Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cold Duck Runway

May 23, 2011

Yes, that is a chicken..
On the bus
Riding the local buses here – for me, anyway – is always fun, if sometimes daunting.  A few of the bus drivers “push the pedal to the metal”  like bats out of hell, (and the most macho of these like to do this especially around sharp curves). I’ve always sort of worried about the kids, bicyclists, animals, and pedestrians traversing the Ruta in light of some maniacal drivers on the road (not to mention myself and fellow bus passengers). Fortunately, there is only one nearby cliff that a vehicle could hurtle over, but I’ve never heard of that ever happening (it doesn’t hurt that that a beautiful church, many school children, and “stop, take picture moment” are along that route, so all drivers slow down going through that pass).  And in our 4 years of coming here, I’ve yet to see a dog crossing or sleeping on the Ruta del Sol highway that ended up as road kill.  A few maimed or limping, si, but still on the right side of the dirt.
So yesterday morning, when I took the local bus up to Curia, I thought the driver was going unusually slow, which was a nice change of pace.  It wasn’t until I hopped off the bus that I realized that our driver was reading the newspaper… WHILE driving the bus…
I chuckled to myself, because, honestly I’ll take his bus any day over some of the speedster studs.

Some adorable Montanita kids
watching a fun street show.
I’ve always liked traveling and seeing new places, but not even in my wildest imagination did I ever think that I would be living in Ecuador. Until a few years ago, it wasn’t even on my radar, let alone my bucket list. Nor did Todd anticipate this turn of events in his life. But we have no regrets, despite more than a few moments/days of frustration, aggravation and confusion as we learn better the language and the culture. Every day we learn, or see, or hear something new; every day is a new adventure for us. And we are both grateful to have the opportunity now to live this life. 

KC Laurie and Me
A few years ago in Joshua Tree

Years ago (around 1975-76, to be more more precise) a long-time and still one of my best friends (Kansas City Laurie) and I got to know each other while working towards our private pilots’ license at a then local county airport. We were 19-20 years old, both passionate about flying and even more ardent about what the future held in store.  We each did become certified private pilots that same year and, boy, were we proud of those licenses! We showed them off every chance we got (i.e.….needing I.D. while shopping – Laurie and I were both guilty of saying “oh geez, I don’t have my driver’s license on me, but maybe this pilot’s license might suffice?”...  But I think what we both remember best about that time were the late evenings when we parked at the end of the night-lit runway, in one of our beat-up used cars,  sharing a cheap bottle of Cold Duck and wondering what kind of life stories we would have to tell our grandchildren.

Now, it is 35 years later, and my newest granddaughter, Clara Renée entered the world on May 9th.
I have another granddaughter, Avery (age 10) who I miss very much too. Probably one of the hardest things about living in Ecuador is the distance from so many of my loved ones, and I miss them a lot.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure not all my stories since those pensive nights spent at the end of a darkened airstrip may be suitable for grandchildren stories…. Well, at least not for now.

My eldest daughter, Lizbee
and granddaughter Avery
(aorund 2005)

KT,  my middle daughter
 married to a Brit and has
been living in England for the last 8 yrs or so.

Mama Kacie and Clara
Papa Pedro and Clara

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home Sweet Honey

May 17, 2011

On my last post, I neglected to mention another great coastal Ecuador blog being written by Nancy Levin in Salinas called "Finding our Paradise in Ecuador". Because Todd and I share our laptop, and our internet time is somewhat limited at home (or we are paying from an internet café), we often only have time to take care of the most urgent while connected.  I don’t have as much time to cruise the net as I used to, and have only recently discovered this likable and helpful blog.

