Settling into a new country and a different city is always a challenge. Since I have done it a few times I’ve developed a list.
Find a safe place to live – top priority
Get a SIM
Locate a hairdresser
Look for a manicurist/pedicurist
Check out the lay of the land
Since I avoid doctors and dentists, that isn’t on my settlement list.
When I arrived in Arequipa, I stayed in a non-descript hotel. From there I searched the Internet and found a place. Llama Spanish school takes in non-student boarders, so it seemed like a good idea. I had a room and a private bath; breakfast and lunch were included.
In the two weeks I was there the dust balls under the bed grew to soccer field size. And if I saw one more boiled egg and banana for breakfast, I was going to lose it.
To block out the noise of the teacher in the classroom next to me I used wax earplugs. It was horrible as the poor student never spoke, he was talked to. The worst thing is that there weren’t any cafes or bars anywhere in the neighbourhood. There was a mall about 20 minutes away, but I didn’t like it at all. I was stuck in the suburbs. Time to move on.
I was downtown with a young Indonesian student and we happened to walk by the Santa Catalina Hostel.
I went in and asked the price for a single room and told them I wanted to make a reservation. Not a dust ball in sight. Santa Catalina is about a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city. Perfect for this uptown woman.
Looking for a new home
Although I would check on the Internet every once in a while, I didn’t find any furnished place that appealed. After Loja, I never want to buy things for a place again. As I’m currently writing pieces for a travel agency, I didn’t have a lot of time. If there is anything you want to know about Italy or Greece, just ask.
When I was going to pay the rent for another week I asked Rodolfo – the manager and my go-to person – how much it would be to stay for a month. He cut me a great deal, so I now have a “home.” The angst of moving again has faded.
My bedroom is small and so is the bathroom, but I just don’t need a lot of space as I live at the desk. Rodolfo brought me a second table so I can spread out.
There is a balcony the size of a USB, but I can sit in the chair and watch the street go by. At the small kitchen downstairs I can scramble eggs and heat up leftovers and/or take-aways. The gas stove is powered with a Bic lighter so it is slow slugging.
There is a charming courtyard for breakfast. And a rooftop deck that overlooks the city with 360 spectacular views.
The staff only speak Spanish, which is good practice.
Leo does a great job of keeping the place clean.
And there are enough restaurants, bars, and museums to keep a person going for years.
My only complaints are that the wi-fi is weak sometimes and the noise from the street from 15:00 to 20:00 is horrible. Why drivers in South America can’t figure out not to cross the intersection if there isn’t room on the other side is beyond me.
And there are too many tourists. After having Loja to myself for four months I have forgotten how to share. I will get over it. Most of the guests here are from Europe.
Although not famous, I am joining the ranks of long-term hotel residents who are. Yes, I have settled and plan to stay here until I fly to Edmonton on 29 May. The only thing left on the list is a SIM, but I have to buy a new phone first.
Getting a boot fixed
The zipper in one of the leather boots I bought in Argentina broke. Rodolfo called a shoemaker he knew. The guy came to the hotel, took my boot, fixed it and then brought it back. The price? $8CAD. I can only think of one place – if it is still open – in Canada where I could get it done. And I shudder to think of what it would cost.
People here still fix things, which is so refreshing.
Founded in 1540, Arequipa has kept its colonial heritage and is known as the “White City” because of the buildings. Trendy shops and cafes are tucked away in massive old edifices.
The streets are cobblestone. And there isn’t a high-rise on the horizon.
I have fallen in love with this place. Like Medellin, it has a magical feel to it.
My plan is to raid my mother’s basement-cellar stash. The calculation is that I will be able to find some buns or bread, enough jams and preserves to feed the army along with lots of other treats.
And there are always take-aways from Willy’s restaurant on Main Street in Foam Lake if you are in doubt about what to bring.
Because this is all unofficial and adhoc, you are also responsible for bringing your own plate/bowl/knife/fork/spoon. No mommies there to look after you.
Cindy is the designated finder of pure, clear Ukrainian homebrew. Yes, yes, of course we will burn some to make sure it has a blue flame. Uncle Walter would expect no less.
The hooch-making-still that Grandpa Hans and Uncle Lorne had wasn’t all that far from the house on the home quarter, but Cindy hasn’t been able to find it. Should have been a designated family heirloom.
If you want Fanta or Mountain Dew or Tang like Grandma used to make, you had better show up with it. The rest of us will be swilling back beer, wine or whatever – after appointing a designated driver.
According to Cindy, the RCMP don’t patrol Sheho all that often so we likely won’t get busted. A brown paper bag will do in case they appear.
How about digging around to see if we can find the old water pump in the park? Remember that the running water from Hoffman’s slough was yellow cow piss?
Maybe Billy Hoffman will let us tour the house. Cindy will check.
Another idea is to bring a lawn mower to cut the grass in the park like Grandma used to do.
How about a family photo at the prairie chicken statue?
At the “Steaked Out at the Queens Hotel in Sheho” gathering my mother headed a tour of the cemetery. Hope we can talk her into doing it again. Until then I didn’t know that my brother’s second
name of “Andrew” came from our great-grandfather Woodhal.
Do you recall Grandma Annie whacking off the heads of a few more chickens because an additional unexpected six people had shown up for lunch?
How about the massive meals for the threshing crew? Or sit-down lunches for 47 at Thanksgiving?
If anyone is sick, we can get out a bottle of Vick’s Vapour Rub, make a mustard plaster, and pour some hospital brandy. And don’t forget the final swipe of Vick’s under the nose.
Laurel and Cindy recall long walks with Grandpa Hans. And he would buy them pink popcorn at the Chinese Café.
My memories of him are crawling up on his lap and listening to his stories about travelling across Europe, going to South America and then on to Canada. I got the spoon from Neksel — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neksel%C3%B8 – so I really need to quit whining about not scoring the pink popcorn.
