Sky2C sat in a tree-shaded office park, fifteen miles north of San Jose, California. To them my wife, Belinda, and I entrusted our 800 pound cargo shipment to Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Our shippers placed a pallet on the concrete floor in the loading dock behind their offices. Shortly, we had stacked cartons seven feet high in a Christmas tree shape, artfully bound by transparent packing tape.
We returned to the Monterey airport rental lot and dropped off their black Chevy Suburban. A few days remained to say goodbye to friends, before our flights to Los Angeles and El Paso, Texas, where we visited Belinda’s home town. Then, in a few more days, we flew to Miami for our final flight to Guayaquil on September 18, 2013.
By mid-October we had our cedulas, Ecuador’s national ID, an apartment in Cuenca, and an email from our shipper’s local agent to pick up our cargo in Guayaquil. “Great,” I said to Belinda upon opening it. “Now let the fun begin!” I added.
Customs procedures challenge the soul of the uninitiated, so the necessity to conduct business in a foreign language doubles the complications. Three pages of instructions and forms in Spanish required me to use Google Translate for a rough idea of the content. Fortunately, I reached an English-speaking clerk, Maria, at her Guayaquil office phone to further assist us.
Our landlord, Freddy, volunteered the services of his friend to take us there. Rafael Salinas, purveyor of fruit and produce, drove us in the compact cab of his Mazda stake truck. “How did you get time off to do this?” Belinda asked from the middle seat.
We had entered the other worldly Andean Mountains separating Cuenca from the coast. “I get most of my work finished in the morning, delivering to the vendors at Mercado Diez de Agosto,” Rafael simply explained. “They won’t miss me.”
Rafael carefully drove along the highway’s sinuous curves at its summit: “Tres Cruces.” The roadway continued to unfurl like a snake through thick clouds as we descended into lush green forest slopes on the Pacific side. We leveled off at Puerto Inca where indigenous farmers fruit and produce stands extended the length of the main street. Water-filled canals lined side streets crammed with bamboo pole structures serving as homes and shops.
The first goal of our morning travel required us to pay the agent’s Bill of Lading fee in order to comply with its requirement to have a receipt in hand at the office. We planned to arrive before “almuerzo,” the lunch hour, which can last up to two hours in Ecuador.
The city of Duran borders Rio Guayas across a new multi-lane bridge from Guayaquil. I had mapped out the agent’s bank location on our computer, with a branch in Duran a short distance before the bridge.
Passing banana plantations harvested by man and machine, Rafael began to struggle with his. He nursed it along at reduced speeds while traffic flowed around us. “It’s probably a problem with the steering,” I thought to myself.
As we hugged the shoulder of the road which sloped off toward irrigation ditches, Belinda quietly said, “This isn’t good. Do you think he’ll make it to the bank?” Rafael drove at low speeds while the truck shook. Belinda and I entrusted our care to this patient man, and did not complain. I focused on street signs as we entered Duran, locating the bank off to the right.
Rafael limped into the lot. “It doesn’t look good,” I shared with Belinda as we approached the teller. We stood in a short line, paid the bill of lading and pocketed the receipt. Within fifteen minutes we had rejoined Rafael, half an hour behind schedule.
This completes 500 words of the story. Click the link to read more.
Over a holiday weekend when Cuencanos and foreigners gathered to celebrate Halloween, All Saints and Independence Day, our friends from neighboring Paute, Ecuador, Mary and her husband Scott, had stopped by our new apartment in Cuenca. I admired her winning smile as she greeted me while presenting a house-warming gift. “We have something for you. It’s on account of your interest in photography, Jeremiah,” she said.
I unwrapped it from newspaper which revealed a curved terra cotta roof-tile emblazoned with a color photo of El Centro with Rio Tomebamba in the foreground, the prime location for fiesta vendors from around the country. “Why, Mary and Scott, how thoughtful of you to do this,” I said while looking where to hang it from its twisted-twine cord.
Their visit had given my wife, Belinda, and myself the opportunity to show off our efforts to furnish our fifth-floor apartment in Condominio Santa Rosa. Our stained trestle-table sat in the combination living/dining/kitchen area as the centerpiece. That and the four chairs where we sat with our guests resulted from creative solutions to our adjustments to life in a third-world country.