A few weeks back, Todd and I suspected and discovered a beehive residing in the chimney of our neighbor Big Deck Doug’s beachfront house (the one owned by Doug & Pam, my brother Jack, and a couple of other partners). Fortunately, the abejas (bees) weren’t coming into the house because the flue is shut, but we needed to address the issue. 
 We spent the last weekend watching this most interesting 2-3 day process, which involved removing some cement chimney blocks to enlarge access for hive removal (gulp…we hoped these guys knew what they were doing, and they did “assure” us they knew how to restore chimney after their bee job). It also included a lot of smoke and requests for any and all cardboard cartons, strainers, and empty plastic containers. Even though our bee guys, Faustino (the bee maestro) and Jimmy suited up for the job, they are brave guys in my book, because it turned out to be a HUGE hive. 

Large honeycombs were pulled from the nest (Todd and I suppose probably close to 20 pounds were pulled out) and a few honey combs were put into a “bee box”…Some of the bees followed the honey combs; the queen fled, and the rest migrated with her. The hive was left to calm down for the night, because they were pretty mad. They swarmed all over the area during this part, and observer German Mike got stung twice in the face. Most of the rest of us watched from a distance.

Faustino and Jimmy came back later that night to show us how to hand-squeeze the honey from the combs (which still had a few angry bees adhered). We split the honey with Faustino and strained the rest into all available jars for the rest of us (see pic below). 
We’ve had natural honey here before (which is delicious) and this batch is particularly yummy – sweeter and thicker than that which we’ve tried before, and just a touch of spicy. We’ve been lapping it up and I’m sure the gang at Big Deck’s house are going to enjoy the large jar we have saved for them (they are all coming back down in  a few weeks).

The next day the queen’s temporary retreat was easily located nearby, because she was surrounded by thousands of bees under the carport. Faustino placed the “bee box” (with slit openings) nearby, and eventually the queen and entourage migrated to box during the day. By dark that night, most all bees were in the box and calm enough to be transported back to Faustino’s bee farm on the outskirts of Olon.  Faustino has invited us to come see his bee operation soon, and we are looking forward to the tour. *

Leigh, Kyle and Neville
We also recently had a fun family of three from Texas (Leigh, Neville, and their son Kyle) stay with us for a few days. Leigh H. (yes, first name spelled the same as mine) and I met via this blog and began a lively and friendly email correspondence a few months ago. Their family was planning a trip to the coast of Ecuador, and wanted a rental home for around a week in our area during Easter week (Semana Santa is the week before Easter).  Semana Santa is more or less the “last hurrah” of the coastal busy season and accommodations can be hard and/or expensive to find.  Todd was inundated with requests for that week, and all of our accessible rental homes had been reserved or occupied well in advance (and the best nearby hostels also had no availability). We had nowhere else to go to ourselves with relatively short notice for the holiday week, so Leigh H. suggested we share our house together.  We were initially hesitant because we don’t currently offer any kind of “bed and breakfast” option, and we didn’t know what to expect about sharing a house for a week with folks we’d never met in person, and I’m pretty sure Leigh H. and her family may have had some likewise concerns. But after a few frank discussions, (and she and I hit it off well) we all agreed to try it.

As it turns out, we had a great time together. We gave them the master and second bedroom upstairs (each with an adjoining bath) and we took the downstairs bedroom. Todd and I enjoyed our time with Leigh and her husband Neville (who are from Houston) and their 13-yr old son, Kyle who was so polite, and thoughtful (he brought some of his favorite gifts to share with the kids here) and a ball of fun. Leigh and I got along wonderfully, and it was a joy to share the week with their family. Neville’s hand was injured in Salinas shortly before he arrived, so he was a little down for the count on some activities, but he was a great sport, taped up the injury, never complained, and it wasn’t until they returned to the States that they discovered he had broken several fingers.

