Monday, December 30, 2013

I Nominate

Tortuous tootling.

I don't think I've yet heard the Ecuadorian national anthem, the official one. But I have a thought, based on my experience here – let's nominate an unofficial one.

The car alarm.

Why? Because it's

  • Ubiquitous
  • Constant
  • Unvarying
  • Soulful

Only a national anthem (or a de facto stand-in) would be played so often, in so many locations, for so many occasions, and so faithfully. In fact, there seems to be one going off somewhere, at every hour, day or night, without fail.

You do hear car alarms always and everywhere, and there is only one version. It always honks, beeps, buzzes, and whoops, in the same progression, at one million decibels.

And the tune is played in earnest, with such sincerity, gravity, solemnity, and pomp that the only comparable music is indeed an actual national anthem.

And, most importantly, like a national anthem, the car alarm is completely ignored by everyone.

Unless you are trying to sleep.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Snow Idea

Yeah, right.

There was an inflatable plastic snowman on a second-floor balcony overlooking one of el centro's busier streets here in Cuenca, and I being me, there was no camera in my pocket at the moment.

No matter, I thought – I'd just go back the next day. And I did.

No snowman.

Hmmm – it was early in the day – perhaps I could come back the next day, in the afternoon, since I had other things to do that afternoon.

Nope. No snowman the next day. Or maybe it was there, but I couldn't get close enough to tell because there was this annual Christmas parade ripping down that street like a river in flood.

This was the Pase del Niño parade, which has been said to run up to 16 hours, from around daybreak until well after dark.

There was no way I could have swum up that street against the rush of dancers or through the thicket of onlookers.

No matter, I thought – I'd just go back the next day. And I did, and that day was Christmas, and there was no snowman.

None today either, or yesterday, so I guess I missed my snowman photo-op.

But there are other Christmas decorations up – you know – Santa, reindeer, fuzzy red and white caps, bits and pieces of fake holly and so on.

This being a scant 2°53'57" south of the equator, there isn't a lot of snow around, ever, even though we're at 8000 feet (2438 m), and it never gets cold enough for snow, mostly.

The record low, ever, actually was 28.9° F (-1.7° C), but the temperature never drops below 45° F in real life, and 45° F is insanely cold for here.

So it's my bet (a safe one, I think) that people here (aside from transplanted North Americans and those Cuencanos who have lived in North America or Europe) don't know diddly about snow or cold weather, and if they had to endure some actual snow-level cold, they'd rip down all those Santa Clauses and reindeer and cute snowmen and burn them and then stomp up and down on the ashes and go have lunch and sit in the sun and be glad that they've got it so good here.

But people don't know, not here. Here the snow idea is quaint and novel, so people stick up their decorations and call it Christmas and carry umbrellas to keep the sun off.

Which seems right and proper to me, and I'm from North Dakota, so I know a thing or two about snow and cold.

More: Pase del Niño

Monday, December 23, 2013

Streetlights And Roofs

Score one for agile lighting technique.

I finally noticed this, after more than six months of walking around Cuenca: there are places where streetlights poke through overhanging roofs.

Even more oddly, these are mostly the old-style Spanish-colonial tile roofs.

The issue seems to be that the sidewalks, where there are any, are often so narrow that there is no room to mount the lights beyond the roofs' overhangs.

Since there is little room, the light poles had to be poked through existing roofs.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Meaning Of Coffee

Some of this, some of that, and a bit of whatever.

My Spanish teacher says that instant coffee is quicker – sometimes you don't have time to brew the other kind of coffee, so you make instant.

Yes and no.

Most Americans, these days, would say ", that's not even coffee."

While viewing an apartment owned by a very nice family, I was offered coffee as an honored guest. The coffee was instant. And decaf.

I appreciated the gesture, and for instant coffee, it was good enough, but if you are a gringo, imagine offering your guests a choice of two instant coffees – one in a jar and the other, pre-mixed, sugared, and seasoned, in a paper packet that came from a factory.

It's a difference of cultures – not good here, bad there, or vice versa. Only a difference. And not all brewed coffee is good, as you know. My mother insisted on drinking swill made from the scorched brown sawdust that came in a can. It was what she knew. I made good coffee for her once or twice, but she couldn't handle it – it didn't taste like Folgers.

Mom was right about that.

Surprisingly to many, not all Latin Americans are heavy coffee drinkers. A lot of them do not drink any kind of coffee. I am not an expert on this, but I gather that Central Americans drink coffee, Colombians drink coffee, and maybe Venezuelans. After that, as you travel south, not so much. Maybe Brazilians, since Brazil is a large coffee producer.

But Chile, for example. Definitely not there. It's not a coffee place.

A good online forum I found discusses all things Chilean. The gringos on the forum constantly lament the instant coffee culture in Chile. If you ask for café (coffee), you get instant. If you want real coffee (i.e., brewed), you ask for café café. And you may or may not get more than a blank stare if you do.

Try Ecuador then. Ecuador's not a coffee place. There is coffee here if you want it, and where I live (Cuenca), good coffee makings are available at a gringo-owned bookstore for $4.50 a pound, as grounds or beans. And that at least is is equal to the coffee I paid $15.95 a pound for at one of the U.S.'s best roasters in Olympia, WA.

And coffee is available brewed, in a cup, though the quality varies, as it does everywhere.

My Spanish teacher, who was born here, says that here brewed coffee is often called café pasado, when you want to be absolutely specific. The idea being that since the coffee has passed through a filter, it was definitely brewed. Instant coffee – no. It has no reason to touch a filter unless your water comes with bugs, but that is not part of city life, so pasado equals brewed.

Some terms I've come across:

  • Café con leche: coffee with milk
  • Café americano: black coffee, maybe not all that strong
  • Café solo: stronger black coffee
  • Café tinto: black coffee that is definitely strong
  • Capuccino italiano: cappuccino
  • Capuccino con crema: cappuccino made with cream
  • Mokaccino: latte made with steamed chocolate milk
  • Café con leche: strong coffee (espresso, maybe) and scalded milk in a 1:1 ratio

So if you want it you can have it. And you get a little fun too, from the treasure hunt you engage in, searching for it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Please Stop The Cute

I'm now using unapproved words.

Adorable is a word I never use. Adorable is not a guy word. Adorable resides beneath contempt in a dark hole where guys do not go, and its roommate is cute.

Cute pukes chunks. Adorable? Ack!

But I have to say it – Ecuadorian kids are adorable.

They make me regret not having gone that route. Hell, I've had only one, ah – how you say in English – girlfriend, and she couldn't have children, by choice, since her only pregnancy had been so terrible for her, which in turn says a lot about family life.

Then again, why bother? The Ecuadorians have all bases covered. Los indigenos, los mestizos – that about covers it. I haven't been to the Amazon Basin, but I'm sure that los indios or whatever they call people there have cute kids too. (Notice how I just used the word cute? I think I'm losing it.)

They are tiny, the kids. I suppose they grow up somehow, but I see mostly the teensy ones being carried on Mom's back in a sling, or sometimes walking alongside Mom and Dad – a li'l nipper barely tall enough to stand, but putting on a good show of keeping up, tiny legs pumping randomly, and the faces – really indescribable – I have to force myself not to stare. They are (there is a word for this, isn't there...) adorable.

While standing in line at Coral Hipermercado at Mall del Río on Sunday, I looked down. In front of me and several feet below my modest eye level was one of the adorables, looking up, at me, fascinated. I know I'm ugly, but this was still fun.

I smiled.

The child smiled, all black hair and dark eyes and incredible delicate features.

I shifted my purchase-to-be, money, and cap to one hand and did a child-wave (keeping the hand still and flapping all my fingers in one motion).

The tiny child way down below waved back in just the same way, then lifted her right hand, palm up, and held it still, expecting. Something.

Expecting what I did not know, so I put one finger into her hand, expecting her fingers to close around mine, but that was enough – just a touch. She seemed satisfied.

A parent in a parallel line called the child back and she went and that was that.

But I will never forget the magic of that quiet moment.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Creeping Feelers Of Cholesterol

Beefy-like greasiness defeats cleanliness.

