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Published: April 2nd 2020
Master weaver. This old gal (probably about my age but looks much older) stands all of four foot nothing and creates gorgeous cane mats
Well, this blog entry begins with sharing joy and friendship and ends in the place where we all find ourselves, hunkering down in quarantine, sheltering with loved ones in our homes as we watch and hope and pray the global virus will pass over us and begin to dissipate worldwide.
Here in Ecuador we started a government-enforced quarantine on March 16th and it has gotten steadily more restrictive. More than two weeks in and no cases of the virus in my town of Baños. The major road in and out of town has been blocked off. Foreigners who chose not to ride out the quarantine here have been repatriated to their home countries. The streets have all been sprayed down with water & chlorine.
Nationwide the curfew is now 2:00 pm to 5:00 am with strictly enforced fines; $100 for first infraction, $400 for second infraction, jail for a third time. According to the last digit of the license plate, vehicles are permitted to circulate in town just two days a week; mine are Wednesdays and Sundays which is sort of a bummer
To soften the look of the ugly waffle eternit ceiling I had Marcelo and David help to hang the estera mats. Not perfect meausrements, but they did the trick.
since my bank now has restricted their opening hours to Friday mornings. The good news is that it's only a half hour walk from my house to town...but it's mostly downhill on the way there. Hopefully I'll be able to find a taxi to help with the uphill trek home, especially if I decide to brave the grocery store and have bags to carry.
Baños is a small town, population about 15,000 and our one large-ish grocery store has remained open and well-stocked. Food providers are permitted to cross road blocks on the edges of towns and at provincial borders. Local farmers were given permission to caravan through neighborhoods once a week to sell produce off their trucks, so we always have fresh fruits and vegetables. All the bakeries are operating and one even has a van that comes around twice a day with fresh, hot loaves and rolls. Propane tanks for my stove/oven and hot water heater are also delivered.
I cook lunch for my friend and neighbor Shana most every day. It's nice to have a daily plan...a reason to
Here's how the dining room ceiling turned out with the esteras de carrizo & the woven jute lantern shades.
shower and change out of pajamas. We eat at her house (3 doors down) or at mine, usually preceded or followed by a few games of Scrabble. Shana needs more help with simple tasks as she ages (she'll be 80 next month) and as she becomes more forgetful (her memory issues seem to be gaining momentum), I find myself helping her in many ways. My fervent hope and the tentative plan is for a friend from Quito to come live with her & assist with daily needs, when it will again be possible to move about. During this time I am grateful for Shana's company and for feeling that I have a sense of purpose.
As promised at the end of my last blog entry, here are some photos of the finishing touches on my dining room. Since the structure is primary built of metal and glass I wanted to soften the hard edges with some natural fibers and materials. It's very common here for people to use straw mats woven from totora reeds on floors or walls. They are nice enough but not very durable. A friend mentioned that she
Provide privacy from the street side windows and close in the space making it cozier
knew of a village where the women weave with carrizo (a small, inedible cousin of sugar cane). I did some sleuth work and found out where it was. When I drove to the coast in Dec I stopped en route in this village and asked around until I found the home of a lady who weaves them, Carmen Laurita. I gave her dimensions for 6 panels of woven carrizo estera mats to be picked up on my way back from the coast in January. Everything was completed as requested and her work is as lovely as she is!
After a few false starts my handyman managed to install the panels on the ceiling of my dining room, hiding the rippled underside of the grey eternit roofing. It adds a rustic, natural feel to the space and is complemented by the woven jute lightshades and the bamboo blinds. Again I was lucky as the bamboo artisan on the coast trusted me (I gave him a 50% advance on his work) and I trusted him. The finished product, a 20 lb bundle of natural bamboo slats,was carefully packed and sent to me via
Blinds from Outside
The natural look of bambú transforms the space in terms of light and intimacy. I love these blinds so much!
our equivalent of UPS (Servientrega). It arrived in perfect condition and the roll-down curtain fits the window exactly.
Late January/early February I ended up spending 10 days in Quito for various reasons...whenever I go to the big city I pack in a lot of activities! I started my visit in the nearby valleys, catching up with a few friends. I went for sushi lunch with my 92 year old friend, Margarita (look for her foto below in the birthday party pics!).The chopsticks proved challenging for her so we got some "training" chopsticks, one end attached with a rubber band. A delicious and fun-filled time was enjoyed by us both! That same evening I went out for Chinese with friends Ang and Nate, their 4 year-old son and their new baby, 2 1/2 month old Mona. Another yummy meal with lots of laughter. I only see these dear friends a few times a year, but those visits are special.
