Tuesday, June 14, 2011


June 14, 2011

My last post contained a rather glaring typo I missed, which has since been corrected. The average daily wage of Ecuadorians is $10 per DAY (not per hour as originally posted).

For the last couple of months, I’ve been getting together with my local friend Elizabeth (a picture of her is in my last post from the Quimbita party – the gal in white shirt, sitting next to me with our arms around each other).  She wants to learn English, and I want to learn Spanish….neither one of us has ever been a teacher, and I think we confound each other more than learn after each lesson, but we have a lot of fun together during those times.  But for instance, she pointed out to me a few weeks ago how difficult it is for Spanish speakers to hear the difference between “eyes” and “ice” or “flowers” versus “floors”….And for us English speakers, the same could be said for hearing the difference between “dias” (days) and “diez” (the number ten).  And we certainly had a raucously bawdy. lewd chuckle when we were reviewing the names of body parts – the Spanish word for “lips” is “labio” and I pointed out with much gesturing how similar that word is to our English word for another (female) body part.

I am in high heaven right now because a new meat store has just opened up in Montanita (gringo proprietor Andrea is a friend of ours) and he offers great beef, pork, and chicken, – even spare ribs!!! The meat is good quality (coming from a Cuenca source) and if I have to single handedly spend $5 a day to help him stay in business….I’m on it. He is also beginning to include olives, cheeses and certain specialty sauces. It is right across from a great, rather new bakery (owners from either Argentina or Venezuela – I haven’t quite figured that out yet) that we patronize daily. Both are in great locations – right next to the Montanita bus stop on the corner.

New Montanita Bakery

Now a couple of recipes I want to post:

Pico de Gallo
  • 6-8 chopped tomatoes (in the States, I used Roma tomatoes)
  • 1 large chopped purple onion
  • 1 bunch of finely chopped cilantro *
  • 2-4 chopped fresh hot peppers (in the States, I used serrano peppers, but I have become a big fan of the Ecuadorian ají peppers. We have an ají bush in our yard. These little red peppers may look innocent, but they have a powerful bite, and I like all things picante).
  • 1 finely minced clove of garlic
  • Juice of one freshly squeezed lime
  • 1 or 2 capfuls of cider vinegar
    Aji bush
  • Salt to taste
Add more or less of any of these ingredients. I usually add more tomatoes here because they are dirt cheap (30-50 cents a pound).  The *cilantro here is not quite the same as in the States (more “feathery” rather than leafy, but it works okay).  For those who don't like cilantro, parsley works as a good substitute.

Those who have read my earlier posts, know I am not a big seafood fan (which is a shame, because it is so good here), but I have literally been living on bean and cooked rice burritos and this Pico de Gallo salsa (packaged flour tortillas easily found around localy in the last year or so - I always ightly warm them up in an oiled skillet first). The beans I like to use here are the Facundo brand of “menestra de frijol rojo” (red beans in sauce), because the sauce has a little kick to it, and I add a little cooked rice to it, plus a lot of butter (we Kansas people like our butter – forget that margarine shit), and mash it up a bit.  Sometimes I add some shredded chicken that we buy at our favorite roasted chicken place in Montanita ($4.00 for a quarter of chicken, plus rice and beans, and the ever present tasteless patacones, which even Daisy won’t eat).  And now that we have our new meat market, I’m all over the chorizos Andrea sells.

Our favorite EC KFC
Another recipe that Todd and I enjoy fixing (since all the ingredients are readily available here) is one we came across in one of our favorite books “A Trip to the Beach” by Melinda and Robert Blanchard (about a New England couple who moved to the Caribbean island of Anguilla to open a restaurant and their experience). It’s a great book, certainly one that inspired us (go buy it!), and also contains about 5 great recipes, but the one that we regularly make is the banana bread recipe below.

Caribbean Banana Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter either one large or two small loaf pans and dust with flour.

