Saturday, March 26, 2011

What`s Up Doc?

March 26, 2011

It has been longer than usual since I last posted, and for that I apologize; Todd and I have been entertaining company, as well as preparing for several groups of vacationing guests arriving later this week (aside from our house, Todd also handles rental requests for a number of other part-time and local homeowners, and we have recently taken on property management duties for a couple of those).
Also, I am in a quandary. I write every day and originally thought it would not take me much time to edit my earlier notes and post accordingly to catch up to present day. But it seems that the faster I go the behind-er I get, and I am eager to post current events. Still, in order for my comments on “now” to make sense, I need to touch upon some happenings since November occasionally. My past narrative last left off with “Boose”, and I will be bouncing between then and now for awhile.
Bear with me as I figure out how to toggle between now and then.

Our beach on a
normal day
One last thing about the tsunami…Those waves never went past our normal high tide line (though there was one more additional alert sounded around 2AM our time – almost 24 hours after the Japanese earthquake – when our tide did get scarily sucked out further than normal in the dark – but with no resulting inland surge). 
However, the recent proximity of the moon generated huge waves that came further ashore than we’ve yet seen; a few nights ago the tide came all the way up to the beachfront cabanita restaurants (a good 25-30 feet past normal high tide) and I noticed that waves were "breaking right" (the Montanita side of the point is known for this, but I have never seen the waves “break right”* on our side).  Several locals told us these monster waves occur about twice a year, so maybe the moon’s nearness was only a small factor.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good picture of the high tides because it was either dark or early, early morning (at least earlier than I generally arise).

A few nights ago I checked out a traveling bazaar that is set up near our town park for a few days. They were hawking everything from kettles to bras, and included an M.C. to liven things up (I am still not fluent enough in Spanish to understand a lot of what is said word for word, but he was demonstrating various items for sale, and it almost sounded to me like he was auctioning a few things as well – see the below video).  Much of the merchandise is not normally available locally, and I’m sure it’s a great convenience for those who would otherwise have to drive to Libertad/Salinas (cities 45 minutes-hour away) and lack adequate personal transportation to do so.

Recently, we also spent some time with a New York native visitor – Frank – who for the last 3 weeks stayed at a rental house in nearby Curia, owned by an Iowa friend of ours. We got acquainted with him through this blog, and really enjoyed getting the chance to know him better. One of the great things about living in this area is the opportunity to meet interesting travelers, and we certainly enjoyed getting to know Frank.  He also brought us paperbacks, a ton of Q-Tips (upon our request, because the Q-Tips here are relatively expensive and as sturdy as a strand of spaghetti) and he brought tabloids (next to bacon and hot chili peppers in jars, they are another thing I crave). NOT that I am hinting or anything……

Okay, so to go back a little…

Janie, Tom, Payal
We ended up having a GREAT time with the three doctors (Payal, Janie, and Tom) who are finishing up their residency at George Washington University and were here for a month last fall to do volunteer work at the Manglaralto clinic and for some much needed R&R. The weather was gloomy and drippy during their stay, but they were great sports about it. They dragged a twin bed mattress from the downstairs bedroom into the living room and made a comfy DVD watching “fort” on the floor in front of the TV for their down time. We ended doing a lot together, fixing dinners at our house, playing cards, and hanging around Montanita some evenings.  They were also great about letting me slip into our outside utility room to do our wash a couple of times a week, and we kind of became a big, happy family with our doctor “kids”. 

One night we all headed into Montanita for the evening and drank “Adios Mother F..kers” at a Bar Alley cocktail stand (“Galen´s” –our favorite) until we were adequately “adios-ed”.  Another morning we took an interesting trip up to a nearby hillside spa/retreat to find out more (ask questions) about the shamanic healing ceremonies they offer that include the"sacred" ayahuasca plant (Payal, Janie and Tom - if you are reading this, kids...remember that interesting little expedition?).
All in all, we had such a fun time with them that I felt bad about my initial sourpuss attitude about moving to the rental apartment earlier in the season than Todd and I anticipated.

