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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What We Are NOT Going to Miss About Ecuador

For those of you who weren't aware, we are leaving Ecuador next month. We were planning to travel around South America before returning to the United States, but those plans will have to be delayed. For reasons beyond our control, we need to return to the US now. We will be back to visit and to take that drive around South America, but in the meantime, we'll explore parts of North America that we haven't explored before or want to explore more fully. We're definitely looking forward to traveling around North America and being back where our first language is spoken, but we love Ecuador and will miss a lot of things about it. It goes without saying that we will miss the friends we have made down here. That's especially true of two little girls who helped me learn Spanish and check in on us almost daily. We're sure the candy we give them doesn't have anything to do with their visits! (Anybody want to buy some oceanfront property in Arizona?) It's also especially true of the parents of those girls. They have helped us so much since we've been here, and we have developed a real friendship with them. We have exchanged cooking techniques and recipes for various Ecuadorean and US dishes.

With all of that, we have made lists of the ten things we are and are not going to miss when we return to the US. Since I always like to end on a positive not, let's start with the things we are NOT going to miss. Here, in no particular order are:

Ten things we are NOT going to miss about Ecuador

  • We are not going to miss electrical power outages. In Ecuador, power lines and transformers appear to be overloaded. Because of that, power goes out frequently for various lengths of time. With the construction of the new malecon, here, in Puerto Lopez, the authorities are burying many of the power lines. The power has gone out at least a few times each month between the two things. We were eating dinner at a friend's restaurant the other day, and we didn't even notice that the power went out until a guest came up to our friend and complained about having no electricity. Our friend's response, without missing a beat, was, “Welcome to Ecuador!” The water pump for our complex is electric, so when we don't have electricity, we also don't have water. If they cut the power because of construction, it's usually out all day. In that case, we have to pull water from the cistern with buckets if we want to flush the toilet. Nope. We definitely won't miss the power outages down here.

  • We are not going to miss the speed bumps/dips/ropes. We will especially not miss the speed bumps that are so big the undercarriage of our little car scrapes when going over them. Sometimes, they have little ditches on either side of them to make them even harsher. Then, there are the ones that are have a more triangular shape instead of a rounded top, like the new one they just installed in front of the Transito office in Puerto Cayo. They even recently put speed bumps on the dirt road that goes beside our apartment. As they get worn down by traffic, the city comes back and builds them back up. I seriously would not be surprised if our little car got stuck on them one day when they're freshly rebuilt. I picture in my mind our little Spark balancing on top of the speed bump, rocking back and forth like a seesaw with the tires unable to touch the ground enough to get traction.

  • Speaking of speeding, we are not going to miss the speed cameras along the road. These are solar-powered road signs that display your speed on the sign and have a camera on the back that takes a picture of your tags as you drive past. A white light at the top of the display flashes to warn you of your impending ticket. These cameras aren't necessarily properly calibrated, and the radar on the camera isn't always synchronized with the radar on the display. Some people have reported a discrepancy up to 10 km per hour between these cameras. When a ticket is processed on your vehicle, the ANT is supposed to send the car's owner an email. You have 10 days to pay or dispute the fine. From what I understand, you have to prove that the particular camera that registered your speed was faulty. I've not had the pleasure of disputing one, though. We did have two speeding tickets on our car at one time. We never received notification of them and just found them when checking the cost of renewing our registration. There were some other issues and we didn't get our registration renewed on time. We were late enough that we had to pay for two years' renewal at a time. By the time we were able to renew our registration, the tickets had disappeared, though. I have no clue how or why that happened, but I certainly didn't call it to anyone's attention.

