Sunday, January 25, 2015

Poco A Poco

January 24, 2015

The holidays have come and gone. For the last eight years, I have rung in Christmas and New Year (with the exception of 2009) on the Olón beach, and I have NEVER seen so many people in our town for the holidays. Our little pueblo was packed with people – as was Montanita, of course. Perhaps it was because both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fell on Wednesday this year (and many people had the following Thursdays and Fridays off work).

The normal 5 minute drive between Olón and Montanita was taking some folks as long as an hour to make with all the additional traffic. I honestly don’t know where all these visitors stay, even with all the new hotels that have spawned in the area since my first New Year here.

Still, it is a festive time with music, fireworks, parties, parades, and the kids dressed up as widows/orphans looking for candy or small change hand-outs (a custom somewhat similar to our Halloween).
I’m not really looking forward to 2015 Carnavale (February 14-17) which typically brings in even larger crowds, and plan on stocking up on groceries and other necessities beforehand, and hiding during those festivities.

Where Daisy spent most of her time
during the holidays when she was with me.
I think she was pretty mad and 
when I was taking
these pics.
"Mom, stop it!"

It’s safe to say that Daisy will be hiding too. It is definitely not her favorite time of year; she is terrified of the fireworks, and cowers in the shower when those start popping off.
She seems to have made the adjustment that mommy and daddy live in two different homes...this is sorta hard to explain to a dog…but it’s been a year since Todd and I separated, and I think she has adapted to the situation by now. 

She moves easily between his house and mine (depending on her whim) and also cruises over to hang at her other favorite haunts (Doug and Pam’s, Ojás, the Olón beach) in the meantime.

For those of you who know Daisy, she is the same great dog we’ve all come to love.

About a week before Christmas, Dee Heinz kindly offered her spacious kitchen for a combination bake-off and cookie-exchange. Some folks brought platters of baked cookies, and at least 40 trays of cookies (this is low-balling) were mixed, baked, and iced during the day.  Most of the cookies were packed up and destined for the annual Olón Orphanage Feliz Navidad celebration on Christmas Eve day.

Packing up cookies for
Olon Orphanage.

And the Olón Orphanage Navidad event was heart-warming as usual.
So many people devote time, money, and love to these kids, I can’t name them all here.
But a special nod to Deb Anderson and Susan McCumber for handling much of the hard work and nitty-gritty details.

Kids with their new backpacks,
stuffed with goodies, and each recieved
a lovely, hand-stitched quilt from
some angels in Minnesota.
Photo Courtesy of 

Elizabeth La Fortune.

During the first week in January, I rode into Santa Elena (the “capital” of our province) with Dan and Annette to pay the annual taxes on my lot in Jardines de Olón; they needed to pay their property taxes as well. Apparently everyone else had the same idea on the same day, because the line(s) extended around the block, and we ran into virtually everyone we know (locals and expats) who were there on the same mission. It took a while, but fun chatting with everyone, and taxes paid for another year.

Since about mid-January till mid-February there is currently a moratorium/ban on fishing/storing/serving/buying/eating crabs.
There is also the same ban on lobster until mid-June, to allow time for this natural resource to regenerate, and so proud of the Olón beach cabana restaurants (all of them) displaying signs reminding customers of the importance of responsible sustainability regarding our ocean’s pantry.

For the last three years, I have lived in an adorable Ecuadorian rental home, in an Olón neighborhood I love. My neighbors are great, we’ve developed endearing camaraderie, we keep our front doors open during the day to catch the breeze, and mostly only español is spoken.
So, honestly, I thought after nearly 5 years, my Spanish would be more fluent. One of my español TV channels (Ecuador’s version of the “E” show) often airs a 10-minute clip of Ben Affleck and his costar promoting their new movie “Gone Girl” – conducted entirely in Spanish.
You can imagine my humility and surprise when I realized that:
“Geez(!)…Ben (from Boston!) speaks and comprehends the language better than I do???".
Who woulda thunk? Probably time I got more serious about study time.

