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Jill at the Oyacachi Hot Baths
Ah! Discovered my new favorite hot springs, north of Quito. The mineral baths work wonders after a long drive.
I am sitting in an internet cafe in Otavalo (an hour north of Quito) and beside me are two indigenous Quichua young men watching online YouTube videos of a Japanese girl playing guitar and singing. They are watching it over and over again, zooming in on her cleavage, her guitar fingering, and clearly falling in love. The world has become a very small place indeed....
This blog entry begins with my adventures after leaving the Engineers in Nov...I have certainly been on the move, and loving it. I am usually the one driving so it was a special treat to be taken around by Lupe, a friend of an Ecuadorian woman I met back in ´88. As you know, I´m not at all shy to call up a friend of a friend and introduce myself. Lupe took me to the hot baths at Oyacachi, a small community on the backside of Mt Cayambe, in the high parramo region of the eastern Andean slopes. The countryside is stunningly beautiful, and it was great to be a passenger for a change. The hot baths were delicious, as was the freshly caught, pan seared trout I
Welcome to Oyacachi
These friendly faces are testament to the thriving community tourism project in this lovely village.
ate. We explored the length of the river, marvelling in the ancient stone walls, moss covered roofs, church ruins and more. This is definitely a place I will go back to...despite the hours of bumpy stone and mud roads to get there.
In Quito I stayed with another friend of a friend. I had worked with Deb in Malaysia, and she had worked with Steph in Boston. Now Steph works in Quito and she and her Ecuadorian fiancé Santi graciously opened their home to me. They´re on the top floor of a lovely apt bldg with awesome views of the Quito valley. The night of the earthquake in Peru, I was rocked to sleep (literally) by the shaking and quaking we felt this far north!
Once again, my friend Doris and I tried to schedule English classes while I was in Quito. Doris was working at the United Nations for the ST-EP (Sustainable Tourism Eradicating Poverty) program, but half-way through the course she had to cancel the rest of our classes...for a good reason...she was appointed to the cabinet of Ecuador´s new president, Rafael Correa. I was invited to attend the ceremony at the
Oyacachi Stone Wall
The village of Oyacachi is in the high parramo on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Lovely scenery!
presidential palace where she was named Minister of Cultural Patrimony. It was very exciting to witness what felt like a very historic act in the opulent palace surroundings. The president is just as handsome and charismatic in person as he appears in his publicity!!
Before leaving Quito I enjoyed a fabulous evening with Sanne (a Dutch med student who had been volunteering in the village with the engineers), her mother (visiting from Holland) and Synnove (a Norwegian nurse I had met when I first arrived in Ecuador last Aug...her heart keeps pulling her back here to visit her Ecuadorian boyfriend). The two young women had a lot in common, and it was a lively supper. After months of emailing, I finally met Jennifer, a student teacher at Colegio Americano (where I had worked in the late 80´s). My dad met Jennifer while she was visiting friends of her parents who are friends of my Dad´s at Leisure World in Seal Beach. It was great to finally meet her, and wandering around the school campus with her was like floating in a time warp for me. It had just opened when I worked there, and now it´s grown
Mossy Parramo Roof
Misty, foggy skies and wispy, mossy growth characterize the jungle side of the eastern Andes. These scenes make me eager to study painting!
and is much more high-tech. The computer labs were impressive. I didn´t even have xerox capabilities...I had to use carbon stencil forms (a pain if you make a mistake!)
Shana and I took off for another week of R&R at her house in Baños, 3 hrs south of Quito. Her house is literally in the shadow of Tungurahua volcano (the rumblings at night sound like thunder) and it´s a 5 minute walk up the hill to mineral hot baths that open at 4:30 am. Not that we go that early, but it´s a wonderful way to start each day. The town was evacuated when the volcano first started to erupt, but most everyone has moved back and each time we drive there, my truck is filled with more of Shana´s stuff. Her 9 yr old boxer, Max, loves going to Baños. I took a long walk with him up along the river that feeds the hot springs. Can´t wait to do that walk with Chaco too (we´re headed back down to Baños later this week). It´s so great to just relax, play Scrabble, go out to great restaurants and cook yummy meals together.
Tungurahua letting off steam
This view of Tungurahua (volcano active for the past 7 years) was taken from Shana´s garden in Baños. On clear days the setting sun creates a luminous show.
Thanksgiving was a gringo fest up in the Intag Valley (4 hrs NW of Quito). Sandy & Carlos have a coffee plantation and host this annual gathering so longtime expatriates who don´t get to see each other often can get together. The roads were as bad as everyone had warned me...the last 60 km took almost 3 hrs! Rough, rocky, misty, foggy and at the very end I got stuck in the mud. It took several different groups of people quite a few attempts to get me unstuck. At the big dinner gathering (about 30 people of 10 different nationalities!) I took some great photos, but alas my laptop hiccuped while I was transferring them from my digital camera, so all I have are mental pictures.
