Monday, May 30, 2016

The Last Goodbye

May 30, 2016

I’m in the States now.  I have been back almost 6 weeks.
Leaving Ecuador was not a spur-of-moment decision. I had been planning it for some time.  After six years there, I was ready to come home. 

Mostly, I missed my family, though my three daughters and I have been spread out among four different countries for years (one on California, one in England, and one in Germany – and I lived in Ecuador).  However, my daughter in England recently moved back to Southern California with her family, after 13 years there…now just hoping my daughter in Germany will eventually return too.
I have five grandchildren (with one on the way in the next few weeks, in Germany) and I want to be closer to them to enjoy their formative years.
But it was tough, tough, tough leaving behind the little town of Olón, and all the friends made during that time – they became like family to me.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about all of them, and miss them.

And to all the expats I have lifted lighters from:
Don't say I didn't pay you back.

(My contribution to one of the final potlucks)

The earthquake that happened just before I left was devastating and made it even harder to get on the plane to leave, knowing how really, really bad it was on the ground on the northern coast of Ecuador.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake happened on the evening of April 16, (four days before my scheduled departure) near the town of Muisne, about 3 hours north of Olón.

Taken just moments before the
earthquake hit.
Of course we felt it in Olón (my brother Jack had come down to help with the move, and he and some of our friends had just sat down to dinner at a restaurant next to the park) when the shaking started.  From our perspective, it started out somewhat slow, built to a large crescendo, and lasted longer than any earthquake I’ve experienced (25 years of living in California – Whittier, Northridge, Landers quakes to name a few). 
As the earthquake was peaking, we were able to run outside (keeping an eye on overhead power lines, and adjacent cement buildings under construction).  Others in Olón tell stories of not being able to stand up through it.  
Earthquakes are weird that way.
However, other than power outages, and some strong aftershocks, Olón escaped relatively unscathed.

Not the same can be said about areas near the epicenter.  Entire towns were decimated, the death toll is over 650 people, 12,000+ were injured, and hundreds of thousands of people are now homeless.
I personally know of at least three expat couples who live in the earthquake zone who lost their homes (a big shout out to Donald and Cheryl PaPania, Angie Wilkinson & family, Dave and Miriam Weaver – know that my heart and prayers are with you) and numerous locals who I still am not aware of their status.
My heart still bleeds for those affected by Ecuador coastal earthquake...yet what has been inspiring is to now watch how this little, beautiful, wonderful country and its people have pulled together to rebuild and regroup.
Please, if you are reading this, pray and support these efforts.  Ecuador is still a lovely, awesome, safe place to live and visit.

The other terribly rough part of moving back to States was leaving darling Daisy behind.
How much I miss her, dream of her, want to hug her again
But she never would have been able to make this transition back to the States.
She was about a nine-month old Olón beach stray when we adopted her, six years ago. 
She has run free all her life, rules her realm and everybody knows and loves her (locals, expats, and tourists).  She would have withered living in a more restrictive pet environment, and too old to make the adjustment.
Thus, I was extremely grateful for my friends Annette and Dan for agreeing to adopt her.  Though she’s a very independent and self-reliant dog, it is a BIG responsibility for them, since she is now older, and does require more regular medical attention.
My heart is forever grateful to Annette and Dan.
Daisy knows and loves them very much, and they love her…
And Annette, if you are reading this, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart about the way you handled the “last goodbye”.
You know what I am talking about.  You are a wise woman, and I miss you.

(Ummm…I was going to continue here about my “first hello” back into the States, but can’t quite figure out how to make that writing transition without making this post too long and perhaps disjointed, so following up shortly with another post).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cribbage in the Wind - Part 2

March 27, 2016

This week is “Semana Santa” and we’re entering into the end-zone of season finale during “high time” along the Ecuador beaches.
It’s been sort of a weird season this year; slower than usual. The potential “El Niño Phenomenon” that scared many otherwise out-of-country tourists has yet to have any considerable effect around the Olón area.
That is not to say its impact hasn’t been felt elsewhere in the world.
The Canadians’ currency situation diminished the usual number of visitors from there, and all the main-stream media stories about the “Zika” and other mosquito borne illnesses has frightened others.

