Tag Archives: Ecuador

Takin’ Care of Business . . . Everyday

Or “No Time to Write!”

I’m referring to the business of life, of course, because our loyal readers know that we are retired.  Four and a half months have slipped by in a heartbeat with busy days, travel, church and music activities and a few life events as well.  I’m going to try to catch you up on the past few months and post some pictures of our travels within Ecuador as well as trip #2 to Spain.  As always, I ask you to pardon the length of time it has been since our last post.

Let’s start with the Life Events.  After being renters in a large condominium complex for 15 months, we bought a furnished house about 2 kms away.  Although we weren’t really looking to buy, this home caught our attention and within six weeks, we were home owners again.  Our “villa” is on a small gated street called “Urbanización Terra Verde” in what would be called townhouse condominiums in the US.  We continue to be close to the various services we frequent as well as three different bus lines but we are set back from any busy streets so it is much quieter than our apartment was.  This was a good move!

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Two major events occurred in our lives almost simultaneously.  My worst nightmare of “what could go wrong” while living in a different hemisphere than the rest of your loved ones came to pass when I needed to make a rather hasty trip to Seattle, Washington to help our son Bryan who was having several major health issues all at once.  I am glad to report that Bryan is much improved and now I know I can survive this kind of crisis!  However, I need to publically thank dear friends Kurt and Teresa Lutterman, Don and Kyp Bisagna, and our daughter Kathleen and her fiancé Chaz, who all helped get things under control before and while I was in Western Washington.  Good friends and family are how we can do this thing called life.

On April 16, a devastating earthquake shook Ecuador’s north coast.  I was in Washington at the time but Glenn experienced the intense and prolonged shaking here in our mountain city of Cuenca.  No significant damage was experienced here but many communities suffered catastrophic destruction, death, injuries and loss.  It will take Ecuador many years of rebuilding to recover from this.  As often happens in disastrous circumstances, the citizens come together to give aid in whatever way possible.  This has been true for Ecuador as well.  Please keep the recovery of our adopted country in your thoughts and prayers.

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Even without new houses, emergency trips and earthquakes, we keep pretty busy with our “retired” life.  Let me tell you about three major activities of this new year.

Cuenca Christian Church, the body of believers that we worship and serve with here in Cuenca, moved to a new location in late December of last year.  We had been progressing toward a fully bilingual church for several months and our congregation (Cuencanos and Expats) had been increasing steadily and we needed new space.  Glenn and I are the primary musicians for worship and we spend a lot of time searching out songs in English and Spanish and learning to sing both.  Glenn also is responsible for keeping accurate contact information of the ever increasing church family as well as maintaining the church’s website.  Mother’s Day brought our largest crowd ever (74) as we enjoyed worship together, a special children’s program, and a Mother’s Day lunch with typical Ecuadorian foods including roast pig (roasted in the church yard!)

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Since last November, I have had the incredible opportunity to produce four house concerts in the homes of some of my friends.  Each concert has featured wonderful musicians from Cuenca and Quito and the audiences have been enthusiastic and generous.  This is an activity I plan to continue and expand, to the point of giving it a name:  Colibrí Conciertos (Hummingbird Concerts).

Daniel Brito
Sandra Echiverri
Daniel Brito, Eddie Jumbo, Carlos Andrade
Daniel Brito, Bernarda Holguin
Diego Carneiro Oliveira Pic 1
Diego Carneiro Oliveira
























Since the day of our arrival to live in Cuenca in October 2014, we have been a part of the Cuenca International Chorale.  This spring was no different as we prepared for our biggest musical endeavor to date:


Both Glenn and I had challenging and fun solos in the Broadway portion of the program.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any links to provide in this post.

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Traveling is one of the main reasons we retired and moved to Cuenca more than 19 months ago.  We have enjoyed some beautiful places in the Andes Mountains to the north and south of Cuenca.

Saraguro is two and half hours south of Cuenca on the Pan American Highway.  The people of the area wear distinctive black clothing (skirts for the women, calf-length pants for the men) single braided hair, beautiful collar-like beaded necklace, and very hard black and white hats.  The area is agricultural despite the very steep mountain sides and the production of quality woven products is a significant part of the economy.

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You can find more pictures from our trip to Saraguro by clicking on the Page entitled “Saraguro” at the top of this blog post.

A little further on down the road toward Peru, is the little town of Vilcabamba.  It is located in a valley that is sometimes called “The Valley of Longevity” because of the higher than average number of people who live to be very, very old.  We enjoyed a couple of nights in the beautiful Hostería Izhcayluma with our friends Greg and Brenda.  We ate, hiked, got massages, played games and relaxed in the hammocks on our verandas.

