Edit Blog Post
Published: December 14th 2019
My First "Tomahawk"¡ Un Milagro de Diós !
I'd never heard of this carnivore´s delight...don´t worry I shared it with two friends. CiCi was overjoyed with her "doggy bag"
Amy arrived in Baños on a Wednesday evening. I had met her just once briefly during my work with Engineers Without Borders, but since she was coming down to Ecuador she agreed to bring my the renewed credit card. It’s not secure to send something so important through the mail, so Bob sent it to Amy in Colorado and she hand-carried it to me, making Baños her first stop after arriving.
I met her at the bus terminal and we decided to go for a bite to eat, but even before we entered the restaurant I saw her face turn to panic as she searched her daypack for her wallet and came up empty. She had the stub of her bus ticket in her pocket and we went immediately to the terminal, only to discover that the company she travelled with, Centinela del Oriente, doesn’t have an office in Baños. We did find out that her bus was scheduled to continue on to Puyo and then Macas.
We zoomed up to my house and I got online to find a number
Lookit me in my mosaic-edge garden of weeds with my Tomahawk leftovers and a dangling earring flower. Happy Pup!
for the Puyo office of Centinela. A helpful young woman responded that the bus was due to arrive in 15 minutes and that she would gladly check around Amy’s seat. We knew that the chances were slim to none that she would find anything, so Amy made a call to block her credit card, however also in her wallet were her passport, a debit card and $200. Needless to say she was a bit of a basket case. I assured her that we wouldn’t give up the search until we’d exhausted every possibility.
After a very long 15 minutes, I called the Centinela gal back and she told me that another passenger had seen it fall from Amy’s pack as she descended in Baños, and that the wallet had been turned in to the driver of another bus company. He was refusing to hand it over, demanding a reward. The savvy clerk gave me the number of the bus whose driver had the wallet and also the phone # of the president of the San Francisco Bus Lines. She said I should call him and insist that he order his driver return the tourist’s property.
Unfurling Trumpet Flower
Swirly and graceful in every phase of their bloom.
Well, there was no answer at the number I was given, so I got on the San Francisco website and called the Vice-President’s number. He told me that he’d get with the driver right away and I should call him back in 5 minutes. When I did he informed me that he had the wallet in hand and asked what he should do with it.
There was no way we were going to risk putting it on a bus back to Baños, so I told him we’d drive down to Puyo the next morning to collect it. I suggested that he put it in a plain envelope. “Oh, good idea!” he replied, “and I’ll put in lots of staples to close it.” “Oh, good idea!” I responded and had him write my name across the manila envelope.
Since I had a class to teach at 10:00 am, Amy and I set off at daybreak (6:15) for the 1 ½ hour drive to the Puyo Bus Terminal. Sure enough, there was the envelope containing her wallet, credit cards, and passport. Someone along the way had taken
Pastel Button Frame
Small, oval. pillow soft melding of buttons, pearls and beads.
their $200 reward, but Amy was overjoyed that the most irreplaceable things were back in her hands!
I’d heard rumblings of an upcoming transport strike because the price of gas had jumped up 40% from one day to the next. On our way back home we saw protesters in Río Verde starting to put out tires and branches to set afire and block the roads. Fortunately, I knew the back streets of that town and got us safely onto the main road and sailing home.
All was calm in Baños so I taught my class and we even went out for lunch afterwards. Then, when I tried to drive back to my house we found the road leading up to it blocked by taxis and buses in protest. I was the fourth vehicle back from the blockade. “What are we going to do?” lamented Amy. “Let’s just sit for awhile,” I responded calmly. “We’ll wait and see how this situation plays out.” While watching the vehicles ahead of me turn back, one by one, a friend who owns a nearby hotel came and told me that I could safely park
Carnival glass beads glimmer and shimmer on this small sparkly frame.
my truck in her lot if I needed to leave it and walk home (about a mile, all uphill).
As I approached the roadblock I begged a nearby cop to let me pass, saying that I had medication for an elderly friend up the hill (little white lie). “Don’t tell me, you need to talk to these guys,” he said, indicating the drivers blocking the road. One of the taxi guys had heard me plead with the policeman and instructed one of the blocking vehicles to back up enough for me to drive up on the sidewalk and thru the bus stop to get to the alternate road which leads up to my house. WHEW! We made it but now we were well and truly blocked in.
