Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some Like it Hot

October 21, 2010

Okee-dokey….so the last time I lived in digs similar to our new Olon apartment I was in my twenties (dealing  blackjack and roulette in northeast Nevada) and moved from Elko to an apartment complex in Wendover that had formerly been military barracks. It’s not that I’m unhappy – Todd and I are actually tickled to score it – but it’s going to be an adjustment.
The apartment belongs to our friend Guy, who wants to spend several months in Guayaquil and it comes with his furniture, stove and refrigerator (and we are saving a little off the $350 rent by agreeing to let Guy lock up his stuff in the second bedroom so he doesn’t have to move it). Guy is an ex-Navy S.E.A.L.  and trained attorney who for the last several years been running and co-owns the Insomniac Café in Montanita. He’s also an all-around really, really nice chap. 
Packing up for the move.

We’ve moved to a triplex located just east of the Ruta del Sol down the lavanderia road (there’s a shrine at the turnoff) owned by Antonio and Patricia of Oloncito market (who live next door). We’re on the east end and German Mike lives on the other end; between us is David (Ecuadorian, brother-in-law and co-owner of Insomniac with Guy).
We share a garden courtyard and it just sort of reminds me of something out of the fifties (as in “Some like it Hot” or “Rear Window” without the Raymond Burr character).  As of now, we plan on being here until at least the first of March, while our beach home is rented to various guests during busy season.

German Mike and Antonio come
over welcome us.
 Guy assured us he had a hot water shower.  Maybe because he's an ex-S.E.A.L, his perception of hot and ours are somewhat different.  The shower is equipped with one of those suicide heat devices and does get sort of hot if it is only run at a trickle…We shower “together” because the one not taking a shower has to stand by the living room fuse box to flip the circuit breaker back on every time it flips off - about once a minute.  That, and there is no cistern, so our water is turned off at 10PM every night and most afternoons for a couple of hours.  I think I'm not going to be very clean for awhile. 

Instead of a closet, we have a sturdy dowel bar to hang our clothes and a flimsy bookshelf to use as a dresser.  And I’m not sure which is more charming – the contact paper flooring in the bedroom or the shower curtains used as window treatments in the apartment.  But at least for the first couple of weeks, Todd and I have use of Guy’s television (hooked to Direct T.V.) which is perched on cinder blocks.  We’ve watched very little satellite T.V. since we got here in June, so I’ve been kind of overdosing on T.C.M. movies, reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, and the news for the last few days, and Todd is gleeful about the Bonanza episodes he discovered.

We have shown Daisy our new home so she knows where to find us. We are a little concerned that she has to cross the highway to get here, but as crazy as the Ecuadorians drive, they are good about avoiding  the dogs on the road.  However, Guy neglected to mention that our new place comes with a CAT (a petite female calico) and Daisy in NOT happy about this situation.

Daisy followed me back from the house yesterday, and while I was petting her outside the apartment, CAT came and rubbed up against my ankles like we were old friends. Then CAT proceeded to boldly walk up to Daisy’s food bowl and eat the leftovers – in full view of Daisy. And even though I was trying to ignore the cat, and making a big fuss over petting Daisy (“pay no attention to that CAT in the corner there”), the look of betrayal in Daisy’s eyes was unmistakable.  As if she thinks this is where we’ve always been when we’re not at the house – LIVING with a CAT. As far as she is concerned right now, this is bigamy.

We made the final move to the apartment a few days ago as we bid adios to three kids (Matt, Emily, and Andy) coming in for 3 days after doing volunteer work in Peru. The George Washington University doctors check in tomorrow for a month, and I am still kind of grumpy about that.

Still, it’s going to be an adventure living in this barrio (a lot more local flavor) and a wonderful opportunity to immerse more deeply in this wonderful culture since most of our new neighbors don’t speak English.

