Saturday, October 12, 2019

La Huelga

For about 9 days now Cuenca's been cut off except by air from the rest of the country due to the political unrest. Following is a train of bits starting with oldest first, I'll add as makes sense: 

********Today I was gonna get some passport copies notarized and drop them off at the lawyer's office in Centro. But it was raining. Then there was rioting off and on, tear gas, etc. due to heartburn over eliminating subsidies for gasoline and diesel. Gas prices going from 1.85 to 2.40 and diesel from 1.03 to 2.30, roughly, as far as I can tell from what I read. Taxis blocking roads. People biking & walking to work. Roads blocked with burning trash barrels. People driving on sidewalks to get around blockages. Crazy. Tempers are flaring. Weather cleared up nicely but I figured the chances of both the lawyer and notary being in were nil. Stayed home. Curfew tonight.

********Everything is still closed today, and quiet. Our neighborhood park is full of idle taxistas with cabs parked around the perimeter, but not blocking the streets. Ojalá I can get our permanent visa stuff done on Monday.

********Now that the transport strike blockades are supposedly over, we went to the store. It was just like hurricanes and snowstorms- no milk, no bread, no toilet paper. Dribs and drabs of fresh meat and produce.

********At 4pm Cuenca received a C-130's worth of vittles. 45k lbs in a 400k metropolis doesn't mean much, but I expect it's more about making a point than a difference.

********Had stuff I needed to tend to today regardless of politics.

Enroute to the electrical repair shop where I had left a non-working quartz heater, I saw that the little army post a few blocks from my house was hosting on its ballfield the helicopter that's been hanging around Centro the last couple of days.

As I drew near the shop I saw the two guys outside talking. They gave me a big smile and handshake, said the heater was ready, $10. I said I'd come back tomorrow as I had to buy food today, all good.

Stopped at the sculptor's studio to check on our pedestals. he makes statues of saints, stays real busy. We ordered a couple of pedestals for our old Jesus'n'Mary statues. He's not in, just his helper.

Headed on into town to pay utility bills at Western Union. Ran into a police-army barricade a full block north of Parque Calderon. Only folks with business were getting past. Turns out all eight blocks surrounding Calderon were barricaded, but I eventually got to the WU office. The line was too long for my taste, so I proceeded to the Notaria's office to get copies of our passports notarized for our permanent visa applications. It's the 11th notary office in town. As they say in Spanish, Decima Primera, the Tenth First.

The Notaria isn't busy, I go to the desk with 3 passports and 6 copies, as the visa process requires two copies of each passport. The senora says, you want two copies notarized, right? Then you need to get a third set of copies for our records. I go around the corner to a copy place, get three copies. The owner is missing a temple on her glasses. I show her the jury rig on my broken Ray-Bans, say I've had these for about 40 years, I won't replace them. She says she's too busy to mess with getting hers done.

Back at the Notaria I'm now first in line for the Notario to sign all my stamped copies. He's got someone with him, they talk & talk. In the meantime the line grows from one to over a dozen. A staffer comes over, says give me your documents, and gets the Notario to sign while he talks. Thanks!

I head toward the lawyers office. Lawyer is Abogado in Spanish- Advocate. Not so hard. I draw near to an older man, tatty but elegant, seems kind of Italian. He looks at me, says are you Italian? No, are you Italian? He says yes! We start talking in Italian, he's from Rome. I say we're going to Rome in December. So how's your life in Cuenca? Well not so good: I'm retired, my wife died a few years ago, no family, I'm unwell...he pulls up a trouser leg to show bad circulation in his calf and ankle. If I could maybe give him a dollar it'd really help, he doesn't get much pension. Sure, here you go. I plan for a certain amount of charity each time I'm in Centro, so I have change.

Cecyl the Abogada is standing outside her office talking to her assistant and a woman I don't know. We chat a bit about the Paro (stoppage), seems like things are getting back to normal. I give her the passport copies.

I stop by an artstore, ArkiArte, just to see what stuff they have. Very nice brushes and drafting pens, lots of paint colors, yes they have acrylics, a pleasant visit with the owner and adult daughter. They give me a little complementary metric scale.

Now I'm off to the Mercado, Janet has given me a list of stuff. She's angsty about the food situation, yesterday the pickin's were slim-to-none. For dinner we had popcorn, I thought that was fine. A friend of ours had rice and animal crackers. But the Mercado is as slap-full of edibles as ever. I get kilos of taters, onions, beets, red & green peppers, carrots. I suppose even if the indigenous folks are blocking access to Cuenca, they at least let trucks in so the indigenous foodsellers can make a living. Other folks are getting pissed, yesterday someone ran over a road-blocker. Then other blockers wouldn't let an ambulance through. By the time the doc walked to the injured person, he was dead.

A good day for me though, and I beat the rain home.

*********Our Ecuador phone has been getting PSAs from Cruz Roja (Red Cross) reminding everyone that they are neutral in the current unrest, and to please allow the free passage of their vehicles.

********Grocery store is slap empty, but mercados have food when they are open. In other news, Cuenca is now at US Dept of State Level 4 Do Not Travel. You know, like Iran. On the bright side, we had trash pickup for the first time in over a week.

