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Published: December 17th 2020
Pailón del Diablo Falls
The Devil's Cauldron, located 25 minutes from my home, is one of the most dramatic waterfalls...and this day we were treated to rainbows in the spray!!
November began with a delightful visit from dear friends, Nancy and Chuck. They are an older American couple who live in Cuenca and I got to know them well during my many visits to collect donations for the BIB Bazar secondhand shop. Always generous with their home, their time, their donations. Chuck went to pick up garage sale leftovers and stored them, helped me pack the truck up, and they've always opened their home to me. When Nancy was getting ready to redecorate their guest room, she asked me which fabrics she should consider for the curtains in "my room."
Nancy and Chuck are avid travellers and take several long cruises each year. Quarantine hit them especially hard but once things began to open a bit they set off adventuring within Ecuador, getting to know the culture more in depth by travelling to smaller rural places. I shared some of my "off-the-beaten-path" tips with them and they arranged for several days in Baños on their way back south after exploring the Quilotoa Crater Loop and staying at Black Sheep Inn. (www.blacksheepinn.com owned by good friends of mine but it's for sale...take a
I Survived the Hanging Bridge
CiCi wasn't so sure at first about crossing the suspension bridge, but once I coaxed her onto it we had such fun hiking right to the base of the falls.
Their visit to Baños came right after Chuck's 82nd birthday and just before Nancy's 73rd. Chuck asked me to scope out the best restaurant in town for us to all go out and celebrate. Well, the best restaurant in town (Swiss Bistro) had not yet reopened in Baños, however I suggested that we take the stunning drive to Swiss Bistro's Finca de la Vaca down towards the Amazon Basin. Since Chuck and Nancy wanted to visit the Pailón del Diablo waterfall which is right en route, the plans felt perfectly into place. CiCi was thrilled to get to come along on the excursion!
At the entry gate to the upper path to the waterfall the cashier recognizes me as someone who always brings visitors so they don't charge me the $2 entry fee. Not sure if dogs are actually permitted, but CiCi came along on leash and was a very good girl.Even though I've visited this waterfall literally dozens of times, it was fun to share the adventure with Cici this time! The smooth, glassy surface of the Rio
At the Base of the Waterfall
CiCi and I made it all the way down the stone steps, but there was no way she was gonna get wet!!
Verde narrows into a rocky gorge before entering La Laguna, a mega-exfoliating jacuzzi pool (hahaha!) with a myriad of vines and ferns and orchids dangling from a rocky overhand, feeding on the constant spray of water. The next overlook is called El Cuello de la Cascada -- the waterfall's neck as its pathway narrows even more just before the falls themselves.
At first, CiCi wasn't too sure about the suspension bridge which sways slightly when anyone walks across it. She pulled back when she saw it wobble, but when she realized that I was barrelling on ahead, she bravely followed. By the time we reached the second hanging bridge, CiCi was trotting along like a pro. We decided to descend the stone steps all the way to base of the falls. Where the water was crashing and splashing CiCi again pulled back...no way was she gonna get wet! There's clearly no labrador in her lineage; mostly spaniel and terrier as best I can tell...maybe with a bit of greyhound or whippet tossed in.
After surviving the huge falls, we passed by another
Double Birthday Joy!
Chuck just turned 82 and Nancy 73 so we celebrated 155 years of these fabulous folks!!
half a dozen waterfalls before arriving at La Finca de la Vaca. If you are a repeat blog reader, you've seen plenty of photos of this place with its stunning swimming pool which follows along a curve in the river. Nancy hung out with CiCi on the dining room terrace while Chuck and I braved the chilly pool. CiCi is free to run off-leash with the Finca dogs, but she refuses to go anywhere near the pool! It was nice weather so the water wasn't too icy cold and once you get moving it feels incredibly refreshing. At first you have to swim really fast to get your body temperature up. Then if you hold still awhile you form a warmish pocket around your body.
