Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Ecuador 2021

 Greetings all, I know I haven't been keeping up here much, but it is still a pandemic and spending 99% of your time in the house doesn't lend itself much to interesting updates. We did make a bunch of videos with our advent calendar of beauty products. You can find those on my (tornwordo) youtube channel. That was a fun distraction in December. They weren't all that popular except for one when we decided to do our video shirtless.

We were not supposed to do any visiting for Christmas but we have only seen the same 4 people since March so we got together with 2 at a time of them for dinners. We were rather distracted putting the final touches on our plans to excape south for much of winter. Since travel restrictions are changing practically daily, we weren't really sure if would happen until we landed in Ecuador. We got our Covid tests the 6th and left the 9th of January. 

We were trepidatious about flying in the time of Covid, but these two put us to shame. The planes were pretty full flying down and it felt the most unsafe during our change of planes in Bogota, but we arrived late at night in Quito and crashed at our Airbnb for the week. 

We had a great little apartment on the 10th floor with a view of the city and the looming volcano. Quito is the only world capital built on the slopes of an active volcano. The first day we arrived, I had a terrible bout of  altitude sickness, headache and vomiting all day. In the evening when I finally felt like I could eat somthing, Serge went out and came back with 4 sandwiches with fries and 4 margaritas. It cost $20. This was our first taste of how dirt cheap food is in Ecuador. I spent a lot of the week working, as the semester was just finishing up in one of the programs I work in. 

Still, we were able to get out every day and go for long walks exploring the city. One morning we took the newly reopened (since the pandemic started) tramway up the slopes of the volcano. The air was so thin in Quito at 9300 feet, but it was dizzying when we got up to 13000 feet. We lasted about half an hour up there before we fled down the mountain. 

Another fortuitous event was getting together with Carmen who was an exchange student when I was in high school. Due to FB, friends put us in touch and it turned out she ran a restaurant three blocks from where we were staying. We had delicious steaks for lunch.

For our last night in Quito, we splurged and had a 9 course chef's tasting menu. In Ecuador, it felt much much safer than back home. First, absolutely everyone everywhere wore a mask while outside the home. In restaurants, only 25% capacity allowed and everything super distanced. The protocol for handling money took many steps. Put money in basket, seller squirts money with sanitizer on both sides, takes the money out of the basket and makes change while squirting the change before placing in the basket and again once in the basket. Then you can take your change from the basket. The sanitizer was ubiquitous. Sometimes there was a 'squirting tunnel' of alcohol you had to walk through before entering the business. Not surprising their infection rates are the lowest in Latin America. Also no wonder back home, things were spinning out of control. But we will come back to that later. 

After the week was up, we flew to Cuenca, where we would live for the next 5 weeks. We arrived at our wonderful airbnb apartment with a balcony overlooking the river and facing the setting sun. We would have stayed the whole five weeks there, but right when I decided to extend our stay there, someone else reserved. For two weeks I worked constantly, probably my highest earning weeks of the last year. And all because of Zoom and the fact that I could work from anywhere since all my teaching is being done on line right now. This is another reason we left for such a long time, in fact it is the longest Serge and I have ever traveled together. It wasn't really a vacation, and yet it was, since we knew back home, everyone was trapped inside with snow, ice and cold outside. They instigated an 8pm curfiew the day we left Montreal and is still in effect as I type. 

A few minute walk put us in the old side of the city. It seems to me that Italy and Madrid would be in the same general direction but according to this, I would be wrong. You could pull your mask down if you were smoking. That's not why I started smoking again (in fact there exists no good reason) but it was nice to use it as an excuse to sit on park benches or on the bank of the river watching the world go by. 

We rode the shiny new tramway called Tranvia. We took it over to the giant outdoor market Feria Libre. I was on the hunt for avocados (5 for a dollar!) and cigarettes. At the regular store, cigarettes were $6 a pack. I had googled tobacco in Ecuador and I landed on a report from some world body on the tobacco situation in each country. It was there I learned that the black market cigarette trade from smuggling across the Columbia border was rampant, and that Phillip Morris was supporting that black market. Sure enough, if you looked closely at most of the individuals selling sundries, they had cigarettes. They were less than $2 a pack. It was ironic that the report lambasting the black market for cigarettes was what pointed me to becoming a customer for that market. You already knew I had no moral compass, right? Wink.

