Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Barrio

January 31, 2012

Sarah's new house
and our lot to the right
Todd and I would like to welcome one more new neighbor to our charming Jardines de Olon neighborhood – Sarah R. who recently bought our house, furnished. Sarah is an Aussie who currently lives in Huntington Beach, and is well-traveled, remarkably energetic, diversely talented, and has experience buying international property. I’ll be talking more about her in future posts, but suffice for now to say that we are delighted to have her as a new neighbor, since our project this year will be building another house on the lot we own next door.  Sarah wants to continue making the house available for guests, and Todd and I will continue to manage it for her.

Closer view of the lot

We closed on the deal last week during our stay in Guayaquil.
In the meantime, Todd and I have rented a 2-bedroom/2 bath newly constructed Ecuadorian home in Olon for the next ten months. It’s just a short walk away from Jardines - we needed to be near the construction site, and close enough for Daisy to find us without having to cross the Ruta del Sol highway.

And boy, are we grateful to have scored on a local place during this busy holiday time of year, when rentals of any kind are difficult (if not impossible to find), and especially one as nice and new as this one. We have spent the last few weeks getting our stuff moved in, but we still have a ways to go to get settled and organized.

Keep in mind that local long-term rentals generally run around $200-400 in our area, and come without furnishings, fridge, stove, (and often without hot water showers, though our baths do each have decent “suicide heater” devices that are so far working great). Our kind landlords left a bunk bed in the house for us to use (we are going to convert that bedroom into our office and guest room). We have since then bought and had delivered a queen bed for our bedroom and a full size fridge, which we would have to eventually buy anyway for the house we will be building.

We really, really like our new barrio (further north in town, behind the police station and near the Olon CLP bus terminal). All of our neighbors are friendly, and we are getting better acquainted with this side of town. And since most of our neighbors are Ecuadorian, we have all the more opportunity to immerse in the community and practice our español.

We’ve had a few glitches: a few of the windows weren’t sealed properly, and with the nightly downpours we’ve had lately, we had a few leaks in the new house that have since been fixed. And once again (see “On the Move Again”), we are at the mercy of the city water system because our cute place does not have a cistern. The city turns off the water nightly at 10PM until around 6AM, which can be inconvenient at times, but one gets used to it.

Daisy (in the middle)
Making friends is her business
Showing her friends around

Daisy likes the new place too, but Jardines de Olon will always be her “hood” and she lacks for no attention around there. She follows us over to the new place often, and has spent a few partial nights at the new digs (we have a nice walled in back patio and driveway area) and she has made a few friends herself in the new barrio.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Trash Truck Groupy

January 28, 2012

Chuck, Nancy, Todd & Mary
at beachside Lolita's/Olon
Last week Todd and I had the honor and pleasure of meeting and spending time with Mary Beckman (from Northern California) who is visiting Ecuador for a couple of weeks. Mary writes probably the most premier and “one-stop-everything-you-want-to-know-about-Ecuador” blog/websites called “South of Zero”. Her site includes a prodigious blog roll of ex-pat (or wannabee-living-in Ecuador) scribes sharing their experiences about living and traveling  in Ecuador, as well as links to various newsletters, forums, and governmental information pages.

With her were Nancy and Chuck Watson, who write the prolific and popular blog called "Nancy and Chuck - Retirement in Ecuador".  Nancy and Chuck are world travelers who have lived in Cuenca for some time.

All were just great, interesting and fun folks and we spent last Saturday morning showing them around our area. Mary wanted to see some of our coastal areas where expats are buying.
We met at a Montanita restaurant for breakfast, and then headed north for a look-see.

Umm...now, if you wouldn't mind
stepping back a couple of feet
while I take this pic?

Of course we had to first stop at the beautiful santuario, La Blanca Estrella del Mar, that sits upon the Montanita cliff point, overlooking the ocean and picturesque 8-mile white sand beach that stretches past Olon up to around La Entrada. This is an obligatory photo opp, but taking pictures near the edge of the cliff invariably makes me just a little nervous; the cliff is eroding; services are no longer held in the church, though people are still allowed to wander and tour the sanctuary (free).

