Category Archives: #Ecuador

Different and the Same

A visit to a different country is an excellent opportunity to get out of what you think is normal, to see how life is lived differently by other people of the world.  Several times since I´ve been here in Ecuador I´ve caught myself saying things like, “Why don´t they have that here?”, or “Why do they do that here?”, or something along those lines.  But then I remember that my way is not THE way, and that what I am used to in my country is not what people are used to in other countries.

We all share the same Life, and we are all one in the innermost Self — only the outward forms are different. 

With that in mind, I´d like to share some of the differences I have observed in Ecuador … things that are not better or worse, just different.

Eggs are not refrigerated here … in the grocery store you´ll find them on the shelf, generally near the bread section.

Most stores are not open before about 9:30 AM, and most of the same stores are not open on Sundays.

No one wears shorts, except for a few of us gringos that have invaded the area.

Coffee cups max out at about 8 ounces, 10 ounces if you are lucky.  (I have a 20-ouncer at home).

Lined yellow legal notepads, the kind I write on virtually every day, don´t exist here.

Vehicles have the right-of-way.  If you´re in what looks like a crosswalk, and a vehicle arrives and wants to be in that space too, you better dash for the sidewalk or you could be in for a world of hurt.

As far as I can tell, smokers can smoke just about anywhere they please.

People standing in the middle of the sidewalk and talking will not move to get out of the way of a walker, even when they see a walker approaching … your job as a walker is to exit the sidewalk to walk around them if you want to continue walking in the direction you were walking.

Speaking of sidewalks, if you venture just a few blocks from the city center, sidewalks can be wide, narrow, undulating, or simply not there.

Catholic nuns still wear the habit here.  I still remember Sister Stephan, she was the coolest nun ever.  She would play softball with us at recess, and after drilling one to the outfield, she would speed around the bases with her habit flying in the wind while she held on to her headpiece.  That Sister could hit!

Trash bins are tiny.  The apartment building where I am living has 24 apartments, and if I am not mistaken, it is serviced by two tiny trash bins about the size of the one I have at my house in Salt Lake City.

There are no chicken buses here.  (Well, Salt Lake City does not have any either).  I miss chicken buses.

Extra large as a size is rare … you can look for days before you find extra large clothes.  And when you find them, you´ll find them at places that sell to gringos.  Yes, the people are of smaller stature here, but also you do not see here the epidemic of obesity that we have in the United States.

Speaking of smaller sizes, the countertops are lower here.

I could go on and one, but you get the picture.  When you travel to a different country, you´ll find that many things are different … and that people are the same.

Journey to Cuenca

Por fin … we´re in the air.

I´m on a full Continental Airlines flight that just lifted off from Salt Lake City in route to Houston, and then I´m on to Panama City, finally arriving in Quayaquil later tonight. The airport was packed this morning, and the line to go through security was so long that it nearly reached the exit door. Fortunately, I had my iPod with me, and one 30-minute Pimsleur Spanish lesson lasted me all the way to the passport check desk. Waiting in line is so much more tolerable when you have something to occupy your mind, as opposed to watching anxiously with critical eyes everything that is happening around you. So, I wasn´t one of the people thinking things like:

“Why would anyone wear flip-flops in Utah in December while rushing to catch a flight? Now there´s a big clan of rich spoiled brats. How can you be so oblivious to the dozens of people waiting behind you — move! Why do all the people with anything that looks like a kid get to cut in front of us? Got enough makeup on there, lady? Who the hell travels with a snow thrower? Hmm … I didn´t know that a leopard skin top went so well with plaid pants?”

Actually, I´m exaggerating a bit with regard to the snow thrower, and I must confess that I did wonder about the guy in flip-flops while thinking to myself that that is something I don´t ever see me doing — but who knows?

I´m excited to be on this adventure to Ecuador, and also a bit anxious about the prospect of teaching up to 4 different English classes a day. I´ll get my assignments during Teacher orientation a few days from now. But there´s a fair bit of travel to do before then, as well as new things to experience and new people to meet along the way.

