Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's been a while!

Life in South America...amazing, complicated, busy, friendly, exhilarating...the list goes on. It takes a few hours each time I edit pictures and update my blog, and I've been so busy that updating has been low on my list, but here goes. Speaking of editing and updating, I'm not sure what's happening with my blog text formatting these days, so you'll likely see several different fonts in this post till I get it figured out...a technical whiz I am NOT!

THIS is how I start most the Coffee Tree in El Centro...a LARGE cappucino for $1.90. I just LOVE new routines. (You can get a beer for $ This is a WiFi cafe, so I can spend a couple of hours on the computer, or the IPOD, catching up with things back home, and enjoying as many of these cappucinos as my nerves can stand.Then I toddle off to the Kookaburra Cafe to meet with friends for...MORE coffee! The Kookaburra is currently owned by Chris and Jenny, friendly Aussie ex-pats and artists. They've recently sold the cafe to CANADIANS, and will be moving on to Paute, Ecuador, to spend more time with their art. Carol and her husband Rick will take over, officially, in May, and have promised to keep that most wonderful nutty grainy natural BREAD on their menu. Check Trip Advisor's compliments...just click the link right here.

Okay, so here's a veritable feast for the eyes...some of the beautiful architecture I've enjoyed here...again and again......the cathedrals will take your breath away, and you don't even have to be Catholic to be amazed. I'll post some pics of the stunning interiors next week. THIS is the "new" Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It's located on one side of the main inner city park, Parque Calderon, which is a wonderfully BUSY place, with new sights and sounds every single day! Sometimes, I take my e-reader downtown with me and spend a couple of hours in the park, reading and watching the (ALWAYS interesting) people traffic. History lesson: construction of the cathedral started in 1880, and was completed ninety four years later...REALLY! My land-lady's grandfather made bricks for this church. The HUGE pillars are covered with pink Italian Carerra marble. The cathedral includes three different architectural styles, Roman, Gothic and Baroque, and the roof was constructed in the Renaissance style, with a series of six blue and white cuppolas of different heights. It's an architectural landmark in El Centro (the old city), and acts as a perfect landmark for the geographically impaired (myself included!).

This cathedral takes up two full city blocks...must be SEEN to be believed.

I'm TICKLED PINK with this pic, taken from the rooftop of a friend's apartment building during a very VERY happy ex-pat party last weekend. The cathedral towers are lit up in different colours for different occasions...SO beautiful!

Now here's a smaller church, in Chordeleg Ecuador, about an hour from Cuenca...I've been here several times now...such a PRETTY village.

Last time I was there, I was so lucky to watch a dance competition. Young and old indigenous women and men...swirling and twirling...showing us their happiness in the old traditions...

Aren't these GORGEOUS...more handmade/hand-painted ceramics:

To close this post, here are pics of my new house! I've signed a lease for a year...happy happy joy joy! Who KNOWS what will happen after that...but meanwhile, mi casa es su casa...

Now you KNOW that this wee garden will be FILLED with flowers by the time you visit!
My new neighbour will have just a little competition. We only have a tiny green space, but look what they've done with it! My townhouse is the end unit, so I have another green space on the side as well, about twice this size...enough room for a little light gardening, not enough to be overwhelming.

Finally, a little "Iguana art..." courtesy of my San Francisco friend Lois...

...and just a couple more of beautiful Latina children. This little girl comes with her mother every day, as Mum works in an open air stall selling handmade jewelry. I purchased a woven bracelet for a special grandson there.

This is often how indigenous women carry their small they work all day in open air markets, or simply on the streets, selling fruit, vegetables and handmade treasures.
Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are...wishing you time with the people you love, doing the things that you love to do.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My heart is full...

MORE Ecuadorian flora and fauna! Now before you GROAN, just remember...THIS is what I left in Nova Scotia (the province I LOVE) the day before my departure:

The colours...the delicate beauty of these treasures below...balm for the soul...

Hibiscus...try as I did, the closest I ever came to growing these stunning flowers (in my Nova Scotia gardening) was a "Rose of Sharon," which took SIX YEARS to give me a single blossom. I think I have two thousand pictures of that one lonely lavender beauty .

These three pictures of the peach coloured hibiscus were taken in a traffic island in Chordeleg, a beautiful community about an hour from here (more about that coming...)

I shall HAVE these in my South American gardens!

Lovely 'eh? OH! You want MORE? Okay, I'm here to oblige...from my landlady's garden...

Now THESE little beauties grow in well tended gardens at the only "western style" shopping centre (the Mall del Rio) near where I'm staying in Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca.

You LIKE these? Well, hold on to your gardener's come the ORCHIDS!

Now, if you're interested in seeing more orchids, with MUCH better photography than mine, just click on this link, which will take you to an orchid farm just outside the city, where I've decided to be a frequent visitor. For the obsessed (and relatively wealthy) orchid lovers out there, you can also do a ten day tour around Ecuador, including the Andes mountains and the Amazon. Step right up!

Okay okay...enough of the flowers...I HEAR you. (But if you need any more, just e-mail me, I can send you thousands...) On to more experiences then.

