Saturday, April 5, 2014

Almost Mayberry

March 27, 2014

The month of March began with Carnavale – always a crazy, fun time, but the onslaught of turistas here during those few days is overwhelming. I’m guessing (and this is just a wild-ass guess) that at least 25,000 people show up in our area (Montanita/Olón) for this event.  I’ve heard as high as 50,000 people.  I don’t think it was as crowded this year as the last couple, but other locals might disagree with me.

The beaches are packed, the traffic and parking are a nightmare, and the internet slows to a crawl.
I think most of us that live here hide inside for most of it.

The trick to surviving Carnavale is to stock up on books, movies and food, and be sure to hit an ATM a couple of days before- hand (otherwise wait in long, long lines to get cash).

About a week or two before Carnavale, there was a fun (locally commercially sponsored) affair on the beach that included a food contest (these are always very competitive – all the food looks scrumptious – and I don’t envy the judges who have to pick a winner).

Johana, Vicente,
Tomasa y Sebastian
Also in the last month we were invited to attend the graduation ceremony of our friend Johana (from our nearby Johanita’s market – the whole family there have always been so kind to us, and friends of ours).  It was held in the Olón park, and a big event celebrating the graduating youths of town.We always feel honored when locals invite us to things like this (graduations, birthday parties, weddings) because our already warm local community makes us feel even more accepted.

I mean let’s face it: no matter how long we live here, no matter how kind the locals, we are still guests in their country, still have much to learn about the nuances of culture and customs and language, and we’ll always be “outsiders” to a degree.

One culturally different aspect is that NOTHING, I mean NOTHING ever starts on time. Always add two (2) hours to the designated time. That's a given.
Naturally, the invitation said “starts at 7PM”….ja ja ja ja…!
Being wise to this by now, we didn’t show up until 9:30PM, and even then, we were some of the first to arrive, so we left and came back around 12:30AM, when the music, dancing, and partying really tuned up.

Ecuadorians love to dance, love to sing, love celebrating life.  We had a great time, but wimped out around 2AM…meanwhile; the party lasted (as usual) until 5-6AM…or until the amps blew out. Whichever happens first.
I give a lot of credit to the Ecuadorians for their stamina!

Click on the you-tube link below.  A cute group of “kids” were visiting the Olón beach recently, and having a wholesome, great time.
They treated some us to this impromptu serenade: 

Because the sunsets this time of year are so stunning, most everyone around town heads to the beach to watch them each evening, and the camaraderie is harmonious.

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago, there were two nights when beautiful rainbows glowed over the hills of Olón, adding to our sense of awe of the dusks here.

Our “high” season is winding down. “Semana Santa” (the week before Easter) and “Labor Day” (May First) signal the start of the” slower” season – and also the whale season.

This area has become quite popular in the last few years (I suppose depending on perspective, that is either “good” or “bad”), but probably inevitable.

I started going to water aerobics classes (my friend, Deb Anderson leads these in her pool), and I’m really enjoying those afternoons sessions.
I kid you not, it’s been at least 15 years since I actually attended any type of exercise class, so I’m thinking this is a good place to start now.  They are not that strenuous, fun conversation, and wonderful to jump into a pool during the heat of this season.

Part of my motivation is that recently I noticed my forearms (mind you, not my upper arms – those went south long ago) are starting to take on a distinct “Shar-Pei” look.

If there is one bone to of contention right now, the trash pick-up days (?) have become erratic, to say the least, since the recent provincial elections...and gone is the familiar (if sometimes annoying) tune announcing their arrival.

Trash is piling up to an embarrassing degree in our coastal towns now.
The recent local elections resulted in a change-over to new leadership in our province, and most all locals, with whom I talk about this subject (who over-whelming voted for new guy(s) in), are also dismayed about the  current piles of garbage around all the local towns, but shrug it off as "there may be a period of "transitional 'conversations"

Living in Olón is not exactly like living in "Mayberry”, but sometimes it comes close.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The "Dirt"

February 26, 2014

An example of one of
the campaigning trucks

Local and provincial elections were held this weekend (Sunday was voting day).
Actually, Ecuador offers some very sensible election time rules.  Candidates are only allowed to campaign for two months (a BLESSED relief from the non-stop politics in the USA) and there have been parades and honking-horn caravans going through our little local beach towns, representing the various parties and contenders for the last couple of months.
Starting on the Friday before elections, an “electoral silence” period begins.  All disseminating of political advertising, opinions, news articles is prohibited (these restrictions are in place 48 hours before the elections and extends until around 5PM, at least, on Sunday).
There is also a ban on booze for three days.  Needless to say, I think most people stocked up for the duration, and it’s been a very quiet weekend around here.