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I´m on the plane in Houston, waiting to take off for Panama. Looks like we´re about 20 minutes late departing — Latin American time has already started!

My final destination is Cuenca, which is increasingly becoming a popular destination for retirees from the United States and Canada. They can live in Cuenca for about half the cost of living in North America, and not sacrifice anything in the way of creature comforts.

Interestingly, the retired American couple sitting beside me on the plane considered moving to Cuenca, at least for part of the year, but decided against it after seeing 3 of their retired neighbors in Panama move to Cuenca only to return to Panama some time later.

I´m not sure that my wife and I can use that as a guage for the retirement-ability of Cuenca, since this couple (and presumably their friends) want to live where many other expats live in retirement. In fact, seeing expats such as these leave Cuenca might be a good sign for us — we don´t want to go with the expat flow.

The retired gentleman sitting beside me said another thing that indicated how different him and I might think. I asked him what activities he´s engaged in right there in his Panamanian expat hot spot, and he said, “I mostly sit around and drink coffee with my buddies.” Except for the caffeine, in my opinion that type of lifestyle is not very stimulating.

In some respects it´s difficult to believe that retirement is just around the corner, but the reality is that Sheri will complete her 30 years of service to the Government in 5 more years. Life already feels like it is flying by, so the next 5 years surely will fly by as well.

One of our goals in life, which we firest applied to our wedding, and which we seek to apply to every experience that feels like it could fly by, is … no blurage. By that we mean that we are going to focus on preventing the experience from becoming a blur. Stay in the moment … enjoy … take in the sounds, sites, flavors, and feelings … no blurage.

So, right now is the perfect time to apply that goal. I don´t want to wake up 3 months from now having failed to fully live my 3-month stint as an English Teacher to Ecuadorians. And on top of that, there is a whole new culture to experience … different sounds, different sites, different flavors, different people. Sheri will be with me here for the month of February, and hopefully we´ll help each other stay focused on the present.

And speaking of the present, we are now in the air on our way to Panama City.

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I´m in the air again, this time en route from Panama to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We are scheduled to arrive at 11:30 P.M. Guayaquil-time, and at this point I have no idea how that compares to Salt Lake City time — I´m not sure how many time zones I´ve travelled through, perhaps only a few.

When I arrive in Guayaquil I plan to take a taxi to the bus station, and then get on either the 12:30 A.M. or 1:30 A.M. bus for a 4-hour bus ride to Cuenca. I hope that I´ll be able to get some sleep on the bus.

When I arrive in Cuenca I´ll probably have breakfast and then do some exploring before going to the school where I´ll be teaching English. Teacher orientation will be the next day, but I´ll go to the school a day early to get the list of available apartments nearby. I already have a hostal line up to stay in for 4 nights to give me time to find an apartment, and can also stay there for the rest of the month for only $10 a night. For that price I´ll have a private room and bathroom, and have access to a shared kitchen.

I´ve entered a part of the world where Spanish is the default language, and English is an option when available. Another thing I´ve noticed is that I´m starting to tower over people in height; the difference is nowhere near as pronounced as it was in the highlands of Guatemala, but I´m definitely one of the tallest people in the room now. And speaking of differences, when was the last time you the reader received a complimentary meal on your flight? Evidently, that is still the norm once you fly out of U.S. airspace … I received a meal both on the way to Panama and on the way to Ecuador.

We´re about 30 minutes from Ecuador. I think I´ll try to catch a few ZZ´s before we land.

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Wow! What a ride! As I write these words, it´s about 3:30 A.M., and I am sitting in my room in the hostal in Cuenca. I did not expect to be here so early.

