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Albania Uncategorized

Mango Beach

I ventured out to find a beach I could walk on today! Mango Beach is just a couple blocks from here. As I’ve mentioned before, Sarandë’s mountains start at the water and go right up. For instance, my apartment building has some (vacant) shops at street level that are about 20′ deep. My apartment is right behind the shops. So at the front my apartment is on the first floor. At my balcony however, that’s about 30′ back from the street, I’m three floors up! And my beach is about 40′ below that. That’s how steep it is here.

So to get down to the beach level I had to walk down a really steep ramp and then some stairs. It’s so steep, I’d be afraid of losing my footing if it was wet!

I got down to the beach and was able to walk quite a ways. The beaches here are not sandy, they are deep gravel that’s hard to walk on…great exercise but really tiring.

The water is gin-clear and it gets deep really quickly, if you walk in about 4′ it’s already waist deep! It seemed comfortably warm.

In summer this beach would be wall to wall beach loungers and umbrellas, for which you’d have to pay $7-10 a day. Sadly, most beaches here are private like this. You can walk along the beach but you can’t sit down!

I accidentally took this little video

I walked a ways and then tried to find a way back up to the road. I saw a couple stairways that turned out to be dead ends, either they were all overgrown or I couldn’t find a way to get to them without entering one of the beachfront hotels. I ended up going all the way back to where I’d come in. There might be a better way but I didn’t find it today. This stairway shows how steep the hill is. It would have been handy but it was all overgrown and trashy at the bottom.

I was pooped when I finally climbed back up to street level on that ramp! I went on up a few more blocks to Planet Market and lugged home another 8 liter bottle of drinking water.

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Albania Uncategorized

Cheese

I love cheese….super sharp cheddar, nice creamy havarti, maybe a jalapeno jack and mozzarella or provolone on pizza. That’s about my repertoire of cheese. Sadly I’m absolutely not an adventurous eater!

I haven’t found any acceptable cheeses here yet. I haven’t given up hope though, given the fact that shopping at the local stores is only slightly above the equivalent of grocery shopping at a convenience store.

Today I bought three cheeses to try. Something they call “cheddar”, though if it’s like the cheddar in Ecuador, it’s very mild. And something just called “sandwich cheese” (a mystery!). The third one is WAY out of my comfort zone, a wedge of local Kackavall, pronounced “cashkavall”.

I read that it’s a salty semi-soft cheese, the second most popular cheese here after feta, which I just recently tried for the first time and hated the texture.

I didn’t realize there was important information on the other side until I got it home….

SHEEP CHEESE! Ewww?! I had to go put on my Big Girl Panties for this one. Milk is milk, I told myself. Right? So I tried it. It is salty, okay that’s nice; I like salt. It seems more like a hard cheese than semi-soft, at least it’s harder than cheddar. And…. it’s okay. Maybe slightly better than just okay. Maybe a little rubbery though?

I think the jury’s still out on this one as a go-to snack. I’m pinning my hopes on the one they call “cheddar” but in the store they also had Edam, which I haven’t tried yet. There’s still hope! The stores all also have mozzarella but unless I really throw my diet, pizza is not a good choice.

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

To The Beach at Last!

I finally made it down to the beach! Most of the beaches in Albania are private. If you want to sit there you have to pay $7-9 a day to rent beach loungers with an umbrella; you can’t just plop down on your towel. The beach in front of the apartment is “wild” (public). I am about two blocks in each direction from very popular private beaches, Mango and Flamingo.

I didn’t go down to the water because I was wearing flip-flops and it looked like an ankle-breaker. This part of Albania is mountainous and they start at the sea and go straight up! So the path down to the water is steep and rocky. My apartment building is the one on the left and I’m around the left side.

Here it was about in the middle of the tides; high tide was in 3 hours. The tides only vary about 8″. It was pretty windy again so the waves are bigger than normal.

It certainly isn’t the kind of beach you’d be able to walk along for very far, but it’s pretty. The beaches here are gravel, not sand. Other cities do have sandy beaches. In town there’s a nice promenade all along the beach. That’s the city of Sarande in the second and third photos. I’m about a mile from the main part of town.

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Another Beautiful Day

Yesterday was quite breezy, with gusts up to 47 mph! I thought I left that kind of wind behind in Arizona. But it was pleasant inside with the slider open and I didn’t need to use the AC.

Yet another early morning shopping trip because it’s supposed to be 86° today. (I really need to learn Celsius) In addition to the other stuff I bought an 8 liter bottle of water…..1.75 gallons. It cost $1.10, the same as only two of the 1.5 liter bottles. I had a hard time bringing it home though; it weighs 15# and only has a small plastic handle. Both hands wore out within the first block and I ended up carrying it in my arms like a baby. Next time I’ll buy it from the little store across the street! Even if it costs a little more there, it’ll be worth it. They don’t seem to use the big 5 gallon jugs of water in a dispenser here but it’s probably just as well; I probably couldn’t lift one high enough to get it into the dispenser.

