Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guns A Blazing

May 30, 2012

Sebastion, our little
friend at Johanita's tienda
I suppose because of the abnormal heavy rains we had earlier this year (equals = more insects), a lot of people have been sick with various re-occurring flu bugs (el “gripe”) – locals and expats alike. Todd and I have been no exception, and it seems we have caught every one going around now (and in the past, have rarely gotten it). The common symptoms are sore throat, diarrhea and/or puking, chest colds, sometimes fever and achiness, and most of all FATIGUE. It lasts about a week…seems to go away, but many of us have been hit a couple of times with it the last several months.

Todd and I think we might be a little more vulnerable this year because we’ve made several trips to Cuenca for our dental work (and going from sea-level to much higher altitude, as well as being exposed to different germ viruses there).

But it also occurred to us that much of the fatigue we were experiencing could possibly be attributed to parasites. I believe most expats (and locals) are advised to take anti-parasitic medication twice a year. We never have taken the pills since we began coming here in 2007 (and we brush our teeth with the tap water, wash our dishes and shower in it), but we’ve never had what we would consider any symptoms. However, fatigue is one of the signs, and we figured it was time to take the precaution.

I also think we were spurred on when one of our friends recently elaborated on the consequences of NOT treating un-detected parasites (along the lines of “starts spawning and eating out your brain”) which further motivated us.

There’s nothing much to it.  One is supposed to take a stool sample for lab examination, and the appropriate medications (one for parasites and one for “mold”) are prescribed. In reality, most people we know skip the stool sample part and rely on a qualified pharmacist to dispense (no prescription needed). We asked a knowledgeable, native Cuenca friend of ours which medicines she used and got those. Two different medications (Secnidal and Zentel, if I remember correctly) – one medication taken the first day, the other taken the next (two pills each/taken together). Some folks get mild stomach discomfort/indigestion/sometimes diarrhea during the treatment. Todd and I didn’t encounter any of that (but no alcohol while taking it).  And I’m pretty sure I got rid of a lot of those little boogers the night of “I See What?".

The local Olon
billard hall.
We’ve made three trips to Cuenca so far in the last six weeks or so, and heading back again next week. We’re really enjoying our visits there (despite sore mouths after dental procedures) and have rather selfishly used the time as “romantic get-aways”. We have a number of friends and acquaintances in Cuenca that we want to eventually hook up with, but hesitate now because we’re never quite sure how we’re going to feel after the dentist. But it is a relatively easy and cheap trip to make between Olon and Cuenca: We’ve become enamored with the city and are quite sure we will still be visiting often after we get our teeth done.

The Akelarre Bar located
in the Hotel Inca Real
However, I should mention that the usual van shuttle company we use (“Operazuaytur) is temporarily closed down, and other private van companies are getting hassled hard by the regular bus lines resisting the competition (at least that’s what we understand about the skirmish). It seems a group/family can hire the entire van privately for around $60 without problems, but the big bus companies resent the 5-7 seat vans ferrying individual travelers sharing the ride for $12-15 per passenger. It’s not a big problem going from Guayaquil to Cuenca, but leaving Cuenca is more difficult because there is a police check-point just outside of town.  Many drivers are pulled over, in particular van drivers. If the driver or company doesn’t have the right paperwork (or juice?) to get past it, there can be problems. We personally know several people going through that checkpoint that literally got dumped off at the side of the road to fend for themselves when the driver or company didn’t pass muster. Once, a few trips back, there were five of us (one German guy, one Ecuadorian lady, who thankfully spoke excellent ingles after 20 years or so in the States, Columbian guy, and us – clearly gringos.  We had to pretend we were one big happy group traveling together when we went through the checkpoint…kinda hard when we could hardly communicate with each other, but we pulled it off.  It was a little unnerving when one of the cops took a picture of all of us in the van, smiling brightly with that “deer in headlights” look. We are using a different van company this time that seems to have the fewest problems (we used them on our way back to Olon our last visit when Operazuaytur had to suddenly cancel our return trip reservation – and who were kind enough to call the night before to let us know). I’m not naming the company here, because I’m not blowing their cover, but if anyone needs it, please contact me privately.