Other grandchildren just remember him as a grumpy old man who stood in front of the television.
How he ended up marrying our grandmother when he was 39 and she was 19 may remain forever a secret. The Hanson history is what it is.
The plan is to record our memories of the grandparents, the parents, and the neighbours down the road. Anyone else remember Lee Halverson? Whether or not the future generation will ever listen – or care — doesn’t matter. We will have fun producing it.
Now mark Saturday, June 6, 2020 in your diary and start thinking of the stories you can contribute.
The promos for the bus trip from Machala to Piura said it took about six and a half hours. Right. That is travel time. What wasn’t included in the information was the 14 ½ hours at the border crossing into Peru.
No, not me. Or the guy from Peru. We had stamps within 10 minutes.
It was the 48 refugee seekers from Venezuela who had to be“processed.” And it wasn’t pretty
Yes, concrete can become your new best friend.
You just have to learn to appreciate it when there aren’t any chairs, benches or other places to sit, relax or stretch out. Making it is difficult as possible to cross the frontier is done on purpose. It is for poor people who are herded through. Those with money fly.
Spending time with cement also teaches you a good lesson about what it is like to live on the street. Alas, that is what awaits many of the people from Venezuela when they get to Colombia, Peru, Argentina or one of the islands in the Caribbean.
Since 2014, 2.3 million people have fled from Venezuela. For Canadians, that is about the population of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For New Zealanders that is about most of the people on the North Island. For Australians, that is more than Queensland.
As the situation gets worse, the poorest of the poor are now crossing the border, desperate to survive.
These are the cooks, the cleaners, and the gardeners. Educated people left years ago. Or had places overseas and one in the country. With a private jet or flying first-class, visas and borders are not a problem.
I started to meet the refugee Venezuelans when I lived in Medellin—many of them on the street. It was the first point of entry as it was close to the border. The ones with an education kept going to Peru or Chile. That was 2015 and 2016. They were smart and left early.
As the rat who has often been the first to abandon a sinking ship, I applauded their ability to sniff the air the get the hell out.
Flash forward and I am in Ecuador and it is 2018. The government closed the border to all people without a passport. The poorest of the poor are lucky to have identity cards. A passport in Venezuela costs $500USD plus bribes and there is no way these people can rise that sort of money.
“Just find a clinic and get the vaccine,” The Nurse advised. Via a friend, Elaine, I had learned that there was an outbreak of measles in northern Peru and someone she knew had to get a shot at the border.
Good advice as the measles, mumps & rubella (MMB) isn’t to be ignored, even though I have had all of them as a kid.
Note to anti-vaxers: grow up as there was a reason these vaccines were developed. People – mostly children – died. In the developing world, if you don’t have the shots, you don’t cross the border. End of discussion.
It was yet another adventure. Remember my Spanish is basic, but I can get by. Sort of. Pharmacy? Go to the clinic down the street. Try another place. We don’t have the shot, but we think we know a hospital that does.
After a $3 taxi ride that seemed half way to Quito, I found the facility. I was directed through the doors and down the hall to the vaccination room. There I got to line up with the babies. Yes, babies wrapped up in blankets and waiting for their first shots.
When it was my turn I had to stand up for the shot. Why? Mothers hold their babies and the nurse sticks the needle into them. She was very gentle, and I almost wondered if I had the vaccine. But it is stamped in my WHO yellow book, so it is done and dusted.
Since I was a foreigner, nobody knew what to do with me as they had never had to deal with one before. So, the shot was free. When I later checked, it would have cost me $150 in Canada.
La Tina Frontier Crossing
I rocked up early to catch the 10:30 bus that didn’t leave until after 11:00 as it had come from Guayaquil. My bags were hastily stashed in the bowels of the vehicle and we were off.
An hour and a half later we arrived at the border between Ecuador and Peru. The 48 other passengers piled off the bus and collected their luggage as they were from Venezuela and have to go through the refugee line. That included a bag seach.
But before they got there they all had to have the MMR and the yellow fever shots. Then they lined up for the refugee papers.
I’m white and western so nobody asked me for my WHO card. I didn’t have to do much of anything except wait – and learn to appreciate concrete.
There was a sort of restaurant there so I ordered rice and chicken and sat at a table with people wearing uniforms. They must have worked with customs. When they sauntered off, a young woman carrying a child make a dive to pile her bags on a chair and sit down.
The kid started to eye my food. I told her I wasn’t hungry anymore and pushed the Styrofoam container towards her. Then her sister came along and took the happy snap.
There was nothing to do but wander back to the bus and wait on the concrete for another 13 hours or so. The woman who was the sort-of conductor announced it would be “at least another hour” every hour. That started at 15:00 and continued until 22:30.
People who had been processed started to filter back. Jose – who sat next to me on the bus – was an early arrival as he was travelling alone. He hoped to hook up with some people he knew in Peru. I gave him a bottle of water and some chocolate and peanuts. He smiled and showed me his papers.
A group of about 10 or 12 who were travelling together returned with cartons of food. They steaked out a place in front of the bus and had a picnic. Then they had a prayer meeting.
Eventually all 50 of us were accounted for and we headed out for the five-hour trip to Piura.
The bus pulled into the station in a walled-in compound about 04:30. The conductor told me it was too dangerous to take a tuk-tuk to the hotel I had booked. Her advice was to bed down until daylight.
The refugees had quickly claimed all the available space. I would have been stuck in some small area of concrete with my three bags. So I decided to live dangerously and go to the hotel. By this time, I was totally over concrete.
When Francisco tried to teach me to dance salsa at the Polenasia in Medellin, he taught me the process of taking a photo of the taxi and driver. He worked in security and said it was just an extra precaution.
