Thursday, December 27, 2012

Twenty-Nine Sheets To Go, Please

Pulp non-fiction.

So here I am, world traveler.

I've never been anywhere in my life, and I recently changed continents.

"So how's that going, then?"

Well, it's different.

I don't speak the language. "Sure," you say, "why would you? You're an ignorant dope." But I'm trying.

I had two years of Latin, and that should count for something. And two and a half years of German. Likewise, in the counting department. But it's not enough. So I'm studying Spanish. Which is what they speak here. In case you hadn't heard.

"Hear what? Oh, nevermind. Call me when you get smart. Bye."

OK. Alone again, with my thoughts.

And when you end up like this, all alone, with some thoughts, what do you think?

Well, you think a lot, that's true, but other than that you think paper and a pen. To write stuff down. And it's also good for studying a language and stuff.

Indispensable, nearly, so since I think a lot and am here kind of alone, and can't communicate, and have a Spanish class coming up soon, I thought I'd darn well better get some paper. (I have a pen already, so OK there.)

Off to the Mall del Rio, and guess what? They have a store there.

Which seems fitting, and. In that store, they have paper and pens, and pencils, and, oh, all kinds of stuff.

So I went there for paper.

And found some.

The best deal is a plastic-wrapped packed of about 25 sheets of plain white paper. The kind that used to be called "typing paper". Remember that?

That was the best I could do. Don't ask me what to do if you need a ream of paper. You may have to fly to...well, somewhere. A place where they make paper or something, but I had some in my hand, only 25 sheets maybe, but paper, and the price was 58 cents.

So maybe it was 29 sheets at two cents a sheet, but who's counting? I had it! In my hand! And stuff.

So the next step is pretty familiar: paying for it.

So I go and try to do that. Thinking I know how. And they use U.S. currency here, so I have that part figured out, and as far as buying in general, I'm not a professional or anything but I've been getting by for a long, long time.

First I take the paper, clearly marked, to the nearest checkout line that looks like a good bet.

This one had one person ahead of me, which in my book is a good bet. That's how I define it.

"Get in line, Dave," I tell myself, in English (not being any good in Spanish yet, and English seems to make a lot of sense in situations like this anyway). So I did that, I got in line, and it was good.

And then the person ahead of me finished, and that was good.

And then she came back out the way she went in, which was something else (I won't say "bad", but it was a kind of "not great", especially the climbing over me part).

But there must have been a reason. There often is a reason for things, and instead of continuing through the process, walking away, and making an exit from the store, she decided to do an about-face and climb over me and go back into the store. But hey.

That left me first in line, a place I can both understand and make use of.

I advanced.

I put my packet of 25 (or 29) sheets down, price-side up, and hoped for the best. (Meaning that I would be out of the store in around 30 seconds, or in the neighborhood of one second per sheet, which was acceptable.)

Ah, life these days.

I hadn't seen a touch-screen cash register before. Is high-tek and all.

I believe that the young woman in charge of its care and use scanned my packet of paper, but maybe not. I was already thinking about the nice walk home.

Anyway, something was not working. Maybe having the price of 58 cents on the package confused the equipment. The young woman had to pause for a few seconds and think about what to do, and then began to furiously (using both hands) poke at the touch screen, which in turn made various virtual screens flash and rearrange themselves, change colors, and do all sorts of fancy maneuvers, all with apparently no effect.

No good effect, I guess we should say.

I didn't see any good effects from my end, but then despite my decades of experience buying things, I am not a professional cash register wrangler.

I guess the young woman was unaware of this, and of my language deficiency, because after half a minute of poking her fingers at the screen so rapidly that I saw only a blur, she stopped.

And turned.

To me.

And said.

Something.

Which didn't help either of us.

So, back to the poking for her.

And then something happened. Don't ask what because I have no clue, but it was time for her to take money from me, and then she gave me some change, and then I left.

I have no idea if I paid for the paper or if she gave up and simply went through the motions to save face, and threw my money away, or spent it on beer, but I got the paper and the right amount of change, and now, back in my room, I keep a close watch on that paper. I don't want to use any of it, because.

You know what happens when you use things up.

You have to go.

And buy.

More.

And I'm not ready for that yet.

So I'll hold off on the using-the-paper part, and see what happens next.

Which won't be going back to that store for more paper, not if I can learn to live a paperless life, it won't.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eat Week Two

The day of eternal chewing.

The other place I went during Eat Week is called "El Nuevo Paraiso".

I have a review from a couple years ago, one that was published on a now-defunct web site, or I'd link to it. Anyway, it clued me a bit to the location, style, and conventions of the place.

Sort of.

It is another vegetarian joint.

I went there twice during Eat Week (Tuesday and Thursday).

El Nuevo Paraiso is all Ecuadorian. The TV is on, always turned up to 13, and me with the one ear and all, it's kind of a soundscape adventure.

Tuesday, on my first visit, I went in and stood staring like an idiot (something I'm actually good at) toward the menu, again a menu on a wall, with pictures.

From the pictures you can't tell anything, really. I can't. So, on to step two.

The woman at the "caja" ("box", or "cash register") came out of her cage right smartly when she realized I needed professional help.

She headed for me with a ruler in her hand, but she didn't whup me. Instead she started slapping the ruler at the various pictures, jabbering at me in Spanish. I think it was Spanish because that's what they talk around here when their mouths are open. It's like a tradition.

But with only the one partly-good ear and all, and the TV glowing red from the mass quantities of electrons flowing through the speaker, and the traffic noises, I couldn't really tell.

It could have been Tagalog. But probably not, you know. Probably Spanish, which I am not any good at yet. Which is why I said "jabbering". These days even English, which I've been immersed in for decades, is also jabbering. I'm losing it, ear-wise.

So to get her to stop slapping the pictures I finally said "Sí" at the last one she hit. Like I had caught on when she walloped the picture of my dreams.

She seemed relieved at that point. Relieved that she could stop slapping the wall and put her arm down and get on with things.

So that was phase one. Phase two involved ceviche.

I'd heard about their ceviche from the review I mentioned. I wanted to try that, being a ceviche virgin and all, so I asked for that too.

Result: more jabbering. Aimed in my general direction. I'd confused her.

This little old stupid gringo guy comes in and at first seems convinced to buy the stuff she's been slapping with her ruler, and then he orders ceviche instead.

No. Tambien. He wants both? Sí, he wants both.

Ah, even more crazy, this guy.

Since I was able to put $4.00 of actual money into her hand she decided that the deal had finally escalated into her pay grade, which is to take orders and get money, not to educate fools, so she calmed down about then. Somewhat.

And since I also mumbled "tengo hambre" (literally "I have hunger", or, more naturally, "I'm hungry"), she decided that I was not only crazy but probably creepy enough not to mess with any more, so after tucking the money away safely she wrote my order for two lunches on a piece of paper the size of a bubble gum wrapper and handed it to me.

Almost immediately, before I could figure out what to do next, someone else came along and took the scrap of paper, and then disappeared into the back.

OK, then.

About two minutes passed and then something happened.

The thing that happened is that a basket arrived, containing a knife, a fork, a spoon, and a napkin. And a bowl of cold soup, about six ounces worth (but separate, not in the basket). I decide to wait and see.

What I saw was nothing. For a few minutes. Then something else happened.

Which was that a plate of stuff arrived, just like the one the woman had been slapping with her ruler. It had rice, a slab of breaded and fried fake mystery meat, a bunch of vegetables, some more vegetables, and yet more other vegetable-like things.

So I began poking. Hmmm.

Then a big bowl of ceviche arrived, with another plate of rice.

I decided to start with the first bowl of soup, since it got to me first, and looked good.

Kind of pink, I think.

Damn.

Just about the best thing I've had in Ecuador.

Room temperature, creamy-white-pinkish, with bits of floating herbs, and with thin onion strips too.

Spicy. Very spicy. I could have eaten about half a gallon, but stopped after consuming half the bowl, and shifted my attention to the plate.

Roughly at about this time I noticed that the guy at the next table seemed to be keeping an eye on me, so I began to wonder.

But usually it's best to act like you know what you're doing, so I tried that and went at the plate full of vegetables and artificial mystery meat.

Which was good.

All of it was good, but mostly pretty bland.

The vegetables seemed like steamed vegetables. Cooked, warm, wet, and crunchy. Not much more.

There was a lot of what looked like vegetable pearls in there, pale, smooth, wet, crunchy. In a steamed-vegetable way.

This must have been more mote, the corn kernels they eat here. Roughly pea-sized but not pea-like otherwise, and not corn-like. Mote-like, I guess. New to me.

After a while I tried the ceviche, which was rich and full of mushrooms and things, and mostly (to me) not so flavorful. But maybe it's just me.

So after several hours of chewing I was around a quarter the way through my food. Even the ceviche had to be chewed.

Lots of chewing.

Lots and lots of chewing, of things that had little flavor (to me). Except that soup. The first bowl of soup.

Dawn began to break.

I began to wonder if that first bowl of exquisite soup might have in fact been a bowl of sauce.

The guy at the next table was still discreetly watching me. I thought. Perhaps hoping to discover the secret of craziness among gringos.

Meanwhile, I continued to eat. Like I've eaten all of this before and am willing to teach the world the right way, with crazy veteran confidence.