C ream together:
  • 1 and 1/3 cups of room temperature butter
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat 4 eggs into the butter mixture, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
On low speed, also blend in:
·         6 smashed ripe bananas
·          ¾ cup lemon juice (I use the bottled version).
 In a separate bowl, whisk together:
·         4 cups flour
·          2 teaspoons baking soda
·          2 teaspoons salt
Still on low speed, add the flour mixture and other mix until just blended. To avoid over mixing, do the final blending by hand with a rubber spatula.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about an hour.  A knife inserted in the middle of the loaf should come out clean when the bread is done.
Sometimes we add a little sprinkle of cinnamon/sugar on top.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It Takes A Village

June 11, 2011

Yesterday, I took the chicken bus to Libertad - not to my usual haunts like the modern El Paseo Mall, or the Super-Maxi….but to the shopping area around the Terminal Terrestre (bus stop). In this vicinity, there are probably 6 to 8 blocks chock full of little tiendas selling all types of wares. I was on a mission to find a substantial ream of heavy duty cloth to repair four beach chairs and heard there was a fabric store in the nearby “Buen Adventura” mall which is near the central plaza.  This is more like a 2 story bazaar crammed full of assorted stores, but – alas! - no fabric store. So I started wandering the maze of streets in search of a “tela” (fabric/material) tienda.   Though somewhat daunting to meander around this labyrinth of calles, (I was concerned I might not be able to find my way back to the bus station) I had a fun time exploring and did eventually stumble onto a fabric store and find what I needed.  The funniest thing is that I ran into several local Olon/Montanita people I know while on my adventure, which happens every time I go into Libertad.   Locals and gringos alike, we all seem to know, or know of each other. 

I ended up bumping into our friend Leila riding the same bus back home, so we sat with each other. Leila is a sweetheart and owns one of the most successful restaurants in Olon, next to our town park. It is one of our favorite places to eat because she always has great chicken, pork chops and chorizos.  When we first discovered it, we were calling it “the pork place by the park” (later cleverly coined “One Pork Place” by our friend Sitara) but everyone knows it as “Leila's".   The adjoining picture is of Leila cooking for her fans.

Chowing down at Leila's

Olmedo Quimbita

Last Saturday night we were invited to a wine and appetizer art showing at Hotel Quimbita in Olon.  Olmedo Quimbita lives here locally and is a renowned Ecuadorian artist. His artwork has been displayed and exhibited all over the world. Quimbita (as he is called) is a very modest and quiet man; his pictures are amazing and cost a pretty penny. We hope someday to have one of his pieces grace our home.

Now I have an update on the sad car accident that I mentioned in my last post, and affected many families and communities in our area.  All the neighboring towns and villages rallied to raise funds for these families. 
Once again, a summary, of the accident (and I am quoting from an initial email I received from Beth  of Casa del Sol):

There were multiple fatalities and serious injuries following a road accident near Montanita this week. Elio Córdova, a shopkeeper and Dad of two, was killed, and Pedro Hermenegildo, a Dad of three, is in hospital on life support. Pedro Hermenegildo is the brother of Julio, a friend of mine and one of the staff members at Casa del Sol, the hotel where I live. One other person was killed and 11 injured when a garbage truck hit a cow and then ploughed into two vehicles on Monday night. Full details can be found in Spanish here.

Both families are in a desperate situation. Elio leaves behind a pregnant wife and two sons aged 12 and 14. Pedro’s three children are 5, 13 and 17. As well as the terrible emotional trauma, without their Dads’ income, the families are in a dire financial situation. Pedro went into a coma after the accident, his recovery is extremely uncertain and his hospital bills are mounting.
Seeing the difference in Julio (Pedro’s brother) since the accident really brought it home to me what it would be like to lose a family member, or have them in hospital with their life hanging in the balance. A friend and I have started a fundraising campaign to try to help both families. Without help they will struggle to pay their rent or buy food – never mind pay hospital bills or continuing care.
Looking at a humble wage (by western standards) of $10 USD per day, it would take the average Ecuadorian Dad a whole day to earn that amount - or a month to earn $300. Both families affected will have been living on this type of income. Therefore, to support both families for the next six months would cost $3600.
It's a huge target, but even if we can donate $100 to each family, that would be a big help. We could do that if a few kind people chip in a few dollars, the equivalent of one hour's wages perhaps?”
All paintings on this post courtesy of Quimbita

