Saturday, July 27, 2013

Whale Watching Week!

The week didn't pose any further medical issues for Mike. As was prescribed, he went every day to the physical therapist, Williams.  He's truly pleased with his progress and now has full motion range back with no pain.  He'll go 3 more times this coming week and then back to the doctor on Thursday to see what he has to say.  Yippee!!  He's a much better person to live with when he's feeling good.

Monday and Tuesday were just normal hang out days here at the condo. As the sun didn't make an appearance either of those days, we didn't feel compelled to get out much. Reading, watching movies, and doing research for our 3 weeks up in the Andes was plenty to fill the day.

I posted pictures of the parade celebrating the Whale Watching Season July - September of the magnificent hump back whales.  So in keeping with the spirit, Mike & I joined a large group of our fellow expats to go see them for ourselves. 

As we gathered on the Malecón, I was thrilled to meet many more of my Facebook friends, even Vickie Capers had come down from Cuenca to visit! A few of the ladies bought beautifully colored star fish from a sidewalk vendor for $5 for 2. Exquisite!

Once the launches arrived to take us out to the boat, Mike & I found ourselves on the first launch.  Our boat driver pulled on the rope to start the engine and the handle broke right off so he had to use the anchor to pull us back into shore.  Mike & I then found ourselves in a very small dingy that was being rowed with an oar. 

Upon reaching the tour boat, a much larger motored launch (like we were on originally) reached there at the same time.  Mike shouted at me to "watch out"!! I turned around and there was the big boat coming right at me and would have run right over us causing goodness knows what kind of calamity, but I was able to put up my hands and push us out of the way in time to avoid further issues. To say the least, I was a bit shaken up with the start of this tour!!

Fortunately, from there the tour became a great success!!  Once out about a couple of miles from shore, the whales began to show themselves. A great show with some rolling and rolling over, up and out of the water, and several huge breaches and big splashes.  Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get good pictures so these will just have to do.  Again, the day was overcast but at least it was a bit warmer and the wind had died down.

A great after party at our hosts place, Edwin & Andrea Salinas. Thank you both!!  A very fun time!

Thursday was more of the same of staying at home and working on making our plans and reservations for our trip up the hill.  It's truly time consuming looking at each hotel or hostel website, comparing where they are in the respect location and making the final decision that will determine if you're going to be comfortable or not.

One of our biggest dilemmas right now is that we plan on spending several days in Baños but because the currently very active volcano Tungurahua keeps exploding, we don't know whether the town will be open or closed.  Currently, they have it closed.  So booking a place that's non refundable and then not being able to get there presents a real scheduling and budgetary problem.  We'll figure it out though, I know.

El volcán Tungurahua en la noche de hoy, visto desde un vuelo en parapente desde el cerro Nitón; foto tomada por Javier Sagra

Yesterday, the sun decided to come out in full force for the whole day arriving about 10:30am!!!  So up on the roof I went while Mike was at therapy.  That's where he found me and after having a nice lunch of freshly made chicken salad, we spent a bit of time just enjoying the warmth of the sun.  As we are really close to the equator, I decided to come in a bit earlier than I would normally.  Good thing, as I could feel that I was just on the edge of getting fried. And, I don't normally burn, I just get darker. But, oh it felt so good!!  Our dispositions perked right up!

Last night we were supposed to go listen to live guitar music and meet up with friends but, unfortunately, the musicians weren't able to make it in from Guayaquil.  Looks like they are hoping to make it next weekend. So we just went an hung out at the hostel where our friends are staying, Will's Place, and talked the night away.

Mike & I are not breakfast eaters so on weekends we usually have a wonderful egg brunch about 11am.  Today we went down to Smokin', our friend's new restaurant/bar right on the Malecón, where our other friend, Mike Beasley, was the guest chef for breakfasts today and tomorrow.  We had the most scrumptious omelets and the best coffee I've had since arriving in Ecuador!! Love this place for morning, noon, or night festivities!!

While there, we looked up and saw a huge line of small little pongas out on the horizon all decorated with balloons and flags.  They were sailing towards us then went to Chipipe beach and then made their way to La Libertad.  It is apparently St. Rose Day, which is the patron saint of the fisherman.  There seems to be some sort of celebration every weekend and it's fun to watch!  Oh, AND....President Correa is in town!! We haven't seen him but this is his favorite place to visit in Ecuador. 