I had persevered at numerous carpentry jobs and through hard work had supported myself and, later, my dear wife. “Honey, why don’t we make our furniture, and save the money for other uses?” I suggested after my introduction into the use of power tools at the Gringo workshop. I sensed a new direction for my wood-working skills as other priorities left limited funds to furnish our home. I felt liberated with time on my hands in retirement to learn how to build household items for the first time.
For over two months we had sat upon cabinet-shelf boards placed over Home Depot cardboard boxes purchased for the move from Monterey, California. The dining room table I had built from discarded plywood in the basement bodega and with remnants of a container which I had assembled to ship Belinda’s large oil painting.
One morning in May 2014 while Belinda attended a ten-day spiritual gathering in Forsyth, Georgia, I noted a posting for the Gringo workshop on Cuenca’s expat blog, http://www.gringopost.com. “Now, that’s the ticket,” I mused. I emailed my interest in joining to the workshop leader who suggested we meet the next day.
A short hop on the city bus brought me to the garage-sized shop. The ground floor of a modern apartment building also included a tienda which sold snacks and household supplies. Terry from Yuma, Arizona, greeted me, “We have openings for a few members,” he explained. He showed me around the shop and his latest project, “I’m building this roof rack for my pickup.” I admired the welded construction and observed varied tools in use. “You can buy-in for $20, with monthly dues of $20.”
“Fantastic, Terry,” I exclaimed. “I’m in!”
Back home I studied “you tube” videos on how to build chairs at minimal cost. I particularly enjoyed the antics of a hippie carpenter building chairs out of shipping pallets in his backyard.
This is the first 500 words of the story. Click the link for the completed version.
Standing on top of the bare produce table, my wife Belinda and I join half a dozen female vendors at Mercado Doce de Abril on Cuenca’s east side. At the edge of this plywood platform, facing the musicians, a young man stands with a three year-old boy. The occasion for forced intimacy with perfect strangers is the visit of Ecuador’s Presidente Rafael Correa, traveling by car between Guayaquil on the coast to Quito, the capital located high in the Andes.
My perusal of emails on the morning of August 13, 2014, had revealed an invitation from Indira Urgiles, the youngest of four sisters who make up Cuenca’s traditional music group, “K’Prima.” Belinda and I had been thoroughly captivated by their performance as guest vocalists on Valentine’s Day in February with the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra.
We later became acquainted with Indira at the government’s internal revenue office where she accompanied a North American expat in her capacity as facilitator/translator. “We loved your singing at the orchestra’s “Dia de Amor” program,” I shared with the attractive young woman with glistening long brown hair.
“Thank you so much. I am so happy that you attended! I will email information of our next appearance, if you like,” she volunteered.
I pulled out a pen to write the address. “This is so kind of you, Indira. We look forward to seeing you and your sisters soon. You all looked so beautiful on stage in your colorful ponchos!” Belinda stated admiringly.
So this last-minute notice thrilled us to discover that we would have a rare opportunity that afternoon to attend K’Prima’s event honoring the President. Already past 11:00 AM, Indira had mentioned that the program would commence at noon. We dashed out into warm weather with partly cloudy skies, and grabbed a taxi for the fifteen minute ride to the Mercado.
Our driver dropped us at the market’s entrance. We felt overwhelmed by the security activity in preparation for Correa’s eminent arrival. Recorded music could be heard from inside the cavernous concrete and steel edifice. We retreated across the street to a “cervicheria,” Restaurante Don Raul which featured seafood. We joined twenty other patrons consuming their midday meal, “almuerzo,” for $4 a plate.
“Por favor, Senor, dos Coca Colas,” we told our waiter while seated in white plastic chairs on the tile-floored patio across from the entrance. I photographed souvenir shots from our prime view of the events unfolding for the first visit by a president to the four decades-old marketplace.
Steady, professional activity unfolded in the market parking area. Troops with automatic weapons assumed protective positions around the perimeter. National Police officers attired in gold-trimmed uniforms clustered in small groups in the street. Officials of Province of Azuay arrived in marked vehicles.
Once we had paid the waiter for our sodas and crossed the street, I commented to Belinda, “Maybe he will arrive by helicopter. That cleared parking lot now could handle one!”
