The story on my prostate cancer

I’ve had a high PSA for about 12 years and had 4 biopsies between 2004 and 2011, all negative. I’ve known I have an enlarged prostate for that long. It was getting harder to pee, so I went in and asked for a transurethal resection of the prostate (TURP). The urologist said I needed another biopsy because of over 4 years since the last one. I did that, even though he said after so many other negatives the chances of having cancer was about 3%. Besides, my PSA, which I continued to check, had gone up to 43 from 22 in two years sincce my last check. Lo and behold, I finally do indeed have prostate cancer. When I blogged the time before last, that TURP was the procedure I thought I was going to have.

Without getting into the minutia of the considerations in deciding a treatment plan, in short, my type and stage of cancer has a high probability of cure but is beyond “watchful waiting”. It was a little agonizing to decide on a prostatectomy vs androgen deprivation therapy (ADP) and radiation. ADP and surgery has long been considered the way to go, but recent studies show surgery followed by radiation if necessary might be better. Again in short, I chose the ADP and radiation. Neither way is inviting, but I studied hard about it and got three other opinions plus that of my niece who is a highly respected urological oncology surgeon.

I start on ADP tomorrow. I get an injection every three months. In two months, I get a blood test. If my testosterone is down enough, I start radiation 5 times a week for about two months. Then ADP continues for about two years.

How do I feel about all this? Well, I think I’m fine. I was shocked at first, and worried. Then I lost some sleep trying to decide which treatment to have. Now that I’ve decided, I feel better. I’m that way, not one to second guess myself or regret a decision I tried to make as best I could. I’m going to just go forward from here and be mindful of how lucky I am in general. Myung and I are going out for pizza tonight. I’m a little more conscious during my bites than before. How lucky we are to be able to have pizza.

Be well, all of you.

 

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Cuenca– Year end holiday edition

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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It’s been a couple of months again, I know. But not a lot has been going on again. That picture of us is from Myung’s birthday last month. We went out to Sole’s restaurant. I let it out that it was her birthday, so they all were there.

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They or one of the cooks, I don’t know, made her a cake. They don’t know her age, hence the question mark. I didn’t know you could get a question mark candle.

Feliz Cumpeanos Any, Happy birthday Annie. Myung goes by Annie here.

Feliz Cumpeanos Any, Happy birthday Annie. Myung goes by Annie here.

 

Actually, something big is going on with me. I got prostate cancer. (No photos) It’s low grade and if I get a prostatectomy I have a 99% chance of dying of something else. At this time, I plan to get one. I’m not prone to dramatics, so I’m going to let it go at that till the end of next month when I make a final decision whether to get it done here for free or in Korea where I’d have to pay. It wouldn’t be too expensive because I can get into Korea’s health care system. The health care in Korea is much better. It’s kind of  long story which I’ll tell next month.

Whew, I’m glad I got that announcement out of the way. Now on with my life.

I’ve got lots of photos of fairs in Cuenca. The first bunch is of the big fair for Cuenca’s independence. As you might know, especially if you’ve read my little histories, after Napoleon defeated Spain, the Spanish empire crumbled. The vice royalties and other entities in the New World fell like dominoes to Bolivar, Sucre and the others. Cuenca’s turn was Nov 3, 1820. We happen to live on 3 de Noviembre Lane, off of the gravel and pothole end of 3 de Noviembre Avenue. This fair was all along the renovated stretch of Avenida 3 de Noviembre. You’ve seen lots of pictures along the Tomebamba River. In this one, you can see some of the tents the government set up for vendors for a fee along the river. IMG_9720

While I’m being historical, Tomebamba was the name of the northern Inca administrative center where Cuenca is now. The ruins which you’ve seen in this blog are all that’s left of that after the Spanish used the stones to build Cuenca. Actually, the Spanish used squat. They used Canari/Inca slaves to build early Cuenca. Let’s not go into the whole thing. Almost 500 years later, here Myung and I are, retired in modern Ecuador, going to thoroughly modern fairs along the river.IMG_9705

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Well, maybe not everyone at the stalls is thoroughly modern. I’m thinking, these Kichwa speaking people don’t even want to be thoroughly modern.

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Here is Myung on the Broken Bridge and a view down the street below…

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… and a couple more down on the street.

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As long as I’m posting fair pictures, I’m going to skip to fair this month. Myung decided to make and sell sushi and kimbap. She worked hard to keep up with the demand…

Homemade in our little home was a logistical challenge.

Homemade in our little home was a logistical challenge.

… and made a couple hundred dollars profit. By Ecuador standards, that’s a huge success.

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The government entity that promotes these events even made a "Comida Coreana" sign, provided the tablecloths and some Christmas decorations

The government entity that promotes these events even made a “Comida Coreana” sign, provided the tablecloths and some Christmas decorations

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We were both pretty glad when it was over. The organizer wanted Myung to sign up for another in April. She passed on that for now, but gave out her phone number to many people. She may do some business, the details of which are nowhere near decided.