In the following days whenever we told a local person the lost and found wallet story, they responded,“Es un milagro de Diós!” It’s a miracle of G-d! I chuckled and huffed a bit…was it G-d who made all those phone calls?! Feeling a bit proud and extremely grateful for our good fortune, Amy and I settled in to wait out the strike.
Baubled Mirror feat. CiCi & Scarlett Unrest in the Nation forces Rest at Home
Old wooden and leather buttons combine with jungle seeds and pods on this baubled frame. Fun to create again with my wacky treasures!
For the next 11 days Amy and I relaxed and enjoyed Baños together. The road to my house was cleared that same evening; the blockades were moved further away to the outskirts of town. Locals swarmed the town’s one supermarket and the empty shelves spoke of panic and uncertainty.
I had plenty of food at my house so Amy and I did some cooking together, took CiCi for long walks up in the hills and, best of all, we enjoyed daily soaks in the hot springs which were almost empty of bathers. As the strike dragged on the municipal authorities decided to offer free admission to the thermal baths; it was nice to see local families walking up the hill to enjoy the healing waters. During this time Amy and I settled into a rhythm of R&R, reading, watching movies, and chatting for hours on end. In a way, I felt like I’d found the younger sister I never had.
No one could know how long the protests would last as tens of
Shana's Baubled Timepiece
What we made of an ugly plastic clock! Shana and I worked together to create this glimmering masterpiece.
thousands of indigenous people flooded towards Quito to march on the gov’t bldgs. Caravans of protestors rolled through Baños and locals came out in droves to show their support; handing up food, blankets and bottles of water.
Most of the travellers trapped in Baños just settled in to enjoy the natural beauty. A few of the wealthier tourists on a tight timeline and with flights to catch arranged for a private plane (to the tune of $3000) to fly them out of the town of Shell, 45 minutes east of here. In order to reach the airport they found a driver willing to break the transport strike lines and they paid exorbitant bribes at each of the road blocks.
The transport workers effectively paralyzed the country causing huge losses to agricultural exporters (primarily bananas and roses) not to mention the negative impact on international tourism, which continues to be felt months later. One woman I know was trying to make arrangements to get the rotting bananas to zoos where the animals were starving due to the strike. Some friends who had recently taken over management of a hotel here in
Karl (standing) former administrator of the BIB (volunteer children's library) now manages Posada del Arte. Among the best places to stay in Baños!
Baños were hit hard, struggling to pay workers’ salaries during the “paro” (strike or stoppage). Our group of local expats organized a solidarity luncheon; twenty-five of us each kicked in $20 (4-5 times what a nice meal would cost) and were treated to a lovely lunch at the hotel, helping them reactivate the restaurant part of their business. Municipal Officials with a Heart -or- How Hummingbirds Rescued my Plans
I had met several times with the architects who would be managing my construction project, a kitchen renovation with a dining room add-on. They went with me to City Hall and introduced me to the folks in the City Planning office. Since my architects live an hour away in Ambato, they told me that it would be up to me to handle the follow-up of the processing of the building permit, informing me that it could take several months and would likely cost upwards of $600.
After gathering all the necessary documents I went back to the office to start the process. One of the young municipal architects, Hernán, had been helping me personally; he even came
The Lone Lemon Tree
Though my house is surrounded by beauty this is actually the only tree on my small property. Beloved Lemon Tree home to flitting butterflies, birdies, bees, wasps and hummingbirds galore.
up to see my house and hear about my plans. It turns out that one of his nieces regularly attended the free program at the Children’s Library, so my community volunteer work was paying off!
Hernán informed me that the planning director said I would not be able to build where I had planned because I was required to leave a 3 meter space between my new structure and the edge of my lot. I saw at least a half a dozen homes on my street that did not follow this ordinance, so I returned to the office (photos in hand) asking (politely) if there was any way to appeal the restriction. During the protests local municipal employees were required to work, but the offices were nearly empty, silent and somber, which I believe worked to my benefit.