Having relocated (i.e., having returned to Cuenca, Ecuador after an absence), and no longer holed up in the small hotel I inhabited for six months, I find that nearly everything about my situation has changed.

Like where to do laundry.

The hotel strictly forbade washing clothes in the bathroom sink, but that's where I did mine. And since I had the bathroom all to myself, and didn't break the sink, no one was the wiser.

Break the sink? Yep.

Management had a sign up specifically mentioning this possibility. It appears some passers-through got carried away once upon a time, applied too much vigorous pressure, agitation-wise, in the general direction of their jeans, and cracked the sink, destroying it.

I didn't, managing to wash socks, undos, T-shirts, shirts, jammies, and even my largish knapsack and definitely very large duffel bags, all in a sink whose liquid capacity was around a gallon (speaking generously).

But now I don't live there. Got a private sink, but no private shower stall where I can hang my wet stuff to drip, and not that much privacy overall.


I went looking for the self-serve laundromat I remembered seeing months ago. It ain't' there no more.

I did find another one, but it's at least an extra quarter mile out, although it is there, which is nice. The self-serve part is nice too, since Ecuador is a place where labor is cheap and machines are expensive and beyond the experience of 95% of the populace. Especially highly technical machines like photocopiers, washers, and dryers.

But hey. Where was the one I remembered? I'm sure of the location, but there is a McDonald's there instead.

Hmmm. Could it be? I think so. I think I know what happened. McDonald's embraced and extinguished the scrubbery.

McDonald's, Burger King, KFC – all of them – are considered high culture here, by some. Exotic. Trendy. Forward-thinking. New Age.

And eating at any one of them is proof of wealth and status, since a meal is equal to half a week's pay for lots of people here.

And no matter what norteamericanos think of the nutritional quality or relative status accompanying these calorie-shovelers, eating at any of them is definitely a mark of distinction here.

But McDonald's doesn't do pants.

So, overall – Boo. Two thumbs down, accompanied by an appropriate amount of feces-hurling.

I need clean pants, and for under three bucks I can get a fresh, locally-sourced, and delicious meal. Served in four courses, by waiters, with tablecloths no less, so, if anyone had asked me, I'd have said McDonald's stay home.

Why doesn't anyone ever ask me about these things anyway? I could run the world so much better, with reduced grease content and more flavor to boot.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Surviving Traffic

Bouncing around the bumpers.

It's been a while.

I know the rules, but since I'm not the only player in this game, I have to keep learning their new variations. Hey – it's evolution. Or something.

Definitely not survival of the slow and stupid.

Take crossing the street on a green light. Yep. I made that mistake on Saturday.

I waited to be sure that the next car coming my way was not going to turn, by not turning. Signal lights are like Christmas decorations – some use them and some don't. Anyway, they're only lights. You can't judge an advancing army by what it's PR team emits – you gotta watch what they do.

OK so far. This cab was decidedly going straight across, so I stepped into the street and began striding across at a brisk clip. Past the halfway mark, I noticed that the next car in line was making a tight left turn and accelerating.

Toward a point that would put it right smack on top of me.

So I sped up. And so did the driver.

Then I stopped. And so did the driver.

Then I backed up, out of the driver's way, and circled around the rear end of his car as he zoomed out of there, once again free to roam.

Both of us lived. I guess that's a win for me, though I care about only my half of that equation. Screw the driver.

For a while I had fantasies about having hopped up and rolled onto the car's hood in an attempt to survive, then lying there and refusing to move, maybe with the driver jerking and swerving, accelerating and braking in an attempt to slide me off.

But that didn't happen, and I'm glad not.

Win #1: I walked away. Win #2: I thought about refining my technique.

Modified Rule: Cross streets only when and where it is safe. (As soon as I can figure out a good definition of safe.)

Might be a while, but until then, I've still got two working legs. Not all bad, I guess.

Weight And Feathers

Did you ever wonder where your luggage went?

Or, more precisely, since it usually ends up where intended, Why? As in Why did my baggage go over there, at least for a while, when it should have come over here?

Well, I don't travel much, but yesterday I found a clue, relevant in at least in some cases.

See, I was on a long flight, a series, from San Francisco, USA, to Cuenca, Ecuador. First we went to Atlanta, Georgia, and then to Quito, Ecuador. OK so far, right? (I assume you're with me on this part.) Those two legs are in themselves quite a feat of modern technology, and, as such things go, went well.

Aside from the lack of sleep, inability to move for five or six hours at a time, advanced thirst, and extreme lack of calories – the usual. More or less. I chose to get sketchy on the water to keep from having it drain out the bottom of me, which is a nuisance at the best of times.

p>Skipping eats also means that less of you-know-what wants to come out and start life on its own, and there isn't so much raw material for natural gas eruptions that way either. Reduced calories also means that the body doesn't have to work as much, and can concentrate on putting up with sitting, being uncomfortable all the time, sitting, being scrunched while in a sitting position, being unable to lie down and sleep because of the sitting position, and related issues, like seat-kickers.

OK, done, for the most part.

After arriving in Quito around 11 pm local time, I found that I had to wait five hours to check my luggage, and another two after that for the actual boarding. You know – the usual sort of miracle-filled hell that is modern travel, also known as not being able to sleep all day because of jostling and bumping and general random pain, and then sitting up all night with nothing to do, to make up for it.

And then, something fine happened.


We got on the plane on schedule, each passenger in the right seat. The baggage was loaded, and all the rest.

But people milled in the cockpit. Well, two or three did, in yellow vests. The door was open, so I could see.

Eventually someone or other announced that there was a technical problem. Later on there were words about a circuit breaker having to be replaced, and yet later someone mentioned having to recalibrate or re-program something. This brought us up to about twenty minutes past takeoff time.

Then one woman in the first row got up and surrounded the lead flight attendant, virtually howling her outrage and waving various fingers around. That lasted five minutes or so. Still with me?

Someone then announced something or other about landing weight limit or whatever, and this was the green light for a second woman to go up front and howl for a while. She did an absolutely stellar job of it too, going on for at least ten minutes, going right up to the edge of thermonuclear war.

The gist, if there is one, for someone perennially at the rudimentary level of Spanish, was that a simple technical issue which might

  1. prevent the plane from taking off
  2. prevent the plane from landing
  3. make the plane blow up at an inconvenient location
  4. make the plane do something even more interesting

was not to interfere with someone's schedule. (Illustrated by hand gestures.)

OK, fine.

Eventually the extra yellow-vest people left the cockpit and the exterior door got closed. Then the plane moved a few feet. Then the plane stopped.

Then the plane sat still for ever. Then, about a year later two men came on board and the lead flight attendant called Woman Number 2 to the front. At this point spontaneous applause broke out behind me. (I was way up front, close enough to get my eyebrows singed from the action.) Woman Number 2 then picked up her argument where she had earlier run out of breath, and waved more of her hands and fingers, but not all of them at once, keeping a few in reserve. This impressed me. She must have been a pro.

All was fine with me. I was waiting for the the handcuffs to come out, and to see the two guys carry her off the plane screaming and spewing curses, which seemed the least they and she could do for our entertainment (and satisfaction, both).

During this second episode of hooting and accusing and general hollering, no fewer than four other passengers got up, one at a time, and joined in the discussion. Woman Number 1 made a comeback tour, and three others who hadn't been on stage until then got their big breaks. You might see them soon on or near a plane containing you, depending on your luck and the phase of the moon.

Somehow the exterior door got closed again, and all passengers were once again strapped into their seats. I doubt that this had anything to do with one English speaker who shouted Let's get this plane rolling – NOW! at about the time that Woman Number 2 seemed virtually certain to become the contents of a gunny sack tossed into the nearest river.

No such luck. And the plane didn't move either. Nor did anything encouraging happen when a bunch of passengers in the rearward rows began yelling Vamos! Vamos! Vamos!, the equivalent of Let's go, Joe!

But something like an hour and a half behind its schedule the plane did leave the ground, after which it flew to Cuenca, and landed, and we all got off with our original numbers of fingers, toes, heads, torsos, and internal organs. Nor were there any brightly-colored flames (that I noticed) to amuse us or stimulate onlookers.