Guayaquil was kind of a blur. The passport verification line went fast, and so did the line to go through customs. Next thing I know I´m in a taxi headed for the bus station. I must say that the bus station in not nearly as pretty as it looked in the online pictures. It´s an extremely large, cavernous, building, with dozens of little tiendas inside, most of which were closed at midnight. I fumbled around in there trying to find my way to the ticket office, and after being sent in 2 or 3 different directions, I found myself taking the elevator up one floor. There I spied a bus with the engine running and it was looking like it was ready to leave. I asked 2 guys standing nearby where that bus was going, and they said Cuenca. So I asked if I could get on, and they asked me for my ticket. I said I didn´t have one … and so after paying an under the table $1 fee, they let me through the gate and flagged down the bus with me (as it had started to pull away from the curb). Turns out the guy helping me was the driver´s assistant, so he took my one bag and through it under the bus in storage, and then we both jumped on and away we went.

And boy, did we ever go. Somehow I managed to get on the “midnight express.” Everything I had ever read said that the bus ride from Guayaquil to Cuenca should take at least 4 hours, but we made it in 3 hours and 20 minutes. That bus was barreling down the highway, slinging us all back and forth as the skillful bus driver navigated the curves in the road as we ascended from sea level up to Cuenca which sits at 8300 feet above sea level.

I´m here!

Also posted in #teachenglish

Ecuador, here we come!

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I will be leaving next week for Ecuador to begin a 3-month stint as an English Teacher for a nonprofit academic institution by the name of Center for Interamerican Studies (www.cedei.org). Sheri will set out on February 1st to join me, eager to spend the month of February traversing the city of Cuenca and surrounding areas in search of all the best restaurants, yoga classes, woven fabrics, and anything else that looks fun and adventurous.

I will be blogging about our adventures and sending each blog article to the friends and family on our email distribution list. If you’re reading this email message, you’re on the list and will be receiving our updates. However, if you would prefer not to receive our updates, just reply to this message and ask to be removed from the list – no problem, I’ll remove your email address immediately!

It would be fantastic if you could send a donation to the Tandana Foundation through our FirstGiving website www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/spanish/tandana. This is an organization that is forging friendships and providing direct assistance to many people in Ecuador.

Hasta luego, Amigos (See you later, Friends). Voy a escribirles otra vez muy pronto de Ecuador. (I’m going to write to you again very soon from Ecuador).

Keith and Sheri

Also posted in #teachenglish

Ecuador and Tandana Foundation

God willing, Sheri and I will be in Ecuador for the month of February, 2012, and in preparation for our trip we would like to ask our friends and family to support the Tandana Foundation in their efforts to make friends in Ecuador.
The Tandana Foundation is a small charity that has a really cool philosophy about doing charitable work.  On their web site at www.tandanafoundation.org it says that they seek “to form cross-cultural friendships, to experience a rich indigenous culture, and to make a difference in the lives of new friends.”  It goes on to say what they are NOT … specifically, that the “Tandana Foundation is not about ‘helping the poor unfortunates’ or imposing a developmentalist worldview or any particular religion.”  With a focus on making friends, in the last 5 years they have provided medical care to 3500 people, as well as dental care to an additional 650 people.
We think this philosophy is “right on,” and we hope that you will make a donation to their efforts to make friends in Ecuador.  Donating to the Tandana Foundation through our FirstGiving website www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/spanish/tandana is simple, fast and totally secure … and is the most efficient way to support our fundraising efforts.  You can also donate by sending a check to:
The Tandana Foundation
2933 Lower Bellbrook Rd.
Spring Valley OH, 45370
Another option for giving is to send money directly to us (although this is not tax-deductible like the above option).  We will collect any money that you want to send directly to us, and we will carry the entire amount to Ecuador and do “random acts of kindness” … such as give a few bucks to someone on the street who looks like they could use a few, or stop by a local charity and hand them some cash, etc.  How wonderful it is to see the love and gratitude that fills a person’s heart when they are helped by a complete stranger.  You can send a check to us and we will see to it that the entire amount is given away in Ecuador.
Please forward our fundraising page www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/spanish/tandana to anyone you think might want to donate as well, and thank you for your love and support.
Sheri & Keith
Also posted in #travel