Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nashville, Tunica, Biloxi, and back

Once we got a place to live and a car to drive, we took off on another journey in the US. This was a circular trip, going to Nashville, Tennessee; Tunica, Mississippi; Biloxi, Mississippi; and returning to Silver Springs, Florida. It was an awesome trip, and the scenery was much prettier than I remember it.

We stopped for breakfast at Krystal in Georgia. I had to get a shot of the model missile while we were waiting.

Bruce doesn't drive through Atlanta, so there aren't many shots through Georgia. The Atlanta skyline was lovely, but he was sleeping, so we'll have to get those shots some other time. He had awoken by the time we hit Chattanooga, TN, though, and he got some nice shots of the Tennessee River as it winds through Chattanooga.

As we were heading down the road, the Geezermobile let us know that traffic patterns had changed, and she suggested we take a secondary road. We thought that was an excellent idea, especially after we checked out some of the views.

We were back on the interstate (with Bruce driving) for Monteagle Mountain. Somehow it just didn't seem so big, and that grade didn't seem quite so steep anymore! Wonder why …

We finally made it to Nashville, where we met up with a friend for a couple of days.

East Nashville is being gentrified. The old houses that had such character are either being renovated or torn down and replaced. The renovated homes are looking good. The new homes that are being built just aren't my cup of tea, though. My jaw spent way too much time on the ground for me to be able to get pix. This is removing a lot of affordable housing from the Nashville area, as East Nashville was always an affordable area. Housing costs have skyrocketed in the area now, though, and there are tons of little hipster shops. Shelby Park is still around though, and I had an excellent time getting photos of the train tracks. I wonder if the kids are still crazy enough to try to walk those tracks, hoping a train doesn't come along. I sure hope today's kids are smarter than yesterday's.

We made a short trip up into Franklin, Kentucky. How do you know you're in Kentucky for sure? I haven't had one of these for a long time. It was very refreshing!

When we left Nashville, we headed for Tunica, Mississippi. We decided to take some back roads. It's all about the journey now, though the destination still matters. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw them working on the lines in the cherry picker was, “Ecuadoreans just need a ladder, a pickup truck, and some tree branches to do that!” This is a whole lot safer, though.

The countryside was lovely, but it appeared to be mostly used for hay. There were very few animals grazing, which surprised me quite a bit. There were a few fields of what appeared to be soybeans and others of corn, but mostly it was hay. There were a couple of impressive fields of kudzu, too.

Then, we came across the big city of Pocahontas, Tennessee. The Post office was built on the site of the Battle of Davis Bridge, one of many Civil War battles that were fought in the area.

The town appears to be turning into a ghost town. There were some houses in good repair, but most looked similar to these.

There is a place in Mississippi where they still play donkey basketball! I know my friends from high school remember donkey ball!  Bruce has never seen it, though!

Then, we made it to Tunica. Bruce has always been fond of Hollywood Casino in Tunica, so we came up here to check it out and see if he could still get as lucky as he used to. At one time, it was “good to be Mr. Adams” there. While there, I decided to meet up with a long-time internet friend, too. We had a very good visit. Too bad, Bruce's time at Hollywood wasn't as good. Apparently, Tunica has had difficulty bouncing back after the recession. They had removed a large number of slots and not replaced them. On a weekend, there weren't enough patrons to run all of the table games, and I heard something I had never heard in a casino before: An invitation for any player to join a game in the poker room. Usually, there are so many people wanting to get into the poker room that there is a waiting list soon after they open. I've never been in a casino when that waiting list has been exhausted, opening the next seat for any available player. I heard it this time, though. I visited a different casino when meeting my friend, and it didn't seem to be much different than Hollywood.

As far as the hotel, it still had the same décor as before, but it was definitely much more worn. It was clean, though. They had bolted the sliding doors closed so that I couldn't access the balcony. I was a bit disappointed in that since I like to spend more time on the balcony working than in the casino, not being much of a gambler myself. In the middle of our stay, the ceiling of our room sprang a leak, so we had to pack everything back up and move to another room. The hotel management felt that inconvenience was only worth a $10 credit. I thought that was a slap in the face. Really, the only thing positive I can say is that the seafood buffet was good, though it used to be much better. Also, one of the wait staff at breakfast was from Senegal, and he let me know that it should be safe to visit Madagascar so long as we fly onto the island and don't take a boat to or from the mainland. So, Madagascar is on our list of places, and Tunica is off.