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The rest of the Vilcabamba photos may be seen on the page entitled (you guessed it!) “Vilcabamba”.  Check it out.

And you can head north on the Pan American Highway, too!  That’s what we did when we traveled to Alausí where the famous Devil’s Nose Train is located.  El Nariz del Diablo is famous for three “true” switchbacks in order to manage the very steep grade from Alausí to Silambe.  It is a true engineering feat.

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And dozens more pictures can be found on the “Devil’s Nose Train” page.

Some of you may remember that in February of 2015, Glenn and I traveled to Spain to participate in an English language program called Diverbo.  We posted about it in two different posts:  “The Rain in Spain. . .” and “Diverbo Pueblo Inglés”.  This year we did the same sort of thing but with a company called Vaughan Systems.  The idea is the same:  native English speakers enjoy free room and board at a 4 star hotel in Spain while spending many hours each day talking and listening in English to help Spaniards improve their English.  Check out http://www.grupovaughan.com/vaughantown if this sounds like something you would be interested in.  We loved it and plan to participate again next year.

Prior to attending VaughanTown, we visited Tenerife, Canary Islands and Barcelona.  What beautiful places!  It was quite cold in Tenerife but we enjoyed our time with our great friends Elisa and Paco.  The island has 25 micro climates and we visited most of them.  Here is just a smattering of the pictures from Tenerife.

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Barcelona is an amazing city and we had sparkling sunny but cool days there, which is perfect in our book for walking and sightseeing.  The highlight of Barcelona for us was La Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí.  We were fortunate to be renting an apartment just a block from this incredible structure.  We understand that the cathedral will be completed in June of 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.  I plan to go back!

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I would really like to upload all my pictures from Spain but I’m running out of WordPress memory!  Instead, I will leave you with just a few more pictures from Ecuador.  The first four are from a quick trip we took into the Cajas National Park just miles from Cuenca.  It may only be a few miles away but it seems like a different world.  Our friend Hugo was our guide this cold day!

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The picture above was taken with a couple of my “Comadres” during Carnaval – the crazy festival before the beginning of Lent.  In Cuenca it is celebrated with lots of fireworks, water, and foam.  Carly Barly and Kathy and I had just finished participating in a major foam fight with a bunch of our fellow Cuencanos.  We were all smiles and laughter until our eyes started stinging from the foam!  Still, it was a great evening.

In less than one week, we leave for the US for a three week trip.  We will visit Glenn’s mom in Boston for a few days and then head up to Alaska for our daughter’s wedding.  We can hardly wait!  Maybe we will see some of you while we are in Anchorage.

What we have learned:  Cuenca is still the greatest place to live!

What we need to learn:  One shouldn’t let five months go by between blog posts!


Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Life Goes On

or “We’ve Lived In Cuenca For One Year!”

October 8 was the anniversary of our move to the Southern Hemisphere.  We had such a busy day that we didn’t even remember until after 6 pm so we didn’t do anything special.  However, the Cuenca Fire Department had a parade of all their trucks in our honor!


So on this  occasion, and since it has been over two months since I last posted, it is time to get everyone caught up on the momentous and mundane of Los Gano de Ecuador!

Kathleen’s Visit

By far, the most important event of the last two months has been the visit of our daughter Kathleen.  We did a few touristic activities but mostly we enjoyed being together.

Kathleen’s arrival at the Cuenca Airport after more than 24 hours of travel. There were lots of tears and Kathleen will probably kill me for posting this picture but I’m sure the inalienable rights of a mother to show pictures of her children will stand up in any court of law!
We had a lovely daytrip out of Cuenca to the Yungilla Valley where this waterfall “El Chorro” was a perfect backdrop.
This was the highlight of Kathleen’s trip as far as I am concerned: singing together at Cuenca Christian Church.
Here we are about to embark on the double decker bus tour of Cuenca. Many cities have these tours but what is unique about Cuenca’s is the possibility that you might not return with your head attached to your body. There are many low hanging wires and tree branches to watch out for!
Of course Kathleen’s mere presence was all we really needed but it didn’t hurt that she brought all this loot for us, too!
In honor of Kathleen’s visit and our almost one year anniversary in Cuenca, we threw a party! 45 people graced our home with their presence that Sunday afternoon.
We could not have enjoyed our 45 guests at this party without the help of my “Empleada del Dia” (maid for the day) Brenda! She is amazing but very expensive. You have to be her really good friend. I love you, Brenda!

















