Saturday, December 31, 2011

Feliz Ano Nuevo!


We decided not to go to Banos today or at all this trip. Mark and I are just not up to putting on bathing suits right now. Definitely next year. We decided to just wander around the city again into parts unknown. We found a lot of quiet residential streets and a great playground. Finn made a friend on the zip line and they handed each other the seat. The little girl had a dog named Snoopy. He would chase both of them as they rode down the line. I asked her if the dog bit and she gave me some long synopsis nothing of which I understood. Usually I can get the jist of the message, but this time, nothing. I choose to think that she was telling me that the dog did not bite.

We went into a few great shops and will return to purchase items later. We found the Mansion Alcazar and asked to go inside and look around. It is a hotel and restaurant and just gorgeous inside. Mom, we will set you up here in style if you would like. It is really beautiful. Patrick wants to go to dinner there so we may splurge, but I'm not sure it is all that kid-friendly.

While we were eating lunch we kept seeing horses trotting down the street followed by decorated cars and floats. Clearly a parade was forming in the park so that was our next stop. We hung around the park watching everyone get ready for the parade. There was a lot of excitement. It wasn't that long of a parade so we stayed to watch the whole thing.

After that the kids and I were a bit tuckered out so we headed home while Mark and Pat went around shopping some more. Kinda sounds funny that the guys continued shopping, doesn't it. He he. While we were walking home we turned down a street that was under construction and the whole road had effigies dressed up as construction workers on the machinery. It was really cute.

Not being from here we did not realize that nothing would be open after 4:oo on New Years Eve so when we went to get dinner everything was closed. Luckily another resident was ordering pizza and we joined in on her order. We had to call three places though before we found one that was open. Erin is here from Iowa and she and her husband are in the process of adopting a 4 year old little girl. Her name is Audey Anna and she is as cute as a button. Erin has a 3 year old at home with down's syndrome and Audrey also has down's. Pretty amazing people. Erin was a lot of fun to hang around with even though she was pretty preoccupied with Audrey. She seems like someone who I could have gotten along well with.

The fireworks have started and Patrick joined right in. He has been itching to shoot some off for about three days. We hung around in the garden, ate our pizza, had some cervezas and chatted with the other gringos. The kids played with Audrey.

Tomorrow will be a late morning. We can sleep in because nothing will be open. We are meeting Chelsea at noon and walking up to her house. I am really excited to see her house and what her neighborhood looks like. I am also excited to see the inside of her house.

What I don't like about Cuenca at all are the diesel fumes and the graffiti. Both are so obnoxious that it almost ruins the experience. Almost. I can see past the graffiti, but it really is hard to breathe near El Centro and we will have to use scarves when we go into town.

I can't say enough about this weather though. Today was like an early summer day. Bright blue skies, bright sun and balmy breezes. After our walk I laid on the bed and watched the trees blow in the wind. It was so peaceful.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Long Day

This trip is about seeing the city, but it is also about seeing if we can live here. So, the only way for us to do that is to walk the city and become familiar with it. Which means A LOT of walking. We got up fairly late today and headed out after a breakfast of bread. The Ecuadorian diet is very heavy on starches and carbohydrates, and as many of you know...I am addicted to carbs, so this will be a lifestyle adjustment for me. I will have to learn to shop and cook in a way that will meet my family's needs as it did in the states.

We walked all the way to the end of town to visit the Museo de Banco Central. On the way we saw a small aboriginal museum and stopped in for $2 a piece. The inside courtyard was stunning with greenery and skylights. The museum was very nicely done and worth the money. It is interesting to walk down the streets and look into doorways only to see hidden areas that are like nothing you've seen. Inner courtyards with beautiful gardens, well-appointed stairways leading to very expensive inner houses, etc... Before going into the museum we wanted to get lunch. We have been dying to try an almuerzo. An almuerzo is a very cheaply priced lunch that usually includes soup, a meat dish with rice, juice and something else like a banana. When we asked about the almuerzo he pointed us to a place on the menu and we ordered from there only we weren't ordering the almuerzo, we were ordering something more expensive. Scammed! we are learning though. Knowing the language better will help.

The Banco museum was okay. I liked the floor that had histories of all of the different indigenous groups of Ecuador. What I didn't like was a modern video installation on the first floor right as you walk in of a woman being tortured with submersion in water. It took place in Guatemala. It was real and it was horrendous. I have no idea why that is considered art. It made my stomach hurt.