One more thing....The other day, while walking across the soccer field on my way to catch the bus, I realized my shirt was inside out. Many a fashion faux pas can be committed here,but that is not one of them. Daisy sat with me while I waited for the bus for a half hour. Once I got on the bus (which thankfully wasn´t crowded) I went to the very back, where I dived underneath my seat and flipped my shirt around, barely getting it done before the money-guy came around.  **

* As seen from a surfer´s perspective from the ocean, waves generally veer to the left as they head towards the beach (at least along the Pacific shoreline). I might not be accurately informed about this, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong. But waves “breaking right” along our 8-mile stretch of beach is an unusual sight.

**  PS to Dr. Tom - I can`t find the copy of the “Daisy” group hug video you took when you all were leaving… If your cute, scrawny Chinese butt has time (inside joke, folks), please send it again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Feet Don´t Fail Me Now 2

March 13, 2011

It has been two days since the earthquake in Japan and ensuing tsunami warnings along the Pacific Rim.  It was virtually impossible to get an internet connection after my last post that day* and yesterday saw us busy getting our home and Big Deck’s house back in order since we had moved all vulnerable electronics, furniture, books, etc. onto high counters or to upstairs rooms in both houses.  All outdoor items were moved inside, and we closed and shuttered windows.  Perhaps we took more precaution than was necessary, but we felt better safe than sorry – especially if the need to evacuate took on urgency.

Around 1:00 PM the day of the tsunami warning, most stores were closed; Montanita was deserted and we heard that police were closing all the roads except those leading into the hills.  We saw many, many locals loading up trucks and cycles with mattresses and other personal items.  Todd and German Mike took our neighbor Carlos, his wife Maria and their kids up to family’s house in the hills a few minutes away.  And as you can see from the adjoining pictures, they also took their mattress.

The view from
Barb & Robert´s patio
Todd had the chance to run up to Curia (a little town just north of Olon) to check on the adorable beachfront house recently purchased by our new friends, Barbara and Robert who live in Stanford (more on them later).  By this point we were fairly confident that the tsunami drama would probably be nothing more than higher than usual tides.  The news we were hearing about the waves’ impact (or should I say lack of it?) in Hawaii and along the California coast was encouraging, but Todd and I were still waiting for its collision with the Galapagos Islands before making a decision to vacate our neighborhood.

By 4:00 PM in the afternoon, I don’t think anyone around here was really that worried. And honestly, I think the atmosphere in town around then became almost festive.  Locals and gringos alike were packed, ready and encouraged to go to the hills and most did. A bunch of Montanita folks headed to the hillside Montanita Zip-line Canopy place and had a big tsunami party; locals and gringos headed to friends’ hillside homes and all of the higher elevation hotels were open and welcoming.  We did go up to “El Retiro” (a very nice hillside retreat near us) which was crowded with vehicles and local people in a generally jolly mood) but came back down to the beach around 9:00 PM feeling it was safe and wanting to keep an eye on our houses.  President Correa sounded a coastal all-clear some time after midnight, but I think a lot people stayed up in the hills until early morning.
I suppose there are some reading this that are nervous about tsunamis and may be having second thoughts about coming to Ecuador.  But where exactly do you go in this world where there aren’t natural disasters occasionally?
I grew up in Kansas...we had tornados there (I still love that weather….about the only Kansas weather I miss).  In Palm Springs, we had earthquakes (those will get your attention, for sure) and there are hurricanes and volcanoes and landslides and fires and floods and I don’t know…whatever. Wherever.