One difficulty is getting Asian food here. Most of the quality product can be found in Quito, 8 hours away. We went to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador and only 4 hours away, in an attempt to see if anything was available there. There isn’t, but we got to see Guayaquil for the first time. Everyone says it’s a fairly undesirable port city. They are sort of right, but it didn’t seem as bad as many cities we’ve been to. Shoot, it’s definitely way better than some.

The market area where Chinese shops are has no Chinese food, much less Korean, and it’s not photo worthy. So let’s go to the most popular “tourist area”, if you could call it that. That area is along the River Guayas waterfront. There’s a developed promenade for a couple of kilometers called the malecon, as such areas are often called n Latin America.

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At the end of the malecon is a cute, upscale neighborhood.

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Of course, there is a plaza and a cathedral.

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From Lonely Planet and what the tourist-oriented hostal guys told us, that really is about it for Guayaquil. At least the weather was nice. It could have been very  hot and sticky. No mosquitoes either, which surprised me. There are lots of events, if you live there, but for most people it’s good for shopping (for stuff not Asian) and as a transportation hub. For that it’s really good. The airport is right near the bus station, not on the outskirts of town like in Quito.  Many international flights are to and from there at about the same price as Quito.
Movin’ right along, we discovered the zoo in Cuenca is actually quite nice. I knew there was one, but assumed it was not good. This one is up in the hills bordering Cuenca on the south.

View of Cuenca from the zoo.

View of Cuenca from the zoo.

The paths are all up and down and hidden in the trees. That chain link fencing separates you from the animals.

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Some areas are more open.

The zoo is a couple hundred more meters above Cuenca. Gotta take a break or three walking around there.

The zoo is a couple hundred more meters above Cuenca. Gotta take a break or three walking around there.

Animal photos.

These Galapagos tortoises are big.

These Galapagos tortoises are big.

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So are these pythons.

So are these pythons.

and crocs.

and crocs.

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Maybe I should have taken photos of the lions. In Africa, we never got closer than 3 meters. At the zoo, you can be just on the other side of the chain link fence. I guess I’m a little jaded from the Africa experience. No fences there.

As far as pictures go, I’ve only uploaded these random shots in Cuenca.

People sitting on the curb

People sitting on the curb

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At the Christmans concert in Todos Santos church.

At the Christmas concert in Todos Santos church.

We had a low key Christmas, as we usually do. We went to a party and a couple of concerts, and went out to eat a couple of times. That’s about it. After years on the road and in China which barely does Christmas, we are kind of out of it.

So, again, Happy Holidays. See you next year.

 

 

 

 

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Ecuador vs the States

Let’s say things were different. Let’s say I won the California lottery and could live this comfortably in the States, or inflation here reaches somewhere between Argentine and Venezuelan proportions so Ecuador becomes expensive for what you get. And let’s say, for some hypothetical reason, I had to choose between the States and Ecuador where to live. Which would I choose?

I guess it would depend on “what you get”. That, in turn, depends on what you want and how bad you want it. Do I want faster internet? Sure. The fastest connection you can buy here is 28 Mbs, shared with 8 customers, which means sometimes I can’t stream baseball games or the resolution is pathetic. Would I like the variety of restaurants you can find in a city of this size in America? Sure. Despite the cosmopolitan nature of Cuenca, it’s cosmopolitan by Ecuador standards, meaning it’s only three times as cosmo as Stockton and a third as cosmo as Oakland (much less San Francisco). Even in Stockton, the shopping is better. Do I not like the way Ecuadorans will cheat you at every turn if they can? Sure. The list goes on and on.

But all those “sures” should be qualified by “but not that much”. Slow internet? Remember, it’s not like I’ve been traveling in Europe all these years. The only place nearly as developed as the States I’ve been is Korea, unless you count the city-states of Singapore and Hong Kong. China’s the next most developed and it’s got a long way to go. Like, internet is even slower. I’m used to dealing with it and have accepted what is. Same goes for the restaurants. China is meager as far as foreign food goes, though I must say Chinese food there is much better than the Chinese food elsewhere. Duh. Cheating? Hey, this is Latin America. China, the rest of Asia and Africa are way worse, anyway. I’m used to it and fortunately, we don’t get cheated near as much as newbies.

Speaking of “Hey, this is Latin America”, security can be an issue. Some places are less secure, like most of Central America, a lot of Mexico, certainly Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. And South Africa! OMG! Most of Ecuador is better than most of those places. Cuenca isn’t as safe as China or Korea, but it’s safer than Oakland or Stockton. So, on that matter, Cuenca is fine with me. Myung is, too. She walks anywhere she wants whenever she wants.

The real difference that makes a difference is still communication. My abilities in Spanish get better all the time, but we kind of stick to ourselves and don’t try to blend in as much as we could or would have to if we were in a more thoroughly Ecuadoran city. 2%, or about 10.000 people, in this city of half a million are gringos. Parenthetically, many long time gringos haven’t learned any Spanish, which leaves a poor impression on the locals.

Comparing the anti-immigrant/racist tendencies of the two countries is a whole other subject

You may be wondering if I will say if I would prefer the States or Ecuador. Okay, I’ll give you the verdict and explain. Ecuador. Here’s why.

