Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Load a Lodo

September 24, 2011

Well, one way that Todd and I decided to handle our recent frustrations and busy agenda was to head over to the San Vicente thermal/volcanic mud (“lodo”- "low-doe") bath, and a warm herbal mineral springs yesterday for a day of relaxation and rejuvenation.

We’ve been planning it for the couple weeks, but this easy trip (“viaje”) from our Olon place was delayed for one reason or another. What a treat!

The “Banos Termales de San Vicente” is about 45 minutes south of us by car (and unless on a particular tour, not a trip to take on the chicken buses, since they don’t go there). It is not a fancy place, but I was amazed at how clean it was kept, considering all the people walking around caked in mud (“lodo”), relaxing on the cement, or sitting in nearby lawn-chairs, while waiting for the lodo to dry off on the skin after slathering their body with it (one of the recommended ways to enhance the healing benefits).

The entrance fee of $2 per person includes unlimited access to the mud pool and mineral bath, and a couple of indoor pools (crowded with kids when we were there). For another few dollars, one can also opt for a 15-20 minute volcanic mud (“barro volcanic”) or aloe vera (“sabila”) massage (“masaje”) for another $4 each. 

One of the
massage tables
One other thing that is offered is a steam bath of eucalyptus (for $3 each), which Todd and I didn’t try, only because we were too relaxed after the mud bath & sun, then a shower; a mud massage & time to relax in the sun for it to dry, and another shower (“ducha”), followed up by an aloe vera massage/sun time/another shower before heading to the warm healing mineral bath for a soak…And no matter how many times you’ve already showered between these treatments, another rinse off in the outdoor shower nearby required before getting in the mineral pool.

The mud pool smells a little like petrol or sulfur (or a little like both). On top of the mud is about a 2 to 3 foot layer of lukewarm mildly bubbling water. First stepping into it requires a bit of overcoming some squeamishness, because as soon as your feet hit the bottom, the floor of mud (lodo), you sink to about your shins in it…with occasional “surprise” spots that are deeper, gloppy, and be prepared to go head first into the water if you can’t catch your balance.

Which isn’t that bad, since the water has healing properties too. Many folk just float or tread on top of the shallow water to soak up it up.

We met one older Ecuadorian guy who goes there regularly to heal some type of internal stomach issue (not quite clear on which problem, since he was speaking in medical Spanish) on the advice of his homeopathic doctor, and he was enthusiastic about the benefits regarding the improvement to his health.
We also met just a ton of great, friendly, mostly Ecuadorian people from as far as Quito and Houston enjoying the mud baths and other amenities. We all took pictures on each others’ cameras to record (depending on who had the cleanest or driest hands to do it).

Wear an old bathing suit and cover-up. Take towels, a couple of wash rags, small change (nothing bigger than a $5-10 bills and lots of change), a few bottles of water, some toilet paper and/or wet wipes, a few plastic bags for wet stuff, and a spirit of adventure. There is a place where you can store all these in the main office, but we wanted to keep our camera around us for the rounds, and other than keeping an eye on that during our experience, never felt like anyone was going to rip us off.

Everyone we met there were wonderful.

It was an extremely relaxing day. We stopped at one of the cabanitas in San Pablo (on our way back to Olon) for a delicious (if kinda pricey) late lunch/early dinner around 6:30 PM, and blessedly collapsed into bed shortly after arriving home and slept like babies.

PS- I will add more post-scripts to this post about links/info/pics/directions/road-signs on how to reach this these mud baths as soon as I can. *

* Nancy Levin, who writes the blog "Finding our Paradise in Ecuador" wrote a fun post about their trip to Banos Temales San Vincente (the above link will take you to that post).

Monday, September 19, 2011


September 18, 2011

This last week has been has been more frustrating than not, though Todd and I have completed (or nearing completion) on a couple of projects we’ve been working on for some time, which has been satisfying.

