Sunday, May 25, 2014

HOW FAR IS IT TO .........?

First I want to thank all the readers that have sent in questions.
I will try to get to them all in due course.

But first the:
How far is it to ........?
And / Or
How long does it take to get to .......... ?

Now these may seem like stupid questions to North American readers.
If you are in Kansas you just go to and viola ....... instant and accurate answers.
Not so here in wonderland.

A couple for instances:

Headed NORTH from Loja to Cuenca.
A little north of La Paz.
Kind of along the spine of the Andes (or something).
You see this sign.
One expects some kind of crossroads, intersection  or something.

A few kilometers later you get this.
This is the road to Cuenca.
The road to the third largest city in Ecuador?

A few kilometers more and you can see another road off in the distance.
How you get to there is a mystery.
Looks fun on a moto.
But, in a car?

A little later.
This obvious left turn.

 40 kilometers later.
It may not actually be 40 kilometers.
Could be 50 miles.
Don't know.
Wasn't actually clocking it
Let's just call it 'a beautiful moto ride later'.
There actually is an intersection....... 
with paved roads ahead this time.

How far is it to Cuenca, Azogues or Machala from the first sign?
How do you get there from the first sign?
Yeah.  Right.

NEXT ...........

This time you are headed SOUTH towards Cuenca.
Again through the Andes
It is 9 Km to Cañar.
63 Km to Cuenca.
(Fell free to take note of Biblian and Azogues.)

You have gone through Cañar.
Cañar is now behind you.
You are still headed to Cuenca.
BUT, Cuenca is now further away?
You should be 10 Km closer to Cuenca.
Not 7 Km further OUT.
What about Biblian and Azogues?

NEXT ..........

This time you are  going SW from Cuenca to Machala ..... through mountains, duh.
You are headed due east from Cuenca towards the Amazonia.
Mountains again.

Either way, you see the same thing.
Signs in Chinese.
Yep, Chinese.
By some wild stretch of the imagination, maybe signs in Chinese are possible when headed west ......
A looooooong way west.
But east?
Come on now.
That's just too much.

This is not Chinese.
Not one of the actual signs.
I took pics of the signs.
Can't find them.
They were also blue and white.
This is Arabic (from Morocco).
Can't read Arabic OR Chinese.
So, does it really matter if I couldn't find the right pics?

It is beginning to look like Cuenca is kind of like that island in the TV show LOST.
Remember how the island was changing locations and points in time?

I have one more example of the space-distance-time incongruity. 
(Incongruity is 5 syllables!
I hope I used it right.)
Anyway, I have one more example of it.

I will give the final example AND AN EXPLANATION in my next installment.

Thanks again for the questions.

Life is Sweet,

Monday, April 28, 2014


Hey Kids,

We all know that marriage is a series of compromises, discussion, give and take, etc.
It is never one sided.
This is not a bad thing.
It's good.
Everyone gets their way .

Caite (daughter) got married last September.
She and Joe bought a house a couple months ago.
Caitie and Joe live in Portland.
Alex (son) lives in Bend.  3-4 hours east of Portland.

- Now Brennie wants to spend more time visiting Oregon.
- Time for discussion.  
- Negotiate. 
- Compromise.

Brennie: I want to spend 3 weeks visiting this summer.
Clarke: I'm thinking 3 days.
B: 3 weeks.
C: 2 days.
B: 3 weeks.
C: I'll need a Harley for when we visit.
B: What color?
C: 4 weeks sounds ok.

Everyone's happy.

Yeah baby!  Compromise!
Alex has seen it.
Caitie and Joe have seen it (in their garage).
I own it. Never laid eyes on it.
Harley Sportster. 1200 Custom.
I had a bike just like it 15 years ago.
It was black.
It was fun.
Brennie had one too.
Fun again.
Fun together.

Okay, so now I am wondering if Brennie is thinking our bike.
Maybe I got out-negotiated?