After a long time doing without commonplace things in the US, I no longer need them, or even think about them most of the time. A car would be way too expensive for what I’d get out of it. In the US, I’d need to work again just to maintain a car, which is necessary with the crude public transportation system in the States. Slow internet is okay. I’ll wait till later to watch the game. Myung doesn’t like to go out to eat much, so meh, let it go. Just let it go. It’s good practice.

Myung wants to add that she always wanted to live where it’s spring all year round, like here. Others might like the seasons, but she likes spring all year. I know, though, that she’d like a lower elevation. She used to have all kinds of endurance, and now she doesn’t climb hills or long stairs well, and takes iron supplement to boost her hemoglobin and blood oxygen so she doesn’t get headaches.

Oh, and there’s zero air pollution. Clear as a bell every day.

The best thing about living here is the food we make at home. The produce here is much, much better than what is readily available in the States. And cheaper. I must say, the beef is not. Let it go. Maybe at Whole Foods or a top produce store like Monterey Market in Berkeley, the produce is half as good, but at what cost. Yum, I like how the tomatoes, avocadoes, mangoes, etc., are never Safeway rocks. Even the oranges are better. Apples and pears are better in the States. Greens are somewhat better here. I have to admit, I like genetically modified corn in the States better than the several kinds of indigenous corn here. Oh, and peas are fresh and very cheap here. Let’s see. I could go down the list, but the fresh food here is much better in general. Cooking has really become Myung’s thing, so that matters. In fact, it may be the difference maker.

Enchiladas. The tortillas are made down the street.

Enchiladas. The tortillas are made down the street.

Some things we haven’t been eating here, even though they are popular.

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Guinea pig, called cuy, is very popular, even more so in nearby Peru. I’m okay with them and they are inexpensive, but they are little like game hens and squab. Too labor intensive.

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Cuy and chicken for sale in the market.

Cuy and chicken for sale in the market.

So  there you have it. It’s easy here and the food is good. I admit it’s easy because for me it’s easy. I don’t miss a lot of the lifestyle I had as a middle class American. There’s little I personally can’t do without.

I may change my tune entirely after I have some surgery that’s coming up. You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health. I think it’s going to be fine, and everything is covered here for $85/mo for the two of us, but the care here isn’t as good as the States. If I lose my health, a thousand bucks a month for US health insurance might not look so expensive in retrospect. It’s all part of my personal risk reward calculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out I live fewer years. Quality vs quantity.

That reminds me, I don’t miss dealing with health insurance, Obamacare and all that. Here, you have your health care premium deducted from your account, and all you do for anything including most meds is flash your card. On the other hand, for non-emergent things, the wheels sure turn slowly.

I think I’ve gone on enough on that subject. News update? Well. things are about the same. We like to go to the almost weekly free classical music concerts by either the Cuenca Symphony or the University of Cuenca Symphony. there’s plenty of other free stuff to go to. I like going to the Jazz Society of Ecuador where the jazz is often good. I went to “Greater Tuna’ a couple of weeks ago. It was fun laughing at Americana.

Sole and Augustine are just about to launch their restaurant, La Hermita, which is attached to All Saints Church. It’s been fun for us, watching that come together. I had doubts it would fly, but they seem to be doing all the right things. They’re creating a lot of publicity and hired good staff and a renowned chef from Quito. They had an infomercial made. We’re in it, pretending to be customers. The food was made hours earlier, but we tried to look like we were about to dig in.

Sole's mom and dad during the shooting of the La Hermita commercial

Sole’s mom and dad during the shooting of the La Hermita commercial

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Parts of the church and this, which is attached, are over 200 years old. The church itself is nearly new, built in 1927.

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I was told this brick oven is in the same spot as one 400 years ago.

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Myung and Sole

Myung and Sole

A couple of days ago, the restaurant was part of what will be a half hour program on Iglesia Todos Santos. Most of footage was under the “Broken Bridge” which you’ve seen before…

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Iglesia Todos Santos

Iglesia Todos Santos

Here’s the chef and Sole all made up for the TV show.

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We ate the display afterward. I kinda look like the grim reaper. That’s Augustin on the left.

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Myung is preparing to make and sell bakery goods there. Probably, she’ll start making things here and in Sole’s kitchen, but she wants to familiarize herself with using the kitchen and industrial sized ovens at the restaurant. I’m not sure about the health department regulations here, but likely she will have to use the approved kitchen there. She’s totally got a bee in her bonnet. Given her life history, I suspect she’s going to do it. Upcoming posts will keep you informed.

That was a lot of pictures for that, but we don’t take many photos these days. They are what we have.

Here’s one of the flower market.

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Here’s one of Luna who usurped my pillow.

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Here we are watching the World Series.

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That’s the news and my blathering for now. Be well, all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s old is new again

I’ve been thinking about what’s new and what’s old, about phases of my life and what the future looks like. Myung and I went to Quito last week. On the one hand, getting out of town was good. On the other, three days in Quito was plenty and we found ourselves just wanting to go home. For sure, hard traveling won’t be happening again in the near future. That would definitely be “old”. Having a place? Well, we had a place in China until a couple of years ago, so having a place in Ecuador isn’t really new. Plus, we’ve both been fairly stable in places for much of our lives. So, is this old or new? Both, I think. In China, I never felt it was likely I’d end up there. I may end up in Ecuador, however. I say “may” because one foot out the door is characteristic of my thinking. It’s been over 10 years since I felt more or less permanent, so I’m going to call it “new” this time.

