Zig-Zagging Across the Andes


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South America » Ecuador » Centre » Baños
July 12th 2018
Published: July 23rd 2018
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Holding Down the FortHolding Down the FortHolding Down the Fort

CiCi loves being part of the pack. New(ish) siblings, Sally and Paco on the steps, CiCi in the foreground. Scarlett the truck in the driveway.
In the six weeks since I published my last blog entry I've been a travelling fool! I've had several paid driving gigs a couple of trips taking friends around. Although Ecuador is a small country, when it comes to crossing the Andes a 300 mile journey can take a full day! I´ve been over to the coast twice, down to the edge of the Amazon Basin twice, and up to Quito and back a few times.











First CiCi and I took a trip down to the coast with my rentor, Mark and his two dogs, Sally and Paco. We had arranged for this excursion even before he moved in. Mark has some friends from when he lived in Cuenca who rent a place in Montañita for a month each year and friends and relatives come to visit them there. He really wanted them to meet his dogs (which he adopted after he left Cuenca, in the next two places he lived). Mark has been living in the front house on my property for several months and I'm very grateful for his loving care of my CiCi whenever I have to
paco n markpaco n markpaco n mark

my rentor with his pup, Paco Loco (my moniker)
be away for a few days or weeks. But to plan a long driving trip together with our dogs...what could I have been thinking?











Knowing that his pup Sally had gotten carsick when they moved here to Baños, I totally prepared the back seat, filling the footwells with luggage and covering the widened doggie lounging area with towels, sheets, and even an old plastic shower curtain. Well, somehow her puppy puke found its way between the cracks along the door and onto the floor. Nothing that couldn't be cleaned! The three dogs did really well together, eventually settling down and taking CiCi's lead to relax and enjoy the ride!











With stops to walk the dogs it was a long journey. I spent the first night in Monañita on the way up the coast - his friends had rented cabañas in a super chill beach hangout spot. Mark stayed on a few more days with his friends but I continued north an hour to Puerto Lopez to have a chance to reconnect with friends. I stayed in my old
Freddy and FamilyFreddy and FamilyFreddy and Family

First visit to the coast, a pizza dinner with the family of my Puerto Lopez godchildren. Daddy Freddy with his youngest, Dana.
digs; the folks who bought and fixed up my former cabañas have been ever so generous about letting me stay there and my old friend Marianne is managing the place so I got to visit her. You can check out their "Tranquilidad Ecuador" facebook page.















One day while on the coast I had lunch with two former students from 2003 - they had been gardeners at Alandaluz where I used to live. They both now have businesses in the nearby fishing village of Las Tunas. Then I invited my waiter friend, Freddy and his family (his kids have all become my godchildren) for pizza one evening. It's great fun spending time with those three - Dana age 5, Frixon age 8 and Yibely (known as GiGi o Bely) age 11. Freddy´s wife Mercedes got creative whne naming her offspring! I also touched base with a few other Puerto Lopez friends -meeting for lunch, swimming in the sulphur lagoon.













After the looong drive back up from the coast (Baños is on the eastern
Raw WoolRaw WoolRaw Wool

At the yarn factory in Salinas de Guaranda. A fabulous tour!
slopes of the Andes, about halfway down to the Amazon Basin so I really have to CROSS the Andes to get home from the beach) I had a few days to catch my breath, chill out, soak in the hotsprings before setting off on a journey with my good friend Annie, her niece Kate and Kate's roommate, Heather. Annie had planned LOTS of activities for the two recent college grads but by the time it was my week with them (the last week of their month-long visit) the girls were running out of steam. They said they didn't want to go anywhere cold - after all, they were on their summer vacation! Annie really wanted to visit Salinas de Guaranda which is about 3 hrs SW of Baños and high in the Andes - brr!! When Annie asked the girls if they felt confident enough to stay on their own for a couple of days in Baños they responded, "Yes, please!"











Annie and I had a wonderful overnight getaway, exploring backroads and visiting small Andean communities. I hadn't been to Salinas in a number of years and was happy
Annie the EngineerAnnie the EngineerAnnie the Engineer

With some hundred year-old machinery at the yarn factory in Salinas de Guaranda.
to now find comfortable lodging and a well-established circuit of factory tours. For the past several decades this community has been guided and encouraged by a Salesian priest, Padre Antonio to become a model of productivity and creativity. We visited the cheese factory, chocolate factory, a distillery of essential oils and herbal remedies and, my favorites, the yarn factory and knitting cooperative. Early the next morning we headed north for market day in the indigenous village of Simiatug. The day's drive had us bumping offroad for hours-Annie was a bit nervous but it was not a big deal for me since I have experience in this kind driving from my years of work with Engineers Without Borders. The payoff was breathtaking views of snowcapped Andean peaks from angles I'd never before seen!