This little guy wanted to go, too!

The Mississippi cotton field were ready for harvesting.

We decided to see how things were going in Biloxi before heading home. I wanted some Darwell's, and there are awesome pictures to get there! So, off we went. On the way down, we saw a sign for the Little Red Schoolhouse. We decided that since we were Travelin' Geezers, we really didn't have anything better to do than to get off the highway and see the Little Red Schoolhouse. It's really a lovely building. It was closed on Sunday, so we didn't get to go inside. Admission is generally free, and you get a guided tour with that admission fee. We'll just have to go back!

After just a few hours, we make it to Biloxi and the Treasure Bay Casino.

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, Treasure Bay was on a pirate ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina wasn't a fan, though, and the pirate ship was destroyed. It is now across the street, and I believe, it is 100% on land now. I can't be certain, but I think the laws were changed to allow gambling on land in this area after Hurricane Katrina hit. Anyway, even on a Sunday night/Monday morning, Treasure Bay was hopping. All of the tables were open with plenty of players. I was able to play some of my favorite old penny slots before retiring to the room to sit on the balcony working while enjoying the view from the cheaper rooms (parking lot view).

For dinner, we drove to one of my favorite restaurants. Darwell's is in Long Beach, hidden away several blocks from the main drag and behind the railroad tracks. It's got some of the best cajun food I've had and some really unique décor. Bruce had the seafood gumbo and I had a blackened Snapper on a bed of bismati rice, covered with Darwell's famous crawdad etoufee and topped with blackened gulf shrimp. Nom, nom, nom. They twisted my arm just enough to convince me to take a pineapple brownie home for dessert. Deeeeelectible! The kid behind the counter is from Poland, and we talked about various places to visit when we go there to visit.

I got a few nice shots of the Mobile skyline. The thing about the Mobile skyline that always stick with me is that you can only see it from one side. Coming from Florida to Mobile, I have never seen the city skyline unless I turn around and look when we come out of the tunnel. If you didn't know what was going on, you would never know you had just driven under part of a major city.

We decided to stop and check out the Florida Welcome Center, which was a good call. They had free shots of orange juice that we sampled. We also picked up a lot of tourist information. The best part, though, was a little photo kiosk. We had a blast playing in that. I love the pix they sent me in my mailbox. I think I want to go back and take some more!

We made it home to our little crash pad in the pouring rain, just in time to notice that the neighbors have a gibbon swinging from their tree! I DO still have monkeys close!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leaving Ecuador, Arriving Florida

We had an awesome send off by friends before leaving Puerto Lopez.  Those friends will be missed very much, too.  Most of our things were given away - old clothes and rubber tubs to the orphanage, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to doctors for giving to patients for free, spices to various expats, etc.  We did sell the cars and some other items.  We didn't take anything that wouldn't fit in four suitcases, though.

After getting everything together and very tear-filled good-byes with our neighbors and their girls, we headed to the Victor Hugo for one last lunch in Puerto Lopez and to meet our cab to take us to the airport in Manta.  The horse that chases dogs on the beach came by to give us one last farewell.  He was at our send-off lunch, too! 

Our cabbie didn't take the coastal road, which would have given me one more opportunity to see the monkeys.  Instead, he took the inland road, through Jipijapa, which gave me one last look at the creepy statue of the woman bending over with what appear to be a basked full of boobs!  Since we were going to Manta instead of from Manta, we only got the back and side shot this time! 

When I flew into Manta a few years ago, on my first visit in the country, I remembered the airport being a concrete building, like many of the buildings in Ecuador.  Apparently, those buildings were damaged with the earthquake.  Now, most of the buildings are tents or made from shipping containers.  It's all very orderly and well put together, though.  I was expecting a puddle hopper, but apparently, air traffic between Manta and Quito is pretty brisk.  It was a full-sized airbus, and it was full!  They didn't charge us for our extra bags, which was really cool!

