Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rio Olon

September 4, 2010

Woke at 7AM to a blazing sun…we more or less jumped out of bed, threw some clothes on, and headed to the la playa.  We walked north along the beach, keeping a keen eye out for a wrung out Daisy (who thankfully seems to be nearing the end of her heat cycle).  Ended up at the nearby Rio Olon estuary,   and waded up river about 200 feet. The tide was right, and we were never above our shins in water.  Initially I was hesitant about wading up a South American coastal tributary river, but Todd was charging ahead.  The river water was brown colored, but, thankfully it was clear water. I figured it wasn´t that risky, since I´ve seen kids swimming in it; I’ve seen women knee deep washing in it; I’ve seen men fish in it.

Once I got over my baseless fears of piranhas, flesh-eating fresh water parasites that enter the body via the urethra, and potential quicksand holes, I was fine. We saw the greatest tributary birds; we watched a family frolic and swim in the river; we collected the coolest quartz rocks and shells along the beach surrounding the river.  It was a lovely way to spend the morning, and sure to become one of our favorite places to poke around.

Some really cool quartz
rocks found here.

We’re still on a Spite and Malice marathon and the games are getting more funny and wicked.
The sun went back into hiding around noon.  After our walk, we ate, played cards, watched movies, and just relaxed. It’s been a very nice day.

Daisy has been a great addition to our household, but the recent 2 weeks of doggy love nearly drove us mad.  We finally seem to have our good ol’ Daisy back. We can only hope that subsequent heat cycles will be less obvious or as dramatic as this first one.

A house overlooking the river

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doggy Style

August 30, 2010

Because I couldn´t find a picture
of the fish - instead a cool pic
that Todd took recently.
Departing guest, Eric Mensh caught a 75-pound wahoo on an ocean fishing trip he took the last day he was here, and generously shared most of it with the neighbors here.  I’m not a big seafood fan, but Todd seasoned and grilled our portion(s), and I think that is about the tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten ….like a lobster steak.

It’s happened.  About a week ago I caught Daisy and a strange beau cuddling on the back patio in the dark.  When Jose, the maestro (contractor) for Bobby’s job across the street showed up around 7AM, we asked him to check Daisy out for “in heat” conditions, despite the fact she’s been spayed.  Todd, Jose and I all guffawed after a minute of watching him angle for a position to eye her crotch.

Despite our initial skepticism, Daisy has been going through a pseudo heat cycle for the last ten days or so, which has driven us crazy.  Until now, we didn’t realize this was possible with female dogs after sterilization.
Apparently, the vets here don’t remove all of the equipment when dogs are spayed; the reasoning behind this is so that the animal can still interact with the pack and gain acceptance. And interact, she did.  We had 5-6 horny male dogs hanging around here all the time, and she was gladly taking them on, anywhere and everywhere. It was embarrassing and noisy. Todd made a rather impressive homemade slingshot to chase the fellows off, and Daisy would slink off with them.  He was really disturbed by her shameless antics, and let me say here that it’s a good thing Todd never had to raise teenage girls.
It didn’t help the other day as Todd was walking with Daisy that Bobby shouted out: “hey, walking your slut?” (Bobby has such a way with words….)

We’ve hardly seen her since this began, but Daisy finally showed up at home tonight for a meal, and a nap…Poor thing…she has no idea what’s happening to her, but while she may be confused, exhausted, and hungry – she clearly has no complaints about her newly acquired popularity and has been skulking off with numerous novios all week. We can only hope at this point that Doctor Wilmer knew what he was doing several months ago.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, heading through town this morning on my way to Cyber Olon café to check this morning’s email, I met a young Australian mother with 2 very young boys, and we chatted for a few minutes. While we were talking, the local corner dog came over to me, wagging his tail in a very friendly manner.  I thought: “oh, finally this dog doesn’t bark at me anymore”.  I bent down to pet him and he suddenly lunged at me and began energetically humping my thigh.
There was nothing tentative about it, and IN FRONT OF local people.  I shooed him off, but he persistently kept trying to mount me while I was talking with the Australian gal, and followed me half a block after that.  I evaded him on the way back home, but had to return later in the morning to the internet café.
Clearly Daisy’s scent is stuck to my clothes now.
On my way back to the Cyber (again), I spied him at the corner.  He spied me as well, and he had that certain glint in his eyes.  As I neared, I shook my finger, yelled at him to back off, and eyeballed him until I passed him. 
“Go away,” I hissed.
I specifically said this because I was being observed by a number of local bystanders, who were quietly sniggering and smirking behind their hands.
 Eventually, I felt safe enough to turn my back some distance beyond.  Nevertheless, the damn dog waited a moment and then launched at me from behind (nothing uncertain about his motive) until I kicked him off me. I have to admit that both the audience and I did end up getting a good laugh about it, but Todd and I are ready for Daisy’s passionate season to come to an end.