Barely time to catch our breath upon returning to Baños and then we were off the Amazon Basin with the girls. We made our way down to Puyo (requisite waterfall hikes en route) where we spent a lovely afternoon with English teacher friend, Eliza - an American woman who has been living in Puyo for almost 20
Fresh Out of College!Fresh Out of College!Fresh Out of College!

Annie's niece Kate and her roommate Heather shared a wonderful adventure -- I took them around during their last week in Ecuador.
years! She and her adopted son Akamaro met us for lunch at the best restaurant in town! It was nice for the girls to have some time with someone closer to their age, and great for Akamaro too. He just got his American citizenship and will likely be starting college soon in the US so he enjoyed talking with the girls about their recent college experience. The next morning we continued further into the jungle to Misahualli, a town famous for its gregarious troop of about 30 capuchin monkeys. I took them around to explore various lodging options before heading back to reach Baños before nightfall (that twisty road climbing the Andes is not fun after dark!).











I had a couple of weeks to relax before the arrival of my next visitor, but during this time had to have my truck serviced in Ambato (1 hr NW of Baños), so while Scarlett was spending the day at the Nissan dealer, I decided to see an Ear Nose & Throat Specialist. I've been having horrible sinus problems making it hard to sleep well at night. Both my brother and sister
Feeding PigeonsFeeding PigeonsFeeding Pigeons

In the park in Ambato while waiting for my appt with the Ear/Nose/Throat Specialist (Otorinolaringologo). Read text to learn about his expert diagnosis.
have had sinus surgery in recent years and I wondered if there was a way to improve my breathing while prone. The "otorinolaringologo" sent me for a CAT scan of my sinus cavity which showed that I don't have a deviated septum (tabique desviado) and his diagnosis was, "You're obese and probably allergic to your dog. Lose weight and get rid of your pet." Well, I am working on one of those two recommendations...guess which one.











Sometimes, expat friendships are like being in a revolving door. I was so sad to say good-bye to dear friend and fellow BIB Bazar volunteer Julie. She's been in Baños on and off for several years, but is now headed to SE Asia to explore more retirement options! Her housemate, Jody, was just returning from a long-term housesit on the coast so Shana and I hosted a ladies´ luncheon as those two sweet ships passed in the night. Another friend, just a few years older than I, died suddenly of a heart attack. I helped Kirk's former wife coordinate the catering for his memorial ceremony. He had been guitar player so there was
Wacky Gals!Wacky Gals!Wacky Gals!

Welcome back Jody, farewell Julie - a ladies´ luncheon at Shana´s full of love and giggles!
beautiful music at our gathering of dear friends. His friends and family in Texas held a memorial simultaneously and the two parties were linked via video feed...yet another way that technology changes our lives.













My friends Carol and Pam had their 10 year old grandsons visiting for two months (!!) Kirk had been so looking forward to spending time with the boys, but they arrived the week after his passing. With so much to deal with, I helped them out, taking the boys off their hands a few afternoons for Spanish lessons and then a whole day of fun and adventure. We went down the Waterfall Route (Ruta de las Cascadas) and took the Tarabita Cable Car across the river. Colton was a bit afraid at first, but once they{d fished for trout and eaten them on the other side, he was totally into the tramway ride back and even wanted to try the zipline --I told him to wait and do that one with his grandma! I let them ride the go karts, we hiked the Devil´s Cauldron Falls, went out to lunch and then swam
A Day Out with the BoysA Day Out with the BoysA Day Out with the Boys

I helped sisters Carol and Pam by spending the day with their visiting grandsons, 10 year old cousins Colton and John. They sure wore me out!!
at the new Virgen Recreativo Water Park in Baños. The boys were having so much fun on the waterslides that I had to drag them away once it got dark!













Now and then friends will ask me to drive someone up to the airport or pick up an arriving visitor for. The Quito airport is now just 3 hours drive using the newest highway bypasses. Previously I´d had to crawl through crowded towns (especially slow on market days) but with just one added $1 toll they've been able to shave almost an hour off the journey! If I´m driving up or back early in the day I'm sometimes treated to breathtaking views of snowcapped Andean Peaks. This stretch of the Panamerican Hwy is known as the Route of the Volcanoes (Ruta de los Volcanes). While in Quito I usually connect with friends to collect donations for the secondhand shop. Often when I go up I'm meeting a late night flight so I organize a dinner for friends who live in the valleys near the airport. Giacoma will even open her Italian restaurant especially for our group of
Margarita´s 90th Bday!Margarita´s 90th Bday!Margarita´s 90th Bday!

