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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Greetings in Cuenca "Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes" Now, Mom, What's so Difficult About that?


I got to admit that as much as I love my mommy, she is embarrassing sometimes. The people of Cuenca are very well mannered and my mom... well, what can I say? Mom's excuse is that she was born in Venezuela and that she has not spoken Spanish day in and day out for 30 + years... that's a long, long time in doggie years, and also a sorry excuse.

See, sometimes mom says: "Buenas" omitting the "dias" or the "tardes." Invariably people respond with the proper way according to the time of day: "buenos dias" in the morning and "buenas tardes" in the afternoon... We have been here a month and she still can't get that right! Or worse yet, she can also be quite casual saying: "Hola" and "Chao." Here in Cuenca both of these greetings are obviously to be used only when you have familiarity with a person, like when you are saluting a friend. She especially uses these familiar and causal greetings with children; but kids here are extremely polite and respectful and they deserve the same treatment back.

I also think that mom believes that a smile takes the place of the "Buenos dias/tardes". She is this type A personality who tends to follow the order of "shoot, aim, ready." Most days she's brought back to the more logical order when Cuencanos look at her right in the eye, ignore her question (which she shoots right after the smile) and say to her 'Buenos dias/tardes". Put in her place, she has to regroup, respond to the greeting, and then and only then, ask her question.

I wish mom was more like me. I don't just approach other dogs and start licking their faces or barking at them. I know that there are some bad mannered dogs that do the barking thing on sight, but I'm polite, like a Cuencana, and always greet first. I go sniff the dog's behind and then invite it to play. That's the way to do it. Greetings first, and then we can get down to business. If I could only get mom to learn!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Meet Luna and Harley, My Best Friends in Cuenca by Star

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about this move. I loved going to my doggie daycare center, At Play With Sparky, and mom told me there was nothing like that here in Cuenca. Mom took me to Sparky's (as she used to call it) at least twice a week and I enjoyed it very much. I didn't know whether I would be able to make friends here and play like I used to in Asheville, so I was a bit worried. But mom made it her job to find me playmates as soon as we got here and that's how we met Luna and Harley. Here is a better picture of Luna.

She is quite cute, don't you think? Luna is young like me so we love to play. Harley is a handsome old man and prefers to be petted than to play with us. Luna and I love to play, so we try to get him to join in, and he does once in a while, but it's mostly just Luna and me who do the playing and the chasing. People think it's kind of funny our names (Luna = Moon and Star)...

I love these play days. They are different than going to the doggie daycare because mom gets to stay and watch me play, and she also gets her own playmates. Although they just blab, drink coffee and eat, and don't play, but they look happy. This is way better than in Asheville, I have to say. I can't wait to get other playmates to join our pack. I know I have some readers out there that are planning on moving here and that is fantastic! The more doggies, the better! So, come on down, join Luna, Harley and me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Kindness of People in Cuenca, Ecuador by Star

I realized that I had not shared much with you about the kindness of the Ecuadorian people. For me it all got started with the guard at the warehouse where I had to stay the night and day in Quito. He was a special man and had a lot of compassion for my mom and dad as well as for me. I will never forget him.

But one experiences kindness all around here. The people of Cuenca are mountain people which means that they are much more reserved than people from the coast, like for example those people from Guayaquil. Reserved, however, does not mean rude; these people are very kind and well mannered (unless they are at the wheel of a car -- but more about that in another post). They are reserved with strangers yet, once they get to know you, they are friendly and outgoing. They are always warm and present.

Many people are afraid of me because I am a dog, and they either had bad experiences with dogs or were taught to be afraid of I don't take it personally. Mom reassures them that I won't do anything to them other than perhaps kiss them. But they feel uncomfortable so mom just smiles at them and makes sure I'm as far away from them as possible. They invariably smile back as if taken by surprise by her understanding.

The people of Cuenca are relaxed; they move at a different pace than mom and dad. I like that. When they talk with you they really pay attention. They are truly there.

The other day mom and I were walking when this beast came walking towards us. Mom called it a Saint Bernard. I had never seen a dog that big, ever! And, he was loose and it was coming towards me in a very busy street and we had no where to go. Take a look at this thing... here he is in his house... look at those paws, they are the size of my head!

He looks small here, but trust me, he didn't look small when he was approaching us in the street. Mom loves all dogs which is a problem for me sometimes. Yet this time she got very nervous and, because you can tell everything about mom by just looking at her face, a couple of young men who were walking towards us realized what was happening and immediately made a protective wall between the St. Bernard and us until we were safe. That was so kind and so unexpected, both mom and I were very touched.

