Published: January 25th 2012January 24th 2012
Hilly Old Town Quito
This view of the Historic Center shows the Virgin Statue on the hill in the distance. I was staying in the more modern northern part of town.
Greetings from Quito where I am spending several weeks while the paperwork for my resident visa is going thru bureaucratic channels; slower than molasses in winter! My friend Lupe is on vacation so she has loaned me her lovely apartment. I write my blog this month from a high rise city apartment with traffic sounds rushing by below!
On Dec 20, back in Baños, I awakened at 5 am, used the toilet and then sat down at my computer. All of sudden I felt an intense pain in my upper gut – like a metal band tightening. I waited for it to subside but it continued to increase in intensity. I stumbled to my bed and laid down, but the pain just went on and on. I felt a wave of heat, broke out in a sweat and thought I was going to pass out. A rush of panic swept over me; I was all alone.
I reached for my cell phone on the bedside table; fortunately I had Dr. Zumbana’s number listed in my contacts since I’d been giving him English lessons. My vision was blurring as I
Owie Kazwie! The colorful bruising lasted for several weeks after my gall bladder ordeal!
struggled to call his number. He knew Shana’s house said he’d be there within 10 minutes. I tentatively got up and went to unlock the front gate, feeling like I was going to vomit along the way. As I lay back down, awaiting his arrival, a searing headache added to my agony.
When the doctor came in he measured my blood pressure at 150/105. He explained that it had increased in response to the pain and almost as soon as he placed a few drops under my tongue, my headache subsided. Then he quickly injected my inner arm with an anti-spasmodic which burned like the dickens, but I was almost grateful for another kind of pain to take my mind off the vise-like cramping. He had jabbed in the general vicinity of a vein and I sported a lovely multi-colored bruise for several weeks!
Within ten minutes my pain subsided and the doctor helped me to his car to drive me to the private hospital clinic. A bleary-eyed nurse was there waiting for us; it was 5:30 am. She took out a needle to draw blood. The rapid spike in blood pressure had caused
Old Town Fruit Vendor
Walking through historic old town, I love glimpsing courtyards through narrow doorways.
my veins to contract, making her job difficult. In the end she needed to use a baby catheter needle whose prodding added a new Technicolor bruise.
An eco-sonogram showed that my gall bladder had swollen to 4x normal size, blood test results showed low levels of typhoid (water-borne infection) and increased white blood count (possible pancreatitis). An IV tube went into the other forearm and mega-doses of antibiotic coursed through my body all day. I was given some other meds to prepare my gut for the anti-biotic, as well as ongoing anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic drugs. I felt 75% better as soon as they stopped poking me with needles, but they insisted I stay in the clinic all day so they could administer medication intravenously and observe my progress.
floor room had a huge window looking out on a fabulous avocado tree, its branches dripping with mosses and studded with epiphytes and bromeliads. I spent hours staring into the dense treetop. I’m told that this is one of the most ancient trees in town – estimated to be over 150 years old! When the doctor checked in on me I told him how
Simon & Chester
Luis & Cristina adopted these almost twin puppies for their twin sons. Such sweet and playful little fellows (the dogs & the boys!)
much I was enjoying the view and he told me that 3 years earlier when they were building the clinic they saw a black panther draped over a thick branch early one morning. Apparently, he’d come down from the hills but he disappeared quickly as construction resumed.
All day I dozed, watched TV, and felt really ready to leave by late afternoon. Donna came for a visit and then Mary showed up to drive me home. As he discharged me at 7 pm, the doctor was very insistent that he hadn’t cured me but merely made me more comfortable. I told him that I’d be going to Quito in a couple of weeks and would see a specialist when I was there. He gave me a list of foods to avoid (I almost cried when he told me not to eat avocadoes!) and 4 prescriptions to continue taking.
That night Irene stayed with me up at Shana’s house. I didn’t sleep at all – I could feel each of my organs pulsing and clenching; my innards felt achy and out of balance. All during that sleepless night I reflected on how much we take
Early Morning Halo
Love that peachy glow as the the sun slants over the snow-capped, cloud crowned summit of Tungurahua.
for granted the delicate equilibrium of how everything works together to keep our body mechanism running smoothly. I tossed and turned unable to find a comfortable position; due to internal swelling there was pressure on every organ. The night felt endless and I mulled over the scary possibility that I might need surgery.
The next day I spent time researching the relationship between Crohn’s disease and gall bladder issues. From various online articles and forum discussions, it became evident that I should try to avoid surgery at all costs. Someone like me who has Crohn’s disease already suffers from compromised intestinal function and especially needs a gall bladder to regulate the flow of bile.
