Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beer on the Beach

March 20, 2015



Olón is normally a mellow town; the locals are affable and relaxed.
The atmosphere is generally tranquillo, even with the influx of tourists that visit our beach on weekends and holidays during high season (now).
About the most raucous events that happen in our town are occasional pueblo parties in the park.
But last week an incident happened that caused quite a commotion around here.


A group of Colombian sports fans were in Guayaquil for a futbol event, and decided to come to the coast for a day or so before the game.  According to later newspaper articles, around 600 young men arrived in Montanita in 18 buses.
Evidently, some of them caused enough problems there (aggressive begging, large groups of Colombian diners stiffing the restaurant owners, some fighting reported) which led them to be chased out of there.
As a result, around 350 of these turistas ended up busing over to Olón later that night.
As soon as they arrived here in Olón, word went out over the town speakers “to be careful – extra vigilant – many  strangers/extraños are in town tonight.”
The locals were on guard.


While here, a number of them camped on the beach (not encouraged – in fact, I’m not sure it is even permitted, though I occasionally see tents on the sand) and they essentially overwhelmed the town. 
Unfortunately, there was a contingent of troublemakers amongst them who were causing fights, trashing the beach, harassing people for money, and there were reports of thievery and damage to some of our cabaña restaurants.
My friend, Mary Beckman (South of Zero) was visiting from Cuenca, and we wandered out the next afternoon to check out the situation.
Just as we got to the park, we witnessed the town folk of Olón (en mass) and police escorting the Colombians back onto their buses, and out of town.

It was quite an event to watch our locals walk these unwelcome visitors out of town, done forcefully, but calmly. 
I didn’t witness any fighting during this occurrence.  In fact, the Colombians seemed pretty placid as they were herded back onto their waiting buses.


I am so proud of mis vecinos y amigos aquí.
Viva Olón!
This isn’t a disparagement of Colombians.  Many wonderful Colombians live here, and visit our area. 
No doubt, that many testosterone-driven young men gathered in one place (and they could be from anywhere) can be a recipe for problems.

Meanwhile, in other news from around here…
A previously approved ordinance of the City Council of Santa Elena province that prohibits “the sale, promotion and consumption of alcohol on the beaches, plazas, cars, roads and other public areas of jurisdiction for recreation and tourism” was put into effect this week.
This includes most of towns along the Ruta del Sol (Spondylus), including Olón and Montanita.  Salinas is – for some reason – exempt.
The wording of the Spanish language news article is somewhat ambiguous and confusing, so many of us are curious to see how this will be implemented and enforced.


It’s a stretch of the imagination to think that beer on the beach would be prohibited around our neck of the coast.
I think that more than likely the muscle of the law is meant to prevent unlicensed vendors from selling alcohol, and may also be aimed at visitors who bring their own packed ice chests, and don’t contribute to the local economy by purchasing beverages and food from our licensed merchants.
For the record, as I write this today, the Olón cabañas are selling beer, the beach cocktail stands are open, and I observed folks strolling down Montanita's main street while hoisting Pilseners.  


Sunset on the Olón playa tonight
(Spring Equinox)
A group of dolphins were playing and jumping
just beyond the break, but my camera
wasn't quick enough to capture a photo of them.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bright Life Journey

March 4, 2015


Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez
I recently flew back to the States (first time in almost 5 years that I've been there) via Aeroméxico, on a $436 RT ticket from Quito to LAX. That is the cheapest ticket I've EVER seen between here and States, so of course, I jumped on it.
From Olón, I took a 3-hr CLP Executive bus to Guayaquil, caught a late afternoon hour-flight to Quito, and spent the night there to catch my early morning lift-off back to Southern California.

I stayed at Domenick Buonamici’s Quito AirportSuites, (in Tabela), which is less than 10 minutes away from the new airport. I paid a little extra to have one of the hotel drivers waiting for me.
It was a great place to stay (modern, comfortable, wonderful shower in my room), and I enjoyed a delightful evening chatting with other guests traveling through on their way to various destinations.

My Aeroméxico ticket required a 7-hr daytime layover in Mexico terminal on the way to Los Angeles.
Frankly, I was looking forward to that time, since one of my ulterior missions was to eat as much Mexican food as I could possibly shovel into my mouth during the trip. Even if it was pricey airport food while in Mexico.  You can pay in cash dollars at these restaurants and stores, but your change comes back in pesos, and good luck.
I broke a $20 at a couple of places, and the varying peso conversion rate when the change came back had me scratching my head a few times. But I did have some tasty tacos while there (which as near as I can determine, cost me a few pair of shoes with CFM heels).
The other thing about transferring on international flights through Mexico is that one must go to baggage claim first, and then through customs and then re-check your baggage to your ultimate destination (which was conveniently located on the other side of customs on my daytime trip through there, but was up another level/little bit of a hike when I transferred in middle of the night on my way back to Ecuador).
All and all, my passes through Mexico City airport were pleasant…Actually, I spent more time in airports than I did in the air, on this trip.


