Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Bus Scream

October 27, 2011

(I did not have a camera on me the day of this incident, so all photos included here were taken either before or after then).

Last week I was laughing and joking (okay, I was bragging) with a few Facebook friends about my fearless attitude regarding riding the chicken-buses here. Really, I enjoy traveling on them, maniacal drivers and all.  Of course, our area of the coast is pretty straight and level (without any terrifying cliffs to hurtle over) and it helps that as soon as I am in any moving vehicle (planes, boats, cars, chicken buses) for more than a half hour, I promptly doze off. (For some reason I am reminded just now of that old joke that goes something like: “thankfully, my Grandpa died in his sleep, unlike the screaming passengers in his car”).

Anyway, a few days ago I took a chicken-bus into Libertad (around an hour away) to meet up with a friend who lives in Salinas. 

We were scheduled to meet at the El Paseo Mall at 3:30.  This requires getting off at the last stop in Libertad at the mini Terminal Terrestre (bus station) and grabbing a 3 minute/$1.00 ride to the mall. Around half way there, I checked the time (2:00 PM, which would put my time of arrival in Libertad around 2:30 or so, with plenty of time to do some quick shopping before my rendezvous)…And then, predictably, I fell fast asleep.

I mean, I was so soundly slumbering that I missed getting off at the last stop. I slept through the final disembarkation and then - I suppose - for another half hour after that. All I know is that when I finally awoke, there was NO ONE on the stationary bus. Not even the driver (who I presume didn’t notice me snoring in the back).

Until I shook off my drowsiness, I assumed we were parked at the terminal. That was until I looked out a window and realized that I was not at the bus stop, but in a more or less residential barrio on an essentially deserted calle that I did not recognize. That was a little bit of a concern, since as best as I know, most of the bus drivers park their buses at home after their shifts. I did a time check (3:00 PM). That’s generally an early quitting time, but it was a Sunday and …well….Sunday’s guidelines are flexible around these parts.

I wasn’t that scared at first. There were a few teenagers flirting on the corner nearby.
I thought: “well I’ll just jump out and hail the first yellow taxi to the mall.” (if you are near the mini Terminal Terrestre in Libertad,  according to my best awareness and experience, this is a safe place to hail a cab without a prior recommendation, though a few drivers may try to gouge  a gringo-tax to those who are naïve).  Always ask first how much it will cost before you get in one.

Emphasizing again
an empty bus

Then I went to open the shut bus door, but couldn’t budge it.  I tried every likely lever/knob/hinge/thingamiggy until I realized it was hydraulically sealed. 

Now I have another confession to make: I am slightly claustrophobic. I took a few deep breaths, tried to do my best to access the situation: (“I am in a rather obscure coastal town in Ecuador, in a tightly-sealed parked chicken-bus for who-ever-knows-how-long, and my only hope is attracting the attention of teenagers bent on batting eyelashes with each other…Marvelous…I can see the obit now: “she died in a freak accident”).  That tranquil breath lasted for maybe about 45 seconds before I started frantically banging on the door yelling: “Help me! Help me!” to get the kids’ attention.

Now picture this:
I did finally attract their attention, though we couldn’t hear each other because of my hermetically sealed coffin….All they saw was this gringa loca flailing and pounding from inside, and seeing me mouth: “help me, help me…I’m locked in a chicken-bus and I can’t get out”...which for the life of me couldn’t remember how to say any of those words en espanol at the time.

(My thanks to my sweet hubby Todd who took some of these re-creation pics,
and to the accomodating bus crew who were willing
to stop long enough to let us do it.)

God bless those teenagers. They quickly retrieved my bus driver at a restaurant a few doors down (who was almost finished with his lunch by then) and he un-sealed the doors, much to my unmitigated relief and I made it to my meeting in time.**

I am sure many folks who have ridden these buses in South America have more hair-raising stories than this one, but for the record, that stands as one of the most traumatic moments I have ever experienced since the four years of coming to – and now living - in Ecuador.  In a chicken-bus. That was parked.

** By the way, in case any of you travelers ever find yourself in a similar situation, the button to open the passenger puertas is located on the driver’s-side door (though in my panicked state, I didn’t register whether that was inside or outside the bus).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More Better

October 22, 2011

The Church
in Santa Elena
Todd and I have been scurrying around like crazy prepping for the next few weeks, which promise to be even more hectic. We’ve made several trips to Santa Elena and Libertad recently.
Santa Elena is kind of a cool little town (at least for shopping) and is on the outskirts of Libertad. There is a central plaza next the beautiful church and is generally where we go when we need to find gardening, hardware, and electrical supplies that aren’t available or more expensive in Olon.  There is also a “dollar” store called “TIA” that sells a lot of cheap household items, though their inventory is limited. It’s not my favorite place to shop, but I’ve found a few good items there.

We also took the chicken bus up to Libertad a few days ago (about an hour ride for $1.50 each) to shop the “BuenAventura” shopping district, just a few blocks from the mini Terminal Terrestre. There is a “BuenAventura” mall, which is a two-story bazaar type shopping center, crammed full of various booths, mostly selling clothing, but has a number of electronic and cosmetic stalls as well.