From there, we drove up to see an Olon hillside development, and then headed up to Curia to see Barb and Robert’s new beachfront digs.
After that, we returned south back to Olon, where we showed them around town, around our neighborhood of Jardines de Olon (and our house, and the house of Doug/Pam & my brother) before heading out to one of our beach side cabanas for a fresh seafood lunch. Todd and I took Mary, Nancy and Chuck to “Lolita’s” where our friend Pablo makes probably the best ceviche on the beach, and just relaxed for awhile.
We had a delightful, fun, easy-going time with them, and feel that we have made new life-long friends. We shared a few funny “war-stories” about writing blogs and got a kick when this gal passed by us wearing the shirt pictured below:

Anyway, Mary, glad we finally had the chance to meet in person; ditto to Nancy and Chuck; Todd and I genuinely look forward to spending a lot more time with you all in the future!

A week before that we hosted an adult group of five Canadians who were here to celebrate the wedding reception of their son Jordan Ward and his new Ecuadorian wife Ivonne Malavé from nearby Manglaralto.  Jordan’s parents Elaine and Barry were joined by Elaine’s sister Sandy and her husband Don, and cousin Gloria. A merry bunch of people, and we had a great time getting to know them.

The happy couple with
of course, Daisy who
can never resist a photo opp

Jenny, Ivonne's Mom 
 from Manglaralto

Barry and Elaine

Jordan and Ivonne did an amazing job coordinating the logistics of setting up the beachside tables and canopy set-up, arranging for the catering, the bar, buffet table,  D.J. and dancing areas.
I rather imagine we will see more of these types of events on our playa – a very romantic setting for a very romantic affair.

One of the greatest things about this party was to watch the large mixed crowd of gringos and Ecuadorians celebrate together, and despite some initial language barriers, by the middle of the evening, all were talking and laughing together as old friends.

Ivonne's abuelo
with her aunt?

Sandy, Gloria & Elaine

"Pleased to meet you"

And of course, our dog Daisy never misses a party. She was there for awhile, and fit right in with her blue collar, since attendees were asked to wear blue woven wrist bracelets to identify ourselves at the hosted bar.

Daniela, Todd & Antonio

Last night we attended the “Bachillerato” graduation celebración for Daniela Zamora, who is the darling daughter of Patricia and Antonio, who own our Oloncito Market (now in a brand new location – bigger, better than ever). It was held at the lovely hillside “La Finca Hostería Bella Aurora” just beyond “El Retiro”.

The Zamoras are a large and influential family in Olon, and all of them have been ever so caring to Todd and I during our four and half years of coming/being in town. We felt honored to be invited, and though we were virtually the only gringos there, felt warmly welcomed by everyone.

"Cake Table"
at Daniela's party
Most of the crowd we already know as friends of ours, since we work and play together daily. Todd and I are appreciative of the kind-hearted way these people have welcomed us into their community.
Tonight (Saturday) we’ve been invited to attend a birthday party for our local friend Sambo’s (he's a local, respected, qualified construction worker). His wife Yesinia helps me clean the house when we have guests coming.
Of course, none of these parties we’ve been going to start until after 9 or 10 PM, so Todd and I are pretty much looking forward to an early-to-bed with books and movies tomorrow night….It is the “season”, and we are getting a little worn out. I'm somewhat concerned at this point if one of us expires shortly, it will be because of "death by partying".

But the thing that has me most flummoxed right now is the trash truck schedule. For four years now, our regular guys have shown up predictably every Monday and Thursday. We could always hear them coming before they arrived in our neighborhood because of a loud, catchy tune (that’s about as hard to get off of your mind as “It’s a Small World, After All”) blaring from the truck as they make the circuit. Around a year ago, I made numerous attempts to video/record the song before I finally captured a video that I was able to upload to this blog (the video with song is posted in “Trash Revolution”). I’m pretty sure they must either think I was stalking them or am a trash truck groupy...Anyway, we have a new trash truck (and maybe crew?) now picking up trash.
The good news is that the new truck comes equipped with a compactor. The discouraging news is that no one (NO ONE, including the Olon natives) have any idea what day(s) they are scheduled to show up, as our trash is piling up, and the new tune is not nearly as catchy as the old one.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Trip to Guayaquil

January 19, 2012

Last Sunday around noon, Todd and I headed to Guayaquil (pronounced “why-a-keel”, although at times I have heard some natives pronounce the initial “G” – as in “go”, though with a less guttural/softer “G” sound). Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city, and generally the jumping off point for the Galapagos. We had some legal business and shopping to take care of, and planned on staying until Tuesday morning before heading back to Olon. 

