Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Sponsors the UN?

My curiosity arose recently, when I heard GOP presidential discussions on contributions to the United Nations. Obviously I thought that these monies were based on some sort of GNP, or equitable assessment, on a by country platform. I pulled what is the most recent year of reporting (2009) and was shocked beyond belief.

Please do not misunderstand my concern. I naively perceived all countries gave on a fair basis and the US might have a minimal larger share, as a result of housing the operation in our country. I do believe and understand, that many countries need our support and are not financially as well off as we are. This is not my dilemma.

I learned we actually contribute 25%, or about $589 million dollars of the entire budget, according to the spreadsheet below. China contributes $64 million, or about 2.5% of the United Nations budget. Think about that for a moment. Let it roll around your brain for a brief period. Our recent economic woes, have forced us to borrow a substantial quantity of money from China (in the billions of dollars), just to stay afloat and operate our ever expanding government. Why are we not knocking on their door and discussing this?

This link reflects the per country share of the United Nations budget for 2009. Please make note of the European contributions (even though the Euro is sinking rapidly) and donations from Canada and Mexico. Something is horribly wrong with this picture and our government needs to address the situation with the members who are not paying their share.

Each year we import 160 million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia to keep our personal and corporate fleets moving. At $100 a barrel this is approximately $16 trillion dollars (how much is our national debt?). Saudi Arabia contributes a meager $18 million per year, according to the spreadsheet, or .6% of the United Nations budget. Help me understand why we contribute 50 times more than Saudi Arabia.

The link below is an article reflecting which countries we import oil from and the amount of barrels bought annually. The imported oil figure has gone from 28% (price per barrel was about $38) in 1980, over thirty years ago to 60% (price per barrel is around $100 these days) currently. Realistically, isn't it time to start drilling on our properties and develop our oil fields? How can you argue against this, when we are so upside down and purchasing massive amounts of foreign oil?

I know some of you are also arguing that we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. I have no issue with that either, but it will not happen over night and we need to drill until other means are established. As Solyndra and other projects have proven, we cannot stop the use of fossil fuels in the short term and there is no quick alternative.

I am, by no means advocating we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world, but I do find it appropriate to demand other countries step up and set this right. We cannot and should not bankroll the entire world. We need to create a system of payment at the United Nations, that has countries compensate on a more equitable basis.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Fear of Bullying

When I was 12 years old, I went to Bess Rankin elementary school in Arlington Texas and was in the sixth grade. I was on the honor roll and played football, but I, along with all my classmates, was deathly afraid of one kid. He had had failed to pass several years and should have been going into high school, in all likelihood. Funny, I can't remember his name, but I can recall one incident, that I discussed with my middle son yesterday.

We were outside and running around the playground, when this imbecile approached me and asked why I had to embarrass him in class and why I was such a wimp (he actually used another word associated with a the female anatomy, but I choose not to repeat it). Apparently, in the class prior to recess, I had answered a question that the teacher asked me. He (and I did not remember this), was asked the same question prior to me and didn't know the correct response, as he never studied. So because I actually studied and responded to the teacher I was under attack.

He grabbed me by my coat collar and started literally pulling (dragging is probably a more appropriate term) me across the playground out of sight of the teachers, who were supposedly watching over the students. We were followed by many of my classmates and a few, Thank God,  ran to get the teachers. He berated me the whole way and was about 6 inches taller and outweighed me by 20 lbs to 30 lbs. I knew I was going to get killed or at least have my face re-arranged.

Then I remembered the axiom "Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Words Will Never Harm Me"! He released me and instructed me to stand up, fight him and get ready for my rear end to be killed. I told him that wasn't an acceptable choice and he could hit me all day long, but I was going to take a less resistant path and not hit back.

This infuriated him and made him call me more names and increase his volume in my scathing. In return I just looked at him. I knew any minute he would crush my skull. but I also knew I had no chance. He had made mincemeat out of a few others and I had seen the results. He called me "Chicken", many other dirty names that I shall not repeat and kept trying to egg me into a fight. I knew quite well that I would be defeated miserably by his attack if I allowed him to provoke me.

He was a bully and well aware of his dominance. He had ruled over the playground for some time. No one had taken this type of stance before though and he wasn't really sure how to handle it. I was able to stall and put off a fight long enough, to have the playground teachers run up and put a stop to it. The only issue was I had to live with this shroud for the rest of my life and the fact that he terrified me. I don't think I slept for a week.

The incident stayed with me through junior high and my shame was only matched by embarrassment, when someone would bring it up. Kids never let well enough alone. My salvation is, that my face was not restructured and in the end I have had a nice life. My son had a similar incident and wore glasses during Little League. His "Bully" was the son of another coach and had my son in the same situation. As he was intelligent, he took the same road and parents intervened before the bully could massacre him.