I still can’t find a lot of items on my list. At this point I’m trying to get the basics, as I’m starting with nothing. I hope to do better once I figure out how to find the big supermarket in town but right now I think I’m done with shopping for the next few days. I wanna go to the beach! I get worn out just walking to the market and back, probably due to spending the last three months sitting on my butt in Ecuador, plus jet lag. I haven’t felt up to shopping and the beach in the same day.

Along the way today I passed some olive trees in front if a hotel! I was very excited about that. Too bad I don’t like olives.

I used my washing machine yesterday. It’s so tiny! It’s only 15″ deep. I don’t understand the little icons so I just picked a cycle out of the 14 available and it took 2 hours and 36 minutes! I saw that on the display but I thought it couldn’t possibly be the time. My clothes aren’t even really dirty; they sure don’t need to be knocked around for that long! I see now that the shortest cycle is 50 minutes….still pretty ridiculous. I haven’t a clue what water temperature I’m using.

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Albania Uncategorized

More Shopping

I do have a western view, so sunsets could be amazing! Last night’s wasn’t that great.

Today it’s breezy with some whitecaps. I think there’s not big surf here on the Ionian Sea except maybe in a big storm.

I actually got a decent amount of sleep last night, yay! I felt much better this morning. Today’s high is going to be 81° so I headed out early to the Big Market which is about 1/4 mile from the apartment. It wasn’t. Big, that is. I got a few things and used my day pack to schlep them home. I was very happy that I was able to unlock the apartment door all by myself. I’m afraid that’s going to be a source of anxiety for some time to come.

Than I decided to go back out to the Planet Market which is just 4 or 5 blocks away. That’s the one! Got it on the 4th try. It looks small but it goes way back. They have a little bit of everything. Clothing, toys, housewares, bedding and food, though no fresh fish or meat, only a few frozen chicken and hamburger items. I got two small throw rugs for the bedroom & bathroom, a new small “granite” nonstick pan for eggs (there are 3 frypans here, all huge!) and some more groceries. I still really need a larger supermarket to find some of my favorite keto items, like sugar-free condiments, heavy cream, avocado or coconut oil and raw apple cider vinegar. Also celery. They may not exist here. It’s even harder to shop than I thought, trying to decipher the product information, because a lot of products are Greek and Italian! (Especially the Greek, with that Cyrrilic alphabet!) I was trying to figure out what kind of coffee to buy and there were products from all three countries. I think I’ll have to just experiment with the different kinds of coffee and hopefully find one I like.

The cream I’ve found are unrefrigerated UHT products that are either sweetened, or a vegetable product. Eww. It’s also very expensive. I hope I don’t have to learn to drink my coffee black!

There’s a large Spar supermarket in town that I need to find but it’s too far to walk and bring many groceries back on foot. I don’t know how to take a bus there yet and I haven’t seen any taxis roaming around.

I have balcony access from a large patio door in the living room and a small glass door in the bedroom. Neither one has any screens, nor did the apartment in Tirana. Do they not have bugs here? I wanted an apartment that was on the third floor (with an elevator!) because I read that mosquitoes only fly about 25′ off the ground. I didn’t want to be higher than that in case the power goes out and I have to use the stairs. This seems like the perfect place; it’s ground floor at the entrance but the land drops off really steeply so it’s 3 stories high at the balcony!

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Arrived in Sarandë

The day started pretty early with my ride arriving at 6:30 to pick me up in front of the Pizza Point Restaurant. It’s right under my apartment and I didn’t know that a small pizza is only $2.50-$3.75! Probably a good thing. I managed to wrestle all my luggage over there myself.

The driver only spoke Shqip (Albanian) and Italian! So it was a pretty quiet 3.5 hour ride but he was really nice and looked exactly like a young Telly Savalus. The gps coordinates for my apartment were not quite right but he was able to talk to the rental agent on the phone to find exactly where to go. I thought my apartment had a full front sea view but it’s a side view only, and I guess that’s okay. Here’s the view. You can barely see the tip of the Greek isle of Corfu on the right. I’m not sure but I think my view is towards the west so maybe I’ll get some good sunsets.

I guess I can live with that! It’s a nice place but it seems bare and sterile. The sofas are hard as a rock but the bed seems comfortable. It’s on the main street in and out of town and it’s a little noisy but I assume it will calm down at night…..not that I actually sleep at night lately! And by the end of the month the town will be pretty dead; the population swells hugely in summer.

