Friday, May 31, 2013

Cuenca Again

May 31, 2013

I’m back in Cuenca for a week or so to take care of on-going eye problems.
I saw my eye doctor yesterday and I am scheduled to have cataract surgery next Tuesday. Both of my eyes have cataracts, but the left eye is down to 20% vision, so that one will be operated on first.  This is the same eye that I had laser surgery on about 8 months ago to repair a torn retina, and because I had Lasik surgery done on my eyes about ten years ago, the surgery will be a little more complicated than normal cataract removal.

I have a lot of confidence in my eye doctor here in Cuenca, and looking forward to being able to see again.  I don’t know what cataract surgery costs in the States now, but the cost of this procedure here is going to cost $1200 - $1500, depending on what type of lens is needed (to be determined during the operation).


The Festival of Corpus Christi started yesterday. It is a weeklong celebration that includes fireworks, bands, a multitude of the stands selling dulces, and other festivities.  It’s always fun to wonder around El Centro and Parque Caldron during these holidays.


In fact, it seems like every time we are in Cuenca, there is some type of holiday celebration happening, generally rooted in some religious observance (during our last trip here, it was during Palm Sunday weekend), and I love that Ecuadorians embrace merriment at the drop of a “Panama” hat.*

Taken during last visit to Cuenca
during Palm Sunday weekend.

An Olon example of a "Castillo"

I had heard that the fireworks might be limited this year in Cuenca, because one of the “globos” (incendiary paper maché hot air balloons) set fire to the roof of the seminary that adjoins the Catedral Nueva in Parque Caldron last year, though the nightly “castillos” (firework castles) will still be allowed.  There has been some heated debate in Cuenca this year between the fire department and traditionalists regarding this issue, but my bet is on the fireworks contingent.

I heard quite a few fireworks last night from my hotel room (several blocks away from the park) despite a ferocious thunder and lightning storm that passed through during the evening.

I came to Cuenca alone a couple of days ago because Todd had to work, though he is coming in later today to join me.

Tomorrow is our third wedding anniversary and we are celebrating it at Joe’s Secret Garden (Fried Chicken Night!) – which is one of the BEST and most unique places to eat in Cuenca.

Taken during one of our passes
through Cajas National Park

This is now my 12th trip and my twenty-third time across the Cajas pass in the last year (a three hour drive from Guayaquil to Cuenca).

And it is still a beautiful – if hair-raising – ride through generally fog shrouded mountain passes, with sharp pin turns, high cliff drop offs, and the occasional sudden landslides onto the highway. 

These days, I just generally either nap or bury my head in a book, preferring not to see my life flash beforehand if we careen off the side of the mountain, figuring that those that are sleeping or drunk have a chance of surviving these things.

I mentioned this on one of my recent Facebook status updates, and had the funniest conversation with a friend of mine (Gayle Hill) who lives in Pennsylvania:

Leigh, I decided to find some pics of the area known as Cajas Pass and it is quite spectacular. I read a hiker's experience crossing that area and she described it as treacherous because it rained heavily and hailed during the hike. Anyway, it is a beautiful place and you are lucky to live Ecuador and also lucky to be fit enough to walk in the mountains.

Shit, Gayle – I didn’t HIKE across the pass....LOL... Not nearly that fit… LOL!
NOOOO.....I do something even MORE treacherous when I make the trip.
I take shuttle vans with lunatic drivers each time.

This pic taken by either Todd or me/off our camera.
Around our fifth time across the Cajas before
we actually got sunshine going across.

It’s funny because there may be many words to describe me, but “athletic” would not probably be one of the first descriptions that comes to mind (said as I am firing up another cigarette as I write this).

* I hope by now, most of you reading realize that the “Panama” hat actually originated, and are made in Ecuador.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sea Sparkle

May 26, 2013

Courtesy of the Internet
Last week, folks along the coast here were treated to four or five nights of ocean fireworks.
There was a blooming of bioluminescent algae technically known as “Noctiluca scintillans”, which according to that Oceana link:
Is “also known as sea sparkle, Noctiluca scintillans is a large dinoflagellate that lives near the surface of the ocean, where it feeds on other planktonic organisms”.