Another favorite place we like
to eat...just down the street
from our hotel.
On the last (third) trip to Cuenca, we were relatively dental pain free and had a fun time exploring more of the city. We tried the Inca Grill for lunch one day (hamburgers are rumored to be good there, and they were) and ate at the El Pedregal Azteca for what was actually great authentic Mexican food (and we are opinionated Southern Californians, with frequent Baja CA trips under our belt who are particular about getting the “real deal”) and very much enjoyed our meal there.  Go at lunchtime from noon to 3PM when the menu is cheaper.

Mind you, we had to nibble through some of these meals like gerbils, because, for the moment, only our front teeth can handle anything tougher than yogurt.

We also bought some warmer clothes at the bazaar place next to Iglesia San Francisco, (like long pants, jeans, couple of sweaters, etc.) because our normal beach clothing isn’t adequate in the cooler Cuenca climate,  and we were starting to feel like a couple of dorks from the “sticks” walking around in flip-flops. Believe it or not, we’re going to need these warmer clothes on the coast soon too, because we are going into our “winter”, and a sweater or two comes in handy, especially around October.

Some of our finds;
Jeans - $18
Cable knit sweaters - $12
Knock off Converse - $10
Knit top - $8
Purse - $12

I’m liking our little mini vacations in Cuenca (gosh, everything is so much more convenient and available than in a small coastal fishing village); we enjoy its more cosmopolitan ambience and hearing English spoken more frequently.  I confess we’re always a little reluctant to leave (and have ended up tacking on an extra day every time we’ve gone), but Olon is home, and there’s no other place we’d rather be.

We came home to find Daisy in her 4th “heat”, and once again this is NOT PRETTY. Every male dog in town shows up in Jardines for the orgy, driving all the neighbors crazy with the racket and the males “marking” everywhere. Poor Doug and Pam got front row seats, since Daisy decided their backyard would make the best love den. We tried keeping her locked up at our new place, but she kept escaping.

Locked in passion

Another neighbor startled Pam the other night when she came blazing out of her house (with a justified, wild-eyed, crazed look in her eyes) over all the commotion – bearing what initially appeared to a military assault weapon aimed at the dogs (it was actually a BB gun, purchased locally, and I think the rest of us were considering lining up to buy one too by that point)....true story, but please to all animal lovers - no matter how annoying and determined Daisy's suitors were, none of us would harm or hurt them, but the idea of giving a few of them a memorable butt sting had its attractions.
So that’s it. Daisy is getting the full hysterectomy soon (her initial sterilization turned out to be only a tubal ligation, so she’s still got all the parts that attract the fellows).

It’s hard to stay mad at her though. I mean she can’t help it, and we all love her to pieces.

And she's also learned a new trick.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador

May 21, 2012

The gringos are coming!  Four years ago, Todd and I had a hard time keeping many of our new Ecuadorian friends straight (“oh, you know – the short, black-haired, brown-eyed/brown skin, friendly guy…..” generally didn’t narrow down the description)…but now we laugh, because we have a harder time keeping track of all the gringos we meet these days.

Most everyone we have met either as visitors or as residents are people we enjoy, have interesting stories to tell, and come from varied backgrounds. One of the great things about living here is the chance to meet so many remarkable people from around the world.
A lot of the people here (or coming) are passionate about wanting to make a positive difference while living in Ecuador, are very capable of doing so, and bringing their unique talents, gifts, desires and generous spirits with them.

Some want to teach ingles, or are ardent about animal rescue and sterilization, or saving the turtles and other marine life, or preserving the environment. I could go on.

But the people I want to mention in particular are Salinas-based Tod and Mary Freeman. They are making a difference RIGHT NOW in our Southern Ecuador coastal area. Tod and Mary are the driving force behind the group called “Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador” (click on that link to take you to their Facebook page) to see more inspiring details and pictures about the kids they are helping.

In particular, Tod and Mary and other caring expats (many in Salinas) have been working with the kids at the Olon Orphanage for some time, and also actively raise funds for children with special medical needs.

Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador” is a non-profit organization whose motto is “helping kids with medical attention, food and clothing”.
Their information (or “about”) tab on the Facebook page explains their vision best:


To improve the quality of children's lives by sponsoring surgeries and providing necessary commodities for everyday life. Uniting the expat community in a common effort to help one child at a time.

Company Overview
We are English speaking expats from many countries who have come together to make a difference in children's lives.
 We are non-denominational and help any child in need.

We restored sight to a young girl by sponsoring eye surgery, sponsoring brain surgery (2/24) for a 8 month old baby girl (Narcisa) avoiding permanent brain damage and possible death. Helping to support the Olon orphanage through goods and encouragement.