Bullying in today's society, has taken on new and dangerous proportions. Children are actually committing suicide, as a result of Social Media intimidation. It breaks my heart every time I hear of this (and to be honest it brings back my scenario). We as a society have to intervene. We have to bring the process to a screaming halt and quit sacrificing our kids. Please help in any fashion you feel compelled!

Can Corporations Survive in the US?

Several months back, before my oldest son left for Japan, he and I watched a segment of "60 Minutes". The segment referred to the Corporate Tax Rates in the US, as compared with other countries around the world. I was floored. I had no idea that we were among the highest rates in the world. We charge almost 40% for corporations based in the US.

The show then began to discuss countries like Ireland, Iceland and Chile that had rates of 17% or less. It brought to light the fact that many corporations had set up dummy headquarters in Ireland, which charged 12.5%. Let that sink in and sit back and think about this.

If you were a CEO of a large company and were responsible for bringing as much profit to the bottom line as possible, would you "home office" in the US with almost a 40% rate or would you home office in Ireland with a third the rate? A company making $10 billion dollars a year in profits, would reflect at least a variance of $2.5 billion dollars in profits. This is a topic that needs to rise to the top of the congressional legislation and be brought to the forefront immediately.

Our country's congress is so busy fighting among themselves that they don't have the time to debate or talk about issues, that could resolve our massive debt cycle. The latest request from President Obama, is for an additional $1.4 trillion dollars, which will extend our debt limit to over $16 Trillion dollars. We cannot continue this charade and leave our children with an impossible debt structure.

First of all our congress has to completely do away with the insane "Line in the Sand" mentality (and both sides are guilty of this) and sit down and start actually governing. I have been on this earth for 60 plus years and never have I seen such an embarrassing situation, among out country's politicians. Think about how other countries must perceive our inability to work together and how this hurts us in International trade.

We are upside down and importing over $40 billion a month more than we export. That is a minimum of $480 billion a year! China and its cohorts are laughing at us and taking every penny to the bank (literally). It is time for everyone to become involved in politics, regardless of your age and tell your representatives how upset you are at our country's situation and standing in the world.

Please make the effort to obtain your congressional member's name and contact info and write, email, fax or call them with your opinions. It is time the feedback and ground swell outnumbered the garbage coming out of Washington DC! We have to stop it and we have to stop it now! Please tell them to stop acting like elementary age children and tackle issues like the corporate tax rates with an urgent frame of mind. We need action now!

House of Representatives:
Us Senate:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Honest Journalism is Dead!

Growing up with my father, in the newspaper business (and helping him publish a weekly newspaper) gave me a close definition of his expectations of true journalism. My father was a very intellectual individual and studied various religions, philosophies and was constantly searching for truth and all definitions of honest journalism. He would move papers at the drop of a dime, when editors would sacrifice accuracy for local political factors.

I have always admired and respected his position and truly was effected by his work and our many discussions and debates. He revered the prominence of Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite. He felt their work was the essence of real newscasting and tried to emulate their perspectives throughout his career. I sadly, never exchanged my true thoughts, in regard to his ability and his influence on me, to his face. I will forever regret this misgiving, as he passed this year, without all his faculties. Dementia had overtaken his frail body and he was a mere ghost of his self.

I look at today's writing and literally at times want to wretch my guts up and am forever castigating the majority of TV analysts and news editors as they eschew honesty for attention and ratings. My standard bearer was raised at a time, when legitimate news was reported with a professional and dignified doctrine. Principles were never abandoned and articles were written with veracity.

These individuals were never interested in making themselves "The Story" and would not embellish content or chronicle adjectives just to draw attention to themselves. I struggled for years subscribing to local newspapers, in whatever city Kim and I resided. I am OCD and read the dailies from cover to cover religiously and digested the entire content, until recently, when I have become overwhelmed with remorse. I have dropped my subscription and no longer read the local newspaper.

I can no longer accept the unadulterated bull crap that is construed on a daily basis and TV news that is reported from a "Got Ya" mentality. Our current crop of newscasters have sold their souls to the devil and my father is turning over in his grave! I do believe if you look deep enough and research enough blogs, you will find writers who still are interested in the truth.

I yearn for the day, when all editors make a decision to return to the truth and refrain from political pressures and billionaire owners who think that money is the only reason to publish!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Politics and Friends

I recently decided to use my conservative viewpoints and enter the political arena, by campaigning for a specific GOP candidate this year. Although I am 61 going on 62, I have never really been involved in a political race and have found this endeavor more than entertaining. With Social Media a rising influence in communications and advertising, especially in regard to political races, I have found that this is a serious venture and I have sufficiently alarmed several friends or what I thought were friends.

