We are in Sucre, Bolivia where the red roofs, white-washed colonial buildings, spectacular skies and the sounds of the kids gathering in the schools with their excited shouts and yells drift up to remind us again how lucky we are to be able to experience new cultures from the inside out.
Our April Bolivia group arrived two weeks ago last Saturday and are now out with their instructors roaming this pretty university city as they continue to challenge their minds in another intense, but fun program of Spanish, culture, music, food and of course that all important "plaza people watching". Based on the smiles and nightly tales of adventure, everyone is thriving. Meanwhile, who knows maybe this time my Spanish will actually improve beyond the gorilla stage (these days the instructors at the school are telling me I'm a lost cause...the good news is the conversations are all in Spanish).
As has become our custom, we are sending out the dates and specifics of our programs for next winter. We want to give those of you who have traveled with us before a chance to take a look and see if you want to join us again for what we hope you always find to be educational, challenging, entertaining, wow-provoking, one of a kind travel experiences that enrich your lives...and get you out of the North American winter for at least a month, or maybe two!
We have four programs scheduled for January through April 2015...one in the Lake District of Southern Argentina, one during the never to be forgotten wine harvest celebrations of Northwestern Argentina, one in stunning Bolivia, and one on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia in the romantic and historic walled city of Cartagena.
They are very different programs, but have the common thread of one-on-one conversational Spanish instruction with friendly, skilled local instructors, unique and comfortable lodging in the center of spectacular cities, and a full schedule of activities that place you in the middle of a fascinating new culture for nearly a month.
The Summer Beauty of Southern Argentina and Spanish: January 24 - February 16
The Wine Harvest Celebrations of Northwestern Argentina and Spanish: February 21 - March 17
The Coffees, Chocolates and Sunshine of Caribbean Colombia and Spanish: March 21 - April 13
The Timeless Cultures of Bolivia and Spanish: April 19 - May 13
This site is a collection of stories, pictures, and experiences from seven years of living abroad in wonderful places like Cuenca, Ecuador; Bolzano, Italy; Kivilahti, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; Cafayate, Argentina; Sucre, Bolivia; Cartagena, Colombia and a host of other places of enchantment. We hope you enjoy them.
Back in Cuenca...
Entering Quito at the airport is as easy as can be, you almost always arrive at night, most flights between 10 and 12 pm. The customs hall is just a short walk from where the plane comes in and we breeze through the roses and down the stairs before waiting for the machine to tell us which lane to head to, maybe a minutes wait a quick and polite customs official and we are on our way. Whoops, one luggage last x-ray just before heading out the door. Despite the hour, the waiting area is packed with families waiting for loved ones, and a few rogue taxi drivers looking for business...following the 1st rule of travel (never go, buy, or do anything with somebody that approaches you, they are not doing it for your benefit) we head out the door and head for the taxi stand. Quick question, "Cuanto cuesta a Hotel Quito?" the answer I was looking for "quatro...cinco...or seis..." Seis it is and for six dollars we head off for the twenty minute ride across the city to the Hotel Quito. Following our usual pattern we have not made reservations but had checked the location and rates, we even thought about booking this first night on line but the website required a PIN number and we didn't feel comfortable inputting that. They had a room, but wanted $155 per night, so out the door we went and a $2 taxi ride took us to another wonderful hotel for $80, with robes, a roof-top spa, free wifi, a great breakfast and every other amenity known to man. oh yeah, good soft beds...we crashed.
Today it was out the hotel door at 1 pm at the airport at 1:15 find the Tamé desk, buy the ticket $67 a piece and whoosh we are in the air at 2 pm! Don't try that at home, but here it's normal no one has ever heard about 14 days in advance, just walk in and go, I just love the concept. thirty five minutes later we are on the ground in Cuenca, everybody should make the 12 hour bus ride ($12) from Quito to Cuenca once, but never again, not when you can be there in 35 minutes for $67.
Cuenca greets us at the terminal with fresh roses and a band, for no better reason than they are the city of festivals, and they are. I'm typing this at midnight listening to a great jazz band drifting across the river, in fact I think it's time to check them out...more tomorrow about how we rented another apartment.
Ever dreamed of living in another culture, immersing yourself in the language, the pace, the food, and the celebrations? Ever wished you could truly communicate in another language, able to discern all that is going on around you, to bargain, to joke, to enjoy other people at home in their own surroundings? Ever wanted to see what it would be like to live in amazing foreign lands, warmer, more affordable, more spectacular, or simply more fascinating? Places where every day brings a sense of accomplishment as new goals and challenges are met? Ever think maybe there’s something more out there?
Kent and Christine Zimmerman upon the graduation of their son Lars from college, left their great jobs and headed out into the world on an extended adventure. Their travels have taken them from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Kivilahti, Finland through five continents. Along the way they have spent time studying Spanish in the wackiest Spanish school in South America and learned that their hundred dollar pizza in Norway will pay for two weeks of surf side lodging in Ecuador.
Kent was the CEO of the University of Colorado Alumni Association for 13 years and spent a decade before that as the Executive Vice President of the Boulder, Colorado; Chamber of Commerce.
Christine (pronounced Christina in German) was raised in Hamburg, Germany, and taught German, Spanish and French in a Colorado high school. She loves to try anything new and is most known for her smile, amazing memory for names...and incredible patience in putting up with Kent.
The two of them, along with their son Lars, now working in Aspen have always known that they were not quite normal...and this adventure just proves it.
You too can live your dream TestDriveYourLifeAbroad.com
An International Life, Is It Forever, Would You Like It...
I just received an email from an International Living magazine reader who had read our last article about living abroad. She wanted to know if Cuenca was the perfect place for her and her husband. They were planning to sell their house, all their belongings and upon retirement move down to South America. She is “worried about the grief of making a move to a new country permanently”.
If this sounds like you, maybe it’s time to step back and add in one more step…exploration.
Each of us has different wants and needs in our pursuit of happiness. Christine and I used to tell our son Lars “Everybody else is normal, we’re the weird ones” when he asked why we did things one way and all his friends’ families did them differently. We liked small houses, the "off-season" and going places no one else had ever heard of...not an easy thing for a young teenager to understand. It did make it clear to him that different people want different things.
There are a few important ideas to remember when thinking about pulling up your roots and moving overseas. The first is what Christine and I call “tengo tiempo” Spanish for “I’ve got time”. Nobody on our continent ever has time, we have calendars that are divided up into 10-minute sections and still we try to squeeze more in. Even retirees, like my parents in Denver, seem to overextend themselves racing from one volunteer commitment to the next. Moving out of your life and your everyday routines will open up huge blocks of time and alter your concept of how to use it.
Strange as it seems, one of the true joys of living in a brand new culture, country and language, is no one has any real expectations of you. Everyday is packed with new friends, new sights, new experiences, but other than being nice and trying your best to learn, you are on your own. All the expectations and assumptions normally placed on you, what I call your template for living, rarely apply in your new situation. An international move is your unique chance to step out of a lifetime of habits (turning into McDonalds every time I saw one) and use the opportunity to pick and choose what makes your life most satisfying.
Don’t wait for retirement to start the journey. The first thing we would suggest is you take the longest vacation you possible can. Work with your board or boss to schedule a short leave of absence. Even if you are the owner, the dream of living overseas will require you to let others take on more responsibility. Give everybody from work, to family and friends a six-week taste of what having you further away might be like. Once you’ve arranged the time, then choose the place, (we suggest small cities like we use in our programs in TestDriveYourLifeAbroad.com like Cuenca, Ecuador; Sucre, Bolivia; or Cafayate, Argentina). While abroad arrange to take at least four weeks of language lessons, which will give you unique access to the culture and language, maybe even live with a host family through your language school, or track down a small place to rent...but stay in one place. Experience the culture, the rhythm of life, the everyday routine...you will come home with a much better understanding of whether that culture and place is right for you.
If there are more than two years until your planned “big move” try another country the next year. We fell in love with Canoa, Ecuador until we found Cuenca and two years in Cuenca left us craving warmth and sunshine which we found in Mendoza, Argentina and Sucre, Bolivia. Lately our roving hearts have been smitten by Bariloche, Argentina; Tallinn, Estonia; and Bolzano, Italy.
That’s how you want to feel, a beautiful brand-new place, with an exciting new life and nothing but time to enjoy them, until it's time to move on...what a gift.
January 25 - February 16: Mendoza/Cafayate Argentina Spanish & Wine
February 22 - March 16: Mendoza/Cafayate Argentina Spanish & Wine
March 29 - April 22: Sucre, Bolivia - Spanish & South American Cultures
May 3 - May 27: Sucre, Bolivia Spanish & South American Cultures
July 16 - August 6: Tallinn, Estonia History of the Baltics
October 1 - October 25: Bolzano, Italy Italian/Wine
As if that were not enough after dinner, the steward made our beds for us, pulling out mattresses, sheets and another big fluffy pillow. We haven’t found it yet but we hear there is also a wine bar on board. Even better, we didn’t have to show up two hours before the trip and leave all our liquids behind, we literally walked up from our hotel, gave the steward our bags and got on. My earphones are stereophonic headsets that keep out any noise while piping in the latest music, or the movie. A great way to actually see a the country.
This ain't Kansas, Toto
What is South America Really Like?
When we headed down to South America we weren't sure what it would be like, we half-expected grass shacks, snakes, bugs (really big bugs), and a totally third world experience...the only images we had ever been exposed to in the U.S. We never in our wildest dreams could imagine the beauty, diversity and warmth of this continent of contrasts and surprises. We still haven't seen a single snake and there are more bugs in Boulder on a warm summer night than in any of the places we've visited. This forgotten continent twice the size of Europe is a dazzling destination!
Living in South America...
Is it safe?
We started with homicide rates per 100,000 residents, which seems to be the norm for reporting murders around the world. Columbus, Ohio came in at 18.1 per 100,000 residents, Milwaukee 18.0 per 100,000 and Baltimore, the city of the Inner Harbor and Little Italy was a whopping 38.3 per 100,000.
We then compared that to South American countries, Argentina came in at 5.27 per 100,000, Bolivia 2.82 (our favorite South American country) Chile 1.6 per 100,000, Ecuador was high for South America at 19 per 100,000 (just above Milwaukee and Columbus and way below Baltimore). Peru was 5.57 and Uruguay was 4.3. Nationwide in the US we run 5.54 per 100,000 which makes it more dangerous in your hometown than it is in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina or Uruguay. The biggest problem most Ecuadorians will give you is speaking too fast when they ask you if you like their country. In Chile it will be simply getting any kind of service, and in Argentina it will be understanding their Italian flavored Spanish.
Yes, there are bad people everywhere and you always need to be aware of what is going on around you...whether in Columbus, Ohio... or Quito, Ecuador. We suggest you don't look like a tourist, dress like you would heading down to a restaurant in your hometown i.e. real shoes, no shorts or zip-on pants. Wear a nice shirt and jeans, even better add a sports coat or nice sweater on top.
Comfort and class are international, so instead of carrying all your valuables in a pouch around your neck advertising where your valuables are...put a credit card and some cash ($40 -80 dollars will get you anywhere in South America for a long time) in your pocket. Leave the rest in the hotel safe or at home, ATMs are everywhere (make sure you tell your bank you are heading to South America or they will close your access to your account until you call them to say it's alright). We usually carry a camera, but in a simple shopping bag, like every other shopper around us.
One thing you can do to make yourself much, much safer is simply don't drive. Don't rent a car, don't buy a car, don't even use a car. You can hire a service that will take you halfway across Ecuador for $12, a taxi anywhere in Sucre is $1. Flying can also be inexpensive if you use national carriers like TAME, Amaszonas, TACA. If you're in places like Chile and Argentina where they have taken bus service to a level our airlines need to study, take a luxury bus and be amazed at how pampered you can be for $50.
Vaya con Dios!
Try before you buy...
Moving overseas, out of your life and out of your everyday routines is a privilege and a challenge that will shake you up more than you can ever imagine. It will alter your concept of who you are, open you up to experiences and feelings you never imagined and shake up as well as reinforce your ideas of what a good life is all about. Remember though we as humans cherish our routines and patterns, “losing them” will leave you feeling rootless and a little uneasy in the beginning.
While everyday abroad will be packed with new friends, new sights, new experiences, all those positives also come with some negatives. You will be in charge of creating a whole new existence without a lot of outside structure or assistance. With all the change all the pleasant things about your current lifestyle also disappear. The status afforded by your profession, your standing in the community from years of hard work, your formal and informal support structures all disappear abroad.
Most of us are familiar with the difficulties of moving across the country to a new job. Moving overseas is ten times the struggle, as you are not moving into the set structure and support of a new position. You are truly on your own, free and independent like you always wanted to be, but also totally without structure.
For most, the adventure, challenge, sense of accomplishment and fun of exploration found in placing yourself in a completely new and foreign environment makes up for losses of the move, but not for everybody.
That’s why we preach “try before you buy” and more importantly “try before you sell”.
Living abroad doesn't mean you have to sell everything and commit to a permanent change of life. Give yourself a chance to experience it first hand. The cost of living in so many of these places is so much lower than you are used to, you will find you can swing a test drive without the need for cashing in on your current life.
Try the new country and the ex-pat life, but make sure to keep your bridges strong, your connections healthy and your options open. Time overseas will either sweeten your appreciation of home, or prove that your decision to move was a sound one, maybe even a little of both. Our adventures have confirmed to us Colorado will always be home, but that doesn’t mean we have to live there all the time.
It’s important to remember, this is a dramatic lifestyle change, not an investment. Unhook yourself from the very American idea that where we live should always be a real estate investment. Allow yourself the time to explore how you fit in a new culture without major financial commitment.
You’ll never know how you will react to life outside of your home country until you try it. Don’t wait for retirement to start down this journey. When I used to lecture to students at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I sometimes talked about how in high-school I always wanted to be a doctor…until I actually volunteered at a hospital for a few days and learned I was really, really uncomfortable around sick people...what an epiphany.
Moving internationally is the same concept; try it before you buy it.
Tengo Tiempo...(I've Got Time...)
This "Year of Wander" that we have gotten ourselves into, has opened up a whole new aspect of time that we had never thought about before, the time to simply linger. We have had a smorgasbord of chances to spend time with relatives and friends in truly unhurried and relaxed ways. Not three hour Thanksgiving dinners or stressful Christmas afternoons. Just weeks of unhurried day to day living with family and friends.
Sometimes it has been on the road, as with my parents who joined us in Scandinavia last summer and Ecuador this past January. When's the last time you had weeks of time with your parents? It was a privilege to simply enjoy a little of the life that I had grown-up in, but left thirty years ago. Other times it has been back home in Colorado, living with my in-laws in Boulder for a week or two between our different homes.
Having rented our house in Boulder fully furnished when we headed out, when we come back to the States, we joke that we are living in our parents basements at fifty, but the truth is that has been an unexpected bonus. How many times do you get a chance to sit and talk over a nice dinner and a bottle of wine night after night with people who are close to you. Do you know what your parents morning routine is like? When's the last time you had your Mother's famous potato-chip fried chicken? Remember that special chocolate-fudge dump-cake that you used to sneak into the kitchen for. The pleasure of experiencing these things again is priceless. At any time we could have headed up to our place in Crested Butte, but after all these years of packing too many things into too little time, we love the luxury of lingering. It even feels good to say it in all it's forms...we've got time...we're not in a hurry...tenemos tiempo...let's spend another day...what do you want to do now? Simple words, but by far the best feeling out there.