Learning Spanish

The process of becoming at least “functionally literate” in Spanish takes a lot of our time but I love it!  I can really tell I am improving and that spurs me on to work harder.  I have to be careful not to get a big head when Ecuadorians tell me I speak Spanish very well.  Ha!  They just are such nice people 🙂

This is my awesome Coffee Club Spanish teacher Ana Luisa whom I adore! I have completed five regular courses with Ana as well as a few week long intensive conversation classes. Ana also has organized several of the great day trips we have been on.
Johnny Pinos is our private tutor, Spanish pastor, and our great friend!












We also participate in a Spanish Language Meet Up once a week in a local restaurant.  For two hours we speak only Spanish (usually) with Gringos learning Spanish and generous Ecuadorians who give of their time to show us how it’s really done!

Teaching English

To reciprocate for the Spanish conversation time mentioned above, both of us also attend the English Language Meet Up.  Glenn usually works with Hugo and I work with Helena.  This activity really brings home how weird the English language is.  For us, pronouncing Spanish is not that hard as letter sounds are very consistent – it’s the grammar and syntax that get us.  But for English learners, it’s all about the pronunciation!

I also teach English to children three times a week.  I know, what a shocker, right?  Once a teacher, always a teacher.  But I receive great joy in the planning and implementing of the lessons and activities.  And as in my past as a professional teacher, I always find some great people to work with!

Two days a week I teach at the Language Connect English Kids Club which is one of the many effective ministries of “Ministerio Pacto de Fe” run by Bobby and Lori Leek.
We have had anywhere from one to eight students, ages three through ten. They are huge fun! Here, I am using finger puppets and trying very hard to get a couple of these little girls to remember the words “brother” and “sister”.
One morning a week I join my friend Kathy (also a retired kindergarten teacher) at the Fundación Solitierra Centro Infantil to teach 17 second, third and fourth graders. This is a challenge but Kathy and I work really well together, I think, and we are making progress.

Social Life

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the social opportunities as they present themselves but somehow we manage.  Going out for lunch or dinner with new and old friends tops the list.  We also try to attend most of the free concerts by our symphony orchestra and chamber groups.

Ensamble de Cámara Ad Libertum was the most recent performance we attended. It featured our friend Daniel Brito on piano (not shown in this picture, sadly), three string players from the Cuenca Symphony, and Colombian soprano Sandra Echeverri. It was awesome and free!
Dinner at Anubis with new and old friends.
Mara’s birthday dinner at our favorite restaurant “Mastranto Life and Food” with some of our very favorite people, Greg and Brenda Angstrom.  Mastranto’s is owned and operated by our Venezuelan friend Marco Acosta and his family.  If you live here in Cuenca, you should give Mastranto Life and Food a try (Juan Jaramillo 8-21 y Luis Cordero).


When our daughter Kathleen became engaged to Chaz Hart back in August we were not able to physically attend the engagement party. However, through the miracle of SKYPE, we were able to celebrate with Greg and Brenda in our Southern Hemisphere Satellite Party. Not quite the same as being there but a lot of fun anyway!

This and That

Another major activity in our lives is serving at our church.  Cuenca Christian Church is now a bilingual church!  Glenn and I both play and sing in our worship band and I usually put together the lyrics in BOTH English and Spanish for the powerpoint slides.  We have been singing more and more of our songs in both languages which also helps with our language acquisition.

Our church is housed on the second floor of a colonial house in the center of Cuenca (6-23 Simon Bolivar).
We will once again sing in the “Old Cathedral” on December 21. Another concert is planned at Iglesia San Roque on December 17.

The Cuenca International Chorale and Ensemble has resumed rehearsals for the second half of its 2015 season.  We sing in both groups and gain much enjoyment from our time spent preparing and performing the music.  This December we have two concerts scheduled.  Glenn is also singing in a barbershop quartet for the first time.

Speaking of Christmas, guess what I saw being erected in Mall Del Rio on October 5th?

This is pretty early by anyone’s standards, don’t you think?

We’re coming pretty close to the end of this marathon blog post (phew!) but I must leave you with a couple of animal pictures.

Here is one of our “pet” hummingbirds that eats us out of house and home (slight exaggeration!)
This little dog is NOT in jail and seemed perfectly happy to watch the cars and pedestrians go by.









What We’ve Learned:  That we have a lot of great friends.  Thank you to everyone who came to our party.

What We Need To Learn:  To like soccer (fútbol) but I don’t think it’s going to happen!

Orchids Are Red, Orchids Are Blue . . .

or “If you go to Gualaceo, you can see them too”

Recently we made a trip to the nearby town of Gualaceo for a tour of the Ecuagenera Orquideas Del Ecuador.  This was not our first trip through Gualaceo as it is quite near Cuenca (37 km) and on the way to other towns we have visited such as Chordeleg, Sig Sig, and San Bartolemé. Cuenca to Gualaceo

But we had never had the opportunity to tour the huge orchid nursery in this small city of 42,000.  I would say that the orchid farm is the jewel of this small city dubbed “The Garden of Azuay” (its province).