Super Bowl Sunday at Jack's.
At least this year, I got to see the commercials,
including the one for Ecuador
I stayed at my brother Jack’s home in Laguna Beach for the two weeks I was there, and the time went by much too quickly!
I needed that trip. I miss my family, which is so spread out (one daughter in California, another in England, one in Germany - with assorted grandchildren in all those places) and it was wonderful getting together with old friends.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t get more and better pictures while I was there. For some reason, not many of my pictures turned out that well, due to either poor lighting or bad angles or I forgot my camera.






With my friend, Jean
Fun night!

The other priority was to clean up and condense my storage area and move my stuff to a smaller unit.
This was more grueling than I anticipated, and ate up most of my time the first week I was back.  I spent the better part of that week in a blur of sorting through boxes, some of which were easy to toss (“why in the hell did I save that?”) to some stuff that brought tears to my eyes as I either gave it away or pitched it.
But really, am I ever going to use all that camping gear again?  At least that went to my daughter Elizabeth and 14-yr old granddaughter Avery, who I hope will be able to enjoy it as much as I did.


The highlight of my trip was a mini-vacation that Lizbee, Avery, and Phoebe (a friend of Avery’s) took to Palm Springs the second week I was there.  We had a ball, and it was fun being around my old Palm Springs stomping ground again.
The weather was glorious and we stayed at the marvelous, retro Hotel Monroe, which has a great pool area, offers $3 vouchers for breakfast across the street at Rick’s,  and spacious rooms - a great little oasis in the desert.


Not one of my pictures of the three of us
turned out well, this time.
My favorite of us,
taken about 8 years ago
 at the Palm Springs street fair.
The last time I was with Avery, she was just nine years old, and now she’s grown into a beautiful and talented young lady with a bright life journey ahead of her.  And with more than a small pang of guilt, my heart ached, because I’ve missed so much of it by living far away.
And Lizbee, I love you.  Our lives became intertwined when you were 14 years old, and in all this time, I’m sure you have taught me more than I will ever teach you. What a wise, caring, loving woman you are! I miss and treasure all those comfy times we spent on that big brown couch.





My lovely granddaughter, Avery.
All grown up now.
Photo courtesy of Lizbee

The two weeks flew by.
I left Los Angeles at 6PM for my return flight back to Ecuador, arriving in Quito at 6:30 the next morning. Because of poor planning on my part, my flight from there to Guayaquil didn’t leave until 3PM. I tried to switch to an earlier departure – to no avail – so ended up spending a very boring and expensive day lurking around the Quito airport ($3 for a small bottle of water, $6 coffees, $15 for a Philly Cheese sandwich, one $13 minibar size bottle of wine – OH PLEEZE!).
Arrggg…  I’d rather pluck my eyebrows with a machete than repeat that long afternoon.


I’m especially grateful for having this chance to go back to see family and friends again. Hands down, being so far from family and friends is the most difficult aspect of living in a new country.
And I was curious to see what it “felt” like to be in the States again.
It was odd in a way. There were times when it seemed as if I’d never left, and other moments when I felt like a fish out of water.


My favorite Mexican food place in
San Juan Capistrano.
I pigged out here a lot.
I haven’t driven in almost five years, yet I discovered that driving the California freeways comes back like riding a bike. I became blasé about my morning full-throttle hot shower. I just naturally assumed every road, every restaurant, every well-stocked grocery store would be clean and efficient.
Then there were the times when I found myself scraping dinner remnants into the trash, because I forgot that sinks come with disposals. More than once, I found myself throwing my used potty-paper into a wastebasket, because…well…that’s just how we do it in Ecuador. My jaw dropped at the prices every time I went through a grocery store check-out, and my anxiety level rose from the faster pace of life.
I experienced something that’s difficult to put into words: I felt out-of-the-loop, detached and puzzled by certain USA news events, and in a few situations. 
In short, I underwent a weird “disconnect” that I still can’t quite explain.

I admit, I have occasionally toyed with the idea of moving back to the States – and still may, eventually. There is much I miss, especially family and friends.

Because it’s not exactly like living here is “paradise” either. 
Each day brings language difficulties and cultural challenges and frustrations. Each day also brings small triumphs.

But the longer I live in Ecuador, the more it HAS become home. Especially each time I have put my feet back on this country’s soil after leaving it.


I took this photo a few years ago
during a local surf tournament.


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 
embarrassed
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)
waterfall.



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.