There are some obvious differences between any of my former “permanent” lives and this one. Obviously, one is that I’m retired. Another is I feel like my relationship with Myung will continue. It’s been a long time since I felt that way about a woman. Funny thing. When I was younger, there were so many years in front of me, I never thought about spending the rest of my life with someone. Now, with let’s say 20 years left, maybe that’s how it will work out. That’s makes for a new, fundamentally different outlook. Permanence isn’t a 40 year anything anymore. What will I do in retirement? “Be married” may not have been my answer before.

So, here I am, settled down. ( I always want to say “for now” or “whatever that means in my case”.) There are some new things about settled down this time. For sure, there are some big differences from when I was living in the States. The most obvious is what and how I eat. Mostly Americans will be reading this, so you know how it is there. As an example, I almost never made spaghetti sauce. Now I always do. (I cook the Italian stuff in our home.) I was middle class, so I could afford “good” jarred sauce and thought that was great. Plus, the tomatoes in the US, even right there in Northern California, were hard and usually tasteless. In developing countries ( I see China as a developing country.) farmers markets are where you buy produce. They’re not the piddling boutique markets you see in the States, selling high priced, perfect, artisan produce.  Here, the sellers are often dozens of local farmers in direct competition selling much the same stuff. They have to compete on quality and price except for a few things for which the prices are regulated so it’s only on quality. To be sure, there is price fixing within any one market, and some markets are cheaper than others. The produce is fresher and riper. When the tomatoes are riper and tastier, and you have free time, why not make fresh sauce? Like, it’s not that hard to throw tomatoes in the blender and surf the net while it cooks down. Funny thing is that it wouldn’t be that hard in the US either, and the tomatoes aren’t that bad, but most people usually  don’t do it. That’s just an example of what’s new about this time being settled. I have to admit, the price of decent canned/jarred spaghetti sauce, i.e. imported, is sky high and I can’t bear to pay so much.

In fact, we make most sauces. Salad dressings, soy sauce based stuff like teriyaki, barbecue  sauce, most of that, we make. We do buy ketchup and mayonnaise. Myung has some Korean sauces she just bought in Quito, and we have quantities of oyster sauce, fish sauce and a few others. If it’s easy, we often make it, though. I’ve learned how easy it is to make most of things. It’s better, and a little different every time.

Another one is bread. “Good” was Semifreddi’s bread or Noah’s bagels. Warm bread was super special. We make our own, now that we have an oven. Again, so easy. Myung makes the bagels, buns, cookies, muffins, focaccia, meusli and most things. I’ve been making the bread and pizza. I never made bread before. Why pay $3 per loaf?

Who knows? Maybe we’ll have our own chickens like about half the Ecuadoreans.

Maybe we’re going native. It happens. If most immigrants to the US become Americanized, why can’t it go the other way? In fact, it does go the other way. In hard numbers, there are many, many expats who eventually just blend in, learn the local ways, the local language and etiquette, and so on. Hey, it’s something to do in retirement.

That reminds me, one reason China was hard for me was the language. Hoo, Spanish is so much easier.

All that said, you can take the girl out of Korea but you can’t take Korea out of the girl. We went to Quito to get a document for my taxes and to shop for Asian stuff you can’t get in Cuenca. We lugged daikons, sesame leaves and other greenery, jugs of sesame oil and oyster sauce, tubs of gochujang (most popular Korean sauce made of chili powder, glutenous rice powder, fermented soy beans and salt) and doenjong (which is similar to gochujang) rice noodles (You’d think they would have rice noodles in Cuenca but they only have the thin ones and those are a terrible Ecuadoean product yuk.) and some other stuff I can’t think of right this minute. At least they sell  tofu here. I am not carrying bags of tofu on the bus. Not! Daikons, well, okay. They are only heavy, and worth it as Myung makes terrific radish kimchi and I get to eat some if I’ve been good.

As long as I’m comparing new, old, before and after. I can’t imagine needing a car here. If we go on a road trip or something, I can rent one. Meanwhile, we get around just fine on foot or in a bus or cheap taxi.

Speaking of buses, last week there were protests against the government. One of the actions was closing the road from Quito to Ecuador. So, we had to take a circuitous, 11 hour route back. Ugh. It was like one of those endless flights between Asia and the Americas. At least we’re in a country where you can challenge the power and agenda of the 0.1%. It’s not like that everywhere, ahem.

This stuff was running around in my brain and I thought it was about time to post something on this site. It needs some pictures.

Here’s a typical breakfast for us. Fresh farm raised eggs, Myung’s bagels, her blackberry jam, raw milk Greek and regular yogurt and butter, local honey, ripe fruit and Myung’s granola. Not in there is the fresh ground Ecuador coffee. In the name of full disclosure, the kiwis are from Chile. They are perfect every time, though.