Life is sweet,

PS:  Sometimes, bring out-negotiated is just fine.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Being Prepared

Hey Kids!

Sometimes (surprisingly often), I get emails asking me about this and that.
Rarely are these questions about deep philosophical or metaphysical stuff.
Well, actually never about deep stuff.

One question I have gotten many times is about  .......... 
take a look at the title of this post.

Yep, being prepared.
Makin' it up as I go along is more my style.
So ....... I consulted the experts.
I sought out the most 'prepared for anything' people I could find.

Who would that be?
Well, that would be the 'Big Ass Daypack' (BAD) people.

Sidetrip .....
You're out and about.
Up ahead you see 3 or 4 people wearing panama hats. (possible gringos)
Or ..... big daypacks. (probable gringo)
Hats and packs ....... bingo!
Really, I have never seen so many old turds with huge overstuffed daypacks.
I have often wondered what they are toting around.

So, anyway, I go to a gringo hangout and ask a few BAD folks what are in their BADs.

I took these 3 pics all at the same time, same place.
Literally just turned in different directions,
without moving. Snap, snap, snap. 5 seconds.
Sooooooooo, here's what I learned.
I was a tad overwhelmed, so I have tried to categorize some of it.

Medical Emergency:
- snake bit kit
- insulin
- nitro glycerine tabs
- extra oxygen bottle
- Aleve
- Xanax
- anti-psychotics (gotta have those)
- ace bandage
- gauze
- antiseptic
- band aides
- adult diapers (there are all kinds of emergencies)
- duct tape 

- machete 
- stun gun
- pepper spray
- telescoping baton
- brass knuckles 
- trench knife
- duct tape

Health, Beauty and Personal Hygiene:
- make-up bag
- sunhat (Panamas .... the good one's roll up.)
- sunscreen
- lip balm
- halazone tablets 
- bug repellent
- dentures …. in the BAD?
- sunglasses 
- spare glasses
- bottle of water 
- bar of soap
- toilet paper
- kleenex
- wet wipes / butt wipes
- toe nail clippers
- tooth brush
- toothpaste
- floss
- duct tape

WTF? :
- viagra 
- condoms  (seriously? condoms?)
- duct tape
(I was a little surprised here.  They looked like such sweet old gals.)

Travel Aids:
- electronic translators
- English-Spanish dictionaries 
- safari vest
- maps
- Lonely Planet guide
- passports
- compass
- peanut butter
- duct tape

- umbrella
- spare socks
- pith helmut (OK, I made that up.)
- tablet computer
- phone and tablet chargers
- rope 
- flashlight
- spare camera battery
- $$$$$$
- pen/pencil
- little spiral notebook
- business or calling cards with contact info
- dog biscuits 
- soy sauce (the soy sauce in the chifas SUCKS)
- matches
- candy bars (2)
- handkerchief 
- magnifying glass
- binoculars (bird watching?)
- duct tape

I was going to ask this guy about his BAD.
I didn't.
So, mystery solved.
That's what's in those BADs.

If you have any other questions, I'm your guy.

Life is Sweet,

PS:  "Be Prepared" is the Boy Scout Motto.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

When in doubt, blog about Brennie

She is endlessly amusing, really cute and a little kookoo(SP?) bonkers.
So, you ask, what is my little nut job up to now?

Not sure how to approach this.
Gonna go with 3 alternate titles:
- Living in a Chem Experiment: Part II
- Brennie Has Gone Nuts
- The Cleaning up of Cuenca

Forging ahead ……………

A while ago I wrote a blog about Brennie’s ongoing chem experiments (in the kitchen).
If it needed natural fermenting, it was bubbling away in our kitchen: sauerkraut, yogurt, keifer, sourdough starter and other nutbag stuff.
She even bought a book. “Wild Fermentation”
My magic marker edited it to “Wild Xcrementation”
(That made me pretty popular.)

