Into the New Year

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January 27th 2015
Published: January 31st 2015
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Leafy CollarLeafy CollarLeafy Collar

At Reserva Intillacta Sue posed with this huge leaf!
After less than 3 weeks at home in Banos I set off for Quito to pick up Sue at the airport. She arrived well after midnight, so I was glad that I'd booked a room at a family-run ranch in a nearby village. Quito's new airport is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but little by little lodging options are popping up to meet the needs of late-night and early-morning travelers. I arrived at Hosteria San Carlos in the afternoon and used the free time to finish and publish my previous blog, watch a movie on the flat-screen in-room TV, and take a quick dip in the icy cold swimming pool (brr!!) Sue's flight was delayed (of course) but since I'd been following its progress online (ain't technology grand?) I didn't have to wait too long at the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

We had a quick night's sleep we set off for my house in Banos, stopping along the way for groceries at the new shopping mall in Latacunga. It's right along the highway so very convenient for drive-by shopping! Across the road there was a stall selling monigotes,
Gear up for New Year's EveGear up for New Year's EveGear up for New Year's Eve

These "monigote" stuffed effigies will be burned on Dec 31st. Photo taken on the shoulder of the Panamerican Hwy heading north from Latacunga.
the ubiquitous straw-stuffed body & papier mache masked effigies that are burned on New Year's Eve. It's an old tradition here in Ecuador, and originally an effigy was made to resemble an unpopular politician or community personage, but now you can find cartoon characters or any other recognizable figure.

Once at my home we enjoyed some R&R so Sue could recover from her late night travels. We hosted a dinner for some lady friends, a sort of farewell for Jessie who moved down to Vilcabamba. After a few days exploring Banos and environs we set off once again, this time for NW Pichincha. We stayed at Cheryl's coffee farm (Cheryl was off in the US) and loved on her doggies. We used the Above the Clouds Finca as a base to visit friends Margarita & Polo in nearby Tucanopy and Russian friend Igor at his farm El Figaro. On New Year's Eve we spent all day in Mindo, taking the chocolate-making tour, visiting a stunning orchid garden and spending time at the Butterfly Park. The night of the 31st we were both asleep by 8:30 pm!

Casa EncantadoraCasa EncantadoraCasa Encantadora

Sue's house at Playa Escondida with a carpet of guayacan petals!

The highways improve each time I take a long trip, and this time the drive to the coast of Esmeraldas province was surprisingly quick! We arrived at the pizzeria in Same in time for lunch before continuing on to Playa Escondida where Sue has a beach house. It was great to see Judith again and cuddle with Leon, Chaco's brother (from an earlier litter) and the last of the line in this sweet Boxer/Pointer family. During the week I spent at Playa Escondida the guayacan trees burst into bloom, turning bright yellow even as we watched. I wish I’d taken photos day by day (or even hour by hour) to document the brilliant progression of glowing color. Alas, the blossoms were ephemeral – lasting only a few days as brisk winds shook them to the ground.

While at la Playa I took long beach walks every morning, collecting shells and stones for future bauble and mosaic projects. One day Sue & I took a drive down the Galera Peninsula, visiting the charming fishing village of Estero de Platano. We gave folks lifts along the way and in
Clowning on the BeachClowning on the BeachClowning on the Beach

Daily beachcombing walks at Playa Escondida left me filled with awe.
chatting with them got a closer glimpse of local life. After bidding farewell to Judith and Sue (& Leon!), I headed down the coast. Along the way I stopped in El Matal and had a wonderful afternoon of Scrabble with Bobby & Jody & Pat in El Matal, near Jama. Bobby & I also played some Backgammon as well as Cribbage. In Briceno I visited Moya and we had seafood lunch on the beach. Then I continued down to Bahia de Caraquez where I connected with Emily Jane & met her new baby boy Emiliano. The next day my adopted sister Beatriz arrived from down the coast. She had never been to Bahia so I gave her the grand tour and we stayed at a cute new Canadian/Colombian owned B&B near the new bridge.

On previous visits to Bahia I'd always have to plan my time wisely to be able to cross the estuary via the gabarra ferry, but in the past few years a super-modern bridge was completed -- and now there's even a shopping mall tucked in cloverleaf of the bridge's on-ramp. At dusk Beatriz and I walked across
Me & BeatrizMe & BeatrizMe & Beatriz

Walking the Bahia de Caraquez bridge at sunset with my adopted sister. She took this selfie of us cuz I was incapable!
the bridge & back (longer than I thought - almost 1 1/2 miles each way!). When I took her to the bus station she was carrying a printer that I donated to her school as well as a few small packages to deliver to friends further down the coast (things that I had agreed to buy or bring for them from the states).

