Category Archives: #travel

Things I Will Miss and NOT Miss about Cuenca

My 3-month stay in Cuenca, Ecuador, is quickly coming to an end, and now is a good time to talk about the things I´m going to miss and NOT miss about being here:

NOT MISS – Teaching English to chicos/teens.  (See my previous blog article).

NOT MISS – Credit card cash advance fees of 5%, thus you´ll pay $30 in fees to get a $600 cash advance.

NOT MISS – Rain, rain, and more rain.  It has rained at least 50% of the days I´ve been here, and some days all day.  There has not been one completely sunny day the entire time, for there are always clouds lurking on top of the nearby mountains ready to roll in at a moment´s notice.  I´m sure I´ll have no problem giving away my 3 umbrellas.

NOT MISS – Hanging my clothes to dry.  My apartment has a washing machine but no dryer, which I thought was odd at first, but come to find out is the norm here.
NOT MISS – People standing in my way on the sidewalk, or cutting in front of me while I am walking.  I talked about this in one my previous blog articles, it´s not something I should be judgmental about but instead should accept as part of the culture.  However, I brought expectations here, and as a result, hardly a day went by that I didn´t get irritated with someone over their sidewalk etiquette.  Perhaps a bigger problem I had was thinking, “While in France, do as the French do,” so I began compromising my own values in an attempt to fit in … or perhaps as recompense for perceived slights.  Thus, with regard to the old lady walking down the sidewalk carrying several bags – to heck with you, walk around me!  Or to the disabled person in a wheelchair – to heck with you, too, I got here first so just hold your wheels!  And to the young mother nursing her newborn – get out of my way lady!  I exaggerate, but this entire issue how best to navigate the sidewalks has definitely been harder for me to overcome than I anticipated.  Fortunately, after 3 months of conditioning my attitude has improved significantly.

NOT MISS – 50 cent pieces.  Everyone hates them here, including me.  You may not know this but Ecuador converted their currency to the U.S. dollar a little over 10 years ago during a severe economic crisis.  (Coins remain a mixture of U.S. coins and the old Ecuadorian coins in denominations of $1, 50 cent, 25 cent, 10 cent, 5 cent, and 1 cent).  It sure makes it easy to travel here … you pay for everything in U.S. dollars, thus you don´t have to do a currency exchange in your head every time you buy something.  Want to know where all those golden Sacagawea U.S. dollar coins are being used?  Here in Ecuador, they love them here.  In contrast, everyone hates 50 cent pieces here.  I think it is because it costs 25 cents to ride the bus, far and away the most common form of transportation here, and the bus drivers will not make change.  Thus, and this may sound strange, but it becomes a game of hot potato everywhere you go here, sellers try to dump their 50 cent pieces on buyers, and buyers try to dump their 50 cent pieces on sellers.  One vendor tried to refuse my payment with a 50 cent piece, asking whether I had any other coins to pay with.  And when I have asked a vendor not to give me a 50 cent piece in change, they have been a little irritated.  Strange game of hot potato, isn´t it?

NOT MISS – Being apart from my wife and puppies and life in the U.S.

NOT MISS – Gringo prices.  There is a widespread practice here of charging us North Americans, us Gringos, higher prices for stuff than the local folks are charged.  Not everyone does it, but many do.  For example, I have paid $2.50 for virtually the same pad of paper that I later bought at a similar store for only 70 cents.  As a result, when I have just the slightest suspicion that someone has charged me an inflated gringo price, I never return.

NOT MISS – Panaderias.  These are the bakeries that are located in just about every block and that sell fresh baked bread and pastries.  You can pack on some extra pounds here if you are not careful.
Okay, enough about all the things I won´t miss about Ecuador, it´s time to talk about the things I´ll miss.

MISS – Panaderias.  Yes, you read that correctly … leaving the panaderias is going to be bittersweet for me, something I´ll both miss and NOT miss.  There´s nothing like walking down the block and suddenly having your nose infused with the smell of dough rising in the oven, and then having the opportunity to sink your teeth into a still-warm, chewy, roll of doughy goodness.

