Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bienvenidos a Olón

November 6, 2015

It’s our “low” season now.  
That said, it has been really busy around here for the last couple of months, and I have had little time to write a post.  It’s been anything but “slow”.
Many of our friends and family back home frequently ask us expats “what do you do all day there?”

…We laugh, because often this is difficult for us to pinpoint too, but  keep in mind, just day-to-day chores and errands take longer to accomplish – paying local bills, grocery shopping (we don’t have “one-stop/get most everything” stores),  and finding parts for car or home repairs can be real time-consuming challenges.
And this year, it seems there have been a plethora of local and expat activities going on.

Shell and the "mamita'" angels
from the Orphanage
One of the highlights of our “slow” season is the annual dinner fundraiser for the Santa Maria de La Esperanza Orphanage (located on the cliff point between Olón and Montanita).  The funds from this (and other donations) go towards giving these sweet children a special Christmas, and to help provide for their needs throughout the year.
This is a cause near and dear to many hearts, and has grown from a grass roots effort (about 7 years ago) to a well-run, organized endeavor, in no small part due to some dedicated volunteers and generous community support.

This year’s fundraising dinner was a booming success, and I’m going to quote segments from a “thank you” letter that Shell Spivey sent out afterwards, since I think he said it best:

“The Friends of Santa Maria de La Esperanza Orphanage would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of those that made Saturday night’s fundraiser such a resounding success.
The event was hosted by La Barbuja Del Tiempo (Bubble in Time Restaurant) on the beach, at the Point, in Montanita.  Maria Teressa Conde and Titina Barreiro graciously lent us their fantastic restaurant for the evening and it proved to be the perfect venue. What wonderful ladies and we are forever indebted. Drop by sometime and enjoy their grilled seafood.
The festivities began around 5:30 and by 7:00 there were over 100 people present, many familiar, and many new faces were in the crowd. Tickets were $20 and included food, a beverage and entertainment.
The silent auction featured over one-hundred donated items and created lively bidding throughout the night. Many great bargains were snatched up by evening’s end.
Entertainment was provided by the Cana Band playing classic rock hits.
Our committee members did a fabulous job and spent many, many, hours in preparation for the party.  They are:
Tim & Jeannie McGann
Erwin and Danielle Musper
Darlene Howell
Deb Anderson
Nique Manty
Shell & Marsha Spivey

We appreciate everyone’s efforts and it has paid off big time for the orphanage.
The event’s total, over $5,000!!!
The excess food was delivered to the orphanage and the proceeds will be used to buy a washer and dryer, towels, sheets and Christmas gifts for the children. The remainder will be reserved in a fund for emergency expenses.”

Circus - February 2015
I would be remiss not to especially mention Erwin & Danielle Musper’s dedicated commitment to these beautiful children.
Earlier this year, when the traveling circus was in Olón, they organized and majorly funded a special performance for the Orphanage kids, which included all the carny foods they could eat (a rare treat for these children).

They have also created a “YouCaring” website for those who wish to donate and don’t live here locally.
To quote just a little bit from that site as well:

Photo courtesy of Erwin Musper
"You can make a difference in the lives of these lonely and abused children. Help us put a smile on a child's face this holiday season.
A young child burned repeatedly by her own mother.
A brother and sister abandoned, tied to a tree.
An infant left on a hospital's doorstep.
Unimaginable images.
These and other sweet and innocent children, have not only survived, but their smiles and trust in people are returning, all because of the incredible loving "mamitas" at the Santa Maria De La Esparanza Orphanage.  With unequaled dedication these "mothers", some who have worked tirelessly for decades, took them into their care.  The number of children at the orphanage is currently 50, but fluctuates constantly because none are turned away.
$4 PER DAY-----
Imagine raising a child---- food, clothing, school supplies, housing and basic daily needs on $4 per day. That is the entire budget provided by the government and these children desperately need your help.
EACH AND EVERY DOLLAR that you donate will directly benefit these disadvantaged children. Not one cent will be used for administration or any other purpose. Can we make this happen?  Yes, with your help we can!  Any amount that you can contribute is needed, welcomed and appreciated."