When I snapped the shot, the tuk-tuk driver was clearly confused as he told everyone “she took my picture.” We arrived at the hotel without incident as the first cracks of light appeared. The bed was worth the effort.
I don’t claim to even begin to understand the situation. I suspect the government in Ecuador might be paying for bus tickets to get people across the country and into Peru, which seems to be the destination of choice as over 400,000 Venezuelans are already there.
It is a human tidal wave of desperate people. And there isn’t any easy solution. I will do the little I can to help. I just hope it doesn’t mean spending another 14 and a half hours on concrete.
But that said, I shouldn’t whine about is as the refugees get to do it everyday.
It was time to go, that feeling when the road stretches out in front of you and the suitcases are itching to explore new territory. Darwin thought I would change my mind, as I had extended my time in Loja by a week. This decision, however, was a done deal.
About six hours after I got on the 10:30 bus I arrived in Machala. It is a small desert town about 75 km from the border with Peru. Then it is another 308 km — which takes about five hours — to get to Piura.
The oldest city in South America may be my initial stop, but actually staying in a wind-swept desert town may not appeal in reality. Maureen – a migrant from the USA who became in immigrant in Cusco – suggests Arequipa.
Landing in town
Staying in a private house has led to some of my best and worst experiences of travelling. The worst was when I ended up getting altitude sickness in La Paz. At 3,640m it is the highest capital city in the world. The booking turned out to be in a crumbling compound in the middle of the city. The mother had died, and the daughter was staying with relatives as she sorted out the estate.
When the reaction to the altitude hit me in the back of the head at 02:05 there was nothing to do but wait it out. I didn’t have a phone or the Internet and there wasn’t anyone else in the enclave. And there was no way I was going to try to find a taxi to take me to emergency. Uncomfortable with the classic symptoms, but not fatal.
In Machala, it turned out to be the best. Cecilla and Efrain and their two adult daughters live in a three-story house. It is a quiet residential area without a tourist in sight. There are lots of small shops with the essentials a block and a half away. Bliss.
My bedroom is on the third floor and my new office is the balcony, complete with a hammock for naps.
Exploring the town
Machala – like all Spanish-founded settlements – starts at the central square and sprawls outwards.
The services I want – like getting a copy of The Little Prince in Spanish loaded onto my phone – are found there. Those Canada flag pins come in ever so handy for occasions when people offer a service without expecting payment.
On the edge of the city, there are a couple of malls where people go “shopping.” Ick. Why would I want to go there as it could be anywhere? Carol and I have our annual one-day shopping binge in Saskatoon and that is enough for this reluctant consumer.
Cecilla invited me to a cumpleanos party last week. Numbers are difficult to learn in a new language, so I thought it was for a three-year old. Okay, so we all know I hate kids, but an invitation is an invitation and an opportunity to mix and mingle with the locals.
As it turns out, Senora Conchita had just turned 93. Well, at least I got half of it right.
There were at least two additional spin-offs from the birthday party. Maria – the senora’s daughter – looks after her mother 24/7. She is a great cook and offers a lunch delivery service. I’d had one of her meals before we met and decided to sign up as it is a bargain. There is enough food for both lunch and dinner for $2.50. Even if I could cook, I couldn’t prepare such tasty meals for the price.
Instead of Maria packing the lunch in containers that have to be washed and returned, Cecila suggested that I eat in-house. Perfect. It a three-minute stroll and I think of it as my very-own private restaurant, pretentious little thing that I am.
Maria agreed to help me with my Spanish on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She is a brave teacher as having the structure inspires me to be more focused. And not being around anyone who speaks any English pushes me to really live the language. And if/when I get hopelessly stuck, there is always Google Translate.
Visiting the Bosque Fruta
Cecilla and Efrain invited me to go their finca – which translates as “farm” – with them last Friday. It is about an hour from Machala and the last couple of kilometers are a proverbial goat trail.
The house — that is set on about 2.5 hectares of forest — is charming and basic. No Internet and a true get-away in every sense of the word.
Bosque means “forest” and it is an apt description. In the course of the last eight or so years, they have planted over 1,000 fruit trees. The varieties include lemons, mangos, kumquat, tomate de arbol, papas de aire, guayabera, bananas, and others I can’t name – or likely pronounce properly.
Rather than planting the trees in a straight-line orchard, they are scattered throughout the bush in random order.
Efrain took me on a machete tour as there aren’t many established paths. He hacked off a couple of branches and asked if I wanted to try some guayabera. Delish. And it doesn’t get any fresher. No question about organic as this area has never sniffed a pesticide.
You can literally eat your way across the property.
The contacts in Loja are alive. Agosto’s parents send me frequent updates and photos. He hounds then everyday about when I am returning.
Darwin and I talk on the phone frequently in English. Remi sends me messages to make sure I am okay. So close, so far, so real.
To wrap it all up, nada mal por una mujer quien ha sido en la ciudad por una semana. That translates as “not bad for a woman who has been in town for a week.”
Since I was still awake at midnight-ish I checked my phone when it beeped. This is something I usually don’t bother doing as most of the notices are about “special offers” from the phone company that I won’t want to miss.
Apologize for our company not accept payment through MASTER CARD .
We accept payment by cash or transfer through any Bank in Cambodia .
Thank you very much for your well cooperation.
Should you need any inquiries please feel free to contact us.
Last week, I booked a ticket to Colombo, Sri Lanka for 9 November as I am feeling restless again. Why not move back to Asia? Different country, different continent, they are about the same, really. I need to be done and dusted with Ecuador by 22 December.
Sri Lanka was ideal as I’ve never been there and it would be country number 108. The only person I know from Colombo is Anosha and she now lives in Singapore, but visits regularly. And I don’t speak Tamil. Neither am I likely to learn as I am still stumbling around in Spanish.
