Sunday, January 30, 2011

Some Much Needed R & R

It seems like ever since we landed in Cuenca this trip has been non stop for us. Our visits are always adventure filled and action packed, but this time is different as we are focusing more on the business end of things. There has been very little time for excursions or time spent with friends. Since we have rented the apartment, we are doing our own laundry, cooking an occasional meal here and there (actually Rod does all the cooking) and doing our own grocery shopping. This arrangement has suited us well as we are not situated in the middle of town and we are more likely to stay home at night and work on house plans then we are to be tempted by all the sights and things to do in Cuenca.

Our typical day starts out with Carlos picking us up at the apartment, we then either meet with lawyers, architects or take care of banking. After our meetings are taken care of, Carlos then drives us all over town to tile stores, woodworking shops, iron smiths, appliance stores, kitchen and bath shops and so on and so on. Cuenca does not have big home improvement stores such as we have in the States, so you must go to each individual shop in search of your materials and labor.

Mom & Bob Successfully Complete The
Process Of Setting Up A Bank Account

Last Sunday we were lucky enough to take the day off from our hectic schedule and Carlos drove us all to Chordeleg and the surrounding country side. What a treat it was to just ride with no schedule in mind and enjoy the scenery. The weather was absolutely perfect and such a welcome change from the ice and snow we had left behind in Huntsville.

2011 Winter In Huntsville

Lindsay Offers A Smooch To A Snowman
In Front Of One of The Local Restaurants

We ended up stopping at some of the weaving stores that Chordeleg is known for and Mom purchased a shawl. Carlos knew of some silversmiths near the weaving shops and took us directly to their workshop where we were able to purchase some unbelievable pieces of silver filigree at a fraction of the cost of what we would have paid in town. Mom had the artisans turn a piece they had already made into a brooch. It would take them a while to complete the work, so we decided to go to lunch and pass the time while her piece was being created.

Silver Artisan

Carlos knew of a Hacienda nearby and we all agreed that we ready for some lunch and a break. We stopped at the Hosteria Uzhupud which is about 35 minutes outside of Cuenca. Carlos told us they had a very good buffet and we decided to give it a try. As we walked towards the garden where the buffet was being served, I spied a familiar face. It turns out Mick and Kathy had the same idea we had. They were enjoying lunch with friends so we stopped to meet everyone and say hello. Mick told us the food was not very good this particular day so we opted to go to the dining room and order off of the menu instead.

Hosteria Uzhupud Patio

View Of The Mountains From The Uzhupud

The scenery at the Hosteria was breathtaking, we ate our lunch surrounded by lush tropical foliage and beautiful views of the mountains. The food was good, but a bit on the pricey side. None the less the trip was worth every penny. We all were in dire need of  a relaxing day. After lunch we strolled through the grounds and took in all the sights. The Hacienda itself was gorgeous and the surrounding gardens were beautiful to look at as well as peaceful.

Uzhupud Grounds


More Orchids

We Will Definitely Be Coming Here When We
Are Ready To Plant Our Courtyard Garden

Beginning on Monday once again we started our daily routine of meeting with architects and driving from place to place looking at construction materials. Much  to our disappointment we found out that Maca and Felipe, our Ecuadorian friends are moving back to the States. We are sorry to see them go, but at the same time happy for them that they are returning to a place they love. It seems ironic to me that we are wanting to leave the States to move to Ecuador and our Ecuadorian friends are wanting to leave Ecuador and move to the States. In honor of Maca and Felipe’s news we had a farewell party at Tiesto’s to wish our friends well and visit with them one last time.

Friday morning Carlos picked us up once again. Mom and I had decided that this days mission would be to visit several hotels in town in search of ideas for the house. Carlos suggested we see a new hotel in town that had opened recently. He explained that he had not yet been to it, but had heard very good things about it. Of course Mom and I were up to the task hoping that we would get some good ideas for the house. As usual parking proved to be very difficult downtown, so Carlos pulled up to the Hotel San Juan while Mom and I jumped out and ran in.

San Juan Hotel 

As soon as we walked through the front doors Mom and I knew we were in the right place. One of the hotel staff met us at the door and offered to give us a tour and we gladly accepted. The San Juan Hotel mirrored our house in so many ways it was incredible. This was the answer to our prayers as Mom and I loved the renovation work that had been done and now we could visualize the potential of our house. The gracious hotel staff was more than happy to show us several of the rooms as well as the garden, parlor, restaurant and roof top terrace.