Are hearts are saddened by the devastation in Japan, and we remember all those whose lives have been affected by the tragedy in our prayers. But still, we cannot live in fear. I confess, I live in fear at times, but more from my inner demons than any damn tsunami… I am reminded of a verse by Kahlil Gibran about fear.  In context it is more about our fear of living rather than dying (and has absolutely nothing to do with natural disasters), but one of my all time favorite verses, nevertheless:
“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

* I added couple of more pictures to my last post “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” that didn’t make it the first time because of a bad internet connection.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

March 11, 2011

I am interrupting my narrative to report on the potential tsunami that may strike our coast later this afternoon:

Our coastline
around10:00 AM
Shortly before daybreak, we woke up to Randy and Fonda yelling and pounding on our door in the dark, warning us of a tsunami.  Another friend, TJ also sent a text message to alert us and others.  Initially, there was some panic since we weren’t aware where the earthquake had hit, or when to expect the ensuing waves.  We all live only a hundred yards or so from the ocean. Neighbors Randy and Fonda, and Bobby headed to the hills. Todd ran to get our friend and neighbor Doug’s truck (“Big Blue” - they are currently back in the States now) and began loading up our computer, cash & bank cards, and a couple of other things.  I made the bed, washed last night’s dishes, and took a shower…. Don’t ask me why…I found my reaction strange, but felt that we had some time before heading to the hills. I did put on my running shoes and grabbed the camera, a couple of valiums (?!) and looked for Daisy (who is going through another pseudo heat cycle).

10:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time)

In the meantime the town’s loudspeakers and cruising police vehicles were announcing the tsunami warning.  About then we heard the earthquake had occurred in Japan and we had a few hours warning should we need to evacuate. We were also hearing other reports that Ecuador’s President Correa was calling for a coastal evacuation by noon.  I headed over to Doug and Jack’s house to turn on the news and realized that we have some time (first reports are saying to expect waves around 5PM our time) to decide a course of action. We texted family and friends, especially those who live on the Northern USA coast and are still sleeping.
Fonda, Todd, Sitara
Comparing notes and news
Now that we have a few more facts, things have calmed down.  Randy and Fonda returned from the hills chuckling about their reaction; Bobby had also taken time to shower first; Randy thought to grab their passports, and Fonda “brought the towel”… A towel… which is pretty good thinking when you consider the likelihood of getting wet.
It is a sparklingly sunny morning here, the ocean is calm, so it feels strange to be hunkered down at Jack and Doug & Pam’s (for the sake of brevity, I am calling it the “Big Deck’s” house from now on, and until circumstances change, I am taking photos from this beachfront balcony) and watching the news on their satellite TV. Right now we are waiting to see how the tsunami affects Hawaii and the western US coast; we are not particularly worried yet, but definitely ready to start moving downstairs items in this house (and ours) to upper level rooms.  We have a big pot of coffee going, neighbors have been in and out, and our friend Sitara (with her puppy Lily) is with us as well. Sitara has a few packed bags with her, and considerately thought to bring a nice bottle of wine. 

1:00 PM EST – Olon, Ecuador

While many of the locals seem fairly sanguine about the impending tsunami waves, announcements continue over the town’s loudspeakers, and preparations are clearly being made to brace against a potentially larger than normal tide surge.  I don’t think that anyone here is really expecting to face a huge wall of water coming at us like a speeding jet, but everyone is buttoning down the hatches, and we are as well.
We have moved most everything in Big Deck’s house that is electronic or vulnerable to the upstairs rooms, or several feet off the downstairs floors, and brought inside all the outdoor  stuff like chairs, kayaks, and toys that are around. We have locked most windows and storm shutters as well. We are getting ready to do the same thing at our house next, and depending on reports once the waves hit the Galapagos, prepared to unplug /disconnect all electrical and gas driven devices in both houses before we leave head for the hills (according to everyone I’ve asked so far, we have half hour to an hour to do this. We are grateful for the adequate warning we have to get ready, especially in light of the sad news broadcasts we are watching from Japan).
The funny – kinda ha ha – thing is that one of the other owners of this beach front property was just here this last week, and he loves gadgets (thank God).  Because through the years he has brought most every type of survival tool necessary, such as walkie-talkies, powerful flashlights, flares, and psychedelic laser lights….