The door key is huge and strange and I’m unable to unlock the door from the outside; my fingers are not strong enough to turn it! I’m so glad the agent made me try it before he left. He went to get some WD-40 or the Albanian equivalent and didn’t come back for four hours. In the meantime I was starving because I only had a small dinner last night and no breakfast. I guess it’ll be a fasting day.

Even after the lube job, I still couldn’t open the door! Yikes! He said there’s nothing wrong with it, I’m just old and weak. He’s probably right but I’ve sure never encountered a door this hard to unlock! Maybe this is why….FIVE deadbolts plus a spring latch?! (The 5th one is down near the floor)

He packed the spring latch with paper so it doesn’t engage and I can open it now but I’ll need to get some tape to permanently disable it. The only problem now is that the same key also opens the outside door which gets locked at night! I guess I’ll just hope I don’t have to go out at night. Tomorrow I’ll check and see if that one is just as difficult.

The apartment is supposed to have kitchen basics like oil, salt and pepper, etc. but there’s nothing, not even any drinking water. I planned a grocery store trip right away anyway so it’s no big deal I guess. There’s a little store almost right across the street and a larger grocery about 1000′ away. l went to the little one today and it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s probably expensive but I didn’t care; I am feeling totally exhausted this afternoon. I don’t know if it’s the jetlag, too much walking the past two days, too little sleep or stress. I guess it’s probably all of them heaped on me at once. The store owner was really nice.

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Albania Uncategorized

Leaving Tirana

I wanted to post the link for this Tirana studio apartment listing on Airbnb, in case by some crazy quirk someone wants to come here. I did have some problems early on but some were user error and they were all resolved quickly and the space is pretty well-equipped, immaculately clean and in a convenient, quiet neighborhood. https://abnb.me/p9Y8hVnLbtb

Here are the Albanian Leki bills. As the denomination goes down, so does the size! I can’t help comparing the little 200 Leki bill to Monopoly money except it has a cute little transparent glassine window in it! I wonder why. I don’t think there’s a 100 Leki bill, just coins for that. Right now it takes 117 Leki to equal $1.

I just noticed the bathroom lock key this morning. A skeleton key, can you believe it? It’s a modern lock, too!

Here is the link for my $300 a month apartment in Sarandë. I really love it (except for that very orange kitchen!) But I can’t see myself living in that space…it just seems too nice for the likes of me. I suppose if I try real hard I can get used to it though! https://abnb.me/1pKFeb2Vctb

I guess I’m not going to escape the effects of jetlag after all. I’m now 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. Last night I didn’t fall asleep until 6 a.m. and only slept for two hours, even though I took melatonin before I went to bed. Ugh! I tell myself that it doesn’t really matter since I don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time (except tomorrow’s trip to Sarande) but I really would like to get back to a semi-normal sleep pattern soon.

This morning I tried to get directions for tomorrow’s driver to pick me up right at my elevator, in the underground parking garage. That would be the easiest place, with all this heavy luggage. Even though both big suitcases are the 4-wheel “spinner” kind, it’s still not easy to control two of them at the same time. I walked from the elevator to the nearest exit…..quite a long ways, with several turns, and got a gps waypoint for the garage entrance. But then I got hopelessly lost trying to find my way back! I tried several different elevators but they were never the right one. Honestly that garage is like the Catacombs, it just goes on and on under the city, with lots of turns and dead ends! I finally gave up and went out the next exit I saw. There wasn’t a single thing that looked familiar so I had to use Google Maps to find my way back, and it was more than 1/3 mile away! Crazy! And there weren’t any nice guardian angels around today to guide me.

I think I’m getting shin splints. Anyway I’m going to have to meet the driver out at the Pizza Point place in front of my building, and it’s going to be really hard to get my suitcases out there. The walkways here are pavers with holes in them that are large enough that my suitcase wheels will fall down into them instead of rolling. I am pretty sure I’ll have to end up actually carrying 100# of suitcases plus a 20# carryon and smaller daypack! I’m sure to end up with stretched-out long arms like a gorilla. It’ll be about 6:15 a.m. so maybe no one will be around and I can just wrestle one suitcase at a time, leaving the other one sitting unattended. Or hey, maybe a big strong Albanian angel will appear and help me!

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Albania Uncategorized

The Kindness of Strangers

Well it’s definitely an adventure here for sure! It’s very strange to not be able to understand a single word being spoken. At least in Ecuador I could pick out a word or two, and I knew most of the “important” words. I am ashamed that at the butcher counter I have to hold up one or two fingers, I can’t even count to two in Albanian! And it seems true that many people speak English here but in many it’s far from perfect and a little hard to figure out the meaning. But they sure know way more English than I know Shqip!