My Mother-in-Law and I have debated for decades (33 years of marriage to the same lady--My wife Kim) and we are usually docile in our discussions. With my entry into Facebook several years back I learned that a  person can pick up relationships from years past and make it just like we were never separated. Facebook has been a wonderful tool and has allowed me interaction with individuals from junior and senior high school that I thought would never transpire.

On the other hand some of my Facebook friends have turned downright ugly with their vocalizations and close to violent criticisms. I am more than shocked at what is said and how I am threatened, almost on a daily basis, for exercising my constitutional right and on my personal wall on Facebook. One individual (I think because of a lack of education) resorted to using every curse word in the book and chastising me beyond belief. I had to "Unfriend" him as his comments became absurd.

I have no qualms with discussing varying beliefs in a civil and adult manner and there is a large portion of the Facebook contingent, that actually can talk about politics without involving emotions. Those individuals I admire and offer free interaction. The close minded egos that refuse to consider any opinions beyond their simple minded mental activity. These creatures will be shown the door sooner rather than later going forward. I hate to be placed in this position, but I am left with no choice. life is too short to tolerate demented personalities.

As the campaign intensifies I will have to devote more and more time to helping my choice, especially in Texas, where we have two other candidates, he is running against. I sincerely feel that he will be the best choice and will refrain from mentioning his name since this is my profession. In addition, I have realized that I have devoted way too much energy and time to his campaign and need to restart my writing. In the end my writing pays the bills and not my charity work for a presidential campaign.

I have always heard that the two things you do not discuss without major dissension are religion and politics and I have discovered this axiom is true beyond belief! So to all my friends and readers more to come! Thanks for your patronage and I appreciate your support! May 2012 be good to us all and may our economy make a turn for the better.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 1, 1969

I am sure that many of my readers will recognize this date. It is part of history and one that I shared with three friends; Tim McGee, Bob Hundley and Phil Bristow. It was the first lottery for the Viet Nam war and birthdays were pulled one at a time, to determine your draft order for the following year. I believe it was at my house that we sat, drinking a few beers, as we watched our future determined and scared to death. We only knew that if our number for the 1970 draft was drawn, we had no choice but to go to Viet Nam.

Two of us drew low numbers right away Bob and Phil. Tim and I had numbers that were at the end of the spectrum. Mine was 236 and I will never forget that number until I die. I foolishly went 1-A in January of 1970, as the draft board stated we would only hit about 150 for the remainder of 1970. It turned out that one (can't remember if it was Bob or Phil) had a bad knee and one had bad eyesight so in the end none of the fearsome foursome had to go immediately.

Then President Johnson decided that we needed to escalate the war to actually have a definitive result. In his opinion this would no doubt help us win the war. This decision also helped him choose not to run for a second term and expedited his death. All it did in reality, was to escalate the action and aid in the maiming and killing of many more young men from our beloved country.

Numbers started being pulled that were supposed to be safe and young men were being ordered to their particular draft boards like crazy. It was torture to those with low numbers and it was a game of chance. Of course the hell didn't compare with the action many young men saw in Viet Nam and I do not mean by any form or fashion to belittle that aspect, as several of my friends and acquaintances served in the idiotic war.

As the months passed in 1970, the threshold increased day by day and I started looking into reserve activity. I figured that if it got close enough, I would enlist in the Air Force or Naval reserves. No way was I enlisting in the Army or Marine Corp reserves, as that was an automatic ticket to the battlefield. I also did not want to cross the border and live in Canada as a few of my friends did.

With about a month and two draws left (I think they pulled every two weeks, but it has been almost 42 years) my number got close and I was calling the draft board daily, to verify what number was being pulled. My 236 was all of a sudden not looking very good. I think, if I remember correctly, the last number pulled in 1970 was 221. Fifteen numbers from my pull number.

Call me chicken or unpatriotic, but I felt we had no business in this war and did not want to give my life for something that really had nothing to do with our country or the defense of it. If the war was a matter of defending our shores and population, it would have been a different matter altogether.

My uncle who was a Marine lifer went to Viet Nam his last year in the Corp and has not been the same since. He was on a 3-hole port-a-potty when a mortar wiped out the other two young men. This, I think effected him more than any other aspect of the war. He hardly talked about the event, but I knew down deep he was deeply bothered by his being saved and the other two losing their lives. I think he felt a sense of guilt that he survived the mortar, to some extent.

Friends that I lived with and survived would return and have horrendous nightmares. Waking up in the middle of the night and screaming at the top of their lungs was common behavior and one that I could not tolerate. I felt guilty and lucky at the same time. I turned to alcohol and other things to get my mind off the issue. Then I usually would have to move as I gained no sleep, debating my guilt and the fact that my roommate had served.

