Monday, July 17, 2017

Painting A Tall Building, Ecuador Style

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it."
-- Pericles

Painting tall buildings is not a job for which I will ever submit an application. Heights and I no longer get along. Perhaps Pericles would say I am not brave enough.

These four painters in Guayaquil, however, are. I hope they had a clear vision of what was before them when they accepted the work.


These guys are each hanging from a single rope, sitting on a short piece of wood, painting the side of the building, bucket of paint hanging next to them.


The building they are painting is tall!


They must be grateful at the end of each work day to put their feet back on solid ground.

Would you consider applying for this job?

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Drive Up the Andes


"I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads."

-- Paulo Coelho


Driving through dense fog is a stressful challenge. Breaking through that fog and getting above it can make for a relaxing drive, especially in the Andes mountains. These mountains are gorgeous.
Driving above the fog in the Andes

Taking the road less traveled

The route Scott and I take from the coastal city of Guayaquil to the Andes mountain city of Cuenca is generally less foggy with fewer cars than the shorter and more popular route through El Cajas National Park.

Our drive goes from sea level to 3400 meters before we descend into Cuenca, which is at about 2500 meters. Fog has occasionally made our five hour drive take seven or more hours.

Neither of us is a big risk taker when it comes to roads. We only drive during the daytime. We leave Guayaquil by Noon so we are likely to finish the drive before 6:30 sunset. If our business takes us past Noon, we stay an additional night.

On a recent drive, the fog played with us. We began as usual, in the sunshine of Guayaquil. As we approached the mountains, a low cloud cover settled in above the banana, sugar cane and mango fields.
Banana field under the low cloud cover
The thick fog started earlier than usual - just as we began to climb the mountains, shortly after La Troncal. It portended a long day in the car. We have done this drive many times. If there is fog, it typically hangs around until the road curves to the east side of the mountains at Biblián.

Ecuador road hazards

It is not uncommon in Ecuador for cars to pass slow moving vehicles on blind curves. Not all of them use their headlights. We always watch for cars in our lane going the wrong way.

There is a risk a fresh landslide might be around the next bend. Most people who live along the road do not have cars so they walk on the shoulder of the road. Dogs, chickens, cows, sheep, horses and pigs all live along the the road. Some are tied up, some are not. It is stressful driving despite being lightly traveled by autos.

Rising above the fog

Not that far into our climb, we entered bright sunshine. What a shock! We were above the fog! We were not even to Suscal yet, where the fog sometimes begins. The blue sky was such a refreshing sight to see.
Above the thick fog

Picture perfect Andes

The rest of our drive was in perfect conditions. No landslides were in the way, people and animals stayed on the shoulder of the road and no one came close to hitting us while passing on a blind curve.

The mountains are beautiful with fluffy clouds floating above them.
Homes are sprinkled here and there along the way, as are reminders of recent landslides.
Farming is popular along this route. Planting and harvesting of crops is done by hand, often on steep slopes. Click on the photo below to increase the size and you can see the fields in the center. Fences are often made with freshly cut branches that grow roots and become trees, which make the field dividing lines living fences.
Small communities and towns each have their own stunning backdrops.
We made it to Cuenca in five hours and were relaxed when we arrived. The fog at the beginning of the mountains was a distant memory.

Do you take longer routes to avoid hazardous roads?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Never Ending Aftershocks

"Anyone else just feel an earthquake in Cuenca?"
-- Facebook post by the author, June 30, 2017, 5:32 PM

June 30, 2017, 5:29 PM
The building began swaying back and forth, as if an enormously strong wind was blowing. There was only a light breeze outside. My husband, Scott, and I were reading in our tenth floor Cuenca apartment. We looked at each other, both saying "earthquake" at the same time.

There was no panic nor even any movement toward getting up from our chairs. We knew it was too light to be a problem for us. We were concerned about those living near the epicenter, wherever that was.

I posted on Facebook asking if anyone else felt it. It was my way to simultaneously find out how far the reach was and to confirm that friends were okay. Within minutes, I heard from people in various parts of the country. Most had felt it and some had felt nothing. Thankfully, no one was reporting injuries or damage.