However (we're getting there), as all of us former passengers stood around the luggage carousel, which sat there quiet and not running, a man came in and gave a long speech. I was hoping that we were the recipients of a national award for perseverance (with the exception of Woman Number 1, Woman Number 2, and their supporting cast). Or that we had each won actual prize money because they were short of award plaques at the moment and couldn't let us go home without something. You know? Something fine. Like a bag of cash for each of us.

Instead, we were back to the landing weight. We thought we had heard the last of that, but no. (Brace yourself for another gist, coming up any moment now.)

The gist being that in Quito they had the choice of either removing all passengers from the plane or removing all baggage, which is what the luggage carousel oration was about. So I guess they chose to keep the luggage for a while rather than to have a couple hundred raging ex-passengers roaming around the airport waving fingers and hands, and throwing epithets. Baggage is so much more docile, isn't it?

I don't get why this happened in Ecuador, but maybe that's Ecuador. I don't get around much so maybe this happens all the time everywhere.

So back to the story – they removed the baggage and told us about it at a location well to the south, where it was impossible to do anything about it but fill out a form and believe their words saying that all baggage would be on the ground in Cuenca by 1 pm.

No. Seriously – oh so no.

I went to the airport after 2 pm and got instructions to come back at 7:45 pm. I guess weight is a tricky thing, so they put all our luggage on the very last flight of the day (on another airline, just to be safe), and then went away and closed their eyes and put their fingers in their ears.

Well, you know. Things.

It all worked out in the end, right? Matter was neither created nor destroyed, only hidden from view for a while, and around 9 pm it was released to us, so we could just get over it and do things.

Monday, October 14, 2013

This Way Out, Maybe

One way. To do it.

I used to live in Ecuador, in Cuenca.

That was a while ago. Not that long ago, compared to the age of the Earth, or of even the Eiffel Tower, but a while ago, and not for very long – for five months, plus change.

It didn't quite work for me. Maybe there is something wrong with me, and maybe not. It could be that something is wrong with Ecuador, but considering that so many other people live there, and seem to be doing fine, then maybe the problem is mine. I am prepared to accept that, and, in truth, I don't care.

Not that this matters – I felt I had to leave, regardless of whether I ever go back and try again, or instead sit on a porch somewhere and pick my nose, or take up noodle racing. Regardless of whether I am terribly inadequate as a person. It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now. I left.

I had to leave, and so I left.

But it wasn't that easy.

Some things that should be, aren't. So easy. For me.

I made a reservation. Check. OK there. That went fine.

I packed. Fine also. I had done that before too, and it worked as expected, once again.

I was in one place and the airport was in another place, and a taxi connected the two of us. That part also worked. So far so good, I thought at the time.

Eventually, after some waiting at the Cuenca airport, but not after too much waiting, I shoved my two duffel bags through one of those airport counters and, a bit later, boarded a plane. Check.

We took to the air.

One connection, just one switch of aircraft in Quito, and then I could sleep and not worry about anything for hours on end. I could give up consciousness and let the plan unfold itself. After all, I had made it from North America to South America without incident, barely more than six months earlier, so this return flight would be like a yo-yo climbing its own string, and strings do not have incidents, so that would be fine, I thought.

I arrived in Quito. Good. Quito was exactly in the right place at that moment. Check.

When the plane's wheels reached for Quito, Quito reached back, and the two of them worked together quite smoothly, as though they did this often. I was pleased with that. Quite pleased. The cogs of my plan were snicking into place, one after another.

After leaving the plane, I walked, and then walked some more. All of us passengers were going in the same direction by the same route, so it was pleasantly easy. I flowed with them. By that time I had stayed up at least an hour and a half past my bedtime, but it was easy, and a nap waited on the far end of my walk that evening. So.

I kept walking.

After not too long a time we all went into a large room with two luggage roundabouts in it. Luckily for me, I was continuing, out of Quito, past the border, and off the north end of the continent, and didn't have to bother with that. My luggage knew where it was going, and so did the airlines, and all was well.

Once through the door at the far end of the room, I was out in the main terminal. A quick look oriented me and told me that I needed to be on the second floor. I went there.

I had come in on LAN. I was to leave on Delta. Fine. I found Delta. Check.

At the Delta counter a staff member on duty spoke enough English to help me out. This was good. They started by asking where my luggage was. I said I had checked it in Cuenca and was going to Seattle, which seemed reasonable to me but not to them. Not so much.

They said, unreasonably, I thought, that I needed to fetch my own luggage and bring it up to the counter so that they could put it on the plane. I thought they were better at that sort of thing than I was, but they disagreed, and sent me back downstairs to get the luggage myself.

This plan had a flaw. That flaw, of course, was that the baggage area was on a one-way route. For those coming off a flight, it was a simple stroll to pass through the area and out the door, and off to wherever it was that they wished to go. For those trying to get into the baggage area from the main part of the terminal, the story had a radically different plot. One which involved uniformed security.

The security man outside the door to the baggage room would not let me in. It was his job to keep me out, and he did, completely.

He asked me for my stub – the little bit of paper that would prove I wasn't a thief or an idiot by verifying that I had checked luggage. Or that I had had checked luggage at some recent time. If I could produce the paper receipt for my luggage I would prove that I was only temporarily stupid, and that might be allowed, but not without the receipt.

Which I could not find. Not even once. No matter which pocket I checked, or how many times I checked it.

But, although I had no stub in my pocket, I did have an ace in the hole. This would be the Delta staff at the counter upstairs, the people who had sent me there. They knew what to do. On my way up to see them again, I kept looking for the baggage receipt, which kept finding more and more ways of eluding me. No matter how many times I checked every single pocket on me, all of these pockets all remained empty.

I went back to the Delta staff at the check-in counter, and they did have an idea. Finally.

They said I should see other Delta staff at a different counter, downstairs again. I went there and stood in line.

But, ah, no. These other people had no idea what this was about, and sent me back to the Delta staff at the check-in counter on the second floor.

Luckily for me I had been to that second-floor counter so I knew where to go (heard this already, have you?), but walking, though great exercise, didn't seem to be helping much that evening. I was carrying a heavy knapsack containing two laptops, two cameras, two external hard drives, many cables, an audio recorder, all my legal papers, and five lenses. Plus another, smaller bag with snacks and a few gifts. And wearing a travel vest under my windproof and waterproof jacket. So I was damp, with my own sweat, and more than pleasantly warm.

But I did find my way back to the first Delta counter. The route was by then and still is now, more than five months later, wedged tightly into my permanent memory store.

The Delta Counter – a beacon, a beacon in the night. That helped. I was tired. By then it was over two hours past my normal bedtime, and much sweatier. But I had a beacon.

The Delta staff at the check-in counter had good news. Finally.

They told me that they had called someone in one of the back-alley rat holes deeper inside the terminal, and this person would meet me outside the baggage area, and would help me. Great. I went downstairs again. Third time, I think now, reflecting fondly upon that evening.

When there (downstairs, outside the locked baggage-room door), I met Daniel Perez. He worked for Delta, but he was leaving. He was done working for the day and had to a bus to catch. Other than that he seemed to know nothing about me, but he did tell me I should definitely go to the third floor and talk to the Delta baggage people. He pointed to the other side of the terminal and told me to go that way.

I did.

The third floor, if there is one, was beyond my reach. I think – I can't say for sure because I actually never got beyond the first floor. I did, however, find my way into a hallway, and made a couple of turns, went past one or two closed offices, noticed raised heads and turning eyes, all on me. And then, finally, I came to a blank, locked steel door with a notice on it. I couldn't understand the notice, but it was definitely official, and was not welcoming. I decided not to touch the door.

There was no point, and I would have left fingerprints. Never leave fingerprints where yours don't need to be. Remember that.

But I did have a plan.

Which was to go back to the Delta check-in counter. I knew how to do that, if nothing else, so I did that.

The helpful staff there told me that they had no idea who Daniel Perez might be – never heard of him. But they did say that they had called someone who would definitely meet me outside the baggage area this time, and then they sent me back downstairs. (Fourth time? I think so.) Honestly, if I may be honest yet again, I don't think Daniel Perez he had ever heard of anyone at the Delta Airlines check-in counter either – so things were a draw on that score.

But back to our story.