Being a conservative these days, I am sure that a great deal of readers will be surprised to know that I was totally against this war and every war we have fought since then. This was the second war in a row, that essentially resulted in a draw or we lost. We have not, regardless of any mantra, decisively won any war since World War II. Yet we continue to put our troops in harm's way and rationalize the reasons behind our endeavors.

Again, we hear saber rattling from the White House lately, over the Iran affair and the fact that they are building a nuclear bomb. I understand that we have interests in this arena and are dependant on the Middle East for some of our oil. My true dilemma is though, exactly how will President Obama spin it so that he can place the blame for going to war in Iran, on George W. Bush? Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Get Back Up

Have you ever dreamed about accomplishing a goal or made a life changing decision, that could alter your lifestyle and that of your family? I have and I am sure if you ask Kim she will tell you I have done this a few more times than she anticipated. There are times in your life when discussions arise to deviate or venture into an unknown area. For the majority of my life I have followed the traditional norm and provided for my family, as expected by society.

As most of you know, I have pursued a couple of concepts that have not suceeded. I have a multitude of acquaintances that have the same trait. You know who you are! We, from time to time have a thought or fundamental hypothesis that we know is going to be the next Ipad! The fleeting thought grows, festers and rumbles around and through our brain until we are compelled to take action and follow our gut.

I have had two such actions and the first as many of you know, resulted in a loss of the majority of our life savings and was basically a fiasco. The second was an urge to follow a dream and find an exodus to our country's drama and disregard for its population. We have a definitive split between the haves and the have nots in our great country and I do not see any actions that would alter my perception at this time.

Don't get me wrong. I passionately love our country and all the theories and philosophies it was founded on. I am enamored with the founding fathers undertakings and how moved they must have been, to leap into such an unknown territory. I applaud their courage and the risks taken.

At the end of the day I think my and that of my friends propensity to leap into projects, is a characteristic entitled being a "Risk Taker". This is high on the traits associated with very successful individuals and if you seriously evaluate the major thriving and prosperous businesses and enterprises, they were started or built by mortal human beings with an idea or concept that at first appeared, as off the charts in nature.

Each have a story and each have failed and failed miserably at some time in their lives. They will tell you though that at the end of the day they have a solid proclivity to arise after each failure and start a new venture. This action "Getting Back Up" is paramount to success. Each of the big hitters like Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Donald Trump will tell you, without trepidation that they are where they are in life because they were willing to take risks and got back up after each failure.

My recent escapade into Ecuador, was and may still be, such an undertaking. Kim and I love to travel and take adventures in our life. This is/was such an undertaking. Ecuador is really a wonderful place to retire (#1 in "International Living" magazine), has a ridiculous cost of living, wonderful food and a population that is friendly and with high ethics. My only issue is whether or not I can adjust to the altitude in Cuenca over time. I have to try again.

I have learned a few lessons from my trip and will "Get Back Up" from this endeavor and more than likely continue to take risks. Kim has told me many times that if I don't follow my dreams, I will be forever tainted by not taking the leap. I agree and hence my jump into the writing industry. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and there was a need for me to leave Ecuador prematurely and come back to Texas and begin a more serious approach to my writing career.

So I am back "up" and will concentrate on my writing very heavily. If I don't return calls, emails, Facebook messages or tweets, as fast any more, it isn't because I don't care. Its because I am jumping once again, off the cliff and diving head first into my writing career. I rarely use my cell phone or even keep it close. If you need to make contact please use email.

Now.....I am serioulsy making another life changing decision. Peace, God Bless and always, always "Get Back Up" when you fall.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cuenca Foods

Sorry, but I have been writing on my novel and haven't dedicated time to completing my Ecuadorian blogs, as promised. Omar and I are food aficionados and have experienced many excellent restaurants in our time, working and traveling together. I am not sure exactly how he will respond to this, but I found a smorgasbord of eateries in Cuenca and the surrounding areas, unparalleled in my life.

As mentioned in a prior blog, Alberto the manager and owner of Casa Ordonez, was instrumental in obtaining a reservation for Omar and myself our first night in Cuenca at Tiestos. This establishment is what many consider the premier dining experience in the city. Our first night was a Saturday and it is unheard of to obtain a last minute reservation, but Alberto in his wisdom procured one for Omar and I at 7:30 PM. That would seem the busy time of the evening to most of us, but the evening meal in Ecuador is usually served at 9:00 PM or after and this is actually a slower time for most restaurants.

