Friday, June 27, 2008

June 30, 2008—Iowa Recovers from Natural

Consider This for Consider This for June 30, 2008—Iowa Recovers from Natural Disasters

Iowa is in the epicenter of natural disasters this spring. Two major tornadoes and several weeks of flooding have put Iowa weather as the lead story on the national news.

I think that the real story is not the weather but how the people of Iowa have responded to these events.

I will never forget Sally Mason, the President of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, walking with a reporter surveying the flooding on campus. She was the epitome of strength and sitting in my living room in Breckenridge I could feel satisfaction knowing that she had her act together and that she would protect the historic artifacts of the University from the flood.

Another mind picture is Chet Culver the governor of Iowa talking about the Boy Scouts who were heroes in the aftermath of the tornado at the Little Sioux Boy Scout camp. The governor was not touting the National Guard or the state police. He was talking about the heroic acts of individual scouts. Everyone commented for days about how the scouts were prepared for the event and snapped into action when it occurred. In a matter of fact way they said that the boy scouts acted like boy scouts and were truly “Prepared” as their motto states.

My sister Janet and her church group went to Parkersburg last week to help clean up after their tornado. She commented about the amount of broken glass around the destroyed homes. There was broken glass, broken homes but not a broken spirit. Their web site says, “Parkersburg, Iowa—Growing with Pride.”

I remember my parents telling me about the 1979 Manson tornado just a few miles north of where I grew up. Three people were killed and 117 homes were destroyed. I also remember driving through Manson a couple of years later and not seeing any damage. It was as if it had never happened.

They say that anywhere from 10% to 20% of the crop was lost. A farmer was interviewed by national news about what he was going to do about the loss. He just looked straight into the camera and said he would replant. Plain and simple there are no tears, no whining. He had probably done that many times in the past without the scrutiny of the national news.

When you are a farmer you are a gambler. You take chances in a very risky business. When you are confronted by flood, tornadoes or hail you simply pull up your pants and get to work. No time to complain. Time is money and time is better spent in replanting.

I grew up a few miles from the Raccoon River and the Des Moines River. Both went out of their banks on a regular basis and they did again this year. The levees failed like they do every year and thousands of volunteers showed up to fill sandbags and build temporary levees.

I found it interesting that they began to say that levees did not help and that some should be removed to improve the flow of flood water out of the area. This was described as the same as putting your thumb on the end of a garden hose to build up water pressure to remove the really bad stuff from your car. The only difference is that in a river that pressure causes death and destruction.

The key remains the people. Some of the people born in Iowa include John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Buffalo Bill, President Herbert Hoover, John Lewis, Billy Sunday, Vice President Henry Wallace, Meredith Wilson, Cloris Leachman, Ashton Kutcher, George Washington Carver, William Frawley, Donna Reed, George Gallup, Glenn Miller, Harry Reasoner, Harriet Nelson, Tom Arnold, Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren Gary Berghoff, Fred Grandy, Andy Williams and American Gothic artist Grant Wood to name just a few.

It always comes full circle. It has nothing to do with emergency planning or levees. It has to do with University Presidents and Boy Scouts. That is our first line of defense followed by thousands of others working their fingers to the bone supporting the effort.
Iowa is in the epicenter of natural disasters this spring. Two major tornadoes and several weeks of flooding have put Iowa weather as the lead story on the national news.

I think that the real story is not the weather but how the people of Iowa have responded to these events.

I will never forget Sally Mason, the President of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, walking with a reporter surveying the flooding on campus. She was the epitome of strength and sitting in my living room in Breckenridge I could feel satisfaction knowing that she had her act together and that she would protect the historic artifacts of the University from the flood.

Another mind picture is Chet Culver the governor of Iowa talking about the Boy Scouts who were heroes in the aftermath of the tornado at the Little Sioux Boy Scout camp. The governor was not touting the National Guard or the state police. He was talking about the heroic acts of individual scouts. Everyone commented for days about how the scouts were prepared for the event and snapped into action when it occurred. In a matter of fact way they said that the boy scouts acted like boy scouts and were truly “Prepared” as their motto states.

My sister Janet and her church group went to Parkersburg last week to help clean up after their tornado. She commented about the amount of broken glass around the destroyed homes. There was broken glass, broken homes but not a broken spirit. Their web site says, “Parkersburg, Iowa—Growing with Pride.”

I remember my parents telling me about the 1979 Manson tornado just a few miles north of where I grew up. Three people were killed and 117 homes were destroyed. I also remember driving through Manson a couple of years later and not seeing any damage. It was as if it had never happened.

They say that anywhere from 10% to 20% of the crop was lost. A farmer was interviewed by national news about what he was going to do about the loss. He just looked straight into the camera and said he would replant. Plain and simple there are no tears, no whining. He had probably done that many times in the past without the scrutiny of the national news.

When you are a farmer you are a gambler. You take chances in a very risky business. When you are confronted by flood, tornadoes or hail you simply pull up your pants and get to work. No time to complain. Time is money and time is better spent in replanting.

I grew up a few miles from the Raccoon River and the Des Moines River. Both went out of their banks on a regular basis and they did again this year. The levees failed like they do every year and thousands of volunteers showed up to fill sandbags and build temporary levees.

I found it interesting that they began to say that levees did not help and that some should be removed to improve the flow of flood water out of the area. This was described as the same as putting your thumb on the end of a garden hose to build up water pressure to remove the really bad stuff from your car. The only difference is that in a river that pressure causes death and destruction.

The key remains the people. Some of the people born in Iowa include John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Buffalo Bill, President Herbert Hoover, John Lewis, Billy Sunday, Vice President Henry Wallace, Meredith Wilson, Cloris Leachman, Ashton Kutcher, George Washington Carver, William Frawley, Donna Reed, George Gallup, Glenn Miller, Harry Reasoner, Harriet Nelson, Tom Arnold, Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren Gary Berghoff, Fred Grandy, Andy Williams and American Gothic artist Grant Wood to name just a few.

It always comes full circle. It has nothing to do with emergency planning or levees. It has to do with University Presidents and Boy Scouts. That is our first line of defense followed by thousands of others working their fingers to the bone supporting the effort.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 23, 2008—Just How Stupid Are We?

Consider This for June 23, 2008—Just How Stupid Are We?

“What good fortune for those in power that people to not think.” Adolf Hitler

At one time we all had to take a year or two of Civics to learn about government and how it affected our day to day lives. Civics went the way of Driver Education and Wood Shop in the never ending quest of educators to teach our children more relevant things. Our current level of knowledge about government and the fact that we are all terrible drivers only proves the error of our ways.

I watched a program about a new book “Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter by Rick Shenkman. Rick was on CNN last week with Rick Sanchez talking about his book and what he had to say really resonated with me.

His thesis is that most voters do not have a clue as to how government works. People vote based on how they feel about someone or some issue rather than grasping the importance of how they actually get to choose their government and are able to decide how it is run and who is in charge

I am not recommending the book because I have not read it yet. I think that it is probably unethical and maybe immoral to recommend something that you have not personally read. Imagine recommending a restaurant that you have never visited?

I had a student a couple of years ago who refused to register to vote because she felt that her vote would not make a difference. When she finished my class she was registered and had some very strong opinions about the importance of her vote and how she could influence government. The irony with her was that she was from Florida, the land of the hanging chad, and the presidential election that was won by a person who did not get the most votes.

Let me share with you the basics of the government that you get to choose and pay for.

Our government is patterned after the government in England with some substantial differences.

There are three types of government, Federal, State and Local. The Federal government is easily described and you hear about it daily on the news.

State government is different in each state. In a Federalist system of government as we have each state has its own constitution and laws. Each state is much like its own country in many ways. Most of us have lived in two or more states and know how laws can be different. The current issue of same sex marriage is an example.