Once at the baggage area again, I noticed something. There was no one outside it, waiting to welcome me. There was only the locked door and the guard, as before. The guard did not welcome me back any more than he had not welcomed me before, though he did keep one eye on me, and he had a spare, in case he needed it.

Then something happened, but not for me, so that doesn't count.

I kept searching for my luggage stub.

Another guard arrived from somewhere. I had been there long enough to witness a shift change but forgot to dig out my camera to bring you a picture. Sorry.

The time by then must have been approaching midnight. I think my flight was to leave at 12:30. I could look up the exact time by why bother? You know? Why?

The new security guard did come on duty, and he spoke English, and he went inside the locked door and found someone who could help me, though she was definitely not expecting me, but the guard did offer to let me into the baggage area. This was a new experience. I decided to go with the flow and went through the door.

The person inside the baggage area kept telling me that it was all very simple. All I had to do to get my luggage was to just pick it off the conveyor roundabout thingy, even though there was no luggage there.

I pointed that out to her.

This may have been a mistake.

It is possible that she took it as a challenge to her authority because she kept telling me to go pick up my luggage.

The conveyor was all shiny steel and all empty, each and every inch of it, and I was at least an hour too late. The woman could not seem to understand that if my luggage had been there at all, ever, it had been there over an hour earlier. And now it wasn't there, and the metal of the conveyor was not even warm any longer, only empty.


She went to talk to someone.

I hoped that her talk wasn't going to be about an upcoming office party, or about her retirement plan. I hoped that it would be about me. I did.

Then she came back. She had no idea what was going on. I mean, really – that is what she told me, you know?

Talking, it seemed, was not the way to resolve this situation.

And then I found my ticket stub, or baggage receipt, somehow, and as soon as she saw it, she asked if the black bag and the red bag were mine. Well – yes. I guess that was the key right there.

Assuming that I had a long needle in each hand, and had wanted more than anything else in the world to poke both my eyes out? Faster than even that, she had a door unlocked and told me I could take my two duffel bags. She told me this without checking that my stub matched anything. I didn't bring it up either. Why poke needles into the eyes of success? I grabbed the bags.

Which wasn't easy.

These two duffel bags – you see, they were bolted to the floor, by gravity, because though I had thrown out everything I could possibly get along without, before I move to Ecuador, whatever was left was what I had brought, minus the extra things I had thrown out before trying to leave Ecuador, but it was still a lot. So I had to pull harder, which I did, and eventually both duffel bags came off the floor in a tentative though vertical direction.

These bags weighed, say, 40 pounds each, give or take a thousand pounds. Even in metric it sounds unreasonable. Maybe it's the "kilo" part of "kilogram". I don't know. Something. With metric you don't even need to know the numbers, and definitely not then. Things are heavier in that system. There was weight enough for everyone in the airport, but it was just me at the time, listening to my sinews creak, but when I pulled hard enough, it all budged. And then I was staggering toward the door.

I got out the door – out of the baggage area, and found someone waiting for me – a small woman in a dark uniform. She was from Delta, possibly from Delta Force. Things were blurred by then. She told me to wait, which seemed like a fine idea except that I was supposed to be boarding an airliner at about that exact moment.

Someone was coming, she said, coming to carry my luggage. A big guy. Strong. I should wait for him. It would be worth it.

There are no carts in the Quito airport, as far as I know, and if there were, carts don't work on escalators. Or stairs.

We had our choice of how to get from the first floor to the second floor, and it was either the escalator or the stairs.

After thinking through the situation thoroughly, and weighing all my options (both pro and con), and after wasting two or three milliseconds on the issue, I finally decided to wait and have the big guy do the duffel bag carrying. Plus, you know, I saw him coming by then. Hey.

And even more luck was on my side. I got a story out of it.

The Delta representative said that since every single other passenger had already been processed – except for me – she had been sent to help. Which explained where she came from. Then we waited some more.

Sure. Why not. We waited some more on top of that.

Then the guy finally reached us.

He took my two duffel bags and walked across the sort of lobby area and onto the escalator. This distance was around 50 feet. When we got to the top of the escalator, he sort of collapsed under all the weight, which was too heavy to hand-carry across the airport. So I did it. All the way from there to the Delta counter, or around another 100 feet, where I paid $84 in baggage fees (like winning a reverse door prize) and something like $53.87 exit tax to get out of Ecuador. (They do that.)

I think I may have caught sight of the big guy being wheeled out to an ambulance with his unnaturally and prematurely elongated arms dragging on either side of the gurney. But maybe not. Maybe I was hoping that would be me. If I was lucky.

OK. Finally. Set. All set. I headed for the hallway leading to the whatsis tunnel which led to the plane.

But got stopped.

The young Delta woman had suddenly received a communication – by phone or radio or implant (I couldn't tell) – and informed me that because I was coming through so late, I had been selected to have my luggage intensively searched by the National Security Police, who were waiting, and I should follow her.

Which makes sense in one of that infinite number of universes that are said to exist if we only look for them very, very carefully.

She led the way, and, of course, I followed.

I don't know where we went exactly, but we did end up outside, in the cold night air, under the terminal, in a crowd of people all having their luggage savaged by gangs of muscular men with large hands. My duffel bags were there on the concrete, like two old, long-lost friends recently found after a long search, and then even more recently sentenced to death.

I waited my turn. After six months of living in Ecuador I should have known that leaving would never have been as easy as boarding a plane and sticking my nose against the window. So I waited some more.

I asked my guide and protector what would happen when I missed my flight, but she had no answer. Neither did I, but life, you know? It never hands out scripts. I would have to keep waiting, try to hit my marks, and then improvise. But I knew I was not leaving Ecuador that night, not by airplane out of Quito.

My bags were lifted up onto the stainless steel table. Their turn had come. And they could not be opened.

Well, duh.

I had the handles cinched up with plastic cable ties, which were then wrapped with tape to prevent the cable ties from cutting into anyone's hands. This was so the bags could be handled easily, and would (clever me) show if anyone had gotten into them, because no one could really open the bags more than an inch or so with the handles tied together, even if they knew how to get past the locks.

Locks? Yes. Each duffel bag also had its two zipper sliders padlocked together. I unlocked the locks, and one of the goons found a knife and cut the cable ties as though he'd been living only for that moment, and then he and others reached in, up to their elbows in my carefully folded and packed belongings.

Which they ripped out in great handfuls.

It had taken me half a day to get it all positioned and repositioned, packed and repacked until everything finally fit, and now it was all pulled out into piles and the men were digging around inside the two duffel bags, feeling for what they could feel, which was all my completely innocent stuff.

If I hadn't been sure before, I was sure by then – this would take hours. I would have to find food and drink, not just a place to sleep. I would need a room. I could become homeless in Quito, abandoned by fate, wandering until eaten by ranging dogs or fierce, cunning urban rats.

Then we were done. Free to leave. Nothing found except underwear and socks and pants and shirts and the ordinary useless things only a normal, pointless, random person would want to have along on a trip.

All of it somehow got stuffed back in somehow, (somehow) though it took two men built like bulls straining together in unison to re-close each duffel bag. I wanted to duck in case the zippers exploded and sent shrapnel flying, but decided I would rather be ripped by zipper shreds than gunned down at the last moment by National Security Police itching to score, so I stood still, waiting to taste zipper-flavored death.

Which drove past, oblivious, waving a beer and smoking a cigarette, not even glancing our way. So I had to keep playing along.

My guide took me back in tow and led me around and up and then to the left, and around and back and down and to the right and up and back around to the left and either up or down and possibly to the right or more to the left.

Then we were searched.

We passed through metal detectors. My passport was requested. We were searched again. More passport presentings. More metal detectors.

We bypassed a long line of people being asked for their passports before being allowed into the metal detector. We went up and down and right and left and my passport was requested, again and again. It began to smoke from the friction of being pulled out of my pocket so many times.

Then, suddenly, we were at the plane. My passport was requested, and my boarding pass. A crew member told me what seat I was in, and I immediately forgot what he said.

Then I did something stupid.

I thanked my Delta Force guide. And then I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. I should have kissed her hand, or shaken it, but I don't think any of that mattered. By then she had forgotten who I was and had switched off and was staring into space, waiting for reprogramming, and then I was inside the plane, looking for my seat.