Yet, when we entered our table was the only empty table. Immediately we noticed that the patronage was mainly Ex Pats from Europe and the US. We struck up a conversation with a group from Europe and they told us we had to order the Langostinos. There really wasn't a wait and we were seated almost immediately.

One of the details you will learn, if you visit Cuencan eating establishments, is that most serve small condiment offerings that are excellent and have amazing flavors. We usually had a tomato based "salsa" (not what you might expect if you are comparing with our salsas), but Tiestos was supreme. Additionally there is an eggplant condiment and various vegetable and spice combinations. They are unbelievable and sufficiently whet your appetite.

They brought a shrimp and potato soup that Juan Carlos Solano (chef and owner) recommended was exceptional and I am glad that Juan Carlos convinced us to order the soup. Our entree was the Langostinos recommended by the European group. The prawns were the size of small lobsters and had the same texture. I am drooling now thinking of the meal. It was a dinner I will remember the rest of my life. The secret is that we had this meal with tip and tax for less than $50.00.

Tiestos Shrimp and Potato Soup

Juan Carlos Solano with Omar and I

Tiestos Infamous Langostinos

Hopefully these pictures will assist you in your evaluation of Tiestos. If you are in Cuenca please stop by and you will not be disappointed. This is a link to the web site for Tiestos Restaurant:

The next night we ate at a place called Dorados I believe. It was one of the few places open on Sunday. As I stated above most dinners are eaten at 9:00 PM or later and after lunch most Ecuadorians take a two hour siesta from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM and a great deal of the businesses close these two hours.

Dorados is located in a hotel and this is where we met Monica and Tom Mac Naughton. Tom and Omar had the trout which Omar literally cleaned to the bone. Monica had a beef entree I believe and she finished it. I had Paella as mentioned in a prior blog. It was so full of seafood that I couldn't finish the meal. First time for everything people. The bill for all four was right at $40 with tax and tip.

We had dinner one night at I believe La Vina which is an Italian place and I had a shrimp fettuccine. Omar had a risotto if I remember correctly. For appetizer Omar ordered a small pizza which La Vina is known for. The problem is that is was a large by our standard. He had a couple of slices and I had one and then could not finish my shrimp fettuccine. The food again was unbelievable and the bill with tax and tip was $35.

There were a multitude of places we ate at and lunches ran $2.50 to $7.00 and dinners were from $7.00 to $25.00 on the extreme high side. You can literally get by on around $15 a day for all three meals if you don't frequent high end establishments and eat out all the time.

The food is amazing, cheap and the service is beyond reproach. I would imagine over time that Cuenca will climb the "tourist trap" destinations and become very popular with the cost of living so cheap and the great food. It is already described as the number one place to retire according to International Living.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ex Pats of Cuenca

Before we arrived in Ecuador, Omar had made contact with an individual (Monica Mac Naughton) who turned out to be a legitimate and gracious host in so many various ways, that I cannot truly describe what an asset she was to us. Her other half (Tom Mac Naughton) was a man after my own dreams and actually bought a Honda scooter to tool around with, the second or third day we were in town, on the spur of the moment. There are no better human beings on earth than these two individuals. They were most recently from Florida, before relocating to Cuenca a couple years back and are a wealth of knowledge in regards to Ecuador and any assistance you would need to relocate. True Americans (Or at least what we used to think of as True Americans and are sincere and forthright in their recommendations and information (Not always the case in Ecuador).

They had plans the first evening we were in Cuenca but (almost, but in a polite way) demanded we meet them for dinner on Sunday night at the Dorado restaurant (I hope I got the name correct). We accepted the invite and were eager to meet the couple.

Omar and I could not decide whether we should dress up or go casual. Given it was a nice restaurant and the fact that we hadn't met Monica and Tom, we thought we should wear nice shirts and slacks. When we met them at the restaurant we were slightly overdressed and I deduced that they were comfort driven and not concerned with image (obviously, if you know me I was attracted immediately to that characteristic),

We shared a fabulous meal and they discussed several "survival skills" necessary in Cuenca along with the do and don'ts of the indigenous people and central Cuenca interactions.  They suggested a Trout dish that was superior according to Omar, but I had to have the Paella and man was it delicious (including shrimp, fish, clams, A Langostina, octopus and other incredible and scrumptious seafood (The rice, sauce and peas were also excellent).

The next day we ran into Tom (In only 400,000 people what are the odds) at a shopping center. He volunteered to accompany us on a condo visit and give us their feedback and knowledge, as to the value of the residence and whether the area demanded the price point.

Tom and Monica are also looking for another condo, in addition to the unit they own currently, to provide additional rental income. So they had a dual purpose on their agenda. We all met at the condo and it was priced at $91,000 with tons of potential and great views, but the primary living space was just too small. In addition, there were other issues that Tom and Monica discussed that made it overpriced. The outdoor living space was great and there was a rooftop area that could have been done up, but together you are talking another $20,000 roughly.