When I read the above message, I had a sudden flash that it was a puff of ju-ju smoke, an Insha’Allah, and a slice of karma.
The message – as I interpreted it – was that the universe wanted to keep me wrapped in its arms in South America.
Consequently, it is back to Plan A to go to Piura, Peru when my tourist visa expires in 47 days.
Moving to Peru
Piura – founded in 1532 – is the oldest city in South America. Just across the border, it is dry windswept desert to the north and the Pacific ocean to the west. It is billed as the “land of eternal summer” which translates as the temperature hovering around 30C all year.
After the cold and chills of Loja it will be wonderful to thaw. And according to the tourist literature, the city centre can be explored in a day.
There is work teaching English in Piura, but I think I’d rather work on-line. As I see it, teaching English on the net is the new waitressing job. Everyone thinks they can do it – wrong – and there is a high turnover
Lingering in Loja
I gave up my apartment on 27 October and had booked into El Cardenal for two days. Darwin and Nathan, his three-year old son, helped me move.
As I really like it here, I decided to stay for a week before moving on to Manchala, a coastal city close to the border with Peru.
I’m still here and working on a website for the hotel with Remi. Not sure how much longer it will be, but I’d like to stick around until the site is operational.
When it is time to hop on the bus, there are some wonderful people I will miss here.
Besides Darwin and the Méndez family at El Cardinal, Agusto has carved an engraved place in my heart. I gave him the tablet as a parting gift. I’ve seen him since I moved to the hotel and he doesn’t really understand that I’ll be “gone.” We are just going to leave it at that.
Another person I’ve become very fond of is Jose Luis, a bag-packer at the Supermaxi store.
Hey, when was the last time you got an ear-to-ear smile, a handshake, and a kiss on the cheek when you went to get groceries?
Making plans – subject to change
Logically – not that anyone has accused me of that lately – it makes sense to go and live in Peru for 183 days. By then it will be warm enough to head to Canada in June.
Sri Lanka is still on the possibilities map. And the more I check it out, the more I think it would be a good move for July 2019.
Such is the life of we visa-bound nomads who can’t settle long enough to become immigrants.
When I landed in Loja, Ecuador at the end of June 2018 I knew there were adventures waiting to be had. And two months later I can report that I haven’t been disappointed.
Meeting the neighbours
Because my open-window apartment is on the first floor, everyone – literally – passes by. The pulled-back-during-the-day curtains are sheer and the windows on two sides face into the courtyard. When night falls, people can still see me sitting at my laptop.
Consequently, I have more personal interactions than a Walmart greeter.
There are three types of neighbours:
The quick-walkers who stride by at a determined pace with eyes straight ahead. It reminds me of squatting to pee behind a tree the size of a broom-handle in Nigeria – no public toilets there – where people didn’t “look.”
Then there are the smilers and wavers.
The most interesting ones are the first-namers who stop-and-chat. The usual conversations involve questions are about where I come from, why I don’t have a husband or children, and why – horror of all horrors – I’m not Catholic. We also talk about the weather.
Fortunately, I don’t take any of it personally. I figure part of the responsibility of being a foreigner who lives in a fishbowl is to provide entertainment for the locals.
Moving like a guppie
After two years in Medellin – the fashion capital of South America – the collective we here in Loja are rather frumpy. Shorter, rounder and wrapped up in winter jackets, hats, and scarves – hey, it is cold – makes it so difficult to be “sexy” on the street.
Sort of like the difference between Montreal and Simpson, Saskatchewan. Or Sydney and Broken Hill.
But then, I think fashion is for those who don’t have a sense of style so I’m still wearing the clothes I had made in Phnom Penh.
Introducing my new best friend
Then there is Agosto who rattles the security bars and uses them as a jungle-gym to get my attention. He is only the second person I know with Down syndrome, so it sent me off on an Internet search to learn more about the 23rd chromosome.
Agosto is the 12-year old son of the shoemaker who has his shop next to my apartment. He wanders around the courtyard or listens at the door on the second floor for Jesus David to come out to play. Frankly, he doesn’t have a lot to do.
Consistent with my usual get-involved-whether-anyone-wants-it-or-not personality, I bought him a colouring book and some markers.
Since he loves to dance, sometimes I let him use my
cell phone. He also likes to exercise.
We all know that I don’t “do” kids, but this one truly is special. And we are the best of amigos. In the process, I am learning so much about patience from him.
Feeding the foreigner
Tap, tap, tap. Is that someone at the door? Strange as I wasn’t expecting anyone at 19:00 on a Friday. But I kicked off my second boot, stuffed my socked feet into shoes and went to check.
When I opened the door, a beaming Senora Maria was standing there with a bowl of sancocho – a traditional stew.
First, she gave me some humitas when I was hanging out the laundry on the third floor roof, then it was deep-fried shrimp, next came the sancocho. And I’m not exactly sure what the grits she brought yesterday are.
Then Senora Cecilia passed two bananas through the bars on her way up the stairs.
Do I look like I am starving? An incompetent cook? Perhaps I am too poor to afford food? No, it is just Latin hospitality. Remember my 90-year old neighbour in Medellin also kept me supplied with traditional food – including mondongo, the traditional soup made with intestines.
I gave Senora Maria and her partner each a Canadian flag with some pins stuck in it. Tomorrow I’m going to get them a cake. The contradiction is that the more I give the more I am going to get – and that could become complicated.
My go-to-bilingual-friend Darwin says that it is very strange as people in Ecuador generally don’t help each other. He declared that I was just “lucky.” What to do? Sigh.
Acting like a tourist
Besides finding a good hair-stylist and a good manicurist, it is imperative to explore the region around home-base. Yes, being a tourist isn’t high on my list, but I do suck it up from time-to-time and just indulge.