This is not the United States, folks…..and for those moving to Ecuador, be prepared to make a number of adjustments. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again and again:
EVERYTHING takes longer here, and much of what we take for granted in the Estados Unidos is either hard to find, not available, or inordinately expensive (i.e. – a scrawny, thin roll of paper towels costs over $2.50 in our area, though I can find them a little cheaper in Libertad).

Iguana who lives in
our yard
I’m aggravated tonight as I write this, and I’m not sure which has me more exasperated: some of the gringos living here, or Ecuadorian inefficiency.

Actually, I think it is the gringos who moved here expecting to live in a “cheaper United States” that are annoying me the most right now. Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, the expats living here are a diverse, interesting and an adventuresome bunch. But there are a few who refuse to adapt or assimilate that are getting on my last nerve.

As a few examples:
  • One gringo who has lived here for over a year (with several month long breaks back in the States) treats the Ecuadorians in a very condescending manner. He’s a “know-it-all", and brags that he “speaks Spanish fluently” (he doesn’t). This probably would not bug me so much, except that he belittles my Spanish (which isn’t great, but considerably better than his) every chance he gets. This is the same gringo who greets his 8:00 AM work crew with a hearty “¡buenas noches!”
  • A few weeks ago, Todd and I were at a “café” next to our park. A gringo expat was sitting nearby. A group of Guayaquil Ecuadorian tourists passed by; they mentioned (in English) that some of them had at one time or another lived in the States, but proceeded to speak the rest of the conversation in Espanol (which Todd and I understood). This gringo admonished them to “SPEAK ENGLISH!”, and when they didn’t, he literally clapped both his hands over his ears to confirm his obstinacy. We were embarrassed for him, and we made sure those folks knew we were not with him.
  • A gringo who lives nearby flaunts his money and possessions in a most flagrant and ostentatious manner (this, in a country where many consider a tin roof that doesn’t leak, a hefty bag of rice, and a working television the height of luxury).  He has never made any attempt to learn the language or get to know any of the locals on any type of intimate level. THAT gringo actually said to us a while back (more or less a direct quote) that: “we ought to get rid of that local god-damn school…they don’t teach those kids shit anyway…and we can put in some stores that we gringos want…like a souvenir tee-shirt shop”.
These are the type of gringos we don’t like seeing down here, and who add the adjective “ugly” into “American”.

On the other hand, Ecuadorian “efficiency” has been troublesome for me this week too.  Of course by now we know when they say “it will be done mañana” that conveys a flexible concept, to say the least. We’ve become more or less accustomed to this (even from educated Ecuadorian professionals) but this week has been discouraging.

There are a lot of terms I would use to describe Ecuadorians:  for the most they are warm, accepting, and kind (at least to our face, but since most Ecuadorians DON’T DO confrontation, will say whatever you want to hear in order to avoid it, so sometimes it’s hard to discern)….

I’ve heard them called “naïve”…I don’t really agree with that…”child-like” may be a more appropriate term, but not naïve…especially when it comes to money transactions…these guys are wily every chance they can get when it comes to money…..But yes, tender, caring, helpful, spiritually generous…..I would say that about most all of them. One word I would NOT describe them as is “efficient”.

Ecuador is progressing by leaps and bounds regarding internet connectivity. Cable lines have been laid underground as far as Manglaralto (a few miles south of us), which will eventually be extended further north to Olon. Todd and I have decided to maintain a “wait & see” attitude before hard-wiring our house. Several of our friends and neighbors have installed expensive technology, but even then, reliable connectivity has been an issue (though we have recently discovered some pretty good, less pricey options). In the meantime, we use a slow thumb drive device at home or use the many internet cafés for faster speed or wi-fi capacity. *

Our home thumb drive worked okay (though slow) until the company recently changed ownership. Until then, we had no problem renewing our $30/fifteen day plan, going through an easy Spanish step-by-step process to activate it on our computer, but since the change, it’s been a HUGE hassle.   Three times since then, I’ve had to return to our local Cyber café “experts” for assistance (usually losing at least one day of our plan to activate it). It became such an ordeal, I took a friend who speaks excellent technical Espanol this last time with me to do it.