Tomorrow we will be heading up the coast to explore the small fishing villages and surfing towns of Montanita, where the world surfing championships were held this year.  We hired a private driver for a full day 9-6pm for $50 to be our tour guide. Better than renting a car.

And, so the journey continues to unfold...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Learning A New Country Health Care System!

This last week is one I care not to repeat!!  However, it was a very learning experience for both of us.

Mike had started having severe pain in his left shoulder the middle of last week and by the weekend, he was beyond being cordial.  So on Monday, first thing that morning, off we went by cab to Clinica FAE.  This clinic is staffed by Ecuadorian Army, Navy, & Air Force service members.

At check-in, a charge of $15 had to be paid upfront for the doctor's visit. After presenting his passport and the formal paperwork prepared, Mike had his blood pressure and pulse checked at a "station" in the waiting room. We then settled ourselves outside the office of the doctor in charge of Traumatología and waited our turn.

In less than an hour,  we were called into the exam room. There we met Dr. Luis Mendez, who was an Air Force officer. He spoke no English but Mike rose to the occasion and his Spanish was quite adequate. Dr. Mendez began al poking and squeezing Mike's shoulder, which produced many awful facial expressions by Mike.

Based on his general exam, an X Ray was ordered and we were escorted to the other end of the hall to where the lab and radiology was.  After a payment of $20 and a short wait, Mike was shown into the room.  In no time at all, out he came with his X Ray in hand to take back down the hall to Dr. Mendez.

Again, after a short wait, Dr. Mendez called us in and reviewed the film. It turns out it was inconclusive. He then gave Mike a prescription for 2 shots and 2 different medications. PLUS an order for an MRI. In order to get the prescriptions filled, we had to leave the clinic and take a bus to a pharmacy in town. The total cost was $42.50. Back up the hill to the clinic where we met the doctor and the lab technician gave Mike his first shot in the rump.

Off we went home to contact the 2 clinics in Guayaquil, which is the closest place they have an MRI. The new hospital in Santa Elena only has a CAT scan.  After contacting both clinics recommended, we found that one had quoted $412 and the other $330. We made the appointment for 2pm on Tuesday.

Up early on Tuesday because we had to go back to the local clinic first for Mike's 2nd shot. Then by bus down the hill to the bus station. The bus for Guayaquil was there getting ready to leave so we quickly bought our tickets ($3.30/ea) and hopped on the bus for our 3 hour ride.

As we were making our way through the crowded streets of Guayaquil to get to the bus terminal, our bus was stopped for a "paperwork" check by the police.  No problem for us but one passenger was asked to get off and go through a bit more checking. After about 5 minutes, the passenger came back onto the bus and off we went.

I must say that the main bus terminal in Guayaquil rivals the one in Panama City. It's huge and is also a shopping mall.  People everywhere!!

Out we went to catch a cab and off we zipped through more traffic and into the interior of the city where we'd never been before. We knew it wasn't far from the river and was south of where we had stayed our first night in Ecuador. And, sure enough, we were dropped off right at the Emergency entrance. About a 15 minute ride for $5.

At check-in, Mike was told that his appointment wasn't until 4pm. After some discussion all in Spanish, they asked us to come back at 3pm. Since it was already 1:45pm, we went looking for a place to eat.  Our best option turned out to be Pizza Hut where we actually had a nice sit down meal with a waiter taking our order.  We spent the rest of our time getting color copies made of our passports to carry instead of always having our original passports. Should have been doing this the whole time but never got around to it.

About 3:15pm Mike got called in for the MRI and I read my book. In less than an hour, Mike was back and we had to wait in another area until they gave him his film results to take back to Salinas for the doctor.

We caught a cab and off we went back to the bus terminal.  I had been given info on how to find the right ticket booth and then where to go up on the 3rd floor to find the bus. Our timing was perfect. The bus was due to leave about 10 minutes after we got our tickets.  Again, like clockwork.

One nice thing along the way back was we finally got to see a sunset before heading back to the cloud cover on the peninsula.  A long day, indeed!!