Lunching in Vilcabamba
The taxi driver honked his horn and wildly waved his hand out the window. He knew I wanted to go to Vilcabamba and the bus was just in front of us. I was able to hop on without a wait at the station.
This foreigner-infested haven of hippy-dippy types and various others is 40 km – an hour and a half bus ride from Loja – over winding mountain roads.
The wander from the bus stop to the centre of the town must have taken at least seven minutes. Once there I joined the crowd on main street watching high stepping horses compete for I’m not sure what.
After a traditional lunch of soup, rice, potatoes, a bit of meat and some wilted salad I meandered around town. Then I got back on the bus to Loja.
The most interesting thing about the outing was seeing some of the countryside. How did people manage to build villages up in the mountains in the middle-of-nowhere? But then tourists likely think the same about Saskatchewan from hence I come.
I stopped in to visit the three-generation family that runs the El Cardinal hotel where I stayed on arrival. Remigio immediately said that I “had” to meet the people from the United States who were staying there. And that is how Paul and Anne parachuted onto my radar screen.
They generously invited me to stay with them in Cuenca – a city four hours down the road — and that was too good an offer to pass up. So, a couple of weeks later I hopped into a collective van to make the trip.
Anne and Paul are the most gracious of hosts. Their house is big, airy, and beautifully furnished as they sent a container of furnishing from the US.
Snuggling up on the white cotton sheets under a white duvet was total luxury. While I am far removed from my former 400-thread Egyptian sheets, it was a delicious deja-vous.
They took me on a tour of the city centre and then we had lunch at a great little place. Their friends Linda and Miles were also staying with them and they cooked a great dinner.
Again, it was insightful to see the landscapes and to get a peek at the settlements as we whizzed by. It is all an inspiration to get off and explore some of the smaller places in the area.
Touring around Loja
It is easy to act like a tourist without leaving town. As the “cultural capital” of Ecuador, Loja has more concerts, theatre, and art exhibits than one could possibly attend. There is currently an arts festival that runs from 23 August to 16 September.
Because it is all over the place, I don’t have to go far to find art and music.
Beating the bugs
When I rolled up my pant leg to show Don Hector – the guy who owns the building – the bites on my leg, he assured me that there weren’t any bedbugs here. Really? Then why was I able to produce proof of the insects taped to a paper towel?
If there is anything you want to know about Cimicidae – the Latin name for bedbugs –ask me. I spent three days researching the topic and became an “expert.”
Now we have been doing everything possible to get rid of them. Including the landlord showing up with an industrial strength vacuum and giving the apartment a good going over. He will return the next two Saturdays to do the same.
And – Insha’Allah – I haven’t had any fresh bites in a couple of days. In past times I have had lice, fleas, scabies and other fun parasites, but it seems to me that this new global pest is the most difficult to deal with.
Going deaf in Spanish
Blaring radios, loud televisions and kids screaming was enough to make me reach for the ear-plugs. A couple of weeks ago a piece of silicone ended up in my right ear.
Adopting my usual “she’ll be right mate” I went to the pharmacy for some cleaning foam. It seemed to clear it up. It came and went so I went to see a near-by doctor who said he couldn’t do anything. Next stop was a clinic, but the guard said the doctors only saw patients in the morning.
It didn’t bother me when I was in the apartment as the background noise of radios and television had stopped. It would be silent and then t would be “hearable” again. I have begun to understand how people can “quietly” go deaf.
Then one morning enough was enough. I took a deep breath, wrote a note in Spanish, and headed off to a recommended clinic
This is Ecuador and I was able to see Dr. Ramon, an otolaryngologist, that afternoon. I rocked up with silicone earplugs, the medicine I had been using and the antibiotic cream applied with a q-tip. After my careful explanation he syringed my ears. Then he spoke on the phone with bilingual Darwin and told him I had nerve damage in my inner-ear.
The next morning, I had an appointment with Dr. Bertha for an audiometry test to determine my loss of hearing and the strength needed for a hearing aid. I explained my silicone theory to her – remember this is all going on in Spanish. She looked into my ear and immediately saw the buildup.
Dr. Bertha managed to get a bit of it out, but explained that she didn’t have the right equipment. She and her assistant walked me over to the office of Dr. Alex in the next building and explained the problem to the receptionist. I had an appointment for an hour and a half later.
Dr. Alex peered into my ear and picked up his little vacuum to extract the silicone. It took quite a while; he worked carefully. Then he plucked out the chunks with long tweezers.
Next it was back to Dr. Bertha for the hearing test. With my right ear now clear I passed on the higher end of normal.
With the results and the silicone in hand I went back for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Ramon later that afternoon. He was surprised that the results were “normal.” Then I explained that I’d asked Dr. Bertha to check my ears and she had seen the silicone. She had sent me on to Dr. Alex who had extracted it.
Dr. Ramon rang Dr. Alex who told him that he had managed to clear my ear.
Then the serious conversation began. I told Dr. Ramon in no uncertain terms that the problem was that he hadn’t listened to me – always a mistake with Dr. Bitch.
I could have ended up with a hearing aid and auditory problems because of his misdiagnosis. As I talked he became increasingly flustered.
A minute later he spluttered “follow me.” He marched to the front desk and he instructed the receptionist to give me $30 – which is what I had paid for the appointment.
Problem solved and Dr. Bertha and Dr. Alex are my heroes of the month. I went to the Cuna de Artistes to celebrate.
Summing up and looking forward
Moving to Loja has been an adventure. In my two months of residency I’ve met wonderfully generous people, felt a sense of “belonging,” and had some unexpected experiences.
The small-town pace of life suits and being in the “cultural capital” of Ecuador is something I really enjoy.
Because of the laws in Ecuador, however, I can only get one 90-day extension on my tourist visa. So about mid-December I will be moving four hours down the Pan American Highway – the longest in the world – to Piura, Peru.