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…and during her singing the Beatles’ “My Love” with the Cuenca University Symphony under the direction of her cousin, William, who you might have seen in the barbecue picture in the last post. Yes, just maybe that’s how she got a spot on the stage, but she really does have a nice voice.

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IMG_9548And here’s the one town picture we’ve taken in the last month.

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I think that’s going to do it for now. Be well, all of you.

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More from Cuenca

As you can see, it’s been since March that I wrote something. Life’s juuuust a bit slower than when we were traveling. Well, here’s an update, inasmuch as there is anything to update.

We’ve got some routines, like, we get up, grind and drink some coffee, and have fruit/muesli/yogurt or fried eggs and toast or bagels. Monday through Friday, Myung usually goes to yoga till about 11 while I sit with my computer, usually watching last night’s Giants game on mlb.com. Weekends is usually going to one of the markets in the morning. In the afternoon, maybe we sit around, but usually go somewhere or walk the dog around the Parque Paraiso, a couple of kilometers away.

It’s a nice park, with the Yanuncay and Tomabamba Rivers converging there. It’s often muddy or flooded at the  the confluence, so there’s an elevated wooded walkway over that area.

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Actually, those rivers have taken the lives of a few people this year, even the fire and rescue chief from nearby Paute who was searching for a woman whose body, to my knowledge, was never found. It’s a torrent after a heavy rain.

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IMG_9305I’ll bet we’ve been there about 25 times in the last couple of months, usually with Luna. Here are a couple more pictures.

I posted this picture of this “The Broken Bridge” before. I looked at that post and see I didn’t tell you how it was broken. The Tomabamba flooded so badly in the 1950’s sometime, it washed this huge bridge away.

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But almost all the time, the park is very serene.

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The later afternoon is pretty open. Myung is enjoying cooking. She’s especially enjoyed having an oven and has become a pretty good baker now. Hey, we bought an ancient bread machine for $25 ( a good deal here in Ecuador where whatever like that is available costs a fortune) and let it do the bread dough kneading and sometimes the rising. Dump the ingredients in and push a button. I remember these things from the 90’s. The bread is weird, but after the machine does the work, you can always just form it and bake it in the oven. Here’s some weird bread I made the first day we had it.

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We were buying really nice bagels, better than Noah’s, in el centro, but probably now we’ll just eat Myung’s. Here’s our breakfast spread when we aren’t having just fruit/muesli/yogurt, along with here bagels. We do eat well. Those are ranch eggs and fresh raw milk yogurt, Greek yogurt and butter. The honey is way better than Sioux Bee, and that’s Myung homemade jam. I forget if it’s strawberry or mora (like a raspberry).

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We have dinner around 6, then go for another walk most of the time, then sit with our computers till sleepytime. No, Luna sleeps outside.

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Sometimes we do social stuff with our apartment owners. They have a couple of teenagers, Sofia and Emilio.

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Here was a barbecue party by the side of their house, in front of ours.

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Here’s dad, Augustin, on the right. He’s an engineer, working on a dam during the week. He comes home on weekends and rocks out.

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Here’s the best picture we have of Sole, our landlady. She’s blowing you all a kiss from inside where we ate the barbecue. Augustin’s nephew, on her left, is a concert violinist with Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. He’s played around the world.

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Speaking of the symphony, Sofia’s going to sing with them next week. A couple of weeks ago, she was Elsa in her school’s production of “Frozen”.

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Just so we get everybody in, here are Emilio and Julio, Sole’s dad who lives with them.

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I have some touristy pictures of places around here. Here’s San Blas, a famous church a few blocks north of us.

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Paute is about an hour away by bus. The town isn’t much to look at, especially after it started raining….

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… but the riverside and park there was nice. I forget what the wingding was going on while we were there. This was a couple of months ago.
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Did I tell you they eat cuyo, guinea pig, here. like in Peru? I can go without them. They are a little labor intensive to eat.

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I think that’s going to do it for now. I’ll try to not be so long about writing next time. Be well, all of you.

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Yes, we still eat Asian food, too, like Myung’s spring rolls. Yum!

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Settling into Cuenca, Ecuador

Hi y’all.

We’ve become homebodies. We’re regular Cuencanos and have a place we plan to stay in for the foreseeable future. Our little house isn’t much, but it’s only $350/mo and suits us fine.

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It’s a little place behind the big house the owners live in.

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Turn to the right and here’s the look toward the front, alongside the big house.

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And here’s the look form the front at the big house.

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How “homebody” are we?  The owners have a little dog, Luna, who has adopted us, I think because we give her attention. Maybe we’ve adopted each other. I call her Cupcake.

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As I wrote before, the best part of where we’re at is the location. 50 meters out the alley where this place is is a lane which runs along one of the four rivers in town. Turn right and within a couple hundred more meters are these places.

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All along the river are steps up to the historical center.

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As you can see, not all of the graffiti is pleasant.

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That last picture is actually about half a kilometer upriver. A  nice thing about this is when we want to go up to the center of town, we don’t have to walk through the town part, which can be loud and bus-fumey. We can stroll as far as we need to to get to below where we want to be and go up the stairs.

Up those last stairs and four blocks is the central plaza and surrounding colonial buildings.