When we arrived at Quito and checked in for our next flight, everything went smoothly again.  I had difficulty getting the flight sequence I wanted booking the entire trip, so I booked them separately.  Flying from Manta to Ft. Lauderdale as a package would have required we stay overnight in Quito.  Booking separate flights, I was able to only have a 3 hour layover, plenty of time to retrieve our bags and recheck them.  This was also my first time flying Jet Blue, so I was interested in how much room I would have for my extra leg.  (Let me know if you don't get the reference.  I'm not sure how long those commercials ran.)  This flight was full, too, and since I didn't do online check in, they initially had Bruce and I seated apart from each other. We agreed to take the emergency row, though, so we could sit together.  I do like Jet Blue.  Lots of room to readjust my legs multiple times during the flight without kicking anyone.  The seats were comfortable and roomy.  When I had to go to the bathroom, it wasn't the normal exercise in contortionism that I've become accustomed to.  (To you grammar nazis, I'm aware that I ended a sentence with a preposition.  "To which I've become accustomed" just isn't very comfortable to me for informal speech, though.)  They don't give you free alcohol like Copa (I think), but it's a pleasant enough flight that you don't need it!

We landed a little early in Ft. Lauderdale, even though our first approach had to be aborted.  Apparently, there was a grounds crew out cutting grass around the runway we were supposed to land on.  They didn't respond to the tower, and our pilot apparently wasn't comfortable doing his own mowing down of people that didn't belong on the runway at that time.  So, we left the wheels down, but ascended again just before touching land.  After circling, our second approach was successful.  We gathered our bags, cleared customs and immigration without even a second look, and stepped outside.  OH MY GOD!  THE HEAT!  THE HUMIDITY! IT WAS ONLY 5:30 A.M.! This would never have been tolerated in Ecuador!

The air conditioning was good in the rental car, though, so off we went in search of breakfast.  We were looking forward to a real American breakfast, not desayuno Americana.  In Ecuador (and much more of Central and South America), desayuno Americano consists of two eggs, a piece of toast or roll of some type, some butter and jam, instant coffee or tea, and juice.  Folks, that is not an American breakfast.  This is an American breakfast, courtesy of Denny's. Eggs, meat, potatoes, bread with butter and jam, juice, and brewed coffee.  I like my eggs poached, please.  The orange juice was Minute Maid, which doesn't even compare to Supermaxi, but the breakfast was heaven, otherwise!

After breakfast, we headed up to Silver Springs where we had a lead on a little trailer in a snowbird park inside the Ocala National Forest.  It's less than we were used to in Ecuador for more money, but we plan to spend much of our time travelin', and we really just need a cheap place to crash when we're sitting still.  This fits the bill.  It's also in the forest, so there's nature.  So far, I've seen several hawks, herons, and other water birds.  

The lake is full of turtles.  They tell me alligators, deer, and bear are common signs, but I haven't seen any of those yet.  I'm hoping for a sight of the elusive Florida panther, but I'm not holding my breath.  Once everything gets settled and we have more time to walk and stuff, I'll see more stuff.  Bruce was just so happy not to have the rooster crowing in the wee hours of the morning.  The Sandhill Crane Serenade comes after the sun has been up for a while.  


Place to live.  Check.  We'll have to finish the paperwork, but it's found.

While looking at the trailer, I stepped in an anthill.  The Florida fire ant isn't elusive, and they find me quite tasty, indeed!  At the top of the shopping list - Ant killer dust!  Them buddies have got to go!

On our way down to Lakeland the next day, where we had a lead on significant price cuts on a new car - buying new cheaper than we could get used - the temperature light came on on the rental car.  We pulled over and let it cool down, and took off again.  We got to the dealership without incident.  There, we found the Geezermobile #3, a Nissan Versa SL with built-in navigation and a rear camera.  Deep dealer discounts and financing incentives were in place, just as we had thought, so we drove out with it.  A much bigger and better car than the Spark for close to the same as we paid for the Spark in Ecuador.  I can still take pictures over the top of the car while Bruce drives, though!