Local government is counties, towns and districts. There are 63 counties in Colorado and hundreds of towns and districts. Each county is an arm of state government but towns and districts are not. They are pretty much autonomous.

There are three branches of government. Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Again, this is patterned after the government in England. At the time the Executive branch in England was the King or Queen. There was even talk about making George Washington King after the Revolutionary War.

At the federal level the Executive is the President of the United States and his Cabinet and various functions given to the president under the constitution. At the state level it is the governor and in local government it could be the county commissioners, the mayors or the chairman of the board of a special district.

The legislative function at the federal level is congress which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is also true at the state level. At the local level it would be the board of county commissioners, town council and the board of directors of a special district.

The Judicial function at the federal level is the Supreme Court with each state also having a Supreme Court. At the local level this function under law is given to District Courts for appeal and review of actions of local government.

Of course there is a lot more to government than what I have stated. It is up to you to find out more on your own. Just keep in mind that you do get the kind of government that you deserve.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 16, 2008—Give Yourself a 10% Discount on Gas

Consider This for June 16, 2008—Give Yourself a 10% Discount on Gas

I can show you a surefire way to save 10% on your gasoline bill. All you have to do is slow down.

I had read about this and finally tried it over the past couple of weeks. I have done this now with two tanks of gas and have consistently saved 10% on the amount of gas I have used.

There is a new challenge out there where many people are becoming hypermilers. They claim to improve their gas mileage to as high as 50 miles per gallon using some very strange methods.

Mine is quite simple. Never ever drive over 55 miles an hour. I am serious. My gas mileage on my 2004 Honda Accord went from 30 miles per gallon to 33 miles per gallon on both tanks of gas. That means that at $4.00 a gallon for gas I am saving 40 cents a gallon. I am getting the equivalent of $3.60 a gallon gas by only changing one thing that did not cost me one penny.

Some of us are old enough to remember “Alive at 55” where the speed limit dropped from 75 miles per hour down to 55 miles per hour because of the energy crisis of 1973. Two things happened. One was that we consumed a lot less gas and the fatal accident rate dropped by 10 per cent. When that happened 50 less people died in Colorado as a result of reduced speeds.

Of course over the years the speed limit crept back up again where there are places in Colorado where you can legally drive 75 miles an hour. The fatal accident rate went back up and the gas consumption went up also.

I saw a piece on TV last week about President Bush going to Saudi Arabia to plead with the king to increase the supply of crude oil to drop prices. The king refused and the commentator reminded us that some of the massive amount of Saudi Oil money is being paid to Islamic terrorist groups to keep them from attacking Saudi Arabia. That money is being directly funneled to terrorists in Syria, Iran and Iraq according to that report.

Now you could say that if you drive a gas guzzling SUV that gets 10 miles to the gallon or less and you are paying $4.00 a gallon and you drive at 65 miles per hour or more you are indirectly financing terrorism. Now you could say that but I will let you decide that one for yourself.

In summary, here are some other tips that are out there to save gas. Keep in mind that I am not recommending any of these other than slowing down. All have been gleaned from the Internet and various media sources.

Never make a left turn. If you only make right turns you do not have to stop. (Seems I just wrote about that bad habit.) Drive with no shoe on your right foot so you can feel the amount of pressure you are using on the pedal. Never use your brakes. Put your car in neutral going downhill. (This one is illegal in Colorado because you lose the braking power of your engine.) Always pull through a parking space so you do not have to back up to get out. Backing up is like breaking and is a negative factor in saving gas.

Never roll down your windows because it increases the resistance caused by the car. Never use your air conditioner because it dramatically reduces your gas mileage. (Now imagine all of the hot sweaty people driving around on a 90 degree day with their windows rolled up and the air conditioning turned off. Yuck.) Keep your vehicle clean as the dirt on your car causes resistance. Turn off your car when you stop for a light. (Another dangerous thing.)

The latest reports indicate that the top price for gas in the near term will be $6.00 a gallon. By then I am sure that you will have come up with some great ideas of your own and some of you might actually start walking and taking public transportation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A monestary. You have to make priests for all those churches.

And there are churches

My room. I paid $20 a day for a room, laundry and three meals

Union Hall (Emplandos) (Employees)

Another Church

More Dulche

Monday, June 9, 2008

Indigenous Women all wear hats.

The Cathedral in Cuenca

Entrance to my school

Nearby Catholic High School

Cuy (Guinea Pigs) roasting on the grill at the restaurant

Post crab nap

Crab feast

Katie and Dianne on Dianne's last day at the house.

Monseratt the oldest daughter supervising

Eugenio supervising the cleaning of the crab

Eat me

Cleaning the crab for lunch

The other end of the museum. This was a lecture hall.

El Banco Museo (The Cuenca Museum)

More bean shucking

Dr. Eugenio supervising in the kitchen

Bean shucking at the kitchen table with Sylvia's mom

Looked like green peas but really green beans

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Room of eyes

More garden

More of the Museum Garden

18 year old student Grace from Maryland

Garden at Museum of Modern Art

Stevan's youngest son Gordo which means fat.

Carlos' wife and their son.

Stevan and his wife. Stevan is second oldest son.

Carlos and Elena's oldest son Fabian

Elena and the new girls from Toronto

The family on Sunday night

Elena's brother Carlos and I at Sunday Dinner

Sunday Family Dinner

Katie and Diana from Canada at their first family Sunday dinner

Avenue of Americas below my house

Cuenca from the balcony outside my room.

Julie from Canada

Interior of my room

Tower in front of Christ the King Church

Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Church on North Side of Cuenca

Fellow Student Julie from Toronto on her last day

Older Community Church on Calle Rio Largo

Elena's Sister and her son Bruno

Typical meal at home

Eugenio eating an olive

Ecuador May 27, 2008

Ecuador May 27, 2008

Last day of school. I have mixed emotions about that. I think that if I stayed for a few more weeks I would have learned a lot more. Those of you who have studied a foreign language know what I am talking about. It has to do with momentum. Once you get up to speed it is much easier to continue than to stop for a while and then try to get back to where you were before.

The school has been great and the instruction and instructors are wonderful. Much better than Mexico or Guatemala for that matter.

I am taking Conversational Spanish this summer at Colorado Mountain College. That should be good also. Much of what I have learned in the past has been grammar. I can read written and understand spoken Spanish but my problem is and always has been speaking Spanish. I can get by but it takes a lot of practice.

My two roommates Diane and Katie speak Spanish much better than I do but I am their “go to” guy for grammar and vocabulary. I am more the student and they are more the practicier. (Is that a word?) Anyway, they practice their Spanish a lot while I spend hours and hours memorizing verbs and vocabulary words.

For everyone’s information there is only one Spanish language. There are not different Spanish languages in different parts of the world. What you do find is different pronunciation in different places. The word is the same but the way it sounds is different.

You find the purist Spanish in Spain but it is written the same way and used the same way. It just sounds different.

Is there more than one English language? No. Do different countries pronounce words differently. Yes.

I like to use the comparison between Alabama and Maine. They speak English in both places but it certainly sounds different. Most of us from Iowa and Colorado might find it difficult to understand either.

Different countries have different words in Spanish just the same as different states have different words. What does the term “Front Range” mean to someone from Mississippi? Where is “The Tunnel” for someone from Oregon? I think you get my point.

I have actually seen a map of spoken English dialects in America. It is fascinating to see a visual depiction of how people speak. I even have a book of how people in Iowa who live north of US Highway 30 speak differently than those who live south of US Highway 30. On one side the word is Creek and on the other side it is Crick.

Some of you might see this again as I just decided to turn this into an article for the paper.