However, many friends have been sick here recently with a virus (and in some cases, an underlying bacterial thing).  These folks have been horribly and miserably sick for about 10-days to two-weeks (high fever, headaches, aching, bronchial and sinus issues - and some report vomiting and diarrhea). 
It does not appear to be caused by mosquitoes…rather a flu going around the world, since we’re hearing from people in other countries that have it too.

The Olón beach packed with
Easter crowds.
Yet life goes on here in Olón.
Same wonderful town as always.
I love that the local people here live in the present.
They have taught me so much about being in the “now”.
The Olón beach is packed at the moment for Easter weekend with in-land Ecuadorian tourists.
Business is booming, and in Olón, our other big town party of the year is coming up next (first week or so in April).

One of the great things about living here is all the interesting people we get to meet -- from all over the world.
Olón has made many improvements to the town over the last year. 

Our new wide sidewalk along the Ruta.

New and improved soccer field
and sports complex

Bathrooms soon to be available in our
town park.

On the gringo front, a number of expats are now here permanently. 
Cyndy Wergin and her husband Roger Thomte have been a wonderful addition to our expat community.
They have organized volleyball games and also recently started a Cribbage tournament, which many of us are enjoying.

The current Cribbage Tournament is being held on Tuesdays, 1PM at the restaurant "360" atop Rincón de Olón.

Great snacks and fun during the
Tuesday Cribbage Matches.

A couple of weeks ago, Annette (and Dee) managed to put together a fun, last-minute surprise birthday party for Deb Anderson (tricky to pull off, since it was held at Deb and Cy’s place, for some pool time).
A “girls’” day with lots of laughs, good food and companionship.

Sneaking in to surprise Deb.

"Help!  Help!
I can't get up"

And then, I guess last but not least…the cat is out of the bag.
I sold my lot in Olón a few weeks ago, and am making plans to return to the States.
This is not a last minute decision, but one I have been gearing up to do for some time.
I am so grateful for the time I have had on this adventure here, but after six years, I am ready to come home.
I miss my family – probably the biggest factor that lures expats back.

It was not an easy decision, but the right one for me.  And I never thought that Ecuador would be my final “landing spot” anyway.  I figured 5-7 years here, and I’ve lived in Olón six (out of eight years).

But as the time moves closer to my departure, coming to terms with leaving this place I love so much, and saying “good-bye” to the wonderful friends I have made (locals and expats)…I find myself alternately veering from excitement to melancholy.
And scared. I don’t kid myself that the transition back to the States is going to be difficult, and probably more of a culture shock than the adjustments made when I moved here.

One of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog was called “Cribbage in the Wind” about the preparation of moving to Ecuador.  It was tough!
But I'm finding it tougher to leave here than I expected.

I will still be sharing some journal notes and posts here, as I make this transition. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Frisky Afternoons

February 22, 2016

It’s been a long time since I have written.  It is our “high and busy season” here now; plenty of events to write about, but just not opportunity to do so.

Daisy on a nighttime
holiday "worm-train"
2015 Olón holidays

I don't  think she liked it much, but 
was a good sport.
Photo courtesy of
Roger Thomte

A lot is going on now, but without a doubt, one issue that has preoccupied much of my time lately is Daisy’s health. She has been really sick.  For the last several weeks, she has been extremely lethargic, refused to eat, and could hardly walk because of her incurable degenerative hip arthritis (though she still had some frisky afternoon hours on some days).
About 5 months ago, I rushed her to Guayaquil vet when her hindquarters became suddenly paralyzed. They took x-rays, treated her for a few days, and essentially said that because of her hip situation, her comfortable days were numbered.  Since then, she has been on homeopathic bone supplements that considerably improved her condition until now.

It’s been painful to watch Daisy’s recent discomfort, and her local vet has been here for a number of house-calls in last few weeks to address/eliminate other infections she might be harboring (and to de-worm/ up-to-date her regular inoculations).