After our bracing swim we were really hungry for a fabulous lunch! I just love this place. The food and service are consistently excellent and I get to support and visit my good friend Patrick, who's the owner. As you may know, the word vaca means cow so fittingly the beef is exceptionally good! The portions are huge -- always leftovers to take home. While we
Oh so refreshing swim with Chuck in the riverside pool at La Finca de la Vaca. The water is so cool and cleansing to body and soul!
were waiting for our lunch to arrive, it started pouring down rain -- enormous drops plopping on the surface of the pool. It felt surreal and magical to be protected from the powerful rainstorm, but almost right in it. When it was time for dessert, Patrick brought out the house carrot cake (not nearly as yummy as the one I make) with two candles for the birthday boy and girl, waiters singing and all. Their combined age (155) is really impressive given how spry and adventurous they still are! We hung tight for awhile, hoping the rain would let up so we could make a dash for the truck. Finally a break in the rain so we grabbed our things and ran!
Once Nancy and Chuck left Baños to return home to Cuenca, I found myself with all kinds of free time on my hands. I was in Baños on my own since Shana had stayed in Quito with Maricarmen, awaiting her eye surgery and after that her one-week follow-up visit. I felt at a bit of a loss for how to fill my time. It made me realize just how
A Sudden Downpour
After a refreshing swim, the skies opened up during our meal...view from our corner table on the terrace
demanding it had been, helping Shana with so many things every day month after month, always being on call for whatever she might need help with. Thankfully, the hot springs have reopened so I've resumed my 3x/week swimming and exercising in the mineral pools, just a 5-minute walk from my house. I continue with my yoga classes and take CiCi for long walks morning and evening each day.
I gave myself permission to indulge in some Netflix watching and I started a fun new project. I had been saving broken plates and bowls ever since I moved back to Ecuador (over 14 years) and I decided that now was the time to dig out all those colorful shards and take a hammer to the larger pieces. My handyman, Fabian wanted to bring his tile-cutter and make everything fit perfectly with straight edges, but I explained to him that I preferred to smash them and piece them together at random, like a jigsaw puzzle. It gives the work more texture and whimsy. I gave Fabian the job of creating an outside frame of straight-cut tiles which I then filled in with the
Laying out an approximate design doesn't guarantee that the final project will look exactly like it, but it gets me familiar with the pieces I will have to work with.
broken bits and other little goodies. If you click on the photo of the completed project it will get larger. See if you can find a parrot, a bunch of bananas, a butterfly, some flowers, a seashell, a face and dice.
First I laid out a rough design on the top of a plastic table, shifting pieces around and tweaking the pattern for over a week before Fabian came one Saturday to help with the outer edge and the cement-mixing portion of the mosaic. We carefully removed the legs and laid the tabletop on the floor beside the outdoor cement sink where my creation would be placed. I pulled up a pillow, sat down and began placing the ceramic bits. Of course the final design was not exactly like I had originally laid out, but having touched each piece in the planning stages I knew what I had to work with so I could more easily create as I pressed each piece into the cement base. While the cement was still wet, Fabian's wife helped me to clean the edges of the shards that had sunk in to make the design
Mosaic in Process
The Bondex cement is remarkably flexible and forgiving. I was able to place and encrust, not just broken dishes but also small objects and glass orbs. Thank you Fabian for your expert cement mixing!
more visible. We waited another week before grouting the whole thing and after Fabian's patient cleaning off of the excess grout, ta daa! I'm so pleased with the result!
Once Shana was back I hosted a garden party luncheon for a group of expat friends. It was held at the restaurant of a friend...we did a trade. I had a glass-topped, glass-fronted showcase table that I had bought from a friend who was moving to the US. I planned to give the showcase to my friend Marianne for her art gallery down on the coast BUT, the gallery closed down and the table stayed where it was. I decided to post photos of it on the Baños Trade and Recycle facebook page (Trueque y Reciclaje). The restaurant owner said he'd like to buy it to display pastries and desserts. I suggested a trade instead and we agreed that I could bring 12 people for the set lunch menu and we'd dine at long tables outdoors in the garden.