We left Quito.

An hour later, in the dark of night, thousands of feet in the air, the passenger next to me and the one in front of him began yelling. Then the fight.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All-American Flushing, Still At Local Prices

Get an inner tube checkup now.

Here at Don's Colon we provide only the finest cuisine and All-American Colon Showers. If you haven't given us a try yet, hey.

Maybe it's time.

You've heard of Vegetarian. We do that.

You've heard of Vegan. Ditto, and it's OK.

You've heard of Raw Food Vegan. Well, guess what? Yep.

And so on.

But where's the limit? Can you spend your whole life searching for the perfect diet?

Yes, and we cater too.

But what's the end game? Well, it's a wild tofu chase, folks. Once you start that hunt you may end up feeling like the Pope in the woods some days.

Food has its limits, and of everything you eat, only so much gets processed. And then, you know what happens next.

That's were we come in.

Here in lovely Cuenca in lovely Ecuador we have a paradise.

A paradise of weather, of low food prices, of gringos stampeding to get the last $800 rental before it goes up to $1200. And if you're looking for a $300 rental, it's now the $800 rental.

Food is one of the last bargains, so people go overboard, especially Social Security recipients hoping to make it here on that monthly check. Once they find out what rentals cost now, they eat to compensate.

No, even if you're on our Raw Food Vegan Plan, you can still use an occasional tune-up to remove impacted residue.

And that's were we make our entrance into your scene.

Stop by any time.

No reservations needed. We have the conveyor running 24/7, and it'll take you straight through our Flush 'N Wax and deposit you out the other end in no time.

And after your Flush, what then?

Go for it.

Try the choice petit filet mignon or fish special, with garlic bread, onion soup, Caesar salad, potato, and veggie. Regularly $10 + tax and tip, but fully covered by the $99.99 Flush Price.

In other words, the best of all possible treats after a vigorous treatment, and a great antidote to all that crunchy raw food you've been gnawing at in frustration.

To your health then, from Don's Colon.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Plus a free suicide shower to our 47th still breathing attendee.

Hi. My name is Ken Ken. No, I'm not a double agent, or Barbie's gay companion male. I'm an expat, and I do everything double good.

My wife, Jane Jane and I moved to Ecuador, and we think we know a lot that you don't. Probably, is what I'm thinking.

Jane Jane thinks so too, don't you, Jane Jane? (She's nodding her head in agreement right now.)

So, since, aside from our names, we're pretty normal for pod people, we thought we'd offer to share our vast knowledge gained through eight months of living in a high-rise apartment with 24-hour security, eating in gringos-only restaurants, and getting crystal therapy while undergoing quantum massage.

Sound good?

OK, time for a disclaimer. I am not currently selling real estate or anything else, but I do have connections, in case. Think about it.

I'm sure you know how things work, and if so, please feel free to sign up for our weekly seminar, "Getting Real About Ecuadorian Real Estate".

Catchy name, right? Jane Jane and I think so.

And we like it here. We really, really like it here.

You might too. But you have to sign up to get the inside story. Seating is limited, and if you want a shot at the best properties, you really need expert advice. Remember, anyone who can sneak past the guards gets in free.

So, to sum up, this is just a friendly offer from two friendly people with friendly names to answer your typical newbie questions.

Questions such as: How to get here, how to find suitable properties, how to avoid the locals, who to bribe, and how to hire the best criminal lawyer after you try that bribing thing.

So give us a tootle via the internet and let's talk! (Jane Jane is nodding her head again.)

  • Ken Ken's and Jane Jane's Free Ride
  • Free advice on everything - Love offerings accepted at the door
  • Wednesday evenings, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Big Ed's Red Colon Restaurant and Cleansing Station
  • See you there!
  • Email: KK&
  • MagykJack: +539-209-21838
  • Address: 18 de Septiembre E 17 - 26 y 61 de Diciembre (Turn left at October and walk down Novenber - it's on the left.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Or Is It Just Me?

Do you smell something?

And then there was the Light Bulb Incident.

I didn't tell you about this yet.

I mentioned it, but didn't tell you. I said there was a story, and there is.

But on the other hand, I'm not sure it's a good story. And I'm sure I don't understand it.

Yet. If ever.

But this goes back a way. Back to the late fall of 2012.

It was a sunny fall and I thought things would always be that way, but things aren't always that way, are they? And they don't hang around staying just that way, for long. Usually.

Which has no connection to the light bulb. Except that I didn't need it during the sunny daylight hours.

See, the real deal is that my room is behind the elevator, and the router for the internet up here is sort of around the corner and out there a bit, leaving me hanging on the edge of internet land.

And then the staff here like to go and noodle on the common computer out in the lobby, which has a cable connection to the internet, while us "guests" (i.e., people who pay the freight around here), get what's left over by wireless.

Which is fragile.

Especially for me.

Especially when the staff are out there Facebooking and playing online games and downloading video files.

Which inspired me to move my laptop from the left side of the bed, where it's more behind the elevator, to the right side of the bed, where it's behind the elevator but not exactly so much, and is sort of almost kinda in a straight line with the router, but not really.

It is better though.

I think.

And because of where the window is it's darker over on this side of the bed, so I needed another light bulb.

When I moved in there was a 15-watter in the ceiling, and another one in the lamp at the head of the bed, but that one was broken, and there was room for another in that lamp but no bulb, so if you reached up to turn off the light, say, you could put your finger where Mom said never to put it, and find out why. Why she said that.

Pretty smart gal, that Mom.

Now I know why she said not to do that, but it's too late to send her a postcard confessing my sins.

Considering what an empty socket can do on its own, without even a first-grade education, and no prompting at all, confession would be like gravy on ice cream.

You know?

Wretched excess that didn't help anyone in any way.

One fifteen-watt bulb is the opposite of excess, but keeps the wretched part working so hard it makes you pant trying to take it all in.

And that's what I had.


So early on I bought a bulb for the bed, giving the empty socket a wide berth for the time being, but now. Now with my laptop more in line with the router's joyously squeaky weak signals, which were coming in a bit better, I had darkness at my elbow, so I figured hey.

Time for another bulb. And might as well go for Max Watts.

Well, Max Watts wasn't available so I went for his brother Sylvania.

Or maybe it's his sister.

There are some things you never get enlightened about, and I'm learning not to worry. As long as Sylvania keeps it up, I'm happy to be ignorant about some things.

But getting Sylvania home was a tad difficult.

First, you see, I grabbed the bulb with the biggest wattage.

These are the curly, screw-in fluorescents, and the biggest wattage was 26. It's like dog years. Twenty-six watts of fluorescent is like more than that in incandescent, but I don't know by how much because they don't say anymore.

At least here. If they ever did.

And it's a goddamn light bulb. Let's grab it and go. Now, pooch.

Screw the other one, I thought - only 23 watts, even though it was one of those sort of actually white-light bulbs.

But for that I'd have to give up three watts, and that is not in my nature.

Not any more it isn't, if it ever was. I can't remember that part.

But not here in this room with the deep corners and the darkness moving around whenever it feels like it. I wanted Max Watts.

And I figured if I couldn't get Max Watts and could only get Sylvania Watts, well, it was going to be the Big Sister version. Or Big Whatever, or something. But watts - I wants em. Gimmee.

Even if its a warm sort of light. At least it had a full 26 watts, which is more than you can say about the toilet paper here, or the hand soap, or just about anything else.

And there it was in my hand. All I had to do was pay for it.

Easier said than done, my friend. Easier said than done.

So very, very much easier said than done.

Spanish has something to do with it. A shortage of ears on my part does too. And maybe something else.

I still don't know, but the guy driving the cash register that day did not like the sight of me and that bulb coming at him as a team. He wanted us to go separate ways. And no arguing.

He took the bulb and instead of poking at the touch screen of the cash register and reciting things I could not understand, glancing over at me every now and then to see what I thought of the whole deal, which is what usually happens, which is when I stand there and go into Full Doofus Mode with the tip of my tongue out and a bunch of wrinkles on my forehead, squinting my eyes, and if anything at all, managing to say only "ah......?"

Which is when they usually give up and take my money and let me go.

