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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hacienda Caballo Campana, A Little Piece of Heaven in Cuenca by Star

After we came back from Vilcabamba, our house was still not ready. We were still homeless and had to find a place to sleep. We first stayed at a horrible hostal for two nights that we will not name, but that I was so glad to leave. The people were nice, but the rooms were old and dingy. However, mom found a little piece of heaven called Hacienda Caballo Campana. This inn is located in a horse farm-horse-horse stables and riding school paradise. The owners, Lina Torres and her family, love dogs and have many living in the property.

The moment we arrived, I knew I was going to enjoy myself. We stayed there five nights and I hated to leave. The place is peaceful and beautiful. The air is clean and fresh. There is a feeling there that I just can't describe. Caballo Campana is very close to Cuenca, just about 15 minutes to El Centro. Mom and I felt we could stay there forever ... dad really liked it as well but I don't think as much as mom and I did.

I made friends with all the dogs immediately. And, of course, mom had to make friends with them as well.

I had been afraid of horses until we stayed at Caballo Campana. They are big and fast and I hadn't been around them much. But here I learned to like them and not be so afraid of them. They are very beautiful and mom and dad petted them, so I learn that they are loving as well, no need for fear.

They have six dogs at Caballo Campana and many, many horses; I can't remember all of the doggies' names, but they all, except one, came to this place after a rough life of abuse. For example: Oso (Bear) is a Chow whose head is crooked from obvious abuse. He is terrified of people, but Mom worked on him every day trying to gain his trust. I just left him alone. By the last day he was not as fearful of her and would come close enough to allow her to take a picture of him. Mom was happy. I swear the silliest things make her happy.
Then there was this dog that fell in love with my mom because she fed her. She was very bright and hid from the waiters since she was not allowed in the dinning room porch where my parents ate. As soon as the waiters left, she would come out. You see, they allow me in the porch while mom and dad had breakfast because I am a Gringo dog, but the other dogs weren't supposed to be there... of course, they didn't listen very well, especially with mom encouraging them. I've heard the other day that this dog had a bunch of puppies and mom wanted to go see them. Thank God she stopped herself, otherwise I know I would have a brother or sister by now for sure.
The one doggie that could do anything he wanted was a small black one. He and I played for hours. He is still a puppy, very cute and smart.
The other dogs maintained their distance and you could tell they had some stories to tell.

It was sad when we left. All the dogs followed our car as we drove out the property. This is wonderful place, and mom has promised me to visit again soon. Who know she may even take some horse riding lessons while I play with the dogs. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Trip to Vilcabamaba, Ecuador by Star

I can't believe it has been six months since we went to Vilcabamba. We were without a house then, gypsies once more. So mom decided that we could go to Vilca, as we lovingly call it, to enjoy ourselves and see other parts of Ecuador before moving into our house.

They say Vilcamamba is an energy center. I'm not sure what that means, but I really loved there and here is why.

So, first there were the views... just because I'm a doggie doesn't mean I don't pay attention to the views. This is the view from our bedroom at Madre Tierra where we stayed. I loved just to sit on the porch looking at the magnificent surroundings. I can spend hours like that... mom says that I am like a cat in that way... hmm

Then, there was my friend Kenna, who went back to the States shortly after this fun trip. I miss her, but we just had so much fun at Madre Tierra and everywhere we went in Vilcabamba. Mom did not any pictures of our hikes; but, trust me, they were amazing and the hikes and walks are the third reason I loved Vilcabamba.


Even though Vilcabamaba is quite small, there are many fun things to do, if you like nature and its beauty. Another thing I really liked about this place was that every day after our long hikes or walks we went to  Cafe Sambuca where my parents had lunch. Cafe Sambuca is co-owned by a wonder guy from Mexico, Raul Hernandez and they serve real Mexican food, or so I heard.

According to my mom and dad and to everyone else that ate there, the food was outstanding. However, I didn't try the food... they didn't let me (they being my parents). But, I was always too tired from my walks, so not being able to eat was not too bad. Besides mom's Tempeh tacos simply didn't sound good to me, although she must have liked them because she had them everyday... dad's food is always tempting, but he's harder to break than mom, so I got nothing from him not even a small morsel. I wish mom would stop being a vegetarian then I could have her food. But she takes care of me and somehow I ended up eating roasted chicken many days while in Vilcabamba. Yum! That's what I love the most about traveling, roasted chickens always make it to my plate when we are away.