Hernán was at his desk and when he suggested another spot for me to build, I lamented that then I’d lose my lone lemon tree which every day welcomed hundreds of bees and butterflies and hummingbirds. His eyebrows shot up, he looked furtively to his right and in a low voice said
Cathedral towers against a Cuenca sky
to me, “That’s the director over there. He’s not busy right now. I’ll take you over, introduce you and remind him of your situation. Tell him about the hummingbirds.” I later found out that the director had just purchased a property down towards the jungle and was hoping to start a hummingbird reserve/ eco-tourism project.
My meeting with the director was a total success! He agreed to grant me an exception, provided that I use a lightweight roofing material (which in the end cost me much less) to permit the structure to be more easily moved, if need be. I explained to him that I had not yet turned 60 and that I planned to live out my days in that house, so it was unlikely that anything would have to be moved any time soon. A nearby secretary chuckled at this exchange.
Because of the nature of my building project, Hernán was able to push it through without a building permit. I only needed permission for “various works” and the fee was based on a percentage of the cost of the project. Hernán noted my total cost as $1290
Restored Colonial Architecture
The historic old town of Cuenca has amazing old buildings, most lovingly restored. Beautiful city.
(actual cost 10x that much!), so my “trabajos varios” permit only cost me $51.20 !! The papers were signed and everything was in order in just over a month. I wrote a note of thanks to Arquitecto Hernán and he responded, “Anything I can do to help you in the future, just let me know.”
Administrative processes like this one are called “trámites” and I am convinced that the root of the word comes from “trauma”. More often than not they are long, drawn-out affairs rife with frustration. Many times an employee will make you come back over and over again with additional documents, a color copy instead of black&white, or a signature in blue ink instead of black. It seems like these clerks delight in wielding their small level of power to make an applicant’s life miserable. I feel fortunate to have walked through my permit process with so little resistance. I know that in large part my fluency in Spanish (which surprises and impresses folks) and my familiarity with social mores (proper ways to greet, address, and thank people), go a long way towards getting things done.
Cathedral Domes and Spires
Cuenca skies. A very lovely city and this was the longest amount of time I'd spent there.
original plan was for construction to begin on Feb 1st
; since my CD doesn’t mature until Jan 31st
I wouldn’t have the money to pay them until then. We started the permit process in October thinking it would take months, but since it came through so quickly the architect suggested that we go ahead and start building in December (when they had more time) and told me they’d gladly wait until February for payment. All righty then --this meant a bit of a hustle to get the house emptied out, but it was do-able. Since everything was already going to be ripped up, we arranged for them to renovate my bedroom at the same time, including scraping the “cottage cheese” stucco from the ceilings.
My architect, Andrés met me in Ambato and accompanied me to the low price warehouses to help me select my countertops, backsplash tile and flooring. I also bought glass blocks, a new sink, stove and oven. An expensive day! As I write this entry, the project is nearing completion but you’ll have to wait until my next blog to hear about my adventures in construction and see play-by-play photos.
Cathedral Domes An Invitation to Cuenca – Being Treated Like Royalty
Blue by day, blue by night - the iconic domes of the New Cathedral of Cuenca (aka Concepción Inmaculada).
I met Eileen and Richard 8 years ago when they were guests at Hostería Mandála, the hotel where I worked on the coast. French Canadians from Ottawa, they are both retired teachers and delightful people! Richard has suffered a series of strokes and his health challenges have become increasingly severe following a surgery to clear plaque from his arteries. Eileen has been his sole caregiver for over a decade and she contacted me asking if I could come down and “spell” her – she was feeling burned out. So smart of her to realize that she needed help and reach out for it.
I looked at my busy calendar and found a 10-day span that would work. Fortunately, the protests calmed in time for me to make the 6 hour drive to Cuenca as planned. En route I listened to Barack Obama read his book, “Dreams of My Father”, the autobiography which was published even before he was elected to the Illinois state senate. I had read it years before, but now I so enjoyed listening to the author
"JACuzzi with a View"
Privileged glimpse of Cuenca's signature rooftops and domes...while soaking in a warm bath!
telling the story in his warm, velvety voice. Audiobooks are the best way to make a long drive fly by! Occasionally I would stop to give people a lift up the road, so I’d pause my book and their stories became my audio entertainment!