During her last “heat” cycle, she apparently did pick up a sexually transmitted condition, which local vet successfully treated with oral antibiotics and a couple of sessions involving a tube of medication inserted in her "miz" parts…
(This led to several…ummm….interesting phone conversations with local vet, when I would call him and say “ella esta lista para la manguera en su vagina ‘ahorita”…)
However, nothing seemed to help.  She was still listless, glazed eyed, and not walking or eating. I was convinced last week that she needed to be put down.  It was breaking my heart to watch her in that condition.
My friend, Annette (Daisy loves her and Dan to pieces) strongly objected going that route until Daisy had at least an exam with a Libertad/Salinas vet.
I think Daisy owes her life right now to Aunty Ann.
Annette and I took her to Libertad last Tuesday.  She has a few minor infections, but it is the hip condition that is the real problem (I had GYE x-rays to show the doc in Libertad)…there is no cure – can only make her comfortable until she just can’t walk anymore, quits eating, etc.  -- all of which was happening last week before we took her to city vet).  But he’s got her on anti-inflammatory/pain meds, and she has responded well since then.
Just no telling how long that will be effective.  A couple of months?  Maybe she can make it another year???? 
Her full panel blood tests came back negative for the tick diseases, but she has a minor ear infection and a skin fungus problem, which we’ll be treating.
For now, she wants to live, and vet basically says Daisy will let us know when she is ready to go.
Everyone around here knows and loves Daisy – locals and visitors.  She is probably the most recognized “celebrity" in Olón.  She’s a strong and determined girl, giving it her best shot, and sends her tail wags and licks to all.
I want to thank all you who were so helpful and concerned during that last Daisy crisis (especially Annette and Cheryl PaPania).

Daisy with napkin hat.
2015 Olón

Santa Lucia festivities
Photo courtesy of Roger Thomte

On a little more frivolous and light-hearted note, here are some pictures and comments on the annual holiday festivities around here.
There are a lot of parades and parties.
Circus food, fun and rides arrive.

One of the local pre-Christmas parades

Local school children from various nearby
towns treating us to parade band music.

“Season” kicks off in Olón around December 12th each year with the big 4-day “Santa Lucia” and town birthday party.  And of course, the annual Olón Orphanage Christmas Eve noon party for the kids, which is always special.
This year, I didn’t get any good photos of those events.
But to the side is a photo of a Nativity scene in Manglaralto. While I was trying to take night time photos of it, I realized that something was missing.
It was Baby Jesus.  When I asked a young and local nearby family about the reason for that, they explained that traditionally, Baby Jesus doesn’t “arrive” until the night of December 24th.
And, I suppose, amidst a much joyful and spiritual midnight local parade.
What a wonderful custom!  It is one that I (for some reason) was not aware of after all this time, though I imagine this is a ritual celebrated all over Ecuador.

Since then has also come the New Year, Carnival, and Super Bowl.

Ruta del Sol roadside effigies for sale.

The annual tradition of 
the boys playing "dress up"

New/Old Year's "orphans"
The week between Christmas
and New Year's, a tradition of
dressing up and begging for 
candy or change..
Somewhat similar to Halloween.

The bug/worm ride.
'fer sure - do it.

These aren't always as tame as 
they appear in this picture.
Especially at night when they are lit up.

Playa de James in Manglaralto is a chill place to hang out.  Best described as a great local pub, always fun and interesting clientele, and James serves up some killer dinners.
This year, Super Bowl Sunday, there was a fun and relaxed crowd at Playa de James.  Super Bowl and Carnival coincided this year, which led to a really fun evening.
After watching the game, there was (a now traditional) big foam fight between local kids and patrons of James.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Heat Stink

December 4, 2015

This last week has been hell.
Daisy has been “heat” for about ten days.
Daisy is an Ecuadorian beach dog that my ex-husband and I rescued five & half years ago.
I suppose she was about 9-10 months old then, had not reached sexual maturity yet (June/2010), and we took her to a local vet at the time to have her spayed.

Unfortunately, what we didn’t know then is that some vets here take “short-cuts” (or they are limited in their expertise) and he did not remove all her female parts.
She can’t get pregnant, though the lousy job the vet did still allowed Daisy to develop some impressive titties, and an appreciation for getting laid now and then.
Hence, Daisy experiences twice a year “pseudo heat” phases.
It is never pretty, can get extremely noisy, smelly, bloody – you name it.
The only way to counter-react/minimize this occurrence is to give her an “anti-heat” injection (as soon as recognized/possible) when she enters into this arena.
A few years ago, we took her to another vet to get a full hysterectomy, but she is not a candidate for that procedure because when he opened her up, he discovered that her ovaries are covered with sexually transmitted benign tumors which are adhered to other life-giving organs.