Serge fried his face on our first sunny walk in Quito. That led to a $30 purchase for Coppertone sunscreen. Food is cheap, yes, drugstore items, not so much. In Cuenca, Serge bought a hat for $15 and then forgot it on the hat rack when we came home. Here we are at Roscoe's house. We had met him and all the other people we know in Cuenca on our cruise to South America in 2016. I'm sure I blogged it. Anyway, we hung out with Roscoe a few times, playing Phase 10, a fun progressive rummy type card game. He also hooked me up with my preferred smoking substance which I was sadly without in Quito. (As I said, no good reasons to start smoking cigarettes, but that's why.)

This was the first of many almuerzos in Cuenca. When they put 'almuerzo' on the menu, it is generally a soup, followed by a choice of 2 or three main dishes, and a small dessert and a glass of juice. The price for this is $2.50 - $4.00 a person. These plates were $3.75 with beer, soup and dessert. Basically it felt like meals out were a fifth of the price back home - so we made sure to eat out once a day. Most of the time, we ate outside on patios. Every day, the high was in the low 70's and most days it then rained a bit in the late afternoon and cooled off.

There were fewer roaming dogs than I have experienced in other Latin American countries, but this guy joined up with me for over an hour. A few weeks later, he found me again and followed me home. We named him Juan Carlos. Such a good boy. He was well fed though and certainly had a home and was just out on his daily rounds. 

Mark and Tom, whom we had also met on the 2016 cruise took us on a trip up to the Cajas to the continental divide on the spine of the Andes. Definitely chillier at 14000 feet. By then we had pretty much acclimated to the altitude, though Serge seemed to have some breathing issues when horizontal the whole time. 

There were llamas and alpacas mulling about, naturally. I dared not get close. I've seen (and cracked up over) those spitting llama videos on youtube. 

They also took us to a fancy place on the town square where tuxedoed waiters served us cadillac margaritas. Margaritas became a ritual before dinner and I made them at the apartment with Aguardiente instead of Tequila. Limes were so plentiful and cheap and kitchens are equipped with the essential juicing accessories. 

The tour bus reopened while we were there so one day we took a trip around town on the double decker bus. There were all of 5 people on the tour, and the hour and a half circuit was $5. It got more popular, we noticed, around valentine's day, when sweethearts abounded. 

The tour bus has a half hour stop at the top of a hill overlooking Cuenca. It was a little showery that afternoon. I had bought an umbrella, but forgot it on a park bench waiting for the tour bus to start. Doh!

I was constantly stunned how beautiful it is in the Andes. Lush and green, it reminded me of the Alps in Switzerland. Villages and towns largely strung out along winding rivers. Often, I remarked how hard this (view) would be if it were a puzzle. This was taken on a tour out to a rose farm. Ecuador is a huge producer of flowers and giant greenhouses could be seen flanking the hillsides. Before we got to the farm, we stopped at this cathedral and took the thousand steps up to the top. 

When we got to the rose farm, our guide introduced us to Pedro, who was tied up like a dog and seemed to wag his behind as we approached. He wanted to be pet, as our guide explained, he had been raised with dogs and understandably thought he was one. Melted my heart, I tell you.

Our guide explained the whole process of growing roses and how complex it is. They had just finished shipping flowers for the industry's Christmas - Valentines's day. Apparently, Mother's Day only comes in a distant second place. 

Nevertheless, the guide admitted that funeral and wedding business keeps everything going the rest of the year. Never a shortage of those events.

We went on the tour with Michael and Christian whom we had met the first time we visited Cuenca in 2019. They lived in the same building as our airbnb unit. At the end of the tour, the guide gave us all a bunch of roses. Ours lasted and were beautiful until the end of our stay. One night, Christian asked if we wanted to go for Cui (guinea pig, a local delicacy) but I couldn't because I had to be online for something that night. I really wanted to try it too, hopefully on our next visit. 

We had dinner one night at Tom and Mark's and there was a HUGE electrical storm the likes of which I haven't seen in years in Las Vegas. They also reminded us of the artisan craft shop in San Francisco plaza. The entry looks like a little vestibule, but if you are invited in, you go in the back and it's like a warehouse full of blankets, wearables, leather goods and even shoes. Everything made by locals. OMG we got alpaca and llama wool blankets (4), two sweaters (so warm!) two tuques (even warmer!) gifts to bring home, a leather murse for me and some nifty shoes for Serge. All for less than $250. It was gratifying to see the $15 blankets we bought listed on Ebay for over $100.  I know we are supposed to bargain, but it seemed insulting to do so given the price. 