Anyway, that’s not what this blog is about.

She still makes the sauerkraut, but not the other stuff.

She has taken up making kombucha (fermented tea)
For those not in the know, it is made using a ‘SCOBY’.
A SCOBY looks a lot like a prehistoric or alien life form.
I call it, goofy juice.
I am ashamed to admit that I love it.

But again, that is not the topic of this blog.

That’s what’s happening.
’SOAP’ is not some kind of acronym.
I refer to that stuff that you wash yourself with.

Before I go any further, I must say, that Brennie IS making some damn fine soap and her sauerkraut is superb.
Now that I have said that, I guess that I can say whatever I want.

Our kitchen has turned into some kind of soapy experimentation place.
When she is soaping, there is no room for anything else.
I leave the house to eat.
I avoid the kitchen while she is soaping.

She is making all natural soap.
All natural oils.
Essential oils for scent.
Other ‘pure and natural’ stuff.
I can’t speak intelligently about what all is involved.
Once again …… I avoid the kitchen while she is soaping.

She has lots of special stuff:
- Crock pots.
- Soap cutting things.
- Special soap molds. 
- Not mold like blue cheese. 
- Molds that make pretty soap shapes.
- And other stuff.

Some of the things that were once used for cooking, are now part of the soaping supplies.
Sometimes a kitchen thing goes missing.
I just buy another  (serving spoons for example).
If it goes missing again,
Well, I know where to get more.
Eventually, one stays in the kitchen.

Many years ago, I had reason to research ‘obsession’ and ‘compulsion’.
(That reason being a twisted pre-Brennie relationship.)

Anyway ……..
Obsession:  A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.
Compulsion: An irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act.
Yep, I memorized them.

Anyway ……
Those terms from so long ago have re-entered my life.
The old Brennie may have gone over the edge here.
If she hasn’t gone over, then she is at it teetering on one leg.

Luckilly (?) the Internet is full of soaping info.
Plus she has experimented A LOT.
She has become a regular mad scientist.
She is nuts.
Example …… I just walked through the living room and she is on a soaping website.
True.  I swear that I am not making that up.

She regularly uses terms like:
- Saponification
- Coming to trace
- Hot process vs cold process
- Words that end in –ystic, -oric, -ide …. 
- Other words that I can’t spell, pronounce or remember.
- What the hell are SAP values?

Her illness even infected our son when he was visiting.
Alex visited for 5 weeks recently.
The first 3 weeks were fine.
Motorcycling by day (I have 2 motos)
Poker in the evening.
Cigars with dad.
You know …. boy stuff.

My boy.

But the last 2 weeks he was here …….. soaping with mom.
He took notes and wrote down soap recipes.
He’s back in Bend, OR now.
Alex is a pretty macho guy.
Certifications in Wildland First Responder, Paramedics, Structural Firefighting, Wildland Firefighting ……. that kind of a guy.
BUT, he made a batch of soap last week in Bend.
(At least he gave it a manly name …… Northwest Mountain Soap.)
He calls his mommy to talk soap.

Brennie's boy.
Looks like 'Breaking Bad".

We have plenty of soap on hand.
I am showering 5 times a day trying to keep up.
Doomed strategy.

One of her
soap curing racks.
What to do?

The Brennie has started to sell it.
There is a store called Tienda Nectar.
All natural kind of place ……. not my normal environment.
TN is selling her kraut too.

Some of our friends are buying it direct.
Once they try it, they usually want more.
We delivered to 2 people yesterday (7 bars) while out doing errands.

This will never fund our retirement.
But she loves making it and we can’t use it all.

Soooooooo …….
What’s the cost here?
I have no idea.
All I know is the part that I am allowed to see.
That would be the supplies being shipped from the USA.
(Holy mother of god!!!!!!)
What she buys locally …….?
Well, I KNOW she lies about that.
So why ask?
Just like she doesn’t ask what my cigars cost.
Fair is fair.