Upon entering the Mercado, police officers speaking into two-way radios greeted us and directed us to the right aisle where tables of fruit and produce stood. Women greatly outnumbered the men in conducting business inside the bright clean hall. They abandoned their tables to gather in small groups, abuzz with excitement and pride.
The first 500 words have been revised. Click the link to finish the story.
What kind of man am I? Without a vehicle for the first time in years, I am at the mercy of the operators of Cuenca’s buses and taxis. My wife, Belinda, and I are one year removed from the Monterey Bay area of California. Ah! Sunny California! Walks on the beach and rounds of golf were my favorite past times from our responsibilities as co-managers of one-bedroom apartments for two score souls. Here, on the other hand, walking is how we navigate the popular Andean city.
As retired expats living in Ecuador, we engage in a dance of spontaneity along urban thoroughfares. Pedestrian habits acquired in the U. S. are distinct impediments to personal safety. Being alert to cultural differences in driving patterns, road construction, and sidewalk conditions is imperative to making a successful transition on par with the acquisition of the foreign language.
Belinda and I live within a par five golf hole to Monte Sinai Hospital. The Ital Deli, also on Avenida Fray Solano, is a tee shot from our home, Condominio Santa Rosa. The living room window overlooks one-way Avenida Federico Proano, parallel to Solano. Stop signs at Moreno Mora and Diez de Agosto bracket our treeless stretch of Proano.
Recently on my way to “The Gringo Workshop,” an expat work space, I awaited the No. 15 city bus charging uphill from Solano to our stop on Diez de Agosto. It came to a screeching halt when a red SUV dashed in front, ignoring the stop sign.
This heedless driver narrowly passed in front of the bus. Imagine the discomfort which befell driver and passengers alike! Boarding the bus, I sensed grateful relief from its startled occupants as I rode a couple of kilometers to my shop.
A couple of months ago, a shop member wrecked his pickup equipped with his newly built roof rack, at an El Centro intersection. He explained to me, “It was my fault. I had passed a city bus pulled up at a stop, and didn’t see the car crossing in front.” The accident cracked his sternum and damaged the truck’s right front end. He had to repair the fender, wheel and rocker-arm assembly. Thankfully, he fully recovered and is back to driving his truck again.
While I built furniture at the shop, Belinda witnessed from our fifth floor vantage point, the aftermath of screeching brakes and colliding autos. A clueless driver had failed to observe the red stop sign on the corner. Families at home to observe the Sabbath opened windows and gates to take in the scene of jumbled metal and white steam. Neighbors lined the street to witness the arrival of tow trucks and police and to watch justice being delivered.
A more serious accident occurred in similar circumstances within a month. That one resulted in bodily harm and the prompt arrival of an ambulance. “There were over thirty people watching, and some helped to push one of the wrecks into a driveway behind a wall,” Belinda told me. “And it’s the lawyer’s office parking lot!”
This is the first 500 words. Please click the link to read the whole story (earlier version).
Dan : my brother Denis’ pal, veteran & NY Mets’ fan
On Sunday evening, January 8, 1990, I departed my native city, flying Aer Lingus from JFK in New York to Dublin, Ireland. I aspired to be the first McGeehan to locate the “auld sod” of our Irish forbearers, John Daniel and Mary Anne O’cannon who had embarked for America in 1860.
Dublin’s modernized suburban airport was ably served by speedy and efficient customs officers. I presented them with my backpack, loaded with gear for County Donegal’s coastal moist weather, warmed by the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream.
Outside the Terminal I caught an express elevated train into downtown. I wandered clean streets with tidy shops and tourist-filled pubs, making my way along River Liffey, across from Trinity College, founded in 1592. Wishing I had more time to explore, I focused on transferring by bus to Donegal, 150 miles northwest of the capital.
Dublin’s intercity bus terminal was conveniently located across from the domed 18th century Customs House. Being the “greenhorn,” I unwarily boarded and headed out of the city into “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland.
This violent era began in the mid-1960’s with no peace settlement in sight. Animosities over jobs, elections, British presence, and religious discrimination fueled those who chose to take up arms. Forty-seven civilian non-combatants were killed in 1990.