A few days before we left, Mark and Tom took us out to Paute, another lovely town outside of Cuenca. It was there that we followed a ruddy dirt road up the hillside to the world's largest wooden spoon. A plaque from the Guiness world record people confirmed its stature as the world's largest. We have already seen the world's largest axe in New Brunswick, what world's largest tool will we stumble onto next?

One of our favorite things about the trip was the weekly $25 massages with Edgar. For once, a masseuse who didn't hurt me. (And no, there were no happy endings before you ask.) Another favorite thing about the trip was our twice weekly Spanish lessons with nuestra profesora, Gaby via Zoom. It was so fun to learn words and phrases and try them out in the city. We liked it so much that we paid for lessons to continue at home. Why not? It's still winter and there's nowhere to go. But it will be harder to practice here in Montreal.

The last night was upon us, so we went for seafood and the stressful return began. First, two weeks prior, Air Canada decided to stop flying to South America and canceled our return trip. When I called, they offered to put us on Copa via Panama to get home. Well wouldn't you know, that was for the 22nd, one day after our original return date. A week later, Canada announced mandatory hotel quarantine for international travelers to the tune of $2000 per person - starting you guessed it - the 22nd. So the 22nd wasn't going to work for us. I immediately booked a one-way ticket home on Delta via Atlanta and canceled our Air Canada/Copa reservation and opted for the voucher for the remaining value of the unused portion of our tickets. We had to have a PCR test within 72 hours of our final flight leg to Canada, and we had a 19 hour layover in Atlanta. Luckily, the clinic took our swabs at 7:30am and had our results at 5:30pm the same day. Makes me wonder why Canada makes you stay in a hotel to wait for results in 3 days when it can OBVIOUSLY be done much more quickly. Such nonsense. Anyway, we stayed with friends in Atlanta on our layover and took three planes in three days to get home. It's cold here.

But everyone has settled back into normal, my boys napping during the day and me banging something out on the computer. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of our six-week journey. There's a bunch I'm leaving out like the election they had and Carnaval. Both were more subdued than in normal times, though we saw campaigning and got squirted with water during Carnaval by passing cars. I'm really glad we did it, but also a little scared we could have gotten infected along the way home. Only time will tell if we dodged that bullet. Now to hang on until it's our turn for the vaccine. Peace out y'all.

Sunday, August 02, 2020


Looking through my photos from the pandemic months, you would think, absent the absent globetrotting, that life was marching along normally. True, I haven't taken any masked selfies yet (why not just hold up the mask in your hand to show it photographically? Are we really somehow enhancing our appearance with the mask? I'd say no.) so there are no telltale signs of a horrible disease roiling all of humanity's routines. I've continued to take pictures of what I always have. Plant life. Food. Selfies with hubby. And travel, yes, just more on a local scale. Plus ca change...

There are a few busts hidden in the pandemic photostream however. Here's one:

This is my four-screen setup I have now for work. Before, I spent very little time at my desk at home, but with Zoom classes with 38 students, my slow desktop computer with little monitor was not going to cut it. So the screens are 1) the class 2) the screen I'm sharing with the class 3) the next screen I will share with the class, (or different bits of the Zoom app), and 4) finally a screen where I can see the Zoom room the way that THEY see the Zoom room which is a bit different from what the host sometimes sees. It's exhausting I think more so than the classroom. And I seriously need an A/V tech but since that is out of the question, I muddle through as best I can.

Here is another bit of evidence. I haven't been photographed shirtless in a few years now (willingly) but I am down 20 pounds since March. It's funny, when you don't leave the house, there is never a gamut of lunchroom brownies, reception counter candy bowls and various edible student gifts to navigate. So I've just kept my calorie count low enough while stuck at home to lose steadily. Almost done now. And yes, I've been hungry for 4 months.

Oh look here we are travelling to our great nation's capital. The oddness of visiting Ottawa as phase 3 of reopening was occurring was spooky. Essentially a ghost town as Canada's borders continue to be shut and though we are being encouraged to spend travel money locally, it was clear not a merchant in town was making any money. Au contraire, I would say everyone who had opened was losing money by doing so. It was sad so we spent as much as we could. Grin.

But maybe it is such a ghost town because Canada is taking the pandemic so much more seriously than the US. This photo said it all as the two competing tourist lines for Niagara Falls shows. Which tourboat hosts the Canadians? We too took a boat on a river in a tourist locale. It looked like the boat in the foreground.

We were supposed to wear masks aboard but it was so dang empty, it wasn't really necessary. On the tour of the Ottawa River we took, there were 11 passengers and 5 staff members. See? Money bleeding. On the upside, I HATE crowds, so visiting our beautiful capital was probably more enjoyable for me than it would have been otherwise.