The folks at Casa del Sol set up a fund raising link (which for the life of me I’ve been unable to post successfully, but please see their website or their Facebook page) and were so successful that I just received this email from Beth: 
Dear all,
On behalf of two very grateful families in Montanita, and everyone at Casa del Sol, I am writing to say a huge thank you for your donation to our fundraising campaign.
Thanks to your generosity, we were able to give both families an initial installment of $500, nearly two month’s wages for each family, which is a brilliant achievement and will make a real difference to their lives.
There is good news from Julio’s family. His brother Pedro, who went into a coma following the accident, is recovering slowly. At one point the situation looked hopeless and the doctors considered turning his life support machine off, but then he suddenly opened his eyes and since then he has made slow but steady progress. His eyes are open all the time now, he is moving his arms and legs and has indicated that he understands what is being said to him. He is still being intubated but the doctors plan to remove the tube any day now and hope that he will then be able to talk. He is expected to be in hospital for two to three months and then continue his recuperation at home.
When we gave the $500 to Julio, he was speechless. After a moment of silence, he asked how we managed to raise that amount and I gave him a list of everyone’s names who had donated. He said that he didn’t have the words to express his gratitude and asked us to pass on a big thank you to each of you.

Visiting the family who had recently lost their Dad was hard. Marisela, the widow, was very grateful for what we had done and introduced us to her two teenage sons, who also thanked us. They all seemed shell-shocked and it was very sad. I think it was perhaps too soon for them to have thought much about how they are going to manage financially, but I’m sure that when they need to buy food or something for school, the funds we raised will make all a difference.
The fundraising efforts continue and we have plans for a second, smaller installment soon.
The accident and its aftermath have been a very sad experience but the amazing kindness of people such as you, the majority of whom have never met the people affected, has been truly wonderful. It’s not just the money that has made a difference to both families, but knowing that there are people from all over the world thinking of them in their time of need. Thank you again for your donation”
Beth, on behalf of Casa del Sol.

I think one of the most special blessings about living here is seeing how everyone pulls together during a tragedy such as this, and even more so is the camaraderie between the locals and gringos in our Olon/Montanita locale because our area (like many coastal areas around the world) has such an “international” population and we all learn from each other.

At the Quimbita art showing with some of our friends.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bats in the Bowl

May 31, 2011

The adjacent picture is not for the faint-hearted.  That is a picture of a bat in our downstairs toilet (still alive and treading water and skidding up and down the slick porcelain bowl trying to escape)…How it got there, we are not sure. True, every home here houses some bats in the eves and crevices of our outdoor roofs (and though that issue can be minimized, these little critters’ nests are impossible to completely eliminate). They very rarely get or come inside except accidently through an open window or door left open shortly after dusk, and really – bats are our friends, because they love to eat mosquitoes. But how this little fellow landed in our toilet bowl one night had us scratching our heads. We did rescue it using a Solo cup, (and flung him outside) but not without a few squeamish moments and a several bad swear words.

View from Barb & Robert's
Curia "back" yard
Todd and I have been spending quite a bit of time in Curia (the village just north of Olon) for the last couple of months because Barbara and Robert from Northern California who were guests of ours (and now friends) bought a darling beach-front home in Curia earlier this year. 

Robert & Barbara
Todd & Leigh - Jan 2011
Barbara and Robert are probably one of the most kind and generous couples Todd and I have ever known.  When they were here for their exploratory visit and purchase in January, they thoughtfully brought a number of much appreciated goodies we had been craving (without our solicitation, but they sensitively picked up on a few of our yearnings reading this blog). And OMIGOD – the greatest thing they brought (as far as this Kansas City meat-lovin’ gal is concerned) was a bag of Costco (Kirkland brand) bacon bits. Todd and I went nuts and put those bacon bits into everything we cooked or ate – eggs, pancakes, ice cream, Frosted Flakes – you name it) until we ran out…So I guess this is probably NOT a very nuanced HINT in case anyone coming to EC to visit their expat meat-loving friends and have room in a suitcase to bring a bag or two of those.