You find goodness everywhere in the world. It is all around us, being a dog gives me this special ability to detect it... yet when you are new in a place and are trying to find your way around, these little acts of kindness mean so much. The Ecuadorians are beautiful people and we are honored to be in their land.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Are you Bringing your Dog to Ecuador? Then you Must Read This LONG Post by Star

I was very happy when mom asked me to pass on this information to you because I realized that with time, even mom forgets what a difficult time we all had. So, we hope that this post provides you with the information you need to, if not avoid, at least minimize the headaches and heartaches of such a trip.
  • Should you contract a pet transportation company in the US?
My mom tells me that pet transportation companies are great under the right circumstance. She used them before when moving my late sister from South Africa back to the US. However, when moving to Ecuador you need to be aware that these companies are subject to the same airline rules that you are. Yet, they do have contacts and that may help you so that shouldn't stop you from exploring this option. It is very important that if you decide to hire one of these companies you make sure that they will clear your doggie through Ecuadorian customs, otherwise they will not be much help to you.
  • What airline to fly?
Mom says that this is a really tricky question because we only have experience with one airline: Continental. However, she has asked around and gathered some information from the experiences of others. She recommends that you call every airline and ask the following questions:
  1. Do you have any temperature restrictions? Most US airlines have temperature restrictions. This means that they do not allow live animals from May 15 till after Sept 15th. Continental Airlines is the only US airline that is equipped to make sure animals are kept in temperature controlled environments so that they are kept SAFE during the high heat months. Continental is nicely set up. They take good care of doggies under their responsibility. The people who work at the counter with the dogs are wonderful. Unfortunately not everyone you come in contact with during this process is that way. Some of the Continental agents mom spoke with were pretty nasty.
Delta Airlines has also established a similar program to Continental’s, but it’s relatively new and it doesn’t cover many cities like Quito, for example. International airlines such as LAN Ecuador don’t seem to have these restrictions. However, it’s critical to call all the airlines you are considering to find out their policies.

  1. When can I book the reservation for my dog? This is a very important point. Continental Airlines only allows you to book reservations for your doggies 3 days before departure. They also have a 75% rule; that is, if the flight you’re hoping to depart on fills up to 75% capacity or more, you won’t be able to book your dog. Flights bookings can change drastically from one day to the next. For my family that meant that we all stayed until we could all leave together. We had sold our home and had a rental car so that meant we had to find a place to stay and extend our rental car for a week. Thankfully it was only one week!!! We had a great experience with a manager of Continental (Virginia) who made sure we could all go together a week later. The other agents were telling mom that we had to stay in the US till September!!!
  1. Do you have any capacity restrictions? This is basically the 75% rule Continental has. Find out from all other airlines before you choose which one to fly with.
  1. Is my dog going to go as Cargo or as Luggage? This is also a critical point because if they come as luggage, you can handle the clearance of your pet by presenting the papers to the customs agent in the luggage area. If they come as cargo and depending on the time the flight arrives, you will most likely have to leave your dog for a minimum of one night in the airline's cargo warehouse. Trust me, this is NOT fun. And, you will need and agent in Ecuador to help you maneuver the bureaucracy of customs.
So make sure that the airline agent you are talking with understands the question!!! Many agents will just 'yes' you to get you off the line. Make them find out and give you a DEFINITE answer.

  1. Do you have any rules about bumping my dog? Continental failed to tell mom about the 75% rule the many times she spoke to the airline agents. But, they always made sure to worry her to death by telling her that they had the right, once the reservation was made, to bump the dog and send it in the next flight available. That's me they were talking about bumping.... the very idea! This possibility drove mom crazy!
  1. What other restrictions or rules do you have that I should be aware of? Every airline is different AND they change their rules often. Just be persistent and get all the facts.