Life is Sweet (and clean),

PS:  She is making chap stick too. Better than Burt’s Bees.
PPS:  I feel pretty after using her soap.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I am thinking about blogging again, but don't know if there is anyone out there.
I know people used to read my drivel, but I suspect that now , well ........

I used to think that it was funny that some old people have trouble sleeping.
Who cares if some old turd can't sleep?
It's not like he has to go to work or anything.
He can take out his teeth, put on a bib, sleep and drool in his chair all day.

I kinda get it now.
Been having a bit of trouble myself the last 6 months to a year.

BUT .......
Last night ......
Great nights sleep!
Is life good or what?

Anyway, I might start blogging again.
If there are any readers out there, let me know.

Life is sweet,

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidential Election

Here is a link to a newspaper article about the Brennie and I voting.

The interview was held in Spanish.

The only thing inaccurate is that it is not the first time we have voted here.  
We voted a couple years ago also.
In the newspaper, they had our names correct.  In the online version ..... all the pieces of our names are there ...... but a tad bit scrambled.

The Gringo Voters
Showing our Certificados de Votacion
Once you have your resident visa, you have the right to vote. 
When you vote, you get your certificado de votacion (proof that you voted).
When you do some official things, you must show your certificado de votacion.
From what I can tell, voting is required of all citizens.  (I could be wrong about that .........I often am.

Life is sweet,

PS:  Yeah, we bought a couple issues of the paper. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sometimes Cooking is a Challenge

I believe that: 
- humans tend to be creatures of habit.
- there is comfort and security reverting to the familiar.
- eating habits are a perfect example of an acquired taste.
- a lot of us are most comfortable eating what we grew up with.
- many gringo expats really miss some of the food we grew up with.
- there is a very good reason we are all familiar with the term 'comfort food'.

I know that:
- a lot of food and spice items are muled down here by friends, family, and even total strangers.
- it is no coincidence that the answer to the "is there anything we can bring you?" question is often something for the pantry.

- sometimes you really must adapt .......   'make do' even where your palate is concerned.

- we have not been able to find corn starch.
- we have had to make do with the following.
- it seems to work pretty much the same.

Look real close at the label.
Life is sweet,

Saturday, January 26, 2013

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Hey Kids,

Recently Brennie suggested that I was turning into some type of mean old curmudgeon (yeah, that was a spelling challenge).  What she actually said was that I don't have to be an *sshole ALL the time.

Remember when your mom used to tell you that if you can't say something nice, not to say anything at all?

Well now, that's kind of the reason (actually the exact reason) that I have not blogged recently.

Back to that in a minute.

What I blog about and why I blog……..
I do NOT blog to:
- share social experiences.  (Who we had dinner with, etc)
- give advice or recommendations.  There are far too many experts here.  It seems like the less time a person has spent here, the higher the likelihood that they know everything anyway.
- boost readership because I run ads on my blog.
- sell Cuenca as a destination.

Basically my blog is just my (moronic) observations.
- The longer that I am here …….. the less is new to me ……. the less to comment about.
- Besides, when I started this blog, there were only about 4 others that were (are) based in Cuenca.
- Now there are ……… lots.
- Sometimes I blog just to amuse myself.  Duh.

So…….. back to the whole *sshole thing.

I find myself wanting to comment (make observations) on many of the Gringo Tree requests for info.
Many of the requests are reasonable and legit.
Others, quite frankly, make me wonder about the people submitting them.


Actual Inquiry on Gringo Tree:
"Appropriate Clothing:
My wife will be in Quito and Cuenca 1st two weeks of Feb.  She wants to know if black slacks and coordinating tops/jackets would be better than light tan slacks and lime green slacks with coordinating tops jackets. She will be in seminar in Quito but sightseeing in Cuenca.  She has the evening attire figured out."
(Yeah there are a few grammar boo-boos in that.  I just copied and pasted it.)