We left the rental parked at a friend's house since the temperature light came on again while we were driving there.  We rented this care from EZ Rental Car.  When I called them, they told me that if they pick it up and take it to the dealer, and the dealer says there's nothing wrong with it, I would be responsible for the fees for towing, etc.  So, I made sure they were aware that if I drove it, and the engine blew on my way there, I would just be leaving it on the side of the interstate, calling them to let them know the nearest mile marker.  I would not be staying with it in the heat, and I would not be responsible for any damage that happened to the car for driving it after the temperature light had come on.  They accepted that risk and waived the drop fee for me to deliver it to Tampa instead of Ft. Lauderdale since the car was currently in Plant City, and Tampa was the closest place for it.  The light came on and went off a couple of more times while I was driving down I-4, but the engine didn't blow up, so I kept going until it was delivered to their Tampa location.

For reasons known only to my right foot, it decided to start swelling and hurting and bruising around the big toe.  It got to the point that I couldn't walk.  I iced it and put it up, and the next morning it was somewhat better, so we went out again.  By mid-morning, it was starting to go again, and I was afraid it was going to get really bad again.  So we headed to the local VA clinic, where the doctor didn't think it was gout because there was no heat, but he didn't know what it was.  He sent me to The Villages for an x-ray.  We set the navigation system to the address, and what did we find?

A dirt road!! I can do it everywhere!  Bruce said this one was okay, though, because it wasn't on the side of a mountain with half of it falling off a sheer cliff.  Also, he had good visibility because we weren't in a cloud forest.  I'll have to see what I can do about that!

Anyway, the doc said neither my labs nor my x-rays explained my foot, though it did show a deformity that could potentially be causing some problems.  The problem went away on its own, though, and I'm up and going again.  Apparently, this is snowbird central here.  The doctor actually suggested that we get our records transferred and get our intake/annual appointments done "before the rush" when the snowbirds come down!  We actually have things that are closed for the season right now.  Living in Tampa before, we never experienced that.  Tampa had snowbirds, but it also had a constant population.  That doesn't seem to be the case up here.  It's pretty dead right now, which suits us just fine.  It's a sleepy little place.

The closest post office is inside the local hardware store.  I wouldn't have been surprised to see Mr. Drucker appear!

There are "fresh egg" signs at the ends of several driveways.  We haven't gotten any yet, but we will.  There are dirt roads.  You should be careful to dodge the squirrels, raccoons, and opossums as they cross the road.  The signs say to watch for deer and bear, too.  The population is a little on the elderly side and electronic mobility scooters can be treated like vehicles.

Yesterday, we even scoped out the local mercado/cholo mall, also known as the farmer's market/flea market.  This one's bigger than the one we went to in Tampa and has more things.  We spent a few hours wandering around it.  Prices on vegetables are better than in the stores.  We can get a basket of peppers for $1.50, with about 5 peppers in it, and other produce is similarly priced. Even the cubano peppers that we got 3 for a quarter in Puerto Lopez are also in the basket for $1.50.  There will tend to be 6 or 7 in those baskets, though, because they're smaller than the normal bell peppers. Local honey with the comb is priced about the same as in Ecuador, buying it on the way to Montecristi.  There's a farmer's market closer to us, in Silver Springs.  We'll check it out, but it's sponsored by Whole Foods and has many non-local vendors, so we expect the prices to be higher.  Regardless, we'll be buying our vegetables on Saturdays, hoping they'll last  a week.

Looking at meat prices, we were pleasantly surprised.  At Save-A-Lot, we could get a rack of pork ribs for $3.25/lb, just a quarter a pound more than we paid in Ecuador, and they have various deals on mixed cuts of meat for $20.  At Sam's Club, we found lean ground beef for $2.75/lb and many reasonably priced cuts.  Some things were more, and some were less, but if we're careful, we shouldn't spend much more on meat.  Seafood is a different story, though! Good thing I like bass since that's what's mainly in these lakes! We picked up a couple of nice T-bones at Save-A-Lot for $7.  Nice and tender!  Not as flavorful as in Ecuador, but much easier to chew!

We're still getting settled in and haven't had a chance to see many of our stateside friends yet.  We haven't even let some of them know we're in town yet because we know we aren't going to be able to see them before we scoot out again for a little while.  The newness of being back is beginning to wear off, and we're starting to settle in.  The basic needs have been met, and I now have time to write.  I've seen several places that I want to explore more and take some time to get some good pictures.  We haven't found the trail heads and the awesome springs that are supposed to be here, but we haven't had the opportunity to look for those yet.  To busy getting set up for living back in the US.