I get into a big yellow taxi (Joni Mitchell) at around 3 pm tomorrow to go to the airport in Cuenca. My flight from Cuenca leaves at around 6:30 pm for Quito. I leave Quito on a Delta flight to Atlanta at around 10 pm. I will arrive in Atlanta on Thursday and change planes for Denver. I get into Denver around 10 am where my daughter Amy will pick me up. I left my car at her place in Aurora saving the now $160 that CME charges to go to the airport. Pretty soon no one will drive including CME. g

Ecuador May 26, 2008

Ecuador May 26, 2008

Sundays are always different here. As I have mentioned before my family in Ecuador is very tight. They never let a day go by without some or all of the members of the family coming over to visit and most of the time it is to eat.

On Friday Fabian had shown me several large plastic tubs full of fresh crab. He did not tell me who or what they were for. Yesterday morning Elena yelled at me to come down and she took me into the back yard where Fabian, Stephan and Carlos along with about ten of the grandchildren were washing and preparing all of the crab. I would imagine that there was more than fifty pounds in all.

The women were boiling water in the kitchen and when the crabs were ready they were brought upstairs to be cooked. There were at least thirty people eating lunch and everyone had as much as they wanted and even then there was crab left over. Amazing.

Earlier yesterday I had decided to walk around the entire outskirts of the city. It took about four hours. I walked from the house to the airport and then to a famous Museum (El Banco Central) and then to the mall where the movie theatre is and then to the Café Austria for some real coffee (Everyone here serves a very weak instant coffee made by Nestles) then to the Festival and then to the open market and then back to the house. I think that I had to have walked off breakfast. I even worked up a sweat which is hard to do when the temperature is 50 degrees.

Yesterday Diane announced that she is moving out into a hostel. We pay $20 a day here for room and board and she can get a room with a private bath at the hostel for $3 a day. She is too funny. She will make someone a great wife as she is a major penny pincher. I have told her that she could write a book called. “South America on 50 cents a day.” She is also going to stop attending the school here at the end of the week because she found a cheaper one in Bogotá.

I guess Katie will have the house and the shower to herself after I leave on Wednesday.

Speaking of that, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be my last report. Wednesday is Fly Day for me so I will be doing last minute things and then flying to Denver arriving on Thursday. By the way, the time difference here is one hour. We are on the same time as Dallas, Kansas City, Iowa and Minnesota. It is called Ecuador Central Time. They do not observe Daylight Savings Time here as they did not in Guatemala too.

Speaking of time. You all know how there is 24 hours of sunlight in Alaska in the Summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. Here it seems to be another extreme. Boom the sun is up at 7 am and boom it goes down at 7 pm. No dusk, no twilight. It is either on or off. Now I have only been here in May so that might change at other times of the year. g

Ecuador May 25, 2008

Ecuador May 25, 2008

I had another quiet day on Saturday. I went to the Internet store around 9 am and then went over to the Cathedral for the Corpus Christi Festival. They were not kidding when they said there were lots of sweets there. Just about anything you could imagine from brownies, to fudge, to soft candy to hard candy. I saw something there that I had never seen before. A frosting and sprinkles covered bagel. With my gluten allergy I could only look but it looked great.

When I got home Eugenio, Elena, Stefan and his family were all here for lunch. They also had been to the Festival and had a large bag of goodies. They went to the Campana (countryside) after lunch. They invited me to go along but I had a lot of homework. Homework for a 66 year old man? Si. I get at least two to four pages a day. It is fairly easy and all I have to do is look up the answer not unlike an open book test.

The girls got back from the Ecological Park after I went to bed but I would imagine that they had a good day. It was very bright and sunny most of the day which is unusual.

Do not know what today will hold in store but I would imagine it will be the same. This is the third year that I have done this and it is always the same toward the end. Lots of familiarity after the newness wears off.

I feel like I have lived in Cuenca all of my life. I know every house and every person between my house and the school. People in the street greet me each day just like I have been here forever. It will be hard to leave but I have a lot on my plate for the next three months.

I am teaching two full days and then taking classes two other days. That leaves Friday, Saturday and Sunday to do what I want to do.

I also have my weekly article and that takes at least two days to write. My formula is to write off the top of my head for up to 1000 words. I then let it sit for a day or two and get back to it to edit it and cut it down to the 700 words the paper allows. It seems to work for me.

For the past few weeks I have been writing between 2000 and 5000 words a week so I guess I have a lot of words in me. Writing has always been easy to me and I even write in my head as I walk or drive through my day. Amazing how that works. I used to write notes about my thoughts but I found that I remember everything just as well.

I am not a baseball fan. In fact I do not like any sports including football. So guess what was on TV in Cuenca, Ecuador last night? Rockies baseball. Yup. It was probably blocked out in Denver and Colorado but we had it in Ecuador. You may already know this but baseball is a big sport throughout Mexico, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Many of their young men have become millionaire baseball players in the US. g

Ecuador May 24, 2008

Ecuador May 24, 2008

It continued to get colder last night. Eugenio was walking around with his leather coat on and I decided not to go to the festival. I will probably go today. The only thing I will miss are the fireworks. I can see them from the balcony from my room anyway.

Several of you have mentioned the tornadoes in Weld County. That was actually on our local news here in Cuenca. What a mess. I remember tornadoes in Iowa but there have been very few in Colorado in the 38 years I have lived there.

Julie the former roommate came by yesterday to get the rest of her stuff. She is on her way to the Galapagos for a couple of months. Elena was gone when Julie was here and when I told her that Julie had come by she started to cry because Julie did not call her. I can’t imagine the hundreds of students who have lived with Elena over the years and she views all of them as her children. She even considers me who is ten years older than she is.

Elena was at a civic event last night and her daughter in law made dinner for us. Their whole family was here too. I just wish that all families could be as tight as this one.

My instructor Miguel asked me yesterday if I had been sick or if any of the students had been sick. I told him that no one had to my knowledge. I guess he wondered if the water or food had bothered anyone. I don’t remember anyone getting sick in Mexico, Guatemala or Ecuador. In my opinion each country goes out of the way to be clean. I heard more about food poisoning in Summit County when I was a commissioner. The dirtiest thing you can eat in the United States, Colorado or Summit County is the salad bar. There are too many opportunities for contamination.

Speaking of eating. There is a restaurant near the house called Punto’s. It is very new and upscale. The front half is fast food take-out and the other side is a nice sit down restaurant. It has nice lighting and tablecloths with nicely dressed wait staff. Now here is the kicker. There are about four armed guards with shotguns and machine guns at all of the entrances. Now are they there to keep people out or to keep people in the restaurant? Having been a police officer for many years I know something about guns and theirs are top of the line. I guess they are there to prevent armed robberies.

There is a taxi stand on the way to school that has three heavily armed police officers. I could never figure out why as it is in a very quiet neighborhood. Yesterday I had to walk on the other side of the street because of traffic and figured out what was up. There is a drug rehab residence on the other side of the street from the taxi stand. Nice they can have their own three police officers.

Another interesting police story. The motorcycle police here ride very small dirt bikes. Actually it is a good idea because they are fast and lightweight. They can get in and out of traffic very easily. Sometimes there will be two officers on one motorcycle. A two man motorcycle. I am sure that the police unions in the United States would not like that one. I would not like to be the passenger on a police motorcycle but it does double your manpower.

I do not have any plans for today. The girls are going to the Ecological Park for the day. If it is not raining I will go to the Plaza for the festival and download my computer at the computer store. g

Ecuador May 23, 2008

Ecuador May 23, 2008

Some of you might remember my writing about the explosions in San Miquel during the festivals for the saints in 2005. Of course the same thing happens here. Right now the Festival of Corpus Christi is being celebrated for four days starting yesterday, Thursday. All night long there are loud explosions from various parts of the city. When I was in San Miguel they were coming from the churches. Here I am not sure where they are coming from. I live at least a mile from the nearest of the eight Catholic churches here and I doubt if the sound would be that loud. In Mexico I was told that the explosions were to rid the church of evil spirits during the festival. Not sure what is going on here.