I had a great idea to then walk to the mall and check it out. See what was there and what to expect when we move. I thought I knew where it was. Just around the next corner. So, we walked and walked, and then hailed a cab. Turns out it was a lot farther away than I thought it was and we were happy to have gotten a taxi. The mall was a lot larger than I thought and had everything that you expect to be in a mall. We did a walk through and compared prices. There is a bungee jumpy thing in the mall that we had seen on a video back in Ohio and Finn really wanted to do it. I was glad it was still there. He had a blast. They were really throwing this one little girl around. I was worried they were going to snap her neck, but she was fine.

Attached to the mall is a huge supermarket/walmart-type store. We priced things there and then got a few groceries. Some orange juice, yogurt, a pineapple and some hand-cut bacon. Milk comes either in boxes or pouches and is very expensive. We will definitely need to get a goat although I have seen more cows in backyards than goats. Yogurt is a big thing. Any toiletry type thing is expensive. Hairspray, deoderant, shaving gel, etc...

We took a taxi back to the hotel and then caught our breath before heading out for dinner. Right now Finn and Tali are playing with a message kit they got in their stockings, Mark and Pat are fraternizing with the neighbors (there is some kind of a potluck tonight - they brought our freshly cut pineapple) and I am updating the blog. Patrick met some kids when he went to watch them ride their bmx bikes. He met a guy named Byron. He is 20. They are going to meet up tomorrow night and do some more biking. No language barrier for Pat!

Tomorrow we're going to see if we can catch a bus that will take us to Banos. Banos is a small town about 30 min. outside of Cuenca where they have thermal spring baths. You can also get massages, have lunch, etc... It should be fun.

We are already hearing fireworks in anticipation of tomorrow's holiday. When we walked to dinner some people had cordoned off a part of the parking lot that led to the pharmacy. They had bottles of wine, a sound system that was booming music and an effigy that they were taking pictures with. I wondered if it was their boss as it was a man. After they took the pictures they started getting ready to burn it. Different strokes!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

We're here!

We have been here 24 hours and are starting to feel a bit settled in. We got to the airport around 4. Thank you, Dad! We got through customs with no issues except for them taking every hair product I owned. I blame myself, but I was not happy to be hair productless yesterday morning. I looked like a wet poodle.

The flight was delayed due to weather I believe, but I can't be sure. It went from Columbus to New York and then to Cleveland. I think it was an issue getting out of New York. Anyway, because of our delayed flight we did not get to Miami until almost 10:00. Took a taxi to the hotel and then tried to find a place to eat at 11 at night. The IHOP was open but less than desirable due to the clientele. We decided to order a pizza to the room. Not a great idea. No one would deliver. Finally at midnight we gave up and just went to sleep hungry and exhausted. We had 4 hours of sleep before we had to be back at the airport. Needless to say we were fried! The LAN flight was very enjoyable for an airplane ride. Pillows, blankets, a nice meal and courteous staff. Pretty too. Finn snored most of the way.

When we got to Guayquil we looked and looked for our van service driver but he was nowhere to be found. Finally he showed up an hour late looking very harassed. We were all excited to not be on a plane and to finally be on the ground and on our way. It was fun to look out the windows and see the vegetation and people along the road. Then we began our ascent into the mountains and it was beautiful! That is until we hit the clouds and an hour and a half of terror began. It was a true test of my new "letting go" mentality to let our driver have control and to sit back and just be. There were times that he could not see 10 feet in front of him. We continually were stuck behind slow moving trucks and all of the car drivers were jockeying for a passing opportunity. It was a nail-biting ride to say the least. I read today that the overpass from Guayaquil to Cuenca takes you 14,000 feet above sea level. Once we came out of the clouds the last hour was breathtaking. We drove through Cajas National Park and then everything became very green and lush. Finn slept through the whole thing but Tali oohed and ahhed.

Our driver had no idea where our place was so it took a while to get here. It is an old place and a little beat up, but very homey and comfortable. We have two bedrooms, a small kitchenette and a little sitting area. There is a balcony with a garden below where alot of the gringos congregate. The best part of the place is that it backs up to the Tomebamba River, which is one of 4 rushing rivers that runs through Cuenca. We left our window open last night and it is so loud that I don't need my sound machine!