Wikipedia says this:
“High concentrations of their plankton food source that likely result from environmental conditions such as well-mixed nutrient-rich waters and seasonal circulation factors are implicated in population blooms of N. scintillans, known as “red tides”.
Swimmers may report being illuminated by a ghostly glow-in-the-dark plankton - a floating bloom of algae which fires up into a luminescent sparkle when disturbed. This gives Noctiluca scintillans the popular names "Sea Ghost" or "Fire of Sea".
Runoff from agricultural pollution may contribute to the severity of these blooms. However this is not required to cause explosive growth of Noctiluca scintillans.
Not all blooms associated with N. scintillans are red”.
 I lived on the coast of Southern California (Dana Point) for  15+ years, and I’m familiar with the red tides, but the phosphorescent algae that nightly bloomed here last week was a bright neon blue and apparently MAGICAL!
In particular, those who got in to swim while it was happening said it was a transcendent experience.
Courtesy of the Internet

There were numerous sightings on the Montanita and Olón beaches, including one spectacular night show witnessed by friends at T.J.’s  Tres Palmas” bar (also see their Facebook page “Montanita Brewing Company” for more pictures) on the Montanita Point.  Some of them got great pictures, and I hope they don’t mind if I include them here. 

Courtesy of T.J. Bennett - Taken from Tres Palmas

I, unfortunately, did not get to see this marvel – but not for lack of trying. It was around the second or third night after it started that I became aware of it, and then I spent the next three nights either at Tres Palmas on the point, or perched atop one of the Olón lifeguard stands watching for it, but had no luck.

Courtesy of Tito Verdaguer - Montanita

I was told the luminescence didn’t occur with every breaking wave, so one needed to kind of watch carefully.  Maybe, maybe I saw a couple of weaker displays, but my eyes could have been playing tricks on me too.

On another note, I received this comment on my last post that I want to respond to here, rather than in the comment section:

Dear Lee,

As I read your post I wondered if my heart would ever accept the long distance between myself and my children and me for creating it. How do I keep my heart from breaking at birthdays and holidays and all the special little moments missed?
I realize children have their own lives, and don't miss us like we miss them, but that really doesn't help. How do you do it Lee? I would really like some help on how to harness the desire to be with my children and still be adventurous and live my own life.
Words of wisdom please.

Dear Anonymous,
Your questions provoked such a deep emotional response within me.
So much so, that I am going to answer your question here rather than in the comment section.
Without a doubt, being so far from loved ones is one of the most difficult aspects of being an expat.
As you said, it’s not just the birthdays and holidays, but all the small special moments (i.e., my youngest granddaughter’s first steps/first words; my oldest granddaughter’s first school dance; girls’ night slumber parties with my daughters pigging out on junk food and watching chick flicks).
It is being absent at times when your grown children may actually really need you to be there (despite having their own lives) and only being able to do so vicariously through Skype and Facebook and email…and living with the guilt, knowing you made the choice to move so far away from them for this “later-in-life” adventure, and at times, feeling very selfish about the decision.

On the other hand, there is also the hope that our kids and grandchildren are inspired to be “world citizens”, and see by example that it is never too late in life to take chances, to live their dreams, and to plunge into new challenges.

And with one daughter living in England for the last 10 years, another now in Germany, and my oldest in Southern California (and most of the rest of my family in Kansas), we’ve been a “far-flung” family for some time, so our relocation to South America has perhaps been an “easier” adjustment for us to make than others have had, or will experience.
How do I do it?
I cry.  I’ve had times in the last 3 years, since we moved to Ecuador permanently, when all I can do is weep inconsolably because I miss my family, and all that was familiar.
And I write.  That helps me a lot, even if most of it doesn’t see the light of day on this blog.

The short answer....I have no words of wisdom to offer.
You learn to live with your heart breaking at times,
Courtesy of the Internet

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself….
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable”.