Arriving in Cuenca I lunched with Peruvian artist friends Maite and Alberto at their new home on the outskirts of the city. I’d purchased a painting by each one of them which had enabled them to move into the house by finishing one bathroom, but they still have a lot of work to complete. Their twenty-something son and daughter are delightful and I always enjoy visiting with this family.
The plan was for me to stay in Cuenca with my friend Julia, but the first few days (before Julia arrived back from a Friendship Force visit to Brazil) Eileen booked me a luxury suite in the charming B’n’B next door to her apartment. My room boasted a huge Jacuzzi tub in a glassed-in nook overlooking historic downtown rooftops, including the iconic blue-domed cathedral. Ahhh! A luxurious bubbly soak with breathtaking views was the perfect antidote to
Disco 'Cuzzi !!
Light-up bubbly water soothes and caresses as the lit domes of the cathedral twinkle in the distance.
a long day of driving!
Unfortunately, Richard’s health had taken a turn for the worse and he could not be left alone, or even with me. His nursing care assistant had had two of her patients pass away, so she had more time to stay with Richard. While the nurse held vigil for several hours a day, my job was to get Eileen out of the house: we went out to lunch, shopping, for long walks along the river, visiting historic houses in the colonial old town. I urged her to make appointments for a facial and a massage, reminding her that if she didn’t attend to self-care she wouldn’t be able to care for her husband. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t able to be of more help, but Eileen insisted that my presence and my company lifted her spirits and did wonders for her state of mind.
I went to Cuenca prepared to be a caregiver, but instead I was wined and dined and treated like royalty. Julia and I went out to dinner most nights, connecting with other friends (hers or mine) and scoping out the next-door
Eileen is one of the most remarkable women I know. We feel like we've always known each other. I honor my sweet friend with this foto taken near el Café del Museo in Cuenca.
apartment where she’d be moving the next month. We visualized where her furniture would fit best, talked rugs and curtains and colors. Julia also taught internationally for several decades so her home is full of amazing artifacts from all over the world. It was fun to put our heads together to plan her new interior décor.
On the long drive home from Cuenca I listened to an audiobook about the Navajo Code Talkers in the South Pacific during World War II. My Dad never talked much about his experiences in the Navy, even when I went with him to the annual Iwo Jima memorial at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. The descriptions from this book washed over me and it felt like my father was sitting next to me in the passenger seat. I miss you Poppa!
An hour before reaching Baños I stopped in Riobamba to have lunch with my adopted sister from the coast, Beatriz and her riobambeño husband, Juan. A few weeks later they came to visit me in Baños. I’ve had several other visitors in the past two months. Lucie (whom I met on a bus
View from Julia's Terrace
I'm blessed to have a number of good friends in Cuenca who open their homes to me...and who live in spectacular places!
in Quito in 1988) now lives in Paris and came with her French husband Daniel. We hadn’t seen each other in 8 years, so it was great to reconnect.
I also took a quick trip up to the village where I’ve worked with Engineers Without Borders to pick up some volunteers, bring them to Baños and then take them on down to the jungle. They were here over Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos) and we enjoyed a wander through the flower-filled cemetery perched high above the town of Baños. At the market in Puyo on the edge of the Amazon Basin we lunched on “maitos” (fish, yuca and hearts of palm steamed in a banana leaf). Teaching Exchanges – Visitors – Yoga & Voice
Despite the fact that I have more free time since the volunteer children’s library closed down, I seem to be as busy as ever. I continue to give private lessons, teaching English to a pair of sisters (I receive weekly massage in exchange for the lessons), Spanish conversation to a group of retired expats, (we meet at a garden
Beatriz & Juan
A visit from my adopted Ecuadorian sister. We met on the coast 12 yrs ago but Beatriz now teaches in the sierra (high in the Andes). She just completed her master's degree in education!
café and lunch together after our class), English to a Mexican chef who will be travelling to Los Angeles next year (I get free lunch at the best Mexican restaurant in Baños).
I also do a teaching exchange with Billy, who recently moved here from Texas. I teach him beginning Spanish and he gives me voice lessons. It’s been interesting to see how we change roles from teacher to learner during each two-hour session. As he offers me advice and encouragement, I remind him to turn those same comments back on himself as a language learner.
