Monday, April 9, 2012

Wardrobe Malfunctions? Talk to La Rapida

Guest post by Bill Mann.
Bill is a technical writer, instructor and partner at Ecuador SB Marketing

One thing that seems to happen to us expats when we get to Ecuador is that we tend to lose significant weight. Whether it is the weather, the food, the lack of stress, whatever it is, after a little time in country, our wardrobes need some help. One option is to buy new clothes (assuming we can find stuff that fits), but here in Cuenca there's another option. There are still places you can go and get your clothes altered just like in the olden days in the US. One such place is La Rapida.

La Rapida  is a chain of shops that can alter your clothes, repair your shoes, fix your luggage, put new holes in your belt, basically do whatever it takes to make your clothes fit you once again. There are a total of 8 locations scattered around Cuenca. Since I was lucky enough to be one of those who lost a lot of weight since I got here, I decided to test out the services at the primary La Rapida location at Tarqui 6 – 38 y Calle Larga Matriz.

I made two trips to La Rapida. First time I showed up with two shirts, a pair of pants, and a belt, all of which were now too large. Once my turn came up, they led me to the back of the shop, where a small bathroom under the stairs had been converted into a dressing room. If you are old enough to remember going to the tailor decades ago in the US, you know what happened next. I put on some of the clothes that needed to be altered and stepped out of the dressing room. I was greeted by a tailor with her measuring tape and chalk who asked what I needed done. For my pants, she not only measured and marked off the waist, but she also suggested that they could narrow the legs to fit better. When it came to the shirt, she marked off the sides to make it fit better along my torso, she also altered the sleeves.

Now it had been a long, long time since I visited a tailor (so my memories are fuzzy), but I don't remember that kind of thing happening back then. Even better, they told me that my clothes would be available the next afternoon. That was a 24-hour turnaround time. Even better, the total cost was $14.

When I got back the next day, they simply bundled up my clothes and sent me home. When I got there I tried everything on and am happy to report that everything fit just right.

I took a larger load of clothes back the next day and went through the same process, with the same results. This time, it was 4 shirts and two pairs of pants for $22. Again, everything came out just so. If your clothes (or leather goods, or shoes, or luggage) need repairs or alterations, I suggest you give La Rapida a try.

Thank you, Bill Mann for your post.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quito and the Cedula Plan, Part 2

The continuing saga of Quito and the Cedula Plan...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
After leaving our lawyers office at 5:30pm, we needed to find a place to spend two more nights, and of course some dinner. We checked out Casa Bamboo, a hostel near our lawyers office, but it didn't quite meet our needs, so we continued our search. We ended up returning to the Travelers Inn, and got a different room (106) for the same rate. We bought some snacks at a tienda nearby, and settled in for the night with low expectations of anything happening the next day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
We attempted to sleep in, but we're awaken by guests entering the dining room directly above our room for breakfast beginning at 7:00am. So, not being able to sleep, Susan attempted to take a shower, but there was no hot water! Old hostels with wood floors tend to be noisy, and have a limited supply of hot water, so beware of room #106. Nick wasn't feeling well after breakfast, so he decided it would be better if he stayed in the room, and played on his laptop. Susan, and I decided to check out the Basilica del Voto Nacional, and enjoyed a nice 30 minute walk from our hostel. The Basilica was beautiful, and after reading Dano's blog,  AHHH Cuenca!, and seeing his pictures we decided we too would climb to the top of the Basilica. We definitely would not have been able to climb the many stairs, and ladders when we first arrived in Ecuador eight months ago, but we were surprised how well we held up now.

Once we returned to our hostel to check on Nick (he was fine), we took a siesta (yes, my favorite part of Ecuador!), and later called our lawyer to check on the status of our Cedulas. We talked to our lawyer, and was told she would call the next morning to fill us in on the next phase of the Cedula Plan. Dinner out again, this time we enjoyed a nice meal at an Argentinian Steak House with an eccentric Italian owner who loves to tango with his staff, and guests. A another nice walk to the hostel, and to rest up for hopefully our last day in Quito.

Thursday, March 29, 2012
We woke up early to shower, thus we had hot water, YES! We waited for a phone call as usual from our lawyer, and lo and behold she called to tell us I was needed to help convince a clerk to speed up the processing of our corrected Cedula form in order for us to possibly get our cedula on FRIDAY!. Well, I rushed to the Registro Civil to meet our lawyers assistant, who after seeing me arrive, explained in Spanish that we needed to go to a different building, which happened to be very near our hostel. I spoke to a clerk, and she agreed to assist with the form, and then I was told there was nothing else we could do today, but wait for a phone call. Back to the hostel, and requested one more night in our room, and luckily there was space. Susan and Nick weren't in the room when I returned, and later I found out they had gone to Subway for lunch. Where Nick enjoyed his first sub in over eight months. So, we had another dinner in Quito at Papa Johns later that evening, and prepared for one more chance at getting our Cedula.