Not this time.


I got a full-frontal lecture about something.

I think it was important, because the guy never got close to giving up. He could have gone 16 rounds, easy, and I would have been down for the count way before then. In fact by that time I was practically on my knees already.

Whatever it was he was talking about, think Important. Or maybe IMPORTANT!!!!

I guess.

I'm guessing here. I have no clue.

He kept pointing at a little colored area along the side of the package, and running his finger along it, and saying something. Boy, I'm not sure at all.

I may owe the store a lot more money because he spent a bunch of time on me. He burned up whole bags of expensive calories trying to convince me that I was not going to buy that light bulb. Ever.

This is where it gets really shaky because I'm assuming that there was a reason but maybe there wasn't. You know?

If you know, then that's one of us.

I don't.


But he won. I mean, no contest, right?

I took the bulb back to the far end of the store and looked at all of them. All the big, hefty, beefy 26-watters were identical to this one.

And then there were the 3-watters, and the 7-watters, and the 15-watters, but they wouldn't do any kind of decent job. Not up against the shadows in my room

So that left me with one choice.

You know, keeping in mind the armed guards out in front of the store, which was a pretty good reason right there not to do anything desperate, like run for the door and throw a $10 bill at the cashier on my way out.

And wasteful too, since they only wanted $3.71 for the bulb. Which I wasn't allowed to buy.

But mostly it was the guards I was thinking of. I didn't want them in on the deal.

Especially. Well. You know how armed guards are. How you never want them to see you running.


The one choice previously mentioned being what was left. The Goldilocks Solution. The 23-watter. Which is the one they let me buy.

The one that came home with me. And is up by the ceiling right now, purring quietly. I guess that's what the sound is. Purring?

Something. Maybe it's more of a smell now that I think about it.

Yeah, I guess it worked. I have light.

The two lights at the head of the bed are warm, and Ms. Sylvania Mini-Lynx, well let's just say she is like seeing daylight for the first time.

Maybe they know something at the store that I don't. Yeah, duh. Even a Doofus, First Class, with drool marks on his shirt eventually realizes that his powers, if he ever had any, are too feeble to be useful for anything other than looking stupid.

So it's me and my thoughts and a few bulbs brighter than I am, tapping the evenings away behind the elevator, dinking around on the internet.

Until Danny out there in the lobby gets tired of watching soccer on TV and switches to online...oh, crap.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dim Bulbs

Twenty watt thinking.

Funny thing.

The guy with the nice-looking apartment was remodeling, and then there was this carnival holiday thingy, and he said he'd probably get back to me by Wednesday of last week when he had it all pulled together.

And he didn't, so I wrote off one more place.

And then Monday, after I had to clear out of my room and go do something while they cleaned it, and then had lunch and goofed off, I found out that this same guy had sent me an email saying I could come over and see the place. And by then, when I saw the email, it was hours and hours later.

Sure, of course.

So I emailed him, asking for the address, and said I'd call Tuesday. Assuming I could figure out how to use the phone I had bought.

There was no return email from him, and when I called Tuesday he said that the apartment was "not available". I.e., he'd rented it. Probably to the first person who came by and said "Me want."

More batsnit craziness. I hope it isn't contagious.

I have an appointment for Friday, through a realtor, for a $250 apartment, which is located somewhere. Out there. Nobody wants to say anything around here, even if the question is only which part of town we're talking about.

No. Highly secret. Can't say. Wait until you see it. Is great, this place. Just wait.

I tried to get in earlier than Friday, given my experiences with people and their rentals appearing and then suddenly vanishing, leaving no trace, only a faint sour taste in the soul, but he said Friday was the day, and I would be the only prospective tenant there, and could take as much time as I needed with the owner, etc., and so on.

So. Whatever.

On the other hand, Peter, the 22-year-old with a three-bedroom, three-bathroom place, just emailed me and said I can move in there on March 4th, or not, depending on when the others leave. This is the three-bedroom, three-bathroom place with one bathroom in the living room, and the third bedroom inside the second one.

I'll have to draw a picture sometime.

As soon as I get new crayons.

So anyhow, I bought drugs today.

Getting extremely low on the prescription medication that I brought with me, I finally gimped it over to one of the larger pharmacies, hoping they'd have most everything.


Two clerks eyeballed the data sheet I gave them. One clerk poked at the computer and finally said "Nope. No such thing here." (It's more exciting in Spanish.)

And at that moment the other clerk emerged from the shelves with a bottle of 100 tablets of the right stuff, all sealed and tidy and clean and safely on the correct side of expiration date.

I had my passport, and could have supplied a copy of the prescription, but they just wanted money. Not even a note from my mother. The total was $17.20, and then I was out of there, slick as snot on a doorknob.

No need to hunt for a doctor who isn't retired and is still taking new patients, explain why I don't have insurance, offer to pay cash, stand there looking at confused faces, wait for an appointment, explain that I've got a really mild case of you-know-what, and have been taking the absolute minimum of this medication since 1975, have never had any side effects, hoping to get by without a bunch of tests involving needles and, in far corners of the country, laboratories I've never heard of which will send me oddball bills for months on end.

No, not like that. Here you tell them what you want, they set it out, you pay, and if you die alone on the floor at home because of what you just bought, that's your own fault.

I was at this same pharmacy a few weeks ago, unsuccessfully trying one weekend to score some baking soda, which is a controlled substance here, but it wasn't until today that I noticed the security guard. Maybe he's off on Saturdays. But he was there today. He wasn't carrying a shotgun though, so he can't be very good.

Every time I walk out the entrance of my hostal I pass a security guard at the bank next door. He stands there all day, holding a 12-gauge, pistol-grip shotgun. There are lots of these guys around. All over. Standing all day, watching, shifting their guns from hand to hand, wearing navy blue armor, navy blue baseball caps, navy blue pants - the whole blue thing.

The bank where I get cash has at least three on duty all day. Maybe four. I think it's four. But that's a sort of drive-in bank with its own parking lot, so I guess they would need more firepower to cover the acreage.

I bought a light bulb today too. (There is actually a story here, but I'll skip that part for now. You know, suspense and all - wait for it, 'K?) I bought the bulb at a sort of all-in-one, jumbled-up grocery and department store. It's kind of a fun place with a little of everything piled every whichway, but even they also have at least two armed guards out front all the time. Yes, with shotguns.

Well, one has a shotgun. For sure.

If this was a typical Target store, and Target stores really liked the idea of armed guards, there would be half a dozen out front, and at least as many inside. Just so you get the idea.


Inside this store, staff not driving cash registers walk around and look at people. No one has ever asked if they could help me with anything (which is OK for me, for now, since I'm essentially a mobile idiot). They only walk around and watch what's going on.

Which is nothing.

And I don't ever want to be there when anything is going on.

So, right now.

I have to study Spanish so Señora T. won't be upset. She's my Spanish teacher. I'm not sure if she cares whether I study or not, but if I don't she'll have nothing to do but to sit there and stare at me, which could trigger an emergency call to the security guards, and we don't want that.

Things could be worse but I don't want to know how.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shung Fwei Makeovers With Banana Jam

A 98.6 percent solution.

Hi, everybody!

Well, today is a new day!

As you might not have noticed, I have recently relocated to beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador, and I love it here!

For new visitors to Fung Ways Newsletter, my name is Banana Jam Hajduk. I am a licensed Counseling Psychologist and Fruit Therapist, trained in the Three Berries tradition of the ancient school of Shung Fway, located at 1613 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

I also have an advanced degree in Kitty-Cats and Funny Hats, as well as having studied with the masters of the Colored Fuzz Method in Panama and at the McNeil Island Institution in Washington State.

Why Cuenca?

Good question!

Having lived in several European countries, Belize, Malaysia, the USA, and several Mexican compounds with my former husband Pablo (recently deceased), I decided it was time for a change!

I now enjoy peace and anonymity despite being wanted in several if not most of the countries mentioned. For seminars, of course!

Hah! You big silly!

Well, how about you?

Are you new to life in Cuenca, Ecuador? Did you just move here? Do you have some troubling past life experiences you need sorted out? Well, I have personal experience with that, and I can tell you that plastic surgery and even frequent name changes will not solve all your problems.