Kyle, preparingfor
the zipline adventure
I raised daughters, so being around adolescent boys is always an interesting experience and a fun treat for me (gosh, they have so much energy!). And much like my time with our part-time Olon neighbors Dan and Kelly’s sons (Thompson and Harris), Kyle and I had a ball!  We played twister, went boogie boarding, watched scary movies, and went zip-lining. We had a lot of fun, but I’m telling you - this ol’ middle-aged body hasn’t had that hard a work out in a long time (hey - try playing twister with knees this age…).  The day they left, I was good for nothing but a day in bed watching DVD’s and napping. 
Leigh kindly brought several goodies on my wish list and also a couple of other items I hadn’t thought of: several reusable/recyclable cloth grocery bags and a pack of assorted greeting cards. I brought a couple of the reusable grocery bags with me when we got here, but I’ve worn them out, and they are invaluable on my shopping expeditions for groceries (much easier to carry the heavier items without worrying about the plastic fundas (bags) breaking, and a lot more convenient to condense the various store bags into one a cloth bag while shopping, and for the bus or taxi ride home. And the greeting cards were truly inspired!  Hell, it’s hard enough just finding envelopes around here, let alone stationary cards.  A while back, I unsuccessfully looked all over Olon and Montanita for a condolence card when our friend Juan died ("Going, Going...Juan"), and ended up improvising one from our computer (sans envelope, and before our printer died in our rental apartment flood).
Leigh had a chance to shop for the hammocks she wanted to take back to Houston, and Neville had an opportunity to jam with some local musicians one night at popular restaurant in Montanita.
Warming up before the show
All in all, we had a great time together, and we now share some delightful memories with new friends.

Daisy continues to bring us a great deal of joy, and follows us around where ever Todd and I go. I think she has some herding instincts because it’s more like she’s walking us than the other way around.  A while back I went shopping for dog collar at the only store in Olon that has pet supplies.  I could only see harnesses for dogs. Didn’t know the word for “collar’” and my gesturing included slashing at the harness shoulder bands while saying “sin” (without) and wrapping a nearby leash around my neck (and – now this is really hard to explain….The store owner indicated he understood by wrapping another one around his neck). So there we were when this lady walked in……

Daisy with neighbor kids
Jefferson and Adrianna

*  All bee photos courtesy of visiting guest Terri Ediger

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Glad you Asked

May 6, 2011

I get a lot of emails asking questions about our area, and thought that I would share one that I recently received, since we are frequently asked these questions:

Hi Leigh,
I hope you don’t mind me using your email that I found on expatexchange.com to contact you. I am a regular reader of this forum, and get lots and lots of useful information there. After reading your description of Olon, we’ve got quite interested.
Hope you can give us more info that will help us to decide which part of the coast to explore.
My husband and I are planning to move to Ecuador in about a year and a half (if we can sell out house in PA by then). We definitely want to be on the coast. We were in Ecuador in January this year mostly exploring the area north of Bahia. Even made a deposit on the lot in a new development there, but after further consideration decided that area was too secluded, and it would take quite a few years to develop. So, on our next trip later this year we would like to explore the coast between Bahia and Salinas.
I know you live in Olon and love it, but we are concerned with the rough ocean there and being kind of far away from bigger towns.

This is what we’re looking for:

  • Not directly on the beach, but within a walking distance.
  • Ocean view is a must.
  • Calm ocean where we can swim. Most of the areas we’ve seen are beautiful, but not swimmable.
  • My husband wants to have a boat as his biggest hobby is fishing. So, we have to be able to keep the boat somewhere and to be able to launch it.
  • Preferably on the hill – for the better view, cool breeze.
  • Being close to a bigger town like Salinas or Manta, so we can easily go there for entertainment, restaurants…
  • Preferably a house or a townhouse in the development - privacy and safety.
Are there areas in and around Olon with calm ocean that is good for swimming?  Are there existing developments or the new ones being built on the hills? How far is it from bigger towns?  Do you need a car to get around?

I’ve done lots of research. Read a lot of good stuff about Crucita and Olon, but looks like the ocean is pretty rough in these areas. Puerto Lopez and Auyangue have calm waters, but they are just small villages far from civilization. Salinas looks very good, but flat and mostly condos. May be our list of wants is too long, and we’ll have to compromise, which is OK.