We were so exhausted that all we wanted to do was eat and then sleep. We ended up wandering aimlessly until we found an open restaurant and paid a lot of money for dinner. It was good though and hit the spot. Mark and I were a bit dizzy and we attribute it to altitude, but that is the only symptoms we have had. This morning we were fine.

Today our goal was to ride the double decker bus and get ourselves situated in the city. We went to a very nice little restaurant for breakfast where they spoke English. Our waitress was from Vermont. She is married to an Ecuadorian and has been here three years and loves it. She does miss snow though. Finn and Tali split a french toast with egg and bacon sandwich. I had yogurt with granola and fresh fruit. The juice was fresh and very good.

We passed a good 4 hours walking around and making sense of the place. We spent a bit of time just relaxing in Parque Calderon. It is very pretty and quiet there despite being in the middle of the city. They have pleasant music playing and the birds sing continuously. People are walking around or sitting on the benches taking in the day. We walked to the 10 de Agosto market and saw the newly butchered meat on one side, and the fresh fruits and vegetables on the other. We were very happy to note that we could use the bano for a dime. It is always good to know where the bathrooms are when you have small children.

We had a great 2 hour drive on the top of the bus through the city. I already know so much about this place that I feel like I've already been here. I recognized a lot of places from what I have read on other people's blogs. My favorite part was driving up to the scenic overlook of Turi. The city below is just beautiful. We went to the Eduardo Vega gallery which is something I had wanted to do. He is a ceramic artist and his work is gorgeous and very reasonable.

We hopped off the bus at the river Tomebamba and walked home for more money. We headed out for dinner and decided to try our first "hole in the wall" meal. Tali and I split arroz con pollo (rice with chicken and a yummy plantain), Finn had sulchipapa (hotdog flower on a bed of french fries) and Mark and Pat had seco de pollo (chicken leg, rice, tomato and avacado salad, french fries). 10 bucks for all of it and it was very good. Then we had the best ice cream that rivaled Jenny's. Three cones and a sundae. 5 bucks.

Right now we are enjoying some beers on the little patio garden outside of our apartment. Everyone here has been super friendly and very helpful. A little bit of Spanish goes a long way and I am happy that a lot of my spanish is coming through. The weather had been great. Everything I have read is true. You need a hat, a coat, sunscreen and an umbrella at all times. We did not have to use the umbrella today, but throughout the day we experienced quite chilly and then very, very hot over and over again.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas

We had a wonderful Christmas this year. Surprisingly, everything got done and I wasn't too stressed about much. I had a few moments though. :) Our program at work went very nicely. Room 104 represented! We sang Put One Foot in Front of the Other from my favorite Christmas movie. I taught the kids motions to go with it and they were the best by far again. The only spoiler was a certain someone who haunted the church and would not go away. My blood pressure rises to high sky levels every time.

The Christmas party was a lot of fun too. Lots of good food and laughter. I hear it got pretty crazy after I left per the usual. I started fighting something the next day and was under the weather for a couple of days. I stayed home on Monday and it was a good thing I did because the school called and had me pick up Finn. He had an earache. We took him to the dr. that night and he had an ear infection. He has now been on antibiotics for 10 days so he should be okay for our flight later on today.

On the Friday before Christmas we did a ton of running around. We had to sign our final contract on the house at 9:00 at Crocker Park. We will know by the end of January if the bank will accept the offer. If they do then we will have to be out by March 15th. It is very unsettling to know that we may have to do a fire drill evacuation and I have no idea where we will live. I am going to really have to go with the flow on this one or I will worry myself sick. After signing the contract we went to Trader Joe's and picked up a few things for the party, and the massage place to get Nana's gift. Then we went to Target and bought new shoes for Finn and Tali since we will be walking so much in Cuenca. Lunch at Wendy's and two stops at the bank to get our money for the trip. All in 1's, 5's and 10's. Such small bills looks like a pile of money. I have no idea yet how we will stash it all.

I had a 2:00 hair appointment after that. I got my hair cut and colored and Tali had a new feather put in. Then off to the dr. for Tali who has not stopped coughing for a month or so. When we took her to the dr. the first time he said she only had a cough and told her to drink honey. This time it turns out she has pnuemonia! Shit! So, now Tali is on an inhaler and antibiotics. Good thing we took her back in. She is still coughing this morning, but after using the inhaler it greatly decreases. I am worried about her breathing in the higher altitude.

