What a Spread!
Zahra (my seamstress friend) and I drove down to Melinda's cute hostel (Pequeño Paraíso) to measure for curtains and Mel made the most amazing brunch!
Hello Friends! Fasten your seatbelts because this blog entry has a LOT going on!! I've tried to put the photos in some sort of order, but my life is kind of topsy-turvy right now and so is my brain!! My home is completely "patas arriba" (paws up) as they say in Español which affects my thinking and my daily routine, but I'll make it through. Keeping my eyes on the prize!
I had the good fortune to participate in birthday celebrations with several different friends! Also, special visits from other friends. My social life is reactivating a bit...and it feels good. My seamstress friend, Zahra and I drove a half-hour down to just past Rio Verde where Melinda and her partner Franco have a sweet little hostel and campground called Pequeño Paraíso. Mel wants to update the hostel rooms so Zahra brought her trusty tape measure to determine what would be needed to spruce up the window dressings and bed covers.
Melinda decided to use our visit to try out some of the breakfast goodies she's been working on
Rami and Daphna in Baños
My lovely Israeli friends, Daphna and Rami have lived in Quito almost 10 years but since they often travel internationally, they had never been to Baños!
for guests of the hostel. Three kinds of homemade bread (to die for!!) as well as several marmalade-type spreads made of figs, beets, chochos (lupine beans) and so much more yummy stuff. CiCi had a wonderful time playing with the dogs there and she taught them how to get completely muddy in the marshy creek. OY!! Oh well, it was almost time for a grooming anyways.
A wonderful visit from friends Rami and Daphna, an Israeli couple who have lived in Quito for almost 10 years but had never been to Baños! They travel internationally almost half of every year...to the US to visit grandkids, to Israel to see other family, and they rent an apt in Florence for a month each summer so their Europe friends can come visit with them. Well, yet another silver lining of COVID - since they've been unable to travel abroad they've delved into exploring more of Ecuador.
I had gotten to know Daphna better over the years as we often met for brunch or lunch when we were both in Quito (a rare
When Pam and Carol came to visit from Cuenca, I invited Shana, Julie and Flo for a lovely ladies' lunch. Flo and Julie are my yoga buddies 3x a week.
occurence!), but I didn't know Rami as well. A retired pediatric oncologist my first impression of him was that he was rather cerebral and serious...but as we descended the waterfall route, stopping for photos and hikes along the way, I saw his joyful, playful spirit come shining through. They were both so excited about discovering the natural marvels surrounding Baños. We shared lovely meals and fun times!!
Baños friends who moved to Cuenca (sisters Carol and Pam) were back for a visit! They've hosted me twice in Cuenca since they moved there at the start of the pandemic so the least I could do was to throw a luncheon in their honor. My yoga buddies, Flo and Julie came as well as Shana and I hosted a scrumptious ladies' lunch for six. I enjoy entertaining, using my beautiful tableware and making special dishes.
Shana's actual birthday was a sushi lunch...her favorite meal. (scroll to the end of the photos to see pics of her enjoying her sushi). A few weeks after her actual 81st birthday the driving restrictions
We rented a cabaña with private jacuzzi on the edge of the jungle in Misahuallí. Here's Shana lounging in her birthday suit!
were lifted so that we could take a trip down towards the jungle. When she first arrived in Ecuador in 1970, Shana lived in Misahuallí. We planned to spend her birthday there for several reasons - our favoriteBaños tapas restaurant had moved to Misahuallí, and the best hotel/restaurant in Puyo, El Jardín, recently opened a jungle lodge in Misahuallí as well.
I booked a luxury cabaña for the three of us (Shana, Maricarmen and me). The booking included dinner and breakfast (world class dining!) and our stunning cabin overlooking the river had a private jacuzzi on the edge of the jungle. The gardens were exquisite and we fully enjoyed our relaxing jacuzzi time, celebrating Shana's birthday in our birthday suits.