For $3, one can have a guided tour in Spanish or English.  We learned that there are over 4,200 species of naturally occurring orchids in the country of Ecuador.   Ecuagenera raises 3,500 of those species in addition to another 3,500 hybrid orchids that they have developed.  All orchids have 3 petals and 3 sepals which are often mistaken for petals (guilty!)


Each of these jars has about 15 germinating orchids. They are transplanted several times. The skill of the technicians is amazing as they have a 80 percent survival rate through this process.


Here are some photos of orchids that Ecuagenera has in their gardens in Gualaceo.  For more information, check out www.ecuagenera.com or, like I do, Wikipedia!

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The gardens of Ecuagenera are peaceful and beautiful.  Here are some of the residents.

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And some of the visitors:


Although the orchid nursery was the highlight of this day trip to Gualaceo, we also enjoyed visiting the weavers at La Casa de la Makana.  The weavers use wool, cotton and silk and only natural materials for the dyes in their textiles.


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And in other news . . .

A few weeks ago, we had the great pleasure of hosting our second set of visitors since we’ve lived here.  We were so glad that Elisa, Jorge and Blanca made Cuenca their first stop on their grand tour of Ecuador.  We met these intrepid travelers when we were in Spain last February.  Elisa was a part of the Diverbo program (see blog post #16 “Diverbo Pueblo Inglés-La Alberca, Spain”) and she introduced us to Jorge and Blanca.

Blanca (rear) lives in Valencia; Jorge lives in Barcelona; and Elisa lives in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Here we are just about to embark on our double decker bus tour of Cuenca.

We enjoyed showing our Spanish friends some of the places we know well (El Centro, New and Old Cathedral, Ingapirca) and explored some new places, too, like Lake Llaviucu in the Cajas National Park.

The best view of the domes of the New Cathedral in Cuenca.
View of the New Cathedral from the Double Decker Bus.
We took the $2 tour of the New Cathedral which takes you not only through the main part but to the crypt and towers as well. This is looking down one of the towers.
View of Parque Calderón from the towers of the New Cathedral.


View of the inside of the Old Cathedral from the choir loft
The very old, misused, and abused organ in the Old Cathedral.

I just love Ingapirca (Cañari and Incan ruins)!

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We had a great, if a bit wet, walk around Lake Llaviucu in the Cajas Mountains thanks to our friend Ken March’s guidance.  The trailhead is only about 10 miles outside of Cuenca.  The trick is to get a taxi to take you all the way to the parking lot.  Our taxi driver didn’t want to get his car dirty so we had to walk an extra 3 km!

This is an old brewery built sometime in the last century Lake Llaviucu. It is no longer in operation. There was too much water on the trail after four days of rain so we couldn’t get all the way around to the brewery on our hike.

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One of our four lovely rivers – Rio Tomebamba – with the lovely Elisa!
Thanks to our great neighbors and friends, Greg and Brenda, all three of our guests had beds and bathrooms to use during their stay. Our last night together we had a fun game of 10,000.

In case you’re ready to make your reservation at “Casa de Gano de Cuenca”, operators are standing by.  Our daughter Kathleen will be visiting the second half of September and then my sister Inta will be here at the end of October for a couple of weeks.  Other than that, we’re wide open, and we’d love to show you our town, too!

What We’ve Learned:  More about orchids than I wrote about!

What We Need To Learn:  How to write about our daily life in an interesting way.  I do hope that will be our next post because we actually don’t go on day trips all that often!

Mercado Tastings and Cuenca’s Epicurean Delights Program

or “Still Tourists after Eight Months”

I’m sure we will be tourists for a long time to come as there are so many things to learn and experience here in Cuenca.  AND we have several guests coming over the next few months so we will visit and revisit some significant sites in Cuenca and its surrounding area.  Stay tuned! We were so glad to be involved in one of the dress rehearsals for this tour conducted by friend Rick Duda and his company Experience Cuenca Ecuador (www.experiencecuencaecuador.com).  In addition to the Mercado Tastings, several other tours are either up and running or in the works.  We look forward to those experiences as well.

Rick Duda, owner and guide of Experience Cuenca Ecuador

The focal point of this 3 1/2 hour walking tour was the “Mercado 10 de Agosto” in Cuenca’s El Centro (downtown).  Although not the largest market in the city, it has a lot of activity and variety with the advantage of being in the heart of the historic district. image image As this was a morning tour, we began with a refreshing cup of juice, followed by a breakfast of several typical Ecuadorian foods.

