Welcome Home!

A HomeHome is where the heart is
And friendship is a guest
A book, a fire, a handclasp
A place where souls can rest

This was the poem on a trivet my mother had hanging over the drawer and cabinets by the pantry. The drawer door was perpetually stuck, so when trying to open it, there was plenty of time to read and memorize this little plaque. You could say the plague plagued my thoughts while standing there.

Our first day in Cuenca, we had arranged to meet Howard Wood and Mike Frohling for lunch. We greatly anticipated this reunion, because Howard and Mike are major contributors for our returning to Cuenca. Last year when we were here, we knew we wanted to explore the city once again giving it a second chance. With bittersweet memories of our first experience, we did not have the best outlook.

As it turned out, Mike and Howard lived in the same building we were living in as a home exchange. With warm welcomes, they embraced us and drew us into their community. They have never met a stranger; held in high regard by so many, once introductions of the newbies occurred, we were welcomed.

Returning to Cuenca was like returning to where my heart feels at home, as it does in Budapest. I do not mind at all juggling these two lovers, so different from each other. Each nourishes my wants and needs in diverse ways from the other, so there is no competition. This becomes apparent once we are out with the guys.

Note that I had my camera with me, but it never crossed my mind to take anyone’s picture. I had to steal this shot of them from Facebook, so the background does not represent the day’s outing.

The last time we were here, Howard and Mike wanted to take us to Fabiano’s restaurant. It never happened; they were so busy we could not get a table and our time ran out. This time we went for Howard and Mikelunch. As we entered, the staff greeted our companions like old friends. What was more delicious than the meal was the conversation. Though we have kept in touch over the time we have been gone, lunching with them was as if we had seen them just days before.

After lunch, we walked off our food. Wanting to get an Ecuadorian SIM card for my phone, Howard knew someone who runs a phone store. After introductions, I had a local number with $6 worth of calling credit for less than $10. In my imagination, this transaction did not go so smoothly. Thinking I would have to go to a phone store, fill out forms, Google this and that, gave me a nervous stomach. Here, we finished in less time than it took us to order lunch.

As we were making our way through the park, others started calling out to Mike and Howard. After a healthy conversation, an invitation for lunch included us as well by people we had just met. While I stopped at an ATM machine, the fellas ran into another person they knew and chatted while I conducted business. When we left Howard and Mike, I remembered how social this community happens to be.

Ron and I went to the supermercado near the apartment to stock our cupboard with stables. Not being thrilled with the offerings, we decided to buy the immediately needed things, but do the rest of our shopping at SuperMaxi and the local markets.

Yesterday, I could not stand my hair any longer. Using Gringo Post for recommendations, I found Hilda’s Spa had more people singing her praises than any other. She lived in the US for several years, so there were no language barriers. Not needing Google Translator on my phone is a bonus. I called for an appointment. After explaining what I needed done, Hilda asked if I could come at 3pm. She later called back and suggested 1pm, which turned out better.

At first, we were going to take the bus, so we went to the store near where we lived last year to purchase a bus card. Although I had saved our card from last year, I forgot it at home. By the time we made our way there, it was too late to catch a bus, but the taxi was under $3. Having a bus card added another touch of being ‘home’.

We took advantage of her being a spa. Having my hair cut with roots touched up was the first priority, but with a pedicure service, I added that. Then both Ron and I had facials. Beautifully spread out, she has the same equipment one would expect in the best salons in the US. Hilda first cut my hair, which took me my surprise. In all the years I have had my hair colored professionally and being a former hairdresser myself, it is usually color first and then cut. The next culture shock was that she cut my hair dry, not after a shampoo.

Within 30 minutes, my sheared hair had dye working its magic. Directed to the pedicure chair, here this is what impressed me the most. All the pedicures I have had in Budapest, never have I had one in a real pedicure chair. It is like sitting on a throne. During my pampering time, Ron was in another room getting the first facial of his life. When he returned with a traumatized look on his face, but clear skin, it was my turn.

When I was in beauty school, we learned facials. Over the years, I have enjoyed a couple of them. However, this facial was incredible. There were more applications than I have ever learned back in pre-historic times and far more than any facials experienced in the past. I loved it. After seeing the price list someone had posted on Gringo Post, my expectations were much higher for a final bill. What we paid for a haircut, color, pedicure and two facials was about the same as what I pay in Budapest without two facials. Hilda has my future business if not this year, then next. She is another anchor in making this a welcoming familiar place.

While we were relaxing, a thunderstorm interrupted the peacefulness. It was still raining when we left Hilda’s but we made our way across the Avenue of Americas to SuperMaxi to finish our shopping. We welcomed the taxi ride home. Getting our groceries put away, we felt like we were nesting.

As I perused e-mails, it dawned on me I had better start filling my calendar with our social events. We are meeting with Barbara and Bill Wolfe on Monday for lunch. This is one of the couple we did a home exchange with last year. While we were in Colombia, a friend of Barbara’s contacted us about a possible home exchange and invited us for lunch on Tuesday. Arranged a month ago, it slipped my mind when Howard asked us to join them for lunch on Tuesday. Later, he let me know the friend from the park planned a lunch for later next week too.

Last night was the opening of an art show; we missed the opening, but will get to it later. Tonight is a free symphony concert and our ‘landlords’ want to play Cribbage.

This is more social activity than we have in months when in Budapest. We will need to plan to vacation once we are home again. Make no mistake there are no complaints.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.