The coach full of travelers negotiated narrow lanes of Dublin, gaily decorated for the Christmas season. From my rear seat, I photographed picturesque scenes of citizens going about their routines on a Monday morning.
During my flight to Dublin, I had met a young Irish lass traveling home from Dallas, Texas, on vacation to visit family. She sat with me on our westward journey. She worked on the famed set of the nighttime soap opera “Dallas,” as a sales clerk in the gift shop of conniving JR Ewing’s mansion. She confided to me how a non-sectarian peace group had placed her in the job to escape the unpleasantness of her war-torn community.
A few hours’ travel brought us to an isolated intersection, the site of a British Army vehicle checkpoint at the border with County Fermanagh, one of six counties of Northern Ireland. Three weeks earlier on December 13, 1989, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) combatants had killed two British soldiers, one an Englishman and the other a Scot. The bus stood twenty miles south of their checkpoint at Derryard.
Three blackface British soldiers exited the sandbag-outpost to board the quiet bus. “What the…?” I say to no one in particular, caught totally unawares by this intrusion. Two enlisted men, in their early twenties, stood guard with automatic rifles while the officer wearing a side arm came down the aisle, looking from his right to his left. “Probably searching for enemy-suspects and weapons,” I thought. He stopped only once, to question me.
I later learned how IRA and supporters favored the wearing of beards. Not many Irish had them, I observed. I sported a full brown, tinged with red beauty, hence his polite attention. I passed him my passport and plane ticket and responded evenly to his questions. “I’m on vacation to look for relatives in County Donegal. I just arrived from New York City,” I responded.
This is first 500 words of The Yank. Please click link to continue the story.
I rushed out of the Cuenca airport terminal on an overcast March morning to take a taxi back to my apartment. The first taxi in line belonged to Marco, a well-groomed young man, who drove a clean compact sized yellow cab. I joined him in the front seat, storing my backpack on the floor mat.
“Oh, Lord! Please help me get back in time for our flight!” I silently prayed as we exited to the west into crowded one lane Avenida Espana.
Marco and I introduced ourselves as I explained how to locate the apartment building where my wife and I had naively left our documents. TAME, Ecuador’s national airline, requires a passport to check in baggage for its flight to the capital, Quito. We had presented only laminated copies of the national ID, our treasured “cedula,” along with travel ticket printouts.
Marco used the taxi’s meter which provided me assurance that I would pay the meter amount. I had too much to worry about without having to haggle over the fare with a contrary driver.
The trip back to the apartment measured about three miles, south of El Centro, Cuenca’s historic downtown. The Spanish colonial city is in the midst of citywide monorail construction, creating traffic detours in the vicinity of the low profile airport. Perhaps as few as a dozen daily departures occur, with no international flights.
“I am sorry for your inconvenience,” sympathized the kind chauffeur when informed of the nature of our roundtrip. I hoped to accomplish it within forty five minutes for the flight was scheduled to depart in an hour.
At the crack of dawn, as light filtered through clouds over mountains to the east, we prepared to meet our original driver at the entrance to the condominium. We greeted German in his yellow taxi at 7:15am. In rush hour traffic, we had made good time, arriving for our 8:40 flight at 7:35.
“It certainly didn’t help that we both only had a few hours’ sleep last night,” I shared with Marco. “We must have travel anxiety. Our Christmas shopping at Otavalo’s Mercado Sabado resulted in a pickpocket’s theft of my wallet with my original cedula, bank cards, bus pass and $95 cash. Today will be our first time back.”
“Ah! I see. What a shame!” Marco grimaced as he slowly proceeded past construction activity before turning south along Avenida Huayna Capac, named for Cuenca’s native born sixteenth century ruler, when the Incan city was called “Tomebamba.”
Yellow metal barriers traced the center of the roadway. Marco proceeded cautiously beyond the hazard, and we resumed travel in widened streets about one mile from the airport. Under looming skies we crossed over Rio Tomebamba to new Cuenca.
The goal of making our flight on time inched nearer as we merged with traffic headed in the direction of the city stadium and the north and south artery, Avenida Solano. I felt grateful to the “travel gods” to be traveling roundtrip with Marco. I calmed my nerves….
This completes the first 500 words of “Taxi!”
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