I can't wait to return to Vilcabamba and enjoy the peace and quiet of this place and the wonderful hikes. When are we going back, mom?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

10 Rules of the Road When Driving in Cuenca, Ecuador by Star

When you move to another country, one of the most important steps in the adaptation process is to learn the rules by which the society operates. We finally got the rules of the road in Cuenca down. I suppose these rules apply not only to Cuenca, but to other cities of Ecuador as well. My mom thought we needed to share these 10 Rules with you. So here they go:
  1. Speed up if you see a pedestrian or a dog crossing the street.
  2. Lanes on the road are just a suggestion. Although maybe the real rule is to keep the dividing stripes between your tires.
  3. In passing a car make, sure that you pull in front of them close enough to force them to brake or move to the next lane.
  4. There are two driving speeds: lighting fast-way beyond the speed limit and dangerously turtle slow.
  5. Illegal turns are allowed whenever you can get away with it.
  6. Honk your horn a few seconds before the traffic light changes to green just in case that the driver in front of you fell asleep. As matter of fact, just honk your horn every 5 seconds in traffic or when you come to a traffic light, and you should be alright.
  7. Passing on curves at high speeds is cool.
  8. When the road has lots of pot holes larger than lakes, you are supposed to go as fast as you can; don't worry about your car's suspension system, that's something to deal with tomorrow.
  9. U-turns and parking are permissible any time and on any road; the signs prohibiting them are just for decoration. If you want to be overly safe, turn on your emergency blinkers.
  10. Be alert and ready to brake or change lanes in the highways when you see the 'danger-men working' signs which will pop up no more than 10 feet from the actual road construction or obstruction.
And, one extra rule is to never open the windows if you are behind a truck, a bus, or a school van; unless, of course, you want to choke with the exhaust fumes. Wearing oxygen masks is always an option in these situations.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Who Said I Couldn't Go to Cajas National Park? by Star

I have been dying to tell you about my adventures into the Cajas National Park....well, it has been four months since I first went there and today is the day I get to share.

Cajas is a magical place about 12 miles from Cuenca. It has many beautiful mountain ranges and lagoons. The altitude ranges from 10,000 to close to 14,000 feet high and there are many different birds and also Alpacas. Mom just recently learned what the name Cajas means. "Cajas" in Spanish means 'boxes' so she couldn't understand why the name; she learned that this "Cajas" comes from the indigenous quechua word "caxas" which means "cold"; and, cold it is, according to the humans who went with us; but with my thick coat I could never tell even though I got pretty wet.

When we first arrived in Cuenca we were told that no dogs were allowed in this incredible place; but, what do you know? Mom found a way. Well, it was really Anna who did, but the important thing was that we went to Cajas in December with my friends Chimbo and Kenna and some humans.

I've visited many beautiful places since we moved to Cuenca, but I have to say that Cajas is by far the best. We were free to run up and down the trails without leads. There is simply nothing better than freedom and fresh mountain air to make me happy.

My mom didn't have her hiking boots or her walking stick with her since our stuff had not arrived from the States. She said she needed them to go up to the lagoon because it was misting and the steep trail was very slippery so mom and I stayed behind while our friends went up.
I had to stay to keep guard and make sure mom and I were all right.
We really missed out, so as soon as the work in the house is finished, mom has promised to take me there again. This time for a real hike up to the lagoon. Although I don't know how mom is going to make it. She was huffing and puffing all throughout the hike since Cajas is much higher than Cuenca and the trails are treacherous. That's what she said, though perhaps she is not in as good shape as she wants to think she is.
Mom says that hiking Cajas is not for everyone. It's really beautiful and peaceful but the weather changes very quickly. And, that is true, I can attest. When we were there one minute it was sunny and the next it was misting, and right after that there was the rain, hard and cold with thunder and lightening and nowhere to take cover. Going down the trail is harder when it is wet, and mom fell twice and got her pants all muddy. She, of course, blamed it on me. Since when she fell it was just me and her and she had to put me in the lead, or so she felt... like I was going anywhere... pleeease! When we were all together, I knew it was safe and I ran and ran, up and down and up again, having so much fun in this incredible place.
Mom and I went down towards the car and mom was totally worn out but so was I, yet I just didn't know it until we got home and I couldn't wait to go to bed and crash.
Now that mom and dad have their hiking boots and walking sticks, they don't have much of an excuse. Cajas here we come soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saying YES to Cuenca by Star

It's been a long time since I posted in this blog; getting my scribe's attention has been difficult. But, I think mom and I are now all set to share my stories on a more regular basis. This post is going to be a bit different, no pictures to share with you this time, just a story mostly about my mom. And, so, here we go.

