August 9, 2013

Cuenca, Ecuador: One Year Later

Paseo de los Niños on Christmas Eve (2012)
Cuenca, Ecuador

Well, it's been over a year.

In May, our landlady came by with the new lease on our apartment. We signed up for another year and will most likely sign next year, too. Even though there are a couple of things we would change if we could, we basically like our apartment, love our landlady, have wonderful neighbors, and the location cannot be beat.

It is astonishing how fast the year has passed. Getting settled in a new country is one busy whirlwind, full of visa issues, learning a new language (still working on that  and may be working on it for the rest of my life), making new friends, figuring out the food and other products, and generally learning how to live in a different country than the one you lived in for over fifty years.


Since receiving our cedulas (national identity card), life has simmered down to a routine that doesn't revolve around bureaucratic paperwork. We traveled to Quito, seen some more of Cuenca, hung out with various friends, signed up with CouchSurfers and hosted a few young travelers, and played host to four sets of houseguests: my BFF and her husband, friend Elizabeth with her son Austin and his girlfriend Aleina (who now rent our SF apartment), my friend Pamela (from D.C.), and our friend Philly, who we hadn't seen in around thirty years (big surprise  Philly lives in Bolivia now, just around the continental corner).

When we were in Quito, we discovered an amazing place to stay -- Community Hostel. Run by four Willamette University graduates (one of whom is Ecuadorian and encouraged the others to start a business in Ecuador), the hostel represents the best of Ecuador mixed with a degree of American ingenuity. We heartily recommend them as a place to stay when touring Ecuador. And by the time you get here, they may have the microbrewery up and running. (They did go to school in Oregon, after all...)

Attractions, Festivals, etc.

The hummingbird statues 
at Otorongo Plaza
In our spring (U.S. fall), the city hosted a collection of giant hummingbird statues. They were amazing and fortunately were a part of Cuenca life for a month at an outdoor venue before returning to their home in Quito.

Ecuador has many national and regional festivals. Sure keeps everything lively and colorful. One of the biggest is 3 de Noviembre (Cuenca's independence day). The entire town is a giant party  really good fun. We had a couple of CouchSurfers in town for that celebration (Eva and Ailina). It was great having all that young energy in the house. After Eva finished her internship at an orphanage in Quito, she returned for a couple of nights on her way to do the Grand Tour of South America. In between times, she sent her friend Mikki to us  another European doing the Grand Tour.

Many of the festivals are religious in nature and often revolve around the children. Christmas Eve is a several hour Paseo de los Niños (Parade of the Children). There are floats, and the children are in various types of religious and ethnic costumes. It is a fabulous way to spend Christmas Eve.

Visitors and Travels

Our Visitors

Our friend Pamela came to visit in October to celebrate her birthday. It was fun helping her explore Cuenca as a possible option for retirement when she finally gets to that point. We went to the hot springs outside of town, checked out some of the restaurants, toured the city, and generally poked around. Our friend Suzanne took her for a walk about town, where they visited the mercados and tiendas and generally checked out the nooks and crannies of Cuenca. Although she had an interesting time of it, I don't think Ecuador suited her as a place to live. Which isn't surprising as her last sojourn outside the U.S. was three years or so in the Netherlands  probably the most organized country on the planet. And, while we find Cuenca delightful, we are perfectly comfortable that it isn't for everyone.

After Pamela left us, we had a small succession of Couch Surfers, got through the holidays, then prepped for some more company.

One of the many cool sculptures at
Parque La Carolina in Quito, Ecuador
In February (our summer), my BFF Allison and her husband Fred came for over a week. We met them in Quito; we had been staying at the Community Hostel before they arrived, then switched to the Hilton where we all have points and upgrades. Allison and I (of course) hit the malls, which are much better than the one in Cuenca, and did our anthropological assessment of life in Quito. And the Sukasa there totally rocks! Three stories of housewares and furniture  very high style and tons of fun (and also tons of money, but we were only looking).

K. W. and Fred did a major coffee tour while we were shopping. Talk about getting totally cranked up!

Note: Ecuadorian malls do not have anchor stores like Macy's or Nordstrom's. They are a series of small shops, some local and some national, and European branded stores. 

On our return to Cuenca, we had the misfortune of flying out of the new Quito airport on the first day it opened. That one wasn't planned, but as fate would have it... There are many reasons why I would never fly through there again intentionally, but let's just say it sucked. Instead of 15 minutes from the town center, the airport now requires an almost two-hour drive to get to Quito. Once you get there, you notice that the layout is similar to large European airports. Unfortunately, this layout, once scaled down to a smaller size, just doesn't work. Foot traffic and line patterns were a mess. Add to that the fact that only the upstairs gates have jet ways and the transport buses on the ground level, although new, are not equipped with sufficient seating or wheelchair and walker capabilities, you have a total mess. In addition, while I understand that airport food can be pretty spendy, the prices in Quito now exceed those at San Francisco.

Recommendation: When coming to Ecuador, fly in and out of Guayaquil. Much nicer airport. Plus the three-hour drive to Cuenca is spectacular! Not to be missed. We'll send a driver.

Our lunchtime view at Baños
Allison and I "did" Cuenca, including a trip to the mineral springs in Baños where we took mud and mineral baths and had lunch. It is a beautiful location, and the place does not smell like sulfur  an unusual mineral springs occurrence. One of our pools had gold and silver as part of the mineral components. Interesting.

And, of course, afterward we hit the mall. More anthropological exploration.

While we were having a girl day, K. W. and Fred met up with our friends Ben and Pete, who provide professional audio services here in Cuenca and also perform. More coffee, of course. Then, Allison and Fred left us for Peru, Chile, and Argentina for a much-deserved extended holiday.