It’s very true people here are very kind! The only ATM that doesn’t charge a $5-15 fee is Credins Bank and it’s 3/4 of a mile from here but I decided to try and go there. I found out that using Google Maps is a lot harder on foot than in a car, because you go so slowly, it takes a while to find out you’re going the wrong way. When I first started out and was staring at my phone trying to figure out which way to go, a man came up and said “where to you go?” And I showed him the phone and said the name of the street I was looking for and he asked again so I said “Credins Bank”. He said “Come, come, I show”. So I went went. He turned in the opposite direction he’d been going. He walked faster than my usual and I started wondering how dumb was I to follow a strange man with no idea where he was leading me??? But we finally turned a corner and he pointed and said “Credins Bank” and there it was! I thanked him profusely and he turned and went back the way we’d come….this man walked a mile and a half out of his way for me!!

Albanian Leki are worth about ten cents so it’s pretty easy to convert to dollars, just move the decimal point over two places. I got confused and a huge wad of 2000 Leki bills came out of the ATM. I’d accidentally withdrawn $800!! Geez I won’t need more cash for about 3 months; my rent comes out of my account automatically!

I was pretty concerned about being able to find my way home from there without my new friend. But there’s a new building being built in front of my apartment and it’s a good landmark. I was so proud that I got within sight of it on the way home, and all by myself….phew! But I couldn’t find the way to get over to it. I was consulting the phone and turning in circles when a policeman walked up and said “No, no, come come”. How did he know where I wanted to go?? But again I went went and he showed me the way to get through to my street!

I stopped at the little grocery again and got two pork chops for $1.35 and a chicken breast for $1.58. And some frozen mixed fruit to go in my morning chia seeds. It’s got black cherries in it, those aren’t Keto approved but yummm! I’m eating them anyway since I just walked a mile and a half.

I got home just in time before a hard rain started.

I was really concerned about adjusting to the new time, which is 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. I’d read that adjusting can take up to a week for each hour of time change! But I think it’s going to be okay. I didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. but slept til 10 this morning, so that’s not TOO far out of whack.

I found a ride to Sarandë on Sunday for only 70 euros! (The euro is about par with USD right now). Normally the trip by private car or van is €150-170 but this driver has to go pick some people up in Sarande so he’s just charging me for the gas. Gas here is around $6.80 a gallon. According to comments on my Facebook group, this is a really good guy but just in case I disappear forever, I sent his photo & I.D. to a friend.

€70 seems like a lot but it’s about a four hour drive by car and I really didn’t want to take the 5 1/2 hour bus trip with all this luggage. The only bad thing is that we have to leave at 5:30 a.m.

Here are some photos of my little studio apartment. It’s immaculately clean and cute as can be and would be a perfect size for me except if I do have company come to visit. I’ve never seen a square toilet before, have you? It never occurred to me that toilets could be anything other than butt-shaped. I had a hard time figuring out how to flush it….. it’s the big white panel on the wall!

And here are a few views from my place. I am on the 6th floor. There are lots of trees, rosebushes and flowers along the sidewalks and pretty green spaces all over the city, many with swings & playgrounds for kids. And LOTS of people pushing baby carriages!

This is my apartment building

The building under construction, my landmark!

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Uncategorized

I Made It To Albania!

My luggage and I all made it to Albania, but it was not a trouble-free trip.

My first flight to Chicago went well and I was supposed to have a two hour layover there. But something was wrong with the plane so they changed departure gates and then kept changing the departure times over and over. I felt sorry for all the people who missed their connections in London but I didn’t see anyone having tantrums over it. We got to London and had a pretty scary landing. When the plane touched down it first leaned way over to the right and the wingtip nearly touched the ground! Then it did the same to the left but finally settled down. Phew!

I wasn’t able to sleep much on the 8 hour flight. After all the delays, instead of a 4 1/2 hour layover I had to hurry to make my flight to Tirana….when I got to the gate they were already boarding. Then we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour. There were about 30 people on a big Airbus so I got a whole row to myself. I flipped up the armrests and spread out my little blanket to put my feet on, and laid down but only slept for about an hour of the 3 hour flight. My taxi guy was waiting for me, yay!

I was very worried about my luggage making it with me and loved having the Tile Pro trackers in each suitcase. (They are like AirTags but for Android) I was able to see that they made it to London okay and SO happy to see them in the carousel in Tirana! My brand new suitcase has a corner bashed in but it’s still usable.

I was really wiped out when I got to the apartment in Tirana and anxious to let everyone know I made it safely and hit the bed! It’s been in the 90’s in Tirana so the apartment was very warm. And the air conditioner didn’t work. Then I discovered the wifi didn’t work either, and I was far too tired to go out after dark in a strange city to try and find a free wifi connection. I was really distressed that I might be causing some of my friends a lot of worry. I had to have a good cry and wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into!