Friday, March 30,2012
We checked out of our hostel at 7:00am, and headed to the Registro Civil to meet our lawyers assistant at 8:00am. Eventually at 9:30 the assistant arrived, and once again I was participating in begging a clerk to fix my problem which was created by our lawyer in the first place. Finally, at 10:30am we were told the forms were waiting on a supervisor at another office to sign the corrected forms along with about 30 other forms from others. We headed to lunch to await one final call telling us whether we would or would not get our Cedulas. The three of us had a little hope at this point, and around 12:30pm we received confirmation that we were not getting our Cedulas, and we had spent 5 nights/6 days in Quito for nothing, Next step was finding our way to the bus station, and to get home to Cuenca. Of course, to cap off our thrilling week-long trip, we got lost going to the bus station. After finding the bus station, buying tickets, and boarding the bus, we were on our way back home to Cuenca.

Saturday, March 31, 2012
The final few hours of the bus ride to Cuenca was the toughest. We were tired, but couldn't sleep, and due to some rain, and fog the bus seemed to be going very slow. The return trip to Cuenca took ten hours, and it felt really great to be back in Cuenca. After the quickest cab ride we ever had in Cuenca, we arrived at our apartment at 3:00am, home sweet home, at last.

So, nineteen hours on buses, five nights in a noisy hostel, hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs in three different government offices, three different assistants, one really long discussion with our lawyer, and the biggest accomplishment of the whole time was that I finished reading three books during the trip. The plan now is to return to Quito once our daughter Courtney's residency visa is approved, and we will all make the journey again. But, we have the residency visa stamp in our passports, so that is what we really needed. The Cedula is something we can wait to get eventually, or at least before I turn 65 years old, so our lawyer has a little less than 12 years to fix her mistakes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Quito and the Cedula Plan, Part 1

With our residency visas approved on February 16th, the next step was to travel to Quito to get our Censo updated, and receive our Cedulas. Our plan was to leave Cuenca on the morning of March 21st by plane, and return the same day. The goal is to get our Censo information updated, and to get our Cedulas in one day, or in worse case two days. Below is how the actual plan played out.

Problem #1. The first change of plans was the result of the cost of airfare. The best rate we could find for a round-trip fare, Cuenca to Quito was $152.40 per person. Of course I waited until 72 hours before the trip to purchase tickets, so that affected to prices, but I did look forward 10 days, and never could find a lower price (in-person or on-line).

Solution #1. We decided the cost of bus tickets ($12 per person) vs. the price of airfare ($152.40 per person) was enough of an incentive to take the bus option, and travel a day early on Sunday, March 25th.

Sunday, March 25, 2012
We left at 6:40am, and eventually arrived in Quito nine hours later, but overall it was a good ride. We used Flota Imbabura bus company, and the office is in the Terminal Terrestre near the airport. The bus was clean, comfortable, and safe.We arrived in Quito at the new bus terminal south of Quito, Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe at 3:30pm. Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe is a modern, airy, and safe terminal with buses arriving, and departing 24/7 too many destinations to list. From what we have been told the old bus terminal was outdated, dirty, and very unsafe for travelers, but the new terminal was nicer than several airport terminals I have passed through in the USA. They have clearly marked signs to direct you to ticket counters, bathrooms, security, and LEGAL taxis. We took a 30 minute taxi  ($10) to our hostal called Travelers Inn, which was recommended by several members of the Ecuador Expats Group on Facebook of which we are members. Travelers Inn has hostel-type accommodations, and with available rooms with private bathrooms. Our triple room (Rm 101) included two twin beds, one full bed, a full bathroom, a small TV (no cable or Direct TV), two windows, and a closet for $45.74 per night. The shower provide very little water pressure, and depending on when you showered little or no hot water. You are not allowed to eat in your rooms, but you do get free, but slow WiFi, and breakfast is included in your room fee. We settled into our room, and later found a Papa John's three blocks from our hostal for dinner, and then returned to our room to get some rest before the busy day ahead of us on Monday.