Whether at home in Colorado enjoying the day to day, or taking advantage of being able to show others new and exotic places because we had the time to discover them has been a gift. Last month Lars and Ashley came down to the beach in Ecuador to join us for some surfing and a chance to sit back in the hammocks and enjoy each others company, it was a treat! Like the old song "Cat's in the Cradle" however, before we all got settled in, they had to head back home. They don't have time in their lives yet, and neither did we for more years than we care to count. There are trade-offs for this life, but when you think many of our experiences have cost us less than staying at home...it puts it in perspective.
Making the Leap...Do It Now
We've been in Quito, Ecuador this week with a hotel ballroom full of people who are thinking about moving down to South America for one reason or another...the speakers have all been expats from Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and a host of other countries in Europe and Asia, they all gave the group a glimpse at life in their particular country.
Our message was simply do it now...get started on your new life today. Some would call it stupidity, others courage, the truth is at some point you have to move from talking about it...to doing it.
Slipping into an International Life More Comfortably…The 6-3-6 Discovery Year
You don’t have to jump off a cliff into unknown waters in order to enjoy the benefits of a life abroad. There is an easier, less stressful way for you to move into your new life, and it will be an eye-opener as well as terrific time.
Although it sounds like a “Catch 22”, the absolute best time and place to really discover what you want out of an international lifestyle is when you are living one.
So how can you get yourself into the international living mindset, without selling everything in order to head out? An easy way to do this is to simply add a “6 week – 3 month – 6 month "Discovery Year” to your planning. While still working, take the longest vacation you can. Muster up six weeks, or even more if possible and head out to your chosen international destination. Try the new country and the expat life on for size. Don’t stay in a hotel, rent an apartment, take language lessons, meet the expat community, and stay in one place. It will be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.
The next step in the 6-3-6 process is three months of exploring other places in depth. People who are interested in an expat life are usually highly successful and critical pieces of the organizations they work for. Use that success and support to work with your board or boss to schedule a three-month leave of absence. If you are the owner of your own business and are serious about an overseas move, you are going to need to let others take on more responsibility sooner or later, give them a taste of what having you further away might be like.
Once you’ve arranged the time, then choose the three new places to stay (we suggest small cities like Cuenca, Ecuador; Sucre, Bolivia; Salta, Argentina, Granada, Nicaragua; Bologna, Italy; Rovinj, Croatia). Arrange to take at least four weeks of language lessons in each area. Live with a host family through your language school if you like, or track down a small place to rent. Experience the culture, the rhythm of life, and the everyday. After a month or so move on. You will come home with a much better understanding of which culture and place is right for you.
Bill O. from Arizona who is retired and looking to move overseas has taken it a step further; he is spending three months apiece in six different countries. He’s been to Belize, is now here in Cuenca, and is next heading to Colombia. He’s been amazed at what he has learned, reports it costs him less (including the flights) than staying at home and he’s having a great time!
The final step in the 6-3-6 discovery process is to chose one location and stay for 6 months. This is where the rubber meets the road. You are truly living internationally but still with an escape clause. This time you will need to deal with issues such as visas, banking, bringing your pets, and even renting out your home. At the same time, six months will allow you to avoid the onerous requirements of residency, and your friends and family will know that you have a return ticket at the end of the stay.
Six months is the perfect amount of time to discover if this is really the place for you, and whether you are ready for longer stays abroad. Now you can go back home and comfortably make more permanent decisions, knowing they are what you really want to do, based on your own experiences.
Of course, the discovery experience doesn’t have to end then either. Like us you may find it to be a wonderful way of life in and of itself.
Eight things to do while checking out Cuenca...
2) Stroll up the rushing Tomebamba River through the old and new neighborhoods of Cuenca. Start at Carolina Bookstore just off Hermano Miguel and Calle Larga from there head south and walk down the always busy flight of steps to the river below. At the river turn right and follow the brick and cobblestone walkways as they head upriver. A feast for the senses and a good glimpse of the differing sides of Cuenca, indigenous families washing clothes, spectacular colonial buildings spilling down the bluff, fifteen-story modern apartment towers, goat herders, an occasional cow, eucalyptus groves, views of the Andes. Watch out when crossing streets, pedestrians are not high on the priority list down here.
3) Watch the latest from Hollywood at the Multicine in the Millenium Mall. An eight-minute walk from the Calle Larga. Head down the steps at Hermano Miguel, cross the Rio Tomebamba and then slalom through the runners and walkers in the always busy health nuts paradise of “Parque de la Madre” turn left at the Planetarium, cross the street to the Millenium Mall. Movies appear in Spanish either translated or with under-titles the same day they start in the US. Don’t faint when the ushers open the doors and thank you warmly for coming.
4) Enjoy a “cono” and espresso in the Parque Calderon’s Tutto Freddo while soaking up the sun, enjoying the beautiful gardens, and watching the locals. This European style ice cream shop fifty-steps from the Cathedral’s front door is an institution in Cuenca. Cakes, ice cream, sorbets, coffees, they have it all. Ago first to the cahier and ask for “un cono simple y un espresso”, $1.80 total. She will give you a receipt, which you hand to the counter attendants, tell them “para llevar” (carry out). Take the mouth-watering treasure across the street, into the lush gardens of the park, sit back, and enjoy.
5) Have an English wool jacket tailor made for you. Head into any tailor “Sastre” in the central area and gesture to them you want a new suit. They will show you all kinds of materials, choose one, and then get measured. Most can have your new jacket or suit done in two days. English cashmere will be $20 - $40 a yard and the tailoring will be $60 for a sports coat.
6) Take language lessons at Simon Bolivar Language School a block and a half from “Parque Calderon” available from 8 – 12 or 2 – 6 everyday. It’s $10 per hour for private lessons and worth every penny. Don’t miss joining in the fun between 6 and 7 each evening at the Salsa, Merengue and cooking lessons.
7) Take a nap on Thursday afternoon so you can be fresh for the 10 pm live music at La Parola. This hip club sitting on an outdoor balcony above the river at Calle Larga and Hermano Miguel will be empty at 9:30 and packed by 11. Remember when you leave you need to show your receipt to the doorman, it’s the law in Ecuador.
8) Go bowling at Mall del Rio. This big mall on the Tarqui River three miles or a $2.50 taxi ride from the center of town has a fun bowling alley, and scores of restaurants and shops. The bowling alley is hidden in the Fun Zone and is exactly like what you would find anywhere in the US, except the price is 1.99 a game, shoes included, and everyone around you will be yelling Strike! But in Spanish.
Three things not to do while checking out Cuenca...
1) Do not assume that anybody you meet will speak English. Many do, but they learned it in high school and are about as comfortable with it as you are with your high school German and French.
2) Do not drive, Ecuadorian drivers are crazier than Italians, and the bus and truck drivers are professionally crazy. They have atrocious accident rates down here. If you are in an accident, normal procedure is to take anybody who is not on their way to the hospital or morgue...to jail. Let a taxi or hired car do the driving for you, it’s inexpensive and much safer.
3) Don’t wear safari clothes or shorts, and leave the floppy hats for the golf course at home. The best way to describe central Cuenca is Boston in the mountains, people here dress elegantly and are amazed at what North Americans will wear in public. Blend in better with a pair of nice jeans or slacks, a button down shirt and a sports coat. For women who love clothes (and men too) get out the wallet because this is a small boutique and shoe haven. Walk slowly, window shop and don’t be surprised to find huge stores behind tiny doors.
Do eat the incredible food!!!
The Bolivian Road of Death...
Nobody ever asked us to sign a waiver, that’s just not something you worry about in Bolivia (or anywhere in South America). They will tell you someone died last week, unlucky or doing something stupid. As every hundred yards brings another group of memorial crosses into view, the warnings are almost unnecessary. This is not Disneyland, you are responsible for your own wellbeing here and consequences can be severe.
We’d seen the pictures and videos of the “Deathroad” packed with buses and trucks inching their way up and down. Stopping to give the opposite traffic enough room to barely squeak by with nothing outside of the driver’s door but a three thousand foot drop. “El Camino de la Muerte” or the Bolivian “Road of Death” had been the only highway between the Bolivian capital La Paz and the towns and cities of the Amazon basin below until very recently.
Our ride started at nearly 16,000 feet, higher than any peak in Colorado. I was excited as it was my favorite kind of biking, all downhill, but 16,000 feet is cold, bitter cold. The ride is exhilarating though, think 401 on Schofield, but fifty miles long and falling 13,000 feet.
It was hard to believe as we headed down the sometimes only 7-foot wide ledge carved into the cliff of this spectacular valley, that only two years ago it had been packed with truck and bus traffic. Luckily, the opening of a new highway had taken all but bike traffic and the occasional sightseer off the “Road of Death”. Still today, while riding down, there is nothing but empty air and the almighty on the left and overhanging cliffs to the heavens on your right. The thought of meeting a truck or bus on this narrow track while screaming down is unimaginable, especially when you see some of the fifty-year-old vehicles still driving in this stunning but poor country. Even when the ride is relatively flat and the dirt road a little wider and smoother it’s still a rush, the views, the waterfalls and the sheer lushness as you descend through one climate zone into the next.
Our guides were all dressed up for Carnival, facemasks, waterproof costumes and huge squirt guns. Special cans of a shaving foam sold everywhere allowed them to shoot from a distance and nail just about anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Everyone was a target, but when you’re soaked already, it really doesn’t matter.
Wet, cold, and flying down the ten percent grade we would stop every once in while to warm up and regroup. We were frozen, the rain and snow was unexpected and although we had bought gloves the night before, the only type available were knit llama wool and they quickly lost their usefulness in the wind and slush. Finally though, the clouds and snow started to break up and we could see the green in the distance and the endless ribbon of road that would take us down to the jungle below. We knew it was warm down there; in fact, it was warm here now. After all the snow and cold up top, we were starting to sweat in the rain suits we’d donned at the beginning of the ride. Forty more miles to go, it was time to put on the t-shirts. The temperature was rising rapidly now but still a lot of downhill in front of us.
Twenty miles further down brought another stop, this time a long one with sandwiches, drinks and fruit next to a series of seven, thousand foot waterfalls. It was a scene out of Lost World; you kept expecting a dinosaur to pop out of the ferns. By now the discomforts of the morning were forgotten, it was warm, fun and magnificent.
Another hour and we were down to 3,000 feet and the end of the ride, but not the end of the day. A family compound with a swimming pool, showers and hammocks awaited us. A warm afternoon of celebration and relaxation, a home cooked meal with all the fixings and plenty of variety, drinks, conversation, comfortable chairs and fresh dry clothes. We were tired, fed and relaxed, it was perfect.
The only way back to LaPaz was back up the “Deathroad”. For some reason driving up in the van seemed more disconcerting than biking down. By the time we arrived at the summit of the pass the snow was gone and the steep Andean slopes were emerald green in the evening sun. We knew the group tomorrow, just like the group the day before us, was going to have perfect weather. Somehow, it seemed we had been the lucky ones.
Many different companies will take care of all the details for you if you want to ride “El Camino de la Muerte”. Some of the most popular are El Solario (www.thedeathroad.com), Vertigo Biking (vertigobiking.com), and Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking (gravitybolivia.com). Costs run about $75 per person depending on the bike you choose. The charges include everything from breakfast snacks, souvenir t-shirts, bike rentals, shuttles, all-weather clothing, meals and on the road snacks.
We’ve found making any type of plans in advance of being in country was a frustrating, and unneeded waste of time. Any hotel or tourist office can set you up for the next day in minutes. The tours all start early, so expect to be met at your hotel or hostel about 6:30 am. We would have given anything for a good set of biking gloves. Dress in very warm layers, pack a swimsuit or surf shorts and bring an extra set of clothes to change into for when you get down.
We had one of the worst weather days La Paz had seen in months and still it was one of the most thrilling adventures of our stretch in South America. Who knows what a blue bird day would be like? Flights into La Paz, which is one of the most dramatic cities in the world and a great place to start any number of South American adventures, were as low as $553 this spring. Costs of lodging were as low as $8 a night for private rooms. Meals at restaurants ranged around $4 per person.
In Medellin, Colombia the subway system is a ski-lift...
Which is true in so many ways about the countries down here...our views of them are decades old. Which is why we headed to Colombia, we had heard so much negative about this country in the media back in the states and so many positives about it here in South America - many Europeans will tell you it is their favorite South American country, friendly, safe, spectacular - that it was time to see for ourselves.
We seem to be getting pretty good at running the opposite direction from where we are told (I'm sure my Mother would tell you that's a life-long character trait).
As is true in most cultures, teenage girls are the ultimate targets and dangerous to be near. We made the mistake of walking behind a group all dressed up in their proper school uniforms, only to be blasted by a barrage of water-balloons as a car packed to the gills with similarly dressed teenage boys whizzed by.
By Saturday, the costumes add to the frivolity. It’s like Halloween in the daytime with everybody in the city dressed up and having a good time. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is palled up with Batman and the two of them are doing their darndest to soak Shrek, who’s using a pool toy to blast away at Cinderella.
Don’t expect anything official to get done on Monday or Tuesday either as most schools and businesses just shut down.
As is always true down here food and family are the focus and you cannot believe the huge spreads that are laid out on the endless picnic blankets. The latest labor saving bounce of tradition is for members of the extended family to bring everything you can imagine but the meat. Huge plates of tender juicy Chancho (spit-roasted pork) are picked up from the markets and restaurants that surround the parks and the whole family digs in.
From the smallest village to the largest city this wonderful family oriented celebration is cause for parades, fair rides, expositions, and blocks of candy booths with every colorful kind of sweet you can imagine. It’s a citywide party and everyone is invited.
There’s no way around it, as tall gringos we stand out both as tempting targets and as people to spare…you can almost see the conflict in the eyes… just before you pull out your own water-balloon and nail them. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but once you’ve initiated the battle their revenge is always sweet, and it comes fast, wet, and happy, and that is why we are here.
2014 "Carnaval" excitement is February 27 - March 4
Who needs bridges...A Barge and an Outboard Engine will do
Corpus Christi, in Cuenca Ecuador, what a great time...
He finished with three encores (you get real good at the words otra,otra, otra) then simply disappeared into the crowd...to be followed immediately by great salsa, tango and merengue dancing music...music that just invited everybody to dance, and that is what we all did. Finally about 3 am we floated out into the quiet streets and drifted arm-in-arm towards home in the pre-dawn darkness. Magical...only here, and never to be forgotten.
To buy a suit in Cuenca is fun, you walk into a store packed with rolls of cashmere, woolen knits...materials from around the world and you buy two yards...for anywhere between $15 and $40 per yard (I paid $40 for cashmere made in England) then you walk across the street or over a block (there are 30 or 40 tailors in the central area) walk in with your material, show them in a book what style you would like (double-breated, 6 button, no pocket flaps, two vents, European cut...pay $60 and come back in two days to pick up your new suit. It's that fast and that simple...
The Tradition of Lunch...
You’d be hard put to eat any better than we do here in South America. No matter where you go you’ll see signs advertising “Almuerzos”. The secrets are soup, timing, and portion-size. There are literally hundreds of restaurants in a city the size of Cuenca and everyone of them will be offering a made-from-scratch daily lunch option that will cost around three-dollars per person. These are not corner stands, they are real restaurants with tablecloths, pleasant surroundings, and professional attentive waiters. The best part is it's not only delicious, it’s fresh and nutritious as well. In just a few days, you’ll feel healthier and your clothes will fit better, without ever thinking of calorie-counts.
As soon as you walk in to any of these owner-run restaurants, the waiters will point you to a table and attempt to give you a menu. Act like a local, politely refusing and simply say “almuerzo por favor”, or better yet “menu del dia”. Within minutes, a piping-hot bowl of soup will be placed in front of you. No canned chowder here, restaurants pride themselves on a different soup everyday -made-from-scratch creations that will knock your socks off - locro de papas, sopa de lentejas, consomme de pollo. Hundreds of options left up to the cook and the fresh ingredients available in the market that morning.