It was a fancy mask gathering and some of the friends who agreed to
Once grouted, the mosaic takes on a more unified, finished look. My basic idea was that the blue greens in the center form a tumbling down waterfall shape.
attend had not left their homes in eight months. We all seemed to feel that it was high time to return to some degree of social normalcy. Since the gathering was to be held outdoors, masked and distanced it was as safe an environment as we could possibly create. I went early to help set up the tables...I'd even made place cards with everyone's names, carefully placing each person where they'd be most comfortable; seating folks together who'd been in the same 'pod' or 'bubble' thru lockdown, putting those in frail health where the chairs were spaced further apart.
In the end we were 14 people from six different countries. Some of us had not seen one another in over a year. This is a group of friends who really care about one another. Between the salad course and the main meal we went around the table and shared the lessons we had learned from the pandemic; silver linings that had emerged as a result of quarantine. Many of the answers were heartwarming and amazing. Anna's silver lining story was that her 15 year old nephew had come to live with
A Gathering of Friends
Fourteen Expat friends from 6 different countries gathered for an outdoor luncheon that I hosted by way of a trade I made with the restaurant owner.
her so he could use her internet for his online studies. She lives further down towards the jungle and was previously married to an indigenous man. She's been living alone since his passing and now is thoroughly enjoying the presence of her young nephew in her home.
My silver lining? Fear of COVID got me to quit smoking cigarettes...for good! Why tempt this respiratory disease by compromising my lungs even more? I´ve been a smoker for over 40 years --never a heavy smoker; sometimes just 2-3 cigarettes a day for years on end -- but never truly quitting for good. One day taking CiCi for a walk up the steep hill I felt out of breath and a tightness in my chest and I decided then and there that I WAS DONE! I used to light up a smoke as a kind of reward when I reached the big rock at the edge of the cliff overlooking the river...the midpoint of CiCi's daily long walk. Now I climb up on that rock, cross my legs and do some deep yoga breathing as I look out over the valley. It is very
After more than 8 months apart, it was wonderful to be together. We celebrated Shana's new vision and new beginnings in the USA
clear in my mind that I can never bum a smoke or two from a friend and expect not to start up again. I've now been cigarette-free for over 8 months and I am grateful for each day I have the strength to stay that way!
Jerry arrived to stay in my house and take care of CiCi while I went to the states...YES! I was going to be able to go ahead with my visit to Baltimore for Thanksgiving! Jerry is a friend of a friend who comes to Baños each year and has rented my front house twice before. This time we were doing a trade for his lodging -- in addition to looking after my pooch, he pulled weeds in my garden, replanted my flower boxes, did a ton of garden cleanout for Shana, power-washed my front stoop, and sanded and oiled the door to my bodega storeroom. CiCi fell hopelessly in love with Jerry and in the week before I left when he had already arrived, she went upstairs at bedtime to lie on his bed with him as he read aloud to her. I only felt
Completed Laundry Area
Repurposing cracked dishes as adornments (without breaking them) was Fabian's idea. Lots of ceramic beauty going on in this corner!
a little jealous, but mostly glad to know that she would be so lovingly cared for in my absence!
I drove Shana back up to Quito for yet another follow-up eye exam and dropped her off at Maricarmen's. I spent a night with friends who live in the valley below Quito. Then I went up to the city to leave my truck at the mechanic's and I had several medical appointments. Most everyone at the doctors' offices was wearing, in addition to a mask, a rounded face shield...made me feel like I was in an episode of the The Jetsons! I managed to catch up with a few friends (always outdoors and masked!) during the 3 days I was there. Rebekah and I met for our annual all-you-can-eat sushi pig-out, Lupe and I searched for a place to have a light supper but so many places were boarded up and closed...a bit depressing.
After a chiropractic adjustment I had brunch with my Israeli friend Daphna and I also dropped in to see Jean at her workplace. She suggested that instead of continuing
CiCi's Glam Shot
Nancy captured this foto of my beautiful girl, lounging on the wood deck at La Finca de la Vaca
to rent a walker for Shana at $20 per month, I should look for a secondhand one in the US and bring it back as if I were using it so it wouldn't be counted as baggage. I wrote to my brother asking him to look on Craig's list or a neighborhood page to see if there might be a used walker available. He found one almost immediately, brand-new, for $40 which he purchased from the maintenance man at a senior home. Thanks Bob!