The common courtyard in our triplex

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the Move Again

October 15, 2010

Todd and I have been renting our Olon beach home to vacationers for almost three years – it is our livelihood.  When we made the decision to move to Ecuador permanently, we were excited about the opportunity to oversee our business first-hand, rather than from 4000 miles away (although we spent as much time each year in Olon as we were able).  The flip side to this plan is that we have to move out of our home each time we have guests, a scenario that we anticipated and mentally prepared for by viewing it as an adventure to try out the various hostels in our area, and we have – for the most part – enjoyed doing just that.  In particular, we have savored the last three weeks we have spent at Casa del Sol, in Montanita (and the longest time-frame we have had to vacate our home thus far)
We got here last June with a surprisingly busy confirmed rental schedule for the “slow” season (July to November) with various guests booked for that time.  Still, we’ve been able to spend at least a couple of weeks a month in our own home between visitors.  From December until March our home is nearly 100% reserved (as it has been every year since we began), and Todd and I have been making preparations and looking for a local apartment to rent during that very busy time.

Juanito is the¨"go to" guy
at Casa del Sol

As much fun as we’ve had staying at Casa del Sol, I have been looking forward to being home for most of October and November (until Thanksgiving, when we have a group coming in for a couple of weeks). But Todd has been fielding a number of last minute rental requests for these next two months (typically the slowest time of year) and agreed to rent our house to three doctors from George Washington University coming for a month starting around the last week in October.  They are here for some R & R, but also to do volunteer work at the health clinic in nearby Manglaralto.  I know we can always use the business, but I am grumpy and sulking over the situation, and basically being a brat because I was looking forward to being back home for awhile. Todd is reminding me that this what we “signed up for”, and he is right; I am trying to adjust my attitude, but inwardly still begrudging the damn doctors.

The Casa del Sol Beach Bar
Coming soon!
So, we have had to step our plan to find an apartment….Looking for an apartment here is not exactly like scouting for one in…say… Laguna Niguel (which is where I last rented, years ago). Depending on location and amenities, apartments rent for around $200-400 a month in this Olon/Montanita area, and our main requirements are that it comes with a hot water shower, bed, stove and refrigerator – none of which can be assumed around these parts. And perhaps it is to our advantage to need the apartment now, rather than wait until December, on the cusp of high season when availability diminishes and prices go up.

Daisy with our
 neighbor Franklin

We want to stay in Olon to be near the house and to our adopted beach dog Daisy (who has been comfortably ensconced at our home/neighborhood during our absences – we go over several times a day to check on/feed her and all of our guests have also been marvelous about  looking after her when we’re not around. We always leave a bag of dog food for them too, and none have minded occasionally feeding her if she seems hungry.) Daisy was probably about 7-8 months old when our friend and part-time neighbor Elizabeth (from South Carolina) encouraged us to rescue her. Despite our initial hesitation about the responsibility that entailed, Todd and I now can’t imagine our lives without her. Of course, Daisy makes it easy because she is so friendly, smart, and independent…and very well-behaved. Daisy knows she is not allowed in our house or any other in the Jardines de Olon; she comfortably and happily lives outside and sleeps on our back covered porch at night.

We have truly enjoyed our last few weeks staying at Casa del Sol and getting to know the Montanita area and friends more intimately.  Earlier today as I was clambering around the tide pools at the Point, I was reminded of how often I feel like a little kid here, as I discover a new shell, a new bird, a new bug, a new plant that I have never seen. The natural beauty of this country is wondrous and I continue to be awed by every discovery. That, and the Ecuadorian people, who I hope to write more about in a nuanced way without resorting to clichés, continue to make our sojourn here a delight.