Elena and Eugenio went to the festival last night and I did not get dinner until 9 pm. The price you pay for a good festival. My teacher told me the best part of the festival was the Dulce which means sweet in Spanish. He said that there are many vendors who sell small samples of sweets. That way you can have a lot of different sweets in one night. Remember the Italian movie in the 1960s, “La Dulce Vita” the Sweet Life. I guess they must have gone to a festival with Dulce.

I end my last full week today. I have class on Monday and Tuesday and then fly home on Wednesday and Thursday next week. I still can’t believe that nearly four weeks has gone by. There are 99 pages in our workbook and I will have finished all of them by Tuesday. Lots of information.

Each time I have taken a trip to improve my Spanish the experience has been different. I guess that I have learned a lot in each place but the school, the homes and the people are all different. Regardless it is always a good experience and broadens my outlook on life in general. We live in a very large world and it is important that each of us learn as much as we can about other places even if it might only be watching National Geographic or the Travel Channel. It is all good. g

Ecuador May 22, 2008

Ecuador May 22, 2008

Not raining this morning. I guess that is a good sign. Too bad we can’t get all this rain into the Colorado River Basin.

The lead story on CNN International this morning is the European Championship Soccer Match from Moscow. Funny how some priorities work. A cyclone in Myanmar and an earthquake in China and two major wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and the lead story is about a game. Something is wrong with this picture. I am sure that the fans from Manchester United would disagree with me.

On the local front there are still problems with insurgents in Ecuador attacking Columbia from their safe haven in this country. By the way, after Israel Columbia gets more US aid than any other country because of their drug trade. How about we use that money in the US to reduce demand rather than spending it to prop up a country that could care less?

Now why would we do that when our obvious goal is to support English soccer teams?

I have always supported the legalization of Marijuana. I felt that way even when I was a police officer in New York City. A week from tomorrow I am receiving an award for my efforts both as an elected official and as a writer to legalize pot.

Yesterday I was asked to serve on a national forum to fight against the death penalty also. A few months ago I wrote about my opposition to legislation that would make child sexual assault a capitol crime. That bill died in committee but the proponents will probably bring it back. I think that people who have sex with children are very sick but they certainly do not deserve the death penalty. They should be put in a secure mental facility for the rest of their lives.

I had a very quiet day yesterday. Got up and had breakfast with the girls. Walked to school. Spent four hours in class. Went to the Internet store to send and receive e mails. Walked home. Ate lunch. Took a nap. Went to Supermax to buy Coca light. (Diet Coke) and some peanuts and some chocolate covered raisins. (Hey do I know how to eat or what?) Walked home in the rain. Watched the news. Waited for the girls to come home from dance lessons at the school. (They have dance lessons every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. I did that in Mexico and will pass on it here.) Ate dinner. Watched a movie in French. Went to bed. Whoa. I can hardly restrain my excitement.

But on a serious note. I love Ecuador and I love my home stay family and I love my school. Things could not be better. Well maybe it could rain a little less. I will be back in Colorado a week from today and I am sure that I am going to miss this place. And no, I am not planning to come back. I think my next trip will be longer and will be to Spain. They broadcast Spanish Television here from Madrid. They also have direct flights from Quito to Madrid. They really value the association with the mother country.

Most of you know that I also teach History. England, Spain and France were the big players in colonizing the world. Nearly every country can trace its roots back to one of the big three countries in exploration. Much of what happened was religious and had to do with spreading the gospel and evangelizing the world. Every day I see that influence in Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador. People forget that. It is one of the reasons that Madrid Television is on in Ecuador and that there are non-stop flights back to the mother country.

Speaking of mothers. I want all of you mothers both male and female to have a great day and never forget us expatriates fighting for freedom in the halls of the Simon Bolivar Spanish School in Cuenca, Ecuador. g

Ecuador May 21, 2008

Ecuador May 21, 2008

The weather finally cleared yesterday and maybe my clothes will dry out. When you are already in humid climate the wetness lasts a lot longer. It is not like Colorado where everything dries naturally in a few minutes.

The school offers a lot of extra activities such as dance lessons in Salsa, Tango, Rumba and Meringue. I did that in Mexico because they required that everyone attend and the classes were held during regular class time. I eventually opted out of that and took and advanced class in Mexican History. Here the classes are held in the evening. I am told that only women show up for dance classes and then dance with each other. I remember going to the local Ballroom in Iowa in the early 1950s where women would dance with each other while the men sat in the corner drinking and smoking cigarettes. Some things never change.

This week I did participate in two events. Cuenca history and the City Tour. Both were interesting and I would recommend them to any student. Cuenca history was in a classroom and was more of a Spanish conversation event where the City Tour was actually a foot tour of the city. It included museums and churches as well as being shown various styles of architecture and construction. I found out that there are three styles each denoting various periods in history. The types of construction included log and adobe construction that has lasted a couple of hundred years. They also told us that they are now putting insulation in their homes. Sounds like a good idea to me. They still do not have any heat in their homes or central hot water. Maybe that is not true as there are many very modern new homes being built.

I actually fly back a week from today. I leave Cuenca around 6 pm and then fly from Quito to Atlanta at 10 pm on an overnight flight. I get to Denver around 10 pm on Thursday. It will be good to get home. I think that the hot water is what I have missed the most. And of course that includes getting my clothes washed every day. Elena does not have a clothes dryer so she hangs out clothes on stair railings and on a very small clothes line out back. It takes a day or two for things to dry.

It is funny how I never considered hot water and clean clothes before. In Mexico I had to take things to a laundry but could get them back the same day. In Guatemala I gave my clothes to Rosa and some poor woman had to stand half naked in the lake two wash them. There my clothes came back clean but with a tint of red from the minerals in the lake.

I think that everyone should have to live in a third world country for a month so they could understand how important the little things are in our lives. g

Ecuador May 20, 2008

Ecuador May 20, 2008

Now I sound like a weather reporter. We had torrential rain again yesterday for the third day in a row. I guess that is why they call this the rainy season.

It rained so hard yesterday that the streets flooded and all of the traffic came to a complete stop. The bad news was that I got soaked. The good news was that I made it home without being killed in the traffic. Traffic not moving equals a safe walk/run home.

Yesterday one of my instructors heard me comment about how cold the weather is here on the Equator. She reminded me that the two coldest months are June and July. I can’t win for losing. I froze to death all winter long in Summit County and the day after I finished teaching this last semester I got on a plane and flew to the Equator only to find myself in the middle of winter again. Oh well. I guess I could move to the desert.

In the same conversation a couple here from Winter Park said that the very best place to live is San Diego because the weather is consistently warm. Then the fellow’s wife reminded him that it is deadly hot there in the middle of summer. Again. Can’t win for losing.

The instructor has asked everyone where they thought the very best place in the United States was to live. Just about everyone in the group mentioned California. I said Monterrey but several said San Francisco and San Diego. I think it is funny that no one actually lived in California but California was the state of choice.

One thing that was kind of cute. There was a woman in the group in her 60s from Alaska. Her most favorite place was Ottawa. When she was asked to talk about the most spectacular thing about Alaska she said it was the sparse population. I commented that Wyoming was even sparser and she wanted to argue the point. Oh well. Then I asked her if she felt Denali was spectacular and she had never heard of Denali. (Denali, Mount McKinley is the highest mountain in North America and certainly in the United States.) Maybe she is part of the witness protection program.

It is hard to imagine that a week from today will be my last day in school. Four weeks just fly by when you are having fun.

My two new roommates are doing fine. They have more time in Ecuador under their belt than just about anyone I know. They are both modern day soldiers of fortune having spent some time in just about every country in South America. They are both under 25 and both from Toronto and both college students. It is interesting how up to speed they are on politics in the United States. They both would vote for Obama if they were citizens which they are not.