Rooftop Terrace

Wi Fi Room


Garden Area

By the time we walked out of that hotel we were giddy with excitement at the thought that our house could look so beautiful. It was obvious that we had been looking at the ruin and rubble too long and had lost sight of what the house could really be. As we approached the car, the men knew they were in trouble as soon as they saw the look of swoon on our faces. Later that afternoon Rod returned to the hotel with us in order to get an idea of our plans (Bob wasn’t feeling well, so he stayed at the apartment). Rod was equally impressed and once again by the time we left, our heads were spinning with ideas.

Hand Painted Ceiling
Saturday morning we met with two of the architects that we are considering and took them to the San Juan to have a look and get their thoughts. They too were very impressed with the renovation job that had been done and were amazed at how closely the hotel resembled the layout of our own house.

We had today to ourselves and decided to have a little fun. We walked from the apartment to the plaza downtown and decided to take the double decker bus ride on a tour of the city. We boarded the bus and climbed to the open air upper deck and took our seats. The tour was in Spanish and even though they have an English tour bus we decided the Spanish would be fine. The bus drove up and down the streets of downtown Cuenca passing by all of the old historic churches and buildings. We couldn’t understand a word that was said, but we did the tourist thing and shot pictures the best we could with a bus full of people.

Mom & Bob On The Double Decker Bus

Views Of The Park From The Top Of The Bus

At one point we started down a steep hill on the edge of town and a siren went off on the bus. We had no idea what was going on until all of a sudden the telephone and electrical wires that run every which way across the streets of Cuenca were inches from our faces. We immediately ducked in our seats to avoid being slapped in the face with wire or better yet strangled. As soon as we cleared the wires and raised up in our seats the siren went off again. Down we went, this happened about three times before we were finally in the clear.

Rod pointed out once again that in the States this would be a lawyers dream. We all just laughed, but I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t ducked in time. The bus drove us out of the center of town, past the Inca Ruins, some very important buildings (although I couldn’t tell you what they were because the tour guide was speaking in Spanish). We drove to the top of a very steep hill where a little town was perched overlooking the city below. The view of Cuenca from the top of the hill was amazing and the bus stopped long enough for us to get off, enjoy the view and grab some bottled water.

The Top Deck Of Our Bus

After a short stop, we headed back down the hill towards the city all the while listening to Andean and Spanish music that was playing over the loud speaker of the bus. It was quite a ride and as we headed back into town we once again had to duck in our seats to avoid disaster. This time the bus forgot to turn on the siren so we had to rely upon the passengers in front of us to yell “Duck”. As we approached the end of our tour, we passed the remnants of a parade that had taken place downtown. There were horses adorned with fancy silk blankets, children dressed up riding in the back of pickup trucks, cars draped with lace panels and a pickup truck with an actual roast pig sprawled across its roof.

Getting Ready For the Parade

Horses In Their Finest

After climbing off the bus we headed to the Raymipampa for a good lunch followed by Rod’s favorite... a banana split at Tutto Freddo’s, the perfect ending to a relaxing fun day. Tomorrow we will be getting cost bids from two different architects and hopefully making our decision on which one will be completing our remodel. Until then we will keep our fingers crossed and maybe our toes too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Plans Have Changed...Again

Well here we are back in Ecuador and some major plans have changed. Hopefully we will be able to tie up loose ends with the architects and finally get a plan in place. The four of us departed Huntsville on Thursday morning and due to a strong headwind barely made our connecting flight in Houston. We then flew to Quito where we were to spend the night before making the short flight the next morning to Cuenca. We didn’t actually get to our hotel until just before midnight and then we had to leave at 6:00 in the morning to catch our 7:15 flight to Cuenca.

Waiting To Catch Our Flight To Houston

I was a little nervous about our accommodations in Quito as I still remembered the first trip and our run in with the “Ladies of the Night”. This time I had made reservations at the Radisson and was very relieved when the hotel drivers met us at the airport. When I had originally booked the hotel room I just went with the basic room (two twin beds at the rate of $75.00 a night). I figured that we were only going to be there a few hours so we might as well save money where we could. Much to my surprise, we discovered we had a suite complete with a living room, 1 1/2 baths and a king size bed. I still don’t know how all that transpired, but I sure wasn’t about to complain. The beds were very comfy and the rooms clean. My only complaint was that our room was situated above a very busy street, so it was rather noisy

The next morning after a short flight to Cuenca, we headed to the apartment that we had rented for our stay. We had decided to stay in one place this time as opposed to moving around like we did the last time. We had rented the apartment from Rich and Nancy who are also expats and now call Cuenca home. Rich and Nancy have renovated four places and rent them out. After reviewing the rates we decided that this would be the perfect option for us for such a long stay. Even though you can stay relatively cheap at the hotels it does add up after three weeks, especially for two couples.

