Monday, September 27, 2010



When daughter Jenny and son in law Chris relocated to their South American idyll I for one couldn't wait to check it all out.  My reluctant traveller feigned indifference, he couldn't care less one way or the other, so he said; but I knew better.  Underneath he was dying to see their new home, and so we made the long trek across the Pacific to Ecuador, to the high Andes province of Azuay.

Cuenca was everything Jen and Chris had promised and more.  We walked the city from one end to the other enjoying its diversity, its colour, its tolerance and its humour.  And just as well.  We may have been prepared for Cuenca, but was Cuenca prepared for us?  In particular my reluctant traveller?

In Australia my husband and I live on a small island in tropical Queensland.  He prefers to wear shorts.  In fact Stan owns only one pair of long trousers and these he avoids with a passion.  Ecuador on the other hand is a country where modesty in dress is still the norm and excessively bared limbs in young women at least, are seen only on visiting touristas.

So you can imagine the glances and comments he received as we walked the highways and byways of beautiful Cuenca.  Small children holding their mother’s hand turned themselves inside out to catch that last unbelieving glimpse of my elderly husband’s uncovered legs. Had they perhaps never seen their own father’s legs bared in such a way?

Indeed it became a game and some of the children in Calderon Parque who like us were regular partakers of the sights, over time greeted him fondly with much laughter.  As the weather warmed a few young sportsman in soccer gear appeared on the streets and then my husband would be the one who swivelled around to sneak a glimpse pointing out to me that his weren’t the only legs worth admiring in Ecuador. 

Our daily wandering often took us to the city's centre where like everyone else we too joined the crowd, peering over shoulders, trying to get a better glimpse of the days attraction. 

We weren't the only ones striving to catch a glimpse of fiesta and fun.   But I assure you this gentleman in the chef's cap was not exposing his legs to the elements, as someone I know rather well was.

I include the above snap only to prove that he is indeed a rare my eyes at least.


To insure or not to insure was a question I often asked myself before embarking on a trip to who knows where; and invariably I always took the safe option.  Better to be sure the family back home suffered no long term financial consequence as a result of my irresponsible love for overseas adventure.  But in all my solo travels and even those with my daughter in tow never once did I need make any claim against the insurance company of my choice.

That first time distinction I saved until I was in my seventies, travelling in Ecuador with Stan my eighty year old husband, better known as the reluctant traveller, when first off I mislaid my reading glasses in a taxi, and then later he had his pocket picked on a local bus.

The language in Ecuador is Spanish.  Unlike Europe where in any given week you could travel through all the languages from Italian through French, Spanish, German and Scandinavian yet always find a helpful someone who spoke English, in most cases far better than you did, but in Ecuador chances are you would have to rely on pantomime or just sheer guesswork.  Not really the best way to ask a policeman to authenticate your intended insurance claim.

Our daughter who speaks a generous smattering of Spanish was tied up with her renovation-building site and in all naivety, I reckoned how hard could it be to explain the necessity of an official signature on a legal document.  I soon found out it was very hard indeed.

With my reluctant husband in tow I approached the nearest police station a short stroll away in Louis Cordero and put my request to a young policeman sitting at a desk.  A big smile, but no English.  How to mime a pair of missing spectacles, to stress the word insurance and convey the need of an official signature. I tried as best I could attracting after a short while a large audience.

My impromptu performance was beginning to attract both policemen and women and their dubious clients from other parts of the building.  I had the feeling it was all getting out of hand and presenting no solution when a young female in uniform appeared, informed me in the loud voice one uses on deaf or foreign people that we were in the wrong police station.  We must go here, and she wrote out an address.

 Cuenca’s friendly policeman, ever ready for a photo shoot.

Across the other side of Cuenca’s central Plaza Calderon, some blocks away,  we finally found the police building marked as it was with national flags and two police paddy wagons parked conspicuously outside in the absolute middle of the narrow one way street.  Inside was bedlam, this was no ordinary police station, this one specialised in family violence with notaries in various small offices, two to a room busy typing claimants accusations directly onto computer keyboards.

I approached two well dressed gentleman conversing in the middle of the courtyard, no English, but they would find someone who could help.  They did and we were shown into one of the notary offices.
On the wall were posters showing various family scenarios I couldn’t imagine occurring in this peaceful and beautiful country.  Our notary was a young pregnant woman looking darn close to motherhood.  I was wrong though, we were to meet her again a month later when she confided she was hopefully due to produce the next day.  I laughingly suggested naming the child Stanley after my husband whose claim on that second occasion was his picked pocket, and her English had improved enough to laugh that Stan was inappropriate for a girl child.

After much sign language and stressing that the glasses for reading were gone for good in one of Cuenca’s thousand odd yellow taxi’s and should I want recompense back in Australia this notarised report would clinch the deal, she finally got the message.

But she must have been unsure of the whole procedure because after a short while a gentleman of authority appeared.  Her boss, the court lawyer.  A suave gentleman who glanced through the typed document and asked a few questions in fluent yet halting English. His manner with me was polite but distant.

Then his eyes alighted on my husband’s wrist watch.  “Ah,” he said “a Rolex!”  and I knew my lost eye glasses had been relegated to the finished and done with bin.  The man was obviously besotted with Rolex.

Crumbs I thought, he must be wondering why we’re putting through an insurance claim for a paltry pair of plastic spectacles when my other half is sporting an expensive watch to die for.  With me quickly shunted to the side he now had my Stanley’s arm in his grip and was fairly drooling over the gaudy time piece.

I hissed to Stan, for god’s sake tell him it’s only a fake.

But of course my husband by now was enjoying the attention.

“You buy in America?’ asked the notary.

“Hong Kong actually’, replied Stan.  By now I think he realised honesty was the best policy.

“How much you pay for this watch?”

“Well, um, I didn’t actually buy it, my son did...” he looked to me wildly.  Maybe he suddenly wondered if admitting to wearing a fake Rolex was a chargeable offence.

“Tell him’ I hissed ‘you’ve left a better watch at home so it doesn’t get stolen”.

But now Stan tells him he isn’t really sure, maybe a couple of hundred dollars.

“U.S. dollars?” asks the notary.  He is really in love with this watch.

I watch in amazement as my husband takes the watch off and hands it to its admirer.  The man is in raptures.  Now he wants to know how much a real Rolex would cost, and the two exchange wild guesses, for of course we emphatically do not own, not even the watch at home, a dinky di Rolex.  By now I’m beginning to wonder if that  baby’s birth date is imminent, maybe quite soon?  A diversion would be welcome.

The notary fondles the watch, tries it on his wrist, I get the feeling this is the closest he has ever come to the real thing.  Maybe he thinks we’re fibbing, that the watch is the real McCoy.  The queue outside is getting longer, our pregnant typist is stretching her back trying to get comfortable.

Enough is enough I say to myself, let’s get this show back on the road.  I cough and smile,  “Do we need add anything else to this statement?” I ask.

Instantly businesslike he hands the watch back to my husband and for the first time acknowledges my presence.  

“You must sign here, and here Senora.”

I do so as he signs his name after mine, then he snaps “That will be $5.  Come with me while I have your statement stamped by the policia.”

At last Stan has his fake Rolex back on his wrist, I have my lost spectacles insurance form stamped.  But it is a telling insight that the pickpocket who some weeks later relieved my husband of $183 on that bus in Cuenca showed not the slightest interest in the shiny, splendid Rolex that, I imagine, to his professional eyes at least, was quite obviously a fake and not worth the taking.

©Robyn Mortimer 2010