Interesting story. Diane (Dee-Anne) told me yesterday that her father had worked as an electrical contractor in Toronto all of his life. He had grown up on a farm but had become a contractor early on in his life. When he retired he bought a small farm and has remodeled the house and all of the out buildings and he and his wife are now living there. She said he has never been happier. Nice to hear stories like that.

I spent much of my youth on a farm in Iowa and my goal is to find a penthouse somewhere and remodel it and live there for the rest of my life. (Just kidding.) I remember my mother telling me to leave my small town in Iowa and Iowa in general because she felt it was a trap and she did not want me to suffer that fate. I do have fond memories of being in Iowa and working on the farm but I have never wanted to go back to that life. Not that there is anything wrong with it.

Ecuador May 19, 2008

Ecuador May 19, 2008

I have very little to report but watch me fill up the page anyway.

All I did yesterday was walk to the Internet store early in the morning to send what you got yesterday. The rest of the day I studied, watched TV and slept. Oh yeah. I watched it rain very hard all day. It was a driving rain like the kind we used to get in Iowa in the summer and then go out and play in the street and gutters. Iowa was a simple life in those days. Give me a piece of string and a rock and I will build a space ship.

Julie finally left yesterday morning. That was a production. She did not want to take all of her stuff on this first leg of her next trip so she left most of it in my room and the rest in a spare bedroom. Julie is the kind of woman who literally consumes all of the energy in a room when she appears. She adheres to the theory of life that says it is better to burn out than rust out.

Julie is from Toronto via Vancouver where she is in graduate school. Two new women came last night and they are both from Toronto also. One said that there are direct flights from Toronto to Quito so it is a popular place to visit. Katie will be here for four weeks and is going to do the eight hour a day class. I don’t remember the other woman’s name but she will only do four hours a day for one week. She was in a class in Peru that was eight hours and she said that she could not consume all of the information.

The family came over last night for their regular Sunday gathering. Everyone came up to my room again to look at the photos on my computer. Carlos is Elena’s brother and he had never seen any of the photos. He asked later if he could come back and look at all of my photos. Of course I agreed. At various times I have taken my computer downstairs and left it for everyone to browse any and all of the stuff. Carlos is a PhD Psychologist and is a real kick. His wife is even a bigger kick than he is at times. Must be fun to live in their house.

I took a lot more pictures of the family last night too. I will post them on the Internet when I get back. So far I have about 150 photos of the city and the family. g

Ecuador May 18, 2008

Ecuador May 18, 2008

I remember being on the farm in Iowa and that the roosters would crow about the time the sun came up. In Ecuador they crow at 2 am. Must be the altitude or latitude or one of the other tudes.

Today is the big transition. Julie leaves to continue here adventure and a new woman arrives to take her place. Julie’s bedroom is about twice the size of mine but I am fine where I am. To be sexist for a moment maybe girls need more room for some reason. Our closets are the same size in case you were wondering.

Not sure what the rest of the day holds in store.

Yesterday I walked down to Supermax. (I love saying that.) and bought a Snicker’s bar. As it was Saturday the place was packed.

After lunch I decided to walk to the very opposite side of the city. I live on the North side which is a mixture of old city and some new homes. On the South side there is nothing but new homes and new commercial development.

I had been told that the movie theater was in the general area of the Soccer Stadium. The stadium is on the map but the theater is not. It took me about 40 minutes to make the walk but when I got there I could not find the movie theater. I asked several people and they all said they did not know. I finally asked a mom and dad and their kids and no one knew except a five year old girl with the family. She knew exactly where it was and gave me great directions. She probably thinks a lot about going to the movies and was just waiting for some confused American to ask about the theater.

The theater is part of a huge mall. The mall had KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and all of the normal American fast food places along with several South American stores. I was very impressed with the entire operation. It was packed with people and most were just shopping and eating. The theater had six screens and none of the movies appealed to me.

It had rained all morning and had stopped by the time I left the house. Just as I got back home the skies opened up and there was a deluge for about an hour. Timing is everything in life and yesterday my timing was great.

Elena and Eugenio went to the first communion of one of their grandkids yesterday. They were all dressed up and looked so fine. I took a picture of them as they left.

There was a woman and a very young boy here at the same time and I asked them who they were. The woman told me that she was Elena’s sister and the boy was her son Bruno. The family here is so very tight but I did not know that Elena had a sister. The boy was only 11 months old so I guessed the sister was around 30. Elena is 62 so that is a major age spread. I found it strange that Elena did not introduce me. Could be one of those blips in the family that no one talks about.

The only relative of Elena’s that I had met was Carlos her brother. He is a PhD in Psychology and practices here. Very nice guy and very funny. He would fit right into Breckenridge. g

Ecuador May 17, 2008

Ecuador May 17, 2008

One more full week of school and then two days of classes the following week followed by two days flying back to Colorado. Seems like just yesterday that I landed in Cuenca. Also seems strange that it takes two days to fly back. It took eight hours to get here.

When I was booking the flights both American Airlines and Continental flew to Ecuador along with Delta that I picked. American Airlines and Continental both published times of more than 24 hours to get here while Delta said they could get me here in eight hours flight time. Both American and Continental had flights that went from Denver to either Miami and then Los Angeles. Both flew from either of those cities to Panama City where there was a layover before flying to Ecuador. I have been in Miami and Los Angeles many times and did not think that spending several hours in the airport in Panama City would be a good thing.

Have you ever noticed that all airports look the same? I flew a lot in the Air Force and spent many hours in civil terminals waiting for flight clearance. They look the same and smell the same in every part of the world. I wonder if they have an air freshener you can buy marked “Airport Terminal?” I know that you can buy air freshener called “New Car.” That one will save you $30k to $40k if all you want is the smell.

I had regular class yesterday morning and then walked home in the rain. It rained all day and night. I asked Eugenio about the weather and what happens when. He said that it rains from January to July or August and then is dry from August to January. The rainy season is their equivalent of winter.

You have to consider where the sun is during the year or even more correctly where the earth is tilting. Ecuador is on the equator. The earth’s northern hemisphere is either tipped toward or away from the sun. When it is tipped toward the sun it is summer in Colorado. When it is tipped away from the sun it is winter in Colorado. This tipping has the same effect in Ecuador.

The autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox just mark were the sun is at those two times of the year. One might think that the sun is always straight on the equator but that is not true. It is consistently warmer and dryer at the equator depending if you are in Africa in the Sahara or in South America in the Amazon.

As we know in Colorado altitude has a huge effect on the temperature. It never gets hot in Summit County by most standards but it gets very cold by everyone’s standard.

I have had a few people ask me about the food here. Other than eating rats (Cuy) the food is very normal. I lived in Mexico and Guatemala and the food in both places is the same as here.

The only place where Latin food is spicy is in the United States. It is not spicy in Mexico, Guatemala or Ecuador. It is actually quite bland.

Breakfast is served at 7:30 am and is two scrambled eggs, juice, water, fruit, fresh juice and a cup of coffee or tea. There is always a block of what is called Fresh Cheese on the table and I can slice off as much of that as I want. It is a soft cheese and is very much like mozzarella only much softer. Elena was serving Nestles Instant Coffee. I would always put two spoonfuls in my cup of hot water and it still tasted like crap. I mentioned that and she dug out a package of fresh ground coffee. That is wonderful. I went to the store and bought her a replacement package and it was $2.46 for a pound. The name on the package is Cubano but I do not think that it came from Cuba. I kidded her that it was probably communist coffee and that really concerned her.

At 1 pm for lunch, which is the big meal of the day, we always have steamed rice with fish, chicken or beef along with vegetables cooked in oil, fruit and fresh juice. Elena has a microwave but only uses it for reheating things. Eugenio bought some wonderful grapes at the store and we had those yesterday.