Scott looked at his Sismo Ecuador application. The initial report was a 6.5 earthquake near Jama on the Ecuador coast, 331 kilometers from where we were.
We were in Cuenca during earthquake, 331 kms from Jama
Scott posted the following screenshot on the Ecuador Emergency Facebook group.
Initial report four minutes after earthquake
It was eerily close to the epicenter of the massive 7.8 earthquake on April 16, 2016 - the night that forever changed our reactions to even small earthquakes. I previously wrote about our experience that night. You can read it here. That earthquake left at least 676 dead, 16,600 injured, and thousands temporarily homeless.

We are no strangers to earthquakes
Scott and I lived less than seven miles from the San Andreas fault in the San Francisco Bay area for more than 15 years. We spent years guessing at the magnitude and epicenter each time there was an earthquake. It was a contest to see who could guess the closest.

We continued that guessing game/contest when we moved to Ecuador. Scott was often correct about the magnitude and approximate distance we were from the epicenter.

After our experience last April, we still try to guess but it is no longer a contest nor are we excited if we guess correctly. We are hyper-sensitive to what might be happening near the epicenter.

Minimal damage and injuries this time
The earthquake on June 30 was eventually revised down to a 6.3. Fortunately there were only five injuries, including one man who fell off a roof. Only one house collapsed (granted, if it was your house, it would be a major issue but only one is a good result for a fairly strong earthquake). No tsunami warnings were needed.

Aftershocks since April 16, 2016: 3771
The Latin American Herald Tribune reported that this was one of 3771 aftershocks since the 7.8 earthquake last April. There is no way to know when the aftershocks will end.

I know I speak for more than just myself when I say we are ready for the earth to stop shaking.

Do you have earthquakes where you live?

Friday, June 30, 2017

3D Technology Helping Animals in Cuenca, Ecuador #WATWB

Welcome to June's installment of the We Are The World Blogfest, where we share positive stories on the last Friday of each month. The basic rules are:
  • Keep the post below 500 words. 
  • Link to a human news story that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood and share an excerpt.
  • No story is too big or small as long as it goes beyond religion and politics.
Thank you to this month's WATWB hosts: Belinda Witzenhausen,  Lynn Hallbrooks,  Michelle WallaceSylvia McGrath, and Sylvia Stein.

I have selected a story found in the Cuenca Dispatch about veterinarian Johnny Uday and electronics engineer and robotics expert Gabriel Delgado, who have brought 3D imaging to injured animals in Cuenca, Ecuador. I may be stretching the rules since this is more of an animal news story but I am an animal lover and I am human, hence, human news story.

Imagine being a bird with a broken beak and trying to break down foods before eating them. I am amazed that a prosthetic beak can be printed using 3D technology.

In addition to prosthetic parts, they are providing cast-like exoskeletons on injured limbs to allow body parts to heal properly.
Prosthetic Beak
From Cuenca Dispatch, Issue 45
From the article:
Animals in Cuenca who have suffered bone fractures or have lost body parts, can now count on a new opportunity to have a normal life. The Ideo company is now fabricating prosthesis or shell-like exoskeletons for missing or damaged animal body parts. Veterinarian Johnny Uday is responsible for bringing Ideo's products to Ecuador. After finishing his post-graduate studies in Australia, where he was first introduced to the technology, he wanted to introduce it here to Cuenca. 

“I started to look for someone who could help me materialize this idea”, he says. Uday found Gabriel Delgado, an electronics engineer and robotic expert who specializes in 3D printing. Uday and Delgado have been working together since last December to create the first prototypes for trial use here in Cuenca. So far, they have managed to help two dogs, a bird and a disabled cat by designing pieces of body-parts to give them an easier life.
From Cuenca Dispatch, Issue 45
Before creating one of these unique prosthetics for any animal, Uday does a complete evaluation of the animal to verify its over all condition, and to judge whether the animal will accept the prosthetics. Some animals simply won't allow their owners to put a prosthetic on them.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Community Theater in Cuenca

"You Know You've Worked in Community Theatre if... 

...your living room sofa spends more time on stage than you do. 

...you have your own secret family recipe for stage blood. 
...you've ever appeared on stage wearing your own clothes."


The majority of my time in Ecuador has been in small coastal towns with no movie theaters.  My husband and I decided to spend the first half of 2017 in the Andes mountains. We chose the city of Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city.  We were looking forward to going to a movie or two while in the big city.