First of all, please click right here to see photos of an organic farm for sale here in Ecuador. The story: I met Jennifer at a restaurant near Parque Calderon, in the centre of old Cuenca. She translated some Spanish for me when I had no idea what I was eating! Jennifer is an Aussie ex-pat with a master's degree in agriculture; she and her Ecuadorian husband own/farm this beautiful property in Vilcabamba together. Can you IMAGINE walking to "work" along the rivers in these pics! My daughter (the "earth mother") and her four little boys would be in HEAVEN. Bliss.

One of my favourite places to go here is "Joe's Secret Garden." I go every Saturday night, to meet and chat with ex-pats, to eat the fabulous food prepared by father and son Joe and Yosef, to enjoy their spectacular gardens, and just to socialize. Now, why is it called a "secret" garden...aaahhh well, that's because you have to receive a private invitation! Now this is something I've never experienced before. It's a cross between a restaurant and a private dinner party. Joe and Yosef put on a FABULOUS spread every week; we enjoy appetizers in their gardens, and dinner at several tables throughout their home, all set with fine linens and china. Most meals cost about twelve whole dollars, plus the cost of whatever you choose to imbibe.

Joe-the-Dad at the outside cooker, with a little hunk of beef from the BBQ...

Yosef-the-son also at the outside cooker...OH...and if you need it, young Joseph is also a trained hairdresser and a trained computer tech! One stop shopping!

They are the most gracious hosts, and their soirees are usually booked SOLID within a day or two of their e-mail invitations, so we have to hit "reply" as soon as the e-mail comes in!

Now a story...the first dinner I attended there, Joe-the-Dad came to chat with me, heard I was from Halifax, and said

"HALIFAX!? I just KNEW it!! Do you REMEMBER me?"

Okay...deer-caught-in-the-headlights-time...I was scrolling back through my faulty memory, thinking (with more than a little consternation)

"Ooohhh, was this guy a SAILOR? Was he a CLIENT!?"

(I was an Air Force social worker in a previous life, and NO, I do NOT remember every single client...)

So Joe waits as I grow ever-more-uncomfortable, then says...with this sad (accusing!) face...

"You really DON'T remember me, do you?"

Had to 'fess up.

"No I really don't, I'm sorry...please remind me how we met..."

to which he responded

"We never did. I've never been in Halifax in my life...but I sure am glad you're here!"

Well, that was my FIRST experience at his Secret Garden, and I was hooked right away! If you're interested in getting on his mailing list for your next trip to Ecuador, just click here, and tell him the Nova Scotian sent you. Within a week or so, one of the local food writers, Sumana (an ex-pat from South Africa, with the most beautifully musical accent) will be posting a review of Joe's Secret Garden at Cuenca High Life. Watch for just never KNOW when you'll want to come here!

This was their watermelon punch today...laced liberally with Vodka. YUM!

So, besides flowers and food, there were other delightful experiences this past week.

Here are a few pictures of the second trip to Chordeleg...OOOHHH the beautiful handmade silver filigree jewelry! The bus ride takes about an hour, and costs a whole eighty-five cents.

I have some LOVELY things to bring home to Nova Scotia for some LOVELY women in my know who you are...

My landlady brought me to a multi-generational family ceramics business in El Centro. They've been creating their wares the SAME WAY for the past several hundred years!

They live where they work. This is the first thing you see when you go into their work/sales area.

THIS is the room where they start their craft...

This potter uses human energy...his power the wheel...

This is Rucci, my landlady, who has heightened my experience in this beautiful country by leaps and bounds!

Double decker tourist bus where I enjoyed a GREAT tour of the old and new parts of the city, and a drive up to "Turi Hill..." where there's a beautiful old cathedral and some of the best views of Cuenca. There were hair-raising parts to the tour for those on the upper deck, as we had to DUCK several times to avoid decapitation from low hanging wires throughout the city. The tour guides always gave us plenty of notice though. Here's the bus making its way up the cobbled streets of El Centro, the old town.

Below are images of "Mirador Turi," which means "brother" in the indigenous Kichwa language. This beautiful church is nestled atop a very steep hill, showing some of the most beautiful vistas of the mountains and the city below.

The church as we're climbing the hill.

Another view as we're there.

The vista during the day, of the city in the valley below.

...and at dusk...

I have met so many WONDERFUL, kind, helpful people here...Ecuadorians and ex-pats alike. The taxi drivers and and I practice our fractured English and Spanish together, and eventually get me where I need to go...often with great laughter.

My Spanish classes are...well...let's just leave it at "I'm still going" (lol). I have a great instructor, so I'm hopeful SOME of it will sink in to my oatmeal brain...eventually. My housing search goes on. I have a couple of appointments this week to see places, feeling very hopeful. Please send along good karma! I am already taking reservations for "Hosteria deMarza ," (ha ha) which will be officially available for visitors in June of this year. My friends Lesley (from Victoria BC) and Johnette (from Halifax) and my brother David and his wife Susan will be my first visitors, all planning their inaugural South American sojourns during the next few months.

Who's next? It will be SUCH a treat to show you some of this beautiful place, and to keep living that "attitude of gratitude..." so come along y'all.

Thanks so much for visiting. I hope you'll leave a "hello;" once again, I hope your days are filled with the people you love and the things that you need.

Hasta pronto!