Tag Archives: Spain

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).

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

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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:

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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!

Diverbo Pueblo Inglés – La Alberca, Spain

Or “Forgive Me Reader, For I Have Not Posted!”
It has been more than five weeks since our last post but only one week since we’ve come back from Spain.  And in that time, we’ve had to do all the things everyone does when they return home after an extended absence – shopping, laundry, catch up on the news from the neighbors, etc.  But we also helped plan and implement a surprise birthday party for our dear friend Brenda, went to several musical rehearsals, ate out with friends, attended a concert, blah, blah.  Yeah, we know.  Such a life!
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What a face! Brenda was really surprised to find 27 people in her apartment, waiting to eat sandwiches and cake. I think it was a memorable birthday for her!

If you are a new reader and are expecting to read all about our life in Ecuador, please read our previous 15 posts.  And stay tuned because we will get back to our life here in Cuenca in a couple more posts.  Our plan is to devote this post to our Diverbo Pueblo Inglés experience.  The next post, which we hope will be within the week, will be about what we did in and around Madrid.  After that, back to the southern hemisphere and life in the jewel of the Andes – Cuenca!

You must be asking yourself:  What is Diverbo and why would you call a town English?  (Pueblo=Town; Inglés=English)  Let us enlighten you.  Diverbo is a language instruction company that teaches English to Spanish speaking children, teens and adults in Spain and to Germans in Germany.   Pueblo Inglés is an eight day English immersion program for Spaniards who wish to improve their English.  The students pay many, many Euros in order to spend many, many hours in English conversation with native English speakers like us.  We received free room and board in a lovely rural resort for more than a week as compensation for our “expertise” and ability to converse in English.  We paid for our airfare to Spain and for lodging and food before and after the program.  For more information about Pueblo Inglés and their volunteer program, go to http://www.diverbo.com.Diverbo

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We didn’t always eat in such a cavernous dining room – this was our final evening meal in a special restaurant in the village of La Alberca. But we always did eat great food and enjoyed each other’s company.

We originally heard about this program five years ago while listening to a Rick Steve’s travel podcast.  The caller described an intense week of conversation and getting to know a couple dozen Spanish people, their culture, and making life long friends – for free!  Even back then, with retirement still a faint glimmer in the future, we really thought we’d like to have this experience.

Fast forward to the rather quiet week between last Christmas and New Year’s, at which time we explored the idea further, applied for a spaces, were accepted, bought airline tickets to Madrid, and wondered whether a) Glenn would be able to spend that much time talking with people and b) Mara would be able to eat dinner at 9 pm.  You’ll be glad to know that we were successful on both counts!

Diverbo holds Pueblo Inglés events at various venues throughout Spain all year long.  Our week took place in the Hotel Abadia de los Templarios, which is a four-star modern rural complex at the edge of a little village called La Alberca.  We stayed in two story chalets (Spaniard upstairs, Anglos downstairs) that circle around the main dining and meeting room.  Even though it was February and Spain’s version of winter, we thought it was a very beautiful spot.

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La Alberca is nestled between four mountain ranges in the Salamanca region of Spain. Most days it was pretty windy and cold but it was winter, after all!
We were called "La Alberca 951" because we were the 951st Pueblo Ingles group at La Alberca.  We had just arrived and had no idea what we would be experiencing.
We were called “La Alberca 951” because we were the 951st Pueblo Inglés group. We had just arrived and had no idea what  to expect.

Okay, Glenn and Mara, you went to La Alberca, it’s in Spain, it’s pretty, but what did you DO?  What is Pueblo Inglés really about?  Well, our day began with mandatory buffet breakfast at 9 am.  I know, sounds rough, right?  We made sure that we always had two English speakers and two Spaniards at our tables of four.  We were instructed to always speak English and to make sure the Spaniards always spoke English.  The morning and early afternoon were mostly spent in one to one conversations with each other.  Every hour we were assigned a different Spaniard.  By the end of the week, we had met individually with 22 different people, each with unique stories, backgrounds, and language skills.  But also by the end of the week, we had 22 new Spanish friends, as well as 22 new native English speaking friends.