Some friends who live further into the jungle (Tena) came for a visit to Baños. A lovely young family - Chelsea from the US married an indigenous guy,Timo, and they have two adorable kids. Chelsea's mom had decided to retire to Ecuador, so I finally got to meet her in person after corresponding on facebook for several months
New friends, Chelsea and Timo live 2 1/2 hours away, down towards the jungle. They were in Baños for Timo's 40th birthday so we celebrated together!
prior to her big move. Joyous celebration of Timo's big #40 birthday. It was the first time that Chelsea's mom had met Timo's mom, and since I was sitting between them I ended up acting as interpreter for the "co-madres". When Chelsea's mom Anne returned to Baños from the jungle I met up with her for some Spanish lessons and adventures together.
About 25 years ago, my good friends Andy and Michelle created a permaculture lodge called Black Sheep Inn (BSI), located high in the mountains, about three hours drive from Baños. Over the years, I've been there many times; with volunteers from Engineers Without Borders (EWB), with friends who came down to visit me, and also on my own. It is a magical place with amazing scenery. For almost 12 years I worked with EWB on potable water projects in this region of the Andes, so as I drove to BSI this time the vast, stunning views stirred memories for me. There have always been a number of dogs running loose along the (now-paved) highway that winds around Quilotoa Crater but this time it seemed like there were
En Route to Black Sheep Inn
Oops...the road fell away. This is what happens when we humans mess with nature's natural balance.
even more. Apparently they've learned that vehicles often stop and leave their picnic leftovers; every half-mile or so I passed a stray dog sitting at attention patiently waiting for a snack.
A few years ago CiCi and I drove up to celebrate Thanksgiving with Andy and Michelle at Black Sheep Inn. They now spend half the year up in Massachussets at Snow's Pond (affectionately referred to as Paradise North) where they own some cabins on the lake. Last year while they were up there, their beloved pooch Rumi passed away. Now I really wanted to see them before they headed north again and they told me I could only come to visit if I brought CiCi with me! They needed some doggie loving!
As always, we had a wonderful time together. Good food, good friends, beautiful countryside! Andy (a nice Jewish boy) made homemade gefilte fish (an arduous process...I once looked up the recipe and discarded the idea as too time-consuming) and he'd saved a piece for me! Scrumptious. CiCi had a grand time at Black Sheep Inn,
The bottle wall at the Black Sheep Inn gymnasium. Andy's use of bottles in construction spark my creativity!
accompanying Andy on his daily jaunts to feed and water the sheep and the pigs. It was delightful to see her romping joyously through the hills and Andy loved having her at his heels.
I have always been fascinated by the use of bottles in the construction of the Black Sheep Inn; their bottle artistry has been the inspiration for several of my home projects. A BSI workman, Francisco has become a master at creating bottle walls. Several times he's made the long trip to Baños to help me with projects (an hour hiking from his home to town, then four hours by bus!) On this visit I made contact with him again to line up his services for my upcoming projects. I enjoyed my insider tour of the premises with Andy who gave me detailed descriptions of how each of his recycled and sustainable works of art were created! Gracias amigos! Thanks for having me and CiCi as guests once again!
For over a month I had been having some trouble sleeping...waking up with intense headaches at 3:00 or
On the way home...
Leaving Black Sheep Inn I paused on the road for this sweet shepherdess. You can imagine how different her job is now that the road is paved!
4:00 am most nights, then unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes dull headaches continued through the morning or even all day. There were a few days I just stayed in bed, unable to think clearly. Add to this afternoon/evening sweats-- like the hot flashes of those beloved menopausal years. One of my yoga buddies pointed out that both of those are signs of high blood pressure. She commented that if I was being awakened from sleep by pain it was my body SCREAMING at me to pay attention and do something. She urged me to make an appointment with a doctor. The cardiologist I'd been seeing in Quito for the past few years was not doing video consults, but I booked one that day with a female cardiologist (who it ends up works closely with my doc).
She advised me to increase my dose of blood pressure medication, taking an extra half tab just before bedtime. She urged me to get to Quito as soon as possible for a real-time ecosonogram of the heart function and to get hooked up to a 24-hour blood pressure monitor. I borrowed
Betti's 70th Bday
At Shibumi Sushi (amaaaazing) in Quito with Betti and Jean. Betti is holding her specially prepared birthday sushi!
a home blood pressure cuff and started recording my readings 3x a day. Sure enough, I was having super high spikes early in the morning and then again before bedtime.