I had made arrangements to leave my truck at the hostel right near the airport. Since I was staying there the night before I flew out, the owner only charged me $1 a day to park Scarlett in a covered garage while I was away. My flight was scheduled for 6:00 am so I had a taxi come pick me up at 3:30 (yawn). Smooth check-in, security, immigration check and by 4:30 I was settling in for a little nap at the departure gate. Around 5:00 am I heard a collective groan as the notice board behind the desk suddenly displayed that the flight was now delayed
Lunch at Swiss Bistro Cumanda
It's called La Finca de la Vaca -- the cow's ranch. Best beef around! I don't prepare beef at home but if I go out I often order it!
until 10:00 am.
They called us up one by one to help us.change our connecting flights since nearly all of us who were travelling onward from Miami would be missing our connections. My original Miami layover had been 2 hours before my flight to Baltimore. There was another flight scheduled to leave Miami 45 minutes after our new arrival time, but since we're required to collect and recheck our baggage in Miami there was no way I would be able to make that flight. When they told me I'd have a 6 1/2 hour layover I nearly lost it. Then I contacted my brother via fb messenger and he found a flight to Washington DCinstead of Baltimore... with only
a 4 hour layover! Arghhhh...It was going to be a l-o-o-ong day of travel.
The airline issued us each a $14 breakfast voucher and I decided to take a dark, quiet back booth at TGI Friday's (where the breakfasts cost more than $14!). As soon as I had ordered, a traveller went up to the bar to order a beer and the bartender
Setting a Beautiful Table
Luncheon with friends is the best excuse to get a little fancy with the table setting. I pulled out old cloth napkins to highlight the new, pattered dishes.
decided to crank the music...heavy rock. My head pounding, I approached the bar and let him know that unless he lowered the volume or changed the music, I would be cancelling my order and leaving. No one needs a splitting headache at 6:00 am! He complied, throwing me dirty looks all the while.
When I returned to the gate to wait, another passenger told me that the flight had been delayed because one of the flight attendants was running a fever. The stewardess whom they found to replace her had just flown in to Quito at midnight and by law they had to give her 10 hours of turnaround time (8 hours of sleep and 2 hours of transit/prep time). Let's see, 240 passengers multiplied by $14 vouchers made for a very expensive fever! I found a peaceful corner on the floor, curled up with my earphones and listened to a podcast on my phone.
When I finally got to Miami, by the time I got off the plane (I waited for the crush of humanity in the aisle to clear before
Happy Hour Topside
My upstairs terrace living room is a perfect place to entertain guests. Open on all sides and with stunning 360 views!
I got up from my seat), took the sky train to the baggage claim, waited for my suitcase and rechecked it at the counter, the four hour layover didn't seem so long. I had made a couple of sandwiches at my friend's house in Quito and it was good that I had some real food with me since there's no longer any meal service on any flights. As each passenger boards s/he is handed a plastic bag with a small bottle of water and a tiny packet of cookies.
I was glad that I had only one suitcase -- since I had ordered clothing online for delivery to Bob's house, all I needed to pack was the few outfits I had brought along for my few days' stay in Quito before departure. I had packed two smaller suitcases inside the large one, matroishka doll style, so I'd be able to bring back the maximum amount allowed. Alas, I'd made the mistake of mentioning to a number of folks that I was going to the US and everyone had something they wanted me to bring back for them. The 100 box of
If you read my last blog entry carefully you will remember mention of a toothpick method for safely pressing elevator buttons. I found this pic after I published, so here it is now!
Crayola markers for a student of mine, Fixodent and Poligrip for two denture-wearing friends, motion-sickness medication for another, phone chargers, back support seats for my 94 year old friend in Quito, a Lego set for my 9 year old boyfriend Joaquin, dollar store reading glasses for about 10 different people, and the list goes on and on!! A Baños hotel owner wanted me to bring back an electric pasta machine weighing 9 lbs;I told him I could probably make room for it, but it would surely push me into the overweight category, adding $140 to the $40 charge for my second bag. He declined my offer to bring it in exchange for the overbaggage fee.