One part of my act was to take my small bowl of cold spicy soup and ladle it onto the tasteless vegetables. Lots of it. Which helped.

But then, driven by food lust, I made the mistake of eating the rest of said spicy soup with a spoon, leaving at least two thirds of my vegetables in their original, wet, taste-free state.

Too bad.

On the other hand, I do know how to pack it away, after countless years of gut stuffing. So I did that, but got really tired of chewing.

Unfortunately, the only way out of the place was through chewing.

So I did more of that.

Eventually it was all over except for licking my plate and the two bowls. I passed on that. For some reason.

Maybe I'll do it next time.

But well before I finished, one of the staff stopped by the table of Mr Other Guy for some reason. And when she left him she put his bowl of soup on my table.

The small bowl, of pinkish, cold soup, from his table.

I guessed this was either a taunt or a jest.

Maybe a salute.

Who can say?

Anyway, I was not about to finish his meal for him, so after a minute of continued chewing I gently pushed his bowl away from my plate and ignored it. I had serious chewing of my own to finish.

I guess the good news is that no one came after me with a stick. Or a ruler. Or a bowl of sauce. (Except as already related, above.) And Mr Other Guy left before I did, probably so he could go tell everyone his new stupid-crazy gringo story.

Four bucks worth of eats is a lot around here, if you go where Joe Ecuadorian goes.

Consequently I waddled the half mile back to my place, but not without one more encounter.

This one I regret. Oh, my, do I.

A lovely young woman (Maybe a third of my age, OK?), stopped me and seemed to ask for directions, in Spanish, that being what they do here, as I've already stated.

All I could do was apologize and say that I speak very little Spanish and then turn and wobble down the street, bumping into signposts and whatnot, due to a severe ballast imbalance achieved during lunch, while chewing.

Back at my room I dug out a map and figured out that the part I understood ("Simón Bolívar"), was a street in the direction opposite to the one the woman had been going.

If only I'd had my map.

I mean, just to be helpful.

I could have stumbled along in Spanish well enough to have figured out what she wanted, pointed to where we were, and to where she needed to go, and then I could have given her the map. And been a nice guy.

Crazy. Ugly. Stupid and all, but kind of nice in my own road-accident sort of way.

But no.

That didn't happen either.

So.

Two days later I went back to "El Nuevo Paraiso", expecting perhaps an armed mob. Nope.

No flamethrowers. No one throwing rocks. No nothing, much.

It did require three people to take my order though.

Even though I chose the "Menú de Hoy" ("Daily Special", usually written as "Menú del Día") from the whiteboard out front.

With one ear, no Spanish, and the TV up around 13.5 (maybe 14), things get dicey, quick.

I had my $2.00 out (in dollar coins, which they like here), and was ready to pay and all, but hadn't heard anyone say anything that I could recognize.

One of the women was talking at me, and so was another one, and the third, she was talking and writing out "$1.80" on a scrap of paper. For my edification. Since even if I was so stupid as to not speak or even comprehend any known language, then surely I could still respond to "$1.80" if written out. Which here translates to "$1,80", but even I am bright enough to follow that.

No. My problem was not-paying-attention, plus hearing three people and a TV all talking at once. Into my one ear.

But.

I finally caught on.

I handed over my money and things calmed down. No more ruler-slapping, at least that day.

What I had ordered was:

  • Entrada: Col morada con de mayonesa (Cabbage with mayonnaise)
  • Sopa: Mote con frejol (Mote with beans)
  • Segundo: Tallarin chino con llapingacho (Chinese macaroni with llapingacho)
  • Juego: Colada (Literally, "wash", but essentially the "colada" in "piña colada", I think)
  • And a bowl of sauce came with it (Joy!)

About col morada con de mayonesa: I've never had cabbage like this before. Amazing. I don't know if the mayonesa was mayonnaise or twice-refined axle grease, but I want more. Sort of almost warm, not room temperature, which slight warmth made it so friendly.

The soup (Mote con frejol) was fine and smooth. Like bean soup containing imaginary corn. Imaginary mote corn. Not corny or crunchy or lumpy or anything bad. Fine and smooth.

The "Chinese macaroni" looked like spaghetti to me. Long and noodly. Noodly. I liked that.

The llapingacho was a potatoey and yammy something. Yellowish inside, with a nice crust around the outside. There were rice and vegetables too.

The juice looked synthetic. Not sure about it.

Something like lemonade mix with artificial cinnamon in it. Something like what you'd get if you ground Dentyne gum into a powder and mixed a lot of it into cloudy pink sugary water.

Then again it may have been dilute fruit juice. It had some kind of pulp at the bottom, and was not chilled. I didn't want it but thought it would be disrespectful to leave it either untouched or half-drunk so I drank it all.

No unexpected side effects to report.

Bowl of sauce.

Ah.

This time, instead of asking for a straw, or drinking it straight from the bowl, I dished out the whole of it onto the rice and vegetables.

Smart move.

It perked up everything.

Made the whole meal amazing (except for the juice problem, of course).

Tangy. Spicy. Almost peppery. I still want a half gallon of that sauce straight some day. All to myself. Even if it kills me.

There are worse ways to go (all the other ways).

So, a really fine, filling meal for $1.80.

I'll be going back every now and then as long as they keep serving sauce and don't come at me with sticks and knives.

Or maybe even if they do. Hey.

Week one...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Eat Week.

OK, last week in review.

I ate at different places. I decided, whatever the pain, I've got to try things.

When I say I ate at different places, what I mean is two different places, bouncing back and forth, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at one, and Tuesday and Thursday at the other.

When I say "pain" I mean mostly total, abject embarrassment with language. Embarrassment for me, and for everyone within earshot.

Luckily few here carry guns, so there was little actual shooting.

One place I tried was "Good Affinity", about a half-hour walk away, near "Gringo Gulch" where a lot of the pale people live in tall brick buildings.

Good Affinity was recommended by the first person I met here, while eating at "el Tunel". Good Affinity is a Taiwanese vegetarian place.

Vegetables are good.

I've been eating mostly bread, or scrambled eggs, toast, and bread, or tiny dabs of vegetables surrounded by rice and thin slices of various meats, supplemented by bread, for six weeks.

A lot of bread.

I thought, "Vegetables, I could use them." Besides, the two places I tried last week were highly recommended.

It's a bit odd to struggle in Spanish up against a couple of Chinese guys, though they were very nice about it all, and probably thought the same about me (oddness, not the Chinese part).

I look more like an aging but still crazed U-boat captain. Sort of. In my fantasy life. Some of the time.

The Good Affinity folks no doubt get many dim-witted gringos stumbling in. I always apologize a lot. I'm getting good at that, even in Spanish. It's my specialty.

So - the short version: I made it through my first lunch.

What I did after the second pass was to copy the menu into my notebook and take it home for analysis. The copying was easy because the menu is short and on the wall, with pictures.

I get pictures. After only a bit of study.

On my third visit I did well, sort of, considering.

There was no line behind me (so I didn't delay anyone), and I kind of knew the routine, and due to having done my homework, I was able to ask for "brécol" (broccoli) as one of my options.

You get rice plus four other options, and you can point if all else fails. I'm still largely in failure mode, "Failure" being my middle name and all, though I can say "broccoli" pretty well, and I wanted it anyway.

Excuse me. I meant to say "brécol". I sincerely apologize.

To you, your associates, your relatives, to the fine people of this country, to the President, and to the flag, Sir or Madam as the case may be.

You can just call me "F".

On my second visit I ordered "Menú de Día Combo" ("Daily Special", or "Special of the Day"), which I've had all three times, sort of, but I refused the juice, wanting to keep the price down a bit.

Silly me. I apologize.

After I'd sat down there was a small episode of hand waving and chattering between the two Chinese guys who were on deck that day.

The one who had put my food together, and the other one, the one who had offered me juice, well they had an exchange of words, and hand signals.

Guy One then caught my attention and kept saying something about "jugo", and motioned me to come and get some. I finally figured out that I had paid for it and they wanted to make sure I got it.

I think.

Anyway, I got a glass of juice and they didn't charge me for it or chase me down the street after I left, so I'm guessing it was included.

This was nice of them.

Undue kindness toward idiots may not pay off in the after life, assuming there is one, but idiots come to appreciate it when it arrives unbidden, with a smile. And of course it is always undeserved.

Especially by me.

And thirst quenching.

On the third day I simply ordered "Un Menú de Día Combo, por favor," pointing like a semi-pro, acting only half-stupid, and then I tried living dangerously by asking "Y tambien, dos rollos primavera, por favor". (I.e., please toss the idiot two spring rolls as well.)

It was my lucky day.

Two spring rolls had already been fried up, for someone else apparently, and were sitting on a plate behind the sneeze guard, ready to go home with me after some pleasant chewing, so I didn't have to wait.

To sum up, the place is not elegant nor the food stupendous. But it is good. Good eats.

And they are kind to idiots.

Which is hard work, the being kind to idiots part, and I appreciate it

The "Menú de Día Combo" is soup (first course), "segundo" (second course, consisting of a plate with the mandatory rice plus other options which you select to keep the rice from feeling lonely), and then there is a large glass of juice to sluice your gullet with.