  • What airport: Quito or Guayaquil?
We flew into Quito in Continental. That meant that we arrived there at 11 PM and I went as cargo. Mom tried very hard to clear me BEFORE we arrived, but Continental Cargo didn’t have Internet service that day; and thus, the papers that were sent to them from Houston never arrived which meant I wasn't cleared. The result was that I spent the night in a dark, dusty and dingy warehouse. 
Quito is a hard airport to get to because of the altitude so there are only smaller planes that fly there. We have learned that Guayaquil is a much better airport if your dog comes as accompanied luggage. Cargo is always dealt with by a different department and they are not always very understanding of your dogs needs. Whenever possible fly into Guayaquil as luggage. Bigger dogs may have a problem because they will be forced into cargo. If there is a hiccup and they have to spend the night, the high temperatures of Guayaquil can be dangerous. Remember Ecuadorians are NOT equipped to take care of doggies.
  • What steps you have to take to get ready for the trip? 
More visits to the vet than I wanted!!!!
First I had to get shots, then I had to get an exam and this was not pleasant because they had to make sure I didn’t have parasites. But wait that’s not all … because we had to stay an extra week I had to go back to the vet to get another exam! This vet was in TX in a small town so they didn’t have the ear thermometer… you know what that means… NOT Fun… but I’ll stop complaining and give you the details…

1.      Dogs have to be vaccinated 6 months PRIOR to your trip for:
·         Distemper
·         Hepatitis Canina
·         Leptospirosis
·         Parvovirosis (Parvovirus canino)
·         Rabies
·         Parainfluenza

2.     Dogs also need to be treated for external and internal parasites within 30 days of departure. If you are tested and no parasites are found, then there is no need for treatment.

3.      Dogs also have to have a medical exam within 10 days from departure.

4.      All of these things are then recorded in an International Health Certificate which needs to be stamped by the USDA

When your vet completes the APHIS 7001form completed then it must go to the USDA for a stamp. You will also need to take the rabies certificate with you, although they don’t stamp that. Our Vet offered to federal express the form to the USDA but we were short on time so mom chose to have someone drive it to the USDA to get it stamped.

5.      Once this form is stamped by the USDA, you must also have it stamped by the Ecuadorian Consulate.
  • Should you hire a customs agent in Ecuador?
Definitely NO IF your doggie can come as luggage into Guayaquil. If your dog comes as cargo, you may need to a customs agent if you do not speak Spanish.
  • Where to stay in Quito?
If you are flying into Quito, you’ll have to stay the night there. Vieja Cuba is a wonderful hotel which we highly recommend. They care about doggies as much as they care about people. After being cooked up in the warehouse for so long I loved running in the garden.

  • Should we try to fly to Cuenca?
Absolutely not! You will have to deal with more bureaucracy. Just take a van with a driver. It is a long trip but well worth it. We used FastLine and they were wonderful.

What else?
You may have other questions and you’re welcome to email mom. If she knows the answer, she’ll share it with you.

Another person’s experience --
I am going to add here the experience of another person narrated by her. This just gives you a taste for how different this can be from person to person; so be prepared. While my experience was filled with trouble hers was smooth and she brought not only a dog, but 2 cats as well. By the way, this lady chose to have a travel agent make all the flight arrangements for her and her pets… it sounds like it was a very good decision. Here is her story:

A smooth pet importation
The documents for the pets allowing them to enter Ecuador all had to be obtained within 10 days of their flight, so there was a lot of last minute running around.  The first stop was the vet so he could administer any vaccines due and fill out a USDA form for which he had to have special training to complete.  Second step was to have the forms stamped by the official USDA veterinarian in the "state in which you reside."  

I called the USDA first and was glad I did because the fellow who answered the phone was very helpful.  He had me fax a copy of the forms to him to check prior to making an appointment with the very busy USDA vet and found that one vaccine was missing.  Evidently corona virus is not prevalent in the Bay Area so my vet didn't stock the vaccine.  I called around and finally located a vet in Colma who had the vaccine, drove down, picked up the dose, drove back to Oakland and had my vet administer the shot and then revise the form. 

The next day I had the appointment with the USDA vet which, luckily for me, was in an office close to the San Francisco airport.  I didn't have to drive 90 miles to the state capitol.  She stamped the form for each pet and I paid the fees.  The last step was to have the whole pile certified by the Ecuadorian consulate.  That was where living in a major metropolitan area was a good thing - the consulate is in San Francisco.  They took their fee, stamped the forms with a big gold seal and sent me on my way.  We were ready to travel. 

We arrived in Guayaquil safe, sound, and sleepy.  My worries about the pets were unnecessary, and all of the stress was left in the US getting the proper documentation to import the pets.  When we got to the airline check in counter, I taped a day's worth of food for each animal to the top of each kennel and hooked the water bottles onto the wire kennel doors.  The bottles were similar to the ones hamsters use and they may leak.  So the kennels were all lined with puppy piddle pads.  Later I realized that they also performed well in their intended function.  The flights were smooth and on time.  I'm glad I went through a travel agent who researched the airlines and their pet policies.  We flew on American through Miami and had a short layover and no delays.  The flight also had an early arrival in Guayaquil, coming in about 8pm.  Many flights arrive between 11pm and midnight and that can be a real problem.  

