Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Have We Made a Big Mistake?

Cynthia and I have been house sitting for our daughter and family this past week here in New Jersey. After enduring months of constant snow in the yard a change of scenery was in order, so they've been relaxing in Cancun--well, as much as you can with an infant and a toddler. Ironically we're off to Cancun ourselves pretty soon to speak at International Living's Ultimate Event.

In the meantime we've enjoyed a lovely springtime vacation. You might be thinking, "Hey, dude, you two are retired. Aren't you always 'on vacation'?" Well, technically yes, but I find it interesting how a change of scene affects your perspective. Even when you're doing pretty much the same things it somehow feels different when you're doing them someplace else. Do you agree?

We've still gone to bed and gotten up whenever we felt like it, and our waking hours haven't involved anything extraordinary. In fact, Cynthia not being at her usual yoga classes and me not going to the gym regularly are the only disruptions to our Cuenca schedule.

But now that I think of it, that's all the schedule that we have. Absolutely nothing else in our lives is planned. How weird that releasing such a small amount of structure seems so liberating. Each day has felt like we have all the time in the world!

For at least our first year in Cuenca every day was exactly like that. Zero schedule. Occasionally one of us would say to the other, "Do you think we should be at least a little bit organized?" Then we'd look at each other, laugh,and say, "Nah."

Somehow over the past five years we've allowed a whole hour a day three times a week of scheduled activity to creep into our world. And I'm sitting here wondering if it's cramping our style. I think maybe we're slipping. Please excuse me. I've gotta go talk to Cynthia about this right now.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cuenca vs. Montevideo and Buenos Aires

Part 2 of Cynthia & I comparing Cuenca to other South American cities we visited on our cruise was published in GringoTree today. Check it out here!

Friday, May 15, 2015

On the Road to Jerusalem

En route from Cuenca to New Jersey I spent the day and night with friends who live outside Quito. We decided that rather than just hang out and visit, an excursion would be a fun way to spend our time together.

An old magazine in their home had an article about some potentially interesting stops within driving distance along with a map that was in truth more of a "suggestion." There was a time when we wouldn't have set out on a day trip with such sketchy information. For starters, we weren't even sure where we were going!

Living abroad for years changes your perception of such "obstacles." No worries, we decided. The worst that can happen is we get lost. We've been lost figuratively and literally lots of times before and survived. What are we waiting for--let's get going!

Off we go in search of Jerusalem National Park. I'm not even sure why that place was chosen. Birds--hummingbirds--something like that. It doesn't matter. We're seeing a beautiful new part of Ecuador. Anything else is a bonus.

Lo and behold, we find it without a hitch. Maybe that really is a map!

The entryway was chained and it appeared no one but us was there, so we parked and started walking. A couple of minutes later we encountered an official-looking guy who told us we needed to buy tickets at a house we had just passed. Who knew? Inside we found a nicely dressed lady and purchased our admission for $1 each (mine should have been fifty cents since I'm over 65 but it wasn't worth bringing up).

What happened next was so weird, almost like a zombie movie. As soon as we got back outside, people started emerging from buildings--the woods--everywhere! Our dollar even got us a private guide. She took us along dirt paths and explained all about the flora and fauna of the park.

The area was quite hot and arid.

Cacti, bromeliads, and yucca were everywhere.

Spanish moss hung from many of the trees.

It was a fascinating tour, although we discovered from our guide the wildlife we had come there to see is active from dawn until around 6 in the morning. Oh well-----.

All of us were quite hungry by this time, so we continued north and decided to stop at the first place that looked decent. A short while later we parked in a small town that had a couple of restaurants. As we walked around stares from the locals, who obviously hadn't seen many gringos, took me back to our earliest days in Cuenca when expats were still a rarity. The first place we went into was apparently out of food. In the other spot the owner was so kind and seemingly honored by our presence. Three full lunches cost us $6 total.

One more stop before heading home--a, what would you call it? A "tangerine-yard" (vineyards imply grapes, right?) producing wine made from, what else, tangerines. Ecuador's season-less climate isn't conducive for growing grapes, and this curiosity was too enticing to not explore. When we got to the correct town we asked the first person we say where the winery was. She immediately gave us detailed instructions, which led us to believe this place must be the real deal.