Daisy trying to get back in Todd´s good graces.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spite and Malice

August 23, 2010

Visiting guests at Jack & Doug’s house, the Mensh family (New Hampshire neighbors of Doug and Pam) mentioned this morning that Daisy looks like she’s in heat….if so, Dr. Wilmer (pronounced “Veel-mir”) has a lot of explaining to do, since he spayed her 2 months ago. I’ve got to admit though, that Daisy does seem to be exhibiting many of the tell-tale signs of impending ardor, and more than the usual dog-boys are hanging around the neighborhood.

For the last week, the weather has been cloudy with heavy drizzle and rain and we’ve been cooped up in the house. After the last 7 years in Palm Springs, I also think it is too cold (though I doubt most would consider 68-70 degrees “cold”) and I’m thinking about going over to borrow one of Julie’s minks; maybe bringing those wasn’t such a bad idea after all.*
Perhaps the weather has been getting to us, because Todd and I have been bickering over little things like the proper way to fill out a receipt book, how much beer to buy off the truck on Tuesday, and whose i-Pod turn it is....The other morning he and I had a stupid fight about wet towels that almost escalated into a shoving match.
We’ve been playing a lot of cards and backgammon to pass the time, with cribbage generally being our game of choice. We’re both competitive types, and for seven years, we’ve kept score in a notebook that is….um….colorful and not meant for young eyes.  We tally 50 cents to a dollar (depending on game) and I think he’s got me so far for around $239. It’s not that I’m a bad player – the boy is just lucky, I’m telling you.
We decided to learn a new game** this week, and we have become fiends for “Spite & Malice”.  It’s a new game for Todd, though I used to play it years ago with Mom, but I had forgotten it.
We’ve enjoyed it so much I thought I would share the rules; I understand there may be other variations to this game that include more than two players.

Number of Players:
Two packs. Pack A is a standard 52-card pack. Pack B is a standard 52-card pack, plus four jokers. The packs should be of different back designs or colors.
Rank of Cards:
K (high), Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low).
Pack A is shuffled and divided into two 26-card packets, which become the pay-off piles of the two players. Each player turns up the top card of his pay off pile; the higher card designates the first player, and if the cards are the same rank, the pay off piles are shuffled and the new cards turned up.
Pack B is shuffled by the first player’s opponent, who deals a five-card hand to each player (one at a time, face down) and puts the remainder of Pack B in the center as the stock.
Object of the Game:
To get rid of one’s pay-off pile.
The Play:
Each available ace must be played immediately to form a center stack.  There may be no more than four center stacks at one time.  Each available two must be played, if possible, on an ace in a center stack. Center stacks are built up in ascending order, regardless of suit – any deuce on any ace, any three on any two, etc. Both players play to center stacks.
Each player may have four side stacks.  These are discard piles. A player may play only to his own side stacks and only from his hand.  Any card may start a side stack. Side stacks are build downward, regardless of suit (any five on any six), or with like cards (any queen on any queen). When there are already four center stacks, a deuce from the hand may be played on a three in a side stack, and an ace on a deuce.
The top card of a pay-off pile may be played only to the center. When it is played, the next card is turned up. A card from the hand or from the top of a side stack may be played to the center. A card from the hand may be played to a side stack, but only one such card in a turn.  When a player plays to a side stack his turn ends and his opponent’s turn begins.  Cards may not be moved from one side stack to another, or to fill a space.
A player may also end his turn by saying so, when he cannot, or does not wish to, play.
Rules of Play:
Each joker is wild and may be played in place of any card except an ace. If a joker becomes available at the top of a side stack, it may be played to the center.
At the beginning of each turn, a player draws enough cards from the stock to restore his hand to five cards.
When any center stack is built up through the king, it is shuffled into the stock.  A new center stack is then started.
The player who first gets rid of all the cards in his pay-off pile wins, his margin being the number of cards in his opponent’s pay-off pile. If there are cards left in both pay-off piles and neither player can or will play, the winner is the player who has fewer cards in his pay-off pile and he wins the differences; but it is never legal to count the cards in a pay-off pile.

** Glad we brought the “Official Rules of Card Games” book.

We play everywhere now.
Wicked game going on at Casa del Sol

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Love Lucia

December 14, 2010

If you have been reading this for awhile, you may be aware that I am editing and posting from notes I’ve kept since we arrived. I hope to get caught up to present day sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I am going to interrupt my narrative to share this, because it seemed like an apt time to post it.