It’s a little hard to concentrate at the moment. My landlords (who are lovely and gracious people) are finishing off the house with an addition of a carport, so there’s been much activity/hammering/sawing/dirt piles outside my front door for the last couple of weeks.

I don’t mind. They’re all friends that are working on this project, we have a lot of laughs together, and they are in and out of my apartment – to get a drink of water, turn off the fuse-box in my living room, and one day they needed to drill a new hole through cinder-block wall to move my internet cable (that made me a little nervous, but those guys did a great job).

Every - I mean EVERY - animal in
this neighborhood (chickens/dogs/cats)
LOVES this dirt pile.
I think they take turns claiming
"King of the Mountain"

This is also the time of year when we have stunning sunsets off our beach.  I think most everyone here heads to the beaches and balconies to watch the evening show.

I am headed to the States shortly. I’m so very excited to see my kids there (Elizabeth and my oldest granddaughter, Avery) and other family and friends.

And one of the other things I miss most about North America is the Mexicans…Especially their food, and plan on chowing down on some of that cuisine!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Ball en Baños

December 21, 2014

"The Swing"
Tungurahua obscured by clouds

Last week I had the chance to go to Baños, Ecuador with expat friends Dan and Annette, Annette’s mom, Pat (who is visiting from Canada) and Bob and Novena.  What a great time we had!
We booked our rooms at the Hostel Erupción for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

Bob and Novena took a Thursday night 10PM or so red-eye bus out of the Santa Elena bus station to Baños (though it is billed as “direct”, there is a bus change in Ambato).  It costs $11, executive style bus, and arrived in Baños around 7AM Friday morning.

(One sour note – During the trip, Novena heard “scuttling around” noises coming from the luggage bin underneath the bus.  When they got to Baños, she discovered her camera and some cash missing from her suitcase stored there.  They filed a complaint with the bus line, but not expecting much response from them, since it likely was an “inside” job if it was stolen by someone with access to the luggage compartment…Hard lesson learned…
Listen, folks – when traveling on buses here, always, always, always keep your valuables (laptops, cameras, important papers and identification, cash) with you.  Do not put it under your seat (someone behind can slash bag open and steal).  Put it where you can see it at all times, preferably right in front of you, or even better – use that carry-on as a pillow).

Dan, Annette, Pat and I drove there in their truck, leaving on a Thursday morning.  Our plan was to drive north through Jipijapa (pronounced “hippy-hoppa”) to Santo Domíngo de los Colorados to spend Thursday afternoon/evening to explore that area on our way there.
However, when we got to Jipijapa, we actually believed the route our not-so-bright GPS lady was telling us (despite some sorta gut feelings, and the vague and outdated maps we had with us that she was sending us in the wrong direction) – which she did...  
We ended up heading back south, towards Guayaquil, and by the time we confirmed this mistake (on the outskirts of Guayaquil) we had no choice but to push back north from there, through Babahoyo, San Miguel and ended up in Guaranda just as it was getting dark and checked into a budget hotel there.
For the most part, we enjoyed the detour, since we got to see a lot of central Ecuador (much of it agricultural and/or grazing land) - truly the “breadbasket” of this country, especially around the San Miguel area.

The town square of Guaranda was
brilliantly blazing with holiday lights, and
reminded me of KC "Plaza Lights"

Town square of Guaranda in daylight.

On Friday morning, not too far out of Guaranda, we had a choice to take the main highway towards Ambato or take the old road (apparently, all roads to Baños/Tungurahua lead through Ambato).
The four of us opted for the back road, though we knew it would take more time.  We tremendously enjoyed that drive through a number of indigenous villages along the way, and got into Baños by early afternoon.

This view of  Chimborazo seen along
the "old" route we chose..

One view from the 4th level balcony
from Hotel Eruption.
A few tables and chairs added to that
terrace would be a good addition.  