After the dr. it was on to the vet for Scout. She has an ear infection too. Crap! All of my babies are feeling poopy. :( Then back to the pharmacist for Tali's drugs and over to the liquor store for holiday drinks. Wow! Quite a lot of running around. We didn't get home until very late. Mark, Finn and Patrick went to visit Grandma Franklin while all this was going on.

Christmas Eve was a lot of fun at Nana's. She invited the neighbors and we really enjoyed the meal and the company. The next morning it was back to Nana's after opening our gifts. Patrick and Erin had come over the night before and it was nice to have all of the kids under one roof. Finn and Tali were very happy with their gifts. Finn's favorite are his Legos for sure, and Tali's is her DSi. She just loves that camera as I knew she would.

My favorite gifts were the watch I got from Amanda and Chris, and the photo album my mom made for me chronicling my life from babyhood to adulthood. It is such a special gift. I started crying when I opened it and I couldn't stop. There are a lot of memories stored in that little book.

We came home around 12 and rested up before heading out to Ann's. I really enjoyed talking with the twins. We didn't stay long though, because we were so worn out.

Monday was the party at our house. I bought too much food as usual. Sorry Dad! It was great to see Kathy. She looks awesome and seems very happy. I miss talking to her. Around 10:00 Leo really started to feel awful. His stomach was bothering him and he couldn't stand up. Amanda and Chris ended up taking him to the emergency room just to make sure. They came home around 2, so I am assuming that he is okay. We were all asleep and I haven't talked to them yet.

Pretty soon I will start pulling things together. Dad is coming over at 3 to take us to the airport. Mark has to get to the bank and pick up a few things from Walmart still, but I think we are ready for the most part. I am both nervous and excited. For some reason I am worried about the language barrier and I don't know why. I have visited both Guatemala and China and didn't know the language so I dont' know why I am so freaked out this time. I think it is because this is going to be our home and I am hoping that I like it and that we fit in. I am also worried about the flight. Not a fan of the airplane, but I have to be strong for the kid's sakes since this will be their first flight.

I will post more once we get there. Bon voyage to us!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

House and other updates





We got an offer on our house. It is so low that it is almost criminal, but I guess that is what the market is holding now. Someone is going to get a very nice property for very little money. Right now we are still in negotiations. Hopefully we can get a final contract signed soon and the process moved along. Right now the closing date is set for March 21st, I think. I don't know if that is feasible for the bank, but I am not really looking forward to moving in the dead of winter. I have to look on the bright side though and realize that the sooner we move, the more money we can sock away. It is a daunting task to consider though.


Dolly and Samurai went to Lee's yesterday. It is weird not having any animals to take care of anymore, but it is kind of nice too. I was starting to dislike going out on cold mornings. It also frees up a lot of time for me, so that now I can work out again in the mornings before work. Four chickens were killed by what we think was a raccoon. We have only two girls left and I was desperate to find them a good home before we leave for Cuenca on the 27th. Luckily, Finn's Reading teacher is going to take them. Now all we have are the two cats. We have come full circle in 4 years. Donkeys to sheep to goats to chickens to horses and back around again. What an amazing experience owning, learning about and caring for these animals. I learned so much about myself and gained a lot of valuable experience.



Weekend events: Spent a great evening with Uncle Steve watching Star Wars and playing on the Fire. Tali, Finn and Steven bonded over Angry Birds. We had a nice steak dinner and just relaxed and talked. We really enjoyed seeing him.



Saturday, Tali and I went to a Girl Scout cookie selling rally. Painful. That is all I'm going to say. We have another meeting this Thursday to give out awards. I told Jennifer that she will have to find someone else to take over for me in February because I have no idea where we will be or where we will be living in a couple of months. Mark, Finn and Pat went to Columbiana. They picked up my new wedding ring, went to visit Grandma Franklin and then had dinner with Mark's harem.



Sunday, we met Lee at Fin, Feathers and Fur to pass Dolly and Samurai to her. Dolly moaned contentedly the whole ride. She is so funny. Our Christmas presents to ourselves this year were nice rain/windbreaker jackets and really good hiking boots. Things that you always need while in the mountains are a waterproof jacket, umbrella, sunglasses and hat.



This week is our holiday program so I spent a lot of time this weekend working on the power point presentation, polishing things up and grading papers. Friday we are going to STRS for the final meeting. Mark has 4 years for sure that we can buy. We are waiting on the paperwork for the 5th year. We are hoping to go to see Amanda's office and then maybe out for lunch before our appointment.