I booked appointments for the necessary tests and arranged for my neighbors to watch CiCi while I made the trip to Quito. My cardiologist did the ecocardiogram and assured me that although there was some aortic deterioration it was consistent with my age. Some thickening of the heart wall indicated that I'd been living with high blood pressure for awhile, but it was not extreme and there was nothing to be alarmed about.
I actually got hooked up to two different monitors on two consecutive days. The first one measured tachycardia episodes and the second one had a cuff that squeezed my upper arm every 20 minutes for 24 hours (not much sleep that night!). Since Quito was under weekend driving restrictions, I had to get a doctor's note giving me permission to drive into the city on Saturday to have the second monitor removed. I wasn't stopped by any of the
Driving Home From Quito
I had to pull over to the side of the highway (Simon Bolivar eastern ring road) to snap a pic of Taita Cotopaxi in all his glory! Ecuador's Mt Fuji!!
cops stationed at every intersection, and there was practically no traffic at all! On Monday I was able to see the doc for interpretation of the results of the monitors. There was no sign of palpitations and the spikes in my pressure were consistent with the home readings I'd recorded.
When the doctor told me he wanted to double my medication I asked him, "Isn't that a big jump?" Assuring me that it was still only half the maximum dose that can be prescribed, he told me "Don't fear the medication, fear the hypertension!" So, I'm taking the increased dosage, watching my salt intake, excerising more and checking my pressure now and then; so far everything's been hunky dory! I'm really glad I had it all checked out. Thank you Mario and Meli for letting me veg at your house while I was strapped into the monitors! And thank you Pacha Mama (mother nature) for giving me spectacular snow-capped vistas on my drive back down to Baños!
Frank is a Dutch friend who, almost 20 years ago started an animal rescue reserve
Frank's emptying the Sapphire Gin into another bottle so Ihe can leave the sky blue gin bottle with me. My next project is all blues and greens!
about an hour from here. They are located way off the beaten path and have no internet signal. He had a bunch of fund-raising and administrative work to do online and asked me about places to stay in Baños for a week or so with good internet. "My house," I told him. "Don't pay for lodging! Use the little cabaña in the front and have lunch with me each day! This is a way that I can make a donation to Merazonia!" We both enjoyed his stay, he got all his work done and wanted to come back and spend a few days here with his wife. I told him that he and Louisa were welcome to come if they would be willing to assist me in packing up the bookshelves in that room. I was about to begin a construction project and the prospect of packing up hundreds (over a thousand?) books felt quite daunting. They were both happy to help and even borrowed about a dozen books for their upcoming beach vacation!
Fast forward a few weeks and they stopped at my place en route to the coast for
Let the Demolition Begin!
The knee-breaker staircase with the poopy brown bathroom beneath were both joyfully destroyed! Phase One Done!
a quick visit and a walk up the hill to let the dogs play together (their pooch Aliyah loves CiCi and vice versa). They know about my various bottle projects and always bring me their colored glass. I'm glad they've started treating themselves to the fancy booze in blue bottles! I'm also grateful that they were willing to pour their destined-for-vacation-consumption posh gin into another glass bottle so they could leave the sapphire blue one with me! Gorgeous! Wait'll you see what I do with this latest treasure!
So you may recall that in Nov-Dec 2019 I had a dining room wing built onto my kitchen/bedroom mother-in-law suite . Even before any inkling of a pandemic, I had created this COVID-friendly space with sliding glass doors on two sides, glass block and a window on the other. Amazing flow of light and air. I worked with a young architect from Ambato (the nearest big city, about an hour away) and at when he drew up the plans for the dining room he also created a blue-print for phase two, the master suite I'd been dreaming of creating. You see, the space
Living with Construction
It gets super windy up where I live so keeping the dust down has been challenging!
I've been occupying for the past five years, although comfortable enough, has its problems...the main one being a LOUD workman whose workshop shares the wall with my bedroom. I have affectionately dubbed him, Sir Bangsalot. Another friend commented, "it seems like the guy paints with a hammer!"