I’ve been really enjoying twice weekly Yoga sessions. Since I drive the teacher to class, I can’t ever be absent! Our classes are held on the springy wooden floor of the squash court at one of the fanciest hotels in town, The Sangay. I helped the manager there with the English translation of their website and, in exchange, Shana and I enjoyed a Spa Day complete with massages as well as the use of their pools and Jacuzzis. The Hotel Sangay enjoys a privileged location, right at the base of the town’s beloved waterfall
Lucie in the Sky
On the tarabita aerial tramway over Agoyan Falls, just outside of Baños. Lucie lives in Paris but comes back to visit her beloved Ecuador every few years!
whose name, The Virgin’s Cascading Hair, loses something in translation!
Alas, our Yoga teacher just moved to Chile so now it’s up to us aging gringas to get together on our own. I know I will have to become more consistent with my practice at home. I’ve learned that when I get down onto my mat regularly, my body begins to ask me for it if I miss a few days.I find that when I practice yoga regularly, a new level of body awareness pervades many aspects of my life; the way I hold myself when I’m cleaning house or sitting at the computer, my focus during weely water aerobics exercises, even a heightened consciousness while taking CiCi for her walks.
The breathing aspect of Yoga has been extremely helpful during my voice lessons. Each class we start with vocal exercises and I am working on several songs to hopefully one day perform in public. I love to sing in the car, in the shower or when I’m at home alone, but now my goal is to develop the skills and have the confidence to sing in front of others
Heavenly swimming pools with the music of the waterfall. One tourist told me my swimming looked like dancing in the water!
and feel like I’m not making them suffer too much! It’s been challenging and interesting to learn something new at this stage of life! Health Concerns – New and Ongoing
An unwanted by-product of my Crohn’s auto-immune condition is recurrent psoriasis. I am grateful that in my case it’s not too itchy or bothersome and tends to show up only on my elbows (I can’t see it except in the mirror). I’ve tried any number of creams, lotions and ointments but the scaly patches keep coming back. The most effective treatment is a heavy, greasy ointment best applied at bedtime. Since I don’t want to stain my sheets, I devised a clever bandaging technique by creating terrycloth coverings made from freebie airline socks. I cut them into pieces and make stretchy tubes which cling nicely to my oozy elbow patches. Necessity is the mother of invention. (I miss you lots Mom!)
During my long drives I wear a neoprene back brace and wedge myself in with a cushion armrest and a round neck pillow. I try to stop every hour or two to stretch a bit and on the
Día de los Difuntos
Day of the Dead - Baños Cemetery is a hopping place!
whole my back has held up quite well. The day after I returned from Cuenca I had to drive to Ambato with Shana because she lost her cellphone and was in a panic about replacing it and keeping her number. Unfortunately it was on a Monday, Ambato’s huge market day and, even though it’s just an hour to the Mall de los Andes (where her cell phone provider has its office), it’s a drive filled with starts and stops, crowded intersections, lots of clutch and gearshift action.
We were successful in getting her chip replaced and her number restored, but I returned from that drive shattered. Thus began an intense pain in my left hip which plagued me for the next month. Poor CiCi missed out on her daily walks because the hip joint pain was so intense and constant that walking more than a bare minimum was nearly impossible, especially on uphill stretches. Even though the hot baths are just 200 yards from my house, it’s straight uphill so I sheepishly drove that short to distance in order to be able to soak in the thermal mineral springs.
Jean & Pam & Maitos
Fish, yuca y más grilled in a banana leaf. Típico Tonga Takeaway Food - a meal that has its own wrapping and can be carried easily.
continued with my Yoga classes, took anti-inflammatory medications, alternated hot and cold compresses and still the pain persisted, especially when standing still or walking more than a few yards. The good news is that I felt fine while sitting or lying down. One day at the hot springs I ran into an old friend who told me about a Korean acupuncturist here in Baños. I mentally filed away the information, but that afternoon when I had to park two blocks from the grocery store and was literally crying in pain carrying my lightweight bags to the truck, I decided to try a treatment with the two Drs. Park (father and son).