The bed is very comfortable and I got a pretty good night’s sleep. I had to leave the two patio doors wide open to catch a bit of a breeze but since I’m on the 6th floor I figured it was pretty safe. I was shocked at how quiet it was in this city of over 300,000 people.

This morning I took the new phone that I’d bought special for Albania and went out to look for a store that sells internet packages. I went into the first oqne I saw and it seemed I’d found the one young person here who didn’t speak English! I managed to get my point across. I didn’t know my passport would be required so I had to walk back to get it . I got a good plan for about $12. When I got back to the apartment I couldn’t get the sim card to fit into the tray so had to go back to the store for a third time! That poor girl must have thought I was an idiot. She installed it for me and I sat right there and set up the new phone to make sure a 4th trip would not be required!

There is a small grocery store right around the corner from the apartment so I stopped there to pick up a few things for my breakfast and dinner. It didn’t seem cheap, maybe because it was small? There was a huge array of cheeses but nothing I recognized, and lots and lots of sausages and lunchmeats.

This studio apartment has just a little hot plate, toaster oven, electric teapot and microwave. I was starving because I hadn’t had much food at all since breakfast Tuesday morning. They fed us on the flight to London but most of it was not stuff I could eat. Well none of the appliances here worked! A few more tears of frustration. I finally figured out these European outlets…I had them plugged in upside-down. User error! Before I’d finished my coffee the neighbor woman came over and went somewhere with a key and got both the wifi and air conditioner working again! So now I’m happy. I plan to just hang out here in the apartment for the rest of the day.

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Michigan Uncategorized

Ready Set Go….Again!

I’ve been in Michigan for almost three weeks, going going going! I’m not used to being so busy! We started off with a birthday party for Cindy’s nieces Elizabeth and Sadie. Elizabeth’s towering three layer cake had a Barbie doll because she never had a Barbie as a kid. Poor Barbie’s dress and the back of her legs got chocolate frosting all over them so they dubbed her “Shitty Barbie”.

Sadie

At first Cindy’s car was sick and it took 3 different auto repair places to finally get it fixed, so we weren’t able to go on our two week camping trip. Instead we went over to the west side of Michigan for three days, staying at the Doubletree Hotel in Holland…..a Monday through Wednesday. It seemed like every place we wanted to go was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!

The car developed a new quirk, a loud, horrendous loud screech. We drove it like that for two days until she was finally convinced to stop at Muffler Man in Holland where they diagnosed it as a backing plate rubbing on something-or-other. They had us in, fixed & out in 15 minutes, and no charge!

The highlights of our time in Holland were the Outdoor Discovery Center and DeWitt Birds of Prey exhibit and the Wednesday farmer’s market. The ODC had a nice walk to see Michigan animals and the bird sanctuary, a large taxidermy collection and was free! (Donations recommended) We loaded up on farm fresh eggs, veggies, baked goodies and some really good blueberries at the farmer’s market. I was surprised that there were no organic products there.

We also went to Saugatuck and South Haven. The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven was great, with a tall ship we could explore and exhibits about the golden age of steamships. Some of the yachts in the marina were really amazing. Must be nice to have that kind of money!

Cindy had heard that the turkey dinners at Cornwell’s Turkeyville in Marshall were really good so we went there on the way home……a huge disappointment! The turkey was bland and dry, the mashed potatoes were instant and the dressing was not as good as Stovetop. I ordered just a turkey & gravy biscuit and planned to ignore the biscuit and just eat the turkey but I tasted the biscuit and it was really stale. The saving grace for Marshall was the True North ice cream shop we stopped at; homemade ice cream! It was delicious (yes I had some!) and they even had adult alcoholic flavors.

Once home again we’ve been to the Howell Nature Center which had a nice winding trail through the woods with nice habitats for animals and birds. Unfortunately a lot of the critters were nocturnal so we didn’t get to see them! But it was a really nice 3/4 mile walk.

Cindy & I at the Outdoor Discovery Center

We also went to free Senior Day at the Michigan State Fair right here in Novi. It seemed way smaller than when I was a kid! We enjoyed seeing all the farm animals and exhibits. There was a Cool Zoo exhibit where you could hold a baby alligator, big snake, Bengal and Savannah kittens or a baby kangaroo & others…. for $20-30 each!! Yeah we didn’t do that and I didn’t see anyone else paying for it either. Nice that most of it was in an air conditioned arena. Outside was all the fair food and rides. As usual I was totally shocked by the prices…..$10 for an elephant ear, I think the funnel cakes were $11. Yikes. We didn’t partake.