A group of us gathered to celebrate the birthday girl, my dear friend Margarita!!
8, 10 or 12. The last dinner of friends coincided with Margarita's 90th birthday! A delightful evening was had by all in attendance!













My last visitor was an old friend, just finishing her around-the-world adventure. Anita and I met in 1986 in an Italian A-level class in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has a Scottish mum and an Italian dad and her family used to visit cousins in Italy so she had wanted to improve her spoken Italian. She's been living in Australia for the past 20 yrs and on this trip she went first to Europe, then the U.S. and finally ended up in Ecuador. I helped her plan a whirlwind 10 day itinerary -she flew into Quito and out of Guayaquil to maximize her visit. We spent a fabulous day in Quito's Historic Center, climbing up the church tower and heading towards the center...but the streets were blocked off all around the Plaza Grande (Mike Pence was visiting and security was tight). Instead of following my tried and true walking tour, we wandered further afield and discovered a new (to me) section of the Old Town.
Anita in QuitoAnita in QuitoAnita in Quito

Welcome to Ecuador old friend! We hadn't seen each other in 30 years, but we didn't skip a beat!













San Marcos is an artisan quarter and many of the old colonial buildings have been beautifully restored. Anita had really not bought any souvenirs on her 3 month journey but that day she fell in love with some earrings in a corner cabinet at an antique store. It was obvious they were contemporary silver work so I asked about the jeweller and we were directed up the block to the courtyard where he had his workshop. He was not there, but when we returned to the antique store to make the purchase they called him and he came immediately with his adorable daughter to give his approval of the pair that Anita wanted to buy. He then walked us back to his studio and showed us the tools of his trade. A lovely encounter! We finished the day with a sunset dinner overlooking the old town just as the lights began to come on.













Anita and I spent a couple of days in Baños, relaxing and enjoying the hot springs. I relinquished my little house
Cheerleading JesusCheerleading JesusCheerleading Jesus

The hillside cemetery in Baños has many unique grave markers. Here's one of my faves!
to her and stayed over at Shana´s (3 doors down). Cemeteries and churches seemed to be a theme for Anita's travels, so we visited both on a full day walking tour down from my house, across the river and all around town. Baños´ cemetery is up on a hill overlooking the whole town. Weaving through rows of tombs and monuments one can learn a lot about the town's history. The church has a funky little museum in the adjoining courtyard which includes the Virgen de Agua Santa´s entire wardrobe! The statue of the Virgin is paraded through town in gilded and jewelled satin dresses and it seems she gets a new one for each fiesta!











We went down to the jungle for just one night so she could get a taste of the Amazon. Eliza and Akamaro met us again for dinner at El Jardin, and then we soaked in their heavenly wooden hot tubs while watching the parrots fly overhead. Anita thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Omaere Ethnobotanical Living Museum and Reserve along the Puyo River and we visited the fascinating Sunday market. Since Puyo is a gathering
New Taste DelightNew Taste DelightNew Taste Delight

NOT! Yes, it's true what they say that Palm Grubs (chontacuro) taste a bit like shrimp but I couldn't get past the custardy yellow center - much less the head!
place for many indigenous groups, the market has lots of ethnic handicrafts and some fascinating traditional medicine stalls. Anita (a vegetarian) convinced me to finally try the roasted palm grubs...I've been working up the nerve to do so for years. Let's just say it's NOT an experience I plan to repeat. Leaving Puyo we stopped at my favorite gift shop, Casa de la Balsa to pick up 4 one-meter high colorful carved balsa birds to take down to the coast for Marianne's gallery. I was also taking some of Kirk´s music equipment down to donate to an orphanage. As a friend said to me recently, "Jill, you move Ecuador!"











After one more chillout day in Baños Anita and I headed over the Andes (once again!) and down to the coast. Our early morning start afforded us amazing views of Mt Chimborazo, Ecuador´s highest peak. Our route past Riobamba and over through Pallatanga took us around the massive base of the mountain and we were able to marvel at its crystal clear beauty for over an hour! We made it to the coast in record time and dropped off the
Breathtaking Views!Breathtaking Views!Breathtaking Views!

Taita Chimborazo (Ecuador´s highest Andean peak at over 6,200 meters) is on the left and Carihuarazo is visible to the right.
donated guitar and stands in Olon with Erwin, a Dutch volunteer who teaches music at the orphanage. Marianne was just heading back up the coast from visiting some of her artisans so we crossed paths with her at Benito's Bakery in La Entrada (yum - passion fruit pie!) and handed off the balsa birds for her gallery. We made it to Hosteria Mandala in time for sunset caipirinhas! After having worked there for so many years, it was such a treat to simply relax and be a hotel guest! The owners had just returned from a trip to Europe, so it was wonderful to reconnect with them and meet their two new black Great Dane pups, Frida (Kahlo) and Greta (Garbo).