In Guayaquil, we went through immigration without any problems - it's been fast and efficient each visit.  Our luggage came through and last on the carousel was the dog in his kennel.  Airport staff had pulled the cats off to the side already.  We were on the opposite side of the carousel so only the dog kennel was tall enough to see.  It all got loaded on carts to go through customs.  A security employee helped shepherd us through. 

The luggage went through an X-ray and the pets had their papers inspected by someone working in a small office to the side of the main luggage claim area.  The whole process took less than 45 minutes from plane to curb including standing in line and we were about last in line since the animals came off the plane after the luggage. 
Finally at curbside, the dog got a chance to relieve himself.  One benefit of Guayaquil over Quito is that it has planting areas just outside the doors whereas Quito is all paving.  The poor cats had to wait until after the drive to Cuenca, but all of us travellers made it safely and without too much trauma, and are adjusting to our new lives well including one cat who chose to live in the wardrobe for a month before coming out.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    One Small Thing that Makes Mom Happy by Star

    The other day mom came back from town happy as she could be. I didn't know what made her so joyful until she said with a big smile: "It worked," as she pulled an envelope out of her backpack. You see my silly mom mailed herself a card from Asheville, and it got here.

    It took about two weeks for the card to get to Cuenca, which is what she had heard it would take. Yet, somehow knowing that it does work made her really happy.

    There is no residential mail delivery here in Cuenca probably because many streets don't have names and are referred to as "Calle S/N" which stands for "Calle Sin Nombre = Street without a name." Also most houses don't have a number.  For example the house where we live doesn't have a number so mom has to refer to it as "the house next to the last one on the right side of the street." I guess that's partly why there is no mail delivery. Can you imagine what the mailing addresses would look like?

    If you want to get mail in Cuenca, the only answer seems to be a Post Office Box. However, the other day we were walking and we saw a mail truck ... we still don't know what that was all about... perhaps they were delivering mail to the only house with a number in that street which did have a name... hmmm

    Now you got our address, so you can send me fan mail. I'm sure mom will read it to me and I promise to reply.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    LIVING in Cuenca by Star

    I've seen some dead squirrels and birds before, but I had never seen a dead cat or a dead doggie. Friday on our way back from doggie play day, mom and I saw both. The cat had been dead for a while, but we actually saw the doggie take his final breath. There was nothing we could do and mom was so very distraught. I didn't know what to make of it. I wanted to lick them both back to life, but mom wouldn't let me. She told me someone had poisoned them and that this is an unfortunate part of life here in Cuenca. There are many folks who love animals here, but there are as many who don't, and these people poison dogs and cats. She let me know that I have to be extra careful not to pick up anything from the streets. The doggie was just a pup and the kitty was also very young. Mom could not take their images from her mind the entire day. She told me she felt so powerless. Not sure exactly what that means, but I know she was very sad all day.

    Then Saturday was a day of discovery for all of us. We woke up early as usual and had to wait till the rain stopped, which was close to 8 AM. The sun even came out around 8:30 although there were too many clouds around for us to really believe it was going to stay for long. However, we hoped it would. At any rate, mom has this thing about trying new routes. I am happy with our routines; but mom is another story. It must be the Gemini in her. So, we decided to humor her and let her choose the way.

    We started in a familiar route by the University of Azuay, and it was there where it all started for mom -- a continuation of yesterday. This huge beautiful tree had been taken down, a eucalyptus that was as tall as a 10 story building. Mom examined the tree for apparent disease, as if she knew what she was doing, and then decided to ask a man who had obviously taken part in the murder of this tree, why the tree had to come down. Once the man understood what mom was asking (which took a few tries by mom and a few minutes for the man to process mom's question) she finds out that the tree was leaning against some electric wires. Mom was very distraught because it was a gorgeous tree.