Tom, Alberto, Monica and Omar

Omar descending from the rooftop deck

Mountain view from the Patio Deck

When we left this condo, Jose the owner, Tom, Monica, Omar and I all piled into his little Isuzu SUV and went up to a overlook (I believe it is called Turi)and it started raining and the pea size hail started falling. Very unusual. We passed Eduardo Vega's studios, where he actually creates his artwork and basic Ceramic work. I think under normal weather patterns you could walk down to a small park below and experience the view from a different perspective and vantage point.

We then went to Tom and Monica's condo to see what a different value would return. It was in a section of Cuenca named "Gringoland" and I am sure you can deduce the reason for the area name. Their Condo was breathtaking and was on the 5th floor, if my memory is correct. The reason we went initially was to get Coca Tea for my altitude sickness. They validated the authenticity of the product and had used it many times to help. I did not decline and took their entire inventory.

They have a gorgeous 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 story condo with more than ample living area and beautifully decorated with local artwork and a patio with an extreme outdoor kitchen area. Words cannot completely describe the shock and awe I received at the first glance. It was a condo I could reside in the rest of my life and I am sure Kim could. In addition Tom has a love for Hummingbirds and they are ever present on the patio. You literally have to duck as they fly through and around the patio's furnishings and support columns. It was fascinating.

Tom grows and obtains Orchids that are unavailable in my price range in the US. This one set him back $25, if I recall correctly. I didn't take a myriad of pictures, as I should have, but trust me it was an unbelievable condo.
Monica sent us a 2 page list of restaurants in the central area with specialties and descriptions of the fare at each place. They directed us to markets, shops and other sightseeing prospects. They are working hard to help Omar secure a condo in his price range and do this just because they are good people. They have stayed in contact with Omar and myself, since we left Ecuador.

The second couple we met through Tom and Monica was William and Valerie Lacy from Wisconsin. We met them the last night and had dinner with Tom, Monica, Will and Val. Prior to dinner we went to their condo (this time I took many pictures). They have a sixth floor condo that is in the central part of old Cuenca and is inhabited primarily by businesses (Dr and Dentists mostly I think). This was a building that when they acquired it had a roof falling through and walls caving in (More project than I have left in my body!) and decided they wanted the view. After all it is a penthouse with one of the best views in Cuenca. Lots of glass, fantastic decorations, up to date appliances, counters, etc and a collection of cedar cabinets that cost them probably one tenth of what they would have in the US.

Yours truly and Omar on the deck

A bookshelf in the Library with probably a good 4" to 6" shelves

Val in the Dining, Great Room
We left and ate at a wonderful Italian place and had our last meal in Cuenca. It was fantastic as all other meals had been in Cuenca. Will and Val talked about a favorite Helado (Ice Cream) place (The Mixx) near the San Blas cathedral, (can't remember if it is a Canadian or Scandinavian that runs and owns it--but the product is made fresh daily including the sugar cones. OMG!) that had the best ice cream in town. Of course we had to substantiate his verdict. He was correct and I had the cherry cheesecake I believe or something to do with cherries and it was excellent. We said our good byes and left our new found friends, headed for Salinas the next day.

I am sorry we didn't get to spend more time with Will and Val as they appear to be very genuine, caring Americans that want to help. That is the distinction between the ExPats in Cuenca and Salinas. In Cuenca they are sincere and approach you to sincerely aid in your dilemmas. In Salinas the majority of them just want to make a buck and will misdirect you, overcharge for less than desirable food and have no customer service to speak of. It is like night and day.

Funny (actually,not really) Alberto, Monica and Tom, Will and Val were all in agreement that I/we would not enjoy Salinas and would want to turn around and come back to Cuenca immediately upon arriving. Even Efrain a guide that we hired to help drive us around, show us the Incan ruins, show us property and comment on the areas, etc agreed on this principal. Not one even waivered a tiny bit. I knew I was going to be in a situation upon arriving in Salinas, but that comes later.

Cuenca is a place that I would definitely review and explore again to see if I could overcome the altitude. Who knows I might make it permanent! If you find you are headed to Cuenca, by all means make contact and I will be glad to furnish their info if they agree.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In a Class of Its Own!

Omar secured reservations weeks ahead of time, at a boutique hotel in Cuenca, named Casa Ordonez. I feel compelled to define this hotel's pristine and prime attributes, as it will be lodged in my memory for eternity and yours, if your path runs through Cuenca. The Boutique Hotel is run by Alberto Ordonez and members of his family, that in turn open their arms and make you feel like a King or Queen depending upon your gender.