My mom chose the name of this blog as the YES Effect. I never quite understood why she chose it... a more appropriate name would have been 'Star in Cuenca' or something similar, don’t you think? However, the last few months have helped me understand my mom's choice.

Mom always says that I teach her about this YES Effect business that she is trying to learn. She explained to me the other day that when she says YES to life she stops struggling and her pain ceases; she finds peace. However, this doesn’t come easily to my mom; and, she gathers that this is one of the main lessons she needs to learn and probably why we are in Ecuador. Of course, I always focus on the now and the positive in everything- it’s my nature. Humans just complicate things.

I don't always say YES to everything immediately; I have my preferences too, you know. Yet, when I don't have a choice and I’m forced into a situation that is not my preference, I don't like it at first, but soon I embrace it. For example, I don't like driving around in the car; my preference is to stay home; but mom sometimes decides that I must go with her and makes me get in the car. I fight it for a second or so, but once I'm in the car I start enjoying the ride and the scenery, not attached to my original preference I can enjoy myself and be content. Unfortunately, this is  not quite the way my mom usually works.

Mom has this idea that things should be done one way; and that’s ususally her way. She has always defined herself using the words: efficiency, productivity and effective communication. Now, these three qualities are not very prevalent in Ecuador, so my poor mom has been struggling… her very roots, needs and identity are constantly shaken. She had to learn the hard way (once more, mind you) that by saying “NO” to the ways of Ecuador she would gain nothing other than more heart aches. No matter how mom feels or what she does or doesn’t do, things are not going to get done any quicker; people are not going to call when they promised or answer voice messages or emails on a ‘timely’ manner; nor will they be more straightforward with her. Different cultures, different methods… that’s all. 

Mom has had to learn the rules of Ecuador and this has taken her eight challenging months! Quite the slow learner she is!!! I’m sure she is not through learning though, but she is light years ahead of where she started. 

As I tell her, it’s not that she has to like the Ecuadorian ways, she just has to accept them for what they are and learn to let go and work with them. Mom hit bottom about four weeks ago and then she saw the light. She realized her pain came from saying ‘no’ to what is, and not from what was happening or not happening. Since then I have felt her peace and I’m happy for her and, for me, and for dad, since she is no fun when she is frustrated, depressed, or angry. Now we can go back to focusing on the beauty this magnificent country has to offer us and the less painful lessons it has to teach us. 

By the way, in case you are wondering about some of these rules mom has had to learn here are some:
  • Ecuadorians live in the now and they give you their full attention when they are with you; this means if you are in a meeting and it goes way over, they will never interrupt it to call their next appointment. They are with you 100%... of course, the problem is when you are the next appointment.
  • For Ecuadorians afternoons start at 3 PM. Unlike Americans who hardly take lunch, professional Ecuadorians go home for lunch since this is their main meal and for many an important family time. However they will work late as well. Repair people may show up at 5:30 or 6 in the afternoon.
  • “I’ll call you at X time” means “If I remember, I’ll call you, and never at the said time.” So if you need an answer, you need to call them back. If you wait for the call back, chances are you’ll never get it.
  • Ecuadorians will never call you if they only have bad news to give you. If you need to know, you need to call them, always!!!
  • Ecuadorians are not proactive, so you need to be and never expect them to be because you’ll just be frustrated. It's not in their nature and it has to do a lot with living in the now.
  • You need to think of all the details. They are not important to most Ecuadorians so, if they are important to you, you must think of them and bring them up until they are done.
  • Workers will not clean up after they repair or install something. Unless they are being supervised by their employer and sometimes even when they are, they will leave you the mess to clean.