For dinner there is usually rice with leftover meat from lunch and fresh juice and fruit. That is the smallest meal of the day. Once in a while she will fix a salad. No lettuce, just cucumber, tomato and onions with oil. Last night her youngest son Steven came over and had a large bottle of olives so everyone had those too.

Speaking of the store it is called Supermax. Yes, just like the maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colorado. Supermax is wonderful. It is as nice as any Safeway, City Market or King Soopers in Colorado. It was probably the cleanest store I have ever been in. The store employees all wore very nice suits and were constantly asking if they could help me shop. Nice change from the arrogance of the employees in stores in Colorado. The Supermax was the anchor store in a small shopping center about 20 minutes from the house. I did notice that everyone shopping in the store was well dressed and appeared to be wealthy or were Americans. Elena had told me that the prices in Supermax were actually cheaper than the Mercado in El Centro. I agree. I wonder if the poor people in Cuenca are intimidated by the nice store. If that is true that is sad.

I will leave you on that note. In Mexico the indigent population is discriminated against. There it is the Indians. In Guatemala the Mayans are discriminated against. In Ecuador it is the Aztec decedents who are discriminated against. In all three countries the indigent population has a darker skin tone and they all wear native clothing. What a sad thing that they are put upon because of their ethnic background or the color of their skin. What a sad thing that we do the same thing to Mexicans in the United States. There should be a law against that. Oh yeah. There is a law. g

Ecuador May 16, 2008

Ecuador May 16, 2008

I suppose if I were living in a bigger place than Breckenridge I might think that there were a lot of things happening much the same as in Cuenca. This place never stops. Everyone is always going somewhere and doing something.

The house next door has a dog that barks all night long. In the beginning I thought it was because there was someone walking by or an axe murderer lurking in the shadows. Nope. It is just a barking dog. After a while I got used to it.

I walk about two miles to school each way. It is actually a pleasant walk and great exercise. About half way there is a taxi stand that is just like taxi stands everywhere in the world. About ten taxis parked against the curb with the drivers all huddled together telling lies to each other the way huddling men are prone to do.

In the midst of this social gathering each morning is a lone dog. It kind of looks like a border collie but the Border collie in this one is nearly long gone. The dog is a mutt. Each morning as I work my way through the crowd of drivers this one dog will start to follow me and try it’s hardest to threaten me with a very weak bark. I almost feel sorry for it. I am sure that the dog feels it is protecting the drivers from whatever threat I pose.

The oldest child in my family here is Fabian. He is in his early forties, married to Sylvia and they have a boy and a girl. On the resume that they provided he is listed as a Chemical Engineer. Someone said once that he ran a tire store. I found out later that he is the plant manager for General Tire here in Cuenca. A very smart and important man. He is also very kind and gentle. He is the fellow we all want our sons to be like when they grow up.

I have been taking a ton of pictures of the family and of Cuenca in the past two weeks. A few days ago Fabian asked me if he could use his flash drive to get some of my photos and of course I agreed.

Last night he and his family came over for dinner and after dinner we went to my room so he could capture the photos. A few minutes later the whole family was in my room to watch what we were doing. He got about ten photos and I started to shut down my computer. He asked me to stop because he wanted to show me what he was doing with the pictures.

Come to find out he had created this wonderful power point presentation with music of his family. The whole thing lasted about twenty minutes and it was wonderful. I think that he must have used Photo Shop to do the special effects. He had photos of him growing up then his wife and then his own children. I was blown away. Here is a chemical engineer who is the plant manager for a tire company in Ecuador creating an excellent film with special effects. I have wasted $10 watching things that were terrible. His production was something that I would pay much more for.

Believe it or not I am ending my second week in Ecuador today. I am very happy with my decision to come here and am looking forward to the next two weeks. My family is wonderful. The food is great. The city is outstanding. The school is much more than I expected. What more can I say.

One thing that I find interesting that I can’t ever change is my age. My host family is 64 and 62. The average age of the average student in the school is about 22. The average age of the average teacher is about 30. When I look around at home and at school I am the oldest person in the room. Of course I don’t feel that way but it makes me feel out of place at times. I guess I feel out of place in Breckenridge too. Maybe I need to move into a retirement home with a bunch of 70, 80 and 90 year old residents. Then I could look around and feel like the kid in the room. They say that there are two things that are inevitable. Death and taxes. I guess old age would be another thing you have to find inevitable. g

Ecuador May 15, 2008

Ecuador May 15, 2008

The whole world walks in Ecuador. It could have something to do with poverty and people not being able to afford a car. Another excellent reason is to stay off of the crowded and unsafe roads. I have never seen a bus travel at a high rate of speed but they do here.

Each bus has a driver of course but each bus also has a conductor. It is normally a young man who hangs out of the front passenger door taking fares from people. He also shouts instructions to the driver about when to start and stop. That is where the organization ends.

I have seen children as young as four years old both enter and depart the bus without the benefit of having the bus come to a complete stop. They kind of make a leap of faith hoping to make it into the bus or off the bus. No one grabs them and the conductor also steps aside to allow for a complete leap. There is a church here about every ten feet. Maybe they all have an angel helping them or they are buoyed by some very serious faith.

My new instructor Miguel is great. He is about forty years old and very calm and collected. He makes a point of stopping on a regular basis to ask if I have any questions and if I understand what we are doing. My afternoon instructor Edwin would talk a mile a minute and never ask for confirmation that I even heard what he had said. My former morning instructor Yadira Ordonez was very well paced and patient. It was easy to learn from her. Hopefully Miguel will be around for a while.

It was a very quiet day in the Athens of Latin America. It rained all day but not hard enough to impede doing something. I had a long list of new irregular verbs so after lunch I sequestered myself in my room to study. Time well spent.

Elena my house Senora told me last night that Julie is moving out on Sunday. Julie had mentioned earlier that she was going to a beach resort with a friend for two weeks and then coming back to Cuenca before she goes to the Galapagos. I think that she is seeing someone here from the school. I met her and a guy in the street this week and she made a point of not introducing him to me. Women would understand this. It is kind of like bringing your boyfriend home to meet your parents. Some level of commitment if she introduced her friend to this old guy who lives in her house.

I get up at 4 am every morning and have for years. I can watch CNN here in English and this morning I was interested in listening to the pundits talk about John Edward’s endorsement of Obama. I guess I was too interested as Julie had to knock on my door to ask if I would turn down the TV. I guess it is gratifying to have a 28 year old woman complain that a 66 year old man is making too much noise in the middle of the night.

Ecuador May 13, 2008

Ecuador May 13, 2008

Today is May 13. When I was a kid growing up in Iowa I remember reading the comic strip Pogo. You remember. We have met the enemy and it is us. Another one that I remember every month can be applied to today. Friday the 13th fell on Tuesday this month. Think about it.

The last 24 hours have been strange.

I get up at 4 am every morning and have for years. Not sure that my Senora Elena understands that.

I live in a very modern house in a very wealthy neighborhood but the house does not have any hot water. Yes, you read that right. No hot water. So when I get up at 4 am and want to take a shower a lot of things have to happen one of which is that Elena has to get up and walk outside to turn on the gas burner to create hot water for my shower. This is my tenth morning here and she has only forgotten three times. You cannot imagine the inspiring event it is to take a shower using cold water when the temperature in the house is around 50 degrees. Kind of gets your heart going. Elena forgot again this morning. Brrrr.

I had decided yesterday morning to cut back on my classes. I had originally decided to take four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. That worked for a few days until they moved me to an advanced schedule and the number of words I had to memorize doubled. I told the school that I wanted to cut back to just mornings. That would give me more time for preparation and free up my afternoons so I could use the Internet and see some of the city.