My proposed response:
"That's brilliant.  At first I thought, um..... Is this serious?  Now that I realize that it was a spoof, I must congratulate you on your originality.  Well done!

Did anyone actually fall for this stupidity?


Wow, good question!

Most Gringos don't think through the color issues BEFORE crossing the equator.  It is not until after they move down here that they realize that the color wheel seems to shift as you cross the equator.  As many know, this is due to a different refraction of light south of the equator.  Of course the closer to the equator, the more subtle the shift.  For instance, a lime green in Des Moines is close to a hot pink in Lima (further south) but more of a dusty rose or mauve in Cuenca.  The brighter the color, the less predictable (and radical) the shift.  Tans, browns, grays and other neutral colors are pretty safe as the color shifts south of zero are negligible.  Black and white are actually your safest colors.  Plus, they look very fetching with the aforementioned tans, lime greens, mauves, etc. 

Now regarding shoes .......


Have you considered the ever popular safari look?"


Seriously, I don’t think that there is need for you to be concerned about Quito/Cuenca clothes.  Anyone who needs to ask the question, is unlikely to be able to make the flight connections to get down here.  (Notice how I avoided using the word s-t-*-p-*-d.) 


This really depends on how big a gal she is.  If she’s full figured, she might want to re-think the lime green.  


What color tops/jackets is it that coordinates with lime green slacks?


If she goes with the lime green, she can make a political statement at the same time.  We are in the middle of a political race here.  Each party has associated colors and a number.  The colors of Raffael Correa’s political party are lime green and navy blue.  The written part is “35 PAIS”.  There are these signs all over the place. 

I have an idea where the 3 and the 5 could go.

Life is sweet,

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hey Bwana .......


Safari clothing?


You're wearing Safari clothing in Cuenca?

A little news flash for people coming to visit Cuenca.
Safari clothing is not necessary!

Yeah, here in Cuenca we have:
- electricity and running water
- airplanes, cars, busses and motos
- computers and Internet

We do NOT have:
- lions, tigers, giraffes or elephants

NOT necessary!

NOT necessary!
Pith Helmet?
Haven't actually seen a gringo wearing one .... yet!

I think that the 'coolest' thing that I have seen is husband/wife great-white-hunter matching safari outfits!  True.  I've actually seen that a few times.

Life is sweet,

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Okey Dokey.

So, a couple weeks ago, I get this email that starts out with
"Firstly, fantastic to meet you! We're compiling a collection of the very best expat blogs on our site and we've decided your expat blog is worthy of nomination for the Expat Blog Awards 2012!"  Blah, blah, blah.
Now, my first thought is something like ...... Oh, yeah?  Who's kidding who here?

Or maybe it was ....... I am pretty sure my blog is right up there with middle school boogers and farts jokes.

Or maybe ....... Have these people ever actually seen my blog?

Possibly ....... Why would I want to join a club that would have someone like me as a member?

I really don't know what my first thought was.
But it was NOT ....... Wow someone has noticed my Purlitzer worthy blog.
(Yeah, I know that I misspelled 'Pulitzer'.  I did it on purpose.)

I am skeptical of things like this.  Like I am of 'a free lunch', anything that comes out of any politicians mouth, promises to still be respected in the morning and my check being in the mail.

It also appeared that you can nominate yourself to be worthy of this honor.
It seemed to be possible to win a $500 prize based on feedback recieved by the officials by Oct 31 (2012).
Notice this is being posted after the deadline.

Final thought:
Why would I want to compete for an award, when I have awarded myself the coveted Dorkie award  EVERY YEAR?  You can see it somewhere on the right.


I figured it out!
I know how the nominations work!
If you go to their site, you can see a list of all the blogs nominated from Ecuador.
7 of the eight nominated from Ecuador are the first 7 listed on the blogroll on the right hand side on South of Zero.
The 8th is the blog of a couple that I believe are professional bloggers.  Remember the part about being able to nominate yourself?