  • We will certainly not miss drunk karaoke. I have determined that the only difference between karaoke in the US and karaoke here is insulation. And what a huge difference that is! Every Saturday night and into Sunday morning, competing salsa beats reverberate throughout town. When it's just music, I'm good with that. Rarely, but sometimes, the music that travels in through our windows is recognized as Top 40 type music in English. I enjoy a lot of the Latin music, and I'm able to understand more and more of it. Average Ecuadoreans don't sing any better than average North Americans, though. And, when they're drunk, they're even worse. Without insulation, the decible level is way too high to try to get any sleep. We've grown accustomed to it, but we certainly won't miss it.
  • We will not miss slow internet. When we left the US, we had internet pushing download speeds of 50 Mbps. Here, we pay for relatively fast speeds of 3 Mbps. Since neither of us are gamers, 3 Mbps is really all we need, but on busy internet times, we are luck to get 2. When we don't get our solid 3 Mbps, we have difficulty watching videos that pop up on Facebook or Youtube videos. Netflix has to reload multiple times, and trying to use our Chromecast to cast streaming video onto the television is nearly impossible. While this usually isn't a terribly big deal, it chugs frequently enough that we will be happy to return to high-speed internet.
  • We will definitely not miss earthquakes and aftershocks. When we first got to Ecuador, all the expats (including us) made flip remarks about “rocking and rolling” and “bumping and grinding” when small quakes struck. This April changed all of that. The 7.8 earthquake caused major damage not far from us and freaked many of us out. In Puerto Lopez, there was only minor damage – some older buildings fell, 80 families misplaced, fewer than 10 injuries, and no fatalities. About an hour and a half north of here, the Tarqui neighborhood of Manta was one of the hardest hit areas in the country. There were multiple aftershocks a day, some over a 6 magnitude. Since the April quake, Bruce and I have not felt a rumble that didn't result in us exchanging “deer in the headlight” looks and heading for the door. There has been a lull in the activity for the last few weeks, and I understand the Geofisica has determined that any future movements will not be classified as aftershocks of the April earthquake. I'm hoping that once we get back to the US, we will no longer jump and run when a big truck drives by causing the ground to shake.

  • We will not miss taking cold, lukewarm, or variable temperature showers. Water-tank style hot water heaters are rare in Ecuador. The two most common methods of heating water for showers are electric shower heads (affectionately termed “suicide showers”) and calefones (an on-demand water heating system. Neither of these options necessarily provide temperatures that remain stable throughout a short shower. My preference, believe it or not, is the suicide shower. A calefon is outside your shower, powered by gas or electricity. When you turn your shower on, it comes on and heats your water. It turns off when you finish your shower. You have to have the hot water nozzle turned high enough to trigger the heater. On ours, that means all or nothing. And, it heats the water to scalding temperatures. I like a hot shower, but this is ridiculous. Once it gets going, we cannot get enough cold water running through the pipe to make the water safe to be under. When you turn the hot water down to keep from scalding yourself, the calefon thinks it's done, and stops heating the water. I'm constantly turning the water on and off to be able to take a reasonably-temperate shower. I'm sure there are better quality calefones out there, but we don't have it. With the suicide shower, there are usually three settings: off, half, and full. If it's off, obviously, the water is all cold. If it's half, the water is warm (as determined by the shower head, which isn't bad). If it's full, the water is hot (again, as determined by the shower head). The water temperature stays fairly consistent, but it does go up and down as the little reservoir fills and empties. The trick to using a suicide shower is making sure you don't touch it while wet. See, it is an electrical appliance that attaches to the water pipe. There are wires coming out of it, and we all know (or I hope we all know) that water and electricity don't mix well. If you raise your arm up and accidentally touch the shower head, you WILL get a jolt out of life! It's not bad, but not something I want to experience frequently. Yup. Definitely looking forward to a nice, warm-to-hot shower with no shocking experiences.

  • We will not miss the ridiculous import taxes Ecuador imposes. Don't get me wrong. I understand protectionism and other underlying purposes for taxes, including generation of income for the government, but there is no rhyme or reason with some of these. Take the import tax on electronics. Electronics in Ecuador are about twice the cost in the states (and about 60% higher than the cost in neighboring Colombia) because of the import taxes. The problem with that is that electronics are not manufactured in Ecuador, so there is no electronic industry to protect. The same thing with vehicle tires. It's my understanding there is only one tire manufacturer in Ecuador, and they do not make all sizes of tires. On holiday weekends, there is a mass exodus of Ecuadoreans heading across the border to Colombia to buy televisions, computers, tires, etc. They take their purchases out of the boxes in the parking lot of the stores. At the border in Rumichaca, returning Ecuadoreans try to convince customs officers that the items are not new in order to avoid the import taxes. If Ecuador wants to improve the education of her citizens, taxing computers and other electronics out of the reach of most citizens is rather counterproductive. While I can much more understand it, I will not miss paying extra for imported foods, when they are available at all. Yes, this picture shows $2.18 for ONE can of Campbell's tomato soup ON SALE at 25% off! Walmart online shows the 4-pack for $3.42. But the ingredients to make your own tomato soup are easily and cheaply available here, and it's much healthier.