I’ve also had a good time meeting up with some old and new friends (I grew up here). We got to taste some homemade Milk & Froth’s Sea Salt Butter Cake ice cream that was sooo good! If you’re in the Detroit area, try to get some of their ice cream! They have vegan options also. It definitely was worth breaking my diet for! http://www.milkandfroth.com

I also violated my keto diet for some batter fried smelt, breaded yellow perch and walleye dinners (just the fish, no potatoes or anything else bad). And a Bates hamburger including the bun! When I was a kid there was a Bates in Novi and the burgers were 10 for $1.00. Now they’re 6 for $10. So far my weight is staying the same, probably because I’m walking a lot more than usual.

Ruth Crichton, me & Sue Karschnick

Cindy, Kathy Crawford & I

It seems like people all around us have Covid so I’m trying to stay away from people for my last few days here. I fly out in 3 days and I sure don’t want to mess up my $1066 flights!

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Four more days in Ecuador

Only four more days in Ecuador, then I take a 1:30 a.m. flight to Miami, then on to Phoenix. Have I mentioned how much I hate to fly? I think it’s become a chore for everyone these days….will my flight get cancelled? Will my luggage arrive with me? I have six flights in the next month, each with two checked bags containing pretty much all my worldly goods so it’s a big worry, especially since one of the flights goes through Heathrow where there’s already thousands of mishandled bags piled up. I do have travel insurance so I guess I’d get compensated, but I’d still rather have my stuff.

Look at the beautiful bacon & pork chops I got here! The Plumrose brand bacon is not cheap, around $6 a pound in the grocery deli. The pork chops came from the mercado and were $2.50/lb. Yum!

I haven’t been sleeping worth a darn since I got here and I don’t know why! Most nights I’m awake until 4 or 5 in the morning and sleep til 10. Ugh. Right before bed I take magnesium and melatonin but it doesn’t seem to help. I was wishing I had some Ambien but the last time I took that, I got up at 2 a.m. and wrote crazy emails to three people, and had no memory of it the next day! One of the lucky recipients was my doctor, who thought it was pretty funny when I explained. But he strongly advised not taking it any more.

There’s an ice cream store in La Libertad that sells “helado con queso”. Ice cream with cheese?!! I’m told it’s very good, some kind of sharp shredded cheese sprinkled on the ice cream. I’ll just take their word for it.

You know that Ecuador uses American currency? Yeah, isn’t that strange! You won’t see any dollar bills here though; they use gold-colored one dollar coins. These can be Ecuadorian or US minted. I was advised to bring small denomination bills with me so I brought lots of 1, 5 & 10 dollar bills. Some of the vendors looked a little skeptical of the $1 bills. And nobody here will accept any bills that are torn or really worn! I hear the banks have a day once or twice a year where you can trade your “bad” money for good.

My two week tent camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is still on…advance weather forecasts look good (no rain please!). I’m going with my bestest and oldest friend Cindy Carroll; we’ve been friends for 70 years! Cindy has not camped since we went to Alaska together in 1986. Most of the neighborhood kids used to often sleep out in a big old canvas tent in her back yard when we were growing up, with the older boys always trying to scare us half to death, but she got out of the habit when she grew up. Neither of us is looking forward to sleeping on the ground at this stage of our lives but it’s the only way we can afford to go, so we’ll endure and survive. I’m quite sure a video of us trying to get up off the ground would quickly go viral!

Kitty. So sweet when she’s asleep!
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3 More Weeks in Ecuador

Three more weeks here! I’m trying not to “wish my life away” but I confess Im anxious to start my New Real Life in Albania in September.

Look at the goodies I got at the mercado, all for $4.60! I also got a whole pork tenderloin for $3, ground round for $2.50 a pound and Dodie and I shared a whole beef tenderloin that was $4.50 a lb…$10.50 each for the whole big chunk of filet mignon! I already had some and there’s enough left for at least 4 thick filets. Yum!

Zucchini, 2 bell peppers, 6# tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and cabbage!

The internet connection in my room was out for over a week. Boy I didn’t realize how much I use it! I was able to get a wifi signal from one of the other rooms though, called the Sirena Room. It’s really cute!

The shower is on the other side of La Sirena!

I tried to call British Airways about the horrible flight change they assigned me. Like other airlines, BA has been having so many problems with cancelled flights, thousands of pieces of luggage piled up at Heathrow, etc. It’s kind of funny, their automated phone response is pretty much “Go away and don’t bother us right now”! The change is for the return leg of my round trip ticket so I just accepted the new flights on line, but I should be able to get a refund for trading a 4 hour layover in London for a 16 hour layover. I’ll see what I can do once I get to the airport.