Once I got to Quito I saw a gastroenterologist who referred me to a surgeon. The test results from the clinic in Baños were inconclusive, so they sent me for a 4D sonogram. The surgeon couldn’t see justification for surgery, and he referred me to another gastroenterological specialist for further tests. This third specialist decided to hold off on colonoscopy and endoscopy studies and first treat me for parasites. He thought I might have some kind of worm that blocks
Ash Garden 1
Follow this series of photos as the ashy tendril ooze out from the partially exposed crater.
bile ducts in the pancreas and gall bladder.
I survived the parasite medication but now, several weeks later I continue to suffer from excess gas, painful bloating, occasional cramping, and more gastric reflux than I’ve ever experienced before. I take a pancreatic enzyme with each meal and on the whole am feeling pretty good, but not great. I avoid eating red meat, anything fried or greasy, aged cheese, whole grains, citrus or acidic fruits, seeds, nuts, and avocadoes (boo hoo). Any time I get a craving for fritada
, the Andean specialty of pork chunks slow-cooked in pork fat in a big copper wok, I just recall the extreme pain I felt and I’m able to resist eating what must surely be poison to my gut!
Since I’m back in Quito now, I may go see the specialist again. My insurance almost fully covers diagnostic testing at their own clinics, but they reimbursed less than half of what my day in the Baños clinic cost. I was furious when they explained they wouldn’t pay any of the meds that were administered intravenously at the clinic because I couldn’t present a pharmacy receipt for them. Argh!!
Ash Garden 2
Dark ash emerges, rolling westward as the sun lights each curl.
On Dec 23rd
Tungurahua Volcano reawakened briefly. With a big mid-morning BOOM she blew a portion of the ash cap that had formed over the crater. The ash that sifted down was like dark grey sand; easier to clean up than the ashy flakes that had plagued us several weeks earlier. This time Mama T made her presence known with low grumbles while soft billows squeezed their way through the partial crater opening.
I watched in fascination all afternoon as “blooms” of dark, curling ash pushed upward, expanded outward and then blew westward even as the next “blossom” was emerging. It looked like time-lapsed photography of flowers unfurling. As the “ash garden” built up, it briskly rolled along crests of surrounding mountains; the gentle gushing pushed the mass steadily along. I tried to write this paragraph while staring out the window. It was hard to tear my eyes away from the sight – good thing I learned touch typing so I could keep writing while transfixed by the ever-changing scene.
Impossible to stop snapping photos – a new skyscape emerged with each passing moment – varying shades of grey shifting in
Ash Garden 3
Even as previous spurts are drifting away, new emissions spring forth.
the rays of afternoon light against a vivid blue sky. That night the volcano didn’t rumble and shake, but the animals warned of impending eruption. I heard dogs barking & cows mooing – a chain of animal noises echoing up and down the valley. The sky stayed clear as night fell and I watched lava tumble over the crater’s lip. This time it didn’t spew upward but rather flowed peacefully downward, generously spreading along the mountain’s upper flanks.
Alas, the volcano had once again calmed by the time Lupe arrived from Quito on December 25th
. She had spent Christmas Eve with family, but wanted to use the rest of her vacation to visit Baños. We enjoyed a Xmas Day potluck gathering at the BIB (Volunteer Library) and she met some of my Baños friends. I was still not feeling too great, so for the next few days Lupe set off on her own to soak in the baths and visit the waterfalls.
My first trip to Quito was just after New Year’s. I had an appointment at the American Embassy to apply for passport renewal. I did all my medical visits, unsatisfactory insurance reimbursement
Ash Garden 4
Window in the ash shows how plumes ooze and shift.
errands and I met with the immigration lawyer. It was a busy few days in the city before heading back to Baños (3 ½ hr SE of the capitol) to teach my last week of classes.
My friend Roger had come down from his farm (3 ½ hrs NW of Quito) with his son Joe and Joe’s boyhood friend Alex. Since we were all traveling south on the same day, we met up at the bus terminal and bought tickets for the same bus. We rode together to Latacunga where Roger and I helped the “boys” (they’re 24!) find the right bus for their hiking excursion to Quilotoa Crater. Then Roger and I caught another bus to Ambato where we had lunch together. From there he continued SW to visit friends in Riobamba and I went SE to Baños. Roger had recently returned from a few months of working in the US so it was nice to have catch-up time together.