General Information
Become a part of this helping effort of our expat community. You can donate clothes, school supplies, toiletries and funds for surgeries. We also welcome you to participate in our local fundraisers....they are great fun and for a good cause.

** Funds can be donated through Pay Pal: "to"

Medical update on Carolina:
Carolina was born with no anal track and had a colostomy bag attached at birth. Last July she had her first surgery to create an anal track and for the last several months has had many procedures to insure it healed correctly. Carolina is scheduled to have her second corrective surgery on 4/17 with the goal of having her colostomy bag removed. She will be in the hospital for 2 or 3 weeks. The doctors are confident that the second surgery will be successful and Carolina will be able to have a normal, healthy life.....

   More games for the kids at
  the orphanage thanks to the
donations  of Jeff and Chantal
The “Expats Helping Kids…” fundraisers (usually held in Salinas) are much fun and tickets sell out fast. The next fundraising dinner is this Tuesday at a private home with dishes from various countries being prepared, for $12.00 per person and a cash bar.

 All the funds donated will be used to benefit the orphanage in Olon and other kids with medical needs… Again, the funds raised for the kids will come from the sale of raffle tickets and some items to be auctioned off. The gifts to be raffled off and the items for auction will be listed in a follow up email..

….I imagine this event is already sold out, but to get on their mailing list, I suggest “liking” the “Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador” Facebook page, or contact Tod or Mary directly at
Awhile back, a number of us were honored to be part of last year’s (second annual) Olon Orphanage Christmas Eve party. For those of us who could attend the festivities,  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house after those special few hours with those special kids (refer to  Yonder Valley the Myrtle Breathes”).

This little girl was born with an abnormal growth on her nose. A group of plastic surgeons from the US are tentatively scheduled to be in Salinas late October or early November. The doctors here think she should be treated by one of the specialists in the US group. Johanna will be seen by a plastic surgeon at that time and hopefuly she will be selected and have her nose fixed. If not October or November, we will have Johanna available whenever they get here.

** Any amount donated to their PayPal Account -please send to:
All donations are appreciated and used for these children. Maybe in some countries, a one-time donation of $25, or a monthly commitment of $10 doesn’t go far, but it goes further here.
Almost magically with these kids.

**  You must first be a registered PayPal user to donate using this method. Email addresses are used as your "user" I.D.
Once you are a registered PayPal user, GO FIRST to PayPal, sign in, and then send the money, using the recipient's email address to send it "to".

It's free to register on PayPal and you would send money "to" in this case.

*** All photos and much verbiage courtesy of "Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador" Facebook page.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Music in the Night

May 15, 2012

Yes, all five of them
can ride the bike at once.

I mentioned before that Todd and I moved several months ago into a local 2-bedroom/2 bath rental house for the next 10 months to a year while we construct a new house on the lot we’ve owned in Jardines de Olon since 2007 when we purchased our house there too (which has since been sold to a great gal named Sarah, and still available as a vacation rental)... As it is, the other last 3 remaining lots for sale in Jardines have all recently sold, so it appears there may be four of us beginning construction sometime this year. Todd and I are still mulling over plans/ideas for our house.

We love our new neighborhood! Our landlords, Klever and his wife Eulalia and their adorable and polite kids (Natalie, Klevar Jr. – also known as Alex – and sweet little Ameli are pictured at left and below). They have been wonderful helping us get settled in, and will eventually complete the upper level on their house. Klevar brings/sells us fresh milk several times a week, which is delicious, once you get over the fact that it’s straight from the cow.

Our neighbors are wonderful. We live on a side street (sorta a cul-de-sac) with 3-4 other homes behind the Olon police station. I suppose our rental house and the one directly across the street are the nicest/most finished on the block, but no one locally would consider the adjoining houses or their owners as “poor”. Their homes are typical of most homes here.
Across the street from us:
Manino & Nick's place on the right;
Julia's family house on the left.
Across the street lives “Manino”, who is part of the management team of “Sunbawa” – a successful, popular, surf marketing and sales company. If I remember correctly, Manino is Argentinian, and speaks ingles fluently. His roommate “Nick” is Ecuadorian, lived a long time in the States, and back here now to work with his family in the tuna cannery business. Both are great guys.
Next to Manino and Nick lives Julia and her husband and their 4-5 kids (not sure I have all these youngsters straight yet). Julia has been wonderful about keeping an eye on our place while we have been in Cuenca for dental work for most of this month (we just returned from our third trip, which have averaged about 4 days each time).