Slowly savor and enjoy this handiwork in the calm atmosphere, it’s not crowded, it’s not noisy, nobody is pushing to turn your table. Remember, you’re in South America where you are expected to take your time, to eat, to enjoy, and converse. The timing is actually a proven weight reducer, the long traditional lunches allow you to relax and power up while giving your system enough time to realize what it is you are putting in your mouth.
As you get towards the bottom of your bowl, the conscientious waiters will bring a dessert and a fresh squeezed juice to you. Depending on the restaurant and the day your juice might be blackberry, blueberry, melon, cantaloupe, orange, cherry, peach, any combination of the above or some exotic fruit you have never heard of like granadilla or pitahaya. These are not canned, packaged or concentrated juices, they are freshly made from the abundance of fresh fruits available every day in the local markets. Think vitamins in natural and delicious packaging.
After that wonderful soup, while still sipping on the tasty juice, lunch has finally arrived. Yesterday is was chicken; today it’s chunks of pork in a sauce over a bed of rice, with a salad and potatoes on the side. Yes, you will always have potatoes and rice on every plate, it’s simply tradition. The kicker is the portion size, the plate will be full, but in actuality the total amount of meat is at most 3 ounces, the salad a few forkfuls, the rice and potatoes enough to satisfy, in other words perfectly sized portions…no super-sizing here.
It's desert time now, for those used to $7.50 death-by-chocolate mega-plates the bite-sized squares of cake, sweetened fruit, or candy will seem tiny but by the time you’re done with this well paced meal, even that bite-sized dessert looks a little daunting.
The perfect ending is the $3 per person tally with no tip expected and the warm comfortable feeling you have as you walk out of the restaurant with a new perspective on the day.
Welcome to Cuenca World...
Programs in Cuenca
The Spanish language template dropped back into our brains almost immediately (mine seems to have lost a few bits of data) making it easy to get around and communicate, although everyday we seem to be pushing our linguistic limits as we try to do things like make phone calls. We have joined a gym, are back in Spanish classes 2 hours a day and seem to be developing a schedule of sorts, based mainly on being outside during the day and enjoying the city lifestyle in the evenings.
Ometepe, Nicaragua; Just Another Day...
Like so many places in South and Central America, Nicaragua is a land of extreme contrasts. From living styles, to colors, to means of transportation...what works fine one day can be a completely different situation the next. The reality is there is no consistency and that makes everything an unexpected adventure. The more places we go the more we are understanding the reality of an indirect correlation between comfort and adventure. Our goal as is always as much adventure as we can handle...and as is always true it's finding the balance that is the challenge. Here are some of the "contrasts" of a typical day.
The luxury ferry...Christina will sit through anything.
The local laundry...my kind of bar dog, a typical room...and of course men around the world put off the wash until the very "end".
Click on "Surfdog's" pet crab for the story about life in Canoa, Ecuador in the Boulder Daily Camera (When you get to the Camera site make sure to search for Canoa, Ecuador "Beyond, Boulder's favorite surf town").
Piles of Mail as You Come Back to the States...
No matter where you live, you still will want to come home every once in a while...why not when home is at its prettiest.
What a Gorgeous Spot...
The temperature here is invigorating, it’s in the mid 70’s just perfect for being outside. The hillsides are gorgeous green and the birds seem to start chirping at four in the morning. We can't see any volcanoes, but the surrounding mountains must get up as high as 5000 meters as they all have new snow on them and when they peak out of the clouds they are glistening pure white against the dark blue skies off to the west.
Having a little difficulty with the new language, it easy enough to understand, they just speak real fast. The people are friendly though, everybody we’ve met on the street so far seems to want to hug and say hello. We’ve also found a great bed and breakfast for the first week "Sam and Eva's" in a quiet area with spectacular views overlooking the small red tiled city below and the long range of mountains that backdrop it. Sam and Eva have provided some of the most delicious breakfasts we have had in a longtime and they have a great house tradition of sitting around the dining table at night and talking for hours on end, a custom I love, plus it’s helping to sharpen the language skills.
Yes we are back in Colorado and as you can see from this picture of one our neighbors walking by we are now in Crested Butte for a while. Can you believe it's been almost a year and a half? We have traveled thousands of miles, visited twenty three countries, learned a new language (okay, one of us learned a new language, the other learned half a new language), lived full-time in Ecuador and discovered South America a huge new continent of spectacular beauty and variety.
There were signs that it was time to come home again, the most pressing was our visas ran out! We would have been officially illegal aliens if we had stayed 36 hours more. It has been an incredible experience, we feel jazzed, rejuvenated, re-charged, (trilingual?) and have a deep understanding and appreciation of just how lucky we are.
We also have 29,994 pictures that have to be edited and a pile of stories to post about living in South America and our adventures in Eastern Europe, so stop in every once in a while and check out the latest!
It's Been a Magical Month...
In 6 minutes I had pulled 149 images for this entry. Fortunately the computer wouldn't even try to downsize them, it just kept telling me "not enough memory". My brain is about the same way, without the photos I forget just how spectacular the last few weeks have been. It's been a banner time for wildlife, flowers and wackiness, which is to say it's been a banner year for pura vida.
And then it's time to hit the road again...
I haven’t heard American English in a couple of weeks, lots of Russian, Croatian, German and Italian, some Middle-eastern accents but no Mid-western twangs, or Southern drawls here, not even many British or Australians and they usually are everywhere.
The amazing part of all these unpronouncable places, Rovinj, Krk, Hvar is the night culture. It’s like Pearl Street in July on overdrive, and about ten times as big. Nooks and crannies are full of unique restaurants and tavernas, packed with people from around the world, enjoying the breezes and fun atmosphere of these incredibly old cities.
Around any corner you’ll find narrow places softly lit by reflections from windows straight out of a Walt Disney fairy tale. The next turn up a passageway brings murmurs of couples enjoying their drinks on benches covered with pillows and candles. Not a car in sight…they’re banned in the old cities everywhere and useless in these human scaled labyrinths anyway. No diesels, no Harleys, only the hum of people, the clink of glasses and the incredible smells of Mediterranean cuisine being prepared…peppers, garlic, melon, peaches, olives…did I say garlic!
Split is a perfect example, the description in the Lonely Planet guide said, "stupefying ugly buildings". This is after all a former Iron Curtain country, just a blank area on our maps all through grade school. With this in mind, it was with absolutely no expectations that we got off the "Autobussi" from Zadar. We had tickets to stay on through to Dubrovnik, we were just worried that if we did not get off in Split we would arrive too late to find a room. It’s high season here (think our mountains during a 4th of July weekend) and getting a room by 4 in the afternoon is not hard; showing up at 10:30p.m. is a recipe for a night out on a bench. What a find... although it is true that the entrance to the Split peninsula is covered with a shark’s mouth of ugly buildings, describing Split that way is like a travel writer using 28th and 30th Streets to portray Boulder. Split has been a Christmas morning of surprises for us. The Old Town, just past the wall of "Stupefying", is over seventeen hundred years old and spectacular; a maze of passageways, turrets, balconies and open squares. Think Eben Fine Park to 17th Street and Boulder Creek to Mapleton Hill, pack it as tight as can possibly be done with medieval stone buildings, wandering passages, secret cellars, caverns and white rock balustrades, now fill it with fruit markets, stalls of food, mounds of ice cream and, of course, espresso.
You will love it here and it is definitely worth a stop of a couple of nights, especially as your days can be spent in the warm sun and blue green waters that surround it… remember, don’t wait 2 long.
It's a continent of wild extremes, never boring...
It's a place where corner shops and bicycle powered knife sharpeners are across the street from mega-malls.
A place where stores the size of a King Soopers sells only chocolate... taking chocoholics to a whole new level of addiction!
A place where you find swan shaped paddle boats and a beach, at 15,000 feet in altitude...
It's a place where we seem to have exported more than we think...
Wouldn't you know it...the favorite shows down here are a new version of I Dream of Jeannie, The Simpsons, and of course South Park...(below) the Santa Claus 10 K
But there is nothing generic...
Of course some places really are what you expect...So next time you're thinking lets go someplace different, just remember these pictures...and come on down, it's a jaw-droppingly beautiful place with a brand new adventure around every corner...and we really do have toilet paper
It Will Grow Back...Won't It?
I got a haircut yesterday, it cost thirty Cordobas or about $1.50. I'm still not sure how it looks as the owners of our modern new room here on Ometepe (an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua) neglected to put in mirrors...or lights in the bathroom. After seeing the photos Christina took, it's probably better...how did the stylist cut that bald spot in the back anyway?
If your going to Central or South America make sure to bring a bicycle headlamp (I think they call them LED lights) they are bright enough to read with and you can strap them onto your head so the light shines where you are looking. Although you'll never need them in most of the modern cities (they are just like US cities only bigger). The small places where you want to find yourself in these wonderful countries will have issues sometimes with things like lights and power. Knowing how to find yours in your luggage in a pitch black room can be a useful skill as well!
There are no couches in Nicaragua, lots of rocking chairs but no couches. Rocking chairs inside, rocking chairs outside, rocking chairs everywhere!
You'll find circles, squares, diamonds, even amphitheaters of rocking chairs. All made of beautiful woods with rattan insets, or all rattan. The best part is the ones you find out on the street in the small towns and outside the front doors of almost every house. Everybody is shooting the breeze while trying to catch a breeze. Because of the design and materials the gentle winds blow through the chairs and when it's not blowing you just rock away and create your own. It must be a calorie burner!
Beach Dogs, Saint Bernards, LLamas, Now Monkeys...
Christina just seems to be attract stray animals (no comments about me, thank you) today it was monkeys...somehow we have ended up in Nicaragua (why not, it's on the way back to Colorado, sort of...) and we headed out on a launch to check out the archpelago of nearly 400 islands just outside of the city of Granada that make up the northern end of Lake Nicaragua (think half the size of Lake Erie). We were just crusing through the gorgeous islands when we got too close to one that has a small colony of monkeys. Quick as a flash Josefina launched herself across the trees and onto our boat where she promptly decided she liked Christina best. She did her best to keep me from getting too close, but she was never aggressive just curious and loved to be petted.
This guy was serious about getting into his work...and it worked
I'm not a Birder, but the birds and nests around here are incredible...
So are the discrepancies in housing...
My Old Roommate the Bush(ed) Doctor...
My good buddy and old CU roommate Hans and his wife Hilde came to visit us from Germany these past two weeks here in Ecuador, it was great...we trucked them up and down the mountains, valleys, jungles and coast of this country like they were on that show "The Great Race". One day on top of the volcano Pichincha, the next in the lush tropical valleys of the Rio Tomebamba and then the urban jungle of Guayaquil. As they had been working like crazy before they took off from Europe, the whole first week they were here they were jet-lagged and time-stupid...we could tell them anything...and we did. What a hoot! They are back home again now and I'm sure they are sitting at the breakfast table wondering..."Did that all really happen?"
Hans loves to truly experience a culture and has lived all over the world, but Ecuador as always is just a little beyond the norm. We made sure that he knew he was living an authentic life. He wanted to see Ecuador and thought going by road made the most sense. As driving down here is an experience I try to avoid, we went by bus...a word to the wise, never trade a twenty minute, $50 flight...for a fourteen hour - hold your legs 'cause the bathroom's broken, watch out for that pothole, oh-my-gawd are we really going to drive across that landslide...marathon.
Seeing his face as he got patted down in order to board the bus to head up to Baños from Cuenca was priceless. It was even better halfway through as the bus got packed in the mountain rain and he offered to share his seat with an indigenous woman and her baby. The kid was fascinated and stared at him from three inches away for the next two hours while his butt went numb from sitting on the crack between the two seats.
This was where the road was smooth enough to take a picture...
After all the bus experiences of the week before, we happily purchased our cheap airline tickets at the airport (no need to plan in Ecuador) and boarded a plane in Quito for the short flight to Manta on the Pacific Coast.
There is a saying in Ecuador for politics and politicians "Donde esta el dinero?" (where is the money) and the roads of Manabi Provincia let you know that the tax money ended up in someone's Swiss bank account somewhere, but it didn't end up in the coffers of the highway department. The 4-wheel-drive dirt road over Cottonwood Pass in Colorado is in better condition than the pot-hole packed highway from Manta to Bahia de Caraquez. The two hour taxi ride through the forest of upside down trees was both fascinating and painful, especially on the kidneys as we slalomed and slammed our way down the road at 70 miles per hour, usually in the wrong lane.
Hans and Hilde were happy to get to the end of the ride, until they traded 30¢ for a flimsy life-jacket and got on the launch across the bay. A quick trip up the dock dragging their luggage and then it was a 3 wheeled moto taxi, which took off immediately leaving them with no idea where they were going and no sign of us. Luckily our Moto caught up with them as they broke down. Finally, bladders bursting, we got them checked in for a week of surfing, sun and fresh seafood...it was perfect just what we all needed after a hard week of travel.
A First Aid Kit...
Two lessons came up durinng the week that I wanted to pass along to future "travellers"
Lesson One: On day one of surfing, almost the first ride in, Hans and his board got a little tangled up and it smacked him hard. (Despite his stories to the contrary, I officially had nothing to do with this). We continued to ride the fun waves and have a great time until a little while later I saw him stand up on the board and his leg was pouring blood. Needless to say we went in immediately and found he had a big gash from the fin just below his knee. It had been bleeding the whole time and he had never noticed it (so much for the sensitivity of sharks). Hans is a surgeon and he acted like sewing himself up without novacane is just another day at the office (don't ever tell him, but we were all impressed).
Although almost every town in Ecuador has a Centro de Salud where the doctors and nurses can treat the basics of everyday emergencies like this one, a good first aid kit should be a part of your luggage. For his cut we found we were short of alcohol, gauze, and compresses but all were readily available.
Lesson Two: Once you are in South America buy a packet of Ciproflaxin at a Farmacia (they don't use prescriptions down here so you won't need one), a small jar of Buscapina (which takes away the cramps immediately) and a small bottle of Pedialyte (rehydrates and you get your energy back fast). These three things will solve almost any stomach problem in hours versus days.
P.S. it's not always the cooking or preparation that causes the problem, it's the exposure to new "things". South Americans going to the U.S. complain about getting stomach ailments just like we do.
We've got hats!
The Perfect Hat...
If you're a child of the 70's you already know the damage we did frolicking about with what were then called gorgeous, healthy tans. Most of us now spend half our life looking for the perfect sunscreen (What is SPF anyway?) or covering up with some sort of hat or shade. Here in Cuenca because it is so high in elevation the sun will burn you faster than you can imagine (as my friend Hans found out the hard way this week) you'll actually see more people walking around under umbrellas on a sunny day then when it is raining.
I love my cowboy hats and they are the perfect hat for Colorado but tend to leave you with what Christine likes to call S.H.H (severe hat head). With her thick hair of course she never has S.H.H. it is just her diplomatic way of saying "put your hat on again quick, you look like a gook...".
Cowboy hats don't travel well, they take up an incredible amount of luggage space, are hard to hold on to as you move from place to place and every time you accidently crush them they tend to remind you of that particular abuse by never looking quite right again. Which made the discovery of Alberto Pallo's genuine panama hat shop in Cuenca last week a real treasure.