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You probably don’t want or need a car here. Everything you might want is within walking distance. First, it saves money so we can live well on my modest income. Besides, buses are 25 cents and go everywhere. Secondly, it’s nice to walk places. This is a great thing.

I’ve lived and traveled now in every kind of country. Wide open cowboy countries, democracies, socialist dictatorships, just about everything. The trick to appreciating socialist dictatorships like Ecuador is to enjoy the benefits, like the cheap transportation, great public programs and venues, ultra-cheap health care, and less partisan bickering. The press self-censors but, unlike China, the internet isn’t censored. This way works as long as the country isn’t a kleptocracy, and of course in the future that’s always a risk. The 1% gets theirs everywhere. It’s the way of the world. “Why worry now”, as the song says. Corruption isn’t too bad here, no worse than the rest of Latin America. Better than Guatemala, that’s for sure. As long as you’ve got a conscientious ruling oligarchy, really trying to run a good country, the rest of it isn’t too bad. At least, that’s how I see it. If you are on the short end of a decision, well, then maybe it doesn’t work for you.

Speaking of programs, the local government provides free bicycles and helmets on Sundays at various points in the city. One of the places is on the river in front of our place. We’ve used them a couple of times. The basic route in this run goes from up the river about a kilometer to 7 kilometers by our place and down the river. The 14 km round trip is just ’bout right for me.

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I wrote last time that I would write after Carnival. Well, Carnival here wasn’t exactly Rio. There were some parades and religious pre-Lent stuff. I’m still jaded about processions and didn’t bother to go watch or take pictures. Around here, the main thing was young people dousing everybody with water. It was a regular Thai songkraan. Wherever we walked, we had to watch for people lurking to soak you….

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… We weren’t always successful at avoiding it.

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That’s going to do it for now. When another chunk of life is worth chronicling, I’ll be back. Be well, all of you. Peace out.

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Cuenca, Ecuador

I decided to blog before we actually move to our new abode. Living here in Sofie’s and Hendry’s big house seems like a unit of time. We have been renting one of six or seven bedrooms in their big house. They also have a two bedroom apartment in  back. Hendri’s brother lives in one of them. They rent out the rest as they can on airbnb. We rented for the month.

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They have twin 2 year old boys and a dog. It would seem like the boys abuse the dog, but the dog seems to love it.

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I haven’t got the usual pictures of monumental buildings. Historical Cuenca isn’t as photogenic as a lot of places, but it’s there to look at. Mainly, the historical center is a busting center of activity. There are definitely a lot of gringos in there, but not enough to ruin it.

The first Saturday we were here, there was a parade. I never asked what they were up to.

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Three rivers become two in Cuenca. It’s nice to walk along them. This one is a couple of blocks north of where we are staying.

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This one is half a block from our new place, which is roughly on the left below the white bell tower.
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A lot of the way along the rivers look like this.

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Ecuador grows eucalyptus trees intentionally in areas long since deforested, Even though the wood is hard to use for construction and heat, they use it anyway. No one would disagree that trees add to the aesthetic value of any place.

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Banos is a suburb of Cuenca. (Again, imagine a tilda over the “n”) It’s far enough away that you almost lose the big city feeling. If it wasn’t only 15 minutes from Cuenca and served by the local 25 cent buses, it would really feel like a town. It has the usual photogenic church.

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Banos is most popular for the natural hot spring spas there. By American standards, they are very affordable. You can get in, use the baths and mud baths for $5-10 and/or buy packages for $20-90. 90 bucks would be everything from pedicure to sauna to multiple massages. Here’s a look down at the nicest of the three we found there.

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That place catered to the new age crowd. Up where we were walking around and took the above picture is a nice path tricked out to be for walking meditation. The road was on the other side of a stone outcropping. you could go onto the street through the puerta cosmica”, cosmic door. Note the sign, just so you know it’s cosmic, man.

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Kidding aside, $5 for the water and mud baths is a great way to spend a day.

That’s going to do it for this post. I think there will be another one soon, after Carnival and when we’ve moved into our new place. Until then, be well, all of you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Vilcabamba, Ecuador

This post is basically a placeholder. Myung and I are living in Cuenca but I’m not ready to post on that yet. Besides, that wasn’t a sure thing till last week. In fact, it still isn’t a sure thing for the long term. Besides my needing one foot out the door to be comfortable about anything, Myung still has her throat thing and who knows how that’s going to work out.

As we suspected, the chronic frog in her throat didn’t get better in Vilcabamba, which is lower and warmer than Cuenca, Quito or even Cotacachi. She was also having headaches. Those went away in Vilcabamba and, thankfully, haven’t returned since she returned to Cuenca.

So, we’re in Cuenca. For two weeks or so, she was in Vilcabamba and I visited her there for a few days. It’s a nice enough town of about 5000 people, an hour southeast of Loja which is 4 hours south of Cuenca, not far from the Peruvian border. Pretty, like almost everywhere in Ecuador. Here’s where we stayed and the view of Vilcabamba from the dining area. This Izhcayluma Hostel/Resort is one of the nicest paces we’ve stayed.