The park we're in is kind of run down, but it keeps the wildlife coming in, and the view from the porch is awesome!

As we explore more, both close and far, we'll post more!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What we WILL Miss About Ecuador

I learned a few interesting things with the last post. The major thing I learned is that if we ever need to boost our reach, the formula is to say something mildly negative about Ecuador and let people who live in Cuenca see it. Our reach more than doubled. Thanks! If you count the people who sent private messages apologizing for the behavior of some Facebook commenters in the Ecuador expat boards, most people recognized that everything I mentioned is experienced in various parts of Ecuador. Some folks assured me that there actually are suicide showers, speed bumps, import taxes, tough beef, and even periodic power outages in Cuenca. Many acknowledged periodically feeling the earth move from earthquakes and expressed their sorrow at the misfortune experienced in April to the coastal areas that were devastated and gratitude that Cuenca was spared. We have noticed, and responses confirmed that the speed cameras seem to be posted mainly in Manbi, Santa Elena, and Guayas provinces.

From what I understand, Cuenca does have a high concentration of North American expats. Some did describe many of them as “cliquish” and “judgmental”, but my limited experience with expats living in Cuenca are that the ones I tend to interact with are good folks. There is some indication that the local municipal government may take the number of expats into consideration when deciding what services and improvements to institute in that community, accommodating the North American lifestyle since that is a large part of the current constituency (and yes, non-citizen, legal residents vote in Ecuador).

In full disclosure, we have not yet visited Cuenca. It is on our list of places we want to visit, but places we actually did visit were higher on the list. We've been close to it a few times, but it just wasn't on our plans yet. We understand there is some lovely architecture there that I would like to see. A few people who live in Cuenca have sternly requested that I not generalize our experiences to Cuenca, so as I tell you the things we WILL miss about Ecuador, be assured that these wonderful things may or may not exist in Cuenca. You'll need to ask someone who lives there.

The last post was about some things we will not miss about Ecuador. They were mainly minor inconveniences. Even the suicide shower isn't bad once you get past the initial fear of wires in the shower, and the crappy calefon we have has gotten me in the habit of wetting and rinsing under water and not wasting water while I'm soaping and lathering and dodging the water anyway, so no real big, hairy deal.

Now for some things we ARE going to miss. Some of these are minor, like Supermaxi brand orange juice. Some are going to have a significant impact on us when we return to the States. Some of them are not exclusive to Ecuador and can be found in other Latin American countries, but Ecuador is the place we experienced them the most. We plan to come back to explore the rest of South America, including the parts of Ecuador we haven't explored yet, and to visit some really great friends we have made here on the coast of Ecuador, both Ecuadorean and expat. The people are not on this list because that should go without saying, but rest assured that they are what we will miss the most. So, without further ado, here are