I drove back down to the coast all by myself for the first time. I have kept in touch with Carmen, the woman who cleaned for me (and many other teachers) back in´88. I stayed at her house in the south end of Quito, so I got a head start- already almost out of the city by 6:30 am. Listening to audio books really passes the time on solo drives, and
Morci at Cascada del Virgen
I have fond memories of this Baños waterfall, ever since I first saw it in the late 80´s. My truck, Morci, takes me everywhere I want to go!
I made it to Jipijapa (an hour north of where I live) by 2:30 pm...in enough time to sort out the problems with my Ecuadorian tax status. Victor was there to meet me and with his help and his acquaintances at the SRI (IRS) offices, everything was fixed and I was home before dark. Whew, what a long day.
I do love driving and there´s never a dull moment on the Ecuadorian ¨highways¨. Here are some memorable glimpses from my solo drive. There was lots of construction which hopefully means that the roads will be better the next time I make the drive (fat chance! someone here told me that they intentionally do substandard work so the road crews will have work again within a few months!) Lane closures might be indicated with a big branch, or a scattering of smallish rocks. Alongside one of the construction areas there was a huge gravel mountain, with a hammock right at the top strung between two poles under plastic sheeting for shade. The break room?? I had a chuckle when I saw an old farmer standing alongside his loaded-up burro, staring in fascination at the huge earth moving vehicles
El Salado Baths in Baños
Just a 5 minute walk up the hill from Shana´s house we soak daily in these mineral hot spring baths. Very therapeutic!!
scraping away the hillside to widen the road. Just around the next bend, a group of cows wandered up the middle of the road and refused to move out of the way! Travelling along a deserted stretch of road I glimpsed a group of men walking toward me in the distance. At first I thought it was a funeral procession, but as I drew closer I realized that these 8 men were carrying a refrigerator (horizontally) on a wooden litter platform. They were miles and miles from a village in any direction!
As I drive, I enjoy seeing the changing vegetation and try to take different driving routes whenever I can. There´s a certain thrill at being on a piece of road I´ve never travelled. As the Andes fall away, the climate becomes more tropical and there are hundreds of banana plantations, each plant complete with a blue plastic bag covering its single, huge bunch of bananas. Sugar cane, rice, fruit groves...NO ONE goes hungry in this country that is so richly cultivated at every turn. Even the most humble shack is decorated with a riot of various colored bougainvilla dripping from the rooftop. As a steady
El Salado River
I enjoy dog walking in the hills behind the baths. The river rushes, burbles and steams as the hot water leaches minerals from the riverbanks.
drizzle was settling in, I smiled at a teenage boy walking along with a huge leaf draped over his head. Indigenous people don´t use umbrellas and my friend Ceci tells me that her neighbor asks her to close her umbrella when walking past her house because it scares her cows!!
Finally nearing the coast, but before actually seeing the ocean there´s a broad strip of desert-like landscape. A strange sight...the last set of hills between the desert and the ocean was capped with thick, fluffy white clouds...like a wig! I stopped at a roadside outdoor diner for a snack and a pee...the restroom didn´t have a door but I really had to go! I thought I was well enough hidden, until cars coming the other direction slowed and honked as I was on the pot!
It felt so nice to get back to my home. This time there was not much damage at all from renters...but my resident iguanas had moved into the kitchen (which remains locked when I´m not there). They were not at all happy to have me come back, and let me know it by knocking over things in the night,
Flowers at Baños Market
Everywhere in the world, markets are a hub of commerce, gossip, color and movement. I never met a market I didn´t love!
rummaging thru my compost bin, and leaving poops in the sink and on my dish rack. I was only home for a week before taking off again, so surely I´ll have to go thru "Iguana Wars" again when I get back on Jan 1st. I really don´t want to put mesh or screen up, I love the openness of my kitchen. Somehow I´ll have to show these reptilian dudes who´s boss!!
Once again, my pick-up helped me get a paying gig that afforded me wonderful new adventures! I went with Marianne (former Peace Corps Volunteer who never left after she finished her service...she´s been in Ecuador for over 15 yrs) to deliver Xmas baskets to the three artisan families she works with. She does the design work and marketing and the artisans carve and polish tagua (vegetable ivory) nuts into lovely figurines, jewelry, etc. It was great to get offroad; see where and how these people live. As Marianne´s fair trade export business continues to grow, I may help her out in different ways...picking up finished work from the artisans, packing each piece in a balsa boxes on a bed of ceibo tree cotton fluff, driving her
Smile for the Camera!
This shoe vendor gave me his best tootless smile.
to Manta to send off shipments, etc. Such beautiful & natural handicrafts, doing so much good in the villages.