For juice the second two times I got tomate (the not-tomato juice, which is a bit like orange juice, and not red but yellow).

The total cost for the "Menú de Día Combo" is $2.50.

Spring rolls are 70 cents each, so my lunchtime total was $3.90.

Kind of a splurge compared to el Tunel at $2.25, but the spring rolls are crisp and greasy and the calories feel good as they become one with me.

My kinda eats.

The other Menú de Día options are "segundo y jugo" ($2.25, no soup), or "solo segundo" ($2.00, no soup or juice). Not bad.

It's a nice walk out to Good Affinity and the bank branch I've been going to is across the street, so I can get cash and eat. Which is better than eating and getting gas.

Especially because of the cost of lunch, and for the crisp bills that the ATM give me.

The cash this ATM ejects is fresh off the press. I've never seen such new money before.

It is clean, unwrinkled, flawless, and nearly still warm from the oven.

So far it's passed review everywhere I've spent it. And they pay attention around here.

Some places, including the SuperMaxi grocery chain, seriously inspect your money, holding it up to the light, sticking it under an ultraviolet lamp, feeling its texture, doing a fingernail scratch test. For even a $5 bill.

No one has yet sniffed my money, but I'm expecting to see that. Maybe tomorrow. Who can say?

The other place I went to is called "El Nuevo Paraiso".

We'll visit it another day. OK?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Penmanship

Watching a big-league game way up close.

So after getting a reprieve from "Legal" at Immigration on the bundles of apostilled documents that were inadvertently invalidated during photocopying by the removal of one staple each, I had only two things left to do.

One was to finish my application letter in which I probably said all the right things. It's like a why-I-am-really-a-good-person-and-should-be-allowed-to-stay-here sort of thing. And ten to one no one ever reads these anyway.

The other task was to get color copies of two pages of my passport notarized.

Notarizing things is a big deal.

Here's a summary of what it means.

  • someone with a rubber stamp looks at some never-seen-before documents
  • that someone inks a rubber stamp and hammers the document with it
  • that someone then signs on a line left by the rubber stamp
  • this signifies that said someone believes the documents are genuine

A person I met recently tipped me off to a notary place close by, about a block from where I'm staying.

Since I'd finished early for the day at Immigration and was feeling pretty good about not being thrown into chains and stuffed into a crate to be dumped at sea for having my seals broken, I went over there.

The time was 11 a.m. The place was packed.

It is upstairs, behind an anonymous ground-floor door with a word painted on the building's wall above the doorway.

The word is "Notario". I figured it out on my own.

Upstairs it looks like a converted warehouse.

The wooden floor is rough and bare of paint or even stain. The place is inelegant, like its only improvement has been the addition of interior walls. Nothing else.

At one end, to the left, is an archive of old notarized documents (if I'm guessing right - it could as well be an archive of deceased and mummified notaries).

Along the main wall are two barred doors. Over to the right is "Copias", which is where I realized I saw the line that morning. But it was enough to scare me off at the time.

Another gringo came in as I was exiting, after having decided that it was hopeless.

He went in anyway. Later he said that he'd gotten his work done in 15 minutes. I'm glad he didn't listen to me. No one should ever listen to me. I always do things the hard way.

I decided to try after lunch, when there might be fewer people in line.

Around here "after lunch" has a meaning. The meaning is after 3 p.m., give or take half an hour. Lunch for a lot of people runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and then you have to throw in tooth-picking, fingernail-polishing, idleness, and noodling time.

So I finished my own lunch and tidied up things in my room and by then it was 2:20 p.m.

At first I decided that it was too late in the day to bother.

Then I decided that I ought to go and see anyway. Maybe I'd get lucky. Or something.

Possibly something.

Luck. There were half a dozen people there this time.

Only half a dozen people.

So I decided that since I was there I had to give it a shot. By now the time was 2:30.

After 10 minutes or so the people ahead of me began to knot up around one of the barred doors. I joined them.

This door also had something about a notary written on top. I think. It seemed hopeful. Like a not-lost cause. Maybe.

Suddenly the inner door opened, the bars unlocked, and some of the people went in.

At almost the same time the door to its left opened and some of the people went in there.

I did too. Fewer people went in the second door, which gave me a better chance.

But a woman inside jabbered harshly and the guy ahead of me turned around, went out, and went in through the first door, with most of the others.

I did too. The woman looked mean. I didn't need mean. Not at this stage.

In the not-mean office we sat on chairs.

There was one woman in this office and four desks. Let's say that Betty was the woman's name.

In a chair in front of Betty's desk sat a large fat man. Every now and then she talked to him and he answered, but mostly she poked at a computer with some of her fingers.

After a lot of this poking and querying Betty got up and fed a single sheet of paper into a laser printer. Then she turned it over and did the same to the other side.

Then she returned to her desk and poked at the computer some more.

Eventually, after several decades of this, and many intrusions by many people who came right in and went up to Betty and began long conversations, she began pounding on documents with rubber stamps.

For someone not impressed by ceremonies, I have to say I was impressed by this one.

Betty has a helluva swing. Give her a bat and she'd beat every major-league batting record into sumbission.

Betty had at least four rubber stamps. She hit uncountable documents at least four times with each stamp. I think.

I wondered what happens when she runs her ink pads dry. I guessed that the office shuts down for a week or so until the ink-pad guy comes around with fresh barrel of stamp pad ink.

But maybe not. Given the lunch hours here it could take a month. Everyone could go on vacation to relieve the stress of long lunch hours and waiting in lines.

"Finally," I thought after the pounding of rubber stamps began to taper off, "she's wrapping it up. Now the rest of us can have a shot."

No. Not like that.

The fat guy got up and joined the rest of us, quietly sitting on his own visitor chair. Things got dim for a while. My mind went into the slowest slow motion possible. Let's say torpor. Torpor was about it. Think torpor.

Betty may have been on the phone for a while, but I'm not sure. It was a time warp. Mostly Betty poked at the computer.

She seemed to like that part. She was good at poking.

I remember not looking at my watch. I didn't want to.

My watch would only have told me that I was very likely to die on my chair, after which the mice would eat my remains and go poop them out on the street, whereupon I would be forgotten forever (even by the mice).

So then. More people came and went.

Mostly these people seemed to be after some kind of favor. Betty talked to each of them in turn and her answers always seemed to be essays ending in "no".

Betty never looked at the half-dozen of us who had been sitting there forever. We were only landscape. Wallpaper. Dead flies.

Suddenly (if I can say that after several eternities), an old man tore into the office.

He was mostly bald with a fringe of white hair on the sides, and wore a gray suit. Sort of a silvery-gray suit, which is slightly uncommon here. Most suits are darker. Some are brown. Lots are very dark gray, or black. Few are silver.

The man (let's call him Mr Notario) must have been in his 80s. He went to the big desk at the back of the office, behind Betty's bookshelves, and sat.

Suspense filled the parts of my mind which had not died.

The time was now 3:18 p.m., but it may have been 3:18 p.m. on a different day, in another year, in a separate reality. Or century.

I was hallucinating by then, so who can say?

With Mr Notario was a young man, bearded, with long unruly hair. I'd say he looked like Che Guevara without looking like Che Guevara. The beard and hair did. Let's call him Che anyway. Just for fun.

So now you have the images.

Then, things happened. All at once. All of us in the office were suddenly all being served. Communally.

I've never been juggled before, but being juggled would feel like that.

I had my two color pages rubber-banded and rolled up inside some waste paper for protection, and suddenly Betty, who had paid no attention to any of us, at all, was on top of me.

I fumbled with the rubber band and with my notebook, trying to look up the explanatory sentences I'd prepared, and while she did listen to me mumble and mangle the language she seemed to know why I was there and just kept saying "Su passaporte." ("Your passport.")

And of course I couldn't get it out of my pocket.

But she waited anyway.

Betty gave my passport and the copies to Che, whom I watched carefully. The passport was the one thing I couldn't afford to lose so I stood there while he eyeballed everything over and over.

Then he found the two extra sheets I was using to protect the actual color copies and he wanted to look at them too, even though by then I was tugging at them, trying to pull them out of his grip. He finally gave up and we were off.

He began hammering at the two actual color copies with his rubber stamp. I kept my eyes on the passport. It came through unharmed.

When I got my passport back (rumored street value: $2000 or about 4-months' income for the average person) I didn't care too much what happened next - the passport was safe. But something happened anyway.

Che went to his second desk in the back with the copies, and there he diddled with something, and then took the now-stamped copies over to Mr Notario sitting in his suit behind his half-acre desk.

Everyone else was behind me, swirling, jabbering. Like bumper car day at the amusement park.

Che motioned me over to Mr Notario's desk and I stood there not knowing what was happening, but Mr Notario motioned me to sit so I sat.

He didn't look at me or say anything.

He was scribbling.

What he was scribbling I didn't know, but he did it with all his might. His whole body went into scribbling.

I bet he could go a full 16 rounds against the world champ and come out fresh and smiling, is how strong and dedicated he looked with his scribbling, Mr Notario did. Age is no limit to a champeen scribbler.

Then the phone rang. Betty had transferred a call to Mr Notario.

She came to the back of the office and stood in a corner in the shadows and watched Mr Notario while he talked.

He wasn't just a scribbler. Mr Notario could really talk. Even I could tell.