And who knows what will happen then? The only thing I can anticipate is that the unveiling of a life as a migrant who wants to be an immigrant will continue.
As the CEO of Microsoft, I think you should be aware of how your support staff deal with clients and how frustrating it is to try to recover an account because of a typo. As a writer/editor/on-line English teacher my world has come to a halt when my account was suspended.
Tuesday 17 July 2018 started as a good day. Then I tried to renew my Office subscription — it had expired while I was in the process of settling in Ecuador – and everything turned to confusion.
After five days of unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, and rejected account recovery forms I figured out the problem. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and somehow I managed to get a typo so that it read jh@Wj-hanson.com. So the correspondence from Microsoft went to that non-existent address.
Since there is an option to fix the address I am obviously not the first – nor likely the last – to make that mistake. However, after too many attempts to count, the Microsoft “system” still wouldn’t accept the correction. Could you please have your technical people fix that problem?
When I tried to get a call-back I was told my phone number didn’t exist. Live chat was a waste of time.
The problem is that your front- line people can not do anything except babble the same jargon. I received a series of messages to a gmail account – in Spanish – telling me that my application didn’t meet the “requirements” – whatever they may be.
One thing is that the credit union where I deal in Canada changed Mastercard companies in May, 2018. No, I do not have the old account number.
Instead of going around and around in circles, why doesn’t Microsoft establish what they will accept as legitimate? How about a copy of my passport? A scan of my social security number? My maternal grandmother’s maiden name? These are tangible pieces of evidence – rather than the idiotic questions like “How much was your last Skype purchase?” Really, as though I would remember the exact amount and the precise date as it is an automatic deduction.
I am writing to you with the hope that I can have my Microsoft account restored. Otherwise, Microsoft will litter my gmail-inbox with more messages – in Spanish –saying that I can’t prove I am the owner of this account.
The case number is 143-359-1726, My telephone number is 593-999-69-08-77 and my email address is email@example.com.
I am in Ecuador with family and friends wondering why I haven’t called. Frustrating and totally unnecessary if Microsoft put a second level of “real” identification in place that could be dealt with in person, rather than another form letter. Some human interaction would go a long way to solving technical issues.
Adventures and More in Loja: What is the Next Chapter?
While it is not for everyone, I really enjoying landing in a place I have never visited, don’t know anyone, and have no idea what will happen. Hey, I survived moving to Watrous when I was 14, so all relocations since then have been relatively easy.
And the “Here I am, bring on the adventures,” is a theory that served me well when I arrived in Loja, a small city in the south of Ecuador.
Perched 2,060 m up in the Andes, the city was founded in 1571 by the Spaniards who wanted a base to explore the Amazon. When I visited the Puerta de la Ciudad, I gasped softly. How the hell did they manage to do it?
There is also a gallery with revolving exhibits at the Puerta.
The city itself is really a big small town.
The traffic is reasonable. And there are very few motorcycles, which is a refreshing change from Medellin where they swarm like hornets and take aim at anyone foolish enough to try to cross the street in front of them. And bike lanes. I might buy one to get around, although almost everything I want is within walking distance.
Loja is also home to the two oldest professional universities in the country, as well as a new polytechnic.
This city is also the cultural capital of Ecuador with even more music, art, and poetry than Quito, the capital.
Finding an apartment
On my way to get the zipper on my boot fixed I noticed a “for rent” sign for a student apartment. Hey, I quality as I am studying Spanish.
I indicated interest and met the owner the next day. Don Hector wanted $210USD per month – which included utilities. No contract, no deposit, no agents. It was rented on a hand-shake. So refreshing and a welcome break from overwhelming bureaucracy.
The area of Lourdes where I live is an historical area with café, shops, bars, and restaurants. It is also pedestrian-only.
And please note that I had to do it all the initial work in Spanish. There are only a couple of dozen native English speakers scattered around in the city – none of whom I have met – so Spanish is essential. Bumbling that mine may be, I can make myself understood most of the time.
Buying a bed at Mercado Majorista proved to be a bit of a challenge. Most beds come with garishly caved wooden headboards that are enough to give one nightmares.
Finding a mattress with a matching base? What a quaint idea. I finally settled on a mattress. I will get a base built from pallets if Andrew Collins sends me the plans he used to make one for himself and the Nurse in Phnom Penh.
I also found some cotton sheets. A long way from the 400-thread Egyptian ones I used to enjoy in Surry Hills, but times and places have changed and I adapt accordingly.
Darwin – born and bred in Loja, but who live in London for 12 years and speaks impeccable English – helped me with shopping and delivering the goods in the back of his truck. Without him, it may have taken me almost forever to buy a gas stove and have the attachments – from another store – hooked up for the propane bottle.
Being a minimalist, I enjoy my “camping” lifestyle. Darwin suggested that I buy a sofa to brighten up the living room. Why? I would never use it as my office chair and bed occupy all my available time.
The neighbours view me as a bit of a curiosity. Fair enough as there aren’t any other foreigners on the block. My apartment is on the ground floor. As people walk by I look out the window, wave, and say “hola.”
Angelo Agusto – the 12-year old son the of shoemaker next door—is a touch “special” and his hobby is peeking in the front window to see if I will wave. Yo, smiling and flapping my hand in the air doesn’t take much.
Living in Loja
When I rented the apartment, I visited it three times and it was quiet. Then I moved in and all hell broke loose. The place goes from tomb-quiet to a zoo of televisions, radios, and screaming kids in about 30 seconds flat. Then it will go silent again.
Hey, this is South America and there is no way I am going to win that battle, so between earplugs and headphones I’m coping. Sort of.
Looking for work
What is happening with the world economy? The Canadian dollar now costs $1.33 for one USD. And the USD is the currency of Ecuador, as it doesn’t print its own money. Translated, that means “expensive.”