Another big change has been that I'm actually MORE social now than before. I've been playing werewolves with my camp friends twice a week and these evenings have become something to look forward to. Although the socializing is mostly virtual, it still satisfies the connection craving.

Like everyone else on the continent, I've been cooking up a storm. I draw the line at bread though. You can buy REALLY good bread cheaply. Everytime I've made bread, I've thought, oh great, I saved zero dollars and used up how much time to make this loaf? Not worth it. Deviled eggs though? Always worth it. And difficult to buy already made. (This is the token blogpost food photo, trust me there were a hundred others the last months to choose from.)

My friend posted this on FB so I must put it here for my memories. I've got to be 19 here, so pleased with our purchase of plastic yard flamingoes. Fun fact, I'm the only homo in the photo lol.

Finally, I'll leave you with this. This is basically how my brain sees the atmosphere. I know it is totally exaggerated but I will continue to do everything to avoid catching/spreading the virus. Fauci says he thinks we will have the vaccine for everyone the first or second quarter of 2021. That made me optimistic. Just another 9 months or so of this? Easy peasy. Let's hope science hits a home run on this one. Peace ya'll and thanks for stopping by. Mwah.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Overpiled maladically

Serge said to me last night, "Today is the first day of spring, isn't it?" Wut? Wait just one minute now, I am the announcer of seasons in this household. It was just another in a long line of examples of how much life has changed in the last couple of weeks. The first day of spring, by the way, turned out sunny and cold, much like today. We did not leave the house.

This morning's cases and body count

I have only left the house 3 times in 13 days. I have walked a block to the market or across the street to the drugstore for a total of maybe one hour outside the house.  The first time I did this on March 12th, there was a line to enter the market and panicky shoppers with overpiled shopping carts. Everyone had toilet paper. I wondered if coronavirus caused diarrhea as I paid for my onions at the express checkout.

My job vanished that day along with millions of others. Falling squarely in the double whammy category was the complete cancellation of all our short term lodging reservations for the next few months. If we can add to the whammies, my side gigs of travel agenting and dog sitting are also devoid of customers. In every scenario of the future that has played out in my head (a constant element of my mental real estate, maladically) none of them even remotely looked like what we are living through. It's wartime without the guns.

I don't want to touch anything anyone has ever touched, ever.

When this started, I had a positive attitude about it, yay, free time at home, but over the last two weeks, dread and anxiety have crept in, disrupting my sleep. Keeping the news on surely doesn't help so I am trying to cut down on that and do more creative things such as updating the blog. We need to go out every few days for perishables, otherwise, we are doing much as you are: cooking, cleaning, hobbying, social networking, and trying to stay upbeat in the face of the grim facts unfolding.

This morning I went to the market and hit the jackpot. Clorox wipes! Bleach! Lysol! When I got home, I saw on Ebay Canada that Clorox wipes were going for over $15 and I had just paid $4.60! When I told Serge, he immediately forbade me from selling the wipes on line.

Jackpot at the Maxi Supermarket this morning

A lot of people are talking about hope. What hope? There is no way out of this mess that does not involve serious carnage to humans and economies. Unless we get a vaccine. That is where the hope lies, but since that's over a year away, we may have to endure such changes to life until then, which is clearly unacceptable. Glad I am not a policymaker at the moment.

So. I've got taxes to prepare and homework reading to do (my class where I am a student has just switched to on-line format with Adobe Connect) and work to do on Serge's scarf. Peace out peeps!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

2020 Dudes

Greetings one and all. We made it! 2020 is here, the year I will be 55 AARP! I started this blog 15 years ago and though it has been largely untended these past years, I hope to appear a bit more often as there is no other venue like this to keep like my scrapbook. I can see myself perusing (and harshly criticizing) my writing when I'm good and old. Since I haven't been here a while, let's treat this like one of those long letters you might find in your Christmas card. (Serge hates them but I love them.)

Last March I started a year long contract for a course that I designed and delivered in 2017. (It has also been renewed for this March so staying put for a bit.) I already had a fair amount of travel planned in 2019 so it was tricky fitting everything in, but as you will see, all worked out fine. This was my YEAR OF NOT DRINKING!!! Well October to October so most of last year was dry for me. I did everything I would normally do in a year but with zero alcohol. I slept so well! It was a bit rocky when I again imbibed on the Europe trip with my family in October (my tolerance had changed drastically) but we have a no-alcohol in the house policy now so just the occasional drink or on vacations now. Our first big trip was the beginning of May, we went on a cruise to Greece out of Rome and frankly, I think it would have been more fun with drinking lol. But it was fun nonetheless.