A Very Blessed and Joyous Season to All
His Banner of Love flies over us.    

This last weekend (officially starting on Friday pasado) our little town of Olon honored Santa Lucia and also celebrated its birthday – its 51st, though we also heard it was its 501st. It is a four day party that lasts from Friday until late Monday night.
The locals began gearing up for this about 3 weeks ago commencing with the school band practicing their drums and tinkle bells for four hours each morning on the soccer field adjacent to our compound (more on this later).  
  The fiesta started in earnest around noon last Friday with soccer games on the field, accompanied by a live small band and complimented by various home speakers blaring music at high blast and the frequent cherry bombs. The problem with Ecuadorian music to most North American ears (ours included) is that it seems to have a rather limited range of, oh…maybe five notes.  The music around town and later in the park continued well into the night and early morning hours, and started back up around noon Saturday. All day Saturday, the final touches were added to our new town park (the old one was razed about 4 months ago) and various food, jewelry, and toy vendors set up booths on the outskirts of the streets bordering the park. Our park now includes a gazebo, playground, stage and dance pavilion, and is the pride of all who live here.


Saturday was a lot of fun. Some of the first stands that were set up along the park’s streets were the ones that included foosball and miniature pool tables. The kids had a ball playing all day as the adults prepared food and booths, and the final stage and electronics were being prepared. In the early evening (“early” here being defined as starting around 9PM) people mingled around our park area, cruising the shopping booths, talking with one another while the kids played on the new playground equipment. Folks ate, drank, chatted and shopped (and I realized that the toy booths were Olon’s version of Target, with kids ogling, and parents surreptitiously purchasing). Dancing was scheduled to begin at midnight, and Todd and I were pretty sure we would be sound asleep by then, but our friends Scott and Pat showed up from Las Tunas to help fuel us for the celebration. We ate dinner at our favorite park side restaurant and ended up partying well into the night. Our neighbors, Randy and Fonda joined us at one point, and Todd and I ended the night (morning) sharing shots and dancing with the locals until dawn.
On Sunday night, more of the same was on the agenda, with the addition of fireworks before the kids got too sleepy (and frankly, me too). Fans of the Burning Man festival should consider making it to this party.  An oil-rig looking structure with pinwheel fireworks attached had been erected in the middle of the park pavilion with a papier-mâché reindeer nearby.  I think just about everyone in town was gathered around the park or watching from nearby homes and balconies. A band on our new stage played and after a few songs and speeches, the fireworks inside the papier-mâché reindeer were ignited.

The reindeer was lit, emitting a small spray of harmless sparkler-type of flames. A guy was holding it, and he began running around inside edge of the park….. The whole point of this phase is that the reindeer occasionally sent out more wicked, random shooting bottle-rocket fireworks (INTO THE CROWD) and the idea is to dodge those fire bullets if it happens around your location……sort of like a fiery musical chair game, and the whole crowd laughs at the folks who get caught when they are shot at and are dodging. That is until they are the next to have to duck.  Not having seen this before, I foolishly sat on the inside park curb to film and was one of the first to get randomly “fired on”….These 54 year old knees haven’t  unkinked  that fast  for some time. I should have figured this out when I overheard  knowing locals share an inside giggle and wait when they saw me naively sit down as it started.

(Hit the "play" button)

That went on for about 15 minutes and eventually a match was put to the flammable pinwheel decorated derrick structure, and while that was still burning, an aerial fireworks display began.  Large burning embers rained down on us and the neighborhood. Safety factor = 0 and I loved it!  My favorite holiday as a youngster was the 4th of July, and I fortunately had a Kansas Dad who delighted in teaching us kids the thrill of hand-tossing lit M-80´s by the age of eight.

After the last twenty-plus years of living in Southern California, I was titillated by the fact that these folks were blithely ignoring the safety of performing these pyro tecnicos on the beach, a mere football field away, because – you know – this is always so much more exciting around a crowd and nearby thatched roofs in the center of town….. I am astonished there haven’t been burned houses or partially singed bald people in town after this event.

Heading home at midnight after the fireworks, the colorful kids’ train ride that I deemed tame almost ran over me on a side street, going 40 miles an hour while the driver purposely swerved back and forth with everyone in it screaming with delight, and I was sure it was going to tip over any minute after passing me. Apparently a small town Ecuadorian version of a roller coaster, and I kicked myself for passing on an earlier invitation to ride it.