We took a “CLP” bus from Olon to get there. The CLP buses are nice, comfortable, modern, and safe (though they are full-blast air-conditioned chilly, so bring a sweater for the ride, and keep all carry-on stuff – say for instance, laptops – in front of you, or in the overhead bins where you can keep an eye on them rather than put those under your seat). Any luggage put in the outside-access bins of the buses is generally safe, though you should keep watch each time the bus makes one of the few stops along the way to let off other passengers and baggage.
The Olon "CLP"
Bus station
The cost is only around $6 per person; there is a CLP station in Olon (and Montanita), and it’s a 3-hour ride from here to the main bus station in Guayaquil (near the airport, which is around $4 taxi ride from the bus terminal).  Buses leave from either direction 3-5 times a day, though we recommend if you are planning on taking a bus from our area to Guayaquil (GYE), you should buy your seat ticket a day or so in advance at our local CLP stations, especially during busy/high season weekends, since seats can sell out fast. If you are arriving from the GYE airport to come to the coast, take a taxi (once again, around $4 to the Terminal Terrestre) and go to window #83 or 84 (can be subject to change) to purchase a bus ticket to the beach areas. I’m not quite sure of the current bus departure times from GYE to the “Ruta del Sol” towns, but I think the last one leaves GYE to the coast around 3:30-4:30 PM.

During our Guayaquil visit, we stayed at our friend Domenick Buonamici’s hotel – the Hostal Murali, which is close to the airport/bus terminal and the huge Mall del Sol (across the street from the Sheraton, which is connected to it with an over-the-street bridge walkway).
The Hostel Murali is reasonably priced and well-secured; our room was pleasant and included yummy breakfasts, reliable wi-fi through-out, and a flat-screen TV with satellite reception in our room, hot water showers upon request, and a friendly and helpful staff, including a bed “turn down” at night. Todd and I were very comfortable staying there, and met some fun fellow guests during our stay.

On Monday morning, we had to meet with one of our lawyers for a business matter that required our own translator for our portion of the transaction, so we had our Olon friend/driver Guillermo bring Melanie (our Olon/Montanita English friend who speaks and writes excellent Spanish) to represent us.  We met at the hotel, and then headed to our meeting together from there. After the meeting, we (Todd, Melanie, Guillermo and I) indulged ourselves to a nice restaurant buffet in the Uni Centro Mall for a fabulous buffet lunch, which was a treat for all of us.

Across the street from the Uni Centro is the “Iguana Park” also known as Parque Seminario and/or Parque Bolívar and is chockfull of iguanas (many of them huge), so of course I had to go over and see them. West of the park is a stunningly beautiful neo-Gothic cathedral, which we didn’t have time to visit.

On Monday night, Todd and I went to the Mall del Sol (a pricey mall, located in one of the ritzier sections of Guayaquil) to shop for household goods at the “Mega Maxi” inside the shopping center…Up until then, I thought there was no more tortuous place to shop than the vast, black-hole called HiperMart, located in the El Paseo Mall in Libertad (which I wrote about in “Thingamajiggy”). At the Mall del Sol Mega Maxi, very few items were priced, the things that were priced were ridiculously expensive, and lines at the check-out counter were nightmarishly long. We ended up just leaving our half filled basket in a random aisle and walked out. I discovered there was a deeper level of hell than the HiperMart (which now looks like a convenience store to me).

We took the over-the-street bridge way to the Sheraton side to have a drink instead and ended up at a sports bar that charged $7 for a thimbleful of cheap wine. Todd commented that we must be in the “Beverly Hills” section of Guayaquil (and I was thinking that may be true, but we weren’t exactly sitting at “The Ivy” either).  We ended up just catching a cab, stopping by a liquor store for a nice bottle of wine from Chile, and fled back to the Hostel Murali to relax for the rest of the evening.
Actually, one of the best meals we had in Guayaquil was at the bus station at one the many snack stands outside the terminal when we arrived. We love the sanduches de chancho (a pork sandwich and crispy skin that includes shredded cabbage, marinated onions and spicy ají sauce, if desired) for $1.25 each.  There are also sanduches de chancho stands near the Libertad mini Terminal Terrestre, and I never miss the chance now to grab one of those sandwiches whenever I make a chicken bus/shopping run into Libertad.

Speaking of food, a long time high school friend of mine (Dan Hudson) recently emailed me, asking if I had learned yet how to make any Ecuadorian meals. Now, I am not much into cooking, but interesting that he asked, since for the last year or so, I’ve been speaking with some of my Ecuadorian girlfriends (in particular Patricia at Oloncito Market) about getting a group of Ecuadorian and gringa ladies together – like once a month – to start a cooking club, where we could share and teach each other our favorite recipes.  And the idea has been greeted just as enthusiastically from the newly arriving gringo expats, especially Pam and Dee.