Ten things we ARE going to miss about Ecuador:
  • We will miss Supermaxi orange juice. Since I've already mentioned it, I'll start with it. Supermaxi is one of the major grocery store chains down here. Like Publix, Kroger, or Safeway in various parts of the US. In the deli section of the Manta store (where we usually shop) and I believe also in the Portoviejo store (where we have shopped occasionally), they have a machine that squeezes oranges. The juice runs straight from the juicing machine into bottles. You can watch the workers in the deli replacing bottles, capping them, and adding oranges to the machine. I don't know what kind of oranges they use or if they do something to the juice other than squeeze oranges into it. It is the second best orange juice I have ever had in my life. The best orange juice was found at the side of the road in rural Costa Rica. They had a little table beside a bridge. We pulled over and bought a couple of glasses to drink while driving toward La Paz. We didn't have that juice long enough to really miss it, though. We have actually scheduled grocery runs to Manta (about an hour and a half north) to coincide with when we are likely to run out of Supermaxi orange juice. I've tried juicing my own. It just wasn't as good. I love orange juice, so I will make do with the Simply Orange that we can get in Florida or I may get a good juicer and juice my own. It won't be the same, though. We will miss Supermaxi orange juice.
  • We will definitely miss the mercado. The mercado is the place to get fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat at reasonable prices, but it's so much more than that, too. When we first got here, we were enamored with the freshness of the vegetables. We had been accustomed to shopping for the week, including produce. It took a while to learn that fresh produce purchased here doesn't last that long. It's not treated to make it last longer. For most things, you need to eat it within a couple of days. You also get the vegetables the way they grow. Carrots aren't all long tapers. Peppers may have more or fewer chambers than the normal three or four. And, the vegetables tend to be larger than we got in the States. I call them Winnie-the-Pooh vegetables because they tended to be exaggerated in size and color (and taste), kind of like the ones in Rabbit's garden. Fruits, meats, and seafood are also sold in the mercado. You establish a relationship with each vendor. Learn their names and they learn yours. They get to know what types of things you want. The guy we buy pork from always lets me know when he has a nice tenderloin cut the way I'm used to it in the US. If I want one and he doesn't have it, he'll cut me one specially and save it for me the next day. If we see something we don't recognize, they'll try to explain what it is, give us a taste if practical, and try to explain how to fix it. We've eaten several new things. Some of them, I can't tell you what they are. This is a cash economy, and if one of our vendors doesn't have the correct change for us, we come close and call it close enough. Sometimes, we end up paying a few cents more; sometimes, we pay a few cents less. It works out. If they need change for another customer, they don't hesitate to ask if we can make it. If we can't, that's okay, too. When we run into each other elsewhere in town, we always stop and exchange pleasantries. In Puerto Lopez, our mercado also has a Patio de Comida (food court). You can get some really good typical Ecuadorean food there. And, as with most places that serve typical foods, it's a lot of food for very little money. We have farmers' markets and fruit and vegetable stands in the States, but they just don't compare to the mercado in Puerto Lopez. In other towns that have mercados, it seems to be very similar.

  • We have enjoyed and will miss the stable, mild weather. We will be initially going back to Florida, where a favorite saying is, “If you don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes, and it will change.” That's not the case here, in Puerto Lopez. For the most part, the temperature hangs around the upper 70s/low 80s Fahrenheit pretty much all year. There is usually a light cloud cover, which keeps the sun from being a glare in your eyes, not like the gloomy, gray cover in most places on a cloudy day. Though we do get some rainy days, most of the rain tends to fall overnight or it will be a really heavy mist that gathers on the tree leaves and speckles on my glasses, but isn't at all uncomfortable. During the “cold” season, the wind picks up, and there are more gloomy, cloudy days. The Ecuadoreans run around in winter coats with scarves around their necks. I haven't seen a day here that wasn't perfect weather for shorts, though twice, I have decided it was too cold to swim in the ocean. In fact, the last time we went to the mountains, I quite simply forgot to pack long pants. I admit to getting a bit chilly, but walking around and being active kept me from being cold. If we want cooler weather, we just need to visit a higher elevation. Even along the coast, there are microclimates. There appears to be more rain just an hour north and south of us, and there are areas of the country where there are serious rain storms and experience flooding. I'm sure that with the first Florida rain storm, we're going to seriously miss this mild climate.
  • If we weren't both enrolled in the VA Healthcare System, we would miss the lack of a requirement of a prescription for medications even more. As it is, it will periodically impact us since we plan to continue traveling. In Ecuador, a doctor tells you what medication you need, if any, and you just go to the pharmacy and buy that medication. If you have a few minor symptoms, the pharmacist can tell you what you should use, and it's not limited to just cold or allergy remedies. A person is expected to know when they need to see a doctor and when they just need to continue what they have done before. You can walk into a lab clinic and ask to have almost any lab work run. No doctor's prescription needed, and you can pick up your results and take them to any doctor, or no doctor, at your discretion. We have established a relationship with a particular pharmacist, who makes sure we have plenty of our blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid, and other medications. We made sure to let her know we were leaving so she won't stock so many of them anymore. When we've had colds or other symptoms, she tells me what we should use. She hasn't been wrong yet. I did see a doctor when I developed Bell's palsy. When the doctor suggested B12 shots, she had the premeasured syringes. Some other friends arranged for a nurse to come to our house to give me the shots. She came from the free clinic and refused payment. If we don't time our travels quite right, we could potentially run out of our medications on the road. It won't be as simple as pulling into the local pharmacy to pick up enough to get home. We'll need to find a doctor to write us a prescription for the medication we we already know we need. If there's not a VA in the area, it will also be very expensive.

