Saturday, April 19, 2014

Miracles and Kindness

April 19, 2014

Earlier this week, Todd and I made a quick trip to Cuenca to take care of some business.  As always, we had a lovely time there, but busy with appointments, so not much opportunity to get together with friends (in particular Mary and Steve Beckman of "South of Zero" fame), though we did run into Nancy and Chuck Watson (“Nancy and Chuck – Retirement in Ecuador") one morning, while having a late breakfast/brunch at Local 5.

It is a six hour trip between Olón and Cuenca.

Three hours by bus between Guayaquil, and then a three hour drive from there to Cuenca, across the Cajas Pass.  We have generally hired shuttle van drivers for that portion of the trip (either direction we are headed).

The Cajas Pass is located in the Cajas National Park, which covers about 71,630 acres, and it is a stunningly beautiful drive; there are over 200 lakes in the park, beautiful waterfalls, llamas alongside the highway, and breathtaking views.
That is if you can see them, because it is frequently foggy across the pass.
AND, this is assuming one is able to enjoy the view, since the usually slick road is full of hairpin turns, steep drop-offs, and maniacal drivers.

I've made at least 17 trips to Cuenca in the last 2 years - meaning I've made that Cajas journey around 33 times (I flew in once from Quito)....After the first few thrilling (and “white-knuckled”) trips,  I've gotten sort of blasé about the commute, until this time.

On Thursday, we hired a taxi to drive us back to Guayaquil, sharing it with a young Ecuadorian riding shotgun, and a very nice older Ecuadorian man riding in back with us. It is “Semana Santa” (the Easter Week, and a much celebrated holiday here).  We left early, hoping to beat the crush of people traveling to the coast for the weekend.
Shortly after going over the peak, our car spun out on blind curve, (we remember at least two 360 degree donuts), and then the car went off the road in the fog (somehow FLYING OVER a 18-inch deep, 43-inch wide culvert)...I know this, because I always keep a tape measure in my purse (don’t ask – I just always have one on me), so I measured the culvert after the accident.

That the car didn't roll is a miracle. It is also a miracle that no other cars were behind us, or coming towards us when it happened.  We landed with barely a thump, facing the direction from which we had just come. For about 30 seconds we all looked at each other in wonderment, before jumping out of the car, into 6-8 inch deep jungle foliage (note to self – wear more substantial shoes than flip-flops while traveling).
Not a scratch on any of us, and on initial inspection, the only damage to the car was two flat rear tires.
It is a miracle that we went off the highway towards the HILL side, because much of that road has a CLIFF side (though where we went off, the road had unforgiving rock hills on both sides)..into an infrequent "glen" of grass along the route.
As we were surveying our situation, it quickly occurred to all of us that we were waaay too close to the blind curve, with virtually no visibility because of the fog, and we had a sudden concern about the possibility of a chain reaction event.

Instead, the kindness and ingenuity of the strangers who stopped to help us was amazing!

Kind strangers returning
with planks and logs to get
over the culvert.
An older couple stopped, said they would be right back with some wood planks; a small semi-truck driver pulled over and parked his vehicle between the sharp curve and our accident site as a warning and as a protection against holiday traffic whipping around the bend. Other people stopped to help push once the planks arrived (needed to get car over the culvert and back on the road). Another larger truck arrived to help rope-pull the car off the road, when 12 people pushing still weren’t enough.

Emilio (the older gentleman) had gone up a narrow uphill path to higher ground to try and get cell phone reception (nope, not in that spot) and I scampered up there to join him (after changing into my old Converse shoes – fortunately easy to retrieve) to get some of these pictures and videos.
To see the videos, click on the YouTube links below:

Once the car was back on the road, Todd and I were able to hitch a ride the rest of the way to Guayaquil (with the blessings of our driver and traveling companions) with one of the couples who stopped.  They were brother and sister (Jonathon and Maria) who travel the highway every day; Jonathon owns a “finca” (a ranch) in the Cajas. We had a wonderful time getting to know them, and Jonathon spoke some ingles, because he lived in New York City for a number of years.  He chattily mentioned that a couple of policeman had recently been killed in the same spot a couple of weeks ago.