We stayed at the budget Hostel Erupción, located adjacent to the main plaza in town, and met up with Bob and Novena there.
After some confusion about our on-line room reservations when we checked in (and took a couple of hours to resolve - which we pleasantly spent in the hostel’s restaurant/bar while waiting), we got settled into our rooms.  It’s an agreeable enough hotel; the restaurant there has nice ambience, a diverse menu – I thought the “Locro de Papa” (an Ecuadorian potato and cheese soup) was particularly tasty – and the staff at Hostel Erupción was super, super helpful and friendly.   For the money, it was a decent place to stay, although in-room wifi was virtually non-existent in Dan & Annette’s room – at the end of a hallway furthest from the router, so try and get a room near the staircase. I was in one of those rooms, and had no problem getting on-line while I was there.

Cuy served here.
Why am I reminded of the old
"Hamster Dance" tune?

On Saturday, we split up; some for massages, some for exploring the town, all of us hitting at least one of the in-town thermal springs, though none of us made it to presumably the best hot spring there – the “Termas El Salado” at the base of Volcan Tungurahua, said to be especially spectacular at night, when it is lit up. There wasn’t time to squeeze this one in.

We had Saturday night dinner at a French restaurant that generally gets good reviews. We found the meal and service lackluster, but maybe we just hit it on an “off” night, or ordered the less than stellar menu options.  After that, we spent time exploring more of Baños at night (festively decorated for the holidays) and ended up on one street that had a wide choice of bars. We parked ourselves in one of those for a while.   

"Hamster Dance" - thanks/courtesy to you guys who came up with it...Has always made my day.

Something about Baños at night seemed reminiscent of New Orleans in a way – a “quaint” Bourbon street vibe, I thought.

Photo  - Courtesy of Novena

On Sunday morning, we all went on a 4-hr double-decker bus tour that featured the area cascadas (waterfalls) and a pass by of Tungurahua Volcano. Tungurahua is somewhat currently active now, but not enough to be afraid of visiting this town, and there are several hills and valleys that protect Baños from lava flows.
That double-decker tour bus left at 10:30 in the morning, and I’m pretty sure you can buy tickets for this tour from any number of tour agencies in town. 

We bought our tickets from one of them – the day before - cost of $6 each, and make a beeline for stairway to top of bus as soon as you get on. May or may not be crowded on top.
We had a wonderful time!
This tour offers several opportunities/stops along the way to take cable cars/zip lines across a few canyons as well.
This tour also basically turns around after passing the volcano, towards some of the best waterfalls in other direction, and heads down the "old road" to Rio Blanco, the "gateway" to the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador. 
Along this route is also the best and longest zip line in Ecuador. 
On bucket list for next trip here.

Volcan Tungurahua

Me. On one of the ziplines along the way
Photo Courtesy of
Canopy Baños San Martin photographers. 

One of the tunnels we went through towards
the best known waterfalls.

The original old road/gateway between Baños and
the  Amazon rain forest in Ecuador.
Once considered the most perilous road in Ecuador,
has since been improved (in the last 7 years or so)
 with pavement and guard-rails.

Standing underneath the
"Puertos del Cielo"
(Doors of Heaven)

Especially enjoyed the Pailón Del Diablo..
The "Devil's Caldron" Waterfall
most definitely a highlight.
i was delighted that my camera was

able to catch this rainbow.

"Do one thing a day that scares you"

After we got back, we went in different directions for the rest of the afternoon.
I made a bee-line to the "Tree Swing at the End of the World"(ask driver to take you to "La Casa del Arbol" -- $20 taxi ride from town, with driver waiting till this accomplished).
I have seen so many photos of it and thought “oh, HELL NO!” ...but, of course, I couldn't resist giving it a shot once I got there.
And so glad I did it!
It was a blast (!) and not as scary as it looks from most pictures.

We reconnoitered at Hostel Erupción around cocktail time on late Sunday afternoon, and we had a wonderful meal at the steak house “Bambu" before Bob/Novena and I caught the 10PM bus from Baños back to Santa Elena.  (Dan/Annette/Pat were driving to Cuenca for a few days after Baños).
That bus ride was not very comfortable (said by me, who instantly falls asleep on virtually any moving vehicle… the KC Chiefs could hold football practice in my bedroom at night, and I wouldn’t rouse).