Monday, March 26, 2012
Monday morning we woke up, ate breakfast in the dining room. The breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, croissants, juice, coffee/tea, yogurt, and eggs. It was enough to get you going in the morning, but on a scale of 1-5 (5 being Excellent), I would give it a 3 out of 5. Coffee was weak, the portions small, but the service was good. We met with our lawyer, Dra. Gabriele Espinosa in her office at 9:30am to review our account, and submit documents for our eldest daughter Courtney's Visa application. We headed out to update our Censo first with Juan, our lawyers bi-lingual assistant. It took us until 2:00pm to finally get paperwork that updated our Censo information, expiration date, but as well all know, we could not get the actual Censo Card, because Ecuador is out of the official Censo Cards. So, we have a letter stating our new information, and will be able to get our Censo Card in Cuenca once the new forms arrive. Next we took a taxi to the Registro Civil to get our Cedulas, or we had thought we would be getting our Cedulas. Eventually by the time we arrived at the office they had already given out all the numbers for the day, so were told at 2:45pm that nothing else could be done today. With nothing else to do we headed to McDonalds for a snack, and stopped at a nearby SuperMaxi for some supplies before walking (25 minutes) back to our hostel. We were disappointed, but not too upset at this point. After a siesta (one of my favorite things about Ecuador) we headed to Plaza Foch which is a collection of restaurants, cafes, bars, galleries, and hostels in the Mariscal District. We decided after looking at several menus of eating dinner at the Magic Bean (Restaurant, Cafe, and Hostel). The atmosphere was pleasant, but the food was average at best. I would try it again if I was in the area, because the menu was impressive, and it could have just been an off night. Once again we headed back to our hostel to rest for what we hope is our last day in Quito.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
At 6:45am we checked out of our hostel, and headed back to the Registro Civil to stand in line to get a number. The lined formed thirty minutes before the office opened, and after standing in line for an hour we received numbers 250, 251, and 252. Next step was to head downstairs to wait for our numbers to be called, and our lawyers assistant to show up. After waiting another two hours our numbers are called, and we head to three separate desks with our one assistant Raoul. Susan and I are at desk next to each other, but Nick (14 yr old son) is out of sight at another desk. I hand my paperwork to the person across the desk from me, and within 30 seconds she tells me my form has an error, and I will not be getting my cedula! I inquiry about the nature of the error, she informs me the word SECUNDARIA is misspelled SUCUNDARIA. Now realizing my lawyer had filled out this form, then submitted the form to the government for approval, and then reviewed it after receiving it back from the government, but NOW as I set across from the person who can give me my Cedula a misspelled word is discovered that stops the entire process in its tracks! The nice lady also tells me it will take 8-10 days to correct the error before I can return to get my Cedula. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time Susan is being told that not only does her form have the same misspelled word, but her City/Country of Birth is written in ENGLISH! And it only takes a few minutes for Nick to walk over to us to tell us that his form is messed up in the same manner as Susan's.

Problem #2: Obviously, the form required for our Cedulas is filled with errors, and these errors have resulted in another problem as we seek our Cedulas.

Solution #2: We leave the Registro Civil, and head by taxi to another office to try to get the forms corrected. After two more hours of sitting in another office, our lawyer, and I approach a lady to beg her to correct our forms on the spot instead of letting them go through the proper process (8-10 days). We convince her, and the changes are made. All that has to happen now is for the corrected forms to be signed, and sent back to the Registro Civil.

So, we have done all we can at this point, so our lawyer tells us to have lunch, and she will call us in two hours to tell us what happens next. Crepes and Waffles is a restaurant we chose for lunch, and enjoyed some unique spins on crepes (Nick and I), and waffles (Susan). Reasonably priced place, with a large menu, and a lot of vegetarian choices which is important for Susan. Next we walked to the nearby mall to hang out until our lawyer was to call.

Problem #3: Our lawyer called eventually (hour late), and told me that the government had not sent the form to the Registro Civil office yet, and it looked like they may not do it until the following day. At this point we make a visit to her office to discuss a possible change in lawyers.

Solution #3: Well, I meet alone with our lawyer to discuss our displeasure with the course of events throughout the entire visa process which has caused us one unnecessary trip to Quito already not to mention the unnecessary 12-IX Visa needed to allow the 30 days required to submit our applications for residency. In the end after much debate, we agreed on a fee reduction to compensate us for the errors on her and her staffs part.

We leave our lawyers office at 5:30pm, tired, frustrated, angry, and in need of a place to spend two more nights in hopes we can get our Cedulas on Thursday. I decided we had already made the commitment to close Moca in order for us to make the trip, and no one wanted to return to Quito again, so I decided to roll the dice to see if we could salvage our trip to Quito.

Coming soon....
Quito and the Cedula Plan, Part 2