Franklin demonstrating
our emergency water vehicle this AM

Not to mention this particular tsunami water vehicle that he left that might prove to be lifesaving should we need it.  See adjoining picture.
Neighbor Carlos’ wife Maria and kids Franklin and Adrianna posed for this pic shortly before they fled to higher ground a few minutes ago.  They packed their mattress, a couple of suitcases, and Todd and German Mike drove them there (about 15minutes away).
It is now around 3:30 PM our time and we are all noticing the breeze picking up on our shoreline.

I will post through the day as I can, assuming our internet works, but it is only now that I am getting a connection long enough to post this, thus far.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


October 25, 2010

I love riding the chicken buses here…perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but as a general rule, they are safe, at least along our stretch of the Ruta del Sol (Spondylus). And anyway, we usually only ride them between Olon and Montanita (25 cents). They run in either direction about every 5 to 10 minutes and can be hailed anywhere along the highway. They all have lively music or a DVD movie going, and a picture of Jesus, and most have upped the ambiance by adding black lights, inside/outside Christmas lights and window treatments in some variation of “fringe”.

Never mind that these same drivers have a rather well established reputation for racing each other every chance they get. Once or twice have I passed on a bus if the driver seemed a little too maniacal (I’ll generally wait for the next one if the driver comes barreling down the road at 40 miles an hour and screeches to a halt with what are clearly bad brakes. Even I recognize the sound of brakes in need of pads).
Now mind you, none of these guys will give you much time to get on or off the bus.  Getting on these vehicles is akin to a hobo jumping on a freight train. I’m no spring chicken, and there are times when some youngster bus assistant/toll-taker has given me a butt shove up the steps…And don´t try this stunt when the steps and your shoes are wet.  Todd still bears a scar on his shin from a year ago after pulling this maneuver in slick flip flops.

The mini Terminal Terrestre
Taking the chicken buses into Libertad for groceries is a breeze (assuming we don’t have a lot of stuff to bring back) and costs $1.50 each way.  From the Libertad bus station (actually there are two, and buses shuttling coastal traffic arrive and depart from the mini Terminal Terrestre). From there, it is only a dollar cab ride to the mall where HiperMarket* (think Walmart) is located, or for a couple of dollars to go a little further to the slightly more upscale Supermaxi, where we prefer to get our groceries.  Only once did we have a minor problem:  our cab driver from the mall back to the Terminal Terrestre just didn’t seem to understand that we wanted to go to the bus (pronounced “boose”) station. Try as we might, he stared uncomprehendingly at us (maybe our pronunciation of “Terminal Terrestre” lacked finesse …?)
So we did what everyone does in these situations: we started talking LOUDER (“necesitamos un boose… un boose…un BOOSE!”).

Janie, Tom, & Payal
I am starting to warm up to the doctors now in our house – Payal, Janie and Tom. They are nice “kids”, and we’ve actually been having a lot of fun with them. The docs are doing volunteer work at the nearby Manglaralto clinic and getting some much needed R&R as well.  Unfortunately, the weather had been crappy since they arrived, but I think they are having a good time enjoying our DVD library during their down time.
 They wanted to stock up on groceries, so a couple of days ago we all took the chicken bus into Libertad. We got a big kick out of the vendors that boarded the bus during one stop, skillfully hocking various gadgets in true infomercial style (“and the first five people who purchase one of these light-up pens gets a second one free”) and later cleaned out the Supermaxi. We’ve got enough food to feed an army and plans to fix dinner at the house later this week.

Daisy mostly hangs out at the house with the docs, but occasionally follows us back to the apartment at night.  We  are allowing her inside when she is there (she is not allowed in the beach house when we are at home), so this is her first time to be an "indoor" dog. She’s still disgusted with the damn cat and it’s just too much to ask her to sleep outside with a feline critter.

* For more on HiperMarket, see “Thingamajiggy