 Across the street is a pleasant plaza with a pretty fountain, and an outdoor “food court”. Also in this area is about a 5-6 block radius of a gazillion stores that sell everything from mud boots to fabric to paper goods (even a couple of “party supply” stores).  I LOVE poking around these winding streets, though I really don’t enjoy it as much with Todd, since he has a low shopping tolerance, as most men do.

All I had to read on the bus was my Spanish-English dictionary, and just discovered that (and I quote):
“In Spanish, unlike English, the following words are not capitalized: the names of days, months and languages (i.e., jueves, octubre, español)”.
I’ve been incorrectly writing these words if I’ve used them here on the blog.


Even though our local friends tell us our language has improved, we still have so much to learn!
Actually, one of the hardest speaking habits I’ve had to overcome is to NOT use the phrase “mas major” which I thought to mean “much better” but actually translates into something along the line of “more better” and considered illiterate-sounding. Our Cuenca friend Ruth (who also owns a home in Curia) pointed this out, and has been wonderful about correcting my grammatical errors and pronunciation.   Ruth is several years older than us and a real “pistol” – spry, funny, and energetic.

She’s just a lot of fun, and spends the night at our house several times a month when she is in town, when her Curia caretaker has a night off. Ruth speaks a little English because she has a daughter living in Florida that she visits often.

We are prepping for several groups of guests coming to stay at our house from the end of October until mid-November (though there is a short break between these visits).  My brother Jack and his partner Doug are coming to Olon the first week in November for around three weeks (and so we have been busy getting their house ready too). Additionally, neighbors and friends (Rocky and Elizabeth from South Carolina) are arriving in a few days, and we are looking forward to seeing everyone again!

In mid-November our friends, Robert and Barbara Strauss (from Stanford, CA) make their final move to Ecuador into their newly purchased beach home in Curia (next town north of us). Let me tell you, these folks are organized! They were here in January  and have managed to purchase/close on their EC house, sold their CA home, set up the cargo for the belongings being brought here, and are on-top of residency visa paperwork/status since then, and certainly have our respect.

And between now and mid-November, Todd and I are scheduled to make trip to Southern Ecuador next week for a couple of days, and then Doug, Jack, Todd and I are driving up to Quito for a few days shortly after they arrive.  I’m looking forward to the drive, and to seeing Quito area again, since I was last there in September 2007, and then only for around a day and a half.

Montanita street show
But it’s been a little trying to juggle all these balls in the air right now. 

Daisy is thankfully over her sexual shenanigans, but has had an on-going left eye-problem (cloudy, blurry, a little weeping). We’ve had her to the vet twice, who thought it was probably due to some type of external abrasion, but the condition has still persisted after several weeks of injections/medications/eye drops, so we are going to get another vet’s opinion shortly.

Daisy with Dr. Byron, our current vet
who comes to Olon 2-3 times a week,
along with our animal loving
friend Melanie

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Paint Ball (s)

October 17, 2011

It's been a tough week....
Okay, so we just wrapped up the third “in-heat” season with our adopted dog Daisy, which happens about twice a year. Because she’s been “fixed” (with only a tubal ligation), she still has what it takes to attract all the town boys during her temporada de amor.  Had we known then what we know now about sterilization procedures and options here in Ecuador, we would have known to request a full spaying, for less money by qualified visiting volunteer vets to have this procedure done. (Proteccion Animal Ecuador).

That’s not to say the local vet we used isn’t experienced, but to the best of our understanding, it is not uncommon for local vets to traditionally leave in a few aromatic/erotic parts so that a former beach stray who’s been adopted (such as Daisy was) can still “bond” with the pack, despite being more or less domesticated at this point.

And “bond” she does……really, it is not pretty. It’s noisy and messy and embarrassing (though less so since her first “heat”). The other night, Todd and I were trying to carry on a professional conversation with some folks, standing in a circle outside on the street in front our house.  Naturally, Daisy and her current favorite beaux decided then to squeeze right in the middle of the circle to give us show…That would have been appalling enough, but of course another novio showed up to make it a ménage a trios.

Sorta like this....

For the record, this is a rather disconcerting distraction during business transactions.

The next day or so, we woke to an early 5:00AM morning barking commotion outside in our front yard. Daisy and another one of her favorite boyfriends were STUCK together en flagrante (sorry for my bad French; I don’t know a bit of it) and couldn’t get dis-engaged. I’ve heard of this happening, but never have witnessed this charming tableau in person. Let’s just say they were in butt to butt position. I stomped out in my jammies to spray them with the hose (which I understand is supposed to work)…I was trying to keep the water aimed at the fella…Which eventually worked. But he raced forward like a bat out of hell, quickly pulling a stuck Daisy backwards (facing me). I still have this picture in my mind of Daisy’s look at me for putting a damper on her fun as she was being yanked rear-ward.