So, for those nagging issues that just won't go away, I call on Shung Fwey, and you can too.

A vigorous but gently stimulating Fruit Cup Massage and Earlobe Reading will make you into a New Person. I can guarantee it! And, for those few skeptics out there, I have a no-money back guarantee to back me up.

Once we have your chi-force in line with your sugar balance (and have your pectin chart fully operational), we can move on to discussing your fashion sense and talking about the Real Estate Market.

I'm betting you probably never gave it much thought, but Cuenca is a Hot, Hot Real Estate Market, chock full of opportunity. And just between the two of us - We Can Make It Happen!

A few private consultations, a handful of Fung Tweaks, a bit of Staging Magic, and carefully-worded ads placed in the right international real estate speculation journals will have your head spinning in no time.

Do we hear cash? Yes!

I also do Pet Relaxation Therapy, and what I call my Komfy Kollages using all-natural, all-organic fuzz collected at night from sleeping alpacas. Doesn't that sound like Fun?

Now, I know you want to ease into all this, so next Saturday I'll be giving a free seminar for interested persons, "newbies", and diehard doubters.

We'll be meeting at the Tastee Bean Caffeine-Free Coffee Bar and Harmonic Convergence Research Center at 10 a.m., with a suggested $200 donation to be collected at the door by my friend Mike.

If you want lunch, a certified spiritually-accessible low fat fruit plate will be available from Kate's Eats for a mere $73.

So new to Shung Fwey or not, discover how my environment can affect you and how to hold hands and become one with my bank account.

See you there!

Or else!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spanish On The Hoof

Oink if you feel it helps.

"Now here are the words for today: 'vaca', 'cerdo', 'pollo', 'caballo', 'cabra'. Write a sentence using each."

This was Spanish at Noxius, The School of Language.

After three weeks there I began gnawing on my leg. They had to drag me out.

I believe the yawning pit opened somewhere between "vaca" and "cerdo", but I could be wrong. Vertigo may have distorted my memory.

I have no great love for vacas, either close by or from a distance. Or for cerdos.

Not a one of them. Not in herds or individually, even if they were to wear colorful name tags, and I never write about them. Ordinarily. As far as I can remember.

Which is what made this Spanish class so extraordinarily poignant.

Is that the word for how you end up sobbing in desperation?

Could be. Something like that. After having been an adult for so very many years, and being returned to seven-year-old status.

My fellow students were earnest. As was Señora Salamandre. Our teacher.

My fellow students wanted to learn all about farm animals, and to use them in sentences. And Señora Salamandre was qualified.

She spoke Spanish and we didn't. Which entitled her to earn money.


And she was the wife of a doctor. Which made her large with status.

In week one we learned to count from one to three.

In week two we learned what a fork was called, and which things one could poke with it, in polite company.

Week three introduced us to the farm animals, and to sentences of up to four words.

And then there I was, growling, and biting my ankle. Perhaps you can understand.

Perhaps not. It seems different in Spanish than the ordinary gnawing you might do in English, for example. In case you have done that yourself, in English or French, or Klingon.

"In Klingon? Right. I can understand how you might end up there, in Klingon," you could say, solicitously, backing up, looking for an exit. "But Spanish? Well..."

Ah, but you did not study under Señora Salamandre, who had a way of bringing the teeth out in people. She had a way. It brought all those gnawing instincts straight to the surface. Which was where my Spanish studies at Noxius ended.

I had to resign.

After regaining consciousness I sent a polite email explaining that I would not be back, so sorry. Ever. Cold fronts in hell and so on. And then the Director of Gringo Studies contacted me about remedial help.

"I have discussed your case with Robert Waddler, my room-mate, one of your fellow students, and a board-certified Slung Fwey Technician (Third Degree, Kwik Kwek Kwak School of the Ravenous Heron), and Crystal Therapist. He feels there may be some disturbance in one of your past incarnations. We can work on that. I have also talked to others about you and your episodes of speechlessness, and feel confident that if we place you in a new, Sub-Beginner Spanish Class (starting next week, at only $19.95 per hour), and you promise not to gnaw on yourself in front of others, we can virtually assume that at the end of six months or so you will be fluent in talking about farm animals in sentences of up to four words."

But by then I am afraid it was too late.

Perhaps it was my previous language training that spoiled me.

The training in Latin. The training in German. The B.A. in English. Or perhaps the B.S. in Physics and Computer Science (with minors in math and chemistry). Who can say?

But I did not feel up to a special Sub-Beginner Spanish Class (starting at only $19.95 an hour, with four-color flash cards of farm animals and emergency tutoring available on demand), and am now studying with Nadezhda of the Dark Eyes and the Quick Wit.

And blood is once more flowing through my brain.

Because of being treated like an adult? Possibly.

Because, you know.

I am one.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Some things, they puzzle.

I can tell you one thing.

And that is.

There's a lot I don't understand.

Take the immigration office here. It's busy. Really busy.

Because why? Because people have questions.

I understand that part.

And where do you go with your questions? To the experts.

I understand that part too.

Definition: Expert - Someone who can have your butt thrown out of the country if you don't play by their rules.

So here's the deal then.

The immigration office is busy because people want to retire here, and they have questions, and being reasonably smart, they read up and talk to people, and then they go to the experts for the final cut.

And the experts subsequently become busy.

The solution to which is to reduce their hours by half.

And to put up a sign notifying everyone: "The immigration office communicates that the attention to the public will be from 08H30 to 12H30."

Which has the effect of what, for example?

Of making people cranky, and ornery, and irritable, and of making some go away.

Where they go is no one's concern. If they go somewhere.


Dontcha see.

Which reduces the pressure on the immigration office.

So that part I understand.

It's the rest I don't get.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Place For Bill

Freefall at the equator.

They say this is the place to be.


Friendly people...

All services and goods available...

While living well for $600 a month. Or less!

Without even needing to learn Spanish.

Let's see how it's going.

Our guest today is Bill. Bill is recently retired. Bill has just moved to Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador to find the good life.

Bill has no spouse, pets, uppity diseases, bad habits, or debts. He's a clean-liver, as they say.

A clean-liver with a clean liver.


Q: So Bill, how's it going?

A: Well...

Q: Find a place to live yet?

A: No. Can't really say that.

I'm still in a hostel.

Or "hostal" as they say here.

Q: So, "hostal" then. What's that?

A: Think small hotel with private rooms rather than a bunkhouse you share with five other guys and a Belgian shepherd.

In a hostal you have to leave the dog outside.

Q: Sounds great! So what's your beef?

A: Well...

Q: There's lots of cheap apartments, even houses, all over, for under $200, $300 a month. So when are you moving into your dream home?

A: I'm trying.

Q: Trying hard or hardly trying?

A: I submitted a "want-to-rent" notice on that "Gringo-Vine" place, where all the posts have those little happy-face raisin logos?

Q: Great! I bet you got your pick of the prime properties, eh?

A: Well...I did get an email from Gabriela.

She has a half-bedroom, no-bath place above her garage for $950 a month, and all the rain water I can dip from the barrel out back.

Q: Great! What's a half-bedroom apartment like?

A: The bed is four feet long.

Q: Wow! That's a steal! Only $950 a month?

A: And the ceiling is four and a half feet high.

I'm six-two.

And you get into the place by climbing a tree. Which I have had some practice at, so that's a plus.


Q: So then! Gonna snap that one up?

A: Well, I'm not getting any taller, so I may give it some thought.

Gabriela does diesel repair in her garage. The one under the apartment.

She starts work every day at 4:30 by playing the national anthem on the air-horn organ she made.

That would be the Ecuadorean national anthem. Just so we don't get confused here.

Then she lights a few cherry bombs.

Which gets the dogs howling.

And then the chickens go off.

Plus most of the car alarms in a half-mile radius.

Which is not too bad because I'm an early riser and recently misplaced my alarm clock.

But I'm still thinking it over. I do have another place to check out.

Q: Terrific! Tell us about it!

A: No, not really. I just said that to make myself feel better.

Q: Well, I bet it worked! Feeling better already, I bet.

A: I don't think so.

I'm going to start therapy tomorrow. Or whenever the rain lets up.