Based on the number of patients filing in and out of the two treatment rooms (three beds in each), I figured they probably knew what they were doing. I’ve had positive experiences with acupuncture in the past, once bringing down the inflammation of an intense Crohn’s flare-up and other times for low back and sciatica pain. After only three intense acupuncture treatments with electrostim I feel about 80% better and am hopeful that I’ll be able to take CiCi on her long walks again
My Rock Garden
In its first rough conception. Hopefully it will evolve through the years.
Perhaps because many people have such a phobia about needles, these sweet doctors walk around with pockets full of individually wrapped mints and hand them out liberally to all, the way a doctor gives a child a lollipop after a shot. In a single visit I’ve been given up to 4 mints, one from each doc upon arrival and another when leaving. It’s kinda cute!
My long-time friend and neighbor Shana turns 80 next year and as her memory and physical health continue to deteriorate, she needs more and more help. Working with her daughter and a group of friends in Quito, I am hopeful that in 6 months or so we will be able to arrange for a full-time care-giver to live with her. In the meanwhile, most of the burden falls on me. I take her shopping and to the bank, help her care for her dogs, accompany her to medical and dental appointments, and try to lift her spirits when she’s feeling low. I feel certain that I was sent this challenge to teach me patience (not one of my strong suits) and that my
Root Veg Prep
A yummy roasted side dish was enjoyed by all!!
own recent struggle with chronic pain came along to activate compassion (which can lapse when impatience surges). The Baños Expat Community
- Gatherings of Friends
In preparation for our annual expat Thanksgiving meal, I searched for orange sweet potatoes while in Cuenca. Here in Baños we find the lovely purple camote sweet potatoes, but they just don’t have the texture or holiday nostalgia of the beloved yam. Putting out feelers to the Cuenca expat community I was directed to a daily market where one of the potato vendors had discovered the foreigners’ penchant for yams and had begun to cultivate them. Locating this savvy gal I bought all that she had on hand; twelve kilos at 50 cents per kilo!
My contribution to the Friendsgiving Potluck was a colorful roasted root vegetable dish. After cubing purple and white camotes, the coveted orange sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, and potatoes, I tossed them all with fresh rosemary, sage, garlic cloves, onion wedges and plenty of olive oil. I then slow roasted two huge pans full to create a delicious autumn side dish.
Our expat gang
Hosted by sisters Carol and Pam, we all contributed to make this a truly spectacular gathering. Delicious food and company.
(over 50 attendees this year!) includes a good number of foodies and expert chefs. There were three types of turkey: traditional oven-roasted, deep fried (a first for me, yum!), and a boneless turkey roll complete with raisin stuffing which must’ve been very laborious to make. There were three kinds of stuffing/dressing (all amazing), several types of gravy, gallons of mashed potatoes, home-baked breads (the focaccia was to die for!) and let’s not even get started on the desserts!
I really like cooking and I host several luncheons at my home each month. Cooking is one of a number of creative outlets I enjoy. I’ve always been a reluctant gardener, but recently I’ve gotten excited about my succulent pots and I’ve also created a rock garden - a plastic liner will hopefully make for very little weeding! My baubled picture frames are back in production and are for sale at a local bookstore whose owners support artisans like myself. Maybe I’ll earn enough to cover the cost of glue! Stay tuned to the next blog entry to see the spectacular mosaic tiles I’ve created to complete the new tile work in the remodeled kitchen!
Stairway Mosaics #1
My fave descent to the river.
Thanks for reading yet another of my blog entries! Wishing you happy holidays and a happy and healthy New Year. I hope that you are able to celebrate with loved ones. I am far away from my siblings and their families, but feel close to all in my heart. Here in our little corner of Ecuador we’ve created a sort of family and we encourage, support, share skills, and look after one another. As my sister always says, “Friends are the family we choose!”
Please drop me a note if you've enjoyed reading my blog (and if you've made it this far!) I love to hear from friends, old and new, near and far!
Sending big hugs from Ecuador!
PS - I'm ready for visitors in February...come down for my 60th birthday celebration on the 15th...and remember to scroll down for a few more pics!
Tot: 0.127s; Tpl: 0.028s; cc: 7; qc: 66; dbt: 0.0153s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb