Published: February 23rd 2009February 9th 2009
Shana, Marion & Arturo in the Garden
We felt like explorers, discovering this amazing artistic paradise. Notice the dragon head bridge railings. Even the trash cans and swimming pools have mosaic work.
Thanks for your patience, loyal blog readers. I know it's been almost 8 weeks since I last published a blog entry, but I've been on the move and spending time with LOTS of visitors! Much as I tried to get this up and published before I started my new job, I was unable to do so. Here I am, my 2nd day back at work at Hosteria Mandala and I'm using my afternoon break to get this blog written and zinging its way thru cyberspace. The best news is that Mandala has installed WiFi since I was last here in October...a very good thing indeed!
When I left off my last blog, I was still in Banos. Marion & Art had been using my pick-up to continue work on their beach house at Playa Esoncdida. When they brought the truck back to me in Banos, we had a few days for sightseeing. We had heard about a treehouse on the road to the jungle, so we set off on an adventure, not knowing what we'd find. Art is in the business of building playgrounds and treehouses (go-out-and-play.com), so he was especially curious about this little-known place.
This 11 story treehouse is built round the tree that supports it. An amazing feat of architecture!
we discovered was truly amazing! About 8 years ago, Jaime built the entire 11 story treehouse in 8 months. Since then he's been working on a massive mosaic spa, including pools, a sauna & jacuzzi, massage rooms, etc. all built into the hillside in underground caverns. He has the lighting rigged up so that each room is suddenly and dramatically illuminated as you enter it. A fabulously beautiful place - a remarkable, creative mind, and a really humble young artist.
Arriving in Quito, I met my Austrian friend Eva at the airport. My truck had been acting a bit strange, and on the way home from her late night flight arrival, the headlights dimmed and the wipers went into slow motion. It died right in front of our hotel. Some guys helped me push it into the car park, and some other guys helped me jump-start it in the morning. Just as I was pulling into the Chevy service center, it died again! I was pretty lucky, in a bad luck situation. I was able to walk back to the hotel and arrived just as Eva was getting up (recovering from jet lag and time difference).
Enter the Mosaic Grotto
This is the whimsical entrance to an underground cavern spa, every wall and surface covered with amazing mosaics.
We explored Quito a bit, but it was pretty rainy and overcast. The rain continued to fall most of the two weeks she was visiting; it seemed to follow us wherever we travelled. Fortunately, Eva's suitcase was waterproof because the canvas cover for my truckbed would form puddles whenever we stopped, and much of the stuff within got wet. I had triple-bagged the donated clothes I was brining to the coast, but they still ended up getting all damp & stinky.
I had met Eva in Tucson about 25 years ago, and I have visited her in Austria several times since then. We often visit thermal spas in Germany or Switzerland, so I decided that I would show her the best hot springs that Ecuador has to offer. I reserved a night for us at the elegant Hotel Termas de Papallacta and we treated ourselves to a hot stone massage that evening. Just outside our room was a beautiful stone pool with natural hot spring water. We got up early the next morning and were the only ones in the fantastic public thermal springs just beside the hotel. There are at least 10 different pools, all creatively designed
Jaime took me around his soon-to-open underground spa. Every room has a mosaic theme. Amazing designs.
from rustic rock ponds alongside the river to rushing falls and my favorite - a deep plunge pool that was cooler at the bottom and hotter at the top.
We continued on from Papallacta, picking up Chaco at his dogsitter's in Quito along the way. (No dogs allowed at our hotel in Quito or at the Papallacta Hotel). Chaco stayed with my friends, the Rule family, and made friends with their 10 yr old Golden Retriever, Woody. Woody was not very keen on playing at first, but Chaco wore him down and they were bouncing around the garden together after a few days. His older retriever friend on the coast, Yoyo, has also been rejuvenated by his visits. I call it,"The Chaco Effect".
We next stayed at Hacienda Guachala, a huge old ranch house that supposedly dates back to 1541. The gardens were lovely, the nearby church was charming, and you could feel and smell the age of the wood on the floors and doors. From Guachala it was a short drive the next morning to the village of Oyacachi. I had come here before with an Ecuadorian friend, and I had always wanted to return.
The sinks, the massage tables, the jacuzzis and even this bench are all covered with remarkable mosaics.
They've built hot baths beside the ruins of a 400 year old village and there are wooden handicrafts & trout farms. As you exit the hot baths, they prepare delicious fresh trout.
We contiued north past Otavalo to Iluman to stay with my friend Ceci in Tambo Koya, the hostal she built at the foot of Imbabura mountain. As we were leaving her house to visit the embroidery handicraft village of Zuleta, we saw a commotion at her neighbor's house. People were running to the house from all directions just as a policeman was loading a young man onto his motorbike. They had the guy's hands bound, and he was seated in front of the policeman, flopping around (since he couldn't hold on) as they bumped along the stone-paved road.