On Monday, the final night, a street was cordoned off, enclosing tables and chairs, along with a stage and dancing lasted until 3:30 AM on Tuesday. It probably would have gone on longer, but the power went out. The table and chairs pictured are frequently set up for other events (weddings, big birthdays. etc.) and I always think it´s fortunate the Ecuadorian people are on the small side, because I´m pretty sure my butt wouldn´t fit on one of those chairs.

I’m not Catholic, and don’t know how Lucia got to be a saint, but she sure gives a helluva party down here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bandito George

August 15, 2010

Jorge outside his store.
We go to Libertad for our food stuffs that are hard to find or not available here (pickles, certain cheeses and baking items, meat and bacon).  For our daily grocery needs we generally shop at the various produce stands and the nearby Oloncito market, a five minute walk across the soccer field. But for the late night munchies, ran out of beer/cigarettes/ milk we go to “Bandito George’s” place because he’s right around the corner. Call it our 7-Eleven, if you will. The thing is, Jorge knows he’s got us by the short hairs when we make these runs, and regularly charges more than the usual retail costs. For the last 3 years I have cajoled, scolded, pleaded, and kidded with Jorge about his prices, but he never budges or bargains. He just sticks out his chin, and stands his miserly ground. But we’ve become awfully fond of Jorge; he’s industrious, hard working, and aside from the store, he owns the bar next door, a restaurant cabanita, and hustles coconuts and umbrellas on the beach during busy times. And at every town event (fiestas, funerals, ceremonies) he can be counted on for at least one of the portable concession stands. Actually, I think he is pretty fond of us too – not that that will ever get him to stop ripping us off for a few extra cents each time we shop.

Jorge manning his concession
booth at a town event.
Note the wet bar.
The other day, Todd bought a package of flavored potato chips (“PaFritas con mayonesa”).  I understand cheese, vinegar & salt, or spicy seasoned chips, but mayonnaise flavor?  Turns out, they were just a bag of regular potato chips with a small packet of mayo included inside the bag.

I am surprised we don’t see more bugs down here than we do. Yes, there are plenty of mosquitoes and no-see-ems (which never bother me at all – not a single bite, ever – but they LOVE Todd). Oh, I might hear a pesky one buzzing around me in bed, but I never worry; they always choose him eventually. Todd is my bug repellant and Avon’s “Skin So Soft” gives him some relief, but needs to be applied frequently.
I have always been scared of bugs (snakes, mice, frogs and those things don’t faze me) and would sooner see a strange man walk into my house at midnight before seeing a cockroach skitter across my kitchen floor, and I was worried when we first starting coming to the Equator about mutant sized creepy-crawlies. As it turns out, most all of the cockroaches I ever see are already dead on the floor. My theory is they are vulnerable to the cleaning solution we use to clean our pisos, but I still won’t pick them up. I wait for Todd because he knows I don’t “do” bugs and we have an agreement on this one. But I think I becoming more acclimated; I’m able to gingerly kick away occasional dead ones the size of Panzer tanks without flinching these days.

Neighbor Bobby and Todd
hanging out at Jorge´s.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Call Him Tong

August 12, 2010

Isla de la Plata Tour
Courtesy the Burton Family
August 2010
Recent guests, the Burton family from Texas took the impressive photo of the whale breaching while on an Isla de Plata tour about a week ago. The humpback whales (ballenas jorobadas) migrate by our coast from June to September, and they are spectacular to watch. We can see them from our balcony and still get excited if we spot them performing their acrobatic antics off our beach. But a closer view, such as the one pictured is a special treat and folks taking the Isla de la Plata tours this time of year are capturing shots such as this one.
Magnificent Frigates
Courtesy Danny Radd
July 2009

Isla de la Plata (Silver Island) is often called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” because it has many of the same indigenous species that are found in the Galapagos and (according to our guide when we took the tour a couple of years ago), contains the largest nesting ground for the Magnificent frigate bird. It is called “Silver Island” because Sir Francis Drake is rumored to have hidden a large treasure there, and a guide and permit are required to tour the island. Among the bird species to be found, blue-footed boobies are especially plentiful and absolutely fearless of people. Assorted tours are available for around $50 which includes the guide, two-hour boat ride out of Puerto Lopez (40 minutes north of Olon) and island tour. I think most all of them also incorporate a lunch and snorkeling in a nearby cove with the Galapagos turtles after the island hike. On the tour we took a couple of years ago, we had a tasty lunch on the boat and lured the turtles to the surface with watermelon before jumping in to swim.