The nomination form they sent me asked me to put their logo on my blog.
Soooooo, here you go:
Life is Sweet,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Essential Services Missing in Cuenca.

As far as I know, the following essential services are not available in Cuenca.  They all appear to be available in Vilcabamba.

Chakra Alignment:  
Apparently having ones Chakra aligned is critical.  I just looked it up  on the Internet.  Wow!  This is scary sh*t!  I never knew.  It looks like you are really screwed if your Chakras are out of line.  For instance if your closed solar plexus chakra is out of alignment, it can cause low self confidence and anxiety.  While an overactive third eye chakra could contribute to hallucinations. (Chakra alignment sounds like the cure for paranoid schizophrenia!)  Wow!  I never knew.  It seems that there may be 5 other Chakras that need to be aligned.  

I’ve seen posters advertising Chakra alignment in Vilcabamba.  Not in Cuenca that I know of.  

However, I did hit a big pothole with the car yesterday and I can get my front end  aligned here.

Aura Cleansing:  
This is interesting.  Look it up.  Here is a little teaser.  "Your aura is like a fingerprint; it is completely unique and represents precisely who you really are. But unlike the fingerprint, a gifted psychic can change your aura, cleanse it – eliminating the clouds, the defects, the negatives. The results could be startling: your relationships could be better than ever, your love life could get a jump start, and your finances could take a quantum leap.”  

Wow.  This sounds so cool.  The websites I was at are unclear as to whether it is a take out service, like dry cleaning, or what.

Sadly, not available in Cuenca that I know of.  Readily available in Vilcabamba (poster ads.).

But, I can get the car or motorcycles cleaned in Cuenca very reasonably.

Reading of Crystals:
Yeah, I looked this up on the internet too.  Sounds like a great way to straighten out what ails you.

Vilcabamba - yes.  Cuenca - no.

But if you are interested in the regular type of reading, I suggest Carolina Bookstore.  Right here in Cuenca.

12/21/2012 Transition (Transformation):
Well now.  This is REALLY BIG right now.  There is a “Be The Transformation Retreat” in Vilcabamba.  Sounds like a ‘must do’.

The add says “calling all conscious ex-pats”.  It is apparently for all those who are “into spiritual and/or personal growth”.  I guess if you don’t pay the $575 per person you would be a non-spiritual, un-conscious ex-pat with no interest in personal growth.  But, the fee does include 10 meals “served with love.”

Good news.  There is a “Paradigm Shift Intention Retreat” right here in Cuenca.  But it is only $35/day and I don’t see that the meals are served with love.

What About Pyramid Power:
I haven’t seen any posters in Vilcabamba or Cuenca addressing this.  I am going to have to keep my eyes peeled.

Energy Vortex:
Gawd, I really love this concept.  I have heard it applied to Vilcabamba as one of the reasons that people live so long there.  I have also heard that it is the positive ions in the  ...... was it the air or the water?  I forget.  Now that I think about it, it must be the air.  Everyone in Vilcabamba drinks bottled water. (They don't really live longer there.  It is a myth.)

I have never heard about the ‘Cuenca energy vortex’.  Of course I am pretty much out of the loop on the really cool stuff.

Lizard People:
I am sure that everyone knows of the lizard people by now.  You know, the alien race masquerading as humans.  Apparently, many of the ‘humans’ in positions of power are actually lizard people.  They would be the ones pulling the strings in the world.  It is all hush hush and very secretive.  But, I have heard (possibly wrongly) that one of the centers of knowledge about the LP is ......... well, not Cuenca.  I have heard that the other place is very aware of them and the threat they pose.

But the Brennie and I don’t worry about the LP.  We have Bugger and Wanker to protect us. 
Bugger and Wanker
Wearing their magical
'lizard people protective wear'
Life is sweet,