Instrumental in the operation are his sister Ines and his charming and gracious Mother. As I told her when I left, I lost my mother in 1977 and no one has made me feel at home as much as you did in the past week. She and the family are unusual in their fascination with customer service and go to any length to ensure your satisfied.

Alberto, Omar and Alberto's Mother
Ines works untold hours and handles situations with complete control. The week we were there they had an "Ugly American" dispute his reservation and even though they had a trail of emails stating that his needs could not be met the first night and would be addressed after the first night, he went ballistic, screaming and cussing in a fashion that was uncalled for and embarrassing. She handled this with a smile on her face and a demeanor that was totally reserved. She was amazing. I probably would have hit him in the mouth!

There are no irons or ironing boards in the rooms. When Omar asked if he could have one they asked what was in need of ironing. We both had a couple of shirts and within a matter of minutes we had them back, ironed and on hangars. When is the last time that has happened to you? Alberto got Omar and I a reservation on Saturday night at Tiesto's which is impossible for a newcomer as it is the premier restauarnt in Cuenca (later I will describe it's attributes in another blog). He has a connection for anything you can think of and is more than willing to help you with any task.

A local traditional treatment for altitude sickness is Coca Tea, drank about every 2 hours and it resolves the issues, if consumed per instruction. He helped me locate some and sure enough it helped (without any side effects, I am sure your mind is reviewing the possibilities). If you need a guide to tour the city, if you need a guide to help look at real estate, etc Alberto is there for you. He actually stopped working and drove Omar and I to several appointments and was honest and up front about specific areas in the city; where to live and where to work.

He helped me with a medical issue and kept apologizing for the speed of time it took and how much it costs. Unbelievable. I have dealt in the customer service business for years and never have I encoutered such a individual with the passion and spirit that Alberto shares daily.

In addition Edwin works the early shift and helps serve breakfast daily. He is fantastic and always has a smile on his face. I do not believe he ever sits. He sweeps all day and mops as needed. Rene works the evening shift and ensures your safety at all times during the night. They keep a padlock on the interior of the Rod Iron Gate and keeps a vigilant watch on the entry door. There were several nights Omar and I did not lock our room door and any others did the same.

Breakfast is served from 6:00 AM until 9:30 PM so there is no excuse for missing it. You have fresh squeezed juice that varies daily, fresh flavored yogurt that is hard to describe as it is more liquid in nature, but verry sweet, fresh bowl of fruit that varies daily, choice of breads with prserves and butter and finally eggs cooked your way. This is obviously accompanied by fresh brewed Ecuadorian coffee. It is amazing and very filling.

The hotel is over 100 years old and has been remodeled. It has an older Spanish look and the stairs are original and 75 years old. It has three stories and I am guessing accomodates around 20 to 25 guests. Upstairs is a wonderful library with skylight.

I would recommend that any of you that travel to Cuenca, stay at this hotel and take advantage of its hospitable family. You will be happy you made this decision.

Contact info is as follows:

Casa Ordonez
Telefono: 282-3297
Celular: 094 366-885

The Road to Cuenca

It took over an hour of riding in and out of heavy traffic before we obtained our shuttle and started on the way up the mountain to Cuenca. I had worries, but not serious thoughts, about the prospect of Altitude Sickness. As we left the outskirts of Guayaquil and rid ourselves of the ultra poor and fanatically dirty "Industrial Area", we began entering the tropical and green segment of Ecuador, that is responsible for a majority of the fruits and vegetables.

It was breathtaking and I was awestruck at the size of the banana, papaya, guayabana, cacao, lime, orange and mango trees and bushes. It was literally intoxicating and stimulating at the same time. Our driver was only interested in getting us to the destination so he could turn around and come back. So....photograph opportunities were few and far between and some were so fleeting, to be of no use.

It is difficult at best to attempt any description of the scenery, plants, waterfalls and rivers that border the brand new highway (It took 10,000 men over ten years to lay the rebar and smooth the concrete for this 90 mile stretch). It really is a feat considering the modest equipment and the frontier workforce. The canyons and wonderful nature portraits could not be duplicated, with a simple photograph and it was of no use to attempt to make such an effort.

I have a very weak bladder, my wife will tell you and at about 12,000 feet I suddenly had to go and it seemed that time was of the essence.When the driver stopped the van and I unloaded, the entire world spun on its axis. I was mortified and stumbled to my knees. A combination of the altitude and uneven ground left me with no choice but to fall to the ground. I was worried I couldn't rise and thanks to Omar I managed to ascend and get my business done, leaning against a tree. I got back in the van quickly and told them I couldn't possibly go through that again. Yet 15 minutes later it hit once more and I basically replicated the afore mentioned incident. I am not sure why, but the coffee really hit me bad that day.