It is late afternoon, and I am sitting at a table in the courtyard of Casa del Sol, writing and taking full advantage of the wi-fi available when I heard a commotion from the beach. It sounded like someone was yelling “fire”.  TJ went out to check, came running back in for his surfboard, and took off.  I followed him to the beach. Todd was already out there, and pointed out two guys drowning in the strong surf. The waves were so forceful, that TJ and other rescuers were having a hard time reaching those distressed.  One of the guy’s head kept going under, and we thought for sure he may have already perished. After 10 tense minutes, both were brought in safely, though shook up. 
One wry observation: a crowd had gathered, and sure enough a bicycle pastry vendor showed up to sell refreshments.

TJ with one of the rescued swimmers

Friday, February 11, 2011

Murphy Takes a Seat

October 11, 2010

Heads Up!
We have been staying at Casa del Sol for the last couple of weeks while various guests are staying in our Olon home during September/October and it has been a vacation of sorts for us to relax here during the interim.  We bid adieu to the Millers and had a quick turn-around before welcoming our next guests, Diane and Armand from Louisiana (and part-time residents of Argentina). We have been looking forward to getting to know them better; Diane and I have been carrying on a lively and personal email correspondence for some time prior to their arrival.

And I thought we were
having a bad spell...
As luck would have it, the power went out during the scant 12-15 hours Todd allotted for the transition despite my objections, and as a consequence we were not quite ready for Diane & Armand when they arrived a little bit earlier than scheduled, but they graciously waited nearby until we were ready a couple of hours later. GUARANTEED - the power will go out here unpredictably at the WORST possible times.

Count on it.
Also, as Murphy would have it, Todd has come down with a bad case of gripe (gree-pay) –the flu…. It is going around now, and he has a particularly bad case and has been bed-ridden for the last few days.  I’ve been walking down the beach several times a day to Montanita to bring food back to the room for Todd. Earlier tonight during my dark, moonless, magical, five-minute ocean beach walk to get grub I very nearly tripped over a huge, washed-in Galapagos turtle (fairly common) on my way into town…Which wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except I thought I'd take a picture of it, and was wrestling with the camera settings for “dark” when the creature slung a weak “paw” (?) across my left ankle…
I swear, the powers-to-be down here are trying to give me a heart attack.

For the life of me, can't
figure how I managed to
capture a picture of this street
without throngs of people
The meal I brought back was salty, and I woke up around 4 AM with a raging, desperate thirst. Unfortunately, I forgot to replenish our bottled water supply for the room, and my choice was to stumble down 2 steep flights of outdoor stairs in the dark and suck moisture off the banana leaves or drink water from the sink…I don’t know how many of you may have experienced this level of unrequited thirst, but I chose to drink a “refreshing” glass of water from the faucet …and waited for my stomach to rebel.
But you know what?.... Nary a rumble from my tummy.  Not that I would willingly make that choice again but it is reassuring to know that local un-boiled tap water MAY work in a severe pinch (at least for us, but we have been brushing our teeth,showering, and washing dishes with it on and off for the last 3 years.and may have developed some resistance to whatever). Yes, I understand the parasite possibility too - but we have never experienced the likely symptoms.
Unfortunately, because of Murphy, we have not had an opportunity to spend more time with Diane and Armand, as we were hoping…I've enjoyed the few chances Diane and I have had to chat, and she’s encouraged and inspired me to “go for it” – in particular, to write….*
Diane, if you are reading this – thank you for the gift of confidence you gave me to start this blog, and God Bless you.

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver"
Prov 25:11

*  At the time these comments were written last October, I was just preparing to “go public” with my journal notes. I am not sure I would have had the courage to do it without Diane’s encouragement.
I am still trying to get caught up to present day entries, and will get there – but for now (February 2011): This is our peak season and Todd and I are busier than one-legged sailors in an ass-kicking contest (as they say).