Our house on the front left,
looking east
The first time I met Julia, which is shortly after we moved in, Julia and her kids were unabashedly going through our trash (left out for trash guys) looking for plastic and other redeemable/recyclable things…And maybe just for stuff that we consider “junk” that isn’t to them. While I was initially surprised to see folks on my driveway pawing through my garbage, I went out and introduced myself, and then helped them sort through the stuff too.  Since then, I always set aside a separate recycle bag for Julia and her family. One of our plastic living room chairs broke in half, and they wanted those pieces too.

Our house on left.
Caesar's house to the right.
Taken from behind the police station.

When I think of all the stuff Todd and I wasted while living in the States, I now feel ashamed. We were only two people living in one house in Palm Springs, and yet we managed to pack to the brim – TWICE a week – TWO HUGE garbage cans, if not more (though, in our defense, we did entertain guests often there). Since living in Ecuador, we have learned so much better how to recycle or re-invent broken things for other purposes….And we are down to about 1-2 garbage sacks a week on our trash.
Still, we have nothing on the Ecuadorians, who never fail to astonish me with their creativity and inventiveness using whatever is available.

Caesar drying his pants.
Directly next door to us is “Caesar”  (I think his last name is Moreno, but he is one who speaks with such a deep coastal accent, I can hardly understand him, so I’m not sure I have his name/nickname correct). He is an older, modest, “shy”, unassuming man that I know also keeps an eye on our place when we are gone. At first he intimidated me a little, because I have such a hard time understanding him….Yet late at night or around dawn (when I like to work/write) the most glorious, dreamy, “operatic” music quietly blooms from his stereo – which in itself is unusual, because most folks around here turn the stereo up full blast.
I think I’ve heard Andrea Bocelli, certain tracks from “Life is Beautiful”, classical music such as Handel, Chopin, and lovely Latin romantic ballads that are new to me.
Caesar is such a “rough-hewn” looking man, and rather taciturn (which is blessing for me, since I can’t understand one word he says), but when he quietly plays his music, I find myself mesmerized, seduced, and drawn to sit on our outdoor front steps to savor the music in the night.

The kids in the neighborhood are fun, cute and friendly…I always try to keep some candy in our bowl for them if they come by. They come over often to borrow a very elementary Spanish/English book I have, and now have a made a tree house en un árbol nearby.

Neighborhood kids on
Manino's porch perusing
the Spanish/English book

View from our front door.
Police station (partially painted blue)
in the background.
Todd and I are more or less getting settled into our new “home” for a while. Local Ecuadorian rentals/prices/accommodations are reasonably priced ($150-400) and can be hard to find if you don’t speak Spanish or don’t know local friends. Generally they do not come with furniture or appliances. We did buy our full sized fridge and a comfortable queen bed when we moved in here, since we’ll move those eventually to our new house. And we did have a desk and a few other items of furniture/kitchen ware/linens we brought with us.

One of the damn chickens
that keeps coming inside.
I’ve slowly but surely tried to make this house a little more homey, because we’re likely to be here awhile... Ummm..."sophisticated" decorating choices are  hard or expensive to find, usually. And the outdoor chickens (belonging to Julia) keep finding their way into our house when I leave the front door open for a breeze during the day. They manage to find their way in to our front room to peck around until one us chases them out.   Not quite fond of them.

But a couple of things I have found:

I needed a dish-drying rack and could only find it in this color. Our friend Mel says we should call it the “Barbie” kitchen set….I rather I agree with her, and now giggle every time I look at it.

I also happened to come across this “Persian” rug one day while the traveling bazaar came through Olon. Anyone who knows me probably knows I am more inclined towards Japanese-influenced or mid-century 50’s modern ascetics rather than anything like this rug……Still, it only cost $10, and I was all over it. It goes well with the plastic chairs and storage bin coffee table.

The thing that is really starting to scare me is the chandelier built in the living room. I hated it at first, but now I’m starting to really like it. It came installed with those awful/blaring/dangerous mercury “power-saving” GE light bulbs from China.
Despite having to look at it through a cardboard filter (like looking at an eclipse), I’m actually starting to appreciate its gaudiness.