The day had started at 3:30 am in a taxi to Quito airport and dragged on until 9:30 pm when I landed at Reagan Airport in DC. I had managed to nap a little on each leg of the journey and enjoyed watching a film on the international flight. Bob was there to meet me at the baggage claim, and even though it was a longer drive to his house than if I had landed in
Bob is the host with the most! Wonderful food and company during my stay!
Baltimore, the silver lining was that from the highway we could see dozens of iconic Washington monuments lit up in their full glory...magical and breathtaking! A fitting welcome back sight as I returned to the US after 2 years away.
It's always a pleasure to stay at my brother's comfortable home! Since Holden had moved out into his own place, I was given his suite, an add-on that had been built over the garage, a beautiful and private space with a huge, deep bathtub (ahhh!!). Since there was a risk that I could have contracted the virus during my long day on planes and in airports, Kate and Bob and I were careful to wear masks when were near each other and we tried not to be in the kitchen at the same time. We sat at opposite end of the room to watch TV together and ate most of our meals separately. The fourth day after my arrival they had scheduled for me to have a free COVID test (the theory being that it would take four days for the viral load to build enough to be detected if I
Gathering in the Kitchen
Here I am with Kate's brother Kevin and her son Holden. Holden's girlfriend Emma and her parents were also at the turkey dinner.
had been infected).
Bob and I drove to the fairgrounds where they had set up a dozen testing stations. Everyone stayed in their vehicles and people holding signs directed us to the correct line. Another sign told us to place our reservation printout on the dashboard on the side of the person being tested. It was all very organized and efficient. We were told that they can test several thousand people per day. In the US many people get tested weekly for their work, or just as a matter of course. There is free testing a many pharmacies and at Walmart so it's like it's become a way of life there. Yep, they stick that cotton swab waaayy up there, moving it around so it felt like it was scratching my brain matter! Fortunately, the test if over quickly and other than releasing my sinuses to drain for the next several hours, it was relatively painless. As we pulled out we were handed a goodie bag with masks, disinfectant and information sheets -- one of which said that I'd receive results in 48 hours, another said 5-7 days!
The Kids' Table
No kids at our gathering, but I was seated alone at this add-on table since the results of my COVID test had not yet come back. I didn't feel too much like a pariah!
In the end I didn't get my negative test results for 9 days...something about a glitch in the lab's ability to retrieve and deliver information that had been uploaded to the cloud. SO - when Thanksgiving Day came around, I was still a question mark. My sweet sister-in-law set up a separate table for me to sit at during the meal, complete with flower arrangement. I was the only one at the "kids' table" this time around! My nephew and his girlfriend Emma had already recovered from having COVID (her symptoms were more severe than his) so when Holden saw me he said, "I can give you a real hug!" -- I realized that I hadn't really hugged anyone in a loooonnnngggg time, so I asked him for a second hug. Emma's parents were there as well as Kate's brother who has an auto-immune disease, so I stayed masked and distanced the whole day.
I wasn't sure how much we'd be getting out and about, this I had ordered most things online before travelling...what made me think I could order swimsuits online and they would
Tgiving Dessert Table
The apple pie beside the blue plates was a beauty to behold...a structural (and flavorful) masterpiece! Who had room for dessert?!
actually fit? One more motivation to shed some of these extra pounds! I did get to go out shopping a few times with Kate...we had a very successful visit to the DSW back racks - three pairs of good walking shoes for about $130 !!! One day when we went to Kohl's and Marshall's I practically collapsed in the aisle from lack of oxygen. Hardcore shopping expeditions while masked are not recommended! At the checkouts the cashiers were all separated by plastic dividers. It's so interesting to see how various places have implemented social distancing practices.
Fitting rooms closed everywhere due to COVID scare, even the thrift shop had no dressing rooms available. SO, I pulled out a full length mirror in the furniture dept and started trying stuff on over my tank top. This creepy guy was watching me a little too closely and I was grateful when Kate came over and he moved away. I chuckled when I read the sign at then end of an aisle in Target - "Smokers' Health" - seemed like an oxymoron to me! I had to look and see...it was Nicorette Gum and
Beautiful magnolia branches and holly berry springs join sprays of juniper on the fireplace mantle. Unpacking boxes of decorations.