After all, if you can't find happiness in paradise, well.

There must be something wrong with you.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Adventures In Moving

Don't take your eye off the pea.

Well, I said maybe I had gotten lucky, finding another place to live for $160 a month.

And I did.

And I was.

It was in a whole different part of town, not the center any more.

Up fairly high, and even though my new room was at ground level, I was higher up than my original, sixth-floor room.

Along with the view from the sixth-floor room, there was the rent, which, at $12 a day, came to roughly $360 per month, depending on how long any particular month was.

But let's say $360 per month. Which is more than $160 per month.

So I moved. Planning to save money while I continued to search for an apartment.

Problem 1: There were three rooms on that ground floor of the new place, and I got the one with water damage. Which wasn't a problem except for the wall-wide closet fronting the water damage. The closet had a strong moldy smell when opened. Which I didn't do before I decided to rent the place.

But I could have switched to the other empty room. Which brings us to...

Problem 2: I couldn't connect to the internet.

I don't know why, but I tried everything I could think of.

It wasn't enough.

If I went to the top of the stairs (fourth floor) I got a decent signal there, and only there. But the connection would drop every so often, and I couldn't sit on the stairs all day day either.

So I had to bag that.

Good News: I was able to get another room where I was staying before.

Bad News: Unlike the room I stayed in for two months, this one, though it has a window, that window doesn't open.

The room is on a hallway, so I can't leave the door open to get air. And I have to cross the "lobby" to get to the "bathroom". It isn't much of a lobby, but I'm right in front of everyone. And it isn't much of a bathroom either, though it's all I have.

Another room with private bath will be available at the end of the month at the latest. They say. So I'm only stuck for two weeks.

Lessee. Two days so far and I'm going nuts. I'm going nuts here. I tell ya I'm going nuts here.


Other Good News: The internet connection in this room is a bunch better than when I was located behind the elevator and had fresh air and a private bathroom.

At least I can work day or night. Although it's hard holding my breath for that long. Send air if you can.

Funny Stuff: I was paying $12 a day for the other room, the one with the fresh air and bathroom.

Now, for $2 less a day, I have no air, no real privacy, and no bathroom. Two bucks, go figure. No towels either. And although they no longer come in to tidy up and sweep the place and force me to go hang out somewhere until they're done, they no longer come in to tidy up and sweep the place.

And continue to not provide me with towels. And the in-public-view bathroom has no soap, although there is toilet paper today.

I can be happy about that. And I am. Happy. I'll take what I can get.

So it looks like I'm pretty well stuck here until I can find an apartment or until I hang myself.

Without a decent internet connection I might as well not be here, so I'm not going to chance it again with another place unless I'm sure about it.

I should have checked, right? Ya, you betcha. But I didn't, so there.

A lot of the places offering temporary accommodations or more permanent lodging are pretty slipshod about the internet stuff. Even sitting in the room behind the elevator I got a good connection at least two thirds of the time. Which is kind of stellar compared to some places.

Not many people here understand internet. It's like a gringo thing, so who cares anyway?

Just say you have it and if not, suggest they have broken computers. Which seems to be a common tactic.

The only thing my two-day landlady could do for me was to tell me that she had a student there once who had no internet problems.

So, I guess, the implication was that I shouldn't have problems either. But that didn't help me too much, being the cranky bastard that I am and all. And my clothes now all smell of mold.

Too bad. You should have seen the place. It was nice. Really was.

The owner lived on the first floor, and the second and third floors were fine. Sweet. Solid and clean. Carpeted all over.

I couldn't have afforded one of those rooms anyway. And then there's the non-internet issue.

The ground floor, where I was, was basically steerage on the Titanic. There was an older guy there (older than even I am) in the other occupied room. Pretty decent guy. I got to talk to him only once and then I vanished. He's probably still wondering. He had no mold. Lucky, happy guy.

My room had an east window, which was OK when there were no morning clouds, but he had a south window, which offered more sun.

The third room had a north window facing a brick wall a close 10 feet off, and was always cold. Dark too. But it didn't stink.

Really a shame overall that it didn't work, but the whole adventure only cost me about $30.

I paid half a month ($80) for the new place (for two days, having promised to pay through the end of each month I was there, regardless). But I also saved two days' rent here, and am paying less for the second half of January in my new, tight, airless room, so the difference comes out to only $30, plus some running around, which isn't all bad.

So, no end in sight.

Wish you were here, etc.

Please send encouragement.

From paradise, this is me signing off.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Peckers At Work

It's the probing beakers what done it.

I finally figured it out.

The pavement here in Cuenca is rough. Really rough.

Have you ever been to sea? I haven't, so I don't know what it's like. But I can imagine.

I can imagine a lot of things, but none of that matters here, so let's get on with it.

There are streets here, as you might know. Streets are pretty common these days. You see them all over, in all sorts of situations.

I don't really care much about the streets, except that I have to cross them. That's interesting. We'll cover that later on, some other day.

What concerns me more, because I have feet and use them for getting around, is sidewalks. I guess I should put that in quotes.

Like this: "sidewalks".

The quotes cover a lot of ground. I'll have to go into that in more detail later on. It's an almost infinite subject.

But right now let's talk lumps.

We have lumps here.

Lumps in the streets, lumps in the "sidewalks", lumps in the not-sidewalks, lumps all over.

You could say, if you wanted to say something, that the "sidewalks" are eroded, though some have been hacked up.

You could say, if you wanted to say something else, that the "sidewalks" have been hacked up, though some don't look like it so much. They look like they were assembled at midnight by a bunch of drunks.

But knowing next to nothing about how drunks work at midnight, I'm not exactly sure about that.

I do know, and am a particular expert in, walking on lumps, having spent many days hiking around and on the sides of, volcanoes, some of which are actually famous.

Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens. Get it?


Go backpacking then, on the sides of volcanoes, and then we'll talk.

Anyway, I know some things about lumps, and on-lumpy walking. Some things. Enough things, I think.

Not bragging, just facts.

So here. We have lumpy surfaces to do the walking on. And.

I think I know why it is that way.


It's the pigeons and their peckers, always hammering at the pavement.

Pigeons are thick on the ground here, always slamming the sharp tips of their ever-refreshed beaks against the pavement, going after seeds and breadcrumbs and anything that looks remotely edible and is also peckable.

After a few centuries all those probing, pounding fore-pieces, however tiny, do have an effect.

Which is.

Lumpy "sidewalks".

Whether "sidewalks" is the right term we'll leave to the experts, but lumps I know.

And I think the pigeons done it.

Come and see and you'll agree. Maybe.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bleeding Lizards

You see it everywhere.

And I mean everywhere. If you look.

It's a man's world here, a virtual whiz capital.

Gotta drain the plumbing? Do it. Nuff said.

The only requirement is to face away from traffic. Face a wall. Face the river. Stand behind your car, whatever. Just don't show your pee-pee.

Too much.

And if rules are made to be broken, they get broken.

Like two days when ago I was returning to my hotel about 1:30 p.m., when I rounded the corner, and in front of me, across from the blue-domed cathedral, in a major tourist area, half a block from the flower market, I saw a man rising from a squat and pulling up his pants.

Yeah, I saw way more than I needed to.

Being a guy, I know what's down there. Well, I know what I got, and don't want to know about yours.

I think he laid one on the pavement.

He must have been in the advanced class. Maybe it was his final exam. Way beyond watering the curb.

Cab drivers tend to congregate in off hours. They park four or five or six in a line along the river. They stand and talk. Shoot the breeze. Hang out.

Whoops. I'm giving away the plot.

What plot? You know where this is going.

So when the time comes, they stand shoulder to shoulder, their backs to traffic, and nail the lawn.

You can identify that stance from two blocks away. Legs spread for stability, both hands down at the crotch. No walking around. Looking straight ahead. Give it a couple of shakes when you're done and zip up.

All over.

Just delivered a fare? With your cab parked in the street, walk behind it and do what you have to, facing the trunk, then get back to work.

Hanging out with the rest of your fifteen-year-old friends in front of someone's house? Stick your business end inside the doorway of their outer wall and leave some moisturizer.

It happens.

All over here.

And you know what?

I wish I could do it.

Things would be so much simpler.