For 50 cents, Glenn had a large cup of fresh mora (blackberry) and pineapple juice. Mara had tamarind juice which, to her, was reminiscent of apple juice. Both were great!
This is an humita. It is a ground corn, egg, cheese, spices delicacy steamed in a corn husk. We love them!
Bolon de Verde – or Fried Green Plantain Balls
Ecuadorian style Tamales
Tortilla de Choclo – one of Glenn’s favorites – a slightly sweet pancake made from a type of white corn grown in the Andes.

image image After breakfast, we toured various stalls selling fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, coffee, sweets, seafood and herbs.

These women are selling and using herbs for indigenous medical practices.
various beans and corn
Mote – a variety of white corn grown in the Andes
Naranjillas and Tomates de Arbol
Tuna – not the fish – but rather a prickly pear
Naranjilla – makes a great juice
This vendedora was selling all sorts of nuts, grains, and sweets.

In addition to the Mercado 10 de Agosto, our tour took us to a coffee roaster/shop, a tienda selling honey roasted nuts, a convent in which the cloistered nuns sell wine and honey products, an Italian artisan cheese maker’s shop, the oldest drugstore in Cuenca, with the final stop being a centuries old church where the nuns still make bread and cookies to sell to the public.

Loja Coffee
Coffee grinder
The oldest drug store in Cuenca
The oldest bread oven in Cuenca in Todo Santos Church

17755285428_741fa7a5d3_o 17755327078_13d225732d_o               Of course, this blog post and these pictures do not do this tour justice.  If you live in Cuenca or will be visiting, check out this tour at http://www.experiencecuencaecuador.com and the others that Rick has. What we’ve learned:  Google images is my best friend (I needed it to help me remember the names of many of the fruits we saw.) What we need to learn:  To make sure our ipod/camera is fully charged before going on an outing.

The Birds and The Bees

But mostly . . .

“The Flowers and The Trees”

We’re leaving tonight for the States and since most of the packing is done and other details are taken care, I thought why not publish a quick post while we’re still in Ecuador.

Recently on my daily walks I’ve been more intentional about taking pictures of the beautiful flowers, trees, animals and natural beauty that is interspersed with the urbanity of this city of half a million.  So here are some pictures for you to enjoy.

 First, the Birds

Most of the pictures I have are chickens.  In addition to barking dogs, most Cuenca residents must endure crowing roosters.  I’d rather hear roosters than car alarms, but that’s another post.

I HOPE this is a chicken coop!
This big, beautiful rooster and I had a staring contest.
A young hen like this might be in the market tomorrow.
Many chicken families of all sizes hang out near the busy roads. They must be pretty street wise as I haven’t seen a squished chicken yet.

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You have to be really patient to get a picture of a hummingbird but they come to our feeder many times daily.  They also are extremely territorial so we often see them chasing each other off.

This picture courtesy of Duncan Gano.
Like in most cities, pigeons are wherever there are people.
brown bird
And these little brown birds might be plain-looking but they have a beautiful song!

 And The Bees

Well, not really because I find it hard to get close to bees and take their picture.  I’m not sure if it’s me or them.  Okay, it’s me.  But we do have a couple of bees nests near where we regularly walk.  One of them is on a very busy street inside a hole in a concrete utility pole!  We always try to remember to walk on the outside of the sidewalk at that point.  The bees are not crazy about humans walking through their front yard.

Fortunately, we don’t see too many creepy crawlies here in Cuenca.  If we were on the coast or in the jungle, that would be a different matter.  Here’s a couple of bugs I’ve seen within the last few months.

This rhinoceros beetle was trying to right himself. I did not help him. I know – where’s my humanity?
This earwig was on our floor. Suffice it to say, this was his LAST (probably only) picture before his eviction from our apartment.

Like hummingbirds, butterflies are difficult to get to stand still for photo ops.  But we do see them flitting about all the beautiful flowers now and then.  I’ve seen quite a few painted ladies.

painted lady butterfly
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Now for the Flowers and the Trees

Ever notice how flowers and trees stand still for pictures?  I like that.

I love these “Giant Pineapple” palms.
Lots of these pretty pink hibiscus to be found in Cuenca.

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These trees full of yellow blooms are everywhere right now.




And our neighborhood cows.

In other news . . .

This past weekend, Cuenca celebrated its 458th birthday.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of anything from those festivities because we were recuperating from the exertion of our chorale concert last Thursday.  But our good friends Kathy and Lance documented what they saw very well on their blog “Rambling On”  (http://lance-kathy.blogspot.com/)  Maybe next year.