So, I’m looking for on-line work that pays in USD. Teaching English to Chinese students has become the new waitress job. People foolishly assume it doesn’t require any skills as long as you are a native speaker.
No, no, no. And to make it worse the Chinglish materials that are supplied are unedited by a native speaker and littered with mistakes. Consequently, the plethora of English schools that have mushroomed in the Middle Kingdom are constantly advertising for teachers. Many are dodgy.
At this point I can still afford to be picky and look for jobs teaching business English, writing, and editing for another week or so. The thought of hello-my-name-is lessons with a 4-year old is like running fingernails down a blackboard. But we do what we have to do if we have to do it.
Planning the next chapter
As usual, I don’t really have a “plan” as such. But things will happen as they always do. The vague idea is that I will get a 90-day extension on my tourist visa. Then I can slip across the border to Peru for a couple of weeks in December until it is 2019.
Once the new year arrives I can stay in Ecuador for another 180 days. Ah, the contradictions of a woman who has three passports and no long-term country.
Photos from life in Loja
Checking the Ecuador Experience Links
Country report – https://internationalliving.com/countries/ecuador/loja-ecuador/
That figures as the breed originated in Europe, specifically the areas of Northern Netherlands and Friesland – which explains why there are sometimes referred to as Friesians. The distinct black and white can’t be mistaken for any other breed and the cattle are good both for milk and for meat.
“Those two almost look like Angus, except that they are all black and these ones have a bit of white. But, in the paddock over there, it is definitely a Jersey,” I waxed eloquently as though I had grown up going to 4H.
When we lived in Neudorf – population 400 on a good day – Mrs. Litzenburger — a proverbially little old lady to a six or seven-year old – had a Jersey cow she kept for milking.
Bessy was a small, gentle, caramel brown, and her milk oozed a distinct taste as it had so much fat. I was fascinated by the cow’s doe eyes and loved to stroke her soft hide.
Leo – a retired farmer in the same town – kept a couple of cows in a field not far away. Sometimes I used to visit them. Talking to cows was a wonderful way for an overly creative imagination to express my ideas and garner encouragement. While the cows stared at me and quietly chewed their cud, I told them about my latest grand schemes and outrageous ideas.
My cow knowledge was definitely obtained by osmosis. My paternal grandparents were mixed farmers. As well as pigs and chickens, they had Herford cows – sort of burgundy with a white face. Not pure breeds, for sure, but some kind of Heinz 57 that was at least a good percentage Herford.
Cows are a shared interest with Ana and they have greatly influenced her work as an artist.
We laughed about how we used to direct the milk from the cows directly into our mouths or squirt it at the cats to lick off their faces.
Canada and Colombia might be continents apart, but childhood experiences are childhood memories, regardless of location.
How to get an invitation to the finca
Ana, an artist whom I met in Lima — www.travelingwithsweeney.com/art-of-ana-uribe-la-baguette-lima/ — invited me to visit her finca – read farm — about an hour from Medellin.
Yoly shot me a somewhat exasperated General Jean 2 look as — once again — I was off without any specific idea of destination. My “go forth and adventures shall happen” approach is difficult for people like my mother and Yoly to appreciate as they make “plans.”
How to get to the finca
I met Ana at Falabella and she introduced me to Berta. For years, Berta has looked after and cleaned Ana’s farm house and apartment in town while she is in Peru.
According to Ana, were it not for Berta, Luz and Antonio – the couple who look after the farm – she wouldn’t be able to maintain it.
True. Being an absentee landlord wouldn’t work in Colombia and the place would be stripped or taken over by squatters in a matter of hours.
We hopped on a sturdy local bus and started to snake our way up the mountains. Ana and I chattered and caught up on the last few months since we had seen each other. As we climbed higher, the temperature dropped lower. Halfway there I was already starting to get cold, wimp that I am.
When we arrived at La Ceja we went to Berta’s house. She prepared arepa – a flat type of corn bread – and cheese for us, nursed with a cup of strong coffee and chocolate to fight off the mountain chills.
Then Carlos — the taxi driver — arrived to whisk us off to the finca. When he turned right onto a dirt road it was posted at 20K for a good reason. As the headlights reflected in the water in the potholes it reminded me of the road to Stanley Mission circa 1978.
Then he turned onto a trail where the grass grew between the tire treads.
At breakfast the next morning, Ana told me that Luz makes the butter from the milk of cows on the farm. Really?
How well I remember milking the cows with my grandparents and uncle.
When we were finished the next stop was the separating shed. Here the milk was poured into a machine with about 35 metal disks that had to be washed separately every time it was used. A finicky job, and I hated to do it as the water got milky and sometimes smelled.
“Separating” was a work-up-a-sweat sort of exercise and I wasn’t strong enough to give it more than a couple of turns. The cream floated to the top and the skim milk gushed out a spout at the bottom and into the waiting pail.
My grandmother would skim off the cream she wanted for the kitchen. The super kid treat on the farm was homemade bread slathered in cream and sprinkled with copious amounts of brown sugar. Just thinking about it now makes my teeth hurt. When I was a kid, however, I would lap it up for breakfast every morning – and then help myself to seconds.
Grandma would put the rest of the cream in a metal jug—with a rope attached so it could be retrieved — and drop the container into the well. There the water would keep it cool enough until she could go to town to sell it. The “cream cheque” ritual was alive and well with the rural women, as that was their “pin money.”
How to tour a farm house
Ana’s house sort of snakes into a square and having no sense of direction, I managed to get lost a couple of times. The thing to remember is that the huge cobblestone courtyard is always in the middle.
When one of the children would get married the parents would build an apartment for them so that they had their own space. The area Ana and David were given has since become her studio with the bedroom and balcony upstairs.