In addition to one on one time, we had diverse discussions in our “two on two” time, had telephone conversations, and were a part of several staged conference calls.  Each Spanish participant had to give two five minute presentations (in English of course) during the week.  Sometimes our schedule allowed us to be a part of that audience.  Lunch was at two and like all the meals, was a mandatory event.  Conversing with each other at meal time was especially challenging because of all the ambient noise.  After lunch (around 3:30), we were rewarded for our hard work with a 90 minute siesta.  If we were smart, we took naps.  But as it was our only free time, we had to make choices.  A couple of times we just hung out chatting with the other participants and Mara took a little hike into La Alberca.

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Google Translate says an “alberca” is a pool. It is, but one of the Spaniards told me that it is the kind of pool that an animal drinks out of. Like this one.
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This is a map of all the historical areas around La Alberca.
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The pigs are famous around here because some of the best jamón (ham) in Spain is cured here.

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Okay, siesta over!  Back to work.  Our evenings were a combination of small group community building or problem solving activities, entertainment (and boy was there some good entertainment – can’t post most of those pictures, though!), and more one on one conversations.  Everything was extremely well planned and implemented by our program director, Sergio. No time was wasted and every activity had a specific purpose.  Our master of ceremonies, Allan, was not only dynamic and fun, but an amazing motivator and encourager to the Spaniards and Anglos alike.

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One night each country group represented at La Alberca 951 had to sing something that was representative of their area. This was the only time the Spaniards could speak (or sing) in Spanish the entire week. They blew us away with their enthusiasm.
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One of our group activities was a photo scavenger hunt.

Dinner was at 9 pm, usually followed by social time that for the Spaniards continued way into the wee hours.  The middle-aged expats from Ecuador tried to make it to midnight!  There were a couple of “party nights” and Mara made it to 1 am but rumor has it many didn’t make it to bed until three or four.  We don’t know how they do it!

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The first night of Spaniard/Anglo entertainment, Mara was part of a play with another Anglo and two Spaniards.

So who goes to Pueblo Inglés?  As we mentioned earlier, the Spaniards that do the program are mainly there to make themselves more employable or to advance in their careers.  Some of their employers actually foot the bill.  There were IT and logistics professionals, executives from multinational corporations, managers, personal assistants, architects, a brand new flight attendant, a pilot, a dentist, etc. and a few were looking for jobs.  Their ages ranged from mid 20s to mid 50s.

The native English speakers came from the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, and the Netherlands.  Quite a few were expats living in Spain, Italy and Ecuador (us!)  Some were traveling through Europe for extended periods of time.  The youngest Anglo was just 19 and the oldest was “somewhat older”!  Most of us were middle aged.  Quite a few participants had been part of previous Pueblos Inglés programs.

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This was almost the entire group of La Alberca 951 (in the main plaza of La Alberca). We were just about ready to have a lunch of suckling pig!

Of course, this post has been just a tiny snapshot of the our Pueblo Inglés experience.  Meeting and becoming friends with 44 people in a week that was dedicated to communication was an extremely significant event in our lives.  Would we do it again?  YOU BET!  Is it something you might consider?  If so, be sure to go to http://www.diverbo.com and read more about it and check out their schedule of Pueblo Inglés and Englischhausen (Germany) events.  Maybe a trip to Spain or Germany is in your future.

What have we learned:  How to say “Grathiath”, “Adioth”, and “Ethpaña”.

What do we need to learn:  How to say “Gracias, Adios, and España!

Next post:  Pictures and experiences from the rest of our time in Spain – more from La Alberca, Madrid, Toledo and CUENCA, Spain!

Thanks for reading to the end.  Here are your bonus pictures for being tenacious!

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I haven’t dressed like this since our last winter in Alaska. It was above freezing but there was a biting wind most of the days.
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The jamón from the La Alberca pigs was incredible. Spanish jamón is NOTHING like American ham. It’s cured for a really long time, isn’t refrigerated, is sliced very thinly, and is now my favorite type of pork!

 

 
 
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Paula was just recently hired as a flight attendant. She couldn’t be more thrilled. Her newly improved English is going to help her so much.
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Chris (US) and Sylvia (New Zealand) unaware they are being photo bombed by Glenn and Mara (those are my fingers!)
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Mara learning the fine art of slicing jamón. No fingers were lost in this endeavor.