Barbara and Robert
But honestly, even more importantly, these two kind-hearted souls brought a ton of stuff for the local kids. Most toys, games, art supplies/coloring markers, etc, are expensive in our area; a thin coloring book costs $4 at the mall in Libertad. I suppose Barb and Robert packed at least a full suitcase of assorted coloring books, coloring and artwork supplies (which essentially cost nothing at Target/Wal-Mart, dollar stores, thrift stores, etc in Estados Unidos, but often prohibitively expensive here). The morning I went with them while they gifted these to several local nursery schools and neighborhood kids, the children were ecstatic, lots of kissing and hugging and giggles as they thanked Barb and Robert. (Kicking myself for not getting a picture of this). One of our local neighborhood kids (Franklin) got so excited he ran inside to give them an invitation to his graduation from grade/junior school the next night.

We all went the following night to Franklin’s class graduation at the local school, which was special, didn’t start until around 8PM, lasted until 10PM, and the celebration moved to our Olon park until early morning (the stage had been readied, chairs set up, but we didn’t make it to that part of the celebration).

Barb and Robert want to live here and have wisely begun their preparations now to return to Ecuador permanently within the next year or so. We think they are on the right track, but completely understand and can relate with their current situation ("Cribbage In the Wind"). Especially hard to handle is how to deal with paying from long distance the gardeners, security, utility bills, etc in cash during absences. If one has an Ecuadorian bank/savings/credit account some of this can be handled on-line – assuming you have some Spanish language skills and the laborers have a bank account and some on-line knowledge as well and speak at least a little English.

This was a challenging experience for us until we moved here (and we took some real hard knocks during our 3 year pre-move long-distance property management learning curve) and we are still learning. In the meantime, we agreed with Barb and Robert to handle their property management issues until their return.   Honestly, we have enjoyed the time we have spent in Curia to oversee their property and getting to know better the local gente simpatico (nice people) who live there.
Todd and I are not in the property management business, and don’t seek it, but aside from B&R’s house in Curia we also currently handle one other property as “managers” for now. As anyone who has owned/maintained a home anywhere knows and understands the day to day attention that requires, this can be very time consuming. I will eventually in a later post discuss the education we have gained since our consent to handle the daily issues to oversee two other properties aside from our own (i.e. – refrigerators breaking down, or other mechanical stuff going on the blink, constant plumbing, wood-repair, and electrical  issues  raising hell).  In Ecuador, this also includes having some basic Spanish technical vocabulary, weeding out the shysters from the true qualified “professionals” (“maestros”) and having lots of patience, since everything – everything – moves at a glacial “mañana” pace compared to what we are used to.

Todd, Barbara, Robert
Sandy and Sue
Barb and Robert recently returned to Curia for a week along with her cool sister, Sandy and partner Sue. B&R generously brought us a camera (a thoughtful surprise) to replace our last one which was stolen about a month ago in a snatch and grab (unusual here and our first encounter in four years with that type of crime, and likely roving juvenile delinquents – we suspect no local Olon people).  Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much leisure time to spend with them as we hoped, since we were dealing with a number of work related issues (we think this is sometimes hard for our visiting friends to understand, because most come here for a retreat, but we are not “vacationing” and have a number of daily work obligations to deal with.

If I sound a little “down in the dumps” tonight – I am.
The last few weeks have been difficult for us.  Several days before Barb and Robert arrived, a very ugly car accident occurred near Manglaralto (involving a commercial truck swerving out of the way to avoid running over a sudden cow (“vaca”) on the Ruta highway in the dark, but resulted in colliding with two oncoming personal vehicles being struck instead).  Three people (maybe 4?) died in this accident and around another eleven folks were hospitalized, a few with very serious injuries. This doesn’t happen often on the Ruta del Sol, and most local communities had friends or family involved in the incident.  Quite quickly and typically, the villages along the route began fund raising for all the families affected.  We also donated to several of the “communa” donation efforts, and it wasn’t until several days later that we also realized that a few of our local friends were in those cars:
  1. Lovely Carmen, who worked at our local water company and helped me each month when paying our water bills died in the accident.
  2. Fernando, a friendly local acquaintance of ours, and Olon neighbor who owns the Montanita Zip Line Canopy was seriously injured, but now recovering well.
  3. But worst of all, our friend Pedro (from Curia) who is probably our oldest long time local friend here (we met him 4 years ago when he was driving a taxi; he has been to our home many times since then to share a beer or two, and we’ve been to his home for delightful meals prepared by his wife Patti) was the most seriously injured – but alive – though is still in a coma, last we heard.
Pedro and his family
Taken a couple of years ago after
lovely lunch at their home.
For those who may want to donate a few dollars we suggest contacting Beth Pitts at through the Casa Del Sol website.  They have been actively collecting donations to help these families and can provide more detailed information.