  • We will not miss the toughest beef ever! Mind you, if you can chew it, it is very tasty! We have tried everything to tenderize this, from wrapping it in papaya to beating it until it's paper thin. We even brought loads of meat tenderizer down with us. After poking holes all over the beef with a fork, rubbing the contents of an entire small bottle around the meat, then pushing the tenderizer into the meat with the fork - even after sitting that way for a while before cooking, the beef was too tough to chew without causing jaw fatigue. Again, it's some of the best tasting beef I've had, but it's so hard to chew, we've started bypassing beef unless it's ground or being used in a soup or something so I can boil it into tenderness. I'm sure we'll hit sticker shock, but I'm looking forward to a nice, thick, tender steak when we get back to the States.
  • We will not miss Ecuadorean-sized furniture. We are not particularly tall people. I come in at just under 5'3”. We tower over the Ecuadorean's though. And, the furniture reflects it! I'm currently sitting in my soft chair (matching the couch). If I sit up and put my feet flat on the floor, my knees are above my seat! I feel like I'm sitting in a child's chair. When laying down on the couch, my feet stick out. And, while I don't hang over the mattress, I'm convinced I'm closer to using the entire length of it than I have been before. (Also, shower heads are mounted with the anticipation that short people will be using them, so dodging that suicide shower was more difficult than one may think!) I have bad knees and bad hips. Getting up from these small chairs is difficult. BUT, for some reason, stairs and curbs tend to be higher than expected. Many steps were made for those extremely tall people from Scandanavia, and I feel like I have to bring my knees to my chest to climb some of them. Anyway, it will be nice to return to the place where I am of average height, and things are constructed for people of average height.
Blue and I watching parrot videos on Youtube.  I'm slumped down so he can see better.

Yeah, some of these are pretty petty, but there's really so much here to love! The next post will be of ten things we WILL miss. I think that one will be much easier to write.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

La Nariz del Diablo, the Steepest Train Descent in the World

On the first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life.  There were plants and birds and rocks and things.  If you missed that, go back and read the previous post!  Or listen to the song, either one will work.

Heading out from Banos to Alausi, we decided to double up on the GPS.  Using the maps in the Garmin and using the free, offline app Maps.me, we thought we might have less of an opportunity to end up on those dirt roads that Bruce hates (and I not so secretly love).

No such luck.  Both gadgets sent us on a left-hand turn off the main road not far outside Banos.  This one turned into a dirt road only a kilometer or two down it, so we turned around and went back to the main road.  We knew that road would take us to Ambato because it was the way we came in.  We also knew we could go from Ambato to Riobamba, which was on our way to Alausi.  So, we ignored both GPS programs until they agreed to go that direction.

The scenery was beautiful, with the patchwork quilt patterns of the fields, colorful grains growing, and the hand waving hello to everyone!

 After several hours, we finally made it to Alausi.

Perfect timing, too.  Just as we got downhill enough to be in the middle of town and found a hostal for the next couple of nights, the brakes let us know we needed new pads.  So, we checked in and walked around until we found a mechanic who did brakes.  Twenty-five dollars and 30 minutes later, we had new pads.  Good thing we did it at the top of the hill.  With less than 1/8 inch of pads left, we might not have made it home!  Alausi is also higher in altitude than Banos, and it was beginning to get a little uncomfortable for me since I forgot to bring long pants!  We now need to keep the following in the Geezermobile:  Emergency bathing suit in case there is an unexpected water opportunity (which happened on the cost of Ecuador), emergency sneakers and socks in case of an unexpected hiking opportunity (which happened in Central America) , and now emergency long pants in case we go somewhere chilly and I'm in shorts.

After settling in and getting the brake pads replaced, we walked around town a bit.  It's small, but tidy and beautiful. About half of the people wore traditional dress instead of the more modern clothes.  It amazes me how the women can carry just about anything in that little shawl tied around their shoulders!

As in other parts of Ecuador, shoe shine benches are busy.

We found the train station, too.  This shiny, red train looks like the one that goes on the full route between Guayaquil and Quito, lasting 4 nights.

We were only doing the short Devil's Nose segment from Alausi to Simbambe and back.

It's a good thing I got our tickets online.  When we talked to the gentleman at the station to confirm it was the right place, he told us the train was sold out for both rides the following day.  If you plan to take this trip, definitely book your tickets in advance.  They do two trips per day except holidays, when they do three.  They sell out in advance.  While you technically can buy tickets at the station, they are rarely available a week out.  When we went, tickets were $30 per person.  Highly expensive for the average Ecuadorean, but they sell out two trains a day, three on holidays.

At the station while waiting for your train, you can eat in the outdoor cafe, get your passport stamped, or browse the gift shop.  There are neat trinkets, and one of the ladies selling ponchos was spinning alpaca wool into yarn for weaving.  The smashed penny machine was broken, though.