 Our Cyber expert, translator, and I spent the next spent 2 and half hours trying to fix it, and it is still not active….it did not help that a slow-minded guy hovered behind us offering prolific Spanish advice (which Cyber expert,  translator and I all ignored)….now I probably need to go to Libertad to reactivate thumb drive.

Not for lack of everyone trying, but I would sooner skate board into a vat of snot than go through that experience again.

A recent conversation between Todd and me went something like this:
Todd:    Why are you drinking a beer at 9AM?”
Me, (trying to think quickly): “Hmmm….because we are out of vodka?”

Thus is the level of my frustration right now.  On the bright side, we have been enjoying wonderful weather for this time of year, with many more sunny days than we had last September.

I have tried to at least keep the pictures included with this post neutral and upbeat to counteract my rather sour mood tonight.

* See “Alt 64” to see more about technical frustrations here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


September 9, 2011

Courtesy of guests
Alex and Katie
During this time of year along our area of the Ecuador coast, you are more likely to see whales than the sun right now. From June through September the humpback whales (ballenas jorbadas) pass along near our coastline on their annual migration to mate and calve. They are breathtaking to watch as they leap, and frolic, and spout, and we can watch them from our shoreline. The whales have been plentiful this season, but for whatever reason, Todd and I have missed seeing them until a week ago, when we were treated to a thrilling show while sipping late-afternoon mojitos at one of our favorite beachside Montanita “Bar Alley” stands.

Courtesy of Alex and Katie
One of the best opportunities to view the whales close up is to take one of the Isla de la Plata boat tours that depart daily from Puerto Lopez (about an hour north of us). *  The adjoining pictures were taken by recent guests Alex and Katie (U.K. citizens currently working in Quito this year) during their Isla de la Plata expedition.

I miss this
Palm Springs pool
It is our winter now and it’s generally hazy, overcast (and at times drizzly) from July through the end of November, though we do get some glorious sunny days in the meantime…That is if you call 65-75 degrees “winter”, and most folks around here enjoy this weather. But keep in mind that I am most recently from seven years in Palm Springs, where summer temperatures hover somewhere between 110 and 120 degrees, and we shivered getting out of the pool after a midnight skinny dip while the thermometer was pegged at 112°, and (as I’ve mentioned before) we enthusiastically threw on our leather jackets in September when temps dipped below 95 degrees and called it “autumn”. 

I know that many of you in the States are enduring an insufferably hot season right now, and I understand your pain – but boy – I am missing that heat and that pool right now! I’m in long pants and shirt/sweatshirt combo…but most people here are splashing around in the ocean and there are still plenty of nubile young gals walking around in bikinis and getting sunburned.

As compensation, the beachcombing is great now, and Todd and I have been finding sand-dollars larger than my hand, and I found my first washed up starfish the other day. Part of the reason is that the tides are coming in higher this month (a phenomenon we noticed in March around the spring equinox, when the tides came as high as the beachside cabanitas and nipped at the edges of our neighbors’ beachfront properties).  The fall equinox is nearing, and we understand the “king tides” (or something like that – I need to research a little more before writing on this subject) are almost upon us again.

It was four years ago this month (2007) that I first visited Ecuador with my brother Jack, and Doug & Pam to see the beachfront house they bought. Jack & I stood on the Equator line (Museo de Sitio Inti-Nan) the day after the fall equinox and experienced a virtually “no shadow” occurrence and other Equator anomalies.  I came down here with no intention of buying property. Todd and I had been together for several years at that point and had already been exploring buying a second piece of investment property when we thought the U.S. housing market hit bottom (HA HA HA HA HA)……I fell in love with Ecuador, and moved impulsively fast to make an offer on the house and lot we now own in Jardines de Olon. I would not recommend this method for most people considering buying property here, but I had the advantage of my brother’s and his partners’ real-estate savvy Ecuadorian explorations and homework (all of whom have extensive real-estate backgrounds in the States). To this day, none of us have any regrets.