Yesterday I went in for my morning class to be greeted by a very sick teacher. She told me that she was going home and that she would see me today.

Last night I got a call from the school at 9:30 pm. (Those of you who know me well realize that I go to bed at 9 pm every night.) The school told me that my morning instructor had told them that she would not be back and as a result the only class they could offer me was my original afternoon class.

They also said that the next few weeks are very busy and that there are no other instructors available for morning classes.

I sometimes say this in speeches. The only time you should ever have to pay for pain is in certain places in San Francisco. Other than that if you pay for something it should be what you want to pay for and not what someone else wants.

The other example is letting circumstances control your life or you controlling the circumstances in your life. Yin and Yang.

Now I need to decide if I want to continue here or move on to the school on the Pacific coast, the Amazon jungle or back to Quito. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Of course the easy decision is to stay here and tough it out for the nest three weeks.

Yesterday after my class was cancelled I spent some time in an Internet store talking to Lynne over the Internet and then walking home in a drenching rainfall. Of course it stopped about five minutes after I got in the door.

The weather here is the very best of what we have in Colorado. We have very cool nights and very cool days. Strange when you think about the fact that we are on the Equator but we are also at almost 9000 feet in the Andes.

I have not seen Julie for a couple of days. She is hanging out with some other students from the school. Elena said something yesterday that showed a lot of wisdom. If you want to learn Spanish hang out with people who speak Spanish and not people who speak English. Julie is young. Julie will someday be as wise as Elena who is 62.

Ecuador May 12, 2008

Ecuador May 12, 2008

Several of my fans have asked that I write daily as I did from Guatemala last year. I will try that and see how it goes. One positive thing is that the reports should be shorter. I will no longer number them and just use the date that I am writing the report. If you don’t get one let me know. Also if I don’t write then there is obviously no report for that day.

Sunday, Mother’s Day was quiet. I walked to El Centro (downtown) to call Lynne and Amy as I knew they would be together shopping, Wal Mart, movie and lunch but wires got crossed and phones got lost. I called Amy three times and Lynne three times and could only talk to their voice mail. Something about the road to hell being paved by good intentions.

Amy wrote a long e mail about their day. It took a small army to get everything done but Amy, Matt and Luke stepped up to the plate and got it done. I got tired from 3500 miles away just reading the story.

I did go to El Mercado (the market) to retake some photos I had lost in another transition with my computer.

I walked around the market with my big shoulder bag with my laptop and carrying my very nice, expensive Nikon camera taking pictures of chickens and guinea pigs. As I was leaving the market two young girls about 15 came running up to me shouting about my camera and my bag and something about being robbed. Scared the crap out of me. I checked my bag and it was still closed and I still had my camera. I told them that I really did not understand what they were saying and they remained insistent about the bag and the camera. I just looked at them and walked away.

About a block later I realized what they were saying. They were telling me to put my camera in my bag and not carry it around exposed. They were saying that I would be robbed if someone saw my camera. My afternoon instructor had told me the same thing. Actually he told me to never carry my laptop or camera with me because I would get hit on the head for either one or both.

This morning Montserrat on of the grown daughters was here dropping off her son with her mother and I told her the story. She told me that what the girls had said was true and that the real problem was my bag. It looked too expensive. ($14 at Target) and that I needed something cheaper. She said that she would “borrow” (loan) me one and save me from a headache.

About 90% of the television here is in English with Spanish subtitles. Good for learning Spanish. I have kept up on the Tornadoes in Missouri, the Cyclone in Miramar and the earthquake this morning in China. Of course there is also the volcano that just blew up in Chile. Good day to stay home.

It rained this morning as I walked to School. It is nice but I never know how to dress. It is chilly so I put on layers but by the time I get to school I am very sweaty. I know that some of you like getting sweaty but in this case it is not nice.

My Senora makes a great breakfast every morning but serves instant coffee. Yuck. It was the same in Guatemala. There we were surrounded by coffee bushes and they served Nescafe from the United States. Starbucks where are you? g

Ecuador May 14, 2008

Ecuador May 14, 2008

A rainy morning in Paradise.

Yesterday it rained on my way home from school but it was more of a mist than rain. I was reminded of the truly mystical folks who are able to walk between the drops and never get wet. People were ducking into doorways to keep from getting wet while I walked next to the curb and seemed to not get wet. Mystical? I doubt it. Maybe I am so hot that the water vaporized before it hit me? Naw.

My conflict with my school schedule was resolved when yesterday afternoon they hired a new teacher just for me so I can continue to take classes in the morning. His name is Miguel and I am sure that I will be writing about him in the future.

I had Edwin the law student yesterday afternoon. He is a Nazi but that is ok because I call him that to his face. He will be a great attorney as he is a pain in the ass. He is probably the smartest person I have met in a long time so maybe that is part of his problem. When he is not cracking the whip he is actually a very nice guy. He can’t speak English and that is a plus. Those who do speak English are happier to learn English from me rather than teach me Spanish.

I think that I mentioned this before but I will repeat it for those of you who fell asleep. Ecuador uses the United States Dollar as their currency. That makes it very nice when it comes to buying things. Easy to see what it would cost in Denver for example.

One thing that is strange is that they write the amount like this. $10,14 instead of $10.14. Anything under $1 is shown as 00,27. Must be a hold over from before.

Another strange thing is that they use both the new American dollars and coins along with the old Ecuadorian dollars and coins. The value is the same but when you look at your change you question the veracity of the vendor. I have had a couple of arguments with people over this and of course I was wrong.

In all of the time I have lived in Mexico, Guatemala and now Ecuador I have never been cheated. I have been cheated in Summit County, Denver and New York but never in Latin America.

A couple of weeks before I came down here the clerk at Farmer’s Korner Market gave me change for a five when I gave him a twenty. He even put my twenty in the change drawer with the fives. When I called him on it he acted surprised until I pointed to the twenty in the wrong place in the drawer. It is a dangerous place out there in Farmer’s Korner in Summit County. You do not need to worry in Latin America though.

One of the grandchildren at my house told me a story yesterday about how the mouse in his house had eaten some flowers. Then he cracked up knowing the family joke about me and the Cuy. This comedian is all of four years old. It is not nice to make fun of old people. Really though I thought it was cute. Before he told me the story in Spanish he had asked his mother Monica to tell me the story in English to get my reaction. You are never too young to pick on people.

Now for the very bad news. I found a store that sells Snicker’s bars. Snicker’s bars are my weakness. My drug. My heroin. If I could figure out how to put a Snicker’s bar into a needle then I would be set for life.

As I was waiting to buy my drug there was a woman in line in front of me who was very confused and obviously an American. Always easy to spot the Americans. Always loud and overdressed. Anyway I asked her where she was from in English. She responded in Spanish that she was from Florida. I asked her where in Florida in Spanish and she responded in English. Ah the world of the experienced traveler.

Ecuador 4---May 11, 2008

Ecuador 4---May 11, 2008

Oh what a long strange trip this has been. Everything that I have said before remains true but as time goes by I realize even more that Ecuador is much different than any place I have ever been before.

The people here are very intelligent and highly educated. Cuenca, Ecuador is referred to as “The Athens of Latin America.” There is a four year college on almost every corner. Most of the people I encounter can speak at least two and sometimes five languages.

The most common person at the bus stop will announce in the middle of a casual conversation that he or she as a PhD from some prestigious University in Europe in Engineering or some equally challenging field. I am impressed.

Along with this also comes an attitude that their stuff does not stink.

Many wear their academic credentials on their sleeve. I think that some like to mention their credentials casually to create a level of prestige that would not normally occur. I think that is fine but in this culture a PhD might make $500 a month.

I realize that income and prices are highly inflated in the United States but I very seldom hear anyone talking about their education and/or income. I think that at least in the American West we judge people based on what they are and what they have accomplished rather than some ubiquitous standard.