Not so much. We got there and saw a sign, but the "facility" was just a normal looking house. Could this be it? We got out and saw a lady sitting outside a storage shed with crates of tangerines.

Yep, this was it, and she was the owner's daughter. Confused about why three expat strangers were standing in her front yard, we showed her the magazine. Looking at the first photo she said, "That's my Poppy!" Seeing the next one she exclaimed, "Oh, that's ME!!" Apparently she had never been shown the article, and we were for certain the only gringos who had ever stopped by.

Now filled with pride, she explained that the tangerine juice fermented for two months then aged another nine before being sold. She showed us around the grounds

and was happy to let us purchase a bottle for $8.

On our drive home we encountered a surreal scene. The distant mountains looked like they were from another planet.

This turned out to be a very environmentally unfriendly mining operation producing material used in concrete blocks for housing. Check out the sediment sliding down into the river. Yikes!

What a perfect "Porque no?" (why not?) day this turned out to be. We didn't know exactly what we were doing, or even where we were going. And things turned out even better than we could have imagined. Life is good in Ecuador!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Food for Thought

Leading a life of simplicity has reached new heights for me this week I've spent alone, especially when it comes to food. Our stove has gotten a rare vacation as its burners have been turned on a total of zero times. On the counter next to the stove a bunch of cilantro has been sitting in a glass of water so long it's blooming. Hey, beats buying roses.

If this single life was a full time gig I'm sure I'd be more creative but it's interesting how my values can be compromised when we're only talking about a few days. For instance I'm generally not a fan of eating the same thing over and over. How appealing a dinner of salad topped with rotisserie chicken can become three times in a row when the alternative is pulling out pots and pans, prepping a bunch of stuff, and cleaning up the kitchen when you're finished eating.

Speaking of which, neither Cynthia or I likes a sink full of dirty dishes so they usually continue to be washed around here. When the normal pile is reduced to only a small mound it's amazing how easily I can look the other way until it seems worthwhile to turn on the hot water and soap up the sponge. I'm proud to report I haven't gone the ultimate route of paper plates--but the thought has crossed my mind-----.

Tiring of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and another damn salad for dinner I decided to venture out yesterday to a couple of my favorite local restaurants. This served the two-fold purpose of enjoying cooked meals prepared by someone else and getting my butt out of the house for a bit of camaraderie. Mission accomplished. The food was delicious at both Salvia and Roux and I got to socialize a bit with the owners while dining.

It's nearing countdown to takeoff next Tuesday and I'm in "eat whatever is in the refrigerator" mode since we won't return until July. Let's see what's in there. Bacon and eggs--outta here. A little fruit--no problem. More chicken and salad stuff--ugh--all right, I can bite the bullet one more time. Some cheese--that plus the fruit will be served at the remaining Happy Hours. Looks like I'm in pretty good shape.

Well, I can't put it off any longer. Time for me to tackle my most dreaded task--washing clothes. I know it's sad and pathetic that a man my age hasn't mastered such a basic task but this has always been Cynthia's job and I avoid anything involving machines whenever possible. I see there's a "Power" button. Oh, excellent, when I pushed it the choice of "Normal" lit up. Sounds good to me. And there's a "Start" button as well. I've got this! Unless I put in too much soap-----.

May the Force be with me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Man vs. Machine

I'm pleased to report I didn't blow up the washer (or dryer--thank goodness it had "Power," "Normal," and "Start" buttons as well!) the other day. You see, I've always had an adversarial relationship with machines of every kind. Well, that's not exactly true. Machines really don't care, do they? The real problem lies with me.

My brain has never been able to process how machines work. The instruction manuals that accompany them might as well be written in Swahili-for the life of me I can't understand what they're trying to communicate.

With cars all I've ever known is where to put the key, where to pump the gas, and how to write a check. It was years before I realized that little arrow on the dashboard told you what side the gas tank was on.