Arriving In Cuenca

The apartment we are staying in is new construction and designed with all of the modern amenities you could want. The kitchen is fully appointed with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, eat in bar, island and a gorgeous view. The living room is very comfortable with tile floors, cable T.V. and a dining area. The bathrooms are equally as nice and we have a washer and dryer, Wi-Fi, and very comfortable bedrooms with plenty of closet space and a safe. The best part is the huge wrap around terrace that offers a panoramic view of the city as well as the mountains.

Views From The Apartment Where We Are Staying

More Views

Beautiful Flowers On Our Patio. Mom & I Can’t Wait To Plant Our Courtyard

A View Of The Church From Our Bedroom Window

After Rich gave us the grand tour and explained how everything worked we got unpacked and settled in. Carlos then came to pick us up and we decided to go look at the house and give Bob the shock of his life. I have to admit it was pretty shocking to all of us. Everything looked pretty much the same except for the two gaping holes in our roof where the skylights once were. To our relief we did see that the glass block had been taken out of the upper floor under the second skylight. There were sheets of black plastic that funneled the rain water to the stone courtyard below. One of our biggest fears had been that rain was pouring through the hole where the skylight had once been onto our wooden floors on the second floor. Needless to say we were quite relieved to see that this was not the case.

The Scary House

Anyone Need An Umbrella

Much to our horror though, Mom and I discovered that the top piece of the alter that sat in the chapel on the roof had was missing. This was the alter that we had fought so hard for when the house was purchased because we truly believed that it belonged with the house and was a part of the history. This would definitely be brought up at the meeting with the architects the next day.

The Very Important Alter

Unfortunately we still have water issues and we could see where the water had been running down some of the interior walls and causing damage. We would be meeting with the architects tomorrow morning to discuss our next move and to try and get a rough estimate of the cost of the project to see if we could even move forward with them. As Rod said “We may have the cadillac of architects, but budget may only allow for a Toyota”. After we all got over the shock of seeing the house as it was, we decided to go to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants and discuss our next move.

Raymipampa Our Favorite Local Restaurant

After a good lunch we had Carlos take us to our favorite bakery to pick up some cookies and then on to the Super Maxi grocery store to pick up a few necessities. It had been a long day and we were extremely tired, so we bid Carlos goodbye and stayed in for the night where we continued our discussion about the house. Now that Bob had seen the house for the first time since we had purchased it, we decided we had better put our heads together and make sure we were all on the same page.

Bob told us now that he had seen the house he was not at all happy with the layout that Mom, Rod and I had put together the last time we were down. Bob was concerned that the space for he and my mother was to small, so back to the drawing board we went. Mom and Bob ended up changing their plans to better suit their needs and came up with the idea to utilize one side of the the upstairs and downstairs of the house for their personal residence so that they could have more room. Rod and I ended up taking the other side of the upstairs of the house, but pretty much left it the same as the original plans. We are already used to living in a small space and decided that the common areas such as the kitchen and patios is where we would be spending most of our time anyway.

The four of us decided that for now we would leave the remaining rooms downstairs for family and friends when they come to visit.We would make a decision at a later date if we would actually pursue the rental idea. Bob came up with a plan to sell the ranch house in Texas and liquidate some of his property quickly in order to put the house project on the fast track so that he and Mom can start their life in Cuenca quicker.
The next morning Carlos met us at the apartment and drove us to the house to meet with the architects. We would go over the plans and hopefully get a ball park figure of what this house renovation was going to cost us so that we could put together a budget and decide the best way to proceed. After Rod and Bob (with Carlos interpreting) did their best to explain to the architects how things proceeded in the States on a renovation project, the architects finally agreed to get us a rough in quote by Wednesday. We brought up the missing alter piece and the architects assured us they would either find it for us or build us a new one, we were hoping of course that they would find it.

Rod Decides He Doesn’t Need A Beignet

While Mom and Bob went over the changes that they had made to the plans with the architects, Rod and I hurried to our side of the house to our newly inherited space to try to come up with any ideas that we could put to paper. This would give the architects a better idea of what our needs were. We walked into the very tiny bathroom and were discussing the best placements of fixtures and what we could and couldn’t live without in order to make it seem bigger. I offered up the suggestion that I didn’t need a bathtub and instead a shower would be fine. Rod immediately pointed to the only remaining fixture in the bathroom which happened to be a bidet and said “Well I don’t need a beignet”. I burst out laughing and when I explained the difference Rod reminded me that he would never be able to learn Spanish as he can’t even speak the English language.