Just to prove that we actually did HAVE a chorale concert that took up the majority of our time the last few weeks, here are the Youtube links for our performance.

Alleluia  <http://youtu.be/fKtV1xdrqGk>

A Penny Worth of Mirth  <http://youtu.be/VRfY-mDVhas>

Bouree  <http://youtu.be/8pZBLwdKel8>

Brahams  <http://youtu.be/q52AGYELuSs>

Come Live with Pleasure  <http://youtu.be/B2ogT5cJy1Q>

Danza  <http://youtu.be/3QboujqDTq8>

How Merrily We Live  <http://youtu.be/xk10PKfmu-I>

Let There Be Music! Let There Be Song! <http://youtu.be/tHpGesa_028>

Romance De Mi Destino  <http://youtu.be/iq8PpN1N9rU>

Simple Gifts  <http://youtu.be/205jIZo7oII>

Sing For Joy Alleluia  <http://youtu.be/0vkDGZ6y2Rw>

Sing Out With Joy  <http://youtu.be/Ioz_4d22d3c>

Time Is Eternity  <http://youtu.be/LMkzP3IXPFU>

When I Admire The Rose   < https://youtu.be/Cq8PNaek7so>

 Bonus Photo

Confluence of the Tarqui (brown) and Yanuncay (clear) rivers.

What we’ve learned:  One’s camera needs to be in one’s hand at all times if pictures are to be taken.  If one’s camera is in one’s backpack, that’s where it stays.

What we need to learn: Not to say what our next blog post will be about because inevitably, it won’t be about that!

Burn, Baby, Burn

or “New Year’s Eve in Cuenca”

The post Christmas lull did not last long here in Cuenca.  Although the Pase del Niño parades continue, immediately after Christmas, Cuencanos turn their minds and preparations to the next big celebration:  Año Viejo (Old Year) or New Year’s Eve to the northern folk.  Vendors set up booths and rotate their stock from Christmas cards, decorations, and sweets to fireworks, yellow and red underwear, grapes, masks and Año Viejo dummies, also called monigotes.  All of Ecuador celebrates  Año Viejo but rumor has it Cuenca has developed the practice into a pyrotechnic, incendiary, cacophonous art form.

Hundreds of bodies and masks to mix and match your perfect monigote!
Hundreds of bodies and masks to mix and match your perfect monigote!
Recognize anyone?
Recognize anyone?







Tradition has it that burning masked papier mâché dummies depicting famous, infamous or anonymous characters on New Year’s Eve gives good luck to the one burned in effigy.  But it is also a way for the ones doing the burning to symbolically leave behind the regrets, bad relationships, and mistakes of the past year as one looks forward to the new.

We found these guys everywhere!  This one was in the Coral department store being constructed by employees.
We found these guys everywhere! This one was in the Coral department store being constructed by employees.

Whatever. . .it’s fire, explosions, and noise and Ecuadorians love those things!  Monigotes are filled with highly flammable materials such as paper, straw or hay, cardboard, manure (eeewww!) and sometimes fireworks.  Whole neighborhoods get together to shoot off fireworks, play music and dance and of course, burn their monigotes.  Extra luck to a participant is possible if s/he jumps over the burning effigy three times.  We think it would be lucky if said participant does not have an imbedded firecracker go off mid-jump!

Let’s go get marshmallows!
Never mind! Let’s get the fire extinguisher.






Here’s a short video clip of our neighbors jumping over their burning monigote:     Effigy Burning New Year’s Eve – Cuenca, Ecuador

As it was past midnight and a little cool, we enjoyed the monigote burning in our neighborhood from the comfort of our bedroom window.  Our bedroom view encompasses 180 degrees and we are up on the 4th floor, so watching the largest fireworks display we’d ever seen  was quite pleasant.  A question was posed in The GringoPost, an expat online newsletter, about whether there would be any public displays of fireworks on New Year’s Eve.  One response was “You’re joking, right?”  Another was “There is NO part of Cuenca that will NOT have fireworks going off on New Year’s Eve!”  And we will attest that is true.
















The wearing of yellow and red underwear on New Year’s Eve is a tradition meant to bring love in the new year.  Since we both have the loves of our lives already, we forewent the buying and wearing of these special garments.







Eating twelve grapes at midnight, one at each of the 12 clock chimes, is also supposed to bring good luck.  We were too busy gawking and taking pictures of the fireworks and monigotes to pay attention to the time.  So a few minutes after midnight, we nibbled on our twelve grapes.  It would have been our luck to choke on one of those twelve grapes by eating them so fast during the first 12 seconds of the new year.