********Just saw a C-130 go around our house (typical landing pattern) on the way to landing. First one we've seen. A few minutes ago a bigger helicopter flew near, Blackhawk-sized. Since the strike began, we've see a Kiowa-size copter around, which is based at a nearby soccer field. So the Blackhawk is interesting.

********Today is Saturday, October 12. Took a fast shower today, first one since Sunday. Walked downtown to pay bills around 11am, which is before the demonstrations start, but the barriers are still up around the 9-block area centered on Parque Calderon. Paid bills, and ran into a Cuencano I know about my age, talked a bit about la huelga (the strike), and getting food. Cops were in a good mood. I noticed assorted young non-indigenous men kitted out in all-black with neckerchiefs which would soon become facemasks. Heading home, I watched a peaceful indigenous march go by- lotsa red flags and happy, well-mannered folks shouting slogans. Noticed assorted places where vandals had busted up curbs & sidewalks to make throwing stones. So sad in such a lovely city. Also went over to Santo Domingo to teach my first catechism class in 3 years. Turns out the class for adult catechists was canceled due to the situation. Had a good visit with the DRE though, gave him a good idea of what I can do. 

Popcorn for lunch.

********  Sunday 13 Oct. Quiet day. After Mass, breakfast at an underpatronized cafe, then off to the grocery store. About 5% of typical fresh produce. No fresh meat. No bread. No juice. Milk! Toilet paper! Canned tuna! Whiskey and Amaretto! Frozen Turkey! We will survive. Still not as bad as a hurricane. We have used up one of our 4 LP gas tanks, which are about twice the size of ones you can swap out at Home Depot.

******* Tuesday Oct 15. Armistice. Still no gas trucks, but life is 90% normal. Went to the airport on visa business, saw a couple hundred soldiers waiting to fly out out of Cuenca. They seemed tired.

*******  Tuesday night, Oct 22 The unrest in Ecuador began on October 3, and was officially over on the 14th. Supply of everything but LP gas was virtually normal by the 16th. The gas company was about 100,000 tankfulls short when the blockade ended, but can only fill about 14k per day. So Cuenca is still way behind on a normal supply of filled tanks. During the first days after the unrest, the normal $3 tanks went for $20, but now are back to normal if you are ready to wait in line for a few hours to maybe get one tank. We were careful with our 4 tanques, and between the 3rd and yesterday had used up two of them, with two still partly full. In normal times, small flatbed trucks roam the neighborhoods, playing a jingle, and swapping empty tanks for full. Some neighbors & friends simply call for deliveries, but we never did. I'd put a red ribbon on our gate, and they'd stop and ring the bell. Anyway, the trucks haven't been out for weeks, so the daughter got a number from a neighbor.

A woman answered Francesca's call, said she'd have to see if her local gas dealer still had any tanks, would call back. Within the hour she did- she could get 2 tanks, $10 each, delivered to us before it got late. Maybe an hour or so later she came by. It's a young wife, husband, and toddler in a crossover, with the gas tanks on blankets in the back seat. My guess is she lives near a distributor's bodega, takes orders and waits in line there. Or goes in the back and pays a bit more not to wait. Whatever. I could have done the same a few blocks from our house, but even after waiting, I'd have two very heavy tanks (or one, or none) that cabbies aren't fond of toting. I have a handtruck good for one tank at a time, but there's elevation change...I just don't want to hump them home. $10 each- wotta deal!

So we are all taking showers and washing clothes today. Life is good.


nice neighborhood

Paid a visit to a friend's house on one of the oldest streets in Cuenca. Typical Centro house, two stories built right against the sidewalk. Ground floor front is commercial. Planted interior courtyard with surrounding balcony. Older back part of house wattle-and-daub construction, newer front made of brick. Second floor rooms with skylights have glassblock floors to let light into rooms below. Lovely plaster ceilings 11' or 12' high. Electric lights added later. Elegant, cool, tranquil. Heavy walls kill almost all of the noise of the street. At 90 minutes, my longest Spanish-only conversation. Way down the street on the left is our parish, Santo Domingo.

We also recently had a Venezuelan over for dinner on Saturday. His father had been a colonel in the pre-Chavez era. The family spent a couple of years at Ft. Benning while Dad liaiased. Son learned very good English, teaches it here at a school a couple blocks away from our house. Quite the story from the heady days of pricey oil to the current debacle.

What else...n
ear Parque Calderon a nicely-accoutered gringa asked me if I could help her pay her hostel bill. I said, "You've told me this story before." She said, "I thought you looked familiar," and scooted. Not 10 feet from us were little Venezuelan kids selling lollipops and worthless 500-Bolivar notes so they could eat.
Today I swapped a dollar for 600 Bolivars, also known as toilet paper. The Venezuelan kids got an excellent deal as the rate today at the Colombia border is 12,625. I have a nice collection of worthless Bolivars.

Needed rubber bands awhile back. There are little tiendas called papelerias, paper shops, they'd probably have some. Walking to Centro yesterday I stopped at the first one- nope, no rubberbands. The one across the street had them, a penny apiece, the owner counted out the 20 I needed, done. Had a nice little visit. Google translate had said 'cinta de goma' and 'banda elástica' for rubber band, but he said no, we call them ligas (ligaments). Nice.