I couldn't understand him but I can recognize a talker. He was a talker.

I looked at Betty in the shadows, wedged into a corner, but couldn't see her face. She didn't move. She only watched Mr Notario talk.

Something was going down. This conversation was not polite.

Toward the end of the call Mr Notario said two words which I can't recall, but whose meaning was clear. Maybe I remembered enough Latin to understand, but there was no doubt about the meaning.

What he was saying was "Shut up and listen to what I'm telling you." I got that. No doubt about it. He said it with his voice and with all of his lips, and with his full authority as a notario.

Eventually one or both parties got tired, the call ended, and Mr Notario got to my documents.

He scribbled.

He scribbled some more. And some more. And that was just the first document.

He started over on the second document.

Then at some point he was done.

He handed the documents back to me with an invoice attached by paper clip, and there was Che again.

Time to pay, and Che was my man.

Each notary fee was $1. For two documents that was $2, plus 24 cents tax. So $2.24 total. I gave Che $2.25 and he went to hunt for a penny. He found one and brought it to me. Good man, this Che.

Then I left. The circus was still running at full tilt inside the office. People were swirling, whizzing in every direction, jabbering, bouncing off the walls.

When Mr Notario handed me my papers I thanked him in Spanish. He gravely nodded his head once and then forgot I had ever existed.

He went back scribbling, with his head down, putting his shoulder into it.

Total elapsed time in the office: about an hour and 15 minutes.

When I got back to my room I looked at my two documents. There was nothing written on them except Mr Notario's signature, which took him a full 20 seconds to write out. He really put his soul into it though. When he signed something you could hear the pen scream from across the room.

But the documents were good. They were properly notarized.

Immigration accepted them, so I guess that part is over.

I probably left out some things, but you get the idea. It was a day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Slight Hitch

A day in my new life.

I got to the immigration office at 7:40, 50 minutes before it opened, and there were already nine people ahead of me. We waited outside until 8:30, and then went in and sat.

I still don't know how they figure who's first, who's second, and so on. Most of us got numbered tickets. And they have an electronic sign that shows the numbers, but it's not used. It is switched on but is stuck on "00". All the time.

A female security guard seems to know who goes where, and when.

So here's typical: You go in, get a number and sit down. This is harder than it seems. Once the door opens, the line turns into a crowd. Everyone puckers up to the security guard, and if you don't get your hand out to request a ticket right away, any advantage of standing in line for an hour entirely vanishes.

You can be third in line and end up 27th, or worse.

Somehow the guard sort of knows the deal, but you have to get your hand out there all the same.

OK then, you sit.

After a long while someone is at the counter. There should be two staffers there but yesterday there was only one, which is why, when I came in around number 40 it was hopeless.

So now we have someone up front. And today there are two.

About the first thing that happens is that someone else waltzes in the door and immediately goes to the counter. And they stay there 10 minutes, 15 minutes, a half hour. A long time. This may also happen after someone's number is called.

Numbers don't matter so much. The new person seems to have some priority.

There is much jabbering. Everyone seems to be negotiating a deal, especially the native Spanish speakers, who won't take "no" or "maybe" or "fuck off" for an answer.

Those whose numbers are called stand there at the counter for several eternities. Then they are done, and leave, either deeper into the building or back out the front door.

Someone else is called. More eternities pass.

Then the people who left come back again, and immediately go to the counter and begin negotiating all over. Once you've been at the counter you get to go back. A lot. Usually two to four times on a given day.

It's like reincarnation.

The rest of us wait.

Today there was a young guy ahead of me. He was playing with stuff on his phone. Then he began digging through his pockets. Then through his knapsack. Then back to his pockets. Over and over.

He had lost his ticket. Too bad for him.

No, wait.

He talked to the security guard. She didn't care. She knew which place he was in and didn't really need the ticket. He settled down.

The other (male) security guard then comes around to all the fat old white gringo guys and tells them to take off their hats.

For some reason gringo guys always wear their hats indoors. I always take mine off when entering a building. It shows respect. I was brought up in that era, and haven't gotten over it, so even back in the States I did it this way.

People understand when you're trying to show respect, even if they think you're a dick. You know?

The fat, white-haired gringo guys never catch on. And most of them wear sloppy clothes. I try to dress up at least a bit. Jeans but no T-shirts. No baggy shorts, no sandals, nothing dirty or stained. Nothing hanging loose. Nothing says "I'm a dick" like a shirt that says "I'm with stupid."

Time passes.

The universe ages.

The mountains grow wrinkles, age, and die.

It is now 10:10. I have been waiting two and a half hours. My number is called. I go to the counter. Andrea is there, which I'm grateful for. I've seen her twice before and she won't forget me.

She knows I'm a dick, but a kind of amusing one in a road-kill sort of way.

The first day I went in she asked to see my passport to determine how long I could remain in the country. I told her it was hidden in an awkward place and would not be easy to present, while pointing downward at my crotch.

OK, she's been through a lot, but maybe this was a first.

I carry my bank cards, passport, and all my spare cash in plastic bags inside a pouch I made, and I wear the pouch inside my pants. If I wear a loose shirt you can't really tell anything strange is going on unless you watch my crotch for a while.

So far I haven't run into anyone like that.

Sometimes if I sit down I get an unusually large bulge in my pants. That one is hart to miss, so I cover myself with a jacket or arrange my arms to disguise my Mr Enormous look.

So I get to Andrea, finally, and tell her the story. I fucked up.

I took the documents to the language school where they were copied and the copies were then translated from English to Spanish.

I wasn't explicit enough in making sure that we all understood that these documents could not be altered in any way, including removing that one critical staple.

Which they did.

I show her my documents.

She looks at the documents.

She says that by having the staple pulled from my apostilled documents, I have invalidated everything.

"Exactly," I say.

She is 100% right, and I agree.

I don't beg, cajole, whine, wheedle, argue, or sob.

I ask for her thoughts. Just that. She is the expert. I at least want to see if she has any Option B, whatever it might amount to.

"Let me go ask Legal," she says.

I wait.

Time passes.

More time passes.

Andrea returns.

In the interim I have grown a long beard and all my hair is white, just like the other gringo guys here today.

I wait for the trapdoor to open, dropping me from the platform to hang from my neck on my own carelessness until deported back to the U.S.

"Legal says they will make a special exception this one time," she says.

Unbelievable.

Maybe.

The language school I went to for translation is where Andrea learned English. She is extremely good at it too.

Her teacher, Marcela, personally translated my documents. I have receipts.

Marcela said she and Andrea not only work together but they are personal friends. I think that all helps.

I showed Andrea one of the receipts, but only after she got me a reprieve.

Better that way. Less like trying to force things, and more like "Oh, yes, that's right, and here's some actual proof."

Both receipts show Marcela's signature.

I think I'm clear.

This afternoon I went to get the color copy of my passport notarized. That is another story. You really have to try this some day.

You really do.

It's better than any circus.

I may share it later. Come back and see.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Abogado Imaginario

Can you see me now?

"If you want help, see Tom Swiffer," they all said. "Tom is the best. I'd stake my life on him. Totally reliable."

Tomás is his real name. He's an attorney.

Also a plumber and pumpkin grower, and he drives a cab, as I found out.

But the law is his first love.

Show him a law and he'll cuddle right up to it. He'll swoon. He'll bellow. Or no, he would bellow if he weren't such a naturally tidy little fellow.

Being a tidy little fellow, with him it's more of a delicate trill.

Something. Definitely a sound though. Count on it.

Because why? Because one thing you can say about Tom is that he's tidy. Just look at his photo. Do it. What do you see?

You see Mr Tidypants, and that's Tom. Tom behind his desk, computer at the ready near his right elbow.

Tomás. Or Tom Swiffer as we gringos call him.

And Tom Swiffer does no bellowing, does he, only whinnying, or tootling or whatever that sound of his actually is.

So then - have a question? Just ask.

Ask anything, and see what you get.

Nothing, mostly, to be honest about it. Replying to questions is somewhat undignified. Especially if questions arrive by email.

Email is undignified. Tom answers some emails but not others.

A letter, perhaps, scratched out by quill on vellum, should be graced with a reply, inmediatamente, I bet, after Tom has a brief nap.

Because such a letter is dignified. It is traditional. It is normal, and proper, and is what attorneys are used to, in their self-regard.

Not so much for email. Electronic and all, arriving so swiftly as it does, as email does, in its brevity and insistence, through some kind of electronic tube that no one understands.

Perhaps, with email, thinks Tomás, thinks Tom, it is not so good to reply, being so swift and to the point and undignified, and brash and verifiable.

And so he doesn't.

Reply, that is. All the time.

Until the second request, at the least. Because it is what the attorney do, he thinks. What the expensive and important attorney do.

And then, to make a point, in reply, (his), he is brief. So brief. So brief that he says nothing.

And this is after I send him money. A retainer. A retainer because. A retainer because he is an attorney. An immigration attorney. Besides being a plumber and grower of pumpkins, and a driver of cabs, and a cat sitter.

Did I mention the cat sitting?

I do now.

He sits cats too.

Tomás. A man of so many talents, with cat hair on his tie, which proves his uniqueness and depth of talents.

Talents, one of which is not being an immigration attorney.

My fault I guess. I didn't read it right.

