Learning Curve - Remarkably Magical


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South America » Ecuador » West » Ayampe
January 15th 2007
Published: February 10th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Venus ValdiviaVenus ValdiviaVenus Valdivia

When visiting this village, seat of the ancient Valdivian culture I felt inspired to pose with this statue... twin sisters of different eras?
My dear friends and readers,

It was my intention to get this blog entry published weeks ago...somehow travel to places without internet access and preparations for a visit to the US got in the way. So, here I am in California, sitting at my Dad's computer, reflecting on the past month or so.

My life in Ecuador is rich with acquaintances. I continue to enjoy time with friends, old and new. Somehow I manage to find "family" wherever I go! The first few pictures below depict outings with friends: archaeology in Valdivia with two Peruvian travellers, a museum day in Quito with Alexandra and family, a visit to Agua Blanca Reserve in Machalilla National Park with Rene and his two daughters.

I've had a number of adventures with my friend Beatriz (the director of the little coastal school where I am the "godmother") and her extended family in Salango (10 minutes north of Alandaluz where I live). One day, we drove down the coast with my pick-up truck full of fish her father had caught. At the Libertad market, fish that are big enough to yield restaurant quality filets fetch a much higher price.
Exposition at Ichimbia MuseumExposition at Ichimbia MuseumExposition at Ichimbia Museum

Perched high above Quito´s old town, this glass museum houses fascinating exhibits. I enjoyed the day with Alexandra and her daughters!

At the market, Beatriz's mom helped me bargain for produce , and I filled my new kitchen with fresh and healthy foods. Hooray! My little kitchen is complete. After carefully driving my new fridge and stove back to my cabana -- I bought them in a town 2 hrs south and held my breath over every speed bump, and there were many! -- I got ready to "play house". My first big cooking adventure was "arroz relleno" - a huge pot of "stuffed rice" (containing chicken, shrimp, onions, garlic, green beans, carrots, soy sauce...) for my "Huasi Pichai" housewarming party. We were 12 women - three generations from Beatriz's family (including my new puppy, Navi).

You may recall that in my last blog entry I mentioned that I had found a puppy on Dec 25 (Navidad - Xmas day). Sweet little Navi was staying with Beatriz's family until the construction of my cabana was complete. I went to visit almost every day. To eradicate her fleas, we gave her beach baths, digging a hole at the water's edge and scrubbing her down with sand and salt water. She loved it! I bought the necessary vaccines at a veterinary
Rene, Meli & GabyRene, Meli & GabyRene, Meli & Gaby

I spent a fabulous day with Rene (waiter at Alandaluz who is a single dad) and his sweet daughters. We visited Agua Blanca, part of the Machalilla National Park.
pharmacy; the same evening that we gave her the first shot, she snuck out the front door and ran onto the busy road where she was hit by a truck. She is buried on a hillside with a tree planted beside her grave. Alas, Navi was not meant to be my pup for very long.

When Beatriz's youngest sister participated in the village pageant, I was staff photographer. Her older sister who lives in Caracas was coming home for a visit after 8 years away. The bus from Venezuela (a 3 day journey) was due into Manta (2 hrs north) at 7 am. We loaded up my truck bright and early, dealt with a flat tire at daybreak and arrived by 8:30....however the bus didn't pull in until 4 pm! Another older sister who moved back from Venezuela several years ago is opening a restaurant in Salango. I am helping to finance the final construction and have been asked to advise them on decor. I think the place will be called "Hammocks".

LEARNING CURVE
KITCHEN LESSONS-
*I am learning how to prepare plantains in so many ways -- grated into sauces as a thickener: shaved or
Mud GodessesMud GodessesMud Godesses

The best part of the Agua Blanca day was swimming in this ancient sulphur lagoon. The bottom is rich, slimy mud. Feels heavenly on the skin!
slivered and then fried to make "chifles": whole baked plantains taste like bread: sliced & fried then smashed with a rock and fried again to make "patacones": plantains first boiled then mashed, mixed with cheese, garlic, onions & cilantro then formed into large egg-shaped "bolones" and baked to a crispy brown... YUM !! When plantains mature and go yellow then black they are deliciously sweet "maduros" - I want to try to create a peanut butter/maduro cake.
*I am becoming more adept at removing shrimp heads with the "shit stripe" intact; it slides right out if you do it right! Huge fresh shrimp costs $2-3 per lb in my nearby town.
*I am learning the secrets of juicing the various local fruits...taxo, maracuya (passion fruit) and others need a gentle blender pulsing so as not to break seeds which can be bitter. Other fruits need a more complex process of straining and reblending. Some fruit juices taste better blended with milk or orange juice. The variety of flavors is dazzling!!
*Once when I showed up at Beatriz's house around mealtime and her mom hurriedly sent a nephew out to chase down a chicken. I watched on as she quickly slit
Selling Fish Selling Fish Selling Fish

Beatriz's dad had an exceptional catch so we drove south to sell his 10 huge seabass at the Libertad market where he gets a higher price.
the neck, dipped the dead bird into boiling water and then I pitched in to help pluck the feathers...a first for me!

SHARING MY ENVIRONMENT WITH THE CRITTERS - (hey! they're letting ME share THEIR home!)
*Learning by experience....I left a bunch of bananas out on the counter one night in my kitchen. I awoke to find that dozens of bats had feasted heartily, leaving the shredded peels amidst messy piles of guano (poop!) Now I know, anything left on the counter must be wrapped or stored under a wooden bowl!
*Only once I made the mistake of leaving the bathroom light on during the night. Literally thousands of insects were attracted, many of them frying themselves on the lightbulb and dropping onto the sink and counter.
*Elaborate and beautiful spider webs -- when they're high enough that I don't have to walk thru them they get to stay. After all, maybe they'll help lessen the skeeter population!
*Friendly geckos skitter aside as I enter a room. They also dine on my mosquitoes, and I thank them.

NIGHTTIME NOISES
*What's that rustle thump sound I hear up on my roof? Rustle, rustle in thatch, thunk, bump and crash.
Beauty Pageant for 6-8 yr olds!Beauty Pageant for 6-8 yr olds!Beauty Pageant for 6-8 yr olds!

They seem to love these competitions in the small towns, and at every opportunity there's a pageant! Here we are at the annual fiesta for the town of Salango.
I have two six foot iguanas nesting above and they leave me presents (droppings) on my front walk each morning. Oh well, it's their home too! On a sunny afternoon I see them basking on the branches of the trees beside my house. Out the shower I gaze into the prehistoric eye of a colorful iguana who has taken up residence on a swatch of coconut palm fiber draped across a branch. One day, during the three minute walk to the hotel's reception area I spied no fewer than 8 huge iguanas, all different colors and forms. They are amazing creatures and I revel in their presence in my environment. How do they feel about me being in theirs?
*Listening to birdsong -- intricate melodies of call & response, as evening falls I hear the "Addams Family" bird (duh duh duh dum, duh duh duh dum...) and then there's my beloved "Alarm Clock" bird (at 5:30 each morning!!)
*Drifting off to sleep with the roll and rhythm of the waves which seem to ebb & flow in sync with the ocean breezes. As the wind picks up, my curtains rustle and the waves crash ashore ever louder and more powerful.
Juliana is Miss EleganceJuliana is Miss EleganceJuliana is Miss Elegance

Sisters and aunts sewed and primped to prepare Juliana (Beatriz's 7 yr old sister)for the town pageant. She was named Nina Elegancia.


LEARNING CURVE AS A DRIVER - Giddyup MORCI!
*Speed bumps of every shape and size (the small pointy ones are the worst!) The town of Machalilla has 18 "sleeping policemen" in all! The town grew up very close to the road and this profusion of "muros" (walls!) keeps traffic to a crawl. BUT, jostling over a speed bumps is an effective way to pass a slow-moving truck, I've learned!
*Huge potholes appear where there were none the day before. I'm told that road crews are notorious for doing shoddy repairs...so they'll have more work the following month!
*Major construction machinery blocking one lane of the main road for days on end. A few young men ineffectually wave red kerchiefs to direct traffic onward with little regard for vehicles coming both ways at once! One day during lunch break the crews sat perched on the equipment watching near crashes as vehicles jockeyed to be first thru the narrow passage.
*I learned to clean off the battery connections which began to get gunked up with greenish crystals from the ocean salt spray. As the problems became a daily challenge in starting the truck, I asked around and discovered a $1.50 solution
Housewarming LuncheonHousewarming LuncheonHousewarming Luncheon

In Quichua it´s called Huasi Pichai; the new homeowner prepares a meal for friends & neighbors. Here I am with three generations of Suarez women, family of my teacher friend Beatriz.
- small donut shaped felt pieces impregnated with some magic "antisurfactant" solution which I'm assured will contiue to keep the connections clear for the life of the battery...so far, so good!
*Challenging driving situations...I've gotten stuck in the sand..twice! Dozens of villagers turned out to help me get free, laying planks of wood to guide me to more solid ground. Then, there were the muddy hills. I slid off the side into ditches...twice. Again local workmen saved the day, propping the sunken wheel up with tree stumps and pushing me free.
*Police Intervention...after being hassled once about the tinted windows (which were on the truck when I bought it) I got a doctor's note indicating that prolonged exposure to the sun causes my sensitive skin acute dermatitis. That note has come in handy several times since.
*Driving in Quito - crazy, aggressive drivers (the taxis are the worst!), double and triple parking at the most inconvenient spots, no lanes to speak of, just a sea of vehicles jockeying for the lead, no laws (only suggestions). Especially in the big city, I've had to learn to drive the way they do. If am courteous and let someone in ahead of me,
NaviNaviNavi

Here is Navi, yawning, the one time she visited my cabana before her tragic death. (I don't much care for the Alandaluz bedspreads but the pillowcases I brought down match nicely)
everyone behind honks and shoots me dirty looks. (It's quite a readjustment to drive here in the states again!!)
*Traffic in Quito gets worse and worse. This is good news for the "Stoplight Circus Acts" (Circo del Semaforo) -- jugglers, fire-eaters, dancers, soccer ball manipulators, mimes, you name it! Never a dull moment as you wait thru two, three, four red lights! Then there are the Intersection Vendors selling everything from cell phone accessories to inflatable life vests, fruits and vegetables, gum, candy and ice cold lemonade. When I showed mild interest in a neck pillow, the vendor chased my truck up the line of traffic each time the light changed, lowering the price dollar by dollar until I finally had to admire his persistence and buy it for half his original asking price!

LESSONS IN PATIENCE!!
*In Spanish they're called "tramites", in English I'd call them "Administrivia" or "Bureaucratic Bullshit" In any language they're headaches! You''d think they could tell you everything you'll need right from the start, but noooo....there's always one more document that missing. Go get more photocopies (the fastest they manage is one page per mintue!), have another copy notarized (the only notary in town
Washing Clothes nr Estero PlatanoWashing Clothes nr Estero PlatanoWashing Clothes nr Estero Platano

Clothes washing is a social gathering for village women. Morci(my pick-up truck) also got washed in this river. Plantain Estuary is a lush inlet on Ecuador's north coast.
is gone until next Thursday!). Wait, the architect made an error in the drawing of the lot lines...it wasn't me, it was the other guy...no way, have that guy fix it...he won't be in until after lunch...our offices close at noon this Friday....argh!! Finally, with the help of many persistent souls, I have the land titles and all the paperwork for my resident visa signed, sealed and delivered (I hope!) After much back and forth I've learned that the title for my truck can't be transferred to my name until I'm back in the country with my long-term investor's visa. Oh well, I'll have to keep charming the police guards posted at each provincial border!!

LAUNDRY LESSONS
*Thick, plush towels never dry in the tropics...thin, threadbare ones are the way to go.
*Time to go WI FI - yes, I did it! I removed all the underwires from my bras! In this heat, who needs metal chafing below the boobs?
*Don Carlos, the Evangelical Laundry Guru charges me $4 to wash and dry as much as I can stuff in my duffel. His laundromat is called "Burbujas" (bubbles). He always has my clothes clean and folded on time, but
Playa EscondidoPlaya EscondidoPlaya Escondido

I have a new favorite beach in the northernmost coastal province of Esmeraldas. The simplicity reminds me of how Alandaluz was back in '89.
I may have to change launderers. You see, Don Carlos has been getting a little too friendly. First it was the long-winded story of how he found Jesus the same day they were supposed to amputate his leg (which he still has). Then he went on to tell me about his 7 children by 4 different women, only two of whom were his wives, both of whom left him (the buzz around town is that they left him because he beat them) and most recently he would not let go of my hand as he looked into my eyes and told me "Every man needs a companion, and every woman needs a man" and then made some suggestive comment about me needing to get more "nighttime exercise". But the main reason I can't go back there is that a friend scolded me for sending my dirty underwear with the rest of my laundry...she's certain he must be sniffing my undies before he washes them; the mere thought of that gives me the willies.

AMAZING EXPERIENCES
*One day, as I was boiling beets in my kitchen, heavenly strains of music wafted thru the air. I was sure it was a
Natural JacuzziNatural JacuzziNatural Jacuzzi

At low tide the rocky beach at Playa Escondida forms pools which heat up in the sun. As the tide comes in, the breaking waves massage and soothe.
recording, until in the next cabana I glimpsed a guy actually playing the violin. He was a guest at Alandaluz, truly a professional player and though I was tempted to applaud I contained myself and appreciated my personal concert in silence.
*After a 3 hr walk along the beach I was treating myself to a fresh fish ceviche at the Bamboo restaurant when a woman about my age approached and asked if I might like to have a massage that afternoon. Yes! Cecilia is an excellent massage therapist and a new friend.
*Driving down the road at dusk, a woman walking with her son paused in the light of my headlights to pick lice out of her child's hair.
*Fish Fileters - filet of sole for Switzerland, fish bladders for china
*At the early morning fish market the birds dive and swoop trying to snatch a free meal from the fishermen hauling their catch ashore. Kids play around, tossing the fish guts as the birds put on a show, diving to snatch them in mid-air!
*Walking along Playa Escondida millions of tiny crabs scurry into their sandy holes, each footfall startling the next group into a frenzy.