But this bus ride back was a little rough (damn driver kept arbitrarily changing the temperature from hot to cold in the cabin at most sadistic times, made a number of stops so he could pee, get a drink, etc. and I didn’t get a wink of sleep).  It took me until the following Tuesday to get caught up on my rest.
Honestly, I was less jet-lagged coming back from Germany a few months ago.

That being said – I would do Baños again in a heartbeat, and can’t wait to return there!

A delightful scene I came across:
These jugglers
on my way back to taxi after
"The Swing"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clacker Balls

December 10, 2014

Courtesy of internet.
Photo-taking is discouraged at
this museo

I can’t believe I’ve lived here this long, and only recently heard about the Museo los “Amantes de Sumpa” (the “Lovers of Sumpa”) in nearby Santa Elena.
A new friend, Nelson Sears and I went to visit it a few weeks ago. (Nelson was in Olón for around a month, staying in the guest house of my friends, Annette and Dan.  Nelson is a Vermonter, has traveled Ecuador extensively, and is here again for a few months to see more).

It’s an easy half-day trip to do from Olón.  Nelson and I caught a morning Ruta del Sol southbound chicken bus to the Santa Elena bus terminal (either blue “CITUP” or the green “Manglaralto” buses go there - $1.50/pp).  The taxi ride to the museum from the bus station took less than 5 minutes and cost us a little over a buck.
The museum is free and very well done. The museum focuses on artifacts and remains that date back to 7000 BC, and were excavated from a southern Ecuadorian coastal archaeological site named Las Vegas/Las Vegas civilization.  The highlight is a man and woman from that era buried together entwined in an eternal embrace.
Well worth the trip.

Another day, we took a chicken bus north to walk a stretch of beach that’s known to have interesting shell-finds and artifacts that wash in from some ancient pueblos that are now under sea.  I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, ever since a local friend (who knows more about treasure hunting than I do) mentioned that beachcombing in this area sometimes yields some amazing finds, especially during low tide after a “churned-up” high tide.
In particular, we were looking for small, flat, colorful, round & smoothed disks with man-made holes in the center, made out of Spondylus shells (which come in a variety of colors – I think red/orange most common) .
In more ancient times along this coast, these were used as currency, and my treasure-hunting friend has an impressive necklace he wears of the ones he has found.

We met this local who did hit
the jackpot for octupus food.

We didn’t find any, but we had a delightful time and we still found some pretty neat stuff.
We had the bus drop us off in La Rinconada, and walked the beach south from there to Las Nuñez.
Ummm… the beach part around Rinconada is a little treacherous during low tide because of the exposed, mossy boulders that can be slippery.  I think when I do this again, I will go only a little further north of La Entrada and walk the beach south from there.   That is where we found our best finds.

My brother Jack came for a two-week visit this month. He arrived in Ecuador on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and we rendezvoused in Cuenca during his first week.  We enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving at Doug and Pam’s house in Cuenca with amusing friends, and spent the last week on the coast.
It is always so fun to hang with him (I’m not a proud big sister or anything).

While I was in Cuenca, I also attended the Celebration of Life for Steve Beckman at the Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes.  It was a lovely, intimate, and joyful service, concluding in “globos del fuego” balloons launched.  Steve shined with warmth, genuine kindness, and friendly curiosity every time I was around him.  
His wife, Mary (South of Zero) says it more succinctly:
“On November 3rd he suffered a burst aneurism and passed away two days later. He was the happiest he’s ever been in his life and told me how grateful he was that we moved to Cuenca. He wanted to live in Ecuador for the rest of his life”.
And he did.

Here are how these globos are sent off.
From ground level in Cuenca.