Anita and I enjoyed some Puerto Lopez night life, the mud at the sulphur lagoon, and on her last day she went whale watching (I get too seasick so I didn't join her). Her flight out was at 6 am so I had my trusty taxi driver friend,Tito pick her up at Mandala at midnight and safely drive her the three hours to Guayaquil. She arrived in plenty
Coastal ExcursionCoastal ExcursionCoastal Excursion

Second visit with my godchildren - and excursion with Yibely (GiGi), her brother Frixon and their lovely mom Mercedes. We stopped for seafood.
of time to check in for her international flight -- the start of her long journey back to Australia. The next day I invited Freddy's wife and kids (he had to work) to go on a field trip with me. The plan was to visit the Valdivia Aquarium, but it was under renovation (boohoo) so we visited the orphanage. The oldest, GiGi was really moved by the thought that these kids didn't have parents. The younger two just wanted to play with all their toys! We stopped for lunch and then I put them on a bus headed back north and I continued south to visit my former yoga teacher Ron at his new place in Salinas. Thanks Ron for waking up so early to help me get on the road at daybreak the next morning for my drive back up and over the Andes!











So now I am finally holding still again (for a few weeks) and taking some time to mourn my father´s passing. Anyone who's on facebook already knows that my 92 year old father passed away on June 15th. I am so grateful for the
Rest In Peace Alvin GoldsteinRest In Peace Alvin GoldsteinRest In Peace Alvin Goldstein

Baby Natalie will be able to know her great-grandfather through these photos.
time I´ve been able to spend with him this past decade. During my last several visits he talked more and more about being ready to go and wanting to be with my mom again. In his last days, my niece came west with her new baby so Dad was able to meet his great-grandaughter, Natalie (who was named for my mom, his wife of 49 years). I'm so glad my sister had the support of her children during those difficult days. My dad didn't want any sort of funeral or memorial, so I'll wait until the fall to visit with family.



PS -be sure to scroll all the way down to see more pics and a few surprises!


Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


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The Orphanage in OlonThe Orphanage in Olon
The Orphanage in Olon

A charming Dutch volunteer, Edwin, invited me to come visit the orphanage when I dropped off some donations for a friend. My goddaughter GiGi was very moved by the visit.
Onion VendorsOnion Vendors
Onion Vendors

An indigenous market in the mountain village of Simiatug.
Salinas KnittersSalinas Knitters
Salinas Knitters

Just a few of the 110 women who are part of a knitting coop in Salinas de Guaranda
Bananas in the HighlandsBananas in the Highlands
Bananas in the Highlands

Improved roads mean more variety of produce at markets. Now you see plantains in the Andes and avocadoes on the coast!
Amaranth FieldAmaranth Field
Amaranth Field

Taken from the car window on one of my many solo drives.
Downtown at DuskDowntown at Dusk
Downtown at Dusk

From the terrace of Cafe Mosaico we watched the historic center light up, one church tower at a time.
Exploring San Marcos NeighborhoodExploring San Marcos Neighborhood
Exploring San Marcos Neighborhood

Unable to take my familiar old town tour (the main plazas were cordoned off for security when VP Pence visited) we wandered off in new directions and discovered a cool artists´quarter.
Crystal Clear ViewsCrystal Clear Views
Crystal Clear Views

So rare to catch a gorgeous glimpse of Antisana - a gallery of peaks formed by a collapsed peak it is occasionally visible beside Tungurahua Volcano.
Newest Members of Mandala FamilyNewest Members of Mandala Family
Newest Members of Mandala Family

Freddy with Frida and Greta...very soon it will be impossible to pick them both up at once!!
dog with a mohawkdog with a mohawk
dog with a mohawk

I asked the nuns at the center for the handicapped what was up with this guy...they told me that they had done his hair so he'd be beautiful. alrighty then!


25th July 2018

zig-zagging across the Andes
jill, I was so sorry to hear about your father. I know it is a comfort to you to know that he had a good long life and lots of love from his family. As usual, your adventures leave me astounded at how much you accomplish . You are like the proverbial bunny, just keep on going! Abrazos, Bonnie
30th July 2018

So Sorry
Jill, I don't remember hearing the news of our father's passing; we were traveling on the 15th and not on Facebook. I know you and he had a special bond and you will be missing him for the rest of your life; sad by true. He did live a long and left behind a wonderful family - what a legacy!! Our deepest sympathy for your loss. Kathy & Bernie

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