12 grapesThe festivities in our neighborhood died down around 1 am but we’re sure the partying went on long after that in other parts of the city.  We walked to our friends’ apartment midafternoon on New Year’s Day and it was like a ghost town.  All we saw were a few cars, a single taxi, and the charred remains of a few Año Viejos.

No regrets here.

Many other expat bloggers have posted much better pictures and different perspectives of their Año Viejo celebrations so we would like to refer you to their sites if you would like more information.

BobnRox in Ecuador       http://bobnrox.squarespace.com/journal/

Oregon to Ecuador – Longoods’ Journey living in Cuenca Ecuador  http://boandlindainecuador.blogspot.com/

Rambling On  http://lance-kathy.blogspot.com/

Cuenca International Choir
Cuenca International Chorale

Now for the bonus section of our blog.  If you recall, we performed in the debut concert of the Cuenca International Chorale in the Old Cathedral of Cuenca back on December 22.  For those of you who want to hear and see any of the music we performed, we have the Vimeo link (excerpts of all the songs in the concert)   https://vimeo.com/115463314

and Youtube links to all the songs in their entirety.

And We Sing Gloria. <http://youtu.be/pXwl3IhWcdE>
Angels We Have Heard On High. <http://youtu.be/Mfn0shGHqXY>
Break Forth’ O Beauteous Heavenly Light. <http://youtu.be/7djtAOhhhzQ>
In The Bleak Midwinter. <http://youtu.be/y4IssZK7ONI>
Cherry Tree Carol. <http://youtu.be/ORPiXvU2OPQ>
Riu Riu Chiu. <http://youtu.be/nTMEOpzz8Gk>
Fum Fum Fum. <http://youtu.be/Rihxqe59700>
Gaudete. <http://youtu.be/a1NVOni61Jg>
Personet Hodie. <http://youtu.be/eH9Yb2KqBeE>
Pat-a-Pan. <http://youtu.be/BcpSMx4HfoI>
Silent Night (Long version shortened by 2/3) <http://youtu.be/f5TpD4n2Dxl>
Joy to the World. <http://youtu.be/MsjKEp1v4ZQ>
Silent Night (Ensemble). <http://youtu.be/pEhE9abveho>
The Coventry Carol. <http://youtu.be/Fvdos9Td3tE>
The First Noel. <http://youtu.be/0xEisMz2avA>

If you don’t plan to watch all the videos, we totally understand.  But you might want to check out Riu Riu Chiu (Glenn’s big solo all in Spanish) and Cherry Tree Carol and Gaudete (songs in which Mara had solos).

We have some travel plans to announce:  Los Ganos de Cuenca are traveling to Spain in February.  We are going to spend a week at a resort near the university town of Salamanca helping Spaniards improve their English.  Room and Board is free for the English speakers as our payment for spending 12 or more hours a day in conversation!  Airfare is on our dime.   We will do some sightseeing on our own for a few days afterward.  Some folks we have told this news to were curious about the program so we have two websites to share of the two companies (that we know of) who conduct these kinds of programs.map of Spain

Pueblo Ingles (the program we are attending):  www.diverbo.com     Diverbo has programs in several locations in Spain and in Germany.

VaughanTown  just has programs in Spain but they were the first company to do this kind of thing.  http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com

Next time, we’ll get some of the pictures posted from our road trips to Chordeleg, Sig Sig, San Bartoleme, and the Yungilla Valley unless something super exciting happens to pre-empt that.  You never know – we do live in Ecuador after all!

What we’ve learned:  Unregulated fireworks can be fun!

What we need to learn:  How to eat grapes very quickly.

I’m Dreaming of an Unwhite Christmas

Or “Our First Cuenca Christmas”

We entered into the holiday season with a tiny bit of trepidation, not knowing how homesick or culture-shocked we might be spending our first Christmas away from family, church home, Alaska, the US, etc.  We are very pleased to report that although we certainly did miss our family and friends, there was quite a bit we didn’t miss at all.

After 29 years of juggling holiday events at school, home and church, this Christmas was considerably less involved, although, as you will read, not without its activities – some of which were brand new and exciting.  In our retirement, Los Ganos de Cuenca have kept quite busy.

Often it was quite difficult to remember that it was December and Christmas was approaching because in the southern hemisphere we just observed our summer solstice.  But because Cuenca is only 200 miles south of the equator, December 21st didn’t seem all that different from November or October 21st to us.  The sun still rises around 6 am and sets around 6 pm.  And at elevation 8200 ft, it is usually cool (low 50’s F) in the morning and evening and warm (70’s F) during midday.

Typical Sunny Summer Day in Cuenca, Ecuador.

But don’t let the weather or season fool you.  Christmas is BIG here!  We saw Christmas decorations displayed as early as the beginning of November.  Of course, our own decorations took about 5 minutes to erect and were put up only five days before Christmas!