  • We will miss low-cost labor. I know some people who will definitely disparage me over missing the low cost of living. They think the gringos who come here and take advantage of the cheap labor force or other benefits are ruthless, lazy, horrible individuals. I guess I fit that description, then, because I will certainly miss having a housekeeper that only charges $10 to clean my house once a week. When our calefon (on-demand hot water heater) completely quit working, they called in a technician from Jipijapa who spent several hours working on it. Because the landlady wasn't on site, we paid it and deducted it from the rent. Jipijapa is about 30-45 minutes away from here. Travel plus labor and parts was only $60. When I developed Bell's palsy, I saw a private doctor a couple of times. Each visit was only $15. There is no way we won't miss the low cost of labor.
  • The amazing nature here will be sorely missed, except Bruce won't miss driving in the cloud forests. I could have used this to make several “Ten Things” list by itself, but I chose to consolidate it into just one. Strolling along the beach, we have encountered more varieties of sand dollars, star fish, and other animals than we knew existed. And, that's just on the beach here, in Puerto Lopez. It doesn't include the neat critters we found in the tide pools on the secluded beaches in Los Frailes. The vet for the Parque de Machalilla has his primary office here, and you can visit the animals that are being rehabilitated. He also helps people out with problems with their pets and periodically does some spay and neuter of the stray dog and cat population. The variety of birds that are here is amazing, even if we never ventured out of the courtyard of our apartment. We also have some tortoises and iguanas living here, roaming the courtyard. When we venture out, there is another rehabilitation center in Valdivia (about an hour south), and on the way to Manta is a refuge for mantled howler monkeys. We are always watching for monkeys when we go to Manta for that Supermaxi orange juice. We take a cooler with us so we don't have to worry about anything going bad if they're in the trees close to the road and we stop to watch them play. And that is just the wildlife we encounter on a daily basis, in our little piece of coastal Ecuador. Venturing out, we have seen tapir, llamas and alpacas (which are actually livestock), Andean bears, Andean condors, toucans, capybaras, and so many others. During our four days in the Amazon basin, we saw five different species of monkeys alone, and you simply can't see them all in such a short period of time when you are observing them in their natural habitats. Yes, we will see more and different flora and fauna in the US, but we will very much miss having such a variety so close at hand.
 Baby playing in a tree along the side of the road on the Ruta del Sol south of Manta
Adult howler monkey who came to the road to get help on the Ruta del Sol south of Manta
  • The ability to improvise without fear of running amiss of governmental regulations is something I have missed for several years until I came to Ecuador. When we leave, I will miss it again. Back when I was younger, I bought a patio set with a large, round table and four wrought-iron chairs. I brought this furniture home in a two-door, hatch-back Dodge Charger in one load. This Charger was not a big car. I laid a blanket on the top of the car and laid the table, top down, on that blanket. I tied it on with a rope through the windows. The chairs were in the hatch, which remained open for the drive home while the chairs were hanging out. In most places in the US, there are now regulations against that, and the ticket for something like operating an unsafe vehicle would be more than the cost of paying for delivery. I've missed being able to just figure out how to do stuff instead of having pay someone to do those things for me. In Ecuador, those regulations haven't caught up – yet. We regularly see trucks and cars with rebar hanging out, dragging behind the vehicle. We see 2x4s and other large items being transported on motorcycles. We even once saw a truck frame being driven down the road with another truck frame stacked on top of it. There are taxis that increase the number of people they can carry in each trip by letting people ride in the bed of the pickup truck. I understand that some of the more “civilized” portions of the country are instituting some of those “safety” regulations, such as issuing tickets for having passengers in the bed of a pickup truck. Yup. We will definitely miss the lack of regulation when we get back to the States. Hopefully, we won't continue to miss it when we return.

  • I don't do a lot of dishwashing these days, but when we came down here, we were introduced to this amazing solid dishwashing soap. It cuts grease in cold water. I kid you not! Why this stuff isn't in the US, I will never understand. It's never been easier to get dishes squeaky clean than with this stuff. We're taking some of this back with us, but once we run out, we will definitely miss it!