(This site will only be operational until the maximum allowed time runs out, which is around December 20th. In the meantime, Erwin and Danielle are exploring options for building a new and continuous site option to donate year round).

About a month ago, some of us took a 2-day Cruz Roja (Red Cross) training program, and the Olón Comuna kindly offered their facilities/building to conduct the class.
It was a lot of information to absorb in that amount of time – interesting to say the least, especially since our lessons were all en español. Fortunately, there were a couple of good translators in our class to explain the more complicated material.

On the second day, we took a simple written test, and then – as warned – prepared for an “earthquake” scenario simulation evaluation in the park.
I can’t say enough for the Olón community!  Aside from providing our classroom, permission was granted to use anything in the park for use in the first aid simulation exercise, and a number of locals volunteered to be our “victims”.
A siren sounded, and we students rushed from the building to find 20 or so “victims” sprawled around the park, under bushes & cement benches, on the stage (and one splayed out on the slide).  The goal was to treat on the spot, and then move/transport each of the wounded to the “safe” place zone (no easy task, let me tell you).

Daisy sat outside during the classes.
Once the simulation started
She was underfoot constantly…
“This is a fun game!”

It was an eye-opening experience for many of us.
It was a sobering and comical moment at the same time. I can only imagine the amusement of the locals and other bystanders at this point.
At a certain juncture, I didn’t know whether to laugh (clearly, additional study of Spanish medical terminology needed)…or be very concerned about the victim(s) that might be depending on my "expertise" at that point.
Still, it was a useful course; I’m sure we all learned something from the class, and very proud of everyone that participated! 

And below are just some miscellaneous photos of the various and assorted Olón activities happening during our “slow” season.

Monthly Book Club

Local childrens' birthday parties.
These are a BIG deal here, and fun
if you have the opportunity
to attend one!

Regular card and game days

Funerals.  It seems there have been a number of these lately.
When someone dies, somber music is played over the town’s speakers (most typically “El Cóndor Pasa”  written by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913 and based on traditional Andean folk tunes), and town-folk go to the Comuna building to donate a few dollars to the grieving family.
I love this special tradition in Olón (and I’m sure a custom in other neighboring towns as well).  By Ecuadorian law, bodies must be buried within 24 hours, so the financial help is appreciated, especially when a death occurs unexpectedly.

The Saturday afternoon “gringo” get-togethers
on the Olón beach are still going strong.
. One of the great things about living here is all 
the interesting people we get to meet that are 
either moving here, or passing through.

Local religious observances and traditions.

Olón – you gotta love this town!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rainbow Nights

September 28, 2015

“Mother Earth”
Joshua Tree 2005/2006
New Year’s Eve Day

I was so excited to see last night's eclipse (in a good spot for it, along the coast of Ecuador).
It was cloudy here, so I wasn't able to see it, but I went to the beach anyway to experience it.
Here is something I just wrote to another friend of mine (Rick Hoefer) about my indelible impressions from last night:

"How to put into words?"
It was a cloudy night here...I had the beach pretty much to myself (with a exception of a few passerby)...
I was listening to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" on my I pod (on repeat).
And though I couldn't see the eclipse, I was acutely aware of the the magic happening overhead,
Sort of like how the Divine works behind the scenes in our lives, whether or not we always perceive it .
And, especially as I waded into the ocean, feet firmly dug into the sand/Pachamama as I relished the life-giving waves washing over them,
...I felt (how to say this without sounding woo-woo?)....I felt a supernatural connection - an electricity of being totally connected to the the Universe and to each other.
And I was unexpectedly brought to my knees with gratitude.
As I sat on the shore afterwards, a bright/hazy light appeared on very low northwest ocean horizon.
I thought too low for it to be the moon, but also too bright to be lights from a fishing boat.
I was mesmerized. I kept rubbing my eyes as I watched it for awhile.
And then, I turned to look in another direction for a moment...and it was gone.
But it was there...the promise.