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It looks like a long way down there, but it’s only a pleasant 2 km walk. A taxi back up the hill is $1.25. During the time I was there and the subsequent days Myung was there, we looked around for potential places to rent long-term. The problem with that idea turned out to be the places were either high-end and expensive, or too rural to have internet. This is a developing country, so unless you are in a town, sometimes it has to be a city, the only way to get internet is with Direct TV, which is costly. Myung rented a place in town where supposedly she could get internet. Turns out, even in town, that part of town couldn’t be connected to the net. That, among other things, drove her back into my arms here. She got a refund on her rent and here she is.

Vilcabamba is famous for being one of those places in the world where people supposedly live to extreme old age. That myth has been debunked, though in the old days the perfect climate, air, water and growing conditions did apparently lead to somewhat longer life spans. The Quechua locals attributed it to the huilco trees common to the area. They consider them sacred. Huilco pamba in Quechua language would be Huilco plain or place, hence the town’s name Vilcabamba.

Vilcabamba would be a better place for us gringos than most pueblos because, though it’s basically just small town Ecuador, i.e. very pokey, there are many new age and hippie gringos there. This means there is at least one very nice bakery, a few restaurants with gringo food, and the shops (Forget about a supermarket) have a few items we miss when we’re in other podunks. The idyllic weather and beauty can’t be denied. I would be bored out of my gourd quickly, though. I think Myung would be, too, but she disputes that. If there was internet, she might be okay. The capital of Loja Province, Loja, is only about an hour and a quarter away. Loja is no Cuenca, but it’s enough for a big city fix and you can buy most of what you can buy in Cuenca.

Myung’s place was okay except for no internet, she says. It was noisy on weekends and there was a bothersome light outside her window. I never saw it myself, but here was the inside.

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The place would have been good enough for us, and certainly cheap. Outside was nice.

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Out of town is nice, as you would expect. She didn’t take many pictures while she was there, so you’ll have to take our word for it.

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Anyway, for me there isn’t enough to do around there, especially compared to Cuenca. I came back to where we were staying and rented it for a month. Myung joined me and we’re going to make ago of it here. So far, no headaches. Her throat problem (diagnosed as meheke by a Korean doc she saw in Guatemala City) is still there. We’re going to deal with that using western medicine again when our government health insurance kicks in. Our three month waiting period, except for emergencies, is over in early April. If that doesn’t work, we can try again with private docs and pay for it off the shelf.

Cuenca is the San Francisco of Ecuador. Quito and Guayaquil may be Los Angeles and New York, but Cuenca is a jewel of manageable size, about 400,000. Ecuadorians and gringos love being here because of the eternal spring weather, sophisticated culture, hassle-free fun and low crime rate. Almost everything you could want from one of the bigger cities is here, too. Some say the gringos have driven up the price of real estate, but that’s not entirely true. Though there are about 5000 foreigners here, but most of the money is Ecuadorian. Many Ecuadorian expats return after succeeding abroad, and there must be more doctors per square meter in Cuenca than anywhere in the world. They want to be here, too, if they can.

I point this out because finding a nice, affordable furnished apartment took about three weeks of searching. Finally, I found a place we are both happy with. It’s $360/mo, big enough, in an excellent location, and the landlady is very nice. I think it will be fine. We move in on Sunday. My next post will be about Cuenca. I’ll put a couple of pictures of our apartment in there. I need to take some more pictures around town, too. Carnival is coming up next week. If I can keep the camera dry during that, there should be some good pictures besides the usual monumental architecture and parks.

So, that’s it for now. Be well, all of you.

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Banos, Ecuador

We stopped in Banos for a week on the way to Cuenca. Banos should have a tilda over the “n” but I haven’t downloaded a Spanish keyboard. It’s basically a tourist town in a wide gorge. The surrounding mountains and countryside are suitable for an array of outdoors activities and there are hot baths around. We don’t do much in the way of extreme outdoors activities anymore, though we did go for some walks and visited one of the baths. Sometimes the local volcano glows (It last erupted, forcing evacuation, in 2011). That’s a popular trek. Bicycling 60 km down the gorge a thousand meters to the lowland tropical city of Puyo would be nice, and doable, but we passed on it. I thought about rafting, but passed n that, too. Fact is, our minds are focused on plunking down.

All we did in and around Banos was go the the less than impressive cement hot pools once, walk around the friendly confines of the town which has most of the comforting old favorite tourist stuff, mosey around the river and up to a popular lookout, go to a neatly trimmed park, and to a waterfall.

This is one of my shorter posts. Her come the pics, which are nothing spectacular.

The town itself is not worth immortalizing in this blog. The church is pretty nice for a town this size.

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The lookout looks out onto less spectacular views than the bus ride into town, but since it’s one of the few things to go do that’s not adventurous it passes an an activity. The draw is a couple of swings and a tree house. You can get a micro-thrill swinging out over the edge and looking out.

 

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IMG_8922There are a couple of pedestrian bridges in town you can use to cross over the river.

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It was a little windy. Hold onto your hat.

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Actually, there are dozens of these bridges up and down the gorge. You’ve seen many like this around the world if you’ve followed my blog. Here’s another, down by the most majestic waterfall in the area, Pailon del Diablo.