  • Even living in Florida, and if we end up by the coast again, we will miss fresh seafood. Think about those regulations. You simply cannot go to the pier or beach and buy the fresh catch as it's brought in from the sea anymore. You have to either catch it yourself or buy it from a processing vendor, not the fisherman. Here, we can walk down to the beach (Early morning is the best.) and pick out what we want from the catch while it's coming in. There is usually some good dorado (or mahi-mahi) in the catch as well as other varieties of fish, eel, octopus, squid, and more. They'll filet it right there. There are also tables and grills, and they will cook your catch right there for you if you want it for breakfast. Or you can wait until they get it up to the mercado. The price is a little higher in the mercado, and the shrimp are sorted by size. Or you can just wait until some of the mobile vendors drive or bicycle past your house, calling out what they are selling. A short trip south to the neighboring village of Solango brings us to the lobster fishermen. In a little shack on the beach at the south end of town, you can buy lobster that is freshly pulled from the sea along with eels octopus, and squid. They don't sell fish there, though. The fish processing plant is just a little further down the beach. Heading north, we find queen crab, the warm water cousin of the Alaskan king crab, and just as tasty. When we've gone inland, to the Sierra or the orient, the trout is also very good. Since we've only ventured there to visit, I'm not sure if they buy it as fresh as the comidors here get it, but it sure is tasty. We will definitely miss the very fresh seafood we have gotten used to here in Ecuador.

  • Because we're looking at housing costs in the States currently, we know we will be missing the low rent costs in Ecuador. We are currently in an Ecuadorean house in an apartment complex with 3 buildings (our house, the apartment building, and the caretaker's house), a courtyard, and a new swimming pool. Ours is a brick and concrete house, two stories with a rooftop terrace. It is a 3 bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home, but we only use one bedroom. The landlady has things stored in the other two. It is fully furnished, including bed sheets and dishes, has air conditioning (the equivalent of window air), and all utilities except gas. We pay $1.75 to refill a 15-gallon propane tank. We pay $350 per month for the rent. You can get cheaper rent, but you can also get more expensive rent. We looked at some that were much more expensive, too. Many of the more expensive ones are laid out and decorated more along North American styles, and they may have tank-style water heaters or more expensive calefones. Some even had generators for when the electricity goes out. But, we just weren't interested in paying $1000 or more per month for what we consider limited benefit. We can and often do walk to the beach, and I can easily spend hours just enjoying the flora and fauna in the courtyard. Even if we just get a little trailer in a snowbird park, we are likely going to be paying significantly more than that when we return to the States, and I certainly won't expect to periodically see an iguana climbing up the tree out our front window. We'll miss the cheap rent every month.
The house we rent currently in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

Ecuador is a developing country. That doesn't mean it has nothing and is hard-scrabble. Ecuador reminds me of the US back in the 1970s. People went to work and came home to their families. Yes, there are cars in Ecuador (Somebody in the states actually asked me that!), as well as computers, cameras, internet, and a variety of other necessities. Even though the US was mostly right-to-work, there was a certain amount of stability in employment and a certain amount of community in the places you lived. You did the best you could, and your neighbor would help out if you needed, and vice versa. Down here, today, a friend of our is going to a neighboring village to help a friend of his build a house. Yes, you can still build your own home here, using your own labor if you want and are capable. Public services weren't always available. In my home town when I was growing up, there were lots of folks who would have loved to have the water running in their homes, let alone a suicide shower head or a crappy calefon. These were average people. They just happened to not have water lines run to their homes yet. It's been a nice time that has sometimes felt like a time warp. Back then, we never thought we would have these electronic conveniences anywhere in the world, though. The internet has been good enough here that our online businesses are thriving. When the electricity goes out, that's just another excuse to stop working and go to the beach or someplace to see some critters. We are truly going to miss Ecuador, but we are going to enjoy our adventures and travels around North America, and once the business we need to be in the States for is completed (who knows when!), we will be coming back down to finish that drive around South America, with plans for some extended time in Ecuador visiting friends. Plans are to continue visiting Ecuador many times and for many years, even while also visiting other continents. Ecuador will always hold a piece of our hearts.