Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Criminal Background Check

Our Pensioner Visa application was delayed due the new requirement enacted August 2, 2011  which required a Criminal Background Check for the immigration visa process. Today our oldest daughter Courtney took a few hours to get the backgrounds check completed and apostilled, and the documents are on the way here via FedEx. One less thing to worry about, thanks again Courtney. 

Cuenca Flats

This morning Susan is working with Martha (Landlord/Friend) on her English, and Susan is practicing her Spanish. Later today we need to go to Santana School to buy Nick's uniforms for school which begins next week. Nick has been attending Spanish lessons two-hours a day for four weeks, and once school starts the plan is to attend lessons for two-hours each Tuesdays and Thursdays to help with his school work. Hopefully by Christmas Nick should be fluent enough to no longer need weekly Spanish lessons.

Martha is always trying to find things to get us out of the apartment, because she worries we are bored, and missing out on what Cuenca has to offer. Her latest idea is to have me develop a website for her four rental apartments in our building, and provide input on what amenities Gringos want in an apartment. The 3 BR / 3 Bath apartment on the fourth floor is currently unfurnished, and she is in the process of furnishings it. The apartment is over 2,300 square feet with a large kitchen, office space, laundry room, so it is going to take a lot of furniture to fill the apartment. Martha taste in furnishings is very high-end, and treats each apartment as if she is going to live in them herself, so it will be a very nice apartment. I have registered a new website (, and have started gathering information to include on the site. I built websites in the past, but I am a little rusty, so this new project is a challenge, and should keep me busy for a few weeks. I am doing this for free, but Martha keeps wanting to pay me, and I keep explaining to her that friends help each other, and in the end all is good. Life is good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spanish classes and more

I just finished my second week of spanish school at Amauta. At first I enjoyed the classes and it gave me something to do. Lately, the classes have been getting harder for me. I have never been very good at memorizing and without being able to use everything I learn on a daily basis it just doesn't stick. So, now it is starting to feel more like a task to go to class. I need to find a better way to look at it because I really want to learn spanish. It depresses me not being able to talk to the locals. I feel bad when someone says something to me and I haven't a clue what they said.
Nick just finished his third week at Amauta and he has one full week left before he starts school at Santana an all spanish high school. I hope he is catching on. I know it will be better for him when he starts high school because he will get to use what he learned at Amauta.
My teacher is Lorena and his is Gaby. Lorena is from Cuenca and has visited the states as a foreign exchange student so she speaks english also. Gaby doesn't speak english at all.

Talking about school starting, Nick starts school on 7 Sept. There is so much to do before then. We have to buy school supplies, my friend Trish spent around $125. for her 6th graders supplies and we have to buy uniforms I believe she spent around $265 for her son. I am not looking forward to these costs, but it's for a good reason our son. Nick still has to take the placement test which they are supposed to call tomorrow to set them up and we have to talk individually to the school psyschologist still.

Well tomorrow starts a new week with lots to get done. Our landlady Martha wants to come by every morning at 8 to help us with our spanish and work on her English. Must buy school supplies, uniforms and get set up for Nicks testing. I hope everyone has a great week and we will try to write sooner than later. ~Susan

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Market Day

Fresh and Cheap!
Saturday we walked to the market (Feria Libre), and bought our weekly supply of vegetables, and fruit. Our friend Trish joined us, and Susan and I dragged Nick along to get him out of our apartment. I bought carrots, broccoli, onions, green beans, potatoes, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, and oranges. I filled up my backpack, and a large cloth bag with all our goodies for $8.50, and in Decatur the same amount would have cost over $30.00! The produce is so beautiful that I have been making smoothies everyday, steaming vegetables for dinners, and I just love the abundance and quality of the fresh produce. We always talked of eating less processed foods, but in the USA it was easier and cheaper to eat primarily processed foods, but here in Ecuador it is totally the opposite.

For Frank
 Our middle son Frank is in the US Navy, and on his last visit home before we left he tried to convince us that aliens are present on Earth, and that the 2012 Doomsday Theory is true. We saw this painting on a wall as we were walking home from the market, and immediately though of Frank. Frank, it is true, aliens are at least present in Cuenca! We miss you son.

Crazed American Teenager
There is graffiti in Cuenca, and for the most part it is in good taste, and brightens up the numerous white concrete-cinder block walls. I think artistic expression should be encourage, and I think graffiti is a great medium to allow creative people to express their talents, so I will continue to take pictures when I have the chance.