Upon arrival in Rome, I wanted to see the Coliseum, something we had wanted to do last time we were in Rome in 2008 but didn't get to. There were hawkers offering guided cut-the-line tours of the Coliseum and the Forum for 35 Euros. Perfect! Serge was suspicious but it was great with knowledgable guides. I started playing around with facial hair on this trip....

Serge and I were up to our usual antics aboard cruises. We tried not to mock too openly. Frankly we hardly saw each other and ended up leaving notes for each other each time we went to the cabin. I enjoyed all the trivia games aboard and Serge enjoyed the bars with his late night cruise friends. If I was with him during the day, complete strangers (to me) would pass by and greet and hug Serge. Always the superstar that one.

Anyway, we had a great time visiting Malta, Mykonos, Athens, Naples and Messina. Sadly, we couldn't tender to the shore for our visit to Santorini because of wind. I don't have to rehash the whole trip here (fairly run of the mill cruise experience, made some new FB friends natch).

We had a nice summer weather-wise, not too hot and not too much rain. Here we are with our Granby friends in the village for the last year of the colored balls. As you can see, the toying around with facial hair became a mustache.

In July, I got to go to London where I got to cross off Stonehenge from my bucket list. While I was in Oxford, I went to a big museum and in the ceramics section, I found this plate. I had to go find someone to explain. The latin writing is backward and reads "Every man looks at me as though I have a head of dicks". The purpose of the plate is unclear according to the docent. It could be a joke or it could be porn, but there are very few of these plates remaining that were made in the 1500's.

By the time my birthday rolled around, I had rid myself of the stache. Serge and I went on a little road trip for the day driving around Lake Champlain. There I am with my no-alcohol Heineken on my birthday.

In August, we went to our 6th year of Campcamp. I took on a larger role coordinating transportation for the arrivals and departures of campers. It was a very good camp, mellow, without drama and full of love as usual. (Also - no drinking!)  Looking forward to this year!

Around this time my mom caught her biggest tuna ever! She had been hungering to land a "cow" of over 300 pounds for many years. I watched over the years as she hid disappointment as others reeled in their cows. Finally, she got one and boy did she overachieve - 346 pounds! What a feat.

In the fall, I went to France and Spain with family. I had finished my year of sobriety and frankly, I had difficulty sleeping the whole time. Part of that was getting used to alcohol again, another part jetlag. It was rather cold and rainy much of the time as well. My stepdad got sick on the trip so that was a drag for him for 5 days.

I fell in love with Neufchatel cheese and marveled how cheap the cheese and wine were in both France and Spain. Here in Segovia, you see the ancient roman aqueduct dominating the skyline in the town square.

We really enjoyed Madrid at the end eating and drinking our way around the city and meeting up with friends there. Here I am with my brother and you can really see my age! He is 9 years younger than I am but I think I look much older than him. Oh well, it's all downhill from here. Normale.

Then for two weeks at Christmastime, we did something we have never done before. Beach vacation! We went to Oaxaca state to Huatulco airport and rented a house on the beach and then explored the dozen beautiful beaches dotting the coastline. This beach was our favorite, perfect combination of deserted paradise with good food, drink, snorkeling and music. We came back here four times we liked it so much. Playa St Augustin.

Here is another beach we visited in Puerto Angel. Each one had its charms. But the vacation was not without its foibles. There were the four days of no hot water, four days without internet and (sigh) four days of me shitting water. But overall, it was great, we made most suppers at the house and we ate and drank on beaches every day while playing a variety of games and doing crosswords. Also the snorkeling was great with the best coral reefs on the west coast of Mexico.

After Mexico, we came home for three days and then went for our annual visit to California where we did the usual, visiting friends and family. We had a nice 3 kings celebration with my mom and went on a nice hike with my dad. When I saw grandma it was the first time she didn't know my name. She did say, "You're the kid of one of my kids." So at least there is that. She kept turning to me and repeating, "The answer is, don't get old!" I found it charming and yet it broke my heart a little. It was probably the last time she will recognize me. Damn Alzheimer's, though she is gonna be 96 so normale.

I probably should have made all these events of the last 10 months separate blog posts, and hopefully that will happen this year. Let's make it special. Happy 2020 peeps! Thanks for stopping by.