A night time rainbow.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Beautiful Creature

September 7, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Erwin Musper
Last Friday started off as day like any other until around 2PM, when urgent messages were sent out about a beached whale on the playa in Curia (the next town north of Olón)…all hands needed to help push a whale back out.

Each year, from June through September, those of us living along the coast of Ecuador are treated to spectacular views of humpback whales (“ballenas jorobadas”) frolicking and spouting just off our shoreline during their annual migration.
The response from the community was immediate and amazing.

Photo Courtesy of David & Kathy Meland

Photo Courtesy of David & Kathy Meland

Photo Courtesy of David & Kathy Meland
The net before it was cut off.

Photo Courtesy of David & Kathy Meland
First Responders

The unfortunate whale (to anyone’s best guess, an adolescent juvenile) had gotten tangled in fishing net and was floundering.
When I arrived shortly later, the net had been successfully cut off (big nod to David Meland and wife Kathy, as well as others) and the whale was in knee-deep water being pushed out by a number of hearty souls.

I got a few pictures, but swiftly sent my camera back to shore (it’s supposed to be waterproof, but I’ve never actually tested that function)…and it was a hindrance during rescue efforts.
The determined struggle to push this magnificent creature into deeper water lasted for hours.

Photo off my camera
Courtesy of Ecuador friend that offered
to take pic shortly before I sent my camera
 back to shore
during rescue effort.

Photo Courtesy of Erwin Musper

Its badly cut fin stained the ocean with blood, and many of us worried that this beautiful being likely would not make it should exertions to send it into deeper water succeed.
But, boy, everyone tried!


As the afternoon wore on, the tide started coming in – which was welcome, except with it came some huge and powerful breakers, washing over the whale and rescuers alike.

Photo Courtesy of Erwin Musper

This was kind of scary, because the whale’s wounded fin was covered with razor sharp barnacles, and several times the waves were formidable enough to roll the whale over on to its back.  Not a good situation for either the gentle giant or the rescuers, but subsequent waves would right him back up.
But that whale – what a magnificent animal! He was in deep enough water to spout through his blow hole, and occasionally would flap his enormous tail to assist in his rescue.

Photo Courtesy of Erwin Musper

It’s like he knew we were trying to help him.  
I will always carry a memory of this soft, gentle, and wise eye looking at us with gratefulness as we pushed.
But it was clear by the end of afternoon that the valiant whale was losing too much blood and strength (and rolling over too many times by then).

Sadly, the whale did not make it through the night and is now buried on a nearby hillside.
That said, I am impressed by the community grapevine communication (locals and expats alike) and to those that responded.
Actually, I’m awed.
And the opportunity to touch, pet, comfort the whale (as best as able) is an experience hard to describe.
We all wish the outcome would have been more positive.
So to you, Beautiful Creature…swim now in the heavenly ocean, and know that your too short life touched many of us deeply.

Photo Courtesy of Erwin Musper


Thank you, Erwin Musper for taking the time to upload it to you-tube so that it can be shared more widely.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Me and Kirk #2

August 9, 2015

Colorado/New Mexico Road Trip continued from last post.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to do this road trip.

My own personal “Thelma & Louise” trip…except I was with “CRK”

Because I got in late to Farmington, New Mexico, I booked two nights so I could explore that region some more – in particular the 4-Corners area (“an hour away”, according to hotel staff).
The next day, I took off for 4-Corners, but sort of accidently-on-purpose took a wrong turn from the direct route (using a “bikers’” scenic map as a guide, not realizing then that it was not to scale, and because I became fascinated with “Shiprock” and headed in that direction instead).
I never did make it to 4-Corners, but instead enjoyed a peaceful and scenic drive through Navajo territory. Actually I didn’t have a clue most of the day where I was, but ended up dipping a toe into Arizona.

There was a picnic area here. 
A super nice Native American family helpfully pointed out that I was at least four hours away from 4-Corners
and couldn’t make it to the monument before it closed for the day.

This is in the Lukachukai Mountains somewhere in Northeast Arizona.

Farmington has a quaint little downtown. 
Had dinner that night at the “3 Rivers Eatery and Brew House”.  Probably one of the best meals of my whole "Kirk" trip.
Manila Clams steamed with white wine with house green chili sausage, garlic and green onions. 
I don't normally post pics of food, but this was a meal to die for.
And I have become a BIG FAN of NM green chilies.