For sure, Todd is more disgusted with her behavior during these times than I am, and he keeps a sling-shot nearby to chase off the boys (using small pebbles so as not to really hurt them, but make an impression when he does score a shot) because they swarm the neighborhood during Daisy’s season, pissing and pooping everywhere. Doesn’t go over well with some of neighbors as well, though they now know it’s only for a week or two.

Todd and I got to laughing the other day…. we think we should tell next friends coming down to bring paint ball guns/ammo, hand one out to each neighbor, assign a color and keep a scoreboard of “hits”…I’m not sure, but don’t think paintballs too cruel to these dogs (and maybe we can find a few roosters to stalk as well).  I mean, if a bunch of willing adults do this as a hobby on weekends in the U.S….how bad can a paint ball sting be?  Never had the opportunity to participate in one of these paint-ball contests, but they sound like fun…
It would be kind of funny to have all the horny town dogs running around with various paint splotch skin decorations that MAY, OR MAY NOT, endear us with the locals.
PLEASE, I’m mostly joking here, and hope I don’t get slammed by animal lovers for these comments….
Instead of running with the bulls in Pamplona, you can race to paint the dogs in Olon.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bleat & Skitter

October 5, 2011

Our next door neighbor, Maria has been here for around six weeks. Maria (who is an Ecuadorian/married to an American, and lives in the Seattle area most of the time) is a blunt, no-nonsense kind of gal. The eight Jardines de Olon homeowners haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on some of our neighborhood community issues; we don’t have a “homeowners” association, per se, (there are actually very few common areas, but those projects include gardening maintenance of a small road median strip and the archways over the two entrances, repairs to gates & lights, etc. – and none of us residents has yet to enthusiastically embrace what to do about our seen-better-days tennis court).

The great thing about Maria is that we can generally resolve our differences of opinion during frank and friendly conversations in person, and we enjoy having her around.

Last week, Maria “rented” a goat to eat/trim the median road strip….Which was a pretty good idea, but the dumb goat did nothing but bleat and skitter around on her leash, and didn’t eat a lick of grass that I noticed.

The goat did not go over so well with our dog Daisy either, though we tried to assure her/work with her that THIS goat was okay. It was hilarious to watch those two circle around each other. Daisy’s nature is to bark at all the beach donkeys, cows, wild horses, stray dogs, and GOATS that come into her territory.  I think it was a good idea of Maria’s, but ultimately not very successful, and the goat was returned back to the owner after a few days.

Daisy has been our dog for over a year now. She was a 7-8 month old beach stray when we adopted her (and all credit about encouraging us to take this step goes to our South Carolina-based neighbor, Elizabeth Anderson who is passionate about animal rescue and sterilization).

Daisy just entered her third pseudo “heat” cycle (she has been fixed, but the vet here basically tied her tubes, left enough of her “apparatus” in to still attract the boys a couple of times a year). I will not go into a lot of detail on this, since I’ve already written about this in “Doggy Style”, but suffice to say that Todd and I always dread these annual twice/thrice horny seasons. Thankfully, with each new season, Daisy seems less enthusiastic and more able to fend off better the unwanted suitors, but that still does not stop the crowd of wannabe town-dog novios from hanging around our ‘hood, pissing and marking, and fighting for a couple of weeks…Still, Daisy is not exactly objecting to all the attention (even on this third time round)..

Shameless Hussy

Rest my case.....
Based on my observations:
Generally the first week she takes them all on, and never shows up to eat. By the second week, she tiptoes back home now and then for food and our attention, and by the third week she is so exhausted all she wants to do is sleep without interruption, which is one of the few times we let her “stay in” our downstairs bedroom for a few days.

Lydia & family
A few nights ago, I attended the memorial service for our friend and neighbor, Juan, who died a year ago ("Going, Going…Juan"). It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since Juan died. His wife Lydia is a sweetheart, and we are glad that she has such a supportive and close family.  Her kids have been great since Juan died.  Since then, her kids have provided a cell phone for her (which I think initially intimidated her, but now she works it like a texting-pro...sorta of incongruous (perhaps like how many of us remember our older parents learning how to do e-mail ten years ago).
At least one or the other(s) in her family is always there to give her moral support, and recently they just installed Direct TV for her.
Juan was a very respected member of this community and his hour-long Wednesday night memorial service was crowded (I understood about every tenth word—usually the word “Dios”). Still, it was very special.

A young, new, passionate priest gave the sermon….but in the middle of his inspirational homily, about 5 dogs got into a very loud and vociferous misbehavior fight just outside the church, which drowned out most of the rest of the earnest priest’s message.
I did my best to stifle a laugh, and I felt bad about that, until I realized that many of my pew neighbors were trying to do the same.
After service, I made a beeline for Leila’s restaurant (next to our park) to get dinner to go/ “para llevar” to get ahead of the crowd ….Only the priests (now in plain clothes) beat me there.  After that dog fiasco, can’t say I blamed them.

One of the places
Where we all go to eat often.
Leila stirring the pot.