MISS – Almuerzos.  These are the $2.50 lunch deals that are all over town.  For that price, which includes the tip, you´ll get a bowl of soup followed by the lunch of the day (often rice, veggies, and a meat), accompanied by a bowl of popcorn and a glass of fresh juice, and topped off by a dessert.

MISS – The Catholic Cathedral.  It sits just outside my window, and I get to look at it´s architectural glory every day.  Indeed, as I write this blog article, all I have to do is lift my eyes to take in the Cathedral.  It spans half a block wide by a full block long, and you can spot it from virtually every vantage point in this entire city.  But as spectacular as it looks from the outside, it is even more spectacular on the inside.  The Catholic Church has always believed that church buildings should inspire adherents to reflect on the awesomeness of God, and being inside this Cathedral is definitely awe-inspiring.

MISS – Spanish speakers everywhere.  For someone such as myself who is working toward becoming fluent in Spanish, there´s no substitute for immersion in the language.

MISS – My Spanish tutor.  I don´t think I´ll ever find in the U.S. a Spanish tutor who is happy to be paid $8 an hour to give me one-on-one instruction.  Not only that, her undergraduate and graduate studies included a specialization in the teaching of Spanish to foreigners.  Moreover, her English is exceptionally good, and thus she can use her English to help us Gringos get unstuck during the process of learning Spanish.  As a result, I suggested that she offer her tutoring services via Skype, so if you are reading this message and are interested, let me know and I can connect you with Maria.

MISS – 25 cent bus rides.  The bus system is extensive here, and you can go from end to end, and to all points in between, for a mere quarter.

MISS $15 doctor visits.  It´s not like I enjoy going to the doctor, but in Ecuador it is normal for doctors to spend 15-30 minutes in consultation with you for as little as $15 dollars.  In contrast, last year my wife and I had some flexible spending money to burn before the end of the year, so I visited a few doctors just to make sure all of my parts were still functioning normally.  One SOB doctor spent all of about 1 minute and 37 seconds with me before he rushed back to the nurse´s station to continue his conversation with the nurses … and for that, our insurance company was probably billed $100.  The U.S. healthcare system, for all its technological advances, has become something of a sham … where you can spend a lot of money for very impersonal care.  You´ll not find that in Ecuador.

MISS – Fruit packs.  In Ecuador fresh fruit is plentiful, including many types I had never heard of before coming here.  It is recommended that you thoroughly clean fruit here since the bacteria in the water is different from what North Americans are accustomed to, and indeed some travel advisors suggest that you not eat any fresh fruit that includes the skin (i.e., strawberries, peaches, cherries, etc.).  Nonetheless, I found in the freezer section of the grocery store these big fruit packs that are called “pulpa de fruta” and that are 100% fruit.  They only cost $1.75, and you can get them in mango, strawberry, mora, naranjilla, maracuya, peach, orange, pineapple, coconut, and many other flavors.  These fruit packs make great smoothies.

MISS – Ecuadorian chocolate.  In Ecuador they produce some of the finest chocolate in the world.  Granted, you can buy Ecuadorian chocolate in the U.S., but you´ll be paying the U.S. price that includes shipping costs.  In contrast, while you are in Ecuador you can pay the Ecuadorian price for chocolate that is from cacao beans that are grown and processed in Ecuador.  Kind of like, “fresh from the farmer´s field.”  And speaking of Ecuadorian chocolate, I think I have a bar (or bars) in the other room, so I think it´s time to stop writing and go have me a nibble (or nibbles).   
Also posted in #Ecuador

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 #Ecuador

Sheri & Keith Adventure

Three years ago we left the hills of West Virginia and travelled 2,000 miles west to Salt Lake City. We live in a great neighborhood called The Avenues, which is located between downtown and the University of Utah. This is probably the most diverse neighborhood in the entire county … a mix of urbanites, professional people, vegetarians, university students, protectors of the environment, animal lovers, kindred spirits, and various other people that make this neighborhood unique and feel like home. Hiking trails, the grocery store, a LIBRARY (which Sheri especially loves), restaurants, and other things we enjoy are within walking distance of our home.