Heading south out of Farmington, I stopped to eat at this Mexican restaurant in Cuba. Friends of mine in Olón had told me about this place, and had another great meal here.
I also bought a bottle of “Hatch Chili” wine to enjoy in my room later that night to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of my sojourn in Ecuador. 
While in New Mexico.

Not sure if I mentioned it yet, but I was also on a mission to eat as many patty-melts, chicken-fried steaks, at good, greasy “diner” food places along the way, as well as much Mexican food I could shovel into my mouth.

Wee bit of a hangover
Glad a Sonic next door to my
Socorro room
the following morning.

Crossing the Continental Divide

I had planned on spending a day or so in Albuquerque, but as luck would have it, one of my good friends who has lived in Olón for several years (Elizabeth Lafortune) just happened to be visiting her family who live in the Alamogordo/Tularosa area, in southern New Mexico, so I bypassed Albuquerque to push down to explore Las Cruces (that was just a quick pop in and out because of a lot of road construction in town).
I spent a night in Socorro (home of New Mexico Tech) on my way south.
I really liked the desert around this part of the state… I am, and always will be a desert rat at heart.

And now to meet the culprits
 who grow these wicked good 

Between Las Cruces and Alamogordo/Tularosa, I had the chance to tour the White Sands National Park late one afternoon for a couple of hours. 
An awe-inspiring place with gypsum sand dunes for miles.
Back-pack camping is allowed on a limited basis here.
Putting on my bucket list -- spend a night in this desert once.

Had a really fun and special time during my visit with Elizabeth and her family.  Her dad owns a large horse ranch in Tularosa (an interesting town – the original 1862 town site has been designated a State and National Historical District).
I really enjoyed meeting her dad, Mickey – what a great guy with an interesting past and lots of fun stories to tell. And her Dad gave me great map/highway advice to get to Santa Fe without backtracking on the I-25.

What are the chances that Elizabeth and I would bump into each other in far southern New Mexico, since we both have lived here in Olón for this many years??
We spent a lovely evening sitting by a pond on her Dad’s property while enjoying a stunning desert sunset. 

After a couple of lovely days here, I followed Micky’s instructions,  and took hwy 54 to Duran, then  hwy 3/285 to Santa Fe, so I got to go through some desolate “Billy the Kid” territory on my way back up north.
A good route, and the quickest way to Santa Fe (just don't miss the turn-off in Duran).
There are not many rest spots along these roads.
Eat in Carrizozo along the way; there is a great diner there.

I have to admit that one thing that made me realize I've been in the “boonies” for a long time was the prevalence of smart phones in the States now, and the reliance on those these days.   I mean, they’re common in Ecuador too – but I don’t have one.  I think they may be smarter than me.
That is until one day while having lunch, I overheard three old ladies in an intense debate about which “twelve-o’clock” was “AM” and which was “PM”...Seriously?  That’s pretty dumb.
And then one of the gals whipped out her smart phone to get the answer, and I thought: “geez, if those dummies can figure out smart phones, I ought to be able to learn how to use one.”

Can I just say, I loved, loved, loved Santa Fe?  It was my first time there, and I anticipated I would fall under its spell, which is why I saved it for my last New Mexico stop.  I believe I could easily live there.
I genuinely miss living in the desert.
I lived in Northeast Nevada for 10 years (Elko/Wendover to be specific, during my twenties and resided for seven of my twenty-five years in California in Palm Springs) before coming to Ecuador.

I suppose some local
Santa Fe town character.
Check out the hat.

Bunny Tobias
"Disney Jar"

I spent a day walking around the downtown plaza, ate a yummy green chili meatloaf meal – I don’t remember the name of the restaurant – and visited the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Then I decided that I could probably see more if I got on one of the tour buses, so I did that for the rest of the afternoon.

A brief moment of panic.
Parked Iowa-plated rental car, "Kirk" here during my Santa Fe town expedition.
The lot closed and locked up at 5:30 PM.