Up to Quito, dropped my stuff off at the hostel, drove my truck over to the mechanic's (glad to leave it there for the
We started the day with amazing views from above the city. On a clear day this tramway to the top of Mt Pichincha offers breathtaking views of the Andes!
next few days and not have to worry about parking it in the city!) and then took a taxi to Iñaquito Market, cloth shoulder bags in hand. The Chinese shop was out of their luscious toasted sesame oil so I had to ask around to find another brand, not as good. I packed up 20 lbs of orange sweet potatoes (not available in Baños!), then lugged my tuber-filled bags around, looking for a taxi to take me back to my hostel. whew
I was scheduled to assess a TESOL Certificate Teacher Training course. Several times a year SIT (School for International Training, where I did my master's) contracts me to observe the Quito course and write a report. I always enjoy these assessments - it's a great way to feel like I'm using my professional training and I enjoy meeting the course participants. I also really like the folks I work with at the Experiment In International Living. The local office pays food and lodging and incidentals during my 2 day assessor visit and the university deposits $400 in my stateside account, so no complaining there. ($400 is the minimum MONTHLY
Quito's Parque Carolina is home to some of the most amazing Botanical Gardens - the orchid and bromeliad houses are heavenly, as well as the carnivorous plant display.
salary in Ecuador, and I earn it by writing a 6 page report!)
I had scheduled some doctors' appointments for while I was in Quito. My shoulder problems have improved greatly, but now I've been suffering intense hip pain. I am forced to make the connection - right shoulder, left hip - driving a standard transmission double cabin pick-up truck is taking its toll on my aging body. Repeated clutch action (hip) and gear shift (shoulder) have caused tendonitis and bursitis. After confirming with an ecosonogram the traumatologist suggested that in addition to physical therapy I should consider a cortisone injection. I agreed and he was able to do it at his private clinic the next evening. Amazing!! Immediate relief that has helped me be more mobile for months!
Met my Kiwi friend Rebekah for a fun brunch (she reminds me so much of how I was at her age, 30) and I had supper with my Quito pal Lupe. I was sure I had let Lupe know that the children's library had moved and the second hand shop was no more.
Cafe Mosaico at Dusk
Old friend Diane (R), her friend Susan and I had a perfect Quito day. Dinner overlooking the historic center as the lights come on.
I guess the message didn't get transmitted because she had several huge bags of donations for me to take back. I promised her I would find a good home for everything, even though it would no longer be benefitting the BIB. Many thanks to my Quito friends who consistently had donations ready for me to cart away -- you all helped me keep the BIB Bazar afloat for 4 years!
Went to pick up my truck carting my luggage, my purchases, and all the donations. Then I drove across town to spend the weekend with my US Family in Quito. I always feel right at home at the Rules' house; even did a load of laundry between Scrabble games with Debbie. She and I always play WWF (Words with Friends) online and we both remarked at the differences in letter point values and the configuration of the WWF board. Debbie is an excellent cook and she always makes something extra special when I visit. My first night in the cozy attic room I awakened suddenly and in a panic. I was supposed to go pick up friends visiting from the US,
Happy 60th Birthday
Yes, I planned my own party and it was just exactly as I wanted to celebrate!
but I realized there wouldn't be room in the truck for them and all their luggage (and I had neglected to bring the tarp to cover the back).
So, I drove down to the airport and stored all the junque in the bodega at the airport suites where I'd be staying after dropping the gals at the airport for their midnight flight. I was able to spend most of the day with friends who live near the airport (Melissa, Mario & Joaquin - you'll read about their visit to Baños later). Eight year-old Joaquin gave me drawing lessons...how to draw Monster Trucks! This delightful young man has stolen my heart!
I met Diane and Susan at their hotel - they were just finishing a two week adventure, first to Machu Picchu and then a tour around Ecuador. My job was to take them around Quito and get them to the airport. We had a fabulous time together that day before their departure. We took the aerial tramway (Teleferiqo) up Mt Pichincha and enjoyed breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding peaks.
My idea was to have finger foods and snacks but my guests (especially the Ecuadorian ones!) dove in and loaded up plates. Looked like a plague of locusts had swarmed the table!
We spent the afternoon at the botanical gardens (I hadn't been there in over a decade!) Arriving before dusk we experienced nightfall from the terrace of Café Mosaico, overlooking the old town rooftops and watching the church steeples light up, one by one. Since their flight wasn't until late we even had time for a few games of Scrabble after dinner.