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mojitos and Magazines

October 7, 2010

Todd and our friend Yomira
helping out in the kitchen.
A few nights ago (the night after our Ecuadorian “coup”), Todd invited Jorge Luis – a local friend and talented cook – to prepare and teach Todd how to fix encebollado (en-say-boy-ado). TJ and Jeff were gracious to let us use the Casa del Sol kitchen, and we invited our Jardines neighbors and our house-guests, Karen and Mike Miller,  along with some of our friends here to join us for the meal (which we served as dinner, but is typically a breakfast soup here).
The basic recipe below is something that Todd loosely jotted down during that afternoon, and obviously needs more details, refinement, and experimentation:


  • 1-2 large yuccas (unpeeled and whole)
  • 1 Bell Pepper (unpeeled and whole)
  • 1-2 onion (peeled and quartered)
  • Bunch of tomatoes (unpeeled and whole)
  • Bunch of fresh chopped garlic
  • Oregano leaves
  • Cumin (or fresh cilantro)
  • “Aji” powder (readily available here – see adjoining pic) but I suppose “Pico de Gallo” or “Habanero” dried spices would be similar in the States.
Throw all of the above in boiling water (2 quarts or so) until the yuccas are tender.  Take all the above vegetables out, and reserve stock.  When the yuccas are cool, peel and mash and set aside.
Smash and strain the other vegetables through a sieve. Return the juice of those back to stock, and save what’s left for later day or toss.

  • 1-2 pounds of fresh fish (we used off-the-boat albacore – tuna – typical of most encebollado recipes in this area, but I also know that in other areas along the coast, “corvina” (“corbina”?) is used.  I suppose any nice firm fish would do well in this recipe.
First poach the fish in the stock. Remove fish and skin it. Break into bite size pieces. Return to pot.
Toss back in the peeled and mashed yuccas. Simmer until ready to serve. (Personally, I would also throw in some new chopped onion, bell peppers, and fresh chopped tomatoes somewhere around this point, though the version we ate was tasty.  I’m also kind of wondering if a little bit of minced celery and maybe some grated carrots added to this recipe might be interesting).
Serve with “chifles” (thinly sliced deep-fried plantain chips) and lime wedges (most people here eat it with some lime juice squeezed in).

Karen and Mike are an interesting couple and intrepid travelers. They have had no hesitation catching the chicken buses to explore up and down the coast. A few days ago they checked out Puerto Lopez and investigated the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain highlighted on "No Reservations" a few months ago…Todd and I always wonder what that Mamacita must be thinking about her recent popularity since the episode aired (“porque siempre gringos estan aqui?”). 

Mojita Makers
Some friends of Doug and Pam (who own a great beachfront house here along with my brother) arrived a few of days ago for a short vacation in their house.  Marie, Keryl, Wendi, and Dania are a fun-loving group of gals who came bearing care packages from home, including a camera that Doug and Pam sent to replace our recently expired one (cameras cost much more here and we have missed some great photo ops). Todd is in high heaven over it, and hasn't put it down since (fiddling with the buttons and reading the manual). I think I was just as excited about the tabloids they brought to read on the plane, which I am now the proud owner of, and will savor on my next afternoon at the beach.

Mojita Mamas
Marie and Dania
Unfortunately, they have had nothing but cold and drizzly weather since they got here, but they’ve been good sports about it.  This afternoon, Todd and I stumbled across Marie and Dania in Montanita having cocktails at one of the stands on Bar Alley, so of course we joined them for a laugh-filled afternoon over some killer mojitos.

They also brought a book I’ve been dying to read, written by a friend of mine from high school, Bruce Cameron called “A Dog’s Purpose”.  It’s been out for only a few months but already rising to the top of various and impressive best seller lists.   Bruce is an accomplished and successful writer, who I was friendly with in high school (our class has reunited in a big way since the advent of Facebook).  And of course now that he is rich and famous, I recall us as being VERY GOOD friends……
I am already half way through it and Todd’s chomping at the bit to read it next.  If you haven’t read it yet, go get it!  It is a wonderfully told story, and soon to be made into a movie, I hear.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don´t it Make My Brown Thumb Green?