GIFTS I
Driftwood RailingDriftwood RailingDriftwood Railing

Playa Escondida is a beachcomber's paradise. Each day tons of driftwood, shells and rocks are washed ashore. The Inn is built largely of materials offered up by the sea.
HAVE RECEIVED:
*Oodles of bread and pastries from Jose and Silvia, owners of "La Calidad" Bakery -- I tease Silvia that she's on the "fatten up your friend" diet...that way you look thinner when you're alongside her.
*A fruit basket from one of the brides (there were three weddings at Alandaluz in the space of 9 days!) This was from an American girl who was grateful for my help interpreting for her non-Spanish-speaking guests.
*A lunch invitation from a German couple I drove from Guayaquil to Alandaluz...somehow I managed to make myself understood with my basic Deutsch during the entire 3 hr drive, and then during lunch as well. I was also called upon to invite them to attend the American girl's wedding.
*A ripe, juicy watermelon from the students at my little grade school.
*A horseshoe for good luck from the antique vendor whom I sometimes patronize. I've bought some colored glass bottles from him. One day he told me that my purchase would enable him to buy diapers for his baby.

DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE -- I've met so many amazing expats who have also chosen to make a life in Ecuador. I now know at least
Footwashing BasinFootwashing BasinFootwashing Basin

Many hollowed stones (some probably dating back 4,000 yrs or more) were unearthed during the construction of Playa Escondida Inn. Mounted on a base of shells, it's almost too pretty for foot washing!
a dozen women who have stayed 15-20-30 years or more. I look forward to getting to know them better. With my longtime friend and scrabble buddy, Shana, I visited Playa Escondida and felt a special pull to the place and the people. When I return to Ecuador I plan to walk the bluff with Judith, the Canadian owner, and see which lots she still has for sale. There will be a lot of considerations to take into account if I decide to once again follow my heart and sell my beachfront lot and move my dream further north. I will probably keep living where I am for the next 2-3 years, but for the long term I think I need to move away from Alandaluz as it is becoming more "hotel-like" and less ecological. SO - y'all better come visit before 2010!!!!

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10th February 2007

Hola Chica!
I love the latest entry Jill! The pictures are wonderful, and Arabella really enjoys seeing you, tho she was a bit flummoxed by the mud. We're hoping to come visit Summer of 2008, as we're embarking on a big remodel of our house this summer. We're doing good, Bob and Betty Adler are staying at the Frisco condo, so we've been spending weekends there, snowboarding and hiking on the trails nearby. I took Bella and Elsa hiking at a trailhead a little bit east of here today, and then we went to the park for a long playtime. It was so much fun, and I think we're guaranteed Bella will have a good long nap today : - ). Bella says "Hi JILL!!" I gotta put her naptime now. Sounds like you're doing great, of course. I love reading about your adventures! Love, Jody
11th February 2007

Platano and coco, two of God's greatest gifts!
Love reading the blog, don't stop. You left out the platano version of shepherd's pie: boil the ripe platano, mash with butter and a little flour, spread over a well-seasoned meat mixture, bake in oven. A little grated cheese is optional. I miss piononos -- they were a real treat when we lived in Puerto Rico. YOu can just layer thoses sliced maduros with a mixture of flour and sugar and cinamon, pour over some eggs with a little milk, and pronto! pastel de platano. Or bolo or whatever y our country calls it. I actually miss geckos too. I always thought they seemed kind of cute and friendly. Here for an alarm clock we have wild turkeys. They're almost as much of a pest are pigeons are in cities!
12th February 2007

Great writing
Jill - you write your travelblog so well. You could easily write a very readable book about your adventures. You could probably even do a documentary for the telly! I admire anyone who can write in such an entertaining and informative way. My own scribblings have always been rather boring and of interest only to me to jog my own memory of events passed. Keep it up. Love, Sheila
18th February 2007

Enjoyed the update
Hi Jill, loved reading about your latest adventures and thoughts. The photos are lovely. I've decided to wait another year before heading to Ecuador with my daughter but hope we'll still have a chance to meet. Will look forward to continuing to read your blog until then! Amber

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