We did have a little too much adventure coming down the hill from the Teleferiqo. Since I live "out in the country" I'm used to giving folks a lift in the back of my pick-up. We rode in the aerial tram with 3 sweet young travellers (German, Swedish, Russian).They had taken a taxi up but now there were no taxis in sight, so I said "hop in". BiG BooBoo in Quito! I was pulled over by two motorbike cops who just wanted to give me a hard time. I explained that I was just helping them get down the hill; that I was used to helping folks out where I lived, etc. The one cop knew he had me and he was going to milk me for a bribe. In
The oval carrot cake was iced with white choclate mousse...decadent beyond belief! Michael's apfel strudel was a big hit too!
the end, filled with gall, I discreetly offered him $20. He directed me to drive around the corner while he held onto my license. He insisted on another $20 for the other cop as he pocketed the money on a quiet side street. The young tourists had gotten out of the truck and were kindly waiting on the corner. I told them how it had been resolved and they each gave me $10. More excitement than we needed!
Saturday, February 15th - my 60th birthday! I'd started planning my party before I left for Quito, knowing I'd have only a week when I got back. The invitations had been sent, much of the food was bought and now to begin the cooking and prep work. I really love planning, cooking, entertaining. I rinsed off all my fancy serving dishes, borrowed chair and tables, booked lodging for out-of-town visitors. I was very grateful that Paola arrived from the coast and Rebekah arrived from Quito a day early to help me with final set-up and last minute touches (securing tablecloths in the wind, decorating with balloons, frosting the cake, etc etc)
In this pic you see folks in their 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's! At 12 o'clock is 92 year old Margarita who travelled down from Quito to help me celebrate!
Jean and Margarita also came down from Quito to celebrate (and to visit with Shana). I invited several folks from the neighborhood, people I see and greet on a daily basis. A few friends from my former neighborhood showed up. My mani-pedi gal came as well as my sugarcane vendor friend. They were thrilled to be included in a mostly gringo party! I had written 4:00-8:00 pm on the invitation having in mind that it would be finger foods but the guests went at the smorgasboard spread like locusts on a grassy field! The table was stripped clean within the first half hour and there was a panic when we ran out of plates and had to wash some!!
One of the guests told me she had counted more than 60 people of at least 10 nationalities! A Canadian neighbor said that she so enjoyed socializing with the Ecuadorian neighbors we greet on a daily basis but don't really know well. My voice teacher, Billy, brought his keyboard and speakers and he took care of playing 80's music. Just before dusk (6 pm year
Good friends, some of more than a decade. A few of these folks are "snowbirds" - they come down each year for a few months when it's winter in Canada or England.
'round in Ecuador!) I made my public singing debut, a duet with Delery as her hubby Vic played guitar and then my solo performance of Feeling Good by Nina Simone. I hope none of the guests suffered too much at my amateur singing efforts!
My tall skinny Venezuelan friend, Ronny, stayed until the very end with his French partner Sylvain (scroll all the way down to the end of the photos to see a pic of Ronny at his best) I first met Ronny last year when he came into the BIB Bazar secondhand store I was running. He has very large feet, impossible to find shoes here; fortunately we had some bigfoot shoe donations. He ended up leaving with 2 pairs of shoes and I gifted him a brightly colored flowered shirt that went well with his flamboyant personality! Night was closing in and the few remaining guests were finishing the last of the opened wine bottles. As the party wound down Ronny told me a most amazing story. When they first met, Sylvain looked down at Ronny's feet and said, "Those are my shoes! I'd recognize them anywhere!" Turns
My Singing Debut
After several months of voice lessons I plucked up my courage and sang in public for the first time ever! I sang Nina Simone's "Feeling Good"
out that the shoes had been stolen from the beach at Montañita months earlier and somehow they made their way into donations for our shop and onto Ronny's feet! Strange and wonderful coincidences always make me feel warm and fuzzy.
The week after my birthday gathering I had a not-so-pleasant experience...in lieu of dinner one evening I decided to make my favorite snack of banana and peanut butter rolled into a flour tortilla. Here the peanut butter is sold in a pouch with a little plastic spout. The first time you open it you have to remove a small, round metallic security tab from the top of the spout. Well, the peanut butter gushed out and the tab got lost in the goo and apparently I swallowed it. I didn't realize at first what was happening and I tried to reach in as my throat started closing up. It felt like razor blades every time I swallowed and although I could breathe I was scared it would completely close so I called a taxi driver friend who hurried over and took me to the emergency room. En route I called my
Leanne & Ellie
Fun visit with Leanne ( I taught Spanish to her English dad, Simon in 1989 when he first met her Quiteña mom -- talk about a motivated learner!) and her friend Ellie. Love spending time with twenty-somethings!
friend Carol to come meet me at the hospital.