It’s really about responsibility; here in Ecuador you need to be 100% responsible, and yet accept that things are out of your control. The illusion of control people have in the US is shattered here in Ecuador. It’s like when I’m hungry before meal time and go to see mom and nudge her, my responsibility is to help her understand that I’m hungry, but whether or not she decides she can stop what she's doing and feed me; well, that’s not under my control; so many times I may have to wait until she is ready. See, life is really simple, if you are a dog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Finally Things Are Returning to Normal in Cuenca by Star

It's been a long time since I have written, and lots has happened since then that I'll share with you in this and future posts. We are finally in our house although it is not 100% ready and they are working on the other 3 houses that form our small complex, and making lots and lots of noise. But at least we are in and I have a yard and friends to play with.

The weather is much nicer here in Challuabamba, even when it's only 15 minutes from Cuenca. It is warmer here and my dad loves it --mom complains from time to time but she is at least happy that she'll be able to wear her shorts. I love the fact that downstairs of this house has tile as it allows me to cool off when it gets a bit too warm. Although there may be some disagreements on the temperature, we all agree that having less rain works better for all of us. I actually LOVE it here and refuse to get in the car any more after all the moving around we did for 20 days. So, in this post I'll share a little bit of our new house with you.

This is the most important room in the house where my meals get prepared and where I eat. Mom has 1 pot and 1 pan to cook right now and she does just fine, although dad has to wait for my meal to get ready before mom can start cooking his. I love mom; she has her priorities straight!

This is a picture of where mom's laughing Buddha will go once our things clear customs. It has been such a mess this container business. Mom and dad have been very upset, specially mom; it's been nothing but problems. I want our things to get here so mom will feel better and so I can have my agility equipment and be able to practice at home. I think the Buddha will look really nice in its special spot too. I sure don't look like any smiling Buddha, do I?

I have to show off mom's yoga studio. She loves it and so do I. We are waiting for the ropes so I can lick mom's face when she is hanging upside down.

And then there is my yard and my friends: Negrita and Bandam. Mom says there is still lots to do in the yard, but it looks perfect to me! I'm sure she'll plant a lot of flowers and things that will make my playing space smaller.  She already talked to someone about planting a lemon tree ... hmm, I wonder what else she has in mind. 
My friends, Negrita and Bandam, are lots of fun. I specially like Bandam because he likes to play with me and also just hang out. Negrita just had six puppies and when we first moved in she didn't want to play much with me. She is also a bit of thief. She is small enough to fit through the slots of the fence so she comes in and out of my yard freely. Little by little has taken every single toy I leave on the yard to her house next door. She does it with food too. Negrita doesn't discriminate, she also stole the hat of the foreman and took it to her pups. She looks like a saint but she is pretty sneaky, yet I still like her a lot. Negrita would have been part of our family, but she is owned by the guard that takes care of the construction and he cares for her a lot. Bandam also belongs to another guard who looks after the building of a spa about a block away.
Bandam knows how to play and how to hang. I would have to say he is my best friend. He knows when meal time is and everyday he shows up for breakfast and for dinner right on time. Mom and dad also think he is very special. I think Bandam is happy we moved in.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

We Finally Have a Car to Drive Around Cuenca, Yippee!!! by Star

Two months ago or so mom and dad came back home with a brand new car. They were extremely happy and, honestly, I have no idea why. I'm not a car lover. So the Yippee above was said with a bit of sarcasm. You see, as a puppy I used to get sick in the car and even though I don't get sick any longer, I really don't like to get in any car ever since. I have loved all of our walks here in Cuenca, so a car didn't sound like a very good idea. But it hasn't been all that bad since we still do most of our business walking. We use the car to go to our new home and watch it being built, when it is too far to walk or to go places when we need to get there fast, but I normally stay home those times when mom and dad are in rush. We also use the car to do the important things in life, like going to my agility classes.

Mom says that our car was probably the only one with an automatic transmission available in the country at the time. It's black like me, so it gets quite hot in the sun. My parents say they didn't have a choice of colors. It's a Volkswagen Gol Motion. Not at all what my mom wanted, but to her surprise, she really liked it when she saw it. If you ask me, I think she was just tired of searching. Dad really likes the process of buying a car and mom simply hates it. In the US she didn't have to even go to the dealership when they bought a car, except to pick it up; dad did everything: the research, the negotiations, the test drive and so on. But here mom had to get involved because she speaks Spanish and dad is still learning. But, she seems to like the car just fine.