My good friend John Farr often speaks of the European influence in his adopted country of Argentina. I would agree with John. I am given the Italian greeting of Ciao daily. Then when we finish eating someone will use the French greeting of Buen Provecho. Before you linguist out there jump down my throat I will agree that both are usual comments and are used widely in many cultures including the United States.

Anyway, back to the travel log.

The rain has stopped and the weather has gone from great to outstanding. Hard to imagine that this place has been here the whole time I have been suffering in Colorado each winter. Ecuador is on the equator hence the name. The country enjoys a long Pacific Coast with the high Andes running through the middle (that is where I am) and the Amazon River Basin in the east with deep jungles with all of the creatures you would ever want. All of this is within a very long bus ride or a short plane trip.

For example the trip from Quito to Cuenca by plane took 40 minutes but by bus takes 12 hours. I do not like to fly but this one was a no brainer.

My housemate Julie from Canada went on a day long trip to an Ecological National Park on Saturday. Sunday as I write this she is on another day trip to a volcano.

By the way, while she is here and in her later trip to the Galapagos Islands for three months she receives a salary, yes a salary, from the Government of Canada to finish writing her thesis. How about that for a free public education? Let’s hear some stories like that from the United States. Doubt if you will hear of any. I was getting a salary from Summit County when I wrote my thesis but I think that had more to do with the fact that I worked full time as a police officer and not that I was being paid to write my thesis.

My family took me to a birthday party on Saturday night for a young man who was turning 40. His father is a prominent doctor here in Cuenca and owns what I would characterize as the largest private single family home I have ever seen. I am sure that it was close to 50,000 square feet. It was a couple of hundred years old and had, at one time, been a church, a monetary and a nunnery. He was very nice and spent a lot of time telling me about how great his house was. The very strange thing was that it was in a very poor section of town and was surrounded by salvage yards and small industry. There were armed guards and the entire complex has surrounded by a very high fence.

He had hired an excellent singer and four or five disc jockeys playing an alternating selection of Spanish and American top hits. It was nice to sit in the courtyard listening to Elton John (yes he lives in Atlanta) and the Eagles some of whom live in Colorado. I especially enjoyed the many couples dancing various Spanish dances. They were very good. And no I did not get up and dance. I did take a ton of photos. There were also a lot of children there playing on the fully equipped playground in the center of the garden.

Dinner was roast beef, potatoes and steamed vegetables. He had about fifty people taking care of the food and drinks.

I will end on this. Speaking of food one of the favorite dishes in Ecuador is Cuy. Pronounced Coo-ie. It is a guinea pig. Yes, a guinea pig just like the one you got your kid years ago. They slaughter them, skin them and put them on a spit to roast them. I have been giving everyone a bunch of crap about their eating Cuy calling it a rat. How could anyone eat a rat?

Well yesterday I was invited to lunch to celebrate Dia de Madre (Mother’s Day). Of course I agreed to go. All of a sudden we were pulling into the parking lot of a Cuy restaurant. In the center of the parking lot were about two hundred of the little buggers cooking on the grill. I about passed out. Of course the family was rolling on the ground. What goes around comes around. They had done it on purpose. They waited until everyone received their Cuy and I was gingerly pulling it apart just like the child next to me was doing. In the midst of this the waiter brought me a real lunch of roast chicken breast. Everyone broke out in laughter. I did finally eat the Cuy and of course it tastes like chicken. But the so does rattlesnake and other offensive dishes.

Here is to Cuy and the other things in life we do no want to eat. g

Ecuador May 4, 2008

Ecuador 2 May 4, 2008

I finally got out of the airport in Quito around noon. The flight to Cuenca took 30 minutes. Believe it or not the crew served sandwiches and drinks during that time.

Maybe the major airlines in the US need to check their process out.

I sat next to a six year old girl who was traveling with her parents who were sitting behind us. We had a great conversation and she was thrilled with the flight. She really liked being above the clouds and then going down through the clouds to land.

On Sunday it is family day in Ecuador. My host family has several children and grandchildren. They all showed up for lunch and then we took a drive around the city. We looked at all of the historic sites and visited several churches, colleges and universities. We ended the trip with a stop for ice cream. What a big group.

Elena the grandmother took all of the orders and all the big kids like me and the little kids alike got what they wanted.

Eugenio the grandfather went to his dentist office while we were there. He is very musical and is singing, whistling or playing music all the time. He is very quiet but very introspective.

One of their daughters who is married to an airline pilot in Peru is going to move to Belgium for five years to get her PhD in Psychology. Right now she is a school psychologist and a classroom teacher. She is about 30. She will live in Belgium, her husband will live in Peru and their children will live here in Cuenca. You must have a strong marriage to make that work. The school in Belgium is paying all of her expenses for the five years including all food, clothing, housing and a salary while she is in school. They had three requirements. You had to be a woman under the age of 35, speak English and have worked as a teacher.

It started to rain very hard while we were out. It came down in buckets. Well after all it is the rainy season. Everything is very clean and very green. It never did get hot today and then the temperature really dropped when it started to rain,

I do not have any Internet connection at the house so I don’t know what I will do about that. My Skype will not work unless I have a connection. I saw a ton of Internet stores today so that will work. I did that in Guatemala a few times and there was no problem. It is their business to stay on line so I think that I can be assured it will work.

Ecuador May 3, 2008


May 3, 2008

Flew from Denver to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Quito. The flight was three hours to Atlanta and then five very long hours from Atlanta to Quito. Saw 27 Dresses on the plane. One of the worst movies I have ever seen. I tried to walk out but I could not get the door open. We flew at 41,000 feet. Not sure if I have ever done that before. We were up that high to avoid some very nasty weather. The same fronts that brought the tornados to Arkansas and Tennessee over the weekend were running all the way from Chicago to Central America. I had a gluten free meal that included a sealed cup of mineral water. They must have thought it was gluten free water. Strange.

We went through a full security and customs check coming into the airport in Quito. I guess they were concerned that we might be bringing something bad into the country. When you leave the US they never check anything other than your passport and boarding pass.

I was met at the airport by Christopher who is my driver and also a teacher at the school in Quito. He was a Very nice guy. I would talk to him in Spanish and he would respond in English. Here we go again. In Guatemala I felt that my role was to teach English to my teachers rather than the other way around.

I paid him $20 which included the ride to the hotel and then the ride back to the airport in the morning to catch my next flight to Cuenca. That is pronounced Kween-Ka.

I stayed at the Hotel Plaza International. The room cost $14 a night. It was worth every penny. No cold water but that is ok because the hot water was cold enough. The sink looked like someone had used it for a chair and it was tipping halfway to the floor.

It looks like a set from a 1930s movie. Great architecture but the interior is lacking. My room is probably 50 square feet. There is a TV with cable. At least 90% of the stations are in English and are out of the United States

May 4, 2008 I watched CSPAN last night and this morning. Some old habits are hard to break. I did sleep well. I went to bed around midnight local time and woke up at 5 am. I guess that this is another old habit of mine.

No wireless access in the hotel. Several systems but they were all secure. The school in Cuenca is supposed to have wireless and I hope my host family does also.

My host family’s name is Heves Hermida. In Spanish cultures the family name follows the mother’s family. The father Eugenio a 64 year old Dentist. The mother is Elena and is a 60 year old housewife. They have four grown children in their 30s and 40s. Not sure how many might still live at home. The profile said that, “They live in a nice house with a great view of the city from the windows and terrace. They have a cat and a dog that do not live in the house,”

I have been checking the weather on the Internet for the past week and the daytime highs have been in the 80s and the overnight lows are in the low 50s. It was in the 50s last night when I arrived. There was a light rain also.

Below the house on the Avenue of America's