The traveling clothes/blankets/towel vendors are set up again in our park now for a few weeks. They come through once or twice a year, and I always look forward to their visits - much of my wardrobe is stocked with cute and comfortable sun dresses and cover-ups purchased for $6-8.


Last week was a busy one.  We flew into Quito for a quick trip last Sunday, and then flew on to Cuenca on Tuesday afternoon (just in time to throw luggage in the room, make it to several afternoon appointments that lasted until 7:30PM – and out on an early shuttle from Cuenca on Wednesday morning).

Iglesia de
Santa Teresita in

Overhead (partial) view of lot
facing west
On Thursday morning, dirt trucks and machinery were scheduled to begin filling in the lot (it is a 500 square meter lot, which faces north). The lot needed to be raised by a meter (takes a bunch of dirt to fill an approximately 16 meter wide/29 meter long lot, and it needs to be the "right" dirt - "casajo").
I’m thrilled with the results!
It took only a day or so, and the project came in under budget.  Now I just need decent design/architectural plans that are more exciting than I’ve been presented with so far.  Calling all designers!!!!

Here is another view of the property.
Taken several years ago from

 our across-the-street neighbor's balcony
 (facing south).Our old house on the left - the lot is on the right.

A compressor was used to pack it down.
Nevertheless, bring on the rains for awhile!

Whew! I was exhausted (especially from the traveling).  I tucked into the tabloids (delivered to my Kindle every Friday), ocean sunsets, and “Top Chef” episodes for the remainder of the weekend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Come to the Edge

February 12, 2014

This poster hangs on the wall in our office, directly across from my computer, so that I frequently look at it every day.  It’s chock full of pithy and worthy sayings, but the one that always catches my eye is the quote that says “DO ONE THING A DAY THAT SCARES YOU”.
And I’ve really tried to take that phrase to heart in the last few months.  I think it’s a truism that applies to all of us – but in particular – I think it is especially apropos for those living as expats.

Moving to a strange land is not without its challenges. Living in a new country – any new country – which is not your homeland can be, at times, very isolating. Generally, the language is new to most, the customs and culture of your new “país” can take years to learn. Often, the simplest tasks, such as grocery shopping, paying the bills, catching a bus, etc., can be intimidating for quite some time after the re-location.  For those considering the move to Ecuador, it is a wonderful country(!), but be sure and pack “tenacity”, “resilience” and “perseverance” when you make the leap.
And weight your luggage with a broad sense of humor too.
On the other hand, it can be very rewarding when certain “obstacles” are overcome.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my expat friend Michele.  Michele started, (and does a wonderful job moderating) a monthly book club that has been meeting for about six months now. All of us that participate in those get-togethers have enjoyed them very much.
Michele made a comment along the lines of “boy, it sure can be daunting to feel like such an idiot at times” doing very simple and ordinary tasks. We were laughing because we consider ourselves generally intelligent and articulate in English, and feel reduced – on a regular basis – of having the vocabulary and succinctness of jello-shots while going about our daily activities here.

For me, by far and away the most difficult aspect as an expat is being so far away from my kids, family and friends, and I sometimes still second-guess the decision to move so far away from them. Then again, we’re already scattered all over the world, and somewhat accustomed to the distance.
So it’s been fun to hook up with an old high school friend of mine recently (Susan Illig). I don’t think either of us recall being really close friends during our school years, but we have struck up a wonderful friendship during the last few months.
She said this to me recently:
“Life is full of surprises and communicating with you has been one of the better ones. Sometimes we get what we need in unexpected ways. I'm grateful too - and enjoying it as well. We both have "unconventional" lives. I think we're risk takers. I wouldn't be different (not sure I could be), but the cost is occasionally high. The rewards are too. It's hard to find people who get that. That can sound a bit snotty - but it truly isn't what I mean. I'm not making a judgment about what other people choose for their lives - only an observation that living more at the edge brings different challenges."

Apt words for me at an apt moment.

Construction has begun on the lot. Retaining walls are in place in preparation for a fill, and now shopping for dirt guys.  We are grateful for our friend Scott Creasy, who is helping with this project.  He has building experience, speaks great español, especially regarding construction conversations and nuanced negotiations.
(And yes - that is one of our wild beach horses grazing on the lot in the top right background of this pic).