Because it's right there on his business card: "Imaginary Attorney".

Tomás Swiffer, Abogado Imaginario (y niñera de gato a tiempo parcial), Managua.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Flying Dry

Beep.

People just love to x-ray laptops.

I had mine done four times while flying from Seattle to Guayaquil. (That's in Ecuador, as far as I remember.)

The first three times I had to take the laptops out and put them into trays.

The last time was the most fun. I left them in the pack and, well, let's back up a bit.

I left Lima, Peru at 6:10 yesterday morning. Not long after getting into the air an attendant came around passing out small forms, the size of a paperback book page. A pocket paperback book.

I thought it was a menu until I got mine. One was an immigration form. The other was a customs form.

For immigration they want to know who you are, where you're from, and give you several check boxes to indicate your purpose: tourism, student, business, etc. Pretty straight up.

The customs form goes into great length about what is allowed (and how many of each thing), what isn't allowed, and the penalties for deception.

About this time I was beginning to fill my pants. And not in a fun way.

I had seen the rules before, but heard from various people that they weren't checked, or that no one really cared, and if something looked obviously used and was not obviously a weapon or bag of drugs that there was no issue.

So I let my inventory slide, and did not look for old receipts, or price things on eBay.

But it's different when it comes up and hits you in the face. Like, where do you go if you are right there and want to back up a bit? Nowhere.

Time for truth, my friend.

The easy part was providing an exact count of how much money each person brings into the country.

If that amount is over $10.

Ten.

Dollars.

I had to sit in my airplane seat and count it all. I had a wad of various bills plus some change stowed away, which I guessed at.

The fun part of this is that the plane was barely half full, so I was all alone in the back. I guess I was lucky overall, not having to count it all out under someone else's nose.

On the Seattle-to-LAX leg I had three seats to myself.

For the LAX to LIM leg they assigned me to sit on top of a woman.

The flight attendant pointed me to a seat one row ahead of the woman, insisting that row 38 (on my boarding pass, and where the woman was) was actually row 37 (as indicated on the overhead rail).

But who am I to argue?

I didn't like the woman anyway.

She promptly had herself sealed in with curtains enveloping two entire seats and stayed there for the duration, not coming out until we got to Lima.

OK, fine. I got two seats to myself and didn't have to sit on her.

Other than kicking the back of my seat a fair amount I have no clue about what the woman was doing inside her cocoon. I was hoping to see a large and colorful butterfly emerge, and give me magical gifts, but at the end of the trip it was still a cranky old bag complaining at length in Spanish who emerged.

And then again, LIM to GYE.

We had the same size plane (Boeing 767) as from LAX to LIM, but it was like watching death by attrition - only a few made it to the back third of the plane. I could have played handball along the row, bouncing the ball off the far side of the fuselage and no one would have known. Hardly, anyway.

I have no idea what came along and ate the other passengers. They were all up front somewhere.

So back to the fear in my pants.

After counting my money I got to the part that says you can bring in one new and one used computer, or any combination of electronic devices or fancy gizmos as long has you have a maximum of two, and one is new and the other isn't, and you have receipts, so they can tax you properly.

You get a maximum of six memory cards or portable memory devices, and so on. Good thing I counted my cash, because I wanted to know if I could cover the fees, and if not, then I would need to borrow a hammer and destroy a bunch of stuff at the checkpoint to avoid customs fees.

If they would let me. I don't know if they keep a hammer there.

Either one of those or prison, I was thinking.

Me with five memory cards and four USB sticks and two external hard drives, three cameras and five interchangeable lenses, plus two used but new-looking laptops, and a nest of power supplies, extra power cords, three mice, and three stand-alone keyboards that I bought between 1998 and 2000 but can't prove diddly about.

And there are other things.

I left the last two boxes on the customs form blank because I had no idea what to put in them. Better to negotiate, I thought, than to commit and be hung by my thumbs for a few weeks until they decided what my punishment for perjury was. Perjury and smuggling.

So at least my checked bags came through, zippers still unburst, locks in place, no note from TSA saying "Have a nice day and thanks for letting us steal some cool things." I put a plastic "zip tie" through each pair of zipper pulls to make it harder for anyone, including some TSA dandy with a magic key that opens all locks, to get in. Those were intact. The zip ties.

If anyone had a yearning to dig through my goods, those plastic ratcheted loops may have whispered that it really was a lot of extra bother so why not go for one of those nice, rectangular, hard cases that just pop open and can be shut easily, and let someone else have problems.

Anyway, I'm good there.

But picking up my duffels at baggage claims was just the final step before the customs review.

The "screener" there, who took our forms, didn't seem to give a corpulent rodent's posterior what was on the forms. I even pointed out that I had left two items blank on the customs form, and gave a giant shrug to show that I had no clue what to put in the boxes.

He waved me on.

Next stop, trial by ordeal: one more pass through the x-ray machine.

I plunked the two duffel bags up there, my jacket and travel vest, and my unopened knapsack (containing the contraband, dontcha know).

Then I walked to the far end of the x-ray machine, where the woman ahead of me was frantically ripping things out of her luggage so the posse could get a closer look at it all.

I grouped my stuff on the table at the end of the conveyor belt and waited for my head to be lopped off.

Then I heard an urgent voice somewhere to my left and finally looked over. The x-ray machine driver was waving at me. "OK, OK, go, go, you good."

He made a "shooing" gesture using both hands like he was trying to chase flies away from a turd. That would be me.

I got the hint.

I still don't know WTF that was all about.

I imagine that if they spot a case of grenades in your luggage, they'll stop to play, but otherwise, eh.

So I'm still on the loose.

Seattle was fun though.

I'll leave out the part about getting to the airport. It's a long story.

But once there, I showed my boarding pass and passport to a guy, then headed for the x-ray machines.

We took off our footwear (they do have an excessive interest in that too), laid out all our goods, emptied our pockets of anything that might cause a beep, and then.

That was it.

No "backscatter" x-ray machine, no "sub-millimeter" scanner. No pat-down. Just a walk through a metal detector, a wave and "Have a nice day and don't forget your shoes!" kind of deal.

The TSA people were really nice. It was almost a party atmosphere. Sure, 4:45 a.m., and like they'd just finished the punch, no one was looking, and they said "Screw it. Let's kick back for a while."

Dunno.

Leaving Seattle, the plane was only half full. Probably should have held a bunch who didn't make it from the East Coast and it's uppity hurricane. My gain.

LAX is still a sewer.

I haven't traveled much, but this is the worst airport I've seen. No way to get a clue about where you are and how you can get where you need to be. I ended up on a shuttle, missed my target terminal once, and almost missed it a second time because the announcement was so forked up.

The place is always full of grumpy, sweaty, stinky people, and the passengers are no better.

I will say that they were really obliging about giving me a pat-down rather than a dose of high-energy photons. The poor guy was standing there and trying to explain exactly what it was he had to do to me while I kept saying, "Hey. It's cool. Just do it. I really don't care. No, seriously, this is not a big deal, just do it."

Even then he was apologetic when he almost tipped my over while trying to feel inside my waist band. Eh.

The real pisser there was at the luggage x-ray machine, just before that.

See, I had my two laptops each wrapped in a T-shirt to prevent scuffing, and then all both of them inside a plastic bag, and the rest of the knapsack stuffed full with cameras, hard drives, lenses, and all that, on top of (toward the front of the pack).

So at every laptop x-ray fetish fest I had to halfway empty the pack just to get at the laptops, pull them out, and then stuff the other things into the pack for the x-ray machine, and then pull things out and get the laptops back in, and THEN get everything back to normal until the next x-ray machine came along.

And this woman hefted my pack after I had the two laptops out and was ready to go and she asked why it was so heavy, and did I have some more laptops in there, and just what WAS in there and so on. And on. And finally she just gave it all a shove and forgot about me.

Maybe it was me asking her if I could please have a pat-down-I-know-you're-really-busy-and-all-but-I-would-love-to-have-one-if-you-can, please. If it isn't too much trouble, please.

Once I did that her laptop-counting spree just stopped dead, she looked disconnected, and want back to drooling.

I managed to get away pretty much intact. The pat-down was another joke, if your sense of humor runs that way.

Guayaquil lies at sea level, has 800% humidity, and temps in the low to mid 200s (F). Not bad in the shade, with a mild breeze, if you have a decent knife to cut the dense air with, but once you step out into the sun your skin starts to bubble and smolder.

I need the vitamin D, so is OK for now.

No telling what might happen next.

Explaino-Section

LAX: Los Angeles
LIM: Lima
GYE: Guayaquil



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flight

Pining for wheels.

I've been looking into airlines.

I want to go to Ecuador around the end of October.

I've flown a couple of times before but that's about it. Once or twice. There and back again, in a straight line.

I'm nearly a flight virgin.

It should be easy I think.

Every time before I went through a travel agent. Now we have on-line stuff. I can do it from home, in my underwear.

It seemed so easy. In conceptual form. Not so much in practice. For me.

I want to go from Seattle to Guayaquil. Which ought to be straightforward. But isn't. So much.

It seems I can go to Houston, and then to Miami, and then to Guayaquil. Or to New York, Miami, and Guyaquil. Or somewhere, somewhere, and Guyaquil. Or is there another somewhere in there?