I have truly resented owning my own home yet feeling like I live in an apartment. The tiny bathroom is tucked under a staircase and the closet nook has moisture issues...bubbling, peeling walls,etc. I can't ever leave my drawers closed and the dresser must be pulled away from the walls. SO, I decided that this was the year that I would finally build my dream suite, my liveable work of art - let loose the myriad of design ideas percolating in my brain! When I approached the architect in March to tell him that I was ready, he told me that he had just begun a big project in Guayaquil that probably wouldn't be finished until August. Well, September is the rainiest month here so I adjusted my expectations to an October start. If I had to wait until Oct I wanted to get
Each day when CiCi comes home from Shana's house she checks out the latest construction progress and finds a place to hang out amidst the rubble.
some of these ideas out of my head, so I asked Andres if he could spare me a few hours for me to bounce them off him and discuss what was actually possible; also get a general idea of how much the project might cost.
He came over one March morning announcing that he had good news for me. He had landed a contract to build a big house here in Baños, barely 2 miles from me. His father was to take over the Guayaquil project (good, I didn't really want to have to deal with that condescending old dude anyway...he should have retired years ago!) and the son would be in charge of the two Baños builds. Having another job nearby meant that he would be able to share workers and equipment between that project and mine. Another big problem, not enough space at my house, was also solved. All the materials could be stored over there and brought here a little at a time as needed.
The plans to start work in April rolled into May (Andrés and his dad
The fine young architect who has been helping me with this project (and also built my dining room). He turned 28 last week; off to an auspicious career!
siezed the opportunity to go to Miami for early vaccination); the plans for my add-on got finalized and payment schedules defined. Back in Feb when I didn't think the work would be able to start until Oct, I had tied up most of my savings in a 6 month CD yielding 9.5% interest which meant that now my funds couldn't be touched until August! I did have enough in my savings account to make an initial payment, but I'd have to sell my truck in June to meet the second installment. I had been thinking about selling it for quite some time, so this situation defined the timeline.
While I still had my truck I planned trips to buy materials for the construction. It took several trips up to Ambato (1 hr northwest and over 2,000 feet higher in altitude) to outfit the two full bathrooms I'm creating: sinks, tiles, faucets, shower heads, glass blocks, and toilets. I also made two trips down to Puyo (1 1/2 hrs east and 3,000 feet lower - on the edge of the Amazon basin) with my carpenter Leonidas to select hardwood for the floors,
Please Don't Kill My Tree
There's very limited space for workers to maneuver and store materials so it's a constant challenge to keep my little lemon tree safe from harm!
headboard, bedside tables and closet inserts. Leonidas has done exquisite work for me on a long desk, ceiling-to-floor bookshelves, a gigantic pantry and several other smaller projects. I trust him implicitly!
We found beautiful light and dark canelo (cinnamon tree) wood which we had tooled into 18 cm (7 inch) wide interlocking floor planks. I recently read a Chinese proverb that I liked a lot: "The twisted tree lives its life while the straight tree ends up planks." I am designing a headboard with a variety of woods in a peacock tail design. The night stands will have vented drawers for storing socks and underwear. It's so damp here that in order to close something up it needs to be ventilated. Part of my closet will be outfitted with criss-crosses of wood - creating open diamond-shaped cubby holes where I can just roll up and tuck in sweaters, yoga pants, tshirts and such. I can envision everything in my mind...hopefully it will all turn out as wondefully as I'm imagining it will be!
Construction delays are always to be expected, but the
Shopping for Wood
The carpenter and I drove down to Puyo at the jungle's edge to score hardwood planks seven inches (18cm) wide for my floorboards.
first month of work has taken over six weeks so far! We've had incredibly rainy weather which led to mudslides which blocked the roads and kept the workers from being able to arrive on several occasions. The solderer had a car crash just as he was about to mount the roofing, so that delay caused more rain delay. During the first week onsite at the other house project the assistant architect, responsible for overseeing the day-to-day progress, stepped in a hole and sprained his ankle so badly that they put on a cast and he's been hobbling around on crutches. He's a big guy - well over 200 lbs - so he must have gone down hard with all his weight.