Eva and I waited in the truck as Ceci went in to find out what was going on. She emerged awhile later with a distraught 17 yr old girl in tow and asked if we'd drive her up to the police station so she could file a report. As we headed up the bumpy road, we picked up her father along the way and the story
Papallacta Hot Springs
Just an hour and a half from Quito are the fabulous thermal waters of Papallacta. We stayed in the posh Termas Hotel and these pools were right outside of our room.
emerged. The guy the cop arrested had been her boyfriend for the past few months, and as she was leaving for work he was waiting by the cornfields and tried to rape her. She was screaming and trying to fight him off just as a farmer was walking past with his cows and he alerted the authorities.
The father insisted that she had asked for it, and now she'd have to marry the guy. The cops maintained that it wasn't rape if he was her boyfriend. Ceci stood by her side and tried to get the men to understand that even if they'd been married for 20 years, it was still rape if the woman didn't consent. If the guy was held in jail, he'd probably be out in a few days, so Ceci and the girl were pressing for the indigenous punishment, which was recently declared legal. As it was explained to me, the "Castigo Indigena" consists of bringing the accused naked into the town square and flogging him with branches of stinging nettle (like poison oak). In the end, he was released the next day with no consequences. I don't know if the girl's dad continued
This is the oldest hacienda in Ecuador, now converted into a lovely inn. It dates back to 1541.
to be obstinate about her role in the attempted violation.
We finally made it to Zuleta where I picked up an embroidered outfit I had commissioned nearly a year earlier. Finding things my size is always a challenge here in Ecuador! The next day, Eva and I set off for Otavalo. Saturday is market day, and it's one of the biggest indigenous markets in Ecuador. The Otavalans are accomplished in weaving and handicraft, so the tourist part of the market is lively and colorful. But the animal market is really something to see (and hear and smell!) Check out the attached photo! After a quick visit to the market we continued along the back roads and visited the village of San Jose de Minas, where my friend Juan Fernando is building a guest house. It was great to see him again, and admire all the work he's being doing to bring tourism is the town of his birth.
Eva visited the Equator Monument while Chaco and I took a stroll to see the llamas. He was not at all sure about these strange looking doggies!! Dropping down from the Andes, we had a late lunch/early dinner
Guachala Inner Hallway
The dark, worn wood floors, the great expanse of windows, the wonderful antiques - all speak of the history this place holds.
at Sacha Tamia hummingbird sanctuary before we continued down to the subtropical village of Mindo. We found a dog-friendly cabana, right beside the rushing river. Set amidst lush gardens, we each had our own room and a huge porch complete with hammock and armchairs. Before leaving Mindo the next morning, we visited the Mariposario (butterfly enclosure) and the Orquideario (orchid garden park). From there, the road continues dropping down to the coast, passing through various vegetation zones and micro-climates.
We arrived at Susan's beautiful home at Playa Escondida. I had walked the land with Susan over 2 yrs ago before the construction had begun, and now her Casa Encantadora is complete. She had a priveleged view of a stunning rock formation in a cove beach. Alas, the bed where I was to sleep had a thin foam mattress (my butt hit the boards!) and a few holes in the mosquito net (I repaired them with bandaids) - but the sound of the surf and the company of friends outweighed these slight discomforts! We passed the time playing with Susan's watercolors during the rainy morning hours, but it cleared up for a wonderful coastal walk in the afternoon. We
Morci at Oyacachi
Just beyond the Oyacachi hot springs are the ruins of a 400 year old village. My trusty pick-up truck (Morci) got us everywhere we needed to go.
strolled all the way down to the caves and the arches, beachcombing along the way. Playa Escondida gets the most amazing shells!
The next day we were off down the coast, arriving at Rio Muchacho organic farm for lunch....a most delicious pumpkin and peanut sauce served over rice. I hung out in the hammocks and caught up with the farm's owner, Nicola. I had met her almost 20 yrs ago when she was helping to get the Alandaluz organic gardens up and running. To get to our hotel for that night we had to cross on the car ferry to
Bahia de Caraquez. The sun was quickly sinking (as it tends to do here on the equator) as we waited for the ferry to load, cross, and come back. It was low tide so the ferry had to swing wide, making each round trip take about 45 minutes. After waiting through two back and forth journeys, we were almost certain we'd get on the next ferry - but a big truck pulled on and filled almost the whole ferry. Finally across, just in time for dinner at the best pizza place on the coast.
Chacho explores the ruins
After "watering" this wonderful trumpet flower (datura) tree, Chaco continues his exploration of the village.
few days in Ecuador were spent at my house in Alandaluz. We took long walks with Chaco on the beach, went swimming in the Agua Blanca lagoon, in the pool, in the ocean, and never missed a sunset. We tried to get to Cantalapiedra to try the zipline, but we got stuck in the mud just (Eva pushing and getting filthy and we got out!) so we continued further down the coast, admiring the views from Atamari (situated on fabulous headland with coastal views for miles and miles). Coming back down to the coast after spending time in the mountain cities, I was struck by the contrast of modern vs traditional. The basic, lean-to, split can shack with a huge satellite dish on top, an old guy carring a power saw on his burro, a bicyclist hanging onto the bumper of a motobike to hitch a fast ride, a guy herding his horses from his motorcycle, a burro dragging construction materials (cane and rebar), etc.