The whole town of Olón is gearing up now for our annual town party.  It is a combination of Olón’s birthday and a saint holiday, which generally starts around December 10, lasts loud and 4-days long.
A LOT OF FUN (see "I Love Lucia" link).
It is also the time when the Ecuadorians love to display outdoor Christmas lights and/or interior lit-up trees that can be seen from the outside.  I think there might be a little competition going on in my local barrio, and grateful that the 8-function outside lights I hung last year (which I never took down) still work this year.
The school drummers and tinkle-triangles have been diligently practicing for the last month or so, and as an added noise bonus, this year …some vendor/politician must have come through town a couple of weeks ago, because I SWEAR EVERY – EVERY kid around the block between here and Montanita now has those annoying “clacker balls” and practicing with them.
Said with a smile.

The weather is absolutely glorious now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roller Coaster Moments

November 12, 2014

I’m having technical difficulties receiving comments to this blog. I am working on getting that fixed; in the meantime, thanks for your patience.
I did, however, recently receive this letter from a reader and I wanted to share it here (with her gracious permission – thank you, Lorrie) and my response.
Accompanying this post are some bird pictures I’ve taken over the years.

Hi Leigh,
I am someone who is working towards moving to Ecuador.
I am from Michigan, temporarily in Florida until my house sells, then on to Ecuador. I go from being depressed that things are taking so long to being a bit freaked that I am really going to do this and it's a gigantic mistake.
Reading your blog was a comfort to me since my biggest worry is that I will be alone and isolated. You seem to run into friends everywhere and are living a pretty social life (put that on your list of things to appreciate). I was wondering how you have come to know so many expats in Ecuador?
I am working hard at learning Spanish but it is slow going and not fun yet. I am determined to become fluent but don't expect it to happen overnight.
Do you have any advice about coming to Ecuador? Not sure where I want to live yet.
Thinking I would take a few months and stay in different areas. Where would you recommend?
Thanks so much for writing your blog. I enjoyed reading it. Keep writing!

Hi Lorrie,
I want you to know that your letter came at a timely moment, and touched me to the core.
Thank you for your kind words about the blog, for reminding again to be ever grateful through all circumstances, and for your encouragement regarding my writing.   Sometimes I think I am just writing into thin air (especially since I haven’t yet figured out the blog-site’s technical glitch that is preventing and/or complicating comments made to my more recent posts).

I appreciate your letter for your transparency and honesty that it took to write it.
First of all, the things you are feeling as you get ready to make this leap ARE NORMAL.  If you weren’t “a bit freaked” out at this point, you would be an exception.  I safely venture to say that anyone who has made this move has gone through that phase.
It is one of the scarier and harder emotional roller-coaster moments during your journey towards a new life as an expat.  I think for most people, it gets easier once you’re here – especially for those who keep an open-mind, and who packed mental flexibility and a sense of humor.  Don’t worry about the “patience” part…trust me, that muscle will get exercised here.
Just breath deep, let go, and jump.
You don’t yet know your Ecuadorian destination. Take your time; explore the areas that interest you.  You will know it when you find it…or you may decide Ecuador is not your cup of tea.  That’s okay too. I cannot stress enough that this is not a little United States, and every day will bring new adaptations and adjustments that need tweaking.

It has been my observation that wherever you land in Ecuador, you will not likely feel isolated. The Ecuadorian people are warm and generous – though I strongly encourage any and all efforts to learn the language, however lame you may feel at it for quite a while.
Speaking for myself, the friendly and easygoing coastal Ecuadorian locals in my little town were high on the list of reasons for moving to Olón.  When we moved here (permanently) four and a half years ago, there were very few full-time expats living in our area.

That has changed considerably since then, and just about anywhere you go in Ecuador now, there is likely to be a thriving expat community, to interact with as you choose.
How do I know so many expats?
Well, I bought property here over seven years ago, so I’ve been on the various forums for some time. That was about the same time Facebook took off also, so many of the people I now know personally are people I “met” initially on FB.
That, and Ecuador is just a dang small country.  Everyone seems to know everyone in Ecuador (gringos and locals, alike).  Before you know it, you will be bumping into familiar friends all the time.
I look forward to getting to know you better!
Please keep me updated on your progress, and wishing you the best.