The first Christmas decorations we saw were at the big Coral department store in early November.
A little later in the season Los Ganos de Cuenca’s “Arbol de Navidad” sported a few precious ornaments.

This is our newest decoration, made from the same straw that is used to make Panama (or Ecuadorian) hats.

As the season progressed, more and more decorations appeared.  One evening, we took a “tour” of Cuenca’s Christmas Lights.  Take a look.

Lights strung across Calle Simon Bolivar went on for blocks and blocks.
Funky lights decorating “trees” in Parque Calderon. Rest assured no trees were harmed in the decorating of this park since no real trees were actually used.










No real trees are used in any decorations as far as we can see!  But they are beautiful and unique nonetheless.  Click on any of these thumbnail pictures to see a bigger image.

But the prize for the most unique and largest community decoration in the City of Cuenca goes to the nativity scene in Otorongo Plaza.  During the day, the display looks like Mary and Joseph just visited the folks at Star Trek, but at night with all the lights ablaze, it is quite impressive.


old cathedral
Catedral Vieja en Cuenca, Ecuador

Rest assured that the Ganos have been “doing” as well as looking.  We are both members of the Cuenca International Chorale and Ensemble which had its premier concert in the Old Cathedral here in Cuenca on Monday, December 22.

We attended the organizational meeting for the Chorale on the first day we arrived in Cuenca back in the beginning of October and have been involved in rehearsals ever since.  We would say that the concert “A Christmas to Remember” was a huge success as we performed to a standing room only crowd.

Cuenca International Chorale – Glenn is on the top row, third from the left. Mara is in the front row, first on the right.

If you have read other posts from this blog, you already know that parades are a big part of the life of Cuenca and all of Ecuador.  But there is none bigger or more important that the “Pase del Nino Viajero” or the Passing of the Traveling Child.   Virtually all communities and neighborhoods participate in one or more Pase del Nino parades which is a mixture of Catholic and indigenous traditions.  The carrying of the baby Jesus is only one part of the parades that occur anytime between the beginning of Advent and Mardi Gras.

One of the many niños being carried in Cuenca’s Pase del Niño. It would appear this one was a real baby!
If this retirement gig doesn't work out, Sue Gaither and Mara Gano can always try to open a Starbucks franchise.
If this retirement gig doesn’t work out, Sue Gaither and Mara Gano can always try to open a Starbucks franchise.

Cuenca’s version of this parade on Christmas Eve day is the Granddaddy of them all.   Eight or more hours in length, 40,000 participants and even more spectators make for a full day of color, sound, movement, flowers, fruits and vegetables, live animals, roasted animals, floats on truck beds, elaborate costumes and lots and lots of children.   We were able to watch some of the parade from the second floor windows and balcony of Cuenca Christian Church where we worship and serve.  We enjoyed cappuccinos and other snacks as our church family watched the parade together.  Take a look at some of what we saw.

This was a delightful group of angel dancers.
These girls’ costumes were probably saved up for and lovingly made all year long just for this parade.
A lovely angel.
One of the Magi.
And another Magi. The third one eluded me!
Imagine trying to play a flute with a scarf wrapped around your face!
It was a fairly cool morning but I didn’t don my fur chaps like this guy!
These dancers were likely from the northwest coastal area of Esmareldas.
Another niño carrier. There were many of these participants.
If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you will see that this horse is laden with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, roasted meats, candies, canned foods, drinks, and toys. There will be a big party for the family of this little boy when the parade is over.

Here are a couple of links to short video footage that we took of the parade.

In case you didn’t catch the guy in the second video who was carrying a whole chancho (roasted pig) on his shoulders, here’s a still picture of it.

The fellows in the blue head wraps were there to help the man with the roasted pig sit down on a stool to rest every so often. You’ve got to wonder: Did he lose a bet?


This was our view during the parade!
This was our view during the parade!
Any one of these four people will tell you "We were in the parade!"
Any one of these four people will tell you “We were in the parade!”







After all this excitement, Christmas day was pretty low key.  We didn’t exchange gifts with each other but made sure to remember the security guards, custodian and administrator of our building.  We also live next door to the most lovely family with three darling girls.  It was fun to buy them a few treats and doodads.

On Christmas Day, Los Ganos de Cuenca enjoyed a meal at Hotel Victoria.  Don’t we look relaxed?


Next time, some pictures and descriptions of recent road trips.

What we’ve learned:  Say “yes” when someone invites you to be in a parade.  I think this is a life lesson!

What we need to learn:  While participating in a parade, try to avoid the position in front of a band with an over zealous bass drum player!