Can't remember.

What I do. Remember. Is. Forty-some hours for the slowest trip, so far, maybe 14 and change for the quickest.

This is 2012 and planes travel over 500 miles an hour. But still, terminals travel at zero. And that's where most of the time collects. First in the corners, then up the walls, and finally collapsing down on your head to suffocate.

I long for 1968. I went 1200 or so miles by Greyhound. There. And back. Aside from having to walk past everyone to the back of the bus to take a leak, and going without any real food for a day or so it wasn't that bad. And not washing.

Every stop, you could get off and breathe some air. Walk around the outside of the bus. Look at the sky. Hear sounds.

Then go again.

It was real.

By air, it's a fantasy movie, sealed in a can.

The thought police run through your mind. Up and down your body, irradiating it, inspecting your shoes. Doubtful of your humanity.

After they get done you moo with the others while being herded along the tube, and then you sit, helpless, for hours.

Then another tube and you're in a strange terminal that's the same as all the others, where you sit. Maybe an hour. Maybe a day. Maybe it's 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Maybe something else.

Water torture. Without the clean-ness of water.

Stuffy torture. Cramped-ness. Stale air. Receding life force.

There appear to be at least 1898 different ways to get from Seattle to Guayaquil. Most follow exactly the identical route, but over differing terrains of time and with shifting degrees of reality. They all hurt.

I spent half a day on it and know less than before.

I'll give it hell tomorrow. For sure.

There must be an answer in there somewhere.

I miss Greyhound, creepy as it was. Real as it was. It was real.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Watch What Goes Where

Fingers ahoy.

I know, it may be warm and sunny where you're going, even too warm, which is why you've brought your Utilikilt and decided to wear it.

Some may be surprised to know that in most countries of the world, Utilikilts are barely even noticed.

Hey, you ever traveled at all? They wear all kinds of kinky stuff over there, so why not you?

But what you may not know is that, despite being a handy-man type of guy not comfortable letting stuff be, you ought to crank it back a notch when abroad.

Take church, for instance.

People get sensitive about their religious institutions, and although it's probably OK to show up at "la catedral vieja" for mass in your Workman kilt, you really have to stifle the urge to repair wobbly doorknobs or sticky windows while there.

Definitely remain a respectful distance from the baptismal font at all times. Figure two or more paces as a rule of thumb.

Churchgoers like their stuff to look "lived-in".

You know. Squeaky hinges, tasteful amounts of peeling paint and like that. Faded.

If you get in there and noodle around with the wiring they may riot on you, and that's definitely going to be a bummer. So chill. The urge will pass.

Now, shaking hands. Not everybody does it. Customs vary.

As a general rule, if you need to pick your nose, have at it. Generally, using a pinkie is a bit classier than other fingers, except at the dinner table, where in some countries a butter knife is the way to go.

But if you're up there to the second joint, honking around, and then unexpectedly get introduced to the ambassador or whatnot, you're bound to cause some kind of kerfuffle with a bogey dangling from your finger.

Normally they won't say anything at the time, although you may be asked at gunpoint to step into an unmarked black car on your way out. Never a good sign.

Generally speaking, it's a terrible loss of what they call "face" to end up with another guy's nose turds on your hand, so think about it before engaging in grip mode if your hands have been busy on the hygiene front.

On your side, take it like a man. Smile, grab whatever is offered, shake it twice, and act like it happens every day. You can wash up later.

Well, that's about it for now.

Happy travels!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walking In The Land Of Love

Former governor to demonstrate knot tying.

"Yes, it's true. Hiking changed my life, and now I want to help others." So says former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the man who disappeared one day "to go for a hike", and ended up with an Argentinian mistress named Maria Belén Chapur.

Just how that could have happened seems mysterious to outsiders, but among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, section hikers, trail crews, and others familiar with the 2184-mile (3515 km) route, it's simply another case of "trail magic".

Usually this phenomenon is limited to unexpected gifts of food, cold drinks, or sometimes a shower and a place to hole up and remove ticks, but Sanford hit the jackpot.

"We get very, very few cases anything like this," said Benton K. Shaffer, Director of the The Appalachian Trail Conservancy. "Although it's not unknown for romances to develop while hiking the trail, it's like being struck by lightning - you can't plan for it."

"And," he continued, "this is the first recorded case of two people from separate continents, who never actually met, getting this kind of action."

Governor Sanford was, at the time, simply out to relax on a day hike. Ms Chapur, a resident of Buenos Aires, was walking her dog down a path near the Rio de la Plata River, taking the air and admiring the sunset.

Suddenly, each became intimately aware of the other, though neither had even heard of each other before.

"It was telepathic spooky action at a distance," said Sanford, "I knew I had to meet this woman, my true soulmate, so I immediately left my wife and family. Wouldn't you? How often do you find a hiking buddy you know is right for you?"

Governor Sanford's wife Jenny divorced him in 2010, though he remained in office until his term died a natural death in January 2011.

Non-hikers being non-believers, his political career also died, but that hasn't stopped Sanford. He is now promoting extending the Appalachian Trail through Central America and along the coast of South America, all the way to Tierra del Fuego, the "land of fire", and possibly of romance.

And he has started an online hiker dating service called "Plenty of Trips", where other bad boys with tomcat tendencies can search the world for their "true lugmates". "What does the word 'vibram' make you think of?" he asks with a wink. I know what it does for me."

Sanford and Chapur are now engaged to be married, although each maintains an active account at PlentyOfTrips.com "Just in case lightning wants to strike twice."

More:

Ex-South Carolina governor to marry former mistress

El gobernador infiel de Carolina del Sur se casa con su amante argentina

Exclusive CNN Photos: Sanford engaged to Argentinean girlfriend

Monday, August 27, 2012

Noise Makes It Better Somehow

Not to mention belligerence.

Gringo Screaming: Examples: "These people are so damned slow!" "They're all a bunch of liars." "I want my coffee RIGHT NOW!" "These people won't even speak English. They can but they won't!"

Put another way, being a loud, obnoxious asshole in someone else's country.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's March Around For Awhile

Act now, complain now, self-justify later.

German Time: Also known as "Tiempo Alemán", being on time, referring to "German time", or "gringo time" which is seen as being exact. Which, in turn, is a baffling concept for those who think that time "is" rather than that it may get away somehow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Ecuadorean Immigration Policy

Some nose tweaking required.

You may have heard of Julian Assange, international gadfly, Australian editor, activist, political talk show host, computer programmer, publisher, journalist, and spider-hole hider.

You may have heard that he is now hanging out in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

You may think that he is trying to avoid extradition to some country or other, and this is the story that is being spread.

The truth is that Ecuador is simply trying to debug its immigration system.

For a few years now locations in Ecuador have been listed among the most desirable places to retire. But there are problems. Not with the various cities per se, but with the immigration system and residency process.

Sometimes it takes many months or even years to get residency approved.

People run in circles, going from office to office, with no noticeable result, except to frustrate themselves to distraction. Some have been sent "back home" to fetch this document or that, a signature, a notary seal or whatever, only to find, when they return to Ecuador, that they got the wrong one, or that the rules have changed in their absence.

In the past year two heads of the Ecuadorean immigration system have been fired for corruption.

Lower-to-mid-level staff have been shuffled, hired, fired, re-hired, and so on, until no one knows any more what the heck is going on. Least of all the gringo geezers who simply want a place to plunk their butts and spend some retirement checks.

This is where Assange comes in.

See, when debugging a new system, it's always best to start with the worst possible case. Because that's the one that will kick up the most problems. And not only the most obvious ones, but the subtle ones as well.

What better way to hack the new process than with a hacker sought internationally for possible sex crimes and a bit of friendly interrogation, enhancement-wise?

So here comes President Rafael Correa granting asylum to Assange, right in the middle of London for the whole world to watch. You've got police crawling all over the place, TV cameras buzzing day and night, surveillance crews going at it like crazy, and what could be a better test scenario?

So Correa condemns Britain for threatening to invade the embassy and seize Mr Assange. He calls it "intolerable".

He says his government is "open to dialog", while insisting that Britain is maintaining an "intransigent" position.

And so on and on.

Now here's the kicker.

See, Correa and his government, using new rules and tools for immigration, now have to "transmit" so to speak, Mr Assange from the U.K. to Ecuador.

If they can manage this, then shuffling any old duffer anywhere in the world over to Ecuador will be like child's play.

Mr Assange's dramatic London balcony tango was only a diversion meant to build dramatic tension. Expect another such occurrence soon, but one during which Mr Assange will vanish in a puff of smoke, possibly accompanied by a few sparks to titillate the TV audience, after which he will reappear in Quito, mere milliseconds later.

If nothing else, this could revolutionize international travel, though you might have no choice of destinations other than Ecuador.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, also got into the act, appearing on his own balcony flapping his arms and hyperventilating the way he does, claiming that everyone is welcome to seek asylum in his country as well, but aides managed to tie him up and drag him back inside before he hurt himself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Avocado And Me

Don't talk to me about fruit salad. Just don't anymore.

I got frustrated trying to figure out the residency requirements for a small Latin American country, so I decided to hire an attorney.

Down there they call them "abogados". I eventually found out why. Because of the resemblance to fruits and vegetables.