From there I set off on a solo drive up and across the Andes, hoping to make it all the way to Banos in one day but prepared to spend the night along the way if I got too tired or it got too late. When I drive alone I find my attention is keenly attuned to each detail of each village and hillside that I pass. The bright yellow guayacan trees were bursting into bloom, leaving circles of yellow carpet as they dropped their petals. The fiery orange acacias spread their broad shady canopies, also dropping red seas of blossoms beneath them. And then there are the violet-blue jacarandas, releasing their pearly petals into the wind. I love the drive from coast to Andes, watching the change
Acacia in BloomAcacia in BloomAcacia in Bloom

Puddles of orange petals form at the base as the blossoms fall.
in vegetation, marveling at the waterfalls and the play of clouds among the craggy peaks and layers of softly humped mountains. Again I was pleasantly surprised by the road conditions, and carried along by the audio-book I had playing, I reached the shopping mall in Latacunga in time to do a bit of grocery shopping and still make it to my house before dark!

It felt so good to arrive back home, my house…but alas, only for two weeks this time. During this short visit I made an effort to exercise every day – swimming & doing exercises in the water three times a week at the hot baths and taking yoga classes two mornings a week. I invited my dear friend Patrick over for dinner and we had a wonderful evening together. He always invites me to dine at his restaurants in Banos and down towards the jungle in Cumanda so that evening I prepared a series of tapas with tastes that are seldom found in Ecuador.

While in Banos I had a couple of Scrabble days with Shana at her house, spent a Saturday
Backyard TangerinesBackyard TangerinesBackyard Tangerines

My "mandarina" trees are bursting with fruit!
playing Scrabble with Karl at my house, and enjoyed a visit from Margarita & Polo, hosting them at my home & driving up together to take a look at the property that I might buy from them. Located about 15 minutes from Banos, the last 5 on a cobbled road, the wedge of land is as gorgeous as I remember it. It's about 2 acres with steep drop-offs on both side which fall to rushing rivers which meet at the point. Although they have built an entry gate, it still lacks an access road, so I told them that I will be ready to make an offer as soon I can drive my truck all the way to the spot where I hope to someday build a house.

I was grateful to be able to resolve my visa issues, right in Banos. When I returned from the US in 2013 the airport immigration agent never stamped me back in, so the foreign office thought I was still out of the country, which meant I’d violated the terms of my visa by staying out of Ecuador too long. Therefore, my visa showed
Me & ShanaMe & ShanaMe & Shana

Under the avocado trees in my backyard
up in their system as having been annulled. The clerk in the Banos office, a sharp young man who’d lived 10 yrs in Connecticut, had me bring in my passport and we located the entry stamp that had not been registered. The Banos clerk contacted the appropriate Quito officials and they made the necessary adjustments to their records. Hurrah! A painless solution without having to spend days in crowded waiting rooms in the capitol.

Alas, all too soon I had to leave Banos and drive back up to Quito for a week of tasks and duties. First order of business was to help Betti move out of her Quito pied-a-terre, a funky Bohemian top floor apartment where I’d stayed last year when I had to do the prep for my colonoscopy. Betti’s lived there for almost 15 yrs so there was lots of stuff to sort through and pack. I'd been collecting empty boxes and offered to help her pack on Saturday and then on Sunday take the loaded truck up to her big house, 2 hrs north of Quito. Some friends of hers (recent immigrants from Cuba – a doctor,
Margarita & PoloMargarita & PoloMargarita & Polo

Good friends came to stay. I may be buying a piece of land they have for sale, so it was an important visit.
a nurse and a radiologist who can’t yet work legally in Ecuador) came to help us carry dozens of heavy boxes down six flights of stairs.

We got my truck packed to within an inch of capacity and up at her country house one of the workers helped us unload. I knew which boxes were light enough for me to manage, so I helped carry them down a grassy path, and then up some steep stone steps to her house. OY – my knees and hips where so sore the next few days! Betti took me out for a lovely dinner on Sat night and then invited me to an elegant lunch on Sunday once the truck was empty. When we got back to Quito the Cubans came over again and after I took them to their sparsely furnished flat with some things that Betti had gifted them, they came back to help me load my truck again with the bags and boxes of donations, stuff that Betti was ready to part with. The storeroom at the volunteer library will be bursting with secondhand goodies for our semi-annual fund-raising garage sale.
Bus Stop BenchBus Stop BenchBus Stop Bench

Nothing is trash! I love the creative use of these legless plastic chairs nailed to a plank of wood.

The next day I parked my loaded truck at the hostel where I’d be spending the next few nights. I walked to the credit union and signed papers for my investment policies. I took a taxi to my doctor’s appointment to find out if there were more tests I needed at this time. Since I’m feeling well and there’s no bleeding, the decision was to wait 6 months to do an MRI and see if there's any change in the mass in my abdomen. From the previous exams the doctor determined that the size was about that of a small plum – called a claudia in Spanish, so now I’ve named my fibroid Claudia. That evening I was invited to Debbie’s for dinner and Scrabble. I hadn’t seen her Dad (PopPop) for several months and I was amazed at how his physical health has declined. PopPop just turned 89 and we had a delightful time laughing and joking, sharing big hugs that made me shed a tear for my own Dad and feel glad that I’d be seeing him in a few weeks.