When we got home, we found out our internet was out. Not a good thing here as it can take a horrendous amount of time to get things fixed,

Wednesday morning I had been invited to the Salinas women's Coffee Klatch, which is held 2x a month at different places.  Quite the group of women!!  And, a good time had with meeting new ladies and seeing many I had already met.  I found out that my Spanish is actually much better than I thought or let's just say, others haven't advanced as far as I have.  Feeling pretty good about how much I actually do know!

We were quite anxious all day on Wednesday for the internet to come back on since we were waiting for the final MRI written results by email.  Those didn't come in until 4:30pm and at least I have internet on my phone - Mike doesn't. 

Off we went to celebrate what seemed to be good news after reading the report.  Bursitis/tendinitis!! Yeah, no surgery required!!  Our first time at Hostal Aqui - Will's Place.  There we met a new couple in town, Mike & Beverly, who were checking town out just like us along with Will, the owner. Hitting it off quite well, we talked and got to know each other.

Since someone needed to be at home in case the telephone/internet technician showed up, Mike went to the clinic Thursday morning while stayed behind and read.  Sure enough, our interpretation of the results were correct.  The doctor ordered physical therapy every day of the business week until Mike has to go back to the doctor in 15 days.

I immediately sent out a request to all of my fb "local" ladies and got a response almost immediately with a name and phone number of a good PT. Mike called and could get in immediately, so off he went by cab to Libertad.  $15/hr and much improved after only one visit. His pain had finally subsided except for when he pushed it too far and that's a marked improvement!!

The internet "guys" finally got here late Thursday afternoon just as we had given up and were on our way out to Will's to go check email and do some "surfing".  We would not have been happy campers if we had missed them - but we didn't, so all was good in our world again.

Finally, the sun came out enough to actually have a sunset here in Salinas. Mike did a great job as always capturing the event on camera!

Friday morning Mike went off to therapy again and did our grocery shopping on the way back.  He greeted me at the door with a beautiful bouquet of a dozen red roses - ONLY $2.69!! Ecuador's wonderful commodity to the world!  Not having a vase, we used an empty water jug. Hey, it works!

That evening we attended the grand opening of a friend's new bar/restaurant - Smokin' BBQ, on the malecon. Only the bar opened but a great start for them. A fabulous group of people and a good time had by all!

We finally made it into the hot tub on the rooftop yesterday.  Nice and relaxing with a beautiful view of the city and ocean. Then off to Ralph's English restaurant for authentic fish & chips for Mike and I had beef brisket.  OMG - to die for!!!

OBSERVATIONS: We have been very pleased with the level of care and cost of the health care system here. We have been totally enjoying our experiences with other Ecuadorians who have made us feel very comfortable and welcome. The Expat community is delightful! Very outgoing and willing to share and make you feel right at home.

However, our observations cost wise have been that things are not any less expensive here than they were in Panama or Costa Rica for the way WE live.  Gas here is much cheaper at $1.48/gal vs. $3.88 in Panama and $5.50 in Costa Rica. Wine is way more here than the others but beer is about the same as Panama. Rent about the same.

We're hoping that this next week we can begin to explore a bit further out up the coast. Whale watching on Wednesday with the "group" and more evenings spent with libation and good friends! And, Mike will continue with his PT.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

ECUADOR we Arrived !

I can't even begin to express the feelings that I was experiencing during our travel day last Saturday. But rest assured, they were many and varied from sadness at leaving our family and friends behind to excitement at being back on the road again.

This was to be our first time on a new continent and in a new country that we've heard so much about and that I've research extensively.  But research and reality are two very different perspectives, as we found in our travels to Panama & Costa Rica.

After our daughter, Denise, followed us to the rental car return so that we would have a way to get to the airport, we discovered that we had been given inaccurate information by Avis' "out of country" information hot line. We were told that the rental car return did not open until 5:00AM and that there were no shuttles running until then. As we had no way to get from there to the airport with our luggage at the early morning hour of 4:30AM, Denise was gracious enough to get up at the ungodly hour of 4am. HA on us! When we got there, pretty as you please, was a shuttle van just waiting to take early riders to the airport.  Argh!! So sorry and THANK YOU Denise for giving us peace of mind at getting to the airport on time!!

Once in Miami, we had a 7 hour layover that we had to figure out how to pass.  But, between breakfast, walking from one end to the other, reading, and lunch, we managed.  Actually, a layover in Miami was a good way to assimilate back into the Spanish language.  Good practice!