Two days later Roger and the boys met up in Baños and we had a great time together. They joked that I was “flexing my Jewish Mama muscles” – fixing them nice meals
Reawakening of Mama T
Thankfully this dark ash column was briskly blown away from town.
and playing hostess. Roger and I played Scrabble while the boys went to the hot baths. After one night Roger had to head north to meet up with some other visitors, but Joe & Alex stayed on so I got to mother them a bit longer. Delightful young men!
I got some good news while the guys were visiting – I’ll be working on the coast again at Hosteria Mandala from mid-March to mid-June. It’s been about a year and a half since I worked there so I’ll have to remember old procedures and learn some new ones. The owners hadn’t needed me for awhile because they were trying out full-time managers from Argentina, but I guess it didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. Glad they decided to fall back on Jill, their tried and true substitute.
Since I’ll be traveling with a US visitor in February (hopefully in my new truck!), I don’t think I’ll be back in Baños until at least July, so I said good-bye to my private students. I introduced them to a replacement teacher, but they said they wanted Jill or nobody! My Spa class took me out
Polo Fishes for Trucha
Beautiful setting for the Trout Farm, about 20 minutes outside of Banos. Lovely day in the country!
for a farewell dinner and gave me a lovely silk scarf.
I spent a delightful day with Margarita and Polo up at their trout farm, about 20 minutes from Banos. What an incredibly beautiful spot! Polo & I went down the hill to “catch” some trout for lunch. Polo threw food into the pool with the big fish and then tried to net a few. After the first few tosses the fishies caught on and swam the other way. He netted three good-sized rainbow trout; enough for our scrumptious ceviche !
It was interesting to see their fish breeding operation. They import the eggs and sell the minnows (I guess that’s what you’d call the two month old tiny fishies – in Spanish they’re called “alevines”) It’s all done fairly scientifically and there are very few pools where they let the fish mature. Their worker, Luis was filling water-filled sacks for delivery,each with 1200 alevines. How does he manage to count them as they slide and squirm?!
While Margarita diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro I squeezed dozens of limes
Ceviche & Patacones -- Que RICO!
Yummy! Trout ceviche (raw fish pickled in lime juice) served with fried green plantiain patties. Deelish!
and Polo & Sonia (a Venezuelan artist friend) gutted and chopped the fish. The fish guts were thrown to the chickens who were milling around, eagerly waiting. Polo said that for a time the fowl ate only fish guts, but their eggs and the meat acquired a strange taste. Now the bloody innards are just an occasional treat.
After lunch Sonia played guitar and sang for us, then we crossed the stream and danced in the meadow while the rivers rushed below and the volcano rumbled in the distance. We were able to glimpse dense ash columns through some breaks in the clouds. I’m so used to seeing Tungurahua from Shana’s garden; it’s always interesting to view it from a new perspective.
I got the house ready for Shana’s return; during breaks in the rain Marcelo worked on the roof (sweeping ash, scraping mold and moss, fixing loose panels and repainting the corrugated Eternit surface). Mati came and gave the house a thorough cleaning; especially since I’d been dog-sitting again for Rosie the Basset puppy, the floors really needed a scrub!
View of Llanganates Mountains
Margarita, Sonia, Polo and I had a fabulous day together enjoying natural wonders, good food and great company!
For my return to Quito I booked a share taxi service to avoid the long bus ride north. I had awakened feeling a little rough and during the entire trip I felt horribly nauseous. I had claimed the front seat but it didn’t help that one of the women in the back was removing her nail polish! I hung my head out the window trying not to spew! I MUST get my own vehicle again – when I’m the driver I never suffer from carsickness.
I had been informed that my new passport was ready to pick up, but once I arrived at the embassy I realized that it was Martin Luther King Day so that errand would have to wait. I was lucky to catch a taxi back just as a heavy rain started. Once I was in the cab the sky broke open and pea-sized hail pelted down. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees during my short taxi ride! Crazy Quito weather; sometimes 4 seasons in one day!
It’s been great staying at Lupe’s centrally located apt. The Ecovia bus line stops right in front of her building. This
Ecovia Bus Station
My main form of transport - the station is just beside the apt bldg (foto taken frm living room window!) Accordion buses and noisy metal platforms.
is very convenient BUT as each bus pulls into the covered station a metal ramp thunks down with a crashing noise. Since the buses run from 5 am to midnight, I’m glad I have my earplugs! It’s been interesting riding public transport - greatly improved since I lived here in 1988! Back then a bus ride cost about five cents – now it’s up to a quarter.
I’ve learned to avoid peak travel times when it can get really crowded. There are a few seats along the sides, but most passengers travel standing up. I wonder where these buses were designed since most of the grab bars and handles are too high for the average not-so-tall Ecuadorian. Every bus is articulated with an accordion middle; as it rounds curves & turns corners young folks sporting ear phones “surf” the rotating central metal floor disc, each bopping to his own beat.