Tabs. I guess that encourages health for smokers! In Walmart I was searching for Fixodent and asked an employee where I could find it...she asked, you mean for babies?? Jeez. I got out of Walmart as quickly as I could after finding the Crayola Markers, but I have to say that I was shocked by the people I saw shopping there. Not far off from the "people of Walmart" memes I see on facebook!
We did a lot of relaxing at Bob and Kate's -- some nice walks around the neighborhood, we all did yoga together one day, I tried out the treadmill (made my hip hurt!), and Bob and I played a lot of Backgammon and Cribbage. Our Cribbage matches brought up a lot of memories of our Dad. In his last years playing cards was his happy place -- his foggy mind became clear as a bell! On 11-22 we watched the first part of the mini-series 11/22/1963 based on Stephen King's novel. Kate and I watched the first two episodes of Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy -- it won't be on Netflix until Sept and Shana's Direct TV
Lighting Up the Tree
It was fun helping Kate with some of the holiday decorations!
is still showing season 16 episodes over and over again...so that was a real treat for this Grey's fan.
Heading out from Baltimore, I was using Shana's new walker as if it were my own. It was the start of a very interesting day, posing as a handicapped person. Bob had helped me to weigh and reweigh my bags and now he helped me get everything up to the check-in counter. All went smoothly (49.5 lbs each -- just under the 50# limit!) and I bid him farewell with many many thanks (for the many many ways he helped me make this visit a reality!). As I was waiting at the gate, one of the employees walked me to the front of the line so I could board early and have a little extra time. It turned out that he would be our flight attendant as well. As they checked the walker at the end of the jetway he asked if I would like to have a wheelchair waiting in Miami. I agreed since I only had a 45 minute turnaround.
It's always a treat to fly into Quito and the lush valleys below. Ah, home at last.
went well until after we landed...then we were stuck on the runway waiting for another plane to clear our arrival gate. I called over the flight attendant, noticing that his name tag said R Kelly. I joked, I bet no one has ever sung this line to you before..."I believe I can fly!" He chuckled and told me, but my first name is Rod. After 20 minutes of waiting in the plane I asked Rod if he could find out what gate my next flight would be leaving from so I had an idea how far I'd have to go. He made sure I was the first off the plane (fake limping) but my walker didn't show up. After 10 minutes of waiting for it I told Rod I'd rather lose the walker than miss my flight and asked him what were the chances the walker would eventually find me (I had a name tag on it)? He promised me he'd run it to my connecting gate himself...and he did! There were no more wheelchairs available by that time, and I was extremely grateful that I wasn't truly handicapped as I hoofed it to my connecting gate.
To this day one of my favorite flowers -- mostly found below 1000 msnm (lower than 3,000 ft in altitude), seeing them is a sure sign of dropping down to the Rainforest
I arrived at my departing gate, only to find that the flight way delayed (qué sorpresa!) and true to his word, Rod came running up with the walker shortly after I arrived. "Mr Kelly, you went above and beyond today," I thanked him and I wrote a letter of commendation to the airline as well. It ends up that when my departing flight pulled into the gate, it crashed into the jetway, damaging both the plane and the ramp. Fortunately it only took them an hour to find another plane that could take us but we had to go to another gate, ALL the way at the far end of the terminal. Oh well, at least now I had "my" walker! They told us, no need to run, we won't leave without you. Arriving in Quito I overheard the flight attendants wondering aloud what happened to the plane and the jetway and I turned around and told them, "It was surely my fault...every flight I've been on has had a glitch!" SO glad to get back to Quito and because of my (fake) handicap status they didn't even check my COVID test results or
Huge bushes (trees!) covered with this delicate flower were fully in bloom. Breathtaking!
make me put my bags through the customs search xray machines. Short taxi ride to where my truck was still safely parked (albeit covered with sticky purple bird poop...must have been a berry bush nearby!!)
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