(A caution to others who are rescuing dogs – please make sure you use a qualified vet when spaying female dogs to avoid Daisy’s situation).

Normally, Daisy exhibits “pre-heat” symptoms in time for me to make sure she gets her shot.
It doesn’t totally eliminate the “love” cycle, but does minimize the duration of it, and she is much less receptive to the boys’ amorous advances.
However, this time Daisy gave no warning and went into full hussy mode within an hour in one day – too late for the hormone injection to be effective.
Also regrettable is that her chosen orgy den is in my old neighborhood of Jardines de Olón (where I used to own a home, and still own a lot) – which doesn’t sit too well with my friends and neighbors there.  After a few nights of loud gang-bang commotion in those backyards, one of my friends (who was understandably pissed) was able to lasso her away from the horde, and return her back home to me, where I have done my best to keep her inside.

What a nightmare!

Hope springs eternal.

At least 8-10 dogs have been lurking, barking, pissing outside my door for over a week now.
In particular, one huge German Shepherd has been persistent (he is bigger than Daisy, and Daisy weighs at least 50 pounds).  
Not only did he park himself out front, he periodically would fling himself at my door, scratching it while trying to bash it in…
I can tell you this was pretty unsettling – the first time it happened at night, I thought someone was trying to break in, and scrambled for the machete I keep around.

Daisy and I were trapped inside.
But of course, she needed to go outside for a pee now and then (on a leash).  Nearly impossible, while trying to hold onto her while throwing rocks at a bunch of aggressive and horny dogs in the meantime.

And Daisy wanted it too…oh yes…without the injection, she wanted it bad.  Argggg.

She broke off her leash a couple of times (collar slipped over her head) and took off with the gang.
The first morning she did this, I caught up with her at the beach.  At least nine dogs (that I counted, and the German Shepherd was particularly intimidating) were surrounding her/mounting her/fighting with teeth bared, as I waded in to try and slip the collar back on her neck while flinging sand in the other dogs’ eyes.
It was a scary situation…By the grace of God, none of these dogs retaliated by attacking me – because they only had one thing on their minds...
The dogs that weren’t trying to mount her were trying to hump me, evidently because her heat stink was on me too.
Despite the fright and the frustration, even then I could somewhat appreciate the comical aspect of the beach entertainment this hullabaloo was providing for bystanders (indeed – I noticed my buddy Jorge at the Olón Beach coconut stand doing his best not to laugh).
A few kind Ecuadorian tourists tried to assist, to no avail.  I called my friends Annette and Dan, who live nearby for help, and Dan showed up, wisely thinking to bring a big, sturdy walking stick with him to fend off the dogs.

Then ensued about an hour of Dan and I chasing Daisy and pack around town (locals enjoyed that show too), when Dan was finally able to catch and leash her.  We put her in his truck to bring her back home, but had to first “floor it!” up the Ruta del Sol for a while to lose the dogs chasing us, to throw them off the trail.

This photo taken about halfway through episode from “trapped inside”.
Daisy blissfully sleeping while dogs are loudly battering their bodies against front door.
Daisy is old enough to be somewhat deaf and/or was teasing that Germ Shep bastard outside who lunged at our door each time we tried to go out.

A few mornings later, she got off her leash again.  I caught up with her in Jardines de Olón, and was able to leash her, but only dared to take her as far as nearby Dan & Annette’s fenced in place (and only able to that because Dan thoughtfully lent me the BIG STICK to use, after her last escape to joust off Daisy’s suitors).
Daisy and I landed at their place around 11:30 AM.
I was tired, overwhelmed and sobbing…Thanks, Annette and Dan for the proverbial shoulder, and the much needed morning Pilsener.

As I write this, the worst is now over, and Daisy is almost back to her own self.

Photo taken yesterday.
This cute local "wee-bit" dog was a little late for the party…and well…just a leetle bit leetle also.  

(Some of these photos are from my archives, since I would have needed a few extra arms to capture some of the more recent “special moments”…and was not able to get a photo of that freakin’ German Shepherd).

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!