Just before leaving home again, I had several visitors. Lowell and Ellen had volunteered alongside the Engineers Without Borders in Malingua Pamba. They continued their Ecuador travels and planned their itinerary to spend the last few days with me. What a fabulous 60-something couple, avid cyclists, four grown children (three of them adopted), interesting and interested in everything. After they left, Dean and Debbie came down to stay at their Alandaluz place. They first arrived in Ecuador in ´88 and Dean taught with me at the Colegio. They have raised their three daughters here. It was good to spend time with them on the coast. Also, Scott, a Peace Corps volunteer I met thru the engineers, came to breakfast one day and rode to Manta with me as I headed up the coast.
Fortunately, Chaco loves to ride in the truck! He curls up on the floor or the back seat and settles in for the trip. Tamara (his other Mommy) is in the US for the holidays, so she handed off the pup to
Panela Wheels at Baños Market
This raw brown sugar is sold in big wheels. Panela has a molasses taste and is used much more than refined white sugar.
me for a month. We stayed overnight about 5 hrs north at Moya´s house. Moya is a Canadian artist who has made her life here in Ecuador for over 25 yrs. Her black lab, Michael (named for Michael Jordan!) and his new female companion (Brahma Mama) were most welcoming to Chaco. We took the three dogs walking along the estuary below Moya´s house and they had a ball chasing birds, leaping in the water, and wearing each other out! En route to Playa Escondida (to visit Chaco´s birth family) we met up with Tamara and her boyfriend Patricio.
We stopped for lunch on the boardwalk of Tonchigue, the town nearest to Playa Escondida. There were hundreds of people leaning over the railing I thought they were just observing the unusually rough sea, when a military helicopter flew over, I asked what was happening. We were told that a small boat with 15 illegal immigrants had shipwrecked during the night during a powerful ocean swell, and one person had been rescued alive at daybreak. The helicopters were searching for other possible survivors.
This disaster put a bit of a damper on our visit. The sea
Driving up the coast, I am always transfixed by these majestic trees. Called Baobabs in Africa, the Ceibos have almost human-like limbs; they look as if they can reach out and hug me!
continued to be rough, and I was advised not to swim...that the overhead copters might think I was a cadaver. An actual cadaver did wash ashore about 2 km north of where we were. As we walked south on the beach toward the caves, we saw lots of smashed bits of fiberglass and had to wonder if they were from the recent shipwreck. Chaco remembered everyone (human and canine) at Playa Escondida and loved leaping, jumping and playing on the beach. I again looked at the pieces of land that are still available, but will not hurry into any decision. I am hoping to get my Alandaluz property sold during 2008, and then I´ll be ready to think about what comes next.
Aside from sharing Playa Escondida with Tamara & Pato, I met several other people I knew there. Miguel was one of the young men who worked with Marcelo to create the first Alandaluz in the mid-80´s. Miguel married a French-Canadian woman and has been living near Montreal for the past 15 yrs. When he told me he´d be in Ecuador for a visit, I passed along my travel itinerary for the dates he´d be here
Newly Planted Rice Fields
I love to take this shortcut through the rice fields as I drive north up the coast. It´s harder to find headed south, but I´m learning.
and what a wonderful surprise to arrive at Playa Escondida and find out he´d arrived 5 minutes earlier! It was so great to reconnect, share old memories, and make new ones! I had been exchanging emails with an American couple, Marion and Arthur, who were finalizing a land purchase at Playa Escondida. I gave Marion some Spanish lessons while we were there, and then we drove together back up to Quito, and then to Otavalo. During our many hours of driving we enjoyed lively conversation and wonderful adventures to some small villages with breathtaking highland views. While up near Otavalo I enjoyed visiting with Ceci and her son Keiru (he just turned 6!). Keiru and Chaco were fast friends!!
Yesterday and today in Quito I´ve been writing this blog in between some jobs translating resumes for two women who are volunteers at the United Nations. Chaco waits patiently in the car, and every hour or so I take him for a walk and give him some water. Tomorrow Shana and I head down to Baños with Chaco and Max for a week. On Dec 30th I´ll drive back down to the coast, this time giving a lift
Tamara & Pato
Tamara (Chaco´s other mommy) finally got to visit Playa Escondida. I especially like this picture of her with her boyfriend, Patricio in the rocky beach caves.
to my friend Maricarmen´s sister who will be visiting from Venezuela. It´ll be nice to have the company and also to have my gas paid for! I plan to be at "home" in my cabaña from January to April, teaching and holding still!!
I apologize if this travelblog recounting of my recent travels is a poor excuse for Holiday Greetings, but I´m afraid it´s all I´m motivated to put out there this year!! Thanks for reading....May your holiday season be filled with the love of family, laughter and joy, health and much happiness. 2008 is going to be a great year, I just know it!! Please write to me -- I´d love to hear from you!! Jill
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