View from the long trail
Courtesy the Mensh Family
August 2010

Our next guests aren’t due to arrive until the end of September, and for the first time since we arrived in June, we have the house for an extended amount of time, and enjoying a chance to relax.  Since we have yet to install a TV dish at our house, we watch a lot of movies.  Through the years, I have lugged probably over 150 DVD’s to Olon from the States (and another 300 or so are waiting in storage). We particularly like the boxed series DVD’s. For us, they bring a sense of routine normalcy (“honey, our show’s on”) and we’ve watched every movie and series many times. So it’s been with great joy that we’ve discovered the bootlegged DVD’s available for $1-$1.50 here.  Current movies, HBO series, TV documentaries in English can all be found – sometimes before they’re even released in the States – though navigating the occasional title menu in Russian can be disconcerting . Lately we’ve been watching Season 3 & 4 of “Dexter” – strange show, but it grows on you.

Courtesy the Mensh Family
August 2010
Our language skills are improving, but barely. We should be practicing more at home with our flash cards, but since we must listen to and speak Spanish daily we are making progress. I have forgotten most verb conjunctions except the present tense (“Voy a la tienda ayer” / “I go to the store yesterday”) and I’m sure I sound like an idiot but know I must speak it to improve. The Ecuadorians are wonderfully patient and helpful to correct our attempts.
Patricia, at Oloncito Market gave me several Jehovah’s Witness brochures (English/Spanish) to help me learn.…..So darling and thoughtful….still grateful to the Zamorra family for inviting us to sit with them (at their family plot) during Lolita’s funeral….I felt honored. She and the staff at the market are helping me to “hear” the numbers during transactions…which is harder than looking at the figures they tally on the pad of paper next to the register.
For some reason, I keep mangling the word “dólares” (dollars) with “doleres” (hurts) and get corrected on my pronunciation frequently (“I have three hurts to pay for this….”). The word “sal” (salt) is another one. I mean, how hard can that word be (pronounced like “Saul”)? There is only one syllable that can be emphasized, yet every time I request it, I get a confused look like I’ve just asked the person to disrobe. I don’t get it.

Masked Booby
Courtesy the Mensh Family
August 2010
On the other hand, Ecuadorians have a difficulty pronouncing certain English words. My name poses no difficulty if I spell it “Li”, except I usually have to repeat myself, so most folks around here call me “Li Li”. But Todd’s name is a different story. For some reason (even though phonetically spelled here as “Tad” – using familiar sounds), his name is invariably enunciated as either “Tong” or something like “tongue” with a long “o”. Anymore, he just introduces himself as “Tom” (“Tome”) and calls it a day.

Blue-Footed Booby
Courtesy the Mensh Family
August 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Trash Revolution

August 6, 2010

Our darling neighbor Franklin
on his way to the school.
Someone emailed me recently and mentioned that the grade school adjacent to our compound is noisy.  True enough; kids frolic on the playground, school announcements and ceremonies are sometimes broadcast over the loud speaker, and once, a few weeks ago, we woke to Elvis Presley inexplicably singing “Love Me Tender” over the amplifier (I’m still trying to figure that one out).

Courtesy Karen Miller
September 2010
I had to laugh when I read that email. When is Ecuador NOT noisy?  Three-wheel bicycle vendors shout out their wares, police vehicles use sirens for no apparent reason other than they’re moving,  buses chortling down the highway can be heard 2 blocks away, whistles blow from the soccer field, music and announcements randomly emit from the town’s speakers, dogs bark, and birds sing in riotous cacophony.  Roosters crowing at ungodly hours is a given. And let’s not forget the car horns. Ecuadorian drivers honk to pass, they honk at livestock, they honk at pedestrians – hell, they honk at a mango pits lying on the calle. And there are times when I am convinced they’re aiming at walkers as they hurtle down the road (they’re really not; actually some kamikaze dogs sleep on the streets).  But I love the racket; it’s music to my ears, and one gets used to it, though I’m not sure anyone ever gets inured to the bloody roosters.
Above all this din, my top award goes to our trash collectors. I LOVE these guys! They come around every Monday and Thursday mornings (funded by an added fee to all electric bills, in our case around $5-7 per month). They are a friendly and dedicated bunch, and you know when to be ready at the curb because they play this catchy little tune as they do their rounds. I’ve been trying to figure out the words, and near as I can come up with (in no particular order):

“Hurry now!...(we’re here?)…
Bring those bags out – make sure they are closed….
It’s a trash revolution!
….Message from Santa Elena province…..”

Somebody help me out here.
I apologize for the rather lame photography in the video below, but I was more focused on capturing the tune.  I´ve had problems getting a good video (either too large to upload or - big surprise here - too much background noise). This is my 4th attempt, and I´m sure the trash guys think I am a gringa loca stalker, though they have been good sports as I make my "action!/rolling" signal to them as they round various corners.

You may need to turn the sound up to hear the song best.