San Francisco ConventSan Francisco ConventSan Francisco Convent

In the heart of Quito's historic old town, escape the hustle and bustle in this idyllic courtyard

The next day I had an appointment with my lawyer and delivered all the paperwork needed to renew my visa. I decided to pay a modest fee to have his clerk handle the visa renewal instead of spending hours and days sitting in government offices myself. This type of transaction can only lead to frustration and aggravation so it was well worth it for me to sign a power of attorney and put the process in somebody else's hands. That evening I got together with my good friend Lupe for tea at a funky little cafe up by her house in the hills above Quito.

Since I had farmed out my legal papers and needed no more medical exams at this time, I found myself with a free day in the city. I joined my friend Jean and her cultural group for a 'behind the scenes' tour of altar restorations at one of the oldest, most ornate cathedrals in the old town. Leonore's 91 year old mother, Sandra came along on the tour and since Leo was busy that day, she asked if I'd lend a hand helping her mom
Ceiling RestorationCeiling RestorationCeiling Restoration

The restorer told us that during one restoration the naked cherubs were outfitted with blue loincloths!
navigate the uneven cobbles of the old church. Sandra comes down to Ecuador to visit her daughter for a month or two each winter. I was surprised to discover that I was the young 'un among the group of visitors to Iglesia San Francisco that day. The others were in their 60's & 70's - and then there was the amazing Sandra. She still teaches university courses in DC and walks a mile each day.

We arrived at the cloisters, a gorgeous courtyard, where we met up with the chief restorer. He spent the next two hours taking us through the sanctuary where teams of restorers were up on scaffolds, painstakingly repairing gold leaf and repainting damaged friezes. He explained that there are a lot of decisions to be made as each new layer is uncovered. The church dates back to the 16th century and in some areas there have been up to 16 renovations over the years. Restorers need to decide at which level to restore, maintaining the integrity of the original artwork without risking more destruction. We were led to an open-air workshop on the upper balcony of the
Altar Restoration Altar Restoration Altar Restoration

In an open-air workshop (the chemicals reek) dozens of skilled restorers work to painstakingly restore this amazing 18 ft tall gold-leaf altarpiece.
cloisters where another team of restorers was lovingly repairing a huge wooden altar, taken apart into dozens of puzzle pieces. Most of the cleaning work was done with Q-tips dipped in metal bowls of boiling water poised on small electric hot-plates. Not only must these workers have infinite patience, it has to be a true labor of love!

Well, I'm ready to leave Quito. I have completed and sent off my report after observing and assessing two days of a TESOL Teacher Training Course. I had supper with good friends last night, followed by a stroll through Quito's hopping Mariscal district. I've accomplished all that I set out to do when coming to the big city and I'll be glad to head back home to the peaceful green of Banos...although I'm told that the volcano has begun to act up again (hooray!) Once back in Banos I'll have only two weeks to plan and carry out my birthday/housewarming party. Soon after the big bash I will travel to California again to spend a few weeks with my Dad. His health has declined markedly since I last saw him in November, so I'll be staying at
The Last of the LineThe Last of the LineThe Last of the Line

Chaco's brother Leon is the last surviving offspring of Taone & Mama Magic. He's a big, sweet lover boy!
my sister's and spending as much time with Dad as possible. While I'm there my brother Bob will come out west from Baltimore, so we'll have a mini family reunion.

Well, there go my plans to hold still and spend time at home this year. Upon returning from the US I'll have just 10 days to do the last donation collection and then organize & mount the BIB Garage Sale before heading back down to the coast to pinch hit at the beachfront hotel. I wasn't sure I'd have work there this year, but the gal they hired hasn't worked out as hoped so to my great good fortune and extreme pleasure I'll be working at Hosteria Mandala for 2 1/1 months. I am now completely booked until June 1st -- so goes my life!

Thanks for reading. Be sure to scroll down to see the rest of the great photos!

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Schoolgirls at PlaySchoolgirls at Play
Schoolgirls at Play

Recess at Estero de Platano's primary school. While Sue & I waited for our ceviche, these girls came around to chat with us.
Banana GuyBanana Guy
Banana Guy

Those stalks must weigh at least 50 lbs each!
Awesome BlossomAwesome Blossom
Awesome Blossom

Taken at the parking area at Playa Escondida - last time I photographed this plant the blooms were white!
Nobbly OrchidNobbly Orchid
Nobbly Orchid

You seldom see this shade of blue in nature. Love it!
Bart Garbage HeadBart Garbage Head
Bart Garbage Head

The top of his head swings open to form the trash receptacle.
Nigth ClubNigth Club
Nigth Club

A euphemism for brothel, they nearly always misspell "nigth" (well, I guess English does have a lot of 'th' words!)
Festive Clown BinFestive Clown Bin
Festive Clown Bin

A tinsel scarf adorns this classic clown trash can head.
Driftwood ArtDriftwood Art
Driftwood Art

The beach at Playa Escondida is beyond gorgeous!
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Beachy Nook

A walk along the beach at Playa Escondida reveals all sorts of stunning surprises.

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