Our flight left and arrived on time into Guayaquil, Ecuador at 7:00pm. We zipped right through customs and got the "green" light so our luggage was not checked again and we were not even asked to show proof of when we were leaving. Upon entering into the main beautiful terminal, there was a friendly gentleman holding up a sign with my name on it!! Our prearranged ride by our hotel was there as promised! So we were quickly loaded into the taxi and off to our hotel.  Within only ONE hour, we landed, went through customs, collected our luggage, found our ride, and were deposited in front of Hotel Ramada on the Malecón!! Now that's working like clockwork!

We were there in time to go have a drink on the beautiful Malecón along the Rio Guayas in front of our hotel with all its lively activity of families, lovers, and strollers enjoying an evening out.  Rascas has an upstairs patio restaurant/bar area with terrific views up and down the Malecón.

Afterwards we walked further up the river. The Malecón is incredible and beautiful!  We even headed down a street where we could hear the "boom" "boom" from music but quickly discovered that we not only stood out like a sore thumb, we were a bit "over" the age population so decided to head back to our room for the night.

Sunday morning we were up to have a good breakfast at our hotel before 10am. From there we began our day of exploration. Our first stop was around the corner to book our van ride to Salinas on Monday, a 2 hour van drive for only $15/ea including our big luggage.

Once that was done, we walked down the Malecón some more before we walked into the city center. One of things we enjoyed most was the architecture. Gorgeous old buildings that have been renovated with their intricate patterns and pageantry!

Meandering up and down streets, we found a Claro phone store that was open on Sunday! So in we went to get our Ecuadorian sim chips and buy phone/internet minutes. Since most here speak no English, Mike's Spanish has been tested and pushed from the beginning. My humble use of words, a smile, and sign language along with laughing at myself helps. Anyway, we thought we got through the process pretty well with charges of only $31 for both of us. However, even after a couple of hours, our internet wasn't working on our phones. That's another story.

We happened upon another beautiful cathedral with a park in front of it. Low and behold, it was the Iguana Park that I had read about! True to what I had read, there were Iguanas everywhere - some old very old. It was quite a site to see and we enjoyed it while listening to the beautiful music coming from the church during services.

Making our way back to the Malecón, we happened upon a river boat tour that was boarding and decided to go for a ride for only $3/each.  So glad we did!  Seeing the city from the river is quite different than just walking below all the buildings and not seeing the full picture.  Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador boasting a population of 3 million and it's a huge land mass.

After taking a short break back at our room, we headed north up river on the Malecón to the Las Penas District, which is one of the oldest parts of town that didn't burn in a massive fire way back when. The District fills 2 hillsides straight up with narrow cobblestone walking paths and 500 stairs climbing to the top where there is a chapel and a lighthouse. Since the lighthouse is closed, the most you can climb is 444 but with all of our other meandering, we more than climbed 500!  What a delightful stunningly colorful place!

We ended the evening again at Rascas. We tried finding another place but it was Sunday and most other place up in the District were closed. Good thing we got there before 5pm because what we did find out was that there is no liquor sold AFTER 5pm on Sunday anywhere in the country. We haven't figured out the logic in this. Anyone care to clue us in, if they know?

An observation that have struck us almost immediately though is how warm and friendly the Ecuadorians are! There is always a smile and a response to our Buenas or Holas. There's no problem announcing that we're from America since I'm the only blonde and Mike towers over everyone at only 5'10". We were approached a few times where an elderly Ecuadorian wanted to practice their English only to find that Mike could converse in return in Spanish. Except then they would presume he speaks fluently and would start to talk really fast and lose him !

The traveling fatigue finally caught up with us and we were in our room reading not long after sunset at 6:30pm. We felt like we'd only scratched the surface of this vibrant city but so glad we stayed the extra day to explore before heading off to Salinas and our "home" for the next month.

All checked out and a short walk around the corner, we were loaded into our van to find that there was only one other passenger and the driver. By all of the packages loaded on, it appears that they make most of their money delivering goods.