Alberto is a legend here as he has been making and selling hats for 74 years. He has all kinds in his two story colonial building but he specializes in the hard to find "muy fino" Panama style hats (all panama hats are made in Ecuador and always were), These hats are made of an incredibly durable and narrow fibers which is woven by hand in a process that takes weeks per hat to weave that is so fine and tight you can literally roll them up put them in a bag or cigar type box box, then flip them out and plop them on your head when you need a hat again, and it looks great!
Alberto doesn't have a voice box anymore but he can communicate with his smile and sprightly movements. He had us all decked out in perfectly-sized hats in minutes as he flipped through his wares in a special backstairs room in his old shop in the colonial area of Cuenca. If you ever make it down this way you have to check it out. The best part... the hats are so light and fit so well, no S.H.H
What's It Like to Live in Cuenca
We did a story recently about living in Cuenca and being like students again hope you enjoy!
“South American “Dorm” Life
For all intents and purposes we are back to living in the dorms…
We have a little studio apartment with strange turquoise outdoor furniture, a bed so hard we had to buy four-inch thick sponge rubber to make it sleepable, a finicky on-demand water heater and five keys to get through the front door. By far, it is the quirkiest place we’ve lived in years and the most fun!
Looking around our nest you would swear you are back in Boulder, beautiful mountains, gorgeous buildings, red tile roofs, lots of students, but this college town is 5,000 miles from the Flatirons on a different continent. Cuenca, Ecuador is as close to being Boulder’s twin as you can get and a brilliant place to learn Spanish.
The perfect soft landing on this huge continent, Cuenca is a so similar to Boulder you can’t help but constantly compare them. It has 250,000 people, but in South American fashion they pack them in tight and only use about the same amount of space that Boulder does for its 100,000. A lot of the town is young people, the University here is considered one of the best in the country and the aspiring doctors, architects, philosophers, engineers, lawyers, scientists, journalists (yes, Professor Van Gerven, even anthropologists) are everywhere. Add to that nearly forty other colleges and technical schools and you have a town that exists for youth and thrives on young ideas.
Like Boulder, the whole city is in a spectacular valley. Whereas we have the Highway 36 heading southeast to plains and Denver, here the highway heads out in the same direction but it is into the flat jungles of the Amazon baison. About eighty miles from the equator but at 9,000 feet the weather is a perfect year round Boulder June and the hillsides are dripping with green. That’s the best part it is permanently spring here, flowers everywhere, green grass, 80 degree days and then chilly evenings that beg for a fire, hot drink and a thick sweater.
Our “dorm room” is the best part though. We feel like we’ve been assigned that top floor room in Farrand, the one with the great balcony as a “single”.
We found it our first day here by pure luck. A hand-lettered sign, taped to the building’s big metal gate, advertising a furnished apartment for rent. Using our limited Spanish we tracked down the owner who took us up to this tiny studio apartment on the sixth floor. It had everything we needed, all back-dropped by a wall of windows that led out to a spectacular rooftop terrace which was larger than the apartment itself, with jaw dropping views in every direction. We took it!
Back in the day, we used to live on the sixth floor of Stearns East in Williams Village, this was a similar set up., except now we had a kitchen and the bathroom and shower in the room, not around the corner and down the hall. Like Wil-Vil, it is one of the tallest buildings in the historic district of this Spanish colonial city and that puts us right at eye level with the huge blue tiled domes of one of the largest Cathedrals in South America, pretty stunning to wake up to.
Like Boulder all those years ago our days are an unending string of fresh experiences and hours chock full of Spanish classes, exploration and long meals of relaxed conversations with fascinating people. Sure we have to study and every interaction with anybody, anywhere is a test because they usually don’t speak english, but the progress is so obvious, so fast and so rewarding that it’s just plain fun, Except of course those damn verb tenses, who invented those things anyway?
At this point in our “careerbreak” we feel much healthier and swear we’re ten years younger, I know I’m fifteen pounds lighter and completely re-energized. It’s the newness and constant learning, everything we do here, we haven’t ever done before, and it makes us like rambunctious four year olds.
The language learning seems to be the most satisfying, finally understanding what the clerk said, being able to stumble our way through the newspaper, realizing you just followed a two hour conversation about the world economy and understood it all.
It’s also a new culture full of different ideas and different ways of doing things. So many ideas are so simple, yet so good; we just hope we can soak up as many as we can.
As is always true, the people you meet really make a place. The mix of interesting Ecuadorians, Americans, Columbians, Australians, Germans, Brits and Canadians that we have met here in just a few months would fill a book. Last night it was dinner with unassuming Ed, a Canadian who along with three others built a raft out of the remains of an old Manhattan bar, then sailed it across the Atlantic. When you see what they spent sixty days on in rough weather of the North Atlantic you’ll be speechless. Check out the story of the “Happiest Man on Earth” in the New Yorker or goggle it at www.floatingneutrinos.com, it’s unbelievable.
Eric is a builder from Boulder, who with his wife Jeannine packed up their three and six years olds, and moved down here a year and a half ago to gain some family time.
Bertha our Spanish instructor is about as savvy about the world as you can get and an inspiring artist. She is our architectural expert in this city full of historic treasures. She can stop in front of hundreds of buildings and explain in detail the layout, history, building style, materials and even the gossip of its history. It's a treat to hear her explaining the differences between a Spanish and a French Colonial and how a Republican Style building ended up across the street, all in a Spanish even I can understand.
Patricia’s another Ecuadorian, she lived in New York for two years learning how to cook while working at the Waldorf Astoria, she’s back here now running her own very popular restaurant.
June who was from London moved to France to renovate a house which she liked to point out was built a hundred years before the Conquistadors even met the Incas here. It’s older than Machu Pichu she likes to say, and it still has a roof.
Mike is fascinating too, and he’s been great at reinforcing our adventure. He worked at IBM for 27 years then took a ‘career break”, sailing his ketch all over the Caribbean before anchoring in Lake Isabel, Guatemala. Three years later, he decided to go back to work and IBM welcomed him back with open arms... that was good news for us!
Life here is rewarding, fascinating, fun, hard work, sometimes frustrating and sometimes pure joy, just like college was for us all those years ago... it's like we are back in the dorms, only this time without RA’s (except for Carol who was cool)…what a great way to spend a semester, or a life
My Favorite Readers...
While Lars disagrees because he thinks we should keep these idyllic places to ourselves, it was fun last week to show up in Canoa and find a family of six from Boulder. They had read the article in the Boulder Daily Camera and following the directions and suggestions ended up at the La Vista Hotel in the rooms next to us. Ernie, Liz and their girls were a real life test in "Was it like the article said it would be?"; they probably felt hounded as I double-checked all my facts. Luckily they were good-natured about my questions and were always out with big smiles on their faces. The whole family learned how to surf, went to the Mangrove reserve, got sunburned, gave Peter and Maya a hard time about being CSU Rams and became like locals in wandering the two main streets of Canoa. We wish them all the best and hope they enjoy this picture.
P.S. Morgan...remember not DU, CU
Colombia...It's Worth the Risk! (Actual Colombian Tourism Slogan)
When I worked at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Paul Tabolt, then Vice Chancellor of Administration at CU, called me up one day and asked if I knew where you could buy a ski lift? He was interested in seeing if it might be a good way to connect outlying parking with the main campus. We actually got to the point where we connected with a company in Austria that specialized in gondolas, but I think the idea died due to funding issues...Paul (who is probably skiing today) would love to see that one of the spurs off the main Metro Line (the subway for the entire city of Medellin's 3.5 million people) is a gondola. It has been recognized internationally for bringing the benefits and opportunities of accessible transportation to five very poor and previously inaccessible areas.
To Assume is to make an ass of u and me
It’s amazing what will trip you up when you are on the road and outside of your home country. We forget sometimes that we have decades of learned expectations and experiences that are ingrained in our brains and are completely culturally based. The trouble starts when we take these expectations as the “truth” in other lands. Even after traveling for over a year in a strange assortment of countries, we still find ourselves making assumptions that just don’t quite pan out…like what happened to us this past week.
As North Americans, we assume that a nine story 325-room hotel comes with hot water flowing out of the spigot. When it doesn’t we go down to the front desk to let them know there is a problem.
This is exactly what I did when we arrived on the pristine Caribbean beaches of San Andres Island. Our room had a view straight out of a tourist brochure but for some reason the hot water wouldn’t work, I kept trying to turn it on but nothing ever came out.
Not worth worrying about in the middle of a gorgeous day, we dropped the issue and headed out to do some snorkeling and check out the reef. Hours later we came back, cold, salty, sticky, dying for a nice, long, hot, steamy shower.
Plenty of cold, but nothing from the hot spigot except that strange sound of pipes full of empty air. I was desperate, I marched downstairs to get it fixed, change rooms or at least use the pool shower. The beautiful, uniformed women at the front desk listened politely, smiled and simply said together in their lilting island English and Spanish combination, “There is no hot water”.
“OHHHH”… “Okay”…I said stepping back…a little put off by their candor and the lack of apology for the inconvenience. “There is no hot water”…there is no hot water at the hotel today, I thought. Walking away somewhat dumbfounded, I wondered, “What kind of problem was it that the whole hotel would be completely out of hot water?…pipe break, pumps, boiler problem?” I figured they would have told me more if I just understood more Spanish…and trudged upstairs to take my cold shower.
The next morning proved the same, plenty of Caribbean “warm” but no “hot” just the sucking sound of empty pipes.
“Wow”, I thought, this is a major problem maybe the hotel is undergoing construction? Except there wasn’t any obvious construction, at least not in the building…maybe down the street?
It’s not like I was suffering, the temperature varies from 84 in the night to 87 in the day, not real hardship weather. A nice warm shower just starts my day off right. I wanted hot water from that spigot that set on the wall with its big fancy “C” (remember down here, C means “Caliente” my non-existent hot!)
By the third day as I was starting to get the idea that our lack of hot water might not be a temporary condition, I also started noticing big signs at the other hotels that said “Agua Caliente” right up front, along with the other services offered like air conditioning, room service, TV, Internet, mini-bar!
That’s when I finally got up the courage to ask those same front desk women if the lack of hot water was a permanent thing? Smiling ever so sweetly, truly without any inkling as to why this might be an issue for anyone, they said the hotel had never had hot water…the owners didn’t feel it was necessary. As we found out they weren’t the only owners who looked at hot water as an luxury amenity, about half the properties on the island didn’t have hot water either.
So buyer beware, even if you are staying at an all inclusive, Caribbean resort with meals, full bar, directly on the beach, nice rooms, great staff and a view that people dream of…take a moment and ask “does that include hot water in the pipes? Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.
Ums Italy, 42 people, 200 milk cows, two weeks of heaven.
This corner of Europe is well known by skiers for the Cortina area two valleys and about 70 miles away. A lot of summer visitors race up and down the Autostrada buried in the valley below on their way to Austria or Rome. Perhaps stopping for a few hours in Bolzano, if they only knew what they were missing. Next year book yourself into one of the gorgeous Pensions here for two straight weeks in late August or early September, don't plan anything else just relax, read, hike and eat. If you're feeling rich book a few days in the spas, if not just fill the daypack with the local cheeses and fresh fresh fruit and head out. You'll never forget this experience.
Where is Copacabana, Bolivia?
"I want three dogs and two llamas", Christina is still collecting pets, these two she found on the beach of Lago Titicaca, which when translated means Lake of Llama Crap...I don't name them, I just state the facts...It looks like we are going to have to buy land here and build a small house and a big barn. The good news, lake front property goes for $2000 per acre. How many acres do you need for two llamas?
I wouldn't shoot you, not me...
Of course the two above are not Llamas, they are Alpacas, don't ask me the difference, I grew up in the suburbs. Christina is ready to start teaching English (there are no English classes available in the entire town). It is beautiful, the world's highest navigable lake. Lots of hiking and boating, warm when it is sunny and freezing when it's not. I bought another "poncho" so I feel whole again, walking around like the Sundance kid.
The pictures below will give you an idea of the stunning beauty of La Paz, it's not an easy place to visit nor a soft landing in South American culture like Cueca, Buenos Aires and Bariloche in fact, it's an in your face, this is the real world experience, but worth every shock.
Carnival time means waterfights, fireworks and "pilgrams" everywhere important to both Catholics and the indigenous religions. The pagentry, dancing, and traditions are fascinating and fun to watch. My favorite part is this strange spray that you can buy for about 50¢ and shoot at anybody, cops, kids, priests... beware though if you have one in your hand you too are fair game!
The Waterfight on the Fourth of July in Crested Butte Pales in Comparison
We have always loved being in Crested Butte, Colorado for the "Fourth of July"... it's a wild time where after the parade, the North side of the street takes on the South side of the street in a raging water fight only broken up when the volunteer fire brigade brings in the big trucks and takes on everybody with their hoses. Here in South America, Carnival, the last four days before Lent, is an all out water war! Around any corner the kids will be waiting with their squirt guns and cans full of spray foam, no one is immune, even the police take it with a grin. If you stay to the side you're probably okay, maybe!
Who would have thought that all this was in Bolivia...
Nobody ever asked us to sign a waiver. The Bolivian Road of Death above has become an adrenalin seekers paradise. An hour outside of La Paz we started in a freezing cold snow storm at about 16,000 feet and road our way down 50 miles and 13,000 feet to a swimming pool in the warmth of the jungle. This was my kind of ride...all downhill. Bring good gloves!
Hi Mom/s... still grinning! La Paz, Bolivia is one of the most stunning cities in the world. In every sense of the word... not an easy place to get to...or easy to get used too...but wow
Double click on the littlest girls hat below for more stories!
Yeah, I Want a Big Dog!
No we didn't take them home, but we were close, really close!
Who would have thought that in these mountains literally in the middle of nowhere Argentina, you would find more St. Bernards than anywhere in the Alps. This place is crawling with them and they are gorgeous, of course big dogs as a whole tend to just hang around labs, collies, sheperds, you name it they are here. Not agressive at all, not underfed, in fact almost all are healthy looking, just hanging out on the street waiting for someone to pet them, feed them or just say hello.
We could easily live in this gorgeous place. We've never seen one place combine so many of our "must haves". Big blue skies like Colorado, mountains that plunge into the lakes like Norwegian fjords, lively family oriented latin culture, seasons, music, great food (especially German food), spectacular scenery, friendly people, Crested Butte with Boulder's population and who knows what else. Will have to come back and check out the winter.
It's been dry here and a fire got out of control while we were up on top, scary to see how fast it could blow up...first rain in two months forecast for the weekend.
A Break from the Break?
Like kids in a candy shop, every corner of this massive continent promises a great new treat that we just can’t pass up. We are now in Bariloche, Argentina which can only be described as a "parallel universe" Colorado, you would swear it is Colorado, except they speak Spanish, the sun is in the north and there is a lot of water.
The mountains here are truly spectacular, strutting up in the air in spires that defy the laws of gravity. They start at 2,000 feet on the lake and despite their beauty only make it up to about the height of Boulder. That in itself is fun as you can hike and climb forever without running out of breath. After living at 9,000 feet in Cuenca we could easily run a marathon here.
The tallest mountain around, the one pictured here in the background is only 11,000 feet, still plenty of snow there. The lakes are the best part though, huge expanses of water hemmed in by mountains twisting and turning their way all the way to the Chilean border. It reminds us of the fjords of Norway, but with sunshine!
Life around here is a little confusing, the people look and dress European, speak Spanish with an Italian accent and eat Austrian food. The favorite dogs are the ubiquitous Saint Bernards and the houses look like they were plucked from the shores of Lake Geneva. Still, it is in the middle of nowhere!