Living with noise and dust is not fun! I still have my cleaning gal come every other Friday to help keep the dust down a bit, but almost as soon as she's been here, that fine cement silt is sifting back in the cracks of the sliding glass doors of the dining room. I've been keeping my bedroom closed up tight and the curtains closed so even on days when
Scarlett's Last Job
Shortly after I transported the wood back up to Baños (just over an hour), I sold my truck to my mechanic in Quito.
I'm at home while workers are here, I'm more or less insulated (visually if not audibly!). I was teaching a mid-week online Spanish class and if the workers were banging away or using power tools I would schlep my laptop over to Shana's to teach from her little guest house in the garden.The workmen do try to sweep up a bit and leave a somewhat clear path for me to get to and from my little house at the back of the lot, but my idea of 'clean' is a far cry from theirs!
As many of you know, I love colored glass! I have been collecting bottles for years - carefully removing the labels, sorting and storing them in preparation for a really big project. So far I have created three wind-break bottle wheels and a half-wall privacy divider for my rooftop terrace living room. Now it was time to plan a shower wall for the new bathroom I'm building onto the A-frame cabaña on the front of my property. Having made the decision to destroy the ugly brown-tiled half-bath ('baño social' as it's known here) and 'knee-breaker' staircase up
Building a Bottle Wall
Leonidas (L) travelled 4 hours to do this job for me, helping my Baños handyman Fabián (R), to learn the ropes.
to my art space/library, I also decided to outfit the downstairs of the cabaña as a rental unit. Since it has a full kitchen it's like a studio apartment. I may eventually list it on AirBnB, but to start with I have a friend coming down from the US in Oct to rent it for six months!
Using the bodega storeroom space off to the side, we created a half-round bottle wall which juts out into the front garden.I decided to use brown and dark green bottles to ensure privacy for the person showering. Even though you can't really see through unless you press your nose to a transparent bottle, the darker colors give the illusion of more privacy. I used more transparent bottles higher up to let in more light at a level where there's nothing to peep at! As the project got going I had the idea to wrap it around onto the railing of the front terrace and from there came the concept of creating a box-like cubby for storing shampoo bottles and whatnot. Not sure where/how I get these wacky ideas... they just sort of percolate into
Once it dries the detailed clean-up work can begin.
my brain and evolve, taking on a life of their own.
First I had to organize and sort through all the bottles I had been storing. My handyman, Fabián, helped me empty out my bodega and arrange the boxes of bottles around the outer walls of the rooftop terrace. We laid down a quilted moving blanket to create the canvas for my wall design. We had to make sure that all of the bottles were clean and whole, and once the design was in place Fabián painstakingly covered the top of each with masking tape so cement would not flow in. I took photos of the completed designs, had them blown up, printed out and then I mounted the images on posterboard to use as a reference.
Francisco, the bottle wall master made the trek to Baños from Chugchilán and I booked him a room at the hostel just up the hill from me for the four days he was here. I'd made arrangements with the gal who runs the hostel and she gave him a comfy room with TV, also providing
Wraparound Shower Wall
...and the wall continues to grow.
breakfast and dinner for $15 per night all in. It didn't break the bank! Fabián worked together with him to erect this latest creation. I posted photos on facebook of daily progress as the wall grew taller and the bottle designs emerged. Many people seemed genuinely interested in my wacky project!
SO, during my blood pressure visit to Quito I made the decision to sell my truck to the mechanic who's been servicing it for the past few years, and I made the decision to buy a little Suzuki X3 from my friends Mario and Melissa who are moving back to the states. Carlos the mechanic looked over the Suzuki and deemed it an excellent vehicle, in fact he told me that if I ever wanted to resell it, he'd buy it from me. That's a pretty stellar recommendation! However, when we delved into the vehicle registration files about my truck, he found some disturbing information. Four years ago I lost a license plate while crossing a river near the coast. I made the report and a new plate was issued to me at the DMV in Puerto Lopez. Alas, they
You can appreciate the masterful artistry of Francisco's work in the curving base of the shower wall. He is truly a sculptor.
had no idea what they were doing.