Which is why, for me, the term is now "avocado".

I held off asking real, meaty questions until I hired him, to be fair.

His fee was US$800, with half up front, and half on completion. Everyone recommended him. Even that expert guy who runs the forum I've been a member of for almost four years. Even him, and he's been around. Said something like he'd trust this avocado with his life, if it came to that.

So I told him to let me know when he got the money I wired him, which he didn't. But one of his emails sort of indicated that we were actually now on business terms, so I got into the nuts and bolts.

See, there is a lot of weird stuff, and if I were coming into my country instead of trying to leave it, I'd see different weird stuff, but it would be weird. Like some I just heard today. Like you can't have been associated with the German NAZI party in the 1930s and 1940s. Like that.

If you were, then you can't become a U.S. citizen.

So, especially, there is a medical requirement for this other country. I read the law. Even with my primitive Spanish I could get through it. The law mentions a "medical certificate".

So I asked, what?

Is there one, or a form, and please send me a copy of it or them and of the administrative rule that spells out in detail what the deal is so I can understand what I actually have to do here, because the law obviously says nothing.

Because if I can find a physician who will even talk to me without the comfort of medical insurance, I can't say I need to be pronounced clean and fit. That would be like a big ear of corn walking into the pig sty and saying "Howdy, fellas! Let's be friends!" Dangerous. I could get run through every test and procedure there is, and be getting bills from unknown labs for decades.

Seven days go by. During which I receive lots of email silence.

On the eighth day I send another message repeating the above, and I get a response that says basically I have to be in good health and free of diseases. And I should follow the link he sent to see what worked for someone else.

Which told me as much as you get from what I've written so far. Zip-doodle. I should be in good health and free of diseases.

'K...

I knew about the thing that worked for someone else but so effing what?

I wanted real information from someone whose whole business is in immigration and residency. So I wrote again.

You know. Asking the usual. What does "being in good health" mean, EXACTLY, and WHICH diseases? Exactly.

And the response I got was kinda like silence. So much like silence that it was exactly the same.

You know, like he forgot how email works.

Maybe that happens to him.

Maybe it's all because he's an avocado and has only so much fruit-filled energy available.

So after another four or five days, guess what?

I tried again, apologizing for breaking in on what must be a hectic schedule and all, but saying that I really needed specifics, and this was the fourth time I'd asked and all, and I did need to get exact, precise answers, as I'd said before.

And he did reply this time, saying I needed to be in good health and free of contagious diseases.

You know, I checked. I went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They must have some kind of list. Nope. No comprehensive list of contagious diseases.

I did find a long list somewhere, about 200 of them. Things like HIV, tuberculosis, and leprosy, to mention the three that stood out. Which are in no way contagious, and barely communicable. So crap.

Right, I told him he was absolutely useless. Which is true.

And he was fired, which was true. Still is.

And that I know more than he does. At least based on our communication, which is reasonable, because he supplied no information.

You know, really, saying "try getting a letter like this because it worked for that other guy" seems less than professional quality service.

Yeah, so I'm not going there. Not near him, not near that country.

You have to deal with the consulate closest to where you were born for your birth certificate, and at least one more consulate if you're not living where you were born.

And the consulates do not do email or answer the phone, and they possibly keep the doors locked. If they actually do have offices. No one seems to know.

And though there is another way, which involves going through the Washington, D.C. consulate, which requires that you first go through an office of the U.S. State Department, that recently changed so you have to do something else now on top of that to get your documents past, by, under, through, or around the State Department, and then they finally get to what seems the only consulate in the country that can actually do anything.

And then you sort of have to start over in-country, but need all this preliminary work following you like an angry storm of endless papers and pain.

So I'm going to do something else, and I hope that's where this blog can really start.

But it will be a few weeks yet.

Poop.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stalking The Wild Tax Return

See you in prison.

Laissez-Faire Tax Approach: Noninvolvement of a company in the income tax obligations of its expatriate employees.

Laissez-Faire Tax Approach: If no one tells you, do you really owe it?

Laissez-Faire Tax Approach: Let them try to find you. Be ready for a greeting committee at the airport.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bark, Unbark, Embark

Honey, can you peel off some of my bark?

Port of Embarkation: The port from where the shipment of your household goods leaves.

Port of Embarkation: The port from which you leave.

Port of Embarkation: Your escape hatch.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Going Home

Where is that again?

When you've lived abroad for a few years, you may start thinking about what it's like "back home". You may even halfway decide to go back, or "repatriate". Some do.

Some don't.

There are reasons. Everyone has their own person reasons for doing this or that, or not, but they do fall into broad categories.

Learning the language

You may think that because you're from a place, you can just go back and pick up where you left off.

But if, like so many of us who have spent time in prison, you find that things are really different, and you don't understand people anymore. And they don't understand you.

For example, take "cell phone". On the inside you use a common phone bolted to a wall. No phones in the cells, except for Dominic, and he was special. You didn't ask to use his phone. Or even look at him.

Outside, "cell phone" is something else entirely. There you are.

And if you're coming back from abroad, your whole day is like this.

People have funny habits

Again, you grew up here, so, you know, you think you ought to understand how life works.

But you don't, anymore.

You're used to getting up a little later, going to bed a little earlier, doing more walking, and having time for your family and friends. If you see someone on the street, you go out of your way to stop and chat.

Over there.

Back "home" you rush. If you try to slow down you get run over. And that's on the sidewalk.

"Hey", and "Bye", are considered complete conversations. Everyone moves in a blur.

What happens on television is considered important. Friends are people you can make money from, or sell things to.

When people smile, their eyes don't. Instead you see rictus ringed with teeth.

Owning a car, and then sitting in traffic for hours a day is considered high status. As if.

Some days it seems like that crinkling sound is the only one there is. People buy things, tear layers of wrapping off, and then wad it all up, throw it out, and start over. How is that supposed to be a life?

Employment

Employment falls in there too. A job is who you are, where you've been, and where you're going.

It is your worth.

The more you manage to take from everyone else, the more you have, the bigger your pile, the more important you are.

Well, maybe you've been living where your job is the role you fill to support society. It still is, in a sense, who you are, but it's because you actually do something and not because you are a walking spreadsheet displaying your numbers and flexing your dollar signs every whichway.

Frozen time

Despite everything being different from what you remember, the most important things are all the same.

It's exactly like growing up and moving away, then coming back for a visit to your home town, and all your former best friends.

You find out pretty fast that they have all barely changed. They still have all the same failings and stunted outlooks that they had when you were all 16, but you aren't any more. But they are.

Even the best and the brightest seem like caterpillars happy to stay put in a little backyard garden, blithely unaware that there may be a mountains and forests and oceans over the horizon, or that, if they really grew up, they could sprout real wings and fly away.

And this is another reason you can't ever go back. It isn't there anymore anyway.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Greet You With Smiling Teeth

We provide great service job.

Carlos Rutabaga, CEO, CIO, MVP, OBE
CSB Financial Services
Friday, May 13, 2101Dear CSB Client:

We at CSB Financial Services thank you for your interest ,

We have a coorporation. Is so sound in the financials. Because I tell you this is why I am trusted investment counselor.

I would like to inform you of some special "Deals" which we have in our in-box especially for expats this very day.

Number One is CSB Palatinum Club Account; of a long term commitment nature, being 24 months, this is our highest yielding account and pays out interest earnings on a monthly basis, depending on shipment schedules and possible interceptions. Average yield 18.50%. This count is preferring for those clients that want a monthly cash flow or a high yield investment vista account. The emphasis to noate is high yield. Very high yield which we guaranteer 100% safe, depending on interceptions, etc., etc.

Number Two is CSB Club Convenient Account; is a 90 day plus interest bearing account, that CSB clients use to bear interests for holding your funds while in the buying process, or while waiting to receive the ransom note. We are associated with all the Colombian, Mexican, Peruvian, etc. Trusts that pay out as each phase is completed, or during hostage negotiations, insuring you are getting the interest you are hoping for. This account pay out 7.35% except on death, in which case no refund is possible of course.

CSB GOLD & SILVER Club Account; Special this week only if you are interested in precocious metal the Ecuador is a place to buy and store your Gold and Silver. We purchase your order issue you a certificate and store your metal in a cozy facility very near my personal home though security is hardly needed as country is 100% safe for now.

CSB can also assist you in the formation of a corporation, cartel, syndicate, and getting "body guarders" just tell us how many, we even provide the arms so you don't have to. The banking institutions we affiliate with are located in 7 different countries and backed by Billion Dollars. None of these banks are obligated to report transactions to the U.S. so you are double safe.

Again, we appreciate your interest and look forward to assisting you with your financial needs. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have not too many we hope.

Sincerely,

Carlos The President

P.S. Open Thursday evenings by appointment. Ask for Mike.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Self Outsourcing

Going with the flow monster.

Sure, I was bitter.

Worked there 23 years. Loyal. Always showed up on time. Had great performance reviews.

Then the ax fell.

Downsizing. Rightsizing. Market adaptation. Streamlining. Meanlining. All different ways of saying the same thing.

I was out. That was it. That was all.

I spent a lot of time in my apartment. Went for a lot of walks. Looked for work. You know how it is.

No one was hiring. Not me anyway.

Then I got an idea. Here's how it works.