All-in-all we love it here for lots of different reasons – heck, we even purchased the domain name WeLuvUtah.com. Probably one of the best things about being here in the Mountain West is that we are much closer to various sites we’d like to visit, such as Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, the Northwest, various Colorado towns, Boise, and we could go on and on. We are much closer to Sheri’s family, but alas we are further away from most of Keith’s family. We think that we might be here another 6 years until Sheri retires in 2016, but you never know – we are always up for adventure. The airport is also nearby, so please come visit us … our house is your house!

Speaking of adventures, we’d like to tell you about our plans to go to Guatemala later this year.

God willing, Keith is leaving for Guatemala on October 1st to spend one month in the city of Quetzaltenango (commonly known by its indigenous name Xela). Keith was given a passion for learning Spanish about a year a half ago, and now spends several hours each week learning it. He was laid off in January, which turned out to be fortuitous since that gave him extra time to study Spanish while he looks for work. (And thank the Lord for weekly unemployment checks!). While in Xela, in addition to 5-hours a day of Spanish language school, Keith will be participating in community development projects run by the nonprofit teacher’s cooperative called Pop Wuj. These projects are dedicated to supporting public health, education, and sustainability … particularly in the indigenous Mayan communities. Check out http://www.pop-wuj.org/volunteer/community-development.html.

Sheri will join Keith in Guatemala on November 3rd in the city of Antigua, and for the rest of the month we will vacation, eat lots of ethnic food, visit plantations, go on excursions, and also do some volunteer work at local charities. While Keith continues Spanish immersion training in the mornings at Antigua, Sheri will spend the mornings knitting, doing yoga, taking cooking classes, reading, and also being tutored in Spanish for one of the weeks. Sheri also looks forward to learning more about Mayan textile arts, such as the beautiful multi-colored garments and other items made through backstrap-weaving (which Sheri plans to try her hand at too). We definitely plan to go one day to the famous twice-weekly Mayan market in Chichicastenango where there are many Mayan vendors selling their beautiful and colorful handmade items. Check out the market by going to www.virtourist.com/america/guatemala/index.html, click on Chichicastenango, and then page through the photos taken at this Mayan market.

Mayans are the indigenous peoples who have been living in that part of the world since before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In spite of the hardships that they have endured, Mayans are peace-loving people who are dedicated to preserving their ancient customs, and are celebrated all over the world for their brightly colored fabrics and textile arts.

We would like to do something to help Mayans during our upcoming trip to Guatemala, and we’d like to ask for your help as well. Please go to our fundraising page at www.firstgiving.com/spanish and share some of your hard-earned money with the needy in Guatemala.

Thank you so much for your love and friendship. We are so glad that our paths have crossed in this lifetime, and we hope that you will prayerfully consider helping the Mayan people we will soon cross paths with while in Guatemala. Keith will be blogging regularly at http://fotopala.com/blog/, and we will also send you periodic updates on our Guatemalan adventure.

Paz (Peace)!

Sheri & Keith

Also posted in #firstgiving, #Guatemala

My Lovely Wife

Sheri and I have been together since Earth Day, April 22, 1998.

We met through a dating service, which at the time was called At The Gate, but which is now called Green Singles. This was before the age of widespread Internet usage, and the dating service would place little ads in the back of certain magazines. For $29 you could become a member and receive the master listing of all available singles, and then spend a $1 for each letter that you sent to someone through the anonymous PO Box. I read her profile and was interested (SWF, likes to camp, etc.), she lived in the same area of the country, and so I sent a letter to her through the system.

We met at the Au Bon Pain (“Oh Good Bread”) in L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. We sat at a table and drank sodas until the restaurant closed, and then went outside to sit and continue the conversation. It was a brief visit because I had to hurry and catch the last commuter train to the small town where I lived.

4 weeks later we were talking marriage, which was pretty extraordinary since both of us were 37 years old, never married, and at that point thinking that marriage was probably not in the picture … and then bam!

When I speak to her, I usually call her Sweetie. But when I talk about her, I often call her My Lovely Wife. I also like to introduce her as My Lovely Wife, and she appreciates that.

Lovely

Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful: a lovely flower.
Having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye, as a person or a face.
Of great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.
Here we are a few years ago:

Also posted in #retired