October 1, 2010

I believe this has been my favorite day in Ecuador so far.
We woke up to brilliant sunny blue skies, and headed straight to the beach.  The tide was low enough so that we could walk around the Montanita Point, making it to the Olon side. We poked around tide pools, watched the surfers, and stood under a large bufadora (blow hole) to catch the spray.  We got drenched, and of course we kissed, because it is said to be good luck for lovers (according to a sign that I once saw posted at the Ensenada, Baja Mexico bufadora).

When we returned around noon, TJ invited us to join him on a jungle mission to hunt for orchids and bromeliads.  We jumped in his truck (still in our beach clothes and sandals) and headed inland, taking the “Cascada de Alex” road, east of Olon. TJ assured me that we would be fine in our flip-flops. My better sense told me this was fool-hardy, but I bowed to TJ’s expertise and the fact that I left my hiking shoes in my closet in Olon. TJ’s shoes weren’t much sturdier.
The trip up through the hills was strikingly beautiful as we passed through more rural and remote communities before arriving at jungle’s edge.
The road became a bit narrower and the foliage more dense, but I was surprised at how sunny the drive was, despite the thick jungle canopy just off the path.  We forded small, clear creeks and in some portions, actually drove in the shallow river coming off the falls.

These are some of the bromeliads
we found. TJ is grafting them on
a few of his palm trees.
We stopped at one river tributary so that TJ could gather some bromeliads growing six feet up a river embankment.  Bromeliads grow out of tree trunks, have colorful, tubular blooms, and there are many varieties to be found here. Our mission was to find some of the more unusual specimens.  I wasn’t quite sure about this part, since I can’t even say “bromeliads” (let alone point one out) and couldn’t tell the difference between an orchid and a Cadillac, quite frankly.
TJ needed his machete to hack his way in and up to this particular beauty (I was still trying to figure out which plant he was aiming for). He had no problem prying it from the soil, tossed it down, and was going for its neighbor when he yelled “bees!” and flung himself off the wall of the ravine.
We all scrambled. Both he and Todd are allergic to bees.  But except for a few nervous moments, and a several buzzing bees, it was fairly anti-climatic. Which is good, because really, I hate bugs. And I was wondering then why I agreed to this expedition. I have always wanted to see an Amazon jungle, but scampering around one in a bathing suit/cover-up and flip-flops wasn’t exactly the vision I had in mind.

It got better.  We were parked at the foot of a refreshingly clear tributary river, and while TJ hunted for plants, Todd and I waded in the water up river, hunting for rocks.  We like looking for interesting rocks and always pick up a few from our most memorable places.  After awhile, we all jumped back in the truck and headed further up river into more remote jungle areas and narrower trails – well past the turn-off for Cascada de Alex.  Four-wheel drive required. As we trolled on up the “road’ (getting out now and then to investigate and collect a few fine plant specimens) I became braver, carefully following TJ’s steps 15-20 feet further into the jungle at times – looking down—because I was acutely aware that one of the most venomous snakes in the world (the Fer-de-Lance) resides in these parts….the locals here call them “ekkies” because of their “X” shaped markings. 

Todd and I became increasingly more awed by the splendor (the butterflies alone are worth it – in particular the bright blue beauties the size of my hand).  Generally speaking, the jungle birds are also more colorful than their beach counterparts and we weren’t disappointed. I finally figured out what we were looking for, and no one was more astonished than me when I spotted several unusual bromeliads and orchids during the expedition, which was thrilling for me.  TJ is quite the horticulturist, and he inspired me today to take more of an interest in gardening. 
Si, from me who vowed in high school (while raking leaves and acorns and living in Kansas City cold weather) to live in the warm desert and have a home with nothing but rocks in the yard – which I have pretty much done since. Plants and me don’t get along (Hello, I´m Leigh, and I kill cactus...) but still I think even I could manage to grow a few things here.

Later, TJ used string and bamboo husks to "bond” the twenty or so plants we found to palm trees on his property and I know I will always look at them with pride and a wonderful memory.