Think I`ll just stand here for awhile

Jack, trying out his blow gun skills

The trick was explaining this to Todd when I got home from that trip. Jack and I had devised a rather elaborate and detailed plan to explain why this was such a great idea over the following week, but – of course – I spilled the beans as soon as I walked in the door….Something like: “say, did you get the ceramics I had Fed Ex’d from Cuenca from Eduardo Vega’s studio, and I bought some great paintings, some jewelry, and -oh- a-house-and-a-lot, and some really cool metal-works and leather...”.  Fortunately, Todd has been on board from the beginning, and if anything is more passionate about living here than I am.

To this I want to add my congratulations to several folks who have recently made this leap too, and have closed on Ecuadorian coastal properties (especially to those planning on moving here permanently).  Among them, Barb & Robert Strauss (Curia), Texans Leigh & Neville Hudson, and their son Kyle (Ballenita), Davida Julian (Montanita hills), Karl Neumann (a lot in Jardines de Olon, and possibly other nearby Olon properties) and to Judy N. & Richard P. from Washington State who bought property in nearby San Jose (and getting ready to commit to several other acreages in our area). **

I have spent the last week cleaning houses in anticipation of a slew of arriving guests. In particular, I’ve been busy doing “spring” cleaning at our house, which we do 2-3 times a year ***
I have someone to help, but right now the ceilings-to-floor cleaning has not been a lot of fun. I wrenched my knee the other day while cleaning, and my lack of mobility this week has put me in sort of a grumpy frame of mind, and I am in no mood to write anything publishable. I’ve procrastinated about the cleaning and been balky about writing.
But it is amazing when faced with either cleaning toilets with muriatic acid, or bleaching 18 some pillows, or cleaning the dried up pancake mix off the sides of my stove that prodded the latent Ernest Hemingway to be unleashed in me….and it’s been a nice break to write this.

I recently read an article in the Miami Herald (International version) that scientists have come to some sort of agreement that has determined our planet now has officially 8.7 million species existing on earth.  I believe that I have either identified or newly discovered 1675 of those that were living behind or underneath my stove/oven.

*    Some time ago, I wrote in more detail about these tours in “Call Him Tong

**  Judy, if you are reading this, I tried to call you several times after our fun evening together, but you had already left and I have misplaced your email address. Please contact me at

***  See “Well, Sugar my Fish” for more on this.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Don´t Leave Home Without It

September 2, 2011

A new friend met on Expat Exchange recently asked how quiet is Olon?  Well, that depends on your definition. Compared to nearby Montanita, we are tame (unless you count the roosters crowing at 3:30 AM, the constant din of buses chugging by on the Ruta during daylight, the horn noises, or the dogs barking at any hour)….but yes, it is a relatively quiet town.
That is until there is a local fiesta dedicated to some saint or town anniversary, or a wedding or some similar type of celebration, that can get very loud (mega-watt booming speakers) blaring until 4 to 6 on some nights/mornings.  In which case you can either beat it or join it.

These “seemingly” naïve, passive and “shy” people can party hearty, and they do. Generally most parties don’t start until 9-10 PM and they dance all night long (which is a whole lot of fun -no party here is complete without it).  Last Saturday night there was a huge and loud quinceañera that went on until almost 6AM in the morning…. We did our best to sleep, but – instead - after a mostly restless night listening to salsa music and a very vocal D.J., we finally gave up, laughed, and got up around 4AM to watch movies and read instead. I’m a night owl, and yet I still honestly do not know how these folks do it, since many are back working the next morning.
BRING A SENSE OF HUMOR and TOLERANCE (and earplugs, if you really need them).

Nothing starts on time and NO ONE (whether for a social or a professional occasion) arrives punctually, which doesn’t bother me as much as Todd. I was born tardy and rather appreciate the Ecuadorians’ sense of time (or should I say “lack” of it?).
For example, the local Beauty Pageant that generally kicks off the December to April party season (starting around mid-December) was scheduled to start around 8PM. The chairs and stage didn’t get set up until 10PM, the pageant actually started around 11:00, and the coronation didn’t happen until after 2AM.