They took us right to the bus terminal.
We were so very grateful, yet they mentioned several times during the drive how blessed they felt to be able to help us.  We gave them a bag of fresh Loja coffee that we had purchased in Cuenca, and pressed some money in his hand, though he heartily protested the money on parting.
When we finally did get to Guayaquil to catch a bus the rest of the way back to coast, we had 2+ hour wait for it....we bought our tickets, and then made bee-line to the nearby Holiday Inn and promptly inhaled a couple of screwdrivers (with beer-backs) to calm down.

Truly, that I am able to write this now is a miracle, and the kindness of the Ecuadorian people never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Almost Mayberry

March 27, 2014

The month of March began with Carnavale – always a crazy, fun time, but the onslaught of turistas here during those few days is overwhelming. I’m guessing (and this is just a wild-ass guess) that at least 25,000 people show up in our area (Montanita/Olón) for this event.  I’ve heard as high as 50,000 people.  I don’t think it was as crowded this year as the last couple, but other locals might disagree with me.

The beaches are packed, the traffic and parking are a nightmare, and the internet slows to a crawl.
I think most of us that live here hide inside for most of it.

The trick to surviving Carnavale is to stock up on books, movies and food, and be sure to hit an ATM a couple of days before- hand (otherwise wait in long, long lines to get cash).

About a week or two before Carnavale, there was a fun (locally commercially sponsored) affair on the beach that included a food contest (these are always very competitive – all the food looks scrumptious – and I don’t envy the judges who have to pick a winner).

Johana, Vicente,
Tomasa y Sebastian
Also in the last month we were invited to attend the graduation ceremony of our friend Johana (from our nearby Johanita’s market – the whole family there have always been so kind to us, and friends of ours).  It was held in the Olón park, and a big event celebrating the graduating youths of town.We always feel honored when locals invite us to things like this (graduations, birthday parties, weddings) because our already warm local community makes us feel even more accepted.

I mean let’s face it: no matter how long we live here, no matter how kind the locals, we are still guests in their country, still have much to learn about the nuances of culture and customs and language, and we’ll always be “outsiders” to a degree.

One culturally different aspect is that NOTHING, I mean NOTHING ever starts on time. Always add two (2) hours to the designated time. That's a given.
Naturally, the invitation said “starts at 7PM”….ja ja ja ja…!
Being wise to this by now, we didn’t show up until 9:30PM, and even then, we were some of the first to arrive, so we left and came back around 12:30AM, when the music, dancing, and partying really tuned up.

Ecuadorians love to dance, love to sing, love celebrating life.  We had a great time, but wimped out around 2AM…meanwhile; the party lasted (as usual) until 5-6AM…or until the amps blew out. Whichever happens first.
I give a lot of credit to the Ecuadorians for their stamina!

Click on the you-tube link below.  A cute group of “kids” were visiting the Olón beach recently, and having a wholesome, great time.
They treated some us to this impromptu serenade: 

Because the sunsets this time of year are so stunning, most everyone around town heads to the beach to watch them each evening, and the camaraderie is harmonious.

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago, there were two nights when beautiful rainbows glowed over the hills of Olón, adding to our sense of awe of the dusks here.

Our “high” season is winding down. “Semana Santa” (the week before Easter) and “Labor Day” (May First) signal the start of the” slower” season – and also the whale season.

This area has become quite popular in the last few years (I suppose depending on perspective, that is either “good” or “bad”), but probably inevitable.

I started going to water aerobics classes (my friend, Deb Anderson leads these in her pool), and I’m really enjoying those afternoons sessions.
I kid you not, it’s been at least 15 years since I actually attended any type of exercise class, so I’m thinking this is a good place to start now.  They are not that strenuous, fun conversation, and wonderful to jump into a pool during the heat of this season.

Part of my motivation is that recently I noticed my forearms (mind you, not my upper arms – those went south long ago) are starting to take on a distinct “Shar-Pei” look.

If there is one bone to of contention right now, the trash pick-up days (?) have become erratic, to say the least, since the recent provincial elections...and gone is the familiar (if sometimes annoying) tune announcing their arrival.

Trash is piling up to an embarrassing degree in our coastal towns now.
The recent local elections resulted in a change-over to new leadership in our province, and most all locals, with whom I talk about this subject (who over-whelming voted for new guy(s) in), are also dismayed about the  current piles of garbage around all the local towns, but shrug it off as "there may be a period of "transitional 'conversations"

Living in Olón is not exactly like living in "Mayberry”, but sometimes it comes close.