The cars are comfortable with nice seats, and each car has its personal bilingual guide.

When you get your tickets, try to get window seats where they are doubled.  The tracks are so steep that the train faces the same direction going up and down.  The single row is mostly (but not always) on the side by the mountain.  The best views are out the other window.  On the trip down, it really doesn't matter, though.  The conductor encouraged everybody to walk back and forth to make sure nobody missed any of the views.  This is what our car looked like during much of the trip (at least what I saw when I wasn't hanging out the window).

The entire Ecuadorean rail system is considered the most difficult in the world to have built because of the rugged terrain over which it passes to connect Quito and the "high Andes" with the coastal city of Guayaquil.  This section, including the mountain it runs down, were renamed the Nariz del Diablo because of the high number of workers who lost their lives building it.  It makes a 500 meter (almost 1650 feet) change in elevation in a mere 12 kilometers (just under 7.5 miles).  By some accounts it is the steepest train track in the world.  It looks very steep to me.  We're going to that river.  We've already been descending a portion of the way.

The train makes this change in elevation by the use of some uncommon switchbacks.  Instead of tight turns or roundabouts, the train pulls onto a section of track.  A worker jumps off the train and flips the switch on the track.  The locomotive (which can drive either forward or backward), reverses direction and sends the train back the other direction.  When pulling out of the station in Alausi, the locomotive is pulling the train.  Once you pass through the first switchback, the locomotive is pushing the train.  With each switchback, you change from being pushed to pulled and viceversa.

This is a couple of switchbacks we will be navigating.

This is pulling out of a switchback on our way down the mountain.

When pushing the train, the engineer can't see where he's going.  Workers on each car help him out by giving hand signals that are passed from car to car to let the engineer know what's coming up.  I'm pretty glad our engineer had driving this route a few times!

The scenery was breathtaking.  I'll post a few shots, but you'll need to go to our Facebook page to see them all and the other videos.  https://www.facebook.com/travelingeezers.  Just so you know, we can put just about any of our pix on mugs, notepads, etc.  Just let us know, and we'll tell you if that picture is suitable for what you want.  We have a supplier for just about any novelty item you may want with one of our pictures. I haven't gone through all of the photos from this trip to see which ones are suitable for blowing up onto canvas, large prints for framing, putting on shower curtains, blankets or other large items.  I hope to have them done in a day or so, and I'm hoping that some of the stills pulled from video are of good enough quality for that.

Once at the Sibambe station, there are llamas, horses, artisans, dancers, cooks, and a little museum up a whoooole lot of steps.  I can't tell you anything about the museum!  I had an excellent fritada (pork) for lunch.  Then, we walked around a bit.  The mountain is now referred to as the Devil's Nose, and the section of track on this side of the mountain (where the switchbacks traverse) is the bridge of the nose while the tip of the nose points up into the air.  The museum is that little yellow building.

The alpacas don't look very excited about my hugs.

This horse peeked out at me.  I guess he was looking back to see if I was looking back to see if he was looking back to see if he was looking back at me.  He was cuter than Buck Owens ever dared to be!

The river gets this unique color from the sulfur that runs in it.

There were also dancers at the station.  They danced a couple of dances for us to watch.  One of them was a dance with ribbons around a pole.  It was really neat the way they wove and unwove the ribbon without even looking very closely!

After they danced for the tourists, they danced with the tourists until they called us back to the train.

The ride home was awesome.  Good thing we got the brake pads changed!  This is the first time Bruce has been able to really acknowledge that when crossing the Andes, you do actually go downhill.  Generally, it feels like we go uphill both ways!  This trip, it was obvious we were going downhill most of the way back to the coast.


As usual, we were set on a very interesting path.  We eventually realized we were actually supposed to be on the paved road up the hill that was parallel to the gravel road we were on.  We weren't far from town, though, so we turned around and searched until we found it.  That gravel road did take us to this awesome bridge!

The road we were supposed to be on was mostly paved - except this spot where the stream ran across it.  After crossing, it was a small waterfall down the side of the cliff.

I don't think this was an intentional or controlled burn.

It was above this cloud cover that stayed beside us most of the way down the mountain.  Unfortunately, it didn't stay beside us all the way.  We've been in worse.  We could see through this cloud.

We finally made it to flat ground, though.  When we made it to Guayaquil, there was a detour taking us off of our normal route and right to the iguana statue.  We have finally seen all three: al loro (by City Mall), el mono (heading to the malecon from the airport), and now la iguana (wherever we were).

The entire trip was awesome!  I recommend both parts of it to everyone!