    As our eyes examined the body of the tree and followed the fallen limbs which had dropped on the Yanuncay river, there it was hung on a rock, a white and black cow which had drowned. This was even more upsetting for mom who dealt with her distress by going on and on to me about why I shouldn't get close to the river. She should know better by now, I don't get close to that river even if you pay pay me with a big juicy bone. But that's the problem with being a dog, I can't say much back, so mom goes on. However, with my strong powers of observation, I have develop a new skill --the ability to translate words into noise which can be easily dismissed by focusing my attention on something else. Mom says that this is a general male skill, I think it should be genderless, since it can be quite helpful. So mom goes on and I go frolicking around minding my own thoughts.

    We continue our walk at this point taking a different path than we've ever had before, this time by the side of the Tarqui river.

    First there was no path and we had to find one which was not really easy to do. We finally got to a place where we could make our way to the street. However, we had to come really close to a house, more like a shack, really. This is the place where the cows that feed by our house and by the river close to us live. Probably, this is house of the cow that drowned. And, where there is livestock, there are dogs. These aren't your happy go lucky street dogs kind, these are mean watch dogs who are serious about doing a good job guarding the animals on their watch. Mom panics and, to be honest, I don't like it a bit. We sent dad in the front to hush the dogs away, and we crossed the street and quickened our step always looking back. Of course the dogs also crossed the street and came after us, but just to let us know we weren't welcome. I get it, I get it, gee whiz!

    We continued our walk. This isn't the nicest of neighborhoods. There are mostly car related businesses, no sidewalks, and shacks where nice people live, but which also translate into loose dogs that make mom nervous. After maneuvering through most of this community we get a few yards from two very upset dogs. They lived on the last shack on that road, and their job was to take care of the chickens, which were not only on the right side of the street, but also on the left. Dogs being on the right side, we decide to cross the street, but we soon realized that this is where most of the hens and their chicks were, so here come the dogs letting us know we better watch it. I knew these dogs meant business and so did mom, but the aroma of chicken droppings was so alluring that mom had a real hard time getting me to move fast away from the dogs.

    We finally made it away from that road. Phew! We landed so to speak in a beautiful park that mom wants to get a picture of share with you when she fixes her camera. It has a huge metal sculpture of a nativity scene. We go on. Mom wants to go one way, dad the other ... this happens often. Dad wins and we entered this very interesting neighborhood called La Isla (The Island). There is a pack of dogs that want nothing to do with me, so mom thinks she can breathe. Yet these dogs do something I've never seen before. They chase cars! Whoopee! Does that look like fun or what! Mom goes absolutely crazy every time a car comes down the road... dogs chase; mom covers her eyes; drivers go by, wave and laugh at mom; dad's embarrassed; I want to join the dogs in their chase; mom pulls my lead, scolds me and tells me that chasing cars is dangerous. We do this for three blocks or so until we pass the dogs and mom can regain consciousness again, breathe and relax the lead. Good now I can breathe too.

    We find that this is a beautiful neighborhood, but we missed the significance of the name. 'Hey guys an island may not have an exit... dah!!!!'. So we walked for a while until, of course, the rain started to bless us with its drops and we couldn't find a way out, so we had to retrace our steps the long way.

    Yet, the walk back was uneventful although wet. We came back to the University and there was a graduation ceremony going on so there were lots of happy people, lots of cars and lots of commotion. The fallen tree was been sawed into pieces and the cow was still laying across the rock in the middle of the river. I found a piece of the tree to play with and attack like I love to do with sticks. I found that Eucalyptus is very soft making it a great chewing wood. Mom watched me with a smile on her face as I played with the stick for a while.

    We got home and I slept while mom and dad went out to meet new friends. They came back talking about the great time they had. I was happy for them.

    Later that day mom was talking to dad about the richness and fullness of the day we've had. Mom had her philosopher's hat on and although I couldn't understand much of what she was saying, I always enjoy it when she talks like that because she puts her emotions aside, and it is peaceful.

    She told dad: "you know; dogs and cats are killed, and trees are taken down every day in the world; every day there are cows that die and people who mourn them; there is suffering in this world and somehow in the States I can close my eyes and not see it; not participate. I don't watch the news, so I'm protected. 

    I can't run away from life here. It hits me at all times. There is no place to hide. Life is full here. Suffering is all around me and so is joy and laughter. love and fear, health and disease, life and death, light and darkness... my nice quiet protected life in the US is over. Yet, I'm starting to embrace the richness and fullness of life here in Cuenca. A vibrant lesson every day... It's as if I'm Siddhartha leaving the castle for the first time."

    With that last sentence she totally lost me and I fell asleep thinking of the lessons learned that day as mom continued to blab.