The ER doctor immediately gave me a cortisone shot to lessen the inflammation and they ruled out nut allergy symptoms. I felt so stupid when I realized that the little metal tab had caused my problem. Adolfo parked the cab and came in to check on me as I was leaning over a plastic bin, spitting every few minutes to avoid the agonizing pain of swallowing. He left when Carol arrived to keep me company for the next few hours. They put me on an IV and added some anti-emetics to the drip so I wouldn't vomit and cause more damage to my already traumatized throat. Once the swelling went down and they were able to insert the bronchoscope. Once they confirmed that there was nothing blocking my airways I could go home. Back at my house I made a warm ginger lemonade with honey and by the time I went to bed at midnight I felt like nothing had ever happend. Silly, scary evening!
I had a really fun visit with Leanne
Melissa had a Feliz Cumple-Baños as we enjoyed a Non-Carnaval celebration - escaping the crowds for our own brand of fun!
and Ellie. Backtrack 30 plus years to understand how this visit came about. In 1989 when I was teaching in Quito I hung around a bit with some of the British Petroleum guys (a few of whom I'd known when I lived in Scotland). I met Simon and he asked me to give him Spanish lessons. As our classes continued he became very highly motivated...he´d met a local girl! He and Patty were married within months and she returned to England with him. Fast forward a few decades and their daughter, Leanne, after completing a volunteer month with the Darwin foundation in Galapagos met up with her friend Ellie for a visit to Baños. The three of us had an absolutely delightful day visiting waterfalls, hiking, and enjoying the natural beauty and each other's company. I do love to spend time with twenty-somethings every now and then...keeps me young!
Since they weren't able to come for my birthday, Melissa, Mario and their son Joaquin came for Melissa's birthday which fell during Carnaval week. I warned them it's always a madhouse in Baños, full of national tourists! I first met Melissa and
CiCi, Joaquin & T-Rex
Setting off on an adventure. Everything is more fun with a joyful, creative eight year-old in tow!
Mario on the beach 13 years ago and we became fast friends. Mario is a diplomat and when they were posted to Malaysia I gave them some Malay language lessons and put them in contact with friends of mine in Kuala Lumpur. Melissa ended up substitute teaching at the International School where I had worked. They stayed in SE Asia for 5 years, where Joaquin was born. Now they live in the valleys below Quito and we see each other as often as we can.
My challenge for their visit was to take them places that weren't overrun with Carnaval merrymakers. We decided that we'd do UN-Carnaval! I happened to have all the necessary ingredients to bake a carrot cake so we had a birthday dinner for Melissa at my house. Then we got an early start and drove down towards the jungle. A Swiss friend, Patrick has created a magical place at La Finca de la Vaca (Cow Ranch) - an offshoot of his Swiss Bistro Restaurant in Baños. We spent hours swimming in the riverside pools. Icy cold water that becomes more comfortable the longer you stay in it!
Icy Cold River
Descending to the Amazon Basin we relaxed in the natural pools at La Finca de la Vaca in Cumanda, La Penal. Beautiful setting, great Swiss Bistro food!
We lounged in the natural jacuzzi down in the river. A refreshing time was had by all!
We worked up an appetite and headed over to the restaurant where we were met for lunch by Frank and Louisa who live just across the river. F & L run Merazoonia, an animal rescue foundation manned by volunteers from all over the world. Since most of the animals are going to be released into the wild, they try to minimize human contact as much as possible. It is not a zoo and they seldom receive visitors but, much to our delight, they invited us to come by after lunch to meet the black panther they are currently rehabilitating. Joaquin was beside himself with excitement, and Frank really connected with his 8 year-old curiosity and enthusiasm. We visited the baby anteater in recuperation, saw the sloth, three types of monkeys and countless species of birds. It was a fabulous experience for all!
Cici had a growth on her lower eyelide that had begun to grow and change shape so I took her to see vets
The Cone of Shame
Poor CiCi had to wear the protective cone for 12 days after she had a tumor removed from her eyelid. n.b. the "collar isabelina" is named after Queen Isabella for obvious reasons.
Mayra & Fernando. We scheduled a surgery after a series of blood and urine tests. The day that CiCi had her operation, I went to the dentist...I figured I should empathize a bit of the trauma she was going through. CiCi stayed overnight and it felt so strange to be in my house without her - definitely made me aware of how much I value her company! I brought her home the next morning, complete with the plastic cone. Here they are called collares isabelinas (named for Queen Isabella who is always portrayed wearing high restrictive collars!)