The sign not noticed until 6:30 PM when I went to retrieve it.
Bit of a sticky situation for a few minutes, till someone with monthly pass key showed up to let me in and out of the gate.

And then, alas…it was time to turn back and make the long haul back to Kansas City.  
I dropped south to Albuquerque (via hwy 14 “The Turquoise Trail”).
That was probably one of my most favorite drives of “The Kirk” road trip adventure.

My goal that day was to meet my cousin Kathy and husband Mike for lunch (on the outskirts of Albuquerque) and then get as far as possible on interstate 40 – at least through the Texas panhandle and into Oklahoma.

Lunch with Mike & Kathy.
They live along the Sandia Crest Highway 

This bizarre and colorful roadside attraction was near a gas stop as I was going through the Texas Panhandle.
A quite unexpected and fun find.
I also noticed that county lines change about every quarter of a mile along the Panhandle.

Crossing into Oklahoma after dark, the speed limit dropped dramatically, and if there was a “reduce speed” sign, I didn’t see it.  Got photo flashed as I passed the weigh station, so I was a little concerned that I may have gotten a ticket. 

I ended up that night in Clinton, Oklahoma, hungry, tired and cranky.
I can tell you, there is not much open in Clinton on a Saturday night except an Indian casino, so I made a speedy bee-line to a shabby motel that was closest to it, and made it just in time for last call on drinks and food.
There is a "Route 66" museum in Clinton, but it was closed on Sunday morning as I was leaving town.

A weird thing happened to me along last day of trip (from Oklahoma onto Kansas City).
I was listening to the radio when a FREAKY message interrupted the station I was groovin' to – at first I thought it was an advertisement, but then realized it really was some type of message meant for me.
A female RADIO VOICE suddenly came on and asked:
“We are trying to reach you by phone”.
Followed by:
“Please say yes/no/ call back later”
It startled me so much, I said - out loud - “WTF?” and the lady said “we’ll call you back”…and the station returned to music.

It occurred to me that perhaps the rental car company was trying to reach me (I didn’t have a USA cell phone when I initially rented the car, it makes sense that the cars are equipped with GPS, and there was that slight possibility that I got ticketed the night before).  I also checked my cheap phone a few minutes later and saw that – indeed – there was a missed call from the phone company.
Still, it creeped me out.
I’m driving an Iowa-plated rental car, (with a valid California driver's licensein Oklahoma, using a Kansas purchased Walmart phone with an Illinois area code.
How did they find me?
Everyone I talked to in Kansas City afterwards seemed puzzled when I asked:
“Do RADIO VOICE people now and then,
come out of your car radio to talk to you?”

I have learned since then (from friends here) that is a “Bluetooth” function.
Call me old-fashioned, but the fact that cheap $10 Walmart phones come equipped with this sophisticated technology  -- I find a bit disconcerting.

I noticed that one can learn a lot about an area by just listening to the local radio stations.
I caught up on a bunch USA music that I’ve missed out on through the years – and discovered that no matter which genre station I was tuned to – Taylor Swift is ubiquitous. She’s everywhere; you can’t escape her.  Respect her talent, liked her songs the first 50 times or so, but then….arggg.

"Watering Can"
July 2015

Somewhere in Texas

What a great road trip!
I never felt alone on this journey.
Always, I sensed the presence of the Divine riding shotgun.
What a gift to have two weeks on the open road without an agenda, with God as the insightful and delightful navigator and companion.
We had lots of laughs, saw breath-taking vistas, and shared a profound time of communion. 
Once again, I was reminded and reinforced that God is in control, to trust my gut, be thankful through ALL circumstances, and take it day by day – go WITH the flow.

Driving out of Oklahoma on a Sunday…there is not much on the radio but religious stuff.
(With the exception of bizarre 
RADIO VOICE incident).
However, one sermon did catch my interest.
The preacher was expounding on the fact that God says “I am the God of I AM”.
Not the lord of yesterday or tomorrow...The God of Now.

Amen to that.

Kirk and me,
Bugs and all.
7 States, 3000 miles.