Next door to Lupe’s apt building they’ve just finished demolition of a three story older edifice. It’s fascinating to look down on the workers; the shovel driver has amazing skill, manipulating the tines to fish out bent strands of rebar, depositing the spider-like clusters
Big Shovel Refueling
View from the bedroom window -- look closely to see the barrel of fuel in the shovel with a tube stretching down to fill the tank. Crazy!
of metal in one corner of the worksite. When needed, he uses the bucket of the shovel to crush the cement sticking to rebar pillar forms so he can extract just the steel; impressive but loud! I did a double take when I saw a plastic barrel resting high in the raised shovel – upon closer examination I saw a hose hanging down and realized that the guy was refueling himself. That can’t be safe!
Many of my errands (medical, banking, legal) are within a few miles from here, so I’ve enjoyed walking around Quito (when it’s not raining!) To get to the doctor’s I cut across Parque Carolina (Quito’s Central Park) and watch all sorts of folks cycling, jogging, skateboarding, walking dogs, having picnics, playing basketball, pushing strollers, etc. I have already visited the Serpentarium (Reptile House) and Botanical Gardens (both located within the park). Today I may explore the Museum of Natural History. For visits to the lawyer I walk the length of Amazonas Avenue, the main N-S artery which runs down the middle of the Quito valley.
I was called upon to help an old friend last week. I
Nicola & Babies
I had met Nicola on the coast back in 1989. Her twins, Florence and Raphael were born in New Zealand on Halloween. A group of friends welcomed them with a party.
had first met Nicola in 1989 when she was introducing organic gardening & cooking to Alandaluz Ecolodge during its infancy. Nicola stayed on in Ecuador, married Dario, was instrumental in introducing recycling and environmental awareness, and now operates Rio Muchacho Farm where permaculture is practiced and taught.
On Oct 31st
Nicola gave birth to twins in New Zealand. When she returned to Ecuador with her sister and the babies, I showed up at the airport to be another pair of hands. We successfully loaded ALL the luggage (13 bags!) into a taxi van and made our way to Jean’s place in the Old Town. Thankfully, Jim was on hand to help us lug the baggage up 6 flights of stairs to the apt. Since the flight arrived late at night I stayed over at Jean’s, the clock towers of the huge cathedral shining in the bedroom window.
The following afternoon Jean hosted a gathering to welcome the babies to Ecuador. I prepared a yummy seven-layer dip, Sue made her famous hummus, and Maria Elena prepared llapingachos (traditional mashed potato patties) with a delicious ground pumpkin seed sauce. Michelle brought a warm quinoa pudding, infused
Seven Layer dip
I modified the dip so it would be non-diary. Beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, salsa, olives & cilantro (oops, I forgot that the hostess detests cilantro -- sorry Jean!)
with cardamom and topped with almonds & sultanas. It was great to get to know Nicola’s sister, spend time with old friends (some of whom I seldom see) and cuddle adorable infants.
One Saturday afternoon Rachel and I set off to explore the Historic Center. Rachel had been a volunteer in Malingua Pamba when I arrived with a group from Engineers Without Borders. She returned to Quito a few months ago to take a job teaching English. We enjoyed strolling the narrow cobbled streets of Old Town, peering in churches and doorways, exploring galleries, marveling at colonial architecture. We were in no hurry – winding our way through alleys and lanes, visiting the unique shops of La Ronda – a cultural district that has been renovated to receive local and foreign visitors. We enjoyed a great meal overlooking the charming pedestrian district.
I spent one Sunday with my old friend Alexandra. Alex and I met in 1988 when I arrived in Ecuador the first time. We shared a wild and wonderful adventure on the beach and have kept in contact ever since. She is now married to a dentist and has two lovely
Jean's apartment is right beside the cathedral. The clocks are each right just twice a day (they haven't moved in years). Jean was my boss in 1988 at the American School -- still here!
daughters, Martina 9 & Camila 13. I’ve enjoyed watching the girls grow during the past 5 years. On this visit both Alex and her hubby Miguel took me around to check out potential vehicles for sale. I’m starting to shop around for a new (or newish) truck which I hope to be able to buy in the next two weeks! All depends on the bureaucratic processes leading up to the sale of my property!
Thanks for reading! Be sure to scroll down to the end to see some silly pictures – I snapped some scenes that tickled my fancy; perhaps they’ll make you laugh as well. If you follow my blogs, I would love to hear from you so drop me a note!! Big hugs from Ecuador’s Big Apple!!
There are more photos below