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Here’s the waterfall itself. It looks a lot better in person, as they usually do. The approach is on the right. We have pictures, but they don’t do it justice. Below is the best of a bad lot. you can see one of the, like, balconies you can view it from.IMG_8952

If you’re into borderline spelunking, you can crouch low or crawl through the rocks to the top. Myung did it. She slipped and hurt her tailbone, which is still bothering her.

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That’s going to do it for Banos. You say, what did you do for a week? We did the other stuff I mentioned, but the pictures aren’t worth posting. And we chilled.

We are in Cuenca now. We rented a room in a huge house for a month. It should be fine. there’s a couple and their twin two year-olds living here. They aren’t even around much, so it’s almost like having this eight bedroom place to ourselves. There will be a complete report on everything pretty soon.

Until then, be well all of you.

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Quito, Ecuador

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We’ve been in Quito for just over two weeks and did what we set out to do. We picked up our permanent residence visas/Ecuadoran ID cards a couple of days ago, looked around town a fair amount, and decided Quito is not likely to be our home. Well, we didn’t set out to write off Quito. We set out to see if we might want to stay here. Most of it isn’t bad. It’s just we have both lived the big city experience, and having everything available isn’t that appealing. Slower is appealing.  We can always come back or go to Guayaquil for a symphony or something.

IMG_8657These days we are definitely more looking at towns and cities with an eye toward living there. All we want is everything. Quiet yet having at least most big city amenities. little as possible traffic (preferably a sizable pedestrian only center of town), the good bread and other stuff you find in expat places, good health care nearby, no mosquitoes, someplace where Myung’s throat problem doesn’t bother her, not hot. Quito had most of the requirements, but is just too busy. It’s also a little expensive, at least by Ecuadoran standards. All that said, I recommend it as a place too visit.

The colonial old town is at least as appealing as most of the better colonial old towns in Latin America. It’s also nearly the oldest, as Pizarro’s contingent landed north of here and proceeded south, founding a colony and church here even before defeating the Incas. In fact, one of the feuding Inca brothers Pizarro played off against the other married into a ruling family from near here. Normally, the churches don’t much appeal to me anymore, but the ones in Quito are quite nice and have been completely demolished as many times by earthquakes as the ones in Antigua.

The most impressive church from the outside is La Basilica del Voto. It was actually built over several decades in the 20th century.

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It’s hard to get far enough away from this to get pictures from any other angle.

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So here are three distant shots and one very distant shot at the front. It is definitely the most dominant architectural feature of Quito.

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There are other churches which are nicer on the inside. Of all the places in Latin America I’ve been, I think Quito has the best churches. I don’t usually go off too much on church visiting, but this city is special in that regard.

These pictures are mostly vertical and don’t fit well on computer screens, so I made them small. Remember, to see larger versions, just click on the picture.

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I’m still learning how to arrange pictures and insert text. I have time today, as it’s rainy and cold, and we don’t feel like going out in it. As I write, I’m figuring it out.

 

I’m sure I don’t have options on how to make the pictures a size between these and the large ones. So, maybe from now on I can fill these kinds of white spaces.To the right and below is the best church, La Campana de Jesus.

I don’t try anymore to remember all the sites, all the churches, all the dates, and so forth. After, what, maybe 13-14 years on the road, it is way to much. I just try to enjoy the present, to look around and drift.

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I got into taking pictures of the stained glass windows. Most of the old glass in Central America, where we have been except for a couple of weeks in Colombia and a few years ago when we were in South America last time, has been broken by earthquakes. These windows are from the 18th century. That’s old in earthquake countries. They aren’t as impressive as many European windows, but very nice still.

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We were lucky most of the time to be in the churches with nice windows when the sun was out and colors bright in the dark interiors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old town is really large and takes hours to walk around. We have many pictures. Here are just a few.

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A lot of old town has been fixed up….

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… and some renovation is still in progress.

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As I said, it’s a good place to walk around, especially if you like going up an down at 2800-2900 meters (9300 ft+) elevation.

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The rest of our experience in Quito wasn’t particularly photoworthy. We went to some museums, shopped (Myung especially liked the existence of Asian stores), and enjoyed a couple of nice apartments we rented for a week each. We looked at the Cumbaya and Tumbaco suburbs as places to maybe live but, nah, burbs are burbs.

I suppose it’s of interest we went Mitad del Mundo, Middle of the World. The equator is about 30 km north of the Quito center. Mitad del Mundo is a kitschy park not even exactly on the equator. There’s a monument which pretends to be on the equator and a line which is actually off by a couple hundred meters. The real equator is in some rough terrain to the south.

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Here’s the view from the top of the monument.

 

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That’s going to do it for now. We plan to leave Banos for Cuenca in about a week. Likely we’ll stay in Cuenca for at least a month. We have some things to do, like set  up a bank account so we can get health insurance. If we opt for the national plan, we’ll both be insured for 100% of all health care costs and most meds. We may buy private insurance and have health care as good as if not better than in the US. Anyway, we have that and some other stuff to take care of.

Be well, all of you.

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