There’s some kind of horrible bug that’s biting me (but apparently no one else!) It looks exactly like black fly bites, and they do have them here. I’m getting huge bright red welts with a white center that itch intensely for two days. Ugh!

Oh my gosh! Breaking news! There was an armed robbery that just took place less than 1/2 block from here, at the beach entrance! It was caught on our next door neighbor’s security camera. Two guys on a motorcycle pulled up to a guy sitting in a parked car, one jumped off with a gun, jerked open the car door and apparently took the driver’s keys and money, jumped back on the motorcycle and took off! The victim started running up the street chasing after the robbers. It’s crazy that this just happened right HERE!

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Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Just Hangin’ Out

I’ve been staying home as the national strike continues; we are worried about possibly getting caught up in flash mobs/lootings. But so far things here have been pretty peaceful.

The stores are running out of produce and other goods! A couple days ago Dodie ventured out on a quest for produce and did pretty well! She got me 4 tomatoes, 4 bell peppers, 2 biggish avocados & 4 kiwi, a few fat carrots and a small container of blueberries, all at for $10… exhorbitant price but I think at this point I’d pay just about anything for some fresh food! I was down to just some romaine.

We ordered some nuts (pistachios, cashews, walnuts & almonds) from a guy named Freddie Nutz! I’m not sure if that’s his real name or not. He delivers, but when?? He’s 3 days late already.

Today I had my favorite taxi driver Frank help me buy a cheap cellphone. My regular phone only works here when I have wifi and I want to have a way to call someone if I am out on my own and need help. The cheapest one they had was a tiny $28 Nokia that’s only good for phone calls, no internet capabilities. I’m hoping this phone will also work in Albania. Then I had him drop me off at a supermarket, as I was getting desperate for some items.

Wow, there was hardly any produce! I did get a couple avocados but that’s all. No celery, lettuce, carrots, green beans, lemons. No milk, cream, butter or eggs, no meat except for some whole chickens. Lots of other shelves were empty as well.

Annnnnd…now I can never show my face at Super Aki again! I was looking for peanuts, and they don’t put them with the walnuts and almonds. So I looked it up on my translater app, and it came up with a word I wasn’t familiar with. I asked a stocker guy where they were and he didn’t understand the word either. So I looked up “nuts”. Before I realized what I was really seeing, I asked him where the “cojones” were! His eyes got big as saucers and I said, “OH! No no no!” I quickly looked up peanut butter and got the correct word “mani”. We both laughed but he seemed a little fearful….

Here are Before and After photos of our Keeper. He was starving, with severe parasite and mange infestations and had something terrible wrong with his legs when they picked him up off the street. They got him all cleaned up and Randy exercised his legs in the pool a lot. Now he’s a handsome healthy dog! It’s quite an amazing transformation.

And here’s our lovely little Bella, she’s my favorite! Soooo sweet and cuddly!

There’s a mysterious lump that keeps appearing in my bed! What on earth could it be?

Categories
Ecuador Salinas Ecuador Uncategorized

Bird and Marine Sanctuaries

Big adventure yesterday! Randy & I went to the mercado early. Look at all the stuff I got for $4.50! A big bag of beautiful tomatoes, a giant zucchini and two avocados. I also got some pistachios, walnuts, blackberries, blueberries, more of that delicious swordfish and some chicken breast. (no flies!) I wonder how these chickens are raised, are they free-range? Factory farmed? There’s no point in asking because Ecuadorians are famous for telling you what they think you want to hear. They don’t consider it lying, just making you happy. Unfortunately I guess not many people buy pistachios here; they taste like they’re about 20 years old! And maybe they are. Oh well, live and learn.

Then Dodie, Randy, their godson Marco and I all piled into Frank’s taxi and went to a bird rescue center in Colonche (about an hour north), to celebrate Marco’s 13th birthday.

We stopped for lunch at an oceanfront restaurant called “My Bar at the Beach” I had chicken soup. The chicken part was in one large chunk, complete with bones, so had to be cut up. It had noodles in it but I was able to eat around them. Marco got this really impressive seafood rice dinner with a huge whole fried shrimp on top! It was a work of art!

Then we continued on to the bird sanctuary. This breathtaking barn owl was the first thing we saw upon entering. Wow! We actually got to pet it!

L to R: Janis, Dodie, Randy, Marco & Frank. I forgot the owl’s name.

Then we moved on to a demonstration of some raptors in flight, and walked around looking at all the other hawks, eagles, more really cool owls and a small petting zoo. I loved the owls best! These are all birds who have been injured. If they can be rehabilitated, they are released back into the wild.

The birds in this enclosure all had leather hoods over their heads to keep them “tranquilo”.