One recipe that I would like to learn from one of the local gals is how to make “llapingachos” (“ya-ping-gachos”).  Llapingachos are potatoes smothered in a peanut sauce, and it is delicious. The recipe below is just one that I pulled from a recipe internet site, but I look forward to learning how to make these authentically from one of our local Ecuadorian friends. Click on the "Llapingachos" title link below to go directly to that recipe for more details and pictures.

The ingredients below should make about 12 medium sized llapingachos; you can make the patties smaller if you are serving them as appetizers.


5 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
2 tbs sunflower oil
½ cup finely chopped white onion
2 tsp ground achiote
1 cup grated Mozzarella or Fontina cheese
Salt to taste
To serve: salsa de mani or peanut sauce, tomato and onion curtido, avocado slices, lettuce, fried eggs, fried sausages and hot sauce.
  1. Boil the potatoes until soft
  2. Heat the oil over medium high heat to make a refrito, add the onions and achiote, cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Mash the potatoes, mix in the onion refrito and salt to taste.
  4. Cover the potato dough and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.
  5. Make small golf size balls with the potato dough.
  6. Make a hole in the middle of each ball and fill with the grated or crumbled cheese.
  7. Shape the dough into thick patties and let rest in the refrigerator for about ½ to 1 hour.
  8. Cook the patties on a hot griddle until browned on each side, be careful when turning them as they will be very delicate.

  9. Serve with a fried egg, peanut sauce, tomato and onion curtido, avocado slices and hot sauce.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Take a Seat

January 7, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jack
A repeat pic on this blog,
but still one of the best photos
ever of Daisy.
Well, the week between Christmas and New Year’s was crazy as usual. The Olon party scene actually begins several weeks before-hand, with lots of Christmas lights around town, and generally starts with the local beauty pageant in our new park and stage, the Santa Lucia/Olon birthday celebration, and a number of cherry bombs set off at any given moment (as mentioned in earlier posts). Our dog Daisy is genuinely afraid of all the fireworks, and it is one of the few times we let her come inside, so she can feel safe, and cower in the shelter of our downstairs bathroom. Daisy was a beach stray that we adopted when we moved here (thank you, Elizabeth!). I suppose she was around 7-8 months old when she became part of our family, as well as everyone else living or visiting our barrio…Truly, she is the real and best ambassador of Jardines de Olon. Still, she is a beach dog at heart (a beach dog that doesn’t particularly like the water, has never been bathed – there would be no point anyway, since she would more than likely head right back down to the beach to roll in the sand, dig up crabs, eat some really gross dead seafood debris, and play with her playa buddies). She is most comfortable outside, lest anyone think that we are being too stern by enforcing “not in any house” rule.  And especially at night, she is fine with sleeping outside – the better to ward away (and keep us all safe) from the vagrant horses, cows, and shiftless dogs that wander the beach at night. And now that she is over two-years old (we think), she has become much more sensitive, bolder, mature, and vocal when people she doesn’t know show up in our neighborhood (day or night), and does keep a protective eye on her family here. There is not a one of us that doesn’t just love her to pieces.

Especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, many of the kids dress up in black, with cardboard masks, making spooky sounds, begging for candy or change. Sometimes they can be annoyingly persistent, but it’s a fun tradition (sort of like our gringo “Halloweens”).  Also, a lot of (straight or otherwise) guys dress up as girls and put on quite a few fun shows around the area during the holidays (the one I happened upon last weekend included a male donkey – don’t ask).

See the adjacent pictures. These are some that I’ve taken over the last few New Year’s in Ecuador (with the exception of 2009, we’ve been here for all of them since 2007 rang in 2008).

Papier-mâché effigies are burned on the beach, often loaded with fireworks, and bon-fires are lit…many of the rituals here are geared towards “burning away” the previous year, more so than “bringing in the new”.

At the blog site called “Bacon is Magic” (which many of you are probably already familiar with), Ayngelina shares some of her observations regarding some the Ecuadorian New Year’s traditions (some of which are familiar along our area of the coast, or some version of these) at this link:  http://www.baconismagic.ca/ecuador/yellow-panties-and-effigies-for-new-years-eve/

A sample effigy spotted this
year in Montanita

Nancy & Melanie
Todd and I had planned on spending a rather quiet New Year’s, especially after our local friend Melanie gave me a reflexology massage a couple of days before. She is certified in the technique, and what a treat! I melted like a Gumby for the next several days. Melanie is from England, but has lived in South America for many years, mostly in this area and has become a dear friend of ours. (She is pictured next to this paragraph, along with another sweet local friend of ours, Nancy, who is a talented seamstress). I cannot rave enough about all the Ecuadorian and transplanted residents living here.