The weather had been sunny/partly cloudy but warm in Guayaquil and the sun continued to shine all the way to the border of Salinas Province. Then it disappeared and hasn't come out since!! And, it's in the low 70s so we certainly haven't worn summer clothes. But, it is their "winter" and this is "normal" because of the Humbolt Current meeting the Panama Current colliding and causing the overcast skies. So, welcome to winter!

Upon being let off right at our doorstep, we were greeted by the employees here at our apartment building, Anacapri. Our apartment is on the 11th floor and is what they call a "cozy" 2 bedroom apartment. The 2nd bedroom is where we are laying our suitcases open because there isn't enough room to totally unpack.  It does have an incredible view of both sides of the peninsula with the Pacific Ocean. It also helps that the terrain is completely flat and I mean flat as a pancake! There are trees and some beautiful flowering bushes but other than that it's concrete.

We took stock of what's included in the apartment and kitchen noting that, again, they didn't make good use of the space there is.  We have gotten used to this and make the best of it.  It's all part of the journey but we sure wish that landlords everywhere would realize that with very little effort, all could be good for everyone.

Our first order of business was to go to the grocery store, which took us straight down the Malecón our very first time and a view of the Bay.  I was quite impressed with the store where there were many brand items that we're used to. We piled the cart full including wine, beer, meat, condiments, veggies, fruits, dry goods, etc. and the whole bill only came to $128. 

By the time we had put away everything, the last thing I wanted to do was cook, so out we went to find a restaurant to eat at on the Malecón.  We didn't venture too far and had a nice dinner at a place that looked like a ship, Mar y Tierra. Good lasagna but overpriced wine. Back to the apartment and some unwinding for the night.

Our first night of sleeping was getting used to all the neighborhood noises again. I heard barking dogs, a cat fight, a rooster at 3AM, and again at 6AM when all of the traffic noise started. Our building only has single pane windows and it sounds like everything is right out our apartment even though we're on the 11th floor. Mike has been using ear plugs and I'm now used to the noise being like background, so I'm sleeping much better!!

Tuesday brought back our daily walks and exploring of our new town.  Maybe we can begin to lose a bit of the weight we put back on while in the states. So down the Malecón we went walking on the beautiful ocean side of the street. The other side has many high rise condo buildings, shops, restaurants, and bars.  At the far south end and around the corner, is the Yacht Club and the quieter beach of Chipipe.  That area will have to be discovered next week.

We had received an invitation to go to Gringo Night at Marco's Dollar Pizza Tuesday night, which we did.  Meeting up with Joan & Vic Dale, friends only through Facebook, it was simply awesome to meet them face to face and share some lively conversation!  The Pizza is oven fire baked and it was excellent! Thank You, Marco!

Joan had also invited Maria, a native Ecuadorian who had lived in Boston for 40 years and is a US citizen. But when she inherited a family home, she decided to come back and live here in Salinas. She was saying how she's now "caught in the middle", as she's too American to be Ecuadorian and in the states she's a "foreigner".  What a lovely, beautiful lady!!  So thrilled to have met her!

We all decided to walk back towards Maria's turnoff from the Malecón. Upon coming by another Facebook friend's condo, Helga & Charles, with windows open and lights on, Joan started yelling for her to come out. What a hoot!! Helga appeared and we found ourselves invited up for drinks. Again, what a delight to have live people to go with the name!!

Tuesday brought an outing by bus up to the Paseo Mall in La Libertad.  Our internet on our cell phones was still not working and we needed to get it all figured.  After waiting for a bus on the wrong street, we walked to the correct corner one block away actually back from where we had come after observing that busses were only going one way. 

The first bus picked up passengers down a block but didn't stop when we tried to flag it down. Hmmm, maybe my hair is too blonde?? But when the next one came not long after, it did stop for us. $.25/person and off we went.  The bus was packed, so we had to stand. Funny thing was that Mike couldn't stand straight up because he would hit his head on the ceiling when the bus bounced. Even funnier is that Mike is only 5''10" !! 

Off to Claro we went and after some back and forth with Mike being sorely challenged with his Spanish, we finally got my phone up and working.  Decided not to both with Mike's for the time being.

A bit of shopping in HyperMart, which is like a small WalMart, we needed to head back home because we had another get together scheduled with another Facebook friend, Lucie.  I met Lucie on fb when I saw her post that her apartment in Salinas was for rent.  It was too large and over our budget PLUS she was going to be here from Niagara Falls, Ontario when we needed it. But, it gave us a chance to get to know each other. We had a delightful evening visiting at her place not far from ours!