We found something that we enjoy so much more - live theater! Azuay Community Theater (ACT) performs several plays per year. According to their Facebook page, the ACT mission is:

"To enrich, educate and entertain our bi-lingual, cross-cultural community by providing Azuay residents and others the opportunity both to attend and to participate in a variety of quality theatrical performances within the city of Cuenca or other locations as may be selected by the Executive Committee"

We have attended three of their shows this year. The productions include experienced actors and directors with impressive resumes as well as rookies. They have all done a great job and I have enjoyed each show.

There is a new auditorium in Cuenca, at the Abraham Lincoln Ecuadorian-North American Cultural Center, where the most recent show was performed. Photography is not allowed during the show so I took this shot before Menopause The Musical began.

These are the shows we have seen.

Broadway Bound
Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical play about two brothers working to become comedians in New York while living with their parents, whose marriage is on the rocks. Their comedy show hits a little too close to home when the parents see themselves in the show.
From Azuay Community Theater Facebook page

Seven
This acclaimed documentary celebrates seven remarkable women who are changing the world. Each of the women overcame adversity to become leaders. Six have won Vital Voices' Global Leadership Awards. Admirably, the Cuenca performance was a fundraiser for a local women's shelter during International Women's Month. It is hard to watch this riveting show without teary eyes and I loved it.
From Azuay Community Theater Facebook page

Menopause The Musical
This musical follows four women while shopping in Macy's while singing about hot flashes, chocolate cravings, body changes, and other menopausal symptoms. If you are a woman who has or hopes to one day go through menopause (or if you know one), I recommend this hilarious show.
From Azuay Community Theater Facebook page


We are looking forward to returning to our small town lives on the coast but we are enjoying the theater while we are in Cuenca. I am impressed by the quality and variety of their productions. Well done to everyone involved!

Do you have a local community theater?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Quito Layover Tour

Planning

I recently had a twelve hour layover in Quito, Ecuador's capital and second largest city. My initial plans were to read while at the Quito airport and not much else. My imagination had this layover seeming to last a very long twelve hours.

Instead of staying at the airport, I decided to go on a six hour tour with Tours Around Quito. With my flight arriving around Noon, the tour would take me right up to a few minutes before the 6:30 sunset.

Quito Airport Arrival

Gustavo Tupiza, who owns Tours Around Quito with his wife, Elizabeth, picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to the historic district, Centro Histórico.

It happened to be May 24, a national holiday, and the day of the presidential inauguration. We had to get into and out of the historic area before it closed to vehicle traffic at 4:00 for inauguration festivities. After parking, we began our walking tour on Calle la Ronda, a street that comes alive at night.
La Ronda Street in Quito
The cobblestone streets and pedestrian walkways meander between buildings constructed over several centuries.

Independence Square

Our first stop was Independence Square, where the presidential palace, Carondelet Palace, is located. Setup was underway for the festivities beginning in a few hours. Many folks had already staked out seating for the evening activities.
Independence Square with the presidential palace in background
Inset: Police patrols on foot and Segways
It struck me that, while there was a visible police presence, no one entering the area was searched nor funneled through metal detectors. I have never attended a presidential inauguration celebration in the US but I imagine that the attendees area all searched on their way into the area.

La Iglesía de la Compañía de Jesús

Gustavo explained that next we were going a short walk away to visit one of his childhood churches. The church exterior was stone with a massive wooden, gold inlaid door. Entering the church, The Church of the Society of Jesus in English, I paid a guest entrance fee and was told no photography of any kind was allowed inside.
La Iglesía de la Compañía de Jesús exterior
Inset: Entrance door
Shockingly beautiful, most of the interior of the church is made of gold. There are large original paintings on every interior pillar. Click here and here to see photos of the interior.

Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco

A few blocks away, the buildings of the Church, Convent, and Plaza of St. Francis cover three hectares and took nearly 150 years to complete, beginning in 1534. The plaza on this day was frequented by families feeding pigeons and friends chatting.
Church and Convent of St. Francis from the plaza
Again, no photography was allowed inside the church but you can click here for a photo. The church houses a 30 cm wooden sculpture of the beloved Virgin of Quito (1734) in the vestibule.

Virgin of Quito Statue

We left the historic district and drove up El Panecillo Hill to the base of the worlds largest replica of the Virgin of Quito, which can be seen from city.
Virgin of Quito Statue on El Panecillo hill overlooking Quito
(Click on photo to enlarge)
She overlooks the city and from her vantage point, you can clearly see where the historical district ends and the financial district begins. The buildings in the financial district are taller and newer.
View of Quito from the base of the statue
Historic district in foreground, financial district behind

Middle of the World Monument

Our next stops were devoted to the equator.