Kahlil Gibran


The Olón lifeguard stand where I perched for
a couple of nights.
Picture of this gentleman sitting on that

same stand at sunset
taken a couple months ago

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jungle Light

May 6, 2013

My youngest daughter, Kacie, and her husband, Pedro (who is from Brazil), and my 2-yr old granddaughter (Clara) recently came for a 10 day visit.
Kacie and I haven’t had the opportunity to see each other in four years, and this is the first time I’ve had the chance to hold Clara in my arms, ever. 
I mean, we talk/see one another on Skype when we can, but it’s not the same thing as having my baby (with hers) here, together in person.

I also have two lovely daughters that came gifted because of my first marriage.
My oldest, Elizabeth and my 12-yr old granddaughter, Avery, live in Southern California:
(Hi Avery, if you are reading this – I really miss you, Squirt!)

Middle daughter – Katherine – has lived in England with her British husband, Clive for the last ten years. Katherine and Clive are thrillingly expecting twins (a girl and a boy) next August, and mother and babies are doing great.
And I’m really sorry that Elizabeth and Avery couldn’t make it here, since Lizbee was pretty instrumental in getting the ball rolling on this one, but ended up not being able to make it.
Playing in the Rio Olon
I believe one of the hardest consequences of being an expat is the distance from so many loved ones. 
I’m often envious of the close-knit, extended families I see here in Ecuador. Many of them will never travel further than a few hundred miles from Olón for their entire lives, nor care that there is a whole 'nother “world" out there.
They are with their families and friends, and really (?) is there anything ultimately more important than that in life?

Photo courtesy of Kacie
For that matter, I’m also jealous at times of family and friends who have never budged very far from Kansas City (where I grew up) and still enjoy all the familiar sights and traditions of that area, and chose to raise their families there….Especially during the holidays.

(though snickering behind my hand about the recent mid-west May snowstorm).

I think the most difficult times for me are during the holidays when everyone is posting cozy, snowy Facebook pics of their families – dressed in some festive clothing – gathered around a turkey, with a fireplace burning brightly in the background…while I am  profusely dripping sweat, trying to sweep an errant bat out of my house.

Anyway, Kacie has been to Ecuador to visit once before, and knew what to expect.  It can take some visitors coming to our Ecuadorian coastal areas time to reconcile the reality with pre-conceived ideas.
It doesn’t hurt that Kacie also speaks four languages fluently.  She is a linguist with the Army, and two days after they left here, they were on their way to make a new home in Germany, where she is posted for now, so I was particularly grateful that we had this time together.
Kacie and Pedro had a list of things they wanted to do while here, and I was more than happy to babysit while they did them.
That got me out of zip-lining, jungle-light expeditions and Montanita late nights, thankfully.
Been there/done that.

What it did NOT get me out of was the “day of horseback riding on the beach”, which was top on Kacie’s checklist. The horses can be “ordered beforehand” and show right up at door, with the guide, at more or less the appointed time.  Kacie was really looking forward to riding horses on the beach.

 (she is also an accomplished equestrian).

Kacie requested two horses for us to ride. By a complicated formula that involved heated discussions amongst the adults, logic, default….I somehow ended up on the second horse for that venture.

I haven't ridden a horse in probably 35 years.
It was fun, except for the painful concrete saddle. I didn't even know I had bones in certain places until then.
I actually was provided with a very gentle and responsive horse (and I do know some basics, thanks to Girl Scouts and other horse riding lessons in my youth).
While the horse was very obedient to my lame nudges, I decided early on just to try and stay on the saddle with the least amount of pain, and let the horse take its own course, who was generally keeping pace with the horses of the guide and Kacie.
Never. Ever. Again.
EXCEPT --- now and then, my horse was determined to walk straight into the ocean. 
Several times – just  out of curiosity – I let the horse do it, if nothing else to see how far he planned on going with that idea (and not too worried, since I figured I could vault off the horse if he got too deep in the water) during his kamikaze missions.

I would rather cut my front lawn with a pair of child scissors than agree to do that again.

I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably for two days afterwards.

But, nevertheless, I will always treasure that experience and memory.