Poor CiCi conehead! She was so pathetic, trying to jump up onto the car seat and failing miserably. Her head bobbing woefully when we went on our pipi/popo walks. I put her dishes up on a platform so she could angle the cone over them and eat more easily. Her piteous looks asking me what she had done to deserve this punishment. In the end CiCi and I had to put up with the cone for a full 12 days! To remove the tumor they had to cut a triangle which would have left
My Goddaughter Jeaneth
Her eldest son, Adrian is turning six. His little sister Emily looks on excitedly! So glad I got to celebrate with them the day before quarantine began.
the eye smaller and misshapen so they open out the corner and stitched it in a way that the eye would heal more normally. CiCi was NOT a fan of getting her stitches taken out! The mass came back from pathology two weeks later - malignant. The vets got wide margins, clean borders, whatever else they always say on Grey's Anatomy! We will just monitor her closely and make sure she shows no signs of melanoma anywhere on her body.
Thirteen years ago when I was working in the Andean Village of Malingua Pamba I met Jeaneth and her family. I am informal Godmother to the two eldest daughters. At age 24 Jeaneth is mother of three little ones and her eldest son, Adrian, was turning six. She lives with her inlaws on their farm near Latacunga, about 2 hours north of Baños. This was a birthday party I wasn't going to miss, and it was the perfect place to pass along the donations. I had ended up collecting even more donated goods from friends who were moving to Cuenca (a city in the south of Ecuador with a very large
The last day of shopping before the government-enforced quarantine began. I waited in the check-out line for over an hour!
Since there is a Supermaxi grocery store in Latacunga I got an early start, knowing that it was likely to be busy since the quarantine had been announced to begin the very next day. Well, to say that it was a total ZOO would be putting it mildly. They sprayed everyone with hand sanitizer as they walked in, only allowed one shopper per family, no children or senior citizens allowed. I was in search of a birthday cake, some party treats and a few items that are not available in Baños (i.e. asparagus, bagels, cranberry juice, salmon, etc). By the time I made it to the cashiers, the lines were wrapped around the produce department! I waited more than 1 1/2 hours to check out because everyone's cart was piled high. For me, it was a harsh realization of the seriousness of what would be to come.
I'm so glad I got to meet Jeaneth's in-laws, see her mother again (who was visiting from Quito with her younger sister) and share the joy of this family celebration. To help with
Here I'm posing with Jeaneth's in-laws, her third child, her mom and her youngest sister.
household expenses, Jeaneth raises chickens and rabbits and guinea pigs (cuy - which are a delicacy - "Baby Andean Pigs" is what Anthony Bourdain called them on No Reservations when he came to Ecuador). Jeaneth loves and is clearly loved by this family which she has through marriage. Through the years I have tried to help her and her sister when they ask. Several years ago I helped Jeaneth get a sewing machine so she will be able to make use of the donations (many of which are large sizes!)
So, the reality of life in quarantine for me is not so bad. I live in a beautiful, peaceful place with plenty to eat and good company. Since the municipal hot springs are all closed, our road has essentially become a dead end. Very few vehicles come up (veggies, gas tanks, garbage truck). Weather permitting, most mornings I manage a long walk with CiCi up in the hills above the baths. She is doing very well off-leash and now is a perfect time to practice. I look down longingly at the thermal pools -- my 3x/week swim, soak, and water aerobics
My Neighborhood frm Above
My house is two-thirds of the way up the middle road, between the street and the stretch of deep green. The Bascun River runs along Via al Salado which dead ends up at the Thermal Baths
are what I most miss during this time, as well as the twice weekly yoga classes I had just gotten into the rhythm of. I'm finding it really hard to do yoga on my own at home, even though I do get down on the floor for at least 10-15 minutes most days. I keep my mat unrolled beside my bed (no excuses!) and CiCi reminds me with her daily downward facing dog stretches! .
I'm enjoying being creative in the kitchen, trying new dishes. Just made a great beef stew the way my Mom used to, and meatloaf using her recipe. Tomorrow I'm fixing Pad Thai for lunch. I've learned how to make rice pudding and tapioca pudding...thinking of my Dad who loved them both. I have taken out my art materials and enjoy escaping into bauble brain, doing mosaic work on a mannequin and on picture frames. I have managed to keep up with blog writing for almost 15 years now, although it's usually once every two months now - used to be monthly when I first started. Thank you for reading up until now, and DO scroll down
I'm in HEAVEN!
Nothing more delicious than swimming in nature. OK, this mini waterfall was handmade with rocks from the river, but I'm still loving the natural waters!
to see the last five bonus photos! Sending best to you and yours as we live through these strange and unusual times. May we all find a way to grow and be fruitful while life as we knew it is on pause.
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