We’ve also recently become embroiled in a dispute instigated by a former employee (gardener) we inherited when we bought our home 4 years ago.  We mutually agreed then to continue his part-time gardening employment at agreed upon terms, provided bonuses and other Ecuadorian mandated employee benefits (like the 13th month bonus obligated only to full-time employees) despite the fact that his work ethic was indolent and inconsistent, which we indulged in our best effort to comply with our understanding of Ecuadorian labor laws (which will almost always favor the Ecuadorian perspective versus the gringo documentation). He worked less and less for his pay, continually asked for extra money and tips, which were often provided, along with many generous gifts to his family.  We were aware that he was involved with perhaps some unsavory activities in town, but we befriended him, and trusted him enough to allow him access inside our home even if we were out for a few minutes and in that respect, he never betrayed us as far as we are aware…However a few months ago, he was busted and jailed for a few weeks on narcotic charges (growing a couple of marijuana plants on the lot next to his free housing in our compound). Since then he has never returned to work – we never fired him. He told us his attorney advised him that one condition of his release was contingent on moving out of his free Jardines de Olon housing and that he was not allowed to enter the compound/neighborhood for any reason.  Let me repeat…We never fired him despite his many dereliction of duties (a valid consideration under EC labor laws in our favor we think). In fact we felt bad for his family and paid an additional month wages while he was jailed to help them in that situation. Yet, we were recently served with papers (not quite at an official judicial level yet) requesting about $4000 from us for his severance because he lost his job.
This situation likely will be an on-going headache for us for awhile, one that I probably will not discuss after this post, and usually depends on who you know, who can be bribed, or who you can afford to hire….
“This is Ecuador” is a phrase often repeated by many living here. Yet it is not meant or said to scare people away from living or investing here.  I suppose this type of situation happens in most countries - (and I include the United States, where it’s just done with a little more finesse and sophisticated facades).

Also, Todd was working high on a ladder one morning a few weeks ago (hanging moth balls bags around outdoor roof ledges, which have a substantial effect of deterring bats from nesting) when the ladder collapsed, which thankfully didn’t break any of his bones or ribs, but did seriously tear some of his back/rib muscles and cartilage. It’s the type of injury that is very painful for at least several months and not much can be done but wait for it to heal naturally, so he is frustrated by these limitations and isn’t a very happy camper now.   

I’ve been more whiney and depressed lately because I miss my family and kids very much, especially because I have a new granddaughter I’ve yet to hold or hug or kiss, and I would still kill for real Mexican food (though I have finally hit upon a few improvised recipes using local ingredients that have been satisfying my food cravings)…I will share a few of those recipes shortly, but I’ve already rambled on for too long now.

Our dog Daisy has recently developed a rapidly growing lump on her side, which is most likely a cist of some sort. We had our new vet Dr. Byron examine her, who drained a little fluid from it, but didn't collect any for further lab examination, and didn't seem too concerned. We are going to get a second opinion from another vet shortly, but at least Daisy doesn't seem to bothered by it at all.

Despite all these recent tribulations, Todd and  have been encouraged greatly by our friends here (who for the most part are either native locals or expats who have been entrenched here full-time as long or longer than we have been) who have been spiritually generous and lovingly supportive of us during this discouraging season. For that we are very grateful.

Still, I am thinking of one of my favorite quotes, gifted to me by my dear Aunt Jane Leo (my late Mom’s older sister) who is probably one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. She is very frail now (in her late 80’s), but in her day, she was the “coolest”, funniest, bluntly honest person I’ve ever known.  During much darker days than I’m briefly experiencing now, she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, which kept me going, cracked me up (LOL thing) for some reason – but words I still rely on during hard times…
She said to me:

Just remember…
It’s always darkest -- right before it gets pitch black”

An affectionate moment between Jane & I
a few years ago.