A friend in Cuenca told us we should take the "Flechabus" from Buenos Aires. This company takes "buses" to a whole new dimension, with two decks, a bar, three across fully reclinable seats ( the kind you only find in first class on international flights) and a steward who will serve you a drink before tucking you into bed. Eighteen hours and a thousand miles of nothing but "Pampa" (think Texas without towns or people) scared us away. We flew and as we kept looking down at the empty vastness, congratulated ourselves on a good decision.
The high desert ended at the Bariloche airport, a single building at the end of a long empty road. The transistion to alpine scenery was almost immediate, spectacular is too tame a word. The views are stunning. This is Lake Tahoe in the 60’s, gorgeous clear water, huge lakes and the beginnings of world class resorts.
It is now the equivalent of August here in the southern hemisphere still the mountains have a little snow left on the tops of the south facing slopes – yes, south is north down here. The people are fun, the restaurants great, and night life is a point of pride here with clubs like Pasha, Rocket and Cerebro opening at one in the morning.
The sky is the best though straight out of a Colorado summer, endless and blue. Like Colorado it can get wild at times too, blowing the lakes into wavy seas with up to six foot swells, pulling the kite-surfers out like moths to a light.
We can see Chile on the horizon and we will head there at some point, but right now we still have a lot of exploring to do. We hear if we head to Ushuaia just 700 miles south we can catch a reduced fare to the Antarctic…now there's another place we haven’t been to yet... then again maybe some places should be left alone.
Random Experiences of the Past Three Days
ABOVE: The indigenous people of this area are protesting the governments issuance of new mining claims on their lands. A protest march included a "Pampa Mesa" the equivalent of a "Pot Luck" without tables. As a sign of solidarity we were all invited to eat and since we know what the Lucky Jack mine is trying to do in Crested Butte...we did
LEFT: There is a small town near Cuenca called Gualeco which is known through-out the country for its roasted pork in the Central Mercado. We know it looks strange but this is incredible, tender, juicy, succulent meat. On the other side of the market the pigs face forward :)
BELOW: Christina says I've been in Ecuador too long. I don't think so! Check out my last self portrait...next week we head to Bariloche, Argentina. Let's hope for wifi!!!!
Never seen a New Year's Eve like this before...
... by the way, if they are dressed in black below, they're male.
The Ecuadorians have a favorite saying, it’s wow… but with the Spanish accent it always comes out wwwauow.
Wwwauow… is the only description I can come up with for the New Year’s celebrations here in Cuenca. By the time it was all over the town truly looked like a war zone, fires on the streets every 50 feet, a haze that looked like a heavy San Francisco fog but had the cordite smell of gunpowder and ashes, and the pops and booms of random left over fireworks silhouetting people clinging to each other in happy exhaustion.
We finally had to give up at 2 a.m. by then the frenetic volume of the live bands every block had been replaced by the quieter love songs of Miguel Bose streaming out of the "DJ" sound systems that every house seems to have and love to use any chance they get. Even then just a few retail streets that had not been the site of the revelry were the only ones deserted and they had leftover fires still smoking in the curbs.I have never experienced a News Years Eve like this. I am simply speechless with awe. It all started with the surprising lack of fireworks in the morning. For the first time in months there was no deafening rocket salute to the "Santisimo" an icon that travels to a different Parrish church every 40 hours. It’s tradition that each Parrish try to outdo the last in rockets, full attendance, and religious marches that take over the streets around that church for those forty hours. New Years Eve morning was strangely quiet, no Santisimo celebrations anywhere.
Like any other day, by 10 o-clock the shops and offices had opened, but this time with a different spirit and energy that was palpable. By noon paper machÈ creations called "monigotes" that were representations of bosses, co-workers, politicians, family and Bart Simpson (don’t ask me) started to appear in front of all the buildings. By 2 p.m. elaborate scenes including these "monigotes" were being built and huge sound systems blaring Salsa and other dance music were placed in the middle of the street and office and store parties started on the sidewalks spilled into the streets and in the end paralyzed the city to near gridlock.
These traditional year-end street and office parties were wide open to anybody who wanted to dance and the typically reserved Ecuadorians were full of huge smiles and warm conversations. Around every corner was a new experience, kids and young men dressed as widows blocking traffic with ropes and dancing to collect the money for the "monigotes" funerals, whole neighborhoods "barrios" banding together to produce elaborate scenarios of political commentary and fires, fires everywhere as people burned their grumps from the past year along with their "monigotes’.Dark came at 6:12 p.m. just like it does everyday and now it was full-fledged celebration. The crowds roved through the streets checking out the different monigotes and political scenes, laughing at the antics of the "widows" and just enjoying the night. Masses were held at the different churches followed by vendors cotton candy, ice cream, cakes, chips and drinks enough sugar to make any kid overdose, but why not, it’s New Years Eve! The fireworks were starting 10 p.m., they make them here cheaper then they do in China and you can tell. They love their fireworks even more than I love fireworks and that is saying a lot.
By 11 p.m. It was a citywide street party, full of neighbors, dancing, shared food, drink and just plain fun. I had to watch out for Christina, as every time I turned around to take a picture some family would grab her to dance and I never knew where we would end up next, with of course hugs and kisses for everybody.
Midnight brought 30 minutes of fireworks and the burning of every monigotes or scene left in the city, the bonfires were immense with firecrackers that had been concealed in the monigotes randomly shooting off in all directions. Nothing was left to burn by one, but the music, fires and dancing continued. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I thought how bonfires had somehow over the years been deemed illegal and were considered "riots" now back home in Boulder. Looking around I figured the Governor of Colorado would have called out the Army reserves by now and we would be under martial law.
It’s morning now and you can’t tell anything ever happened. The streets are cleaned up, the ashes are gone and people are heading to the parks for a day of family time, it’s like it never happened, but as you can see, I have proof… Happy New Year!
Of course if you're going to carry your monigote around with you all night, smaller is better.
I'm gonna miss this guy... I wonder who he is?
Notice the resemblance of the monigotes to the people sitting next to them, except for ours...
Hope your Christmas was as fun as ours, it's News Year's Eve today and the town is full of "monigotes" effigies that will be burned in bonfires all over town tonight. Every store and house has at least one out front, with a "grumps" about the past year written on the chest. Bring your marshmallows, the streets are full of bonfires! Of course the "widows" of the monigotes (guys all dressed up as "luscious" women) are all out collecting donations from people on the street to pay for their "husbands" burials. Six just rode by on horses, slowing traffic to a crawl until they were given change. The fireworks started later this morning... about 6:30 but I think its just because they are saving up for tonight. Lots of stories and pictures to post but too much to see right now to spend time in front of the computer! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Merry Christmas!!! Feliz Navidad!!!
Tomorrow the Christmas Procession will begin at 10 am and finally eight hours, thousands of floats, hundreds of bands and 100,000 participants later, it will be over, delivering the baby Jesus to his manger in the Old Cathedral for the Midnight Mass.
Last week I wrote about Christmas in Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita, Mexico and how much fun it always was for us. Cuenca is in a whole “nuther” league. Known throughout Latin America as the City of Festivals, this unique university town must have a least a parade a day and not a week goes by without some sort of celebration. Our first experience in Cuenca last May was the “Festival of Corpus Christi” eight nights of celebration in spectacular style. We were so enchanted we came back to live as soon as we could. So far, Christmas here has outdone even that unforgettable time.
In Cuenca they seem to stage their decorating, every day there is a new surprise in the squares and on the streets. Bands, faroles, parades, every corner uncovers a new experience. The daily parades of children dressed up as angels, the wise men, Mary, Joseph and of course a real baby, get bigger and bigger. Whole neighborhoods, businesses and professional associations all seem to have spent months trying to outdo each other in these festivities.
We put together these pictures of the last forty-eight hours here just to give you a taste of what we saw in that short amount of time. The fact is that it’s not over until January, 6th. This is just the start!
Best Holiday wishes, from Christmas Central, 80 miles below the equator!
always help your brother...
A local restaurant here, summed up our wishes for Christmas in it's menu...Happy Holidays
Wee Hóo...We Learning Español... Adult Conversations with a Toddler's Vocabulary
Uhhhhh, quizas, Uhhhhhhh la economia...Our Spanish instructors here in Cuenca are amazing. For four hours every day they converse with us about any number of topics. The skill required to pull an adult brain out of its ingrained language rut and create a whole new way of conversing is beyond my pool of patience.
Fear not, this is not your Spanish class in high school, the days of rote memorization and rules of grammar unknown in English, but expected in a foreign tongue are gone. Within days of starting you are conversing about global warming, CNN in español and even fútbol al lunes.
Despite my insistence on no homework, don't get me wrong, my whole life here is homework. From getting the morning bread and the newspaper, to asking directions in the street, and finally saying good night to the lady at the ice cream parlor, my brain is on overdrive. The growth curve is exponential, words build on words, phrases start to stick and suddenly you find yourself thinking in a new language, even if it is only for minutes at a time.
Christina is truly in heaven here. Her three years of classes in Colorado gave her the basics and she is flying now. Her naturally shy temperament slows her down a little. Her teacher wants her to speak faster, stop thinking about what she is saying and just say it..." like your husband, he's not afraid, he doesn't know anything but he just blurts it out ". (Is that a compliment?)
My poor instructor "Saint" Bertha gave up on the really well done customized workbooks the school has created and now leads me free form through the daily newspaper, the topics of the day and the few grammar and lingual tricks she can sneak in before I rebel. I have no idea how I made it through high school and two degrees. I will do anything to avoid formal class room atmospheres.
Despite my ADHD, I am understanding the majority of everything I hear. I can hold my own in any conversation in Spanish down here...as long as they don't mind my lack of verbs. It is amazing to learn how fast we understand what others are telling us, even if we can't project our own thoughts. It is fun to learn at such a rapid and noticeble rate, I thought I had forgotten how.
The hardest part for me seems to be the most common words and phrases, the messed up irregulars changed over time by frequent use. In English they would be the equivalents of "won't"... why don't we say willn't? Shouldn't it really be eated or flied? Imagine explaining that to a foreigner!
The reality is that each of us unthinkingly use tens of thousands of words perfectly each day. They say a toddler has access to about five thousand, I'm at five thousand and one and building fast.
Below: Christina, with my instructor "Saint Bertha" on her left and with her instructor Marta on her right, in front of a huge nativity scene that a local family here has built up over 44 years.
A Careerbreak in South America; Chapter 17...How to Fit in a Little More...
Why would you wear something down here that you wouldn’t be caught dead in back home? I’m not sure who decided that all tourists needed an easily identifiable set of clothes, something that would make them stand out like chain gang prisoners, but it’s obvious down here that the world has bought into it.
The floppy fisherman hat, the nylon zip off pants, the 16 vent, wash and wear shirts with 32 different pockets to lose your documents in. It’s the standard now! Combine this with a backpack carried on the front like a baby and you might as well add a big sign across your chest…”Hey, look at me! I’m a stranger, I don’t belong here”
Christina says, this post belongs in the “Mr. Grumpy” website, (yes I bought that one too), but I can’t ever keep grumpy long enough to use it, today might be the day.
Two things to remember if you want to come live in a South American culture and fit in as best as you can, or even if you are just traveling through. One, leave the backpack at home. Two, dress like you would to go to work on a casual Friday. If you do this you will be treated in much different way than if you show up like some of the people pictured. You will even be able to wander around towns without needing to be herded by a guide. In short you will be treated with respect.
By pure chance I had stuffed a suit in the “rollie” and I can’t believe how many times that has come in handy as the appropriate dress. The subdued sports coat I've traveled in for years because those inside pockets are perfect for tickets and passports has been used so much the elbows are wearing thin. The good news is the tailor in the garage two blocks up can fix anything, as good as new, for 40¢. He even wants to make me a suit.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a culture of backpackers here. Most are young and from Australia and Europe. There is no doubt they are the funnest people you could ever hang out with (hi Jess, Adam, Sara and Max). But you never want to travel with them, they are crazy and they are still young. To make it worse they don’t believe in taxis. You see them as they trudge up and down the streets under what looks like the impossible weight of two backpacks. One, amazingly huge and a second smaller one in the front that just screams “my valuable are in here”. They are all professionals at home (the above four are two doctors, a teacher and a community health nurse) who had the guts to take off for a year and try something that we only dreamed about at the same age. These adventurous spirits take everything with them, including 11 foot surfboards (imagine traveling without a car across South America with an 11 foot surfboard!)
We are not backpackers. Unless you are actually trekking up some mountain you probably shouldn’t be either. Our suggestion is, especially for those of you who are considering a “careerbreak” at a much later point in life, leave the luggage at home, literally and figuratively.
They say you should never have more than you can carry at a dead run for half a kilometer. It’s been years since I was able to run at all, let alone with anything in my hands for half of anything, but there is a lot of truth to the statement. The smaller your anchor the happier you will be.
If you ask for a "drink to go" down here at one of the thousands of mom and pop shops lining the streets, you are more than likely to have your drink poured into a baggie tied around a straw.
Although I am sure economics plays a roll, having spent a month on a beach in the middle of nowhere down here I have learned all those plastic bottles have a real and profound cost. The beaches were endless and huge, strewn with acres upon acres of driftwood, perfect for nightly beach bonfires. However, in the midst of all that wood was the problem, thousands if not millions of plastic cups and bottles, not dropped but washed up out of the pretty green open sea. It seems those plastic bottles and cups we all love, last for years, even in the sun, salt and waves...and they float really well!
The simple value and intrinsic sense of a cheap plastic baggie serving as the container for my drink makes a lot of sense. Of course, now we try to do what most South Americans do. Simply sit down, relax and drink the incredible variety of fresh fruit juices available out of real glasses. Once we’re done, we hand them back to be washed and used again, what a concept.
Careerbreak in South America; What about the Holidays?
For many people a big worry of living abroad is the holidays, won’t we miss the festivities, the snow, the lights, and the atmosphere?
Eighteen years ago during what seemed to be an incredibly hectic Christmas season, my brother and I looked at each other and asked, “What is going on here?” Dinner at Grandma’s had been followed by dinner at Mom’s, followed by dinner at our house, his house, my sister’s house, my Mother-in–laws house, my aunt’s house…all in the space of fifteen days. Don’t get me wrong, I like my brother a lot, I like my family a lot, but this had gone from fun to duty. Everybody was exhausted and overwhelmed, the settings and the staging were all perfect but somehow the magic had disappeared. We were all trying to recreate nostalgic Christmases of the past in the midst of crazy lives.
So, the next year when my old boss HO Brough who was retiring that December asked us if we wanted to go to Mexico over Christmas week, we jumped at the chance. It was such an amazing experience we never looked back. A Christmas in Mexico with all its color, warmth and vibrancy became our new family tradition. In fact I’m not sure our son Lars can remember a Christmas in Colorado.
It became our annual family pilgrimage with the gorgeous blue waters of Banderas Bay and the long warm evenings creating an environment of such rich family time that we never missed the snow. Before long everybody else was coming down too. My parents, my uncle and aunt, my brothers and sisters, my in-laws. It was great because now the pressure was gone. We had dinner together every night but in informal restaurants where our feet played in the sand under the table and roving mariachi bands drifted up to play Christmas songs under the moon. We gave gifts but they had to be purchased from the street vendors in a two hour buying and laughing frenzy each Christmas Eve morning. You were not allowed to spend more than $20 total, for the whole family. Needless to say a lot of squirt guns, jax, super balls, harmonicas, colored pencils, candy, cookies and who knows what were purchased, creatively wrapped in newspaper and toilet paper and set under the “tree”. One year Santa found an incredible battery powered, figure eight racetrack for eight dollars. This was the best car race track we had ever used, the cars stayed on the track, they responded to the controls and we raced for days before leaving it to the housekeeper for her six kids. The holidays melted together in warmth, relaxation and smiles.