Can you please advise based on our criteria which areas we should concentrate on? Can you recommend towns/villages on the coast? How about Ballenita? Punta Carnero? Punta Blanca?
I am also concerned with the water situation on the coast. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand water has to be trucked in everywhere (except Salinas). How does this work? Are any areas that do have water on the coast?
Appreciate any info and advise you can give me.

Best regards,

View from the bar at
Casa del Sol in Montanita

Good for you for doing your homework before purchasing in Ecuador. The Expat Exchange forum (Ecuador page)* is a great source of information (Yahoo also has several good forums; the main one is  "Ecuador Expats" and a newer one in particular, "Coastal Ecuador" focuses specifically on the coastal areas you are interested in. The Yahoo forum also has a companion page on Facebook, ("Ecuador Expats"), with a number of people participating.  South of Zero is also a great website.
Mary Beckman runs the site and her page is a great consolidated source of many useful links, and a list of Ecuadorian-focused blogs.

But the most important thing is that you have been here to look for yourself.
Yes, WE love it here, especially our little Olon area, but Ecuador is not for everyone. This is not the United States. Ecuador is still a developing country, and many of the conveniences and infrastructures we take for granted in the Estados Unidos are not necessarily the norm here (the power does go out too often, internet is generally slow, and good luck finding some of your favorite gringo junk foods or clothes that fit). On the other hand, life is much more tranquillo in Ecuador: the pace is slower, the food is healthy and fresh, nothing is usually taken for granted or wasted, the people are kind, the scenery is breathtaking, and children still ride bikes and play hide and seek outside after dark without anyone worrying (well, at least that’s still true for our “neck of the woods”).

But kid yourself not; once you move here, no matter how many times you have visited, you will be on a long learning curve. Be prepared to regularly make physical and mental adjustments, and do your best to learn some Spanish since most small-town coastal locals don’t speak Ingles (though many, many have a desire to learn it, and are respectful and more than helpful regarding our efforts to learn their language). Todd and I have been here for almost a year, and most days have been an exhilarating adventure, but we have also had our days of frustration and intimidation because we don’t always understand the culture or the language.  But it’s been an opportunity to be “stretched’ (at our age! – we are in our mid-fifties) in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.

One of the views from
our balcony
Now to answer a few of your specific questions, but a bit of disclosure here:
Our Olon home is on the market, and meets many of your criteria, but I am not writing this to plug the sale and hope I don’t sound like a blatant advertisement. We love Olon, love living in the Jardines de Olon (a gated community, but not behind high walls barricading our neighborhood from the locals as some of the gringo compounds in other parts of Ecuador tend to do). We live and work daily with the local community. We are not leaving Ecuador (or Olon for that matter, either). We are selling because we want to build a home on a lot we own nearby. All homes in the Jardines de Olon are on/or within a hundred yards from the beach, and all have ocean views.

A view from the
Lomas de Olon development
Because you mentioned your interest in hillside property, let me add there are a few homes and developments in the nearby hills that you may want to investigate. In particular, I will transparently promote the "Lomas de Olon"  which is being built by experienced U.S. and Ecuadorian developers we know and trust (another caveat – these are all good friends of ours).  There is also some other hillside lots/property with acreage if that is your desire. You may also want to check out hillside properties around Montanita and I think the Montanita Vista development is worth looking at. And there is generally always a nice breeze in the hills, along with the great views.

Regarding your comment about the “rough ocean current(s)”…I am a little puzzled since I spent almost 15 years living along the Southern California beachside (specifically in Dana Point, and Newport Beach/San Clemente/Huntington Beach were all nearby) and as far as I know, rip-tides/under-tows HAPPEN in the ocean. They happened there, and they happen here now and then.  But our Olon beach is generally calm, there are no rocks or hidden boulders to bump into, the tide is mild, the sand is soft, and you can usually walk out forever and still be only up to your knees in water. You may be confusing us with Montanita (just south of us, on the other side of the point) that is known for more treacherous and higher waves, which is why the international surfers love it.  But our Olon stretch of the beach is very “swimmable”.