Frankly, I lost count of how many bedrooms and bathrooms there were.
But putting up an extended Colombian family required space – lots of it. And the beds came in all sizes from a crib though to a super size queen and various others in-between.
I had a delicious sleep in the oldest room in the house. Snuggled under about five quilts with my nose getting cold, I was eight years old and back on the prairies.
But since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will quit writing so you can visit this living-museum hacienda – the original house was built by Ana’s grandfather — for yourself.
Looking for a perfect place to stay in the center of Medellin? Do you want to be surrounded by cafes, bars, galleries, theatres, and interesting people? And avoid the tourist hordes?
El 401 – as the apartment is nicknamed –caters to a variety of travelers from individuals to small families. It is affordable, regularly cleaned, and can be rented by the day, the week or the month.
Run by a Colombian national and a Canadian, these hosts can help you live like a local in both languages.
This large fourth-floor two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment offers travelers a multiple of options. The apartment has abundant natural light, pleasant ambiance, and is secure.
Wi-fi, television and the usual amenities are included. Laundry service is available for a small fee.
The apartment is pet-friendly so you can bring Rocky or Fluffy. Smoking, however, is not allowed.
You can come and go as you please, but only registered guests are allowed at El 401. The bedrooms have keys for additional security. Please arrive with copies of two pieces of photo identification.
Sorry, no elevator.
Our apartment is one floor below El 401, so if you need anything, we are easy to find and always pleased to help.
Reservations, fees and payments
Tell us the dates you want and we can take it from there. We accept cash, credit cards, and PayPal. There is an ATM 50 or so paces away.
Cancellation is flexible.
The large room with a comfortable double bed and ensuite
$55USD per day
$350 per week
$1350 per month
$60USD per day
$385 per week
$1,500 per month
The smaller room with two single beds and a private bath at the back of the apartment
$30USD per day
$175 per week
$600 per month
$45 per day
$280 per week
$1,000 per month
Additional person on the sofa bed in the lounge $15 per day.
The entire apartment for up to five/six people
$120 USD a day
$770 a week
$3000 per month
Lounge with television
Need to check your emails or write a report for the meeting tomorrow? The large desk gives you room to spread out and work. Or to play computer games.
The large, spacious kitchen is fully equipped with pot & pans, crockery, cutlery, and just everything you might need including a can-opener and a corkscrew.
For those who want to cook, basics like tea, instant coffee, salt, pepper, sugar, and such are provided to save you the hassle of having to buy them. As well as a gas stove, there is an electric oven.
El 401 is on Maracaibo Street about half a block from Girardot. The major Avenida Oriental is two blocks west and the action-packed Avenida La Playa is two blocks to the south.
Eats and Drinks
In this regard, you are spoiled for choice – as shown on the map above.
There is a bar just to the left of the door of the apartment building and an empanada café to the right. There are also three larger restaurants – two of which offer outdoor seating — on the block before you get to the corners. And there are three more on the other side of the street.
We will provide you with photocopies of the cards of restaurants and services you might want/need. Vegetarians and vegans are well served in this area.
Wild hip-hop and sports bars you will have to find on your own, but there is no shortage of them in the barrio.
A 20-minute stroll will take you to all the public transport options. The metro – as the trains are known — are fast, inexpen
sive and hook up with the cable cars, buses and electric stairs. The trambia — a new train service that takes up the whole street – is about a 10-minute walk.
Taxis – small yellow cars that buzz the street like swarms of hornets –have fares that start at about $1.50 USD and you can get across the city to suburbs like El Poblado, Laureles, and Envigado for $10 to $20.
Supermarkets and convenience stores abound within a 10-to-15-minute walk. Plaza de Flores – a three-story building that virtually takes up an entire block – is also a must-visit.
We will send you to our favorite grocer who doesn’t over-charge foreigners. You will enjoy some of the freshest vegetables and tropical fruits you have ever eaten.
At El 401, we are dedicated to making your stay as memorable as possible. We start with a welcome basket of information, drinks and snacks so you can just relax.
There is a bus from the airport that is cheap and takes you to downtown Medellin. Then it is a $2 to $3 taxi ride to the apartment. A taxi directly from the airport will cost about $35.
A private taxi with an English driver can also be arranged.
We will also give you our business cards – complete with our cell numbers and e-mails so it is easy to find your way home if you have too much cervisa (beer), get lost or want to show it to a taxi driver.
Two mountain bikes are available for rent at $5 for a half day or $8 for the day. The only conditions are that you have to carry them up and down the stairs and make sure that they don’t get stolen.
We have a list of bilingual guides who can take you where you want to go, be it to Parque Arvi – for people who like hiking in the mountains — the Museum of the University Antioquia, or down the road to Santa Elena – the flower capital of Colombia — for lunch.
Yoly is a paisa – as the people in Medellin call themselves – Colombian.
As the restaurateur of Ambrosia Café — she is gone for much of the day and night. La Posada 401 guests who want to eat at the cafe – an eight-or-so-minute walk — will receive a 10 percent discount.
Jody is a Canadian-born travel junkie who hasn’t lived in the land of ice and snow for 25 years. She is a writer, editor, and teacher who works from her home office and is generally around.
Our apartment is one floor below El 401, so if you need anything, we are easy to find and always pleased to help.
Photos from around the barrio
Jose at the launch of his book Poesia Y Astronomia. There are always lots of cultural events going on in the area – theatre, music, art exhibits, photo displays.
Avenada La Playa – two blocks away — at Christmas.
Pargue Perodista, half a block
Lots of theatres varying from the Little Theatre (pictured) to the Pablo Toron Teatro
And for those who crave the great outdoors – there is something on offer for everyone — https://www.viator.com/Medellin-tours/Outdoor-Activities/d4563-g9