As the weekend approached, town activity began to pick up.  Allot of Ecuadorians come to the resort town of Salinas from up in the highlands where it's pretty cold (down into the low 40s at night) and from Guayaquil, to play at the beach.  Mike & I decided to walk north from our place up the beach to see what was up that way.  We found several good restaurants and bars that I had become familiar with through fb. 

We stopped at Sin for an afternoon drink and met Kim, the owner, and Andy, a local Canadian character.  A pleasant way to end our walk of discovery.  And, we planned on going back Saturday night when they were having a guest chef, Anna, who was going to be serving lasagna (my favorite!), salad & garlic breach for only $6/plate.

Friday brought more discovery by walking, only this time we did the back streets and found all sorts of cool local restaurants and shops.  One place had these wonderfully colorful Ecuadorian balloon pants that just happened to match my orange Clark's sandals, so I just had to have them! I was quoted $12 but before I could open my mouth, the lady reduced them to $10! Some might say I paid too much but since I LOVE them, I didn't!!

Wanting to see how "alive" the Malecón gets on the weekend, Mike & I decided to go out and find a watering hole to observe from.  We found a charming place half way down and sat up on the open veranda and people watched.  We were amazed at how many people were still out in the water having a grand old time!

Our days have been pretty lazy and Saturday was no exception.  I made our first real breakfast and enjoyed the homemade sausage that was made by a gringa, Kathryn Kelly. We didn't get to meet her when we picked up our 2 lbs on Friday but we did meet her delightful husband, Gary, and had quite a nice chat.  I still look forward to meeting her.

I think, no...I know, that the weather has put us both into a bit of a funk.  We are trying to make the paradigm shift for "winter" being July, August, September. In our body clocks, it's supposed to be hot weather, swimming suits, and shorts. So, when the sun made a beautiful appearance on Saturday afternoon, everyone and I mean everyone came out to enjoy it!  Since we're so close to the equator, I could definitely feel the intensity of it and loved every moment!!

There had been a ceremony Saturday morning officially opening the Whale Watching Season, which runs from July through September here for the Humpbacks.  The parade was supposed to start at 3pm but remember this is Latin America and nothing starts on time. So around 5:30pm things got started right in front of our place. We enjoyed it from our vantage point of the rooftop terrace and could also enjoy the sun!  Along with the parade was a pretty neat boat flotilla that made its way down the shoreline.

At about 6pm, we made our way back down to Sin and began an evening of enjoying good food, meeting new friends, and dancing!  Coincidently, we sat next to a couple from Florida who had only been here 2 weeks and it turns out they live right next door to us with their building only being about 50' from ours.  We had a fabulous time!

Mike's been having shoulder pain since late Thursday and it just keeps getting worse.  So much so that we are going to the clinic tomorrow to see what's going on.  Hopefully, it's nothing serious and we can get back to normal.

Today we spent the day making Skype calls and catching up with friends and family back home.  And dinner on the Malecón with another fb friend whose been in the states and just got back, Lorraine. And, Stephanie and her son, Andrew, joined us as well.  A wonderful evening yet again!!

Most of our free time spent lazing around the apartment isn't wasted time.  We're still having to do allot of planning for our stay here in Ecuador as well as our future travels. 

We did manage to secure a lovely 2bedroom/2bathroom apartment for a month for our next month in Bahia.  Another fb friend, Miriam Weaver, is a property manager and she was able to find one that will be our home there.  We'll have a view of the river and the Pacific Ocean because the building is located right on the point.

We also booked our flight from Lima, Peru to Managua, Nicaragua today.  We scored BIG time!!  We were able to find a flight that takes us first to Fort Lauderdale, where we will spend 2 nights before flying on to Managua.  By doing this, we were able to get our total cost to less than half of what every other carrier was going to be!  So even by staying 2 nights in a hotel, we save big time.

We've been busy studying bus schedules here and deciding which routes we're going to take from down on the lowlands to get up to the highlands.  It can be very confusing but eventually it all comes together.

So here's hoping all goes well tomorrow for Mike. And, so the journey continues.....