Riding with mom is a bit crazy. She has become a very aggressive driver which you apparently need to be here in Ecuador. Also, she is constantly talking to herself. She says she is talking to the other drivers, but they can't hear her so I think she may be loosing her mind a bit. Dad shakes his head a lot when he's in the car with her, so I think he also agrees with me.

Because cars tend to get stolen a lot here they have very loud alarm systems that go off at all times, a truck that goes by or just thunder triggers the alarms. I hate that noise, but I am getting used to it. This car has automatic windows in the front but roll up windows in the back when we are riding. What the heck is with that? Now mom can't open or close the window for me. The car is otherwise comfy and I can see out better than I was able to do in mom's jeep.

My parents knew they would buy a car when they purchased our house in Challuabamba which is a 15 minutes drive from Cuenca. They also say we need a car so we can travel around Ecuador which we hope to do soon. Check me out below as I am arriving to our new house which we hope will be ready in a month. We go there everyday to check the progress and also to bring food to Blackie, a dog living with the security guard who takes care of the building project. We hope she can join our family when we move there; we'll see. She may leave before we move. All in all, having a car is a good thing, even when I am not thrilled to get in at first.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Cuenca by Star

A year ago yesterday, my parents were watching House Hunters International in our home in Asheville when they learned about Ecuador. Dad had been looking to move to Latin America for many years already, but mom was not willing to leave the US. They had checked Panama, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina but these countries did not meet all of our requirements. That fateful December 31st of 2010 mom showed a bit of interest in Ecuador and that was enough for dad; six weeks later they were on a plane headed to Cuenca to check it out. They liked it and, without consulting me, decided this would be our next home. 2011 was definitely a busy year-- a year of change, and now we've been in Ecuador for six months already!

The New Year's celebrations here in Ecuador are quite different than in the US. In Asheville we had a few fireworks at midnight for which mom and dad rarely stayed up. Mom always cooked a big breakfast and late lunch for New Year's Day, but that was about it. In Cuenca there are many traditions and celebrations on New Year's Eve.

  • The Monigotes are human effigies that are sold or made for people to burn at midnight on New Year's Eve. A Monigote must have a mask. It represents the old year and all the things you want to get rid of or literally burn. It is the old you.
  • Las Viudas or Widowers is another tradition where a group of people choose one person to dress up as a widow of the old year. They barricade the streets asking for coins. Some of these widows are very scary, if you asked me.
In many ways this celebration looks like Halloween. In a plaza closed to our home they had all kinds of effigies that they were going to burn at midnight.

  • There are many other traditions such as wearing bright colored underwear: yellow to attract money and red to attract love in the new year. Sorry no pictures of that :-) There is also the tradition of going around the block with your suitcase right after midnight to make sure you get to travel in the coming year. And, to attract money, you have to make sure you have cash in your pockets at midnight.
  • There are also fancy parades that mom saw just for a bit. Farmers from all the nearby towns bring their trucks adorned with produce and all the people are dressed up. We didn't really know about the parades and by luck mom saw some of it when she went downtown to lunch with some friend. Dad and I missed it all, so something to look forward for next year.

We have our own traditions that we followed here. Mom made pancakes which I really, really like. These were light and fluffy in spite of not being able to find buttermilk here in Cuenca. Mom used El Pino Yogurt instead and I couldn't tell the difference.
Mom and dad were worried they couldn't find their black-eyed peas to eat on New Year's Day, but with some friends from Asheville they went to the market and found them. They are called Porotos Tumbe here in Ecuador and although I don't partake of them, I have to admit that they looked yummy.

And, of course, there is all the darn noise associated with New Year's celebrations! We were expecting lots and lots of noise since fireworks and firecrackers are an every weekend event. Yet, fortunately, we only had about four hours of it. Mom gave me some Rescue and helped me relax a bit and then they took turns holding me so I wouldn't be all freaked out. I don't really like all that noise! But it is now all over and we can get on with 2012 which I hope brings you all the good things you desire. Happy New Year!