You want to know how bad this gets? I've never mastered what to do with those "M" keys on the simplest calculator you can buy. I think they have something to do with remembering something, but once I've gotten the answer to what 12 x 35 equals I don't know what I'm supposed to remember.

My brother-in-law has not one but several of those tool chest of drawer things that stand five feet tall in his garage. Plus all these other contraptions that look to me like characters in a Transformers movie. Somehow I've managed to survive for 66 years with a little red tackle box containing such basic tools that one might guess I purchased them at Fred Flintstone's yard sale.

My absolute worst nightmare is when something goes haywire with my computer. Which seems to happen quite often. Suddenly out of nowhere some rogue predator is released from the bowels of Hell that changes my search engine or starts bombarding me with pop-up ads.

Most recently Skype quit working and Mozilla was crashing like twenty times a day. Restarting the computer (my go-to solution for everything) didn't work, nor did the power of prayer. What to do? After Googling my problems (between crashes) and finding answers that either didn't help or were beyond my comprehension I decided to throw shit against the wall and see what stuck.

I downloaded anti-malware programs, system cleaners, and anything else I could think of to exorcise these demons. Guess what? After giving my computer a super-sized software enema it works just fine again! Which of the many weapons I hurled did the trick? Do you think I care?

It's inevitable the day will come when I have to discard the cheap piece of crap cell phone I now use for a smart phone. Or smart watch. Or maybe some stylish smart sunglasses. I'm open to the cool possibilities these gizmos offer, but understand I starting from the position of regarding an app as something you order before the main course.

In the meantime I'll keep plodding along one load of clothes, computer crisis, and phone call at a time. To tell you the truth, all of that suits me just fine.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

New Gig

GringoTree is an online publication serving the Cuenca community. Formerly more of a Craigslist sort of idea highlighting recommendations, items for sale, apartments for rent, and upcoming events, the site had a grand re-opening yesterday with a greatly expanded format.

Cynthia and I are excited about this new direction and have agreed to be regular columnists. Usually I'm the writer and Cynthia is my proofreader and editor. We're breaking new ground here by co-writing our pieces in the form of free-wheeling conversations. We've never collaborated like this before and have found it to be a blast!

I invite you to check out our very first article and let us know what you think. We're making this up as we go and your feedback is appreciated.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sounds of Silence

Cynthia left for the States to visit our family on Monday night and I'll be joining her next week. In the past I haven't been my "best self" in her absence. This time I've got a lot of writing to do preparing two presentations we'll be delivering at the upcoming IL Ultimate Event in Cancun so I'll be able to keep myself occupied.

I realized as I was making breakfast today that since Cynthia left, except for a brief conversation when she arrived in Newark yesterday morning, I hadn't uttered one syllable aloud since I told her goodbye at the airport. Anyone who knows me well is aware that silence isn't one of my natural traits. If I was a monk in a previous life it must have been a miserable existence.

My revelation made me realize that having another person in your life, be it a roommate, live-in, or spouse, allows you the simple joy and pleasure of having someone to talk to. My sweetheart and I have been together so long (44 years in July) I must admit I just take it for granted that she's nearby whenever I want to share something with her.

I don't like this environment one bit, so it makes me wonder how all you single folks do it. Are you quiet all the time around the house, or do you talk to yourself because, what the hell, there's no one there to tell you that's kind of weird anyway? Do you chat on the phone a lot, or get together with friends? I am sincerely curious about what you do to bring human interaction into your life. Or if you do anything.

Now I'm talking about real conversation--you know, where people are in the same space with actual words coming out of their mouths. Not online chats and definitely not texting. God, I hate texting, mainly because I suck at it. In the time it takes me to send a one sentence text I could have called the person, made a sandwich, and gone to the bathroom.

When I was studying anthropology I learned that as primates developed opposable thumbs they could grab low-hanging fruit and climb trees to escape predators. Fast forward to today and it appears the real reason for this evolutionary advantage was to send a damn text. Who knew? Nobody saw that one coming.

Well, I'm off to the gym and then lunch with friends. Apologies in advance to my workout buddies and dining companions--I'm probably going to be overly chatty today.