Winter Day in Cuenca
Last night after we returned from the market, Susan and I walked to Super Maxi to finish our shopping. It takes us about 20 minutes to walk to Super Maxi, and the same amount of time to walk to the market. We walk most places or use the buses. Last night we had our first two-way exchange with an expat at Super Maxi. We have said hello to several expats in the month we have been here, but we have NEVER had anyone respond in any fashion to our greeting. As Susan was starring at the cereal selection, a nice man (expat) struck up a conversation with us about cereal choices, and was very pleasant. Also, while we were looking at chocolate, a nice woman (expat) suggested a certain brand of chocolate that she really liked. So, after a month, and a dozen trips to Super Maxi we finally had a positive expat encounter!

Flowers are everywhere
Lastly, a purely personal observation of mine (Steven) after a little over a month in Cuenca. When I was researching the blogs and forums before deciding on Cuenca, I had the sense that the expat community would be as welcoming, polite, and maybe even helpful as it seemed online. But, after our first month here, our experiences with expats have been mostly disappointing. I didn't expect instant friendships, a parade in my honor, but I did expect common decency one would expect of fellow countrymen when greeted on the street in a foreign country. We have made friends with a few expats who we talked with before we arrived, but the expats we pass on the street, or in the stores and restaurants have behaved as the stereotypical rude American. On the other hand, the Cuencanos we have greeted on the street always smile, and respond politely, and some have even taken the time to help us if we look lost or confused. Luckily for me, the beauty of the city, the richness of the culture, and the friends we have made (Expat and Ecuadorian) has made the move worthwhile. Life in a new country is challenging, and I hope that if I am given the chance, I will take a few seconds out of my life to say hello to a fellow countrymen to make them feel, if only for a brief moment, that they are not alone in the challenge. Life is good...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Last week.

Last week I went to the market with our new neighbors Paul and Diane and met up with Trish from New Beginnings in Cuenca. I was supposed to be a tour guide to the newbies to the market Feria Libre but unfortunately I had only been there once before with my husband Steve. As you read our blog you will learn that Steve is the one with a sense of direction not me. So, Paul, Diane and I head off on foot towards the bridge at Las Americas where we are to meet up with Trish. As we are walking we met an environmental lawyer from Cuenca, he walked with us for a while. He and Paul talked most of the way. Diane was having some difficulty breathing going up the hills; she is still adjusting to the altitude. Suddenly my phone rings and it’s Steve telling me that Trish is meeting us near the market. So, I call her to find out that she is waiting for us. As, we continue to walk I realized that my bad sense of direction made us walk a little far. I was so embarrassed and I felt bad because I knew Diane was having a difficult time adjusting. The agreed to continue our walk and we arrived to the biggest market I’ve ever seen.
I guided them into the market where there were so many choices of fruits and vegetables, even meat but I stay away from that area. We were on the hunt to find rice (arroz) for less than .40 a kg. I was buying fruit and vegetables and filling up my backpack and even had to carry some in another bag. On the way out Trish spotted some animals so she went over to check out the puppies, kittens, bunnies, chickens and turkeys. Oh ya can’t forget about the guinea pigs, a delicacy in Ecuador called Cuy. Yuck! We all got some items and then it was time to head home. We took a taxi to Trish’s first and then the three of us headed back to the apartments.
That evening I ended up with some pain in my ribs it wasn’t very comfortable. I went to sleep hoping to awake in the morning feeling better. The next morning I awoke and it didn’t feel well. Marta our landlady wanted Edgar to take me to her sister who is a pharmacist to get something for them pain. I told her I would be okay. We are so lucky to have such a great landlady.

I was invited to go to the Artesa and finally meet Lizette from The YES Effect. I asked to Trish to join me and she agreed. So on Friday I headed out the door around 8am and walked to Trish’s. I got there around 8:30 and we drove to Artesa. Of course with my bad sense of direction and the lack of street signs we missed our turn and headed to Banos. I called Steve to see if he could help but nope he couldn’t. So, Trish and I turned around hoping to find the street. As we were driving Lizette called me to see if I was coming and I had to explain that I wasn’t sure where I was LOL. We continued to drive and we turned right down 1 de Mayo and I realized that the next street should be where Artesa was so we drove up and found it tucked in off the street. We were only a half an hour late, but according to what I read that is on time for Ecuador.

When we finally arrived outside was Lizette, I finally got to meet her. She was so nice she showed us to the back where it is called seconds and thirds. They are discounted items for blemishes. The Artesa was full of pottery: Plates, bowls, vases, soap dishes and so much more. I saw so many pretty items but couldn’t justify buying any because we have everything we need. Trish was buying all kinds of beautiful things for her apartment and others that she will rent out. Towards the end I was thinking I can’t go away empty handed so I found a mixing bowl that we can use in our home. The process to check out is a little tedious. You take all your items to a table and then a person will hand write everything you have on a sheet of paper which is then handed to someone at a computer they will type up the items and I believe they also are looking up the prices. Then your items are wrapped and brought up front to the main store where another person will input all the items into a computer and will give you your total and take your money CASH only. My mixing bowl was around $3.00. Not too bad for a ceramic bowl. Trish ended up spending around $60 and she got a lot of stuff I was really impressed with the prices. We were finally done and Trish drove me home.