No more malls, no more driving on ice-covered roads, no more feeling like we were missing anything. Our former forays into the parking lot Christmas tree lot, were replaced by intense explorations of the town for the family that made the perfect piñatas. You would find Mom, Dad, the grandparents, the kids, the cousins, the whole gang, sitting outside on the cobblestone streets with huge jars of paste and tons of paper. Hanging from the ceilings just inside the street-side door would be the prizes we sought. Dozens of colorful piñatas in all shapes, colors and sizes. We always chose one in the shape of a Christmas tree and then took turns carrying it proudly down the street (those things are heavy when they have a clay pot in the middle). Packing it with candy and toys the next day, we would hang it on the balcony dressed in twinkle lights and wait for the big day.
Christmas Eve was always the highlight. Turkey is available everywhere there is a TV these days. I expect you could be in the Congo and some one; somewhere would have a traditional turkey dinner on their menu all the way down to the “Stovetop” stuffing. We went a different direction, a wonderful small restaurant set under a terrace by a beautiful fountain in the old town. “El Gastronomo” was known for its tableside flambe dishes and the quality and flavor of its food. Donning our Christmas hats and our finest tuxedo wear with of course our flip-flops, we would head off. Lars loved the friendly wait staff and the flames. We loved the Beef Tornedos de Mostaza, (mustard sauce) and the days catch in orange sauce. The choices and quality were amazing, all for the price of a few Happy Meals at home. Of course you couldn’t end without Bananas flambe and Mexican coffee, poured flaming from sugared cup to sugared cup.
By 11 p.m. we were sated, what a meal! However, no Christmas Eve would be complete without the launching of the "Globo" at midnight. We would pull out the seven foot tall, six foot round, paper hot air balloon and with the help of others on the beach, light the ball of fueled cotton attached below the balloons opening. The challenge was holding the contraption upright and off the ground as it filled with warm air. Finally the heat of the air would cause the giant balloon to start to rise and pull on the kite string that Lars always held. A minute later, like a filly chomping at the bit, the balloon would start rocking and pulling, desperate to be released and reach for the sky. A snip of the kite-cord and a yell from the gathered crowd and off it went.
The crowd would turn suddenly quiet, watching as the flickering balloon shoot into the heavens thousands of feet above and then started drifting west over the water and out to sea. The flames beneath the balloon twinkling like the Christmas star against a background of real stars. For twenty minutes we would just stand there leaning together on the beach, our heads tilted back watching as the balloon drifted higher and higher and further out to sea...there was no doubt, we had found the magic of Christmas again.
The Shortest Person in the Class
If you’ve always been the shortest person in the class, Ecuador is for you. Christina at 5’3” is a long legged model here and my six feet put me a good twelve inches above the crowd. It makes me feel like I’m former CU basketball player Milt Branch, who I worked with back in Boulder, he’s at least 6’10” maybe seven foot. Talking to Milt was a challenge, you either had to step back to reduce the angle, or find a stair to step up onto, because if you didn’t five minutes of talking to him would leave you with a crick in your neck…he was unusually tall, like I feel here.
What’s fascinating is people don’t look short until you are standing right next to them. It’s like the proverbial saying “he looks taller on TV”. The reason is everybody is perfectly proportioned, just on a smaller scale. They seem to have a lock on lithe bodies with beautiful facial features. Add in a sense of style, a keen awareness and availability of the latest fashion and you have a culture similar to Paris. Whereas we in Colorado always seem to be dressed “in a T” everybody here is always dressed “to a T”.
Every foray into the street is a walk down the runway, heels, ties, suits, sparkling shoes, perfect make up, its amazing the care that goes into dress. Perfect year round springtime weather helps out, you need clothes here! Sweaters, jackets, vests, hats, coats, scarves, even leather gloves can all be used at one time or another, sometimes all in the same day. It’s like living in Boston Legal, a wonderful historic city full of gorgeous people (okay maybe not William Shatner) it’s just they are two or three notches smaller.
Christina hasn’t lost me yet as it doesn’t take very long to find a big galumph sticking out among the crowd, like some huge marble in a sea of smaller ones. At the same time, I’m used to looking down into a group of faces to find Christina, but here I’m constantly caught off guard as her smiling face is on another plane, a head taller than all the faces around her. Her chestnut hair throws me off too, it looks blond in comparison to the thick, shiny, jet-black hair of the Ecuadorians.
With the influx of foreign foods, the kids of course are shooting up. Fourteen year olds tower above their mothers, who while gorgeous and professionally dressed, might not be taller then the wooden clowns that you have to stand next to in order to ride the rides at Six Flags. They definitely would have to crawl into a cart or find a stepladder to reach the top shelf at Safeway. (A common complaint of my sister-in-law, who hates grocery store shelves.)
Lunchtime is the best time to watch the show; there is a definite restaurant culture here. The time-honored two-hour lunch break in the sunshine and mountain air brings out a huge crowd. It’s a fashion plate of professionals, office workers and store employees flooding into the streets and the lush squares on their way to the traditional “almuerzo” (lunch). It’s highlighted by the striking colors of the indigenous women in their beautiful dresses and shawls. You can join in, or just sit and watch the parade as it flows by. Remember though, dress appropriately… and yes they will notice if your shoes aren’t shined.
Dedicated to my sister-in-law Colleen, always the shortest person in the class. Who we can’t talk to because her phone requires us to enter our number...and we never know our number down here:)
P.S. If you can't tell already, I had the camera...Christina would have done a much better job on the men, she promises pictures next week...if she can wrestle it out of my hands.
Did I already say the food and restaurants are great...
Happy Thanksgiving, "Cuy" Style.
I hope all of you are enjoying sweet potatoes covered with those little marshmallows, the mashed potatoes dripping in gravy, flaky dinner rolls, honey butter, cranberry Jell-O, a huge turkey, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and of course that bean casserole with the mushroom soup and the onion rings… I’m not jealous.
Down here things are a little different. To start with they don’t have Thanksgiving. I’m in class today, trying to remember what the difference between a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun is. The sorry state of affairs is, I couldn’t tell you what that means in English, no less in Spanish. When did language become such a complicated puzzle and means of torture, Christina is thriving and I’m dying.
I’m also getting the distinct feeling my tutor is not impressed by my natural language abilities. She seemed especially put off when I told her “I don’t do homework”. That actually was fun; I wish I could have done it back in “the day”. There is definitely an advantage to being the one who pays the teacher's salary each week.
I hear they do have Thanksgiving, “El Dia de Accion de Gracias”, I’m just not sure when “El Dia” is. It’s not the last Thursday in November as I haven’t seen a turkey anywhere. It’s also doesn’t seem to be harvest season right now, the hillside farms are covered with entire families planting who knows what.
The truth is in this strange mountainous country smack dab on the equator, nobody can tell you what season it is, ever. You can’t really blame them; if all your life every day was just about the same perfect weather you might be confused by seasons too. Don’t expect any help from the nightly weatherwoman, she’s in Quito, (think Denver) and just like Colorado there is a huge difference between the weather in the Amazon jungle only two hours to our east (think Lamar), the weather here in the mountain valleys (think Vail), and the weather two hours to the west on the Coast (think Grand Junction with waves).
Here in the high country, it is definitely winter every morning as we start the day with the bells from fifty different churches all trying to outdo each other in gathering the their flock. It’s “wear a hat cold” at dawn, which happens at exactly 6:11 every morning. Watching the sun barrel straight up into the sky like an elevator in a Walt Disney cartoon is worth the chill. The show is quick, it only takes ten minutes to go from pitch dark to daylight, the sun doesn’t waste anytime lingering here on the equator, its got a long ways to go and exactly twelve hours to do it.
Ten in the morning brings summer. Coats and sweaters disappear, shorts show up and the temperature climbs to near eighty degrees. There are four rushing mountain rivers through the middle of town and every one of them is a kayak and tubers paradise but only during these summer hours.
Fall arrives at four-o-clock, afternoon showers and cooling breezes have you tracking down that sweater again, or wishing you’d remembered to bring it, it’s plain chilly.
At 6:13 p.m. like clockwork the sun crashes head-on into the mountains off to the west, the breezes stop and the calm moist air of the lower valleys drifts up. It’s late spring now and the flowers after the rain are gorgeous. Four seasons in one day, not bad for a country the size of Colorado.
Christina and I are celebrating Thanksgiving in our own way, we have a lot to be thankful for, and everyday here proves it in so many different ways.
Our Thanksgiving meal is probably going to be a little different than yours. Sitting in the middle of our table where your roasted turkey is steaming, we will have “Cuy” a large fattened version of your pet guinea pig.
The locals tell us it’s the equivalent of squirrel in West Virginia, who are we to argue. Luckily we tried “Cuy” once before a few weeks ago and you can’t tell the difference from turkey (yeah right). The main difference is the white meet doesn’t go on forever like those Butterball turkeys with the cool thermometer that pops out when they are ready, and of course “Cuy” legs are much, much smaller.
Christina, my favorite born and bred “kraut”, claims it’s a mini version of her beloved German meal Schweinehaxe (roasted pork shank). If asked, she will go on to vividly describe the succulent, crispy, crunchy, crocanti texture of the “Cuy” skin…I’ll stop here before I gross you and myself out. It really is tasty once you get past what it is. It reminds me of eating the rattlesnake and alligator appetizers that Mark Monett at the Flagstaff House used to serve. You ate them, were amazed by the interesting flavor and followed it up with a double vodka.
Speaking of drinks “canelazo” is the favorite here. Served hot in large teapots, it’s sipped out of shot glasses and tastes very much like our hot-spiced wine. Available at any of the hundreds of wonderful restaurants in this beautiful historic city, canelazo is packed with lots of herbs, spices, cinnamon, sugar. The main difference from Glühwein is they leave out the wine and fortify it instead with Aguardiente (firewater).
Our celebration won’t be complete until we shoot off the huge M80 pop bottle rockets from a big metal grid in the main square. These quarter sticks of dynamite, wrapped tightly around a three foot long bamboo pole make Folsom on the fourth of July seem tame. They’re available every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from three fingered men at the “10th of August Outdoor Market”. It seems they are used by everybody to celebrate anything, anytime…6:15 a.m. most days. As there is no concept of liability in this country the lack of digits remind you to be careful.
Finally, we will crawl into our very solid bed with its homemade “pillow top”. Say thanks again for what is an incredible experience down here and wish each other and you “dulces sueños”, (sweet dreams). And I’ll try to forget what I saw Christina eating today.
Truly best wishes from Kent and Christina
Doesn't this look like Boulder Creek?
The fruits, vegetables and roses available here everyday are a delight for the senses, no need for additional vitamin C.
P.S. if the “Cuy” isn’t enough, the Colonel has plenty of options. As it says on the sign in the mall “para chuparse los dedos” – finger lickin’ good!
How Do You Translate “Doohickeys”
Everyday we have a challenge here. This does not mean everyday is a challenge here, far from it; living in Cuenca has proven to be a delight. Warm, interesting people, wonderful weather and a completely new experience up any block and around every corner.
Never forget though, we are living in a Spanish speaking culture that gives you no choice, but to speak Spanish. The days of having the waiter slip into English as soon as we stumble on the Spanish word are over. It’s pretty simple, if we can’t say it, we don’t get it.
On a daily basis we end up needing something that we’re not sure how to say, even in English. Yesterday’s example was those rubber doohickeys that keep chair legs from scratching the floor. What are those things called in English, no less Spanish? A grandiose pantomime got me four and the Spanish name. Unfortunately, like so much new Spanish in my over-stimulated brain, the word disappeared overnight.
Today it was the fixture in the kitchen light. It had been flickering and I thought it was the bulb, but a new one didn’t help. Grabbing the kitchen chair and my trusty Swiss army knife - the cool one with the corkscrew and the Phillips head screwdriver - I proceeded to try and fix it. Of course, in the midst of rewiring I dropped the fixture and it shattered. You would think, I would learn not to start projects on Sundays!
The damage done, I grabbed my broken thingamajig and leaving Christina shaking her head - she swears I will do anything to avoid Spanish homework - I headed out to the corner “Ferreteria”. I love this particular hardware store because the friendly and very patient owner reminds me of the green vested employees of “McGuckin’s Hardware” in Boulder. At McGuckin’s they are magical in their knowledge of what a thingamajig is and how it might differ from a doohickey. Even better they know exactly on what side, of what aisle in that huge toy store for adults, one will find the same doohickey. Your only problem will be making the choice when you have thousands to choose from.
My ferreteria is a little more basic, just the owner and his garage size corner store, literally packed top to bottom with an amazing amount of stuff, some of it even spilling out onto the street. My father-in law Sam has a similar collection in his garage, but he has twice as much space and half the things, besides he will be glad to tell you, most of it is mine.
Like McGuckin’s, the owner knows precisely where everything is and once the challenge of describing the need is done, with-in seconds he will have exactly what you want laying there on the cluttered glass counter top.
I walk home, my purchase in hand and a huge smile on my face. It’s like I just conquered the world. The Ecuadorians walking by, seeing the look and the smile, shy away a little, they probably think I’m deranged and my family sent me down here for the cheap health care.
No matter, I know I have met the challenge of the day, and the “doohickey” is mine! If I could just remember what it was called.
P.S. There really is a Spanish phrase for “thingamajig” it’s a “Cómo se llama”
Twelve Miles a Day and Salsa Aerobics!
Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro…Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro, the Salsa music is blaring and despite our intensely focused faces of concentration, every one of us has a smile the size of the Grand Canyon. The talented instructor glides through the motions leading us effortlessly down the path of mastery through the simple art of repetition. Compared to him our best efforts always seem to be a half beat behind, but we’re catching on. The group looks good to the crowd bustling past the window. We move semi-simultaneously, it’s memorizing as we slide along the hard tiled floor to the natural rhythms of this centuries old music. Probably, the music and the building we are dancing in are about the same age, it’s a gorgeous old “republican style” building in the middle of Cuenca, Ecuador with a glass covered center courtyard three stories high and easily large enough to fit 20 dancers. I still can’t help thinking that learning a wonderful skill like the smooth and sultry moves of this dance would be wasted on an older me. If the creaks and groans the last fifteen years have put on my body are any indication, I won’t be able to move beyond a shuffle at 65! Of course the seventy-year old couple from the UK that just effortlessly twirled past proves me undeniably wrong. We’re in the middle of the group age wise, the majority are either college grads on a yearlong “gap tour” or adventuresome retirees staying active to avoid the dangers of bodies that are overnews’d and underused.
Only in South America will you find the glide and sexiness of the Latin dances and the cultural awareness and body confidence that expects you to not only know the dances, “because everybody does”, but more importantly demands you dance. Sitting against the wall or at the table planting your butt like an oak tree in this culture is paramount to double dipping in the guacamole bowl at the Christmas party, "how could you"!
My pedometer is clicking away, counting the steps, nearly four miles in this one-hour class that ends our Spanish lessons every Wednesday and Thursday. Knowing we are having fun doing the equivalent of an aerobics class makes it even better, and Christina has developed some pretty sweet moves. No checking the clock here, the instructor just switched cadence and the new step adds a shimmy that I’m not sure my body has done in at least two decades.
Dulces Sueños, hope to see you down here soon.
Walking nearly twelve miles a day around this beautiful city and dancing three nights a week has my pants falling off. My new favorite snack is the "never melts" ice cream the women sell everywhere. It must be made with honey instead of sugar because it has a unique smooth texture and it truly lasts forever. The second favorite is Salchipapas a sliced hotdog with french fries, ketchup and mayo. It's available everywhere, all the time.
No lack of consumer choices here!