Despite our best intentions to stay low-key this year, we ended up partying for three days, starting the EVE of New Year’s Eve, when friends started dropping by….a blur of a party, and it took Todd and I a couple of days in bed afterwards, reading and watching movies and re-hydrating with mucho agua to recuperate after the finale of fireworks and loud music blaring from everywhere.

Most of all, as Todd and I looked back over the past year, we are so grateful for all the remarkable folks we have gotten to know better since being here (locals, expats, visitors).

Dee & Dave
I first of all want to welcome all the new expats that have made the final leap this year:
Doug and Pam from New Hampshire who co-own one of the best on-the-Olon beach homes with my brother Jack.  Doug and Pam also own property on a beautiful hill over-looking the town of Olon and the ocean.
Barbara and Robert from Stanford who made an amazing permanent leap from Stanford to Curia (2 km north of Olon) since the start of 2011.
Dee and Dave (from Santa Cruz) who are probably the most kind, frank, least judgmental, generous people we have known, and we are delighted to have them as new neighbors. They are renting a house nearby while they build their new house on the hill-side of Olon too.
Karl Neumann and his lovely wife Regina (both who are very talented and accomplished) who bought one of the last lots remaining in Jardines de Olon, and are in the process of buying more property in our area as well.

Pam and Dee
decorating cookies for the
Olon Orphange Christmas Party

We are also looking forward to the arrival of new expats coming in the next year or so (who have bought or in the process of purchasing property along this area of the Ecuadorian coast):

In particular, Leigh, Neville, and Kyle Hudson (from Houston) now own property in Ballenita. We spent about a week together in our home when they came to visit last spring. These folks are just a blast, and a wonderful family.  Leigh (name spelled the same way as mine) and I have become good friends this past year. She is just a fire-ball of energy and enthusiasm. 

Local friends Ruth & Elizabeth
Richard & Judy on the right
Judy and Richard, a fascinating and fun couple who are purchasing land in San Jose (about 4 km north of us) whom we enjoyed for several days (and one very fun, fun evening) may be landing in Ecuador sometime this next year. Judy is coming back down in a couple weeks with a girlfriend, and we are looking forward to that visit.

Candace and Tom currently of Sedalia, MO are also another entertaining couple we enjoyed time with and they are buying property in Manglaralto (about 4 km south of us on the Ruta del Sol). Candace has just started a fledgling blog called “Ecuador...Adventure Awaits!"   Candace also has a passion for saving the large turtles that get caught in the fishermen’s nets (and end up dead, tragically swept by the currents upon our shores) and works with an organization called Earthrace Conservation that is providing practical and economically feasible solutions to this sad problem.

Left to Right:
Todd, Candace, Doug, Pam and Tom

And to Davida, who owns property on the Montanita hillside – you will make it here sooner or later…I am a firm believer that all things work out eventually as destined, and when the time is right, you will be here too, girlfriend.

Todd, Katie & Alex
Lastly, we are most thankful for the opportunity we’ve had meeting wonderful and intriguing visitors and guests this last year.
In particular, we enjoyed Diana Scherr and her lovely, lovely family during their visit (expats from Cuenca), Frank from New York/Pennsylvania, John F. (from New York too), Bill and Colleen from BC, Ladd and Marilyn (also from New York) along with Ladd’s mom Dallas.  We’ve also enjoyed the companionship of Alex and Katie (from the UK, currently based in Quito for awhile as teachers for an internationally-based school) who have come to visit Olon several times during their vacations.
Recently we had the chance to meet “Kiki” and Mike from Ventura, California. Kiki works for a company called Global Green Carbon (focused on environmental preservation projects).
One person who I didn’t have the opportunity to get together with in person was Tammy from Alabama, who writes a blog called “Tamster'sTravels", but they are returning later this year. However we had several lively phone conversations while she was here, and are still keeping in touch….and – gal – we are going to enjoy a few mojitos when you get back here.

A few years ago, Todd and I had a difficult time telling the Ecuadorians apart…These days, we are having a harder time keeping straight all the gringos that are coming through here. And so many coming are bringing special talents, skills and passions. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and we didn’t have many regrets to “burn away” from 2011.

One thing that can be counted on in life is “change”…It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Better to flow with it than fight it; something Todd and I have learned better over this past year.

Todd and I wish you all a very adventuresome, peaceful, and soul-satisfying New Year…..

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while those who are learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”
Eric Hoffer