Frankly, I don’t think a day will go by that I don’t remind myself to “DO ONE THING A DAY THAT SCARES YOU” during this project.

“A teacher says to his student, “Come to the edge.”
The student says, “No, I will fall.”
The teacher says, “Come to the edge.”
The student nears the edge and the teacher pushes him…
…And he flew…”

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Angels Sing on High

December 24, 2013

(For whatever reason I am no longer able to upload videos onto this page, so please check out the YouTube links to see videos of the events  - in particular, the special videos of the Olón Orphanage 2013 Christmas Party)

The winter solstice was a couple of days ago.
It’s the shortest day of sunlight during the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s the longest day of sunlight in South America, and means diddly-squat in Ecuador, because we have twelve hours each of day and night, with little variation year-round.
Our weather is heating up, and Christmas has a way of sneaking up on some of us.

Since Thanksgiving, many houses are brightly lit, and a lot of locals display their trees outside too.  The lights are blinking from our house as well, and our fake Christmas tree is up…which was easy, since we have nowhere else to store it, the tree is a permanent fixture in our living room.
We’ve been listening to lots of Christmas music to get in the holiday spirit. The other night, Todd and I were fixing “breakfast for dinner” and listening to Bing Crosby, and couldn’t help but think that it was “beginning to smell a lot like bacon” in our case.

The holiday season in Olón is marked with raucous town parties, parades, and nativity pageants – punctuated with frequent and loud fireworks (which terrify Daisy, and she has spent most of it cowering at home, in the far reaches of our office).
Below, I have posted pictures and videos of some of the recent festivities here in Olón.

Parades are a big deal here, especially this annual one:
Please see this link for a video of it


One of my favorite pictures I took that day

As are Nativity scenes and pageants:
The "reason for the season" is celebrated here in Ecuador.

The scene is set for the Nativity Pageant later in the evening.


 Other town events that mark this season:

Baptisms on the beach

New soda pop machines being delivered to the
beach cabanas (in readiness for our "high" season)

The aluminum turkey pan needed some
"flexibility" (squishing) to fit in here

It is Christmas Eve, which is traditionally the day that Ecuadorians  close up shop early, and celebrate together as families.  It is a festive day, but on the somber side.
Todd and I are fixing our turkey dinner for tonight, so we can eat left overs and do movie marathons tomorrow.
One of the challenges of fixing holiday meals in Ecuador is that many of our traditional ingredients aren’t available, so improvisations are required in the kitchen (not to mention that whole turkeys cost as much as a used car).  Over the course of three and half years of living here, we have both become more adept regarding substitutions, but Todd definitely reigns as the chef in our household.

My lack of interest in cooking - along with my poor sense of smell – renders me a mediocre cook (though as a Kansas City gal, I do come with a pretty decent repertoire of casseroles).

Given that insight, it strikes both Todd and me – as hilarious - that I am a HUGE, HUGE fan of “Top Chef”.
I never miss an episode, read many of the “Top Chef” blogs, and talk French while warming up canned lentils on our itsy-bitsy propane stove.
I can define a “mise en place”, “amuse-bouche”, but still trying to figure out what the hell might be a “chawanmushi”.
I’m thinking our kitchen might make a fun place for a Quickfire Challenge, given the teesny, weensy, baby stove/oven, and equipment and ingredients available. 
Because I think most expats who have lived here long enough can take on those "Top Chef" guys any day, in this situation.
Gauntlet thrown.

"Santa" (Woot) and
"Mamita" Isabel the.
director of the orphanage in Olón

But most special today (Christmas Eve) was the annual Christmas party at the Olón Orphanage. Many expats and locals contribute to make this a special day for the kids (providing a holiday meal and gifts that these children don’t normally have).
Traditionally, these special children put on a Christmas program to celebrate the day. Not to be missed, and never a dry eye in the house afterwards.
I will let the photos and videos links from that presentation say the rest`


Angel from the Lord speaks to Mary
"Do not be afraid"
“For Nothing is impossible with God”
The angel went to her and said,
 “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”


Please click on this YouTube link below. Not a dry eye in the house afterwards.

  Joseph and Mary seeking shelter for the birth of their child.

Mary & Joseph
seeking shelter


A child is born

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
 keeping watch over their flocks at night.
 An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
 and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
 and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people".


The shepherds said to one another,
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing
 that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”
 Click here to see the shepherds pay their respects:

And the angels sang on high