I drove Eva 2 hrs north to Manta to catch her flight back to Quito, and then continued north again to meet Susan another 2 hrs north. I spent a night with my
Otavalo Animal Market
The Saturday morning animal market is really a sight to behold. To get the full experience you really need to hear the squealing pigs and inhale deeply of the bovine smells.
friend Moya (I had taken a watercolor course with her last year) and had a wild evening with some wacky cross-dressing Aussies, celebrating Australia Day by drinking one of every drink on the menu (oy!) Susan and I drove back down to my house where we spent a week studying Spanish, cooking yummy meals, walking on the beach with Chaco, collecting rocks for a mosaic project, watching sunsets and generally enjoying each other's company. It was REALLY hot, so we took a lot of naps, reclining on an ice pack when the power went out and the fans didn't work. As soon as I got back to the coast, I was pressed into service as G-dmother to the little school I have been helping. Susan attended the graduation with me, enjoying the cultural experience.
If you look up the word JOY in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Chaco on the beach! As soon as he hears the surf, he takes off running like a crazy man. Zig-zagging every which way to chase birds, crabs, sticks. Pure joy! Unfortunately, he sometimes finds dead fish and rolls in them - hey, to him it's perfume. I had to
Breakfast Rush at the Market
The Otavalo market is a bustling affair. Everybody is trying to grab a bite before the selling begins.
bathe him twice in the same week. He comes into the shower with me, a bit reluctantly at first but once I'm massaging the shampoo into his fur he settles in to enjoy the experience. Then, for hours afterwards he keeps peeking behind the shower curtain to see where the water went.
When I went up to Portoviejo to take care of some paperwork for my truck, Chaco fell prey to the perils of the big city....he sat in some chewing gum and it was quite an ordeal to get it off of him. I finally had to cut some of it out so he ended up with a bald spot on his rear end. Well, that should be the worst of my dog worries! He's realized that when I put on insect repellent, it usually means that I'm getting ready to go somewhere...so now, the smell of bug spray means it's time to go out and he takes up a post near the door.
Barely time to catch my breath, and two more visitors arrived. Joelle, a Swiss-French girl had been volunteering at the school in the mountains where I work with the volunteer Engineers
Tarabita Cable Car
After crossing the dramatic gorge on this rudimentary, gas engine power cable car, Eva's first remark was, "Can I go across again?"
Without Borders. After her stay in Malingua Pamba, she continued her travels around Ecuador and came to stay with me for a few nights along with a Swiss-German girl, Denise. i was surprised that the two of them used English to communicate, as that was their strongest common language. I had a lovely time with these two young women in their early 20's. I really don't feel any older than they are....age is just a number!
I heard about a Yoga class forming in Puerto Lopez, 15 minutes from my house. I was only able to take the course for a few weeks before starting my job, but it felt so great to get back into it! The instructor, Zane, is an American who has recently moved to Ecuador. There were 5 of us in the course (another American, 2 Brits, and an Ecuadorian) and class was held at a newish restaurant with a wooden terrace overlooking the beach. The French owner-chef has a pet bird; a female Blue-Footed Booby with a broken wing. She was very jealous of any other women in Olivier's life, and one day as I was climbing the stairs to the terrace she
Be free, colibri!
This injured hummingbird (colibri) had recuperated enough to be released into the wild. Eva had the honor of setting it free.
swiped my arm with her razor-sharp beak. She barely touched me, but it opened a wound that bled and bled and eventually infected. I gave her wide berth after that experience.
During Yoga class (2 hrs of intense workout and breathing and chanting to the sound of the lapping waves), I loved to look out at the fishing boats in the bay, some of them filled with a pelican crew, others with scores of frigate birds lining the masts. As we were doing our chanting, often people walking along the rocks looking for octopus would look up, no doubt trying to figure out what the crazy gringos were up to. One morning, Olivier took his pet booby and his cat for a swim in the sea. He carried them way out in the shallow water, and made them swim back. Good exercise for the bird, but the cat wasn't at all pleased with this routine. Supposedly, regular salt water baths help to control fleas. Even though Chaco goes in the ocean almost every day, I still use the tick & flea control drops once a month to keep him bug-free.
I am now working long days,
Susan's house at Playa Escondida
La Casa Encantadora and its enchanting owner received us on the beach for a few days of shell-seeking and R&R.
but enjoying my job at Hosteria Mandala (www.hosteriamandala.info) - a truly amazing place. Such interesting people pass through - often reserving for just a few days but then deciding to stay for a week or more. I will hopefully publish a birthday blog in the next few weeks (I turned 49 on Feb 15) but in the coming months (I'll be here until late June) my blogs are likely to be fewer and further between. It's not that my life won't be as interesting, it's just that I'll be super busy with little time to write.
If you would like to see more nature pictures (flowers, butterflies, etc) and some wacky trash cans (part of a continuing series) be sure to click on MORE PHOTOS at the bottom of this blog entry.
There are more photos below