Say you lose your job to someone in the Philippines who's making one tenth of what you did. With me so far? Probably.

You can't compete, right? So you have to do something else. Now this "something else" could be a lot of things, but chances are good that no matter what, you'll never make more than one tenth of what you did before. If you are lucky.

So the other part is that there are lots of companies looking for cheap contract labor, and they don't care who you are, where you are, or really how good you are. You need only three things.

One is being cheap. The second is being available. The third is being foreign.

So I started a summer camp. I call it a "computer camp".

I hook up with parents who have kids they need to get rid of for a few weeks, and I offer to train them.

I collect $1000 a week per kid, give each a computer and a headset, and teach the kids how to do phone work, computer support, give astrological readings, buy and sell stocks, read x-rays. You name it.

The first half day is spent covering the basics, but these are bright kids so they catch on fast.

The hard part is getting the kids to carry out a full transaction using only one accent. It doesn't matter which one it is, as long as they can stick with it for five minutes. Some of them start giggling. Some forget who they are supposed to be and slid all over the globe, verbally.

But overall it works.

I give the kids 10% of what their parents pay me, plus $5 an hour. That's pretty good money for a 14-year-old. Some kids beg their parents to leave them at my camp all summer. Not many can make it work but they try.

I've found that almost any semi-intelligent teenager can handle almost anything. And let's get real here - how good is the service anywhere else?

Sure, you can say that a medical diagnosis is a pretty big deal, but on average we do about as well as any other outsourced medical services company. We've got Wikipedia, Google, and a few other online resources, plus a lot of info on DVDs, and some military training materials I was able to get at a discount from a couple of guys.

You'd be amazed and what they're willing to sell. You know, the Department of Veterans Affairs just doesn't help that much, so in a way these guys are just doing what I am, but with optional laser sights if you need them.

Anyway, I stay out of the freaky end. I live a nice, quiet life "offshore", and will actually be able to retire in a couple of years.

I've always wanted to travel, and I may just visit the country where my offices are supposed to be.

Or not.

No one cares anymore, least of all me.

Life. There are still sweet spots to be found.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plan 9

Haven't we heard of this before?

So, things are in motion.

I looked at: Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile.

Several were too expensive. Several were too dangerous. Or too restrictive. Or too potentially weird.

In many ways, Nicaragua seems nice but I have lust for the land. Ecuador's central Andean highlands were a good bet. Then I checked out Chile. Wild and crazy. Fantastic mountains. Large areas with almost no people. Endless months of winter rain. Gray skies. Maybe too expensive for now.

Plan Z has looped around and sunk its teeth into the tail of Plan A.

Probably Nicaragua.

Cheap enough. Kind of close. I sort of know people already there. I've studied it the most. I know of a place or two I can live, perhaps. I can spend a year or two getting used to things while I work on understanding Spanish, and waiting for my income to double.

After that, maybe more adventure.

So here's how you do it.

First, if you are at least 45 and can prove your income, you can be a "pensionado". This means you are either a geezer or want to live like one.

You need proof of income, a police report saying you have been good, and a health certificate. Plus a couple more things. These need to be certified as being real in your home state. The documents you get certified then go to the nearest consulate where they are certified as having been genuinely certified as being real.

Then you can go.

With one small hitch.

If not living in the state where you were born, your birth certificate goes to the nearest consulate for that, while everything goes to another consulate closer to where you actually live.

OK, fine.

My birth certificate would go to Texas and the rest to California.

With one small hitch.

The consulates don't seem to be open. Recently someone from where I am living emailed the California consulate. No response.

Then they called the California consulate. No one answered. And the voice mail was full, so he couldn't leave a message.

Then they were in the area and stopped by the California consulate, which was closed and dark and locked up.

The Texas consulate, from what I've heard, is about the same.

OK, fine.

There is a way around this.

You can get all your real documents certified and then send them to a branch of the U.S. State Department, which will give them a sort of intermediate certification certifying that they have been certified. Then you hire a courier to take them to the Washington, D.C. consulate, which can fill in for any of the others.

Once the documents are there, the consulate, as usual, certifies everything as having been certified by, in this case, your state secretary of state, and also, in this one special case, by the U.S. State Department. And then you are good to go.

With one small hitch.

The U.S. State Department apparently no longer does this, or the office moved, or installed new hoops which are not yet properly calibrated to account for the changes in gravity brought on by climate change which, as we all know, is a hoax. But it might be a relativistic effect due to the expansion of spacetime. Not quite clear yet.

Which, as you may guess, does not change anything.

But this is the procedure. OK, fine.

So right now Ecuador is worse. The immigration system was purged for corruption in late December and so were the people waiting for some purely rubber-stamping formalities. Which tends to be a good warning about not even thinking thoughts in that direction.

If I could manage getting there though, I would be in a city of 330,000, know no one, and would not understand Spanish any more than I do now. And six weeks ago I went deaf in my left ear. With luck this will turn out to be an ordinary although sort of rare odd little infection thing that probably will clear up within three months. If it does.

OK, fine.

There is a way around this.

And that is to keep at it because others have done it, and I have a secret weapon. I know about a lawyer (an "abogado") who specializes in this sort of thing. Everyone says he is straight out honest and reliable. His name is Antonio Caimán and I recently wired him $400 U.S. money. Plus $30 for transactions at his end. Plus an almost trivial $14 for transactions at my end.

OK, fine. I am all set. He got the money. Now I can finally ask questions of a real expert and get things started.

He says it is really easy.

I need income certification, a birth certificate, two photographs, a copy of my passport, a police report, copy of marriage license, list of household goods to ship, and some info about the vehicle I will import.

OK, fine. Strip out the marriage license, household goods and vehicle because they don't apply, and let's focus on the most relevant item.

Which is the "Health Certificate". I've never seen one, so I asked for a copy of it.

And more importantly I asked for a definitive list of what information I actually must supply.

I've heard just about everything. Must be free of contagious diseases, or of communicable diseases, or sexually-transmitted diseases, or various combinations. Must be said to be not crazy.

Maybe can have a handwritten note from some random doctor saying I'm OK as far as he knows. Because that worked for one guy.

Every variation seems to have worked for someone, although I haven't heard what did not work because, I guess, those people gave up, or are still trying to figure things out.

OK, fine.

So what's the answer?

I don't know. My good friend Antonio Caimán, Abogado, who received his $400 retainer, whom everyone says is the only person in Nicaragua who is absolutely honest and reliable, who knows all about this process that it is possible to know, has not responded to my emailed questions.

Heh.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Expat Association Coach Of The Month

Do it our way or you may possibly incur regrets.

Name: Barny "Knuckles" Pederson

Title: Expert, Expat, Educator, Real Estate and Loan Counselor

Business Name: The Paradise Within Real Estate for Retirees and Expats

Niche / Specialities: Natural Healing, Shung Fui, Divination, Home Tours, Loans

Expat Experience: I have been living abroad for several months now and pretty much have it figured out. Reasonable fees. Satisfaction highly likely as I am well liked by many, and treated with respect by the rest.

Life experience: Since finishing my studies with the State of Louisiana's Department of Prisons and Paroles I have been traveling on a borrowed passport, which helps me keep a low profile. Before that I was a high school counselor, janitor, short order cook, preacher, psychotherapist, snake handler, author, father, husband, and mental health expert. But mostly I was in sales, loans, and enforcement.

Accomplishments: I have Mastery of Public Administrative Processes from the School of First Hand Experience, based on my interactions with various leading attorneys, judges, counselors, psychiatrists, and law enforcement figures. I have attended or led many pep talks and sales meetings. I once had a license in the State of Texas, which is a fine place.

For a while I was a Professional Loan and Loan Enforcement Officer for a multi-state business conglomerate which has in recent years successfully taken over most of Las Vegas.

Relationship Therapy, Sexual Addiction Therapy, Multiple Addiction Therapy, Post Induction Therapy and Somatic Experiencing are all interests of mine, as is the whole Alcoholics Anonymous philosophy, which I am learning the value of as time goes by. In my few spare moments I arrange flowers and send them to bereaved families of former business associates, in case they encounter unfortunate circumstances. Which happens, you know?

I have three years of experience in Home Appraisal and Remodeling Techniques and often made Top Real Estate Turnover Expert of the month in the Tri-State Area before beginning my studies within the Law Enforcement System.

I have just finished pouring my broad experience in psychology, divination, and sales and loan negotiating tactics into a new book titled "Top 10 Reasons to Buy Now!", which you can get direct from my web site for only $29.99.

Sure, this sounds like a lot, but it is refundable when you sign up for one of my affordable The Paradise Within Retiree and Expat Home Tours in any of the top retirement countries I serve. Call for details as my exact location changes daily.

Coaching Style: I believe that it is in everyone's best interest to own real estate, which is why I like to concentrate on welcoming newcomers into our own private world of Retiree and Expat Home Ownership. I teach people how to empower themselves and discover their hidden talents for picking and investing in Retiree and Expat Home Ownership opportunities, how to transfer their money to my bank (new this month), and how they can help their friends, neighbors, and relatives from "back home" to make the transition to Living the Retiree and Expat Life Style on little or no money down.

As I like to say: We transform daydreams into Retiree and Expat Real Estate Ownership Realities. Cash only.