Friday, October 31, 2014

You Can Take the Girl Outta Kansas...

October 31, 2014

But there is at least one cheerful Kansas City gal in Ecuador right now.
What a great World Series!
And (ahem…arggg) a big congrats to the Giants.  Well played!
Yes, we lost. But I am so proud of my hometown!
As I mentioned the other night on FB, there is a caveat:
“I’ve never been a big sports fan and generally would prefer scraping off wallpaper than watch baseball on TV” …but…

The good news is that I’ve been able to watch the games. The bad news is that my announcers are speaking in español.
Like I would understand baseball in any language?
Yet, I’ve been glued to the screen during the games. After 29 years, the Royals make it to the World Series. Who wouldn’t be?
I know the basics of baseball, but my ignorance is thus that early in the Series, I had to Wiki “the top and bottom of innings” because I always forget which one means the “start” and the “finish” of one of them.
And I’ve finally figured out the plastic earpiece/earmuff placement over players’ ears.

By the sixth game on Monday night, I was on pins and needles.  Third inning, I think.  Royals have the bases loaded, and I’m watching the next batter step up to the plate…YES!  YES!  YES!
And then… My new TV dish satellite reception GOES OUT.
I got on Facebook right away to beg for updates or a quick-fix stream link on my computer to watch it live.  I want to thank all those who had their laptops nearby and responded to my S.O.S.
In particular, Emily and Scott Bloomquist (they have a great blog at “Time for phase three”) for giving me this MLB link until my satellite reception came back on.  Emily and Scott are good friends of mine, live in Puerto Lopez, and are Giants fans.  We had a good-natured bet on this game, involving the loser traveling to the other’s town to buy the winners a meal.

My, my…  Watching those little robots on the MLB site gave me an education.  I was desperate.
First time I’ve ever become acquainted with the terms “on the deck” and “in the hole”.

And during the last game, my brother and I had a back and forth email conversation that went something like this (see below - heavily edited for curse words).
For the record, I am currently on the same time zone as Kansas City, and my brother lives in California.

All the games started at 7PM here.

I’m a little confused (remember, I’m watching this en español – as if I would understand the game better if it was in ingles).
But the Royal's batter who got hit by the ball – what happened…..did they walk him?  Did they substitute another runner or batter?   And what is his name?
This is getting to be a really fun game now!

He is the catcher and he has played the entire season (meaning his back-up has not played at all).  He chose to play through the pain, because in baseball, once you are subbed out of a game, you are out the rest of the game.  So yes, he walked to first, and while most other teams would have then substituted him for the back-up, I guess the Royals feel he is too crucial to leave the game.

His name?

It is either Salvador Perez or George Clooney.  I get them totally mixed up.....

Ha ha. Very funny.
Now it’s the bottom of the fourth and I have a question.
Are those Giant pitchers (now on the second one) trying to castrate our players with those throws?
Is that legal in baseball?
Another Royal's batter just got hit with the ball.

It is not illegal, because it is hard to determine if the pitcher did it intentionally.  That said, an umpire does have the discretion to toss a pitcher out of the game if he thinks it was done intentionally.

I would have called that last pitch a “ball” – rather than a strike.  It seemed too low to me to be in strike zone (which clearly I don’t have a perception of yet).

It is tricky, because the camera is placed to the right side of the pitcher (as you are looking at the batter).  So it is always a distorted view.
What pisses me off is that they do have the technology to truly determine strikes and balls, but they refuse to incorporate it in the name of tradition.  It IS either a strike or a ball.  Why not make it completely fair, instead of letting a bunch of old white guys try to make the call?
The Royals hitter was clearly thrown a ball (the graphic after the pitch clearly showed it to be low and on the outside, by at least six inches.  But the umpire called it a strike.
I do not understand why MLB owners refuse to make the game more up to date.

What are those paper maché Pandas about?

I have no f’n idea...

Anyway, I want to say congratulations to the Giants!  You earned it.  But we’ll be back.
And Emily and Scott, looking forward to seeing you guys in Puerto Lopez soon.