A few days ago, Todd and I had to go to Manta (around 2 hours north, and a beautiful drive through the Machalilla Jungle Preserve – unfortunately I didn’t have my camera along for this trip) for a 10:00 AM appointment with a lawyer. We were accompanied by our friend and driver, Guillermo, and Carlos, another Ecuadorian friend and neighbor. We were acting as liaisons between Carlos and some gringo friends in an amicable legal matter.

Taken 4 years ago on same drive
through the Machalilla Preserve
We scheduled a 7:00 AM pick-up, and left promptly at 7:30, when Guillermo showed up. We arrived at the designated Manta rendezvous location (the beautiful – if pricey – Hotel Oro Verde) shortly before 10:00, got a round of coffees and waited…and waited. For over an hour. The lawyer we were meeting is a good one, but a busy guy too, and he was delayed. Fortunately, Todd and I are wise to this one now, and had brought a couple of paperbacks to pass the time.
By the time we got to the judge’s office (the first stop), the judge requested we return back after 2:00PM, so we retreated to the lawyer’s office to have some last minute paperwork typed up (this was probably around 12:30).  Carlos, Todd and I sat in the waiting room for at least another half hour before we realized everyone had ditched us for lunch – and sure enough around 1:15 the one gal left in the office noticed us, and popped her head out the door and suggested we do the same.

If there is one thing that can be counted to start on the dot in Ecuador, it’s the 1-2 PM lunch hour.

Lunch hour in Montanita

Eventually, Carlos and the lawyer’s assistant headed back to the judge’s chambers around 2:30 (for what was presumably only a quick notarization process) while Todd and I met with the lawyer to discuss a couple of other legal matters. He had to excuse himself at 4:00, and then Todd and I waited until 5:30 for Carlos and the legal assistant to return. I’m still not sure what caused that delay, but by then, Guillermo, Carlos, Todd and I were all more than ready to head back to Olon.

On the way back, we detoured off the highway near the town of Montecristi to visit Guillermo’s very kind parents, who live in a small village of rustic homes (many built on stilts) in a jungle environment, so that Guillermo could drop off some food and money for them. It was shortly before dusk, and the neighbors were sitting out on their front stoops or leaning out high-story windows. We chatted with all these folks for awhile. BRING APPRECIATION for the friendly and warm people of Ecuador.

Lastly (and ladies especially, hear me on this) – BRING TOILET PAPER in your purse always. It is not always available in public restrooms. On our morning journey up to Manta, we stopped to gas up and use the bathrooms. In particular, my tummy was dangerously rumbling from the early morning coffee gulped down.  I KNOW to keep some tissue with me, but had forgotten. Fortunately, I checked the facilities first to confirm the “no paper” situation, and then with some panicked urgency was able to scrounge up a discarded newspaper nearby. While it wasn’t exactly in the trash pile, it also was not neatly folded on a clean table either….Hey, it was either that, or sacrifice the paper copies of our passports that I had on me.

Ruth, the Birthday Girl
is in the pink dress
PS - On a more lady-like note, Todd and I discovered several pictures of us were published sometime last week on the society page of one of the Cuenca newspapers. Our dear friend, Ruth, is from Cuenca and also owns a home in nearby Curia. She had a fun Hawaiian themed birthday party several weeks ago that we attended. We met many interesting people, mostly Cuencanos (including a talented wood-carver named Tonu and his son Koa – world citizens – who are preparing for an exhibit in Cuenca soon).  Ruth stopped by a few days ago to proudly show us the paper. Unfortunately, it was her only copy, and I don’t remember either the date or the name of the paper.  Below are some of the pictures we took at the party.

Locally based Ecuadorian artist Quimbita
is pictured at right

 Tonu with one of his wood carvings.
The disk face partially shown on the right
is also one of his creations
Tonu and his son Koa travel the world not only displaying their artwork, but also are dedicated to teaching the local indigenous populations their skills, using reclaimed wood (such as driftwood).

Another Tonu creation