Then on the way home we stopped at a small marine rehabilitation sanctuary in Valdivia. Also pretty cool! They had some aquariums with seahorses, lobsters and some spiny urchins, penguins, pelicans and blue-footed boobies, a couple really big tortoises and other turtles.

This guy was massive!

On the way home we passed the New York Mets Motel, which Frank says is a “motel de amor”…three hours for $10! BYO partner.

Then we went to the jeans store in La Libertad, only open on Saturdays, to get Marco some new clothes. I got a $10 long- sleeved tee shirt for the cooler days coming up. The biggest size they carry was a men’s Large, which barely fits me! (I wear a women’s small or medium shirt size in the US). Ecuadorians are tiny!

Thanks to Dodie for all the photos!

Categories
Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Salinas Ecuador Uncategorized

Danger!

I know a lot of you are wondering why I don’t just stay in Ecuador. It would make sense in a lot of ways…I already have friends here, I know where to shop and kinda know my way around, and do speak some rudimentary Spanish.

Well I’ve been avoiding the elephant in the room…. it’s become very dangerous to live here. Sadly, Venezuelan drug gangs have moved in and apparently bribed the high ranking police to do nothing about their activities. There are now lots of rapes, robberies and other violent crimes being committed at gunpoint. A lot of it is in the capital city of Guayaquil, but it’s also here. In Ecuador, only the police and criminals have guns.

And it’s not just gossip or vague rumors, it’s happening to people I actually know! One of the teen girls who lives here during the week was robbed at gunpoint for her cellphone, right here on our own little beach. And last week, an expat’s adult daughter was on the main street going past the beach in Salinas when a gang member opened fire on a rival across the road, and she actually felt the bullet whiz past her head. In broad daylight!

I had envisioned myself taking long walks on the beach every day but now I’m afraid to go, except on the weekends when there are families there. I’m pretty sad about that. When I lived here before, I rode the bus nearly everywhere but now it’s not safe; I have to take taxis. I feel especially vulnerable….if you were a thug, which would you choose, an Ecuadorian who might make $350 a month, or a well-dressed skinny old gringa?? I may as well paint a bull’s-eye on my back! At least that’s how I feel, anyway.

I guess this kind of thing is becoming more and more common all over Latin America.

So that’s why I’m still planning to go to Albania. It’s cheaper than Ecuador and very very safe. There are no bars on the windows; that oughta tell you something! The expats in my Facebook groups all agree that they feel perfectly safe walking around at any time of the day. I guess there is some unwanted male attention at times but I really doubt that will be a problem for me, unless someone has a Grandma fixation!

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Albania Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Mercado Trip

I did book the beautiful Airbnb in Sarandë, Albania from September 11 until April 1! It’s beachfront but up on a steep hill so probably a five minute walk to get beach access. It’s a corner apartment so there’s amazing full sea view from the whole front plus a side view, just what I was looking for! In Vlorë, anything with even a sliver of a sea view was $600 or more, WAY up from when I was looking in March. The deal I worked out was €450 for the 20 days in September, because that’s still considered high season, and €300 a month (about $321 US) after that. It’s within walking distance from a large grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and bars, and the local bus comes right by the building. My landlord’s name is Boguljub….I have NO idea how to pronounce that. He lives in Serbia but there’s also a local co-host.

Here’s the link: https://abnb.me/Jhy0Uzzcvqb

I went to the mercado in La Libertad with Dodie yesterday morning. It’s a massive rabbit-warren of hundreds of tiny booths. You could spend all day there just looking around! The mercados in Salinas, Paute and Gualaceo, when I lived there, were all contained in big buildings, though there was also a weekly outdoor market in Paute where people would bring produce and livestock to sell. It was funny to see people walking around with a cloth sack containing a wildly objecting live chicken or two! They sold everything there… puppies, kittens, lambs, pigs, calves, goats, canaries…

There is also a big building nearby containing the fish market, with lots of individual booths. I was on the hunt for fresh swordfish, and I found some! It was very expensive, a whopping $5 a pound. In comparison, Mahi-Mahi is only $2.50 a pound. At home in AZ, swordfish is about $15 a pound if you can find it….and it wasn’t pulled fresh from the sea yesterday, either. I got 2 1/4 pounds for $10. They also had beautiful fresh shrimp, both farmed and wild. There are lots of shrimp farms around here. And weird stuff like octopus and baby squid.

I got some really nice thick pork chops for $2.50 a pound….mind you, this is pastured pork, not factory farmed. Five lemons for $1, five vine ripened tomatoes for $.30 each, a pound of huge blackberries for $1.50, a big bunch of broccoli for .$25 and a big wedge of cabbage for $.10. SCORE!