In 1936, a monument was built on the equator to celebrate the "middle of the world." The current 100 foot high monument replaced the original in 1979. What the builders did not know then was that when GPS technology was developed and used, the actual equator was a few hundred feet from the monument.
Middle of the World Monument

Intiñan Museum

If you want to visit the actual equator, head to the nearby Intiñan Museum, a privately owned park where 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds is found with a well calibrated GPS device. There, you can balance an egg on a nail, attempt to walk a straight line with the north and south hemispheres pulling you in each direction, and a few other activities that are fun for kids and adults alike.
Balancing an egg on a nail at the equator
Intiñan's exhibits include reproductions of some Amazon region vegetation and homes, an explanation of the head shrinking practice (with an actual shrunken head on display) and a solar museum.

Recommendation

I highly recommend Tours Around Quito. Gustavo is fully bilingual and provides day trips as well as muti-day tours around Ecuador. Making my tour even better was Gustavo's narration throughout the day. He is a history buff and loves sharing his knowledge with clients.

This was the perfect way to spend the time during my layover.

Have you ever taken a guided tour?

Monday, June 12, 2017

You've Got (No) Mail!

“I've always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.”
― Robert Michael Pyle, Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place 

Millions of people order products online every day simply by entering their address and payment information. Perhaps you are one of them. I used to be.

What would you do if you did not have home mail delivery or a post office box? I know the answer because I have neither. I can't order products online and have them delivered to my home. There is an upside to this...

I receive no junk mail! In fact, I receive no mail at all. Home mail delivery is not a standard practice here.

Ecuador does have a national postal system. A few years ago, they even assigned postal codes throughout the country.

Mail arrives in large cities daily and in smaller towns regularly. For example, it arrives in Puerto López every Wednesday.
Historic mailbox in Puerto López
Not in operation
People do send and receive packages, it just is not as simple as it was in the US.

Chasing packages
One Wednesday, I was chatting with a neighbor. The whole time, her son scanned the traffic in town. Mid-conversation, he yelled "mail truck!" My friend cut off our conversation and raced into town.
Friend's son watched for the mail truck from up here
She had been waiting for a package and missed the mail truck the previous two weeks. The sender had addressed it to "Her name, Puerto López, Manabí Province." The mail truck drove into and out of town with the package until she flagged it down during it's rounds.

Sending packages
Many people use buses to transport packages. Let's say Maria in Guayaquil wants to send a package to Emily in Puerto López several hours away. Maria takes the package to the Guayaquil bus terminal and pays them to transport it. Emily goes to the Puerto López bus terminal and picks up her package.

There are a few private company options, too. Servientrega has offices in many towns, including Puerto López. We have sent documents within Ecuador through Servientrega.

DHL has offices in larger cities. We have never used DHL in Ecuador but a few friends have.

Outgoing letters
The nearest post office to Puerto López is over an hour away. Some hotels will take mail, as long as it is stamped. Buying stamps is another story.

If you have the correct postage, you can simply look for an outgoing mailbox. I once dropped some postcards into one of these and they were delivered in the US a few weeks later.
Outgoing mailbox
Bills and bank statementsWhat about bills? I go to the electric company each month and pay the bill. They tell me what is owed. It is the same with other utilities. Some utilities will accept automatic payments from a bank account but not all.

Our bank provides online bank statements, available for only six months. Forget to download statements for seven months? Too bad, you are now missing a bank statement.

International mail
When we moved to Ecuador in 2013, we had heard about people never receiving packages. Others told us about import customs fees higher than the value of the product. We waited until those stories diminished before trying it ourselves.

Two years into living in Ecuador, we wanted to receive a package from the United States. A local restaurant allowed us to use their address, which looked a lot like this:

Restaurant Name
Diagonally across from the fire department
Presidential Avenue and First Street
Puerto López, Manabí, Ecuador

Six weeks after the package was sent, we had it in our hands. Our package was within strict import guidelines so we only had to pay a $1 fee. Since that success, we have received a few pieces of mail at the restaurant.

I sometimes see something online I would like and think how nice it would be to order it and have it arrive at my home. Overall though, I do not miss receiving home mail delivery all that much. Especially junk mail.

What would you miss most if you did not have home mail delivery?