again. Hooray!!

One might ask why the padlock wasn't secured. A better question is why I assumed it would be locked. This is, after all, Ecuador, where the expected doesn't always happen, and the obvious is sometimes----not.

Off to the store!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Live and Learn

After living here a couple of years I've commented that we know our way around town pretty well. Cuenca's not that big and it's not like there are that many choices for a lot of things.

But recently in casual conversations three different discoveries have been unveiled that each time elicited the same response: "Really-----."

The first was something so physically obvious that it's almost embarrassing to admit I had never noticed it. Especially knowing I've walked by the place at least 100 times. I'm talking to a couple who has a book DVD/exchange on Calle Larga, one of THE main streets in town and home of my own company TerraDiversa.

In reply to my question about location they say, "You know where the public bathrooms are, right?"

"Uh---no I don't."

"Well, they are blah--blah--blah---." The details don't matter. Thinking about those 100+ possibilities of saying, "Sure, I know that!," instead I could only reply, "Really----."

My feeble defense for never noticing this apparent landmark is that I don't walk on that side of the street there, and directly across from it is a busy bus stop where I'm concentrating on dodging people as I attempt to pass through. Still-----. Since then I've made it a point to acknowledge the place whenever I go past, perhaps to make up for prior times I've overlooked it.

#2 Someone says, "You know that place near San Francisco Plaza where they refill printer cartridges, right?"


"Yeah, you take in your empty cartridges and they refill them for like $3."


You see, imported things like this are expensive here. In the States my son (sadly) finds a deal for a new printer online every time his cartridges run out because it's cheaper to throw the old one away than replace the cartridges. Don't get me started----. We don't have that option here, so this revelation was significant.

And I've only walked past this place maybe 30 times if that's any consolation.

For #3 I don't have to apologize because it's in a part of downtown we rarely visit. Again while chatting someone says, "You know about the place that makes change, right?"


Change was a nuisance in my prior life but is a constantly sought after commodity here. Woe unto anyone taking a cab with nothing smaller than a twenty. In the grocery store they ask you for change. You cannot comprehend how learning of a location that turns bills into dollar coins (those Sacagawea Golden Dollars so reviled in the US are revered here) and 50 cent pieces can so simplify an already simplified life. When we're about to go somewhere, no more, "What do you have? All I've got is twenties. You too? Oh, crap!! What are we gonna do?"

This time it was, "Really---? Shweet!!"

All of this is to let you know that although I'm by some folks considered pretty "plugged in" around here, there are an unfathomable number of things to learn that can enhance your quality of life. And I'm so happy to find out about every one of them!

OK, Cuenca readers, what other nuggets of useful intel will you share with Senor Clueless?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wine Gala

Thursday night we attended an unexpectedly awesome event. We were invited by our friend and business partner Juan Heredia and his wife to a wine gala sponsored by La Cofradia del Vino (The Brotherhood of Wine), an organization to which they belong.

The existence of such a group was surprising because Ecuador doesn’t have much of a wine drinking culture. And, as opposed to our neighbors Chile and Argentina, virtually no wine is produced here.

The event was held at a large beautiful facility smack in the middle of a neighborhood. This seemed like an odd location, but I learned in the past the whole area was a huge farm that was sold for development, and this main hacienda is all that remains of the original property.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts, given full size wine glasses for tasting, and invited to enjoy ourselves. With about 15 high end wineries lining the perimeter of the room, every table loaded with 6-8 different varieties and vintages, having a great time would not be a problem.

There was a great turnout, and we were happy to visit with friends we didn't know were members as well as make many new acquaintances. Does it get much better than a roomful of wine and lots of friendly people? Of course all that wine certainly boosts the conviviality!

So much wine—so little time. What’s a fella to do?

There was no way to taste everything and not be carried out on a stretcher, so I concocted a strategy that served me well all evening. At each table I simply said, “Pour me your best.”

This plan turned out even better than I expected. Not only did I enjoy the most excellent selections, it also turned out that the representatives brought only one bottle of their choice vintages, so many attendees never got to taste them. Contributing to their situation was my frequent request for extra pouring when I found a wine that was particularly wonderful.

By far the most outstanding discovery of the night was a wine from Canepa, generally a mid-range producer, called Magnificvm. This is an Italian style ultra premium Cabernet Sauvignon that was absolutely mindblowing. At $85 per bottle I hope Canepa is at the next event because that's the only time I get to enjoy it again!

And there will be a next time because we decided to officially join the wine club. We can now look forward to receiving a nice bottle of wine each month, attending numerous tastings, seminars, and other events during the year in addition to the annual gala, and possibly visiting beautiful vineyards with the group.

After two years here, wearing jeans every day, going to Gringo Nights and eating $2.50 almuerzos (lunches) is all well and good, but we so enjoyed getting dressed up and doing something extra special.

We wouldn’t normally buy the wines we’ll now receive through the club, but since they’re already paid for it’ll kind of be like Christmas every month when one arrives. And we can now look forward to future fun events with great wine and camaraderie.

Was this a bit of a splurge? Sure. Do we deserve it? Yes we do.