We had a surprise visit in April from our friend Philly, who now lives in Sucre, Bolivia. We used to flat-sit for Philly and her husband Claude in London. Their place was on Walworth Road, down from Labor Party headquarters and convenient for buses and tube access, including the night bus. We took care of their place and the most wonderful cat (Biddie) when they would go on holiday to France or Greece. It was terrific to have a real home in London to explore from, and we took good advantage of the opportunity.

Anyway, Philly visited for a few days, during which she and K. W. went on a hike high up in the Andes in the Cajas National Park. We had a great chance to reminisce and catch up on all that we have been doing for the past 20+ years. After she left us, she went to the Coast for a seaside adventure and then returned home to Bolivia. We want to visit her there, but that will have to wait until we can travel on a passport that doesn't say U.S.A. Americans are not too popular in Bolivia these days.

In June, Elizabeth, Austin, and Aleina arrived. It was so good to see them all. Austin just graduated with his masters in Anthropology so this was his graduation trip. Elizabeth stayed with us, and the "kids" stayed in El Centro so they could have their own explorations. We introduced Elizabeth to the fantastic Ecuadorian avocados, which were a total hit. They all toured the Inca/Cañar ruins outside of town (Ingapirca), visited a couple of local villages (Gualaceo and Chordoleg), and Elizabeth did her best to stimulate the local economy. On their tour, they visited weaving studios and the orchid farm in Gualaceo, Ecuagenera Orquideas del Ecuador, one of the top orchid producers in the world with over 2,500 varieties available. Check out their website because they do shows all over the world. They will actually be in San Francisco in September for the orchid show there.

During their visit, we got together with our artist friend Greg, who introduced us to the local Cuenca Museum of Modern Art. The gang went off to do a bit of exploring after the visit, and K. W. and I ran a couple of errands. It was so wonderful to have them here with us. 

So, as you can see, Hotel Jeter has been quite busy. Reservations are available beginning December 2013.

Our Trips

Amber Johnson rockin’ the goggles
made for her by Ian N. Campbell
Steampunk World’s Fair 2013
Besides our visit to Quito, we had the good fortune to do a quick trip to New Jersey in May for the Steampunk World's Fair, where K. W. was asked to be a guest. This was one terrific party, in fact, one of the most fun we have ever had at a convention or conference  certainly makes the Top 5 list, that's for sure. Terrific hosts. Thank you Jeff Mach and Erin Goss and the excellent team! A special thanks to the League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen who went out of their way to make us feel loved. They treated us to a steak dinner (steaks in Ecuador are in the meh-to-lousy range) and invited us to the most amazing tea party. Plus, they are a genuinely wonderful and sharp group of women. I wish I could hang with them more often.

Just an FYI: The Steampunk community is a bright and creative bunch. If you ever have a chance to attend a Steampunk event, we can recommend these two: the Steampunk World's Fair and Steamcon in Seattle. I hope we can take advantage of going to others in the U.S. and other parts of the world, including South America. Best parties we have been to in years!

While in New Jersey, my friend Judy (who moved back to her home state after many years in Las Vegas) took the time to come down and pay a visit. We hadn't seen each other in about four years, so it was great to play catch-up. We also made a mutual discovery  the Orchid Kosher Deli in Metuchen. It had been years since I had eaten corned beef that good. Yummm.

This fall, though, is the big trip we have been planning since before we came down to Ecuador. We are going to the World Fantasy Con in Brighton, England. On the way, we will stop in Madrid, where we will meet up with Allison and Fred after his IBM conference in Barcelona. We plan on a week in London, the conference in Brighton, then will spend a week in Bath. We lived there for almost two years in the mid-80s, and this is our first time to go back. We are looking forward to seeing our friends in the UK and getting together with everyone in Brighton. After that, we have another couple of days in Madrid before we head home to Ecuador. Should be fun trying to do the Spanish thing in Spain. Madrileños speak like machine guns  we ought to give the locals a lot of cheap entertainment as we stumble through the language.

While we are in London, K. W.'s new Steampunk novel Fiendish Schemes will be released from Tor Books. He, Jim Blaylock, and Tim Powers will be doing a joint signing at Forbidden Planet megastore on Saturday afternoon, October 26.


All things considered, we believe that this was a good move for us. It has removed us from the noise and stresses that are part of the day-to-day existence in the U.S. And, we no longer are at the mercy of the U.S. medical care system (Obamacare notwithstanding). Plus, we can live on our Social Security, which means that both K. W. and I only take on the paying projects that make us happy.

It also means that K. W. can take the time to learn the bass guitar (couple of local groups are already wondering when he will be ready for prime time), and I can play office manager for the local apartment management/rental company Cuenca Condos, plus work on only the writing and editing projects that entertain me.

As far as K. W.'s writing goes, Fiendish Schemes received a starred review in Publishers Weekly  (the cause of many a happy dance that week), he is finishing up an outline for a new Steampunk novel, and is putting the finishing touches on the fifth book in the Kim Oh thriller series. I am looking forward to that as I really want to know what is happening in Kimmie's world these days.

What I'm doing  in addition to the Cuenca Condos stuff, I am supposed to be editing K. W.'s backlist (I'm a slug, plus I have to make time to have lunch with friendds), and will be working with a couple of local and U.S. writers to fine-tune their projects. Also, my continuing rehab from back, ankle, and knee injuries continues. It is going well as I bought a Pilates mini-reformer type machine, which is the exercise program that works best for this aging ex-dancer body. While I am getting stronger, it is hard. Rehab, as I often have said, ain't for wimps. 

So, that is it for now. I know that this was a long one, but it had been a while.

And, let us know how you are doing, too!

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