A car is nice to have here, but not necessary along the Ruta del Sol (Spondylus). Gas is cheap, but importing or buying a vehicle here can be expensive. We get around using the local cabs and chicken buses and do just fine. ***

Fishing is good (and is the main source of income for many of the locals who know exactly when to fish, know exactly how far out to go and how long to stay, and know exactly what they are trying to catch). Many gringos coming here will probably need to hire a reputable guide to help them find the deep-sea fishing spots – at least initially, and most are at least an hour or two out – but friends and guests we know have been pleased with their catch(s) on these expeditions.

Regarding the boat your husband wants to harbor: In our area, I think only Puerto Lopez (to the north) and Salinas (to the south) may offer docking opportunities, both of which are an hour away.

Some of the nearby coastal towns do depend on water “trucked in”, though Olon is not one of them. However, many local municipalities (including Olon) turn the water “off” during the night for conservation purposes, and we suggest during your house-hunting expedition, DO ask whether or not the property has a cistern or water barrel container that will prevent you from being held hostages during local water-less conditions. And then ask how it is pumped into the house. We have a cistern, so we are generally never out of water, have a good electrical system/box that heats and pumps the whole house with hot water faucets/showers/etc (rather than the heat generating shower/water suicide devices, which are more common).  Which is great, unless (like I mentioned before) the power goes out —and it does with some frequency – which renders everything I’ve just said as a moot point.

A small traveling
carnival visits our town
 I can’t give much advice on the towns north of here that you mentioned, since I haven’t visited those yet, other than Puerto Lopez (which is one of the larger villages along the coast). Manta is about two hours north of us and is a large town (I’ve only been there to catch a flight from the airport) and I wasn’t impressed. Crucita has many fans on the Expat Exchange forum that can answer your more specific questions about that area.

Ayangue (also known as “Lobster Village”) is a quaint little pueblo, situated in a beautiful cove about a half hour south of us and we go there occasionally to eat and stroll. There are some nice developments being built nearby that you may want to check out.  Ayangue is somewhat remote, though closer to Salinas.

Jugglers in Montanita
Salinas is an hour to the south of us and known more and more as a “Little Miami” because of all the new condo developments (and there are many that are reasonably priced) which might be attractive to you and your husband since condo security is generally tight. Salinas also has an active night life, a thriving expat community, and several nice beaches nearby – a more cosmopolitan type of environment compared to Olon.  And if you or your husband have any on-going medical conditions, or that is a concern, you most certainly want to consider the Salinas/Libertad area with sophisticated medical facilities and hospitals conveniently close-by (good and reasonably priced medical care is available in Ecuador).  We have an adequate clinic in Manglaralto which is equipped to deal with most common situations, and can handle emergencies, but the most urgent cases are then rushed on to Libertad/Salinas.

I’m not sure any one town along the coast can satisfy all your “criteria”, but many come close. The best thing is to come and explore Ecuador; if it beckons you as it has for many of us living here, you will find your own slice of paradise in time. You will recognize it when it speaks to your heart and soul and you will know that you have found “home”.

A couple of our neighborhood kids

* I am always entertained and educated when I peruse Expat Exchange in particular, though I am a little concerned there may be a few too many articulate people in really cold places, drinking some fine single malt  and wearing tin foil antennas, with a little too much time on their hands, making late night comments about any number of conspiracy theories over any number of different issues (not to all do I object or disagree) which often have little to do with Ecuador, but entertaining nevertheless.

** BobnRox live in Manglaralto (about two towns south of us – 5 miles) and have been writing a chatty and edifying blog for a couple of years now.

*** I have written more about that in “Thingamajiggy” and “Boose”.