First of all, under the vehicle brand name they punched in some erroneous code that printed it out as MOWAG (is that even a brand?). It took me over six months to get a certified letter from the Nissan headquarters in Quito confirming that the rubbings of the engine number corresponded to the truck registered in my name which was indeed a Nissan. I had been issued new plates with a new number and a D for duplicate in the corner. Well, it turns out that duplicate plates are supposed to be issued with the same number as the lost/ stolen plates they are replacing. In addition to giving me a new number, the coastal village DMV never annulled the previous number. So it ends up that I've been getting fined for non-registration of the lost plate for the past 4 years...a grand total of $380 which continues to accrue interest. Gulp!
One of the main reasons I agreed to sell to the mechanic (at a lower price than I probably could have gotten) was
While we were in the process of building, I got the wacky idea of popping out to create a space for shampoo bottles. Cool, huh?
that we agreed that HE would be responsible for sorting out the DMV paperwork/fine nightmare at the Quito DMV where it was being issued from. He felt certain that with the paperwork I had, he'd be able to get the fine erased and we agreed that if he couldn't it would be his to pay. It was my job to take care of the updated registration reflecting the corrected brand name which in turn required a repeat of the vehicle revision and inspection. We executed the sale/purchase transaction in his office, him handing over $11,500.00 in cash and then dropping me off at my hostel. After I left my bags in my room, the hostel manager stepped out into the street to watch me cross the main road to the nearby bank to safely deposit that large sum!
Since the car I was buying wouldn't be available for another month, I returned to Baños via taxi. A friend gave me the contact of a private driver who would take me on the three hour journey for just $60. I am usually the driver so I'm not a great passenger, especially on
We use this lovely space at Flo's house for yoga practice 3 mornings per week. Her pooch, Chiquita, likes to join in when we do floor work.
curvy roads. I laid down in the back seat, rolled up my jacket as a pillow, and slept the whole way! My rhythm of life was about to change, arriving in Baños without a vehicle.
The two mile walk to my morning yoga sessions is mostly downhill, so I didn't arrive too sweaty or out-of-breath for our thrice weekly sessions. I love my yoga pals - it's so great for us to touch base with one another. Flo's pooch loves it when we get down on the mats...enter her zone. Chiquita makes the rounds to greet us one by one, checking in with each of us throughout the practice. CiCi has come along with me to yoga a few times and she loves to join me on the mat as well.
I rearranged my in-person class schedule so that my weekend students come up to my house (when there are no workers making noise and dust) and I shuffled my students in town so that they are only on Mondays and Thursdays. It's a 30 minute walk into town (also downhill -
My Purple Yoga Mat
...and as soon as my mat was down CiCi claimed her space. She had just been groomed so every freckle stands out!
whew!) so I removed any heavy purse contents and shifting the rest into a small backpack. I carry only the most necessary teaching materials and always bring along a few extra shoulder bags for any purchases I might make. I do treat myself to a taxi ($1.25) to make it back up the hill to my house at the end of the day.
It's been really good to be walking more...I see things in town that I never notice when I'm in my truck. I've run into old friends and acquaintances that I haven't seen in years. I discovered that my computer guru repairman Ivan who had moved up to Ambato has now returned to Baños, and his shop is in almost the exact same place where it was before! Baños is a small town and even though my students live on opposite ends of town, I find that most anywhere I need to get to is only 4 or 5 blocks away from where I am. Baños is situated in a small valley and the downtown area is mostly on the flat which makes for easier walking. I have been
After the Rains...
Mama Tungurahua capped in snow after 3 days of heavy rains. Photo taken from my rooftop terrace.
happy for this enforced increase in physical activity and hope I can keep it up even after I get my new car. The good news - I got into a swimsuit that I couldn't fit into six months ago!!
I'd like to end this blog entry with a Bob Marley quote that I recently saw and really liked: "Some people feel the rain, others just get wet."
If you'd like to see more pics with details of the bottle wall, the gardens and birthday celebrations, scroll to the end and click on NEXT. Thanks for reading!!
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