As soon as I arrived home I had some lunch and then Steve and I headed to the Coral Centrol via bus and then that afternoon we headed to Nick’s 2nd Futbol game via bus it felt like it was on the other side of town as far as we rode. They only played half a game I guess there is a mercy rule. Nick’s team was down 6-0, I think. Back on the bus and home we go.
On Sunday we decided to make sure we knew where Nick’s Spanish School (Amauta) is, since he was starting Monday. We took Nick and Ebony with us on the journey. Of course we walked which we didn’t like when we went up the hill. We found the school and then we thought we should treat ourselves and have some lunch. We knew the Coffee Tree would be open and it was near by so we ate there. I had fries and a Fanta, Nick and Steve had burgers and fries and Ebony had a Strawberry sundae. The food was not so great and it cost a fortune, at least in Cuenca standards. It was $35. We won't be going there again.
Well, that was last week. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fourth Week in Cuenca

Tuesday was the beginning of our fourth week living in Cuenca. The majority of the things you associate with getting settled into a new home are done. We have a beautiful apartment (12 month lease) with all the luxuries we had in Decatur (minus family of course). Our landlady Martha, and building manager Edgar have become good friends, and they enrich our lives daily by challenging us to speak more Spanish, and to enjoy what Cuenca has to offer. We are comfortable walking to the farmers market called Feria Libre for our fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, and to a nearby bakery for delicious cinnamon rolls (and more). We can also walk to Super Maxi (similar to a Publix), but we limit our purchases to cheddar cheese, chocolate, and few other things due the higher cost of goods. Being a vegetarian household, the abundance and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables is awesome, and we have reduced the amount of processed foods in our diets by at least fifty percent.

Nick at soccer practice
Nick is playing soccer three times a week, and has already played one game, and has another game tomorrow, so Susan and I soccer parents again. I ride the bus (#7) with Nick to practice three times a week, and then spend the 2-3 hours reading my kindle, or talking with another soccer dad in a mixture of Spanish and English. It takes us about 15-20 minutes each way on the bus, and I must admit it is nice to ride a bus here instead of driving to practice in Decatur. So far, I do not miss having a car at all,!

Susan teaching English
We are have our very own students (Joaquim, Ebony and Lisabeth) who visit each morning for their daily English lessons, and in exchange helps us learn Spanish. Depending on how early our students arrive, or whether Nick has soccer practice determines who the teacher is each day. Lately, Ebony and Lisabeth have been hanging out with Susan for 2-3 hours after classes are done to watch English language cartoons on my laptop.

Cuenca Bus Card
With the help of our upstairs neighbor Edwin, we are the proud owners of our very own prepaid Cuenca bus cards! The card has set us free in Cuenca. No more worrying about change for the bus before leaving the house. The card itself cost us $1.75 (we bought two), and we loaded $10 on each card which is enough for 40 bus trips each. Yes, the bus cost $.25 per trip, and we haven't found anywhere we cannot get to by riding the bus, and it feels safer than using MARTA in Atlanta.

Nick Spanish Language School

On Monday, Nick begins Spanish lessons at Amauta Spanish School to prepare for his placement exams for the Santana School at the end of the month. His lessons are two hours a day, Monday-Friday, with a pupil-to-teacher ration of 2-1, and last for four weeks. Once Santana School begins September 7th, the plan is to continue Nick's Spanish lessons for one hour a day, 2-3 times per week to help with homework. Santana is a private IB certified school which teaches in Spanish with the exception of ten hours per week of English lessons, and as parents we are excited by the opportunity to have Nick become bi-lingual.

Now that we have been here a whopping 24 days, I must admit I love it here, so here is a list of ten things I enjoy about living in Cuenca.

1. Public Transportation is cheap, reliable, and safe.
2. The availability of fresh fruits, and vegetables has made me forget all about Whole Foods.
3. Weather is unbelievable.
4. Ecuadorians are friendly, helpful, and smile when we say hello.
5. Green! Everything is green, and beautiful. Hard to have a bad day when you are surrounded by the natural beauty of Cuenca.
6. Smiling children playing outside.
7. Walk-ability. We can get just about anywhere by foot with relative ease.
8. The sounds of the city. I may be strange, but I enjoy the sounds a city makes, and it gives off energy that makes me feel alive.
9. Spending time with my wife, and son without having to rush off to work, soccer, or somewhere else as we did in Decatur.
10. Safety. I have yet to feel uncomfortable, or as if I should be worried about my safety anymore so than I felt in downtown Decatur, and I feel safer here than in downtown Atlanta.

If anyone ever reads this blog, we hope our ramblings are at least entertaining, and maybe even a little helpful. Take care all.