Finally we got off the top of the mountain and started our descent (Thank you Lord!). We passed a great deal of lakes (I think there are 253 in that area of the mountains--they were gorgeous). The beauty escalated as we drew near Cuenca, and the indigenous population became more and more pronounced. As we entered the center of town the streets narrowed and the architecture grew more aged and beautiful. I was in a very great place and ready for the adventure. Thank God my altitude sickness was more restrained at 8500 feet than at 12,000 feet. We were at our destination.

Guayaquil Day 2

Omar and I stumbled out of the hotel after a huge breakfast and discovering I had left some of my meds in Austin. Damn my memory. It is starting to really bother me that I can't still balance 152 projects at the same time, like I used to in the old days. We go looking for a Farmacia and investigate whether the prescription issue is a loose as we have heard. As we turn the corner we run into a huge parade that apparently is pretty special (turns out it is Dia de Guayaquil--each major city has a day of freedom from Spain and October 9th is this day for Guayaquil).

There are bands and bands from local schools carrying their banners and some have more military orientation than others. About a block or two down we see a "Dignitaries" stand (elevated about 20 ft in the air and covered on top and from the rear) that probably has the mayor and other city government officials among the participants.

There are National Armed Forces, Guayaquil Police and a myriad of law enforcement people, all armed with a substantial display of weaponry. The corner we turned at must also be the end of the parade as disbursement from this area is a madhouse. We locate the farmacia and fill my needs with a small issue, but none that couldn't be handled with American greenbacks.

Vendors were hawking sliced pineapple rings on spears and other candies and drinks. Omar asked one young vendor how much a plastic container of water was. He stated $.25 each. This was our first encounter with the cheap cost of living. Amazing the same bottle of water in the US is around $1.29 to $1.49.

We arrived back at the hotel just in time to catch our shuttle to Cuenca (At first they wanted I believe $180 and Omar got it down to $105--be ready to negotiate everything if you go). We left the hotel and tried to force our luggage into the smallest vehicle I have ever seen. I looked at Omar "like there is no damn way I can ride to Cuenca in this tuna fish can of a car".

We discover that this is only a car that will take us to the real shuttle by the airport. So....another bill is added to our original bid and when we arrive at the shuttle office I stayed with the bags in the shuttle (a 5 seat large Ford van) and Omar went into the office. He thought and I worried if he would come back out in one piece! Soon as Omar paid the fee we were on our way to Cuenca.

It Begins

I am standing in the Austin airport, waiting for the culmination of five months preparation to begin. I am elated, scared to death and three hours early, as usual. My OCD is at warp speed, hyper overdrive and Omar is cutting it close again. We are about to embark upon an escapade to verify whether Ecuador meets with our expectation.

We have a three legged trip that takes us to DFW, then Miami and will arrive in Guayaquil late this evening, if all goes as planned. I am afraid that my back brace will not do its thing, that I may have under estimated my medical needs and the journey may take a great deal out of me before we have all wheels on the ground. Will the windows provided offer ample enough time to make all connections?

First leg went down without any issues. In DFW I notice a young man and a older individual in "Dominican" workout suits. The older man turns out to be an Olympic coach for the young athlete that just finished competing in the pentathlon event in Denver Colorado and carries a countries dreams on his shoulders at only nineteen years old. He probably still has another five or six Olympics he can compete in. Pentathlon athletes reach their prime in their early 30's.

The coach knew Jose Alou from West Palm Beach, who blew his knee out and had to turn to Budweiser for a career. His father Felipe is a well known professional player along with the other two brothers, Matty and Jesus. Felipe is now a well known manager/broadcaster. We talked baseball the entire leg.                         

In Miami we had a time change and we were exposed to several airline agents who did not really have command of the English language. It was odd since we were still in the good old US of A. Boarded and set next to a young Ecuadorian who spoke no English and had no interest talking with a Gringo.

Omar on the other hand met an acquaintance from Victoria Texas prior to loading on our flight who in turn introduced us to individual down the road in Salinas, that would prove beneficial. Our arrival at Guayaquil was timely and their processes were extremely easy. Going through customs took all of 10 minutes and only Omar had his bags checked. Mine were loaded on a belt for X-Ray, by Ecuadorians who were more than cooperative.

The airport was warm and muggy, but not impossible and after clearing customs there was a receiving line for all arriving passengers that rivaled prince William's line after his marriage to Kate Middleton. Some passengers would have 15 to 20 family members there to greet them. etc. It was quite a display of "family values". Something I think we are missing these days.

Omar and I got to the hotel and ate something and then to bed. We were completely worn out (Or at least I was).