We have found just about anything you could ever want is here in abundance, plus the most amazing and sweetest fruits we have ever tasted. Shopping is a combination of traditional street and farmer markets and the latest in Hipermercados, we could be in south Boulder.
As always the Hamaca tradition continues!
A "Career Break" Life Adventure!
People always ask if we're on vacation, retired, sold an internet firm? We never really knew how to describe what we are doing, but leave it to the Brits to come up with a term ... "Career Break" is what they call it.
The "Career Break" is a pause in an already established career.
Usually a year or so, the "Career Break" is a chance for travel, service, education and adventure. It is a time to re-establish priorities (what was I thinking when I bought that thousand dollar massage chair to reduce my stress), discover new places, and spend time on things you always wanted to do. It is a separation from the world you knew and an immersion into a world you dreamed about. It is an adventure and an awakening, as well as a path to a more focused and fulfilling life. It is not first class hotels and people being nice to you because you tip well. It is strange languages, weird accommodations, and a whole lot of choices.
We are on a "Career Break". We rented out our furnished house, parked the cars, packed up our things (way too many things...), put a lot of boxes in storage, sold a portion of a 401K (looking like a genius move momentarily) and headed out.
We have been all over the world now and it just gets better. Yes, we will be coming back. Yes, we will go back to work... but with a fresh perspective and a lot of new skills. Yes, we will probably have to work longer... but that is part of the education. This experience has taught us how important work is to who we are, that the right work with the right people helps shape our lives. Being a productive and meaningful part of a community is critical to all of us at any age, especially so as we get older and more sedentary. But, adventure and change are just as important, sometimes we need to trade comfort and security for the unknown.
So now, while we are still active and healthy, our son is out of college and working, our parents can still travel to see us, we have jumped off the cliff and headed out. These pages are stories of our experiences, we hope you enjoy them.
P.S. Watch for our new book in late 2009 "The Career Break Planner"
Back in Colorado for two weeks
The aspen here in Crested Butte have gone from summer green to spectacular autumn gold in three days, the colors are almost artificial in their luminosity. Yesterday on the road past Meridian Lake Park we stopped and caught these pictures.
It's unbelieveable to me that it has been 14 years since the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
The images of those games, unlike many others, are burned into my memory so well that you could have told me they were the last Olympics and I would easily have believed you.
Maybe 1994 was a long winter, or Lars, who was 10 at the time had a 4th grade project due. For some reason we as a family were much more cognizent about the Winter Olympics that year. I vividly remember the low light footage as early artic winter evenings came in. The commentators unlike other more commercial venues fell over themselves telling how well they were being treated, what a wonderful area this was.
That's why it has been so much fun to show up in this beautiful valley in the center of Norway. We needed to stop somewhere because its about 500 - 600 miles from Stockholm to Bergen to far to drive comfortably and the name Lillehammer just popped out of the map.
By pure accident back in April in CB we had found a hotel that had been used by the athletes who had competed in '94. The place was perfect, almost felt like Family Camp in Pingree Park. Great rooms, better breakfasts and a Vail like little town.
The Ski Jump was spectacular, those are kids are jumping off those crazy towers, maybe 14, at the most! I couldn't believe the noise as their 6 inch wide skis slid down the metal track like a railroad and sent them literally flying...these kids need some serious talking to, this is not a normal human activity.
Which is why we headed over to the Olympic Bobsled run, helmeted, facemasked, strapped in, roll-barred and done in 2 minutes flat...and worth every Euro and even the bruise on the head from smacking against the protective cage as we hit 3 G's in the 7th turn.
Don't wait 2 long... is all that we can say, if your kids are out of school and your parents are healthy, head out. If the kids are still in school start planning with them so both of you will be ready. It's an amazing world out there especially South America.
Answers to the most asked questions; Yes , we will be coming back, probably next summer. Yes, we are going to have to work until we're ninety in order to replenish the retirement pot. No, we don't miss our house or our car or any of our things. Yes, we do miss not seeing Lars anytime we want to and yes we do miss Colorado and everybody we know in that beautiful state... but ohhhhh what a ride!!!...kind of like the one in Alausi that you can check out at the bottom of this page.
Send a reply anytime and make our day, next week Montenegro and the James Bond train ride
Look Mom, she still likes me!!!
Cuenca, Ecuador; What a beautiful surprise
Why it is soooo much fun!
This morning I woke up to walk out on the tiny balcony outside our room and find a group of teenagers dancing in folkloric fashion on the bridge over the river that runs just below our window. The bright red wool ponchos the boys all wore were incredible against the green the riverbank dancing has obtained after weeks of daily showers. The couples were swaying and spinning like professionals, obviously practicing for some sort of competition, but what fun, to wake up and see such an unusual visual feast right out your window. Even better that it was on what in my mind is the equivalent of one of the bridges on Boulder creek. In fact there is another bridge just up the way that I could swear was the Broadway Bridge. That’s what has been so fun about this trip, something new and different or likewise, almost exactly the same, around every corner. In Spanish they say “La vida es una caja de sopressos” which means - life is a box of surprises! Of course, the next thing they tell you is “La vida es una chuchaqui permanente” - life is a permanent hangover – but for now we’ll stay with the first.
Ecuador has truly been a surprise around every corner for us, sometimes back in the states I got the feeling that we were all “overnews’d and underused. We knew more about the latest fire, murder, death or weather in more places that we had never even heard of, no less been too, then we knew about our next door neighbors or what was happening downtown at our city council meeting - that was going to affect us dramatically, But we were just sitting on the couch, a society of observers, not doers…news on the hour, updates all the time, the same story three days in a row and yet it wasn’t even news about our world. Here it is the opposite, news is hard to come by, when I’m lucky I get mine from an Internet feed put out by the BBC, but every living minute here is a new experience! We are truly in the moment and it’s invigorating. Just walking out the door you know will lead to something new and exciting and you can’t wait! Yesterday getting a haircut was the goal. Talk about terrifying try going to a brand new hair salon and getting a haircut when you and the person cutting your hair don’t understand a word that each other is saying. $3.50 later I was impressed, not sure I can ever pay $40 again.
Today we got the laundry done $2.20 wash, dried folded, bagged and ready to go it’s all part of the fun, new language, new culture, new challenges…new feeling of life!
Not all is a positive obviously, try asking a pharmacist for cough medicine in Russian, that’s what it is like for us sometimes trying to figure out how to say what we need, sometimes it’s not even that, sometimes it’s trying to figure out where you might even get something. The other day I went out on a mission, 9they are all missions in my new world0 to find a sheet of sponge rubber to see if I could make my bed just a little more comfortable. Try finding McGuckins hardware anywhere but Boulder, good luck!!! Now try figuring out how to say sponge rubber in Spanish, it is not in my dictionary, I know it is here because I see it on seats and in cars but I still haven’t found any.
Seventeen dollars??? For a beer? What have we done!
We knew Scandinavia was going to be expensive, after years of meeting my old roommate Hans here at his family’s summer cabin on a tiny island near Helsinki, we had gotten used to living in a country where the dollar was treated like Monopoly money. Even when the dollar was worth more then the Euro (which, hard to believe, was only five years ago), this place had been expensive. It was like being trapped in a whole country of hotel prices! What had always seemed like a place where every hard earned dollar was only worth 50 cents, now with the dramatic fall of the US dollar we were lucky if it was worth a quarter. Food, entertainment, lodging, fuel…everything was in a class all it’s own…not $4.00 a gallon gasoline, but $4.00 a “liter” that’s $16.00 per gallon. A glass of coke for $9.00, a movie $23.00!
We love this country of quiet lakes, seaside islands and private but curious people. That still didn’t prepare us for this year. My smugness of the last few months in Ecuador where I couldn’t write enough about how cheap things were flew out the window fast, as we paid $27.00 for a 3 mile taxi ride from the grocery store. What made it even worse was knowing that just last week we went pretty much anywhere in Quito for $1.00. One trip in a taxi, versus twenty two trips in a taxi…exact same car, same distance, a similar driver - with whom we still couldn’t communicate - all that, just 27 times more expensive. As for my $17.00 beer at the local outdoor beer garden here versus in Canoa…no, let’s not even go there, just assume that there is no way that Christine and I could even come close to drinking that much beer…in a week!
I suppose it is only fair that as part of this experience we get a taste of what it must be like for a South Americans or a South Africans to come up to our country. The products are the same, the service is the same, (actually it might be better down in South America), it seems it is just the definition of what it is all worth that is so different. Imagine going to San Francisco and finding jeans for $4.00 (like we did in Riobamba) and then going to Miami and finding the exact same jeans are $108.00! Unless you were working and getting paid in the same inflated way, you would not be spending much time in Miami.
The strangest thing is how it makes you feel, as if the value of your entire culture is somehow lessened. I wonder whether there is a correlation between political and diplomatic strength and the perceived value of the currency?
Everyone here is still fascinated by America though, especially our American West. They love the thought of the wide-open spaces, sense of freedom and spectacular natural backdrops. Everywhere we go from the forests of Russian Karjalia to Estonia’s classic old cities lost in a medieval grace, the name Colorado brings nothing but smiles and questions. For that simple reason we continue to trudge on, gulping at the prices but hoping that as we drift south and east things will begin to return to more palatable prices. You can bet that at this point though there is no doubt in our minds that our unknown future so far is back in South America and not here in Europe, but we still have a lot of this side of the Atlantic to experience, only time will tell…or is that only dollars will tell?
From the land of million dollar views and $17.00 beers!
Kent and Christine
This country is hammock heaven, hammocks are everywhere and they are used! The best thing is that they are not like my poor raggedy, squirrel eaten, lonely nylon hammock back home. Here on the coast of Ecuador they are the center of social life and the focus of every yard. No one here would ever even consider parking a good hammock between two trees in the far corner of their property, hammocks are social...they are moved to a new location as needed, just like an extra chair in the kitchen is always pulled up to the table whenever company comes by. Hammocks are the center of hospitality in this lively family oriented and very outdoor society.
The first thing I'm sure you have noticed in the pictures is that a hammock is rarely alone, they seem to come in litters, Three, six, twelve you name it, the more the better. The other unique thing about Ecuadorean hammocks is that they are usually put up in circles, or sunbursts, this is to make it easier to talk to each other.
The best I have seen so far are the ones down the beach at the ramadas (grass covered palapas with eight sides) used by the fishermen after a long night of shrimping. Each has a center pole and then the hammocks are strung from the center pole to the outside poles...but that wasn't enough so they added more between each of the outside poles. On any given afternoon you will find 20 or 30 people just rocking away in the gentle ocean breeze sipping fruit drinks or beer and chatting away the afternoon. Think about that the next time you are sitting in one of those hard plastic lounge chairs.
This is not just on the beach either, hammocks are outside almost any coastal Ecuadorean hotel, at least one on every balcony and a few more in the yard. Of course you can't have a bar without a few hammocks strung around as well, some to sit in and others to park a tired toddler while the rest of the family enjoys a chance to dance!
They're fun, social, interactive and above all really, really comfortable, I can't wait to see a few on the roof top at the Foundry!
This would be so illegal in the U.S. the lawyers would have it shut down in 5 minutes!
But, we're not in the U.S. we're thousands of miles South of the border, in a land where liability doesn't exist and scheduled maintance is far from scheduled. We actually paid $7.50 a piece (a lot of money down here) to rocket down a mountainside called the Devil's Nose (La Nariz del Diablo) in what I can only describe as an old, converted, motorized, street trolley. Not only that, we gave up our seats on the inside to hang on for dear life on top of the roof. "Overcapacity" is another word that doesn't seem to translate well here. If you are willing to pay they're willing to make room. At this point at least 25 of us extranjeros are on the roof, the locals seem to be more aware of the recently deadly history and seem perfectly content entertaining themselves watching another group of gringos head off the cliff and down the mountain to an abandoned restaurant in the bottom of an uninhabited valley...will we ever get a clue!
It's such a rush though, looking literally straight into the bottom of a very deep valley and seeing the the switchbacks piled on each other as they spill down the mountain, knowing in seconds we too will be traversing this wall back and forth like a skier whose lost his nerve on a slope way beyond his ability. Haven't had this much fun ever at an amusement park, it could be the pure un-adultered fear, or maybe its hearing that same metal on metal sound every time we get close to the next hairpin. I swear it is exactly the same sound you hear on that Brakes Plus commercial just before the crash.
The "Engineer" or is he the driver? Says he has been doing this for 30 years, and that his father did it before him. We're afraid to ask what happened to his father. We do know that the man in the official cap who is up front driving also personally does the repairs. We saw him underneath the trolley last night when we arrived, it was jacked up, the rear "wheel" was off and I'm not real good at Spanish cussing but I did hear some new words that I had a pretty good idea were not used to exclaim success.
The ride is relatively short, about two hours total. We hear the real train ride that is so famous is an old coal burning steam engine which pulls about 8 cattle cars all the way up from Riobamba (really that's the name) but it has been so wet this year that the track can't hold the weight of the train anymore. Rumor is, and we have learned it is always just rumor, the old train will be back on schedule in August. Can't wait to come back!
Whish...Boom, Whish...Boom The rockets are screeching straight into the sky not more than 20 feet from my shoulder, big ones too, the kind we fire off out of bunkers behind Folsom Field on the 4th of July. Here they just stick a pipe in the middle of this gorgeous square and fire away!
Its Corpus Christi, not the Texas town, but the festival that is held every year ,8 weeks after Ash Wednesday. Night after night this town has been filling with thousands as they jam themselves in between the massive churches (one for every Sunday of the year) and celebrate a tradition that we didn´t even know existed. Six foot wide paper mache hot air ballons fired by a glob of cotton covered with wax, rise up at least every 30 seconds, dotting the sky with their gondolas of open flames like twinkling stars, rising at least 6 -7,000 feet before finally drifting off over the high Andes peaks that surround this valley.
We stumbled on Cuenca by pure chance, back in Canoa we had bought an old 3 dimensional plastic map of Ecuador on a mission to find a reading lamp. The map was from 1978 and they made sure we got the most abused one for no other reason then it was on top, but for $1.50, who could complain, especially with my pigeon Spanish. Back in class it was a hit, vividly showing in full color and 3 dimensions a country the size of Colorado that covers pretty much every ecological zone that exists.
Conversations with our instructor Juan Carlos and his father Jaimie kept returning to the beautiful Cuenca Valley and what they called a land of eternal spring, full of cascading rivers, lush pastures, huge mountain views and a colonial city straight out of Spain. Off we went!
No one told us about the trip over the Andes though! Miles and miles of rice paddies, bananas, cocoa and sugar cane abruptly ended after two hours, followed by a transistion into lush and dripping jungle covered mountains an hour later the road rose into the clouds and then straight up! Sea level to 16,000 feet on a two lane highway. There´s not a roller-coaster around that can compete´with this $6.00 ride.Think Trail Ridge road and add a few 3,000 foot shear drops and throw in a couple of fresh landslides for good measure and you´re getting close.
What a destination! We´re still on the equator, but when we left Guayaquil this morning it was 93 degrees, now 120 miles to the east, it´s in the 50´s. We can even see our breath every once in awhile. The locals act like it is winter with scarves, hats and babies bundled up in so many blankets that you only see their incredibly brown eyes... huge with all the sights, sounds, noise and excitement. This is not a culture where you leave anybody home with a sitter, everybody is out and it´s nearly midnight. The whole valley seems to be downtown, dancing, singing, sending off fireworks and just enjoying each other.
The Cathedral that backs the main square here, with its 40 foot high towering solid gold alter, was built in 1880 to seat 10,000. Unlike the European churches I´ve seen, this one is no museum. Tonight there is a standing room only crowd that could easily be 10,000 pouring out of the huge ornate doors as the Celebration Mass concludes.
Out in front, hundreds of teenagers in what I would call ¨dress whites¨ school uniforms seem to be competing with each other to make the most noise. They charge into the crowd with ¨Vaca-Loca¨ (leather covered cane frames, designed to look like cows) covered with fireworks then lit up and carried by pyromanical boys searching out young girls - who in turn run screaming...but not too fast!
All this surrounded by hundreds of candy stalls. A Farmers Market, with only candy and sweets, Santa Claus could not of dreamed up this North Pole candy workshop with every shape , size, color and make of sweet you could ever imagine.
It´s definitely another world here. A world of cobble stone streets and timeless Colonial Spanish architecture all plopped down in the middle of a lush green alpine valley that you would swear someone pulled straight out of Switzerland. No winter here, just 365 days of 75 degrees, followed by just as many nights in the 50´s. The best part though is the gentle and smiling people, happy to share this beautiful place and genuninely glad to see visitors here.
Still smiling, even in my sleep.
¡Uncle Juan´s House and the Wackiest Spanish School this Side of the Equator!
How would you describe to a friend your favorite uncle’s well-worn summerhouse? It’s almost decrepit with strange creaks, cracks and quirks that years of visits and loads of fond memories have turned into endearing traits.
That’s been my dilemma in trying to figure out how best to describe "The Sundown Inn Spanish Language School". It’s the first place that will pop up when you google “Spanish schools” and “beach”. The reality is, it is the last place you would think of if you were expecting a school. Think of a small two-story motel on some deserted highway in the middle of Arizona and you are getting close. The entrance is a little overgrown and dry grasses have crept right up to the room doors. You almost expect an old sign to be hanging down, swinging eerily in the wind except there is no sign and the breezes are gentle and welcoming. Fourteen rooms with anywhere from one to five beds in each are complimented by a screened in dining room and kitchen. The sixteen heavy, square, wooden tables in the dining room are inlaid with ceramic tiles and are almost always haphazardly spread out; some as desks, some for meals and tonight six creatively put together to make a makeshift ping-pong table. Paperback books standing on end make up the net and the ball is precious as it is the only one we have. White plastic chairs are everywhere, which is true throughout the country (someone, somewhere has made a fortune on those things).
Poncho, the cat, is the dinning room mascot, having shown up nearly dead from starvation three years ago, He’s recovered and has established himself as King of the realm. He sleeps at least twenty-three and a half hours a day, moving rarely and then only to eat.
Jose, or as his friends call him “Gerente” (which means “the manager” in Spanish) is the cook and all around groundskeeper, maintenance man, security officer, bonfire builder, etc, etc. He is amazing, but let’s just say it’s his talent in the former that is the only reason he is still around to be considered any of the latter. He can take anything and turn it into a gourmet meal. He will tell you he can also fix a leaky pipe, but by the time you have had six hours of hammering, two days of wet floors and a gaping hole in your wall, you start to wonder. When he finds the hole, then wraps it with electrical tape and covers it with six inches of new concrete, you are sure...he should stay in the kitchen. Gerente does make things happen though in this country of contrasts and he will definitely be asked to be on my payroll when I move here.
If you add four hours of daily individual Spanish instruction from Juan Carlos the owner, his father, his wife, the neighbor, the neighbor’s neighbor and sometimes just a game of cards or hangman in Spanish with Linsy, the six year old precocious daughter, you start to get a feel for the home spun, but heartfelt school and family we have all stumbled into.
The “we” I keep talking about is the best part. It is the handsome young newly weds from Bristol, England, he a teacher, she a nurse, five months into a six-month around the world honeymoon that started back in January with a wedding in New Zealand (they report it would have started in Tahiti, but Tahiti requires an official certificate of celibacy; we didn’t ask for details). Then there is the osteopath couple that after working in New Zealand for the past three years are now surfing their way around South America before settling into a practice in Northern Spain. A mother and her college-aged daughter from Utah spend one month a year polishing their Spanish in developing countries, this year they chose Ecuador for the same reason we did, they saw it on the web. They were joined by a Biologist with a quick wit and a booming voice, who tried to educate me in all the species of flora and fauna I was seeing, but gave up after awhile and told me later she was not real impressed with my study skills...Christine told her that was a very common opinion from anyone who had ever tried to teach me anything, including her...That leaves us and an ex-marine staff sergeant whose has been living in Paris for the last five years and thinks he might have married an Ecuadorian at at a party last night, but he’s not sure. The sum total is it's blast, like living in the dorms, with more free time and fresh seafood.
Place all this in the middle of a beautiful beach about fifty miles south of the equator and 1.8 miles south of a small, but up and coming surf town. Add in a good helping of sunshine and temperatures that are perfect day and night, sprinkle lively discussions around every meal in both English and Spanish, add an old surfboard called the “Beast”, two crazy dogs, a constantly moving string of tiny ants and you’ve cooked up the perfect cushioned environment with which to get your footing in a continent that we as Americans are just beginning to discover.
It is definitely not the Hilton and there is not a TV in miles, but if you truly want to experience a chunk of Ecuador, learn some Spanish on the way and are flexible enough to realize not every place in the world needs to be “Generica” this is a place for you.
P.S. Bring a deck of cards (ours are getting hard to read) and, if you happen to remember, we could really use a new ping-pong ball.
Smiling even in my sleep,
Words of wisdom from Senor Experience: While water and electricity are usually available, putting a flashlight in an easy to find place is never a wasted effort.
QUITO...Dollar, Dollar, Bill Ya'all
It’s probably hard for you to believe living in the US, where it is easy to pull $200 from the cash machine one day and wonder where it all went the next, but here in Canoa the biggest problem we have is tracking down one Dollar bills. Everything is so inexpensive that no one here wants to deal with bills larger than ones. Using a twenty Dollar bill is akin to trying to use a hundred dollar bill in Colorado for a dollar candy bar. It can be done but it is not easy, as for fifties or one hundreds don’t even try!
The scope of the difference in the economies is best reflected in the price of lunch. A three-course meal; a good soup, meat, vegetables, potatoes or rice, a drink and dessert, will cost you $1.50. You read that right, one dollar and fifty cents. After adding an extra beer, the two of us walked out of a downtown Quito restaurant for $4.32. This was at a place with white tablecloths, servers, businessmen in suits and a huge assortment of cakes.
Quito, the Capitol where most people enter Ecuador, reminded me of a large European city in permanent springtime conditions. The temperature was about 78 degrees day and night and the architecture a mix of gothic cathedrals and San Antonio’s river walk. The surrounding color was green, dripping off the mountains green, Vail in June green. Not surprisingly as Quito’s million and a half inhabitants live literally on the equator, but no anacondas here as the founders parked their city at nearly 12,000 feet. Think Hawaii at the top of Independence Pass and you start to get the picture. Don’t forget the prices, this is truly another time, the US in the 50’s would probably be the closest. A taxi, and there are thousands available, many times will only cost you a dollar.
The best part is that Quito is just the beginning of this wonderful little country that every single guidebook, as if written by the same author, describes as “the size of Colorado”.
The end of the trip brings you to the beaches of La Costa. Flat and long sandy beaches back dropped by large sandstone cliffs. The whole area is sparsely populated and the areas of developed beach front are few and far between.
If you want Spanish lessons they can easily be arranged at any of the local Inns and the warm and friendly Ecuadorians seem to love sharing their culture and lanquage with you.
Canoa is just north of Bahia de Caraquez. The flight from Denver to Quito on April 20th was $563. Suggested hotels in Canoa, La Vista, Bambu (the quite original), Coco Loco (surf central) and our dormitory type language school location The Sundown Inn.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, ANEGADA; Skiing Boo-Boo Equals Great Discovery...
What do fresh lobster, rescue toboggans, epic conditions and ACL’s all have in common?
Yes, just five days into our “700 day time out", we were telemarking on the back side of Mt. Crested Butte when “bang” in 2 seconds and one crossed ski, Christine went from healthy, just embarked on a great adventure “Colorado ski chick on sticks”, to a smiling but hobbling torn ACL statistic.
I knew that this adventure would bring the unexpected, but somehow I didn't expect to lose my favorite ski partner just 5 days into it. The speed with which she went from one condition to another was the biggest wake up call of all. In all my imaginings of what we would be doing up here during our season in CB, having her on crutches never even entered the picture. There she was though, sprawled out on the snow sucking up her left knee, ouch!
With-in three minutes CB’s ski patrol was on-site, Christine was wrapped up in rescue tarps, packed into an orange toboggan and barreling down the slopes to the clinic like a presidential motorcade, escorted by four ski patrolmen (all handsome and heroic according to her).
Thirty minutes later, the official diagnosis - ruptured anterior cruciate ligament - the skier's dreaded torn ACL.
A bumpy wheelchair ride across the snow ruts out to the parking lot, a copy of the x-rays and the experience of the exact same injury on the opposite knee ten years prior, left us no choice…it was time to bail out of Colorado. They don't like to do ACL surgery until the swelling goes down and that usually takes about ten to fourteen days. Meanwhile they put a brace on your knee, say “take it easy, take a pill when it hurts and be careful of the ice". Be careful of the ice? In a town so overwhelmed with historic amounts of snow that they were no longer plowing the sidewalks, but were now tunneling through the huge piles to allow people to get from the street to the shops' front doors...
We headed South!
Twenty-four hours and a lot of Mileage Plus miles later, there we were at DIA. A special TSA search process which seemed reserved only for those hobbling had made us late. This left us no choice but to chase through the airport, me pushing a $3 luggage cart as a wheel chair, an old pair of crutches as a protective bumper and Christine, her leg sticking out like a battering ram, was buried under our carry on luggage. With minutes to spare, we headed to the most remote of the British Virgin Islands.
Anegada is a coral reef island east of Tortola, separating the Atlantic from the Caribbean. Two hundred and eleven people, fifty-seven iguanas and the most amazing lobster you will ever taste call this little island home. It was the perfect place for rehab! Eighty-five degrees, no need for any clothes other than easily donned t-shirts, shorts, swimsuits and a knee brace. No dangerous icy walks here, no nightly tales of epic powder runs, just lots of rum, soft flat beaches, inviting hammocks and the slowest laid back atmosphere you can find this side of the equator.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served with our toes in the sand. Nightly visitors from anchoring sailboats kept the serve yourself beach bar lively with entertaining stories of the calm seas and wild shenanigans that seem to define sailing in the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
It was a time of short walks, long naps, warm water and good books, as if perfectly designed to keep injured muscles strong, swelling down and sore joints more flexible. Physical therapy was snorkeling (remember, just no kicking!) and wading in the beautiful lagoons. In the colorful living aquarium, small amounts of extra effort to push out further in the buoyant water were rewarded. Treasures, like huge conch shells, appeared like Easter eggs in the shallow reefs and sandy bottoms of the island’s Atlantic side.
On the Caribbean side, a mile away, short excursions out the door of our simple hotel led across the island's one lane road, past wandering wild cows to the nearby salt ponds and the islands incredibly pink flamingos. Two hundred pictures later and we still don’t have a single one with a head out of the water.
Life on the island allowed us to get back to normal, to get used to a new if temporary set of circumstances. We had to adjust our plans a little and we learned to be better cognizant of the unforeseen. The accident would have forced us to slow down anywhere, yet the culture and environment of Anegada allowed us to realize that slowing down, especially together, wasn’t such a bad thing.
Postscript: Just seven weeks to the day after her surgery Christine was back on her skis for Crested Butte's infamous closing day.
WE'VE BEEN A LITTLE BURIED LATELY...AN ALL TIME RECORD 34 FEET AND STILL SNOWING!
What would you do with eight weeks off?
Its the stuff of dreams isn't it, tramp through Italy, tour the pubs of Ireland, putter your way around the US, finish that backyard project, organize your photos! Okay, maybe organizing your photos isn't on your list but I'm sure there is at least one mundane project that just keeps gnawing at you. What if you had time to work on it? How would it feel after all these years to finally get it done?
Christine and I have now been off fifty-six straight days (in case you're worried, I haven't been counting, I had to use a calendar). By far this is the single longest period of our adult lives, so far it feels like a long weekend.
When we first started planning this crazy adventure, I remember I would ask people who had taken sabbaticals about their experiences. At the time, I couldn't believe it when almost to a person they would say that six months hadn't been nearly enough. They were embarrassed to say that they had felt honored and cheated at the same time. Honored that they had had an opportunity to do something that most people never get a chance to do and cheated because they were pulled back in before they felt they were ready. Now, I can understand them completely. I can't imagine having the "Sunday evening jitters" just yet. Even after this wonderfully long gift of eight weeks time, it seems we are just starting to clear our heads of details that never should have been in them in the first place. It is not as if you can simply push a button and turn twenty years of professional life off, it is almost as if you have to ween yourself away. At first I would wake up every morning with a start as my over-active brain dragged me through some problem that it was sure I needed to be dealing with "right now"! Personnel issues, budget documents, new ideas for old problems, I was amazed with what it could drag up. My father-in-law Sam, who was a Pan Am pilot, tells me he still wakes up some mornings having flown the Berlin-Istanbul route and he's been retired for twenty years now. I've been lucky, already those urgent morning wake-ups instigated by a brain in overdrive have started to subside. Of course there are still those 4:30 am "What have I done!" mornings, especially after the latest news regarding the shrinking job market, tightening economy and issues in South America, but that is just to be expected when you decide to quit your jobs, move to a different country and shake up your life. I heard a line in a song yesterday (yes, of course it was country) "never been so scared, never felt so alive" that's us!
After years of training, I still haven't found my personal schedule. I started out sleeping late, enjoying the lack of structure. Naturally going to bed about one a.m. then drifting slowly back into the world around nine the next morning. It's was almost as if I had to make up sleep from years of alarms and hotel wake up calls.
Now I find myself rising with a daylight savings sun to watch the world unfold through the big window in the living room. I sip my coffee, write, think and just enjoy being in the moment. Christine and I have been luxuriating in the concept of uninterrupted time. Because it has been such an epic snow year, we put off moving to South America until April 20th and moved up to Crested Butte instead. This has been a perfect transition period, allowing us to slow down, deal with practical issues such as studying more Spanish, arranging to pay bills on line, change of address forms, setting up websites, figuring out what will fit in one carry-on (yes, we are going to Ecuador with one carry-on each) while still being away from our past everyday lives. It has also been incredibly fun and pretty up here, as I write this the sun is just touching the tips of Axtel and Gothic peak, they are covered in deep shadows and draped in bright pinks and oranges. Meanwhile the trees are frosted from the eighteen inches of new snow we had yesterday and the day before. The sky as always is deep, deep blue, in short it is gorgeous, it's the kind of Colorado day I'm sure I will miss while on my journeys.
The time to think has been one of the biggest surprises (some of you are probably not surprised that I never had time to think). I never realized how little time most of us have to "mull things over", not in a directed, forced or hyperactive brainstorming session kind of way, but a more organic and pleasurable, yet not unproductive drifting. That and the unfettered time with Christine has been the biggest joy and "hokey" as it sounds "joy" is the word (maybe accountants would call it irrational exuberance). I truly feel I am somehow buying my life back. Don't get me wrong, I loved working and had one of the best jobs in the world with wonderful people, but this is an adventure in the new and unknown and the pure pleasure of not knowing exactly what the day will bring is a true gift.
Hasta la semana que viene!
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We'd love to hear from you during our crazy adventure, especially when it's been a really long day of culture shock, language overload, weird food and rainy weather..."contact us" delivers you to whatever corner of the world we are in. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Best wishes! Kent and Christine